SEO experts capitalize on Mies van der Rohe architecture

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 5:16 pm
William Barnes

It shouldn’t surprise me since it’s a sneaky SEO strategy (all SEO strategies are sneaky) that makes perfect sense. The Doodle ensures that millions of people will run a particular search that day (Mies van der Rohe architecture). If you create an article that uses those terms, then you can drive some extra traffic to your publication. People who come to find out who Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is will stay to read a couple other articles. Still, it saddens me to see news reporting subordinated to Google Doodles. It’s not the architect or the Doodle that’s the news, the news is SEO.

+1’d

Saturday, Sep 3, 2011 2:50 pm
William Barnes

I do my best not to criticize other people’s grammar, but if you’re a corporation, you should get it right. I just clicked the +1 button on an article and got told that I “publicly +1’d” the article. Is that correct? Or is like all the signs that say “CD’s”? I’m unsure. The apostrophe means that it is a contraction, i.e., something is missing. Is “+1’d” a contraction of “plus oned”? Or should it have been “+1ed”? Google should have picked a less awkward name for its like button.

Google Circles Revisited

Thursday, Jul 14, 2011 12:51 pm
William Barnes

I’ve been using Google+ for about a week now, and I like it. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe only because it’s like Facebook, but not Facebook. I can share things. I can post comments. I can’t really do anything I couldn’t do on Facebook. I’ve never used Hangouts, I’m not sure I’m likely to do so. My RSS aggregator is more useful than Sparks. The only difference is Circles, but I’m coming to the conclusion that Circles isn’t that great either.

Google Circles is based on the idea that we have different groups (circles) of people in our lives: family, friends, people we met at parties, etc. We don’t treat them equally in real life, why do it online? I think it’s a natural concept, but I’m pretty sure that Circles gets it wrong in subtle ways.

Why groups are better than circles

Difference between friends and people with shared interests

Facebook Groups are like circles that people choose to join. All members can see who is in the group and can talk to everybody in it, even if they aren’t “friends”. This reflects the fact that in plenty of formal groups (clubs, workplaces, etc) there is a shared interest, but your association with the members doesn’t go any further than that.

Let’s say I have an interest in widgets and I join the Toronto Widget Club (TWC). If that club has a group, then I join the group and have access to all the widget news and discussion I want. Updates from the group show up in my feed, but a lot of the discussion is segregated. When I make a fascinating widget discovery, I can post it to my wall for friends, to the group, or both. Contrast this with circles. Under the current system, I would have to obtain a list of people in the TWC and add them all to a circle. They would receive my widget posts, but also all my public posts. Many of them wouldn’t care about my personal life or other interests. Circles miss an important distinction between “friends” and “people with a shared interest”.

You might argue that this blurring is good because it might develop friendships where there was previously only a shared membership in the TWC. However, it may also cause friction where people, who tolerate each other in the pursuit of widgets, have otherwise conflicting (e.g., political) interests.

Difference between active and passive sharing

Oversharing could be addressed by never sharing anything publicly and deselecting the TWC when sharing non-widget information. However, when a member of the TWC takes the time to visit my profile, I think that I’d want them to learn about my other interests. This information would be hidden from them by Google+’s privacy settings. There is a difference between what I want to actively share with (broadcast to) a group of people and what I am comfortable with them having access to if they want to seek it out. I want to broadcast widget news to the TWC, but I want to passively share my other interests as well. Thus, they should be able to see political or other posts if they view my profile, but these shouldn’t show up in their feed unless we are friends outside the TWC.

Related to this point is the noticeable delineation between group posts and wall posts. Google+ doesn’t yet provide really good indicators that posts are just for certain groups. You have to look at the visibility of the post. It’s not clear whether a particular Google+ post is open to other circles or private to the TWC, whereas in a group there is a clear indication.

Difference between choosing and assigning membership

I already hinted at the problem when I said that members would have to obtain lists of group membership. In addition to that, they would each have to maintain their list. Groups are superior because there is a single canonical list. Further, you don’t have to rely on others to acknowledge your interest, you register it yourself. This also means that when you tire of widgets, you can remove yourself.

When are circles better than groups?

There are a few cases in which circles are better for groups. Circles are better when group membership is less defined or, more importantly, a sensitive matter. Groups require either public membership or an administrator who decides membership. This is fine for the TWC, but what about groups of friends. I have separate groups of pretty much non-overlapping friends; there is an unspoken consensus about who is in each one. It would be coarse to require them to join a group to find out what we’re doing on Friday. The additional effort of harmonizing the circles of various members is really just socializing and reflects the addition of a new person to a close group of friends.

Circles are not for privacy

First, a little rant on privacy. People expect miracles from social networks in terms of privacy. Rule number one for using the internet: do not say anything on the internet, except under pseudonym, that would terribly embarrass you if it became public. My favourite tweet regarding Google+ came in the early days when I had an invite, but they were at capacity. Unfortunately, I didn’t save it, but it essentially said “Posts you share with a circle can be reshared. Google+ FAIL“. Everything you say online can be reshared. The real weakest link in your privacy is your friends. They have to understand that you intend something to be private and they have to respect that. Of course, even if you trust your friends, you still have to worry about flaws in the software, so if you want something to stay private, then talk about it in person or at least use a medium that is intended for one-to-one conversation (chat, email, etc). I’m not saying Google should be held blameless for the privacy flaw that will inevitably occur, buy anybody who depends on Circles as a privacy guard is asking for trouble.

But Circles provide a little privacy

So what should you use circles for, then? You should use them only to insulate other circles from things they aren’t interested in. For example, people from work don’t need to read about the party you went to on the weekend. If you have two non-overlapping groups of friends, you may only want to share the photos with friends who were invited to that party.

On the Facebook feed, everybody is shouting in all directions, all the time. Circles lets you direct your voice a little bit better. In that sense, Circles provide a bare minimum of privacy. Think of it more like being at a party and standing with a group of people than being in a cone of silence.

How Google could improve Circles

Google+’s PR says that you have circles of friends and they’re not all the same. So why, then, are all my Google Circles the same? You should have more granular control over circles. Examples: whether you want to see Public or semi-Public (ie: “Your Circles”) posts from members of a circle or just ones that they explicitly share with you; whether people in that circle can see your Public or semi-Public posts.

There should be public circles. These would be just like groups (in fact, they could be Google Groups). Some could have open membership, some could be moderated. It would address the problem of canonical lists. Further, in combination with the above suggestion, it would allow you to communicate with people who only share a particular interest.

You should be able to post something that is broadcast only to particular circles, but is publicly visible on your profile. This is the biggest deal for me. I like to have things be public, but I would happily do a little work to shelter others from my oversharing. Until I can do this, I’ll probably be posting everything publicly and using Google+ just like Facebook. It also reflects the fact that one person is not always the best judge of what other people will find interesting. Maybe someone from elementary school will be interested in my night out, or have an insightful comment on a legal- or computer-related post. Why should I hide things from them?

Topical circles

I think that there is a different type of circle that I can’t quite define at the moment. I’m going to call it a topical circle for now. It is somewhat nebulous, like a circle of friends, but it is based on a shared interest like a public circle. It would be interesting if circles could be formed algorithmically for discussing particular topics. The post could be visible to friends of friends who could get in on the conversation and then be included in similar conversations in the future. Eventually, the circle would probably form into a more or less permanent group. That would be interesting.

Circles

Friday, Jul 1, 2011 11:45 am
William Barnes

In reply to “Google+ Everyone Should Use It“.

I don’t know about Circles as a privacy tool. It’s almost guaranteed that at some point (probably at multiple points), a bug will expose information from one circle to another. So I still wouldn’t say anything to a circle that I wouldn’t want going public.

One could use it to target certain groups with comments. I often make legal comments on Facebook that are only funny to people from school. But, then again, who am I to decide who would be interested in my posts? Let’s say I post a comment about a recent Supreme Court case. Sure, my school friends will probably be interested, but I bet that a number of non-law students would be, too. Coming from a different background, they might say something that nobody from school would have thought of. How am I supposed to know who will be interested in what? Tagging is a better solution to that. Let me say “This post is about ‘Law'” (or “Computers” or “Cake”) and then let my friends say “I don’t want to hear Billy talk about ‘Law’ anymore” and hide all those posts in the future.

Maybe I’m just bitter because they’re at capacity and I can’t sign in.

Why are people still talking about whether the Nexus One failed?

Sunday, Mar 28, 2010 11:32 pm
William Barnes

I’m getting really annoyed with seeing at least one article every day with a title like “Why the Nexus One failed” or “Did the Nexus One really fail?” Not to mention a reference to this in countless other phone–, Google– or Apple–related articles throughout the day.

The worst part of it is that the articles are all the same. Nobody seems to have any original explanations. In addition, these explanations are all things people were talking about back when the phone was first released: it’s only available online; you can’t touch it before you buy it; it’s not being advertised; it’s expensive. Why is all this such a surprise to bloggers? Answer: I don’t think it is, but they’ve got to fill their daily quota.

The Nexus One was never destined to be a huge success. The only people who thought it was were analysts and we all know that analysts get over-excited about everything released by Google or Apple. When the thing was announced, Google predicted they’d sell about 150,000 units (which was a fairly accurate guess) but nobody remembers that prediction because some analysts predicted they’d sell 3 million.

I also think it’s about time we stop using the iPhone’s one million in 74 days record as a benchmark. The Nexus One didn’t beat it but circumstances were different. The Motorola Droid did beat it but circumstances were different (the Droid costs less; on the other hand, the iPhone had less competition).

Maybe the problem is just that we have too much news. If we had less, maybe it would be better quality. On that note, I apologize for the quality of this post. I’m writing it at two in the morning on my Nexus One.

Maybe Rupert has a point

Sunday, Nov 29, 2009 12:46 pm
William Barnes

Everybody thinks Rupert Murdoch is crazy for wanting to hide his web properties from Google, but I’ve been thinking: maybe he has a point. Bloggers and podcasters say that Rupert doesn’t understand the Internet; I think they’re probably right but I also think the bloggers and podcasters are too understanding of the Internet. They (we?) put out content for free and whenever something comes along that makes an old media guy like Rupert uncomfortable they just brush it off and laugh: “That’s the Internet for ya.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like Google and I mostly trust Google, but I can see how what they do might be called unfair. When they index websites, they make a copy. Somewhere hidden in an abandoned missile silo (I assume) they have a vast array of computers mirroring the Web. When you search, Google searches these computers and presents you with a link and a little snippet of text from the site. Everybody generally agrees that the little snippet is fair use. But what about that underground data centre? It’s a huge asset for Google and it is made up of content they copied from other people. Think about it this way: if you go to the library, look up a definition for a word and quote it in an essay, that is fair use; but if you go to the library, photocopy the entire dictionary and take it home so you can look stuff up later, what is that? Google takes home the entire library. It’s not the display that is the problem, it’s the process before the display.

But, people say, Google is providing a service. True, but they’re also capitalizing on other people’s work without paying. Further, Google’s copy of a particular website is a valuable asset whether or not Google ever sends traffic to that site. But, they continue, if you want to exclude them, you can just put a robots.txt file on your site. Also true, but if you do that then your site may as well not exist. Google won’t offer to pay to get a single site into their search engine. But, the conclude, this is the way the Internet works now, search engines index and don’t pay to do so. True again, but does it have to work this way? Why shouldn’t search engines pay sites that they index? (I can actually think of a number of extremely practical reasons but for present purposes I’ll pretend I can’t) Just because something works one way now, doesn’t mean we all just have to accept it.

[Added Mon, Nov 30, 2009] My first website went online in 1997. For 12 years, I’ve been ecstatic every time somebody read something I posted. I imagine many bloggers feel the same way. It leads us to disregard a property right that we have. When Rupert comes along with his old media view, he’s shocked. We’re all just giving Google our content; Google is making money from it and giving us nothing in return. Back in his day, people wouldn’t have stood for it and he’s not going to stand for it now. Google provides a commercial service on the back of what may be massive copyright infringement, it’s something worth thinking about.

In trying to figure out where the value comes from, ask yourself this question: who would last longer, Google without content, or content without Google?

Google Data Liberation Front

Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 8:00 am
William Barnes
dataliberation

Natalie Portman once said: “So this is how democracy dies: to thunderous applause.” It’s how I feel about Google. They are so obviously trying to take over the world, but they do it with such style you just want to cheer them on. The key, I think, is just how easy it would be (theoretically) to do away with them.

Yesterday, Google announced the Data Liberation Front. The goal of this site is to provide easy access to instructions to move your data out of every Google service. You can, for a few examples, download all your email, export your calendars to Yahoo or iCal or Outlook, and move your contact list to another mail or chat client. Data portability has always been a huge concern for me. I switch operating systems, browsers and email clients at the drop of a hat so I always like to know that I’m not locked in. The export capabilities are not new (or unique, it’s all possible with Yahoo and Microsoft as well) but to present it all in one place has an undeniable flair. It’s kind of the internet service equivalent of playing chicken: “Leave the service. I dare you. I’ll even help.”

Google is the least threatening monopoly possible and somehow that just secures their position. Although I will admit I’ve switched to Bing on all my computers. And Yahoo Calendar. And I’m hosting my email on my home server again. And I don’t use Google Docs, iGoogle or Maps anymore. Hmmm… So much for that theory. Luckily for Google, it’s just as easy to get my data back in as it was to leave. Good job.