Tag Archives: Google services

Google: Behind the screen

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GOOGLE: A critical look at Google behind the screen

A wise man once said: “We should always be cautious of that which is powerful.” No doubt Google has become an extremely powerful entity in our modern lives. It can be argued that it is fast becoming the gatekeeper of all of the world’s information — the new Great Library of Alexandria. Yet to be cautious of this requires reason to be so, and what better place to start than to understand how Google works.

HOW GOOGLE WORKS

Internet databaseGoogle can basically be separated into three parts – search, database and interface. To take account of all the new information and web pages that appear on the web on a daily basis, Google sends out digital robots (also called bots, spiders or crawlers). These bits of software crawl the Internet and scan new content and web pages. They assess what words, and more specifically, what keywords, are used on each page and send these to a database.

The physical part of the Internet can basically be thought of as huge, underground databases. Envision underground computers with powerful processors and lots of storage space. All the information gathered by the Google bots is brought back to these databases where it is stored. Importantly, information is only gathered from the web pages which Google sends out bots for. This excludes web pages that are not indexed by Google, are hidden from Google or require a password or some kind of authority to access.

And then we have the interface. This is essentially the Google search bar, which we are all familiar with and often take completely for granted. When we type in keywords or search phrases into the Google search bar, the Google bots search the database and bring up web pages that contain a high number of those keywords.

HOW GOOGLE BEGAN AND GREW

Google billboard equationGoogle began with a small group of engineers in 1999, who became overnight billionaires after Google went public in 2004. The company now employs the keenest minds from around the world and is still growing. At one point Google devised a mathematical equation which was advertised on large billboards worldwide. Solving the equation and typing the result into the Google search bar took one to the Google jobs page.

It has to be said that Google employees with cushy jobs have it good. At the corporate Google Headquarters (Googleplex) in California, employees are allowed 20% of their working time to pursue whatever they are passionate about. There are also several stress-relieving facilities available such as gyms to volley ball courts. Employees may even get a professional massage during their lunch breaks.

The Google goldmine is in advertising. Generally the first three web pages that appear as a result of a search are sponsored links. These are usually highlighted in some way. The links that appear along the right-hand column are also sponsored links. Companies bid against one another for these spots, which has proven to be an effective and profitable system.

GOOGLE’S GOALS

Google’s initial aim was to create the world’s best search engine. Its stated goal now is to host all of the world’s information. Google Search has literally expanded into space, with offerings such as Google Books, Google Maps and Google Mars just to name a few. However, there is also the phenomenon of Internet users constantly pouring in new content. The goal on Google’s part here is to organise all this information.

GoogleplexThe Internet is now flooded with large amounts of opinion pieces as more and more people throw in their two cents. But how can a search engine be objective and rank opinion? At one point in time, a search for “the holocaust” fetched articles with titles such as “Did the Holocaust really happen?” A search for “the truth behind 9/11” fetched a host of conspiracy theories arguing that 9/11 was a governmental orchestrated undertaking.

With such an influx of good and bad information, it’s fair to say that Google employees have their work cut out for them. To keep things democratic, Google has started giving preference to web pages that update more frequently and are more interactive in terms of user participation and commentary. The relevance of any piece of information on the web is also largely determined by how many external web pages link or point to that information.

ISSUES OF PRIVACY

The fact that Google stores user information is not something it tries to cover up. It openly states that this information is used to help improve Google services. However, even if Google doesn’t misuse this information, there is very little preventing others from doing so. Information regarding user behaviour, such as your search habits and history for example, can and have been sold to third-party advertisers arming their spam cannons.

Whether we consider Google as a profit driven company acting under a façade or not, the question begged for, really, is whether Google (and ergo the Internet in general) will ultimately become a public enterprise or a public enterprise.

A further point of concern is the idea of Google having a monopoly over all of the world’s information. While anyone is free to create a search engine, your chances of competing with Google and being taken seriously are less than slim.

As difficult as it may be, laws of media diversity will have to find a firmer place online if we are to prevent a situation of having one world view or ideology at the expense of critical thought.

Why Google is called Google
The name “Google” originated from a misspelling of “googol”, which refers to 10100 (the number represented by a one followed by 100 zeros). Having found its way into everyday language, the verb “google” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006, and means “to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google

The Buzz around Google Wave

GOOGLE WAVE: An analysis of its untimely downfall + Google Buzz

GOOGLE announced the closure of Google Wave on their blog after much hype from loyal Google followers. There has been much buzz as to why Google Wave was a failed project, but the pivotal reasons appear to be three-fold. Excessive hype and expectations, too many features for a single web application, and at the same time, not enough unique features to differentiate Google Wave from existing services (Facebook, Twitter), all ultimately lead to its untimely downfall.

The hype involved a handful of people being invited to test Google Wave and lead to several bloggers discussing it amongst themselves. After almost a year of testing and a plethora of blog entries, a lot was obviously expected of Google’s latest brainchild. However, there were still only a handful of people that actually knew how to make use of Google Wave and in an era of short attention spans and click-happy web-users, the buzz had just about fizzled entirely upon its release.

Google Wave logoThe problem was that for the average web-user to get to grips with Google Wave required setting aside a good period of time to learn how to use it, and for many, watching a video tutorial was essential. Google’s software developers even admitted that the service “takes a little getting used to” and that even they were still learning how to use it themselves.

Once Google Wave invitees got the hang of Wave they needed more people to be using it besides themselves in order to get a proper wave going. This proved to be difficult enough in itself, but perhaps the problem was not a lack of users, but rather a lack of appeal.

What exactly is Google Wave?
“Wave’s primary feature was to let users collaborate in real time, using an in-box-like interface that resembled a mix of Google’s Gmail Web mail service, and its Docs and Spreadsheets product. Each strand of messages, which could include text, links, and photos, was called a wave. Google launched the product with an API for developers to build extra functionality in the form of extensions that users could turn on and off” – Cnet News

I would argue that Google Wave had two other inherent problems. The first being that it did not offer enough unique features – i.e. things that web-users couldn’t already perform using existing Google and other services, and secondly that it tried to achieve too much at once. There also seemed to be a lack of focus with regards to what the product would primarily be used for.

To rope people into any new web service takes time and requires baby steps if you want to get enough people on board in order for the services to be worthwhile and developed further. The web-user trend is to stick with what’s foremost familiar and secondly to make use of the tried and tested. Although Google Wave offered several easy ways to perform familiar tasks online in real-time, the popularity of services such as Facebook and Twitter far outweighed its demand as a new web service.

Google has brought many great apps to the table that are worthy of praise and the Internet would not be the same without them; sadly Google Wave was not one of them. Until a viable market demand is found, the focus should be on improving existing Google services before unleashing something new to the online public.

A bit on Google Buzz

Google had another chance with Google Buzz – a web app released just prior to Google Wave. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Buzz, the service is an extension of one’s Gmail account – appearing below one’s inbox. It can be rightfully argued that Google Buzz is essentially a Twitter clone as it allows friends to provide status updates, embed photos and links, and to follow or be followed by other Buzz users. It now has a few Facebooky features too – these being the options of liking or commenting on other users’ posts and embedding photos and video.

Google Buzz logoThe idea was to discuss “the buzz”, but from many users’ experience the service seems to be primarily used as a promotional tool for embedding links and directing peoples’ attention to them. Facebook remains the popular choice for status updating and the sharing of photos and videos and Twitter is still the first choice for posting something of real value.

I do not imagine that Google Buzz will ever become as popular (or perhaps more importantly – more popular) than Twitter or Facebook – least not until it offers something different to what exists already. Buzz needs to be able to stand on it’s own, which isn’t currently happening with the ability to Buzz on Facebook or Buzz on Twitter.

Perhaps bloggers and Google Wave testers are largely to blame for the excessive hype and ultimate disappointment of Google Wave. Perhaps it was the product itself that asked too much of web users by way of time and practical use. Or perhaps Google Wave simply did not fill a need in the World Wide Web by offering something entirely unique and different.

Google can surely be forgiven for the failure of Google Wave and hopefully learn from their mistakes. With a history of so many other great services and the downfall of only a few, support for future developments should by no means be tainted by their recent faults. Keep the services coming Google; you ultimately never know what will work on the web until you try.

Sources:

First Android phone in SA

MTN has teamed up with HTC distributor Leaf International Communications to launch the HTC Dream mobile handset. This mobile device is the first in South Africa to make use of the new open source Android operating system, which is owned by one of the world’s best known brands, Google.

The HTC Dream gives users one-touch access to their favourite Google products such as Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube. Unlike other operating systems that treat search functionality as an “extra”, the entire Android operating system was moulded around the core of search functionality.

HTC Dream

The software is completely open source and allows users to download a host of free applications as well as customise every facet of the HTC Dream – from the dialler, browser and photo viewer, to the core applications normally locked into the operating system.

“MTN is proud to be the first operator in South Africa to offer its customers a revolutionary smartphone that will change the way we use mobile technology,” says Donovan Smith – General Manager of Consumer Segments at MTN SA

FEATURES
The HTC Dream features a large, sensationally crisp 3.2-inch (8.1 cm) display with a resolution of 320X480. The touch-sensitive screen navigation is finger-friendly and super intuitive. The display switches from portrait to landscape mode when the keyboard is opened. It has a sliding five-row QWERTY keyboard that comes with a set of six navigation buttons.

The HTC Dream includes a GPS receiver and a microSD card slot that supports storage capacities of up to 16GB. The device comes standard with a 1GB microSD card. A fast, full web browser brings the power of the web to your phone and displays up to eight web pages simultaneously to open networks.

All applications integrate seamlessly with one another, alert you to events occurring in other applications and allow you to switch in and out of functions while on a call.

“The HTC Dream with Android will cater for any type of user whether you are a university student or the CEO of a company. By giving our customers instant access to Google services, we are ensuring that MTN sets the pace with innovative and convenient product offerings in both the local and African telecoms market,” says Smith

In view of the advanced data capabilities and applications offered on the HTC Dream, MTN is offering it to customers on the MTN AnyTime 350 package for R529 per month, which includes R350 worth of airtime and 100MB worth of data per month. With MTN’s new broadband offer, once the inclusive 100MB is used up, customers can buy as many additional data bundles as they need.

Sweet!