There once was a time, and for many people it still exists, when Google was the place that you went in order to search; there was no alternative. To be fair, Big G still owns most of the market place; some figures for last year - Australian use of Google is at 93% of searches, Germany is the same, the UK is at 89% while in the US it's at 67%. It's perfectly clear that Google isn't going away any time soon, but there are a few interesting developments that make me think that Big G's hold on the market is not as secure as they would like us to think. Let me explain...
Google is coming under more and more scrutiny in Europe. We've had the 'right to be forgotten' nonsense, which has affected what and how Google shows us results, and I don't think it's for the better either. More importantly than that, Günther H. Oettinger, a German official and the European Union’s incoming commissioner for digital economy and society, has assailed Google for having too big a presence in Europe, and speaks of “cuts” in the company’s market power. Germany wants to see if it can classify Google as a vital part of the country’s infrastructure, and thus make it subject to heavy state regulation. Spain is less than pleased with Google's news functionality, resulting in the company choosing to shutter its service there, although even the Spanish newspapers want it back.
The effect of other search engines is also going to start to take its toll as well. For example, Google used to boast that it could predict flu outbreaks because of what people search for when. However, it now seems that Twitter and other social media platforms may well be rather better at this than the old warhorse. I'd also say that in my opinion Twitter is better at picking out news trends quicker than Google as well - it's certainly the place that I look for news before Google.
Then we've got Facebook of course. For the first time ever, Facebook Page owners uploaded more videos directly to Facebook than they did via sharing from YouTube videos, according to new data from Socialbakers, a company that tracks social media data. On Facebook videos play automatically, you see them directly in your news stream and for advertisers, Facebook drives more engagement than YouTube. Moreover, if you're taking a video, you probably want to share it with your friends and colleagues, so by posting it to Facebook you can pretty much be sure that's whats going to happen - and adding it to YouTube is a bit of an afterthought. Facebook is also ramping up their search engine; it's now far easier to search for information than ever before, and there are about 40 different filters to slice and dice the content. Of course at the moment this is really focussed on your own network, rather than on website results, and that can be argued as both a good thing and a bad one, depending on what you're looking for, and how much you trust your network. But if say I'm looking for somewhere nice to eat in a city that I haven't been to before, am I going to trust the results on Google, or am I going to be asking my friends for their opinions? There's always been a tendancy for people to ask people that they know, and that means Facebook. Very importantly of course, your Facebook search keeps you on Facebook, which means that you're seeing more Facebook adverts and may, just may, click on one. Conversely, if you're on Google and you do a search, you leave Google behind. If Google has done a good search for you, Google doesn't make any money because you're not inclined to click on an advert. On the other hand, if the search results are not so good, you may look at some ads and click on one, making Google money. So if Google is good at what it is perceived to be - search - it doesn't make money, but if it's not quite up to speed, it does. That's a nasty dilemma for anyone to be in.
It doesn't end there of course, because Google has always focussed on web sites and pages. That was great when that's what we had available to us, but now we have a much wider range of resources - our social networks, our smartphones that use search devices like Siri, or the apps that pull up the content that we need directly, without Google's intervention. Google has of course attempted to fight back against (in particular) Facebook, but has meant with little success. We had Google Wave and Buzz, both of which were a disaster, and now we've got Google+ which is better (mainly because of the communities and hangouts options) but hangouts is now being made more easily accessible, and I suspect that'll happen to the communities angle, or if it doesn't I suspect that they'll shutter it. Never mind how widely it's used the bottom dollar for Google is always 'does it make money?' and things that are answering in the negative tend to have a fairly short life span.
So Facebook search is developing apace - and their recent decision to drop Bing and use their own search tool is only going to increase the pressure on Google. There are over a trillion posts available on Facebook, which is a lot of data, and the more that it can be searched - either the public posts or your own private/friends posts - the more people will use it. However, let's bring Apple into the mix. Their agreement with Google is expiring next year, and both Yahoo and Bing are keen to get into the act instead. If you currently use Siri, you'll already using Bing, since it powers the utility. Now, while Siri doesn't really act like a search engine at the moment, there's no reason why it couldn't, and there are rumours out there which suggest that Apple is now building its own search engine. If this is true (and there's plenty of speculation on both sides of the coin) this is going to further weaken Google. Alternatively Apple might simply be beefing up its local search capabilities, but even so, if I'm out for the day and I want to find the local comic shop, if I can get that from Apple/Siri, why would I think of using Google? And if I'm not thinking of using Google, well...
Then there's social media content. I could easily fling figures at you, but there's little point since they'd be out of date by the time you read them. Suffice to say there's so much data being produced on a daily/hourly basis that Google or any of the other traditional search engines simply could not keep up with the insane task of indexing it. If I want to see what's happening on Twitter I can either use their own search function, or more likely I'll go across to Topsy for that. If I want to find out what someone is talking about in a blog, I'll perhaps try something like Icerocket. Interestingly, Google Blog Search was shut down on May 26, 2014, which is further cutting them off from social space, not being them back into it. Google's attitude is very contradictory here - it wants to be involved with social media, hence G+, but it's making it harder to find social media content by strangling its own products. This leads one to wonder that if they're not so interested in blogging, how much longer is the Blogger product going to be around? I think it's unlikely that they'll can it, but I've given up trying to predict what Google will do next to be honest.
All of these developments - an increasing use of social media, integration of search into mobile phones, and continued Facebook attacks will continue to weaken Google. The less that we use websites to get the information that we need, the less we'll want to use Google. The less we use Google, the more advertisers will go to wherever it is that we've gone, cutting down on their revenue. Now, I'm not for a single moment going to start the hyperbole on 'Google killers' or 'the death of Google', but I do think that unless Google really understands social media far more than they appear to at the moment, and move away from the idea of websites being of paramount importance, Google will decrease in value as a search tool.
The default search option for just about everything is always Google - we all know that, and it's very difficult to break that ingrained habit. However, perhaps it's time to explore Pinterest in a little more detail. As you know, it's a tool that allows you to 'pin' images that you upload yourself or that you find on the web to have easy access to them in the future - it's a bookmarking system for pictures basically. There are a number of ways that you can search through the millions of images currently pinned. The search box is in the top left hand corner, and you can either type in your search term, or use the category approach:
If you decide to keyword search, Pinterest gives you suggestions on ways to narrow your search, either by subject or pinners:
and you can also choose to search pins, boards, pinners and interests as well.
You'll also find, contrary to Google, that you really only get good high resolution images, which is because that's generally what Pinners will add to their collections. Google on the other hand will pick up anything that it finds, irrespective of quality.
There's also a very nice feature in Pinterest that allows you to see similar and related pins, so it's easy to track down other boards that cover the same interests or subject matter; great for browsing.
Social networking isn't forgotten of course, because you can follow other individuals, or contribute to specific boards, sharing comments, opinions and ideas. There's also a 'home feed' so that you'll see the images that the people you're following are adding, so you don't miss out on the good stuff. Pinterest has recently added the ability to send direct messages to other people on the site
I don't see Pinterest replacing Google any time soon, but it's certainly becoming a popular alternative. It has more than 70 million registered users and 20-30 million active monthly users and accounts for 90% of all social media shares on the web. (stats) There are also 30 billion pins to date, with 750 million boards. (stats) If you haven't looked at Pinterest, or it's been a while since you visited, it's worth taking a look at.
Well, probably. If you have a Google account, then it is. If you're using a smartphone and you use it to do just about anything on it, then it really is. Here's a look at my location map for the last month, which is the most that you can pull up in one go:
For good measure, I'm also showing you where I was on a specific day as well! You can choose different time periods, but it's still a maximum of a month at a time. You can see yours by going to the Google Maps Location History page (if you have one - you may need to log into your Google account at first) and then take a look.
Now, if you're freaked out by it, Google does allow you to delete your history for the time period that you're looking at, or for your entire history. If you're worried because you're using your smartphone, you can stop Google using this as well, by going to: Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and turn the slider switch off for Google Maps. If you're an Android user I can't help you directly because I don't use it, but Google has words of wisdom on it that you can use.
Is it something that you should be worried about? Depends entirely on your point of view really. I don't care in the slightest if Google knows where I am, and I actually think that it might be quite useful, certainly if I need to remember where I was on a particular day, and possibly also work out what I was doing. However, if you're particularly concerned about your privacy you can delete it all of course. And if you're that bothered, you'll really need to delete your Google account, and possibly give up using your smartphone as well. I've no knowledge or examples of how Google is using this information, if indeed they are to any great extent (obviously it's very helpful for me if Google knows where I am, so that I can use the mapping service properly), but in all honesty, if they want to, they're going to. And if you really want a one way ticket to paranoid city, even if you do get rid of the location history, how do you know that they don't have a mirror of it somewhere that they're not telling us about?
So - up to you, but I'm not that fussed personally.
Faster access to Google Hangouts If you find the process of setting up a Google Hangout a bit confusing, this will make it a bit easier for you. Simply click on the button to start and then you're pretty much there.
If you're looking at Google Maps and thinking 'WTF?' you're not alone. It's only just appeared in the last couple of weeks for me, so you may not even have seen it yet, but if you're like me, you may be less than impressed. Of course if you like it, dismiss the rest of this blog posting! Luckily, you can revert to the older version, but I don't know how long it will remain, so make the most of it while it's there.
Go to Google maps at https://www.google.com/maps
In the bottom right hand side of the screen click on the floating ? symbol and you'll get a dialogue box thus:
Click on the last option, and Google will switch back for you, and will also ask for your feedback.
The law that couldn't work is already fundamentally flawed. I've previously written about the insanity of being forgotten in a previous blog entry, and the results, now that we're seeing them in action are even more laughable than I was expecting. The short version is: it doesn't work. The longer version:
Google is attempting to work out when someone searches for a name, and when it finds what it thinks is one, in the .co.uk version we're seeing a message at the bottom of the results page which says "Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe." The first problem is that Google doesn't know what is a person's name, and what isn't. Take for example 'Gay Summer'. It's a perfectly acceptable name of a person, but Google has decided that it isn't, so it doesn't trigger the message. Even if I re-word it as "Gaye Summer", we still don't see it. Apparently therefore as far as Google is concerned it seems that 'Gay' or 'Gaye' isn't a first name. Neither is 'Mary Christmas', although 'Mary Jones' is regarded as a name. "Bradley Brown" is a name, but "Brown Bradley" isn't. "Phil Bradley" is a name, but "Bradley Phil" isn't. More appropriate, a Scottish referee, whose name triggers the warning, "Dougie McDonald" doesn't get triggered if you search for "McDonald Dougie" Now, admittedly that last example is a slight stretch since newspapers are not in the habit of writing surname, first name, but it still indicates a level of inconsistency with search functionality that's annoying, or amusing, depending on your viewpoint.
However, the really big flaw, which I can't actually believe is true, but I've checked it now dozens of times, is that this only works if you search for a name "in double quotes as a phrase". Here's an example of what I see when searching for "Phil Bradley" in quotes:
Without quotes - no warning message. I'm not sure if it's just me who sees this; please try it yourself and let me know in the comments - are you seeing a difference between names in quotes and without?
Now, let's turn to the next element - if I do a search with quotes and one without, does it actually change the results that I get? In other words, has the right to be forgotten worked and it's only the message warning that's not been tripped. Let's try with the referee. These are the ten results with the name in quotes and the warning message:
Using the same browser (Firefox) and the same IP address, the results for the name without quotes and no warning message are:
There is a slight difference in results, but nothing spectacular. So what happens if I run the same search on Google.com and see what we get? Once again, the results are really not that different.
The issue gets more and more confusing. The Daily Mail is complaining that Google.co.uk has taken down some results including one titled 'Scottish referee Dougie McDonald quits with a stinging blash at the SFA and his critics'. Looks a bit similar to a couple of articles that are already up there. This gets even more messy because you can follow the link to the DM site and the article is slightly different. A search on the Mail site brings up the article but under an entirely different title - 'Out with a bang! Ref McDonald quits with a stinging blast at the SFA'
I then ran a search for the guys name over on DuckDuckGo, and although the results were different, which you'd expect, there was a link to the DM article, and no mention of any Guardian articles, which they have been complaining about as being blocked. Now, one of these is entitled 'Referee at centre of Celtic penalty incident escapes with...'. If I do a search for the name it's perfectly true that the article doesn't appear in the Google index. However, if I instead search on "referee at centre of celtic penalty incident" the Guardian article is the very first one listed. (Click on the link and try it yourself).
So let's now try and put the two together - and what do we get? Why the self same article in #1 spot as you can see:
So what happens when I try and play around with the search? Removing the double quotes around both name and phrase - same result (with no warning message). Name in double quotes - same result as #1 but with the warning message at the bottom. Reducing my search to "Dougie McDonald" penalty incident still brings up the apparently unlisted article:
Also interestingly we've still got the Daily Mail article that they claim has been taken out of the Google index; clearly it hasn't. Now, in the Guardian article, they're claiming that their story, entitled "Referee at centre of Celtic penalty incident escapes with a warning" has been removed from the Google index, and they're showing a screenshot of this, and comparing it to the results that you get in Google.com. Now, if I do the same search that they did "Dougie McDonald" guardian, they're quite right - the article doesn't appear. However, if I'm slightly more subtle and do a search for "Dougie McDonald" site:theguardian.com then the article comes straight back.
So what are we to make of all of this? It seems clear that Google isn't actually removing articles from its index at all. I tried the search with the Daily Mail article as well, and it's still readily available.
The Guardian says that you can find the article 'Doubie McDonald penalty saga exposes need for SFA' in the .com version, but not in the .co.uk version. Indeed, over at .com it's the 2nd result. In .co.uk it's not available - UNTIL I re-run the search with site:theguardian.com when it reappears as the 4th result.
In summary then, my conclusion is that Google is NOT removing results; they are not being removed from the index - just made harder to find. Except that all you need to do is to remove the double quotes from the name, and perhaps add in some more terms:
This really isn't quite the same as removing links from their index at all! The only thing that's required is a bit of search savvy, there's no problem. That's to say nothing of the fact that you can of course go straight across to Google.com.
It's also interesting to see that Google is contacting the mass media to tell them when an article has been removed, because that then becomes a new story in its own right as we've seen, and it's something that they can write about, and then get indexed. So I'm guessing that Mr McDonald is going to be having a fine old time going back to Google to get THOSE articles removed from the index as well, which continues the insane merry go round.
[EDITED TO ADD] Another thought struck me - if you search for the name of the referee, and the newspaper, then look at the image results, not the web page results, it's possible to pull up the supposed un-indexed articles using that method. The Guardian says that this article "Dougie McDonald penalty saga exposes need for SFA transparency" has 'been swept clean' when it is actually still there. Try this search and click on the first link, then go to the page, and voila! There it is.
I'd welcome comments and observations - are you seeing things similar to me? Or are your results totally different, and if so, how?
New Google functionality makes it easier to search for hashtag content on Twitter and Facebook. But not every time, because that would make life too easy. If you include a hashtag Google provides new search options that it's keeping fairly out of the way. Over in the right hand menu you may see something like this:
You can then click on the appropriate link (Google+, Twitter or Facebook) and get taken directly to the site to run a search. What's particularly noteworthy is that you're running the search on Google, it's actually ON Facebook/Twitter. In this respect Google is almost acting like a traditional multi search engine, giving you different options that you can run a search on.
Of course, it's not that simple. I didn't consistently get the option coming up; the second time I tried #ipad as a search I was playing with, there was nothing to see. If you add in other terms (hashtags or not), this feature doesn't seem to appear. Just adding in a hashtag didn't always work - my #CILIP search didn't give me anything extra. So - another useful idea from Google, badly let down by their usual incompetent and slipshod approach.
The European Court of Justice has just told the world that they are clueless, inept and embarassingly short of knowledge on how the internet works. As you're almost certainly aware, they have ruled that Google is a data controller” under the 19-year-old European law on data protection, and as such could be required not to display links to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant...or excessive”.
There is no world in which any of this makes sense at all. However, let's break it down into various elements, because it's more fun that way.
Do people have a right to be forgotten? There's plenty of material out there on people which is less than complimentary, and much of it is also wrong. A lot of that data is also historical in nature, but unlike incorrect information that just sits inactive in a book or journal, this information can still remain very active. Take the example of Max Mosley, who was involved in a scandal some time back. For most of us, that particular episode is already forgotten, but if you do a search on Google you may (and I stress the word may) see that Google is giving you auto suggest options which relate to the incident. I'm not seeing them on my searches as you can see:
However, other people may. Now, there's not an awful lot that Google can do about that, since Google reflects what the rest of the world does, and if lots of people write about a particular issue, it's going to pick up on that. The real issue is that the content is already out there and will continue to remain out there, whatever Google does. Does Mr Mosley have a right to some sort of protection? Sure he does, but that protection needs to come from him talking to the original publishers of content, not the people who are providing it. Besides, when I see that material, I can also read the entire story and make up my own mind. So whose rights are more important - his to try and make it more difficult for me to find publically available information on him, or mine, to allow me to easily find that information? You may well have some sympathy with the man, which is fine. How about when we look at other people who are requesting that information about them is removed from Google's indexes, such as people with a criminal past, drunk drivers, sex abusers and so on. Do they have the right to be forgotten, or do I have the right to know that they might be living across the road from me? A lot of the people requesting the 'right to be forgotten' are doing so because of their criminal convictions. In the course of every day life many of those people will have the right to have their conviction 'spent' under current UK law, but that's a rather different issue. So the first point - who has the stronger right?
The 'right to be forgotten' isn't a right at all - since they are NOT being forgotten, just not indexed by Google. It would perhaps be more sensible to call it a 'right to censor material about me that I don't like without actually contacting the original publishers of the data'. Moreover, Google intends to indicate in search results if material has been removed as a result of this requirement. Now - if you do a search for 'Phil Bradley' and Google tells you that it has been required to remove material, isn't the first thing you do going to be to go to another search engine? Or if you can't be bothered to do that, go from google.co.uk to google.com since the ruling only applies to the UK version of the search engine.
Why just Google? As we all know, there are plenty of other search engines out there (and if you need them, I've got a list of over 200 search engines), and although Bing is attempting to create a right to be forgotten feature, that's 2 down, 198 to go. And what about new search engines? Who is going to monitor those? No-one, as far as I can tell. So the ruling doesn't actually work on these grounds either.
Next up - who makes the decision on what is in the public interest, as opposed to an invasion of privacy? It's not going to be the courts. Google is going to create a panel who will sift through these requests, and it's got a number of high profile people on it, but they're not going to be wasting their valuable time doing it day after day. It's going to get passed onto some lowly Google employee who makes decisions based on... well, I'm really not sure. Who is going to represent the public interest? What is the 'court of appeal' over this? Deafening silence.
So we've reached a stage when the European Court of Justice is handing over control of information (or at least partial control) to an American corporate. In what world does this make any sense at all?
So there isn't a single sensible reason for this ruling. This will not protect people, either the ones who want to be forgotten, or anyone else. It's ineffective because it doesn't appear to relate to all search engines, and it doesn't even cover all Google search engine variants. It's an abrogation of control to an unaccountable, unelected body. Insane.
You may have heard of the Google Chromecast gadget - I got one the other day and wanted to do a quick write up. However, if you haven't heard of this little tool, let's back up slightly. It's essentially a little gadget that you plug into the back of your (newish) television - you have to have an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) connection available, and you plug it in. You then go to the appropriate website on your desktop/laptop/tablet/smartphone and follow the onscreen instructions. When you've done all of that you can then 'cast' what you're seeing on the device directly onto your television. Consequently it's great for watching YouTube videos on a nice television sized screen, or watching films and so on. There are a bunch of apps in the Chrome store that work with the device, and you can add these to your laptop etc.
The installation was very easy. It really was just a question of following the onscreen instructions - it look longer to download the software than it did anything else. The gadget configured itself and the wi-fi connection - all that you need to know is your Router password details, and that's just about it. Once you're all set you see a cheery little icon sitting on your Chrome browser, or in your YouTube application etc which looks a little like this:
Make sure that you're on the correct tv channel for the HDMI port and you'll then see your screen being displayed on the television. Anything that you now do on your laptop etc. will appear on the television.
Libraries can use this in a variety of different ways. It's now really easy to cast your screen onto a television and you don't need to have an expensive projector - though I do readily concede that you need an expensive - or at least newish - television. It's going to be excellent to display presentations, training materials, videos, photographs and so on. A super little training tool in fact, as well as a promotional resource. If you only have a smartphone (Android or Apple) you can still show what's on the small screen onto something much larger.
There are some limitations - you have to have the Google Chrome browser on your computer/tablet/etc but that's only to be expected. In theory you can only cast stuff that you have available on the browser screen, but you can get around that, since there are apps that let you see more than a browser window - so the Chrome remote desktop app is great here - just allow your computer and laptop to talk to each other, and you can then take over the computer and cast what you're seeing onto the television. You could therefore show a game, the basics of another program; just about anything that you can see or use on your desktop can then be shown on the television. I did find that if you have a dual screen/monitor setup this particular app would show both, but that's easy enough to fix.
The price of this gadget is the princely sum of £30.00 and you can buy it from Amazon or all good technical stores, and probably some supermarkets as well now. Set up time from start to finish, for my laptop and tablet (iPad Air) was about 15 minutes, and most of that was just twiddling thumbs waiting for things to download or configure. It's such a cheap price for a really handy little gadget it's just worth getting for even occasional use.