Posts about google

The rise of the interest-state

In the post below, on Google standing up to China over its spying on dissidents and censorship, I note how Zeit Online calls Google a quasi-state — in a post under the headline “The Google Republic” — and Fallows says Google “broke diplomatic relations with China” as if Google were a nation.

What this says, of course, is that the internet is the New World and Google is its biggest colonizer: the sun never sets on Google.

It also says that on the internet, new states form across interests, ignoring borders. Those interests can be business — and we’ve seen what look like business-states before — but also causes, principles, and dangers (e.g., Al Qaeda). Interest-states will gain more power and that power will come from nations.

Just as what we’re seeing in the economy is more than a mere crisis — it is the shift from the industrial economy to what follows — similarly, in political structure, we are beginning to witness the emergence of new and competitive interest-states. In What Would Google Do?, I said this:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on institutions. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We now operate in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas. Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

: MORE: Siva Vaidhyanathan responds (as part of a conversation between us in both this post and the one below):

My book plays this in a slightly different way: The Internet has enough diverse interests and players that it demands governance. No traditional state is in the position or willing to assume that role. So Google governs the Internet.

One could read this showdown (as I do) as a classic international power conflict between a major traditional state and a new, virtual state: the Googlenet.

Google is taking a risky stand to defend the Internet generally. This is what a weaker, threatened state would do.

What Google should do

I am astounded and delighted at the news that Google is no longer comfortable censoring search results at the call of the Chinese government and is threatening to pull out of the market. Google said it discovered cyberattacks and surveillance aimed at cracking the mail accounts of Chinese supporters of human rights. Said Google exec David Drummond on the company blog:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

I know some will say that Google wasn’t doing that well in China anyway (it controls 31% of the market); they’ll ascribe cynical motives. But I say: Name one other company that finally said “enough!” and put ethic, morals, and company standards over its lust for the Chinese market. Not Yahoo. Not Cisco. Not Nokia. Not Siemens. Not The New York Times Company. Google has.

Here’s what I said in What Would Google Do? about China:

Google has censored search results in China, arguing that it is better to bring a hampered internet there than no internet at all. I don’t agree and believe that Google has more power than it knows to pressure countries around the world to respect openness and free speech. Google, like Yahoo, has handed over information to governments—Google in India, Yahoo in China—that led to users being arrested simply for what they said. As an American and a First Amendment absolutist, I’d call that evil.

Here’s what I said in a talk at Google’s offices in Washington. (Thanks to commenters, the time code for the start of the topic is 23:38.)

Note that even Google’s cofounder, Sergey Brin, has waffled if not agonized over the company’s China policy.

I can well be accused of being a Google fanboy; I wrote the book. But I have been consistent in my criticism of Google’s actions in China. And so now I have not choice but to become even more of a fanboy. I applaud Google for finally standing up to the Chinese dictatorship and for free speech.

Will the Chinese people revolt at losing Google? We can only hope. Will other companies now have to hesitate before doing the dictators’ bidding? We can only hope. Will Google be punished by Wall Street? It probably will. But as I’ve argued, we should hope that Google’s pledge, Don’t be evil, will one day be chiseled over the doors of Wall Street.

Google has thrown the gauntlet down in favor of freedom. What Should Google Do? This is what it should do.

: MORE: Said Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Berkman Center: “In a world in which we are so used to public relations massaging of messages, this stands out as a direct declaration. It’s amazing.”

: Says Reuters: “The world’s dominant search firm may be hoping other search and e-mail leaders, both global and domestic, will rally around it in calling for China to lighten a heavy-handed approach to the Internet that includes frequent censorship and allegations of government-backed hacking.”

: YET MORE: Zeit Online calls Google a quasi-state that is willing to stand up to China where the U.S. and Germany are not. But it also warns that Google’s interests are not what they seem. (In German.)

: A view of the PR strategy:

Google has taken the China corporate communications playbook, wrapped it in oily rags, doused it in gasoline and dropped a lit match on it. In China, foreign companies tend to be deferential to the authorities to the point of obsequiousness, in a way that you would almost certainly never encounter in the United States or Europe. . . . In this situation Google has undertaken a bet-the-farm confrontational communications approach in China. They will not have made this decision lightly. Dressed up in the polite language above is what is essentially an ultimatum: Allow us to present uncensored search results to our Chinese users or we’ll walk.

: Rebecca MacKinnon, who knows whereof she speaks on matters China and internet, says Google is doing the right thing.

: James Fallows, who also knows, says this:

And if a major U.S. company — indeed, Google has been ranked the #1 brand in the world — has concluded that, in effect, it must break diplomatic relations with China because its policies are too repressive and intrusive to make peace with, that is a significant judgment. . . . But its government is on a path at the moment that courts resistance around the world. To me, that is what Google’s decision signifies.

: Siva Vaidhyanathan responds to me here. There’s a chicken v. egg debate about what’s leading this: the attacks or the censorship. I agree that the censorship is a tool in this power struggle; it clearly was not the catalyst or it could have been four years ago. But I think it’s also evident –see Sergey Brin four years ago — that Google, despite its public pronouncements about a crippled internet being better than no internet, struggled internally with its China policy. Slapping China over censorship is now a way to bring make the fight about attacks about China. Pick your sin — attacks, censorship (or the death penalty or repression of dissent or dangerous and fatal products) — somebody — Google — finally had the balls to make China the issue. I’ve sat in WEF meeting where some have shushed me and others for daring to criticize China: it’s a Chinese thing; you wouldn’t understand. Well, bullshit, it’s a human thing; it’s about rights (pick yours).

: See my post above on the rise of the interest-state.

Page & Brin: Icons of the decade

The Guardian commissioned me to write a piece on Google founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin as icons of the decade. My kicker:

To understand the power of Brin’s and Page’s focus, go to Google’s home page now and type “weather in Ed” and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you’ve even asked it. Google’s true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.

When we’re using Google devices with Google operating systems and Google browsers and Google software to ask Google questions in text or voice or even pictures and Google gives us each the personal answers we need from any source – no, the best source – in the world, in the context of the moment and our needs, that will be the culmination of the Google age. Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.

Google’s synchronicity

On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.

I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).

Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:

* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.

* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.

* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.

* Google Goggles goes the next step and lets you take a picture of a place — or object (or soon, person) — and use that as a search request to get local information — or leave it.

Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).

* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.

* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).

* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.

* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.

* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.

That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:

* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.

Google search

Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.

* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.

I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.

* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.

* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.

Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.

But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.

* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.

* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.

* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.

Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.

I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.

: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.

: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.

Google goes local

TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.

Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”

Content farms v. curating farmers

Tweet: Content farms v curating farmers: Deeper insights in Demand Media’s model & finding opportunity in finding quality.

I spent an hour on the phone the other day with Steven Kydd, exec VP of Demand Studios, to understand their model—using algorithms to assign content creation based on search and advertising demand and to minimize cost and maximize revenue—because I wanted to learn a deeper layer of lessons than I think we’re hearing in the discussion of Demand’s allegedly evil genius.

The talk thus far misses their key insight and the opportunities they create. Much of what I see online is fear that Demand Media—with the slightly rechristened “Aol.” following fast behind—will cheapen content and flood the internet—that is, search results—with crap that’s just good enough to fool algorithms. Some also fear that while putting content creators to work they will put better content creators out of work: the dreaded deprofessionalization and deflation of media.

Michael Arrington marks the end of “hand-crafted content” (somewhere I hear Nick Carr and Andrew Keen cackling maniacally). And Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus worries that the web’s quality will suffer.

They may be right. But then again, the internet has always been filled with crap. So the challenge has always been how you find the cream. That’s where opportunities lie. That’s what Google saw. The new question is whether Google can keep ahead of the content farms and continually find new and better ways to find better stuff. I’ll bet on Google over crap-creators. But they better get cracking.

This is why, when I proposed an X prize to solve media’s key problems at Yale symposium, Clay Shirky responded with a call for work on what he called “algorithmic authority.” A few of my students’ proposals in my entrepreneurial journalism class tackled just this problem with discovering and prioritizing content for us: one using humans aided by algorithms, one using algorithms aided by humans; neither operated like a one-size-fits-all search engine (but then, soon, Google won’t either).

I think we may see search fall as the sole or even key means of discovery and filtering of quality content. I see three rings of discovery today: search (Google); algorithms (see: Google News, Daylife); and humans (see: Twitter). Note again that Bit.ly alone causes as many clicks a month—one billion—as Google News. Human power rises again. That’s what Fred Wilson says today when he argues that social beats search, because “it’s a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph.” As search becomes more personal and no longer universal, SEO as a dark art and as the fertilizer for content farms will diminish and the social graph — our own circles of authority — will become more important in search as well. So I have faith that there are solutions to stem any rising tide of crap.

This is how I put it in a tweet: “algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.”

In all of this, I caution us not to miss Demand’s key insight: that the public should assign the creators, including journalists. The public often knows what it wants to know. I learned this lesson when I consulted at About.com and saw how they monitor search queries to see where there are questions for which the don’t have answers. When that happens, they go write answers; Demand automates the process. Makes sense.

This is not how we have operated in media: We decided which questions to answer because we asked them. What hubris! Today, I teach my students to find conversations on the internet and add journalism to them in the form of answers, corrections, reporting, explanations. In 2007, my students in a seminar at Burda in Munich and in my class at CUNY asked why the public doesn’t assign us and my entrepreneurial students in two classes have worked on that problem. Jay Rosen just started playing with this notion at ExplainThis.org, creating a platform for the public to ask reporters to report their questions. Demand and About are doing the same thing, only through search queries. Jeff Sonderman compiles some more examples. Where appropriate, reversing the assignment pipe is a good idea.

Demand is also creating a system they say will find the best writer for each assignment. We are free to disagree with their methods and results, but there’s insight here, too. Two students in my entrepreneurial journalism class won a grant to create a platform to do just this with local and hyperlocal news assignments (note that Kydd told me Demand isn’t touching news); I’ll report more on their project as it gets closer to launch. Can’t news organizations learn and steal some lessons from Demand? What if you wanted to create a content asset — say, a complete travel guide — and you opened up the process and its discreet tasks to a marketplace of paid contributors, enabling you to do larger projects at lower cost than before?

I always tell my students: Wherever you see a problem, look for the opportunity. That’s Arrington’s point: The next generation of content creation is here; deal with it. If you don’t like what Demand et al are doing, see the opportunity in it to surface quality content and to create competitive quality stars whose creations rise not just through algorithmic search cynicism but through human recommendation. Dig to the next layer.

* * *

I got lots of details from Kydd about the Demand method. In their view, they have combined content-creation and social-media platforms to enable content creators with “spare cycles”—his nerdy words—to earn money.

Kydd says 11 community members contribute to each article by fulfilling the discreet functions Demand identified: writing, copy-editing, copy-chiefing, reviewing titles, managing topic pages, checking facts. That is done by freelancers. The staff directs, edits, curates, and manages them. The algorithm makes all this more effective as it tracks content and ad demand and writes headlines for pieces it says will get traffic and earn money. Editors are 1.5 times more effective in creating assignments that will generate traffic, Kydd said, but the algorithm is 4.9 times better than creators.

Kydd said Demand pays from $0 (with revenue sharing) to $100 per piece; it averages at $20. Copy editors make $2.50-$3 per piece, which works out to $15-20 an hour. He said these people like to wake up and know there’s work they can do—there are 100k assignments waiting for takers right now—while they wait for old, human editors to respond to pitches. He said they also like being paid twice a week. Kydd said Demand employed 4,500 creators (text and video) and 400 copy editors in the last 30 days.

What amazed me most is that Demand uses its method not only for service content but for jokes at Cracked.com. Could an algorithm and social network replace Jay Leno? Easy.

: LATER: See also Doc Searls on junk food and chefs.

: Paul Marcum tweeted today: “Prediction: increasing clutter from algo content farms + mobile app convenience will have even @jeffjarvis paying for news by 2011.” I responded seeing the irony here: that value will come from aggregation and curation of quality content. But imagine then if the aggregators become more valuable than the creators and start charging; the creators (i.e., Murdoch) will go batshit. I’ve argued that in the link economy, there are two creations of value around content: from those who make the content and from those who bring together the public around it. Where is there greater value? We’ll see….

: LATER STILL: See Upendra Shardanand (founder of Daylife, where I’m a partner) on the need for new tools to create new handcrafted content. Problem is, he says, we’re using old text tools. See my related posts on storytelling and post-page media.

The new divide: Walled v. open

Tweet: The new divide in media is walled v. open. Here’s why I think walls are bad for the builders and us all.

In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free.

But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out.

Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.

But I would hate to see walls go up just as we are tearing them down. That’s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger began his road show on the mutualization of news for my students a week ago: showing the wall between the press and the people coming down. But then, Rusbridger recognizes that the future of news – any industry, really – is about handing over control. That is what Murdoch et al fear most.

I fear balkanization. I fear stupidity, too – that others will follow Rupert the Pied Piper over the cliff. And I fear the impact on democracy.

At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

Rusbridger reminds us that advertising freed newspapers from ownership and control by political parties and special interests who exercised that control via patronage. Advertising gave journalism independence. Advertising also subsidized news and reduced its cost so more people could get it. Surely the mission of news is to serve as many people as possible and so things that serve that end serve the mission; things that don’t, don’t.

I’m accused by those who don’t listen to what I say of arguing that – in the too-often paraphrased half quote – news (information, content) wants to be free, as if that is my cause, my religion. No, I say that I want to support news in the most sustainable and profitable way possible — and I believe today, that’s still advertising, which will work better in the open. I want to make news more efficient and less expensive so it can, again, be more sustainable — which will also work better in the open as networks, collaboration, and links serve that efficiency. And I want news to be as open as possible so as many people as possible can use it — that’s as close as I get to a cause: not that information wants to be or must be free but that it is better to be open.

Murdoch thinks Google is doing evil — kleptomania — because he doesn’t understand the new realities of media. Microsoft knows better. Its alleged attempt to woo old-man Murdoch is an act of deepest cynicism. It’s evil.

I believe that the next wave of virtue in society will flow from openness: from government transparency, from corporate transparency, from personal publicness and an ethic of openness that will bring greater accountability, deeper connections, and meaningful sharing.

Walls used to contain value; that’s why it’s the reflex of the legacy powerful to want to build them. They don’t see that today, in an open society and economy, walls no longer preserve value, they diminish it.

So I’m not rooting for Murdoch to build his walls as good sport. I really wish he wouldn’t, for his sake and ours.

Rupert has balls

Tweet: Rupert has balls. Well, he used to.

That’s the essence of Murdoch: balls. It’s the essence of the culture of News Corp., which I learned from working there (at TV Guide): Australian macho seat-of-the-pants instant decision making.

That is the secret to Murdoch’s success. It is also the secret to his failure: Sometimes his balls land on red, sometimes on black. Murdoch plays the odds but he does it by making big bets. He can do that because he’s a mogul; they’re his balls. Companies that are ruled by task forces don’t act like him; they overthink to convince themselves they’re making smart decisions (like merging with AOL). News Corp. underthinks.

So I don’t buy the worship of those who think that Murdoch must know something we don’t know, that he’s inscrutable and brilliant and so one mustn’t question his actions – as in the case of pay walls and Google – for fear of missing some Yoda moment. No, sometimes Murdoch wins his bets, sometimes he loses.

He almost lost the company once with bad bets with debt. He bet big on U.S. satellite (and then said, oh, nevermind). He bet huge on China but now admits it’s tough. He wasted a fortune and a decade and any hope of an internet strategy on Delphi (where I worked) and Iguide. MySpace – need I say more?

But he bet big on sports and keeps winning as a result. He started a fourth network against all odds. He launched successful satellites elsewhere in the world and won. He won and lost but so far has still won more than he lost and that’s why he’s a winner.

What’s sad about the Murdoch family’s pathetic mewling about Google as if it were a big, bad bully kicking sand in their face and their desperate, cliff-grabbing speculation about pay walls is that neither is a big bet. Neither shows any vision. Neither shows balls. That’s why I have no faith in the argument that Yoda – or Jabba the Murdoch, if you prefer – has one more up his sleeve. No, son James Murdoch just said News Corp isn’t a news corp anymore but a TV company. They’ve given up. They’re just hoping to squeeze one more pint of milk out of old Bessie before they turn her into fajitas.

You want to look to an executive who has a strategy and fearlessly executes it, look to Jobs. Bezos, too. You want big-picture vision, see the Google boys. Charisma? Obama. Experience? Well, that was Jack Welch, until the value of experience expired.

Murdoch? He has balls. Big ones.