Pluses and Minuses

Facebook Vs Google, Round 2

The whole world seems to be going gaga over the new kid on the block, Google’s Facebook Killer, Google+. I have tried it, since I hardly every like verdicts (they sound good in retrospect, but most people eat their own words when they don’t go right), I would just share some thoughts.

Overall, Google has delivered a kickass product. It’s a great bit of engineering. For the first time in its life, Google seems to have come out of its engineering style product development and has delivered something that is quite well polished. There are hardly any kinks, the product has been thought through well, including deep integration across all google services. It’s even gone ahead and published Google+ like themes for Gmail and Gcalendar. It takes a lot to introduce a new product across all your properties (the top bar in Gmail, Google Search etc.) on day one, and I commend Google on its confidence. And its welcome change from half dash efforts earlier (Buzz, and Orkut while well done was abandoned).

At the same time, however, the product lacks any irresistible feature that will make me switch. The usual: wall/stream, notifications, @/+ etc. have been added. Circle’s is great UI but not something facebook won’t have in two weeks. Sparks and Hangout are cool, but not at the core of social networking. I don’t think I will ever have the time or inclination to “hangout” on the web with friends, unless its work. And if its work, I would rather keep out of Google+. Sparks is something that I have still not understood, and it seems something Google News should have added.

Moving the Social Web is a Mountain. I don’t imagine people suddenly switching to the new kid on the block. There are pictures, friends and family on facebook which people wouldn’t switch on day one, and I doubt given the way facebook is so deeply integrated in most people’s lives (its the first website I open after email), I doubt making the switch will be that easy. I also don’t expect my mom, my dad and so many other people to just jump on Google+, also because of its (slightly) geeky interface.

Getting rid of baggage is also a good thing.  That said, I do want a place where my new social life is better mirrored. Facebook seems to have so much baggage now – people I may not even interact with, that having a place where I can interact with a fewer people is actually better. I have heard horror stories of people meeting you after years and still knowing what you are upto (and you knowing nothing about them!). In a world where your friendships become limited to what you know from your facebook newsfeeds, having a new place to locate new content is a welcome change. I also want a place where I can interact with people with whom I share some interests and keep it distinct from the rest of the world.

Is Google trying too many things? An obvious question comes to mind. Google is planning to fight Facebook & Twitter in social, Groupon in local offers, Microsoft in enterprise and search, and everybody else in Silicon Valley somewhere or the other. Suddenly, the company that started with “Don’t be Evil” has enemies all over and is fighting all fronts.

Competition is good for Facebook. I think its going to keep it on its toes as it has suddenly in the last few months become the monopoly on your social connections. It needs to think of quite a few things – helping us keep our friends graph better organized, surfacing new and better content (I hate the spam on facebook!), and figuring out ways to become more pervasive (are we going to see facebook browser toolbars soon?).

Bad news for Twitter. The one to lose out the most may just be Twitter. What works for twitter is the one way friendship that geeks love, and celebrities take recluse in. If Google is able to capture these well (circles is in some way one way relationship – the friend connection in G+ is quite complex), it will mean people won’t mind moving to it. In this three way world of Twitter/Facebook/Google, it will be Twitter which has the least stickiness, most spam, and no way of monetizing. The dollars twitter would have hoped to get, would now get split even more. If twitter has to stay afloat, it will definitely need to start thinking quickly.

Google Crawler hitch brings down UAL

This would rate pretty high in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Google posted a 2002 news story on its front page about UAL going bankrupt, which brought down UAL share prices rock bottom. [link]

Shares of UAL lost 75% of its value in seconds, plummeting as low as $3 from $12.30 prior to the story appearing on Google. Some investors in UAL stock lost a ton of money. The stock hit an all time low on heavy volume.

The shares bounced back after the market realized it was a 6-year old story on the company’s 2002 bankruptcy filing that appeared on Google. Investors who sold on the news were stuck.

Google declined comment on the incident. Later, it blamed the Sentinel for posting the 2002 Chicago Tribune article on their website. The Nasdaq Stock Market, where UAL shares are listed, said trades triggered by the erroneous report wouldn’t be rescinded. The Google story then was picked up by Income Securities Advisors, a Florida investment newsletter, and disseminated over Bloomberg News triggering a wave of panic selling. It appeared as ”United Airlines files for Ch. 11 to cut costs.”

Amazin’ ain’t it? No wonder Google is facing antitrust investigations due to the immense power it yields.

Second Highest Bid auctions

Found this interesting post on Sriram Krishnan’s blog where he describes the origin of the Vickrey auction that is used by Google and Yahoo! for the online advertising. Very interestingly, although it has some side-benefits of removing winner’s curse and bid shading (see links on Sriram’s blog), the real reason why this process was adopted [instead of the traditional English auction] is that the Google systems people wanted to reduce the loads on the server that would have resulted from people changing their bids rapidly:

There have been several articles documenting the work of Google’s Salar Kamangar and Eric Veach in bringing this to AdWords. What is lesser known (atleast to me )is that they implemented this model to solve another problem entirely. I came across this old talk from a Google employee – in the speaker notes, it talks about how Kamangar and Veach implemented this feature to stop advertisers from logging into the system and modifying their bids constantly (since that’s what people tend to do in an open English auction). By implementing a second price auction, they were hoping to reduce the load on the system.

Google, SEO, Knol and the rest of the world

Google recently launched Knol, their wikipedia competitor which allows experts to own articles. The concept is interesting because Wikipedia allows free-for-all authorship, and by making the articles edited by experts and listing their owners clearly on the knol, Google hopes it will get higher quality content. The editors will stake their prestige on the quality of the content, and overtime Google could also share Adsense revenue with them.

However, a has also raised quite a storm in the teacup since people are speculating that Google will take undue advantage of its search traffic to drive usage of knol. Google has pretty much become the traffic policeman of the new web — telling people where to go, and getting them there through its vast knowledge of the contours of the internetland. However, as is often the case in India, what do you do when lawmakers become lawbreakers? When a cop’s car breaks traffic rules, do you give them a ticket? While I am hopeful Google will not quite reach the level of Indian police (or even Bennet, Coleman & Co.), but the question of Knol getting undue advantage (as against the much better established Wikipedia) can not be brushed aside.

The importance of Google’s dominance of the web came to the fore front yesterday during a discussion at the Open Coffee Club’s first meeting in Kolkata yesterday. Angshuman of Taragana complained that he had a hard time when Google dropped him out of their indexes for some reason he is yet to figure out. While he has several conjectures such as his wordpress translation plugin due to Google might have labelled all his pages as duplicate/spam, or changing his URL syntax using mod_rewrite, he couldn’t really figure out what the problem was. Using the webmaster tools wasn’t much help either. Finally, the way he resolved it was by telling the Google representative that he would stop his Adsense spending if his website wasn’t restored — he claims that is the only thing that works with Google. Being dumped by Google indices is quite scary for any website owner, almost like not being reachable from the Start button on a windows box, and there needs to be better mechanism to deal with such ‘mistakes’.

Microsoft has often been accused of using its Windows strength to push its other services, and now Google could do the same. While Google has been the poster child of the internet, and we all continue to use its services in good faith, ignoring trespasses into content creation space, brushing aside its transgressions as mere mistakes — one can hear whispers today and one expects them to soon transform into noises. The onus is on Google to uphold its “don’t be evil” philosophy, and communicate its positive action proactively to the rest of the world. It has already done well for the last few years, but the time has come to be more open, more forthcoming, and more accommodating, or might find itself in the same boat as what Microsoft, AT&T and other monopolies have been in the past.

Feedburner down? (and what is feedburner?)

Looks like feedburner is down. I just went to check my readership figures and it showed Zero subscribers. In all humility, I accept that I don’t have too many readers, but I feel happy for every click I get (don’t the others?) and so keep checking the figures ever so often. Anyway, this is what feedburner shows me:

image

Definitely something fishy! Google, what are you doing? First the confusion in the Gmail Logo and now this?

Anyway, for those who don’t know what feedburner is: Feedburner is a service that lets you redirect all your readership through a single access point. Think of it as a gate through which the feeds would pass. Hence, you can do a bunch of stuff with your feeds:

  • Add stuff to your feeds, like advertisements, or burn amazon associates id to every book review you post
  • Make several changes to your feed format to make it standards compliant and provide other frills. It would also provide better uptime if you have a self-hosted blog
  • Clip your blog posts so that people reading it in a reader are forced to come to your blog and increase hits (*wicked curled lips*)
  • Publicize it better, with those cool-looking “617k subscribers” (not mine :P) type logos
  • Provide extra services like ‘Subscribe by email’
  • Of course, track you readership
  • One benefit which I love but is often glossed over is to be able to change your blog URL and still have people get updates on the same feed. You can essentially tell people to go to a different room at the gate, to lift the paradigm of my earlier example

Feedburner has a page on its site where it gives reasons for using it. It’s good a video too (though I haven’t watched it!)

Feedburner was recently acquired by Google. Google also added a new feed-redirection feature to their blogger service which lets people redirect their blogger feed. I wish wordpress.com provided that (you can do it in self-hosted wordpress though)

If you are serious about blogging, feedburner (or a similar service) is a must have. Provided they fix the aforementioned problem, that is.

[Others seem to have noticed it as well - WebFiles Simon Sandossu]

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Change in GMail branding – Have you noticed?

Looks Google is changing the branding of Gmail to Google Mail. It seems that Google lost rights to the GMail brand name in Germany and that is now being followed up in some other countries.

Since 2000, Daniel Giersch has held the brand “G-mail… und die Post geht richtig ab” [G-mail... the best way to go postal]. Under the G-mail brand, he operates a number of physical and electronic postal services with thousands of users, as he explained to heise online in March of 2005. Giersch therefore had a court issue a temporary restraining order against the use of “Gmail” before winning the main proceedings at the first-instance district court of Hamburg (Az. 312 O 475/05) against Google in April of 2006. Google appealed this ruling and has now lost the appeal

The legal dispute, which also detrimentally affected users, has also been extended beyond the German legal system. Currently, charges have been filed in Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Looks like there has been another incident in the UK. In fact, there is a relevant BBC report dated way back in 2005. However, this is the first time I am noticing the change in India.

GMail before:

gmail

Google Mail now:

image

Funnily enough, the brand change seems to be in effect in one out of two of my email accounts. Perhaps they are slowly transitioning users to the new branding. Have you noticed the change in your email branding?

[There is another brand change story which is doing the rounds now-a-days -- UTI Bank to Axis Bank -- but that, of course, is for entirely different reasons]

[Email brand name change has been common lately with Hotmail transitioning to Windows Live Hotmail. This has beset the Redmond giant with quite a few problems because people have been worried about rather frequent name changes]

Sponsored Advertisements

In the midst of a heated discussion with Mohit about The Long Tail (I think Chris Anderson gets unnecessary credit — It really was the monkey-god Hanuman who taught us what a long and potent tail could do, but that’s another story):

I: The Internet is a classic example of the Long Tail. So, is Google because they are able to monetize all those keywords which will never earn a penny if published in a magazine.

M: I wonder who clicks on the Sponsored Ads in Google.

I: I never do. Do you?

M: I don’t either. I can’t count having clicked more than 5-6 times all my life (that includes clicks by mistake). I think it’s all click-fraud.

I: I don’t know. But that would need to be a big scam!

M: But then, somebody has to be dumb enough to click all those ads.

I: I think it’s the Americans.

Hi-fives.

PS: If you are an American, please replace the word ‘Americans’ by ‘Commies’. Or should I say: s/Americans/Commies/g?

PPS: This is meant completely as a joke, inspired by their President. Most Americans I have met are very smart people, and continue to wow me.

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