Archives for category: Opinion

A great day for Apple fan-boys. Both a major strike against the enemy in the form of a billion dollar patent ruling against Samsung, and a shock-wave of fear for anyone that wants to innovate in the mobile arena.

Apple say that this is not about money, that it is about promoting innovation. I agree with the first part, after all they are a filthy rich company. But to say it is about innovation is idiotic. This is about power.

How is declaring ‘thermonuclear war’ (Steve Jobs words) on competition going to aid innovation? Apple continue to exploit an archaic patent system in their blind pursuit of power. They desire complete mobile dominance for their tech empire.

So what were these incredible innovations that Apple now own? Did Samsung lift large chunks of programming that Apple had spent blood, sweat and tears coding?

In short, no. The patents are for things that really shouldn’t have a patent attached to them. Designs and functions that are at the very core of how we think about smart phones and a pivotal part of our new mobile era. For example,

  • D’381 patent covers things like ‘pinch and zoom’, dragging documents across the screen and the twist and turn ability.
  • D’163 patents cover the double tap action to zoom that we all use in Google maps.
  • D’915 covers scrolling down a document using one finger.
  • D’677 and D’087 refer to a rectangular phone with rounded corners.

This is going to set a dangerous precedent, as Apple will continue to hunt down companies it can squeeze with it’s arsenal of patents. Smaller companies will cower in fear of infringing and pay large premiums to license Apple’s patents. How does this increase innovation?

Advertisements

An internet blackout by some of the internet heavyweights is looking much more likely. Mashable, one of the biggest tech websites out there, published an editorial calling for a campaign to inform the masses about the danger posed by SOPA.

Facebook, Google and Wikipedia. You’re the Big Three in this fight. You’ve already publicly affirmed your opposition to SOPA. Now it’s time to really be a part of the fight.

Everyone in the tech community knows about SOPA, but that isn’t enough – the anti-SOPA movement needs the average Joe to understand and protest against the bill.

A blackout of Facebook, Google and Wikipedia would get the world talking. It would be on the frontpage of newspapers (except possibly the SOPA supporting Murdoch press). People will ask ‘what is it about SOPA that causes these internet behemoths to take such drastic action?’

January 18th is the date set by members of online community Reddit for the blackout. Hacktivist collective Anonymous have tweeted that they will embark on radio silence on that day, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has stated that he hopes Wikipedia will be ready to get involved:

I’m all in favor of it [a January 18 blackout of Wikipedia], and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I’d like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that’s a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course)[…]

Of course, we really need Google to get involved. After all, ‘Don’t be evil’ is their informal corporate motto. They have stepped up to the mark before by removing Google search capabilities from China, now we have to hope they are prepared to step up again.

The SOPA bill is the desperate bite of a wounded and dying entertainment industry. The internet has liberated artists and content providers. We are seeing the emergence of an organic internet marketplace, free from the layers of middlemen that have exploited artists for so long. They have been creaming money of the work of others for so long that they think what they do is natural.

January 18th is set to be an important day for the internet. How important is up to the big three.

Today offered a glimpse of a truly amazing future for conscientious shoppers that want to boycott products.

A team of anti-SOPA activists (read about the Stop Online Piracy Act here) have created an app that allows you to scan a barcode from a product and see whether the product is made by one of the 800 SOPA supporting companies.

It works by automatically checking a product against a database of companies. If the scanned product  comes from a SOPA supporting company, then a big red ‘x’ is displayed on the screen – enabling the shopper to chose not to purchase.

The idea behind the boycott app is brilliant and could be applied to anything. Simply change the list of companies in the database to whoever you want. If, for example, you want to boycott GlaxoSmithKlein after hearing about their exploitative and illegal vaccine tests that killed 14 babies – you could add them to your ‘boycott list’. Don’t like Coca-Cola for any of their irresponsible acts – add them to the list.

In a world where mobile app’s seem to be the domain of marketers – it is refreshing to see mobile technology being used by activists  to empower consumers and help hold corporations accountable.

Ideally this tool should become opensource so that any activists  or consumers can create their own unique database of companies to use with the app. Campaigning groups could make lists for supporters to upload to the boycott app. It could even be used to discover things about products when in a store – e.g. this cereal manufacturer CEO kills baby seals or this fashion designer has links to the far right.

Barcode scanning is something that is set to become more popular among consumers. This app is the latest incarnation of a broader trend of  scanning technology. Amazon recently released a popular mobile ‘Price Check’ app that encourages consumers to scan products they come across in bricks and mortar stores and receive a discount if they buy the product online through the Amazon app.

You could argue that the time it takes to scan every item of a weekly supermarket shop would be a barrier. However, jump a year or so in the future and every item will contain a RFID (radio frequency identification) chip, which is a superior and more efficient method of identifying objects than a normal barcode.

Then the same kind of friction-less technology we are seeing with Facebook will be a part of our shopping experience. Put a product in your shopping basket and your phone will give you a little alert if it is to be boycotted. Check out this ubercool video on the RFID future of shopping to get what I mean.

You may be under the impression that when you search for something on Google the results you see are the same as anyone else that performs that search. This isn’t the case, and hasn’t been for a long time.

In 2009 Google went full steam ahead with personalized search. The idea was to look through your internet history, your Gmail and all the rest of your Google products and look for signals that would enable Google to tailor a search results to exactly what you are looking for.

As well as looking through your history, Google has always wanted to look at your social network to make your search results more relevant. The only problem with that is it doesn’t own any social network data – a social network like Facebook is a ‘walled garden’ that Google can only peek in from the outside.

The arrival of Google+ allows Google free-rein over your social data and will herald the age of a new buzzword – social search. Social search is the process whereby your social network (or social graph) affects the results of a Google search. By looking at the content that has been created or shared by people in my social graph, the results I get from a Google search will be more personalized than ever before.

I’ve already seen this in action. After searching Google for ‘SOPA’ (the Stop Online Piracy Act) I found myself reading from a website that I had never heard of. I traced how I ended up on this particular page and it turns out that someone I have in my Google Circle network was a writer for this website and had +1’ed the article.

This is great, right? Google search results will become more relevant, based upon people like me and less likely to be manipulated by dirty SEO tactics. Some people have even gone so far as to call this a ‘Socratic Revolution’ – suggesting that the era of personalized search is akin to the philosopher Socrates placing man at the center of the intellectual universe.

There is, however, a dark side to personalized search that has been recognized in a book called  ‘The Filter Bubble’ by Eli Pariser. The problem, he argues, is that this personalized ecosystem of knowledge acts as a mirror that reinforces what we believe without allowing the possibility of our views being challenged. Each new layer of personalization strengthens the walls of our own bubble – satisfying us with the information we want to see instead of offering new ideas. Or as he puts it, we are being given ‘too much candy, and not enough carrots.’

Whilst the Filter Bubble emphasizes our uniqueness, it acts as a centrifugal force – it pulls us apart from one another. With enough personalization the front page of Google News will be different for everyone, removing the kind of shared experience we used to have with a newspaper. Also, the Filter Bubble is invisible – we don’t know the maths behind how these algorithms define us. And with the increasing omnipotence of Google – it is difficult to not be a part of it.

So the arrival of Google+ social search marks a new era of ‘invisible autopropaganda’ that will continue ‘indoctrinating us with our own ideas’. What it will also mark is the start of a new form of marketing and campaigning – especially in the run-up to the 2012 US election. If I tap ‘Healthcare’ into Google I will be presented with the healthcare articles that my network has shared. Both the Democrats and the Republicans will have to fight to ensure that they have the right people inside the voters Google Circles.

Whilst we may still be at the dawn of social search – the correct techniques in this area could eventually make or break a campaign. Could 2012 be the year that Obama leverages Google+ to win the election?

These kind of posts are always a bit of a gamble. This time next year I could either be revered as a technological oracle or shamed as a false prophet. So with this in mind I will avoid predicting the Rise of the Robots and have a look at what other people are saying before sticking my neck out.

Google+

Whereas the size of your Facebook network is probably in excessive of 100 people, Tim Bajarin predicts that 2012 will see the rise of social networking tools that allow us to interact with smaller groups of friends.

Perfectly located to embrace this trend of intimate social networking is the Circles feature of Google+. You can easily organize your contacts into friends/colleagues/groups etc and interact with each circle in a unique way. For a brand – this could involve organizing your fans and advocates, or for a company this could be different departments.

I expect 2012 to see major gains for the infant social network. According to one report Google+ already has 650,000 members – and at current growth rate is set to hit the 300 million mark by the end of 2012.  I don’t think 2012 will be the year that Google+ explodes (I think Google are playing the long game) but it will certainly see itself seeping into new areas and opening up new possibilities for social networking.

Integration with other Google services such as Mail, Android and the ever-improving Google Apps Office suite will all offer an incentive for businesses to sign up. American manufacturing giant General Motors have reportedly signed a deal for access to Google App’s for it’s 100,000 strong workforce – I’m sure that the features of Google+ will find an abundance of uses in huge corporations like this.

However, the most important factor of Google+ that will see it grow through 2012 is how the network will effect normal search functions. Google+ brand pages will soon be placed on the first page of Google search results and articles that people in your network ‘+1’ will be given weighting in any search query you find yourself making through Google.

This relationship between search and social will make it an important battleground for the 2012 US presidential elections. A Google search for ‘healthcare’ will present pages that people in your Google+ network have shared – so it is crucial for any political campaign to penetrate peoples Google network.

Facebook

Whilst Google+ will find itself a home, it won’t come close to the king of social networks. Valued at $100 billion, pretty much everyone agrees that Facebook will continue to ascend. Frictionless sharing (when anything you read, watch or listen to on the web is posted to Facebook automatically) will continue to grow – yet it will need to be significantly tweaked as people realize that they don’t want everything posted to the world.

Having acquired location check-in service Gowalla this year it is likely we will see a growth of Facebook location updates. Marketers still don’t know how to deal with check-ins, but 2012 will see that change. One hotel has already offered a discount to people that match a real life check-in with a Facebook one.

My main prediction about Facebook is a change of public consciousness about the network. I think that in 2012 people will realize the implications of a world where every location they check in, every song they listen to, every news article they share and every comment they make is recorded and displayed as part of their Facebook Timeline.

People will realise that the Timeline will be something they can look back at in 40 years time – a complete record of their own life – and this will have a profound effect on our relationships to social networks. The effects of this are impossible to guess.

The Media

Newspaper print revenues will inevitably continue to plummet, but new models will begin to rise. News organizations will begin creating Facebook apps to follow the success of the Guardian and NY Times.

Citizen journalism will continue to soar as new tools allow for better organisation of contributions and developments of a news story. These new tools are also creating a new breed of journalist – the curator. Content curation, categorization and dissemination will become more crucial  as journalism moves into a ‘decentralized, real-time, collaborative, and curated future‘.

TV 2.0

The humble television set is due an upgrade. Using my Virgin Media box seems archaic when compared to the potential of the internet. Apple will release an astronomically priced TV and create a buzz and then towards the end of the year, Google will release their fair priced version just in time for Christmas.

‘The Battle for the Living Room’ will start in earnest, but games consoles are far better situated than most to win. Having browsed through YouTube on my TV using voice commands and hand gestures with my Kinect (yes, like minority report) – I don’t feel much need to change. And as Matt Roseff says ‘any company who hopes to compete with the Xbox by selling an add-on box that DOESN’T play games is in a deep state of denial’

Opensource social network

The main problem with Facebook is that it is ran for profit. 2012 will see more adverts crammed into the website – and they have just announced a daily sponsored advert that will be placed in your news feed. For people that care about these things, liberation could be in sight!

Joe Brockmeier predicts that Mozilla, the guys behind FireFox, will release an open source, privacy enabled version of Facebook (without adverts). Whilst I hope this is true, and I will certainly be signing up, I doubt that this David and Goliath fight will be won by the little guy.

Digital Identification

The era of the fingerprint is over, suggests Amy Webb. Police forces around the world are using iris scanning iPhone app’s and biometric cameras (which can scan 46,000 data points on a face) to query government databases. The latest update to Google’s mobile Android operating system uses facial recognition to unlock a handset – and I imagine this technology will soon be used to pay for goods. Will we see frictionless check-ins based on face recognition cameras in 2012…

Finally – The Rise of the Robots

I knew I said I wouldn’t talk about robots, but I reckon this year we will see the early stages of the new Robotic Age.  Robotics will take over jobs ranging from the menial to the educational and medical. The sex industry will begin selling shed loads of pleasure robots, voice recognition will become almost perfect and humans will become more cyborg-like as we begin to implant computer chips into our body.

My last two blog posts have explored the basic concepts of SEO and how SEO is used to get to the top of Google News. This post I want to shift over to the murky side of SEO and see how it is used as one of the ‘Dark Arts’.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently exposed the inner workings of one of Britain’s largest lobbying companies, Bell Pottinger. Posing as agents for a country with terrible human rights abuses, the investigative team secretly recorded senior executives making promises to use the ‘dark arts’ to help bury negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour.

The techniques used by Bell Pottinger ranged from using their connections to the Prime Minister to ‘fixing Wikipedia’ and manipulating Google to ‘drown’ out negative coverage of their clients.

The manipulation of Google that Bell Pottinger refers to is the mastery of SEO techniques to push positive media coverage up a Google search engine results page (known as a SERP) and to pull negative coverage down. The idea is that the higher up a SERP a link is, the more likely it is to be visited by the searcher – a study found that 42% of searchers click on the first link on a page, and that 90% click somewhere on the first 10 links.

The use of SEO to give your company a boost in search engine authority is nothing new – the process of using it to drown out negative coverage is a capability Bell Pottinger bragged about pioneering in 2007, calling it ‘Crisis Management’

(from PR Week)

The group claims the firm, headed by MD Paul Mead, will link PR with SEO in a genuinely new way.

‘Previously SEO has only been used to make sure a brand is noticed and high-up on a relevant search,’ said BP Group chairman Kevin Murray. ‘What we are doing is taking the world’s biggest reputation management tool – Google – and turning it into a tool for crisis management.’

Whilst the basic’s of SEO are simple enough, to be an expert takes a lot of effort and the field changes daily. Google is said to have over 10,000 signals that tell it how to rank web-pages – signals that are kept a closely guarded secret. It is a SEO specialists job to experiment with Google and crawl through the hundreds of blogs and forums dedicated to the topic.

The unethical dark side of SEO has a name, Black Hat Search Engine Optimisation. It is frowned upon by the more ethically minded SEO practitioners and generally considered a short term solution to an SEO problem. However, for a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger – these short term solutions can be just the fix needed to drown out negative coverage.

Common techniques include:

  • Keyword Stuffing: This is where as many keywords as possible are stuffed into the content and the meta data. This is quite an old technique that most search engines can avoid.
  • Invisible Text: Placing a long list of keywords in white text on a white background so that it is invisible to a viewer but visible to a search engine.
  • Doorway Page: A page on a website that viewers will never visit optimised for search engines. If anyone does happen to visit this page, they are redirected to the main page.
  • Link Farming: Harvesting links from unrelated pages
  • Throw Away Domains: Purchasing domains with a keyword heavy address and linking to your page.
  • Deceptive Headlines: Luring people to your site with misinformation to increase your authority.

Another interesting technique is called ‘Google Bombing‘. This is a process that involves creating lots of links around the web that point to the page being bumped up and filling the anchor text (the visible, clickable part of a hyperlink) with the keywords. One recent example was when Pro-Lifers used a Google Bomb to bring the Wikipedia page for ‘Murder’ to the top of a SERP for ‘Abortion’.

These are just a handful of techniques for unethical optimisation. SEO is a non-stop dance between the search engines that are trying to create a useful and fair search engine result page and those that try and manipulate it. Of course, the people that are the best at manipulating SEO are those that attract the highest fee’s – fee’s that only companies with the budgets of a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger can afford.

The Bell Pottinger investigation highlights the incredible importance of SEO in our digital world. If anything is to be learnt, it is that those that support human rights must learn these techniques in order to combat against them.