Tag Archives: Google

Google vs. Microsoft

Building Windows 8 is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs to follow.

I probably won’t agree with all of UI choices being made with Windows 8, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to gripe about when it finally comes out. But the one thing you get from Windows 8 blog is that Microsoft spends a lot of time thinking about their UI choices and trying to make their users happy. For example, the team uses a good chunk of this blog post to explain concepts like Fitts’ Law and minimizing the amount of time to launch an app. Arguably, some of the “big picture” stuff gets lost with this attention to very specific metrics. But you get the sense that a lot of care is going into Microsoft’s Windows 8 UI.

Contrast this to Google’s new UI changes.

One of the most atrocious implementations of the Google’s new gray, black, and red theme is the new Google Reader. I’ll defer to criticism from folks more familiar with the product. But suffice to say, the new Google Reader redesign raises the question of whether anyone on the team actually put the product in front of real people.

I remember stories about how how Google conducted massive amounts of AB testing on even tiny changes to the interface. Engineers would analyze each extra link on google.com or use of a different shade of blue. Guess that’s not being applied across the board.

I get the impression that Google’s UI team really wants to be like Apple. Like there’s some creative overlord that just imposes “freshness” and “good taste” across each of Google’s products in a consistent manner. Well, I don’t know how Apple works. But whatever it does, Google’s doing a piss poor job at imitating it.

Stop Using Tiananmen Square as a Censorship Test

I commented on Robert Scoble’s blog in response to Serkan Toto’s use of search results for “Tiananmen Square” on Google.com vs. “天安门广场” on Google.cn to illustrate that some filtering was still up. He’s right, filtering is still up as of now, but that’s a bad search query to illustrate your point. I complained about this earlier with Nicholas Kristof too, and I think this sort of thing illustrates how our preconceived notions about the People’s Republic of China color our view of events there.

I’ve reposted the relevant bits of my comment on Scoble’s blog below:

[U]sing Tiananmen Square as a test query is misleading. Of course “天安门广场” is going to return images of, you know, the actual square! Here are the search results for “天安门广场” in Google.com, which is US-based and uncensored:

http://bit.ly/7C8EsD

Huh, not much there — but this time you can’t blame censorship for it.

Why? Well, English speakers are very likely to associate Tiananmen with the 1989 crackdown, so Google’s search algorithm associates the term “Tiananmen” with images of the tank guy.

On the other hand, for mainland Chinese, “天安门广场” has a meaning outside of the 1989 crackdown. It’s a place, and one that’s smack dab in the middle of Beijing. When someone in China mentions “天安门广场”, they’re probably using it in the context of “there’s a street vendor near the northwest corner of Tiananmen Square selling kites,” not “never forget the people killed here 21 years ago.” Most people on the Internet use it for boring everyday stuff, not to foment dissent over an event a lot of “netizens” are too young to remember. Google’s algorithm picks up on this kind of thing and organically ranks things related directly to the location itself over things related to the one incident that English speakers associate Tiananmen with.

“天安门广场 1989″ and “Tiananmen 1989″ are probably much better terms for proving your point.

That said, you’re right that Google.cn hasn’t implemented all or some of the de-censoring yet. You can tell, because on the bottom of the search results on Google.cn, you see “据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。”

That is, “According to local laws, regulations and policies, some search results are not shown.”

Google Thinking Twice About China

Technically, Google is simply saying it’ll “reconsider” its operations in China, but this could be huge.

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html

What I’m interested in how you even handle this whole cyber-warfare issue. Hackers are trying to screw around with your network. This is normally a criminal problem. Yet what if the hackers are sanctioned, either directly or indirectly, by the Chinese government? Is this now a national security issue? Do certain laws go out the door and other ones come in? Whatever we choose, how do you reconcile your choice with how we handle terrorism?

Google Groups is (A Little) Evil

When I create a new Google Group, I can directly add the e-mail addresses of people who don’t have Google Accounts. They’re automatically subscribed and start receiving e-mails from the group right away.

If that person later wants to unsubscribe, there’s no way of doing so without first creating a Google account associated with that e-mail address. You can go to the group’s homepage, but it requires that you log in with a Google account (which you don’t have yet) before you can do anything. You can try e-mailing [email protected], but all this does is get a link sent back to you. If you click on the link, surprise surprise, you need to log in with a Google account.

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Proposal: Version Control – The Operating System

There are two classes I wish I took back in college: Dinosaurs & Their Relatives and Operating Systems. The latter especially bugs me, because every time I see something about a browser-based operating system, I want to scream, “No, no, I don’t want that!” and then curl up in a corner for three months making something I do want.

I don’t have the know-how to do the latter, but I do have a blog, so I can do some virtual screaming.

My beef with a browser-based OS is simple: I LIKE DOWNLOADING THINGS. My WiFi connection throws a hissy fit every 10 minutes (can’t tell whether I should blame Netgear, Comcast, or tiny gremlins). Or sometimes I’m on the road or on a plane or in some place where I want to do something on a netbook and I don’t have net access. I bet I’m not alone. I’ve heard this plenty of times: “I want a netbook. All I do is browse the net anyway. Oh, and I want Microsoft Word. And I need to be able to sync my MP3 player with it. And I want to watch some movies I’ve ripped. And I want to play World of Warcraft. And if it’d scratch my back, that’d be nice too.”

As in, people basically want a tiny full-featured laptop for $300. Sure, you can do all the above stuff with your fancy Gears / HTML5 / Extensions / etc., but you’re spending so much time reinventing the wheel. Hey look everyone, I can drag and drop in my browser! Whee! I’ve only been able to do that in my operating system since at least Windows 3.1!

This isn’t exactly a new experience for the industry either. When the iPhone launched, Apple was all, “You don’t need apps! You have web apps!” Then they launched the App Store and pretended they never said that.

So what’s the best way to merge the “cloud” with a netbook’s operating system? IMHO, the solution has been around for a while. And no, it’s not the iPhone, it’s version control.

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Copyright Assert Truthy

I was poking around in the newly open-sourced Etherpad code, and came across this tidbit.

/**
* Copyright 2009 Google Inc.
*
* Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
* you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
* You may obtain a copy of the License at
*
* http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0
*
* Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
* distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS-IS" BASIS,
* WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied.
* See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
* limitations under the License.
*/

function assertTruthy(x) {
  if (!x) {
    throw new Error("assertTruthy failure: "+x);
  }
}

That’s trunk/etherpad/src/etherpad/testing/testutils.js by the way. So anyhow, as much as I appreciate that is licensed under the Apache License, is “assertTruthy” really creative enough to be worthy of a copyright?

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Proposal: A Public Domain Fund

Quick idea

Google and various other Silicon Valley entities should create a Public Domain fund. Basic idea is that you submit some creative work (a song, image, etc.) and through the magic of up-down voting, the top X entries win some Y dollars. Only catch is that if you take money from the fund, your work must now be in the public domain.

Rationale

A large number of people and groups depend on there being a robust public domain (or at least things easily redistributable via Creative Commons) — from lip dubs to remixes to fan fiction to mere inspiration, a substantial amount of creative expression takes the form of a derivative work. Whenever I feel the need to Photoshop (or GIMP) something together, I often spend a lot of time on Google Image Search or Flickr looking for source material. I imagine I’m not alone. Much of the derivative work out there gets by on fair use, but there’s definitely a good chunk of it doesn’t (or hovers in some gray area).

Furthermore, obtaining licensing and permissions from the original right holders is a tremendous hassle. There’re legal documents to be signed, dollars to be transferred, and hours to be wasted while you wait for someone to respond to your e-mail. Furthermore, the market value for a lot of these mash-ups is uncertain and probably not worth any licensing fee. More often than not, I’d bet that the creators of derivative works do one of two things: (1) give up on the current project or (2) use the source material without permission.

These derivative work creators would benefit from a large body of public domain works available for use. Now I’m not saying there isn’t already stuff out there. I certainly am usually able to find what I need given enough time, but it’d definitely make things a lot easier if public domain / less restrictive licensing were the norm. A Public Domain Fund would provide an economic incentive for creators to use less restrictive licensing.

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Bing Censoring in China?

Nicholas Kristof recently put up an article about Bing censoring simplified (mainland) Chinese searches. All of the major search players do this of course, but what’s new is that the censoring happens when if you’re searching from a U.S. IP address (as opposed to within China itself).

Kristof uses Tiananmen (天安门) as his search term, but I think that’s a little ambiguous. Tiananmen Square has a history that stretches well before 1989 (trivia of the day: the 1989 incident was not the first Tiananmen Square incident) and as a popular tourist location, it’s plausible that Bing’s algorithm would turn up lots of friendly-Tianamen-is-a-nice-place-to-visit results.

So let’s try the name of a certain evil cult outlawed in China.

For comparison, here’re the Google results:

Google has 7,490,000 results and Bing has 0? Now that’s implausible.

Interesting notes:

  • Today’s Bing background is of Potola Palace in Tibet, the former home of the Dalai Lama.
  • Google includes traditional Chinese character results in search results using simplified Chinese characters (see the last item in the screenshot above).