Category: Search Engines

Google's windfall for copyright claimants

In case you haven’t heard (where have you been?) Google announced that the rumours were true after all and that they have agreed to buy YouTube for $1.65bn.

Yep. You read that correctly, $1.65bn.

Unsurprisingly, this is the top story on TechMeme.

It looks like Google believes video on the web has a real future and YouTube’s legal troubles (they are being threatened with litigation for copyright infringement) are a price they are willing to pay.

For the people thinking of suing YouTube this has got to have them down on their knees thanking their deity of choice! Instead of suing YouTube – a company with no significant assets, they now get to sue Google – one of the world’s wealthiest companies!

Google Blogsearch adds ping

Thanks to Niall Kennedy for pointing out Google’s new ping service.

This is great – one of the biggest problems I had with Google’s blogsearch was how slow it was to pick up on posts. Several hours after posting an article, typically it still wasn’t up on Google whereas the post is often up on Technorati within minutes.

You can manually ping Google’s Blogsearch here or alternatively you can add the following address to your blog platform to automate the ping (in WordPress add it Options -> Writing -> Update Services)

For more see the Google Blog Search ping FAQ

Google Maps and Google Earth images updated

The Google Earth blog notes that there has been a significant update to Google Earth and Google Maps images.

On checking Cork, I found that it has been significantly updated with recent high-res images. However, Rushbrook, where I am based, is still only available in low-res. In this screen you can see Rushbrook is on the West side of Great Island and just to the right of where the high-res image ends!

So close!

Finally, an outstanding online RSS reader

I have had issues with Google Reader (Google’s online RSS/feed reader) in the past but in the latest update to Google Reader, released today most of those issues have been addressed.

Google Reader

Lots of people are posting opinions on this from Marshall Kirkpatrick on TechCrunch to Robert Scoble on Scobleizer to Richard McManus on the ReadWrite Web and all the reviews are effusive in their praise!

I’m not surprised. This time Google seem to have got it right. The old “Lens” look of the old Google Reader was, to my mind, sacrificing usability for looks. Now, you have a reader with a simple, fast interface not lacking in functionality. It even has a river of news option with an infinite scroll. And if you liked the old interface you can revert to that in the settings page too!

Added functionality includes the ability to create folders, bulk delete subscriptions, star, share, email and tag posts.

Several commentators have pointed to the continuing lack of integration with Google’s Blogsearch but personally with the dire state that is in, I think this is a good thing!

I have been slow to recommend online rss readers in the past but I think with the new Google Reader that has just changed.

Where's the case for data retention?

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt announced today that he thinks the greatest danger to people’s privacy is not from leaks of people’s data as happened earlier this week to AOL users but rather from government snooping.

I have always worried the query stream is a fertile ground for governments to snoop on the people.

This is a very valid argument and it has to be said that it is definitely in Google’s best economic interest to ensure that no-one can access their massive databases of saved searches. The same cannot be said for Irish ISPs and telcos who are being tasked with keeping three years of log files on all their customers. There is almost no incentive for them to secure this data – it is nothing but a dead cost for them and one they wish would go away. This data will more than likely be leaked and sold time and time again by everyone from crooked Gardaí (the Irish police) to minimum wage call centre employees.

Having said that no lock is uncrackable and if someone wants to get at Google’s databases badly enough, they will find a way. The easiest way to thwart this is not to retain the data!

The myth of privacy

You do know that every search term you type into a search engine is saved by the search engine, don’t you? That time you searched for porn, or an ex boy/girlfriend, or information about an illness you thought you might have – all saved by the search engine.

This practice was brought sharply into focus when AOL purposefully posted 3 months of search data on the Internet. Usernames were replaced with numbers but it was still possible to identify some of the searchers. The New York Times runs a story today about a Ms Thelma Arnold, a 62 year old living in Lilburn, Georgia. Ms Arnold was searcher number 4417749 in AOL’s records but was readily identifiable based on her searches for “numb fingersâ€?, “60 single menâ€?, “dog that urinates on everythingâ€?, “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,â€? several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.â€?

Marketers are going to have a ball with all this info!

Someone has helpfully taken a copy of the data and put a web interface on it to make it easier to query!

Michael Geist said it best when he said:

The article provides a powerful illustration not only of the severity of the AOL mistake (which remains online for all to see), but of why search companies simply should not be retaining this data for any significant period of time. The public privacy risks, whether self-inflicted, from hackers, or via law enforcement fishing expeditions, outweigh the private commercial benefits.

While Ms Arnold is quoted in the New York times article as saying

My goodness, it’s my whole personal life, I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder… We all have a right to privacy, Nobody should have found this all out.

You haven’t searched for anything you wouldn’t want people to know about recently, have you?

Google to launch PayPal killer?

Forbes is reporting that Google is planning to launch Gbuy – an online payment system which would be a direct competitor to PayPal.

If recent Google launches are anything to go by, PayPal doesn’t need to worry too much just yet. Google has proven very effective at getting the hype out there for any new product it launches but very few of its recent launches have lived up to the hype (Google Pages anyone?).

Of course, the story which broke over the weekend about Ebay (the owners of PayPal) launching eBay AdContext, will allow Web sites to embed simple snippets of code that can then automatically act to showcase items for sale on eBay’s site in exchange for a cut of the resulting eBay sales means that increasingly Ebay and Google are becoming direct competitors.

Loren Baker, of Search Engine Journal, commented:

If an AdWords ad includes an icon depicting a GBuy merchant and this improves the ‘click-thru-rate’ then those advertisers should enjoy ranking above other competition in the Google search advertising

Interesting times ahead!

Brief blog search engine review

I have been trying a number of blog search engines recently.

I have subscribed to searches for the same terms in Technorati, Ice Rocket, PubSub and Sphere.

Sphere is the newest player on the blog search engine block, only coming out of beta last weekend. The search is adequate – I searched for “technorati blocked by China“, a story I broke here and was heavily linked to and quoted as a result, but my post on this is not found by Sphere. The searches I subscribed to using Sphere again didn’t return as many results as the other search engines and did contain some spam!

PubSub produced the lowest number of results of the four compared and often the results were late i.e. they were found by the other search engines much earlier (often days earlier).

Ice Rocket produced by far the most results of any of the search engines but those results were full of spam – finding the real information amongst the spam was difficult!

And Technorati was still the best of the four. Very timely results and very little spam.

It is always advisable to use more than one blog search engine for subscribed searches. In this scenario I would advise using Technorati and Sphere. Although Sphere doesn’t yet have as many results as the others, it does appear to be improving.

Also, I had an issue with Sphere earlier in the week so I contacted the CEO, Tony Conrad – he replied to my email and had Steve Nieker the CIO follow up – it is great to see companies getting directly in touch with their users in this way.

Ice Rocket needs to seriously address the spam problem it has and PubSub, I’m sorry to say, looks like it is no longer at the races.

Google Calendar reviewed

I recently decided to re-visit the online calendar issues I wrote about previously. Since writing that piece, Bernard informed me of a site called iCal Exchange which allows publishing and subscribing of iCal calendars. This service was ok but I had connectivity issues with it from time to time plus I didn’t want to have to publish from all my machines, and then subscribe to them all to keep track of all my data! There had to be a better way.

Narendra from 30Boxes contacted me to tell me about their Import function which would, he said, allow me to import my data from iCal into 30Boxes. However when I tried it I was presented with a list of the over 300 items in my iCal export and asked to select all the items I wanted to import individually! This would have taken waaaaay too long so I didn’t bother (why couldn’t they have a simple Select All button on the Import page? How difficult would that be?).

So I decided to trial Google Calendar and I quite liked it.
Google Calendar

The Pros:

  • The interface is slick and extremely straightforward
  • The Quick add works brilliantly to simply add events
  • The sharing facility allows you to share your calendar with named individuals or to have it completely open. People can subscribe to your calendar using an RSS reader of an iCal compliant app.
  • The Import facility just works

The Cons

  • There are reminders on the events but they are not granular (i.e. you set a reminder time like 10 minutes before and you are alerted 10 minutes before every event!)
  • The biggest gripe I have with Google Calendar is that the Export facility is not obvious (you have to go into the Settings -> Calendars ->Sharing ->Calendar Details to find the subscription address to download your calendar via iCal or RSS!)

The reminders issue is trivial and I am sure one which Google will address in time. The fact that the Export facility is hard to find may turn people off using Google Calendar (for a while i didn’t think there was a way to Export from Google Calendar and this would have stopped me from using it). Other than that, Google Calendar is a great app – as long as you don’t mind Google knowing your every move, I strongly recommend it!

Why doesn't PodZinger provide transcriptions back to the podcasters?

PodZinger is a search engine for (audio and video) podcasts. It listens to the audio content of podcasts, transcribes the content and makes it searchable. This is quite a useful service because transcribing podcasts manually would take waaaay too long.

I published an interview I conducted with Alex Laats, president of PodZinger, yesterday on the site. It was only after I published the interview that I thought of the one question I should have asked Alex – “Why doesn’t PodZinger provide transcriptions of the podcasts back to the podcasters?”

As a podcaster, PodZinger listens to my content, transcribes it, and makes it searchable on its site. It has Google ads on its site so it is profiting from my work. I am not a lawyer, but my podcasts are licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License and this would seem to me to breach the non-commercial part of that license.

What do I get out of it? I get the opportunity to allow people to view my content transcribed on the PodZinger site. I would far prefer to have my content on my own site.

I can see why PodZinger are doing this – they want to bring all the traffic to their site. This is real old school thinking. Alex, if you provide the content back to the podcasters, you will create enormous good will and PodZinger will still be the only place where people can search content across all podcasts.

I have been contacted back by PodZinger about this post and will be talking to their president, Alex Laats about this post on next Monday (8th) – if you have any questions or concerns about Podzinger that you’d like me to put to him, leave them in the comments.