Archive for July 2011

An answer, at long last, from Blogger about the Dashboard discrepancy


Not only did Buzz finally disappear from my Dashboard today, but Brett Wilkins at Blogger furnished a very simple explanation on why there was still one entry for his service there.
   Someone had added me as an author to his blog without my knowledge. It is one which I have never heard of, and which did not exist in my Blogger Dashboard at the time of the deletions.
   Bloody hell, I wish someone had told me this at Google nearly a year ago, when I began asking.
   But, there you are: if I didn’t contact Chang Kim, and if he didn’t put me on to Brett, we’d never have known. The help forums are about as handy as a kamikaze pilot’s helmet.
   I’m as amazed as you are that I’m getting answers, but it shows that the “official channels” do not always work. Blogger gets a lot of “fails” on the “help” forums. Like so many things—e.g. the British Government—you need to take things higher up before you get an answer.
   Still, I’m glad I did, and I have thanked Brett for his answer. I have also asked the errant blog’s owner, who is known to me, to remove me.
   This illustrates the foolhardiness of Google not permitting us to delete products we do not use from our Account and Dashboard. If it allowed this, it would have solved a lot of problems—and judging by the forums, I am not alone. Surely this would be better all round: we have peace of mind, Google stores less data?
   Now we just have to figure out the phantom Google Contacts contact. I also got a reply there, too: it seems Gmail has better forum people than Blogger. Unfortunately, the very kind chap who responded—a British journalist—doesn’t have an answer yet. It looks like another anomaly.
   On less positive news, I read that Google will make all profiles public by July 31, probably in advance of Plus being offered to everyone. If yours is secret at present, Google’s position is: too bad.
   As I discovered when I was playing around with Plus earlier this week, you can choose to make your profile invisible to the Google search engine. I do not know if this is through a robots.txt file, as it was one thing I didn’t investigate.
   I logged out at the time, and proceeded to visit my profile URL. It could be found. One only hopes that for those who want what little privacy they have left on Google, they can keep themselves out of search results. At this point, I am not 100 per cent sure. I imagine we will all find out, whether we like it or not, come July 31.
   Remember the words of Google’s previous CEO, Eric Schmidt: ‘If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.’

PS.: I’ve read a bit more into the Google Profile situation. If yours is private, it’ll simply be deleted—which is actually not a bad thing. So my concerns above about search engine visibility are unwarranted, though Mr Schmidt’s infamous quotation still doesn’t fully seem out of place.—JY

P.PS.: What a shame Brett’s explanation doesn’t seem to be accurate. The blog owner says I am not an author on his blog. And it doesn’t appear in my Blogger Dashboard, only my Google one. Back to square one and more Blogger-dissing.—JY

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »

Will we dump tabloids now we know more about the Milly Dowler hacking?


I don’t think there are too many people prepared to condone the News of the World’s alleged hacking of the cellphone of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002. Not only did the Murdoch Press paper hack the phone, but when her voicemail filled up, The Guardian alleges that the News of the World began deleting newer messages—giving the Dowler family hope that their daughter was still alive and checking messages. By that time she had already been murdered, though it didn’t stop the same newspaper from interviewing her parents and asking them if they had hope that Milly was still alive.
   There’s an outcry today, of course, as this news became public, and the Murdoch Press has said it would cooperate with authorities.
   Although it must be noted that its article in The Sun on the subject this morning merited a grand total of 95 words.
   The best punishment that everyday consumers can make is to stop buying their papers. But I don’t think it’ll happen.
   After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, we received so many comments from readers at another publication along the lines of, ‘I will never buy a tabloid again.’ What happened? Those readers might have stuck to their commitment, but tabloid circulation actually rose after Diana’s death.
   I’ve no doubt that the print numbers have since fallen—we are now in the 21st century, and the daily dead-tree industry looks increasingly anachronistic—but the appetite for tabloids and tabloid journalism remains.
   We still live in a world where ‘sources close to’ are interpreted as gospel, even by some so-called qualities and broadsheets.
   If Milly Dowler’s case is to mean anything, these commitments to dump tabloids, on- or offline, had better stick.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, UK | 1 Comment »

Saab to get €245 million if Pang Da and Youngman deal approved


Today, from Saab:

Swedish Automobile N.V. (SWAN) and Saab Automobile AB (Saab Automobile) today announced the signing of final agreements with Pang Da Automobile Trade Co., Ltd. (Pang Da) and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., Ltd. (Youngman), thereby converting the non-binding memorandum of understanding relating to the equity investment of Pang Da and Youngman …

The amount of the investment is €245 million, which amounts to this, according to Saab (some proofreading changes by me):

The agreements allow for the return of Mr Vladimir Antonov as a shareholder–financier of SWAN and Saab Automobile which the parties expect as soon as the parties at interest have cleared him. The NPJV will be 50 per cent owned by Saab Automobile and 50 per cent by Youngman Passenger Car, and forms the foundation for an expansion of the Saab product portfolio with three models which, until now, did not form part of Saab Automobile’s current and future product portfolio. As such the NPJV will focus on developing three completely new Saab vehicles: the Saab 9-1, Saab 9-6X and Saab 9-7.

   No doubt there will be existing technology in the three cars, and they should go down terrifically in China. And if it all goes well, this means that Saab won’t follow MG Rover down the gurgler, despite having been unable to pay wages a few weeks ago.
   But €245 million isn’t that much in today’s world, especially since Saab can’t be breaking even at its present capacity.
   I don’t want to see Saab disappear. It may have been the choice of TV villains (Leslie Grantham in both The Paradise Club and 99–1 comes to mind) as well as one or two real-life ones I can think of, but it’s a storied brand and it’s made good cars over the years. And a mate of mine has a 900, too.
   Sweden hasn’t spent all these years bagging the brand, either—it was effectively stripped of its Saab-ness while under General Motors.
   Let’s hope the company can get things right with the Chinese equity stake, which hopefully will provide more confidence. It’ll open up distribution in China, providing the government agencies agree, where a foreign brand like Saab would go down immensely well, and just at the right time. Good timing was not something that MG Rover was blessed with, regardless of the actions of the Phoenix Four.
   The discerning Chinese buyer is emerging on the mainland, and they don’t necessarily want the flash of the Mercedes-Benz. A more subtle brand might work there, and Saab actually fits the bill.
   The 9-7, I assume, is a large car, and Youngman’s Pang Qingnian hints that not only will China get this model, but the US as well.
   Good luck to the parties on this one—here’s hoping the worst is over.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »

What this Google-sceptic thought of Plus


A friend wanted an invitation to Google Plus, and since I received mine a few days ago when someone shared a story with me, I thought it might work if I shared a story with her.
   So, for half an hour today, I joined, with the view of sending her the invitation, and leaving as soon as I did that. Below is a cursory review without any analysis of Hangout or Sparks.
   First step: I made my profile public. Good news: I can still keep myself out of searches, according to Google, and I don’t have to give them a telephone number. Disturbing part: anyone with the URL to my profile can still find me. Since I have trust issues with Google—with good reason, this being the latest—I don’t believe them when they say they can keep me out of searches.
   Bad news: I don’t have a choice of URL for my profile.
   Signed in. Nice, clean interface. I actually like the look and feel. Everything seems workable though it took a while for me to find the Share feature up top.
   Poked around a bit. Glad that under Plus, you can liberate your data from Google with downloads should you decide to cancel your account (tempting).
   The account manager is better laid out than the former version.
   Less impressive: the fact that Google Plus is set to spam you by default. If you’re like me, you’d want to turn off all email and SMS notifications.

Google Plus spam settings

   Your Picasa album gets integrated with your Plus account, so the attribution might change. It doesn’t make much difference to me, since I have no photos on Picasa.
   Other than Picasa, it didn’t need changes to the terms and conditions, though I read them again when I made my profile public.
   Found I was followed by six people. Five real friends. One complete stranger.
   Since I have single strangers follow me on Buzz (which I don’t have), Contacts (which I don’t have) and Reader (which I don’t use), then I didn’t feel comfortable on Plus. I realize anyone can add you to their Circle and, like Twitter, that’s the point of it. I also realize I can share only with limited audiences.
   I admit that one good point is that no companies and organizations are on it yet, so your feed only has real people. But that’s what my A Small World account is for, and my 33 friends there.
   It’s fairly bug-free but so was Facebook, once upon a time. But you still can’t opt out of seeing Plus One links on other sites, despite Google’s claims.
   Still, why would I want to be on a website that gives me constant worry with every moment I am signed on to it? It just reminded me of the constant stream of weird anonymous users trying to check out my activity on those other Google services.
   And, right now, I can’t be arsed setting up new circles and all that jazz. I have followers’ lists on Twitter and four categories of “friends” on Facebook. On the latter, I am able to tailor my messages to each one of these groups.
   The sharing method didn’t work with my friend, so I deleted my Google Plus (with thanks to Andrew Carr-Smith for giving me earlier info on this). Quite a painless procedure, actually—unlike so many of Google’s other services, I didn’t need to close my account and delete all services associated with it. Google calls it a ‘downgrade’.
   Plus created a new folder on Picasa, which I had to delete manually there.
   I then put my profile back to normal, i.e. non-existent, other than my name. Funnily enough, Google allowed it, so there were no remnant data or any sign I had tried Plus—with the exception of my being unable to sign up to it when I now visit I can now block the Plus cookie.
   To me, it’s no big loss. That was probably the most overhyped experience I have seen online since Google launched Chrome (a.k.a. the ‘Aw, snap!’ browser), and other than sheer speed, that left me totally unimpressed, too.
   Once the hype dies down, I don’t foresee this going anywhere (and yes, I am biased). It will get users, because a lot of people drink the Google Kool-Aid, but it’ll exist just like CNN and Fox News do. Till Google fixes up the privacy bugs it has for the existing services I use, I am extremely hesitant to add any more.

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Posted in culture, internet, USA | 10 Comments »

Why do the major parties insist on holding us back?


In 2002, I did something really stupid. I bought a brand-new, 750 Mbyte Zip drive.
   After all, I had had three years of use out of my 100 Mbyte one, and since 750s looked like the way of the future, I had one installed.
   I can still count the number of times I used it on one hand, because CD-ROMs became common currency and replaced the Zips.
   So when I see we’re building more roads, it reminds me of the Zip drive. Investing in a 20th-century technology in the 21st century.
   When, in fact, we can grow a city and a country more effectively by ensuring its technology is up to speed with the rest of the world.
   If we’re going to attract the best and brightest minds to our shores—and many of them are in the IT world, and software is a frictionless export that overcomes the tyranny of distance—we need to have an infrastructure that isn’t stuck in the previous century, either.
   A forward-looking technological investment for better internet speeds or a real wifi network is better value—and potentially generates more jobs for this nation.
   Which makes me wonder just how clued up the major parties are in this year’s General Election.
   The disappointment I’ve seen in business-damaging legislation, from the Copyright Act to what potentially exists in the TPPA, suggests that neither major party understands what it takes to grow business sustainably in this nation.
   And now to see a sudden change of heart from certain members of the government and the Opposition when the UN has published a report calling internet disconnection a violation of human rights shows they never understood the law in the first place.
   From Ars Technica (emphasis added):

Michael Geist notes that on Friday, Sweden made remarks at the UN Human Rights Council that endorsed many of the report’s findings, including the criticism of “three strikes” rules. The statement was signed by 40 other nations, including the United States and Canada. The United Kingdom and France, two nations that have enacted “three strikes” regimes, did not sign the statement.
   â€œAll users should have greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services,” the statement said, adding that “cutting off users from access to the Internet is generally not a proportionate sanction.” It also called network neutrality and Internet openness “important objectives.”
   Interestingly, the report is signed by New Zealand, which enacted legislation in April that sets up a special Copyright Tribunal for expediting file-sharing cases. The penalties available to the New Zealand government include Internet disconnections of up to six months.

   That’s pretty worrying, when lawmakers don’t understand law. Would you have a mechanic who didn’t understand the mechanics of your car? A dentist who didn’t understand teeth? Or, for that matter, political party leaders whose opinion of their nation is so low that they might consider locking their nation in to backward industries?
   That doesn’t sound like understanding New Zealand, and its ingenuity and pride, to me.
   At least I learned from my Zip drive moment. You do when you spend your own money, outside the political world.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »

What the media say about Google Plus


You have to wonder how many of the Google Plus reviews are being inspired by the press releases. Here’s a typical one today, which I picked at random.
   Rob Pegoraro writes: ‘You don’t add friends to an all-encompassing list and then, maybe, slice it into subsets; instead, you group them in “Circles” and then pick which circles (for example, “family,” “alumni,” “editors”) see each update.’ This appears to be the one area of differentiation, and I concede it has some merit. It’s no surprise every journalist has seized on this one. The argument here: if this social networking fad is declining, will I want to invest more brain power into grouping friends? I have them arranged in different places already with Facebook, LinkedIn and A Small World. And that’s good for me right now.
   â€˜Doing many of those things on Facebook requires extra clicks and changes to its default privacy settings.’ That’s a major put-off, given Google’s past behaviour. Let’s hope Plus has a privacy policy, because at this point in Buzz’s life, it didn’t.
   â€˜Unlike Facebook and Twitter, but like Buzz, Google Plus lets you edit a posted update—no more being stuck with a late-night typo—and add basic formatting like bold and italic text.’ Here’s the one that inspired me to write as I keep reading about it on reviews. Am I the only one who realizes that Facebook allows edits to an update, even a comment? Admittedly, you have to do it quickly after posting. Anything too old with a typo, I don’t care about: I let it go. But I have to say that being able to add bold and italic text is a biggie, since a lot of people have demanded that that be possible in Facebook. (It used to be possible, incidentally, before it was dropped again.)
   Bringing in Hangout is a good idea, and admittedly, some people will prefer to do that rather than go on Skype, which, for me, has been incredibly buggy (e.g. 35 minutes to sign in).
   It looks like Google has come in when Facebook is losing users and Skype is at its buggiest, which is not a bad time. But I doubt either competitor will sit still—Facebook is launching some offensive on Wednesday US time and there’s speculation that it might involve Skype.
   CNN’s Amy Gahran notes, ‘Plus, it offers huge potential to connect with all the other Google services I’m already using: Google calendar, Gmail, Google docs, and more.’ I use none of them, so the carrot’s not there, and I don’t know anyone who has drunk that much Google Kool-Aid to go for such a wide spread of the company’s offerings.
   Mr Pegoraro concludes:

Google Plus looks most promising as an experts-only social network—say, for people who now find Facebook overgrown and yearn for a more private channel; for closer friends. But before you sign on, consider one other thing: If Google already knows your searches, your calendar, your contacts and even the content of your e-mail, do you want to hand over this much more of your life to it?

For me, that’s a big no, and I don’t even let them know my searches, calendar, contacts and email. I’m already concerned with the ineptitude with which they currently deal with the little data they have on me.
   Of the reviews I have read so far, the Cnet one is the best for me. It’s a real-life glimpse at how its staff found Google Plus on day one.
   This status update, from Jay Greene, was interesting:

Google+ suggestions is odd to me. It’s Buzz-like in that it pulls folks from my Gmail account. But that account, which I set up for reporting on my book but barely use anymore, offers suggestions of sources I haven’t talked with in more than a year. And, of course, none of them are on Google+. Just odd.

Google has, therefore, learned from the Buzz débâcle in pulling Gmail contacts (which is how I wound up with a Plus invitation), but this time they are suggestions and not automatically added into one’s network.
   At this point, Plus interests me as a computer user (aren’t we all, in these luckier countries?), but I still see no compelling reason to join. Robert Scoble may be right: like Quora, it’s a tech-geek hangout.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »

Google organized the web, Facebook our social networks; what does Plus do?


I see the Google press machine has been switched on as the company pursues the Facebook social-networking market with Plus. Google, I’m betting, must hope that history will repeat itself. It wasn’t the first search engine, it simply did it better. Plus, in Googleland, it is a better proverbial mousetrap than Facebook.
   I might have been on Google’s case in the last few years, though I should remind folks that if they didn’t keep painting big red targets on all their properties, after drawing attention to the company through incompetent support people, I would have no complaints.
   Maybe it’s the anti-Google blinkers I don, but I’ve been thinking about something Stowe Boyd said recently. He recently blogged that Google succeeded with the original search engine because, at that time, someone needed to step in and organize the web. I’ve been around long enough to recall just what a revelation it was when it came out. And it’s the best organizer, according to Stowe, that can earn a few bob.
   Facebook was certainly not the first social network, to use the modern terminology, but it did things better than Bebo and the like. It had a wider targeted audience than LinkedIn, even if it started with a narrower one at Harvard. Facebook organized our social circles, so we can more easily find that tribe of 150 that we like associating with. Even for those of us with “friend” numbers in the four figures, Facebook has allowed us, quite easily, to set up different groups for them.
   Facebook isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. A browse of this blog itself would reveal that it’s severely lacking in many areas. Changing users’ preferences without their permission is one of a long line of Facebook errors over the years. So Google, I read, bets on the fact that it can do privacy better—a position which I found laughable, from the company that failed to put up a privacy policy for Buzz or hid from the public the futility of opting out of its Ads Preferences Manager (both since resolved). There just seems to be a pervading culture by these large Californian corporations of being callous with privacy, which not only reflects badly on them, but their entire sector, and even their country.
   As the brand has been damaged time and time again in my eyes, I began noticing a pattern recently. Nothing that Google has introduced in the last half-decade, or acquired in that period, really matters to me. I don’t use any that appear in my Google account:

Above: The Google services I don’t need are marked in red, though in some cases, I have to retain them due to clients or the Medinge Group. The ones that I was signed up to without my consent are marked in black, though Google Reader received a sneaky implied consent in the small print via Blogger.

Google is, instead, something that helps organize my information. I use Alerts, News and Webmaster Tools, all tied in to things that the company developed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Google does these things well. Google Translate one exception to all of this; and, of course, I have watched YouTube videos. I realize our sites carry some Doubleclick advertising—a consequence of whom our ad networks chose to deal with. (Because of that, we have been relegating those networks to a lower status.) If any of these disappeared overnight, there are substitutes.
   I’m willing to bet that Stowe is right, because Google is still tied to its original offerings, where it has at least been (on the surface) respectful of user privacy. As my colleagues and I wrote in Beyond Branding, people are going to continue demanding transparency—that much is not going to change. Brands that offer it, and aren’t hypocritical about it, will do better. Outside of search and a few other places, Google hasn’t played nice. In fact, I even have my doubts about Google search, despite having Web History turned off.
   Google Plus does not do anything new, and it does not (based solely on reviews I have read, though I do have a Plus invitation) offer greater organization beyond what I already have with Facebook. It has been introduced at a time when I already experience social-networking fatigue with both Facebook and Twitter (Tumblr is visually more stimulating and expressive for me, at the moment). Plus might be able to reignite an interest in social networking for some, especially with Facebook’s declines in membership in certain countries, but I think we’re on the tail end of this fad.
   Question: despite all this, do I go on it? It may not be unwise, for purely commercial reasons: to consider a potential market-place. Google’s marketing machine will draw some people, though my bet is that they will find their social networks are already sufficiently organized. It will last longer than the brief, early-2011 fascination with Quora, especially when it steps out of beta.
   I was on LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2006, Twitter and Tumblr in 2007. But this time, if I join—and it is a big if—it would be a cold, calculated, almost soulless decision. I don’t, and wouldn’t, trust the bastards. It might prove to have all the allure of my MySpace account. I have no desire to see another Google product in my dashboard—I still have to delete a Buzz follower five times a week, despite not having a Buzz account.
   I have justifiably low expectations from this tarnished tech brand. I can just foresee contacts being visible to people who shouldn’t be able to see them. We already know that Buzz and YouTube have messed up, making things visible to people that users might not have expected. I could not willingly subject friends to privacy leaks like that, and Google has demonstrated time and time again that it’s as watertight as the Titanic.
   Who knows? Using it might bring so many disappointments and push me over the edge, after which I’ll write to clients to inform them that I can no longer be the host of Google products that they use, and close the whole bloody account. Sadly, that would include the 400 of you getting this blog through Feedburner. The silver lining, at the moment, is the faint possibility that it would encourage Facebook to be less of a closed system.

Note: Stowe actually likes Google Plus, calling it ‘a giant step forwards’, but for different reasons.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 4 Comments »