Posts tagged ‘Duck Duck Go’


It can’t be that hard to rank media meritoriously, if only the big players had the will

14.03.2018


US Department of Defense

Keen to be seen as the establishment, and that means working with the military–industrial complex, Google is making software to help the Pentagon analyse drone footage, and not everyone’s happy with this development.

The World Economic Forum’s ‘This is the future of the internet’ makes for interesting reading. It’s not so much about the future, but what has happened till now, with concerns about digital content (“fake news”), privacy and antitrust.
   Others have written a lot about search engines and social media keeping people in bubbles (or watch the video below, but especially from 5′14″), but the solution isn’t actually that complex. It’s probably time for search engines to return to delivering what people request, rather than anticipate their political views and feed them a hit of dopamine. They seem to have forgotten that they exist as tools, not websites that reinforce prejudices.
   Duck Duck Go has worked well for me because it has remained true to this; but others can do it, too.
   However, there needs to be one more thing. Instead of Facebook’s botched suggestion of having everyday people rate news sources, which I believe will actually result in more “bubbling”, why not rank websites based on their longevity and consistency of delivering decent journalism? Yes, I realize both Fox News and MSNBC will pass this test. As will the BBC. But this weeds out splogs, content mills, and websites that steal content through RSS. It actually takes out the “fake news” (and I mean this in the proper sense, not the way President Trump uses it). The websites set up by fly-by-nighters to make a quick buck, or Macedonian teenagers to fool American voters, just disappear down the search-engine indices. Facebook can analyse the same data to check whether a source is credible and rank them the same way.
   It could be done through an analysis of the age of the content, and whether the domain name had changed hands over the years. A website with a healthy archive going back many years would be ranked more highly; as would one where the domain had been owned by the same party for a long period.
   Google’s Pagerank used to look at incoming links, and maybe this can still be a factor, even if link-exchanging is no longer one of the basic tenets of the web.
   There’s so much good work being done by independent media all over the world, and they deserve to be promoted in a truly meritorious system, which the likes of Google used to deliver. Shame they do not today.
   We do know that its claim that analysing the content on the page to determine rank hasn’t worked, if some of the results that pop up are any indication. Instead, we see Google News permit the most ridiculous content-mill sites and treat them as legitimate sources; in 2005 such behaviour would be unthinkable by the big G. As to Facebook, they’ll boost whomever gives them money, so ethics don’t really score big there.
   Both these companies must realize they have a duty to do right by the public, but they should also know that it’s in their own interests to be honest to their users. If trust increases, so can usage. They might even ward off some of the antitrust forces looming on the horizon; fairness certainly will help Google’s future in Europe. But they seem to have forgotten they are providers of tools, perhaps reflecting their principals’ desires to be seen as tech celebrities or power-players.
   Google already has the technology to deliver a fairer web, but I sense it doesn’t have the desire to. I miss the days when Google, in particular, was an enfant terrible, there to shake things up. Now it exists to boost its own properties or rub shoulders with the military–industrial complex. Everyone’s keeping an eye on Alphabet’s share price. Forget the people or ‘Don’t be evil.’
   As I have said often on this blog, there lies a grand opportunity for others to fill the spaces that Google and Facebook have left. A new site can play a far more ethical game, maybe even combine what these two giants offer. If Altavista, once the world’s biggest website, and Myspace, once the king of social networks, can be toppled, then so can these two. Yet at their peak, neither appeared to be vulnerable. Who would have thought back in 1998 that Altavista would be toast? (The few that did, and you are out there, are visionaries.)
   So who is best poised out there to deliver such tools? It would seem now is the time to start, and as people realize that this way is better, be prepared to scale, scale, scale. Remember, Google once did the same thing to oust Altavista, by figuratively building a better mousetrap. Someone just needs to take that first step.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


Twitter’s shadow-banning: not just in the US, as Kiwis get caught up, too

21.01.2018


Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons

We’ve had years of Google and Facebook acting like arses, but it’s disappointing to see Twitter give us more and more causes for concern.
   In 2017, we saw them change their terms and conditions so speaking power to truth is no longer a requirement. You can’t help but think that the decision to accommodate the US president is part of that: there is a policy within Twitter that President Trump is immune to their terms and conditions, and can Tweet with impunity what you and I would get kicked off for doing. We also saw Twitter, which is scrambling to show the US government that it is doing something about alleged Russian interference, kick off a privately developed bot that helped identify fake accounts. You’d think that if Twitter were sincere about identifying fake accounts, it would embrace such technology.
   One of my regular blog readers, Karen Tolfree, very kindly linked me a report from Hannity (which another friend later informed me was first revealed on Breitbart) which showed Twitter staff caught on video admitting to shadow-banning either because they disagreed with the user’s politics (with an admission that Twitter is 90 per cent US Democrat-leaning) or because of US government pressure (when discussing Julian Assange’s account).
   What was the old saying? I might not always agree with your politics but I will always defend to the hilt your right to express your views.
   Therefore, I mightn’t be President Trump’s biggest fan but those who support him, and do so within the same rules that I’m governed by on Twitter (e.g. not resorting to hate speech or attacking any individual or group), must have the same right to free speech as I should.
   I do not wish them to be silenced because many of them have good reasons for their beliefs, and if I don’t see them in my feed then how will I understand them? I don’t wish to live in a bubble (meanwhile, Facebook and Google want you to; Facebook’s “crowdsourcing” its ranking of media sources is going to make things far worse—have a look at Duck Duck Go founder Gabriel Weinberg’s series of Tweets at the end of this post).
   Because you never know if Twitter’s shadow-banning is going to go after you, since, like Facebook’s false malware accusations, they could be indiscriminate.
   In fact, two New Zealanders were shadow-banned over the last week: one with stated left-leaning views (Paul Le Comte), another (Cate Owen) who hasn’t put her political leanings into her bio, and who was shadow-banned for reasons unknown. It’s not just conservatives these guys go after, and neither was told just which Tweet netted them this “punishment”.
   I think it’s generally agreed that we have passed peak Twitter just as we have passed peak Facebook, but as it’s one of the original, mid-2000s social media services I still use, I’m disappointed that I can’t feel as happy being on there as I once did. After all, our presence is effectively our endorsement, and do we really endorse this sort of censorship against people because of either their politics, governmental pressure or reasons unknown? Twitter paints itself as a place where we can speak freely, provided we do so within certain rules, and the dick moves over the last 12 months make me wonder if it’s heading in the same direction as Google (tax-avoiding, hacking, lying about advertising tracking, allegedly pressuring think-tanks to fire someone over their viewpoints, biasing results in its own favour) and Facebook (forced downloads using the excuse of malware detection, kicking off drag queens and kings, tracking people after they have opted out, potential database issues that kick people off for days, endless bots and general ineffectiveness in removing them, lying about user numbers). Twitter always had bots and trolls, but we’re seeing what goes on inside nowadays, and it ain’t pretty.
   In 2018, we know Twitter is not a place for free speech, where rules apply differently depending on who you are, and where the identification of bots is not a priority.
   And even though we’ve had some happy news already this year (e.g. the prospect of Baby Clarcinda in five months’ time), these influential websites, whose actions and policies do affect us all, are “doing it all wrong”.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


The big difference with the internet of the ’90s: it served the many, not the few

11.09.2016


Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.

There’s a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so ‘under penalty of perjury’ on the form.
   Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. I’ve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. It’s damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and it’s rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
   Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
   This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that they’re only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then that’s what they’ll show in their results. There’s little freshness online as a result, which is why people aren’t as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
   Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if you’re the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then you’ll pop up regularly in the search results’ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isn’t just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
   It makes the ’net a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We don’t really want to surf casually as we once did because we don’t learn anything new: it’s harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
   There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I don’t get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Google’s index size remains unbeatable.
   What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but I’m not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have found—so if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you don’t catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. It’s not geared to search.
   Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree with—and that’s a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Google’s approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanct—and all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
   So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now it’s equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
   We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isn’t nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
   Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they don’t need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
   It’s high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, interests, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 5 Comments »


Google and Facebook should not head “top brands” lists when consumers do not trust them

10.02.2016

I’ve always been surprised when I see Google or Facebook appear on any “top brands” lists. It’s branding 101 that a strong brand must have loyalty, awareness, positive associations, perceived quality, as well as proprietary assets, based on the model from David Aaker, and implicit in this, I always thought, was trust. You can neither be loyal to something you don’t trust, nor can you have positive brand associations toward it, nor perceive an untrustworthy thing to possess quality. According to a survey from a consultancy, Prophet, which looked at over 400 brands across 27 industries, polling nearly 10,000 customers, we don’t trust either Google or Facebook. Neither makes it into the top 50; those that make it into the top 10 are Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Chick-fil-A, Amazon, Spotify, Lego, and Sephora. Google slots in at 55th, and Facebook at 98th.
   To me, the Prophet approach makes far more sense, as for years—long before Edward Snowden revealed the extent of us surveillance under PRISM—I had been blogging about privacy gaffes and other serious issues behind both companies.
   People may find Google and Facebook to have utility and enjoyment, yet we willingly volunteer plenty of private information to these sites. We do not trust what they do with this information. Adweek notes that in a separate survey, Facebook was the least trusted brand when it came to personal information, making it worse than the US federal government. There have been so many occasions where users have found certain privacy settings on Facebook altered without their own intervention; and I’ve constantly maintained that, with the bots and spammers I encounter daily on the social network, its claims of user numbers are difficult to accept. In fact, if you have Facebook’s advertising preferences set to reject tracking, the site will not stop doing so, compiling a massive and sometimes inaccurate picture of who you are. What it does with that, given that you have told the site that it should not use that information, is anyone’s guess. It makes you wonder why that data collection continues. At least Google (now) stops tracking advertising pref­erences when you ask it to.
   These surveys indicate that consumers are wising up, and it opens both Google and Face­book up to challenge.
   Google dethroned the biggest website and search engine in the world when it was released, so no one’s position is guaranteed. Duck Duck Go, a search engine far better at privacy, has chipped away at Google’s share; and I find so much Facebook fatigue out there that it could follow Myspace into irrelevance. When I hear those speak of these two companies’ positions as being unassailable, I take it with a grain of salt.
   We already have seen peak Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter), for when it came to Super Bowl stats this year, there was a massive 25 per cent drop in activity. Interestingly, despite the trending #RIPTwitter hashtag last week, I don’t agree with those who think Twitter is heading into oblivion, for the simple fact that the site is less invasive and seemingly more honest than Google and Facebook. Those same experts, after all, said that Google Plus would be the Facebook-killer, while I consistently disagreed from day one.
   The Medinge Group predicted correctly in the early 2000s when it was stated that consumers would desire greater integrity and transparency from all their brands, something reflected in our book, Beyond Branding. I don’t believe that we are so different when it comes to dealing with online brands.
   This is, then, a welcome challenge for all businesses, to ensure that they demonstrate transparency to their audiences. We have remained very constant in our treatment of private information: for the most part, unless you’ve agreed to it, we don’t store it at our company. There is some information that goes to our advertising networks through cookies. We admit we could have a clearer privacy policy. But for us, we don’t want to lose your trust, because in bad times, it’s the one thing we can hang on to. It’s not something Google or Facebook seem to be aware of as they tend to ignore users’ demands and queries.
   In the last 24 hours, author Holly Jahangiri found an illustration depicting child pornography on Facebook that had been reported by many of her friends—only for Facebook to deem it constantly acceptable, despite what it states in its own terms and conditions. It was only when she Tweeted about it that Facebook finally responded publicly; and only when she involved a US government agency did the page disappear. The pressure of accountability like that against dishonest companies tells me Twitter will be around for a while yet.

   The trend this year, I believe, is the ongoing rise of challengers to these two brands. When the tipping-point against them occurs, I do not yet know. But now, I sense that it’s closer than ever.

This blog post is an adaptation of the editorial in issue 35 of Lucire.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 6 Comments »


Speaking on typography and social media, with Retake the Net in between

29.10.2011

Sometimes, a brand-new speech will give you some jitters, because the material’s unrehearsed. But I have to say I had a lot of fun today at Creative Camp at Natcoll in Wellington, organized by Kai König, Diane Sieger and their team, talking about typography and how we should be aware of it today. It was helped by a few graphics from Font Police, our humour website which netted itself a mention in Mashable earlier this month. I did feel inspired, and this was one of those talks where I was really happy with the content and how it fell into place.
   After a quick bite, it was off to Retake the Net, organized by Brian Calhoun, Sibylle Schwarz and Aimée Whitcroft, discussing internet freedoms.
   I attended two sessions: one on the corporate control of the cloud, and another on intellectual property (in part—I had to leave during it, but not before raising the Bill of Rights Act and its position vis-à-vis the Copyright Act). In the former, I was somewhat buoyed to learn that four of the sixteen participants used Duck Duck Go instead of Google, and the idea of the filter bubble was raised.
   November will see me head to the MTA conference to speak on social media, and participate in a debate over fuel prices.
   My talks will centre around social media. We had nutted out the approach as early as April, before Facebook launched Timeline, and before Google Plus. The landscape has changed, not in principle, but in terms of the tools. Had I prepared screen shots back then, they would have become dated. I plan to finish that talk off, along with its graphics, in the next few days, so what attendees will see will be only a couple of weeks old, at the most.

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Posted in business, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


Duck Duck Go voted best search engine of 2011

04.04.2011

Duck Duck Go logo

According to a reader poll, Duck Duck Go beat Google for best search engine of 2011.
   ‘With 48% of the vote, relative search newcomer DuckDuckGo beat out search behemoth Google, who came in with 45% of the total vote,’ said About.com.
   Bing trailled at 3 per cent and Yahoo! at 2.
   There’s always room for improvement, but a search engine that delivers pretty accurate results and has no problems with privacy is streets ahead of Google. Plus, unlike Google, you can still email the guy who made the search engine. Last time I successfully emailed the founder of a popular site was in the mid-1990s when two guys called Jerry and David ran this thing called YAHOO out of their garage.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


Users upset over YouTube–Google linking, and is Google showing greater bias in results?

12.01.2011

I found out a day after many netizens: Google is now forcing all YouTube account holders to merge their accounts with their Google ones.
   As part of my de-Googling, I won’t be following suit. Instead, I plan to stay logged out of YouTube: it makes very little difference to me.
   So I won’t be able to comment or like a video—not the end of the world. In fact, I imagine I could very easily comment on videos on a blog and get any possible frustration I have out of my system that way. YouTube is still letting non-account holders embed. And I’m not really a YouTube video uploader: I can always go on Vimeo if I were that keen, or use SmugMug, which was in the digital photo-storage game long before Flickr, and which now hosts videos, too.
   I felt very sympathetic when I found that there were people far more pissed off about this development than I am. The only news outlet to have reported on the compulsory linking that I could find, Brandchannel, has scores of unhappy users who are commenting that the move has even locked them out of YouTube. Others are concerned about their privacy, with good reason.
   Looks like Google still hasn’t learned about user choices after the débâcles last year over Buzz and the other services it offers. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.

Remember, too, how Google has stated on numerous occasions that it would not bias search results? Consider this: I wanted to search for an old post of mine so I could link it from the above text. The term: Google Buzz “de-Googling”.
   On Duck Duck Go, I found the post immediately:

Duck Duck Go search

   Out of interest, on Google, it cannot be seen: only positive things are mentioned and Google Buzz itself is the first result.

Google search

   I know I have done more obscure tests to show that Google’s results are getting less precise. But the above is interesting.
   It backs up an earlier article I read online about how Google treats search results, and that there is actually some bias in the system now.
   I don’t begrudge Google for doing this, but it needs to stop saying that it doesn’t. We all know that it was quite happy to engage in censorship when it had Google China, already making its brand less idealistic than it once was.
   Having set this precedent and created this brand association, it’s easy to believe that it now does this quite selectively for a lot more countries.
   You might say that my one search is not a sign of bias, merely one where Google has a less than comprehensive search index and it could not find three old blog entries that have been around for a while. And which it used to be able to find.
   It’s quite a coincidence that three negative posts about Google are no longer easily found with the relevant search terms.
   That’s not great news for Google, either.
   Duck Duck Go is looking better by the day as the Google search engine, the one service to which its brand is tied, gets less precise.

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Posted in branding, business, China, internet, media, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Duck Duck Go adds a Lucire bang

03.12.2010

Aside from writing a branding report today (which I will share with you once all contributors have OKed it), I received some wonderful news from Gabriel Weinberg of Duck Duck Go.
   Those who are used to the Duck will know that you can search using what he calls bangs—the exclamation mark. On Chrome, which has a minimalist design, I have set my default search engine to Duck Duck Go. But what if I wanted to search on Google?
   I can either do what is built in, and what Google suggests, by beginning my typing in the search box with the word Google. Or, I can simply add !g to the end of the query, which, I might add, is something you can do from Duck Duck Go itself, too.
   Of course, Google would prefer that I put all searches through them, but having Duck Duck Go as a default isn’t a bad idea.
   There’s a huge list of bangs that you can use at the Duck Duck Go website, which include !amazon (which will take you directly to an Amazon.com search), !gn (for Google News—this one is a godsend, especially for Chrome, which has made it much harder to search the news section, even if programmed into the search settings), !video (for YouTube), and !eb or !ebay (for Ebay).
   I’m glad to announce that Gabriel has taken on board a few of my suggestions for motoring and fashion publications, such as !autocar, !vogueuk, !jalopnik, !randt (Road and Track) and !lucire (had to get that one in).
   We’ll announce this on Lucire shortly, but readers already saw me announce, on Thursday, a nip–tuck of our Newsstand pages. That’s not really news, so I chose to complement it with a few other announcements.
   Since we were already fidgeting with that part of the site, Gabriel’s announcement prompted me to do some changes to the search pages, which were woefully out of date.
   The community home page was last designed four years ago, and that time, we just shifted the content over. Never mind that that content was also out of date, and included some letters to the editor that are no longer relevant. It had a link to the old forum, which only results in a PHP error. So today, I had all the old stuff stripped out, leaving us with a fairly minimalistic page.
   I didn’t plan on making a blog post out of it, so I never took screen shots of the process. But at left is one of the old page from Snap Shots, and long-time readers will recognize this as the website design we had many years ago. When we facelifted other parts of the site, this was left as is: it’s old-fashioned dynamic HTML and hasn’t been moved over to a content-management system.
   The new one may be a bit sterile (below), but it takes out all the extra bits that very few used: the Swicki, the Flickr gadget (we haven’t added anything to it since 2008), and a complex sign-up form for the Lucire Updates’ service. It’s been stripped to basics, but it now includes the obligatory links to Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte and the RSS feed.

   Which brings us on to the search pages. These also have the updated look, but, importantly, I fixed a bug in the Perl script that kept showing the wrong month. Regardless of whether it was March or December, the script would show January:

   This is probably nothing to the actual computer hackers out there, but for a guy who has used an ATM only three times in his entire life (mainly because I lacked the local currency), this is a momentous occasion.
   It was one of those evening-tweaking cases where it was simpler for me to do it myself than to ask one of the programmers, and I managed to remedy something that had plagued our website for 10 years.

   The searches revealed a few strange links from long-expired pages, and here is where we might get in to a bit of discussion about online publishing.
   Once upon a time, it was considered bad form to have dead links, because people might point to them. Even more importantly, because a search engine might, and you could get penalized for having too many.
   This is why we’ve kept some really odd filenames. The reason the Lucire Community page is at lucire.com/email is that the link to a free email service we provided at the turn of the century was linked from there. Similarly, we still kept pages called content.htm, contents.shtml and editorial.shtml, even though these pages had not been updated for half a decade.
   There are now redirects from these pages, which were once also bad form as far as the search engines were concerned.
   But, given that search engines update so much more quickly in 2010, do we still need to bother about these outdated links? Will we still be penalized for having them? Should we not just simply delete them?
   If you look to the right of this blog at the RSS feed links, you’ll see some dead ones—there were more, but I have been doing online weeding here, too. It almost seems to be a given that people can remove things without warning and if you encounter a dead link, well, you know how to use a search engine.
   To me, it still seems a little on the side of bad manners to do that to your readers, but one might theorize that few care about that any more as many sites revamp on to CMSs to make life easier for themselves.

A side note: earlier this week, when weeding through dead links at Lucire, we noticed that many people had moved to CMSs, with the result that their sites began to look the same. Some put in excellent customizations, but many didn’t. And what is it with all the big type on the news sites and blogs these days? Is this due to the higher resolutions of modern monitors, or do they represent a change in reading habits?

PS.: The search script bug was fixed by changing $month[$mon] to simply $mon. Told you it was nothing, though I noticed that the site that we got the script from still has the bug.—JY

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Posted in business, design, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Another false accusation from Google

02.12.2010

For around a year, I’ve been at Google for its misbehaviours. And one thing I dislike about these tech companies—whether it’s Facebook or Google or any of their ilk—is how they are slaves to technology, rather than masters of it. Somewhere along the line, they have allowed algorithms to determine guilt, thereby offending that old-fashioned idea of the presumption of innocence. From Blogger blocks to false copyright-infringement accusations to, now, this:

Blocked from searching on Google

   While Duck Duck Go is my default now, occasionally I’ll still put a search through Google. There is no malware on this system, or on this network, and I certainly haven’t put through a single automated request (how could human typing be mistaken for this?!)—reasons Google gives for this message. It’s just another case of guilty till proved innocent that this northern California company, and others, are so good at creating.
   Funny, isn’t it, that it has relied on an automated process to accuse a human process of being automated? It’s the Blogger fight all over again.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | No Comments »