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Tag Archives: Google

Are we ready for Google TV?

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Google TV

Are we ready for Google TV?

Do we want the web on our televisions?

For many years there’s been a push to bridge the gap between the internet and our televisions. Early efforts were rather clunky and it eventually became clear that people were more interested in online content and services rather than actually browsing the web. When you look at the latest Smart TV features built into home entertainment gear from the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG, they’re all about watching online video and tapping into social media rather than scrolling through web pages.

Despite this trend towards online services, some gadgets are still keen to bring the web to the big screen. The Android-powered Google TV is a classic example. After initially stumbling, Google TV media players are finally coming to Australia via Sony. For now you can only get a Google TV from Sony if you buy a new high-end Bravia television, but eventually they’ll be sold as standalone devices.

This latest iteration of Google TV is different to your typical media player. Rather than connecting to a separate input on your television, the Google TV features an HDMI passthrough. You plug your Personal Video Recorder or other video source into the Google TV set-top box, then plug the Google TV into your television.

This kind of setup lets the Google TV act as a traditional media player and tap into online video. But it also lets the Google TV display web content on top of, or alongside, what you’re watching. For example, you can use picture-in-picture to display a web page alongside a live broadcast — handy if you want to look up an actor on the Internet Movie Database while you’re watching the movie. Alternatively you might want to interact with Twitter or Facebook while you’re watching TV, as many of us already do via a “second screen” such as a notebook, tablet or smartphone.

The Google TV can’t actually interact with live broadcasts, because it doesn’t know what you’re watching, but that kind of functionality is on the roadmap. You can expect television-focused check-in apps such as Miso, GetGlue and Intonow to come to the various Smart TV platforms. Think of them as Foursquare for entertainment, letting your friends know what you’re watching right now. Some are also designed to provide complementary information about what you’re watching — an obvious drawcard for advertisers.

Merging television and the web sounds intriguing, but it also sounds rather inconsiderate of anyone else in the room who is trying to watch the television. Other people don’t want to be distracted by your inane social media chatter while they’re trying to watch their favourite shows. That’s why the current “second screen” system works so well, because everyone in the room can do their own thing without annoying other people.

Google TV might make sense for tech-savvy singles, but it might lose its shine once you’re sharing your lounge room with your significant other.


One Password To Rule Them All And In The Darkness Bind Them

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The giants of the web are fighting to become your de facto passport to the digital world.

These days we’ve all got too many passwords to remember. The likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft want to ease your burden by letting you use their accounts to access all of your other services. A growing number of sites and services let you login with your Facebook details, for example, turning your Facebook account into your online identity card.

Facebook recently upped the stakes by striking a deal with Telstra to let pre-paid mobile customers access their account directly from Facebook. Telstra pre-paid customers can track their account balance, top up their credit and view usage history. Considering how much of a hassle it can be to deal with telcos, organising your phone bill via your Facebook account sounds pretty useful.

The Telstra deal is part of Facebook’s move beyond a simple “service” to become a “platform” on which other applications and services run. Game developers were quick to get onboard but Facebook wants to expand much further. Its aim is to develop a microcosm of the internet within Facebook’s walls, so in theory you never need to stray beyond Facebook’s grasp. Naturally this doesn’t sit well with the likes of Google and Microsoft who also have their own vast ecosystems and want to “own the customer”. Remember, if a service is free you’re often the product.

Of course Facebook and the others giants of the web aren’t introducing extra features such as phone bill management to make your life easier. They’re doing it to make sure that they’re so tightly entwined in your life that you can’t walk away. Facebook wants you to be too reliant on your account to abandon it. In return it gets to track what you do in every corner of your life.

Facebook and the others aren’t evil, they’re simply trading your privacy and personal information in return for convenience. It’s a reasonable trade to make if you comprehend what you’re trading and take the time to understand the various privacy settings. But Facebook does seem to benefit from the fact that many people don’t comprehend this transaction and think they’re getting everything for “free”.

Long before Facebook was on the scene, Microsoft dreamed of acting as our digital passports. Microsoft’s Hailstorm system was later renamed Microsoft Passport Network, .NET My Services and .NET Passport. You probably know it as a Hotmail account.

When Passport was integrated into Windows XP way back in 2001, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said the public would fully accept Microsoft as a trusted repository for all their personal information within five to 10 years. Clearly he was wrong about that one.

Of course Microsoft’s Passport efforts failed because most people trusted Microsoft about as far as they could kick their computer. Yet the concept of trust has changed considerably in the last decade. Today people trust the likes of Facebook and Google with a surprising amount of personal information. But it remains to be seen whether they’ll become our one password to rule them all.


How Social Are Social Networks?

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The Internet, we’re told, brings people together — and I’d certainly say that it can perform that function; it allows those with a common interest, whether that’s ancient sports cars, cutting edge technology or butterflies to gather together no matter where they are on the planet.

But does it really bring us closer together? Research commissioned by Optus recently suggested that despite the massive numbers of people using social networks — not to mention the plethora of networks one could belong to — we still don’t feel as though we’re communicating with those that we’re “close” to as much as we’d like.

The research focused on Facebook, where (according to the Optus statistics) the average Australian has 165 “friends”. Of those average 165, only  33 of them are said to be “close” friends, but 45 per cent of those surveyed felt that social networks make them feel less close to their family and friends.

It’s worth bearing in mind here that you can spin statistics any way you like; it’s not immediately apparent from the released research what the other 55 per cent thought of social networks in terms of closeness, for example. Still, I can see a few reasons why, despite social networks offering another way to communicate, it might make some feel a little isolated.

The most obvious one is the issue of privacy. Not just from the network that you’re on — although Facebook can be difficult in terms of setting and keeping your privacy intact — but the privacy of what you say, and who you’re saying it to. If you’re the extroverted type, that may not be a problem, but those who are a little more shy would probably find the archival nature of a social network like Facebook a little offputting. You can delete individual posts or comments, but what’s typed there is still published for some time — and if it’s not on your account, you may not be able to delete it at all.

There’s also the question of matching the right social networks to the right use. Some networks are particularly focused; LinkedIn, for example has a strong professional focus, where Facebook or Google+ are a lot more freewheeling. Twitter’s arguably more free than anything else, save for the restriction on the number of characters within a post; that may lead to brevity, but it can also make it hard to make a complex point or hold a truly meaningful discussion. It’s certainly possible for social networking chat to be drowned out by the general noise — I’ve got a few “friends” on my own Facebook list, for example, who are inordinately fond of posting many pictures in sequence, which can drown out the communications with others.

Ultimately, I think social networks are just tools for a purpose; if you’re feeling as though they make you less social, is that a fault of the tool or the user?


Google knows a lot about you, but is that a bad thing?

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Google’s a company with an interesting history. It rode into prominence in the early part of the previous decade, largely on the back of a search engine — something that in itself was already a highly commoditised entity — that worked more quickly and effectively than the competing search engines of the day. Google isn’t without competition in the modern market — Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo!’s search engines being the most prominent examples — but for many folks, Google is search.

In case you’re wondering, Google doesn’t just offer up search results for the fun of it; the vast bulk of Google’s income comes from advertising that hangs off the search results. Google got to where it is partly because its search results were good, but also because it could offer tailored and unobtrusive advertising that paid out; if you got ads in your search feed that were relevant to your interests, you were more likely to follow them up, and therefore everybody benefits — at least in theory.

Google also isn’t, according to one of its famous early promises, evil. To be precise, one of Google’s early company mottos exclaimed “Don’t be evil”, so that while you were handing over lots of information to Google in return for free search services — and later other offerings ranging from office software to calendars to social networking — you could rest easy that the company wasn’t trying to be evil, and your private data was safe and secure.

At least, that was the theory. Recent online uproar against Google has focused on a couple of Google’s most recent alterations to search and to its privacy polices. Firstly, in the area of search, Google’s started to give more prominence to results given a +1 mark through Google’s own Google+ social network. That’s a policy somewhat rife for abuse, but what’s got a lot more folks concerned are changes to Google’s privacy policies due to hit on the first of March. The full details of the new policy were announced on Google’s official blog here.

Google’s main product might be search, but a single Google account can link to RSS reading, email, calendar, documents, photos, YouTube and a plethora of other sites and services. Previously all the information within the bounds of one Google site stayed where it was, giving your data and preferences a certain quantity of relative anonymity. From March 1st, Google will start collating the data from one service against each other, building up a much more comprehensive profile of who you are and what you do than it did before. Technically speaking, Google already had all this information (or as much as you chose to give it); its new policy makes it explicit that it’ll leverage this information across all services. Google’s spin on this is that it’ll lead to a simpler overall Google experience, but there’s reason to be wary. Google’s sitting on an information goldmine — one perhaps not just relevant to simple advertising — and it’s one that users have largely handed to it for free. Cross-collated data in one single place also represents a tasty vector for attack by cyber criminals, although here at least we can hope that Google’s defences are good. Actually, given that an individual user can’t do much to improve Google’s security, that’s all we can do — hope that it’s up to the task.


Do We Need Another Social Network?

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It seems you can’t take two steps without stepping over a mention of Facebook. Just in the past week, I’ve attended a launch of two new phones (the budget-priced HTC ChaCha and Salsa, and yes, those are the product names), both of which feature prominent “F” buttons. Not in a non-family friendly sense; these are buttons that directly link your activity on the smartphone at the time to your Facebook account. So if you’re taking a photo, it’ll upload that photo to Facebook. If you’re browsing the Web, it’ll share that link, and so on.

At the same time that Facebook seems to have taken over the lives of an increasing proportion of the Internet community, Google’s soft-launched its latest social networking platform. This isn’t Google’s first crack at an online social community platform. Google Wave sank without much note and Google Buzz invited criticism for its seeming lack of actual privacy. The latest social network to emerge from Google is known simply as Google+.

Google+’s basic layout is a mix of what you’d expect if you’re an existing Facebook user with a lighter layout tone, such as you’d expect out of Google. It’s early days as yet — so far, the only way to get onto Google+ is via invitation, and the early release of Google+ saw the company restrict invites several times due to overload issues. There’s a few neat inbuilt touches that Google+ brings to the social networking scene. Instead of “friending” people, you add them to self-defined “circles”. These can be friends, acquaintances — basically anything you like, as you’re the only one who sees your friend definitions. Then when you post anything, you choose which circles see your content.

This also highlights a key difference (at the moment) between Google+ and Facebook. Facebook’s “friending” is a two way relationship, where once a friendship is established, both sides see all posts from both people, unless specifically noted otherwise through Facebook’s often labyrinthine privacy menus. Google+’s “Circles” offer one-way sharing. You can add anybody to a circle, but all you’re doing is posting to them; there’s no implicit agreement that they’ll then share material back with you.

It’s early days for Google+ as yet. I do like the interface, which is cleaner and quicker than Facebook, not to mention uncluttered with things like Farmville”¦ so far. Having said that, what Google’s done is being described by the company as a “field trial” of the service, and it’ll need a significant uptake of users to start seriously challenging Facebook.

What do you think? Are you willing (or even interested) in taking on another social network?


Google’s Instant Search Play

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Using Google as your search engine has become so accepted that it’s accepted in certain circles as a verb. You don’t search for something, you simply “Google” it – although similar to things like Filofaxes and Kleenex, Google isn’t entirely happy with its trademark becoming a common word. Still, the company can’t be too upset with being seen as the world’s default search engine.

It’s not a spot that can be maintained simply by standing still, however, and recent figures suggest that Microsoft’s Bing search engine is gaining steam. Google’s latest tactic, rolled out recently in Australia is Google “Instant”, a modification to the main site’s search engine that leverages its database of search results to deliver results in real time while you type. Enter “Geeks2”, for example, and it’ll guess that you wanted Geeks2U, delivering that (at the time of writing) as the top result before you actually type the “U”. It’s slick enough technology that in my testing isn’t particularly taxing on the browser, but it’s also worth noting that Google’s limited it in particular ways.

Specifically, some words and phrases are blacklisted from appearing in instant searches, although you can still search for them. A reasonable number relate to what can only be deemed “Adult” search terminology (for those still determined, you can hit enter to actually search for them; they just don’t come up instantly), while others relate to hate speech or other potentially objectionable material.

On one level, there’s no way that some of this material should just pop up into a browser search window, given some of it can be triggered with relatively innocuous phrases. At the same time, it’s also become clear that Google’s filtering even affects the kinds of results you get from instant searches. Hacker title 2600 uncovered a list of the banned words and phrases (here: www.2600.com/googleblacklist/ — but be forewarned; it contains many phrases and words which may offend), noting that the instant search results for “murder” and the search results for “murder” when you hit enter were in fact different. At what point does that cross from filtering to censorship?

Google’s filtering the results you may see, so sometimes, rather like instant coffee, the “instant” option might not be exactly to your taste, and more delicate mixing of your search terms might be required.


Netbook or Tablet?

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If you want a small portable computer with a bit more screen space than a smartphone, you’re rather spoilt for choice right now. The choice as it stands currently is between the newer crop of tablet style devices epitomised by Apple’s iPad, but soon to be joined by efforts from Samsung, who recently unveiled the Galaxy Tab running Google’s Android operating system, as well as options from Asus and Toshiba.

On the other hand, you could opt for a cheap netbook. The netbook market is now a couple of years old and there’s plenty of choice on store shelves right now. So which should you opt for?

Tablets:

Upside:
They’re generally much simpler to use, because they run quite specific touch-capable operating systems, rather than Windows or Linux bolted onto smaller screens. The add-on applications markets for both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms is expanding rapidly, and most software just works rather than having to work around problems of smaller screens or lower power processors, which is a concern for netbook users.

Downside:
As they’re all screen, you’ll have to pay more for a Bluetooth or similar keyboard. Apple notably controls the Apps available for its platform, and what they can do, with an iron fist, while the upgrade nature of Android-based devices is often a little shaky.

Netbooks:

Upside:
Inbuilt keyboards give flexibility, as does the use of standard notebook/PC operating systems. Pressure from the tablet and even notebook markets has also driven prices right down, and it’s rare to see a netbook on a retail store shelf for more than $500.

Downside:
They’re not very powerful machines, and under the weight of Windows or Linux and applications, some netbooks can be very sluggish systems. The keyboards present in most netbooks are pretty cheap and very small, which won’t suit some hands.

Invariably, some users and uses will suit one over the other, and we’ll clearly see some more interesting plays in both the netbook and tablet spaces in the next twelve months. It’s well worth trying a few “store models” out before making your decision, as it’s much better to get a system that suits you rather than one you have to force to work the way you want it to.


Waving goodbye

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Not every tech product is an instant hit, even when it’s backed by a big brand name. Every tech company has its flop products, and late last week, Google added another to the pile. It’s a rare misstep for Google, though. After all, the company name is effectively synonymous with Internet search. Gmail offers best in breed spam filtering for consumers and businesses alike, and plenty of other Google products have millions of dedicated users. That doesn’t mean that everything the company does works. There’s still folks a little disturbed by the privacy implications of Google’s Street View addition to its map products. Personally, it doesn’t fuss me; if I wanted my house hidden from view, I could always throw a very large sheet over it.

Late last week, Google announced that it’s pulling the plug on one of its most hyped but least successful products, Google Wave (www.google.com/wave). Wave was touted as a collaborative tool that could replace instant messaging, Wikis, social networking and email within one web-based interface. Initially only available to users by invitation, Google did a great job developing hype for the product by limiting availability, but even when Wave was opened to the general public, it failed to catch on as well as Google might have hoped. The learning curve was a little steep, and it was a product — like many social networks — that really relied on having a critical mass of users to be genuinely useful.

For those who like a little home grown feeling with their technology, it’s worth noting that Wave was developed and maintained in Sydney, and in these uncertain economic times it’s nice to note that Google’s stated that none of the developers will be laid off; instead they’ll be reassigned according to this ITNews report: https://www.itnews.com.au/news/sydney-staff-survive-googles-wave-cutback-223654

Wave’s closure — which will happen by the end of the year — doesn’t mean that collaborative software in itself is dead. There’s plenty of other products — Microsoft’s SharePoint being the most prominent — and it’s not as though one product will sink Google.


Do you want more TV advertising, even if it's Google?

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Mid-May, Google announced a whole bunch of new products and services at its Google I/O event in San Francisco. The biggest surprise of the bunch was Google TV, a platform that Google’s developing to bring the richness of the Web to your TV.

This has of course been tried before for a vast number of years, but when Google talks, people tend to listen. The company is packed with clever and committed developers, and more than a small quantity of spare change to throw at its projects. It also doesn’t hurt that Google has a lot of goodwill amongst all of its clients. For the average consumer, Google’s products work well and are mostly free.

Free’s a nice price to pay, but it ignored a key element of how Google makes money and pays for that “free”, and that’s through targeted advertising. Every Google search is logged and analysed, and if you’re a user of Google’s excellent mail client, gmail, you’ll notice more specific ads turning up next to your mail as well. This does worry some privacy advocates, but it’s clearly the price one pays for free services. If you want it free, you pay with ads. It’s the model (more or less) that television (with the exception of state-run services such as the ABC) has worked on for more than half a century.

Bringing more ads to TV, though? That’s an interesting prospect, given one of the first things that most buyers of personal video recorders do is work out the best way to enable ad-skipping, whether that’s just fast-forwarding through the ads (a limitation of any “Freeview” branded PVR) or skipping them entirely. GoogleTV will be a combination of a hardware product and a software platform. At first in the US this year Google will launch a set top box built by Logitech, and Blu-Ray player and TV built by Sony with inbuilt Google TV. As yet, international plans (including Australia) point to 2011 as the earliest we might see GoogleTV here.

Google’s main product is still of course search, and the ability to search for TV-specific content easily from your sofa is pretty compelling. I put the question around ad-skipping and how to sell consumers on getting yet another box to chuck under the TV that’ll serve ads to them to Google’s product manager for Google TV, Rishi Chandra at a recent Google event. His response was rather telling about where Google’s priorities actually are.

Chandra’s take on advertising for end users (that’s you and me and everyone else presumably watching a Google TV) is that we’d prefer targeted advertising specific to our searches and our profiles. They’re more useful, he told me, and if the economics are right and they’re particularly targeted we may end up with less of them.

On the other side of the coin, while it’s possible to strip ads out of Web pages if you’re so inclined or fast forward the ads on the TV if you’ve pre-recorded it, don’t look for that kind of feature in Google TV. One of the benefits (to the advertisers) that Chandra highlighted was that users couldn’t skip the ads. They could ensure that the ads were played and were trackable. Google can help the advertising community with lots more specific data via Google TV. At the end of the day, Google’s actual clients are the advertisers that give the company cash by the barrowload.

It’s a difficult line that Google has to tread. Its money comes from advertising, and even online there’s no such thing as a free lunch. It still leaves me wondering if it’s going to be worth investing in a TV with inbuilt Google (or a set top box, Blu-Ray player or whatever) in order to be served even more advertising that I can’t easily ignore.


Google Wave

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There has been a lot of buzz in recent months about Google Wave and the large array of team-based tasks that can be completed with it. Google Wave is basically a collection of online tools that allow the members of a team/group to work together collaboratively on documents. The tool is web-based which provides team members the freedom to be located anywhere in the world. All types of preferences can be established, however, at it’s most basic level, no matter which member of a team comes up with an idea, all team members can be required to sign off on the idea as a condition for moving to the next level of development. Google Wave is often used by team leaders. They often set up a document and then invite people into the project, giving them the ability to ask every team member to input ideas. It is a great way to stimulate discussion. Google Wave makes teamwork via the Internet a reality.

Wave is a term that is used often in the Google Wave system. A Wave is defined as a discussion that has several participants in it. Wave participants are invited into a project, or added by a Wave admin and are given permission to participate in the development of documents or in whatever collaborative effort is taking place. There is no limit to the number of participants that can be added to a Wave. One particular feature that makes Google Wave especially exciting is the option for new participants to playback any interactions that took place among the team before they actually joined the project.

Google Wave functions are in real-time and therefore any communication at all, can be seen instantly by other team members. This allows team members on the same project to work together on a document while holding a real-time discussion at the same time. There are no limitations on the quality of documents that users work with. Google Wave allows for rich text formatting, uploading photos, video uploads and the placement of maps in documents as well. All of this eliminates the need for email messages being sent to the group and eliminates a need for attachments in those emails.

Project managers, business owners and business planning departments can all benefit greatly from the features offered by Google Wave, as can companies that require the co-operation of multiple departments placed in different offices and cities. Often traditional businesses hesitate to adopt new technology and wait to see how things fair with other companies. Google Wave is one development in technology that definitely improves the way that things are done in the best of ways.


Recent News

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Apple recently launched its 2020 crop of iPhone smartphones, comprising 4 different sizes and models that will become progressively available over the next month or so. The realities of the COVID-19 Pandemic have meant Apple has had to stagger its iPhone 12 launch schedule, with the basic iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro going on

NBN Co recently announced that it’s spending some $3.5 billion dollars to upgrade parts of the nation’s Fibre To the Node (FTTN) network to full Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) over the next 3 years. While the NBN itself has been one massive political football, for better or worse, the practical reality of its near-finished

Virtual Reality, often shortened to VR is one of those “future tech” concepts, along with hoverboards, jetpacks and teleportation that we always seem to be just on the cusp of… but never quite getting there. However, unlike teleportation – which conventional physics suggests might be a bit of a non-starter – or the risky nature

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