15 Minutes: Why Is ResearchBuzz Getting So International?

It’s that time again! I’ve found myself with 15 spare minutes so I’m setting a timer and writing up some of the thoughts that have been whirling around in my head. Let’s go.

You may have noticed over the last few months that ResearchBuzz is including more and more stories from international sources, and not just resources. Instead it’s news about government actions, editorials, etc. Why? It’s because I’m noticing three large categories of change / trends and I think they’re important:

INTERNET ACCESS: Many countries have liberal Internet access policies, while other countries restrict totally what their citizens can access. But what about the countries in between? What about Iraq, which periodically shuts down its Internet access to prevent exam cheating? What about Gambia, which shut down its Internet for elections? What about Zimbabwe, which has very expensive mobile data prices? The UN has declared Internet access to be a human right. How will partial instances of revoked access be addressed?

TAXATION: Many countries and groups, including Indonesia, India, and Spain, are asking Google and other tech companies hard questions about the taxes they’re paying and the way they’re making money in different countries. These questions will only increase.

TRANSPARENCY: Countries are becoming more transparent in unexpected ways. China’s legal system has been making big pushes for transparency. Ukraine is providing more information on government spending and its officials are providing asset declarations. How will this continue? Will the relative transparency across worldwide governments shift, and how much? And what will the activist public do with these new resources.

My fifteen minutes are up and I apologize for the brevity.

Quit Trying to Be the Next Google Dammit, Pt. 2: The Goal Should Be An Internet That Makes Us Better Humans

We have a houseguest, my husband and I. She is staying with us while she receives medical treatment, and will be here for a while.

I am on all my manners. I have almost stopped singing out loud to myself, and talking twee to the cat, and blurting out observations which make sense to me but no one else. I am cooking dinner and keeping the kitchen clean and checking twice a day to make sure there are plenty of clean towels in the linen closet. I do not feel much faith in my powers as a hostess — I am too big and rumpled and introverted and strange and I’m always convinced something will go wrong. I cooked pierogies and the house smelled like fried onions even hours later, and I went in the bathroom and cried because everything the house would smell like fried onions forever and I was the worst person in the world.

Through all this I go back to the Internet over and over again to try to be better. To find good recipes to cook. To do medical research. To figure out how to make our ancient bathroom sparkle. To get rid of the fried onion smell, dammit. To be a more productive person and a more effective hostess for this family member with her blue cane who is so, so patient with me and makes me feel ridiculous for crying over food.

I don’t say to myself that I am using Google because it indexes so many Web pages so quickly and thus and such. I don’t say to myself that I’m searching PubMed because it has so much information organized in such a way. I say to myself that I want to use THIS resource or THAT resource because it’s helping me in doing a job at which I feel completely rubbish. It’s making me better.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of headline touting “the next Google” (a phrase which has 2,660,000 matches on Google itself, by the way), stories and Web pages encouraged aspiring companymakers to build the things that make us more capable and stronger? To encourage people to, instead of merely reflecting an existing quo, build tools that will expand horizons and give us new ways of being and lead us to becoming better humans?

… I suppose that now that I have admitted in front of God and everybody to crying over fried onion stink that I should also tell you my secret dream. My secret dream is to have a place to send every bit of information I look at. I read literally hundreds of RSS feeds. I am subscribed to dozens of Google Alerts. And my perfect day would be able to match every bit of information to someone who would be delighted to have it.

That’s my particular itch. To direct information to people who could use it. That’s why I spend so much time reading those feeds and alert services — because there are so many great resources out there, and more coming every day, and y’all don’t know them, and that drives me nuts.

If I were building an Internet company, that would be what I would build. A delivery system to tell you about all the beautiful stuff I find. A system that’s so simple and easy to use that I could spend 99% of my time finding and reporting the beautiful stuff and only 1% of the time doing bullshit, which is anything that’s not finding and reporting beautiful stuff.

Well meaning people would ask me, “Is it going to be like Google? Or Facebook?” And I would say “No no, if either of those worked for me I would be using them now.” And I would make something that worked perfectly for me, no matter how it ended up looking like. And then I would invite other people to play. And if they liked it, away we go! And if they didn’t — well, at least I had solved one of my own problems, yes?

Technology is for the purpose of us. We are not for the purpose of technology. When we aspire to merely imitate an existing structure we are doing ourselves a disservice. Even a better Google is still a Google. But to focus on solving a problem and letting people do better those things that make us so uniquely us — when that is your goal, you have moved outside history and technology becomes merely an element of construction and not a force that bends you.

Quit Trying to Be the Next Google, Dammit!

Earlier this month I read an interesting article in ScienceNOW. It was about how people can recognize how they have changed in the past, but are less good at recognizing how they will change in the future. “Gilbert and colleagues call this effect ‘the end of history illusion,’ because it suggests that people believe, consciously or not, that the present marks the point at which they’ve finally stopped changing.”

I thought this was interesting because it’s a huge blind spot in one’s development as a person and may explain why it’s so hard for people to enact radical change on themselves (and it may also give some hints on how it could become easier to do so.) I also think it may explain how people see current companies and technology.

I thought of this study yesterday when I read an article on Mashable called Free Database of the Entire Web May Spawn the Next Google. It was an overview of a new non-profit that’s making a huge bucket of Web data that people can splash around in. This is great, but not new (ODP data was being used for the same purpose by sites like Oingo, and that was over a dozen years ago) and I found the idea that this might bring about “the next Google” to be as galling as it ever is. Only this time I’m going to write about it because I can’t stand it any longer.

Seventeen years ago this spring I wrote my first book on Internet and search engines. I have been reading and writing about search engines and finding things online ever since. And I would like to bring all this experience to bear and disclose something to you:

One day Google is going to suck.

This is not disrespect. It’s history. The more successful Google gets, the bigger it gets. The bigger it gets, the slower it moves. The slower it moves, the more difficulty it has in responding to rapid changes of technology. The more difficulty.. you get the idea. The very fact of a company’s existence and the requirements heaped on it from all sides — from the government, shareholders, customers, employees — eventually coats it in layers of bullshit that have nothing to do with mission and innovation and everything to do with placating someone or other. The more success, the more of that there is. Bureaucratic barnacles.

Because we are always in the present, we can’t imagine the Internet without our right-now-essential tools. But eventually they will not be essential. Eventually the Internet will change enough that they will take a more minor role, specialize to the point that they appeal to a much smaller audience, or deprecate entirely.

HotBot? AltaVista? The Open Directory Project? All once hailed as great innovations, hugely useful, where-would-we-be-without-them, tools of the Internet. And now they all pretty much suck. (Though some people involved, like Rich Skrenta (ODP) and his search engine blekko, have moved on to greater things.)

I’m not saying that tomorrow Google is going to start sucking, and I’m not saying it sucks now. It doesn’t. I’m saying that it can’t be what it is indefinitely no matter how unstoppable and monolithic it looks now. And I’m saying that if you start off trying to “be the next Google,” you are setting yourself up for failure.

There are so many problems of discovery and usage on the Internet that have nothing to do with what Google does right, right now. Searching for podcasts is a pointless nightmare. It’s still hard to find and use “deep Web” resources like those which are found within library catalogs and online exhibits. Natural language searching has gone from being difficult and odd (but somewhat useful) to, in my experience, misunderstanding what I actually want. Special character searching is still a niche for engines like SymbolHound. Translation tools, while better, are still pretty bad. The only Twitter viewing/monitoring tool I can find that doesn’t make me want to punch a wall in frustration is Undrip.

Here’s my point: now matter how pervasive Google is, no matter how unshakable it looks, there are still issues with the way the Internet and the Web work. There are still structures to be invented and innovations to be made. And that will be true forever.

For your success, scratch what makes you itch. Look at the Web/Internet/whatever, see what pisses you off, and address that. Take Common Crawl’s excellent offerings and makes your job easier. (Now I’m wondering what Wikia is doing with Grub.) What you do may overlap Google’s endeavors or it may not. But it seems to me you will be much more successful with that approach than by trying to replicate the success of what came before.

Theatre, New Search Engines, Maps, Real-Time Subtitle Translation, More: Morning Buzz, July 24, 2012

Birmingham Rep is getting a digital archive: “The REP 100 website – http://www.rep100.org – will contain more than 3,000 records of The REP’s historic productions – including photographs, letters, documents and other fascinating ephemera from its history and will be made available to the public, many for the first time, next year.”

From TechCrunch: “Ohloh Wants to Fill the Gap Left by Google Code Search”: “Besides code search, Ohloh features an exhaustive directory of open source projects, complete with statistics on how often the projects are updated.”

VentureBeat has an article about a new social search engine: Bottlenose. Going to try to give a text drive next week.

The Census Bureau has launched a new database on HIV/AIDS statistics. “The database was developed in 1987 and now holds 149,000 statistics, an increase of approximately 10,800 new estimates in the last year, making it the most complete of its kind in the world.”

An e-mail based diary that prompts you with questions and then uses AI to generate more and more specific questions over time? MyFutureSelf sounds like a really interesting tool.

Google has announced lots more detailed maps: “And today, we’re launching updated maps of Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lesotho, Macau, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore and Vatican City…”

Nifty article from UberGizmo — real time subtitle translation. Apparently inspired by Google Glass, but using Microsoft’s translation APIs. Just saying.

Speaking of Google, have you heard about the new face blurring tool on YouTube?

The Internet Archive gives an update on its music collections. I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the DNA Lounge archives… good morning, Internet…

Google Launches “Search Plus Your World” (If Your World Is Google+)

Google announced yesterday a new initiative, Search Plus Your World. This from the announcement:

Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of webpages, images, videos, news and much more. But clearly, that isn’t enough. You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to… all from one search box.

“Wow,” I thought, “they’ve partnered with Facebook and Twitter! Social searching is finally going to suck less!” (I really missed it when Twitter stopped showing up in Google’s results.)

No. The “Your World” to which Google refers is the world of Google+. And I don’t know about you, but when I think of “My World” in relation to Google+, I think of one of those horrible cheap Star Trek sets with fake polystyrene rocks. Don’t get me wrong, I use Google+ — I just use other social networks a lot more.

Anyway, let’s get on with it. Google is announcing three new things, which you will see if you’re logged in to Google and doing a search.

Personal Results

Personal results take results from your Google+ circles and make them available from the Google search results page. For example, I just did a search for “polystyrene” to make sure I spelled it correctly (which I did, first try. Scary.) A regular search has 3.6 million results, while a “personal results” search has a dozen or so.

The results come from shared content on Google+ which in this case looked to be mostly articles, one going back to 2004. I used some of the search options on the left nav to try to narrow down my results and was able to narrow down by date and by content type (images, etc.) Google was smart enough to remove the 2004 article from the personalized results when I searched for content within the last year, even though it had been shared only a few months before.

Profiles in Search

Profiles in Search is just what it sounds like. Run a person search and if they have a Google profile it’ll pop up. The example on the screen shot shows Matt Cutts and his profile. You’ll notice a green bar next to his name; that’s the Google+ circle in which I have Matt (“Journalists and Cool People.”) In addition to the basic Google+ profile you’ll also get recent content from Google+, including a picture of Matt wearing a horse mask.

People and Pages

If you’re not searching for people but rather for a specific topic or community, Google might point you to people or circles on Google+. I did a search for WordPress and didn’t see anything in the personal results. However, in the regular results I got a right sidebar of people related to the topic of WordPress. You can click on the “see more” under that listing and get a listing of people and pages related to WordPress.

(Even when you’re not looking at personal results you’ll see a lot of personalized search mentions in your results. You can turn those off with a small icon that’s located at the extreme right of the results page. It lets you turn personalized results on and off.)

This is a skimming of the surface of this functionality, because in looking at it I was struck more by what isn’t here by what is. If you want a deep discussion of the new features along with discussion about privacy implications, Danny’s got a great post.

Search Plus Arrogance

“Google is assuming that all relevant content I want is on Google itself?” I thought after reading the announcement. “How very 2004 of it.”

“My World” is nothing like just Google+. But it isn’t just Facebook, either, which was my reflexive response. I got to thinking about the kind of content that I would find useful to be able to search on a personalized basis in the elegant but unfortunately very limited way that Google does offer.

My World is Facebook. And Twitter. And Quora. And LinkedIn Questions. And Pinterest. And Instagram. And I’m sure that list will increase over time. Right now the idea of being able to search Quora, Facebook, and Twitter content easily from one interface like Google has set up makes me ridiculously happy. But I’m equally sure that two years down the road there will be another social network or gathering place or aggregation tool that I just can’t do without. My point is that any framework which provides a limited amount of personalized content from a limited number of networks is going to be a disappointment and ultimately fail; a more open framework should be the goal.

The good news is that there is already a tool that can index information from several different Web sites and display it in one place — it’s called a SEARCH ENGINE. The bad news is that there are several roadblocks, some legitimate and understandable (privacy concerns, technical issues) and some messy (political slapfighting) that stand between us and a search that truly represents “Our World.”