It’s Not Google That’s Making Us Stupid (It’s the Economy, Stupid)

In a piece with the provocative title “Is Google making us stupid?” published in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr posits that the ubiquity of the web, and its role as the first place to look for information, together with the overload of information of varying quality on the web  is affecting how we think, and that “Google is making us stupid.”He asserts that the brain’s now well-documented plasticity is causing it to change, for the worse, ostensibly in response to too much Googling. We skim, he says, we no longer read.

Matt Asay writes supportively of Carr on CNet . “We really don’t want to think like Google. We don’t want to speak like Twitter. We don’t want to converse like e-mail. And yet we increasingly do, as the Internet reshapes the world in its image,” he says.  Blaise Alleyne writing in TechDirt, is harshly critical of Carr’s position, saying “I’m not so sure that you can make such a generalization, but something certainly seems to be messing with Nick Carr’s reasoning ability. With such a provocative title, I was expecting a little more evidence with a lot less storytelling and speculation — but I was seriously disappointed.”

I too, confess to being disappointed in Carr’s piece, though I grant him that the provocative title did get me thinking. We are now in the Year 10, AG (After Google; founded in September 7, 1998), and yes. Overall, I do read more short articles, as Carr alleges, than I did BG (Before Google), and I certainly do skim more. But I probably read more than I did, and I read more lengthy articles in depth than before, and spend much less time checking things. As I writer, I certainly do more and better fact-checking on the web, more quickly  than I ever could do BG (In fact, I confirmed Google’s founding date on Wikipedia.org, in just a few seconds).

Matt Assay says, “Over the weekend, the Asays determined that we’re going to have “reading time” each night for an hour before bed. Everyone (except my 5- and 3-year-old) will read for an hour. My kids were already doing this. The change is for me and for my wife. I need to exercise my brain to think again, and not merely process.” I can’t disagree with this thought. As  a sabbath observer, I don’t use computers for 25 hours from dusk on Friday night to after dark on Saturday night, and I do enjoy the quiet contemplation time, free from worldly concerns, that the Sabbath offers me. Also, I’m part of a world-wide study group that studies a daily page of the talmud (daf yomi) (the same page in thousands of study groups all over the world) and I find that the constant challenges from the other members of my study group help me to keep my middle-aged brain as sharp as possible. But I don’t think anyone can cogently argue that either Google or the web is a replacement for other forms of intellectual pursuit, but rather they are tools to be used, overused, misused, or even abused, like many other tools. (And to see how the Internet can be used to aid in better understanding of the Talmud, see Prof. Shamma Friedman’s article.)

Actually, Carr’s plaintive cry rather than making the case he tries to make reminds me more of the Luddites, a social movement of British textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested – often by destroying mechanized looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood.

Now, it’s Carr who feels his livlihood is threatened. But at the end of the day, it’s not Google that’s making us stupid. Rather, as Jame’s Carville’s sign in Clinton’s 1992 campaign headquarters loudly proclaimed, to keep everyone on message,  “it’s the economy, stupid.” Carr is simply feeling economically threatened, and is voting his pocketbook.

AIR Versus Cloud Computing – An Adobe Versus Google Showdown?

Adobe and Google might be headed for a showdown. AIR versus Cloud Computing.

Adobe’s AIR technology, recently profiled in Forbes, is designed to do what Flash can’t, by providing tools that create desktop applications that interact with the web. Forbes suggests that Adobe is angling to garner more revenue from desktop applications; it already has maximum penetration in the Internet development community. As Forbes points out, while there are hundreds of millions of users of Flash (claimed to be the most run program in the universe), Adobe gets no revenue from them. It already has nearly all the world’s Internet developers as clients (not always paying clients). So, with its AIR technology, it is going after a new crowd, the corporate developer. In essence, it is trying to build “fat clients” that sit on the desktop. In Adobe’s words,

…you can deliver branded rich Internet applications (RIAs) on the desktop that give you a closer connection to your customer.

Adobe AIR uses the same proven, cost-effective technologies used to build web applications, so development and deployment is rapid and low risk. You can use your existing web development resources to create engaging, branded applications that run on all major desktop operating systems.

In contrast, Google’s goal seems to be to be to make it ever easier to push fancier and fancier applications ointo “the cloud,” where you can “let George do it.” What Google really wants is “Let Google do it.”

Recently, at the Google IO Conference, Google dangled the bait and set the hook. As we noted in a recent post, developers using its App Engine can get started host their applications on Google’s infrastructure for free, needing to start paying only if they exceed 500MB of persistent storage  and CPU for 5 million page views per month. Maybe that’s hook, line, and sinker.

Google has the worlds best cloud infrastructure, and believes that the real potential of the Internet will be realized from a variety of untethered devices. Think thin clients, or at least thinner than Adobe.

As AIR versus Cloud plays out it’s not metaphysics that’s being discussed nor is it Greek ideas of matter (the fire’s missing), but two successful companies that are vying for the hearts and the wallets of the enterprise.

How is Google Tackling the Enterprise?

Google – We’re  Not Just Web Searches. That’s the message that Google wants to get out to the Enterprise.

What else are they doing?

We all know that Google has been synonymous with individual Search, to the point that to Google has become a common verb. More recently, however, Google has both been expending considerable resources to expand their range of offerings to enterprises, and by opening up their applications and data bases for use by others. In providing Open APIs, toolkits, and other tools that allow clever corporate developers to more rapidly develop unique and valuable proprietary applications that leverage these massive data bases and service offerings, enterprises can combine them with their own proprietary knowledge bases, thereby substantially reducing both time to market and the expense of maintaining in-house databases of public information.

Many of Google’s tools for the enterprise have been collected together in a section of Google’s Webiste called Google Enterprise. Others are stiff scattered all over their website.

Some of their offerings we will discuss in detail in upcoming posts, but you can learn more about them right now, including:

It’s likely that Google Apps, (including Google Talk), and Android (Google’s Cell phone technology) and YouTube will be enhanced considerably over the next year, especially with the Enterprise in mind. Already, Google Apps has been integrated with Salesforce.com.

In the aggregate, Google has made good on its claim, “Google -we not just Search,” but the GoogleGazer believes that what we see now is merely the tip of the iceberg of what’s in the works, and most likely, the best is yet to come, as Google is aiming, like Microsoft before it, to go after the enterprise, because, as Willie Sutton said, “that’s where the money is.”

Google Takes on the Enterprise, Seeks to Avoid IBM’s and Microsoft’s Pitfalls

Remember back when?

Redmond’s mantra [unuttered publicly] of “a chicken in every pot, and Windows on every desktop” seemed an elusive, if not laughable goal less than twenty years ago. IBM was firmly and seemingly unassailably entrenched in the enterprise.

When Microsoft first began to appear on the information technology horizon, it appealed to the individual computer user. Windows was pushed as a fun personal productivity tool. And though it was never spoken of, if you had a Windows PC on your desktop, you could sneak in a game of Solitaire when no one was looking. Back then, the “real work” of computing was done either on terminals hard-wired to mainframes, or in a window on a PC running a terminal emulation program. Windows was used at work primarily for prestige, for word processing, for spreadsheets, and for terminal emulation.

Windows was utterly reviled by corporate IT departments, desperate to hang on to the closed environment they had thrived in for years, and where they and only they had the absolute lock on what users could access from the desktop. Feeling very threatened by all the “islands of automation” that began to spring up everywhere, IT fought back. Windows was initially banned from many corporate desktops as “too open” and as a security risk. Microsoft’s development tools, such as Visual Basic, were derided as toys (real developers wrote in C) and colorful graphical user interfaces were seen as merely time-wasting “eye candy.”

Ultimately, pushed and prodded by the users who demanded increased productivity and reduced development cycles, both IT shops and Microsoft learned how to better “protect” the enterprise, to scale applications, and to administer thousands of desktops centrally. Slowly, Corporate IT shops, actively courted by Microsoft, began to adopt, if not embrace Microsoft’s email and rapid development tools.

Today, it’s a different story. Microsoft still pushes personal productivity, but today it enjoys a solid place in Enterprise computing, with Windows and Office on practically every desktop, tools like Microsoft Exchange delivering email to millions of corporate users, Microsoft’s servers in use (perhaps not exclusively) in nearly every enterprise, and Microsoft’s Visual Studio and .NET development tools are pervasive in the corporate environment.

Team Google saw and learned.

Their goal, too, is to be pervasive, and at the core of enterprise computing. But Google seems determined to avoid the painful missteps of IBM and Microsoft in earlier generations. They learned from what IBM and Microsoft did right, and maybe more importantly, where they went wrong. They understood that “push” from users is more effective than “pull” from the IT guys, so they started with Google’s ubiquitous Search, a personal productivity tool. They certainly understand that computing needs to be fun and a little bit whimsical. More importantly, they saw both Microsoft and IBM before them build up a large base of enemies who resented high costs per seat, and the arrogance of power. Google’s philosophy (enunciated here) and encapsulated in its “Do no evil” motto, is primarily designed to to protect Google from the pitfalls of the “arrogance of power.” Right at the outset, they figured out that “free” is good, and “let Joe pay for it” is even better. Giving things away free engenders love. It’s hard to hate when you’re not paying for it. Just as “users” (viewers) tolerate some amount of advertising on TV in return for “free” programming, so too, users would accept some amount of non-intrusive advertising in return for free information and services. A key Google insight was that if the ads it served up were unobtrusive and truly relevant, users wouldn’t resent them at all.

These insights, revolutionary back then but which every schoolboy today  takes for granted, are what got Google to this point. Now, they feel ready to tackle the enterprise. In upcoming posts, interspersed with our usual reporting on the comings and goings of Google, its friends, and its enemies, we’ll take a hard look at Google’s first steps towards taking on the enterprise.

Imagining Google in the Year 2014

A few years ago, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson made a short film, with music by Aaron McLeran, where  they imagined the evolution of Google to the year 2014, including a merger with Amazon. It’s called EPIC and you can click on the link to view it. It may be more relevant today than then.

The eight-minute film was purportedly sponsored by the “Museum of Media History (MMH)” in “Tampa Bay Federal District, FL.” Many thanks to my friend Raja Choudhury, the genius behind C3Cube a company built on creativity and design (with a very impressive reel on its site), who brought this interesting little film to my attention. It certainly gives you something to think about, and especially  given all of the goings on in the last few months, and the potential media and Internet transactions being discussed daily.

I found it noteworthy that the Museum and the District do not exist. David Warlick tells that tale on his blog. It seems like the film was “discovered” by Doug Johnson, a highly respected educator, thinker, and author, who found it “a very interesting (and frightening) short clip on the future of how technology may impact on the News.” However, David Warlick reports that the provenance of the film was challenged by Paul Nash, an equally respected educator and technologist from New Zealand, who first noticed that MMH is imaginary. Warwick says that he himself tracked down Robin Sloan, one of the writers and designer of the Flash production, who appears to have been associated with with INdTV, started by Al Gore (and now known as Current TV) See also http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45826-2005Jan3.html. Sloan also authors a blog, called “Large is the New Medium” (http://www.robinsloan.com/blog/).

Anyway, Sloan and Thompson have forced us to think, especially as we contemplate the potential media combinations being talked about daily in the past few weeks.

I’m wondering, after viewing it, what do GoogleGazer readers think?

If You Pay Them, They Will Come – Microsoft Pays for Searching on Microsoft Live

In one of the more pre-announced announcements, Microsoft today followed up yesterday’s three press releases about its new push in digital advertising with another one today, announcing a plan to pay a rebate to users who search for goods on Microsoft Live and then complete a purchase. The new program is called Microsoft Live Search Cashback. Key partners including eBay, Barnes & Noble.com, Overstock.com, Sears, Zappos.com, and WPP joined Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at advance08, Microsoft’s annual advertising customer event, to announce their participation in the new program.

Microsoft says that the complete Live Search cashback product portfolio includes more than 10 million product offers from more than 700 merchants, including more than 13 of the top 40 U.S. retailers. The company also announced it has delivered a new Live Search travel destination, Live Search Farecast, making it easy for searchers to find the best travel deals on the Web.

To take advantage of the program, search for cashback deals at Live Search cashback. Each time you click a Live Search cashback listing, you’ll find deals on the product you chose. Your results will clearly list the cashback savings you’ll receive off the stores price, and your final bottom-line price that includes tax and shipping costs. Also look for this icon cashback Icon when you search for a product on Live Search to find cashback deals.

Increasingly, advertisers look not just for clicks but to have purchases completed, and the Cashback program encourages just such behavior. Advertisers participating in the Cashback program pay for completed sales. A list of merchants participating in the launch may be found here. Discounts set by merchants seem to be in the range of 2% – 20%.

Farecast, a recently acquired service is now available at http://farecast.live.com and while it is part of Live Search, it is not currently part of the Cashback program.

There have been reports that this program will be “disruptive technology,” but while it might prove popular, I don’t think of it as either a paradigm shift or a major threat to Google.

Half a Loaf is Better – Microsoft Wants Yahoo Search, and They Can Keep the Rest

At a conference in Israel, Steve Ballmer said, according to Reuters, that Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo’s search business and take a minority stake in the rest. “We are not bidding to buy Yahoo,” Ballmer said at the launch of Microsoft’s new research and development centre in Israel. “Yet, we are trying to have discussions about deals with Yahoo that might create value, but not a whole acquisition of the company,” he said without elaborating further.

Yahoo has said it was considering a “number of value maximizing strategic alternatives” and would evaluate any proposal made by Microsoft. It is not at all clear that Microsoft’s offer will placate Carl Icahn who last week launched a proxy battle in order to pressure Yahoo to agree to be sold to Microsoft. A number of other large Yahoo shareholders have since said they would back Icahn.

Icahn believes that the $33 per share that Microsoft offered was a good deal for Yahoo shareholders. It seems unlikely that any deal currently on the table would place such a high value on Yahoo.

Separately, rumers keep circulating that Microsoft would like to buy Facebook. As we reported earlier, Microsoft’s existing minority interest in Facebook vales the company atvover $10 billion. The GoogleGazer does not think Microsoft will be willing to make such a large investment, as it would dilutive to its earnings, but perhaps they will take a larger stake in return for some exclusive deals.

The GoogleGazer, on behalf of pundits everywhere, expresses its thanks to Steve Ballmer and Jerry Yang for giving them us all something juicy to write about every day.

Google Opens Kimono – Discusses Advances in Search, Recognition, and its Health Initiative

yesterday opened the kimono (a little bit) to reveal glimpses of what is coming to Google. In her post on the Official Google Blog, she discussed where innovation is most likely to come from. She also gave an update on Google Health.

“When we talk about search, we mean images, news, finance, books, local, and geographical information as well as web search. These media types are becoming more and more integral in our core universal search, but each presents its own challenges, innovations, and triumphs,” she said.

At an “informal gathering” at Google for invited close friends only, visitors were given a peek at what’s to come. R.J. Pittman, Director of Search Properties, showed some of the advances Google’s made in image search — an early form of face recognition is now available on advanced search (strangely, Google did not provite a link, but we have), for example. He also showed how ads might work to enhance the user experience on image search. Pittman also demonstrated the underlying technologies that Google News has deployed to support features like quotes from newsmakers and better quality search for local news.

Carter Maslan, Director of Local Search Quality, then talked about Google’s Geo products (Maps and Earth and their features) and the fact that they represent a considerable search problem: how do you take all of the information about the physical world and make it searchable? How do you label disputed borders? How can Street View help you find where you are going? She recounted that Google Earth has helped archaeologists find things they’ve looked for for years (i.e. a Roman villa in someone’s backyard). According to Maslan, and we’ve noticed it also, user-generated content is the rage right now, but in addition to entertaining shared videos and photos, the user-generated content that Google says its seeing on geo products is profoundly useful (I wish the post gave some examples).

Johanna Wright, Director of Search Quality discussed the search quality team’s efforts toward understanding the ever-elusive “user intent” (“this is what you typed, but here’s what you meant”). This makes universal search even more useful. In the future, you’ll get pictures or maps when that’s what you meant. Understanding user intent also helps “break down language barriers and find the best possible answer regardless of what language it’s in or where it lives on the web,” she said.

Google Health was also first made publicly available. It offers users a safe and secure way to collect, store, and manage their medical records and health information online. As Ms. Mayer observed, “How many of us have touched, or even seen, our medical records? In this day and age of information, isn’t it crazy that you don’t have a copy of your medical records under your control? You could use those records to develop a better understanding of your health and ultimately get better care. It’s your data about your own health; why shouldn’t you own and control it?”

(This is an issue Ms. Mayer first wrote about in February. The objective of Google Health is to harness the power of the Internet to put users in control of their own medical records. Data will stay with you — “if you change doctors, want a second opinion, if you’re traveling — and not stay siloed or stuck in files or databases that you can’t get to,” she said. Google Health was today with several partners and third party services already integrated and include  CVS, Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics and Longs Drugs.

To avoid public ouutcry, Google has put strong privacy policies in place to keep the information safe and private.  (I found the controls so strong that I was not able to access any of my date stored on partner’s websites, for lack of a “pin” controlled by my physician gatekeepers who were totally unaware of the program. Ms. Mayer recognizes that “there’s a lot left to do in health — literally thousands of partnerships to forge and petabytes of data to move around”. She says that Google is looking forward to hearing feedback from early Google Health adopters about this first step. I’m guessing that they will get a lot of it.

You can see the webcast here.

The information provided on Google’s blog is tantalizing, but rather than “opening the kimono” where all is revealed, it’s more like hiking a floor-length kimono up eight or ten inches. Nice, but you want to see more.

Microsoft Proposes a Partial Deal with Yahoo; Icahn Angry; Yahoo – Google Talks Continuing

Reuters reported that Microsoft’ said on Sunday said it was “considering and has raised with Yahoo an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo.” It did not clarify what that alternative might be.

Some speculate that Microsoft and Yahoo may form a partnership or joint venture for search-related advertising. Mr. Carl C. Icahn has announced his interntion to wage a proxy fight designed to force Yahoo into Microsoft’s arms, and he may not be happy with this latest overture, which some see as “Microsoft is trying to get the milk without buying the cow, and if you look at Icahn’s history, he has never been used that way,” said this person. “He does not want to see Yahoo pushed into some joint venture with Microsoft and is not going to be used to push Yahoo into it.”

Kevin Johnson, the executive in charge of Microsoft’s Internet business, emphasized the urgency felt at Microsoft about its failure to make more progress in catching up to Google.

“Regardless of the outcome of any new discussions,” he wrote, “it is important that we continue to move forward to strengthen our online services business. The fact is that we are not where we want to be in this business yet and we’ve been in this position longer than we’d all like.”

According to the New York Times, people involved in the confidential discussions between Microsoft and Yahoo said the talks centered on a partnership or joint venture for search-related advertising to compete against Google. When Microsoft first made its unsolicited bid of $31 a share for Yahoo in February, it said it was doing so as part of its battle to increase its relatively small slice of the search-related advertising market against Google, a giant with about 60 percent of the United States market, according to the measurement firm comScore.

By comparison, Yahoo has about 21 percent of the market, and Microsoft has about 9 percent, comScore said.

Yahoo continues to talk with Google Inc about a search advertising partnership, as we reported earlier, and a deal could come as early as this week, a source familiar with the talks said on Thursday.

Pending Yahoo – Google Deal Brilliantly Crafted to be Nonexclusive?

Reportedly, Yahoo and Google are close to a deal. But it’s not the deal that everyone was imagining. Seems like they have found a very clever way to avoid potential antitrust trouble.

To recap the history first: It’s been assumed that in order to fend off Microsoft as an unwanted suitor, Yahoo decided to publicly get into bed with Google. The positive results of a limited test of living together (serving Google ads on the results of searches on Yahoo.com) reportedly showed a strong potential for revenue enhancement for Yahoo, because Google, with its much larger inventory of available ads can serve up more relevant ads, thereby increasing the “click-through” rate.

Microsoft and others hastened to raise the specter of anti-trust should this (more or less) one-night stand be continued as an ongoing living arrangement. If Google supposedly controls 80% of the market for search-related ads, the line of reasoning goes, and it’ would now serving up ads on Yahoo’s site in addition to its own, then there would be a prima facie case of restraint of trade, n’est-ce pas?

Not so fast.

The folks from Googleplex came up with an ingenious idea: a non-exclusive agreement, where others can play too. In effect, an auction of auctions. Remember how AdWords works? Each vendor indicates the maximum he or she will pay for a click-through when the user types the magic words into his search argument. The highest bidder’s ad gets top billing, etc. Google is running an open auction, where the highest bidder wins. What Yahoo is reportedly planning to do is to invite operators of all and sundry ad servers to place bids for the privilege of serving up individual ads. Thus, if everyone decides to play, and a user searches on “sell large diamonds,” then each ad server (Yahoo’s own, Google’s, Microsoft’s, AOL’s, whomever) would respond with the maximum price it can offer for the privilege of serving up the ad to this potential buyer of large diamonds. The Ad Server offering the highest price gets to serve up the ad. In effect, an auction of auctions.

Rather than restricting competition, Yahoo would be offering a “level playing field” and enhanced competition. How can anyone argue with that? Non-exclusive agreements are viewed positively in antitrust law.

Just one little thing, though. By having by far the largest inventory of ads, Google is likely to win the lion’s share of these auctions.

There’s a reason those guys in Mountain View make so much money. They are just smarter than the rest of us.

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