Google Drive…to get your stuff.

I’ve always had the attitude that any company that has to remind it’s staff to ‘Do No Evil’ is either employing the wrong sort of people or is trying hard to hide the fact that they might not be paragons of virtue.

This week my increasingly hardcore anti-Google attitude was turned up another notch by the Terms and Conditions on their new ‘Google Drive’ product. Google Drive is Google’s answer to products like ‘Dropbox’ – look at it as an online hard disc that you can use for storing copies of your files, swapping files with other people, etc.  In teh Terms and Conditions, Google rightly state that they respect your intellectual property rights, and that the rights to the data you upload stay with you.  So far, so good.  They also then say:

 “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

Whoa, dude!  From this it would appear that by uploading your stuff to the Googleplex, you’re providing them with source material for anything they wish to derive from the stuff you commit.  Sort of like Facebook, but without poking…  And Microsoft have a simnilar clause in their equivalent online Cloud storage service T&Cs.

The difference is that Microsoft and Facebook get ‘pulled’ fairly regularly for abuse of privacy, attitudes towards standard, Intellectual Property and Patent enforcement, what have you.  But Google still seem to be the Teflon boys of the modern IT landscape.  I have to say that I now regard Google as a bigger threat to my privacy and to the general health of the information landscape than Facebook or Microsoft.  Why?

Google own increasingly large amounts of the search landscape; like ‘Hoover’ they are a brand that has become a verb.  People tend to Google rather than Search the Internet; businesses have been known to fail when Google modify their search algorithms. The data that we pass through Google – even when we’re not logged in – can still be logged against our IP address and passed on to the US Government (as well as being used within Google itself for various purposes). Despite this I still use Google – because there is not yet an equivalent that is as good.  Microsoft Bing is getting there, but has a way to go, and I guess that that is how many people who are uncomfortable about Google but still use them feel.

There’s an old saying saying along the lines of ‘If you’re not paying for the service, you’re being sold.’  Maybe it’s time for the unthinkable – a paid for search provider. I’d be very tempted to pay for a good search service that was curated enough to remove the crap, whilst not threatening my privacy or intellectual property.  A new frontier for entrepreneurs?


If it ain’t on your machine, it ain’t yours.

Yesterday I found out that Yahoo had pulled the plug on the Delicious application, amongst a few other APIs and services.  There will no doubt now be a spate of articles about how to move your content from these applications to somewhere else, and it may be that new services spring up out of the Internet eco-system to fill the gap.  But hopefully the users of these systems will have learnt a valuable lesson:

If it ain’t on your machine, you cannot rely on it being there.

This isn’t rocket science for those of us who cut our computing teeth in a pre-Cloud, pre-WWW world, but it was pointed out to me the other day that there are now large numbers of children and teenagers who have never lived in a world without the WWW.  Scary.

A couple of years ago a Forum that I was an occasional contributor to shut up shop in a sudden and pretty final manner – the owner simply closed the shutters with little warning.  For me this was vaguely annoying but no biggie, but for other users of the Forum who’d committed some pretty large articles and intellectually robust commentary over a period of time, it was almost the equivalent of Edmund Blackadder having his novel burnt by Baldrick.  Of course, the site owner was perfectly within his rights to do this – free forum and all that.  But the general feeling was that a form of social contract had been broken.  However, one could easily say that the authors had not taken backups of their content…

I mothballed a forum myself a year or so back – it’s still online, all content there, but posting has been disabled.  I have to say that in these times of almost limitless server space and cheap hosting it almost seemed churlish to pull the work of others. 

But there may well be a point at which I let the domain go or re-use it for something else.  It’s perfectly within my rights to do so, and that content will then exist only as a zipped up backup on a DVD somewhere, and anyone who posted anything there, who wants it back and didn’t take a copy will have to whistle.

And there is the issue; the ‘universal availability’ offered by browser based applications, the Web and the Cloud means that many people no longer own their own data, in anything but an intellectual property sense.  They don’t know where it is stored, they don’t know who gets to look at it, search it or mine it.  They don’t know how often it’s backed up, and have an assumption that ‘smeone’ will be taking care of it.  The increasing focus of Operating Systems on hiving off document and data storage to servers ‘out there’ in the Cloud or on the Internet (like Google’s new Chrome OS) is regarded as a great positive for those involved in Internet service related businesses – after all, it could well be the next big thing in what you can be charged for – always something folks like. 🙂

There is something rather neat, in my opinion, about having your data on your hardware, under your control.  Yes, it’s your responsibility, but we need to start regarding personal or household data in the same way previous generations have looked after old letters and photographs.  If you need to work on stuff whilst away, then why not just put the files in question on USB sticks?

And finally, data ‘out there’ is under the legislation and jurisdiction of whatever country the servers lie in.  You might want to look at things like the US PATRIOT act before saving your data anywhere that crosses US jurisdiction.  Whilst you might not think you’re a terrorist or a troublemaker, the definitions these days are flexible.

Ultimately, there is something rather reassuring about having your data at home, under your roof, where the only way it can be seized or searched is when the stormtroopers kick the door in.

Google’s ‘mistake’ maps all UK WiFi networks…

Some weeks ago, a story broke about Google recording data about WiFi networks when they were wandering around taking family snapshots with their now infamous fleet of ‘Streetview’ cars.  At the time, Google claimed that the information gathered was ‘accidental’ – that rang a few bells with quite a few techies.  It’s alike me wandering the streets of Sheffield taking photographs and at the same time ‘accidentally’ running war dialling software so that I can log any WiFi activity in the area.  There’s no ‘accidental’ link between digital imaging and WiFi networks, so what the heck were Google up to?

I intended to blog at the time, but life decided to intervene and so I didn’t do the post…which is a shame because of what’s reported here.  Google have mapped every WiFi network that was detectable on the routes taken by their StreetView cars.  In other words, if your house or office was photographed by Google, they also grabbed bits of data about your WiFi network, if you have one – MAC address, SSID, Channel in use.  OK, it may seem that this is pretty much ‘small fry’ in terms of data and privacy, but let’s just take a wider look.

  • First of all, Google have breached Data Protection Legislation in virtually every country in which they’ve done this; you’re not supposed to gather information up willy-nilly in this manner.
  • Secondly, Google have shows the same sort of respect (or lack of same) for privacy that Facebook have been accused of.  In fact, I’d argue that Google’s crimes against privacy are probably worse than Facebook.  With Facebook I had a choice to use their site to share my data.  Google just whizz along, photograph my property and grab my data whether I like it or not.
  • Gathering and storing this data isn’t a by-product of any photographic process; the equipment and process to record and store this data must have been installed deliberatley in the Google Streetview vehicles.  Now, no-one does this sort of thing for laughs – so we have to assume that Google carried out an action that cost money, was against Data protection legislation and that they might have suspected would upset people for a particular reason.
  • And they actually patented the techniques / technology used.  The last one’s a bit of a give away….

What could that reason be?

That, my friends, is the 64 dollar question.  Google have ended up with the most comprehensive map of WiFi coverage in the UK that’s ever been compiled.  Now, much of that capacity isn’t publicly accessible – i.e. it belongs to folks like me and thee – but it did start me thinking about what a gung-ho, conquer the universe by next Thursday company like Google might do.

What about….

  1. Gathering data on the different types of router / network in use in domestic and business environments to sell to marketing companies working for hardware manufacturers?
  2. Spotting ‘dark areas’ in towns where there is no public WiFi – where Google could fill a need, perhaps?
  3. Gathering information as to WiFi networks in towns that Google might approach to sell advertising to?
  4. Testing their technology – a dry run to see what they could get, the attitude of the relavant authorities, etc.?
  5. Testing the possibilities for WiFi network usage by vehicles?
  6. Checking WiFi security settings on the behalf of ‘other oragnisations’ to see how much effort someone would need to carry out a comprehensive mobile monitoring exercise for WiFi?  A little like the TV Detector vans?

Anyone else got any bright ideas?

Social Search…waste of time?

I’m a big user of search engines.  Despite my grumblings and pontifications on here about Google, I still use them the most because they’re still the best out there.  I hope that Bing – despite the daft name – will one day come to challenge Google, but until then, I just Google.  It’s been interesting recently to see Tweets start appearing in search results, and I’ve commented in this blog on the topic.  The most recent work being done by Google that they feel will improve the search experience for us all is explored in this piece from the BBC, and I’m particularly interested in the comments made about ‘Social Search’.

First of all, what is Social Search? 

My definition of a true Social Search tool is one that would give weight to a number of different aspects when searching.  These would include:

  • The normal search criteria as entered in to any search engine that you care to use.
  • Your location, intelligently applied to any searches that might be expected to have a geographical aspect to them.
  • A weighting applied to favour the results based upon material that meets the criteria you’re searching on that may have been placed on the Internet by people or organisations within your personal or professional network.

To give an example – you do a search for restaurants.  The search engine makes a guess about your location based on previous searches, geocoding based on your IP address or, coming real soon, tagging provided with the search request specifying your location based on a GPS in the device that you’re using for the search.  The search engine then determines whether your ‘friends’ have done similar searches, whether they’ve done any reviews or blog posts about restaurants in the area, posted photos to Flickr, or are actually Tweeting FROM a restaurant as you search, whatever.  The results are then returned for you – and ideally would be tailored to your particular situation as understood by the search engine.

And this is roughly what the Google Social Search folks are looking at.

“….returns information posted by friends such as photos, blog posts and status updates on social networking sites.

It is currently only available in the US and will be coming to the rest of the world soon.

Maureen Heymans, technical lead at Google, said this kind of search means the information offered is personal to the user.

“When I’m looking for a restaurant, I’ll probably find a bunch of reviews from experts and it’s really useful information.

“But getting a review from a friend can be even better because I trust them and I know their tastes. Also I can contact them and ask for more information,” she said.

In future users’ social circles could provide them with the answers they seek, as long as individuals are prepared to make those connections public.”

Of course, the million (or multi-billion) dollar question is how far are people to go in terms of making their networks available to search engine companies in such a way that results can be cross referenced in this way.  Once upon a time I’d have said that folks wouldn’t, as they value their privacy, but today I’m not so sure.  Given that we have seen sites where people share details about credit card purchases, I’m not convinced that people value their privacy enough to not allow this sort of application to take off, at least amongst the ‘digital elites’.

Of course, hopefully it will be up to us whether we participate in using Social Search – I guess all of us who blog or Tweet will find our musings being used as ‘search fodder’ unless we opt out of making our contributions searchable.  Will I use Social Search?  If it’s at all possible to opt out, No.  And here’s why.

Because I doubt the results will be as relevant to me as Google and all the other potential providers of SOcial Search think they will be.  Let’s face it – these companies will not be doing it for nothing – some where along the way the ‘database of intentions’ will be being supplemented and modified based upon the searches carried out, and such information is a goldmine to marketers and advertisers.

But the relevance to me?  I’m yet to be convinced – and here’s why.

If I really want the opinions of my friends, family and occasional business contacts on what I eat, wear, watch or listen to then I’ll ask them directly.  Just because I know someone doesn’t mean that I share any similarity in viewpoint or preferences at all.  I have friends with very different interests – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics  and Atheists, people from the political left and right, party animals and stay at homes…the differentiation goes on.  This is because I pick my friends based on what they’re like as people – not necessarily because they share interests or beliefs.  As it happens, I’m occasionally quietly offended by what some of my online friends say – but that’s life.  We don’t always have to agree or share the same beliefs.  

Therefore, the idea of biasing my search results based on what people I know search for, prefer or comment on is potentially useless.  If I wish to know what my friends think or say – I’ll talk to them, email them or read their tweets / blogs / whatever directly. 

I feel there’s also a serious risk of ‘crystalisation’ of beliefs – a sort of friendship groupthink emerging.  Think of what it was like when you were 13 years old and spotty.  For many teenagers it matters to be ‘in with the in-crowd’; Social Search could contribute to the return of that sort of belief structure amongst peer groups.  By it’s nature, the people who will be ‘opinion leaders’ in your Social Search universe will be those friends who are most online and who share the most.  Their activities will hence bias the results returned in Social Search.  It might not be such a problem for them, though – people who have a high Social Search presence will undoubtedly come to the attention of advertisers and opinion formers who might wish to make use of that ‘reputation’.

One of the great advantages of good, old-fashioned, non-social search is taht you will occasionally be bowled a googly (pitched a curve ball for my transatlantic friends!) that might lead you off in to whole new areas of knowledge.  You may be prompted to try something new that NONE of your friends or colleagues have heard of.  Whilst these results will still be in the results, if they’re on the second page, how many of us will bother going there?  We’ll become fat and lazy and contented searchers.

So….I think I want to stay as an individual.  For now, I’ll happily turn my back on Social Search!

The further perils of real time search…

A short while ago I wrote a couple of posts about the issues around Real time Search (How important is Real Time Search and Google and the Dead Past) – that is, Internet based searches that include Internet content that has been generated in the few minutes (or even less!) prior to the search.  Those of us who’ve been around the Internet for long enough will remember the days when you could wait days or weeks for stuff to show up in a Google search; nowadays Tweets can turn up in search results almost immediately.

There are many reasons – most expressed in the two posts above – that I have for feeling rather uneasy about the whole idea of real time search, particularly around personal privacy.  I think the main mistake I made when I wrote those two posts last year was to underestimate the speed with which things would move.  Recent developments in geolocation based systems – that record the location from which a post is made – such as FourSquare and the geocoding side of Twitter have made it easy for Tweets and similar online posts to locate people in the real world.  A particularly fine example of this phenomena is the suitably named ‘Please Rob Me’ – this site uses some clever coding to detect when people Tweet that they’re away from home. 

The publication of ‘exploits’ for web browsers and other software could also become a hot topic.  At the moment, a hacker may determine how to ‘poison’ a website with a specially manufactured piece of code that can infect an unprotected PC with a virus or Trojan Horse program.  The hacker can then publicise the fact via various means, hoping that others will get the chance to use it before the manufacturer of the browser relaeses a ‘patch’ for the bug that the code exploits.  Real time search could very much help hackers – by releasing details of an exploit, then linking to it from a few sites, then tweeting it, it’s quite possible that details of such exploits could be showing up in search results within minutes or hours of the exploit being identified.  Unless the search results are sanitised in some way to prevent this happening – highly unlikely – then this will surely lead to decreasing online safety.

A related problem might be in the creation of online Pop-up Shops’ for ‘warez’ or other illegal content.  For those who’ve never come across a ‘Pop-up Shop’ these are shops that take out a very short lease on a retail property – typically a month or so around Christmas or some other busy event that will guarantee good local footfall.  They then sell cheap goods, Christmas cards, etc. and then shut up shop and disappear – whilst these shops are totally legit business, the Internet equivalents are frequently not.  Given real time search, a suitably optimised ‘instant site’ with an arbitrary URL could be put on a server, show up in search engine indexes / Tweet indexes within the hour , make material available and be gone before the authorities even know it was there.

Real time search is here – faster and probably more effective than I feared.  And it’s not going to be pretty.

Google predict the end of desktop PCs….

When I started in IT, I encountered a program called ‘The Last One’.  It was a menu-driven application generator that allowed a non-programmer to specify the sort of system they wanted (within a limited range) and generate a BASIC program that would do the job.  When it was first announced – and before any of us got to take a look at it – there was a little nervousness amongst the ranks of programmers, based on the advertising strapline for the program, that suggested the software was called ‘The Last One’ because it was the last program you would ever need to buy…

Which was, of course, utter rot.

I was reminded of it today after coming across this piece in which the bods at Google are predicting the  end of the desktop computer.  And the reason I was reminded was that the ‘The Last One’ story just went to show how bad IT pundits – and those in the industry – are at predicting the future.   You see, the problem with predicting the future is that you have to make certain assumptions and extrapolations from today in to the future, and then work out consequences based on those assumptions.  And if you get your assumptions of teh future wrong – or the assumptions of how the world works now – then it can all go horribly wrong.  And that’s what’s happened to Google.

The demise of the desktop computer – to be replaced by iPads, Smartphones and similar mobile devices.  Note that Google aren’t even suggesting that laptops and netbooks and their ilk will be delivering the goods – it’s all going to be a mobile wonderland.  Now, short of some sort of high tech ‘Rapture’ occuring in December 2012 that whisks away all the computers we use in our homes and offices whilst leaving only mobile computing devices behind, I very much doubt that this is going to happen.

Google have mixed up predicting the future with what they (with their interest in mobile operating systems and desire to compete with Apple) want the future to be.  A dangerous thing for a technology company to do.  Whilst in Google’s idea world of media and search consumers everyone would be able to do what they need to do on some sort of mobile gizmo, those of us who work with computers for serious amounts of time each day will NOT be able to function with  poxy little touchscreen keyboards or Blackberry QWERTY pads.  Sorry guys, we need real sized keyboards which will be realistically associated with a decent sized screen and so will be at the very least a reasonably sized laptop – which we’ll sit on a desk and run from the mains.

Quite a few of us also like the idea of storing data locally – not in ‘The Cloud’ or on Google’s application servers – something that isn’t easy on many mobile devices right now.

Google – you’re wrong.  Stop looking at the dreams of your own and other researchers, and start looking at how real people use computers – especially in their work.  And make that the basis of any more crystal ball gazing.

Google Buzz and Google’s incursion in to Social Networking

GoogleMany years ago there was a joke in techy circles that likened Microsoft to the Star Trek aliens ‘The Borg’.  It appeared at the time (mid 1990s) that Microosft were indeed determined to assimilate everything they encountered and absorb the technology of other companies in to their own.  Well, like the Borg in Trek, Microsoft finally found that they couldn’t assimilate everything.  But today there’s a new Borg Queen on the block, in teh form of Google.

Google Buzz was launched as an adjunct to Gmail, and Google got themselves in to hot water at the launch by having the system automatically follow everyone in your Gmail contacts list.  This was regarded as pretty heavy handed on Google’s part – and Google obviously concurred to some degree as they introduced changes to this part of the system.  The problem for Google is that they have a lousy history of handling privacy issues in both their Search tools and Gmail, and I guess starting a new product off with a similar disregard for the perceptions of their users was not a sound move.

So, how relevant is this move by Google?  I have to say that I’m not convinced that Google will actually represent major competition to Facebook or Twitter with Buzz (or, for that matter, with Wave).  The lock in to Google’s infrastructure of Buzz is something that Facebook doesn’t have, for instance.  I don’t have to have a Facebook email account, and I don’t do my searching through Facebook.  And therein lies the problem for me – and it all comes back to Google’s database of intentions that I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  The more Google can derive about the way in which people use Search, who they interact with, what ‘clusters’ of interests people have – even anonymously – the more value Google’s database of intention is.  You might want to take a look at some of my previous articles about Google – Google and The Dead Past, The importance of Real Time Search and Google seeks browser dominance – to get a feel for my views on Google.   Google’s strategic moves have been consistently to get Google’s search into everything we do.  Gmail was their first crack at this with personal communications, and now with Wave and Buzz they have the tools to map social networks, and the search behaviours of people on those social networks, especially if people remain logged in to Google accounts whilst the do their searching.

Let’s pretend… are logged in to your Buzz account and you search for something.  Google can link your search interests to those of the people in your social network, and vice versa.  They can thus add the collective behaviour of your searches to their database of intentions – remember what I said about the Borg? 🙂  And we’re not even thinking about the additional data provided by Google Apps…

 Google are also purchasing a ‘Social Search’ tool that allows people to ask questions of their social groups; I think we can safely assume that the responses will be squirreled away somewhere for future use.

Even when anonymised, this sort of information builds in to a very valuable commodity that Google can sell to future ‘partners’.  Google’s behaviour at the moment seems to be to develop or acquire a series of discrete elements of Social Networking technology that they’re bringing together under the existing account system of Gmail / Google Accounts, which makes perfect sense.  At one time Microsoft filled in some of the gaps in their various offerings in a similar way to allow them access to market segments that they were still trying to penetrate.  Perhaps Google have learnt from the software behemoth.

But they have a way to go – here are what I consider Google’s biggest challenges.

  1. The attitude of the public towards Google is not entirely positive, and whilst Facebook have had numerous privacy problems their defined market presence in Social Networking and not in Social Networking, Search, Email, Productivity tools, kitchen sink manufacture, etc.  
  2. Facebook may easily lose market share to a good competing service; their constant re-vamping of User Interface and buggy code upsets users but at the moment there is no viable competation for most people as Facebook is where their social network is.  Google would have to get people to migrate en-masse and over a short period of time to get the sort of success FB show.
  3. Wave is certainly buggy; Gmail and Buzz are designed to not run on IE6 and it’s debatable how long Google will support other Microsoft Browsers – I wonder how many people would want themselves tied in to Google at the level of software as well as applications?  Like I said earlier – Facebook doesn’t require me to have a Facebook email address.
  4. What’s Google’s target market; Wave seemed to be a solution looking for a problem; Buzz seems to be a similar ‘half way house’ affair that in some ways would have been best placed in Wave. Twitter and Facebook tend to provide specific groups of users with a defined user experience and functionality.  Quite what Buzz and Wave and Gmail together provide that isn’t available elsewhere is not clear to me.

So….my thoughts?  If this is Google’s attempt to park their tanks on Facebook’s lawn, then they’ve invoked the ‘Fail Whale’.

Social Search = global groupthink?

GoogleA few days ago I came acrossthis item in Google’s blog – looking at what they call ‘Social Search.  This is a set of applications being developed by Google to allow image content that you and your social circle (as set up through your Google account) have posted on image sharing sites such as Flickr in searches returned by Google Images.    So the idea is that you do a search on particular images using Google Images, and prominently featured in the results set would be images that your friends have posted up on these other sites.  I assume that eventually this sort of thing will spread out to encompass other sites of user generated content – Facebook, MySpace, personal blogs, etc.  Of course, this would require some cooperation between the companies running these sites and clearly there would be financial issues involved, but technically it’s not that difficult.

At first glance social search looks like a very cool concept.  After all, we tend to ask our friends and colleagues for advice and guidance on where to buy things or find them online.  We take their advice on what web sites are reliable, we are likely to at least look at films or books recommended by people who know our tastes, and so on.  If it did become possible to pull together information about searches carried out by groups of friends, and include information posted or recommended by our friends in search results in a prioritised manner, then the results would probably be more immediately relevant to us, and would also be at least partially validated – rather than the results being the equivalent of a cold call, they’d be closer to a personal introduction.

However, it struck me that there’s a potential downside to this approach, especially the more integrated in to the overall search results the ‘personally linked’ social search results become.  There is a phenomenon well known in management consultancy circles called ‘Groupthink’.  It’s what happens when you get a group of people who’re closely linked in some way – members of the same close knit team or department, for example.  What can happen during decision making and problem solving sessions is that the group may come to decisions based upon internal politics and ‘norms’, rather than objective facts that are presented to them.  This effect has been seen to be responsible for poor decision making in a wide range of situations.  It struck me that there is a good chance of this effect becoming evident in search results should the ‘Social Search’ really take off. 

For example, if someone in a social grouping is particularly ‘active’ online then their comments and recommendations might turn out to have a larger impact than other folks who’re less active online but possibly more informed about issues.  The overall effect would therefore to bias such social network search results towards the people with the largest online profile rather than those results that are possibly more accurate.  Such individuals would thus become opinion leaders and formers in particular social groups, and advertisers could easily seek out these higher profile individuals to sell directly to them, working on the principle that they will sell to their circle of contacts either directly by recommendation or indirectly through the results of social search.

Slightly disturbing.  Whilst influencing small groups of people it’s not the end of the world, but how long before we get a situation similar to that in the Phillip Dick short story ‘The Mold of Yancy’, where the behaviour of a whole civilisation was influenced by the tastes and preferences of one man?  Far fetched?  Perhaps not.

Google to phase out IE6 support – first shots in their war for browser dominance?

ielogoI really dislike IE6.  I hate having to support it for some of my clients, and really wish they could work out how to convince their customers to upgrade.  But, my clients are real world guys; they deal with nuts and bolts, ironmongery, bank accounts, etc.  Their customers tend to be real world people as well – and by real world I mean not software, not media, not technology companies.

I have a client whose website gets 30% of it’s hits from people running IE6.  That’s right.  30%.  That’s three times higher than the average accoridng to these statistics here – – where in December 2009 about 10% of browsers are still IE6.  From my own experiences, these tend to be large corporate sites where machines are ‘locked down’ or smaller non-technical companies who don’t care what browsers their PCs run as long as they can access everything they need to do.

Anyway…Google have finally announced that some features of Google Docs and other applications will soon stop working with IE6.  Actually, for once we have a technology company that has delivered ahead of the announcement.  Some Google products already fail big time with IE6..and 7…and IE8.  Google Wave is a non-starter with IE at all.  It isn’t just ‘some features’ or a ‘reduced user experience’.  In my experience it’s a big fat ‘no user experience’ at all.

Here’s what I expect Google to do over the next few months.  After IE6, the pressure will be placed on IE7 and IE8.  Google will probably suggest that people move to the Chrome plugin for using their sites in IE, and then I’d expect a mysterious problem to emerge with using the plugin in IE, so that more pressure is placed on IE users of Google sites to drop IE for Chrome (or at this time another browser).  Of course, not all IE users will be bothered about not having access to Google applications; but Google’s applications are rapidly becoming the main game in town for online apps – a very unhealthy situation.  Microsoft were hag-ridden for years by various regulatory authorities about their efforts to command the desk top by all means available to them.  Google appear to be starting to do exactly the same thing.

Of course, there are other browsers that are more standards compliant than IE is, was or is ever likely to be.  And this is the core of Google’s current argument – that IE’s non-standard handling of certain elements of the HTML, CSS and JavaScript standards makes it impossible to properly support IE.  Google’s products make extensive use of a protocol called AJAX to provide a desktop style user interface experience; it’s strange that other companies producing AJAX style interfaces are able to make them run happily with IE (albeit with a few tweaks occasionally required to layout).  My conclusions at this stage would be that either Google hasn’t got the brainiest guys on the block as far as coding is concerned, and/or that they’re using their market muscle to start dictating their way to a situation in which they own the web ‘desktop’.

After IE, what next? Firefox, Opera and Safari aficionados should be reminded of John Donne’s famous quote at this point:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

All Google need to do is start defining their own standards, or push implementation of emerging standards in their products so that only their own browser, Chrome, will be ready to cope.  Look at any areas of weakness in other browsers, and code your application to include code that would deliberately break when used on that ‘target’ browser.  No browser is 100% compliant; Google need to force each browser manufacturer in to a cycle of fail and fix, whilst each time Chrome is available from Zero Day to work perfectly on Google’s applications.

Microsoft have been bad lads in the past; there’s no reason for Google to start angling for the same accolades.  However, if they do, I’ll be interested to see whether the folks who’ve rightly been hard on MS will be equally hard on Google.  And if not, why not?

Google does the right thing (for Google, that is)

googlesignFor a long time I’ve taken the mickey out of Google’s famous slogan ‘Do No Evil’.  I mean, most companies and individuals go through life with their ethical and moral compass intact and manage to perform this simple piece of behavioural calculus every day of their lives.  To me, it takes a particularly arrogant bunch of people to make this slogan a selling point.  And it leaves you open to a lot of pot shots form people like me when you get caught with, figuratively speaking, your hand in the cookie jar.  And I know the irony of my position, being a Google user.  Please, Microsoft, get Bing sorted!

And so it has been for a while with Google and the People’s Republic of China.  Google’s presence in China – – was only sanctioned by the Chinese Government if the search results were modified (after all, censored is such an evilword) so as to suit the political world view of the PRC.  So a search on ‘Tiananmen Square’ might return lots of touristy stuff but certainly wouldn’t bring back stories about student protests, tanks crushing demonstrators, etc.  Google’s stand on this always seemed to be rather against their loudly stated intention to ‘Do No Evil’, but in this case it was pretty clear to everyone except those who’d imbibed of the springs at Mountain View that Google were supping with the Devil with a long spoon.

Until this week.  This week Google announced they were re-considering their positin in the PRC after the company had detected what it described as “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure”in efforts to get in to the Gmail accounts of Chinese political activists.  This is almost certainly Google speak for “We know the PRC Government is behind this but can’t provie it / don’t want to say it in public’.  As a result, Google have stated:

“over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law”.

which at first glance seems pretty brave of Google – looks like they might be following through on the ‘Do No Evil’ stuff and are facing up, toe to toe, to the creators of the Great E-Wall of China.  It would be nice to think that Google’s ethical sense has finally determined that by running the filtered service in China they’re actually compromising their own integrity and also supporting a totalitarian regime.

However, I think it’s most likely that Google will use this set of events as an excuse to get out of China altogether.  Why?  Google are second string in China; the locally developed search engine Baidu has largest market share, with Google apparently being most popular for technical stuff.  Google are losing face by their inability to get to the top of the tree in China, even after compromising their integrity.  In the West, Google are losing the lustre of ‘Do No Evil’ – in some quarters they’ve overtaken Microsoft as the Corporation you love to hate – certainly for me they’re a larger threat to my personal privacy than Microsoft have ever been in the whole history of that  software house.

No, Google will pull out of China, or seriously reduce it’s exposure there, not for ethical reasons, but because it suits Google’s market strategy.  They need to save face out there, and regain some of the moral high ground at home.  This latest Chinese exploit will give them the excuse they need to exit and try and maintain that it’s all ethics, when it’s actually all market.

For Google’s deal with the Chinese Devil, the spoon they supped with just wasn’t long enough.