Posts Tagged ‘google’

Tumbling in the search for search semantics

January 3, 2013

Thanks to Google Trends, anyone can know what everyone’s searching for. Or even what health news Marylanders were searching for last month. But no one can know why they are searching.

Without knowing users’ intent, observers shouldn’t assume that search trends mean something is or isn’t trendy.

The Atlantic Wire and others surmised that the term “blog” might be outdated, and that “Tumblr” may be becoming the Kleenex to its tissue, now that the latter has passed the former in search term popularity. Especially since a search for “Tumblr” gets processed so fast Google doesn’t even display the time, not so fast my friend.

Since search is one of the most common ways Web users learn about unfamiliar things, one could just as easily spin the data the other way to say it reflects the generic blog’s increased popularity — or at least familiarity.

The average Web user today, I’ll hypothesize, is more likely to know what a blog is than the average Web user in Spring 2009, when “blog” peaked in the Google Trends chart that inspired the Wire’s post. While it’s long been a household term in techie spaces, “Tumblr” is still a new name for many a Internet user. Or, perhaps someone’s heard it a lot, but isn’t exactly sure what it is.

Another factor likely at play is users’ using search as a navigational tool, a habit ReadWriteWeb learned about the hard way in early 2010. Since it was the top news result, and hence atop all search results, users mistook its article that talked about logging into Facebook for the actual Facebook login page!

Mobile, with its cumbersome typing interfaces and narrow address bars, and search being baked into most address bars, further encourage users to use search as a shortcut for typing out the full URL. “Tumblr” surely benefits from these navigational applications, but “blog” — other than a caveman, maybe, who’s trying to go to just “blog”? — not so much.

Bottom line, it’s difficult to compare generic and specific search terms. The Google Trends data certainly document the rise of Tumblr, but not necessarily the fall of “blog.”

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DailyDev: Google Motion Chart

June 13, 2010

I checked out Google’s Motion Chart gadget — for illustrating changes in multiple variables over time — in school last fall but never produced a complete, functioning chart. Today I did. It visualizes each of the 32 World Cup nations’ per capita GDP, life expectancy and World Cup wins for the last half-century.

The steps:

Screengrab of Google Docs spreadsheet

  1. Following the format above, enter data into a Google Docs spreadsheet.
  2. From the “Insert” menu, choose “Gadget” and click on the “Motion Chart” option. For range, enter the top-left cell of your data set and the bottom-right cell of your data set (including field labels), like this: “Sheet1!A1:E193” Click “Apply”.
  3. Preview your chart, give it a title, choose what variables by default appear on which axis, fiddle with some other options, such as whether the scatter plots are colored or sized according to a variable. When you’re satisfied, click “Apply” one more time, then grab the embed code by clicking on the arrow in the upper-right corner of the gadget box and choosing “Publish Gadget.”

Finished Product

Screen grab of Google Motion Chart gadgetPros

  • Create revealing interactive charts without any coding.
  • Can import .csv files directly into the Google Docs spreadsheet, saving you from tedious data entry.
  • Chart automatically changes as your spreadsheet does.

DailyDev blog series logo -- day 8Cons

  • Requires large data sets to be effective.
  • Can improperly suggest correlation, causation or trends.
  • Minimal control over styling.

Tip

  • Don’t think of Google Motion Chart only as a presentation medium. It can be a useful reporting or research tool for spotting noteworthy patterns.

Recommend?

  • Yes, but only for visualizing data over significant time spans — whether you’re dealing in hours, days, months, years, you’re going to want a lot of reference points — where trends will be noticeable and meaningful.

Is Google Making Us Dumb? Yes, No and Maybe

April 16, 2010

Google logo inside brain illustration.WGHP-TV reporter Bob Buckley recently visited my Citizen and Participatory News class for a technology story he was working on. His question for me and my classmates? “Is Google making us stupid?” Having studied Google extensively over the past year, especially in my Contemporary Media Issues class this spring, I had an answer — well, three answers — at the ready.

Yes

Google search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Maps. Google’s products are so ubiquitous and so easy to use, there’s so much available with one free username and password, that people maybe aren’t being as smart as they should be with their own data.

I said Google’s free, but it really isn’t. There are potential costs to sharing so much of your life with one company. I don’t think that’s something a lot of people think about.

No

Google is one of the most successful, most powerful companies in the world. Competitors and even companies in other industries — though, there are fewer and fewer industries into which Google’s tentacles don’t reach — are going to try to copy it.

Google’s more than 10 years old, yet, with its 20 percent time and we-can-do-anything idealism, it still behaves very much like a startup. Not to say there aren’t privacy, intellectual property and other concerns that come along with this, but if more companies shared Google’s ethos, the world would probably be smarter.

Maybe

Google search invites and rewards curiosity. Because it’s so easy to get answers, people ask more questions. Even if searchers accept the first result as the final word on their question, if it’s a question they otherwise wouldn’t have asked, they’ve arguably been made smarter.

Google should be a starting point, not an ending point, however. Terminating all of life’s questions at the first search result, or even the 10th, 50th or 100th, severely limits one’s potential for intellectual growth. Google puts one on the path to knowledge. The onus is on the user to see the journey through.

Why Google Needs a New Trick

February 27, 2010

Microsoft’s CEO calls Google a “one-trick pony.” Google’s CEO responds, “I like the trick!”

The trick being referred to in Ken Auletta’s “Googled,” is, of course, search, and, by extension, the programs that monetize it. AdWords and AdSense are responsible for nearly all of Google’s $6.5 billion in annual profits.

It is a good trick. For now.

Today, Google’s bots and algorithms do a brilliant job crawling Web pages and organizing them into thorough, timely search results. If results are to remain thorough and timely, bots must crawl more — not just Web pages — more quickly and algorithms must account for more and increasingly more complex patterns. Google, and anyone in the business of organizing digital information, must manage a what’s-happening-now, what’s happening-here Web where people, networks and everyday objects are constantly exchanging data.

Since it’s loaded, Google can experiment with new products without having to worry too much about monetizing or even popularizing them. Sooner than later, however, it’s going to have to find another golden goose. Look at Google’s track record and you start to wonder whether it ever will.

Google does a lot of cool stuff and a lot of it’s very popular. But, when you think about it, it has as many strikeouts as hits, and its biggest hits — PageRank, AdWords, AdSense and Gmail — came early in its career.

Don’t forget that Google didn’t invent YouTube. It bought it after Google Video flopped. Also don’t forget that while Facebook and Twitter were taking off, Google’s Orkut (outside of Brazil and India) floundered. See, you never even heard of it. Google’s trying to catch up social-media-wise with Buzz, whose early reviews have been cool, some downright cold. Maybe it’ll do better once the privacy issues are sorted out.

Google’s seemingly boundless experiments increase the chances it will find the next PageRank or AdWords. But they also divide its attention, compromising its ability to recognize and respond to threats to its core product. The real-time search capabilities of Twitter, for one, seemed to catch Google off guard.

Twitter, poetically, is very much following the Google blueprint: Build something that’s useful, attract a critical mass of users and cash in — somehow. Twitter’s just beginning to enter step three and, surprise, its solution looks a lot like Google’s.

Twitter’s focus on users is also straight from the Google playbook. But Twitter takes it a step further by letting its users do the experimenting. It sits back, lets users play around, then formalizes what works and ignores what doesn’t. Twitter’s @ (used to mention another user and link to his or her feed), # (used to tag posts about a particular topic) and RT (used to indicate a user is re-posting something written by someone else) features were all developed by users.

I’m not suggesting Twitter’s going to overtake Google. For if Google’s focus is potentially too broad, Twitter’s focus is definitely too narrow. What might take down Google — or a least take it down a peg — are a bunch of Twitters, each doing a different thing better than the behemoth Google can. And wouldn’t that be the most user-friendly scenario? Smaller companies with a more singular focus tend to provide better customer service. They’re also arguably less vulnerable to data breaches. At the very least, users’ data would be diversified, lessening the potential damage one bad actor or one technical glitch could cause.

Learning For A Lifetime

November 5, 2009

Less than seven months from now, if all goes as planned, I’ll receive my second degree from Elon University, this time a Master of Arts in Interactive Media. I expect this to mark the end of my formal education. Of course, that’s what I was leaning toward after undergrad. And here I am, back in school. In any case, in this fast-moving field I’ve chosen, what is certain is that my informal education will never be complete. 

My program, just 10 months long, is designed for this pace. The idea is to keep students from getting too detached from the professional world and to get them back in the field while their skills are still fresh. 

Still, a lot can happen in 10 months. Twitter, for example, has exploded in popularity since January, gaining tens of millions of users. 

To keep up, I’ll continue to read as much media and technology news as I can find time for, seek out opportunities to learn from talented colleagues and probably drop in on the occasional weekend workshop. 

Where these means fall short or are impractical, online training is an attractive option. Structured, up-to-date instruction from experts the globe over when and where I want? I’ll take it. Sure, it’s not as personal as classroom learning, but next-generation video conferencing and virtual reality could help it come close. 

Certification is another benefit of many online training programs, offering professionals a level of authority that saying they know a new skill or even talking about it intelligently just doesn’t. 

One such example is Google’s Conversion University. Since March, the search engine giant has administered an analytics certification program based on its approximately 230-minute online course. Applicants pay $50 to take an online test, and, if they score 75 percent or higher, are registered as Google Analytics qualified. 

I was assigned today to complete the course for one of my classes. Since I’ll be putting in the study time, I figure I might as well aim for the certification. If I get it, thanks to a just-introduced feature, I’ll be able to prove it with an official link. I’ll update my progress and share what I learn in this space. Stay tuned. Or, perhaps I should say, “be a returning visitor.”

Publishing the Process

October 30, 2009

It’s Friday. It’s been a long week. How about a cool music video? Radiohead’s “House of Cards” certainly fits the bill. Check it out. It was made with lasers! 

Lasers and rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve always gone together, haven’t they? This isn’t your father’s laser show, however. Here, lasers stood in for the camera, continuously scanning the set to form 3D images. 

The presentation was as progressive as the production. And that’s what I want to talk about. A collaboration between the band and Google visualization wunderkinds, the video has its own page on Google’s developer site, Google Code. Not exactly the natural habitat for a music video, is it? 

There’s more than just the traditional video, however. In addition to the one aired on MTV (I’m actually making a dangerous assumption here. I don’t watch MTV. And whenever I surf past it they’re never playing music videos.) there is a behind-the-scenes “making-of” video and an interactive version users can manipulate. 

This is a model that we’re likely to see more and more of — in entertainment, in software, in journalism, in politics, wherever communication is happening. Don’t just share the finished product. Share the process. And invite others to join in that process. This is true interactivity. Those who get this will be the ones who get ahead. 

Take this example from the world of journalism. It’s an oldie but a goodie. In 2007, left-leaning politics blog Talking Points Memo beat the mainstream media to the U.S. Attorneys purging story. Jarring for the Bush administration, yes, which would have preferred media never connected the dots. Just as jarring for new media critics who insisted blogs follow legacy publications’ lead.

So, how did TPM do it? It posted original reporting based on sources not typically consulted by the mainstream press and invited its readers to become sources themselves. In between the usual “Here’s what we know” posts, it asked “What do you know?” It told readers what information to pay attention to and often, how to go about getting it. 

And, from the world of software, another classic: Mozilla Firefox. The Internet browser achieved 25 percent market share just five years after launch thanks in large part to its open source approach. It allows developers to customize the browser and shows them how. As a result, it’s more versatile than its competitors. Firefox boasts a vast library of extensions that do everything from manage downloads to speed navigation to translate text.

Content creators: Users are going to want to adapt, add on to and comment on your content anyway. Given enough time, they’ll find a way how. So, why not leverage user participation to increase the value of your product? 

Got it? Good. Go on enjoying the wonders of lasers.

Breaking Through the High-Tech Bubble

October 2, 2009

bubblesThe joke about charities is that their mission is to put themselves out of business. It can be said, then, that the mission of computer manufacturers is to make their product invisible.

As I mentioned last week, students in my program are required to deliver weekly micro-presentations on a technology or interactive media topic not yet covered in their studies. New products or prototypes are popular subjects. What makes many of these items captivating is the degree to which they push the computer to the background.

They mimic traditional platforms:

  • Flyp Media presents multimedia content in magazine-style Flash movies.
  • BumpTop seeks to make the computer desktop more like its real-life counterpart.
  • Google’s Fast Flip lets readers browse content more like they do in print.

Or they reduce or eliminate the presence of a tangible user interface:

  • The NeatDesk scanner automatically extracts data from business cards, receipts and other documents.
  • Argentina-based BCK’s wireless-enabled rings allow callers to start and end conversations using hand gestures.
  • MIT Media Lab’s Sixth Sense transforms any surface into a Web interface.

We have a saying here on campus about breaking through the Elon bubble. In an active, self-contained community like a university, it’s easy to become insulated from the larger outside world. One must constantly work to break through the bubble.

The technology community isn’t any different. Those who live and breathe on the cutting edge are liable to shut out traditional approaches. Developing products like those mentioned above, however, requires a healthy understanding of old media as well as new media, the real world as well as the virtual world.

Be cognizant of this bubble. And act to break through it.