Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: Google (page 1 of 6)

Google’s software approach to self-driving cars

Alexis Madrigal has written an interesting look at how Google’s self-driving car really works. Google has figured out that rather than building a really smart car, they could instead build a really rich digital representation of the roads on which the car will drive. Obviously there are big questions about whether this approach can be scaled to work for a larger geographic area than Mountain View, California, but I love this approach, which only software engineer would come up with. I agree with the article that collecting and storing large amounts of this kind of data is a problem we understand better than the problem of building really intelligent machines. If this approach to controlling self-driving cars takes off, it also puts Google in a great position to make money licensing data to any company that wants to build them, rather than building cars itself.

Google’s NYC Hurricane Sandy Map

From Google Maps: Hurricane Sandy: NYC

This is what I was talking about the other day when I talked about developing a capability in mapping. If Apple is going to catch up with Google in this area at all, they need more than a mobile app.

Two truths about identity

In announcing that he’s moving from working on Android to working on identity at Google, Tim Bray mentions two things about identity:

Usernames and passwords generally suck and obviously don’t scale to the Internet, so we need to do away with ’em soonest.

The new technology coming down the pipe, OAuth 2 and friends, is way too hard for developers; there need to be better tools and services if we’re going to make this whole Internet thing smoother and safer.

If he can make progress in attacking these issues in his new role at Google, the Web will be a much better place.

How Google is integrating Google+ with Search

There’s a lot of discussion of Google’s deep integration of its Google+ social network with their core search product, but Danny Sullivan is the guy who has actually drilled down to show how it works.

My main takeaway is that this is a major loss in terms of usability. Google is anteing up a huge strategy tax payment here, favoring in some cases useless Google+ pages over the content that users almost certainly actually care about. Google obviously feels that their lead in search market share is big enough that they can risk frittering it away in order to promote their social networking efforts.

Update: Danny Sullivan has posted an interview with Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt about Google+ integration.

Who changed the world most, Google or Apple?

A blog post I read earlier by Jesse Brown that’s sophomoric in both premise and conclusion has stuck in my brain, so I may as well write something about it, if for no other reason than so that I can move on to other things. His colleague makes the following assertion:

No company—probably not even Google—and certainly no individual has made as much of a difference or changed the way things work over the past 10 years as Apple has under Jobs.

First, he denies credit to Apple:

Add it all up, and Apple’s biggest impact has been aesthetic. Their products look great and have changed the way lots of other things look. But that’s just it—Apple is all about things. It’s essentially a hardware company, and it’s ill-prepared for a world where objects mean less and information means more. There’s no new God-gadget coming from Cupertino—all Apple can do once it’s done sticking cameras on things and offering them in different colors is to release cheaper iPhones and cheaper iPads, devaluing their gear until the gee-whiz factor is totally gone. This has already happened to the iPod. You probably have a three-old version in a drawer somewhere.

Then, he gives credit to Google:

More than anything, Google has been an accelerator of the greater ambitions of the Internet. Ten years ago, techno-utopians spoke of a future where anyone could be a publisher. Google made random blogs findable and made reader visits bankable. Ten years ago, we heard starry-eyed predictions that any kid could soon have the tools to become a pop star or a filmmaker from their own basement. Now, thanks to Google’s acquisition of YouTube, we take it for granted that this is so. Google preaches “openness,” not because it sounds good, but because the more open and accessible the Internet is to us all, the more money Google makes.

First of all, in his argument against Apple he changes the debate. The question at hand isn’t which company is most likely to change the world over the next ten years, it’s which company changed the world the most over the past ten years. Secondly, he gives credit to Google for acquiring YouTube. Did that really change the world? YouTube was already well on its way when Google bought them out. Anyway, I don’t want to nitpick.

I’ll boil it down to the most world-changing contribution by each company over the past ten years.

Google is the company that improved search engine results enough to really open the Web to the masses. They didn’t invent the search engine, but they did invent PageRank, making search significantly more useful, especially for those who were not search engine experts. Awhile back, I saw a service truck with the terms to use to find them with a Google search painted on the side as part of their contact information. That pretty much says it all.

Apple is the company that brought a real Web browser to the pockets of millions of people. There were other phones that provided “Web browsers,” but before the iPhone the mobile browsing experience did not in any way resemble the experience of using a real Web browser. Once the iPhone was available, it was clear that if you wanted to be a player in smart phones, you needed a device with a screen that was as large as physically possible and that supported a browser that provided a high quality browsing experience. The arrival of the iPhone was the most significant event in telephony since cellular phones were liberated from cars.

Of course both companies have done many other things, but I don’t think any are as significant as those two. Which one made a greater impact? You tell me.

Google needs to get better at P.R.

As part of the announcement of its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Google has posted a page of quotes from other Android handset makers offering support for the merger. One problem: all of the quotes are exactly the same, variations on this:

I welcome Google‘s commitment to defending Android and its partners.

I realize that PR people make up quotes for people, but it might not be a good idea to collect them all on one page. Ideally, you’d think they would want to avoid this effect.

How black hat SEOs justify their existence

Here’s how an anonymous black hat SEO consultant justifies the existence of his industry:

I think we need to make a distinction between two different kinds of searches — informational and commercial. If you search ‘cancer,’ that’s an informational search and on those, Google is amazing. But in commercial searches, Google’s results are really polluted. My own personal experience says that the guy with the biggest S.E.O. budget always ranks the highest.

That’s from a long New York Times piece on search engine optimization.

Is Google a copy cat?

Over at O’Reilly, Mark Sigal makes a provocative argument about Google:

All of this is, of course, very funny because isn’t Google’s whole business model about imitating, co-opting and commoditizing?

I don’t agree with him that the kind of copying Bing is engaging in is fundamentally different than the kind of copying Google does. Google strikes me as a market follower — they bring the Google sensibility to paths that others have blazed. In this case, Microsoft is engaging in rank plagiarism.

Google acknowledges content farms are a problem

Google has announced they’re going to more aggressively take on content farmers:

As ‘pure webspam’ has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to ‘content farms,’ which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.

It’s good to be reminded that content farming is a reaction to search engines getting better at filtering out pure spam.

Another theory on Google’s dropping H.264

Horace Dediu has another theory on why Google is dropping support for the H.264 video codec:

I rather think that Google’s decision is a misguided emphasis on technical details in lieu of engaging in a deep strategic re-evaluation.

Don’t miss the interesting comparison to Apple’s decision to go with the PowerPC over Intel processors back in the day.

I’m sort of obsessed with this decision by Google not because of its effect on me personally, but because I’m curious as to how companies come to these kinds of decisions. It’s complex and fascinating.

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