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Dave asks, When Google has to cut its own revenue stream by enhancing search, will they do it?

Good question. Here is another: Has Google’s success at advertising slowed its innovations around search? And, How far will Google go with search engine improvements if there’s clearly no advertising money in it?

I’m not suggesting answers here. I’m just asking.

There are many things I would love to search for that Google doesn’t cover. But then, nobody does. For example, a date-range search just of blogs. Google Blogsearch does feature date-based search, with the most recent on top. But what if I want to search just in November and December of 2004? Near as I can tell, it can’t be done. (Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m glad to be.) [Later…] I am corrected by the first two comments.

I once had high hopes that Technorati would support that kind of search, but both Technorati and Google Blogsearch are playing the What’s Popular game. (For what it’s worth, I used to be on Technorati’s advisory board, but now David Sifry is gone and I’m not sure the company even has one any more.)

Anyway, it’s hard for me not to appreciate the many different ways Google lets me search for stuff. Their geographic services, for example, are amazing. So is stuff like this. But I can’t help but notice that the basic search offering has changed relatively little over the years. Is it because of the advertising? You tell me. I really don’t know.

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I’m listening right now to On Point*, where the topic is Pushing E-Health Records. The only case against electronic health records (EHR, aka electronic medical recordsk, or EMR) is risk of compromised privacy. Exposure goes up. The friction involved in grabbing electronic medical records is lower than that involved in grabbing paper ones, especially with the Internet connecting damn near everything.

Here’s the problem with privacy in the Internet Age (which we are now in, with no hope of ever getting out, unless we live the connectionless life): the Net is a big copy machine. It’s amazing how a fact so simple escapes attention until a first-rate metaphorist such as Kevin Kelly comes along to expound on what ought to be obvious:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

We’re not going to fix that. The copying nature of the Net is a feature, not a bug. We can fight some of it with crypto between trusting parties. But until we find ways to make that easy, the exposure is there. And, as long as it is, we’re going to have people who say risk of exposure overrides other concerns, such as the fact that dozens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone die every year of bad health care record keeping and communications — in other words, of bad data.

Still, if we want good medical care, we need EHR. That much is plain. The question is, How?

The answer will not be an information silo, or a set of silos. We have too many of those already. That’s the problem we have now — both on paper and in electronic formats (as I discovered last year in one of my own medical adventures).

The patient needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data, and the point of origination about what gets done with it. Even if the patient’s primary care physician serves as a trusted originator of medical decisions, the patient needs to anchor the vector of his or her own care, for the simple reason that the patient is the one constant as he or she moves through various medical specialties and systems.

The patient needs to be the platform. Not Google, or Microsoft, or your HMO, or the VA, or some kieretsu involving Big Pharma, Big Software Companies and Big Equipment Makers.

This requires classic VRM: tools of independence and engagement. That is, tools that enable the patient to be independent of any health care provider, yet better able to engage any provider.

In other words, while the answer needs to be systematic, it does not need to be A Big System (which I fear both BigCos and BigGovs whish to provide).

The answer needs to come from geeks who know how to eliminate big problems with simple solutions. For example,

  • Consider how the Internet Protocol solved the problem of multiple networks that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how email protocols such as SMTP, POP3 and IMAP solved the problem of multiple email systems that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how the XMPP protocol solves the problem of multiple instant messaging systems that don’t get along.

We need new ways of organizing our own health care data, and communicating that data selectively to trusted health care providers through open and standard protocols (that may or may not already exist… I don’t know).

I wanted to get those thoughts down because there’s a bunch of stuff going on around health care right now (including two conferences in Boston), detailed to some degree in Health Care Relationship Management, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

* On WBUR, a Boston station I pick up here in Santa Barbara over my Public Radio Tuner.

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Stephen Lewis has made a decades-long study of both the charms and absurdities of national and ethnic legacies. His most recent essay on the matter, Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries, unpacks the growing distance between the ideals of the Internet and the realities of dysfunctional nationalisms, and the failures of the former to transcend the latter.
He begins by describing his frustrations at trying to obtain podcasts of This American Life while overseas:

As it does with its iPhone, Apple “appliances” its services to geopolitical strictures inherited from the pre-Internet age and to a jingoistic concept of national identity quite contrary to the expansive spirit of This American Life and to the “worldwide” as in Worldwide Web. Podcasts of This American Life are available for purchase and download via iTunes only from IP addresses within the boundaries of the United States. Also, even within the US, Apple does not accept for payment credit cards issued by overseas banks. Last, even when listeners from within the US attempts a purchase a credit card issued by a US bank, Apple will not sell them podcasts if their iTunes Stores accounts were originally registered from abroad.

By jigsawing its services to fit national boundaries, Apple fragments the efficacy and global scope of the internet and denies NPR broader listenership, international impact, and potential revenues. By outsourcing exclusive sales of podcasts of the This American Life to Apple’s iTunes Store, NPR denies the benefits and insights of listenership and the pleasure of contributing to the support of Public Radio to Americans living and working abroad, not to mention citizens of all other countries.

Meanwhile, you can hear This American Life for free over the Net on hundreds of streams from the U.S. based public radio stations to which NPR wholesales the program for the stations to sell to listeners (who contribute on a voluntary basis), making the restrictions even more strange. Steve continues:

The Internet — in its role as prime infrastructure for the formation of community and conveyance of the information, entertainment, knowledge and transactions — is intangible and without physical location.  However, the infrastructure that supports it is quite physical, an ad hoc non-purpose-built amalgam of fiber, copper, and wireless  strung together, enabled, and animated by protocols.  By resting on a “borrowed” infrastructure, the Internet has inherited the “gatekeepers” that own and control, charge for, and regulate these legacy elements – telecom operators and service providers, cable TV companies, governmental authorities, etc.).  Such organizations still carve up the world according geopolitical entities and borders defined between the late-eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth and gerrymander services and access accordingly.  Apparently, so does Apple.  Apple’s method of “appliancing” country-by-country reinforces anachronistic borders and undermines the potential of the internet to transcend past divisions.

Steve also spends a lot of time in Turkey, a country where his own blog (the one I’m quoting here) gets blocked along with every other blog bearing the .wordpress domain name. Lately YouTube and Blogger have also been blocked. (For more on who blocks what, visit the Open Internet Initiative.)

These sites and services are easy for governments to block because they’re clustered and silo’d. Yet on the Internet these clusters and silos, once big enough, take on the character of countries. In this New York Times piece, Tim Wu says. “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king”. Talk about retro.

Steve continues,

This has turned Google, a private company with no accountability to any constituency, into a negotiating partner of national governments whose laws or policies do not  reflect or respect the ethical stance claimed in Google’s own slogan.  Thus, Google now functions on a diplomatic level with the ability and clout to forge country-by-country compromises affecting internet activity and the free flow of information and opinion, Turkey’s YouTube and Blogger ban not least among them.

Well, Google does have accountability to its customers, most of which are advertisers. Which makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Meanwhile the promise of the Net continues to be undermined not only by wacky forms of counterproductive protectionism, but by our own faith in “clouds” that can often act more like solids than gasses.

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Rebooting everything

Things really are going from bad to worse.

Trees do not grow to the sky.

True for countries as well as companies.

Bonus exchange.

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I may be alone in thinking that Microsoft’s offers for Yahoo were all mistakes. All were too much to pay for a company that would be hollow on Day Two. But don’t get the idea that I care all that much. I don’t.

On the Gillmor Gang (where I am also a participant at the moment) Dan Farber just called online advertising “the most efficient way to make money in the world right now”. That might be true. But advertising itself is a bubble in the long run, because it’s guesswork even at its best, and making it better and better only improves a system that has been flawed fundamentally from the start, because it proceeds only from the sell side, and still involves enormous waste (of server cycles, of bandwidth, of pixels, rods, cones and patience).

Advertising is a big churning system by which sellers hunt down buyers, rather than the reverse. It pollutes the media environment and theatens to corrupt the producers it pays.

I could go on. Or I could just point to Bill Hicks’ wisdom on the matter. Bill goes way over the top in that routine, but he’s talking to your soul, not to your wallet. It’s important to pull them apart once in awhile.

Yes, I know some advertising is good. A lot of it, in fact. But I’m not talking about that advertising. I’m talking about the 99+ percent of it that’s wasted.

I’m sure few at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook (or TechCrunch, or pretty much anywhere that makes money from advertising) agrees with much if anything of I just said. And I’d rather not argue it, because I don’t have evidence to prove my points. There still is no system by which demand takes the lead in driving (and not just finding) supply. But I believe that’ll happen eventually. And when it does, advertising will fall. Advertising is not a tree that grows to the sky, no matter how fast the Google redwood is gaining altitude.

But… I might be wrong. I dunno. It happens.

Mike Arrington just said on the Gang that he is “outraged” by something I said. I forget what it was. Some of the above, I guess.

Anyway, I don’t know what will happen to Yahoo or Microsoft. I am sure Google will still grow like crazy as long as advertising money flows from other media to the Web. But that’s not the whole story. What Google’s doing with Web services, with Android, with the Summer of Code, with Earth, Maps, Talk, Gmail, Docs… are mostly Net-friendly, cross-platform (including Linux) innovative and positive. They’re far from perfect, but not as far as Microsoft and Yahoo. That’s an advantage, if you’re into vendor sports. Which I’m not. (Well, a little, but not much.)

Who’s buying whom, who’s committing suicide by saying yes or no to acquisition offers, or the rest of the Stuff that’s front and center right now, kinda bores me. I care far more about the independence and empowerment of individual users, and of independent developers working to make a world where free markets are not “your choice of walled garden”. We don’t have that world yet. One walled gardener succeeding or failing to buy another doesn’t move us any closer.

What gets us closer will come from the edge. It’ll move under the feet of clashing giants.

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