Tag Archives: google

Watching Twitch

$GOOG paid a billion dollars for twitch, a video streaming service. Unlike Youtube (which focuses on general audiences and miscellaneous niches), vimeo (which focuse on gorgeous cinematographic videos), or Daily motion (which focuses on being second place to Youtube), Twitch’s niche is gamers.

twitch_logo

Twitch is focused around games (live events) and channels (feeds of live events by specific gamers or groups). Yesterday, my wife and I watched navigated Twitch on Xbox One. Broadly, the two main types of games & channels appear to be competitive games and social games. Exmaples of competitive games include League of Legends (the most popular game in the world) and Starcraft II, while an example of a social game is Grand Theft Auto V.

twitch gsl announcers

Competitive games are organized like minor sports, such as women’s football, women’s basketball, or mixed martial arts. Not only are many of the trappings of major spots there (commentators, slick graphics, various functionaries) but minor spots have two elements major sports can lack: a sense of exclusivity and a proof of passion. Unlike major sports, identifying with a minor sport means identifying with a subculture to which you belong. And unlike major sports, few millionaires are made in minor sports, so a player is more likely to be following a calling as opposed to buying a beach house.

twitch xmoonliterose

My wife and I, however. enjoyed watching social games more. Many of these players/hosts were female, and combined competent gameplay with the personality of an effective radio disk jockey. Any flirting was PG, and you quickly felt that you were in the company of friends. For a fantasy game like Grand Theft Auto V, where play is self-directed and often absurd, watching someone play with friends can be even more relaxing than playing yourself (where the question of “what is to be done?” looms as large as in real life).

twitch creature talk

Twitch is a community — a billion dollar community — I was largely ignorant of a few days ago.

The world is vast, and there are such people in it…

Review of “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,” by Steven Levy

Disclaimer: My employer is a specialized consultancy, and my responsibilities include working on-campus at a large software giant in Redmond, Washington. I do not work on search, but I do work with many of the technologies described in this book. I am probably a biased interviewer, and I know that some of my experiences deeply colored (in a good way, I thought) my impressions of this book.

With that said…

In the Plex is the most timely business book I ever read.

In the Plex begins, and ends, in India. India is the symbol of the new world, of business opportunity, and of hope, so the Steven Levy begins In the Plex with a “blazing hot July day in 2007, in the rural Indian village of Ragihalli, located thirty miles outside Bangalore.” Twenty-two feature Google leaders met with the locals, looking for new opportunities and expanding their view of the world.

It half worked. Most of those 22 are no longer with Google. In the Plex chronicles the rise and stagnation of Google: the founder of Blogger left… to found Twitter. The founders of Dodgeball left… to found Foursquare. Many ex-Googlers now work for Facebook. And one of the final scenes in India, reported second-hand, is this short sentence: “I’ve sen beggar kids who use their money to get on Orkut.”

Orkut is one of (four) distinct social-media failures by Google: the others being Knol, Google Wave, and Google Buzz. The story of In the Plex is the story of how Google could rise to dominance in the search engine status, while defenselessly watching as the social media space eclipsed its original business.

Indeed, the story of Orkut is the story of Google in miniature.

Orkut was an internal Google project headed by Turkish software developer Orkut Büyükkökten to build a social media site. As Levy writes:

Was it a sign of the company’s distrust of the insufficiently algorithmic nature of social software that the product was not branded with the Google name? “We wanted to see if it could stand on its own two feet,” says Melissa Mayer [a Google manager who led the trip to India that begn the book] a stricture not required from such Google services as Gmail and Google Maps.

Orkut not only suffered from not being a “Google” product — it was allowed to run slower than other Google services, and few engineers were assigned to the project. Even a Facebook continued its exponential climb, Orkut was allowed to flounder, only finding success in Brazil and… India.

Just as Google once sought out India, once sought out the new, by the end of In the Plex Google simply allowed the new to happen to it.

There are perhaps two reasons for Google’s slumber. One is its bizarre management structure. For a while Google simply abolished the management profession entirely, flattening the entire company to three levels (individual contributors, heads of departments, and the triumvirate of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt). Even after this cultural revolution was undone, the company was led by the uniquely unhappy triumvirate.

Schmidt reminds me of no one so much as a Chinese official under Mao, an individual whose bizarre praises of the leader are obvious clues to anyone sensible that Schmidt is completely disclaiming responsibility from the company’s increasing erratic moves.

“Larry is the brilliant inventor, the Edison. Every day I am thankful I accepted this job offer.”
“Genius? I think so.” [referring to Larry Page]
“This was very clever on Larry and Sergey’s part” [referring to Google poaching Firefox engineers to work on Chrome]

Mixed in with “personal views” which directly contradicted Google policy

“My personal view is that private information that is really private, you should be able to delete from history.”
“Google has five thousand years of patience in China.”
“I didn’t want to moon the giant [Microsoft].”

Schmidt of course was fired by Larry and Sergei, and soon after his dismissal Schmidt’s deputy, Jonathan Rosenberg, quit in protest. It is shocking how disrespectful Rosenberg was in the book, as during the writing he still worked in the company.

At one point in his canned presentation, Rosenberg stared at the spreadsheet calculation in his PowerPoint deck and corrected a subtle mathematical error. Everyone was blown away. (In fact, Rosenberg knowing that Sergey Brin was supposed to be some sort of math Olympian had planted the mistake and faked his spontaneous discovery.)

and

But [Rosenberg's] first year was awful. Larry Page would sit in meetings and second-guess every move Rosenberg made. “I would come to the staff meeting with my structured agenda, the market research we needed to do, the one- and two-year roadmaps that we needed to develop, and Larry would basically mock them and me,” Rosenberg later said.

Jonathan’s calculation must have been that Larry would be marginalized, so publicly mocking the co-founder would simply distance himself from Larry’s and Sergey’s decisions. What Eric tried to do through praise and personal off-sides, Rosenberg did through mockery and complaints.

Other incidences — for instance, Larry requiring CEO Schmidt to share an office with another employee — are littered through the book, but “What is wrong with Google” has another answer besides “Facebook” and “Chaos.”

Arrogance is how the mighty fall.

None of us are as right as we think we are.

We are learning machines. We make mistakes, and others zoom ahead. We are at our best when we criticize our faults to ourselves, and praise our competitors.

Such a view of the world leads directly to oligopoly in most human endeavours. Monopolies naturally form in a capitalist system, and in the computer industry several are worth mentioning

  • Amazon is the world’s bookstore
  • Apple is the world’s luxury computer company
  • Facebook is the world’s gathering place
  • Microsoft is the world’s supplier of operating system

It is not illegal to be a monopoly, but it is illegal to buy one’s way to monpoly status or to abuse one’s monopoly powers. With this in mind, the corporate behavior of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft makes a lot of sense.

  • Amazon has not used its giant database to take on Facebook, nor has it attempted to purchase Barnes & Noble
  • Apple has not used its technical expertise to try to displace Microsoft’s share of the low-cost computer market, nor has it attempted to buy Microsoft’s operating system division (which it has the market cap to do)
  • Facebook has not used its powerful brand to try to own the luxury music player market, nor has it attempted ot purchase MySpace.
  • Microsoft, since the departure of Gates, now links to Amazon, Apple, and Facebook properties through its Bing search engine, and has not attempted to buy a new monopoly since its failed takeover of Intuit in the 1990s.

By contrast, Google has been unfocused, challenging other incumbents everywhere. Steve Jobs famously asked, “Apple didn’t enter the search business — so why did Google get into the phone business?” ChromeOS and Google Apps directly challenges Microsoft’s Office and Windows divisions. Google Print directly attacks Amazon’s role as the world’s book seller. And just now, Google +1 takes on Facebook… again.

This is not to say that competition is not good for consumers. It is good. But as Jim Collins wrote in How the Mighy Fall, arrogance is even worse for organizations.

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Centuries ago explorers tried to reach India. For a few brief years, Google seemed at home in that new world. But there are obstacles on the road, and if Google will rise again the nature of these obstacles should be addressed.

One relates to China.

Can you guess what search pattern generated results like these:

The answer of course, is a search for the company’s name and “China.” Google alone failed to compete in company, and worryingly this decision to support civilizations apartheid was led by Sergey Brin (who threatened to leave Google if Google would not leave China).

Just as Google (like Microsoft of the 1990s) sees itself above American law — the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice are just two standing bureaucracies that repeatedly object to Google’s behavior — it sees itself above the Chinese marketplace as well.

Sergey Brin, it should be remembered, came to this country only because of the intercourse of ideas – Sergey’s father, a scientist in the Soviet Union, encountered westerners for the first time in at a conference at Warsaw, and soon after applied to leave Communist Russia. Yet instead of treating China as a business opportunity, instead of seeing the Party as something to be managed, instead of lightening the way for Chinese “Brins,” Google flamed out, embarrassing its friends in the government and hurting its employees.

A final, and sad, coda, is the end of idealism at Google. During their IPO, Google warned investors that the company would spend 1% of revenue and 1% of equity each year on charity. After walking back from this, Google now includes in its “charitable” lobbying politicians and investing in companies aligned with its business.

The former Microsoft CEO was particularly harsh:

Bill gates said that [Google]DotOrg “is the most publicized foundation in the world, and it’s tiny. Expertise and analysis is this much of what is needed.” He made a gesture with his thumb and index finger a half inch apart to indicate how insignificant the amount was. “You make an impact with money,” he continued, referring to DotOrg’s outlays, in tens of millions compared to his own foundation’s billions. “Your analyze won’t help sick people or save people’s lives! You do that with monnnn-ey.”

In the Plex is a fantastic book about the search engine giant, its history, its management, and its future. I bought it on Tuesday and finished it on Thursday. Highly recommended!

Free China (for at least a day)

With the amazing news that Google.cn is no longer censoring results, average Chinese netizens can now use a search engine that is able to honestly summarize the internet. While this probably will not last long, but for now it is an amazing site. Here is what image searches for the Unknown Rebel now look like under Google.cn and Baidu (which, like MSNBC, is indirectly controlled by its national government):

While Google is afraid of terrorists, it seems not to be afraid of Communists.

Google is Bigoted Against Christians and Supports Terrorism

If you go to google.com and type in christianity is, google’s algorithms automatically try to finish your query. As with the case of the “I am Extremely Terrified of Chinese Peopleprank, it’s clear that Google’s suggestions do not imply that Google endorses this or that query — merely that such a query is common (for whatever reason). Google’s suggestions include Christianity is bullshit, Christianity is not a religion, Christianity is a cult, and conclude with Christianity is fake. All these results imly is that atheists can be insensitive jerks, which is hardly a surprise to anybody.

Similar results come up on Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine

And, as you would expect ,similar results come up when you use Bing to search for Islam is..

Now try your Islam is search in Google.

Nothing.

Google is fine with online bigotry against Christians, but censors online bigotry against Muslims.

The reason is obvious: Google is not afraid of charges of bigotry, but is afraid of terrorists.

Google is fearless when it comes to standing up to free speech advocates, but carries the flag of al Qaeda when their necks are on the line.

I hope no government officials have any family members with private Google accounts. A company that trembles this much at the call to Jihad might well turn over account information to terrorists…  to avoid being provocative.

Hat-tip to Fox News.

The User Experience of Google Chrome

Pulse UX had a piece on Google Chrome (the browser I’m currently using to browse the web) in late 2008 that becomes more interesting every time I read it. After thinking about the piece for some times, it comes to two general conclusions: Google Chrome is not a well designed browser, but then Google Chrome is not primarily a browser at all.

The point about the danger of starting-from-scratch is obvious enough:


What does Google Chrome mean for the future of user experience design?

In an article by Steven Levy, from the October 2008 issue of WIRED magazine title: “Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web” the developers of Chrome described how they approached the UX design problem for their new “world-beating” browser. In part they described the UX design methodology as follows.

“When deciding what buttons and features to include, the team began with the mental exercise of eliminating everything, then figuring out what to restore.”

Whoa!…that IS an interesting UX design methodology. The problem is that the Google UX process ignored almost entirely the past 25 years of cognitive science and related skill acquisition theory. The Google Chrome UX design methodology created, to a significant extent, the perplexing complexity of Chrome by ignoring several billion “person-hours” of prior experience that users accrued with established browser interaction models. Arbitrarily deciding what to leave out or include in terms of features and functions is…how shall we say…1950’s UX design.

… and dovetails nicely to my thoughts on the science and art of user experience research. However, the Pulse UX piece then convincingly argues that the primary purpose of Google Chrome is to be a rendering engine for Google Docs and other software in the cloud. Thus, Google Chrome is not a competitor to Microsoft Internet Explorer so much as a competitor to Microsoft Live Mesh.

The post is fascinating. The “art” of Chrome’s long-term strategy, and the science of measuring user experience, tie together nicely. Read the whole thing.

View PDFs with Google

Google Docs just keeps getting better and better: it’s long supported OpenDocument, the international standard in data exchange. Now it supports PDF as well:

Upload PDF Files to Google Docs
Update: In less than a day, the feature has been added and you can now upload PDF files, share them and view them online. The PDF viewer is not very advanced, but you can use it to search inside a PDF file, select a block of text (Ctrl C to copy the text) and go to a certain page.

PDF is a great technology, but Adobe Acrobat (the program typically used to view PDFs) is awful. One of the things I miss most about linux is konquerer, the non-Acrobat PDF viewer. Now I have a way on Windows to easily view PDFs withoutAcrobat: Google!

The Halliburton of the Left

Google refuses to remove terrorist videos from Youtube. Google assists India in the arrest of a man for blaspheming a long dead Indian emperor.

98% of Google Bucks go to the Democratic Party.

Not much of a story here (educated whites tend toward liberalism, money is more important than ideology to businesses, &c). My reason for posting this is for the benefit of those readers who have long complained about companies associated with the Republican party, but are remarkably silent when the shoe is on the other foot.

Batch Upload to Google Docs

Back in March ’07, I requested two new features for Google Docs: automatic synching between openoffice and Google Docs, and batch uploading to Google Docs.

Well, batch uploading has just come true.


Batch Upload to Google Docs

Even cooler, the batch uploader is really just a tech demo for the new and improved Google Docs API, so advanced functionality like the add-in background uploader to Google Docs isn’t too far away.

Thanks Google!

Google: Good and Bad

The good: The Great Firewall of China is blogging blogspot and livejournal currently — thanks Cisco and Nortel! Fortunately, google reader is still up and running, so I can still follow all of my favorite blogs.

The bad: Unfortunately, google’s attempt to track its users is reducing its functionality as a quick search engine. For instance, if I google “great firewall of china tdaxp,” the first result appears to be to http://www.tdaxp.com/tag/great+firewall+of+china but is actually to http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F…. So to copy a url, right-clicking on the result is not good enough — I need to follow it to its source.

Thoughts on Google Docs & Spreadsheets

As I mentioned in the open thread, I’ve started using Google Toolbar for Firefox again. It will automatically open .doc files in Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which is much more convenient than the hassle fo downloading it to my computer and reading it with OpenOffice. It is faster, and then if the file will be useful I merely leave it there in Google Docs & Sheets — then I can use it anywhere. Otherwise, it’s one click to delete.

A feature that Google is missing, however, is a plugin to Microsoft Office and OpenOffice that would allow one-click saving of documents to Google Docs & Spreadsheets (or, even better, automatic backup to Google DS even if the file is also saved on my computer). This would have been useful just yesterday, when I realized I had neglected to print out a copy of my statistics assignment. I ended up going down to the computer lab, booting my laptop, uploading my file to Google DS (or emailing it to myself), and then printing it out. The process would have been quicker if the file was just there.

Additionally, there should be a way to synchronize, or at least upload, local files with Google DS. Besides a number of files in My Documents, I have backups of stuff that I no longer work on — but do not want to throw away — all over the place. Some are on my laptop harddrive, some are on my backup USB drive, and stuff I’ll probably never need again is in some CD backup or the other. But if I could store the info with Google, it would be always available and always searchable — even if the worst happens to me locally.

(I’ve also taken to reading Google Operating System blog regularly, and at least for a time have been fixed of my live addiction.Google Operating System blog regularly, and at least for a time have been fixed of my live addiction.)