Is Google becoming evil?

Given the high standards Google set for itself with the aims of indexing the world’s information, and the mantra of ‘Don’t Be Evil’, it’s likely we hold it to higher standards than most companies. After all, in 2004, Joel Bakan described corporations in this way ‘As a psychopathic creature, the corporation can neither recognise nor act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others. Nothing it its legal makeup limits what it can do to others in pursuit of its selfish ends, and it is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweight the costs’.

Now whether or not Google is becoming evil, there are certainly much worse offenders around the world, but given the lofty ideals and the integral part that has played in the Google brand, any start down the slope to the activities of the traditional corporation could be damaging. You might somewhat expect it of Microsoft, or ignore it if you’re a member of the Cult of Apple, but when Google acts in ways which particularly hurt small businesses, publishers and potentially vulnerable individuals, it’s particularly jarring.

Google Logo in Building43

 

‘Secure search':

The right of an individual to online privacy and security is a good thing, and difficult to argue against. The use of https by sites is a positive step and one that shouldn’t be discouraged.

But recently Google made an announcement that Google Analytics would no longer provide keyword information for users who are logged into their Google profile and using secure search. That move was done with the stated aim of privacy and currently a relatively small percentage of users are searching via the secure connection.

Two problems with that – already many people are reporting significant and growing numbers who are now hidden in terms of keyword data, and secondly, having had access to that data for years, it does not indicate in any way, shape or form who was using a specific keyword and therefore affect privacy. All I knew was that 20% of people visiting in the last month typed in ‘thewayoftheweb’ into a Google search box, regardless of whether they were secure or not, and no further information was available.

But hang on – if it really doesn’t matter to individual user privacy, could it be related to the launch of a paid Google Analytics for enterprise with a hefty price? After all, if you’re paying $150,000 for Google Analytics Premium, you’d be expecting all information.

So Google moves in a traditionally corporate way, using a freemium model to gain market share, then starting to remove features from the free version and concentrate on getting the top percentage of big users to start paying.

The people who lose out are small business and publishers, who won’t know how an increasing number of visitors are finding their site, and that number will only increase with more people staying logged into Gmail and Google+. After all, no-one can optimise for searches they don’t know are happening – although I’m not sure if the privacy still applies when I click-through on Google Adsense or Adwords advertising next to the search results, regardless of my connection.

 

‘Anti-social Google Reader’

There’s been a pretty big uproar regarding the redesign and loss of features which has been rolled out to Google Reader, despite the paltry week’s notice given to users. My concerns regarding the actual design are fairly minor, as it makes it slightly more difficult to use, but I can cope.

What’s difficult to reconcile is the loss of various features which are obviously and explicitly an attempt to shoehorn users into more activity on Google+, which have a number of negative effects for individuals and businesses.

  • Individuals can no longer have a basic sharing and following network within Google Reader. As opposed to the thousands of connections I had on social networks, there was a small group of around 30 or so I followed on Google Reader, simply because I was intently interested in seeing what they deemed worthy of curating and sharing on a tight subject list, without necessarily interacting with them about their holiday photos. And as with Twitter, it was asynchronous sharing – they didn’t have to know me or approve me, or figure out what I want then create a Google+ circle on that premise.  But worse is the claim that many users in more repressive countries were using Google Reader as social networks were blocked, and had connections of several thousand in many cases. That’s entirely lost now.
  • Business revenue is affected: Via RSS, and Google’s own acquisition of Feedburner, a business could display advertising in their RSS feed. In addition to losing control of sharing a full or partial RSS feed, the snippets shared to Google+ also conveniently remove any feed advertising – Google may lose their share of that revenue, but also completely control Google+ and any monetization that happens.
  • RSS is under threat: Consumer adoption of RSS has remained relatively small, but concentrated towards heavy and earl-adopting technology users. And of that group, Reader had a market share of about 70%, crushing most competitors and removing incentives to innovate in that area. If Google has decided RSS is redundant, what will happen to the popular Feedburner RSS service which powers many, many blogs RSS feeds? The analytics side of Feedburner has been pretty much permanently broken, but it still provides a simple and easy way to set up a feed which is compatible with numerous other places and services.
    In addition, for business use, it’s been possible to take the feed of Google Reader shared items, or utilise the unofficial Google Reader API to separate out tags to put onto business intranets or publish externally. Given that shared items is gone (Including my own 16,000+ articles over 5 years), what faith can you have in an unofficial API to support paying clients?

 

 WTF Google?

I’m certainly not against businesses making money – I’d like my own to keep earning more in the future, and my expertise is more directed towards the content and marketing side of business operations. It’s entirely possible that in such a large organisation it may just be coincidental that various changes all suggest a new self-interest which has happened just as a founder resumes control of the company and indicates more of a focus on their new social business.
I’m also enthusiastic about experimentation and change – the fact that Google Buzz and Google Wave have both been deemed failed experiments doesn’t negate the important experience and influence they may have had both within Google and externally.

But I do question whether the current focus on Google+ is causing the big G to lose some of what has made it so immensely popular and powerful. Whether that’s the influence of the success of Facebook as a walled garden which uses elements of coercion to get us to help power it in terms of advertising and brand revenue, or whether it’s just the misalignment of every non-search free product as a feeder for Google+, I can’t say.

Occupy Google+

But either way, I’m not alone in feeling unsettled by Google’s new direction, and as we’ve seen, current success doesn’t mean permanence, particularly online. Google has some security in that the integration of Gmail, Reader, Analytics, Apps for Business etc are so deep into our lives and companies that it will take a significant motivation to switch, but given the current moves from my techie friends to alternative feed readers, and the existence of established and good paid analytics alternatives, it’s not inconceivable that the move could start to happen.

And given the results of some blind search engine result testing, it appears that one of the main reasons for Google continuing to dominant search is the familiarity of the brand, rather than the results being returned in comparison to Bing – which means that losing the perception of their values may not just damage the potential success of Google+, but could also lead to a greater threat to their core search business.

Breaking Google Reader on the wheel of Google +?

Google has announced it will make a number of changes to Google Reader ‘in the next week’, and by the looks of it, they’re going to break a great existing product and tool which is used by a lot of professionals to be able to shoehorn some extra interaction into Google+.

Normally, I’d advise waiting and seeing what the changes are to a product before complaining, but the post on the official Google blog gives enough information to be really, really worrying.

‘in a week’s time we’ll be retiring things like friending, following and shared link blogs inside of Reader.’

That scares me for a number of reasons.

  • A week? Seriously? That makes Yahoo look kind in the way they’ve ended or sold services. Presumably if they do it quick there won’t be enough time for people to organise a concerted campaign of complaints or realise exactly what the changes mean.
  • No following? There’s a reason why I use both Reader and Google+ throughout the day, but spending almost all day, every day in Reader – I use it professionally, and have a very small number of people I follow. Those are people who consistently find things which are important to know about, and I enjoy being able to find out when they’ve just read them – not see a jumble of items which might be new, old, or social items like holiday images etc which are being put on Google+ weeks or months after they’ve happened.
  • Most importantly – No Shared Link Blogs!!!! (Mine is here and has been sharing items for several years now). As a part of curating and sharing information, I’ve used the RSS feed from that page to power various other services, and now it won’t exist? I’ve shared 16991 articles since starting to use Google Reader, and all of the value that has created is going.

I know that people have been requesting a better SendTo integration for Google+, although there is a workaround already in place which does the job, but I can’t believe that people have ‘highly requested ‘ the end of following or shared link blogs? Anyone that doesn’t want to follow or publicly share has the option to never do it already, so turning those features off makes no sense.

Unless you’re trying to artificially inflate the amount being shared on Google+.

Our only hope…

Now aside from reinforcing the fact that if you use a free service, you should expect that they won’t care about you – ‘If you’re not paying for the product, you’re not the customer, you’re the product’, it does beg the question what will happen to those services for people who might be paying for Google Apps? I don’t know how Apps revenue stacks up against the hopes for Google+, but I suspect it won’t make a big enough difference, sadly.

Which leaves Louis Gray as the only hope that this won’t be an enormously painful and damaging moveboth for Google and for everyone that used Google Reader as a business tool. Not only is he smart, but he’s specialised in working with, and making his name blogging about, information services, so if there’s one person at Google who may understand the difference between professional use and social use, you would hope as a Google+ Product Marketing Manager he might have had a chance to speak with the Google Reader team?

The final pain is the comment from Alen Green suggesting that if we decide Google Reader is no longer for us, we can move to another service. Which is technically true, but given that Google Reader has roughly 70% or more of the RSS Reader market, there’s not exactly a huge number of viable alternatives – two of the other services I’ve used in the past both closed after Google effectively crushed them by weight of numbers. It’s not quite like social bookmarking, where I’ve used Diigo and Delicious in tandem for a long time now to ensure that I always have a backup – it means exporting all my data, finding a service which is directly comparable in terms of features, and hoping that everything can be uploaded and work without disrupting my business too much.

Google hording data inside Google+?

Whilst Google does have a data export project, there’s a difference between exporting data and being able to syndicate it. And until I see a handy RSS link for items I +1, ideally with some kind of category filter which means I can take a feed of the information I’m sharing, rather than everything I’ve ever liked, including static content, photos etc, then it appears that Google is intent on following the walled garden approach of Facebook in bringing in as much as possible behind a walled garden. Which isn’t a selling point when Facebook already exists.

I don’t know what will happen in the next week, or how much my business and workflow will be disrupted, but if you know any good, comparable and compatible RSS Readers – paid or free, then let me know. And if there’s an open source option, all the better. Meanwhile when I categorise this post under ‘Tools’ you can assume both meanings of the word are inferred.

 

Experiencing a strange Google Reader redirect to Google Docs?

It seems I’m not alone in finding that scrolling through my Google Reader feeds is causing me to get redirected to Google.com spreadsheets and documents.

The cause appears to be the blog of Google anti-spam expert and popular blogger Matt Cutts.

His site is currently doing the same redirect – and it appears that when that particular feed loads in Google Reader it has the same effect, because it happens when I view all unread items, for example, but not if I’m just looking at the Google Reader homepage which doesn’t feature his post!

This is obviously just an inconvenient one-off which I’m sure Matt will fix, but more worringly, it does point to a way someone could redirect any site with a decent number of subscribers to any site in this way.  Hopefully it’ll be patched soon to avoid any website redirects causing this problem when it’s actually the RSS feed being supplied.

How to solve the problem:

If you subscribe to Matt’s blog, as soon as Google Reader loads, go straight to the settings page and unsubscribe from his site. That will let Google Reader work as normal. You might want to follow @mattcutts on Twitter to be alerted to re-subscribe when he’s fixed it!

Update: Matt appears to have fixed his redirect problemon the blog itself, but obviously the archived post still screws up Google Reader, and there’s no word on whether it might lead to a change in Google Reader itself…

Last night a cloud saved my life…

Cloud-based computing is a popular topic at the moment, and it’s opening up a plethora of possibilities for ways to interface with data. But to be honest, the way it’s helped me in the last 24 hours is much more important at the moment.

Tomorrow I’ve got the pleasure of speaking at a conference and everything was well-organised and prepared until a small error resulted in the saved presentation file being wiped off the face of the earth… And in a long story of unwise decisions cut short, there was no backup available. All presentation and all notes gone…

Except…

While I didn’t have the Word.doc with notes, I save pretty much everything I could ever want or need to reference. It’s tagged on Google Reader in the case of RSS feeds from about 200+ sites (My shared Google Reader items are here), and/or tagged on Diigo as a social bookmark. I use Diigo for two reasons – one: when I first started using it, the options for autoposting to blogs looked simpler to implement than Delicious, and two: It features an autoshare to Delicious option, meaning that I essentially have an automatic backup for either social bookmarking site.

Combined with a quick check of any relevant emails via Gmail, it means that pretty much every reference source is available at home, at work, or on the train if the wifi holds up.

And after the reminder about regular backups, I’ve made sure that it’s saved regular both on my laptop and removable hard drive. And even more useful is the fact it’s saved on Dropbox, which means it’s synched across laptop and desktop, available anywhere with an internet connection, and even better – if the presentation ends up too big for most corporate email services, I can easily share it via Dropbox for someone to download. Plus Dropbox has a 2GB storage limit for free.

I’m not saying any of this as any kind of paid endorsement (although free upgrades are nice, and paid advertising on here is never a bad thing), just as a public reminder about the benefits of backing up, and of using three services which are pretty much an essential part of my life now, and that I’d rather not do without.

Guy Kawasaki and Alltop launch personal MyAlltop pages

After a year of aggregating feeds on a pretty large range of topics, Alltop has released personal MyAlltop pages.

MyAlltop - personal alltop pages

MyAlltop - personal alltop pages

What was nice was that existing Alltop users like myself got an email from Guy to give us the chance to secure our usernames before anyone else turned up.

And it’s a reasonably nice and easy set-up – register, log-in, and then visit any existing Alltop category, and simply tick which feeds you wish to include on your own page – then order them by dragging and dropping.

(For reference, this blog appears on Social Media, my Twitter account is on Twitterati, and my other blog, 140char is on Twitter)

And there are now accounts for Dan Thornton, BadgerGravling, TheWayoftheWeb and 140char on My Alltop – although so far, I’ve only had time to add my own feeds and will have to dedicate some time tonight to aggregating my favourite sources to the TheWayoftheWeb and 140Char accounts.

But why?

What’s interesting to me is why they’ve launched personal aggregation – one reason is probably the number of feeds in each category has become a little overwhelming. Guy Kawasaki is claiming the service features 31,000 sources on 550 topics already.

Obviously there is also an SEO benefit in having hundreds of people linking to their personal pages, and it means the service is more likely to get repeated fresh links as people add to their personal pages.

And it might boost usage as some people will prefer their personal aggregation over the category pages.

Plus, bearing in mind Alltop currently serves display advertising, there’s suddenly a lot more real estate being created, promoted and potentially becoming popular.

But:

I’m hoping there are more reasons for launching this new service, in addition to those listed above – otherwise it might not really fly.

As others have rightly pointed out, public and personal aggregators already exist – Netvibes, Pageflakes and iGoogle for starters. Plus options such as Google Reader, which also offers shared items (My shared items are here).

(Incidentally, Marshall Kirkpatrick has been posting some interesting stuff on Netvibes)

And then there are the popularity based aggregators such as SocialMedian, more semantic options like Twine, and the old school (e.g. Digg).

In addition, MyAlltop is hampered slightly by only allowing feeds already listed to be included, and not having any search functionality – meaning you need to skim through some fairly big pages to find your own feeds and any you know/might think are on there.

So what could there be?

Some people might find it slightly simpler to aggregate existing Alltop feeds than on rival services – particularly those who don’t necessarily already know a load of social media bloggers ( for example), and have their RSS feeds in other services.

Then there are the future possible options to include other feeds, display the selection as a widget, flag up favourite posts, perhaps group invidual posts around topics/questions etc, etc.

But from a quick brainstorm, I’m missing what really makes MyAlltop stand out at the moment – so I’m hoping you’ll give me some ideas to include?

twitter as feed reader

It occurred to me the other day that i tend to read the blog posts from those i follow on twitter – who ‘tweet’ new articles via twitterfeed or suchlike – more often than the others in my google reader (which i check once or twice a week at the most).

Wouldn’t be good if there was a twitterfeed – that i can control – that tweets me selected blogs – from my reader – as they happen?
This would save a lot of dicking about between twitter desktop client and browser/feed widget.
Yeah, this kinda happens with friendfeed but I don’t control that – I’m not necessarily friends with most of the authors in my rss reader , whereas with a custom google reader feed into twitter, spec’d by me… is that bit more personal.

Or maybe this functionality already exists? Any thoughts?

UPDATE: I also posted this over at never get out of the boat theres been a couple of comments if you prefer to chime in over there.