Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

Politics, popularity, and personalization

June 22, 2008

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google\'s June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).


To shift or not to shift?

February 9, 2008

It seems to me that there is a growing trend of shifting everything online. By “everything” here I mean our personal computing. Why would you spend scarce gigabytes on your hard drive if you can keep all your email on gmail, all your documents in google docs, all your pictures in picasa, etc.? Having stuff online is not just practical in terms of saving space, but also in terms of access – your online storage can be accessed from anywhere, which is particularly convenient if you happen to use different computers at work, home, school, etc. At the same time, how much trust should we put in the third party company/s in order to keep all our information there (and i am not talking about privacy this time).

As Tarleton mentioned in his last lecture, we tend to pick on the big ones. So, it would not be surprising that I will refer here to Google, which I tend to both appreciate and examine with a critical eye. Usually, my concern with Google is about privacy and about the concentration of search services, however this time it is actually about reliability (and a little bit on consumer service :). Criticizing my skepticism, Leonichka once mentioned that he trusts Google until it does something to prove this wrong. Frankly, it was an important comment in my critical appreciation my thinking about Google. The only remaining question is what happens when this proving-wrong event actually takes place?

Last year I blogged about my not-so-pleasant encounter with gmail, when i was locked out of the email for about a week. Today I read a post by Danah Boyd about her friend’s encounter with Google. If you don’t have time/patience to read the original post, the story is simple. The guy has practically his entire life on Google (gmail, orkut, etc. – they do make great products!), but unfortunately, his account got hijacked (fishing) and soon deleted for spam abuse… (dramatic pause)… oops… (another dramatic pause)… Your work, your hobbies, your contacts, your communication – all is gone…

You do need to read more into Danah’s post to understand that it is not simple talking to Google and getting not-so-standard services from them. Eventually her friend got his data back, which raised another set of questions about “deleting” stuff from Google, but that is for another post.

I am left disturbed and puzzled after reading about this incident. On the one hand, here is a real scenario of potential lost or theft of your information stored online. That does not mean that the same thing cannot happen with the locally stored data. Maybe that is even more common. I, for example, lost some data recently while reinstalling my laptop, but it does not change the fact that the third party online solutions are not immune. On the other hand, it is important to mention the backup services that the online repositories and services provide. I think it is safe to assume that industrial backup processes are more professional compared to a self-performed backup at home. In turn, this aspect raises again questions of privacy and of what happens when you actually want to delete the data. Not to mention of course the horrible costumer service you have to face in order to get your data back (I hope one day they will understand that opening a new account is not always the ultimate solution).

So, here is a question – to shift or not to shift? Or to maintain both environments? And when it is enough evidence to start questioning company’s integrity? When it happens to 1000 random people, 10 people you know, or when it happens to you?

Breaking down Google

February 1, 2008

Well, not really.  Just breaking down Google’s traffic.  Here is an interesting post from HitWise analyzing the breakdown of activity, originating in the US, at different Google’s services.  It is pretty amazing how the use of Google’s services is constantly growing…

Obama on technology

November 15, 2007

Thanks to John Daly’s blog reference I had a chance to watch Barak Obama’s talk at Google yesterday. It is interesting to hear what the candidates have to say about their views of technology, and it is particularly interesting to me as someone who aims at studying this.

First, i think the fact that Obama was talking at Google is interesting. Just a few weeks ago Hilary Clinton, together with her husband, visited Microsoft campus. I find it a little bit symbolic how images of the candidates align with the images of technological companies they chose to visit. Obama went to the young, dynamic, and innovative Google. Clinton went to the established and experienced Microsoft. During his talk and the Q&A, Obama made a few direct references to his resemblance with Google founders.

Second, the rhetoric Obama used to talk about technology. I have to admit it was expectedly technocratic. He talked about the information age, about the inevitable connection between technoloy and progress, and did not forgot to talk about threats from outside to the US technological leadership. To his credit, i have to notice that he explicitly committed to net neutrality (and investment in basic research) and at the same time promised “intense” anti-trust to insure competition. The last point is interesting as Google itself is moving into spotlight of anti-trust authorities. The greatest applause was gained however when he talked about reforming the immigration policy, specifically referring to HB1 visas issue.

The last point i want to highlight is Obama’s reference to the digital divide. Interestingly, i don’t think he ever used the term, but it was a topic crossing his entire talk. Addressing the digital divide he framed it similarly to the mainstream discourse. He talked about access to technology as an issue worldwide and broadband connectivity as the main problem in the US. Literacy was briefly mentioned, but the main topic was still access. It is interesting because this discourse has dominated the US political arena for over a decade now. There was a shift from talking about just access to talking about broadband access, but the primary idea remained.

Somewhat unrelated, but still interesting detail was Obama mentioning that over 300,000 people have profiles on his website. This is not related to the point i was making in this post, but just an interesting fact. If you have the time, here is the video on YouTube:

And if you have extra time, here is a link to the Q&A session. It didn’t really deal with technology, but with more general topics.

Got them getting us

September 10, 2007

I believe many of you heard about Google street view. Well, in our last visit to New York City, Veronica and I got a few pictures of them getting pictures of us. Probably we are not the first ones, but still:




502 final update

September 3, 2007

I didn’t have the time to update on that, but after almost 6 days i did get gmail back together with an apology  from Google for the inconvenience.  Actually they replied to all my help requests with the same standard message.  I did have a short email exchange with them after that, but it wasn’t much more informative.  Interestingly, “The Economist” has dedicated its last issue to challenges Google is facing.  Haven’t read it yet, but i wonder if i just experienced one of them…

502 update

August 27, 2007

Finally! After almost 4 days and 7 help requests i got a reply from Google:

Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention. We have forwarded the information you provided to the appropriate team for further investigation. We appreciate your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
The Google Team

Although it is kind of a progress, it is still far from providing any solution.

In the meantime i learned that i am not alone in this 502 boat.

Over 60 hours and counting

August 26, 2007

Yes, it’s been over 60 hours that i started getting this annoying 502 error from Google. The six reports via their help system haven’t produced any response from the sleeping giant. I am not sure i would buy a stock of a company with such consumer service.

And this is annoying. Not simply annoying, but i am sure also harming my work. A lesson should be learned in terms of using third party services, especially those offered for free. At this point, as i am channeling all work related correspondence to the university address, i am really open for suggestions for Google alternatives for a private email account.

Thank you Leonichka for the comment, it definitely helps to clarify my point.


I notice that many people are hitting this entry.  Unfortunately, there is no solution here and I don’t think that Google has one either.  All you can do is wait and bombard Google with requests for help.  If interested, you can read my update messages and see how long it took me to get it resolved (there is a link in the upper right corner and the answer is over 6 days). 

I relate to your pain, but the only advice i can give is be patient.

Gmail is down

August 25, 2007

It seems like i am facing (hopefully) a promo of my dark googalization prophecy. My gmail account is down for already over 24 hours and i have to admit it is very annoying (especially since i started hearing about emails sent to me that are bouncing back). I contacted Google support already twice about the issue, but am keep on getting an annoying 502 error saying: “We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is currently experiencing errors (...) Please try logging in to your account again in a few minutes.

This made me thinking(again) about the problematics of putting all the communication eggs in one g-basket. Although this time it is only the email service that is not functioning, but what about a scenario where other services linked to the same account stop working? When all our online communication practices are channeled through a single route, what is the potential damage of glitches in that route? Google are trying to make us keep our documents with them, our calendars with them, our pictures with them, our notes, and more… but here i am experiencing a (hopefully) rather minor technical glitch, and that makes me thinking again about yet another downside of googalization.

Gmail frustration

This is me being frustrated with gmail.

July 14, 2007

Unfortunately, I have a meeting in a few minutes and don’t really have time to comment on this article, but thought to post it here for you to read and share your thoughts.  The article is about a law suit of an Australian Competion and Consumer Commission against Google’s management of advertisement and search results.

I’ve been thinking recently about ideas of content regulation in the internet, but more in the context of internet censorship attempts in Israel.  On a larger scale I think these two cases are part of the same discussion and i hope to post about it soon.