Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Are folding smartphones practical?

Posted in computers, ipad, mobile devices by commorancy on April 30, 2019

Today, let’s explore folding smartphones. Are they practical? Do they have a place in the market? Will they last? Are they innovative? Let’s explore.

Tablets vs. Folding Smartphone

Looking at the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Galaxy Fold folding devices, two things become abundantly clear, First, they fold open into the form factor of a tablet. Second, they command a price that’s way, way higher than an actual tablet.

There are also additional problems with these phones. When the phone is folded open, you can’t hold it to your ear and use it as you would a phone. You must fold it closed to regain the phone form factor. Because the larger screen is the primary reason to buy this device, this makes the folding aspect of this device less about being a phone and more about being a tablet. Or, let me put that another way, it’s a gimmick. Why is it a gimmick? Because in addition to the tablet size, you also add creases and marks to the plastic surface each time you fold and unfold the phone. Ultimately, it becomes less about being a tablet and more about the novelty of the folding screen.

For a product that’s supposed to be a premium, top-tier device, I don’t know about you, but I want my surface to be (and remain) pristine. I don’t want to feel surface bumps or lines running down the center of the fold area. I certainly don’t want this stretching and bending plastic to get worse over time. Yet, that’s where these phones clash with…

Materials Science

In other words, this is where these phones meet reality (or physics). To fold any type of material, that material will become marred and marked by the folding action. As the folding continues, the problems will increase with the surface becoming more and more marred. It’s simply the nature of folding something. It’s a limitation of the way physical objects operate when folded. It’s nature.

When applied to a phone’s case design, you will continue to see see the fold area gain marks, bumps and imperfections due to the folding action. To me, this doesn’t say “premium”. It says “cheap”. Plastics see to that “cheapness”. After all, plastics are some of the cheapest materials around today… and plastics are the only substances capable of holding up to any level of folding with a minimum of problems. However, a minimum of problems doesn’t mean zero problems.

The only way this could change is if materials could be made out of a polymer that can heal itself under these folding stresses and stretch and relax appropriately during the fold. To date, no one has been able to produce such a material. This means that folding screen surfaces will inevitably become marked and marred with each fold and unfold action. Over time, it will eventually become a sheer mess of marks… which also assumes the folding action of the OLED screen itself will survive that many folds. Just consider how a paperback book’s spine looks after you’re done reading it. That same effect happens to plastic, even the most resilient of plastics.

OLED Screens and Electronics

I’m not a materials scientist. With that said, I’m also unaware of any specific clear plastic sheet materials that can survive being folded and unfolded many times. Silicone might work, but even then silicone might degrade or break over time. Considering how many times people might utilize a folding screen per day, it could be folded and unfolded perhaps hundreds of times in a single day. If you unfolded the screen just once per day, in 1 year you’d have unfolded the screen 365 times. If you multiply that times 100, that’s likely over 36,500 folds per year… probably more.

While notebook manufacturers have more or less worked out the folding problem with LCD screens (they use flexible ribbon cables), notebooks hinges and components do eventually wear out from regular opening and closing.

In a phone, the problem will be ten times greater. Not only will the phone wear out faster than a non-folding model, the phone will be worth far, far less at the end of your use. No one is going to want to buy a used folding phone that looks like a used paper back book.

Since the hinges on these devices have to be uniquely designed for a smaller phone form factor and to avoid getting in the way of the screen surface, these designs are likely ripe for defects… particularly the first generation phones. And all for what?

A Tablet?

The single unique benefit of the folding phone is to turn the screen into the size of a tablet. While single body phablets worked great when they arrived, this idea of making the screen even bigger in a phone doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s unique. Yes, it’s probably a way to make more sales. But, is it really a good idea? Not really.

Tablets already do what they need to do and they do it well. Arguably, the best tablet I’ve seen created by Samsung is the Galaxy Tab S. It had the perfect form factor for watching movies. It fit in the hand nicely. It had a perfect weight. It also had that amazing OLED screen. It had everything you could want in a tablet.

Now, with folding screens comes a whole new paradigm of software to drive the folding action. When unfolded, it’s basically a tablet. When folded, it becomes a phone form factor. To move between the small folded screen and the larger unfolded screen seamlessly between apps, app support must be built. This requires whole new set of OS libraries and software to support that action.

Unfortunately, neither Android nor IOS supports this folding screen usability. Instead, Samsung has cobbled together some early drivers and software for its Galaxy Fold. With the Huawei’s Mate X, it’s not even that far along. If you buy into one of these convertibles, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when moving between the small and large screens within the same app. Some apps might update properly, many more will not.

That doesn’t mean the OSes won’t catch up, but it will take some time. It also means growing pains until the OS technology catches up.

Phone and Tablet Together

Tablets and phones should be married. I’ve said that for quite some time. There’s no reason to carry around two devices when you can carry around one. However, it doesn’t need to fold. Carrying around a tablet as both a tablet and a phone is perfectly fine. Simply marry the innards of a phone into a Tablet and voila, a new device. I’d be perfectly fine carrying around a tablet the size of the iPad Mini as my primary phone. It’s small enough to be portable and large enough to do what I need to do on a tablet. There’s no need to fold it in half.

Gimmicks

Unfortunately, technology has moved away from producing useful new features and has moved firmly into adding gimmicks to sell new devices. From FaceID to the ever growing number of unnecessary cameras to now this folding action. For cameras, one camera is fine. Two borders on a gimmick. Adding three or more cameras is most definitely a gimmick to part you from your money. You don’t need multiple cameras on a phone. One is enough.

Folding is also a gimmick. The idea of folding isn’t new. We’ve had folding books, folding paper and folding binders… heck, there are even “folders” so named to hold paper in filing cabinets.

Folding a phone? Not necessary. Gimmick? Definitely. It’s particularly a gimmick because of the problem with materials science. If you know your phone is going to end up looking like trash at the end of one year’s use, then why bother? I know phones are designed to last one year before buying another, but that purchase cycle is insane. I’ve never fallen into that manufacturing and purchasing trap. I expect my phones to last at least 3 years, sometimes before even needing a battery change.

I’ve always held onto my phone for at least 1-2 new phone release cycles before buying a new one. Lately, it’s been 2-3 cycles because I’m currently invested in the Apple universe and I vehemently dislike the iPhone X’s design. I have an iPhone 7 Plus. I abhor the notched screen. I dislike that Apple invested in a costly OLED screen not only include that notch, but also reduce the color rendition to mimic an LCD screen. If you’re planning on degrading an OLED screen’s rendition, then use the cheaper LCD screen technology. An OLED screen offers a very intense saturated look. Some people don’t like it, but many do. The point to offering a screen capable of that level of color saturation is to make use of it, not hide it.

With the iPhone X, I dislike that there’s no TouchID button. I also dislike that the screen isn’t flush to the full edge of the case. There’s still a small black bezel around the entire screen except near that ugly, ugly notch. I also don’t like the introduction of the rounded display corners. It worked on the Mac back in the day, but not on a phone. Keep the corners firmly square.

Worse, at the time the iPhone X arrived, my iPhone 7 Plus’s screen was still larger than the iPhone X. It wasn’t until the iPhone X Max arrived that we got a comparable screen size to the 7 Plus. I digress.

Gimmicks are now firmly driving the phone industry rather than outstanding design and usability features. The last outstanding iPhone design that Apple produced was arguably the iPhone 7. It solved all of the glass design problems around the iPhone 4, the small screen of the iPhone 5 and the bendgate problems of the iPhone 6. It is arguably, indeed, the best phone Apple has yet designed. Then, they introduced the abomination known as the iPhone X.

At the same time as the iPhone X, Apple introduced the iPhone 8. The iPhone 8 seems much like an extension of the iPhone 7, but with wireless charging. Yes, wireless charging would have been great IF Apple hadn’t cancelled the AirPower charger base they had promised. Now that that product is non-existent, the point to wireless charging an iPhone has more or less evaporated. Sure, you can wireless charge an iPhone with a Qi charger, but at such a slow rate it’s not worth considering.

The AirPower’s whole reason to exist was to charged the phone (and other devices) supposedly faster than a Lightning cable. Perhaps Apple will finally release their fast charging specs to the industry so that Qi chargers can finally build in this faster charging feature and offer similar charging times as the aforementioned, but now defunct AirPower base. But, we know Apple, they’ve just shot themselves in the foot and they won’t do anything about it. Now that the AirPower is dead, so likely too is the hope of super fast wireless charging.

AirPods 2

This whole situation with the AirPower (and really this is more about Apple’s failure to deliver a workable product) is made far, far worse with the release of the the AirPods 2. It’s like Apple has some big sadistic streak towards its customers by cancelling a completely necessary product in one breath, then announce the AirPods 2 “with wireless charging case” in the next.

One of the primary reasons the AirPods 2 exist is for the wireless charging case. Unfortunately, even with Lightning, the charging speed of the AirPods is still incredibly slow. Considering how much slower Qi chargers operate, it will take infinitely more time to charge the case of the AirPods 2. You don’t want this if you’re trying to get out the door to your destination. This means that those who had banked on the wireless charging capability for purchase of the AirPods 2 with the wireless charging (a case that costs $80 separately or adds $40 to the price of standard AirPods) because of the AirPower’s faster performance has now been misled by Apple. Thus, this makes the primary selling point of the AirPods 2 now worthless.

If anything, the cancellation of the AirPower wireless charging pad clearly shows Apple’s failure as a company. Not only did the engineers fail to design and deliver a seemingly simplistic device, Apple as a company failed the consumer by not carrying through with their ecosystem continuity plans. Plans that, if they had come to fruition, could have seen to the existence of a much wider array of wireless devices aided by the AirPower.

The AirPods are pretty much a case of “you-can’t-have-one-without-the-other”. Failing the delivery of the AirPower means you’ve failed the delivery of the AirPods 2 by extension. It’s this double whammy failure that will hit Apple hard.

In fact, it’s even worse than a double-whammy for the future of Apple. It impacts future iPhone sales, future iPad sales, future Apple Watch sales and, in general, any other wireless charging device Apple might have had in its design queue. The failure to deliver the AirPower base is a major blow to Apple’s innovation and the Apple ecosystem as a whole.

Apple’s Apathy

The management team at Apple appears to be apathetic to this wider problem. I can hear them now, “Let’s just cancel AirPower”. Another person says, “But, it’s going to be needed for many future devices”. Another person says, “Don’t worry about that. Just cancel it.”

Apathy is the antithesis of Innovation. These two concepts have no symbiotic relationship. There was a time when Apple (or more specifically, Steve Jobs) would push his teams to deliver amazing designed products with features 5-10 years ahead of their time. Now Apple can’t even deliver a similar product that already exists in the marketplace by other manufacturers.

You can’t run a business on apathy. You can only run a business on doing. If Apple is smart, they’ll announce the cancellation of AirPower, but quickly announce an even better wireless charging alternative that’s even faster than the AirPower. Without a solid, reliable and performant wireless charging system, devices like the now-wireless charging AirPods 2 are left hanging. The Apple Watch is left hanging. And… Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone X is also being left hanging without a net.

Innovation and Gimmicks

While I know I got off on an Apple tangent, it was to prove a point. That point being that gimmicks like wireless charging cases, must have functional sister products to bring that product to life. Without such symbiotic sister products, a half-product is very much simply an on-paper gimmick to sell more product.

Clearly, Apple is now firmly in gimmick territory in its attempts to make money. So is Samsung, Huawei and even LG. It’s more about innovating and making truly new and exciting products we’ve never seen, than it is about adding more cameras, or bigger batteries or making it thinner or adding a pencil or even, yes, folding. These featires are the “accessories” that add value to an innovative product, but these are not primary driving factors.

If you want to wow the industry, you make a product no one has ever seen before. We’ve seen both the Huawei Mate X and the Galaxy Fold before, in tablets and in phones. Marrying the two together doesn’t make innovation, it makes iteration. There’s a substantial difference between iteration and innovation. Iteration is taking two existing concepts and marrying them together. Innovation is producing a product that has never before existed like that ever. Tablets already exist even if they don’t fold.

The iPad as Innovation

The iPad is a game changing, innovative device. The only even close product would have been in the early 90’s with Grid’s GRiDPad. The only similarity between the iPad and the GRiDPad is the fact that they were both tablets by function. Both have completely different philosophies on what a tablet is, how it works and how it looks. The GRiDPad failed because it didn’t know what to be at a time when it needed a clear reason to exist. This is particularly true when such a form factor had never before existed. People need to be able to wrap their head around why a tablet needs to exist. With Grid, they couldn’t.

The reason Apple’s iPad succeeded was not only because of the form factor, but because Apple also put an amazing amount of time and thought into how a tablet form factor works, feels in the hand and how the touch interface works. They gave people the understanding of how and why a tablet is useful… something Grid failed to do with the GRiDPad. It also didn’t hurt that Apple had a solid, robust operating system in MacOS X that they could tweak and use as a base to drive the user interface. Grid, on the other hand, didn’t. They didn’t build an ecosystem, they didn’t have an app store, they didn’t have a proper operating system, they didn’t really even have apps. There was the tablet, but on the other side of the equals sign there was nothing.

Apple’s design thought of nearly everything from top to bottom and from form to function to ecosystem. Apple offered the consumer the total package. Grid got the form down, but not the function. Apple nailed nearly everything about the iPad from the start.

In fact, Apple nailed so much about the iPad from the beginning, Apple has not actually been able to improve upon that design substantially. Everything that Apple has added to iOS has been created not to improve upon the touch UI, but to add missing features, like cut and paste and Siri. In fact, Siri is as equally important innovation to the iPad, but it’s not truly needed for the iPad. It’s much more important innovation for the iPhone, because of the hands free nature that a phone needs while driving. Siri is, in fact, the single most important achievement to create a safer driving experience… something you won’t be doing on an iPad, but you will be doing on an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Steve Jobs

The Apple achievements I mention wouldn’t have been possible without Steve Jobs. Steve was not only a truly masterful marketer, he was also a visionary. He may not have personally designed the product, but he knew exactly what he wanted in the device. He was definitely visionary when it came to simplicity of design, when combined with everyday life.

You definitely want simplicity. You want easy to access software systems. You want intuitive touch interfaces. You want to be able to get in and out of interfaces in one or two touches. You don’t want to dig ever deeper in menu after menu after menu simply to get to a single function. Steve Jobs very much endorsed Keep-It-Simple-Stupid (or the KISS) philosophy. For example, the creation of single button mice. The placing of a single button on the front of the iPad. These are all very much the KISS design philosophy. It’s what makes people’s lives easier rather than more complicated.

Unfortunately, after Steve Jobs’s death in 2011, that left a huge KISS gap at Apple, which as only widened since. Even iOS and MacOS X have succumbed to this change in design philosophy. Instead of adopting KISS, Apple has abandoned that design goal and, instead, replaced it with deeper and deeper menus, with more complicated UI interfaces, with less simplistic user experiences and with buggier releases. The bugs being simply an outcome of dropping the KISS design idea. More complicated software means more bugs. Less complicated software means less bugs.

Some might argue FaceID makes your life simpler. Yes, it might… when it works, at the added cost of privacy problems. Problems that were solved just as simply with TouchID, adding none of those nasty privacy issues.

Samsung and Apple

While Samsung played catch-up with Apple for quite a while, Samsung got ahead by buying into component manufacturing, including the manufacture of OLED screens. In fact, Samsung became one of the leaders in OLED screen fabrication. If there’s an OLED screen in a product, there’s a high likelihood it was made by Samsung.

This meant that most OLED Android smart phones contain a Samsung part even if the phone was designed and produce by LG or Huawei or Google. This component level aspect of Samsung’s technology strategy has helped Samsung produce some of the best looking and functioning Android smart phones. For this same reason and because of the Apple and Samsung rivalry, Apple shunned using OLED for far too long. Because of the ever continual Samsung vs. Apple argument, Apple refused to add OLED screens into their devices… thus stunting Apple’s ability to innovate in the iPhone space for many years.

The OLED screen also allowed Samsung to produce the first “phablet” (combination phone and tablet). Bigger than most smart phones, smaller than a tablet. It offered users a larger phone screen to better surf Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was an iterative improvement to be sure, definitely not innovative in the truest sense. However, it definitely leapfrogged Samsung way ahead of Apple in screen quality and size. This is where Samsung leaped over Apple and made a serious niche for themselves… and it is also what propelled Android phones front and center. The “phablet” is what firmly propelled Samsung ahead of Apple and it is what has firmly kept them there.

In fact, Apple is now so far behind Samsung that it is now playing continual catch-up with it screen technologies, with wireless charging, with smart watches and with pretty much every other “innovation” Samsung has offered in since 2015.

One might argue that the AirPods were something new an innovative. Sure, but they were simply an iterative improvement over the EarPods (the wired version). The part of the AirPods that are, in fact, innovative is not the ear buds themselves, but the magnetic charging case. This case design is, in fact, the thing that sets these earbuds apart from every other set of wireless earbuds. This case, in fact, is one of the last few KISS design bastions I’ve seen come out of Apple. Unfortunately, as sleek as the case design is, the software behind it is equally as clumsy and not at all KISS in design.

The AirPods pair fast and easy using an instant recognizing system, but actually using the AirPods can be a chore. Sometimes the AirPods fail to connect at all. Sometimes one of them fails to connect. When a phone call comes in and you place an earbud in your ear, the phone still answers on the internal speaker even though the earbud is connected. When you try to move the audio to the earbud, the option is not even available. Sometimes you hear dropouts and stuttering while listening to music just inches away from the phone. Yes, the software is entirely clumsy. It’s so clumsy, in fact, it’s really something I would have expected to see from Android instead of iOS.

Commitment to Excellence

When Jobs was operating the innovation arm at Apple, the commitment to excellence was palpable. Since Jobs’s has left us, Apple’s commitment to excellence has entirely vanished. Not only are their products no longer being produced with the Jobs level of expected excellence, it’s not even up to a standard level of industry excellence. It’s now what one might expect to get from McDonald’s, not a three star Michelin rated restaurant. Apple, at one point, was effectively a three star Michelin-rated restaurant. Today, Apple is the Wendy’s of the computer world. Wendy’s is better than most and they make a good hamburger, but it is in no way gourmet. This is what Apple has become.

Samsung fares even worse. Samsung has never been known for its commitment to excellence. In fact, for a long time, I’ve been aware that Samsung’s products, while pretty and have great screens, are not at all built to last. They have small parts that wear out quickly and eventually break. Sometimes the units just outright fall apart. For the longest time I steered clear of Samsung products simply because their commitment to excellence was so far below Apple (even at where Apple is today), I simply couldn’t trust Samsung to produce a lasting product.

Recently, Samsung has mostly proven me wrong, at least for the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Tab S. This smart phone and tablet have held up amazingly well. The OLED screens still look tantalizingly sharp and crisp. The processors are still fast enough to handle most of what’s being pushed out today… which is still much better than the speed of an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 released around the same time. Apple’s products simply don’t stand up to the test of time. However, Samsung’s older products have. That’s a testament to the improved build quality of Samsung devices.

However, commitment to excellence is not a commitment to innovation. The two, while related, are not the same. I’d really like to see Apple and Samsung both commit to excellence in innovation instead of creating devices based on gimmicks.

Full Circle

We’ve explored a lot of different aspects of technology within this article. Let’s bring it all home. The point is that innovation, true innovation, is what drives technology forward. Iterative innovation does not. It improves a device slightly, but it waters down the device in the process. You don’t want to water down devices, you want to build new, innovative devices that improve our lives, make our homes better, faster, safer, easier… and make access to information quicker and, overall, help improve our daily lives.

We don’t want to fight with devices to hear our voices over a fan. We don’t want to have to guess the phrase to use with Siri through iterative trial-and-error to make it give us specific information. We don’t want to have to flash the phone in front of our faces several times before FaceID recognizes us. We don’t want to dig through menu, after menu, after menu simply to enable or disable a function. That’s not easy access, that’s complication. Complications belong on smart watches, not on phones.

In short, we need to get back to the KISS design philosophy. We need to declutter, simplify, make devices less obtuse and more straightforward. Lose the menus and give us back quick access to device functions. We need to make buttons bigger, rather than smaller on touch screens. Teeny-tiny buttons have no place on a touch screen. We’ve gone backwards rather than forwards with touch interfaces on tablets and phones… yes, even on iOS devices.

Folding phones are not simple. In fact, they are the opposite of simple. Simple is making phone usability easier, not more tricky. Adding a folding screen adds more complication to the phone, not less. Lose the folding. We need to shorten, simplify and reduce. We need to make mobile devices, once again, Steve Jobs simple.

↩︎

 

 

Advertisements

Rant: Google Ethics Board?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2019

PadlockGoogle has chosen to put together an “Ethics Board” to evaluate the “Morality” of Google’s uses of AI in its products. Will this be enough? Do we trust the people chosen for this task? Personally, I don’t. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Ethics Board

While it’s commendable that Google sees the need for such a board (particularly after its privacy encroaching devices), the difficulty is in knowing if this move is simply window dressing for Google or if this board actually has teeth. My guess is that this board is simply there to take money from Google and place it into each Ethics Board Member’s pocket… and Google is still allowed to get away with its prying privacy-encroaching technologies, more now than ever. This is actually a typical sly corporate tactic regularly used in California to “look good” (specifically to regulators) rather than actually performing.

The reality is, putting random people on a board from seeming positions of trust is completely questionable. I don’t know any of the people chosen, so how can I possibly trust any of them to make the right decision for Google, let alone the consumer? Additionally, are these people versed enough in Google’s technology initiatives to even have a practical say in the matter? Likely not. Will they even be given access to Google’s upcoming technologies? Likely not.

Window Dressing

Unfortunately, many companies do see the need for such oversight, but they set it all up in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons. This is a prime example. Hiring random folks from colleges to “oversee” Google is akin to McDonald’s hiring random folks from non-food industries to oversee its food quality. Seriously, what are these people really going to do?

I can’t even imagine that this board will have any teeth to actually steer Google away from its privacy-encroaching unsavory-uses of its always-on listening devices. Even Amazon has not put together such a “committee”. The only thing this board will likely end up being is a patsy for when Google is found to have violated its own business ethics. They can then look to this board and say, “Well, you approved it” and then point the finger at the board for failing to “foresee” a problem. It’s a way to make shit run down hill and land on these unsuspecting folks on this board.

If I were considered for this board, I’d be highly skeptical of taking that position. It’s simply going to be a shitstorm for that board after Google does something questionable… and believe me, Google will.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

This saying is very apt in this situation. I can’t possibly see anything good coming from the decision to put together this board internally. The only way to possibly oversee a company like Google is from without, not within. There’s no way Google can watch itself ethically. If you’re paying people to watch your business ethics a**, there’s already an ethical dilemma. Because they’re on your payroll, they can’t exactly be ethically impartial. If some board member actually does try to “steer” Google away from some ethical problem, Google can simply replace the board member with someone more amenable to Google’s “new” strategy.

This is a no-win situation for Google, ethics or privacy. The only way this works is if an oversight committee is created by the US Congress (and other governing bodies) to oversee Google, Amazon and other AI offerings the size of Google. Only a third party government committee who is not on a company’s payroll can possibly (and legally) steer companies away from unethical consumer situations.

Unfortunately, the US is far too pro-business and far too anti-consumer privacy to offer up such an oversight committee. There is absolutely no way the government would put the brakes on Google or Amazon or any other company of this size even if what they are doing is ethically questionable.

Privacy Encroaching Devices

As a consumer, you need to consider long and hard about putting such devices into your home. Other than Google Chrome, I do not use have or use Google devices in my home. I already know Google can’t be trusted with this data. Google is an advertising company. It is designed to advertise to you. It’s designed to take what it learns about you and then feed ads to you that “fit” with your needs. In short, it is designed to watch what you do (invade your privacy) and then tailor advertisements based on the data it learned when it eavesdropped. Google is the very opposite definition of privacy. They want to know everything about you so they can “better” target you with ads. Amazon is a much smaller scale version of this. They only do this in relation to the Amazon.com web site.

Google has tentacles pretty much everywhere including within Chrome, Chromebooks, Google Home devices, ChromeCast and, yes, even in Android smart phones… especially in Android smart phones. The biggest problem is “Okay, Google” always on listening devices. There’s no way to know exactly what Google can listen to when it’s always listening… or exactly how that information might be used by Google.

The basic problem around this data collection is that Google stores that information about you on their servers. Servers which can be hacked. Data which can be leaked. Information that can be lost. It’s happened. It will happen again. Such an “Ethics Committee” put together by Google is, by it’s very design, strictly “window dressing”… and nothing more. They can’t stop leaks. They can’t stop data loss. They certainly can’t stop Google’s technology advancements.

Consumers Suffer the Consequences

Unfortunately, this means that consumers must suffer these insufferable consequences from companies like Google. The only way to steer a company like Google is through the courts, lawsuits and eventually the passing of laws. The only way to stop the likes of Google from breaching these unwritten ethical contracts is by holding Google, Amazon and others accountable to the courts of law when they break laws and/or when they go well beyond ethical boundaries. No board of ethics on Google’s dole is likely to stop that.

Having Google set up such an internal committee ultimately means, again, that this move is simply window dressing. These chosen board members, while they might have good intentions, are on the payroll of Google. This, by design, already means there’s an ethical dilemma. Taking Google’s money means you ultimately answer to Google. It also means that when something “bad” happens, that ethics board will end up being Google’s “fall guy”. So then, who watches the watcher?

There’s just no way that this situation ends well for either that ethics board or Google or ultimately, the consumer.

↩︎

 

Rant Time: YouTube, Copyrights and Content ID

Posted in botch, business, Google, youtube by commorancy on May 16, 2017

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know what YouTube is. It is a video sharing platform that allows anyone to post video content onto the Internet. YouTube offers the likes of travel videos, personal vlogs, how to guides, DIY projects, music to all types of random content. However, Hollywood has forced Google to employ more and more heavy handed techniques to video uploads to (ahem) protect big Hollywood copyright content. This system is severely flawed. Let’s explore.

YouTube Channel ownership

While it’s fun to run around on YouTube looking for all kinds of weird content, let’s look at what it’s like to be a channel owner and all the fun we’re not having. While I do like writing blog articles, I also have a gaming channel on YouTube. So, I have personal experience with this issue. I like to play games on my consoles and upload recorded game content to YouTube for others to share in my fun.

As a channel owner, you really don’t get many tools other than a content uploader and metadata tools to tweak a video’s description, tags, monetization settings, language, etc. As a channel owner, YouTube offers no tools to the owner to validate that your content is, in fact, your content. Meaning, for example, you might have taken a video of a day at the beach with wave sounds in the background. Then, you’ve uploaded it. Or, you’re playing Grand Theft Auto and you record your session (minus any copyrighted audio to not trigger YouTube’s audio content detection system) and upload. Here’s where things start to fall apart.

YouTube Content ID and content ownership

Besides being a channel owner or a viewer, there is also a third lesser known management meta user. This interface is intended to be used by Hollywood and the music industry. It was designed for the likes of EMI, Sony and other large music and movie conglomerate content creators (mostly by legal threats to Google). This system allows those content creators to submit their content to YouTube into the Content ID system. What is Content ID?

Content ID is a way for YouTube’s automated system to match a channel owner’s content against a copyright owner’s uploaded reference content. Seems like a legitimate thing. I mean, it allows artist’s representatives to make sure their content isn’t being placed onto YouTube unauthorized. Where’s the problem then?

YouTube is the problem

Here’s the rant. The problem is that ANYONE can create a meta content management account and begin uploading any content they wish against YouTube’s content ID matching system. YouTube requires no verification by any alleged content creator. They create a content meta account, get approved (which is apparently relatively easy), upload random content and begin matching against videos on people’s channels. In fact, I’ve even seen content management accounts grab original videos from other people’s channels, download them from YouTube, upload them into the content ID matching system and claim ownership over material that they stole from the original owner. Yes, you can even upload content you downloaded from another YouTube channel and claim ownership of that content in your channel… though, that’s called copyright infringement.

YouTube has taken its somewhat usable platform and turned it into a joke. YouTube is a disaster if you actually expect YouTube to help you protect your own original copyrighted content. Yes, it does allow someone to download a video you own, upload it and then claim ownership of it.

Let’s keep going. What happens when content ID matches a video uploaded through the meta content management account against a channel? YouTube does several things:

  1. It flags the video on the first channel owner as copyrighted content matched against another channel. Basically, the system tells one channel that another channel has claimed ownership over that content even if the claim is false (we’ll come back to false claims).
  2. It allows the alleged ownership claimant to monetize the video (even if they do not own the content).
  3. It allows the first channel owner to dispute the copyright claim, remove the video or leave it up (depending on how the content ID matcher is used).
  4. If the content owner claims exclusive content claims on the content, the content on the first channel can be taken down or deleted.

Disputes

Here’s where the entire system falls apart. While YouTube can match content fairly rapidly, filing a dispute can take days, weeks or sometimes months to resolve. All the while the content is in dispute, YouTube allows the claimant access to monetization over the content in question. Here’s the bigger rub (as if monetizing content you don’t own isn’t big enough).

False claimants are never at all verified by Google. YouTube’s content ID matching system assumes fair play by those approved to use it. That is, people who create meta content accounts are on their honor to upload content that they actually own. In fact, this isn’t happening. While legitimate usage of this system is happening by big content providers, many lesser channels have learned to game the system to claim ownership over content they don’t rightfully own and don’t have the rights to monetize. This is especially true for channels outside the US (i.e. Russia and Vietnam) where copyright rules don’t apply in the same way as in the US. This ridiculous YouTube help article which discusses setting up a meta content account states:

“Content ID acceptance is based on an evaluation of each applicant’s actual need for the tools. Applicants must be able to provide evidence of the copyrighted content for which they control exclusive rights.”

Yeah riiiiiight. Content evidence of what exactly? Copyrights, especially on YouTube are nebulous at best. What are you expected to show, the camera it was created on? How does that prove anything? There’s no way to know that any particular video was produced on any particular camera. YouTube doesn’t show camera EXIF information in the video’s metadata.

Copyright Basics

US Copyright law states that as soon as a work is created, you are automatically the owner of it and possess all worldwide copyright ownership to this work in perpetuity. This is considered an implicit copyright. You don’t have to do anything other than create the work to own it. This assumes some basics like, it must produced entirely by you on your own equipment and on your own time. However, some countries, like China, don’t recognize implicit copyrights at all. Instead, to protect your copyrights in the countries that don’t recognize implicit copyrights, you are required to fill out forms, possibly pay a fee and likely submit your work as evidence. Only then will your work be explicitly acknowledged by the government to exist and that you own that work.

For example, when you’re using your own personal phone to take video of you playing games at an arcade, this work is now considered fully owned by you under US Copyright Law. The moment the video (and audio) is created, it’s yours. On the other hand, if you are hired as an employee of a production company, and that company owns the equipment and they have hired a camera crew to follow you around watching you play games, you won’t own that video content because the production company paid to create it. Of course, there are pesky things like contracts that can explicitly authorize or deny ownership of copyrights to any party involved in a production. So, if your content is created under a contract, you should read your ownership rights carefully. Just because you were involved in a production, doesn’t necessarily mean you have any copyrights to that material.

Evidence of Copyright Ownership?

In this day and age of immediate gratification, YouTube content owners rely on implicit copyright ownership protections to allow their channels to exist. That is, as soon as the content is created and edited (implicit copyright ownership), it’s uploaded to YouTube.

In the case of copyrights, how can anyone sufficiently provide ‘evidence’  over any content? What kind of evidence does YouTube expect to see? The camera it was shot on? The recording studio that it was recorded at? A bill of sale? Seriously, how can you possibly provide ‘evidence’ of ownership for copyrights?

The only way to provide even the smallest amount of evidence is to submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office for registry. Let’s understand why this is not exactly feasible for most YouTube content. At the moment of this article…

  • It costs $35 to register a single work (one poem, one video, one work of art).
  • It costs $55 to submit multiple works together (a collection of poems, videos or songs).
  • Who knows how long it will take the copyright office to actually register them so that you have ‘proof’.

Sure, while you could do this to, ahem, protect your works, it’s expensive and what exactly does it do for you? The Government won’t stand up on your behalf. The copyright office is merely a registry, not a legal team. They won’t help you protect your content, that’s your responsibility to find a lawyer. It’s also not like Google will get involved in copyright disputes either. For the prices listed above, that would cost $35 for every single video you upload to YouTube and that only registers your work in the US, not necessarily in other countries. It doesn’t give you any specific legal protections other than someone can go look it up, like Google. You may be required to register your content in many different countries to protect your rights in those locales. You’re also responsible for hiring a lawyer to protect your content (regardless of whether it’s registered).

Google and Copyright Disputes

Google outright states they do not get involved in copyright disputes. Yet, by providing a content ID system, content matching and marking videos in YouTube as being claimed by another channel, this absolutely, most definitely is the very definition of getting involved.

If you don’t get involved in copyright disputes, you don’t create controls to help manage disputes. Meaning, it’s entirely disingenuous to create a copyright dispute system and then when someone disputes a claim (that your system sent us notification) state that you don’t get involved. You can’t claim that. You already ARE involved by providing the notification system.

Worse, once you begin the dispute process, Google’s YouTube team doesn’t care. They don’t actually attempt to review the content, the owners or anything related to the dispute at all. They just let the two parties fight it out even if the content isn’t owned by either of them.

Content ID System is Half-Assed Designed + False Claims

Google’s YouTube team got this content system just far enough to make Hollywood and the music industry happy because they can kill content on channels matching their own content catalog. Yet, Google never brought it far enough to actually prevent scammers from abusing it. Instead, Google lets random scammer channel owners run roughshod all over YouTube’s other channels without any consequences. I’ve seen scammer channels claim false copyrights over multiple legitimate channels (even my own) using content that they clearly do not hold copyrights over and yet those channels STILL exist on YouTube. Google does nothing about this. Why was this channel not closed? Clearly, these scammer channels have willfully violated copyright laws using YouTube’s woefully under designed crap of a content detection system to facilitate these false claim(s).

Claiming false copyright ownership over content is, in fact, copyright infringement and very much against copyright law. However, because most of these scammers are outside of the US, Google won’t do anything… not even close the scammer’s channel. Though, sometimes Google will close the legitimate channel and leave the scammer operating. That false claimant had to copy and upload that content to YouTube’s matching system which, in itself, is a violation of copyright laws. This means that Google’s content ID system facilitates false copyright claims and makes Google an accessory to copyright infringement. Google allowed the copyright infringement to take place and allowed the fraudulent claimant’s channel(s) to profit off of that infringement. This is a legal situation just waiting to happen.

Google, fix your shit. YouTube is quickly becoming an unusable mess of a video sharing platform and is now just one big lawsuit waiting to happen against Google. A lawsuit against Google for not only being an accessory to copyright infringement, but providing a service that actually enables copyright infringement in a system that’s supposed to prevent it. Ironic. Such a lawsuit, if won, might ultimately be the end of YouTube.

If you’re an IP lawyer reading this and you would to have a discussion about this situation, please leave me a note on the Randosity About Page.

Rant Time: Google+ is finally dead

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on July 28, 2015

All things must come to an end, some sooner than others. Google+ is now officially dead and being withdrawn from Google’s product suites one at a time starting with YouTube. To Google I say, thank you.

Good riddance to bad rubbish

I’m not saying that Google+ wasn’t well conceived, it just wasn’t well designed. As with a lot of Google’s products, they are created with the best of intentions, but the actual deployment of the idea leaves a lot to be desired. Google+ was definitely one that falls into the leaving-lots-to-be-desired category. It’s sad too because had Google done it right, they could have overtaken Facebook.

Instead of turning Google+ into a system that was actually useful, they used it as a back end single-signon product. Meaning, instead of being actually usable as a social platform to meet and discuss cool things with people you didn’t know, it ended up being just another single-signon tool. Yet another profile to be managed in thousands of other profiles. Not only that, they tied it into every product in the Google chain. This meant that in order to use any other Google product, you were forced to sign up for a Google+ account whether you used it or not.

The Real Problem? YouTube

Google+’s main bane was YouTube. Once Google got it into their heads that this was the end-all-be-all platform, they integrated it into YouTube in a way that made YouTube practically impossible to have discussions any longer. So, you would watch a video and then try to comment. In some cases you could, in other cases you couldn’t. The Reply link was sometimes there and sometimes not. I realize the reason why. It had to do with Google+ permissions. If the user didn’t allow people outside the ‘circles’ to comment, their thread was closed. This made it almost impossible to have decent conversations with people. Additionally, all of the old YouTube comments prior to the Google+ integration were entirely closed. You couldn’t comment on these at all (even if they were a month old). Frustrating.

A Social Platform?

Hardly. While Facebook isn’t the best at being a social platform, it is still a whole lot better than Google+ ever was. In fact, Google+ was so convoluted, you’d sometimes get comments from YouTube, sometime from Google+ and sometimes from both in your inbox. There was no rhyme or reason as to why it was this way. It just was.

I know what Google was trying to do here, they just didn’t do it well. Their version of a social platform was so all-over-the-place that it just wasn’t fun to use. It was even harder to find people on it, though they tried to make it easy through the Google contacts and circles. But, it just wasn’t easy or fun to use.

Google’s overreaching TOS

Worse, violating Google+’s terms and conditions could get your Google account closed, no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you valued your Google account, you really didn’t want to muck with Google+ for fear of writing the wrong thing and triggering the wrath of Google down on your account. With Facebook, no problem. If your Facebook account is closed (not likely), it wouldn’t affect your email accounts or any thing else in Google’s network. With Twitter, also no problem. If either of these social accounts are closed, it’s an inconvenience. If your email account closes, that’s a major problem.

Tying this supposed social platform to all of Google’s terms meant you were very limited in what you could say or do without accidentally triggering the wrath of the Google admins. If you did manage to trigger the wrath of the Google admins and they closed your account, there was no easy appeals process. It was simply better to play it safe than endanger your email account. It was far easier to participate in Twitter and Facebook and not worry about that problem.

Distractions

At best, Google+ was an unnecessary idea that didn’t need to be realized. In fact, for far too long Google has been distracted. Distracted with Android, distracted with Google+, distracted with Gmail, distracted with Google Apps, distracted with Postini, distracted with Blogger and distracted with Ad Words. It’s not that these other platforms aren’t worth it to the people who use them, it’s just that Google’s bread and butter is still Search. But, what of Search? When was the last time Google really made any innovations around search or in making searching better? Not recently. The last innovation to Search was Ad Words and that was less about innovation and more about monetizing it. That was also a very long time ago.

It’s time for Google to shed many of these silly distractions and get back to their core business… Search. Let’s get rid of these unnecessary distractions like Google+ and shed the baggage that has been encumbering Google as of late. Until Google can really focus on its core products, it will continue to flounder with these dead and dying products like Google+.

It’s long overdue for Google to kill off some of these useless unnecessary products and I’m glad to see that Google+ is the first to go. Perhaps Google is now on its way to recovering from this string of recent bad decisions it has been making. Though to see this, we will have to wait as only time will tell.

For now, I say with passion, “Good riddance to bad rubbish. Goodbye Google+.”

Tagged with: ,

Rant Time: You gotta hate Lollipop

Posted in Android, botch, business by commorancy on May 27, 2015

You know, I can’t understand the predilection for glaring white background and garish bright colors on a tablet. In comes Lollipop trying to act all like iOS and failing miserably at it. OMG, Lollipop has to be one of the most garish and horrible UI interfaces that has come along in a very long time. Let’s explore.

Garish Colors on Blinding White

Skeumorphism had its place in the computer world. Yes, it was ‘old timey’ and needed to be updated, but to what exactly? One thing can be said, skeumorphism was at least easy on the eyes. But, Lollipop with its white backgrounds and horrible teals, pinks and oranges? Really? This is considered to be ‘better’? Sorry, but no. A thousand times, no. As a graphic designer and artist, this is one of the worst UI choices for handheld devices.

If, for example, the engineers actually used the light sensor on the damned things and then determined that when it’s dark in the room and then changed the UI to something easier in the dark, I’d be all over that. But, nooooooo. You’re stuck with these stupid blinding white screens even when the room is pitch black. So there you have your flashlight lighting up your face all while trying to use your tablet. I mean, how stupid are these UI designers? You put light sensors on it… use them.

Stupid UI Designers?

Seriously, I’ll take skeumorphism over these blazing white screens any day. I mean seriously? Who in their right mind thought that this in any way looked good? Why rip a page from Apple’s horrible design book when you don’t have to. I’ll be glad when Lollipop is a thing of the past and Google has decided to blaze their own UI way. No Google, you don’t need to follow after Apple.

Just because some asinine designer at Apple thinks this looks good doesn’t mean that it actually does. Get rid of the white screens. Let’s go back to themes so we can choose the way we want our systems to look. Blaze your own path and give users the choice of the look of their OS. Choice is the answer, not forced compliance.

Smaller and Smaller

What’s with the smaller and smaller panels and buttons all of a sudden? At first the pull down was large and fit nicely on the screen. The buttons were easy to touch and sliders easy to move. Now it’s half the size with the buttons and sliders nearly impossible to grab and press. Let’s go back to resizing buttons so they are finger friendly on a tablet, mkay? The notification pulldown has now been reduced in size for no apparent reason. Pop up questions are half the size. The buttons and sliders on there are twice has hard to hit with a finger.

Google, blaze your own path

Apple has now become the poster child of how not to design UI interfaces. You don’t want to rip pages from their book. Take your UI designers into a room and let them come up with ideas that are unique to Google and Android. Don’t force them to use a look and feel from an entirely different company using ideas that are outright horrible.

Note, I prefer dark or grey backgrounds. They are much easier on the eyes than blazing white backgrounds. White screens are great for only one thing, lighting up the room. They are extremely hard on the eyes and don’t necessarily make text easier to read.

Google, please go back to blazing your own trail separately from Apple. I’ll be entirely glad when this garish-colors-on-white-fad goes the way of the Pet Rock. And once this stupid trend is finally gone, I’ll be shouting good riddance from the top of the Los Altos hills. It also won’t be soon enough. For now, dayam Google, get it together will ya?

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Why Google’s search engine secretly sucks

Posted in Android, botch by commorancy on October 24, 2013

While Google touts its speed in returning results, and indeed the speed is impressive, it’s not the speed that matters. What matters is quality of the results and this is why Google’s search secretly sucks.  Let’s explore.

Google circa 1998

When Google first began in the late 90s, it fumbled to make a significant impact in search. It couldn’t quite figure out how to make searching that much better than what was already in place. From those early days until about 2005 and through many man hours of work, Google’s speed and results have improved. But, those improvements pretty much abruptly ended approximately 2005-2007. You know, right around the time that Android was a twinkle in someone’s eye.  Since then, all we have pretty much seen is stagnation in search technology. Search hasn’t improved in recent years, and even Google acknowledges this because instead of spending time improving search, now Google spends its copious free time creating Android, Gmail, Google Apps, Google Chrome, ChromeOS, Chrome tablets, Google Play, Google Docs, Google Maps, YouTube and the list goes on.  These are diversionary tactics to keep you from seeing just how bad Google search quality really is.

Searching Google Today

While Google’s search technology is still the fastest available and is still better than most other engines, it’s really become stagnant.  So stagnant, in fact, that the quality of the search results really matter very little to Google. For example, I would say that at least 1-2 links out of every search I have performed in the last year is dead.  Basically, it displays results for sites that are either down, sites that lead to placeholder pages or sites that lead to 404 or other unusable content.

I mean, what’s the point in that? I don’t want to look back in time at links that may have had revelance in 1998 or even 2003, I want to find links that are relevant to me today. It’s clear that while Google says they are doing quality optimizations, what they claim and what’s actually coming up in the search results is entirely different. Something about this situation isn’t working.

Dead Links

Really? I mean, come on Google. What’s the point in placing a completely dead link in the top 3 search results? What purpose does that really serve? What this says is that Google has so much cruft and garbage inside their database that’s now becoming dominant during search results. If that’s where we are today, it’s only going to get progressively worse, not better. Note, I’m finding it’s not just one link that’s bad, but several on the same set of results.

This issue is completely preventable. But, it’s going to take automation to fix this. Google needs to scour its indexed links and validate whether or not a site is actually providing the data it’s supposed to be providing. Instead, it appears Google found a page there some years ago, indexed it and that’s the way it has stayed. In reality, this cruft needs to be regularly cleaned out.  If search results had index dates stamped near the results stating when the information was originally indexed, I could simply avoid clicking a link that was last indexed 5 years ago. In fact, with the right UI, I could even request it to include only results that have been indexed in the last 12 months, perhaps even in the last 3 months. Maybe this is there in the ‘advanced search area’? It’s certainly not there in the basic search results.

Fresh Content

By knowing when an indexed link was created in Google and by allowing exclusion of old links, I can then tailor my search results to the most recent and freshest content. Granted, Google should automatically be doing this on my behalf, but they aren’t. Instead, it’s just all manner of random old garbage that gets thrown up in search results… and this is exactly the reason Google’s search secretly sucks.

Can it be fixed? Yes. Will Google ever really fix this? Probably not. It’s not really worth their time at this point. They’re too interested in screwing over SEO, invading privacy in Android and doing other projects unrelated to search.  All of those projects are far more attractive and cool to ever consider spending time doing ugly old janitorial work to clean up the mess they created in the first place. No one likes having to clean up a mess. Cleanup work never involves using cool new technologies, but yet it still has to get done. Unfortunately, this is the very real, very ugly secret why Google’s search sucks. It’s also the secret that Google doesn’t want you to know.

Tagged with: , ,

Google Android: How to fix Speech to Text “Couldn’t Connect” error

Posted in Android by commorancy on April 3, 2012

While this isn’t an overly common problem that I’ve found with Android, it is a problem that I have run into that has just baffled me.. until now.  Note, I am running Android 2.2 on my LG Optimus. To use the speech to text functionality (specifically voice search or voice keyboard input), you are required to download a package onto Android initially.  After downloading, I thought that I would be able to use this functionality all of the time. Let’s explore why this isn’t true.

Text to Speech Input Troubles

On the Android Keyboard (that is, the non-Swype keyboard input), there is a small microphone symbol.  Why this isn’t on the Swype keyboard is anyone’s guess?  If you click the little microphone, the feature activates and allows you to speak your text.  The phone is then supposed to convert your speech into text.  This is particularly handy while driving. Unfortunately, most of the time I always seemed to see the error ‘Couldn’t Connect’ when attempting using this functionality.  After all, I had downloaded the necessary packages.  At first I thought it had something to do with the microphone.  So, I plugged in different headsets and different bluetooth devices, but it still only randomly works.  Sometimes it works perfectly and other times not.  I also tried restarting my phone thinking there was some kind of service that was not working properly.  No luck with any of this.  For a while, I had given up on even using it.  However, I finally decided to get to the bottom of this issue.

This would seem to be a very handy feature while in the car.  And, it is, when it works.  In my car, however, most of the time it doesn’t work.  I couldn’t figure this one out at all. I kept thinking how lame it is that the one feature you absolutely need while driving is Speech to Text.  Yet, it is the single feature that is the most unreliable.  However, today I have finally realized why this functionality only intermittently works. It requires the Internet to function.

The Internet?

Why would this service need the internet?  Apparently, whatever data was downloaded only enables the feature, but it doesn’t actually do the speech to text conversion in the phone.  Apparently, the audio input is sent off to one of Google’s servers on the Internet (can you say, “Privacy Issue”) to be processed and the text sent back to the phone after conversion.  The phone doesn’t actually do the conversion.

My Rant

While I understand the audio processing needed to decode an audio file may not be capable within the phone (although, Siri seems to do a great job offline in the iPhone), the phone should at least have some offline capabilities.  However, the error message here is just absolutely stupid.  It doesn’t explain anything.  If the Internet is not available and this service requires it, the phone should pop up a message that either explains that no Internet is available or it should simply remove that functionality from the keyboard (grey it out) until the Internet is available.  Why try to allow use of this functionality when the Internet is not available?  This is both a confusing and stupid design.  Google, you need to fix this design fast.

So, you’re probably asking why it periodically worked in my car?  First, my phone is not Internet enabled.  Second, I refuse to pay $80 a month for a 3G data plan that’s half the speed of my cable service and offers half or less the amount of data at twice the price.  Instead, I pay for an ‘unlimited’ MiFi device that I don’t always turn on in my car.  Sometimes it’s on, sometimes it isn’t.  That explains why this functionality sometimes works and sometimes not.

I use the MiFi specifically because it works with all of my devices and is not locked to only one device.  It allows for more data throughput, due to the plan rate. It is also a non-contract prepaid service, so I don’t have to worry about being stuck in a hugely long contract.  If something better comes along, I just stop payment and walk away with no penalties.  Specifically, I use Virgin Mobile’s MiFi that is actually using the Sprint 3G Network. I digress.

How To Fix

If you’ve been searching all over the Internet trying to figure out why this functionality only sparsely works and how to fix it, this feature requires the Internet.  If your phone is not 24/7 Internet capable and you use WiFi for connectivity in select places, like myself, you will run into this problem when trying to use ‘Speech to Text’ from the Android keyboard while there is no Internet connectivity.  To fix this issue, you either need to subscribe to a phone dataplan so you have ‘Always On’ Internet service or carry a MiFi device around with you and turn it on when you want to use Speech to Text.  A hassle yes, but complain to Google as they are the ones that designed it to require the use of a Google server to decode the audio.

So, there you have it.  Problem solved, mostly.  At least, it’s solved for Android 2.2.  If your have a later version of Android, your mileage may vary.

[UPDATE: 2012-05-04]

My bad.  It appears that Siri does, in fact, require the Internet for Speech to Text conversion just like Android.  So, I guess this article applies to the iPhone as well.

%d bloggers like this: