Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Snaptu home screen on cell phone

Image via Wikipedia

The burgeoning growth of Facebook has been given another boost by the social network’s acquisition of mobile start-up Snaptu for an undisclosed sum.

No big deal, you may think, but as Paul Butler points out at ReadWriteWeb, the people accessing Facebook via their mobiles are twice as active as those who engage via PCs.

It was Israeli outfit Snaptu who earlier this year built a feature-phone app for Facebook, extending social network access to thousands more devices and into markets where smartphones are less prevalent.

If you add to that purchase, the acquisition of group messaging company Beluga and a location-based advertising start-up, Rel8tion, it’s plain to see Mark Zuckerberg’s intention to capitalize on the mobile space.

The other big beast in that battle is the subject of David Carr’s excellent New York Times piece – The Evolving Mission of Google

Despite its insistence that it is not a media company, Carr makes a good case that it is and why it’s more than a matter of semantics.

The gravitational pull of Google and Facebook has already had a huge impact on the way news is distributed and they’re both attracting vast sums of advertising cash that would otherwise have gone to the traditional newspaper and magazine businesses.

At the same time, Google acknowledges that it depends on high-quality content and has “a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem”.

For newspapers and magazines struggling to make money from the link economy that assertion might ring hollow, especially if the ledgers show their days in the eco-system might be numbered.

Planets Google and Facebook have pulled money from their grasp on the traditional web and now it’s slipping through their fingers in the mobile world too.

According to the folks at Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, Google’s algorithm has “had more impact on the shape of the web than anything or anyone since Tim Berners-Lee” and this infographic attempts to show how.

The casualties of this shift in fortunes will be replaced, of course, hopefully by something better, but as we’ve seen with recent natural disasters the consequences will be traumatic and restoration will take a long time to effect.


Assorted mayors of London, complete with chains of office, paid a visit to the BBC this week expecting a talk from the news website’s editor.

Unfortunately he was unavoidably detained so I was press-ganged to talk about emerging platforms and how I thought the future would unfold.

My spiel about iPTV, mobiles, augmented reality, near-field communication, and the moneyless society seemed to go well, but I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when one of the worshipful company asked where the power would come from to keep the connected society running.

The question was based, I believe, on this old Sunday Times story which asserts that a couple of Google searches generates as much CO2 as making a cuppa.

The Harvard researcher on whose work the report was based doesn’t accept the Times’ conclusion and the truth is that Google is well along the path of making itself carbon neutral

But in the wider context the questioner had a point – power-hungry devices in the hands of billions of people are bound to have an impact and there’s no ready answer to the question. The carbon footprint of a technology depends on what’s in and what’s out when you assess its impact.

It’s easy to see how making a call or sending a message rather than travelling to a face-to-face meeting might bring a big CO2 saving over existing technologies, and when multiplied across the billions of daily interactions the potential benefit is huge.

The carbon cost of manufacturing and distributing hardware and its ability to be recycled also has to be taken into account, especially with blisteringly fast turnover in device evolution and obsolescence.

Harder to measure is the impact of mobiles in enabling so many more connections and interactions between people then were ever possible in the past. Big thoughts and banalities are just 1s and 0s in the digital world. How do you cost a connected world?

At a pragmatic level, energy consumption and device efficiency is being tackled in multiple ways.

In the macro world memristor’s hold the prospect of chips that run 10 times faster than conventional models using a tenth of the power. There are solar chargers, hydrogen fuel cells and even ways of harvesting kinetic energy to trickle life back into a battery.

This Yoyo charger and this bike dynamo from Nokia show some of the solutions coming to the market, but I bet Harold Wilson never imagined his “white heat of technology” vision needing pedal power to keep the conversation flowing.

The dust has barely settled on Christchurch yet I’m sure an enterprising mobile developer is already putting together an Augmented Reality app to show how the city looked before the devastating earthquake hit the city.

Walk down the rubble-strewn streets and through your mobile camera viewer see them as they were before the tremor hit.

Fast forward five years and the pictures will be reversed. Walk down the rebuilt streets and see them as they were in the aftermath of nature’s destructive power.

In web form, Australia’s has already fashioned an interactive set of pictures showing before-and-after scenes. The interactive bit is the use of a slider to scroll across pair-matched images. Swipe left and you see the building as it was, swipe right and you see the impact of the quake.

The before-and-after idea is not new but the sideswipe implementation is novel and not simply a gimmick, though the BBC’s implementation is more elegant.

Google was quick off the mark as the scale of the disaster unfolded, launching a person finder service for people seeking information about friends and relatives and as a way for people to pass on information.

With phone services disrupted, power lines down and thousands of people trying to call home the templated pages make for an efficient way to spread news.

Typical of the entries was this one giving information about someone who was confirmed as being alive:

“Have just spoken to Ann via someone else’s cellphone, she is doing well and at home but her phone line is down so unable to call in or out.

“Thank you so much to Libby, the angel who went to her home and checked up on her for us! Nick, if you read this, mum wants us to let you know she’s ok :-)”

Google makes the point that it does not review or verify the accuracy of the data but, presumably, has decided the overall benefit outweighs the potential risk of malicious misinformation.

Commentator Tomi Ahonen’s mobile industry statistics guide is always compelling reading, in fact many of the numbers have found their way into Marc Settle’s excellent BBC College of Journalism course.

There’s one number in the blizzard of information that’s especially interesting – that, according to Nokia, the average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. That’s a glance every six and a half minutes.

I’m guessing much of that activity is associated with SMS or other forms of instant messaging, but part of it will be to monitor Facebook’s news feed or Twitter’s continuous stream of what Google’s Eric Schmidt calls “newness”.

It’s why I’ve bored for England over the past couple of years about the need to present the flow of news from the BBC as a chronology as well as an editorially weighted, sifted and sorted set of headlines.

There’s drama in minute-by-minute information flux and no reason not to do both if suitable filters can be added.

We already offer agency-style running updates for set-piece live event pages, but all of life is a live event and this kind of treatment should be our normal operating procedure.

The dip in, dip out behaviour seen in mobile use patterns needs a different news mix and a different metric to measure engagement.

When web stats are talked about it’s rare for anyone to mention that up to half of unique users only visit a site once a week, that dwell times are scant and fewer than half a dozen pages are looked at.

With all the resources at our disposal and with the development of the BBC’s internal Quickfire breaking news tool we could lead the way in a different kind of news delivery.


Imagine being able to enter your locked office by using a smartphone, or never having to queue to renew an Oystercard – or even having an Oystercard.

Imagine the billing being done through the device, and the payment being taken care of through the handset too. No need to fiddle with change, or feed meters, or carry cards, or cash.

We’ve moved a step nearer that world with the release of the flagship Android phone from Google, the Nexus S, which I laid hands on earlier this week.

While its credentials as an iPhone challenger are impressive it’s the inclusion of Near Field Communications technology that is especially interesting.

NFC opens the door to mobile ticketing, mobile payment, even mobile ID and the Nexus S is the first Android handset to support the technology.

It also opens the door to some significant security issues which have been exercising cryptographers and, until now, have delayed its introduction.

Having NFC in the device isn’t much use on its own and it’s anyone’s guess as to Google’s ultimate intentions, but it does show direction of travel for the technology.

One suggestion is that it ties in with Google’s roll-out of Hotpot – a local recommendation engine that works with Google Places. Window stickers in the Hotpot business kits come with built-in NFC for potential rating and recommendation feedback.

That on its own isn’t enough to justify its incorporation and it’s why the rumour mill is rife that it heralds a move by Google into “pay-by-wave” mobile commerce.

If true, it begs the question: How will competitors respond

Well, Nokia has said NFC will be built into all its high-end smartphones from this year. RIM is considering it for Blackberry, Orange is introducing it to Europe and three US operators have already banded together under the brand name of Isis.

Speed of adoption will depend partly on assurances about security and privacy but also on how NFC is carved up. Telcos and handset manufacturers are keen for a piece of the action and that could play into Apple’s hands with its walled garden approach.

This has a wider resonance for companies even if NFC transactions aren’t on their immediate horizon. It  matters because it’s an important milestone in the evolution of mobile – one that will cement its position as the primary technology – and as part of a wider revolution in the way we receive and act on information.

Google is already a “mobile first” company. It sees the future of computing as mobile. And for CEO Eric Schmidt it means putting his best people on mobile.

Google is already exploring the complexities of location and context in delivering filtered information. The goal is relevance.

It’s why, before you’ve finished entering a search term, Google will have anticipated what you might want.

Start typing the word museum and you’ll get a different outcome depending on where you are.

In news organisations we need to think a lot harder about relevance and move away from treating everyone as if their needs are identical. They’re not. And we need to start thinking about increasing the effort and commitment that goes into mobile services.

The mobile money space is starting to warm up, with both Apple and Google reportedly in talks with payments start-up Boku.

As Techcrunch points out, Apple already has 160m credit card accounts associated with iTunes. Making those transactions possible through a mobile, especially for those in developing countries who may not have a credit card, would be a logical next step and is one of Boku’s strengths.

Square is also gaining traction with its add-on software that turns a smartphone into a point of sale at the swipe of a debit/credit card.

Why is this important in the context of a news organisation? Because it’s one of the elements that will see smartphones become the dominant platform for consumption of future services.

Google is already a “mobile first” company. The rest of us will follow.

waze logoFor all the technical barriers to the roll-out of new technology, there’s another obstacle that looms just as large and crops up across multiple platforms – the question of privacy.

It’s at the heart of many emerging services in which the balance of uptake will be measured by the degree of information surrendered, against the benefit given back.

Get it right and the rewards can be huge. Get it wrong and the reputational kickback can be severe as both Google and Facebook have learned in recent times.

As I write Facebook’s attempt to give people more control of their privacy through Groups is attracting criticism.

Time will tell whether the concerns are justified, but every time confidence takes a knock from lapses or misjudgements the potential benefits from surrendering data become much harder to achieve.

In the case of Waze, a free UGC mobile app which shares traffic conditions in real-time, the balance weighs heavily in favour of drivers.

The motorist surrenders his or her location data – anonymously – and that allows Waze to gauge average traffic speeds on different stretches of road.

By aggregating the data and then feeding it to live traffic maps Waze gives drivers the chance to make instant decisions about the best routes for their journey.

Another, less visible, service is Skyhook, a location engine embedded in many phones.

Conventional GPS doesn’t work indoors and even assisted GPS which combines satellite tracking and cell tower triangulation can be patchy.

Skyhook claims an edge over these methods by adding in wifi hotspots to get a location fix accurate to 10-20 metres.

By aggregating position fixes, – again anonymously – CEO Ted Morgan says he “knows where everybody is, but not where you are”.

His company is collaborating with researchers at MIT and retailers to mine the data to extract value.

Focusing on pedestrians, he says he could also tell advertisers how many people have walked past a street billboard.

“Imagine you have 10 Gap stores in San Francisco. I can tell you where to put the 11th based on patterns of people”, he adds.

“No-one’s ever had this much location data, cross-device, cross-carrier, at this level of accuracy.”

Google tried, of course, and began collecting wifi data as it gathered images from its Streetview vehicles.

In doing so it also harvested snippets of private information – though a Google representative claimed it was done inadvertently and none of it was used in its services.

In the instances of Waze and Skyhook, the benefits are obvious, but cross the line as Google did, even inadvertently, and repairing reputational damage can be difficult to erase.

VeepleAt the BBC, we’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years to enhance our web stories with embedded video. The depth and richness of BBC News material makes it one of the key differentiators between us and other news providers.

Now video tech company Veeple is turning the notion of adding video to text on its head by making video the starting point for storytelling and supplementing in-picture images with interactive text and links.

Hotspots on the screen are made clickable so deeper layers of information can be reached. They can be overlaid on objects, or people, or they can be appended to areas at the top or bottom of the screen.

It’s easy to imagine product placement companies adding layers to programmes to allow viewers to find out about, or purchase, things as they appear on screen.

It’s equally possible that future storylines or whole shows might be adapted to take account of the revenue-earning potential of product lines like clothes, for instance.

Beyond commercial applications, there is also the possibility of driving deeper engagement with factual or news programmes.

Some of you may remember that a few years ago we ran trials of an Interactive 10 O’Clock news using “red button” digital services to add extra information to selected top stories.

Bandwidth constraints and the inherent limitations of digital text display made it an interesting if ultimately failed experiment.

iPTV now offers the chance to make a far richer, more engaging experience.

At its most basic level, it could involve adding extra explainers around terms commonly used though, perhaps, rarely understood, in Parliamentary reports, such as White Papers, Three-Line Whips and Early Day Motions.

The more technical language of business might also benefit from notes in the margin with options to toggle on or off as packages play-out, triggered by keywords in the audio track, or shown on a timeline.

Appending archive material, user generated content, a wider range of analysis and expert comment, additional images, maps, PDFs, and original documents are further possibilities.

As ever, the emerging options open up many new questions: Do people really want these extra layers? Does it make for a disjointed experience? Are we video-led or text led? Do we have to be both in which case what kind of content is it best-suited to serve? How can we keep a coherent thread to our storytelling? How much information is too much – when does it become overwhelming? What’s the overhead to all this extra packaging and who would do it?

Veeple’s CEO Scott Broomfield says the software is easy to use and “if you have ever put an image or an icon into a Powerpoint presentation…you know how to make your videos interactive.”

Jump to the 4’ 26” point in this video to see it in action.

The company has mobile versions of the software running on Android devices and it is working on alternatives for the iPhone and iPad.

Broomfield claims user click-through rates from interactive video are up to 10 times higher. And their software comes with a range of tools to measure engagement metrics.

With Google TV launching in the autumn in the US, and Apple’s renewed interest in Apple TV, innovations in this space are starting to gather pace.

As mobile technology finds its way into ever more hands it’s a given that a lot more content is going to be created.

YouTube currently gets 24 hours worth of material uploaded every 60 seconds and, just like panning for gold, it’s hard to find the good stuff in a mountain of low-grade material.

The folks at Google have been pondering that very problem.

How can they help people more easily find latest breaking news videos on their site?

And how might media organizations better leverage the content to expand the scope of their reporting and keep us all better informed?

To try to figure it out they’ve joined forces with journalism students from Berkeley to track news as it breaks on YouTube.

They are producing a feed called Citizentube with a focus on strong visuals, non-traditional sources and the very latest uploads.

Kevin Marsh at the BBC College of Journalism calls it a flawed proposition but I think it deserves a more generous timespan before passing judgement.

Google owns YouTube so expect this to turn up on Google TV in the autumn.

Google gets into speech to text

Posted: July 21, 2008 in Internet
Tags: ,

Maybe it’s raised conciousness on my part, but voice-to-text applications seem to be gathering pace.  Google is the latest player, offering searchable election video on YouTube’s politicians channels.

The speech recognition software locates keywords entered into a search box and then shows where they crop up on the video’s elapsed time bar.

It means that rather than having to listen to an entire speech, it’s possible to jump straight to the bit you’re interested in.

The software isn’t perfect and context is important but it’s a big time-saver that will unlock key parts of content  that may, in turn, whet the appetite for deeper engagement with the message.