May 27, 2016
Google users rely on the search engine’s quality-assurance algorithm, PageRank, to serve up the links most relevant to their query. Blogger and Google engineer Matt Cutts declares, reasonably enough, that “Paid Posts Should Not Affect Search Engines.” His employer, on the other hand, has long disagreed with this stance. Cutts concedes:
“We do take the subject of paid posts seriously and take action on them. In fact, we recently finished going through hundreds of ‘empty review’ reports — thank you for that feedback! That means that now is a great time to send us reports of link buyers or sellers that violate our guidelines. We use that information to improve our algorithms, but we also look through that feedback manually to find and follow leads.”
Well, that’s nice to know. However, Cutts emphasizes, no matter how rigorous the quality assurance, there is good reason users may not want paid posts to make it through PageRank at all. He explains:
“If you are searching for information about brain cancer or radiosurgery, you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines. Other paid posts might not be as starkly life-or-death, but they can still pollute the ecology of the web. Marshall Kirkpatrick makes a similar point over at ReadWriteWeb. His argument is as simple as it is short: ‘Blogging is a beautiful thing. The prospect of this young media being overrun with “pay for play” pseudo-shilling is not an attractive one to us.’ I really can’t think of a better way to say it, so I’ll stop there.”
Cynthia Murrell, May 27, 2016
May 26, 2016
The Turkish government has been forcibly seizing and intimidating the nation’s media, we learn from “Erdogan’s Latest Media Takeover is About More than Just One Newspaper” at Mashable. Is this the future of publishing?
Turkish police fought protesters and manhandled journalists as the government wrested control of Zaman, Turkey’s most popular newspaper and, as journalist Suna Vidinli puts it, the country’s “last remaining effective voice of criticism in the press.” She continues:
“President Erdogan had long planned to take over Zaman as the paper was affiliated with Gulen Group, his main remaining adversary in his quest for absolute power. Earlier in the week, the Turkish Supreme Court — in a surprising and rare move — had released two top editors of Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, from prison. They were imprisoned for writing about the illegal trafficking of weapons to radicals in Syria.
“Erdogan saw their release as a direct move against his authority and wowed to show who was boss. He signaled that the two journalists would be put back in prison soon and declared ‘things can get shaky in the following days.’ Hence, the takeover of Zaman was carefully planned as the most brutal confiscation of media to date in Turkish history.
“The confiscation of Zaman media group highlights some critical developments in Turkey. The government immediately took the media group offline, and a special tech team was brought in to completely wipe out the news archive and web content of the newspaper.”
The Chihan News Agency was also included in the seizure, a group we learn was the only non-governmental organization to monitor Turkish exit polls to ensure fair elections. The article notes that the remaining independent media in Turkey seem to have been effectively cowed, since none of them reported on the violent takeover. Governments, media groups, and human rights organizations around the world condemned the seizure; the U.S. State Department called Turkey’s pattern of media suppression “troubling.” We couldn’t agree more.
Cynthia Murrell, May 26, 2016
May 25, 2016
Some of us consider the movie Minority Report to be a cautionary tale, but apparently the Chinese government sees it as more of good suggestion. According to eTeknix, that country seems to be planning a crime-prediction unit similar to the one in the movie, except this one will use algorithms instead of psychics. We learn about the initiative from the brief write-up, “China Creating ‘Precrime’ System.” Writer Gareth Andrews informs us:
“The movie Minority Report posed an interesting question to people: if you knew that someone was going to commit a crime, would you be able to charge them for it before it even happens? If we knew you were going to pirate a video game when it goes online, does that mean we can charge you for stealing the game before you’ve even done it?
“China is looking to do just that by creating a ‘unified information environment’ where every piece of information about you would tell the authorities just what you normally do. Decide you want to something today and it could be an indication that you are about to commit or already have committed a criminal activity.
“With machine learning and artificial intelligence being at the core of the project, predicting your activities and finding something which ‘deviates from the norm’ can be difficult for even a person to figure out. When the new system goes live, being flagged up to the authorities would be as simple as making a few purchases online….”
Indeed. Today’s tech is being used to gradually erode privacy rights around the world, all in the name of security. There is a scene in that Minority Report that has stuck with me: Citizens in an apartment building are shown pausing their activities to passively accept the intrusion of spider-like spy-bots into their homes, upon their very faces even, then resuming where they left off as if such an incursion were perfectly normal. If we do not pay attention, one day it may become so.
Cynthia Murrell, May 25, 2016
May 25, 2016
In the 1990s, we were promised that virtual reality was a sure thing. While flying toaster screen savers and Pixar’s computer animation kept us distracted, virtual reality was forgotten until recent developments in the gaming industry, such as the semi-affordable Oculus Rift, made it available for the average person. Virtual reality has become so advanced that people are already saying it will change how we live.
Do not forget, however, that virtual reality is still fake. It is a reflection of the real world and no matter how high in definition the graphics are, it is not real. Uber Gizmo says that Google does not want to give its users a fake experience, rather “Google’s Focus Reportedly On AR, Not On VR”.
AR stands for augmented reality and Google has already experimented in the area. The Google Glass was an augmented reality headset, although it had a limited reach and appeal. The new Google Cardboard, however, is a VR platform that provides a cheaper alternative to expensive VR goggles. Google is heading into the augmented reality arena, because:
“Apparently the reason for going with augmented reality is because Google doesn’t think that the public will invest too much in virtual reality headsets, which in their current iteration are huge and chunky devices that can’t really be worn outside. This is versus augmented reality in which your phone could offer up such features, and not to mention the more svelte design of the Google Glass.”
Virtual reality is simply the predecessor to augmented reality, similar to how motion capture techniques are replacing some live action special effects. It is another example of how we are at the start of something new, but it will take time to catch on.
May 24, 2016
The article on GlobeNewsWire titled Ex-Googler Startup DGraph Labs Raises US$1.1 Million in Seed Funding Round to Build Industry’s First Open Source, Native and Distributed Graph Database names Bain Capital Ventures and Blackbird Ventures as the main investors in the startup. Manish Jain, founder and CEO of DGraph, worked on Google’s Knowledge Graph Infrastructure for six years. He explains the technology,
“Graph data structures store objects and the relationships between them. In these data structures, the relationship is as important as the object. Graph databases are, therefore, designed to store the relationships as first class citizens… Accessing those connections is an efficient, constant-time operation that allows you to traverse millions of objects quickly. Many companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn and Dropbox use graph databases to power their smart search engines and newsfeeds.”
Among the many applications of graph databases, the internet of thing, behavior analysis, medical and DNA research, and AI are included. So what is DGraph going to do with their fresh funds? Jain wants to focus on forging a talented team of engineers and developing the company’s core technology. He notes in the article that this sort of work is hardly the typical obstacle faced by a startup, but rather the focus of major tech companies like Google or Facebook.
Chelsea Kerwin, May 24, 2016
May 23, 2016
The Panama Papers have released an entire slew of scandals that sent out ripples we will be dealing with for years to come. It also strikes another notch in the power of software and that nothing is private anymore. But how were the Panama Papers leaked? Reuters reports that a “Small Australian Software Firm Helps Join The Dots On The Panama Papers”.
Nuix Pty Ltd. is a Sydney-based software development company that donated its document analysis program to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to delve through the data from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that leaked the documents. Reporters have searched through the data for some time and discovered within the 2.6 terabytes the names of politicians and public figures with questionable offshore financial accounts.
“By using the software, the Washington-based ICIJ was able to make millions of scanned documents, some decades old, text-searchable and help its network of journalists cross reference Mossack Fonseca’s clients across these documents. The massive leak has prompted global investigations into suspected illegal activities by the world’s wealthy and powerful. Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the center of the leaks, denies any wrongdoing. The use of advanced document and data analysis technology shows the growing importance of technology’s role in helping journalists make better sense of increasingly bigger news discoveries.”
Nuix Pty is a ten-year-old company and their products have been used to conduct data analysis in child pornography rings, people trafficking, and high-end tax evasion. Another selling feature for the company is their dedication to their clients’ privacy. They did not allow themselves to have access to the information within the Panama Papers. That is an interesting fact, considering how some tech companies need to have total access to their clients’ information.
Nuix sounds like the Swiss bank of software companies, guaranteeing high-quality services and products that guarantee results, plus undeniable privacy.
May 23, 2016
Who exactly are today’s innovators? The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) performed a survey to find out, and shares a summary of their results in, “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States.” The write-up sets the context before getting into the findings:
“Behind every technological innovation is an individual or a team of individuals responsible for the hard scientific or engineering work. And behind each of them is an education and a set of experiences that impart the requisite knowledge, expertise, and opportunity. These scientists and engineers drive technological progress by creating innovative new products and services that raise incomes and improve quality of life for everyone….
“This study surveys people who are responsible for some of the most important innovations in America. These include people who have won national awards for their inventions, people who have filed for international, triadic patents for their innovative ideas in three technology areas (information technology, life sciences, and materials sciences), and innovators who have filed triadic patents for large advanced-technology companies. In total, 6,418 innovators were contacted for this report, and 923 provided viable responses. This diverse, yet focused sampling approach enables a broad, yet nuanced examination of individuals driving innovation in the United States.”
See the summary for results, including a helpful graphic. Here are some highlights: Unsurprisingly to anyone who has been paying attention, women and U.S.-born minorities are woefully underrepresented. Many of those surveyed are immigrants. The majority of survey-takers have at least one advanced degree (many from MIT), and nearly all majored in STEM subject as undergrads. Large companies contribute more than small businesses do while innovations are clustered in California, the Northeast, and close to sources of public research funding. And take heart, anyone over 30, for despite the popular image of 20-somethings reinventing the world, the median age of those surveyed is 47.
The piece concludes with some recommendations: We should encourage both women and minorities to study STEM subjects from elementary school on, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We should also lend more support to talented immigrants who wish to stay in the U.S. after they attend college here. The researchers conclude that, with targeted action from the government on education, funding, technology transfer, and immigration policy, our nation can tap into a much wider pool of innovation.
Cynthia Murrell, May 23, 2016
May 20, 2016
I avoid the Kardashians and other fame chasers, because I have better things to do with my time. I never figured that I would actually write about the Kardashians, but the phrase “never say never” comes into play. As I read Vanity Fair’s “Marissa Mayer Vs. ‘Kim Kardashian’s Ass” : What Sunk Yahoo’s Media Ambitions?” tells a bleak story about the current happenings at Yahoo.
Yahoo has ended many of its services, let go fifteen percent of staff, and there are very few journalists left on the team. The remaining journalists are not worried about producing golden content, they have to compete with a lot already on the Web, especially “Kim Kardashian’s ass” as they say.
When Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo as the CEO in 2012, she was determined to carve out Yahoo’s identity as a tech company. Mayer, however, wanted Yahoo to be media powerhouse, so she hired many well-known journalists to run specific niche projects in popular areas from finance to beauty to politics. It was not a successful move and now Yahoo is tightening its belt one more time. The Yahoo news algorithm did not mesh with the big name journalists, the hope was that their names would soar above popular content such as Kim Kardashian’s ass. They did not.
Much of Yahoo’s current work comes from the Alibaba market. The result is:
“But the irony is that Mayer, a self-professed geek from Silicon Valley, threw so much of her reputation behind high-profile media figures and went with her gut, just like a 1980s magazine editor—when even magazine editors, including those who don’t profess to “get” technology, have long abandoned that practice themselves, in favor of what the geeks in Silicon Valley are doing.”
Mayer was trying to create a premiere media company, but lower quality content is more popular than top of the line journalists. The masses prefer junk food in their news.
May 20, 2016
In the 1930s, Britain’s newspaper the Guardian was founded, through a generous family’s endowment, on the ideas of an unfettered press and free access to information. In continued pursuit of these goals, the publication has maintained a paywall-free online presence, despite declining online-advertising revenue. That choice has cost them, we learn from the piece, ”Guardian Bet Shows Digital Risks” at USA Today. Writer Michael Wolff explains:
“In order to underwrite the costs of this transformation, most of the trust’s income-producing investments have been liquidated in recent years in order to keep cash on hand — more than a billion dollars.
“In effect, the Guardian saw itself as departing the newspaper business and competing with new digital news providers like BuzzFeed and Vox and Vice Media, each raising ever-more capital from investors with which to finance their growth. The Guardian — unlike most other newspapers that are struggling to make it in the digital world without benefit of access to outside capital — could use the interest generated by its massive trust to indefinitely deficit-finance its growth. At a mere 4% return, that would mean it could lose more than $40 million a year and be no worse for wear.
“But … the cost of digital growth mounted as digital advertising revenue declined. And with zero interest rates, there has been, practically speaking, no return on cash. Hence, the Guardian’s never-run-out endowment has plunged by more than 12% since the summer and, suddenly looking at a finite life cycle, the Guardian will now have to implement another transition: shrinking rather than expanding.”
The Guardian’s troubles point to a larger issue, writes Wolff; no one has been able to figure out a sustainable business model for digital news. For its part, the Guardian still plans to avoid a paywall, but will try to coax assorted fees from its users. We shall see how that works out.
Cynthia Murrell, May 20, 2016
May 19, 2016
Funnelback has been silent as of late, according to our research, but the search company has emerged from the tomb with eyes wide open and a heartbeat. The Funnelback blog has shared some new updates with us. The first bit of news is if you are “Searchless In Seattle? (AKA We’ve Just Opened A New Office!)” explains that Funnelback opened a new office in Seattle, Washington. The search company already has offices in Poland, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, but now they want to establish a branch in the United States. Given their successful track record with the finance, higher education, and government sectors in the other countries they stand a chance to offer more competition in the US. Seattle also has a reputable technology center and Funnelback will not have to deal with the Silicon Valley group.
The second piece of Funnelback news deals with “Driving Channel Shift With Site Search.” Channel shift is the process of creating the most efficient and cost effective way to deliver information access and usage to users. It can be difficult to implement a channel shift, but increasing the effectiveness of a Web site’s search can have a huge impact.
Being able to quickly and effectively locate information on a Web site saves time for not only more important facts, but it also can drive sales, further reputation, etc.
“You can go further still, using your search solution to provide targeted experiences; outputting results on maps, searching by postcode, allowing for short-listing and comparison baskets and even dynamically serving content related to what you know of a visitor, up-weighting content that is most relevant to them based on their browsing history or registered account.
Couple any of the features above with some intelligent search analytics, that highlight the content your users are finding and importantly what they aren’t finding (allowing you to make the relevant connections through promoted results, metadata tweaking or synonyms), and your online experience is starting to become a lot more appealing to users than that queue on hold at your call centre.”
I have written about it many times, but a decent Web site search function can make or break a site. Not only does it demonstrate that the Web site is not professional, it does not inspire confidence in a business. It is a very big rookie mistake to make.