Tag: Google

Microcast #005

Thinking through an approach to building Project MoodleNet that came to me this weekend, using Google search, Amazon filtering, and the Pinterest browser button as mental models.


Google’s new Slack competitor

How many failed ‘social’ and ‘chat’ products has Google racked up now? Despite that, their new Slack competitor, Hangouts Chat looks promising:

To be clear, Hangouts Chat is a totally separate and distinct service from Hangouts proper, which still lives in your Google mail inbox. And while we’ll forgive you for rolling your eyes at yet another chat service from Google (the number of different apps the company has built is legendary at the point), Hangouts Chat does offer something potentially valuable to companies using G Suite — assuming they’re not on Slack already.


Given Google’s focus on AI across basically all of its products, it’s no surprise that Hangouts Chat will use machine learning to try and figure out what users might need. Specifically, Google says AI will help book meeting rooms, find files “and more.” Specifically, a link between Chat and Calendar will learn how to suggest locations to book by analyzing attendees’ “building and floor location, previous booking history, audio/video equipment needs and room capacity requirements.” It’s hard to say how well this will work — but anyone working in a semi-large company also knows that booking a meeting room likely can’t get any worse than it is right now.

I’m looking forward to giving this a try, particularly if they’ve learned from some of the problems that come with Slack. Also, with GDPR being enforced soon, I’m more OK with sharing more of my data with Google. I even bought a Chromebox this week…

Source: Engadget

Does the world need interactive emails?

I’m on the fence on this as, on the one hand, email is an absolute bedrock of the internet, a common federated standard that we can rely upon independent of technological factionalism. On the other hand, so long as it’s built into a standard others can adopt, it could be pretty cool.

The author of this article really doesn’t like Google’s idea of extending AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to the inbox:

See, email belongs to a special class. Nobody really likes it, but it’s the way nobody really likes sidewalks, or electrical outlets, or forks. It not that there’s something wrong with them. It’s that they’re mature, useful items that do exactly what they need to do. They’ve transcended the world of likes and dislikes.

Fair enough, but as a total convert to Google’s ‘Inbox’ app both on the web and on mobile, I don’t think we can stop innovation in this area:

Emails are static because messages are meant to be static. The entire concept of communication via the internet is based around the telegraphic model of exchanging one-way packets with static payloads, the way the entire concept of a fork is based around piercing a piece of food and allowing friction to hold it in place during transit.

Are messages ‘meant to be static’? I’m not so sure. Books were ‘meant to’ be paper-based until ebooks came along, and now there’s all kinds of things we can do with ebooks that we can’t do with their dead-tree equivalents.

Why do this? Are we running out of tabs? Were people complaining that clicking “yes” on an RSVP email took them to the invitation site? Were they asking to have a video chat window open inside the email with the link? No. No one cares. No one is being inconvenienced by this aspect of email (inbox overload is a different problem), and no one will gain anything by changing it.

Although it’s an entertaining read, if ‘why do this?’ is the only argument the author, Devin Coldewey, has got against an attempted innovation in this space, then my answer would be why not? Although Coldewey points to the shutdown of Google Reader as an example of Google ‘forcing’ everyone to move to algorithmic news feeds, I’m not sure things are, and were, as simple as that.

It sounds a little simplistic to say so, but people either like and value something and therefore use it, or they don’t. We who like and uphold standards need to remember that, instead of thinking about what people and organisations should and shouldn’t do.

Source: TechCrunch

Web Trends Map 2018 (or ‘why we can’t have nice things’)

My son, who’s now 11 years old, used to have iA’s Web Trends Map v4 on his wall. It was produced in 2009, when he was two:

iA Web Trends Map 4 (2009)

I used it to explain the web to him, as the subway map was a metaphor he could grasp. I’d wondered why iA hadn’t produced more in subsequent years.

Well, the answer is clear in a recent post:

Don’t get too excited. We don’t have it. We tried. We really tried. Many times. The most important ingredient for a Web Trend Map is missing: The Web. Time to bring some of it back.

Basically, the web has been taken over by capitalist interests:

The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull. What can we do?

It’s difficult. Although I support the aims, objectives, and ideals of the IndieWeb, I can’t help but think it’s looking backwards instead of forwards. I’m hoping that newer approaches such as federated social networks, distributed ledgers and databases, and regulation such as GDPR have some impact.

Source: iA

Augmented and Virtual Reality on the web

There were a couple of exciting announcments last week about web technologies being used for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Using standard technologies that can be used across a range of devices is a game-changer.

First off, Google announced ‘Article’ which provides an straightforward way to add virtual objects to physical spaces.

Google AR

Mozilla, meanwhile directed attention towards A-Frame, which they’ve been supporting for a while. This allows VR experiences to be created using web technologies, including networking users together in-world.

Mozilla VR

Although each have their uses, I think AR is going to be a much bigger deal than Virtual Reality (VR) for most people, mainly because it adds to an experience we’re used to (i.e. the world around us) rather than replacing it.

Sources: Google blog / A-Frame

Reading the web on your own terms

Although it was less than a decade ago since the demise of the wonderful, simple, much-loved Google Reader, it seems like it was a different age entirely.

Subscribing to news feeds and blogs via RSS wasn’t as widely used as it could/should have been, but there was something magical about that period of time.

In this article, the author reflects on that era and suggests that we might want to give it another try:

Well, I believe that RSS was much more than just a fad. It made blogging possible for the first time because you could follow dozens of writers at the same time and attract a considerably large audience if you were the writer. There were no ads (except for the high-quality Daring Fireball kind), no one could slow down your feed with third party scripts, it had a good baseline of typographic standards and, most of all, it was quiet. There were no comments, no likes or retweets. Just the writer’s thoughts and you.

I was a happy user of Google Reader until they pulled the plug. It was a bit more interactive than other feed readers, somehow, in a way I can’t quite recall. Everyone used it until they didn’t.

The unhealthy bond between RSS and Google Reader is proof of how fragile the web truly is, and it reveals that those communities can disappear just as quickly as they bloom.

Since that time I’ve been an intermittent user of Feedly. Everyone else, it seems, succumbed to the algorithmic news feeds provided by Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

A friend of mine the other day said that “maybe Medium only exists because Google Reader died — Reader left a vacuum, and the social network filled it.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but it sure seems likely. And if that’s the case then the death of Google Reader probably led to the emergence of email newsletters, too.


On a similar note, many believe that blogging is making a return. Folks now seem to recognize the value of having your own little plot of land on the web and, although it’s still pretty complex to make your own website and control all that content, it’s worth it in the long run. No one can run ads against your thing. No one can mess with the styles. No one can censor or sunset your writing.

Not only that but when you finish making your website you will have gained superpowers: you now have an independent voice, a URL, and a home on the open web.

I don’t think we can turn the clock back, but it does feel like there might be positive, future-focused ways of improving things through, for example, decentralisation.

Source: Robin Rendle

Barely anyone uses 2FA

This is crazy.

In a presentation at Usenix’s Enigma 2018 security conference in California, Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka today revealed that, right now, less than 10 per cent of active Google accounts use two-step authentication to lock down their services. He also said only about 12 per cent of Americans have a password manager to protect their accounts, according to a 2016 Pew study.

Two-factor authentication (2FA), especially the kind where you use an app authenticator is so awesome you can use a much weaker password than normal, should you wish. (I, however, stick to the 16-digit one created by a deterministic password manager.)

Please, if you haven’t already done so, just enable two-step authentication. This means when you or someone else tries to log into your account, they need not only your password but authorization from another device, such as your phone. So, simply stealing your password isn’t enough – they need your unlocked phone, or similar, to to get in.

I can’t understand people who basically live their lives permanently one step away from being hacked. And for what? A very slightly more convenient life? Mad.

Source: The Register

Silicon Valley looking to skills from the Humanities

Cathy Davidson writing about the subjects that teach the kinds of skills that employers are really looking for:

Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization. Or take billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban: He looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.

Source: The Washington Post