1. On the demise of Google Reader

    Posted March 14, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    So Google is shutting down Google Reader as of July 1st 2013.

    We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.

    As someone who uses Google Reader pretty heavily (54,770 items read since April 17th 2006) this isn’t great news. But it’s not as bad as it could be: this post from Feedly was exactly what I, and I guess many other Readers users, needed to hear earlier on today:

    Google announced today that they will be shutting down Google Reader. This is something we have been expecting for some time: We have been working on a project called Normandy which is a feedly clone of the Google Reader API… When Google Reader shuts down, feedly will seamlessly transition to the Normandy back end.

    With people like Feedly preparing to step up when Google steps down, it looks like the asteroid hurtling towards Planet RSS will be obliterated or diverted and cast off harmlessly into space. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief about that.


    Given that this is the internet and everyone has to have an opinion about Google Reader shutting down, here’s mine.

    I think Google has a right to do what it wants with its products, so if they want to shut it down then fair enough. As a user of Google Reader however I have a right to be annoyed that it’s closing down. In my line of work the phrase “put the user first” is something of a mantra, so while I’m tempted to stroke my chin and consider this from Google’s perspective as a question of strategic resource deployment or whatever I’m going to approach it instead from the user’s perspective – my perspective – and give Google a thumbs down on this one. Bring back Google Reader you scoundrels! And so on.

    I bet Larry Page is quaking in his boots.

  2. I think I agree with Google on this one

    Posted February 5, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    “This site may be compromised”…

    This site may be compromised

    Thanks Google, I would never have guessed!

  3. Google+ has lost its early momentum. Is it the new Chrome, or the new Wave?

    Posted August 4, 2011 in social media  |  1 Comment so far

    Remember Google Chrome? It was a browser that Google launched in 2008. They said it’d be as well-known as Firefox and Safari and Internet Explorer and Konqueror. And it had a logo that looked like a Pokéball.

    Google Chrome logo mashup

    Image courtesy of labnol.org

    Ring a bell? Yes? Of course, I knew you’d remember the Pokéball. So what happened to Chrome? At first everyone was really enthusiastic about it but then they got bored and usage dropped off. People who look at browser statistics started saying that Chrome was a failure within a few months of launch:

    Usage of Chrome peaked soon after its launch to about 3.1% share of the browsers market, after which users pretty much lost interest and went to their usual browser making Chrome’s market share down to a steady 1.5%…

    And I was describing Chrome as a Google mis-fire in December 2008:

    Like around 3% of the internet I installed and started using Chrome when it came out. However, I’m not among the 0.83% of the internet who are still using it…

    So given that the writing was so obviously on the wall for Chrome, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone remembers it nowadays, right? Right?

    …OK, time to drop this strained rhetorical device. The point, in case you haven’t guessed, is that a lot of people – me included – called time on Chrome when its brief honeymoon period ended. A couple of years later and these doubters – yes, me included – were proven wrong. In fact, Chrome’s just overtaken Firefox as the UK’s second most popular browser. An early stumble doesn’t always mean impending doom.

    More recently, another new Google product has come off the starting blocks only to falter in its first few strides: Google+. Despite initial enthusiasm the buzz is dying down and traffic has dropped off from its early weeks. People are talking about “giving up” on it.

    Can Google+ take heart from what happened to Chrome? Or is it doomed? Let’s look at a couple of arguments either way.

    “Google+ will rule over us all and bring light to the darkest corners of the Earth”

    Let’s compare Google+ to Twitter. To begin, how many of you had even heard of Twitter in May 2006 when it was as old as Google+ is now? I hadn’t, and I’m a committed geek. It took Twitter ages to get even recognisably close to its current levels of popularity.

    Remember spring 2009, and how there was so much confusion about what Twitter was for? That was three years into Twitter’s lifespan. Google+ has only been around for three months, and already has 25 million users. Judged by Twitter’s standards, that growth rate is positively stratospheric.

    The same applies to Facebook – it didn’t get to half a billion users in its first three months, did it? So who cares about a minor dip in traffic? Google+ is destined for greatness.

    “Google+ is doomed! Escape before it sinks beneath the waves or you’ll be doomed too”

    Let’s go back to the comparison between G+ and Chrome. So Chrome had an early stumble but then recovered? Fair enough. But there are differences between G+ and Chrome – big differences.

    Imagine you’re a Chrome user and you love it. You uninstalled IE. You uninstalled Firefox. Hell, you even uninstalled Minesweeper – Chrome is that good. Then you find out that no-one else in the world uses Chrome, no-one apart from you. Do you care?

    No, not at all. Your immediate experience of using Chrome is unaffected by others using it or not. But Google+, as a social product, is more exposed to network effects – if no-one you know uses Google+, it’s next to useless. If everyone you knew uses it, it is useful even if it’s a shockingly poor product (cf. Myspace). So the sophomore dip in traffic is meaningful for G+ in a way that it wasn’t for Chrome. When a social product like Google+ loses its users, it loses everything.

    So what’ll happen to G+?

    My gut instinct isn’t all that positive. I like it – there’s something a bit “old-school-internet” about my own personal experience of G+, probably because of the specific people I’ve been connecting to there. But I’ve been involved in launching and running quite a few “online communities” (remember them?) in my time and I notice some telltale signs among the people I follow. Not enough posts. Too many ghost speakers, links cast off into the void that spark no discussion, no debate.

    Healthy online communities need some tension, some arguments, some passion, some disagreements. Maybe that’s what Google+ needs so that it feels less like a lab and more like a space for life and all its anger and mess. So let’s post some flamebait and check back in six months to see how it’s getting on.

  4. Google launches Google Correlate, a new tool to support search trend analysis

    Posted May 25, 2011 in research  |  1 Comment so far

    Yesterday I wrote about this Twitter-based hedge fund, and connected it to the broader area of large-scale online analytics being used to anticipate real-world events. And today Google has announced a new tool, Google Correlate, which has been built to do just that.

    When I was dabbling in this area with search data and unemployment statistics I was using Google Insights, which made the process pretty long-winded – it produced a lot of messy data which only became useful after a few hours of macro-writing in Excel. So it was encouraging to read, in Google’s official post about Correlate, that:

    [T]ools… such as Google Trends or Google Insights for Search weren’t designed with this type of research in mind. Those systems allow you to enter a search term and see the trend; but researchers told us they want to enter the trend of some real world activity and see which search terms best match that trend… This is now possible with Google Correlate, which we’re launching today on Google Labs.

    I’m looking forward to giving Google Correlate a try, from what I’ve read it seems like it still only represents the tip of a very big iceberg, a glimpse through a keyhole into a big world of data that only Google is allowed to explore. Hopefully I’m wrong and it does go deeper than that though. I’ll post more about it when I’ve had a chance to look around…

  5. It looks like Google finally got round to “improving” Gmail ads

    Posted April 21, 2011 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    If you’re a Gmail user you might have noticed – and responded sarcastically to – a little message that started to appear a few weeks ago. The message promised that better ads would be coming soon to Gmail.

    better ads in Gmail

    The excitement in the air was palpable. Gmail.com is great in many ways but its lacklustre adverts have long been a source of bitter disappointment. Would Google be able to deliver on its bold promise to address this failing? Well it looks like today they did (or at least to me anyway, you may have been seeing these for a while):

    We finally got better ads in Gmail

    I’m overwhelmed – I never thought it would happen. But yes, that is indeed a 200×200 banner in Gmail. Google has delivered, and then some.

    Having experienced the joy of better ads in Gmail, a new day has dawned for me. I hope you feel the same way too.

  6. I can’t work out why Google Chrome use grew so much in early 2009

    Posted December 9, 2010 in software  |  5 Comments so far

    A few days ago Google announced its new operating system, the Chrome OS – here’s a link to the official announcement.

    One thing that caught my eye was this graph showing the growth of the Chrome browser since its launch in 2008:

    Chrome usage since September 2008

    See the dip that comes only a few weeks in? I was part of that, because I abandoned Chrome around then too. If my experience is anything to go by, that dip was largely caused by people going back to Firefox because they missed the add-ons.

    You’ll also notice an even more dramatic upsurge that comes in the first quarter of 2009. What made so many people start using Chrome back then?

    It wasn’t support for extensions – they didn’t launch properly until January 2010. It might have been the Chrome TV ad, but that wasn’t aired until May 2009. So what could it have been? This is going to be annoying me all day…

  7. Encountering the future over an omelette

    Posted August 5, 2010 in ephemera  |  1 Comment so far

    Yesterday I was in the Workers Café on Upper Street eating an omelette, when I encountered the future. Or at least it felt like the future, for a couple of seconds anyway.

    The café has a TV on the wall which shows Sky News, whose stream of “breaking news” is regularly interrupted by ad breaks. It was during these ad breaks that I had my brush with the world of tomorrow.

    My eye was lazily watching the screen when an advert appeared for the Samsung Galaxy S, a new Android-powered mobile phone. The usual stuff happened – the phone was lit in an appealing fashion, it spun around invitingly, a disembodied hand did things with the screen.

    One of the things the disembodied hand did during the advert was open up Google Maps. And in Google Maps, the street being shown was the street I was actually on – “The A1, Upper Street”.

    But I didn’t think, “what a strange coincidence”. Instead my first reaction was to assume that the advert was somehow geo-targeted, dynamically displaying the TV’s location on the phone’s screen.

    A second later however I realised that while this might be technically possible today it’s unlikely that a greasy spoon café, however venerable, is equipped with that sort of kit. It’s also unlikely that something as expensive as dynamically geo-targeted video would be used so casually, to show a particular street on a phone’s screen for around half a second on a daytime TV advert.

    The feeling I was left with was a strange one. My initial, subconscious assumption was that the ad was geo-targeted rather than that an unlikely coincidence had taken place, so I was a bit disappointed when I realised I was expecting too much from the cafés TV and Sky’s ad platform.

    So what looked like the future turned out to be a false positive. The ad break ended, Sky News went back to its gentle newsy clamour, and I went back to my omelette.

  8. The long countdown to Android 2.1

    Posted June 19, 2010 in mobile  |  4 Comments so far

    For the last eight years, my mobile phone usage has followed a simple, predictable routine. Every year in June or July, I get tired of my current phone and pester Orange into giving me a new one.

    This is triggered by two things. First, I’ll be bored with the old phone. By now it’ll seem annoying, clunky and over-familiar, even though a year ago it looked really exciting and futuristic a year ago.

    Second, a new crop of phones will typically be catching my eye. These new phones and the life-transforming features they offer will seem – you guessed it – really exciting and futuristic.

    This routine saw me move from one Windows Mobile phone to the next – I’d been a WinMo user since 2003’s  Motorola MPx200 proto-smartphone. But last year I took a more dramatic step, abandoning Windows Mobile in favour of my first Android device: the HTC Hero.

    Out with the old, in with the newFast forward to today, and my HTC Hero is approaching its first birthday. As expected, I’m getting the urge to upgrade. But I’m trying to fight that urge. And helping me fight it has been the promise of Android 2.1.

    In the modern world of smartphones, and especially Android, the idea is that you don’t have to upgrade your hardware to get a better experience. Occasionally, a new release of your OS or firmware will come out which pretty much gives you a new device.

    I like that idea, because although I switch phones often it’s because of features rather than simple “gear-lust”. My main motivation behind each switch has been to ‘get more internet’ on my phone. This is why I was happy to put up with unsexy Windows Mobile devices for so long.

    Orange SPV C600 - it's no iPhone

    So when HTC announced that Android 2.1 would be released for the HTC Hero, I was pretty happy. My phone would get better and I wouldn’t have to pester Orange.

    I was even happier when HTC announced that the update would be released in February. I didn’t mind when this was subsequently changed to March. When it slipped to April, I was philosophical: better late than ever, and in the old days stuff like this didn’t happen at all.

    But other HTC Hero owners were far less patient. Lots of anger and annoyance erupted each time the release date slipped, and many pledged never to buy an HTC product – or even an Android phone – again. I thought this was all a bit over the top (after all, a HTC Hero running Android 1.5 isn’t exactly a hunk of junk). Then the April release date slipped, and this time it was worse: it slipped back to June! So I removed my blue UN peacekeeper helmet, took up a pitchfork, and joined the baying mob of enraged HTC Hero owners.

    When June finally came round, I started checking the HTC and Orange websites frequently in the hope of seeing a freshly posted upgrade before anyone else. I became gradually more hostile towards my phone. And then disaster struck – the Yammer application, which had become essential for keeping in touch with my office, stopped working in Android 1.5!

    At that point I stopped simply wanting Android 2.1 and started needing it. Since then I’ve been searching Google and checking websites every single day for the upgrade. In fact I’ve become something of an expert in the workings of the Android 2.1 rumour mill, which has been churning away like mad for the last couple of weeks.

    So now we’re in the second half of June and the signs are encouraging – at least Android 2.1 has now appeared in America and east Asia. But in Europe there’s still nothing. Some people have triggered an update by shifting the phone’s calendar several months into the future. Sadly enough, I tried this, but it failed.

    The HTC Hero is now in “endgame” as far as I’m concerned. If the Android 2.1 upgrade hits before June 30th, its tenure will be extended. But my yearly urge to switch is hard to suppress. If Android 2.1 doesn’t turn up, that Hero is headed for ebay and I’ll be in the market for yet another exciting and futuristic new device.

    EDIT: Shortly after posting the above my impatience got the better of me, so I took Tristan’s advice and installed an unsupported Android 2.1 ROM. Android 1.5 is already a distant memory. In case you’re interested, I installed VillainROM 10.3 and these instructions came in very handy.

  9. Google Buzz: a serious new fixture in the social web?

    Posted February 12, 2010 in social media  |  No Comments so far

    Not everyone is all that impressed by Google Buzz so far, but I am. Yes, questions are being raised about privacy – but such questions are a given in any modern discussions about social technology. And some have been quick to point out limitations in terms of interface (“I quickly found the Buzz user interface… visually uninviting“) and features (“Google Buzz: The Missing Features“) – but imperfection is inevitable when a service is only two days old.

    For what it’s worth, there are things about Buzz I’d like to change. Conversations shouldn’t be treated so much like emails, for example, with “read” and “unread” states – this brings “inbox anxiety” into the equation, something Twitter was wise to discard. And users could benefit from more fine-grained control over privacy settings.

    Inbox anxiety with Buzz

    Inbox anxiety with Google Buzz - I'm not looking forward to having hundreds of unread "Buzzes"

    But I’m happy to put these thoughts to one side: at the moment I’m more interested in the response it’s provoked among my own contacts, many of whom are tech-savvy but not really social web junkies. So far, it’s making me think that Buzz has an appeal for people who are active online but always disliked Twitter and had never heard of Friendfeed.

    Buzz has definitely been a conversation-starter in a way that Wave wasn’t. In the first few hours, many posts were as you’d expect – “what is this for?”, “can anyone see this post?”, that sort of thing. Today is day two for Buzz, however, and the conversations have started to move away from these meta topics. In fact they’re slowly starting to resemble the sorts of conversations these people have in real life.

    This is very different from Wave, which prompted a few discussions of the “what’s this all about?” variety before being largely abandoned even by early adopter types like myself. Obviously this might happen with Buzz as well – as I said above, today is only day two – but the acceptance trajectory so far seems very different. For example, the risk of being flooded with too much Buzz data seems much greater than that of Buzz falling into disuse.

    In many ways I’m tempted to think that Wave has been a kind of public beta for Buzz. MG Seigler at TechCrunch is thinking along similar lines in this post, If Google Wave Is The Future, Google Buzz Is The Present. Buzz certainly explains why Wave had no Gmail integration, something I wondered about at the time.

    Once again, it’s early days with Buzz. But my own anecdotal experiences so far make me suspect that – despite the contrary opinions of various mavens and competitors – it’s going to be a fixture in the social media landscape for some time to come.

  10. UK unemployment drops… unexpectedly?

    Posted January 21, 2010 in research, strategy  |  No Comments so far

    The UK Office for National Statistics announced yesterday that unemployment had dropped for the first time in 18 months. BBC News reported this as a “surprise”:

    The number of people unemployed in the UK has fallen unexpectedly for the first time in 18 months… George Buckley [of Deutsche Bank] admitted previous predictions of the unemployment rate reaching 10% now looked unrealistic… [The figures] came as a surprise to many analysts.

    But to regular readers of this blog, this news is anything but unexpected: in December 2009, my analysis of unemployment-related search trends clearly indicated that the unemployment rate was about to fall.

    So could this be an example of search trends providing early insight into economic data? Possibly, but it’s only one month’s figures we’re talking about. A sustained track record of successful projection is needed to demonstrate that search analysis can yield valuable insights.

    Over 2010 I’ll be keeping an eye on the data to see what happens. In the meantime, if you can think of other real-world metrics that might be suitable subjects for search trends analysis, get in touch.