The best monopoly the world has ever seen

The amount of complete gibberish I am reading about the HTC-Google deal is phenomenal.  You don’t need particular insight to see what is happening.  Nor do conspiracy theories help or those “grand scheme” type wackos that explain how it is “just the first step” of something enormous we all don’t understand.

Google is keeping the Android ecosystem healthy.  Google is doing what no government is fast enough or decisive enough to do.  Bailing out a company with something good to offer the world.  Much like Motorola before that.  No, the plan is not to “kill Apple” with some super phone.  Quite the opposite.  Pixel phones will continue to be in short supply.  They are not meant to be iPhone killers.  They are simply tools to show the way ahead.  Not light years ahead, just the next year.

Being a monopoly, much like being a dictator, is not an easy job.  You have to make everyone look good and take a back seat even when minor things don’t go your way.  Wait for everyone to get onboard instead of issuing marching orders and killing them off.  AndroidOne is an excellent example of the “try, try again” approach.  Sure, they could force everyone in a number of ways.  When you own most of the searches on the planet, YouTube, Google Maps and other prime everyday tools, it would be easy to force people.  But Google isn’t Facebook and it isn’t Apple.  “Do no evil” means “wait until they all think they want what you want them to do.”

Google isn’t “challenging its partners” as some ignoramous wrote in the Verge.  Selling off Motorola wasn’t an admission of failure.  The Android ecosystem looks much healthier with Lenovo and Motorola and Nokia in it.  In essence they are all Google, all marketing and selling machines that make money for Google.  Google learnt from Microsoft’s mistakes: Never make it too obvious that you control the whole technology platform.  Microsoft and Apple are welcome diversions in this respect, making Google look like less of a monopoly than it really is.  They kick up a big fuss about whatever silly little project they are launching all the time, keep press and people busy thinking about something else.

Google is an awe inspiring monopoly.  It controls most of the answers to the planet’s questions.  Never in history has one institution had such power.  I ask it if it will rain tomorrow, how to get to my next appointment and why Hitler didn’t attack in Dunkirk.  Google knows how many iPhone Apple will sell in Indonesia better than Apple does.  They have probably correlated it to search queries on peanut butter or something.

So if some idiot journalist wants to wax lyrical about it’s “failure to make a feature phone and grab market share” just do what Google does:  smile and ignore.

Apple: We burn Pentiums to the ground

If you don’t remember that slogan, let me remind everyone.  Because in a rather strange way, it has been wiped from Google!  Seriously, Google it.  “We burn Pentiums to the ground” and toasting Pentiums was a major Apple promotional campaign, aimed at convincing us all that their proprietary Motorola (IBM) processors were “better” or “faster” than the Intel alternatives.  It is an extremely educational story to take to hearth as Apple goes down the same rabbit hole with the iPhone today.   Back then it took users a couple of years to figure it out.  Graphic artists were trying to ignore that benchmarks of actual task performance was showing a huge disadvantage.  Back then, Apple was the tool of choice for creative professionals in the visual design.  So it was a matter of pride.  You applied a Photoshop filter and it took twice as long to render it as that guy you made fun of with the cheap PC.  In video it was ridiculous.  Apple did its best to make sure that there weren’t many applications running on both PC and Mac, but Adobe After Effects slipped through the net.  Benchmarks there were off the chart, with the ultra expensive Apple machines trailing by whole minutes in everyday tasks.

So what did Apple do?

They lied in your face!  The “we burn Pentiums to the ground” campaign, much like a lot of Steve Jobs’ presentations, were 100% lies.   He used vague graphics and charts showing an X percent advantage, or stating the new processors were 22% faster than…something.  And then they got personal claiming they “toasted” the Pentium processor.   But you won’t find it easily.  Here’s a video:

 

Where are the ads now?  I am a long time Apple hater so I know very well how I used to find them with an image search…..gone.  Zilch.  Almost no digital footprint of them left!  Either Apple or Intel, or both of them, got Google to make them disappear.  And this is where it gets interesting.  Because Apple is heading the same way today.  I wrote a short article highlighting the many things about the iPhoneX.  Quad DAC, GigabitLTE, MQA, Log and lookup tables for video…it is a long list of useful high end features other smartphones have already.   I post it on Facebook and an Apple fan friend (I still talk to them) starts going on about the “all mighty A11 Apple chip”.  Obviously he had no better response.  But allmighty Apple chip?  Really?

The company is in its classic rabbit hole.  It needs to “think different” but instead it is focusing on “being different”.  Not the same thing.  When the whole world has Bluetooth, the whole world needs Apple working on a safer, faster, better standard.  Not to just tweak it a bit and call it iBluetooth, making its AirBuds “proprietary”, “more expensive” and “not compatible”.  (What their tag lines should have been in the first place.)  When the world agrees to use USB type C we don’t want to carry around custom Apple dongles and dangles.    Siri is a joke and new Apple “features” are usually just copied from Android.  If they are not, they are a bad idea.  Like getting rid of the home button.

I still remember holding the very first iPhone and asking “where is the copy-paste” function?  They laughed.  Like they laughed when I asked where the right click was on their mice.  Guess what?  The iPhone got copy and paste eventually.  And the Mighty Mouse had a right click.  Even now, Apple products are not as good as others in these two respects.   In Android we have built in advanced clipboard features and multiple windows to play with.   They copied too little, too late.  And made a mess of the reality distortion necessary to cover up their tracks.

Much like the old days, someone is going to have bail Apple out.  Not talking about cash this time.  It will be Google that will run to the rescue and they won’t even tell us about it.  Suddenly Siri will magically get better, Apple Maps will work around the world instead of the rather limited version they have now and other Google power features will trickle through in various ways.  Just enough for Apple to pretend it is the innovator.  Which it is.  Just not in technology.  In technology it takes R&D, persistence and number crunching to get to the top.   Apple is better at getting money off people.  Some call it marketing, some of us like to call it as it is.  Especially since most of us aren’t making any money from this mass dellusion.

Don’t let me spoil the party though, enjoy looking at your shiny iPhoneX until it unlocks.

 

Google will never buy Kevin Durant

When the Golden State Warriors got Kevin Durant we were impressed.  What was already a super star team just got even …super starier.  The Warriors couldn’t even hide the fact as he single handedly won matches and LeBron tried to defend 2 or even 3 players on his own at times.  As the finals ended today, (4-1 exactly as I had publicly predicted by the way) I find it hard not to draw parallels with Google.  

 

Between Google and Facebook, online advertising has demolished the old names in media.  Hundreds of million of dollars are flowing every day in a new direction.  But only Google has the intelligence to handle it well.  It isn’t wasting time in messaging apps because messaging apps do not contain much useful information from which to figure out what ads to show you.  Facebook has the 4 most resource hungry apps for Android.  Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and of course the Facebook app itself.  For no good reason.  As they integrate Instagram with Facebook more and more, you can’t help but wonder why we even need four separate apps from Facebook.  While they experiment with screwing up your timelines, Google is getting the job done.

 

Google keeps improving Android at such an amazing pace, even now, that Apple only has to copy a few features every time to manage to entertain its audience.  Which is sort of the point.  Nobody was anywhere near Google in Artificial Intelligence.  Yet Google didn’t launch anything magic until it needed to.    It could blow everyone out of social tomorrow.  Some of us remember that day when our Google searches showed us what our friends were doing and what they thought of our Google searches.  It was a freak day, maybe I was on some A/B test.  I saw what Google could do if they used more of what they know about me and my friends.

 

Google will not though.  It is not about having 4 All NBA players on your team.  It is about hiding their talent unless it becomes necessary.  If Golden State blew out the Cavs today by 160-80 everyone would be furious.  Call it sportsmanship if you like, I call it clever business sense.  Basic human understanding.  Nobody likes a freak.  Society does not tolerate outliers.  Business and government tend to target whoever does too well.  Google will never make a fuss about buying a Kevin Durant.  They got Ray Kurzweil and didn’t make a fuss.  He got natural language recognition working way better than everyone else.  Siri is a joke but Google is making sure you don’t feel bad about it.  In fact it is quite likely that Apple and Facebook end up borrowing technology from Google in order not to fail; they are now officially too big to fail.

 

It takes a little bit more to make a Champion.  And more after that if you don’t want everyone to hate the Champion.

Your social media “strategy” is a pile of steaming… social media

Do you remember SEO?  Some people went around “optimising” websites.  Others sold courses on  search engine optimisation.  No, please, try to remember exactly what went on then.  You were a bit vague how “those Google things” worked.   So you outsourced.  Something worked more or less, you didn’t get fired over low rankings.  Probably because your boss didn’t understand SEO fully either.

There is a good reason why this happened.  It is that nobody fully understands how Google works.  It is secret, personalised, it changes often and Google spends a great amount of time and effort making sure it is difficult to reverse engineer what they do.  Through it all, some of us had an attitude that is more pragmatic.  I always said “if you can tweak it that easily, Google will take it into account automatically.”  All those silly tags, the time wasted adding fields, alt texts and gobbledegook for what?  Google does a better job at figuring out which content should be shown to who than you could even imagine.  From phone usage, to browser habits, email content and million of other signals, Google’s algorithms are simply astounding.  And useful.  Yet still some people pay good money learning about SEO.  Which brings me to the current fashion:  social media training.

A whole industry has been built around teaching you “how to succeed on Instagram” or “how to promote your business on a Facebook page”.  Friendly, trendy, graphic heavy sites, emailings, courses and videos with gurus full of a burning desire to help you “get ahead”.  Training in technology was always a challenge methodologically.  In times of rapid change such as these it is damn near impossible to stay current.  Taking a “course in social media” is essentially admission of a handicap.  You have no real projects to learn from, you lack the drive and bravery to put yourself out.   Sure, you can’t improvise with the facebook account of a Fortune 500 company, but you sure as hell can experiment with any number of other ones.  From the school committee Instagram feed to a blog about your kids’ basketball team.  The cost is zero and the experimental opportunities infinite.  Don’t read about it.  Do it!

I started writing this article after seeing a scary directive in a pretty large corporation defining – among other things – the “correct time for Facebook posts” on their official page.  This is an excellent illustration of just how stupid “social media gurus” have made people.  Google it and you will find loads of scientific looking “papers” by “data scientists” claiming to have crunched millions of data points to “prove” when you get maximum traction.  At first it seems clear or even “obvious”.  You want to post when most people are online, more likely to see what you posted.  But wait a minute.  Those two statements aren’t even connected!

You want to post when most people that are interested in your message are likely to see it.  Not even that.  When some people which might actually react in a way that will have a beneficial impact to your brand will somehow see your social media post.  The more you think about it, the more disclaimers you would need in order to even make sense of what exactly you are trying to achieve.  What is your brand?  Which parts of the audience do you think you will reach?  What mood will they be in at one time versus another?  How will Facebook’s algorithms react to your message at that time in relation to everything else going on when potential message recipients log in?  There is only one way to learn and – you guessed  it – that is not by going to a seminar or reading my articles.  Even if you hire me to experiment and measure for your company, as I propose you do yourself, my fine conclusions will have a very limited shelf life.  If anyone discovers a “silver bullet” for getting great traction in social media, by their very design, social media will have killed the opportunity in days or weeks at best.

Thinking, reading, talking to people and going to seminars are all useful idea generators.  I often discover new tools from the fantastic people around me in the real and virtual world.  We all need training and we all need mechanisms to make us rethink what we do.  People like me should be paid vast amounts of money to help others in this noble cause.  We can all improve in ways to test our hypotheses. But there is only one way to take responsibility and that is directly.  Don’t hide behind management gurus for things you can quite easily test out and know yourselves.   Until Facebook, Google and everyone else change the parameters that is.  Which they have probably done 5-6 times in the time it took you to read this article.

My point precisely!

 

 

English uber alles: the language digital divide

Google assistant is fantastic.  Unless you don’t speak English.  In which case it is almost useless.  The whole “Artificial Intelligence” vogue is rather misleading.  Because when I speak to Google Allo I am still using all my experience in computing.  It works great for me because I think like a computer.  I break down my questions into chunks the way I think the computer wants to hear it.  I add qualifiers, words to help the machine understand with more accuracy.  I use terms that are more likely to work.  When we say “natural language” hey, there are classifications.  I use “natural language more likely to be understood by Google”.  It drives others crazy.  They blame my perfect accent.  “But I said the same thing!  Why doesn’t it work for me?”  

 

Here’s the problem.  Google and pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley, they are all only thinking in English.  Your Amazon Echo is designed for native English speakers.  (Pun intended.)  All your gadgets are.  Worse still, the intelligence is designed around people thinking  in English.  All the structure, the concepts, the way it is set up.  It is rather entertaining how some people get caught up with the fact that slang and tech words are conquering the world.  That is the tip of the iceberg.

 

Silicon Valley is moving ahead of the rest of the planet with leaps and bounds.  Light years ahead.  We don’t have local information.  We can’t use amazon like you do.   We can’t pay for stuff or call a self driving car.  Amazon will not be able to deliver to the trunk of my car either.  The United States are a test bed for new tech and the gap with everyone else will grow exponentially.  And only in 2030, when computers are smarter than humans, maybe, just maybe, those computers may decide to develop all these wonderful tools for the rest of the earthlings.    And even then it will take a lot of work.  Because English is the language that provides the structure and concepts.  More likely that you will have all learnt to think like Google by then. 

 

2030 is still material for science fiction.  Today, now, it is clear that we all have to move to the Valley or fall behind.  We have neither the data with which to develop such advanced tools, nor the number crunching power.   The entire planet sends their thoughts to Google every day  Out position, habits and preferences.  It is no conspiracy theory, it is simple mathematics.  Not impossible to catch up, just really really hard.

Google is evil. But not like you imagine it is.

“Ah, yes, you’re the guy that has a thing against Google.”

It wasn’t the best of introductions but I knew what he was on about. I do have “a thing” with Google.  I am jealous as hell!  Because a select few people in Google are literally the closest a homo sapiens has ever come to being an all knowing God.

This is not some conspiracy theory.  Some time ago Google started hiding search results.  Out of on thousand people coming to a website via Google search, almost nine hundred are now a blank slate.  Google doesn’t tell us which keyword sent them here.  “Unknown search terms” is their way of admitting they are evil.

Worse still, the kind of keywords not appearing in results is far from random.  Google has used all their deep learning algorithm prowess to skilfully select categories so you can’t game or reverse engineer it.  Even in languages other than English, their technology is awesome.  90 per cent of the planet is using a search engine which then sends them to results based on a completely secret method.  And then it tells us nothing about where and how it did it.

So what?  Well, for starters, Google can hide or promote any idea, product, brand or other entity.  There are extreme examples, whereby a government or rich person pays them to do it.  Relegating a search result to page two of search results is usually good enough, though I have seen cases where the unwanted result disappears completely after on phone call.  Completely.  Like it never existed.

But that isn’t the biggest issue.  The real question nobody is asking is “how does Google sell all this knowledge?”  If you want to know what teenagers in your region will be buying tomorrow, Google can tell you.  Yes, it can sell you the information.  The corellations between search results and real life transactions and trends are pure gold.  Google knows if your next export idea is good or not.  Google knows what will sell and what will fail.  Much like they did with influenza, Google knows better than anyone at any time in human history, what is going to happen tomorrow.

All large organizations have more or less secret divisions.  When Microsoft decided to target governments all around the world, they didn’t call the division “blackmail and coerce department”.  It was lobbying.   Unfortunately Google works in much shadier ways.   Kings of industry have personal and secret relationships with Google.  Not their “head of sales” or “head of Research and Development”.  It is outside the office where this sort of information is exchanged.  Like insider information for the stock market only much much more powerful.

Google not only knows which government will win the elections, Google can greatly influence the result.  Google doesn’t even care, they can sell advertising and information to everyone on all sides involved.  Their rising levels of secrecy and the pittance of data they do allow us access to proves Google is more powerful to do evil than any other organisation in the history of mankind.

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out http://jamesreardon.org/ – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

Why Google will never post profits like Apple just did

The Imitation Game was not as good a film as it was made out to be.  Maybe if you know nothing about Turing or the history around it all, or if you enjoy watching whodunnit TV shows.  Some people summarized it as “the story of how a closet gay shortened the war by two years”.  Well that is a terrible summary.  Probably because the film isn’t sure where to focus.  What is much more interesting is that thanks to his invention, the computer, we can quite accurately guess how many gay men in the U.S. are in the closet looking at Google searches.

In the film, the only part I found interesting (but the film just glossed over in a video clip like quick series of shots with music) was after they broke the Enigma code.  They had to use some of the intelligence, but not so much that the Nazis figured out they were eavesdropping.  If they saved every ship from Uboat attacks, the Germans would know they knew how Enigma worked and change the whole coding system thus rendering it uncrackable again.    They had to calculate the impact of every Nazi move on the war effort and decide where they could pass on vital information to the Allies to make a difference.  Only just enough of a difference though…

In that sense, Google is much much worse than Hitler and the entire Nazi empire.  They own the global search market.  They know what we want better than us because not only do they have our individual searches, but the technology to evaluate it too.   And how much do they tell us?  They statistically jiggle, hide, mix up, muddle and do everything they can so we can’t reverse engineer what they know.  Which is a lot.   Google knows what we are looking for.  Google knows what we are thinking.  It is the closest to an omniscient being we have ever had.  Even without their impressive number crunching technology, just looking at the raw data of searches in a country or particular region would spark a million new business ideas in the head of even the most ignorant person.

I am pretty serious when I say that I would willingly cut off a finger in exchange for access to Google big data.  It really would be the closest to playing God I can imagine.  Surely way beyond any previous homo sapiens could even imagine.

So when Apple posts “record profits” I just smile.    Google could easily make ten times as much.  But then everyone would start asking questions.  When Google chooses certain cities for ultra fast access, how are they choosing?  Should we all be focusing on those cities?  When Google buys a company, what do they know that we don’t?  Exactly like Turing’s team in World War II, Google is carefully giving away only just so much so we can’t reverse engineer what they are up to.

Unfortunately my finger is still on my hand and I am none the wiser though…

No Zuckerberg, I don’t think we will ever trust you

Facebook wants us to trust it.  Zuckerberg says they need to change their hacker mentality.  Stop taking advantage of users and start seeing our point of view.  It’s not going to happen.  And he isn’t putting his money where his mouth is.   Facebook is still essentially the same scammy way of thinking he had from the day he ripped off the idea from others and rushed to do it first.

It is also about how businesses react to pressure.  Google is a fine example.   They do the philantthropy angle much more convincingly.  They did from day one.   Purple cow, Project X or anything else you want to call it, they made it part of their branding all along.

But there is more to it;  the whole social network idea is simply not the right message.   Don’t look at youngsters leaving Facebook.  Look at Google starting to phase out the Google Plus logging from other sites.  Why?  Not because Google plus failed.  Because a Google identity either from Gmail or from an Android phone is pretty ubiquitous.  And serious.   Nobody will blink if you tell them you have Gmail.  Tell them you use Facebook and it takes a bit of explanation:  what, how, when, why.

Social networking is not a core life activity.  Communicating is.   Facebook made it’s mission (along the way) sharing the things you care about with the world.  Well, Facebook is not the best way of doing that, is it?  Windows dressing, slogans and reacting to market research won’t save Facebook unless it really, really changes its actions before its words.

Apple Silli and Google Creepy

I have been accused of being a “Google basher”.  This is rather unfair.  It would be hypocritical to use so many of their products and complain.    Google Now might well be called “Google Creepy”.  It draws on my email, calendar, gps, web searches and many many other bits of information I voluntarily hand over to them everyday.   And it gives me better advice.  It knows what I am really looking for.

Anyway you look at it, when you conduct a web search it is well worth sitting back and thinking about it:  “You have just got relevant information from the sum total of human data available on a vast international network in 0.8 seconds“.  That’s not quite how it says it at the bottom of every Google search, but it sure could boast if it wanted to.  Nothing comes close.

Which of course is why Apple bought Cue.  A desperate effort to get Siri slightly more intelligent by using what little social context you are willing to give it plus access to your mailbox.  Much like Apple’s humbling experience with maps, the point is to buy in some  know how.  Just enough new features for them to talk about at the next iPhone or iOs launch.  Enough to keep the fans happy.  But nowhere near as much substance as Google Now.

What this approach to customization is effectively doing is making it even harder to monitor what Apple and Google are doing with our data.  Like the Hummingbird changes to Google search, they are introducing an even bigger “not provided” category in Google Analytics.  You will not know how visitors got to your website as it is not a simple matter of keywords anymore.  It might be because Google Now algorithmically guessed really well, or it might be influenced by an Ad campaign or it might even be the NSA giving Google instructions to get you to land on a website.   We simply won’t know and there will be no way to reverse engineer it easily either.

So no, I’m not Google bashing.  I am in awe of the company’s ability to walk that fine line.  They persuade us that what they offer is so useful that it really is worth handing over personal data for it.     But Apple?  What exactly are they offering?