Tag Archives: Google

The next bubble

The next bubble will not be real-estate, or tech startups and we actually aready live in it. It is… The Filter Bubble (book by Eli Pariser).

It means that your search results are personalized and customized according to your habits, friends, and taste. It also means that two persons searching the same term can receive very different results. Google started doing that in 2009, and up to now, I have never really cared a lot about this (as most people will have). However, they introduced ever more services since then that all collect your data. Notably they know your location via your Android phone, and your friends via Google+, as well as their posts and locations. They know your appointments via Google calendar, and your contacts via your address book. They know every search term ever entered, and the links clicked from the result pages.

Today I opened the Google Homepage and the previously bare page was cluttered with advertizements to install their Google Chrome webbrowser, to search Google+ and whatnot. Combined with their current privacy policy update which clarifies that:

Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.

This leads to a very dangerous mix. Why am I sceptical about improved search results? See for instance, Eli Pariser’s TED talk here.

Google gives you search results that you and your friends will like, e.g. the blogs they read, the links they click, etc. This leads to an even higher degree of selective exposure than we usually have. In effect it means a compartmentalization of the Internet in areas where you feel warm, cozy, and comfortable, being shielded from things that differ from your opinion, or are likely to appall you. Is this always a good thing? It facilitates group-think and prevents you from being challenged by different world views.

Do I like relevant search results? Obviously yes! Am I concerned about living in a filter bubble? Yes, very much so…

An afternoon at Google (ZH)

Wow, I wish I could have taken pictures! Today, Frida, Martin’s girl friend, took us for a visit at Google’s Zurich office. And, oh boy, our own offices feel so dull now…

The offices itself are actually pretty generic and crammed with loads of people sharing a single room, and very little space for privacy. What makes the facilities so special is actually the space between the offices.

The fact that you have subsidized hair-cutter and massage facilities are probably not so special nowadays, but to have fireman’s poles between floors that can be used by employees is special. Most of the poles that I have observed seemed to end in some kind of cafeteria or lounge which exist on any floor. Quick access to food is also provided by the slide which ends right in the middle of the main cafeteria, where we had lunch.

Lunch is provided for free to employees, at least I could not detect any kind of billing system. It was a bit of a special lunch in any case, as the kitchen celebrated Halloween, and we had chopped of feet, and liver from the kitchen chef, with bloody ice cream. Yummy :-).

In fact, food remained at the center of interest during that visit: There are plenty of lounges, each one themed differently (and often to match each floor’s theme): We saw the Sky lounge in floor 7, overlooking Zurich, the Djungle lounge which has a true rainforesty feeling to it, with small seating spots in the wilderness. Any "ivy-league university library" lounge complete with leather fouteuils (bar the selection of computer books in the shelves). A tube-station-themed cafe, and plenty others, plus a set of "microkitchens" all over the place. What all of these facilities had in common was really nice espresso and coffee machines (as admitted by our connoisseur Stefan), plus fridges full of coke, Ben&Jerries, and Mövenpick ice crea & other snacks available for free. The "library" offers fresh bread and breakfast all day round. I would certainly grow fat there! :-).

TO work off the calories, you could always go to the gym, or the sports club for a round of table tennis. Having eaten too much, one might also enjoy the "water lounge": a cool, quiet, dark room, with one wall consisting of aquariums, and opposite a row of massage chairs and bath tubs to lie in (with styropor foam for a comfy lie in).

To compensate for the non-private, shared office space, there is plenty of possibilities for small meetings: each floor sports "phone booths", ie old skiing gondolas, decorated after the floor’s theme. We enjoyed especially the Roger Federer cabin, whose seats had been covered with sliced tennis balls, and the soccer gondola, covered with fake grass carpets.

TV screens in these lounges display the status of various things: if daily builds of projects succeeded and whatnot.

A lot of tiny things show that the place has purposefully been decorated with a nod towards playfullness: two hidden mice roam the tube-cafe, the 20% room which has a "binary" carpet sports a Google logo in one corner, the "tech stops" (support facilities) are decorated with surf boards and have a relaxed look about them (being situated next to a lounge might help).

One of my favorite rooms was the cinema… A presentation room, with about 40 chairs, none of which looked the same. There were thrones, small sofas, fouteills, plush hairs, in all colors and sizes, and it looked amazing.

Overall, I suppose it is OK to cram people in shared offices if you offer social spaces to retreat to, meat, eat, and work in quiet.

It was an amazing visit (Thanks Frida), and I returned with a stomach full of Espresso and Ben&Jerries, and a head full of inspiration, awestricken from that trip. Can I apply to work at Google now?

P.S. And yes, there is the mythical 20% area, in which employees get to work on some extra projects, should they chose to do so (and have it granted). When we were there, only one lady with her dog was working there though (seen a couple of dogs there, BTW).

HTC sues Apple using Patents Google bought from Motorola

It would not be worth mentioning that two mobile phone manufacturers sue each other. They have been doing this in such complicated ways, that the charts visualizing this became art itself. The latest one is interesting though.

It has been mostly speculated that Google bought Motorola for its patents, although some have argued that Google did it for the hardware part too. The patents part can be confirmed at least now. Google acquired around 17k patents (including applications), and it apparently has transferred some to beleaguered HTC which allegedly already has to pay up to $15 per Android handset to Microsoft (which seems to demand $15 alone), Apple and other ‘innovators’.

Now Bloomberg reports (via LWN) that HTC has filed a new lawsuit against Apple, claiming that it infringes on nine patents. Patents that originate from Palm and Motorola, and which Google has acquired over the last year. Google has handed those patents to HTC, and they are firing back at Apple immediately. Am I the only one whose head starts to spin, trying to understand this?

It is no secret that I think the patent system is somewhat broken as it is. If all patent litigations were adjudicated in 2008 the total cost would have been $31,224,000,000. (nice infographics included). We live in a world where a Firm can sue Gap, Dell, eBay, Apple, Amazon, Walmart, Barnes&Noble, Microsoft, and Verizon in the same suit because of a patent to recommend alternative products before a deal has been done. I mean car dealers have been using this method in real life since the car was invented.

The situation is especially bad in software, as many patents are vague and broadly specified so that it is unclear what they cover until actual litigation ensues. It also perverts the original intention of patents to disclose knowledge so that the invention can be used by the public after it has run out.

It has been argued, that patents are needed for innovation occurs, but a study has shown that the software industry does not seem to be the main benefactor of software patents itself:

that the broad software industry (SIC 737) accounted for only 11
percent of software patent grants to public firms in 1996 and 17
percent in 2006. The prepackaged software industry account for 2.8
percent and 9.8 percent in those years respectively. Thus the
software industry still accounts for a small portion of software
patent grants, although that portion has increased over the last
decade. Most software patents still go to non-software firms.
Bessen 2011 via Techdirt blog post

Patently absurd

The current patent war in the mobile phone space is absurd and obscene (this cool chart visualizes that everyone is suing everyone).

I am all for innovation, but we are living in a world in which Microsoft earns more from Android phones than they do from Windows phones.

Now Google has agreed to buy the mobile phone division from Motorola for $12.5 billions (yes BILLIONS). The main reason they are doing so is to get access to the vast patent portfolio that Motorola has. That gives GOOG ammunition to defend itself and Android manufacturers from others that are aggressively building patent portfolios in this area.

Interestingly enough, the Motorola CEO had announced just 4 days ago that they might be using their patent portfolio in a more offensive manner against Android rivals. A move to increase the sales price? Most likely.

Google, which had only around 660 patents or so until recently, many of them search-related, had been attempting to gather a patent portfolio for quite some time. They unsuccessfully bid for the patents of bankrupt Nortel (in typically geeky manner, they bid odd sums that represent weird constants, eg. the number π in billion dollars).
A portfolio of around nearly 800 patents from Novell had already gone to a Microsoft-Apple-EMC-Oracle consortium and the 6,000 Nortel patents went for $4.5bn to a consortium of Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and Sony (among others).

Google had complained about unfair market dominance in the first deal already and the anti-trust agencies had modified the conditions of the deal. The Nortel patent deal increased the pressure from Apple and Microsoft on Google to build up their own portfolio. It is said that Android handset makers are already paying between $5 and $15 per handset to Microsoft, and possibly to other patent holders too.

Patents are supposed to stimulate innovation. But a world in which a 5-year old can patent a way to swing on a swing, is clearly insane and patents fail to work. Academics that are real patent experts, such as Jim Bessen, who have done studies on this agree.

P.S. Why in the world does everyone and his dog has to cite Florian Mueller (I’m not linking there) as the patent expert uncovering important issues. I know that activists and lobbyists can be experts too, but the clear lack of transparency and obvious bias is unsettling.

P.P.S. This deal will make Google the largest supplier of TV set-top boxes.