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Archive for the tag “Google”

When choice isn’t – how Big Data, and the highest bidder, could “guide” you

I haven’t even finished reading an article and I already want to share something out of it.

Phil Baumann shared an article by Evgeny Morozov that, among other things, notes that Silicon Valley is not subject to the same critical analysis that is applied to, say, the oil industry. As I said, I’m still reading the article, but I was struck by Morozov’s futuristic “what if” buried within…which shows how a decision that you would presumably make independently can actually be guided behind the scenes.

Suppose you want to become a vegetarian. So you go to Facebook and use its Graph Search feature to search for the favorite vegetarian restaurants of all your friends who live nearby. Facebook understands that you are considering an important decision that will affect several industries: great news for the tofu industry but bad news for the meat section of your local supermarket.

Facebook would be silly not to profit from this knowledge – so it organizes a real-time ad auction to see whether the meat industry wants you more than the tofu industry.

To this point, there’s nothing really new here. The meat industry and the tofu industry have been battling for our minds – and wallets – for years. But now that you have an individual Facebook account, tied to a Google or Apple phone that you carry with you all the time, that battle can be carried out on an individual, personal level. Morozov assumes that the meat industry won the ad auction, and magical things begin to happen.

[Y]ou enter your local supermarket and your smartphone shows that the meat section offers you a discount of 20%. The following day, as you pass by the local steak house, your phone buzzes again: you’ve got another discount offer.

In the past, I (and other) have spoken of the ideal form of advertising as one that doesn’t feel like advertising at all, since it provides you with the information that you want. But what if you only get SOME of the information you want…and the party that didn’t pony up the money is shut out? Then something like this could happen:

After a week of deliberation – and lots of cheap meat — you decide that vegetarianism is not your thing. Case closed.

Of course, had the tofu industry won the ad auction, things might have gone in the opposite direction.

Now in and of itself, this would not be a problem – provided that the whole deal was done transparently. “Transparency” is a word that is often preached as the foundation of social interaction – I should be transparent when sharing my likes and dislikes with Facebook, Google, and the rest. But the companies that use my data, and in some cases own my data, are not always all that transparent themselves when saying how that data is used.

My quick thoughts – let me get back to reading the article.


Another description of change taking place – rematerialization

Remember Jim Ulvog’s blog Outrun Change (that I previously mentioned)? Well, Ulvog has written a post entitled Another description of change taking place – dematerialization. After quoting from a recently Matt Ridley item in the Wall Street Journal, The Future Is So Bright, it’s Dematerializing, Ulvog goes on to observe:

Music, books, photographs. All have dematerialized. The last half-dozen books I bought were in Kindle format.

Add to his list: x-rays, both at the hospital and dentist’s office. Over the next few years, medical records will dematerialize.

Ulvog then observes how his own field, accounting, has changed because of this dematerialization.

And he’s right – to a point.

You see, from his perspective (and yours and mine), it appears that things have dematerialized. After all, I’m writing this post without having to use any paper.

But when we buy music or e-books, where do they come from? And when we store photograph and blog posts, where do they go? Well, in certain cases, they will come from and go to Prineville, Oregon:

Apple Inc. confirmed today that it bought 160 acres near Prineville in central Oregon for a new data center, making it the latest tech giant to locate a server farm in the state….

The Oregonian reported in December that Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple was eyeing the land, about a quarter mile south of a data center operated by Facebook….

Amazon and Google already own data centers in Oregon, too.

And everywhere else, also. These “server farms” take up a lot of space, and while it might be less than the physical equivalents, we have to remember that all of our so-called “virtual” items actually have to be stored SOMEWHERE.

When “a little company in Chicago” invented the cellular phone

Loren Feldman reshared a Verge interview on Google+, and as a former Motorola employee it was certainly interesting to me. In the interview, Chris Ziegler talked with Marty Cooper, who was involved with the creation of two notable phones – the DynaTAC, and the Jitterbug.

In this post, I’ll talk about the former. Even though back in 2010 I promised that I’d write a follow-up on the Jitterbug.

Cooper discussed a number of topics in the interview, but this is (some of) what he said about the DynaTAC:

I’m proud of having conceived of the first cellphone, but the idea of why that was done was much more a sense of pride. That was we had to beat AT&T — we had to beat the monopoly. And remember, that wasn’t the same AT&T as today. We took on, this little company in Chicago, took on the biggest company in the world by every measure. And we beat ’em. If AT&T had won and they would still be a monopoly — by the way, that’s starting to happen again, and I hope that doesn’t happen….

[H]ow could you ever imagine that in my lifetime there would be tens of millions of transistors in a cellphone? And doing all the things you could do with that computing power. It happened gradually enough so that I don’t think there was any moment of surprise, but I’m still amazed….

So we had been struggling with this drain thing, and even with that, the DynaTAC had a battery life of 20 minutes, 20 minutes of talking. And it took the best technology available to make that happen, and now we complain if you can’t get two days, and instead of running a couple thousand transistors, you’re running 10 or 20 million transistors. Quite incredible.

I strongly encourage you the read the rest of the interview, which includes more AT&T bashing (both the old and the new AT&T), some pre-cellphone stuff, and observations on Bob Galvin, Chris Galvin, Sanjay Jha, Google, and others.

Blogs, social networks, and what this means for tymshft

On Sunday, February 19, I started a blog. You’re reading it right now.

At the same time, I established a Google+ page (https://plus.google.com/b/110538760339914860505/#) for the blog, as well as a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Tymshft/390937200923679?sk=wall). My idea at the time was that the Google+ and Facebook pages could be “outliers” for my blog, which would be the center of the tymshft universe (such as it is).

On Monday, February 20, Jesse Stay wrote something (My Official (and Obligatory) “Traditional Blogging is Dead” Post) that presented a different perspective. Excerpts:

As sad as I am to see it, I think blogging really is dying. It’s a really tough way to make a living, and will become even more difficult in the future, in favor of more traditional news sites and people able to share and post personal opinion on social networks such as Google+, Facebook, and Twitter….

Does this mean I’ll kill my blog? Of course not – it just means I have to adapt its focus….

It means my blog is now becoming an extension of the social networks, and not vice versa.

For the record, I saw Stay’s thoughts on Facebook before I saw the blog post in Google Reader. Sign of the…um…times?

As is often true in technology, this represents a swinging of the pendulum. Back in the 1990s, it was important to have a presence on America OnLine. Then, by the time I finally got around to blogging in late 2003, it became more important to have your own presence – your own webpage, your own blog, what have you. Now the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, and both individuals and corporations are finding that it’s more important to have a Facebook/Twitter/Google+ presence than it is to have your own thing.

When I read Stay’s comments I had not yet formally announced the existence of this blog – actually, I STILL haven’t made a formal announcement – so I’ve been posting cryptic statements saying that this was an interesting time (heh) to read things such as Stay’s article.

As any good Lutheran would, I am now asking myself the question: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? In this case, it means that I need to pay attention to the Facebook and Google+ “outliers” more. (I’ve established similar pages for some of my other Empoprises blogs, but have neglected them.) After all, the “outliers” may actually be “inliers.”

So, I encourage you to join the tymshft pages on Facebook and Google+.



And, more importantly, PARTICIPATE! Somehow we’ll all figure out how the blog and the Facebook page and the Google+ page can all work together as part of one happy family. Because I read something else last night – something from Kyle Lacy – that reminded me that the whole “comment fragmentation” issue hasn’t gone away.

Tech age discrimination, or something else? Reverse trends in the US and Japan

I have neglected to bring up Dave Winer’s January 30 post in which Winer, who is about the same age as I, discussed allegations of age discrimination at Google. Winer cited a New York Times artiicle that included the following:

Seth Williams, a director of staffing at Google, said his firm was looking for candidates who are “passionate” and “truly have a desire to change the world.”

After quoting similar statements from LinkedIn and Facebook, the article then states:

Some observers say much of this language is just code for age discrimination. They point to the case of Brian Reid, a 52-year-old manager who was fired by Google in 2004 — nine days before the company announced plans to go public — after his supervisors, including the company’s vice president for engineering operations, allegedly called him a poor “cultural fit,” an “old guy” and a “fuddy-duddy” with ideas “too old to matter.”

Winer notes that derogatory language is unacceptable in the workplace when speaking about race or gender, but that the language quoted above is completely acceptable.

But while age bias may be one of the EFFECTS of the practices of tech companies, I suspect that it’s not the underlying CAUSE. Something else is afoot.

I finally found the item that I referenced in the comments to Winer’s post. It’s something that was published a couple of weeks before Winer’s post. The item is entitled What It’s Really Like to Work at Google. Here are some relevant excerpts from the article:

There’s no doubt that working at Google comes with perks; not only does Google provide the traditional benefits like health insurance and extremely competitive pay, but Googlers are treated to free breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, free on-site massages, car detailing, on-site fitness centers, and even napping pods.

It’s almost as if you could live on campus and never leave.

Hold that thought.

Google features full showers and locker rooms, enabling Googlers to work as hard as they want, potentially for days at a time. A former contractor for Google noted that many of the engineers and sales teams “are always pushing themselves and each other. I saw a lot of really determined, competitive people there,” to the point that they would stay on campus for several days at a time.

Brilliantly, Google has designed all of its offices so its employees can stay at work overnight, without having to worry about a thing — such as their hunger, health, or hygiene.

Now at the time that I read the Winer post, I noted that the only people who could “live and breathe” Google were people without families. And since people who have families tend to be older than those without families, one can see the potential for age bias.

But if you look at the history of business, you’ll find that people who “lived and breathed” companies in the past weren’t necessarily young. Remember the salaryman?

When Akira got married, he recalls, he invited his bucho, or division chief, to the wedding, as all salarymen did. And during the reception the boss made a speech to the bride, as he always did. “Your new husband is a very good worker,” he began. “He is important to the company. So please understand that he may need to work many long hours.” All the guests nodded silently. “And when he is at home, please take care of him.”

Akira says that his bride—the marriage was largely arranged by their families—was not upset by the bucho’s remarks: her role of housewife was taken for granted. “But later she thought something must be wrong with the system,” he confides. Akira would return home in the small hours stumbling drunk; dutifully she would wait up, angered. The dinner is put away and the bath is cold, she might say. As he grew older, he no longer stayed out so late. But he did not share her reservations about his evening activities. “In Japan entertaining clients is a part of the job,” he explains.

A salaryman arrives in the office at 9am and ends his working day late, often around midnight. He does not dare leave the office before his supervisor—and managers stay late to show their loyalty. Is any work going on? Rarely. But long hours remain the norm.

In Japan, it’s the younger workers who have rebelled against the salaryman system.

Late-night carousing is becoming less common these days: younger colleagues treat the hours after work as their own, not the company’s. Nobu, an ambitious 31-year-old salaryman, is one such. He chose a job at an American company in part so that he could work reasonable hours. He didn’t count on having a manager of the old school, who kept the team in the office or in the bars. “My first year, I didn’t get more than three or four hours of sleep a day,” he says. Changing jobs was not an option. “I didn’t want to quit—because it was so tough,” he says. “Then I would have ‘lost’.” When he got a new manager, Nobu was able to relish his free time.

So in Japan, it’s the old people who give everything to the company, and the young ones who maintain a life of their own. In Silicon Valley, it’s the opposite – the older workers have tended to “get a life,” while the younger workers are more inclined to be the “salarypeople” for Google or LinkedIn or Facebook or whoever.

While the age discrimination that Winer rails against is probably real, it’s probably an accident of the times. If Google could get the fifty somethings to stay on campus all night, then perhaps it would be the college grads who would complain about an inability to get hired by Google, since Google hiring people would use code words such as “experienced” and “seasoned” to describe the people they want.

And who knows? Perhaps 10-20 years from now, when the current Google workforce starts having grandkids, those young people may be undesirable hires.

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