OPLIN 4cast #398: Google and HTTPS

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

padlockGoogle made an interesting announcement last week. Because they want to promote the use of secure, encoded HTTPS for website connections, they are going to make HTTPS a “ranking signal” for their search results. In other words, if a website uses HTTPS, it will show up higher in a Google search than a site that does not — maybe only a little bit higher for now since this will initially be just a minor ranking signal, but Google confesses that they may make it a more important signal later. Almost all the reaction was positive, except for tweets from people who work in the search engine optimization business, but as librarians, shouldn’t we be a bit concerned that the quality of information might be judged based on its format instead of its content, just so Google can make a point about web security?

  • Google Search starts penalizing websites that don’t use encryption (PC World | Jeremy Kirk)  “The move is designed to spur developers to implement TLS (Transport Layer Security), which uses a digital certificate to encrypt traffic, signified by a padlock in most browsers and ‘https’ at the beginning of a URL. As Google scans Web pages, it takes into account certain attributes, such as whether a Web page has unique content, to determine where it will appear in search rankings. It has added the use of https into those signals, although it will be a ‘lightweight’ one and applies to about 1 percent of search queries now…”
  • In major shift, Google boosts search rankings of HTTPS-protected sites (Ars Technica | Dan Goodin)  “TLS also provides a means for cryptographically validating that a server claiming to belong to Google, Bank of America, or any other website is authentic, rather than an impostor set up to trick users. Over the past few years, American Civil Liberties Union Principal Technologist Chris Soghoian has used a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade more sites to HTTPS-protect their pages. He sometimes publicly chastises companies that transmit sensitive information over unencrypted connections.”
  • Google boosts secure sites in search results (Electronic Frontier Foundation | Bill Budington)  “This week’s announcement further underlines a commitment to encrypting Internet traffic and keeping user data safe, and encouraging others to do so. We urge Google to go further and carry out its plan to strengthen the preference of HTTPS sites, as well as favoring sites that have configured HTTPS well…”
  • Google to reward sites with HTTPS security in search rankings (Forbes | Larry Magid)  “This is one more example of the power of Google’s ranking system. While Google doesn’t control content on the web, its search is by far the most effective way for content to be found so anything a webmaster can do to increase a Google ranking equates to more visitors and, in many cases, more revenue.”

Articles from Ohio Web Library:

OPLIN 4cast #396: Global communication

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Google Translate iconYou have to give Google credit for thinking big. Some recent developments seem to indicate that they believe it’s time for Google Translate, which has been slowly getting better, to truly make an impact on the global language barriers to communication. Translate can currently handle 80 languages, and if it’s not yet accurate enough for the medical community, it seems to be good enough for government websites trying to engage the 10% of Americans with limited English proficiency. So what is the best way to accelerate improvement of Google Translate? Google’s answer: They have empowered Translate users to do the job.

  • Translate Community: Help us improve Google Translate! (Google Translate blog | Sveta Kelman)  “We’ve just launched a new Translate Community where language enthusiasts can help us improve translation quality for the 80 languages we support, as well as help us in launching new languages. In the new community, you’ll find options to help with a variety of things, including generating new translations and rating existing ones. Over time, you’ll find more ways to contribute, as well as get more visibility into the impact of your contributions and the activity across the community.”
  • Google wants to improve its translations through crowdsourcing (TechCrunch | Frederic Lardinois)  “For those who don’t want to join the community, Google also recently launched a new feature directly in Google Translate that allows you to contribute your own translation when you see a mistake. Google Translate always allowed you to rate translations as helpful, not helpful and offensive, but now you can actually provide the service with the actual correction.”
  • Google Translate gets Translate Community to improve translation quality (TechOne3 | Jagmeet Singh)  “Apart from making an authorised community, Google has recently added the ability to suggest an entirely new translation directly in Google Translate. To submit translations, users have to click the ‘Improve this translation’ pencil icon and click ‘Contribute’ to submit.”
  • Five things to consider before using Google Translate for Bengali translation (Smartling blog | Rehana Parvin)  “Every time Google Translate isn’t able to translate a word into Bengali, you can add the word in manually, save the change, and use it the next time. Taking the same example from above, the word, ‘বইয়ের’ is incorrect. The correct word would be ‘বইটি’. If you click on the word ‘বইয়ের,’ you’ll be able to click and choose the correct replacement.”

Articles from Ohio Web Library:

OPLIN 4cast #387: Social WiFi

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

social wifiEver heard of social WiFi? Well, we know that using any password to authenticate users of a WiFi network, even a simple one posted on signs around the library, is good practice because it automatically encrypts the WiFi traffic instead of sending it through the air in clear text. So what if you asked your library WiFi users to login with their social media credentials instead of yet-another-password. And then a library computer could look through their Facebook postings (for example) to look for the kinds of books they like to read and send them “ads” for similar books in your library. That kind of thing is called “social WiFi,” and it’s a significant trend in businesses that provide public WiFi.

  • Purple WiFi and Wavelink join forces to offer social WiFi (Connect World/Purple WiFi press release)  “The guests log into the secure hotspot system using social media authentication, via networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The venue providing the connection gains valuable demographic and engagement information from users through its Purple Portal, which allows the business to understand who is visiting and using their hotspot, how long they are online, as well as their age, gender and any other relevant information that they offer in their social networking profile. The portal also provides a powerful engagement tool to promote relevant offers, essentially rewarding guests for visiting the venue.”
  • Social WiFi sign-in: Benefits with a dark side (Network COmputing/Lee Badman)  “As strange as it seems, despite the wide-open nature of our social media personas, we still expect a modicum of control over how our information gets used. Social WiFi undercuts that odd, fragile handle we have on our social media data to monetize and upsell us in ways that don’t make me really comfortable. Once the data is mined and conclusions are drawn from it, we become new people in the eyes of the social WiFi provider, with no control over how the process presents us.”
  • Too much information? Facebook, Google face backlash over logins (Wall Street Journal/Elizabeth Dwoskin)  “Facebook recently said it would begin to offer anonymous logins and also allow users to choose which data they want to share, a response to privacy concerns. The head of Google+ recently stepped down amid signs the social network isn’t popular with users. ‘We’ve gotten feedback,’ said Eddie O’Neil, product manager for Facebook Login. ‘We first heard from people that they want more transparency, second, more control.’”
  • Social Wi-Fi and privacy: Keeping balance in the force (AirTight Networks blog/Sean Blanton)  “Remember that while mobility is fairly ubiquitous in our society, it very much skews to millennials who (like myself) are getting older and expanding our interactions beyond school and home. I’d argue that free Wi-Fi and a dessert coupon in exchange for my name, age and city is a pretty sweet deal, and I’d be excited to see what other places I frequent would provide me with a tailored experiences instead of generic, seemingly unhelpful ones.”

Login fact:
According to recent data collected by LoginRadius, people use a Facebook account most often for social logins (49%), followed by Google+ (29%), and Twitter (6%).

OPLIN 4cast #386: The right to be forgotten

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

EU Court of Justice emblemOn May 13, the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) in Luxembourg ruled that an individual can demand that Google remove certain search results that appear when someone Googles that individual’s name. This landmark ruling on the “right to be forgotten” quickly became the topic of a flurry of media stories. Many librarians may not be sure exactly how they feel about this topic. On the one hand, as the Index on Censorship noted, withholding selected information may seem “…akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books.” But on the other hand, libraries are carefully protective of their users’ privacy. What is the best balance between the right to know and the right to privacy?

  • US v Europe – a cultural gap on the right to be forgotten (BBC News/Rory Cellan-Jones)  “So a battle between two views of freedom – the US belief that free speech trumps everything, and the European view that individuals should have some control over what the world knows about them. But there is something else in play here, a growing unease about the power wielded by what are nearly always US web giants over our lives. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other firms that store and use vast banks of data about Europeans have all sought to deny responsibility for how people use and share that information.”
  • ‘Right to be forgotten’ ruling creates a quagmire for Google et al (The Guardian/James Ball)  “Most major tech giants are based in the US – which thanks to the first amendment, is very unlikely to require companies to restrict search results (ie what they can ‘publish’) due to overseas privacy requirements. The results could become exceedingly strange: will people searching from the US be able to see the ‘private’ data of EU citizens, while natives of those countries cannot? Or will companies with no EU footprint be able to serve up results, but those with sales offices in EU countries be required to censor them?”
  • The myths & realities of how of the EU’s new “right to be forgotten” in Google works (Search Engine Land/Danny Sullivan)  “One strategy would be for Google (or any search engine) to decide not to decide. Any request it receives, it could respond that unless the request relates to some very specific situations, it will be rejected because Google doesn’t believe it can fairly judge between the right of privacy and the right of free speech. Instead, Google could recommend that someone go to a particular country’s privacy agency for a ruling and let that agency make the call.”
  • UnGoogle me: The case for scrubbing search results (Business Week/Paul Ford)  “Google has long been willing to scrub the public record in order to ease the distress of its users. It doesn’t advertise this widely. But its index has never been total. Illegal material, copyright violations, and the like have been kept out. Google is not an impartial arbiter of the Web. It is a mediated, incomplete index, influenced by plenty of outside factors and long-term commercial goals.”

Case facts:
In 2010, a Spanish man filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, AEPD) against Google and a newspaper that had published an item about his financial situation in 1998. The AEPD rejected the complaint against the newspaper, but asked Google to remove the item from their search results. Google appealed to the Spanish National High Court, and that court referred the question to the EU Court of Justice in 2012.

OPLIN 4cast #371: Google of the future

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

DeepMind logoA couple of weeks ago, Google confirmed that it had purchased DeepMind, a London artificial intelligence company. This set off a flurry of speculation in the technology press: What is Google planning now? Nobody but Google knows for sure, but some of the best technology journalists think they have it figured out, though they don’t completely agree. We will probably know soon enough what the Google of the future will be, but it seems certain that this latest acquisition has something to do with Google’s core objective to make all of the world’s knowledge accessible.

  • Google’s game of Moneyball in the age of artificial intelligence (ReadWrite/Dan Rowinski)  “This is exactly what Google is doing: exploiting market inefficiency to land undervalued talent. Google determined that intelligent systems and automation will eventually be served by robotics and has gone out of its way to acquire all of the pieces that will serve that transformation before any of its competitors could even identify it as a trend. By scooping up the cream of the crop in the emerging realm of robotics and intelligent systems, Google is cornering the market on talented engineers ready to create the next generation of human-computer interaction.”
  • Google acquires human-like AI company for $500 million, Skynet is now a real possibility (ExtremeTech/Sebastian Anthony)  “…DeepMind appears to be in the business of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI). The co-founder and apparent brains of the operation, Demis Hassabis, has published some papers on AGI. AGI (sometimes referred to as strong AI) is different from conventional AI (weak AI) in the sense that it is capable of performing (and learning from) very general tasks. Most AI (weak AI) is programmed to perform a very specific task…. AGI, on the other hand, is programmed so that it solves problems in a much more human way. Where weak AI is usually characterized by speed and accuracy, strong AI is more closely linked to reasoning, planning, self-awareness, consciousness, and communicating in natural language. In other words, if you want to build useful, human-like robots, you need a really good AGI.”
  • Google buys A.I. company for search, not robots (New York Times/Nick Bilton)  “People who work with Google but could not be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly for the company, said the acquisition of the artificial intelligence software had nothing to do with robots, but everything to do with semantic technology and the ability to understand what people were asking for online and answer in a very human way.”
  • More on DeepMind: AI startup to work directly with Google’s search team (Re/code /Liz Gannes and James Temple)  “So what will Google do with DeepMind? Artificial intelligence is core to many teams at Google, from the self-driving car to the search results page. Jeff Dean (the Google executive running the team that DeepMind is joining) was the lead author on a paper in 2012 that boasted of training a deep network ‘30 times larger than previously reported in the literature’ for the purposes of large visual object recognition tasks and speedy speech recognition. He also worked on a somewhat famous project where a neural network of 16,000 computers presented with stills from 10 million YouTube videos taught itself to recognize cats.”

Purchasing fact:
In addition to DeepMind, Google has recently purchased at least six robotics companies.

OPLIN 4cast #356: Will cookies be replaced?

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

broken cookieTwo years ago, we wrote about zombie cookies (the web kind) that won’t die and continue to track Internet users despite efforts to kill them. Last Friday, the Washington Post ran an article about the probable collapse of the working group affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium that was supposed to set up Do Not Track standards. And rumors also began to surface last month about new technologies that would replace the cookie and track users in new ways for which there would be no immediate remedy. If this makes you uncomfortable, you’ll be really thrilled to learn that the companies pushing the efforts to replace cookies are some of the giants of the Internet.

  • A Google cookie replacement could upend online advertising (Ad Age/Tim Peterson)  “Third-party cookies are already endangered. First-party cookies come directly from the sites you visit, but third-party cookies are placed by others. The “Do Not Track” movement now causing so much conflict is predicated on making it harder for companies to use third-party cookies to follow consumers around the web and serve ads based on their behavior.”
  • Replacement for tracking cookies could have big impact (San Jose Mercury News/Larry Magid)  “Web operators that use cookies will not only deny that they can identify actual users, but will also fire back that the ability to target ads is essential for them to make the money they need to offer the services we want. And they have a point. We all love being able to read news, conduct searches and do our research, without having to fork over a credit card. Collectively, companies spend billions of dollars to offer these free services and they have to recoup that investment.”
  • Microsoft joins the anti-cookie movement, working on its own replacement (Marketing Land/Ginny Marvin)  “Microsoft and Google both have said their efforts in this area are in early stages. Still, the move toward proprietary technology by a handful of behemoths — Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft among them — gives pause to many in the industry. Not only would these companies have insight into the data generated from their tracking technologies, there is the potential these companies could hoard advertiser data.”
  • Google may ditch ‘cookies’ as online ad tracker (USA Today/Alistair Barr)  “The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents the industry, at least wants some type of tracking technology available for advertisers, whether third-party cookies or something else, said Mike Zaneis, the group’s general counsel. However, leaving such ad identifiers in the hands of a few large companies is not ideal, he added. ‘They could deprecate the use of that ID on a whim, basically, and severely undermine billions of dollars in digital ad spending,’ Zaneis said.”

Mobile fact:
These big companies are not replacing their tracking technology just because they don’t like cookies. They’re looking for something different because third-party cookies don’t work on mobile devices, and mobile devices currently account for about a fifth of all web traffic.

OPLIN 4cast #339: Smart(phone) websites

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

google mobileGoogle has a lot of power to control which websites receive web traffic and which don’t, simply by altering the way they present search results. In the past month or so, it has become clear that Google wants to advance the development of websites that efficiently handle traffic from mobile devices. One way they intend to do this is by lowering the search rankings of websites that improperly redirect mobile users to special web pages or error pages, rather than using something like “responsive web design” (RWD), which automatically adapts the layout of a page depending on the type of device accessing it. Does your library’s website handle mobile users properly?

  • Now Google wants to kill the mobile web (ReadWrite/Owen Thomas) “You know those clunky, stripped-down versions of sites with addresses that tack an ‘m.’ onto the beginning, and serve up a dumbed-down, limited version of their content? If Google has its way, those sites are headed for the dustbin of history. At I/O, Google’s developer conference held this week in San Francisco, executives Sundar Pichai and Linus Upson showed off examples of websites that traveled smoothly from desktops to tablets to smartphones.”
  • Thank you, Google overlords (TechCrunch/Sarah Perez) “If you’ve at all used the web on your smartphone, then you’re all too familiar with this frustrating experience – you do a search, tap on a result for an article you want to read, then end up staring confusingly at the site’s mobile-web optimized homepage. Where is the content you wanted? Who knows! It’s a huge waste of time and bandwidth to have to deal with pages like this when surfing on a smartphone, and Google is now going to make sure that sites like that no longer get top placement.”
  • Changes in rankings of smartphone search results (Google Webmaster Central Blog) “Avoiding these mistakes helps your smartphone users engage with your site fully and helps searchers find what they’re looking for faster. To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”
  • Mobile site speed to be a Google ranking factor? (WebProNews/Chris Crum) “Google is making it so you have no excuse to treat your mobile content with less regard than your desktop content. Frankly, sites should be optimizing for mobile anyway, simply for the benefit of their users, but if ignoring the mobile experience is going to cost sites search rankings, perhaps this will light a fire under their butts to do something about poor mobile site performance.”

OPLIN fact (and sneaky promotion?):
If your library uses an OPLIN Dynamic Website Kit, no worries. All new sites are built with responsive web design, and all existing sites should be upgraded within the next year or so.

OPLIN 4cast #335: Shushing the computer users

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

male silhouetteIf you get really annoyed by people talking on their cellphones while they are in the library, then you are certainly going to love this bit of news. Google is about to make it possible to verbally ask your desktop computer questions instead of typing them into a Google search box. At this point, the technology would require that the computer have a microphone and be running the Chrome browser, so libraries that want to stay quiet can simply make sure that at least one of these pieces is missing from their public computers. But you know the day will come when someone gets angry because they cannot talk to a public computer in the library.

  • Google introduces conversational search for the desktop with “hotwording,” prompting it with “OK Google” (TechCrunch/Drew Olanoff) “Until now, you could search for things using your voice…but you couldn’t ask questions. Now, you’ll be able to keep your mic open without clicking a button, by waking Google up with the prompt ‘OK Google.’ This is similar to the prompt that wakes up Google Glass. You can say things like ‘Show me things to do in Santa Cruz’ and get results quickly, and with the context that you need to take an action.”
  • Google shows off hands-free, conversational search (PC Magazine/Chloe Albanesius) “Forget about typing your request; Google wants to bring voice-activated search to the desktop. Mobile users can already use the microphones on their iOS and Android mobile devices to speak search commands. Today, Google previewed hands-free voice search for the PC via Chrome.”
  • Google’s new conversational search makes Star Trek-style search real (Lifehacker/Alan Henry) “You start a search by saying ‘Okay, Google…,’ speak your query, whether it’s ‘when does my flight leave’ or trivia like ‘what’s the population of my town.’ Google responds, both by voice and with text results. Conversational Search uses the data that Google has about you and your activities to power search results with information that’s actually relevant to your interests.”
  • “OK, Google”: Forget web search, now you can hold a conversation with your computer (Slate/Will Oremus) “The features are the next steps in Google’s long-term progression from a search-engine website to a ubiquitous artificial-intelligence machine that can answer any question you have on whatever device you happen to be using at the time. For now that includes your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer. In the future it might include your smart watch or smart glasses, your self-driving car, and who knows what else.”

Déjà vu fact:
We mentioned conversational search in a previous 4cast, but the “hotwording” development was just announced in San Francisco last week during Google I/O 2013.

OPLIN 4cast #332: Traveler info more valuable than travel info?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

suitcaseAt this time of year, as people get more serious about planning summer vacations, travel guidebooks become a popular item at the library, though perhaps not as popular as they once were. The print guidebook industry has never really recovered from the 2008 recession, which caused many people to delay their leisure travel, and has partially been replaced by various online travel resources. Last August, Google expanded its holdings in the travel business when it bought the Frommer’s travel guides for $22 million, but what Google eventually did with Frommer’s a few weeks ago is an interesting illustration of the kinds of deals companies will do just to get some more social data.

  • Google quietly pulls plug on Frommer’s print travel guidebooks (Skift/Jason Clampet) “Starting with Frommer’s New York City With Kids, which can still be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in other bookstore inventories and was supposed to publish on February 19, the entire future list of Frommer’s titles will not see the light of day. Many of the authors attached to these 29 titles told Skift that they were informed by editors now working at Google that the books would not publish.”
  • Google mines Frommer’s Travel for social data, then sells the name back (Ars Technica/Megan Geuss) “Google bought ITA, a popular travel data service, in 2010, and the restaurant rating guide Zagat in 2011. But it was unclear how exactly Frommer’s would live on in Google’s pantheon. Last week, Google paradoxically sold the Frommer’s title back to the 83-year-old eponymous founder, who said he intended to resume publishing travel information under his name.”
  • Google sold Frommer’s Travel — but kept all the social media data (PaidContent/Jeff John Roberts) “The social media data will power Google’s ongoing forays into the travel market in which it offers services like flight and hotel search, and Zagat reviews. In retrospect, it appears that the social media data may have been Google’s goal along when it obtained Frommer’s from publisher John Wiley & Sons for $22 million in August 2012.”
  • Google, Frommer’s, and trolling for social networking data (Lens 360/Bruce Guptill) “What did Google get for seven months of effort and $22M? Petabytes of travel-related social networking contacts and their related behavioral data. Google is retaining all of the data from former Frommer’s followers, from Frommer’s itself as well as from Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and of course, Google+. Now, Google has a wealth of social network user data to integrate with its well-organized, international travel advisory brand – Zagat – and its data management service/platform optimized for travel data use – ITA.”

Sales fact:
While guidebook sales in the US dropped 10% to 20% after 2008, those sales seem to have stabilized recently.

OPLIN 4cast #328: Inventive searching

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

magazine coverThe search for better ways to search for information continues as the Internet “heavyweights” — Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. — increasingly find themselves in direct competition with each other to grab Internet searching traffic. Just lately there seems to have been a spate of developments, or rumored developments, that point to some innovative things going on inside the companies that make Internet searching their business. Since libraries are also in the business of finding information for people, we think you might find some of these developments interesting.

  • How search is evolving — finally! — beyond caveman queries (All Things D/Liz Gannes) “One thing binding together much of the work Google and other companies are doing around search these days is that they’re making it more natural and conversational. Conversational search is search that tries to understand context, that makes educated guesses, that takes voice input, that parses homonyms and adapts to mobile environments, and that understands the same user across multiple devices.”
  • Better media search through phonetics (Broadcast Engineering/Michael Grotticelli) “The success of keywords to find video clips is highly reliant on the amount of metadata attached to that asset at the time it was logged into the system — and whether metadata was assigned at all. A company called Nexidia, based in Atlanta, has developed specialized software called ‘Dialogue Search’ that eschews keywords to find audio or video clips and instead uses phonetic sounds found on that clip.”
  • Is Bing testing “subjectship” rather than authorship in its search results? (Search Engine Land/Danny Sullivan) “The two arrows point to stories that are about Kara Swisher, with her picture shown authorship-style. But she’s not the author of these stories. She’s the subject. That wouldn’t be too remarkable if Bing were simply pulling a prominent picture out of these stories, similar to what both Google and Bing do for news stories. But, with the latter example from Gawker, the image shown doesn’t actually appear on the page. Is Bing perhaps building a knowledge base of people, so that it can, in turn, link people or subject images back to stories? Perhaps.”
  • Microsoft’s Data Explorer: Picking up where Bing leaves off (ReadWrite/Mark Hachman) “In some cases, the questions we have require data — a lot of data. ‘How likely is it that I will find a job in Austin, as opposed to San Francisco?’ is a question that boils down to, at its most basic, two comparisons: the unemployment rate within both cities. We’ve also been trained by search engines not to even hope for additional data that might make our answer even more valuable: if I’m a nurse, for example, I might like to know how many hospitals, hospices and clinics are in each town, the total number of beds, and even data for each city such as housing prices and the cost of living.”

PLA fact:
“PLA” is not the “Public Library Association” in this context, it’s the “Product Listing Ads” that appear in conjunction with search engine search results. PLAs are now driving 20+% increases in year-to-year search engine revenue — which explains the fierce competition between search engines.