YouTube Is Developing a Secret Weapon Against the Internet’s Worst Commenters

Long considered home to the worst commenters on the internet — racist, cruel, idiotic, nonsensical, and barely literate — YouTube is in the process of upgrading its comment system in order to better tame its most loathsome members.

Word of the overhaul slipped out during the Q&A portion of a YouTube developer session at Google I/O, the annual developers conference from the video-upload hub’s owner, Google.

A member of the audience, which was stocked heavily with online video publishers, asked for advice on handling negative comments within his YouTube channel. Dror Shimshowitz, a YouTube “head of product,” replied that “comments are kind of the Wild West of video” and can be turned off. But Google doesn’t like it when people do that, he said, because it cuts off the community. So the company is working on fixing the system.

“We’re working on some improvements to the comment system, so hopefully we’ll have an update on that in the next few months,” Shimshowitz said.

Shimshowitz declined to elaborate further in a follow-up interview, in which he was asked about the scope and nature of the planned changes. “We’re working to improve comments as much as we’re working to improve all parts of the site and YouTube experience,” a Google spokesman said, adding that the company would not comment further.

There’s no question YouTube has its work cut out for it; its comment sections are widely regarded as cesspools. Meme harvester BuzzFeed called YouTube “a comment disaster on an unprecedented scale” with “the worst commenters on the internet;” online entrepreneur (and Wired contributor) Andy Baio  called them “historically pretty bad;” and the online comic XKCD in 2006 imagined the moon landing being broadcast — and moronically heckled — on YouTube. “The internet has always had loud dumb people,” XKCD illustrator Randall Munroe wrote in an accompanying caption, ”but I’ve never seen anything quite as bad as the people who comment on YouTube videos.”

The site’s commenters have inspired a mocking blog and even specialized filtering software.

YouTube improved the situation two years ago, when it introduced a “highlights view,” the predecessor to today’s “top comments” section, which features the comments most highly rated by other YouTube commenters. (It, too  was eventually parodied online.)

But YouTube needs to go much further, to kick the worst vulgarians out from under its videos. The site is trying to build a glossier future for itself, one with smarter videos produced by businesses, Hollywood studios and independent creatives. Better production values, in turn, make the site more attractive to advertisers. Vicious commenters break that virtuous cycle.

“YouTube comments are a potentially fantastic engagement point that is unfortunately the most common go-to example for trolls,” says Huffington Post community manager Justin Isaf. “These are real people who are opening themselves to what is often ridicule and overt abuse. How many people would put themselves out there again after reading comments that belittle, insult, malign or otherwise hurt them? It’s a loss of an amazing opportunity.

“I would love to see Google put their search and algorithm know-how to use to create a more safe space where people can engage in a meaningful conversation and be themselves on video without worry of needing therapy afterward.”

One obvious direction for YouTube is to ask users for more information about themselves. Many members use anonymous handles since YouTube, unlike other Google sites, allows people to create distinct accounts. At other Google sites, users must use their Google+ identity, linked to a real name. As a general rule, people are far less likely to troll under their real name.

Requiring Google+ identities could also help YouTube’s advertisers target ads more narrowly, since Google+ collects information about people’s location, gender, occupation, likes and interests.

If YouTube isn’t interested in integrating more deeply with Google+, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti offers a Plan B: “YouTube should use Facebook comments,” Peretti tells us, referring to Google’s archrival. “YouTube would benefit from extra distribution in [Facebook's] News Feed so their videos would spread even faster. And people use their true identity on Facebook so it would help make YouTube comments more civil.”

That’s a long shot, given Google’s competitive position with Facebook, but still, it’s better than being subjected to “U SUCK, SERIOUSLY GO BACK TO DORK SCHOOL, ANONYOUTUBE 4-EVA. LOL,” and whatever else the YouTube chorus usually has to say.


Google I/O 2012: A Helping of Gadgets With a Side of Circus Act

If you were trying to learn about Google’s priorities this week at its annual I/O developer conference, you’d be forgiven for being confused. There was no uniting vision, little focus on developer products, less than two keynotes worth of new content and many massive areas of the company never even got a mention.

To be fair, even in its old age, Google is still a very look-at-me company. Tickets to I/O sell out in minutes, everyone swoons over the free gadgets and every word uttered onstage is written up by a swarm of publications. The production values are high, and the snacks are tasty.

Google Glass-wearing wingsuit flyers talk to Sergey Brin
 (small) before they jump out of a plane above Google I/O
This year, in its best moments, I/O was also an entertaining circus sideshow — such as when co-founder Sergey Brin rigged a flying human relay race, broadcast live from every angle, to demonstrate Google Glass. Twice.

That said, Thursday’s Day 2 Google Chrome keynote session basically amounted to some mission statements, a few new stats and some expected feature launches. The sole exception was the Google Compute Engine debut.

Then, instead of fresh content on key areas like Google Maps, Google Wallet or Google TV, we got a replay of Brin’s fabulous flying filmers — this time with new camera angles and narration.
The Android keynote on Day 1 had much more content, although even Google is admitting that the new Jelly Bean is not a major software release. It’s officially just version 4.1.

If there were two main takeaways from the event, it’s that Google is increasingly a hardware company, and that its hit list of competitors now includes everyone in tech — Amazon (both Kindle and AWS), Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Sonos and more.

On the hardware front, Google created the Nexus 7 tablet, bringing in partner Asus only four months before launch. It’s leaning in even further with the Android Q streaming device, which will be made at a factory in the U.S. And it’s rapidly internally prototyping the Project Glass wearable computers (whose manufacturing is TBD).

This is not to say Google is yet a true, seasoned hardware player. The company is in the earliest stages of all these hardware projects. While promising, the Nexus 7 tablet is a first-generation device playing catch-up on apps and content. Android Q is very pretty, but is the ability to fight over a communal playlist via Android phone really worth $300? And Glass is more than a year away.

But perhaps the most striking part of I/O was realizing that the target audience for these announcements was really not developers.

Developers got lip service in the keynotes. The Q is going to be “hackable,” Google said briefly. The cool new Android Google Now personalized shortcut feature is limited to only Google content, with no options yet for outside developers to add their own cards.

And while developers got more attention in topic-specific breakout sections — many of which I did not attend — those topics were still limited in their own way. One developer pointed out to me that he had come to hear about building on top of Google Apps, and there was not a single developer session devoted to the topic.

It seemed clear that one group Google was courting was the media — and the many more consumers they reach. The media presence at I/O was bigger than ever, with more than 400 reporters at the event, and press rooms upon press rooms stretching down one hallway.

That was reflected in the presentations, as well. As an example, consider Google+, Google’s big social product. The two Google+ announcements at I/O were: 1) tablet apps, and 2) an event-planning and capture tool.

So: Two incremental new features. No long-awaited Google+ API aimed at developers.

But then, in a personal Google+ post by a product manager on Wednesday, came a significant announcement to introduce the first automatic importing of outside content into Google+.

And then on Thursday, via a developer blog post, the service announced its first platform features for mobile developers.

Isn’t that the sort of stuff you’d announce onstage at a developers conference?
Of course. But, then again, it’s not as captivating as wingsuits and rappelling down buildings.


Google+ Celebrates Birthday With Over 250 Million Users

The first anniversary of the launch of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) GOOG+ coincided with the Google I/O developer event at San Francisco today.

Google+ was proud to present some figures that demonstrated the substantial progress it had made over the past year:

  • · Over 250 million accounts upgraded or signed up
  • · Over 150 million accounts are active every month
  • · Users spend an average of 12 minutes every day on the service
  • · The Google+ team shipped a new build every day for the whole year, except one Friday in August.

In an interview, Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Social Business, and Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google Apps, shared some thoughts on Google+.

On Google’s emphasis on the ‘social’ angle

Gundotra went to great lengths to explain that Google+ was not comparable to other competing social platforms because, in the overall scheme of Google, all its different products, and particularly YouTube, Gmail and Google+ really constituted a ‘social graph’- one that would create an entire Google experience. So “it’s not Google+, it’s Google.” One can see that the thrust is to create a unifying social strategy that bundles together all Google’s products.

On the Google+ teams current priorities

The team is focused on building great new innovative features and also providing existing Google products with a ‘social’ sheen. According to Gundotra, this would make Google’s core better.

On Google bringing its core search strength to ‘social’

According to Gundotra, Google would imbue social interaction with its competitive advantage in search – by “relevance, we’re pretty good at it. Search relevance.”

On the adoption of Google+ by enterprise

Is enterprise likely to use Google+ for communication and collaboration?
Gundotra says: “We’re just getting started there.”

Tailpiece and the latest breaking news:

A new Google+ feature has just been announced. Called “Events”, it offers a comprehensive means to plan events. Attractively designed invitations can be integrated with Google calendar, and once an invitation is tagged RSVP, it would be automatically added to the recipient’s calendar!

During the event, a Party mode can be activated on guests’ Android devices, with their pictures automatically photo-streamed for the event. What’s more this can be automatically viewed as a slide show in real time during the event. After the event, the pictures can be centrally collected and displayed in chronological order.


Google+ announces “Events” feature that is active before, during and after your party

Google+ Events help with all facets of having an event: before, during and after

Before the event

Naturally, Google+ events is fully integrated into Google Calendars. When you set up your own event, you can choose a theme, called cinegraphs, that were custom-built by Google. There are subtle animations in them which carry over to the invitation on your Calendar.

Without a doubt, the invitation process is a simple one, but by having those invitations fully integrated into your Calendar is huge. You’ll be able to get all of the details about the event, as well as letting the person know if you’ll be there or not.

During the event

This is where Google+ Events really shines. The service has something called “Party Mode” which takes all of the photos and videos that you shoot during the time period of the event and uploads them to the event page. If everyone is using Google+ on the recently updated Android app, this feature will do the work for everyone.

During the event itself, you could toss the event page on to a big screen TV, as it has a “slideshow” mode for photos. Imagine having all of the people at your wedding reception taking photos that are automatically shared, it would be awesome.

I got to see this feature in action at Google’s offices, and the experience is absolutely seamless. Watching the photos stream in within 30 seconds of taking them is pretty awesome.

Now that all of those photos are uploaded, they are sorted by which photographer took them, as well as how interesting people thought the photos were. If a particular photo has a bunch of +1′s, it will then find its way to the top.

The best part is that your friends who can’t make it to your event can still check out the event page and all of the content, if they’re invited. Want to go public with your event? Simply switch on the “On Air” mode, which will broadcast it publicly.

Gundotra Explains that the On Air option is great for concerts and conferences.

After the event

If you’re someone who isn’t using Google+ on an Android device, you’ll get an email from the event reminding you to upload your photos. Everyone who was invited has a “folder”, and can add their photos to it easily. All of the photos will be sorted chronologically. Pictures also get facetagged.

This makes going to the event page after the event the most amazing and magical experience anyone has ever built.

Google+ Events is available today, and might take a while to roll out to everyone. This is another example of how Google is using + as a social layer to tie all of its products together.

Google to release Siri rival?

Google, the company behind Android, is expected to release its own voice assistance capability for Android at this week's I/O conference.

While Android already has, though slightly limited, a voice assistant in the form of Android Voice Actions system, this new product which has been code-named Majel is expected to be a significant one.

HTC on Saturday hinted at a possible Siri rival through its Twitter and Facebook page, Samsung already has something called S-Voice recently released on the Samsung Galaxy SIII, even LG week revealed Quick Voice, a personal voice-control assistant which features natural-language processing technology, to let its smartphone users search, write emails and so on-with built-in support for interactivity with 11 apps at its start, though right now it's confined to Korea. Even our home grown Micromax has rolled out something called AISHA.

While Siri on iPhone is by far most praised voice assistance service, if Google manages to use its resources well, this new product will have fabulous capabilities.

Google has capabilities in almost all the spoken language in the world and a deep understanding of them thanks to its Translation engines and ample research that has already gone behind this capability.

But then knowing a language and using that knowledge to devise a new application are two entirely different things.

But given Google's track record in creating technologies, we are very hopeful of a well made and useful application that can potentially be a game changer especially given the fact that it will bring voice activation tech to the masses as Android phones are much cheaper than that of iPhone.


Google launches liveblog tool for Google I/O

I/O Live platform uses Google+ feeds to add running commentary to conference video streams. But it's really only half of a live-blogging tool, because it doesn't allow readers to comment.

Google is looking to get news from its Google I/O conference out as broadly as it can. Company reps told me that "the magical feeling will be bigger and better" at the keynotes Wednesday and Thursday. And to make sure as many people as possible are encouraged to reflect that "magic" out onto the Web, the company is also rolling out a new, simple, embeddable liveblog tool that will also feature the live video streams from the conference.

The new tool, I/O Live, is dependent on Google+ for text input. What you post on your Google+ account is what shows in the widget; there's no other way to input text.

If you just want to show the keynote videos on your blog, you can turn off the Google+ liveblog component. However, you cannot turn off the video and just have the text.

The I/O Live tool is not, in fact, a proper, general-purpose liveblogging tool. The only video that it embeds is Google's on I/O streams. And there's no way for users watching your blog to comment back to you, as users can in a liveblog tool like Scribble Live.

What Google appears to be doing with this tool is trying to get users to talk about Google I/O on Google's own services. Rather than have users live-Tweet the keynotes, Google hopes that they'll live-blog them, and if they want to promote those liveblogs on Twitter or another service, fine.

This tool could, maybe, be a trial balloon into Google launching its own proper liveblog platform, to complement its blogging service. However, using a social platform like Google+ as an input system for a publishing product is rather strange. If Google does in fact launch a liveblog tool to exist alongside Blogger, I would hope for a more robust, focused authoring environment. Not everything deserves to be pressed through the Google+ sieve.


Link to your website

A tickverified checkmark displays after a website URL on a Google+ page when a bi-directional link between the page and the website exists. This means that the primary link of the page is set to the URL of the website( and this website contains a link (</p> <link href="”{+PageId}”" rel="”publisher”" />)back to the page URL in the <head> of the site’s HTML.
Linking your Google+ page and your website is useful because:
  • It helps you connect with your friends, fans and customers.
  • It provides Google with information that we can use to help determine the relevancy of your site to a user query on Google Search.
  • Your site will become eligible for Google+ Direct Connect.
To link your Google+ page to your website:

  1. Make sure that you're using Google+ as your page.
  2. Click profile icon Profile on the left-hand side.
  3. Click the Edit profile button next to your name.
  4. On the ‘About’ tab, click the Link website button next to your website's URL.
  5. Follow the steps in the box that appears:
    1. Copy and paste the code snippet provided to the <head> of your website and click the Test website button.
    2. We'll check to make sure you've added the snippet to your website correctly.
    3. Click Done when the check is complete.
    4. Within 1-2 days, a tickverified checkmark will display next to your website on the 'About' tab of your page's profile.
After you've linked your Google+ page to your website, make sure to also link your website to your page. Learn how to add the Google+ badge to your website.

Google's Build with Chrome lets you recreate the world in Lego

Google has launched Build with Chrome, a web application that allows users to build their own Lego inventions across the South Pacific. Essentially, Chrome has introduced Google Maps to the world of Lego, and the two are getting along swimmingly. It's a lot like Minecraft, but uses Lego bricks as the building blocks.

Google Australia has been developing the 3D experiment in urban planning in Sydney for several months, and claims to have a nifty collection of bricks any child would envy -- eight trillion. The project marks 50 years of Lego in Australia.

"We made the bricks with WebGL, which enables powerful 3D graphics right in the browser and demonstrates the upper limit of current WebGL graphics performance," said Lockey McGrath, marketing manager at Google Australia and New Zealand.

"We then mixed in Google Maps (another Aussie invention) so you can put your creation in a Lego world alongside everyone else's."

Currently, the browser only allows users to select land to build on in Australia and New Zealand, and the plots are rapidly being snapped up. From the giant banana erected at 96 Sandy Place in New South Wales to the pint of beer sitting appealingly along Wiradjuri Walking Track in Wagga Wagga, the creations are getting more inventive by the minute. Over in New Zealand there's what looks like a T-rex by Franz Josef Glacier, and Christchurch is populated by a few terrifying hybrid animals that we hope the users are yet to finish.

If you want to join in, just click "Build" on the left hand side of the page and the program will select a plot at random. You will then be supplied with a variety of Lego bricks in different sizes and colours, as well as a few optional extras like windows and doors -- though from the selection of Lego plots already completed, it seems house-building is a little too pedestrian for most users who are instead using the program to stretch their creative muscles.

Chrome has installed a few features, including a Google+ share button (Google will repost the most bizarre and unusual offerings) and a "flag as inappropriate" tab. It lacks many of the gaming elements that make Minecraft so compelling -- such as the hostile cave spiders, creepers and zombies -- but it is engaging enough to waste several hours of your working day.

Google says it hopes to expand the project to other countries -- neighbouring Southeast Asia is looking relatively bland and sparse by comparison at the moment. In the meantime, users will be working to give the huge expanse of central Australian bush land a new lease of life.


Announcing Google Plus (G+) and Google+ Local Training for DC Metro Business “What Every Business Needs to Know to Survive” with G+ Expert and Consultant Mark Boudreau

Google has converted 80 million Google Places pages worldwide into Google+ Local pages. Google+ trainer and consultant Mark Boudreau to teach local business owners what they need to know and do to generate leads and increase profits.

Google Plus is rapidly & completely changing search and the way people find things online. And as Google integrates all Google services into Plus (G+) the question for every business must be: What will this mean for your business?

The latest change has seen the demise of Google Places. Google Places (Maps) has been a powerful search and reviews ally for companies looking to boost their local popularity. Now Google is taking the first step to eradicate millions of Google Places pages and morph them all into new Google+ Local pages.

Why is Google making these changes? Mark Boudreau, veteran executive of several major ad firms and a Google Plus and Google Places expert states: “This is Google's move to ramp up social integration. Fundamentally Google+ Local Pages for business are an evolution of Places pages with a more powerful and comprehensive system for customer and client reviews.” Google believes that the new Google+ Local will bring people more relevant and better-trusted results from their search queries. Boudreau continues, “This really is quite an exciting shift and businesses can expect many more radical changes to come."

As with any update there are bugs and lingering issues as a result of the major update. It appears that the transition from Google Places into the new Google+ Local pages have left many Google business users in a state of confusion and disarray. For business owners who use Google Places already and understand the power that it brings to local search, this integration with Google+ Business Pages has generated both concern and excitement.

When asked how Google Places owners have responded to the changes Boudreau says:

"The main concern Google business users have expressed is that the changes came with no apparent warning. Many are worried about how Google+ Local will affect their search results and page rank and do not know what steps to take to maximize this opportunity."

Boudreau continues, "Although Google is promising increased merchant benefits from the new business rating system, and are planning to roll out many more helpful merchant features, this radical and sudden change to how they generate business has rocked the boat."

Boudreau agrees that the sudden switch over to Google+ Local pages raises a lot of questions for business owners. Boudreau plans to bring effective Strategic Google Plus (G+) and Google+ Local Training & Services, via free training sessions, to all local business in the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC Metro area.

“The message that business can no longer afford to ignore the impact of social search is not getting across to people. 97% of all web searches are for something local,” says Boudreau. “I am on a mission to help people get on board and benefit before their businesses gets left behind.”

These free, one-hour trainings are already confirmed and scheduled at 3 (three) Northern Virginia locations with more locations to be added:

Scheduled and Confirmed:
· Monday July 2, 2012 - 6:30 – 7:30 PM – Arlington County Central Library
1015 N Quincy Street Arlington, VA 22201 - Meeting Rooms 1 and 2
· Monday July 30, 2012 - 6:30 – 7:30 PM Dolley Madison Community Library
McLean, VA 22101 – Meeting Rooms 1 and 2
· Wednesday August 29, 2102 - 6:30 – 7:30 PM - Oakton Library 10304 Lynnhaven Place Oakton, VA 22124 Meeting Rooms 1 and 2

A variety of take-away material and a Q & A session will be part of each free session. All events are limited to 100 participants.

To register and confirm, participants need to call either: 202-285-4428 or 800-563-9543. Business owners who wish to get more information about the upcoming completely free trainings may also visit the following web links: - July 2, 2012 Arlington Library - July 30, 2012 Dolley Madison Library - August 29, 2012 Oakton Library - General overview of G+ Places changes

Mark Boudreau is a 17+ year vet of some of the largest ad agencies in the world [Ogilvy & Mather, DraftFCB, Arnold]. He has worked on countless social media/web campaigns/PR for clients such as: American Express, Victoria's Secret, Johnson & Johnson, Sprint, Equal, Chase Bank, US Army and several more. His love of local business has allowed him to help hundreds of local merchants market like Fortune 500 Companies. Mr. Boudreau has lived in Northern Virginia for 29 years.

Google, Google Plus and Google Places are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Google Corp. in the United States and/or other countries. Mark Boudreau is in no way affiliated, employed or contracted with Google Corp.


The Google World Wonders Project Shows You the World from Street Level

World Wonders Project
Some of the world's most beautiful and historic places are in some of the most difficult to visit locations. If globetrekking isn't in your budget, take a desktop vacation instead with the Google World Wonders Project and view beautiful places like the Toshodai-ji Temple in Japan, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew in the UK, or the old town of Ouro Preto in Brazil.

The World Wonders Project uses Google's Street View technology to take you on virtual tours of some of the world's most historically significant places. With destinations in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, you can browse areas of interest by selecting a continent or a theme from the menus at the top of the page, by clicking through the photo carousel in the center, or even by clicking and dragging the globe at the bottom until you see something you like. Then, just click "explore this site now" to take a Street View-powered walking tour.

The links on the right side of the page will give you more information about the location, related videos and other walkthroughs, and even photos and 3D models of the location so you can see more detail. It's definitely not as good as going and experiencing some of these beautiful places on your own, but if you're stuck at your desk, it may be the next best thing. Best of all, if you have a Panoramio account, you can even contribute some of your own photos, if you ever do visit.

Hit the link below to give it a try, and check out this related video for a fun behind the scenes look at how all of these images were captured. Have you been to any of these places yourself, or did we inspire you to pack your bags? Let us know where you've been in the comments below


Google Slips Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Details

Google accidentally spilled some beans about Android 4.1 Jelly Bean ahead of its official Google I/O debut. Here's what Google's slip-up says about the next version of Android.

Eagle-eyed Web surfers noticed on Thursday that the listing for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in the Google Play Store had some new information. That new information said that the Galaxy Nexus would be receiving the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update in the coming weeks.

But wait a minute--Android 4.1 Jelly Bean hasn't even been officially announced. Whoops.

The information, which of course has since been pulled, called out only a few new features for the next version of Android. The images showed a new Google search bar and a new background image. The app launcher looks a little bit different and other user interface tweaks abound. That's about it, though. Google didn't reveal anything else about Jelly Bean.

What it didn't say, however, leaves enough room to make a number of assumptions.

First, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean won't be a major, system-wide upgrade. Android's upgrade path has been anything but linear, at least if you look at the version numbers. Android has included versions 1.0, 1.1, 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, and 4.0. (For the sake of this example, I am ignoring iterative updates such as 2.3.6 or 4.0.4.) Not all of these versions were given a dessert nickname. For example, Android 2.0 and 2.1 are both Eclair, and Android 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2 are all Gingerbread.

The differences between Android 1.x and 2.x were a big deal, as were the differences between 2.x and 3.x, and again between 3.x and 4.x. This points to the likelihood that Android 4.1 will be a minor update.

Was this Google IO widget shot in Jelly Bean?
It also calls to question the success of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. At last check, ICS was installed on about 8% of all Android devices. Android 4.0 has been available since October 2011, a full eight months ago. Android 4.0 was a huge step forward for the Android platform. It was such a significant update that many expected it to become the most popular version of the platform yet. Instead it has languished, being tweaked and customized in the labs of hardware makers and wireless network operators.

Motorola and Verizon Wireless, for example, are pushing Android 4.0 to the Motorola Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX starting today--eight months after promising to do so. Worse, new phones, such as the Sony Xperia Ion, which goes on sale June 24, are still shipping with Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

We know the Galaxy Nexus will be the first device to receive Android 4.1, but will any other devices have it? If so, which ones? Can phones go straight from 2.3 to 4.1, or is that even possible?

Google is sure to give us the lowdown next week at its Google I/O developer conference, which runs June 27 - June 29.


Google's Bradley Horowitz on Google+: 'Friction can be a very good thing'

Product vice president says balancing interests of users and developers will be key going forward
"We've introduced friction into the system as a design constraint
 that forces people to be thoughtful and considered," says Horowitz
Google launched its Google+ initiative in June 2011: part standalone social network and part social layer for existing services like Gmail and YouTube and its search engine. A year later, how has it done?

In April 2012, the company announced that "more than 170 million people have upgraded to Google+" – carefully-chosen words amid criticism that while people are enabling Google+ in their tens of millions, many less are actively using the standalone social networking part.

I sat down with Google's vice president of product Bradley Horowitz, in the UK for the LeWeb London conference, to dig into what Google+ is for, what impact it's really having, and how it might evolve.

Horowitz stresses the two-pronged nature of Google+, and the idea of the social layer as a way for "users to upgrade their relationship with Google". But what does that mean?

"People have had a pretty ephemeral relationship with Google: they typed in their query, hit enter and we sent them on their way. It was a pretty light touch, and we don't know a whole lot about those users," he says.

"If we get to know our users – have them introduce themselves: 'I'm Jeremy, I'm living in this zip code, I have these friends and these interests…' – we can provide an amazing quality of service. A better phone, better browser, better YouTube, better Gmail… Everything will get better if we understand our users better."

This hasn't historically been the corporate strategy, of course. Sending users on their way as quickly as possible was the reason Google's search engine first came to prominence.

"We've gone 10-plus years not really developing the infrastructure that would allow users to declare who they know and what they care about," says Horowitz.

Google+ is the company's big bet on making up for this lost time, along with that standalone social network element. Late to the party given Facebook's 900m+ users, Google is hoping features like its Circles for easier privacy; Hangouts for video chatting and its recently-revamped mobile app will make it a contender.

Back to the stats, though. "170m users have upgraded their Google relationship into a Google+ account – it's quite a lot more than that, but I will let our CEO announce that when he's ready," says Horowitz, who goes on to refer to "several hundred million users" having made this step.

"How is our social network doing? We're seeing record-setting days every time we look at the graphs and metrics, and the launch of our mobile apps has driven huge amounts of mobile usage and engagement."

Waiting for metrics

This is the problem for an outsider trying to judge the success of Google+ so far. The key metrics are clear for its social network – number of active users, and how active those users are – but Google is keeping those to itself. Unsurprising, given the inevitable comparisons with Facebook.

But the success of Google+ as a social layer across all of Google's services is harder to define. Are people finding more relevant search results? Sharing more YouTube videos? Using Circles as a key filter in their Gmail? "We're not sharing that level of metrics," says Horowitz.

Another area of scrutiny for Google+ has been its status as a platform for developers. With applications a key element in the growth of Facebook, you might imagine the pressure is on for Google to catch up on the APIs side of things. Google itself is resisting that pressure.

"We have been very thoughtful and deliberate in how we have rolled out our APIs," says Horowitz. "We have been working with a handful of named partners to learn what they want in the APIs, and to learn how users react to the content sharing using those APIs."

The latest partner is Flipboard, announced at LeWeb London. Horowitz says Google+ integration was the "number one most-requested feature" for the personalised magazine app, and praises its deep integration, which goes beyond just a button to share articles to Google+.

"It's another step in our journey of being more open with the APIs that we're creating," he says. However, Google is also portraying this slow-but-steady rollout as a contrast to Facebook, and some of the challenges that social network has faced in balancing the interests of developers and users.

"One factor is doing right by users," he says. "Sometimes the agendas of an application developer might be misaligned with the agenda of users. A game might want to get viral, explosive distribution and reach as broad an audience as possible, but some users might find these efforts annoying – or worse, spam."

Is being more cautious about its API rollout the best way for Google to maintain a balance between these interests: developers looking for distribution and users trying to control their streams? Horowitz hopes that safeguards in Google+ will succeed where Facebook has occasionally run into difficulties.

"They're not necessarily at odds: they just need to be put in balance, but we have seen from our competitors in the market that it's very easy to get these ecosystems wrong" he says.

"Changing the rules about how these systems work, or yanking developers around is very annoying and unfair to them. We want to ensure we roll it out in a way that's not only good for users, but for developers. Unfortunately that means asking most of them to wait for now."

More friction, not less

While on the subject of signal-to-noise ratio in social network streams, what about frictionless sharing? It's a key part of how Facebook sees its users interacting with applications and external services, but it's also sparked lots of debate about over-sharing.

Is sharing every song streamed / movie played / meal cooked / etc in Google+'s future?

"Friction can be a very good thing. We've introduced quite a bit of friction on our system," says Horowitz, noting that to share something on Google+ requires specifying which Circles to share it with.

"That moment of pause gives people the security of ensuring that their privacy isn't violated. We think that's the trade-off people want: considered, thoughtful and authentic, as opposed to everything shown to the least common denominator of 'public'."

He goes on. "We've introduced friction into the system as a design constraint that forces people to be thoughtful and considered. As a philosophy, it's unique."

The final area of discussion with Horowitz concerns mobile – hugely important for Facebook and Twitter already, and clearly high on Google's agenda for Google+ too.

The redesigned mobile apps have been widely praised for their striking design – not traditionally seen as a strength for the company – while features that were missing from the initial versions like Hangouts have been added quickly.

A question about Apple's integration of Facebook in iOS 6, and how Google might tie Google+ deeper into its own Android OS in response, leads Horowitz to talk instead about Google's commitment to iOS itself.

"iOS is a hugely successful platform, users want us there, so we'll be there. But that's not at the expense of having an incredibly awesome and great Android experience. There is more work to be done there, but nothing specific to announce at this stage."

Earlier comments about how smartphones should work hint at Google's determination to make Google+ a critical part of Android, however.

"My phone should understand Circles, and it should know that if my wife calls me, the phone should ring at any hour, but if a headhunter or someone who's not in a Circle calls, send the straight to voicemail," he says.

In the meantime, more features will debut in the Google+ mobile apps, rather than the web version. One example already is the ability for a user to choose to see only Google+ posts from their surrounding area, but more will follow.

"Increasingly as we see usage of mobile skyrocket, the proposition of mobile-first – developing features first or exclusively on mobile – becomes even more viable," he says. "It's where our users and usage is. You will see us really double down on mobile… We're good listeners at Google, and we have the advantage of a very vocal base."


Google Plus streaming coming to Flipboard

Google has its own social network for more than a year now, if you did not know. And the search giant also has mobile apps for the social network on almost all the major platforms. Since there are official apps, and since the service is still young, the company thinks that there is no need for third party apps. So it has not released any API for third party developers.

Well, that is not true. That was the notion till now, but a Google spokesperson has cleared that out. The thing is, Google thinks that the service and the mobile apps are not yet ready for giving out the API. Google VP of Product Management Bradley Horowitz, said at the Le Web 2012 conference in London that Google doesn’t yet have good “noise” filtering controls when it comes to Google+, and the company wants to make sure it has built something that won’t cause developers to go back and rework their own creations to preserve the user experience

But somehow, Flipboard, the popular digital magazine, got the Google Plus API from the company and has become the first app or third party service to include Google Plus API in its code. So yes, you will be able to get Google Plus posts, photos, videos, and other data from the service in Flipbaord’s app without having to navigate to the site itself.

Flipboard already had Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and other services integrated into the app, and Google Plus was the only one remaining. Now, the package is complete. If you are an app developer and are wondering when you will get the Google Plus APIs, well, we do not know. Because Google is yet to optimize the service and then the search giant will release the APIs. Till then, it is just waiting. And also, there is no news about when Flipboard will start offering Google Plus on its app.


Google Promotes Energy Savings With Apps

Companies that turn off their local servers for e-mail, productivity and collaboration applications and switch to the cloud-hosted Google Apps suite can save significant amounts of money in energy costs, Google said on Monday.

The savings typically range between 65 percent and 85 percent, and involve reductions in consumption of energy for powering and cooling the local servers, Google said, citing results of an internal study.

Google offered as an example the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which signed up for Google Apps for Government this year and moved about 17,000 employees to it from on-premise systems. The GSA cut energy consumption by servers related to email and collaboration applications by almost 90 percent, which will allow it to save about $285,000 per year on energy costs in that area, a reduction of 93 percent, according to Google.

When it takes on customers' workloads, Google spends much less energy than they do because servers in its data center make more efficient use of their computing and storage capacities, and its maintenance and administration costs are less, Google said.

"A typical organization has a lot more servers than it needs--for backup, failures and spikes in demand for computing. Cloud-based service providers like Google aggregate demand across thousands of people, substantially increasing how much servers are utilized. And our data centers use equipment and software specially designed to minimize energy use. The cloud can do the same work much more efficiently than locally hosted servers," wrote Urs Hoelzle, Google's Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure, in the blog post.

Google has been promoting the benefits of using Google Apps and cloud-hosted software for years, as acceptance of this model has been steadily increasing. Google and other cloud computing proponents constantly highlight that by using cloud-hosted applications, companies can save on hardware sales and software maintenance, while improving and simplifying the way users can collaborate on server-based documents.

However, the benefits of cloud-based software still have to be weighed against potential pitfalls, like application outages and latency, lack of compliance with data protection regulations in certain industries and countries, and software subscription models that may be economically inconvenient for certain companies and in certain scenarios.


Google+ Local works better if you're Googler

If you're traveling and looking for a restaurant, hotel or attraction, then Google has revamped its local-business search results through the prism of guidebook specialist Zagat and Google+, its own social network and answer to Facebook.

It's called Google+ Local, and you can view Google's tweaks to its local-business search results from a new Local tab in Google+. You can also peruse these local-business results on your computer doing a standard Google search, in Google Maps, and in the Android apps for Google Maps and Google+.

The local-business results in their latest form aren't yet available on iPhones or iPads.

Google+ Local provides valuable information, including website links, summaries, addresses, Zagat ratings and user reviews about local points of interest and businesses. Before Google acquired Zagat last year, some of the Zagat information could only be accessed for a fee. Now, it's free.

However, the quality of the local-business information for a traveler can at times be uninspiring and partisan, because you are being force-fed Google's social network as part of the process.
If you don't join and sign into Google+ when viewing the local-business results, you cannot view all of the pertinent information.

For example, if you do a Google search for "Italian restaurants Baltimore," you'll view an advertisement on the top of the page and listings for seven restaurants with links to their websites, their locations on a Google Map, an overall Zagat score from zero to 30 and links to reviews written by Google users.

Google has been criticized by competitors, such as Expedia and TripAdvisor, for emphasizing its own products to the detriment of natural search results from competitors. This is precisely what it does with Google+ Local.

The Google+ Local results on Italian restaurants in Baltimore fill your computer screen and you'd have to scroll below what's initially visible to find natural search results from websites such as Urbanspoon and that aren't necessarily local.

"We're trying to provide you with the most useful local results, which our users tell us includes a mix of local business websites, reviews and maps," Google says in response. "Local-business websites are often the top answers to a query, and we haven't changed the way we link to reviews by Google users. We work hard to provide useful results, because the great thing about the openness of the Web is that if people don't like our answers, they can easily switch to any other website."

The first listing for Italian restaurants in Baltimore in Google+ Local results is for Sabatino's Italian Restaurant, which Zagat scores a 20 (good to very good) out of 30.

If you click to the 149 Google reviews of the restaurant, you navigate to the restaurant's page in Google+ Local.

Helps to sign in

Google maintains that its goal is to give consumers the optimal search experience, not for commercial gain. However, the search experience for consumers suffers in Google+ Local if you're not a member of Google's social network or aren't signed into it. Non-members get bare-bones treatment.

In the case of Sabatino's Italian Restaurant, if you aren't signed into Google+, you'll see that Zagat rates the food a 20 and you can read less than a sentence summary about it. You are asked to "sign in for full scores and summary."

If you do register for Google+ and sign in, you will see that Zagat rates the food (20), décor (16) and service (21). It pegs the cost at $32, and Zagat provides a longer summary with additional details.

Google Plus users also would see any comments about the restaurant from their friends in Google+.

A nice feature of Google+ Local: If you're traveling and looking for restaurants or other attractions, it detects your location and provides recommendations for everything from nearby restaurants to grocery stores and even a local bridal shop.

But, if you're a traveler who thrives on off-the-beaten-track attractions, you may have to look beyond Google+ Local for answers. Google tends to offer the old faithfuls.

Bottom line: Google+ Local provides valuable information about various attractions around town. But you may find more detailed information about a restaurant on Yelp, which provides the additional feature of dining reservations through OpenTable.

And because Zagat has historically focused on restaurants, you may find more rigorous information about hotels on TripAdvisor.

At the least, you won't have to hop from website to website for information about diverse attractions when using Google+ Local.

It's all there on Google — albeit in stripped-down fashion for non-members.