If today's launch of Google's Knol is any indication, this line of thinking has fundamentally changed. Google, in short, is becoming a full-fledged media company in direct competition with established news and knowledge sites.

Knol –short for “knowledge– is Google’s new Wikipedia-esque site that hosts authoritative articles on a wide variety of subjects. Knol recruits contributors to write articles on subjects such as medical conditions, sports and more. Authors of articles earn money from their articles by running AdSense campaigns on their content. Knol also offers a suite of collaboration tools that allows other users to suggest changes to the original article.

This move is a fundamental shift from Google’s traditional directive of helping users find content, as opposed to creating and hosting the content. It is a shift that has continued as Google acquired Blogger, launched Google Page Creator, allowed users to publish documents with Google Docs and began hosting Associated Press articles and user commentary on its Google News service (as opposed to linking to AP affiliates' stories and leaving comments to the news sites).

However, Google also brings an enormous amount of traffic to news sites — traffic that means big advertising dollars. Most media companies worth their salt have significant search engine optimization efforts in place to make sure those who seek information are likely to find it on a news site. It’s for that reason that news organizations’ view of Google approaches the realm of bipolar disorder. News sites beg for the Google traffic but are also being encroached upon by Google features, such as Knol and new search boxes that let users bypass news sites’ own search features (which does help people actually find stuff for a change).

The Guardian's Jack Schofield summarizes it well when he writes that "Knol represents an attack on the media industry in general." TechCrunch's Michael Arrington believes that Knol may be "a step too far."€ ...

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Is Google's Proprietary Tech Stack Destroying Its Acquisitions?
from the not-invented-at-Google-syndrome dept

While Google has bought plenty of small startups, almost none of those deals have amounted to very much. It almost seems like most of the startups disappear into Google forever. There are a few exceptions such as YouTube and (maybe) Writely. But the list of startups that have simply languished or died is much longer. TechCrunchIT is running an interesting post that suggests one of the key reasons: Google's proprietary tech stack. While Google is a big open source supporter for lower level infrastructure, once you get above that -- it's very much a strong believer in doing everything its own way. I've heard from friends at Google about the difficulty they've had learning to deal with Google's tech stack -- and certainly have heard how it's slowed down the progress of some Google acquisitions while they learn how to "transition."

In fact, some have pointed out that this is one of the side benefits to Google's AppEngine offering. Since it exposes some of Google's tech stack to folks for them to develop and run their applications, it will make it much easier to integrate them into Google at a later date. So, for startups whose strategy is to get acquired by Google (and, I should note, if you start with that strategy, you're probably going to fail), it may make sense to develop on AppEngine just because you're already signaling to Google that the integration costs are significantly lower.

Still, this highlights one of the major downsides to Google's belief that it can do everything much better than everyone else by starting from scratch: in doing so, it actually makes it much harder to capitalize on synergies from many acquisition targets. Yes, there are reasons to go against the "standard" way of doing things, but there are significant costs as well.

Here is the story:

Why Google Slows Down Acquired Companies
Nik Cubrilovic | July 16, 2008 at 4:54 PM PDT

In Febuary of this year Google re-launched JotSpot as Google Sites. Google had acquired Jotspot some 16 months earlier, during which time Jot was only available to existing customers and closed to new signups. What happen during those 16 months and why did the process of integrating with Google take so long? Looking through the list of companies that Google has acquired, Jotspot would be considered lucky as many others have died, stalled or lost out to competitors because of the acquisition process.

Blogger was acquired by Google in Febuary of 2003, and at the time it was the leading blog platform by a wide margin. Within a few months, MovableType had taken over the self-hosting market, followed by Typepad and then Wordpress and In the interim Blogger had stalled at Google, with no new feature releases, no improvements and a lack of support.

In 2005 Dodgeball was acquired – a potentially early Twitter or cool location based service, and it died inside Google. In Febuary of 2006, MeasureMap, the blog analytics tool, was acquired and never heard from again. GrandCentral went to Google last year, for $45M, and since then the service has been frozen with no new users allowed to signup and sporadic periods of downtime (meaning users cant get any phonecalls, at all).

One of the first main challenges for a company that has been acquired by Google is adopting the proprietary technology stack used within the company. Google does use Linux and open source, but their core technologies are all internal to the company. I have heard that it can take a new engineer at Google anywhere from 3-6 months to become accustomed to using these tools and services. The table below sets out the Google stack and the technologies used:

Google Technology Stack
C++, Java and Python Core libraries and components in C++, web applications in Java (Google Web Toolkit) or Python (not as common)
MapReduce Distributed computing library and cluster. Written in C++ can interface in Java or Python
Big Table Distributed column-oriented data store with query language.
Google FS Large-scale distributed file system. Used for object/file storage

Because of the difference in technology, it can take a company anywhere from a year to three or more years to move over to the Google infrastructure and architecture. Blogger was still running their own infrastructure until their new release last year, and they have finally integrated Google ID’s. YouTube is one of the only recent acquisitions where full steam and emphasis were placed into getting the site moved over to run on the Google platform. YouTube managed to pull it off, but it is a rare case inside Google (and also a special case). ...

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Do you remember the first time you used Google? When was it? How did you hear about Google? What was you first impression?

Please use the comments to tell me stories.

As Mudbone (Richard Pryor's character) used to say, "you only remember two times, your first and your last."

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Official Google Blog:

Knol is open to everyone 7/23/2008 10:31:00 AM A few months ago we announced that we were testing a new product called Knol. Knols are authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects. Today, we're making Knol available to everyone.

The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people's heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!

Knols include strong community tools which allow for many modes of interaction between readers and authors. People can submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads from our AdSense program. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements.

We are happy to announce an agreement with the New Yorker magazine which allows any author to add one cartoon per knol from the New Yorker's extensive cartoon repository. Cartoons are an effective (and fun) way to make your point, even on the most serious topics.

Everyone knows something. See what people are writing about, then tell the world what you know:

Posted by Cedric Dupont, Product Manager and Michael McNally, Software Engineer

Actually, I think the very fact that a company called "Microsoft" became the richest corporation in the history of the world shows that product names don't mean much. Oh, and the Freud was wrong about just about everything.

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Google 'UK's top consumer brand'

Internet search engine Google has become the UK's top brand for the first time, according to a consumer survey.

It moved up two places from last year's poll, beating Microsoft into second place and Mercedes Benz into third.

Google also topped a poll of "superbrands" as judged by professionals earlier this year. ...

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Google Is Watching, Perhaps Soon In Your Home

Researchers propose gathering personal data by tracking people's activities at home through home network interactions.

By Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek
July 11, 2008

Undeterred by the persistent worries of privacy advocates and government officials that it knows too much, Google hungers for more data. To augment the information the company collects from its users online -- the links they click, the searches they make, and related metrics -- Google's researchers are looking beyond the Internet.

A recent paper co-authored by Google researcher Bill N. Schilit, and computer scientists Jeonghwa Yang (Georgia Tech) and David W. McDonald (University of Washington) proposes "home activity recognition," or tracking people's activities at home through home network interactions.

"Activity recognition is a key feature of many ubiquitous computing applications ranging from office worker tracking to home health care," the paper explains. "In general, activity recognition systems unobtrusively observe the behavior of people and characteristics of their environments, and, when necessary, take actions in response -- ideally with little explicit user direction."

The goal of such monitoring might be to "remind users to perform missed activities or complete actions (like taking medicine), help them recall information, or encourage them to act more safely," the paper suggests.

As applied to the elderly, such monitoring might seem entirely sensible. Others might find such oversight Orwellian.

Is it comforting or frightening to think of Google looking after one's health? "Information about household activities can even be used to recommend changes in behavior -- for example, to reduce TV viewing and spend more time playing aerobic games on the Wii," the paper suggests.

Just wait for the pop-up menu that says, "Type faster, porky."

Whether the future Google is exploring is benevolent, malevolent or just the way things will be, such a scheme raises questions about sanctity of the data describing one's activities at home. How would that data be protected? Who would have access to it? What would prevent it from being subpoenaed or stolen?

The paper presents a sample "Web-based network activity visualizer," a record similar to a Web history log, except that it lists home network activities like "listen to music," "watch Internet TV," and "read newspaper." If and when other appliances interact with home networks, the list might also include "opened refrigerator," "used treadmill," and so on.

This isn't just an isolated foray into service-oriented surveillance. Google has been conducting related research into monitoring people's TV watching to deliver content relevant to the broadcast.

In a research paper presented in 2006 at an interactive television conference in Greece, Google researchers Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja describe a way to use ambient-audio identification technology to capture TV sound, identify it, and return personalized Internet content to the PC doing the monitoring.

The theme of tracking as a way of obtaining data surfaces in other research, and it's not just Google looking for veins of data. Microsoft is headed in the same direction. Another recent paper, "A Case for Usage Tracking to Relate Digital Objects," by Google's Elin Rnby Pedersen and Microsoft's Jeanine Spence, suggests that the shift toward online applications will make monitoring what people do with their computers much easier.

"Going forward we are eager to find alternative sources for interaction event capture," the paper says. "Rather than just waiting for the desktop operating systems to accommodate user activity tracking, we see the Web platform as a potential shortcut to a friendlier environment for activity capture."

Google, and perhaps everyone else, is watching. Enjoy having your activities captured.

Thanks, Harry!

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Geert Lovink informs me that this t-shirt is popping up all over Amsterdam.


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Google: "Privacy? Depends: where are you?"€™

A gaggle of campaigners (NAI, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Michael Zimmer, etc) push Google to add a link to its privacy policy on its home page, and Google’s refusal sparks snark: for example, “Larry Page, the company’s co-founder, didn’t want a privacy link ‘on that beautiful clean home page,’ said one executive at a Google competitor” (NYT), or “Does Anyone Really Care Where Google Places Its Privacy Policy?” (Techdirt). Google relents, publishes self-congratulatory note on public policy weblog (hardly a surprise). Funny, that: Page didn’t seem to mind the complete redesign of Google‘s Japanese page back in March. (The new design now includes a link to a privacy page).

Lesson: in key respects, Google isn’t monolithic. In fact, a quick survey of “European” Google sites (adapted from some random list of country-code TLDs) turns up interesting data:

The following national/language pages don’t have privacy links: Shqip [Albanian], Bosnia and Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Belarus, Switzerland, Croatia, Iceland, Moldova, Malta, Norway, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The following national/language pages do have privacy links: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, San Marino, Turkey, and the UK.

Obviously, for this set of countries EU membership is a major distinguishing factor (there are almost certainly other factors as well); still, the decision to promote a privacy link to (roughly speaking) the citizens and/or residents of banking havens like Andorra, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Liechtenstein but not to those of ex-Yugoslav and major former Soviet republics can be seen as pretty provocative.

The disposition of privacy laws, regulations, and customs in a given country is a creature of that country'€™s past -- €”which in many of these countries has involved successive waves of vicious state and civil brutality. In this context, "privacy"€ isn'€™t just a preference that a consumer checks off in the comfort of his or her sun-drenched home in Mountain View: as Yahoo's dealings with the Chinese government made clear, the consequences can be devastating. Given recent events -- telecom companies (except Qwest) enabling illegal mass-spying in the US, Russia's aggressive program of taking foreign investiture in oil, and so on—there’s good reason to believe that privacy issues will play an important role in some very high-stakes political events in the upcoming years. ...

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InfoWorld | Bill Snyder:

Warning: Google is becoming Microsoft's evil twin

During its year of jousting with Microsoft, Google learned a lot from the software giant. Too bad it picked up Redmond's bad behaviors -- behaviors that are bad for both IT and the public at large.

The Google we all think we know is a kind, innovative, positive force. And because Google was the un-Microsoft, we have better tools for search, better platforms for e-commerce, and a whole new world of Web 2.0 applications.

But now it appears that Sergey Brin and the gang that will do no harm have learned the worst possible lesson from Microsoft: build a monopoly and they will come -- because they have to.

The deal to let Google sell its ads on Yahoo's Web site, and share an estimated $800 million a year in revenue, is bad for business, bad for consumers, and bad for IT. It will raise Web advertising rates by more than 20 percent. It ought to be stopped.

Just what we need: a new monopoly

Simply put, it will give Google/Yahoo a near monopoly on Internet advertising. Don't just take my word for it. Here's what Google CEO Jerry Yang told Microsoft's top lawyer Brad Smith: "If we do this deal with Google, Yahoo will become part of Google's pole, and Microsoft ... would not be strong enough in this market to remain a pole of its own."

Normally, I'd be skeptical of a braggadocio story like this, but Smith recounted the conversation under oath Tuesday as he testified in front of a Senate committee looking into the proposed arrangement.


Tim Lee replies:

... This argument is confused. Almost every business enjoys "network effects." Wal-Mart, for example, is able to use its large base of customers to extract lower prices from suppliers, and is then able to use its lower prices to attract more customers. That's a network effect, but it's not a problem. What regulators have traditionally been worried about is not "network effects" in and of themselves, but network effects combined with technological lock-in. ...

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The Associated Press:

Lions Gate to share ad revenue on clips on YouTube

By RYAN NAKASHIMA – 14 hours ago

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Google Inc. said Wednesday that it will partner with filmmaker Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. to share revenue from ads that Google places on YouTube clips from the studio's movies.

The deal will put advertising on clips uploaded by users and by the studio itself from Lions Gate movies such as the "Saw" horror series and "Dirty Dancing."

The deal would make Lions Gate the second major moviemaker to try to profit from the popularity of online movie clips. ...

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Why it matters what Chad Hurley watches Posted by Greg Sandoval 23 comments

What will it mean for YouTube if founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen have, like many of us, entertained themselves by watching pirated videos found on their site?

Viacom will likely argue that YouTube is guilty of contributory copyright infringement if computer records show employees know unauthorized clips from shows, such as Hogan Knows Best or The Hills, are on the site and don't do anything to remove them.

According to legal experts, YouTube's response is likely to go something like this: "How are we supposed to know what's copyright material and what isn't?" The site is a promotional tool for scores of TV networks and movie studios, which often post their own videos.

The battle royal began in early 2007 when Viacom accused Google, YouTube's parent company, of violating copyright law. Soon after, Viacom hit Google with a $1 billion lawsuit.

The case could now become a landmark and answer a major question in online video, said Mark Litvack, an entertainment lawyer with Los Angeles-based Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

"Who has the obligation of monitoring Web sites for copyright violations," Litvack said. "Is it the copyright owner who must police sites and be required to send takedown notices, or should Web sites be forced to filter for copyright material?" ...

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Library of Congress: Laws Need Revision to Encourage Digital Preservation

Countries should change their laws and policies to encourage digital preservation of copyrighted works, according to a report released today by the Library of Congress. It drafted the report with organizations in Australia, Britain, and the Netherlands.

The report, "€œInternational Study on the Impact of Copyright Law on Digital Preservation," says digital works are ephemeral, and unless they’re preserved shortly after creation they'll be lost to future generations. The report calls for preserving copyrighted works in accordance with international best practices, migrating works into different formats, and maintaining duplicate copies among preservation institutions and repositories to protect against catastrophic loss.

The U.S. recommendations in the report are similar to those described in "The Section 108 Study Group Report" issued in March. -- Andrea L. Foster

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A book in progress by

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan

This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

» Send links, questions and ideas:
siva [at] googlizationofeverything [dot] com

» To reach me for a press query, please write to SIVAMEDIA ut POBOX dut COM

» To reach me for a speaking invitation, please write to SIVASPEAK ut POBOX dut COM

» Visit my main blog: SIVACRACY.NET

» More about me


Like the Mind of God (31 posts)

All the World's Information (32 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (11 posts)

Don't Be Evil (10 posts)

Is Google a Library? (47 posts)

Challenging Big Media (26 posts)

The Dossier (26 posts)

Global Google (4 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (22 posts)

About this Book (16 posts)

Other books by Siva:


Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

Copyrights and copywrongs cover

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


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