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How I Lost My Faith in Google

I know, that in the past, I have praised Google.  Repeatedly, held them up to some sort of crazy standard of perfection.  Somewhere, they seem to have lost their way, and along that way, they lost me.

I can’t really say it was a single factor or the turn occurred at a single moment, it just sort of… happened…

I can’t even say it was Google+, as much as I dislike Google+, though the focus on Google+ didn’t help.  It certainly started around the time Google+ became a thing, though there was a bit of a build up before that.  I think maybe the initial start of the decline involved Search.

Google is supposedly the "King of Search".  I’ve felt that the results have been declining more and more over the years.  So many people are gaming the system with perfect SEO blah blah blah bull shit.  Maybe it’s just that the type of results I want never show up.   I now how to use modifiers in searches to streamline things too, is it’s not like I’m making crappy searches.  My biggest pet peeve is that searching for reviews of products always returns shopping sites with reviews on product pages.  I don’t want some nobody slob’s review that they were prompted to give by some email a day after they received an item, I want a thorough thought out review from someone who does reviews.  I used to be able to get this sort of thing using a Blog Search but Google took that away.  Even the Blog search started getting iffy because news sites that use a blog style format started SEOing the crap out of it and pushing to the top. 

If I want to shop, I’ll use Google Shipping.  A generic shop related search page that would just show me the lowest prices in order, so I know where to get the best deal.  Google took that away.  Google shopping is now all paid placement.  It’s useless now by default since the site with the most money to burn will just be on top.

There are also an excess of returned results from sites like wikihow.com and answers.com and the worst offender, about.com.  Google used to have a feature that you could tell it, "Don’t ever show me results from this domain".  Google took that away.  The result was the return of the crappy searches.

Everything, supposedly is at the mercy of Google’s almighty mysterious algorithm.  Which brings up another annoyance I have with Google over all.  They are increasingly pushing the idea of "Give us more information for better tailored results".  Except I don’t want tailored results.  I want raw results.  I want serendipity.  I want the site I have never been to to show up, not results mostly from my "top 5 sites for my demographic of similar aged people with similar interests".  I don’t WANT a filter bubble of information that some algorithm thinks I want to see.

Which is where Google plus starts coming in.  Google Plus is way more than some shitty Facebook knockoff.  It’s also about more than adding a name to your "secret profile of data".  Google doesn’t give a crap about your name, you name is meaningless for marketing data.  You get a number, which is plenty.  It’s about seeing your connections.  Sure, some of that can be drawn from your email contacts but the data that can be pulled from who is in a circle called "Friends" vs a circle called "coworkers" is pretty vast.  Not to mention the cross marketing potential of pushing the same product to you and your friends or you and your colleagues at the same time. 

Google data mines that you go out every Friday based on your location history, it data mines that you always go out with your buddy Jim based on Jim’s location data.  Now it starts advertising Restaurant X to both of you.  Suddenly you both want to go.  Sure, this is how Marketing works, I guess, but it feels skeevy and deceitful.

So ignore Google+.  Don’t let it have your connections, don’t let it have your data.  These things are all on varying levels of accomplishability.  Not using G+ is great, except Google is really pushing it to the point of (maybe at this point) forcing your to sign up even if you never use it.  Even if not, there is the constant push on Youtube to "Link your profiles and use your real name".

The question of course is, why does Google care if you use your real name if they don’t need your name to market to you.  "While Male, 30-35, watches lots of music videos" is marketable data that’s useful.  "Your name is Dave" is not useful.  Daves can like sports, Daves can like video games, Daves can be 5 years old, Daves can be 80 years old. 

You can’t makert to a Dave.

The point is, why does Google care if someone calls themselves Dave or if they call themselves KookyBearsFan84.

My belief is that part of the desire for real names is to help make people more "discoverable".  This helps others find each other and creates more connections.  connections are marketable.  Dave’s friends may not know he posts semi anonymously as KookyBearsFan84 but they all know him as Dave Davidson.  So when they search Google+ for their friends and see Dave, they circle him.  Now Google can market with that data.  Maybe all of Dave’s friends are known to drink Pepsi, so Dave can be shown ads for Pepsi.

So why not just use Google+, everyone already uses Facebook right?  Except a lot of Google+ is modeled after Facebook and a lot of people really don’t like Facebook.  Google had a chance to make G+ something better, but instead it’s just another marketing engine, just another Facebook.  I don’t need another feed my friends content (friends who are not even on G+ in the first place).  I have Facebook for that.  I also don’t need or care about "what’s hot".  If I wanted feeds from  Bullshit News Blog I’d subscribe to their page.  I don’t care if everyone else on G+ liked their post, I’m not interested.  I just want a feed of everything my friends post.

Which I had, with Google Reader.

The closing of Google Reader is the closest thing to a turning point in my love for Google as you can get.  I never used Buzz, I vaguely used Wave, there were some other Google projects that got closed that I didn’t care about, but Google Reader really hurt.  Sure, there are other RSS clients, but Google reader was the best and it had put a lot of the others out of business. My RSS feeds and reader are the closest thing I can get to a raw unfiltered feed of what I care about.  If I want to read a headline, fine, i will, if not, I can skip it.

But I made that choice.

Not some bull shit algorithm based on my history and friend’s interests.  It’s likely Google Reader was the largest product that Google shut down, it certainly generated a lot more buzz than Wave or… Buzz.

I think ultimately, I am tired of Google pushing itself more and more into my life in an attempt to tell me what I want to hear and show me what I want to see.  It’s just getting progressively worse.  Cell phones that gather your location.  Mics on devices listening constantly for "keywords" and whatever else they might find useful.  sniffing your wifi for your smart TV so it can see what you are watching on TV.  Pushing all your friends’ data and your data together to make a big ball of what ifs to push more ads.

I think ultimately I am just tired of constantly being sold to.  And tired of constantly being the product.  What the hell happened to being able to pay for a service and just use it.  "Free" is great, except it’s not free, it’s "Free".  Google has one business in the end, it’s not mail, or social networking, or making self driving electric cars, it’s advertising.

Yeah, the story about "What if Google knows you need jeans and you drive by a store and there is a sale and your self driving car takes you there automatically and then your phone detects your mood when you try on pants and automatically orders the best jeans," sounds great…  Until you realize it likely won’t be the best jeans, it’ll just be the jeans from the store that paid Google to advertise it’s sale.

And even if they are the best, what happened to choice?  People are not robots, and sometimes it’s ok to screw up and make mistakes.  People don’t need some almighty algorithm telling them what they need or want.  People can already do that on their own.  Sometimes they may be wrong, but that’s ok…

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How Google Taught Me to Hate The Cloud

Well, that was quick.  I guess.

As I tend to ramble on about here, I am a fickle indecisive mess when it comes to how to best manage all of my digital data.  I have been pushing more and more to "The cloud", cloud services, cloud hosting, cloud cloud cloud. 

I secretly hate the phrase "The Cloud" by the way.  I despise it.  It’s "Online" or "The Internet", the cloud is a really annoying buzzword.  I believe it stems somewhat from The internet being depicted as a could on line diagrams.  This comes from drawing network maps and wanting an easy way to represent the World Wide Web.  The Internet isn’t a cloud really at all.  It’s basically a huge clump of fibers and copper hooked between a shitload of routers of various sizes transmitting flashes of light and electricity between each other.  The Web is a better analogy then the Cloud but spiders are creepy.  Hell, calling it "A Series of Tubes" is actually more accurate than a cloud.  Even the RF involved with WiFi isn’t a disperes clump of like molecules floating in space.  Those transmissions are still a "virtual series of imaginary tubes" at their core.

But whatever.

The point is, I have been heavily advocating the use of the Internet for a while.  Maybe I’m just getting tired of it, but I find lately I care less and less about it.  This has permeated all aspects of what I do for my hobbies and non work life.  Despite the best efforts of loads of Internet Citizens, the web is slowly transforming from the crazy fun Wild Wild West into some sort of locked down internment camp.

There are ads everywhere.  i keep getting emails about "leaks" and "hacks" at websites that I’ve used in the past.  There is increasing tension around the idea of corporate and government surveillance of the bits in the name of stopping piracy or terrorism.   It’s just quickly becoming a scary mess.

Then there is the closing of Google Reader.

I’ve experienced sites being closed on me before.  I generally don’t care since it’s a service I never used (most likely because no one else was using it this, why it was closing).  I’ve even experienced this via Google.  I used to use Google Tasks and Google Wave, both have been gone for a while.  But Wave was gimmicky and a limited option and was eventually superseded by Google Docs.  Tasks wasn’t a major loss, there are probably a hundred different Tasks Manager methods and programs out there, many of which are superior to Google Tasks.

There are no good Google Reader alternatives.  Maybe there will be, but there isn’t anything quite as good.  I do not want to use Google Plus or replace my RSS with a bunch of cluttered Twitter and Facebook feeds (which often contain extraneous microblog posts and clutter my own stream). 

I also really like and need RSS.  I like small time blogs.  i don’t have time to regularly check to see if Bob’s Toy Blogger updated it’s once a month update, but I can add it to my RSS feed and wait for an update to slide in.  i feel like Google’s killing of RSS not only hurts the people who rely on it to get news, but it hurts the small time people like myself who rely on it to make it convenient to get their posts out. 

I can see where Google is going here.  It’s all Google+ now.  Reader will be replaced with a cluttered filtered Google Plus stream that is useless.  The real take away I’ve gotten is even Google, whom i relied on above all else, is not reliable to be there.

It makes me question my current online backup strategy completely.  I’ve already consolidated a lot fo my document level data into Evernote.  My Google Docs is empty, I feed news articles I want to keep into Evernote.  I store bits of code for the few times I ever do any coding.  I save stories and my own writing there.  It’s all there.  I realize this is kind of an "all in one basket" mindset that may not be good either.  There are several ways to backup Evernote however and, more importantly, Evernote is in the business of selling note taking software.  They don’t have social ads and email and virtual drives and video hosting and a thousand services, they pretty much just do <hankhill>Evernote and Evernote Accessories<hankhill>.

Also it means less data in the hands of Google, which is becoming increasingly less trustworthy.

There is some residual distrust created as well.  I’m using Skydrive to backup files, but Windows 8 is universally loathed and Office 365 is just as overpriced as normal Office.  I know Microsoft is a huge company that probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I do foresee them floundering a bit in the coming future as the wheels come off the mistake that was Windows 8.  I can see a service that is probably mostly a money loser like Skydrive hitting the cutting room floor when the shit hits the fan over there.

I’ve been pretty loyal to Flickr for years and I’ve found some tools to automate bulk uploads to use it as a secondary backup but Yahoo is a company that’s more of a mess than any other large tech company I can think of and Flickr is a definitely money loser for them (high bandwidth + dwindling user base is always a problem).

So one additional little bit fueling my Cloud distrust comes from my recent push to get more organized with my data.  I’ve been going through my thousands of book marks, sorting them into an online Delicious clone I set up or clipping them to Evernote for archival.  This of course leads to some dead links.  It’s a subtle reminder that this data will not be there forever.

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I know, this is like my third time “quitting” Google Plus.  I’m probably not going to actively delete my account this round but I am still done.  I gave it a fairly whole hearted got his round but it just… isn’t there.  I doubt it ever will be.

Basically, I wanted to try communities, and I used them as an excuse to try to improve my experience by adding more interesting people.  You know, to make the place seem less dead.  This still didn’t really seem to help, there just isn’t enough activity to keep it interesting and i still get zero feed back on anything.   Maybe what I’m posting is garbage, which I’ll admit is probably the case, but that seems unlikely as most of it seems to go over pretty well on Facebook and Twitter.  Hell, I even do fairly decently on Reddit as far as response and feedback.

Ultimately it just felt like a waste of time.  I certainly am not getting the experience about “more better feed back” I keep hearing touted by some folks.  The problem is “some folks” are a bunch of tech reporters and commentators who are already popular.  These comments also feel like more of a nostalgia for the old days of Twitter, when it was just the techies on there and the folks with the highest number of followers were people like Leo Laporte instead of Justin Bieber.

Anyway, i have not posted a significant amount of stuff there that was original content, but what little I have I’ll probably mirror here because that’s how I roll.  I tried some importing but it seems to only do the last 20 or so posts and catches things I’ve shared from others as well.

Which brings up one factor in Google Plus’ crummyness, the API sucks.  I am not a developer, but I like what developers do with these things.  I like having a client for Twitter (Seesmic).  I like being able to feed my blog in automatically (Facebook and Twitter).  I like being able to archive my content out if I want.  There just isn’t any of that.  The excuse is Google doesn’t want G+ to just be a syndication of other social networks, which mostly just feels snobby.  Yeah, some will do that, but it is a good way to help jump start things.

I think the real issue comes from the very start and launch of G+.  It wasn’t feature or design perfect initially but that’s forgivable.  Except it didn’t come out the gate limping a little, it came out of the gate missing a leg.  It a move that can only be described as idiotic, there was no support for Apps accounts.  That is, people who host their own domain through Google for email etc.

This is how I handle my email myself.  I have @mydomains which is a gmail account and I have an @gmail account.

Why was this such a problem?  People who are early adopters, who would have heralded and really pushed this service at the start, tend to be pretty tech savvy and tend to use Apps accounts.  It’s that simple.

Yeah, they probably have an @gmail account and could have used that except this becomes a problem in the future when Apps accounts become supported (which they eventually did).  Now, you’ve build up a following on @gmail and you want to switch to @mydomain.  There is no way to ensure people will transfer, now you have disconnected content streams, etc etc.

It’s a nightmare.  So Apps users sat by the side, or “sort of used it” on @gmail.  It languished for too long, people got tired of it or forgot about it.  By the time Apps accounts were added it was too late.  Your tech promoters started to show up but by that point your supporting more casual @gmail crowd had gotten bored.  A total impedance mismatch that pretty much just resulted in a stagnant dull experience.

Then there are other factors.  Google keeps trying to force Plus on folks by integrating ti with all of it’s other services more and more.  This causes more issues in places like Youtube which has received a slightly ugly visual makeover and also constantly nags you about “Don’t you want to use your real name?”

No Google, it seems like you’d know this already but a lot of people online use fake names or pseudonyms that sound relish.  It’s been this way pretty much since the inception of the internet.  That’s kind of part of the beauty of the internet, a single person can be themselves, or someone else, or even several people pretty easily.

Anyway, I’m just rambling off topic now…

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Google’s Nexus 7

So, I’ve mentioned in passing here and all over everywhere else that I have been using my new Nexus 7 tablet.  It’s been one of my standard "long build up choices".  I’ve known for a while I wanted a tablet and planned to get one for some time.  Things finally culminated in the Nexus 7.

I actually went back and forth a bit between the Nexus and Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD for a bit.  The Nook HD has superior hardware as well as a potentially useful HDMI port.  It lacks a camera of any kind and comes with a locked down B&N version of Android.  It would have to be rooted.  I figured the Nexus was the way to go ultimately.  The HDMI port would be less useful than it sounds and quite frankly, as much as I want to support B&N as an underdog, it’s getting really hard to continue to support them.  I am sure that content deals are part of the hold up but they really seem to treat their digital customers as second class persons.  At some point though a company needs to just tell these distributors to take it or leave it.

That’s a complaint I’ve made before elsewhere.  I’m here to discuss the Nexus.

It’s a pretty spectacular product, and I’ve certainly been getting my money’s worth from it.  I’m actually using it for more or less what I expected to use it for, consuming information of various types.  It’s great for Facebook and Google+, it’s great for ebooks and digital comics, it’s great for reading news.

I’ve been working on decking it out a bit to make it more of a production device though.  I ordered a case with included keyboard, though unfortunately it needed an adaptor I didn’t have and since the adaptor is shipping from China I’m waiting for a slow boat to send it my way… eventually.  I also have a MOGA controller that I’ve been using some to play games on the device.

What’s most surprising, and something I had been hoping for, I actually use my phone less now that I have the tablet.  It’s a good size for most activities and has much more storage for storing apps and such on it than my phone.  Which leads me to a side note, the larger version really seems like the way to go space wise.  I have already installed several of the more advanced games I have and each takes up like 2-3 GB each.  It actually kind of blows my mind that a mobile game would be so huge but the graphics and performance result is pretty amazing. 

I actually have one complaint so far, and it’s kind of a minor one.  It lacks a rear facing camera.  Yeah yeah, I will tell you how stupid it is to hold up a tablet and use it as a camera pretty much anywhere, but I have gotten into a habit of snapping quick photos with my phone and uploading them to Twitter or Google+.  I managed to figure out how to activate the front camera for photos but it’s a pain target and snap without being able to actually see the interface.

Like I said, minor issue.

Anyway, I am sure I’ll discus this device some more in the future, but for now, the verdict is, it’s great.

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A Day for False Copyright Claims

I’ve commented a bit here about my plans to move more stuff "to the cloud".  I have been apprehensive about doing this for a variety of reasons in the past but I’ve decided to forgo these reasons and just do it.  I still have my local copy, which will ultimately be considered the "backup" in the end.  My goal is for The Cloud, to be the primary storage and access point.

I had planned to use Youtube for video storage.  They have the option to redownload files, I can make a private channel and share with specific folks (family), it’s quick to stream and all that.  The interface is a little gaudy and cluttery but that’s nothing a few plug ins on the browser can’t fix.  I’ve been focusing primarily on my Photos to Skydrive angle for the moment, since Photos are of primary importance and superseded all else for archival.

Essentially the photos are what my wife cares about the most, and they are, for the most part, irreversible.  She actually hates when I take video over photos but mark my words, in ten years, or less, the Scrapbook will be replaced by a tablet (or the web), which is capable of embedding video.  She likes the photos so she can print them and put them in the scrapbooks, which I am all fine and good with, but these videos will be important one day.

That aside, I’m getting fairly close to getting all the photos to the cloud except that I ran out of space in Skydrive and, for the moment, it’s not in the budget to upgrade.  It’s a temporary hurdle crippled by a temporary turn of events.  So I’ve been working on some of the videos.  After uploading some school concert videos I noticed many of the videos had notices attached about copyright infringement claims.  Seriously though, what the fuck Google?  Apparently several of the record companies have, as part of the whole automated algorithm, claims attacked to many songs that would be public domain.

Seriously though, a bunch of Christmas carols from the 1800s written and created before EMI or SONY’s founders were even born have no business being flagged for anything.

I went through the steps, claiming the copyright was false for public domain, i cited Wikipedia in the reason box, and went about my business.

After doing 3 or 4 of these, possibly in a bit of an impulsive manner, I decided to screw it.  I deleted all of the videos on the account and would have just closed that account (a secondary Google account just for this) had I found a way to do so.  Yeah, I probably would have been approved and been ok, but I’m not dealing with this.  A bunch of 8th graders singing Oh Holy Night in a school is not a copyright violation.  It’s kind of bull shit that these companies can get away with this.

I’m looking around for alternative methods of doing this video hosting.  I would throw them up on Skydrive if I could.  The current batch of older videos isn’t an issue, but the newer stuff, shot in full HD, had file sizes too large to be supported by Skydrive.  This may still be my ultimate solution, I’ll edit the videos down or rescale them a bit and make them a size that Skydrive can handle.

This whole situation does nothing for my previous apprehensiveness about The Cloud.  Let’s say I stuck with Youtube, got everything uploaded, spend the time to tag it and describe it and sort it, and then some bull shit copyright claim rolls in and Google decides to close my account.

Heck, the same thing could happen on Microsoft.  I’ve read at least one report of a Skydrive account being closed because the person was keep porn on the Skydrive.  Keeping and storing, not sharing, not distributing, private storage of image files, though the image files apparently violated the TOS of Skydrive, so the account was locked. 

The point is, they are clearly scanning these files looking for violations themselves, maybe they have a less friendly system than Youtube.  Maybe the Skydrive flags my Oh Holy Night school video and locks me out of everything.

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