The Internet economy potential

March 31st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand retailers are falling behind other sectors of the economy in their use of the internet to drive sales and business management, says a major new study funded by internet NZ and the global internet search engine, Google.

The “Value of internet Services to New Zealand Businesses” report, issued this morning, says firms using the internet well are between 6 per cent and 11 per cent more productive than their competitors in the same field. Best practice users were as much as 73 per cent more productive than average businesses in their industry.

The report suggests if all businesses were using the internet to its full potential, New Zealand’s economy – currently worth around $210 billion of output annually – could get a $34 billion efficiency and productivity boost.

Maybe retailers should stop trying to tax the Internet and should embrace it more!

The research was conducted by the economic research consultancy Sapere and used data from 5,589 businesses in the Statistics New Zealand Business Operations Survey.

It excluded firms in the information technology sector, which were presumed to be high internet users and interviews with 76 businesses were conducted in the tourism, retail, dairy/agriculture, and professional services sectors.

The report says while internet speed and connectivity were once the major issue, that is no longer so. The use to which the internet is put is the larger issue for most firms.

In the retail sector, where the common complaint is that e-commerce is robbing traditional shops of sales, the survey found retailers were “slightly lower users of internet services than businesses as a whole.”

“They are less likely to have a website, less likely to have most of their staff online, and less likely to use fibre, with bigger firms generally higher users than smaller firms.

“On our numbers, it is highly unusual for retailers to be selling a lot online at this point, with only 3 per cent of firms reporting that more than a quarter of their sales are made online, although retailers are heavy online purchasers.”

And of interest:

It reports one service provider as saying no more than one in 12 New Zealand retailers was doing a good job of integrating online and offline stores.

So huge potential there if it is grasped. The full report, for those interested, is here.

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Labour says Apple et al plundering NZ economy

January 30th, 2014 at 7:03 am by David Farrar

Labour continue with their jihad against the tech giants. From Hansard yesterday:

Hon DAVID PARKER: … Neither do we think it is fair that some of the multinationals plunder the New Zealand economy—like Google, like Apple, like Facebook—take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the New Zealand economy, compete with New Zealand – based companies, and pay virtually no tax. 

Wow I didn’t know that there were NZ companies competing with Apple, Google and Facebook. Is David Parker saying that Microsoft, Yahoo and Bebo are NZ based companies?

But regardless we can all agree that multinationals who plunder the NZ economy are evil and must be shunned. I await all Labour MPs giving up their iPhones and closing down their Facebook accounts.

As I have often pointed out Fairfax and APN also pay virtually no (income) tax. Will Labour shun these multinationals also?

We in the Labour Party are willing to move on that, but the Government is not because once again it is preferring the interests of the wealthy. It is not willing to take on the multinationals, despite the fact that there is a glaring unfairness there, that they should pay their fair share of tax too, which they do not, and that there are mechanisms that could be used. 

Here’s my challenge to David Parker who wants to be Minister of Finance. It is a very simple challenge. Name these mechanisms that can be used. You don’t even have to name them all. Just name one of them. Just give us one specific example of how they would change the law in a way that would require those companies to pay more tax?

In related news, 3 News reports:

Banning Facebook was an extreme suggestion from Labour Party MP David Clark – and it took party leader David Cunliffe just 24 hours to shut it down.

Mr Cunliffe has now ruled it out completely, but ridicule from the Government still came hard and fast.

Half the population, nearly 2.3 million, are on Facebook, and Mr Cunliffe’s own page has more than 8000 likes.

The social networking website has been accused of avoiding paying its fair share of taxes in New Zealand.

To recoup the cost, yesterday, Labour’s tax spokesman David Clark suggested the Government should “always have in its back pocket the ability to ban websites as an extreme option”.

But Russell Norman says he thinks it is “ridiculous” to consider banning Facebook or any other website.

When the Greens call a Labour policy ridiculous, you know how bad it is.

Labour’s musing on banning Facebook has even gone international, making the International Business Times.

Anyway the next time you see a Labour MP using an iPhone or iPad or Apple laptop, make sure you tell them off for using an evil company that plunders the NZ economy.

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The Google Books Judgement

November 22nd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Google recently won a court case the US Society of Authors brought against it for their Google Books service. The Society of Authors claimed that Google’s scanning in of 20 million or more books without the permission of the rights holders was a breach of copyright. Google argued that it was fair use as they didn’t allow anyone to download a copy of the book, just search for and quote extracts of up to quarter of a page.

The details of what Google does to protect a book i its entirety being copied is interesting, as are the reasons the Judge gave for his decision which was a strong argument for the benefits of fair use.

For books in “snippet view” (in contrast to “full view” books), Google divides each page into eighths — each of which is a “snippet,” a verbatim excerpt. …

Google takes security measures to prevent users from viewing a complete copy of a snippet-view book. For example, a user cannot cause the system to return different sets of snippets for the same search query; the position of each snippet is fixed within the page and does not “slide” around the search term; only the first responsive snippet available on any given page will be returned in response to a query; one of the snippets on each page is “black-listed,” meaning it will not be shown; and at least one out of ten entire pages in each book is black-listed.

So even if one went through an entire book trying to use words found in it, to get an electronic copy, you would end up with 10% of pages missing and 12.5% of the other 90% of pages missing. Anyone wanting an electronic copy would just scan a hard copy in themselves1

The Judge lists the benefits of Google Books:

  1. Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books.  It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases. It provides a searchable index linking each word in any book to all books in which that word appears.
  2. Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources. Google Books has become such an important tool for researchers and librarians that it has been integrated into the educational system — it is taught as part of the information literacy curriculum to students at all levels
  3. Google Books greatly promotes a type of research referred to as “data mining” or “text mining.”  Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.
  4. Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books. Google Books provides print-disabled individuals with the potential to search for books and read them in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices.
  5. Google Books helps to preserve books and give them new life.
  6. By helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers.

These benefits are a great list of why fair use is so important in copyright.

Also worth quoting the judgement on whether Google Books may serve as a market replacement for books.

Here, plaintiffs argue that Google Books will negatively impact the market for books and that Google’s scans will serve as a “market replacement” for books. (Pl. Mem. at 41). It also argues that users could put in multiple searches, varying slightly the search terms, to access an entire book.  (9/23/13 Tr. at 6).

Neither suggestion makes sense. Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already — they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book. Not only is that not possible as certain pages and snippets are blacklisted, the individual would have to have a copy of the book in his possession already to be able to piece the different snippets together in coherent fashion.

The argument that someone could use Google Books to get a free electronic copy is basically nuts. It’s impossible and even if i was not, would be far more effort than just scanning one in yourself.

To the contrary, a reasonable factfinder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders. An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered — whether potential readers learn of its existence. (Harris Decl. ¶ 7 (Doc. No. 1039)). Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays. (Id. at 14-15). Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase. (Br. of Amici Curiae American Library Ass’n at 8). Many authors have noted that online browsing in general and Google Books in particular helps readers find their work, thus increasing their audiences.  Further, Google provides convenient links to booksellers to make it easy for a reader to order a book. In this day and age of  on-line shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales.

You have to wonder why the Society of Authors took this case? I know many authors who did not support their action. They were arguing against a service that helps generates sales for them.

I think it is just being reactionary. I guess once upon a time the Society of Authors probably opposed allowing libraries to lend books out, as they saw it as a threat also.

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Sir Bob should sue!

June 22nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Sir Bob Jones

 

Sent in by a reader!

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Finally a good HR department

January 27th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

My general advice to new CEOs is that their first initiative should be to abolish their company’s HR department. This will make them very popular with their staff and generally enhance their operational effectiveness. Each section manager should be capable of basic HR management and just have a lawyer or two on call for the difficult stuff.

But Google may be an exception to my rule. Stuff reported:

A few years ago, Google’s human resources department noticed a problem: A lot of women were leaving the company.

Like the majority of Silicon Valley software firms, Google is staffed mostly by men, and executives have long made it a priority to increase the number of female employees.

But the fact that women were leaving Google wasn’t just a gender equity problem – it was affecting the bottom line. 

Unlike in most sectors of the economy, the market for top-notch tech employees is stretched incredibly thin. Google fights for potential workers with Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and hordes of startups, so every employee’s departure triggers a costly, time-consuming recruiting process.

If employees are good, most employers are highly motivated to keep them.

Google calls its HR department People Operations, though most people in the firm shorten it to POPS.

The group is headed by Laszlo Bock, a trim, soft-spoken 40-year-old who came to Google six years ago.

Bock says that when POPS looked into Google’s woman problem, it found it was really a new mother problem: Women who had recently given birth were leaving at twice Google’s average departure rate.

At the time, Google offered an industry-standard maternity leave plan.

After a woman gave birth, she got 12 weeks of paid time off. For all other new parents in its California offices, but not for its workers outside the state, the company offered seven paid weeks of leave.

So in 2007, Bock changed the plan.

New mothers would now get five months off at full pay and full benefits, and they were allowed to split up that time however they wished, including taking some of that time off just before their due date.

If she likes, a new mother can take a couple months off after birth, return part time for a while, and then take the balance of her time off when her baby is older.

And did it work?

Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that Google doles out such perks just to be nice. POPS rigorously monitors a slew of data about how employees respond to benefits, and it rarely throws money away.

The five-month maternity leave plan, for instance, was a winner for the company. After it went into place, Google’s attrition rate for new mothers dropped down to the average rate for the rest of the firm.

“A 50 percent reduction – it was enormous!” Bock says.

Excellent. No laws needed. Just good incentives. An extra two months paid leave is a cheap price for keeping an employee, rather than losing them and the costs (actual and opportunity) of getting a replacement.

Under Bock, Google’s HR department functions more like a rigorous science lab than the pesky hall monitor most of us picture when we think of HR.

At the heart of POPS is a sophisticated employee-data tracking program, an effort to gain empirical certainty about every aspect of Google’s workers’ lives – not just the right level of pay and benefits but also such trivial-sounding details as the optimal size and shape of the cafeteria tables and the length of the lunch lines.

In the last couple years, Google has even hired social scientists to study the organisation.

The scientists – part of a group known as the PiLab, short for People & Innovation Lab – run dozens of experiments on employees in an effort to answer questions about the best way to manage a large firm.

How often should you remind people to contribute to their 401(k)s, and what tone should you use?

Do successful middle managers have certain skills in common – and can you teach those skills to unsuccessful managers?

Or, for that matter, do managers even matter – can you organise a company without them?

And say you want to give someone a raise – how should you do it in a way that maximizes his happiness?

Should you give him a cash bonus? Stock? A raise? More time off?

A science and research based approach to HR. Great stuff.

The group ran a “conjoint survey” in which it asked employees to choose the best among many competing pay options. For instance, would you rather have $1000 more in salary or $2000 as a bonus?

“What we found was that they valued base pay above all,” Setty says. “When we offered a bonus of X, they valued that at what it costs us. But if you give someone a dollar in base pay, they value it at more than a dollar because of the long-term certainty.”

In the fall of 2010, Schmidt announced that all Google employees would get a 10 per cent salary increase.

Setty says Googlers were overjoyed – many people cite that announcement as their single happiest moment at the firm, and Googlegeist numbers that year went through the roof. Attrition to competing companies also declined.

Not all companies can afford to do that, but if you challenge is staff retention nice to know what works – not one off bonuses, but pay increases.

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The most popular 2012 searches

December 13th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The 2012 Google Zeitgeist for NZ is here. The overall top ten trending were:

  1. Olympics
  2. Volvo Ocean Race
  3. One Direction
  4. Kizi
  5. Whitney Houston
  6. Gangnam Style
  7. Pinterest
  8. Diablo 3
  9. Hurricane Sandy
  10. 9GAG

9GAG is fun!

The top ten trending news events:

  1. Kim Dotcom
  2. Tongariro
  3. Transit Of Venus
  4. Belarus
  5. Marmite
  6. Margaret Mahy
  7. Jock Hobbs
  8. White Island
  9. Give Way Rules
  10. Sophie Pascoe

And the global top 10 were:

  1. Whitney Houston
  2. Gangnam Style
  3. Hurricane Sandy
  4. iPad 3
  5. Diablo 3
  6. Kate Middleton
  7. Olympics 2012
  8. Amanda Todd
  9. Michael Clarke Duncan
  10. BBB12

No I have no idea what BBB12 is either!

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Facebook and Google tax

December 1st, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Oh dear. I have already blogged on Labour’s release about tax paid by Google and Facebook. But I overlooked they don’t even know the difference between revenue and profits.

David Clark, ironically a former Treasury staffer, said:

“It’s not just Facebook that funnels revenue through its low-tax Irish counterpart. Google New Zealand does it too. That company paid just $109,038 tax on $4,447,898 in revenue. That’s two per cent, way below our 28 per cent corporate rate.

This is as bad a mistake as Andrew Williams one. These are not statements made under pressure, but ones put out proactively by MPs for the media.

So David Clark thinks tax rates are paid on revenue. Sigh. An article in the Herald gives us some facts:

Clark’s comments that Google NZ appeared to have paid only 2 per cent tax last year was “a bit inept” and misleading, Vandenberg added.

“We get mesmerised by sales figures and people get outraged about how much tax companies should be paying but then you come along and apply a little bit of tax law.”

A company was required to pay tax on profit before tax, not on revenue, Vandenberg said.

Financial statements show Google New Zealand’s revenue last year was $4,447,898 but its profit before tax was only $56,803. It paid $109,038 in tax, making a loss of $52,235.

Facebook New Zealand’s financial statements show revenue of $427,967, a taxable profit loss of $66,696, and $14,497 paid in tax. The company ended up with a loss of $81,193.

So in fact Google paid more in tax than they made in profit, for their NZ subsidiary. Clark wasn’t just wrong with his 2% claim – he was massively wrong.

And Facebook NZ made a loss, yet paid tax (as some expenses are not claimable off tax).

Clark said his point yesterday was that companies were sending their revenues out of the country “one way or another”.

Trying to ignore the fact his statement was factually incorrect and bogus.

And Google are not sending any revenues out of the country. This is Labour xenophobia at play. NZ advertisers have decided to advertise with Facebook Ireland. This is no different from an American company hiring a NZ company to do research for it. Is Labour saying that any NZ company that has overseas clients should be forced to pay tax in the country their clients reside in?

He criticised the way Facebook used its Irish operation, which pays just 12.5 per cent tax, to determine revenue and expenses.

“This ensures the company can put most of its revenue through countries with low-tax systems,” he said.

Wah, wah, wah – it isn’t fair.  Of course they choose to operate from a low tax company. This is why low tax countries attract business.

He called for the New Zealand government to work with other major countries, like Australian, to review international tax treaties and create a fairer system.

Yeah, good luck with that. Unless every country in the world signs up – then companies that can be flexible with where they are based will be based where the taxes are lower.

This is like trying to ban countries from offering higher wages, as people may move to a higher wage country.

UPDATE: David Clark has updated his release to remove the references to tax being levied on revenue, not profit.

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Deception from the ITU

November 28th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Recently Amy Adams announced the NZ Govt would not support any changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations at WCIT, which would give the Government dominated ITU a role in Internet governance.

Adams said:

The ITR’s has existed since the time of the telegraph, and have largely been superseded by commercial arrangements.  They haven’t been reviewed for 20 years, and there are naturally some areas where the language needs to be updated to ensure the regulations continue to support an efficient and innovative telecommunications environment.
The key debate though will focus around two sets of proposals for including the Internet in the treaty – proposals that focus on the management of the network through matters such as IP allocation, routing, and address registries; and proposals that focus on control of content, spam, and security.

It is my view that these changes would be unhelpful, are unwarranted and could represent a significant threat to innovation and free and open debate.

The NZ Government is not alone in this view. The International Trade Union Confederation and Greenpeace International have written to the UN Secretary-General to oppose changes to the ITRs.  They said:

We are writing to you to express our deep concern about a potentially very damaging change to the governance of the Internet.

You will recall that at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005, Heads of State and Government decided that a multi-­stakeholder approach remained the most appropriate form of governance for the Internet – our most technically innovative and truly global communication medium.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that certain countries are preparing to undermine this inclusive governance model. Their chosen vehicle appears to be the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-­12), being organised by the ITU to be held in Dubai in December 2012. The task of the WCIT is to review the International Telecommunication Regulations
(ITRs), which were established in 1988.

We are becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of transparency inherent in the approach of the ITU in its preparations for this conference. The ITU Governing Council recently declined to accept the entirely appropriate proposal of the ITU Secretary-­General, Dr Hamadoun Toure, that all stakeholders should be given free access to all the preparatory documentation for the conference. This decision on the part of governments alone undermines any suggestion that ITU might itself constitute a multi-­stakeholder organisation.

This is quite contrary to Internet bodies that tend to automatically place all documents in the public domain, and allow pretty much anyone to attend their meetings.

Google has also been prominent in campaigning against that would impact a free and open Internet. You can sign their global petition here.

What, for me, shows why we should fear the ITU is the deceptive language they use in trying to rebut these concerns. Rather than deal with the issues in good faith, they try to tell people there is nothing to worry about. In their blog on the Google campaign they say:

Google has erroneously claimed that WCIT-12, which will take place in Dubai from 3-14 December, will be used as a forum to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.

The freedom of expression and the right to communicate are already enshrined in many UN and international treaties that ITU has taken into account in the establishment of its Constitution and Convention, and also its mandate by the Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the Supreme Organ of ITU. These treaties include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These Articles – as well as Article 33 and 34 of the ITU Constitution – clearly establish the right to communication and the limits that governments can impose on those rights.

Since the ITU Constitution prevails over the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate.

This is just UN style nonsense. The assertion that the UDHR means that no changes to the ITRs cam impact on our free speech on the Internet is farcical and insulting.

Let me give you an example. The UDHR also states:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

So the UDHR proclaims no distinction of rights on the basis of sex. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which gives the UDHR force has been signed by over 160 countries. Yet despite this women in many countries are little more than chattels or slaves.

So arguing that there is nothing to worry about with Internet freedom, because we have the UDHR is just duplicitous.

The ITU is little better in responding to the ITUC letter:

The counterfactual letter published by Greenpeace and the International Trade Union Confederation inaccurately claim that ITU Council rejected a proposal to make all documents available to all stakeholders. This is simply not true. In fact, membership unanimously accepted the proposal of Dr. Touré, ITU Secretary-General, to make public the main proposals document – a fact that could have easily been verified with ITU. This document is available on ITU’s WCIT-12 website.

Now this is simple deception, hoping we are too stupid to notice. There is a big difference between releasing all documents and releasing the main proposals document. It is a fact that the ITU Secretary-General proposed making all documents publicly available and was unable to get his Council to agree. Of course they then agreed to release some documents, but again that is vastly different.

So when I see the ITU resorting to such transparent deception, that just reinforces to me that they are an institution that has no role in Internet governance. Their structure is flawed, they are controlled by Governments, they operate in a default mode of secrecy, they are desperate for relevance and as you can see they have an unhealthy culture.

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Government requests to Google

November 19th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Google has updated their transparency report for New Zealand. We learn:

  •  There were five removal requests in 2011 – three from court orders and two from the Government (prob Police)
  • Of the 13 requests since 2010, 23% were for defamation, 15% privacy and security, 8% hate speech and 8% violence
  • The requests were for removal from web search, from Google Docs (once), Blogger and YouTube.

Their copyright page is also interesting. In just the last month they had requests for 8.5 million URLs to be removed.

It’s great that Google is transparent about the number and nature of requests for removal.

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The French want to tax search engines

October 31st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

French President Francois Hollande is considering a pushing for a new tax that would see search engines such as Google have to pay each time they use content from French media.

Hollande discussed the topic with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, during a meeting in Paris on Monday.

Hollande says the rapid expansion of the digital economy means that tax laws need to be updated to reward French media content.

Oh yes, lets tax the service that allows us to find content on the Internet. Moron.

Google has opposed the plan and threatened to bar French websites from its search results if the tax is imposed.

As they should. Imagine the howls of complaints. Would get the Government tossed from office in days.

Germany is considering a similar law, and Italian editors have also indicated they would favour such a plan.

I’m sure they do. Clinging to a failed business model.

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Well done Google

September 18th, 2012 at 6:27 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Google rejected a request by the White House on Friday to reconsider its decision to keep online a controversial YouTube movie clip that has ignited anti-American protests in the Middle East.

The Internet company said it was censoring the video in India and Indonesia after blocking it on Wednesday in Egypt and Libya, where US embassies have been stormed by protesters enraged over depiction of the Prophet Mohammad as a fraud and philanderer.

Well done Google. Blocking it in countries where there is a legal order from the Government can be appropriate, but removing it entirely would be an act of censorship and deplorable appeasement.

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Chrome takes the lead

March 23rd, 2012 at 9:26 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Google’s Chrome web browser overtook Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) to become market leader globally for the first time last Sunday, web analytics firm StatCounter said on Wednesday.

“While it is only one day, this is a milestone,” said Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter’s chief executive.

“At weekends, when people are free to choose what browser to use, many of them are selecting Chrome in preference to IE.”

On March 18, Chrome was used for 32.7 per cent of all browsing, while Explorer had 32.5 per cent share. When people returned to their offices on Monday, the IE share rose to 35 per cent and Chrome’s share slipped to 30 per cent.

“Whether Chrome can take the lead in the browser wars in the long term remains to be seen, however the trend towards Chrome usage at weekends is undeniable,” Cullen said.

On a monthly basis, Chrome’s market share has surged to 31 per cent so far in March from 17 per cent a year ago, while Explorer has slipped to 35 per cent from 45 per cent a year earlier.

Heh I remember when Netscape Navigator was the market leader. But IE soon overtook it after being launched (mainly because new Windows PCs would come with it already on) and not even Firefox even overtook it.

I migrated a few months ago from Firefox to Chrome, and am loving it. Didn’t think I would like having the browser bar also being the search engine, but you know it works great. Features such as pre-load results make quite a speed difference also.

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The famous why I left Google blog

March 16th, 2012 at 9:35 am by David Farrar

Not often a blog on why you left a company becomes major news, but this one by James Whittaker on why he left Google has. Some extracts:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create. Forums like App Engine, Google Labs and open source served as staging grounds for our inventions. The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine stuffed full of advertising loot was lost on most of us. Maybe the engineers who actually worked on ads felt it, but the rest of us were convinced that Google was a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate.

From this innovation machine came strategically important products like Gmail and Chrome, products that were the result of entrepreneurship at the lowest levels of the company. Of course, such runaway innovative spirit creates some duds, and Google has had their share of those, but Google has always known how to fail fast and learn from it.

In such an environment you don’t have to be part of some executive’s inner circle to succeed. You don’t have to get lucky and land on a sexy project to have a great career. Anyone with ideas or the skills to contribute could get involved. I had any number of opportunities to leave Google during this period, but it was hard to imagine a better place to work.

The Google described above is the traditional image of it.

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own. Exhibit A: www.facebook.com/nike, a company with the power and clout of Nike putting their own brand after Facebook’s? No company has ever done that for Google and Google took it personally.

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction. …

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

I’ve used Google+ once. A few people say it is quite good, but I couldn’t see it providing anything better than elsewhere.

Google+ and me, we were simply never meant to be. Truth is I’ve never been much on advertising. I don’t click on ads. When Gmail displays ads based on things I type into my email message it creeps me out. I don’t want my search results to contain the rants of Google+ posters (or Facebook’s or Twitter’s for that matter). When I search for “London pub walks” I want better than the sponsored suggestion to “Buy a London pub walk at Wal-Mart.”  

The old Google made a fortune on ads because they had good content. It was like TV used to be: make the best show and you get the most ad revenue from commercials. The new Google seems more focused on the commercials themselves.

Perhaps Google is right. Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible. Perhaps Google is a better judge of when I should call my mom and that my life would be better if I shopped that Nordstrom sale. Perhaps if they nag me enough about all that open time on my calendar I’ll work out more often. Perhaps if they offer an ad for a divorce lawyer because I am writing an email about my 14 year old son breaking up with his girlfriend I’ll appreciate that ad enough to end my own marriage. Or perhaps I’ll figure all this stuff out on my own.

The old Google was a great place to work. The new one?

-1

Powerful stuff.

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SOPA

January 18th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Hollywood may have bitten off more than they can chew.

The studios got their lackeys in Congress to put forward a bill called SOPA – Stop Online Piracy Act.

Rather than target those actually infringing on copyright – it targets anyone who links to sites that allegedly infringe – including search engines such as Google. It basically wants Google and others to act as filters on behalf of Hollywood – a law China could be proud of.

The ramifications are massive. Someone might post a comment on Kiwiblog mentioning the name of a site which tells you where some good torrent sites are. Bang – Kiwiblog is out of the search engines.

But it gets worse than that. Under SOPA, ISPs (US ones anyway) could be forced to block access to sites. Just like in Syria and Libya. A summary of views against from Wikipedia:

On TIME‘s Techland blog, Jerry Brito wrote, “Imagine if the U.K. created a blacklist of American newspapers that its courts found violated celebrities’ privacy? Or what if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech?”[21] Similarly, the Center for Democracy and Technology warned, “If SOPA and PIPA are enacted, the US government must be prepared for other governments to follow suit, in service to whatever social policies they believe are important—whether restricting hate speech, insults to public officials, or political dissent.”[22]

Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, released an open letter on the web stating that SOPA would “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment.”

My views are simple. No Government should censor the Internet. If people access illegal material on the Internet then they should be held liable in a court for that. If people commit crimes on the Internet, then they should be arrested for that. And yes if people infringe copyright on the Internet, they should be liable under the law. But to have laws giving the power to require all ISPs in a country to block particular sites is a practice that should remain the norm in China, not the US and definitely not NZ.

Amusingly the MPAA has actually cited China in their advocacy, with the MPAA Chairman having said that as Google has figured out how to block sites when China requests it, it can’t be that big an issue.

Anyway the backlash has begun and could be huge. Wikipedia is closing down later today for 24 hours as part of a black out protest. I can just imagine the millions of pissed off Americans who will be e-mailing their complaints into Congress.

Think if Google did the same? Maybe even for just three hours the search engines all turned off and displayed a protest page?

The MPAA and RIAA are used to being the biggest players in the game. I think they are about to find out they’re not.

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Google under investigation

June 10th, 2010 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Police are investigating allegations that computer giant Google illegally gathered personal email and wireless internet data during its “Street View” operation in New Zealand. …

Representatives of the police and the Privacy Commissioner met yesterday to discuss Google’s possible breach of the Crimes Act after concerns were expressed about reports it had collected WiFi information while photographing houses and streets with 3D cameras for Street View, its online mapping service.

Google has acknowledged it collected fragments of data over public WiFi networks in more than 30 countries, though it is not known what kind of information was involved.

This is key. If all Google did was collect SSIDs, then I can’t see how that is a breach of the Crimes Act. If they were somehow accessing the data going over a wireless network, then there could be issues.

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Well done Google

March 24th, 2010 at 9:53 am by David Farrar

Google has redirected www.google.cn from its censored China located search engine to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine.

This is quite smart, as it is highlighting that China itself allows Chinese in Hong Kong much greater freedoms than on the mainland. If they block google.cn (which is likely) they are saying that Hong Kong Google is breaking Chinese law.

Searches from China must pass through the Chinese government’s extensive web filters – collectively known as the Great Firewall – which automatically weeds out anything considered pornographic or politically sensitive.

The move, in effect, shifts the responsibility for censoring from Google to the communist government.

And this is how it should be. Personally I want no censorship at all, but if it has to occur it should be the Government, not the search engine provider, that does it.

UPDATE: The SMH also reports Google has done a submission to the Australian Government strongly criticising their Internet filter, and warning it “would enable future governments to use it for political censorship”.

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Google supports Wikipedia

February 18th, 2010 at 1:07 pm by David Farrar

Rather pleased to read that Google has donated US2 million to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is not great for current controversial issues (such as climate change or George W Bush) but I find it invaluable in many many other areas. I use it many times a day

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Google censoring

January 19th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

AAP report:

Google has agreed to take down links to a website that promotes racist views of indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal man Steve Hodder-Watt recently discovered the US-based site by searching “Aboriginal and Encyclopedia” in the search engine.

He tried to modify the entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, a satirical and extremely racist version of Wikipedia, but was blocked from doing so.

Mr Hodder-Watt then undertook legal action, that resulted in Google acknowledging its legal responsibility to remove the offensive site.

Just as I don’t think Google should censor for the Chinese Government, they shouldn’t censor for anyone.

I’m not saying there should be no censorship – but it should occur at the hosting level. It is generally an offence to host material in a country where such material is illegal.

But global search engines should not be bound by national laws. I expect a search engine to tell me what material is available on the Internet.

But upon further investigating, it seems Google has removed links only for google.com.au. I have far less of a problem with that I have to say. Also they have only removed links to the specific page, not the whole site.

But still a slippery slope in my book.

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Google search suggestions

January 16th, 2010 at 2:06 pm by David Farrar

From Predictably Irrational:

The order reflects the number of hits in Google!

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Well done Google

January 15th, 2010 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

I was hugely disappointed in Google when they started censoring google.cn. It was the first time they really broke their motto of do no evil.

So I am equally pleased to see this story:

Google, the internet search engine, has set itself at odds with the authorities in China by declaring that it will stop censoring search results on its Chinese website.

This is going to be a fascinating battle between two giants.

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Quick Google

December 7th, 2009 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Google must have its bots hovering constantly. Last night I blogged something, then thought I’d seek more info on the topic so googled it. My own blog post came up as a hit, less than 60 seconds after I had made it.

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Great initiative

August 25th, 2009 at 12:14 pm by David Farrar

Newswire report on a nice wee initiative:

RESIDENTS have pooled their knowledge of public fruit trees and wild foods from Aro Valley to Island Bay and pinpointed the locations on Google Maps.

The map directs to 22 locations of apples, plums, edible mushrooms, wild parsley, blackberries, and more.
Lisa Johnston, 27, a member of environmental group 42 Collective, started the project earlier in the year, and her page has now attracted more than 5000 views.
“If we’re not actually spending some time looking at what we’ve already got and using what we already have, then we’re kind of being neglectful and wasteful,” she says.
It is a work in progress and the idea is that people not only use it to find free food but add pointers to trees and herbs they know about.
Jacob Butler, 22, a student, says his dad told him about the map and he has already used it to gather rosemary and kawakawa that was growing around Newtown.
“I think it’s great, absolutely great, and the more people who get involved, it’s just going to get bigger and the web will grow. There will be more fruit sources and things like that.”
Jacob says there is enough food that students will not pillage the spots but says his one fear is that people might go too far and add pointers to plants like cabbage trees and Nikau palms.
“The problem with harvesting these is that you have to kill the plant.”
Each marker includes a note about what time of year the food is ripe and, if it’s on private land, whether the owner must be asked first before gathering.
Urban hunters and gatherers can type “Edible Wellington – A Gatherer’s Guide” into maps.google.com to find free food and share their own spots.

Jacob Butler collecting rosemary growing in NewtownJacob Butler collecting rosemary growing in Newtown

The map points to 22 locations of apples, plums, edible mushrooms, wild parsley, blackberries, and more.

Lisa Johnston, 27, a member of environmental group 42 Collective, started the project earlier in the year, and her page has now attracted more than 5000 views. …

Each marker includes a note about what time of year the food is ripe and, if it’s on private land, whether the owner must be asked first before gathering.

Urban hunters and gatherers can type “Edible Wellington – A Gatherer’s Guide” into maps.google.com to find free food and share their own spots.

I’ ve tried it out, and it works well. There is so much great info one can add to Google Maps.

Hat Tip: Roar Prawn

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The “skank” blogger

August 25th, 2009 at 12:11 pm by David Farrar

Some readers may have followed the case of Liskula Cohen who was called a skank and “psychotic lying whore” on a blogger.com blog. Google owns these.

Cohen regarded this as defamatory and went to court to sue the author, and as part of that the court ordered Google to reveal the identity of the author.

Google complied and supplied the e-mail address used to register the blog. And this allowed Cohen to deduce that a Rosemary Port was the author.

Now to my mind, this is how it should be. If you defame someone anonymously, then your identity will be revealed.

Port, rather than apologise for her slander, is now saying she will sue Google for A$18 million for revealing her email address.

I think Port needs to get over herself and get a grip. Google was ordered by a court to reveal her address. I can’t see she has any chance of success.

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Wolfram Alpha

May 6th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

This sounds great – from the Herald:

The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.

The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet’s Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does. …

Sounds good.

Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

Sounds even better. Can’t wait.

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Google News Alert

April 30th, 2009 at 12:28 pm by David Farrar

I have my name as an alert term for Google News. So I get to see when people say nasty things about me. My name is fairly rare but not unique, as this alert showed:

Google News Alert for: “David Farrar”

Shell casings, cigarette butt found near slain 65-year-old’s body
Gaston Gazette – Gastonia,NC,USA
A trail of Styrofoam packing peanuts was found leading from the Farrars’ hallway to the backyard where David Farrar was shot and killed.

Pretty sure it wasn’t me!

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