The power of a single statistic (to distract)

“I know that major API changes are always a pain for developers and they would rather not have to deal with them, but please keep in mind stats like “42% of malicious extensions use the Web Request API” when you’re considering what we’re trying to improve here.”

—Justin Schuh, on Twitter. (Also stated in Google’s official post here)

Google is using a large number—42% of malicious extensions—in isolation to justify a decision. This number shows that a large proportion of ‘bad developers’ use this API. But this single data point gives no clue about how big is the total pool of developers using this API.

Are bad developers a large proportion of users of this API, or are they a tiny minority? In the latter case, Google’s action to deprecate/restrict the API may be fairly justified. In the former case, they could have chosen a better, alternative approach in dealing with the bad actors, rather than punishing the mostly good users.

An analogy for case 1:

Bank decides to close all doors leading to the street because 42% of all robbers walk-in through those doors.

Analogy for case 2:

Bank decides to close all waste disposal tunnels because 42% of all robbers sneak-in through those doors.

All we know is that 42% of robbers come in through a point. We don’t know if it’s the main customer entrance, or the waste disposal.

If this statistic was a big argument for this decision’s approval inside Google/Chrome-Dev, then they really need to revisit their decision-making fundamentals.

I seriously doubt this though. Googlers are very smart. They are dealing with mostly smart people on the outside. This number is not for them or us. This number is being published solely to turn the narrative, for the common reader, from ‘Google blocking APIs that stop ads and tracking‘ to ‘Google blocking APIs that stop malicious extensions‘.

Continue reading The power of a single statistic (to distract)

Chrome Extensions I use (start 2018 edition)

This is the updated, early 2018 snapshot of the list of Chrome extensions and apps I use.

Favourites/recommendations are in bold.
My own extensions/apps are marked with an asterisk (*).
Extensions by Google are marked with a (G)

The previous list, from late 2015, is here.

Continue reading Chrome Extensions I use (start 2018 edition)

Tagging – Only Follow, No Filter

Hash Tag Conversations

For consumers of content tags, or #tags, serve two primary functions:

  1. The Follow function: To follow news of interest (e.g. a column with #lbl tweets showing latest updates from the race without me having to follow it live on TV), and
  2. The Filter function: To filter out specific content from the stream for various reasons, such as
    1. to either avoid listening news before we want to (match scores, movie spoilers), or
    2. to avoid getting drowned in updates during big events (SXSW, Google IO, WWDC, IPL, SuperBowl tweets taking over the timeline for brief periods), or
    3. to remove news from the timeline that we’re not at all uninterested in.

Content & platform companies all love the follow function, and have tried to make it as easy as possible for users to access it.

It’s understandable. Apart from allowing easy search, this also presents a straightforward way of targeting advertising to users based on interests. This ability to show relevant advertising – Specialized Shivs to users following IronMan world championships, and the latest BAAS to developers following Google IO – is extremely valuable to these companies.

The filter function, on the other hand, is almost universally neglected. None of the content consumption platforms that I use –  Twitter, Google+, WordPress and Pocket – offer any easy built-in way of filtering out content. All of them make it trivially easy to follow specifically-tagged content using tags or #tags.

A large number of popular 3rd party Twitter clients have the feature to filter out specific content, indicating the strength of user demand for the filter function. That 3rd party clients have this feature, also indicates that technical complexity isn’t the reason holding back content platforms themselves from providing this function.

Users want to cut out noise & irrelevant info from their content streams, yet none of the content serving companies make it easy for them.

Are there any technical, UX, business, or legal reasons for most content companies not providing filtering functions, or is it just a conscious, unfortunate, neglect of end user needs?

I’d really like to know.

Smart wearables – ‘Game Theory 101’ case study in the making

Balogh Concept Watch

Google announces a platform for wearables, inviting its industry partners to conceptualise, design, and deliver actual devices.

Apple will release its device(s) – polished, with unified design, closely integrated with rest of its hardware offerings.

Google can then choose to let its industry partners respond, or actively force direction with a Nexus watch kind of product.

Apple might choose to respond by adopting features from Google where it’s lacking, attacking with lawsuits where it’s leading, and with refining the allure of its own product where it sees the need.

It’s a multi step game, one side has huge brand loyalty and an integrated device-platform play, the other has flexibility in strategy and ability to flank. One wants to maximise earnings from hardware sales, other wants more users on its platform.

Neither will play for a draw, though that’s a result both will gladly (eventually) accept.

Place your bets, buckle up, and get ready for a ride.

It’s Game On. Again.

Continue reading Smart wearables – ‘Game Theory 101’ case study in the making

Keyboard Shortcuts – Google & WordPress

keyboard-shortcuts

My dear Google & WordPress overlords,

We need to talk about something. Keyboard Shortcuts.

I like both your products. And even if you refuse, despite all the frustration, I will keep using both your products. Yet, I request you, as I must, to please spare me, and thousands of others, the misery of trying to recall two different sets of keyboard shortcuts. Please, our dear software overlords, shower us with some of your infinite kindness, and reconcile your keyboard shortcuts for compose boxes/areas/windows, and anything else they may be used for.

As a frequent user of Gmail, Google Drive Documents & Sheets, as well as WordPress, I’m quite tired of remembering 2 different sets of shortcuts. I’m bored with pressing Ctrl-K in WordPress, expecting an insert/edit link box to appear, and of pressing Alt-Shift-O in Gmail and wondering why an ordered list wouldn’t appear.

So I, your devoted user, humbly request you to please have pity on my puny brain, and reconcile your respective sets of keyword shortcuts for text composition. 

Yours, and yours only,

Adi.

Continue reading Keyboard Shortcuts – Google & WordPress

What does $3.2 Billion buy you?

Motorola - a Google company, no more.
Motorola – a Google company, no more.

What?

In August 2011, Google bought Motorola Mobility for a reported price of USD 12.5 Billion. This included cash and credits of about USD 4 Billion. Net price paid: USD 8.5 Billion.

After a year and a half of shedding employees and departments, and putting some of its own execs in-charge, Google sold the home equipment business of Motorola to ARRIS in December 2012, for USD 2.35 Billion.

Finally, on 29 Jan 2014, Google sold the remaining operations of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for USD 2.91 Billion. Except the patents. It kept the patents for itself.

Why?

So, after all the buying and selling ended, Google ended up picking a bill of about USD 3.2 Billion. What did they get for that not-so-insignificant amount?

Some, from one end of the tech divide, will tell you they got some dud patents and a hole in the pocket.

Others might differ. Martin Bryant put out one insight on Twitter:

Google keeps most patents after reviving an ailing player in the Android ecosystem: a Machiavellian scheme if it was all preplanned.

[Update] Chris Lacy had other angles in mind:

Samsung made app concessions, Google left phone hardware & there’s a S/G patent deal. Lots more to this. Reporters, go investigate & report.

[/Update]

The truth, I guess, is somewhere in the middle. Google did end up brilliantly reviving an ailing player, one with a strong existing brand, in the Android ecosystem. They still might have overpaid for the patents, though no one will ever really know unless they’re tested in a court. The sale also helped assuage any troubled feeling amongst other players in the Android ecosystem who may have started feeling threatened by a reviving Motorola owned by Google. Individually, none of them seem worth the money. Together, they start to seem like a master stroke.

The Answer

So, to answer the question in the title: USD 3.2 Billion buys you about 20,000 patents (incl pending) of some value, a vibrant market for your product (Google’s flavour of Android), cooperation of key market partners, and a stake in a fast growing but controversial market without having to directly invest there (Lenovo operates, and is HQed, in China!)

Google got a great deal, me thinks!

Which Came First – Sherlock S3E1 Or Google Smart Lens?

Google Smart Contact Lens

On Sunday, 12th Jan 2013, a Sherlock episode airs hinting at the key antagonist wearing a Google Glass like device, except it’s not in his glasses, but in his eye or in his contact lenses. 4 days later, Google publicly announces its Smart Contact Lenses project. Coincidence?

Organise your Google+ stream

One of the earliest feature requests of Google+ users was for an ability to define the default home stream / circle. Seems like the G+ team introduced this feature without publicity sometime over the holiday period (or maybe I missed all the publicity being away from the Internet for almost a fortnight).

I just discovered this feature a moment ago when browsing through some circle specific timeline. Google+ now allows users to define how many posts from any particular circle appear on their home timeline:

Click on the circle link in the left navigation bar to go to that circle’s stream. Once there, you get a slider on the top left of content section to define how many posts appear in the home timeline.

Google+ stream modifier

On that slider, Google+ offers 4 sets of options for each circle’s stream:

Glad to have some way of controlling the behaviour of my home stream. Now that it’s here, it’d be great if G+ provides this filtering function on user basis as well, along with the circle-basis it does now.

Now for a note of small concern – when you visit a circle’s page, you realise that the default setting for filtering is ‘Most Posts’, which means some posts may never appear on your home timeline (which is the only one most of us check). While this may be fine if a user knowingly chooses that option, but having it enabled by default means that users may never see certain posts on their timeline, without knowing it could happen.

This is similar to what Facebook regularly does, and is regularly criticised for by G+ users. Would be a pity if Google decided to go down that route without informing users first.

APIs: A Strategic Tool

Google+ APIs and the lesson from Buzz

Most social media users and application developers I know have one big issue against Google+: lack of an API to write posts to it via 3rd party tools.

While most might feel this is a big drawback, and someone even called it derisively as the ‘stalker API’, I think this not releasing ‘write’ APIs is a very conscious, strategic decision based on the learning from Buzz.

When Google released Buzz, it allowed people to connect some of their existing social networks to buzz and auto-post updates from those networks onto buzz. The problem with this was that most people just enabled that auto-connect and forgot about buzz. Their tweets, reader shares, talk statuses and flickr photos were auto-buzzed, but they never bothered to go in and actively interact there. Add to it the fact that most people who would have read a user’s updates were already following them on other social networks. So, once the followers realised that the users were only cross-posting content there, even they didn’t have any incentive to read the updates there. End result: a zombie network where everyone was ‘posting’ (sometimes even without knowing), and no one was reading.

Google has learnt from that experience and thus this reluctance to provide any ‘write’ APIs. Google also learnt something else from that experience – APIs can be used as a tactical tool to position the network in the market and amongst users.

And this is where its ‘read’ APIs come: assisting, ever so slightly, in making G+ the core content host for its user base.

Using a read-only API, people can auto-post their G+ posts on other social networks, or even list & link them on their blogs and websites. More importantly, using an image-reading API (which Google accidentally announced earlier today), I can use G+ as my photo host for any photos I post on twitter, my blog or almost anywhere else. The 3rd party twitter clients like Seismic, Tweetdeck and Gravity can now integrate G+ image previews using the upcoming API.

So we have a situation where users can’t auto-publish content from other networks to G+ (and thus need to be really active here to have an active stream), but they can use content from G+ to post to other networks (thus reducing, ever so slightly, their active participation on those networks).

Why wouldn’t Google want that?

I’m sure that Google also realises that most people are set in their ways and, without any 3rd party tool integration, will be reluctant to use Google+. And thus, the ‘write’ APIs will come some day. Google is just ensuring that G+ has enough active members using it as the (or a) primary network before it releases those APIs to lure in more users.

[Originally posted on Google+ here]

note2self&others : quick dump of thoughts. Might be edited / formatted later.