Sam Harrelson

Moving beyond links

I’ve long argued that “links are dead” (going on a decade now). Some of that was hyperbolic to discuss the need for a better mechanism to derive value or information from one site to the next or from a marketing campaign.

It looks like Google might be moving beyond links as well and towards more of an “entity database” where the connections and relationships between search terms are prioritized. I can get behind that.

The idea that we can push our rankings forward through entity associations, and not just links, is incredibly powerful and versatile. Links have tried to serve this function and have done a great job, but there are a LOT of advantages for Google to move toward the entity model for weighting as well as a variety of other internal needs.

Source: Google patent on related entities and what it means for SEO – Search Engine Land




The dangers of thinking “They’ll get it because they’re young”

So very true despite the stereotypes (spoken as a former college / high school / middle school teacher turned tech consultant). Parents have a big burden to bear in helping their young and old children make wise decisions about how and why to use the web. Just assuming “they’ll get it because they’re young” is very dangerous.

What is surprising about this data is that while education is a factor in online security literacy, age is less so. Users aged 65 and older were seemingly just as knowledgeable as users in the age range of 18-29; while online literacy bias in general is weighted toward younger users, the Pew survey suggests that overall there is a shared standard of what we know and what we don’t know.

Source: Why did we give our data to Facebook in the first place? – Scientific American Blog Network




Paying for everything you do

What about the users?

Advertising isn’t why Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook or, presumably, what gets him out of bed in the morning. Engineers and designers whose identities are invested in changing the world don’t want that work tarnished by association. But the decision to pay for everything Facebook does by selling advertising means–whether he likes it or not–Mark Zuckerberg is just as much the CEO of an advertising company as a social network. The sooner Facebook reconciles this for itself and its users, the less vulnerable it will be to stories like last week’s.

Source: Admit It, You Don’t Really Understand Facebook




1.1.1.1

DNS is an important and overlooked backbone structure of how we interact and communicate with the web. If you think that Facebook and Google knowing so much about you is weird, you definitely don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of probing what your Internet Service Provider knows about you based on all the traffic that flows through them and their DNS services that you subscribe to.

I’ve been using Google’s 8.8.8.8 DNS for many years, but excited to see another new player that promises complete encryption and privacy. Granted, Cloudflare is becoming a point-of-failure worry given how much heavy lifting they do as a content delivery network for many sites (including this one), but more competition is a good thing in this case (especially if they aren’t advertising companies).

Unfortunately, by default, DNS is usually slow and insecure. Your ISP, and anyone else listening in on the Internet, can see every site you visit and every app you use — even if their content is encrypted. Creepily, some DNS providers sell data about your Internet activity or use it target you with ads.

We think that’s gross. If you do too, now there’s an alternative: 1.1.1.1

Source: 1.1.1.1 — the Internet’s Fastest, Privacy-First DNS Resolver




Google is killing goo.gl and we’ll see more web rot

Google released goo.gl link shortening service back in 2009. URL shorteners were popular at the time (and since) for all sorts of purposes. Sites and services have relied on goo.gl and bit.ly etc for years to mask complex links and encourage sharing or easier verbal communication. But like all things having to do with the web, you should plan for the future and realize that services come and go (another reason I’ve kept my own blog here since 2006).

I know lots of sites and designers that use goo.gl links in production… it’s going to be a headache to switch all those out.

Google announced that it is shutting down its URL shortening service, goo.gl. The company says that new and anonymous users won’t be able to create links through the goo.gl console as of April 13th, but existing users will be able to use it for another year, after which it will be discontinued completely.

Source: Google is shuttering its URL shortening service, goo.gl  – The Verge




Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism is deeply embedded in our increasingly computerized society, and if the extent of it came to light there would be broad demands for limits and regulation. But because this industry can largely operate in secret, only occasionally exposed after a data breach or investigative report, we remain mostly ignorant of its reach.

Bruce Schneier – Facebook and Cambridge Analytica




Data Panic

I’ve been following Curran’s tweets and posts and press blitz the last couple of days, and I have to say that I’m not a fan of his scare tactics and frequent plugs for people to donate to his Patreon so that he can continue his “work”.

Yes, your data should be intensely personal and used wisely by yourself and companies you use to accomplish things in your day-to-day. However, this sort of shock posting intended to scare and react quickly to statements like “GOOGLE KNOWS YOUR WEIGHT!!” isn’t helpful.

This is absolutely nothing new, and yes… we’ve long known that Google can track your locations (if you opt-in and allow location services) and know your YouTube viewing history.

Let’s not tell Dylan to investigate what his internet service provider knows about him…

The harvesting of our personal details goes far beyond what many of us could imagine. So I braced myself and had a look

Source: Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you | Dylan Curran | Opinion | The Guardian




Google Rolls Out “Mobile First” Indexing Today

Facebook is undergoing serious challenges to its place as a web hub between the public PR crisis involving its role in the mis/use of data related to Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 election as well as its ongoing tweaks to algorithms which now demote business and group pages in preference to users seeing more content from friends and family.

In the midst of that, there’s been a real uptick in the amount of attention that Google search results receive and topics such as SEO and page loading speed as more and more companies begin to reconsider their social media ad spends on Facebook and Twitter. Companies of all sizes are either pulling their Facebook ad buys altogether or crunching numbers to determine the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Suddenly, Google search results and SEO are becoming the new darlings of the marketing and advertising world again. So, it’s important that starting today, Google is rolling out its “mobile first” indexing scheme.

Whether you’re a big company or a small church or a medium-sized nonprofit, it’s important that you take into consideration elements such as how quickly and how well your website loads on mobile devices (if you want to rank well, at least):

To recap, our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.

We continue to have one single index that we use for serving search results. We do not have a “mobile-first index” that’s separate from our main index. Historically, the desktop version was indexed, but increasingly, we will be using the mobile versions of content.

Source: Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: Rolling out mobile-first indexing




Reaping Data

Not to mention how companies and governments so haphazardly use this data for causes and purposes…

The unchecked power of companies that harvest our data is a great problem—but it’s hard to get angry about an idea that’s so nebulous. Like climate change, the reaping of our data is a problem of psychology as much as business. We know that the accumulation of massive power in so few hands is bad, but it’s impossible to anticipate what terrible result might come of it. And if we could envision them, these consequences are imaginary: abstract and in the future. It feels so oppressively intractable it’s hard to summon the will to act.

Source: Cambridge Analytica Is Finally Under Fire Because of Whistleblowers | WIRED




What Facebook knows about you and me and what I can do about it


Cambridge Analytica harvested personal information from a huge swath of the electorate to develop techniques that were later used in the Trump campaign.

Source: How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions – The New York Times


I often have consultations with clients involving data sources. Marketing has always been closely tied to the acquisition and analysis of data related to potential target audiences or desired demographics. A large part of what I do every day is staring at spreadsheets and trying to derive direction or wisdom out of data that Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snap or Google has gathered from their (often overlapping) groups of products users for our clients’ campaigns.

I loathe using the term “campaign” to refer to anything marketing related… it’s not a battle and we’re not at war. Even worse is the dehumanization that often occurs in marketing conversations we all have about the data generated by real people on the web. Both are related in that our gathering and use of this data combined with our resulting conclusions and “targeting” (again with the militaristic violent language) makes actual people into abstract data points.

It’s little talked about in our industry, but data ethics are something we really need to take more seriously in all aspects of our marketing efforts, whether you’re working with a Fortune 500 company or a small country church.

I know that I personally feel a twitch of regret mixed with reservation when I click on a radio buttons to specify that I’d like to target women above the age of 40 who have relationship issues but live in this affluent ZIP code and enjoy looking at pictures of wine and spirits on Instagram. It’s terrifying. But, it’s relatively cheap and incredibly effective. Our church and nonprofit clients on shoestring budgets can’t get enough of the reach and response from this kind of data marketing (“like shooting fish in a barrel” is a common saying for a reason).

I did a good deal of work on ethics in Divinity School. I’m taking a course in the coming weeks on Data Science Ethics. Now, I need to do a better job of thinking through these types of marketing efforts and explaining the ethical implications of using this data given that most people have NO IDEA how much is known about them (yes, because of Facebook and social media but also because of the relative ease of connecting someone’s phone number or address or email with their browsing history, activity on location tracking services, voter records etc). I need to do a better job of helping clients think through the humanization and dehumanization involved with marketing and advertising and their own goals (especially for churches and nonprofits). I need to do a better job of providing real alternatives to the types of data usage that resulted in situations like our current political climate. I need to provide shoestring budget options for marketing that emphasizes humanity and relatedness rather than victory.

Otherwise, I’m just hanging out in Omelas.

Is there space for “ethical marketing” in a crowded environment of agencies driving the cost of “targeting” and “campaigning” and “development” to the lowest common denominator in terms of price and friction? I’m not sure. But I’m just crazy enough to start giving it a try.




“Worlds colliding, Jerry!”

This is interesting… Dropbox and Google Drive have always been competitors (in my mind and usage), but it seems like Dropbox is taking on the “internet scale storage system” that Dave Winer mentioned on Twitter… more like competition with Evernote?


Dropbox users will be able to create, open, edit, save, and share Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides directly from Dropbox. And when you’re working in Dropbox, you’ll be able to save Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to your Dropbox account.

Source: Working with Google Cloud to bring all your work together | | Dropbox Blog




Googling Inside Your Church

Fascinating piece on Google Maps history and possible directions…

So Google likely knows what’s inside all of the buildings it has extracted. And as Google gets closer and closer to capturing every building in the world, it’s likely that Google will start highlighting / lighting up buildings related to queries and search results.

This will be really cool when Google’s/Waymo’s self-driving cars have AR displays. One can imagine pointing out the window at a building and being able to see what’s inside.

via Google Maps’s Moat




Nonprofits, the smartphone, Facebook, and Google

Interesting thoughts here from the NY Times CEO on how they are shifting focus in relationship to Facebook and Google due to the smartphone revolution … much of this applies to how nonprofits and churches can do better marketing as well:

It’s about how you think about the product and what you’re trying to do and what is the value you’re giving to users. The areas of weakness in the publishing industry have been not having an audience strategy or sufficient brain space to think about how you serve your audience. It’s very easy to get tracked into assumptions about who your audience is. In legacy media, journalistic parameters were set by the geographical limitations. [The smartphone] changes everything. You need to reinvent journalism from the ground up with this device in mind, and then try and figure out what you’re going to do on a laptop and the physical newspaper.

via ‘Facebook is not transparent:’ NY Times CEO Mark Thompson says the platform’s role needs to be clearer – Digiday




It’s a 3 Screen Kind of Monday

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-ve

Working from home with our son this week. He likes to contribute to my setup with various design inspirations.

Left to Right: Google Pixelbook, iPad Pro, Samsung Chromebook Pro

Why two Chromebooks? I’m using Chrome Remote Desktop on the Pixelbook to run Adobe Illustrator via the Windows desktop in my office and keeping notes on the Samsung. The iPad is there for renderings in Pixelmator and for Trello.

I’ve got the Pixelbook Pen and Apple Pencil for the iPad but still really only use those when I’m in tablet mode and taking notes on a meeting or call in Evernote.




“What’s a computer?”

There’s this meme that keeps coming back on Twitter. A young person discovers a floppy disk and calls it the save icon. Apple is using the same idea with this ad. When the mum asks her daughter what she is doing on her computer, she answers “what’s a computer?”

via Apple’s new ad shows how iPads are going to replace laptops | TechCrunch

There’s no doubt that “computing” will continue to evolve from the way we interpret that action today (based on conventions that come from machines primarily from the 80’s but also the mainframes and typewriters that preceded them).

I’ve been using a Google Pixelbook for 99% of my “computing” over the last two weeks. I love the integration that this device has with the Android app store and being able to install apps like Microsoft Word or Excel or Powerpoint and use them in full screen as if I was on a Windows laptop. I also love being able to flip this device around into “tablet mode” and play racing games or browse Netflix using what were previously mobile apps. Combined with the Pixel Pen, this device has changed the way I think about my own workflow in a rapid fashion.

The iPad Pro can do that for many people (especially students but also “adults”) as well.

I’m a big fan of the show Westworld. It has incredible visual effects and a captivating story. But the technology used by characters on the show is what really draws me in (I know I know). The handheld “computing” devices they use with foldable screens, touch sensing, AI, and integration of mobile and laptop features is so attractive to me. I hope Apple / Google / Amazon / Microsoft or whatever company that is currently being bootstrapped in a young person’s garage apartment gets us there in the next decade.

We’re almost there with transitional devices like the iPad Pro or the Pixelbook.

 




How should we regulate Facebook and Google’s advertising platforms?

So how does Facebook’s ad system work? Well, just like Google, it’s accessed through a self-service platform that lets you target your audiences using Facebook data. And because Facebook knows an awful lot about its users, you can target those users with astounding precision. You want women, 30–34, with two kids who live in the suburbs? Piece of cake. Men, 18–21 with an interest in acid house music, cosplay, and scientology? Done! And just like Google, Facebook employed legions of algorithms which helped advertisers find their audiences, deliver their messaging, and optimize their results. A massive ecosystem of advertisers flocked to Facebook’s new platform, lured by what appeared to be the Holy Grail of their customer acquisition dreams: People Based Marketing!

via Lost Context: How Did We End Up Here? – NewCo Shift

I’m really torn on this one. John Battelle here (a tech publishing veteran who knows a good deal about online advertising) argues for more regulation and transparency of Facebook and Google’s advertising platforms.

I’ve seen how both Facebook and Google’s advertising platforms can work wonder for good causes like the nonprofits, religious group, and community organizations that are our clients. It’s wonderful to see the way that we can work miracles (hyperbole) to create new reach, fundraising, and awareness campaigns for these groups on a limited budget using Facebook Ads and AdWords. In the past, that would have required them to spend exponentially more on marketing and advertising. But now, we can help these groups grow on a shoestring. That’s a good thing.

However, we are at an inflection point.

I agree with Battelle on a theoretical layer, but there’s also the notion of democratic capitalism and the need to allow markets to flourish or wither based on their own actions (does our democracy value ethics, morality etc the same as it has and what does that mean for advertising?).

On the other hand, there are other advertising platforms that are major players in Asia and will be major players on a global scale soon such as Alibaba and Tencent and Rakuten. If we hamstring Google and Facebook, do we run the risk of advertisers abandoning those platforms for greener global pastures?

On the other hand, Russia interfered with our Presidential election and it’s no secret that politicians and special interest groups are doing bad things with these platforms.




The Way the Stems Meet the Curves

youtube_2017_wordmark_before_after

Technically, this is an absolutely fantastic update. They have taken the blunt shapes of the old letters and improved on all of them to create a beautiful wordmark. At small sizes the change is almost imperceptible but at larger sizes the change is a feast. If the way the stems meet the curves on the bottom of each letter doesn’t give you heart palpitations then you might be in the wrong industry. That is really masterful. Dork-swooning aside, every letter is better — better designed and better suited for every size and screen possible. Play a little game of Spot the Difference and you’ll appreciate what I mean. The wider opening of the “Y”, the rounder sides of the “o” and “e”, the contrast in thicks and thins. So good. Also, the kerning couldn’t be better.

via Brand New: New Logo for YouTube done In-house

Details. And kerning.

Don’t be boring or cheap with your logo or wordmark.




Voice Isn’t the Next Big Platform

This piece is originally from Dec 19, 2016, but interesting to revisit as we enter the home stretch of 2017 (and what a year it has been):

In 2017, we will start to see that change. After years of false starts, voice interface will finally creep into the mainstream as more people purchase voice-enabled speakers and other gadgets, and as the tech that powers voice starts to improve. By the following year, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with smart machines.

via Voice Is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It | WIRED

I have no doubt that we’ll all be using voice-driven computing on an ever increasing basis in the coming years. In our home, we have an Amazon Alexa, 4 Amazon Dots, and most rooms have Hue Smart Bulbs in the light fixtures (oh, and we have the Amazon Dash Wand in case we want to carry Alexa around with us…). I haven’t physically turned on a light in any of our rooms in months. That’s weird. It happened with the stealth of a technology that slowly but surely creeps into your life and rewires your brain the same way the first iPhone changed how I interact with the people I love. We even renamed all of our Alexa devices as “Computer” so that I can finally pretend I’m living on the Starship Enterprise. Once I have a holodeck, I’m never leaving the house.

And perhaps that’s the real trick to seeing this stealth revolution happen in front of our eyes and via our vocal cords… it’s not just voice-driving computing that is going to be the platform of the near future. In other words, voice won’t be the next big platform. There will be a combination of voice AND augmented reality AND artificial intelligence that will power how we communicate with ourselves, our homes, our environments, and the people we love (and perhaps don’t love). In twenty years, will my young son be typing onto a keyboard in the same way I’m doing to compose this post? In ten years, will my 10-year-old daughter be typing onto a keyboard to do her job or express herself?

I highly doubt both. Those computing processes will be driven by a relationship to a device representing an intelligence. Given that, as a species, we adapted to have relational interact with physical cues and vocal exchanges over the last 70 million years, I can’t imagine that a few decades of “typing” radically altered the way we prefer to communicate and exchange information. It’s the reason I’m not an advocate of teaching kids how to type (and I’m a ~90 wpm touch typist).

Voice combined with AI and AR (or whatever we end up calling it… “mixed reality” perhaps?) is the next big platform because these three will fuse into something the same way the web (as an experience) fused with personal computing to fuel the last big platform revolution.

I’m not sure Amazon will be the ultimate winner in the “next platform” wars that it is waging with Google (Google Assistant), Apple (Siri), Facebook (Messenger), and any number of messaging apps and startups that we haven’t heard of yet. However, our future platforms of choice will be very “human” in the same way we lovingly interact with the slab of metal and glass that we all carry around and do the majority of our computing on these days. It’s hard to imagine a world where computers are shrunk to the size of fibers in our clothing and become transparent characters that we interact with to perform whatever we’ll be performing, but the future does not involve a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen of light emitting diodes for most people (I hear you, gamers) and we’ll all see reality in even more differing ways than is currently possible as augmented reality quickly becomes mainstream in the same way that true mobile devices did after the iPhone.

Maybe I just watched too much Star Trek Next Generation.




Why augmented reality’s future is more practical and rational than you realize

Bryan Richardson, Android software engineer at stable|kernel, wants you to consider this: what if firefighters could wear a helmet that could essentially see through the walls, indicating the location of a person in distress? What if that device could detect the temperature of a wall? In the near future, the amount of information that will be available through a virtual scan of our immediate environment and projected through a practical, wearable device could be immense.

Source: The Technology Behind Pokémon Go: Why Augmented Reality is the Future

Call Pokemon Go silly / stupid / trendish / absurd etc. To a certain point the game is incredibly inane. However, it does illustrate the ability of memes and mass fads to still occur in large numbers despite the “fracturing” of broadcast media and the loss of hegemonic culture.

The more immediate question to me, though, is what to do with this newfound cultural zeitgeist around AR? Surely, there will be more copycat games that try to mirror what Pokemon Go, Nintendo, and Niantic have created. Some will be “better” than Pokemon Go. Some will be direct rip offs.

Tech behemoths such as Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, and now Google understand the long term implications of AR and are all each working towards internal and public projects to make use of this old but new intense hope and buzz around the idea of using technology to augment our human realities. I say realities because we shouldn’t forget that we experience the world based on photons bouncing off of things and going into our eyeballs through a series of organic lenses that flip them upside down onto the theater screen that is our retina before the retina pushes them through the optic nerve to our frontal cortex where our electrochemical neurons attempt to derive or make meaning from the data and process that back down our spinal cord to the rest of our bodies… there’s lots of room for variations and subjectivity given that we’re all a little different biologically and chemically.

We’re going to see a fast-moving evolution of tools for professions such as physicians, firefighters, and engineers as well as applications in the military and in classrooms etc that will cause some people pause. That always happens whether the new technology is movable type or writing or books or computers or the web.

Games (and porn unfortunately) tend to push us ahead when it comes to these sorts of tech revolutions. That will certainly be the case in terms of augmented reality. Yes, Pokemon Go is silly and people playing it “should get a life.” But remember, the interactions with that game and each other that they are making now will improve the systems of the future and save / improve lives. Also… don’t get me started on what it means to “have a life” given our electrochemical clump of neurons that we all are operating from regardless of our views on objectivity, Jesus, or etiquette.




Pokemon Go snatches all of your Google data

Pokemon Go

By signing up to play Pokemon Go through Google, many iOS users have unknowingly exposed all of their emails, chats, calendars, documents and more to the game’s developer and third-parties.

Source: Pokemon Go catches all your Google data (here’s how to stop it) | Cult of Mac

I’ve been thinking a good deal about this game over the last few days. I should have posted before, but I wanted to wrap my head around the whole thing (as much as I can).

I’ll have a post up tomorrow with my thoughts.

Until then… this report is insanely terrible and horrifying given our current police state / insurance state / corporatist overlords. Our privacy is our power. Don’t give it away so easily, people.

Update

Fixed with new update on iOS.