Category Archives: Google

Why do people use Google?

Last week, I had the honour of speaking at the Online Educa conference in Berlin, an annual meeting of education professionals that this year attracted 2,000 visitors from more than 100 countries. Conference organizers have put up video of my speech, which was about how food technology is driving economic growth in the developing world and therefore education demand.

Too much choice, argh!

I also had the pleasure of participating in a debate on technological developments and their effects on privacy and learning. My teammate Peter Bowers, a teacher in the UK, and I had the task of arguing against the following statement:

This house expresses its concern about the effect developments in technology are increasingly having on personal liberty and believes this will have serious consequences for learning in the future.

On Thursday, before the debate, I wrote about how I thought the statement was indefensible; that technology enabled liberty and therefore learning like no other force on the planet. While true, the debate was ultimately quite lively and resulted in an almost even split among the audience. Alas, our side lost by a narrow margin.

It turns out the statement was more nuanced than perhaps any of us initially thought. Effectively, the position it advocates is true if taken at face value. Should we be concerned about technology and will it have serious consequences on learning? Absolutely – it’s hard to argue against either of those points.

But Peter and I both took the essence of the statement to be more negative – that we shouldn’t just be “concerned” about technology; we should in fact be worried about it, which of course neither of us believed, so that’s what we argued. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Google


Apple killed the Flash star

Ding dong, the witch is dead. And by witch, I mean Flash, that multimedia web platform that enables everything from video to games. That’s good news for just about everybody, except for the people who are losing their jobs, natch.

Adobe announced on Wednesday that it is ceasing development of Flash for mobile devices, which basically translates into its death knell. The company says it will concentrate its Flash development on computers, but with more and more web traffic happening on phones and tablets, there really isn’t much of a future there. After all, if you want people to view your website, you’re going to want to make sure they can look at it on their mobile devices. From this day forward, only the foolish will bother using Flash in their website design.

Many observers have already pointed out that Steve Jobs was right. A year and a half ago, the recently departed Apple guru famously wrote his declaration of war on Flash. The software was unstable, proprietary, not friendly to touch interfaces and a drag on battery life:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short. The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content… New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

On the surface of it, it looks like Jobs was indeed right, or even prescient. In reality, though, it’s more of a chicken-or-the-egg situation: Was Apple correct in its criticisms, or did Apple itself kill the Flash star?

With zillions of iPods, iPhones and iPads out there not running Flash, it’s more a case of the latter. Apple simply brought its considerable weight to bear and killed Flash.

Google, which has long said it supports openness on the web in all its forms, could have done the same thing but didn’t. It’s understandable why. With Apple’s big lead in mobile devices to overcome, Google had to look for every possible leg up, which is why Android devices have so far run Flash. That’s also why porn is big on Android - Jobs was notoriously against porn and probably would have liked to have killed it too. Apple may not be able to achieve that particular goal, but piracy is doing a nice job of it.

Ultimately, HTML5 - which is supported by both Apple and Google - looks like it will rule both mobile devices and computers. It shouldn’t be too much longer before those infuriating blue boxes with questions marks - illustrated so ingeniously by the picture above (where is it from, anyway?) - become a thing of the past.

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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in apple, Google, mobile


Ebooks and the pricing surrender monkeys

Google launched its ebookstore in Canada last week and, as a self-interested author, the first thing I did was head over to see how much my book, Sex, Bombs and Burgers, was selling for.

Surprise, surprise, it’s going for the princely sum of $21.99, which is not only more than the hardcover on Amazon or Chapters, it’s also quite possibly the most expensive ebook in history. This isn’t surprising because it’s exactly the same price that Chapters/Indigo has been charging through Kobo.

Who would pay that much for an ebook? Aren’t digital goods supposed to be cheaper because they have significantly lower manufacturing and distribution costs?

Exactly. Which is why I sold all of 16 of them in the second half of 2010, according to my sales reports.

Google has evidently joined Kobo in catering to publishers’ out-of-date pricing schemes. So, while Canadians seem to have growing choice between e-tailers, most of those sellers aren’t actually going to bat for consumers by trying to lower prices. It’s a little surprising in Google’s case, given that the company has in the past been willing to go to war on things such as wireless prices and net neutrality.

The exception in ebooks is Amazon, which has been notable in its battle against publishers on several fronts. The most recent is the skirmish over its new book lending program, which has prompted some libraries to stop buying from the likes of HarperCollins.

My favourite situation is the fight between Penguin, my publisher in Canada, and the online bookseller over pricing. A quick recap: Amazon last year wanted all ebooks to be priced at $9.99 (a price I agree with, by the way) but Penguin would have none of it. The publisher said it would no longer let Amazon sell its ebooks once their contract expired so, in retaliation, Amazon decided to sell all of Penguin’s physical books at $9.99. The company might take a loss on those books or not make as big a profit, but it was evidently set on making its point. Gotta love those kinds of balls.

The two companies ended up settling the dispute, but something is still going on since I can’t find my ebook on Kindle. I wish I could say why that is, but as is usually the case with us authors, nobody tells us nothing, even when we ask.

That’s why Google’s ebookstore launch is a ho-hum for me and it’s why, as a consumer, I buy all my books - physical or digital - from Amazon.


Posted by on November 9, 2011 in amazon, ebooks, Google, kobo


Google takes maps to the crowd

A few weeks ago, my friend and I embarked on a camping trip - the same one that could have been helped with the military’s super underwear - and we wasted a good deal of time tooling around in Barrie, Ontario looking for the Mountain Equipment Co-op outdoors supply store. My friend had input the store, known colloquially as MEC, into his BlackBerry, but the map app steered us wrong. We instead ended up at a Mac’s convenience store.

In an effort to fix such problems, Google is finally launch Map Maker in Canada. It’s a tool that lets users edit maps, so they can add new features or correct existing ones that are incorrect. Here’s the promo video:

Google launched Map Maker in 2008 in 17 countries, most of them small islands, as a way to fill in incomplete gaps. The service is opened up to individuals for tinkering, with edits having to pass through an approval process before they are accepted into Google Maps and Google Earth. According to a company spokesman, a small team of Googlers around the world verifies the edits, supplemented by a growing number of community editors. Just as with many news sites’ comments sections, Map Maker editors get rated for their input to the point where they can become trusted moderators. Most edits, therefore, get into Google Maps within an hour, the company says.

The Maker Maker team came to Google’s office in Waterloo, Ont. about six weeks ago in preparation for the Canadian launch (it was released in the United States in April). James Maclean, an engineer at the office who happens to be from Hawkestone - a small town north of Barrie - tested it out on his village and added in all sorts of stuff. Prior to his tinkering, the village’s general store showed up as “Hawkestone P.O.” While it does have a postal counter, “If you asked someone in Hawkstone where the post office is, they certainly wouldn’t send you to the general store,” he told me. He fixed that and listed more info on all the other goods and services the store provides.

Maclean also edited in the boundaries of the local cemetery, something that was important to him given that he was in the midst of researching his family tree. He also added in the location of the Barrie Sunset Triple Drive-In, which he frequents, and changed information on the old Oro-Medonte multi-use trail. The old maps listed it as a paved surface, but it’s actually unpaved - an important fact for hikers and bikers.

“It gives every individual the opportunity to make sure the things that are important to them show up on their maps,” Maclean said.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play with it, but Map Maker sounds like a promising application, particularly for people living in rural and remote areas.

Us city slickers can make use of it too. I’m looking forward to the day when it gets really fine-grained - it would really have come in handy when I worked at the CBC, an absolutely giant maze of corridors that I still got lost in even after three years of working there.


Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Google


Motorola execs talk Google, carriers and Canada

I had a chance to lob some questions at Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha and Motorola Canada president Michelle Digulla on Tuesday following the announcement of the company’s latest phone, the Droid Razr (just Razr to us foreigners). We discussed a variety of topics, including the company’s impending marriage to Google and new cellphone carriers in Canada. So, with no further ado, here’s a transcript of some of those conversations.

What sort of changes do you anticipate in the merger with Google?

Jha: It’s too early to tell. You guys probably have the same laws in Canada, it’s called gun-jumping laws. You can’t start acting as one company [before you actually merge]. It’s really when the deal closes that you can get together and plan out what you want to do. So we haven’t got engaged in thinking about what strategy we’re going to pursue post-consummation, but I would say the following. Google is a scale company, they care about scale. I have constraints in that I have to meet quarterly numbers, which is a good thing - it’s certainly good discipline - but it’s a bad thing as well because if I wanted to invest, for instance, a $100 million to just make my brand name more accepted for two quarters and in the third quarter I’ll get traction, that’s not an option I would consider without a lot of pull. In Google’s structure, that’s what we could do, that’s more of an option.

So you could become more of a long-term-thinking company?

Jha: That option exists. Again, I don’t know what we will do, I can’t tell you, but that option exists.

The Razr is exclusive to Verizon in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada. Why go the exclusive route and what is the future of that strategy?

Jha: It gets tied pretty closely with two things. One is what technology are they employing. When I say technology it’s not just the radio access - Verizon obviously has CDMA - but we end up having to do so much extra work with carriers porting what we call their carrier-branded services.  There comes a point where you say it’s sort of exclusive anyway, so we might as well work closely and meet their requirements even more fully. In return, we get more marketing dollars [from them] and we both succeed in the market together. That’s how the tradeoff usually works.

By and large, if it’s a device that launches across multiple carriers, the motivation the carriers have to put marketing dollars behind it is not that large. Then you have to say, ‘I’d better be very large so I can put marketing dollars behind it.’ That’s the tradeoff you have to make. Samsung and Apple, because of their scale, can make that tradeoff. Not all of us can make it. Once we get that scale and have that option, we’ll make that tradeoff.

How have carriers treated Android in Canada? There have been conflicting reports that they’ve pushed it or held it back in favour of iPhone and BlackBerry.

Digulla: Android brings a completely new set of requirements so you could say it has a wider price range. You can see devices, and you see this from Motorola, come down to a very low tier up to the very high end with the Razr, so it provides more breadth. You could argue it provides a better ecosystem because it’s open and all of us are building on what’s already there, so there are definitely some advantages from a pricing and capability perspective.

But what sort of marketing push have you seen for Android phones from carriers?

Digulla: The Razr particularly will have a huge push with Rogers. It’ll be part of their “hero” campaign at the beginning of November.

What’s the roadmap for new carriers such as Wind and Mobilicity, who use a similar frequency to T-Mobile in the U.S.? Are you waiting to see what happens with AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile?

Digulla: I can’t share with you specifics on roadmaps with different carriers, but I do think it’s tied. Having a major AWS-banded U.S. carrier that demands millions of phones will impact the availability of global [devices].


Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Google, mobile, motorola


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