Archive for the 'Tech' Category

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Google’s +1 — hit or miss?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 June 21st, 2011 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

On June 1 2011, Google released the +1 Button for the whole web. In its official blog, Google writes, “+1—the digital shorthand for ‘this is pretty cool.’ To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.”

This should be seen as a social recommender built-into web and search, sort of a cross between Facebook Like (which only shows up in Facebook) and Social Bookmarkers such as Digg, Delicious etc (which only shows up in their respective systems). Google’s +1 would be deeper integrated in web and search, making it more universal. So far so good.

But Google’s latest social feature, similar to Facebook’s ‘like’ button, will only work for Google if it can manage to import data from Facebook, Twitter and similar sites, into the individuals’ Google Profile thereby making Google, the gatekeeper of social interactions.

While there is probably a need for this as there are too many points of interaction – SMS, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, etc, we do know that Facebook has made it fairly clear to allow Google to access data it holds.

+1 could work for advertisers online. Let’s say you’re a big Google AdWords advertiser. You pay 25 cents a click. Now you start using +1 and your users drive up your ranking for all the keywords you are relevant for. This way your noticeability goes up and drives more organic clicks. So you pay less as your organic SEO is improved (non-paid traffic) and your ads convert better (paid traffic that converts better is cheaper in the AdWords algorithm).

In short, with +1 the ability for users to recommend paid search ads to their friends will potentially increase CTRs and thus lower overall advertiser costs. Currently, every user now sees different ads based on their search history whether they are signed in or not, but this is now a step further into personalising the ads a user sees.

Another plus for Google is that it owns search engine referral traffic, which is the primary traffic driver for websites. So if +1 recommendations can influence your page rank then its a wise thing to have on your website.

What I am wondering is that since ‘Like’ and ‘Tweet’ buttons have been around much longer, it is only natural that they have cultivated their follower habits. So will we take to another social sharing tool? And really, will we have the faith to try +1 out after the dismal social tools –Wave, Buzz etc — that Google dished out earlier?

Of course it might be too early to write off +1 Button. But given the string of failed attempts from Google in social media, there’s always going to be skepticism. And the odd thing with social media is that trying too hard is not quite cool. And if you are not quite cool, you can’t tell people “this is pretty cool”.

Facebook’s insecurities vs Google’s woes

Thursday, May 12th, 2011 May 12th, 2011 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Google knows what you search, when you search, what video you watched & shared and possibly from where you logged on. On the other hand, Facebook knows who your friends are, what you did in that weekend party, what news or information you shared between your friends and what apps you frequented on the social media site.

In short, between the two companies, each knows a good deal about you and your life online. But each company wants to control more and that’s what is causing the new digital age war.

And the bone of contention is who should get the lion’s share of online advertising (that will be targeted at you). Facebook’s 600 million members give the social media website ample data on what an user is looking for online and this allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising. It also makes Facebook a huge rival to Google who makes its livelihood from selling advertising.

Now, Facebook’s collection of data is commonly labeled as the “social graph.” And now Google wants to create its own social graph from its users. It is this social graph that is the crux of a social web presence. Consumers are and will continue to dominate what has value online as they choose where to spend money and time.

Google is desperate to break into the social platform. Remember Orkut where Google wanted us to “make friends” or Picasa where it wanted us to “share albums” or Wave or more recently Buzz where no one knew what Google meant. None made any sense, since people continued to prefer Facebook for all the different products that Google launched. In its latest effort to enter the social space, Google’s +1, which is a button next to the blue links on Google Search results, allows users to say — in Google marketing’s words — “this is something you should check out.” When you click the button, Google tells your friends, family, and the rest of the world that you recommended the link. (Sounds uncannily like Facebook’s ‘Like button?’)
When you +1 something, your recommendation is not only noted under that specific search result, but also with your Google Profile. But my problem here is that not many people probably are even aware that they have a Google Profile already if they are using Gmail, Youtube, personalised Google search, Buzz or Orkut.
If Google manages to position its +1 as a new social voting mechanism that will impact search results for users, there’s no doubt that publishers will want implement it. But what good will it do to users? In the meantime, Facebook reigns as the king of social and more importantly the “Like” button.

But something is making Facebook uneasy too. Newsweek reveals in its blogs that, “somebody [Facebook] hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.” The blog post further reveals, “Last month, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page sent out a memo telling everyone at Google that social networking was a top priority for Google—so much so that 25 per cent of every Googler’s bonus this year will be based on how well Google does in social.” That’s desperate.

Various estimates suggest that last year, Facebook raked in $1.86 billion in advertising dollars, accounting for 4.7 per cent of total digital ad spend and will take in an estimated $4 billion for 2011. And, while Facebook has a 23.1 per cent share of display ads, Google Sites have just 2.7 per cent. All this because Facebook can promise better targeted advertisements to its advertisers and serves about 39 billion impressions each month.

Facebook’s ’social search’ was approved in February of 2010, after seven years in the US patent office — allowing users to access data from Facebook home pages. (They already have a search engine partnership with Bing, but it only shows links that users share on Facebook.) And, as seems to be the general trend with the web, search will probably become more social.

Personally, I am convinced that Facebook will add features that will let me search the web while staying on Facebook and at the same time, Google will multiply the features that will help me connect to friends online with just a click. That said, there do appear to be a lot of “misses” when it comes to Google coming out with innovative products – have they lost touch with what we’d want in a social network?

I love you iPhone, so what if that makes me delusional

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 June 8th, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Dear Mr Steve Jobs,

I know that you run the biggest technology company called Apple and you make the most gorgeous looking, also far more superior gadgets than your peers; but why did you launch an iPhone 4?

I take the liberty to speak for other iPhone users who love the platform equally because we have hundreds of fun applications running (and there’s never a dearth of space on the iPhone). Many iPhone users (like me) have page after page after page worth of applications that they have downloaded (I know I am spending a measly $10 every month on buying paid apps but that’s all I can afford since you refuse to launch an Indian App store).

Now that you have announced your intentions to deliver a new iPhone on the shelves by June 24, what will I do with my iPhone 3G? I definitely can’t part with it and I definitely can’t give the iPhone 4 a miss either. The only option is to buy or source one device somehow. You see, I can’t live in peace seeing iPhone 4’s pictures and reviews on these western sites and blogs. I have to get one of my own too.

If I sound delusional to you, Mr Jobs then I may as well be. I’m told that Strand Consult, a research firm, likens iPhone users’ staunch defense of the iPhone to the famous Stockholm syndrome — a term psychologists use to describe how hostages defend the very people who hold them hostage. But the research concludes with, ‘there is no doubt that Apple has some of the most loyal end users on the market and that iPhone users will go out of their way to defend the phone they love and worship.’

Mr Jobs, iPhone users in India have been looking with hope that you will reckon us as your market too. You see, we have been told by every other vendor that we are very important for him or her but you have never ever said the same to us. Wonder why? Are they lying to us or are you simply unmoved about our purchasing power?

Three iPhone models have been launched in the last 2 years — yet you did not come to India to show us your love. Nor did you appoint an India representative with whom we could check the latest news about Apple. Am I not dear to you? Or is my $10 on apps/month not sufficient?

We could have made our peace with iPhone 4 being launched in India at some later date but that bit of announcement is never a part of your agenda. Please don’t be so indifferent to us, we promise we will buy more paid apps for our iPhones. We have millions in our land who are capable to buy an iPhone. We love beautiful objects and iPhone tops the charts.

Look forward to hearing from you and I continue to nurture the hope of witnessing the launch of iPhone 4 in India at an affordable price point.


An ‘Apple’ fan

Tweet, Ping, Poke but #getmehome

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 April 21st, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Unless you have been completely unplugged these last two weeks, you would have heard that Iceland has become, well, rather hot. On last count, six of my acquaintances were holed up at various airports, spending their costly dollars to deal with ‘forced and extended foreign stay.’ The volcano Eyjafjallajokull single-handedly grounded both flights and millions of passengers.

Undeterred, social media kept it promise of being a truly social medium. Hash tags like #getmehome, #ashtag, #ridesharing and desperate status messages on Facebook tell me that travelers are actively using Twitter and Facebook groups to voice complaints to the airlines (who are actually replying back with flight schedule!). Must applaud! Given the recent string of natural and man-made disasters, social media has really had an opportunity to expand its influence. It continues to be adapted and molded by a growing number of people.

Social media fans like Tod Brilliant- a Facebook user who was stranded in France because of the volcanic ash cloud grounding flights, has gone ahead and created a Facebook page that describes its purpose like this: “Hundreds of thousands of us are stranded, thanks to billowing ash from Iceland’s Mt. Elslksjksldxzjjjejsklaresssrfzzzt. Let’s come together, swap stories, keep our spirits up, and offer advice for coping with our situations.”

My 76-year old uncle, who was visiting India with his pension money, is now stuck in New Delhi as flights to Florida have been cancelled. While his ‘dollar’ buys decent ‘rupees’, he has been spending sleepless nights ever since he got an email from his neighbor who told him there was a minor fire in his backyard. He updated his Facebook status message about his situation and found an ex-colleague on the social site who volunteered to go and fix the damage done, in his absence.

A Twitter acquaintance tweeted — “Was to fly from London (to Mumbai) with Jet Air on April 19, now re-scheduled to April 28…worried about the fast depleting pounds in my pocket. How much rationing can I do?” She was soon offered free boarding in London by a helpful twitter-fellow who read her tweet and lived closeby.

Yet another Facebook friend put this message out: “At home, looking after kids due to volcano while grandparents stuck abroad.” Not only he was inundated with kind messages that helped him cope with kids, a few helpful friends even suggested him ways to keep kids occupied and out of his hair.

Not to be outdone by web, BlackBerry has come out with apps that will allow phone users to keep a track of all flights (canceled or delayed) with an app called WorldMate Live. This app gives users instant access to all trip details, including itineraries, weather updates, currency converters and more.

My humble advice to anyone stuck somewhere because of volcano delays, please get on to a social media site. You might just find your Johnny-on-the-spot.

JUST HEARD: (on Twitter of course)

Flights and airports are getting back to normalcy. And tweets of relief are pouring on Twitter from across the globe.

It will read your lips

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 March 9th, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Do you get irritated by loud-mouthed blokes shouting into their mobile phones on train/bus/metro or worse, chatting on mobile phones during movies? I do. And German researchers saw my discomfort (perhaps of a few others too) and have come up with a new concept for mobile phones that is being called ‘noiseless communications’.

What’s that? A new technology, unveiled at the recently concluded CeBIT fair in Germany, highlighted how lip movements can be transformed into a computer-generated voice for the listener at the other end of the phone. The device, developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), uses electromyography, monitoring tiny muscular movements that occur when we speak and converting them into electrical pulses that can then be turned into speech, without a sound uttered. Already engineers have devices working to 99 per cent efficiency with this technology — so the mechanical voice at the other end of the phone gets just one word in 100 wrong.

Simply put, your mobile phone will read your lips. WOW! The implications of this concept can be huge. It could be a great tool for those with speech disorders.

Or, you can have a fight with your spouse/partner while you travel in public transport or perhaps a carpool like me. If you are feeling mushy, then you can mouth saccharine-dipped words without being audible to people around you.

Although we would make an awkward (or comical) sight — people mouthing words into their handset receivers.

You can discuss your future employment prospective with a recruiter or potential employer, right in your office without having to rush to the nearest empty corridor. You can even discuss your boss’s salary details without needing those coded messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Better still, in public places like night clubs and bars, one can feasibly use a mobile device to talk without having to shout into the receiver.

The technology uses nine electrodes that are stuck to a user’s face. These measure the electrical signals, which are then recorded and amplified before being transmitted via Bluetooth to a PC. Software on the computer decodes the signals into text, which could be spoken using a text-to-voice program. This can be easily integrated into a handset, claimed the researchers.

The technology, add researchers at KIT, can turn anyone into a polyglot. Since the electrical pulses are universal, they can be immediately transformed into the language of the user’s choice. So, speakers can silently utter a sentence in their language, and the receivers can hear the translated sentence in their language.

Since the German research institute has just presented the concept at CeBIT, so in all probability we won’t see this technology in a handset any time soon. But that just gives you and me plenty of time to come up with even more ingenious uses of ‘silent’ calling, should it ever hit the mainstream.

In pursuit of ‘perfect’ shape

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 February 4th, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

The Nintendo Wii game Your Shape lets you see yourself working out onscreen beside an anatomically perfect virtual trainer.

It’s very easy to set up. It gets you moving. It has hundreds of moves available.

What is it?

It’s a game – a console game that I play on my Nintendo Wii. Your shape is a game featuring Jenny McCarthy (famous from Weight Watchers) containing nearly 400 exercise routines. Launched late last year, Your Shape comes with a Ubisoft (the game developers) camera that you mount on top of a TV, very similar to a webcam. After feeding in my details like age, gender, height and weight, the camera scans my body in two different positions.

What happens next is the part that I love. Within the TV screen is a picture-in-picture projection of my living room (or something that resembles my apartment) that helps serve as a mirror so I can watch myself exercise. I have to make sure that I stand closer to the camera, of course. Beside me, McCarthy’s anatomically perfect body moves as fluidly as any live trainer. She can sense when my body movements aren’t in sync with hers, and she quickly offers tutorials to teach me.

While I have the freedom to set my goal for the game - such as weight loss, and thereby get the recommended workouts, time for workouts, and how many days a week to do them, what I don’t like is McCarthy’s digital avatar correcting me to “refocus on the hands” or worse chides me by saying “you are doing it wrong” when I am honestly sweating and puffing from all that physical trauma. There are many of the cardio and warm up exercises that will kill your shoulders , but McCarthy demands you do perfectly else she will fail you at the end of the game!

Before I launch the exercise routine, I am required to tell McCarthy (my trainer) how motivated I am feeling at the beginning of each workout, and this determines how challenging the workout will be. My answer is usually “Tired” or “Sleepy” yet I am yet to end a routine on a high note. I have already abandoned the exercise routine thrice out of the total 4 attempts.

Sometimes McCarthy’s digitally manufactured voice can be very jarring. Like when her anatomical avatar on my TV screen tells me that to “straighten my back and bend more,” I find myself glaring at the TV and mouthing words that I can’t really write here.

I have to admit that this exercise programme must be working because it really makes me break into a sweat whenever I hear McCarthy telling me to “straighten up.” In fact, a 15 minute workout with this digital exercise routine burns about 200 calories, or so I am told. Bottomline: if you don’t want to watch yourself work out and escape McCarthy’s reproachful voice then you may want to head to a gym nearby but if you love the idea of getting rid of the Wii controller (like in the Tennis games), then Your Shape is can get you that perfect shape (provided you please the digital trainer!).

Give me a superphone too

Monday, January 11th, 2010 January 11th, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Why should we be excited for a phone that has no near-term intentions of making a debut in India — a land of 500 million plus mobile phone subscribers of which 20 million or so use a smartphone device? The answer is simple –it heralds Google’s plunge into a segment where it made its presence felt till now only through Android mobile platform. Secondly, although the handset is not the first to use the Google mobile operating system, called Android, it is the first device that the company has designed itself down to the last detail.

But Google, which has a large presence in India didn’t even bother with an India launch plan when it unveiled the phone this week. Okay, so who needs it any way? And Allen Nogee, Principal Analyst,Wireless Technology, In-Stat thinks so too. “To better fit into the market in India, it (Nexus One) needs to support the phone technologies supported in India, or at least a CDMA version.  In addition, an application store just for the India market would be a big benefit, allowing developers in India the chance to design applications just for the India market.” That’s so right, Ms Nogee.

Yet when I see my friends in Singapore and Canada reciting tales of how they booked the superphone via Google’s web portal, some got the unlocked for $530, and others booked the carrier bundled-Nexus One for around $180, it only reminds me of my developing nation status. Sad, but true that Indian markets are never really the top choice for launching a technologically advanced device. Case in point - Apple’s 3GS phone that seems dismissive of hit the Indian fans, Kindle that came to India but at prices that it remains an exclusive device, Sony’s e-reader is not even bothered about Indian consumers and now Nexus One joins the ranks.

I can’t stop myself from lusting after this device ever since I read that Nexus One is powered by the super-fast Qualcomm QSD82350 (Snapdragon) 1GHz processor that leaves iPhone 3GS’s slower 600MHz processor far behind. Unlike iPhone which only has an internal storage, Nexus One has a microSD card slot (expandable up to 32GB and will ship with 4GB card. Another sigh!

While I would like to believe that the phone does hold potential in many international markets (like India) and could even eat into the share of dominant players like Nokia, Samsung and BlackBerry, mainly because smartphone users would love to try Google — a well-trusted name in its choice of hardware. But Google clearly thinks it is better off without a distribution plan for India.
I need to see how long the company like Google can afford to be a snob when it comes to launching new technologies in developing economies like ours.

iPhone’s are under attack!

Monday, November 9th, 2009 November 9th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

It had to happen, with users unwilling to spend Rs 34,000 for buying iPhones in India. Instead, they chose to rely on friends and family in the US to get *jailbroken handsets that would cost less than half the amount they would otherwise pay.

*(Apple sells iPhones locked with network operator and to use the iPhone in India, you will have to pay to get it unlocked for using it with Indian sim cards)

Today we heard of the first iPhone virus, dubbed the ‘ikee’ worm that breaks into iPhones, changing their lock screen wallpaper to an image of 1980s pop star Rick Astley with the message: “ikee is never going to give you up.” And that’s all the virus does, FOR NOW.

As per a security company’s survey, nearly 97 per cent of people believe the iPhone will suffer from further virus attacks in the future. It’s safe to declare that hackers have now started to take Apple seriously. Before this, Apple was computing hardware was widely believed to be free from any kind of viruses unlike Microsoft’s Windows which are all so vulnerable to virus attacks. Well, yeah, Apple was damn right but the reason was that no hacker ever took Apple seriously so as to even try to create a worm for it.

“Fortunately the worm doesn’t do anything more malicious than that - it doesn’t steal information, access your emails or snoop on your calls,” informs Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security and data protection company, Sophos. But now that the virus writers have put the iPhone’s source code on the internet – which means that other hackers can potentially create much more dangerous versions of the worm.

This worm appears to have been created by a 21-year old Ashley Towns, a student from Wollongong, New South Wales, who boasted about it on his Twitter page. Towns claims to have created the worm out of “boredom,” wrote in the worm’s code that he found it “stupid.”

This must be treated as a wake-up call to iPhone users around the world to take greater care about their security - especially if they jailbreak their phones. This also means that enterprises also need to make sure that they don’t have staff who are endangering corporate data by running insecure smartphones.

This latest incident raises the stakes — and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that more hackers might become intrigued about the possibility of striking jailbroken iPhones in this fashion to deploy more sinister payloads than an image of Rick Astley in future.

Your online identity is not safe anymore

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 October 7th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Cyber crime has surpassed illegal drug trafficking as a criminal money maker. Worse, you could be probably using an infected machine that is now a ‘digital asset’ for the cybercriminal. This way the cybercriminal can trade your machine online – over and over again! Each trade results into a different “owner” who can decide to install additional malware on the purchased infected machine and then sell it on to others.

The latest breach was when 10,000 email accounts mainly Microsoft’s Hotmail, Google’s Gmail, Yahoo, Comcast, and Earthlink – with passwords – were posted online on the website Don’t start blaming the companies, as the data wasn’t stolen from Google or Microsoft servers. The companies claim that the leak was not the result of an internal breach but through an elaborate phishing scheme.

Promptly, Microsoft has disabled the compromised accounts and is asking affected users to fill out a form to regain access. Google, on other hand, has enforced password resets on the affected accounts.

This is a classic example of how phishing is employed by scammers to steal private information by either tricking users into downloading malicious content encrypted on web sites or through e-mail attachments. Every three seconds an identity is stolen, as reported by Symantec. It doesn’t matter if it is a home computer or if it belongs to a C-level executive of a Fortune 500 company, a government agency or news network – each compromised PC has its own value and price in the cyber-economy.

Despite all this, we still have people who use the same username and password across websites. Why? “Because it is easier to remember,” they say. Right, it is easy to remember and is easiest to crack.

You might offer that you promptly delete all the spam mail or phishing emails that keep pouring in, but cyber criminals are rapidly evolving their methods to steal information from you too.All it takes is a few cautious steps and you could avoid falling into the trap of cyber-criminals.

How to avoid becoming a victim?

  • Delete mails from unknown sender or email ids promptly.
  • Change passwords often. Combine uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and characters.
  • Avoid using consecutive letters or numbers, and never use names of pets, family members, or close friends.
  • Never click links in the body of an email that are coming from a bank, Paypal or any enterprise that may be leading to a request to enter data. Go to your favorites menu or manually type the address in.
  • Pay attention to phishing filters. Most updated browsers have built-in phish filters that toss up a red flag warning of a potential ruse.