Dean's Digital World
By Dean Tudor
Journalism Professor Emeritus Ryerson University
Shifting Alliances in the Web
Thinking of each column I write in Sources, I am
often bothered by the time lag in filing and publishing and (your)
subsequent reading and data shelf-life. Whatever I write about may
be inconsequential in a matter of months. Or even wrong.....It has
happened before, such as when the convergence issue became a business
and commercial failure (but not a working model failure).
This time I'm playing it safe: the topic is Google, and whatever
I say will still be current. Why? Because Google has a Web site
called "Google Labs" where a bunch of new ideas are in
beta (or even earlier), and they are bound to stick around (labs.google.com).
Google has been on my mind lately because of the strong IPO (no,
I did not buy any stock) and because of the pressures of the marketplace
as the big companies fight for market share. There is a squaring
off between Google and its competitors for your eyeballs: Yahoo,
AOL, and Microsoft. Principally, it is Google vs. Yahoo, but if
either one can bring in AOL or Microsoft, then it could be declared
It has all come about because of three things: one, more users
have broadband; two, data storage is at an all time low; and three,
there are stronger Web infrastructure systems, such as the coming
Lately, Microsoft and Yahoo made their respective consumer instant
messaging (IM) networks partly interoperable in 2006. An AOL assets
sale may mean partnerships: AOL Instant Messenger, MapQuest, Moviefone,
Warner Brothers entertainment, and the like. Google, as of November
2005, still supplies AOL with search technology and shares the related
advertising revenue, but this may change.
In the Web wars, Yahoo has about 350 million visitors monthly,
while Google has 85 million visitors monthly. Yet Yahoo's stock
is down 10% in value (since the Google IPO) while Google's stock
is up 61% since its IPO. Google has publicly announced that it plans
to spend up to 30 percent of its earnings on new product development.
That certainly cannot hurt their operations, or their bottom line.
AOL, meanwhile, has discarded its proprietary information. By making
its content freely available, it has welcomed about 112 million
visitors a month. Also, though, it has lost 2 million dial-up customer
subscribers a year since the Time Warner merger.
In November 2005, Microsoft unveiled another push to make software
that better suits the Internet. Its existing Windows and Office
will have more bells and whistles (also known as features and services)
that can be accessed through the Internet. Some will be free; others
will be available only by subscription. Some services will be merged,
such as Messenger with MSN. Some names being booted about are Windows
Presentation Foundation, Windows Communications Foundations, and
Windows Vista. Windows Live and Office Live are Microsoft's first
major foray into Web services, largely based on AJAX (Asynchronous
other companies, all in the name of advertising dollars.
In related news, Sun Microsystems in October 2005 made a deal with
Google to distribute Google's search toolbar bundled with Java on
the desktop. Sun, of course, is offering its "free" version
of Office, the relaunched Star, as an application for the forthcoming
Web 2.0 is the major reason for these alliances and configurations
(actually, money is the main reason, but Web 2.0 will generate tons
of money). Web 2.0 is the next level, after the HTML text of Lynx
and the HTML graphics of Mosaic/IE/Netscape. Web 2.0 will take advantage
of higher bandwidth, faster processing, better graphics, and remixing
(combining two or more information or applications together).
Google is taking on Yahoo and Microsoft with its version of an
RSS feed: a free program called Sidebar which fetches weather, stock
quotes, headlines, text feeds from your favourite Web sites, image
slideshows, your Google E-mail alerts, and the like. It sits on
the right side of your screen while you are online. And it works.
Early reaction is that it is very comfortable and more user-friendly
than RSS news aggregator programs.
Sidebar is also important because it offers a text-editor function
(Scratch Pad) which allows you to type and save notes, using something
simple and similar to Notepad. There is room for expansion in Sidebar,
for "add-ins" as they are called, which could make the
system look a lot like Microsoft's Office. One in development now
is a "to do" listing, already include in Microsoft's Outlook
Google wants to do more of these desktop software application programs,
to seamlessly mesh the PC with the Internet. And to stave off competition
by monopolizing your PC's hard drive.
Google began to up the ante with its Gmail "free E-mail"
program. Why bother with the measly 2 or 4 megabytes offered by
Hotmail and Yahoo...It went directly to one gigabyte which allowed
for storage of images and video. Then, when the others bumped up
their storage capacity (for free, mind you) it moved up to 2.5 gigs.
You never know when you might need a message again, so deleting
is discouraged by Google, except for spam, of course.
Gmail (gmail.google.com) can also group threads easier than Hotmail
or Yahoo can, and display them in a more flexible filing system
through which you can impose several labels or subject tags. All
the mail goes into "All Mail" and is archived, to be retrieved
at any time. It's the same kind of searching as for the original
Google Web search, and for the Desktop search. In fact, Google is
trying to maximize its search tools geared to bloggers and mobile
Desktop (desktop.google.com) is useful because it is exceedingly
swift, a lot faster in searching for texts, images, filenames, E-mails,
and Web pages on your PC than Windows Explorer. It can also be integrated
with a Web search if you are online.
Google Reader (reader.google.com) is another advancement on RSS.
By accessing your Gmail Account (it's the same login ID and password)
you can also get to the Google Reader. You can automatically get
the latest news and updates from all your important Web sites, and
search by relevance. This is a great way to get to blogs and news
sites. Since you are already in Gmail, you can forward what you
find to other people. Or print it out, etc. This is a nifty web-based
feed reader news aggregator. It was through Google Reader that I
found a marvelous TV news blog of what was happening in New Orleans
during the hurricanes; material was put up every five minutes or
so, based on news accounts from the region (www.wwltv.com/local/stories/wwlblog.ac3fcea.html).
This was a boon to me because I didn't have broadband and thus I
was unable to get those video and audio accounts which were being
piped into the Web. But I could read the blog which had extremely
local stories and national wire stories.
Other new items include Google Video (searching for TV programs
and videos, on a par with its search for Images) at video.google.com.
The technology may blend in with SimonSays Voice Technologies, which
believes that has the solution to indexing videos by speech recognition.
This company claims 98 per cent accuracy.
Google's attack on Microsoft continues with its extensions for
Mozilla's Firefox as add-ins (toolbar.google.com/firefox/extensions/index.html),
and a Google Web Accelerator (webaccelerator.google.com) to save
time online by loading Web pages faster (this only works with broadband).
Try also: "My Search History" (www.google.com/searchistory)
for access to your Google search history, from any computer; the
Google Ride Finder (labs.google.com/ridefinder) to find a taxi,
limousine or shuttle using real time position of vehicles; Google
Suggest (www.google.com/webhp?complete=1&hl=en): as you type
your search, it will suggest keywords; and Site-Flavored Google
Search Box (www.google.com/services/siteflavored.html) for a search
box that customizes results based on your Web site.
Up-and-running Google software programs include search refinements,
such as "Search By Location" or Google Local (local.google.com
-- restricting your search to a particular geographic area), "Glossary"
(www.google.com/search?q=define+clew) for definitions to words,
phrases and acronyms, "Maps" (maps.google.com) to view
maps, get driving directions, and search for local businesses and
services, Deskbar (toolbar.google.com/deskbar/index.html) to search
the Web through the Google Toolbar without opening your browser.
Plus the alerts such as "Web Alerts" (www.google.com/webalerts)
for finding out about new subject Web pages and "News Alerts"
(www.google.com/newsalerts) for getting E-mail updates when news
breaks on any subject you specify.
Of the basic services already offered, Google Answers (answers.google.com)
deals with paying for a question's answers - you ask a question,
set a price, and then get an answer from a Google real person researcher.
"Blog Search" (www.google.ca/blogsearch?hl=en) enables
you to find blogs on your favourite topics; while "Blogger"
(www.blogger.com/start?hl=en) actually lets you express yourself
online. Picasa (picasa.google.ca) is a program to find, edit and
share your photos. Toolbar (toolbar.google.com) is a built-in search
box add-in to IE. "Translate" (www.google.ca/language_tools?hl=en)
lets you view web pages in other languages. "Catalogs"
(catalogs.google.com) will search and browse mail-order catalogues.
"Directory" (www.google.ca/dirhp?hl=en) lets you browse
the Web by topic, almost the same searching mechanism as the Yahoo
drill. Froogle (froogle.google.com) is for shopping, with hits ranked
by price. Google Groups (www.google.ca/grphp?hl=en) is for employing
mailing lists and searching discussion groups (the former Usenet
and DejaNews index). "Images" (www.google.ca/imghp?hl=en)
searches for photos and maps and cartoons on the Web (essentially
scouring for terms plus jpg or gif).
"Earth" is fun (earth.google.com), for it allows you
to use satellite technology plus maps and a search engine to produce
3D images and graphics about any place on the planet. You must have
broadband, and the package costs money. There is a free but limited
For academics, there is the valuable "Scholar" (scholar.google.com)
which searches scholarly journals. It allows users to search collections
of proprietary electronic journals plus other, similar etexts. Items
are arranged in order of the number of times they have been cited.
This has proved a boon for undergraduates who wish a quick-and-dirty
search with a common and recognizable user-interface. This will
be competition for Thomson and Elsevier. "University Search"
(www.google.ca/intl/en/options/universities.html) allows you to
search a specific school's Web site, which might also include offerings
at the library.
Google Print is still in its formative stages: it has announced
a partnership with the New York Public Library, Harvard, Stanford,
Oxford, and Michigan University libraries to digitize millions of
their books. For obvious reasons, they are beginning with public
domain material to avoid the copyright issue. Project Gutenberg
(www.gutenberg.com/catalog) already has thousands of public domain
books in digital form, but these are not yet Web searchable (you
must download them to your PC and use Google Desktop). But the economic
benefits of scanning means that the company must use inexpensive
labour to digitize whole shelves of older books. Thus, Google Print
wants both the public domain materials and the out-of-print materials
to be done at once, shelf-by-shelf. They figure that any in-print
materials that they capture can either be negotiated separately
with publishers or put to one side until later.
They suggest a partial solution would be to put up only bibliographic
data and a selected portion of the text. Publishers are upset about
the loss of royalties and sales for copyrighted materials, and rightly
so, for scholarly publications don't sell many copies and every
royalty obtained is a struggle. The Open Content Alliance have also
chimed in (opposed), since they want to put up the contents of 150,000
books; they are being backed by Yahoo and Microsoft.
Microsoft also has its own book initiative, MSN Book Search. They
will be scanning 100,000 books from the British Library in 2006.
They claim 25 million pages in the project...Let the games begin!!
Wireless technology and applications are being embraced at wap.google.com.
Also, try www.google.ca/mobile. Google Talk is moving its way into
beta mode: Instant Messaging and VoIP are almost here via Google.
Already there is "Froogle Mobile US" (labs.google.com/frooglewml.html)
to search for products from a mobile phone using Froogle, and "Google
SMS US" (sms.google.com) to get precise specialized answers
to queries from a mobile device. Both of these are also available
in the UK.
Google continues to deal with algorithms and artificial intelligence,
while using data compression and robotics to find its material.
But enough about Google. What about the future? Through the use
of the many Google products and spin-offs to crawl through the Internet
and bring us back "relevant" data, we have become the
most-informed generation to have ever existed. This has implications
for the news business.
For one thing, there is a growing distrust of all media and news
sources by the 18 to 34 demographic. Credibility is being equated
with trust and agreement. Objectivity (as a term) is being replaced
by transparency (as a term), both in the use of these words and
in actual fact. For another, younger people are turning more and
more to blogs as a source of "transparency": these are
likely to be more trustworthy and agreeable than the Old White Males
on the evening news. And there are more bloggers than ever before.
Soon, there will be more bloggers than people reading them. Again,
Google Blog Search comes to the rescue to find topics in blogs.
Popularity is also being equated with credibility, especially because
Google ranks its searches by a combination which involves the number
of links to a Web site. The more links, the higher the position
in the search engine results. The higher the position, the more
likely the searcher will click on that URL to find his information.
Using Google Blog Search will show which blogs are popular via search
rankings. If you use Yahoo News searches, you will find a listing
of news stories by popularity and E-mail requests: you would be
amazed at what the mob is reading! As I said, popularity here may
be equated with credibility. I certainly hope that my column is
To sum up, if you want predictions: AOL (and/or its assets) will
be sold off, Google will partner with Sun, and Yahoo will go with
Microsoft. Trust me on this.
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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