All eyes on Google
Google is rarely out of the news but this month has been busier than most, with interesting developments in mobile telephony and potential changes to its core search engine service.
Mobile phones with built-in cameras and internet connectivity are commonplace and affordable these days, and Google is the first to look at a new way of tying them together in new forms of search. One idea they have is called Google Goggles, an application which lets you search Google for information on an object simply by taking its picture. Currently it works with product logos, book covers, landmarks, text and bar codes and if the phone has a GPS chip fitted, that too is used to help identify landmarks and the surrounding businesses. Goggles works on phones running Google's Android operating system and will work on its own Google-branded phone to be launched early in 2010.
Taking that a step further, Google has also begun trialling a service called "Favourite Places". It has sent out 100,000 window stickers to small businesses in America, typically cafés, bookshops and theatres. The sticker is a unique QR code, similar to a bar code but two dimensional. If you want to know more about a business then you can point your Android phone at the sticker in its window and it immediately retrieves a page from Google detailing opening times, customer reviews, a selection of Street View photographs and so on. So will we see people loitering on pavements checking out reviews on their mobiles before popping into a café for coffee and carrot cake? Perhaps not, but it is a clever way for Google to entrench itself further and become a competitor to websites which offer online directories of pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Great search results is what made Google great and it is always looking for ways to enhance that. It has announced new features that will "bring your search results to life with a dynamic stream of real-time content from across the web. Immediately after conducting a search, you will be able to see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before" said Google's Amit Singhal. I'm not sure that is a step in the right direction. It is already hard enough to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The last thing I need is even more twitter-noise mixed in with the results.
Google's plans to personalise search results even more has also been a subject of heated debate amongst webmasters. Google intends to use your search history and its records of what links you clicked to tailor your search results in those directions in future. So I suppose if I search for "Windows" for example, I am usually looking for computer stuff rather than double glazing, and Google will learn that and put computer websites high on my results pages. But will that ultimately damage the search results I get from Google? For instance, when I'm looking for information on a camera, I invariably find the first 20 sites I click on are those annoying price comparison sites masquerading as something useful. Will Google think I actually prefer these sites because I've been deceived into clicking on them? Will it start pushing those even higher in my search results? This personalisation also means everyone's experience of Google will be different which will make it much harder for website owners to know if their site is well indexed in Google or not.
With all the personalised services and links to GPS in your phone, the likes of Google will soon know more about us than we know ourselves and we have very little control over what they do with the information. Google did little to allay these privacy fears when CEO Eric Schmidt made this incredulous statement to CNBC last week: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
17th December 2009
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.