Weekly output: Google’s 2017 to-do list

The slowest week of the entire year saw only one story appear under my byline. I’ll more than make that up this week as I cover my 20th CES in a row (!). Any gadget news you’d like me to look out for while I’m in Vegas?

yahoo-google-2017-post12/26/2016: OK, Google: Please do these things in 2017, Yahoo Finance

My contribution to Yahoo Finance’s end-of-year coverage was a post about what Google should do in 2017. Will that company follow up on all of my suggestions? Probably not. I’m reasonably confident that we’ll get a better Android Wear watch from Google, that we haven’t seen the last of Google broadband, and that advertising on fake-news sites will take a hit from stricter Google policies. But I’m less confident that Google will ship an end-to-end encryption plug-in for Gmail, and I would be pleasantly shocked to see the firm start selling an ad-free upgrade to Gmail.

 

Weekly output: digitizing infrastructure, Oracle v. Google, Bluetooth beacons, ads and privacy

After two straight weeks of travel (separated by almost 24 hours at home), I have the novel experience of looking at my calendar and not seeing any upcoming flights. That can only be explained by a bug in that app, right?

Connected Conference panel5/27/2016: Digitizing Infrastructure, Connected Conference

The scheduling for my part of this Internet-of-Things conference in Paris moved around a lot. My original connected-cars panel got swapped out for this one, and then the speakers for a discussion of smart buildings and smart cities got reshuffled more than once. As you can see, the conference site’s page about the panel still only lists some of the people who showed up Friday morning (besides me, Olivier Selles of Bouygues Immobilier, Herbert Beck of Nexity, Riad Ziour of Openergy, Jackson Bond of Relayr and IBM’s Christian Comtat). Most surprising anecdote: How an IoT climate-control system brought a little labor peace to an office where union officials didn’t trust management’s estimates of indoor air quality.

5/27/2016: Why you should care that Google dodged Oracle’s $9 billion bullet, Yahoo Finance

This jury verdict in Google’s favor and against Oracle dropped Thursday night in Paris, so I had to write this explainer during what little downtime I had Friday morning and afternoon in the city. (Did comparing APIs to the bumps on a Lego block work for you?) I promise I will look over all 120-and-counting comments sometime soon, but hopefully not tomorrow.

5/29/2016: Don’t be alarmed if Android wants to get physical, USA Today

After a visit to one Connected Conference exhibit yielded an Android notification of a Web address being broadcast by a nearby Bluetooth beacon, I realized I had a decent column topic sitting in front of me. Writing it also gave me a chance to revisit some of the early hype around Apple’s iOS-only iBeacon.

5/29/2016: A ‘right not to be surprised’ in ads would be great — good luck defining that, Yahoo Finance

I’d had this idea kicking around since hearing AdRoll CEO Adam Berke’s talk at the Collision conference, but I somehow waited to finish writing it until I was in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Pros and cons of taking Google I/O outside

My most recent tech event took place in an unusual venue: a concert amphitheater set into the hills of the San Francisco Bay.

Android statueHeading into Google I/O, I was uneasy about Google’s decision–announced in a January 12 tweet from CEO Sundar Pichai–to move its developer conference from Moscone West in San Francisco to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Unlike that convention center three blocks off Market Street, Shoreline promised no meaningful pedestrian, cyclist or transit access.

Fortunately, the traffic dystopia I feared did not quite happen at I/O 16, and this location revealed some redeeming qualities.

Having the analog environment of nature around was foremost among them–especially on Wednesday, when the temperature soared into the ’80s. Typing on my laptop in the shade of the press center brought back pleasant memories of 2012’s Tech Policy Summit, staged at a resort outside of Napa. But even in the concrete surroundings of the seating bowl, the noise of birds chirping offered a healthy reminder that much of the world doesn’t care what we humans do with circuits and code.

(This avian accompaniment was not risk-free. Analyst Jan Dawson almost had a bird poop on his leg.)

Shoreline is surrounded by parking lots, but they looked much better covered by tents and stages for I/O’s various panels and talks. And looking up on walks from one location to another often rewarded me with the sight of 747s and A380s low overhead on their approaches to SFO.

Shoreline stageThe official hotels Google suggested were no cheaper than most San Francisco hotels, but the clean, comfortable Airbnb suite I found in downtown Mountain View was much cheaper than anything I’ve seen listed in the city.

Finally, we did get to experience a concert at this concert venue, Wednesday night’s performance by Charli XCX and Kygo.

But while Google’s shuttle from the Mountain View Caltrain station–not advertised in advance–got me to I/O surprisingly quickly on Wednesday, on Thursday two shuttles in a row left without me because they had no seats left. On Friday, the bus arrived sorely late and then crawled through traffic, finally depositing me at Shoreline after almost as much time as it might have taken to walk the distance.

The weather also got less idyllic after Wednesday, even as the risk of sunburn remained the same. My teeth may have started chattering once or twice Thursday night and Friday afternoon. (Cardinal rule of packing for the Bay Area: Whatever season it is, bring a fleece jacket.)

And while having class outside is usually a great idea, it remains difficult to see a laptop’s screen in sunlight. Brightening the screen was not always a smart response at I/O; power outlets were a lot scarcer than they would have been in a conventional convention facility like Moscone.

All things being equal, I’d rather see I/O move back to San Francisco. But I suspect that Google is content with staging its event at a private space next to its headquarters that it can take over–a sort of Google Island, if you will–and that next May, we’ll have the same battles with traffic and logistics.

 

Weekly output: e-commerce #fail, Lunar XPrize, Tech Night Owl

If you’ve been wondering what my workspace looks like, have a look at the Pinterest board the Wirecutter and Sweethome posted this week to accompany a guide to home-office setups. The photo I took of my desk and its surroundings is at the right; as you can see, it’s a lot less slovenly than my cubicle at the Post.

Washington Gas fail post2/29/2016: E-commerce fails: Why big-time websites can be completely screwed up, Yahoo Tech

I was originally going to write a rant here about Washington Gas’s new and horrifically-bad customer-service site, but then I remembered that I should try to be a good capitalist and get somebody to pay me for the post. I also realized I could put my utility’s fiasco in the context of large organizations botching IT deployments.

3/3/2016: J.J. Abrams makes movies about Google’s robots-on-the-moon XPrize: what’s not to like?, Yahoo Tech

Any time I can write about DIY robots on the moon, I will. This column also allowed me to make some overdue use of the notes I took at the White House’s Demo Day last August.

3/5/2016: March 5, 2016 — Bill Carey, Daniel Eran Dilger and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

My latest appearance on this podcast involved a lot of discussion of the Apple-encryption case, plus a little banter about what the next iPhone might look like.

Weekly output: data caps, enterprises and startups, semi-anonymous social media, T-Mobile price plans, social media and Paris attacks

I had a fun few days in New York at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Consumer Technology Association’s Innovate conference. I’d also planned to spend some of my time in Manhattan at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, but learning only hours before that a talk by Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts had been made off-limits to the press (aside from Fast Company’s Harry McCracken, who himself didn’t know about this rule and his exclusion from it) annoyed me enough to skip the rest of that conference. Here’s a little event-planning FYI: don’t indulge in that sort of control-freakery. You will only annoy the press, and word will get out on social media anyway.

11/11/2015: Cap as Cap Can: Comcast, T-Mobile Redefine Data Limits in Ways You May Not Like, Yahoo Tech

One point I could have made in this post but did not: Comcast’s devotion to fairness apparently stops with business customers, who face no such data tiers.

11/12/2015: Witness the Symbiosis Between Enterprises and Startups, Tech.Co

Tech.Co’s Will Schmidt wrote up the panel I moderated at the Celebrate conference last month. The post also includes full video of our discussion.

CAM Summit panel11/13/2015: How Social is Going Private: Snapchat, Texting and New Platforms, Campaigns & Marketing Summit

I had the easiest job as moderator ever because my panelists–Sherri Anne GreenJenn KauffmanKat Murti, and Emily Rasowsky--knew their stuff, enjoyed debating it and didn’t step over each other’s lines. I hope the organizers post video of our talk at some point.

11/13/2015: T-Mobile’s new deal will mean rate hikes for some users, USA Today

The feedback loop on this one got a little crazy when T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted his annoyance at the headline’s suggestion that some T-Mo subscribers would pay more. That’s a fair complaint, since the carrier didn’t touch plans in effect before Sunday–as the story itself makes clear. My editor said we’d take another look at the headline, but as of Sunday night it had not been changed.

11/14/2015: Social media and the Paris attacks, WTOP

The news station had me on to talk about how social media carried news of Friday’s atrocities in Paris and then gave people ways to, as I put it, scream, cry or wonder why. A busy schedule that Saturday meant I had to do the interview sitting in our parked car while our daughter’s soccer team was playing on the adjacent field, which is not an ideal situation in multiple ways.

Caring about social sharing, more or less

I recently made a non-trivial change in how I share links to my work on social media, and I’ll bet you didn’t notice: I stopped touting my work on Tumblr and resumed sharing it on Google+.

Social-network icons

But why would you, when my Tumblr presence has seen so little (sorry, buzzword alert) engagement since I opened an account there in February 2012 basically to augment my social-media literacy?

I had no idea at the time that in less than two years Yahoo would have bought Tumblr and that I would begin writing for a Yahoo site that uses Tumblr as part of its editing system. In other words, so much for worrying about being Tumblr-illiterate.

I kept on sharing a link to each new story to my several dozen Tumblr followers anyway, but a few weeks ago, Yahoo Tech switched to a new editing workflow that required me to set up a new Tumblr account. Having to log in and out of accounts on the same site as I alternate between writing stories and sharing them makes for a lot more work.

At almost the same time, I got some professional advice that Tumblr is not the right place to market your work anyway: At a panel during the Online News Association’s conference, Mashable’s Ryan Lytle said less than 1 percent of Tumblr posts are link shares, making that site “not a traffic play.”

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that while Google+ isn’t going to threaten Facebook or Twitter anytime soon, it continues to function fairly wel as an off-site comments thread. It does, however, remain the last place I share my work, after my Facebook page and then Twitter: Not only is my audience there smaller than on Twitter, Google+ doesn’t give me any useful analytics about how many people saw a post and clicked on its link. Maybe I’ll ditch G+ too in six months?

That ONA panel reminded me that I could be doing a lot more to flack for myself online–notice my absence from Instagram and Snapchat and my pitiful Pinterest participation?–but my leading occupational hazard is online distraction. I’d like to think that limiting my social-media marketing gives me that much more time to participate in the oldest social network of all, e-mail, but we all know how behind I am at that.

 

Weekly output: location tracking, lost iOS passcode

I hope this week and next involve a minimum of actual work for you all. But if your jobs have any connection to CES, I know that’s not going to happen.

Location-tracking Yahoo Tech story12/23/2014: Smartphone Location Tracking: How to Turn (Some of) It Off, Yahoo Tech

This was a pretty wonky topic, and I don’t know that I addressed it to my own satisfaction. But if it got even a small fraction of my readers to log into Google or Facebook to see their own location-history records–and then think of the equivalent data AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon keep but won’t display–then it was worth the trouble.

12/28/2014: Lost iOS passcode plus no backups equals lost data, USA Today

I was worried that a column on a holiday weekend about a problem most users don’t experience would get zero readership. Instead, there’s a lively if not always coherent debate in the comments. It includes one complaint (rudely phrased but not off-base) that I didn’t note that you can tell your iPhone or iPad to trust a given computer–which should let you run a final backup cycle to iTunes without unlocking your device before doing a complete restore that will remove that screen lock.

Weekly output: EU vs. Google, Tech Night Owl, Sprint WiMax resellers

This has been a rotten week for journalism, courtesy of Rolling Stone’s failure to follow the newsroom mantra “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” when reporting a gruesome allegation of gang rape at the University of Virginia. My own week in journalism was better, but I’m not going to say it represented my best work.

12/2/2014: The European Union Wants to Regulate Google —Some More, Yahoo Tech

The EU’s increasingly shrill attacks on Google led to a column in which I sound suspiciously like a Republican (maybe even more than when I’m discussing San Francisco’s screwed-up housing policy). But in retrospect, I should have ended the column on a different note: By acting like the confiscatory villains in an Ayn Rand novel, the EU invites us to dismiss all of its critiques of Google, even the ones that might have a grounding in the facts.

12/6/2014: December 6, 2014 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

Host Gene Steinberg and I talked about the present and possible future of the Apple TV, net-neutrality politics, Windows 10, 4K TV and a few other things.

USAT column on Sprint Wimax resellers12/7/2014: 4G me not: WiMax isn’t LTE and is going away at Sprint resellers, USA Today

I don’t always get to write my own headlines, but my editor at USAT appreciates the help and I don’t mind making the effort–especially when this kind of wordplay pops into my head. The research involved in this  piece about companies reselling Sprint service will also play into an upcoming story about wireless broadband.

A modest proposal: How Google can weigh “right to be forgotten” requests

I took part in a panel discussion of the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” privacy directive earlier today, and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to one of the thornier aspects of that rule: How is any one company, even one with the resources of Google, going to adjudicate all of those requests?

Google RtbF searchThat’s turned out to be a much bigger problem than I’d feared when I covered this issue in a Yahoo Tech column in May. At the end of July, Google reported that it had received more than 91,000 requests from EU citizens asking to have particular links not shown in response to searches for their names. And many were sketchy in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious:

… we may not become aware of relevant context that would speak in favour of preserving the accessibility of a search result. An example would be a request to remove an old article about a person being convicted of a number of crimes in their teenage years, which omits that the old article has its relevance renewed due to a recent article about that person being convicted for similar crimes as an adult. Or a requester may not disclose a role they play in public life, for which their previous reported activities or political positions are highly relevant.

At the panel, I suggested there was only one fair way to resolve this, and I’ll expand on it here.

It’s clear that Google will have to research each “RtbF” request carefully to see if it falls under the EU’s exceptions for people in public life or whose activities would otherwise involve the public’s right to know. The history of search-engine abuse shows you can’t count on everybody to act ethically about their image online–and when that kind of manipulation goes uncaught by unscrupulous individuals, innocent people suffer.

But that’s not enough. Lest Google inadvertently hide material from somebody about to launch a business or a political campaign, it would be wise to check for evidence of any upcoming ventures into the public sphere by an individual. The history of “RtbF” abuse so far leaves little other choice.

EU citizens, in turn, deserve a timely response to their right-to-be-forgotten queries. The simplest way to do that for a company with Google’s search traffic and computing capabilities would be to do some advance work: It could merge its own records with other sources to determine which EU citizens clearly qualify as being in public life, which ones rank as private citizens and which ones seem likely to cross that threshold either way. To avoid unduly burdening smaller search sites also subject to the “right to be forgotten” directive, Google could allow them access to these records as well.

And so Google would come to protect the privacy of EU citizens by maintaining a massive database about them.

An extreme solution for a problem that can be solved by easier, simpler means in the real world? Yes, that’s my point.

Weekly output: mobile-app privacy, Google I/O (x5), Fort Reno, TiVo and SDV

One of these links is not like the others; five of them are very much like each other.

6/24/2014: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Give a New App Access to Your Personal Data, Yahoo Tech

I’m used to playing a grumpy old man, but I’m rarely in such a get-off-my-Internet mood as I was when writing this post about overhyped mobile apps.

6/25/2014: Google Announces Two New Directions for Android, Yahoo Tech

The first of three quick posts I wrote during the Google I/O keynote, this one sums up the day’s hardware and software news for Android.

6/25/2014: With Android TV, Google Turns Its Eyes to Larger Screens (Again!), Yahoo Tech

Here, I compared the debut of Android TV to the snakebit launch of Google TV four years ago. (Fun fact: My neighbor across the street is one of the few individuals to have purchased a Google TV box.)

6/25/2014: MIA at I/O: 8 Products That Google Didn’t Mention, Yahoo Tech

It’s good practice to notice what products or principles go unmentioned in a tech company’s keynote.

Google Cardboard post6/25/2014: Move Over, Google Glass: Here Comes Google Cardboard, Yahoo Tech

I wrapped up the day by describing this fun little experiment in cheapskate virtual reality.

6/27/2014: Man in Screamingly Loud Paisley Shirt Explains Google’s Subtle New Design Language, Yahoo Tech

I talked about Google’s new “Material Design” initiative for about half an hour with Google design v.p. Matias Duarte. I wish I could take credit for that memorable headline, but I can’t.

6/27/2014: D.C. Reflects: What Fort Reno’s Concert Series Meant To Us, D.C. Music Download

After the organizers of these annual free concerts in Northwest D.C. said they wouldn’t happen this year, courtesy of a last-minute demand by the U.S. Park Police that they pay to keep an officer onsite for each concert, I griped about the news on Twitter. Writer Stephanie Williams then e-mailed to ask if I could comment further, and so there I am next to all these people whose indie-rock creed goes beyond seeing Fugazi play Fort Reno two or three times.

6/29/2014: How to use TiVo with Time Warner Cable, USA Today

A query from a friend’s dad that I thought would be simple turned out to be complicated. And maybe even my abbreviation-dense answer was itself not complex enough; after the story ran, veteran gadget blogger Dave Zatz tweeted that TWC’s control-freak application of a copying restriction blocks a remote-viewing feature in newer TiVo DVRs.