Online Tools

Google Gets Into the Hotel Business

I had an idea: Now that Google is expanding into non-Internet related businesses like self-driving cars and mining asteroids, something they might want to consider are hotels.

Why? Because they already don’t care about your privacy, and this could be a big advantage for a hotelier. Hear me out.

Every room is wired with microphones and cameras – everything you do and say is recorded. This way, if you’re hungry and you say so, you get a call from room service asking what you’d like to order. Granted, maybe you want to go out to eat, but Google needs your money so you’ll just have to get through them first.

When you do brush off room service because you want to go out, you get another call from the concierge. They heard what you said, and so they called you a cab from the company the hotel has partnered with.

If you come back later that night with someone you met, maybe you’ll have sex. That’s when the bellman will show up at your door with a selection of condoms from the gift shop you may be interested in purchasing.

Don’t worry about who is going to see and hear all of this information they’re recording, though. It’s all anonymous. So if that person you took back to your room isn’t your wife or husband, no one will ever know.

Unless your wife or husband is a law enforcement official. Then it will magically be pretty unanonymous.

After all, if you’re doing something in a hotel room you don’t want other people to know about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it, right? Hey, if you don’t like it, you can always go to another hotel.

Unfortunately, in this scenario, Google Hotels controls 66.8% of the market, and it’s nearest competitor Bing is doing the exact same nefarious shit.

If all that sounds crazy, why are Google’s online policies not considered just as crazy?

All of this is just about exactly what they did when they decided all information would be shared across all of the platforms they own. On the surface, it never sounded too terrible: If you’re searching for an Adam Sandler movie, maybe later on YouTube will show you some more Adam Sandler movies since you showed an interest in it. So what?

The problem is if you don’t want that kind of help from Google, it’s damn hard to get out of it. The privacy policy may be shared, but there are a number of different avenues you have to take to opt out of them.

And in some cases you can’t. I own an Android phone – the OS created by Google. In order for it to function, I have to use a Google login. Once I do, Google records my name, address, phone number, and the serial number for my device – and adds it to my Google account record. I cannot tell Google to leave that information out, I cannot delete it once it has been added. I am locked into their idea of “convenience,” which does more for them to learn about me than it does to make their products function better.

Also, like in the metaphorical hotel, Google says their data collection is anonymous, that no one could determine who you are based on what they get. However, Google can easily give law enforcement officials your search records at the drop of a court order.

Now, I actually have no problem with law enforcement officials getting this kind of information with a valid court order. What I cannot understand is how something supposedly “anonymous” can tell the police anything about an individual user. If this data really didn’t point directly at me, police wouldn’t have any use for it. That the police keep subpoenaing this information shows Google can tell whose records are whose, and is telling its users a bald-faced lie.

The one way I’ve found around giving Google too much of what I think is too much, I use separate logins for all of their properties. I have one Google login for work, another for socializing on Google Plus, another for YouTube, and yet another for my phone. The idea is they cannot share between accounts because they don’t know each of these profiles is me. I can’t be sure this works, though. For all I know, they collate all this data into one profile for me, with the notation that I’m a smart ass. If they did, I certainly wouldn’t expect they’d tell me.

It also means, oddly, that I cannot use my G+ account on my phone for fear of Google. If they’re tapping my phone conversations, (which they are capable of doing,) it doesn’t matter to me because all they have to connect these to are the fake name I gave them when I created the phone’s Google account. If they tied it into my original Google login, the one I created back when they were still dedicated to not being evil, they would know EVERYTHING about me. And I’d have no way of stopping them.

I’ll leave you with this story, which is apocryphal but I hope true, because it’s brilliant: When Google Maps debuted Street View, a number of people complained because their homes, their cars parked outside, and the license plate numbers on those cars were all visible. These people said their privacy had been invaded. In response, Google’s resident cold, vicious demon – heretofore known as Eric Schmidt – again said that there is no more privacy; You know, that old chestnut.

In response to this, some enterprising bloggers got on Google Maps, and hunted down the view of Eric Schmidt’s house. Then they blogged about it, including the Street View picture, to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Shortly thereafter, Google started to blur the license plate numbers on vehicles it captured.

Whether this is true or not, it does illustrate that privacy isn’t just a concern for criminals or philanderers or people who do things they “maybe shouldn’t be doing in the first place.”

Google needs to fix the +1 idea

If I could change anything about Google Plus, I’d add tagging to the +1s.

Ciao Enrico - Google +1

Years ago delicio.us revolutionized bookmarking with the use of tags. For some reason, an idea this simple wasn’t adopted by Google when they developed the whole +1 philosophy. Which is too bad for +1s.

It’s POTENTIALLY a great bookmarking tool. Unfortunately, the way it works now, everything you +1 gets gunked together into one great big ball of weblink. If they were tagged, you could make a beeline to each link you saved there, anytime you needed it.

If a pop-out was added for anytime someone +1’d something, they could put in a few simple tags to denote why the link is important.

People could also share lists of content this way. It wouldn’t be unlike a collection of YouTube favorites, except I could do it with everything.

Also, advertisers could preload tags onto them, more as suggestions to anyone +1-ing, say, a paid search landing page. Include a “clear all” link so they can be wiped off the +1 if the user doesn’t like what the webmaster put on there, and it removes the impetus to spam.

Google, this should be an easy thing to implement! It’s the kind of product that would give people a reason to stay logged into Google, and using Google Plus.

Please, please, please update the +1 structure with tags. I’ll be your best friend, I swear. 🙂

How to do a “Quick Accept” of a GoDaddy Domain

I got this message from GoDaddy about a domain transfer:

“IMPORTANT: You must log in to your account and Quick Accept or manually accept the domain. If the Change of Account is not complete within 10 days, the transaction of Change of Account will expire.”

However, they didn’t include any instructions on how to do this.

GoDaddy, you really do frustrate us, you know? I only found out how to do this by Googling it. If it’s really so important you need to say “important” in all caps like that, don’t you think it might be important enough to include a link?

Well, because I’m better at this than you are GoDaddy, I have.

If you got the above message in your e-mail while trying to transfer a domain, go to:

http://support.godaddy.com/help/article/1670

Google adds Snippets to Google Maps

I know I already posted about how I wouldn’t post about social media anymore. But I changed my mind. I’m just going to post about what interests me, if it happens to, because frankly I’m not making any money off of this blog anyway. I may as well enjoy myself.

That having been said, I’m going back to one of my favorite subjects today, Google. That is because today Google announced they are adding Snippets – or, “+Snippets, if we are to start correctly employing their attempt at owning addition – to Google Maps.

All you have to do is click on the “Share” button in your G+ toolbar when you’re on a map, and you get a number of options for storing or sending.

Now, if you’ve been wondering why Google Plus would have as much potential as Facebook in the social network arena, this is why.

You see, you probably already use Google Maps anyway. It’s likely you already use Google Search, Gmail and YouTube, right? So you’re reminded that there’s functionality you’re missing out on when you go to these things and don’t have a G+ account of your own.

We’re maybe another two or three years away from Google taking over creating the phone book. The nice thing is, before you call someone, you’ll be able to read their profile, look at satellite images of where they live, get reviews of them from co-workers, read where they like to eat…

Slowly but surely, Google is creating a stalker’s paradise, where no one will have privacy or be protected. Who else is looking forward to all those home invasions?

Why I don’t love the Cloud

There’s a lot of talk about Cloud Computing lately. There’s been a lot for the past couple of years, but with Apple’s announcement of the iCloud, everyone’s doing the talking.

iCloud Media Cloud

This is also something Google has gotten into, with their Google Music and to an extent Google Docs. So this isn’t just a slam against Apple, they’ve just gotten all of the press lately.

Like most good ideas, iCloud is a simple one: Since there are so many devices you may have – an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, and/or an Apple computer, iCloud would be the place where all of your files and contacts live, so all of your devices can be synced up easily. Rather than living on your base computer’s hard drive, and updating everything one by one, the Cloud will simply do it for you. What’s more, your files would be accessed wirelessly and not have to live on an old fashioned, poopy hard drive.

So where do I begin with my complaints on this? All of them stem from two things that drive me crazy with modern technology: The over-large corporation that tells its users this is a good idea, and the mass of users who go along with the hype.

First off, storing all of my files on an Apple server means I no longer have my own files. There is a flimsy contract between the provider and myself that my files will be secure and always waiting for me. What happens when they aren’t though? If I am a salesman, and I lose all my contacts through a snafu with their cloud, how will I be compensated for all the lost sales that would result?

Then there’s the purely selfish reason: I have a LOT of illegally burned content. Not necessarily stolen, but I do burn my own copies of CDs and DVDs – if you’ve been online for at least a few years, you do too. What’s to say the owner of the cloud service doesn’t bow down to the RIAA or Paramount or Universal, and let them look over my collection to see if there’s anything lawsuit-worthy?

Finally, assuming there aren’t any technical or draconian legal issues, there’s still the problem of bandwidth. Loading all of your music onto the iCloud and syncing it with your iPad on the go is great – until everyone else does it too. I actually like the idea of cloud computing to store some files. But what happens when everyone’s device relies on a mobile data plan to get its music?

What happens is everything will get slower.

It is possible to get enough servers and towers to make this work. That will be incredibly expensive, of course, and that cost will be passed onto the consumer – namely, you. And me, in fact, whether I use it or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a year or two Android or iPhone data plans drive the monthly cost up to $200 per month.

The current cost is already too high for something as simple as a phone in my opinion. All the market needs to do is tell companies they’re willing to spend twice as much on their service just to avoid manually syncing devices. Then they can charge almost as much as they want to.

All just so Apple can stop putting hard drives in iPods, and sell you more crap exclusively on iTunes? It sounds like we’re all lining up for a major screwing.

Service Code: Netflix’s other neat idea

We all know what Netflix is by now, so I won’t bother starting with that. Movies, ques, blah blah blah.

But I found something new about their site last night that is such a brilliant idea, I’m surprised other websites with a lot of Customer Service call volume haven’t adopted it: Online Service Codes.

Here’s how it works – you have  a problem with Netflix for whatever reason. You’re logged into their site, and you click the “contact us” link on their page. What you get is something that looks like this:

Netflix knows most people come to the “contact us” page because they have a problem. A lot of companies hide their customer service phone number on their site because they don’t want to hear from customers with a problem. Netflix seems to understand they need to be available to their customers if they want to keep them.

So they have a link to their customer service phone number plainly visible on the contact page. (Beneath the two other links for most common problems of course – still need to try to keep the call volume down!) But when you click on the CS number, you also get a wait time for your call, so you can try again later if it’s bad, and a service code.

This service code is what really has me jazzed. When you call in, rather than go through the standard giving of name, customer ID, address, phone number, secret question… you simply give this number while on hold, waiting for the operator. Since you can only get this code while logged in, the system generates a code that verifies you, and gets the operator into your account.

Simple! So why isn’t everyone using this? Why am I still trying to remember the Arizona state bird or my first girlfriend’s last name whenever I have password trouble with Bank of America?

Looking around, I see other write ups on Netflix’ service code dating back two years, so it isn’t exactly new technology – but it does seem to still be relegated only to Netflix. If anyone else is using it, either they aren’t big enough to notice or they aren’t bragging about it.

Still, it’s damn smart and I wish all companies with call centers were using it.

What I love about.me

If you’re digitally hip, you’ve likely heard of this site before – about.me.

But if you’re normal, you haven’t. Normal people don’t care about things like this. They just care about e-mail and Facebook at best. Twitter is one of those dumb things you hate because you can’t get into it. QR codes seem designed to make you feel inadequate because you can’t even install Angry Birds onto your phone without throwing it across the room, much less a QR scanner.

The truth is, though, that’s why about.me is such a perfect site for the technically challenged: It is an online business card that introduces you to anyone who lands on it. It’s less of a “social networking” site than it is a social networking Hamburger Helper – it accentuates what you’re doing, but doesn’t add anything to the content.

Okay, bad metaphor. Moving on…

I'm an SEO, a blogger and a zombie killer.

About.me works because it’s easy to get, easy to use, easy to understand. AOL recently bought them, I think because they see the potential behind the online business card and want to grab it up before it becomes expensive.

If you’re a tech geek, it’s great because you can show the various profiles you have on other sites like WordPress, Twitter, Flickr, Linkedin, whatever.

For the luddites in the audience, (see how the word “luddite” is underlined and/or colored differently depending on your browser preferences? That’s because it’s a link – if you’re a luddite, you can click on it to find out what you are!) about.me is easy to use and easy to understand. You simply plug in the URLs of the sites you’re on and like into the profile when you sign up. When you need to add a page link to yourself somewhere, if you don’t have a blog or site of your own, you can leave your about.me page in it’s place.

This is my own about.me page. This took about 10 minutes to sign up, and as you can see it has links to a LOT of different profiles on the web. While it gives me a lot of options for modifying the look, the majority of the screen is whatever picture I want to upload to it. I like that too – it means I get to dominate the look of my page. Where Facebook dictates the entire look of the page, and WordPress practically requires a Master’s degree in tedious coding to make it pretty, all about.me needs is a picture.

Finally, it’s a lot less obnoxious sharing an about.me page than it is a lead gen form or a blog on social media profiles. Sure, you don’t get all the traffic from your profile link to your blog – that’s a strike against it. But if you’re more into sharing your real life with people, you look less like a desperate marketer and more like an actual, real life person.

Check it out – it’s very cool stuff.

Top 5 Useless New Technologies

There are a lot of gadget toys available to us these days. They’re all pretty neat, but how useful are any of them anyway? These five are, in my opinion, the most worthless of the lot.

Sorry ladies - theyre married!

1) Facetime/Video Phone Calls

I know a lot of Apple people will, again, cry foul at this. It’s a great idea, and why do I keep bashing Apple? I’m doing it because no one uses Facetime, and no one asked for it. How many people bought an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch because it afforded them the ability to place a video call? I sure don’t hear anyone telling me to get one so they can see me while they’re talking to me.

And I’m incredibly handsome!

Out of curiosity, I ran a search for, “does anyone need Facetime,” just to see if there was any consensus on this. What I found were forum posts from people asking complete strangers if they had an iPhone 4, and could they call them “just to try this Facetime thing out.” There’s even an article on how Apple now has a service so you can Facetime them, because they know full well no one uses this thing.

BTW, can this really be called “innovation” when most laptops now have built-in cameras, and there are programs like Skype that people don’t use very much either? The only industry that’s found any niche with video chat so far are sex cams. And I don’t see too many consumers or marketing people in that industry doing a lot of bragging.

2) QR Codes/MS Tags

Heres the QR code for this very post - if you really care.

Both of these things come from the same idea: A physical bar code that can be read by a phone, and call up a web site or video for the consumer. See one on your favorite soda? Scan it and see a commercial for the movie “Avatar!” That’ll be fun!

But it’s not. Setting up the app to scan these things for most users isn’t easy, and the payoff is just seeing the company’s advertising. That’s so lame it defies language.

3) Augmented Reality

Here’s one that sprang up a while back and never took off. The idea was that, though your phone’s camera, you could see your surroundings with additional information – like the location of your Twitter friends, or Google Maps information on the shops your camera was looking at.

The reason this flopped seems to be two-fold: First, an app has to be set up, which is not fun to have to do. I know the first few that came out required several apps running at once. I, like most, gave up after that.

Second, the result was never terribly Earth shattering. Sure, it’s tripy to see a row of restaurants with their review information hanging over them, but actually reading the reviews is easier on a plain old flat page of text.

4) Geosocial Networking

I’m looking at you, Foursquare and Gowalla and Facebook Places. I’ve bitched about these things long enough I don’t feel I need to do much more here. But I did finally, for the last time, end my relationship with Foursquare because of the fruitlessness of it. No one cares where you went to lunch today, no one cares that you’re the Mayor of the local pizzeria, and getting 1/2 off a taco when you buy another taco of equal or lesser value is a stupid offer. I’ll just buy two tacos, and not look like another douche playing with his phone in public, thank you.

5) 3-D

That James Cameron decided this was the “Next Big Thing” should have clued in  everyone that this was not the next big thing. I saw “Tron: Legacy” last week at IMAX, in 3D, and you know what? The IMAX screen is what was impressive – but I forgot I was looking at anything in 3-D.

In fact halfway through the movie I was trying to force myself to see the 3-D and couldn’t. My mind had adjusted to depth – just the way it does when I’m in the real world. The real world is 3-D and I don’t hear anyone saying, “Wow! Driving is such a rush! It’s like all the other cars are coming at me! Classic.”

Even Adolph Hitler knows "Avatar" sucked.

My point with all of these things is that they will not last, unless the developers of these technologies can find an easy way to make us need them. E-mail didn’t need much to become widespread because it’s simple to set up, and simple to understand. It came along when people wrote letters – on paper! – so the concept was pretty easy to get.

If all these companies celebrating their innovation were really innovating, they’d work on fulfilling a current need. Creating a solution, then telling us how we have the need for it, when we don’t, is silly and wasteful.

Facebook Video Ads – They’re great, and hopefully can stay great

Facebook Video Ads

Normally I’m pretty down on paid placements and Facebook. I mean, I know they can work for advertising, but usually they’re both a drag. But I have to admit, I really do like the Facebook video ad placements.

The ad for Target works better than a TV ad for one simple reason: They know you have the option to play it or not, so they try to make it worth your while. Rather than pimp several products at you at once, they just let you know about the sale.

Their approach, “I made a funny video,” acknowledges the culture of online videos the ad exists in. That is, most of the content actual people create and upload has the same kind of thinking as their ad – “look’it me!!! I’m being funny! Aren’t I funny!?! Watch me dance, Mama! Watch me dance!” I love that they were smart enough to see that, and play off of it.

Facebook Video Ads

But that’s just content. Getting back to the mechanism itself, it doesn’t try to promote all of the products Target that will have on sale this weekend, the way Television ads try to do. With TV, they fire off a slew of on-sale products to get them lodged in your head before you can change the channel.

If Facebook can adequately quality control the video content that’s used for these placements, this could be a very profitable marketing channel. That is, they’d need to make sure no one puts up video ads that are crap just because they have deep enough pockets.

Let’s say I’m a restaurant owner, and I make a commercial that’s really, really bad. It’s bad because I’m an unqualified, untalented shit, and my real job is running my restaurant. But I can afford an ad buy on Facebook, and they let me, so it appears on everyone’s page who lives within 100 miles of my restaurant. If my ad is bad enough, it could turn people off to ever video ad that appears in that space. I might get some exposure, but Facebook will be allowing me to foul their ad space.

It’s the same thing that killed paid placements on search engines. The reason people don’t trust paid search the way they do natural search is there’s no filter for paid ads – just a marketer with a credit card. With natural search you at least get Google’s assurance that the page they produce has to do with what you’re searching for. With paid you could get almost anything.

So I’m hoping Facebook puts some real care into this placement. It’s the kind of thing that could finally make them money. All they have to do is hold out for quality, and not let any idiot with a Flip Video buy space on it.

12seconds.tv Shutting Down

12seconds.tv

12seconds.tv, the micro vlogging site, is closing it’s doors this month. All of it’s users received an e-mail today (included beneath this post) from founder Sol Lipman saying goodbye.

I have mixed feelings about this, frankly. Last year I posted about the reasons I felt 12seconds never took off like so many people thought it would initially. After that I used the site more, and found I rather liked it – even though my initial criticism was, I feel, correct: People who post video want more than 12 seconds worth, YouTube has a larger potential viewership, and most people aren’t brave enough to constantly shoot video of themselves.

http://embed.12seconds.tv/players/remotePlayer.swf
12erator: The Song That Best Captures How I Feel Today on 12seconds.tv

Above: An example of 12seconds’ embedding code not working. Among all of the other points I made in my initial review of the site, this one is still the most annoying to me. Ah well – what do you want for nothing, right?

Still, the concept for 12seconds did grow on me. After a few months I managed to shoot some bits at least I was happy with. It seems the real magic of 12seconds was that, since you’re only on the spot for a short amount of time, you can only make yourself look so stupid – so go for it because how bad can you possibly make yourself look in 12 seconds?

The problem is, with 20% of social media users actually producing content, far fewer of them are willing to regularly broadcast video of themselves. Not when a Tweet or a Facebook update takes less effort and doesn’t make them self-conscious. It’s a subtle issue that they could never have gotten around, as it was baked into the concept of 12seconds itself.

Actually, given the recent news of Twitter’s updated page, and how they were going to partner with 12seconds.tv among other sites, I thought they were doing better. I had even planned on using them for a project coming up in a Twitter/12seconds hybrid campaign. I guess I’ll be going back to Vimeo after all.

What’s strange to me is that no other site stepped up to buy them. It seems like the kind of concept Facebook would be all over, getting more users to post free content and hopefully make a run for all that YouTube traffic. Perhaps Twitter would have found it more useful, as the only major site that doesn’t have it’s own in-house video solution? Perhaps the site didn’t seek out any offers, and simply wanted to lay it to rest rather than sell it?

Hopefully there will be more details in the coming weeks. Suffice it to say, though, you’ve just lost one more use for that dusty webcam on top of your monitor.

Dear 12ers,

Nearly 3 years ago, David Beach and I decided to grab a beer at a local pub and talk about startup ideas.  I told him a dumb idea and he told me about one called 10seconds.  I said, “we should do that one.”  He said, “okay.”  And that was it.  That is until we figured out that 10seconds.tv was already taken.  12seconds sounded pretty good to us too.

We set out on a journey that would take on a wild ride of ups and downs.  We experienced birth, death and (Beach) even battled cancer.

Today we are announcing the end of 12seconds.

Why?  As you probably know, everything has a life cycle.  12seconds is in its twilight.  After all the new product launches and attempts at a revenue model, fundraising with VCs and late night coding sessions with Jacob hunched over his monitors – it’s time to call it.  It is time to end 12seconds.

However, if 12seconds had a bucket list it would have filled it up with amazing life experiences!  We launched an innovative micro-vlogging system, built crazy mobile apps, created revenue with legit sponsors, we were nominated for awards and had the best users on the Internet – our beloved 12ers.

12seconds is not a failure – it is a life well-lived.  It really is about the journey.  I know this because I’m at the destination.

You’re thinking, “holy crap I made like 1000 12second videos, what do I do?”  Later this week, we’re going to release a download tool for you to capture those moments in time.  It will be available until we pull the plug – on October 22nd.

If you have any questions or want to say goodbye, feel free to reply to this e-mail or click here (goodbye@12seconds.tv) to wish us all well.

There were a lot of team members and users who made 12seconds an incredible experience.  I can’t possibly list them all here but you know who you are.  Finally, to my co-founders Beach and Jacob – I love you guys.

Sol Lipman
Founder