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Siri, Did You Just Judge Me?

Siri, Did You Just Judge Me?

It was only a few weeks ago that I read a little article about the political beliefs of the new iPhone 4S, a small matter in which the all-knowing Siri voice interaction app on the iPhone 4S was unable to provide guidance on abortion clinics. An immediate uproar came about proclaiming that “SIRI is pro life!” despite the odd and off-putting fact that Siri will provide you a place to stash that dead body you…found.

While it is not complete folly to believe someone might possibly have programmed Siri to judge your need for an abortion I, personally, find it rather unlikely that one of the largest technology companies in the world has all of a sudden become active in abortion politics. It would be pertinent to remember at this point that the late CEO, Steve Jobs, for whom Siri represents the pinnacle of an enormously important and creative career, has advocated his use of LSD as among the most important creative experiences of his life. Call me crazy but I don’t think this is a man that held an incredibly conservative world view, nor is it likely he advocated one in his brainchild, Siri.

Siri is in fact only a piece of software. She is programmed to do many things, and the distinctly human-esque manner in which she does so is incredibly clever. However the fact that she can not find you an abortion clinic is likely a problem with an equation deep within it’s millions of lines of binary and likely driven by a distinct allergen abortion clinics have to the political controversy surrounding their existence, and the word that describes it. In English: this is likely a product of modern search engine marketing techniques and keyword choice. However by interpreting, or attempting to interpret, your voice commands with such a high level of sophistication Siri suddenly brings the iPhone to a plain of intelligence formerly only occupied by animals with blood in their veins. All of a sudden Siri is judging us, “she” is our peer.

Therein lies the odd transition that has come to the world with Siri, a truly transformational advancement of human interaction with technology, and which is brought into distinct relief with this debate about “her” moral beliefs. All of a sudden an app is anthropomorphized to “her” and Siri begins giving us the idea of some semblance of humanity within the lines of code, of judgements and moral convictions amongst the bits of data. While this is a common human behavior, ascribing human characteristics to things we find dear, it does not actually make Siri at all human. Siri will not be endorsing a candidate for President this year, she does not notice you’ve put on a few pounds and she does not crave your attention or flowers on occasion, she’s just taught to act like she cares because you like it. You’re only human, after all.

Initial Reaction: Google+

Initial Reaction: Google+

I have long written about the distinct difference in design between what I see as the leading social networks, Facebook and Twitter, and that difference is the open or closed nature of the network.

To reiterate the basics of this discussion, the tennets of which remain largely the same despite upgrades that bring both networks closer to each other in function, Facebook was designed to foster existing social circles while Twitter was largely designed as a broadcast medium that, when left to it’s default settings, speaks to a boundlessly open community. The major function that makes the two services similar, the ability to share your life with people, is indeed mirrored by both as well as other social networks the major difference is who exactly you are sharing that information with. Google+ seems eager to bridge the divide.

Google has recently released its social media offering, Google+, in a package looking very much like Facebook but having a few notable functional differences that could give the preeminent social network something to be concerned about. Google+ is largely organized around “circles” with which you can share information. This is the most important contribution of Google+ because this arrangement better mirrors actual organization of our social lives, therefore better mirroring and adapting to real life social interactions. Like a vinn diagram, for those diagram geeks out there, you can have multiple circles and those circles overlap as social circles tend to do. Most importantly with every post you choose which circles should be informed, and which should not, allowing you to use Google+ at work and choose against informing all of your colleagues. This solves one of the greatest flaws I have long seen with Facebook: lumping everyone, from loose acquaintances to your dearest mother, into one single category of “friend.” I am well aware that Facebook has, for some time, allowed you to group your friends into various categories and manage what they can see and not see however this functionality has always seemed an afterthought and a bit tedious to manage. With Google+ the underlying assumption is that you have a complex web of relationships that call for different levels of information and from the moment the relationship is made, by adding someone to your circles, you define that relationship.

Somewhat brilliantly, by allowing you to better manage the flow of information to your acquaintances based on relationships you define, Google+ has straddled the line between open and closed social networks. The network with whom you are sharing is as large or as small as you want it. With G+ you are not asked to confirm a friend, but given the opportunity to “follow back” or not if you choose, making the creation of relationships far closer to Twitter than it is to Facebook. While it is still not clear to me after only a few days of use what the dynamics of this will be, and how information will be shared if one or the other is not “circled” by the other, it is quite clear that the process will not require a direct “approval” of a person as a contact. Twitter, in its default settings, behaves much the same way with one very large difference: there is no way to throttle information based on the receiving party. If your boss tries to follow you on Twitter, private account or not, you can only say yes or no. With G+ you can accept with an asterisk, keeping that person in a circle but keeping that circle as informed as you deem appropriate.

By the way Google Buzz has been added as part of Google Plus, making the platform a great deal like Facebook with Twitter-like Buzz built in.

There are a few other important things to note as well.

Mobile: Google+ has not yet released an iPhone or iPad app which, of course, are at the forefront of our mobile media universe and very necessary for the likes of me to access Plus with any regularity. The Android app is available already which, I certainly hope, does not surprise you. The web app for Google Plus Mobile is the dullest interface I have ever seen and reinforces my belief that HTML5 based mobile web apps are a shoddy way, at best, to reach a mobile market. While it is slightly better than nothing it is very limited in what you see and how you interact, therefore on mobile I have often simply viewed it through the desktop interface which kind of works sometimes.

Images: The display of images is gorgeous, in my opinion, and is designed to maximize use of screen space to display large thumbnail images. Scrolling over an image in the album display page is an easy way to get a clear preview of the image, though the thumbnails are already quite large. Clicking on an image brings up a huge, easily navigable, lightbox-type picture theater in your browser window that is far larger than that found on Facebook.

Basic reaction: Google+ is very much a day late to this game but it is not a dollar short. G+ improves on the functions of the two major social networks, Twitter and Facebook, while lacking a bit on mobile accessibility which, I can only imagine, will be sorted out shortly.

Google+ may have done with social networking what Gmail did for email when it was introduced: refined it very effectively. Being tied directly into the Gmail user base should give it a good boost but the question is: does anyone need another social network?


Data Breaches Spiked to New Highs in 2010

According to a new report by Verizon and the U.S. Secret Service, a record number of data breaches were reported in 2010, though the number of compromised records dropped dramatically to 4 million in 2010 from 144 million in 2009. That the “all-time lowest amount of data loss” was recorded alongside the “all-time highest amount of incidents investigated” presents a strange juxtaposition. The report conjectures that the most likely reason for the disparity is that cyber criminals are penetrating security breaches by pursuing smaller, “opportunistic” attacks rather than large-scale attacks. Read full article…


Why Tweeting Only Sounds Ridiculous

For months I avoided it. I knew it was coming, after all I am a complete addict for social media, but also knew that I might not emerge before my eyes went blind from screen-itis.

I joined the now ever-present Twitter a few months ago as an experiment. I had no idea what it was, why it was, or how it was and as a matter of fact the only thing I did know is that it was becoming somewhat obnoxiously wide spread. So, in search of my own ability to stay relevant I signed up (ok you can follow thinkingpress here) and ever so slowly I started to get it.

For those of you who might have been pulling an ostrich the last few months Twitter is a single action website for sharing things with other people. No, it doesn’t do anything else, and even on that task it limits you to 140 characters. So you may be asking yourself what on earth is the point of a sharing service that doesn’t let you share anything outside of a short sentence, what is the point is what I asked and I love my point of view enough to have a blog.

I had already missed the point, of course. Twitter is the inevitable current end point of the simplification of online communication to a remarkably simple and surprisingly effective task: sharing information. Be it an article, a thought, a picture, a video or an exclaimation people tend to want to share these days. This is important because the heart of any community is in what they share and while it used to be that, for the most part, that meant sharing a socio-economic standing and a geographical location today it means sharing information, sharing a point of view, sharing knowledge.

Sure, there are still so called “brick and mortar” communities and there always will be, but a larger more complex human community is being built every day at a rate that I don’t think we realize. I share ideas, information, pictures and conversation with people I will likely never meet or never need to meet however I have become inexplicably more connected to the world around me. Yesterday for instance, on a monitoring service for twitter called Twitscoop, I found out within 3 minutes of it occuring that there had been an earthquake in Los Angeles. Not a single news outlet covered the (low magnitude) quake, however I was clearly informed of it in enough time to call my brother in said city within 6 minutes of it happening.

Human networks are only just beginning to fruitfully use the internet as a medium, and even further behind on understanding it, but we are moving toward a world that creates clear and relevant connections between people of all races, faiths and geographical locales. We are more connected than we have ever been and the impact on our world has only barely begun to rise over our collective horizon. At my age my father remembers the first computer, an enormous punch card machine with maybe a few kilobytes of memory, where do you think we’ll be in 50 years at this rate?


Is Google Failing?

For years now I have been in awe of Google™. It is a monstrously large company with a market capitalization of 162 billion which, for a time, seemed to have innovation coded down to a science. Today, however, things seem to be changing for the enormous company and it makes me wonder about the health of the company and the outlook for its future. Now, to be fair, Google™ has plenty of successes to point to. Google™ search is still the top search engine in the United States by some measure despite intense competition from Microsoft’s newest baby: Bing. Gmail, their web based mail service, is easily one of the finest email and webmail products since the introduction of the medium and the related value added services of Google™ Calendar, and Docs remain incredibly strong competition to industry standbys provided by Microsoft Exchange/Office and Hotmail. Android and Chrome have seen a great deal of excitement and some success in capturing market share, especially in the case of the mobile market with Android as recent numbers show. But there are also significant projects that have failed, in some cases miserably, to meet expectations and these require a close look. The first of these is Google Wave, one of the most hyped web technologies this decade, which failed to meet anything close to the expectation heaped on top of it by company leaders. While it was supposed to revolutionize communications it very simply did not, it ended up answering the question nobody asked as it combined the idea of real-time with the existing ideas of chat, collaborative documents and commenting. The design was clumsy, the case for use was vague and ultimately indiscernible, and the user interface left you feeling confused about what exactly you were doing here and all this has led to the service being largely abandoned. Despite enormous effort Google simply failed to deliver. Another example of, albeit more subtle, failure was the introduction of the once all important “G-Phone” the Nexus One. As Google ratcheted up a brewing war against Apple Computer after a falling out between the two companies it invested itself for the first time in manufacturing a handset to rival the smartphone market leader: the iPhone. While the phone was indeed well reviewed upon its launch it has only been in the news recently because large carriers have dropped the device from their line (Sprint and Verizon have both canceled their plans to carry the device). While Android continues to do relatively well in the smartphone market it is quite clear that Google’s attempt to enter the handset market was simply half-assed and failed to deliver true innovation. Coming down the road we have another large scale attempt from Google to show itself as a major hardware technology innovator with its coming tablet, allegedly being being developed with Verizon, hyped as an “iPad Killer.” I would hazard to guess at this point that this product will likely not come too close to killing the wildly popular new iPad for one clear reason: poor product development. Apple, a company that has exploded in the technology world with products like the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad, has made a science out of creating highly functional and appealing products that meet or exceed incredibly high levels of hype. Google has shown that, while it may be a major hardware player one day, its product development process is far from that of the leading company and it seems to lack a certain level of innovative creativity keeping their products from reaching that soaring plateau Apple live upon. Whether Google will overcome what, I believe, is an innovation block akin to writers block is yet to be seen. It seems clear however that Google can be beat and likely will be consistently unless something within the company changes.