Posts tagged google

Downloading before Google Buzzes off!

Checking my junk mail account on Sunday, I was reminded of Google Buzz's impending demise. Enclosed for your consideration is a typically Rubénerd-esque longwinded story, complete with some more technical notes.

Google Buzz got Pownce’d

Clicking the link in my Gmail profile thing, I was directed to Google Takeout, a service that sounds like I'm taking a quantum physics hard drive out for dinner, but in fact is a service launched by the Data Liberation Front.

This is similar to what Pownce did in 2008 when they realised adding a few token features to a cloned version of Twitter wasn't panning out, and they decided to shut down. The difference here is that Google's Takeout worked, I tried exporting my Pownce profiles dozens of times before giving up. Oh well, everything I had there was just a reposted from Twitter anyway.

Choosing "Buzz" from their worryingly large list of options gave me a link to download my 25MB Buzz archive with 5,654 files.

Cheerio old chap

I've poked gentle fun at Google a lot lately for their litany of discarded and failed social networks, but I'll miss Google Buzz. Not for it's initially terrible privacy concerns or because I used it directly, but for what it did diligently in the background archiving my content from around the web.

Perhaps you used it in the same way, but I had Google Buzz configured to repost all my Google Reader shared items, Friendfeed posts (remember that site?) and tweets, amongst other things. When accessing Gmail using POP (cue the IMAPers!), I realised these items were suddenly being flown to me, emailed if you will. By bees.

I set up a quick filter in my local honeycomb store that is Thunderbird, and suddenly I had a nice archive right here on my local machine of all my content from around the web. Pretty sweet stuff I must say.

This background nectar gathering service was probably not what Google had in mind when they launched it, but it was nevertheless useful, not to mention rather tasty. Oh well, back to subscribing to RSS feeds directly.

Technical Notes

  • The ZIP archive downloaded from Google Takeout consists of all your Google Buzz posts as individual HTML files.

  • Don’t worry about the estimated file size, it’s completely wrong. The initial estimate was 25MB, but was actually only 11.1MiB. I downloaded it three times just to make sure.

  • If you use CookieMonster or an equivalent cookie whitelist because you’re a secure, private munchkin, don’t forget to temporarily enable googleapis.com as well as google.com or you’ll be stuck in an infinite redirect loop.

  • I like honey. Bzzz.

Google Buzz


Google Reader +1 fail

Google Reader's new bland interface

Google Reader may have taken a tremendous step backwards in usability, but it's not the first time it's happened!

Change Numero Uno

When my friends moved from Bloglines to Google Reader around 2007 and I begrudgingly made the switch, I thought the interface was clumsier than the simple UI of Bloglines, but I quickly got used to it. Ironically in the current context of Google+ et al, one of the features I loved about this early Google Reader was its familiar interface with its rounded, friendly, colour coded sidebar.

As I blogged about obsessively at the time, in 2008 the service took a turn for the bland. The colours and rounded edges were replaced with bland, generic shades of blue on a white background. I couldn't see any justification for what they did other than wanting to appear more "professional"; perhaps symptomatic of the transformation at Google from a fun loving to a more serious company.

Google Reader's old bland interface

In any event, I installed a bunch of Greasemonkey scripts to restore some colour and make the UI more interesting again, and forgot about it!

Google+ Reader

Fast forward again to 2011, and the largely stagnent Google Reader got another makeover, this time by imitating the UI of Google+, their fifth (or was it sixth?) attempt at a social network. Whereas before the UI was salvageable with some user styles, this was a complete rewrite, with large swaths of wasted screen real estate, low contrast lines and ugly monochromatic icons that look like they've been lifted from Mac OS X Lion or iTunes 10. Why Apple and Google, why!?

Alex also informed me their iframes (presumably to implement some of their AJAX) weren't even being delivered over HTTPS, which explained why his Chrome browser and my Firefox browser with NoScript and RequestPolicy refused to render the pages at all!

Shared items (the primary reason I went to Google Reader from Bloglines in 2007) were also replaced with tiny Google +1 buttons.

Nagato Yuki reading a book

For some reason I put this picture of Yuki reading a book on one of my old Google Reader posts. I guess I thought it was a metaphor for "reading"… pretty enlightened stuff. But I digress.

We saw this coming

Unfortunately, I think we all saw this coming. Google have tended to afford their various different units with the flexibility to create UIs specific to their products, but thesedays they seem to think generic consistency is more important than functionality. Google+'s design language is being implemented everywhere, regardless of its impact on the utility of their services.

As for the Google +1 buttons over sharing, this was also inevitable, though I think they could have made the transition more elegantly. Why not allow our previously shared items to be converted to +1s, rather than grandfathering all our previous shares and comments?

Again, not to sound like a curmudgeonly old hag who waves kids off his lawn, but this is just further proof that free cloud computing services should always be treated as transient. Feel privileged that you get to use them, because you don't know how long they'll be there in their current form or otherwise.

At least to their credit, Google is allowing us to export our stuff. When the uni holidays start, I might get cracking at writing my own replacement to host on Rubenerd.com, a simple RSS and Atom aggregator that accepts OPML lists, exports a feed of shared items and presents a page of them shouldn't be too hard. Sorry Dave, not a river of news!


YouTube launches in The Singapore

Aiyo, why so long lor?

I do like their (albeit temporary) themed logo though. Can see the Merlion, the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands and the Raffles Place building things. Is my homesickness showing through yet?


Google TinEye?

Now you can use an image to start your Google search


Android #1 mobile platform for malware, but…

Android may overwhelmingly be the target for malware in the mobile space, but as usual the media have got the details wrong!

Kyubey has the Android logo’s eyes and ears!

McAfee's Threat Report for the second quarter of 2011 (PDF link) listed iOS as having no malware, and Android as having an order of magnitude more malware than any other platform. Understandably, the media have pounced on the latter… well, not as much as they would have if it were iOS, but still.

While I'm not an Android fan, the problem here isn't the OS but the OEMs that distribute it. It can be an unclear distinction for most consumers who just see "phones" (which is why the whole iOS versus Android debate is silly) but it's important.

While tech savvy folk would presumably prefer an unmodified copy of Android installed on their phones (the Microsoft Signature Experience, but for Google), their third party PlaysForSure hardware manufacturers have a vested interest in differentiating their products from the competition. This may come in the form of alternative user interfaces, additional applications, and/or modified defaults and branding… all of which would need to be thoroughly tested for compatibility with any Android updates.

They say Branding, she’s a fine girl…

Unlike vertically integrated manufacturers like Apple and RIM that can push updates to all compatible devices as soon as they're made available, official Android updates have to be made available by these manufacturers, some of which are better Android citizens than others.

This middle man approach unavoidably introduces a delay, which is why a startling percentage of Android devices are still running older versions of the OS. It's not Google's fault, or the fault of consumers.

This potentially may have been one of the reasons why Google bought Motorola: by being the manufacturer they could ensure the latest software updates are always made available for their devices, and in a quick and timely fashion. They have experience with pushing regular updates with Google Chrome, this would allow them to do this on mobile hardware as well.

Given the closed direction of Android they've started with Honeycomb, it could be another reason for OEMs to worry.


Now it violates the GPL? Where does this stop?

So we all know Android isn't as open as claimed, but could it even be in violation of the GPL? Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents sides with the SFC and the SFLC and thinks it is; I defer to his expertise.

I'm continuously baffled by just how readily so many F/OSS advocates line up to defend Android, even as Google develops it in a cathedral, flips on their definition of open, closes the code to all but select hardware partners, the sues Microsoft for disclosure of this open code. To me, an OS being misrepresented as free and/or open source is far more damaging to the F/OSS community cause than one that isn't.

If Apple used GPL code in the iOS kernel then did this, it'd cause more than a few heart attacks. As I asked back in the days of Antennagate, why the double standard?

In any event, Google owes the F/OSS community an apology and some action. They're a good company and I'm confident they can correct these problems, if they want to.


Don’t worry, Android is unchanged

“Our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community,” Android head honcho Andy Rubin said in a statement. ~ Wired

Not content with just copying the iPhone UI, now Google is trying their hand at generating their own reality distortion field. It's open, darn it!

Fortunately there are still enough people willing to rush to their defence. ;)


Motoroogle?!

The Motorola Milestone

The manufacturer of my second mobile phone in primary school being bought by my third search engine. Pardon the French, what a mindf*ck!

Legal mumbo jumbo

With the acquisition of Motorola Mobility — the company that was spun off from Motorola because spinoffs are always as successful as they are on television — Google has now officially entered the mobile hardware game.

Of course, with all the marketing hype swept to the side, we know why Google did this: for the patents. Clearly still smarting from declining a share of the Nortel patent portfolio then complaining about it in a rather sorry way, they're now out on the offensive. If you want to sue them for the patents they're violating, they can sue you back!

For a blog of nerdish interests I've talked for far too long about legal nonsense for a while now though, so instead I'd rather talk about the tech itself.

Talking about the tech itself

As I said above, this acquisition (I always though that'd be a great name for a ship) is Google's first move into the hardware business for their handsets. While it may be a further step backwards in their alleged openness, it seems like it was a logical business decision.

In response to the fragmentation and mixed user interface experiences their hardware partners were deploying in order to differentiate their products from every other Android device, Google entered the game with Google branded phones. These reference implementations, dubbed the Microsoft Signature Experience, allowed Google to claim handset makers were free to implement Android however they saw fit, but that there was a Right Way To Do It.™ Namely, that they should use Android exactly as is.

With a hardware division under their wing now, it seems entirely possible Google will develop their own vertically integrated device.

While the likes of HTC are welcoming the move officially, you've got to think their rhetoric about protection from patents will soon be overshadowed by fear. I mean, as a consumer why would you get a Google phone from someone other than Google, particularly given Google develops most of Android in house in an Eric S. Raymond Cathedral and has access to large swaths of closed Android source code they can use to their competitive advantage.

Needless to say, very interesting developments. And feel free to call them Motoroogle too; I just came up with it in my head but I'm sure I haven't been the first to.


My first and last entry on Android patents

The soap opera of Google Android versus Everyone Else continues.

100% phosphorous free

Frank X. Shaw on Twitter:

We offered Google the opportunity to bid with us to buy the Novell patents; they said no.

Why? BECAUSE they wanted to buy something that they could use to assert against someone else.

SO partnering with others & reducing patent liability across industry is not something they wanted to help do

And Brad Smith on Twitter:

Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.

I'm surprised John Gruber of all people would take these Microsoft tweets at face value; at this stage it's just Microsoft's word against Google.

Still, if it's uncovered Google declined to be a part of the patent consortium with Microsoft and Apple because they wanted all the leverage for themselves, it blows their entire altruistic defence argument out of the water.

Update

From the Official Google Blog:

If you think about it, it’s obvious why we turned down Microsoft’s offer. Microsoft’s objective has been to keep from Google and Android device-makers any patents that might be used to defend against their attacks. A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners.

So their logic is, only by having the patents to themselves can they defend the patent infringements in Android, and their competitors know this. This seems to just reinforce Frank X. Shaw's last tweet, this is a move to save themselves not the industry. Gives new meaning to that graphic they used in their Google IO slides.

This goes for Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, Google and everyone else: please treat us with a little respect and be candid about your motivations with all this patent nonsense. We're all getting tired of it.

Maybe I'm just bitter than I can't get a webOS phone here, and the Nokia N9 looks amazing but is doomed to failure.


Why Google killed the toolbar for Firefox

Provided they have, I see six potential reasons why, some of which would be the result of doing no evil!

No more extensions

Firstly, have they really discontinued the toolbar? From their download page:

Google Toolbar for Firefox is compatible with Firefox version 4 or older. To find out what version of Firefox you’re using, click the Help menu and select “About Firefox” (on the Mac, the option is located in the “Firefox” menu).

If you use Firefox version 5 or newer, you won’t be able to use Google Toolbar.

While technically this isn't an admission that the software is discontinued, relegated to the alarmingly large pile of dead Google projects (or Lab if you will), it may as well be.

I hardly used thee

Apparently the Google Toolbar had many great features, including links to Google Reader, an unread email count for Gmail, an easy way to share discovered sites, a Google search box.

Despite this, I never got around to installing it. Not because I was afraid, but because I felt no need to have it. I already had third party extensions for many of the features the toolbar provided, bookmarklets for the rest, and the all important search box was already in the top right hand corner.

That said though, there seem to be enough people who did use its features who are willing to run insecure, older versions of Firefox just to keep it. Those are some dedicated (if foolish) people!

But… why?

As with the closure of Google Labs, the end of this toolbar leaves us with lots of questions; or at least it leaves a lot of questions with me. Which is to say, I'm thinking of lots of questions, if I asked these out loud right now there'd be nobody here to answer, and I talk enough to myself as it is.

The first possibility is financial, though I have a hard time buying (see what I did there?) a company with Google's resources couldn't keep a person or two on the payroll to keep their toolbar efforts current.

The second is the inevitable streamlining middle managers and shareholders start to demand of companies that have reached a certain size and can no longer justify frivolous things like R&D and customer service. Google is certainly not the nimble, informal creature it once was, perhaps this is just a sign of its "maturity"… though I hope not its peaking.

The third potentially paints Mozilla as the evil folk. Part of the allure for Google having people running their toolbars in Firefox must have been that searches didn't incur a referral fee to Mozilla. Perhaps with increased competition, Mozilla needed the cash and twisted Google's arm. There's no evidence of this, and it seems silly Mozilla would go out of their way to screw their primary source of revenue, but the speculation is irresistible.

The fourth is a technological one. The Mozilla team have promised greater sandboxing of extensions, perhaps by doing so Google can't track browsing behaviour anymore, therefore killing the real reason for the toolbar's existence.

The fifth reason is feature duplication, and the fact Firefox mainline now has many of the toolbar's features. This was the only reason entertained by the Google folks officially, though I can't help but think it's not the only one.

Which brings us to number 6

While all these are possibilities (remote or otherwise!), I reckon this has more to do with Google wanting more holdouts on Chrome. The Google Toolbar collecting information about browsing habits in Internet Explorer and Firefox is valuable, but not as valuable as people surrounded by Googlyness in Chrome.

In the words of Dave Winer, this was purely a business decision. Perhaps the Google team figured the carrot of faster rendering and program execution had failed to entice everyone, so the stick of a reduced Google experience may persuade the rest. If Google+ takes off, one can imagine deep integration with Chrome that could also be partly achieved with a toolbar, but without one available it'll give people more of an excuse to switch. Anti-trust?

I trust Google more now than I did Microsoft in the 1990s, but I'm not as sure that I'm wrong about this as I wish I was.


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