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Cal Lectures with Google

By - September 28, 2006

While UC Berkeley has been sharing a limited stream of its lectures as public videos since 2001, it is stepping up the effort with a dedicated Cal page in Google Video. In fact, sharing the valuable access is part of its curriculum strategy, part of the wave of ‘coursecasting’ as Reuters notes. Currently more than a dozen college courses and symposia are available, with more to be added in the coming months.

(Very much in the spirit of public education, I might add. w00t, alma mater!)

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The Search In Paperback, With New Chapter

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Well, I’m stuck in Atlanta, waiting for a delayed flight. My wife and I hit the bookstore and what does she find but the paperback edition of The Search, the one with the new chapter. I’m mildly surprised, as it’s not supposed to be out till Monday, but there it was. I’ve been meaning to post some teasers from the new chapter. Thanks to Delta’s utter hopelessness, here is the first of a number of installations I’ll post over the next few weeks.

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Barely a year has passed since I finished final edits on The Search, which was originally published in September of 2005. I sent the final manuscript to my editor in April of 2005 (yep, it takes nearly six months to get a book out once the manuscript is finished; books, like democracies, are deliberate and plodding beasts). Since then, an awful lot has stayed constant. Google remains the undisputed king of search, Wall Street, and the Internet, and a host of Google’s competitors continue to wring their hands over what do to about it.

But an awful lot has changed, and the pace is quickening. Put mildly, it’s been a busy year in the world that search impacts. Which is to say, pretty much the entire world, from the executive suites at Amazon and Microsoft to the governments of France, Germany, China and the United States.

Google Dances With Dragons

So let’s start in China, with a nod toward the US Department of Justice. If you’ve read this far, that means you read Chapter 8, a chapter starring, among others, Sergey Brin and his company’s tortured decision process as it relates to entering the Chinese market. Well, regardless of the sleepless nights, in the past year Google has entered China with gusto. It not only opened offices and poached staff from Microsoft (prompting an unsuccessful lawsuit from Redmond), it also launched a Chinese native site (Google.cn) and agreed to the rules of the Chinese government (in short, the site is censored).

Now, as I pointed out earlier, this is not a new development for US Internet companies – Yahoo, Microsoft, and many other information services had already submitted their products to Chinese censorship. But when Google made the move, well, that got some attention.

On January 23 Google announced the launch of Google.cn. In a prepared statement defending the move, Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google, wrote: “Google.cn will comply with local Chinese laws and regulations…In deciding how best to approach the Chinese–or any–market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interest of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions.”

In other words, Sergey Brin and Larry Page had argued themselves into entering the world’s largest developing market, just as it seemed they would when I spoke to Brin a year before in Davos. And while Yahoo and Microsoft can go into China without arousing the passions of the US government, Google apparently can not.

Two days after Google announced its service, US Congressmen Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who chairs a House subcommittee on human rights, called immediately for a hearing. His goal: To explore the “operating procedures” of Internet companies who operate in China. Clearly Smith smelled blood: because of its towering profits and seemingly contradictory “Do No Evil” motto, Google was an easy target.

Smith was also spurred into action by disclosures in the press that on multiple occasions Yahoo had cooperated with Chinese government requests for information on suspected dissidents. As a result, at least two Chinese citizens, including a researcher for the New York Times, ended up incarcerated. And Microsoft piled further fuel on the fire when – at the request of the Chinese government – it summarily deleted the online journal a prominent Chinese dissident had kept on Microsoft’s blogging service.

On February 16, 2006, representatives from Yahoo, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft found themselves on the hot seat, but the warmest bum belonged to Eliot Schrage, newly installed VP of Corporate Affairs for Google. Congressman Smith called Schrage and Google out on the company’s informal “Don’t Be Evil” motto, at one point stating that Google had “become evil’s accomplice.” Representative Jim Leach of Iowa went so far as to call Google “a functionary of the Chinese Government.”

Coverage of the hearing dominated the news, and stories around the world showed pictures of Tibetan monks and angry Chinese students protesting Google and imploring the company to “not be evil.” The decision to go into China was clearly damaging Google’s once pristine consumer brand.

Schrage and others admitted that China represented a conundrum, and during the hearings and afterwards there was vague talk of a “coalition” effort – an industry pact of sorts that might actually voice an opinion about China’s attempts to censor its businesses. But such ideas seemed doomed to remain just that – ideas. Were Google, Yahoo, or others to actually voice a strong opinion about Chinese policies, well, Beijing would not look kindly on such moves. Not to mention Wall Street, of course – there’s profit to be made in China, if everyone just keeps their heads down.

While no one has declared the idea of a pact dead, in practical terms it’s really not sensible to expect that such an effort will ever take root. After all, this is a group of companies who can’t even agree to interconnect their instant messenger networks. To think they might change US policy without the support of, well, the US government, is pretty silly. It seems to me that when it comes to China, only one force can provide leadership: The US government itself.

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A note: It’s odd how much a story can change in a few months. I finished this chapter in May, and just four months later there is serious talk about how Google has lost its mojo in China – not one year after it entered the market.

The next installation will focus on the DOJ and Google’s software distribution plans.

Google Reverses on Releasing Orkut to Brazil

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Despite spelling out compliance to Brazil’s standing demands for Orkut user data earlier this year, Google today appeals. The timing of the appeal coincides with the deadline for complying with the demand of the Brazilian authorities, placing Google in a spot that risks fines of up to $23,000 a day.

Google indicated it had and would continue to comply with requests to the full extent allowed under US law and which “are issued within the country in which the information is stored,” But a Brazilian federal judge earlier disagreed, saying all the photographs and messages being investigated were published by Brazilians, through Internet connection in national territory. (sic)” From the AP story, “The Sao Paulo federal prosecutor’s office said Google was in clear defiance of the judge’s order and could be fined at any moment.

Also this week, Business Week notes that Google took down eight Orkut communities at the request of the Brazilian government, in a case it says is unrelated. “The company says those communities, which advocated drunk driving by minors, the pirating of cable television, and illegal drug use, did not comply with Orkut’s terms of service, which state it is prohibited to “promote or encourage illegal activity.”

comScore Revvs Local Search Data

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comScore released new, in depth data on local search.

A summary of highlights from the full release:

Among comScore respondents, 41% of searches were directed near the home, rather than as research for travel. And among those local-to-residence searches, 59% were related to media and entertainment, and 52% focused on a specific businesses. “Two out of five local searchers (41 percent) were looking for information on a local service in their home area, including car rental office, dry cleaner or lawyer.”

Further, and perhaps most significantly, comScore found that “performing a local search drives consumers to take action. During the second quarter of 2006, 47 percent of local searchers visited a local merchant as a result of their search behavior, while 41 percent made contact offline. More than one-third (37 percent) made contact online as a result of conducting a local area search.”

Picture 1-21-TmSEW points out that Google (30%) and Yahoo (29%) together dominate the local search field— which this July’s figures described as 63% of US internet users (109 million individuals).

Travelin'…

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I’m in the air today and OOP Friday, posting will be light…

Shit Howdy.

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Bill Gates3

Ten years ago, if a Martian from the future visited me at the offices of Wired, and told me that Microsoft would be announcing this, I’d have run him out of the building. No, wait, I would have interviewed him and put him on the cover, come to think of it.

Sure, not surprising to us at the moment, but really, think about what Microsoft was back in the 90s, and what this means now. From the LiveSide post:

At Advertising Week 2006 in New York, Microsoft is set to unveil a new unified global advertising initiative. Under Digital Advertising Solutions, advertisers will be able to more easily reach customers by packaging Microsoft’s products, including Xbox, MSN, Windows Live, Office, Windows Mobile, and Microsoft TV under one advertising solution….Clearly Microsoft is not only targeting Google and Yahoo with this advertisement push, but also TV and print media as well.

Recall the days when Microsoft was a software company? Recall that Wired cover when we claimed they were, in fact, a media company? Ah, good times.

Merchant Full Circle

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Earlier today an odd thing started to happen – new comments started pouring in on a months old post I wrote on MerchantCircle, a local business search play. Apparently today the company started automatically calling merchants in its listings database, and what MerchantCircle had to say really upset any number of business owners. Apparently in the call MerchantCircle informed the business owners of their relative rankings and reputation in the system, regardless of whether or not the news was good. As one might expect, if your entire livelihood is in your small business, and an automated system leaves you a voicemail telling you that there is an “unfavorable review” of your livelihood, why, you take that personally.

So what do you do? Well, you fire up Google and do a search for “Merchantcircle,” of course. After all, you want to know what is up with this company, which you’ve never heard of, and Google is always your first stop. And who has the third link on Google, and the first non MerchantCircle related link? Yup, Searchblog. You read my (not very deep) thoughts on the company, and then notice there is a comments section. AHA! A chance to take action is born, and action is taken.

As more and more comments pile on, the site author (that’d be me) takes notice, and I sent an email to Ben Smith, the CEO, alerting him to the issue. Ben has responded that he’s on it.

What I love about this story is how search becomes the connective tissue between cause and action, conversational stitching in real time. Magic.