Stop Replicating Google

Seth Godin:

The job is no longer to recite facts, to read the bio out loud, to explain something better found or watched online.

No, the job is to personally and passionately make us care enough to look up the facts for ourselves.

As always, Godin is talking about the process of marketing.

For me, however, that’s a near-perfect description of what school and teaching should be in this time when much of what we still do in the classroom is replicate Google.

Just a thought to start the week.

The Politics of Maps

One of the pieces of technology I most love showing to other educators is the ever growing collection of Google’s “mapping”1 resources. Not only do they often come with layers of great information, Google also provides excellent tools for anyone to do it themselves. Take a look around the other side of this site for other posts on how to use them.

But one aspect we rarely address, or even consider, is that not everyone in the world views those maps in the same way. A very current example is the fact that Google says Crimea is still part of the Ukraine, something certainly disputed by Russia.

The geopolitical aspect of map making throughout history, and Google’s place in the center of this latest example, were the subject of two segments on the most recent edition of the public radio program and podcast On the Media.

If your students are studying geography, current events, world history, or anything to do with the nature of information, the program would be a good starter for discussion and analysis.

Also from the world of Google’s maps, they continue to their Street View cameras into places that really don’t have streets. The latest example allows visitors to wander through the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

And finally, one question that comes up regularly in my sessions, is where does Google get its maps?2 This post from the Google Earth blog is a good overview of the process.


Cross posted from the other side of this site on which you’ll find my training resources and other good stuff.


  1. We need a better term than “map”, which has very static connotations these days.

  2. That one often comes before or after someone asks “Where can I see the live feed?”, which, of course, only exists in spy films.

Buyer Beware

As I’ve mentioned in other rants, I speak to many groups on the topic of managing information while on the go and using multiple devices to do it. While each person needs to figure out the process that works best for them, almost everyone now depends on interconnected services and applications that can sync to some kind of storage in the now-legendary cloud.

It turns out those web-based services are not yet to the point of being completely dependable. Case in point, back in March Google pretty much lopped off one of the cornerstones of the information management process I use and advocate when they announced the shutting down of Reader, their service that is the "cloud" behind (above?) many, if not most, RSS aggregator applications. Which means that millions of us who depended on Reader (plus more than a few software publishers) are looking for alternatives before July 1.

Last week my process potentially took another hit when the developer of Instapaper, another application I depend on every day, posted that he was selling the popular read-later service. Considering how many small web/app companies have disappeared lately because their new owners wanted the people and technologies* but not the product, I had reason to be concerned.

However, there’s a big difference between this announcement and Google’s. Instapaper’s owner was very up front and transparent about the sale. Between posts to his blog and discussions on several podcasts, he made it clear that his first concern was for the users of the service. A core part of the deal was that the development of Instapaper continue.

It remains to be seen if everyone involved follows through on this plan, but this situation illustrates the big difference between Google and this individual developer (other than one is an 800 pound gorilla).

Google’s business is selling advertising and it’s users (and the data they generate) are the product being sold. The shutdown of Reader is one more sign that leaders of the company have decided anything not generating revenue must be changed or deleted.

Maybe not something to worry about but certainly something to consider before you begin to rely on a product, service, or app (from Google or any other company) that may disappear on short notice.


*One of the latest examples is Posterous, a simple blogging site that was bought by Twitter in 2012 and shut down a few days ago.

Why I Don’t Like Free

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all that different from most others when it comes to someone buying me lunch. And I’ve certainly collected my share of conference tchotchkes over the years.

But I’ve also been around long enough to have learned that free seldom comes without a price, especially in this digital life. That point was driven home this week when Google announced the death of Reader, their RSS aggregator and a service I have relied on every day for many years.

When it comes to free, whether it’s hardware, software, or services, there are basically three ways you wind up paying.

One is through advertising, which is what you get with “free” search, “free” social networking sites, apps, video, and more. The payment comes in the form of clutter, distraction, and that nagging suspicion that you’re being tracked (likely you are). Or they directly connect your content to the advertising. (Ask the users of Instagram how that feels.) The saying goes that if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer.

Another way free can cost you comes in the form of underpowered software and services. The description looks like what you need but you eventually discover that the no-cost version doesn’t do what you need it to do and to get the functionality you were promised, there’s either a paid version or the newly fashionable “in-app purchases” to bring it up to speed.

Finally, we have the cost that Google is now extracting from many of us: the product or service disappears. If the developer isn’t making money from either you or advertisers, they don’t have a lot of incentive to continue developing and improving their creation. Or continuing to make it available at all.

So now I will be paying for the years of free functionality provided by Google Reader in the form of spending my time looking for good alternatives. (So much for don’t be evil.)

And worrying about the possible fate of Delicious, another service with no apparent business plan that has also become a cornerstone of my information life. Maybe I’ll be proactive and take another look at Pinboard.

 

Beware of the Clouds

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This week Google opened it’s new, highly anticipated cloud storage service called Drive, a direct competitor with Dropbox, Microsoft’s SkyDrive and others.

With all recent the stories about Google’s privacy policies (or their lack privacy concerns?), more than a few observers have pointed out this little piece of their newly unified terms of service agreement that seems to apply to material you store in their cloud.

Screen Shot 2012 04 26 at 12 58 10 PM

I’m not sure I want to give Google the rights to “create derivative works” or “publicly perform” my stuff, even if I cancel my account. Do you?

I imagine the Google lawyers are mulling over all the criticisms and will probably make some changes to the TOS for Drive. In the meantime, I’ll stay with Dropbox which seems to have a better grasp of this whole private storage concept.

By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, “your stuff”). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.*

Of course, all of this is null and void if the feds come knocking on their door demanding to peek in my little corner of the cloud.

As they could, without a warrant or my knowledge, under the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA) now being considered in the US House. Go visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation to see why and how to voice your opposition to this latest attempt to violate your privacy in the name of “security” (to keep you Cyber-Snuggly).

And, as always, understand the terms of service before relying on any web service.

Let’s be careful out there.


*And the fact that they also call my intellectual property “stuff” is attractive. :-)