Watching Election Results With Tears In My Eyes

 

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

I have become a political junky of late. I’m sure I’m not alone but it’s getting worse. I’ve always been fairly interested but as a “damn foreigner” unable to vote my opinion never mattered. I have watched the GOP campaign with fascination turning into horror…and I can’t look away.  I arrived in the US on a permanent basis about 20 years ago. As a Brit I had only a passing understanding of US politics but as I learned more much of it didn’t seem to make sense. Coming from a multi-party political system I was used to poor people grouping together to further their interests just as the wealthy band together to protect theirs. I was a kid during the Labor administrations of the 70s which led to coal strikes and power blackouts. As a lefty punk-rocking teen I watched in horror as Margaret Thatcher then Ronald Regan seized the reins of power. I understood what caused the backlash which led to Thatcher and I assumed it was similar in the US.

When I arrived here 16 years later we were in Clinton I and things looked pretty decent. Still some things didn’t make sense. Why were poor white people such fervent supporters of a party dedicated to furthering the interests of the rich and powerful? Why such a political fascination with women’s reproductive health….an issue which has been beyond politics in Europe for decades. What I was missing was the race factor. In the UK we have had racial problems of our own. Back in the 60’s there was a significant influx of people from the Caribbean countries which were parts of the Commonwealth. These people tended to jobs which Brits had no interest in but there were protests from the skinhead sector. In later years there were several waves of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Uganda. Each of these was met with some disruption but on the whole it was all fairly civilized. In more recent years the barriers to entry from Commonwealth countries have risen and the barriers to living and working for anyone in the EU have essentially been removed. As a Brit I could live and work freely anywhere in the EU….no papers required.  This long history of immigrants settling and blending (to one extent or another) has routinely been met with racially based resistance from mostly white working class folk who see them as “taking our jobs” and “polluting the culture.” It was a vocal minority with extremists on the far right getting headlines rather than traction. We muddled along, we even replaced Fish and Chips with Curry as our national dish. People with limited education and job prospects were typically the most impacted but as immigrants (especially those from the Indian Sub-Continent) integrated and succeeded those complaints were less vocal. I have somewhat lost touch with the story back home now, but from what I can gather from regular visits these factors remain a concern but a manageable one.  Europe has significant problems caused by the nightmare in Syria, globalization and automation has hit low skill jobs there too but none of that prepared me for the US.

I simply didn’t have a frame of reference for the kind of systemic endemic racism and resentment which haunts significant parts of the US zeitgeist. In 1865 the Brits were drinking tea and building an empire as the US tore its self apart. We don’t teach the US Civil War much in UK schools. We do cover slavery but since we outlawed it in 1833 and our economy was never as completely reliant on it as the US was it felt very remote. We didn’t have reconstruction, Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. The political developments of recent years has been fascinating and shocking. The ascendency of “Mr.” Trump has been eerie to watch. To see the level of xenophobia, misogamy and good old fashioned racism which has driven his ascent is very disquieting.  I realize I’m not breaking new ground here, but as a foreigner who has the advantage of being white and (passingly) educated who has come to love the US as I do, this is like discovering that the woman of your dreams was never really that into you and was cheating with her ex all the time. It makes you question what you thought you knew…it’s scary and sad. My profound hope is that if we stack all the liberals, all the LGBT folk, all the kinksters, all the immigrants who can vote, most of the people of color, most of the women and men who think rather than hate into one pile, that pile will be bigger than the pile of angry white men and bigoted white people who have found their perfect vehicle to protest history.  I don’t know anybody who says they are voting for Trump but then I don’t know anyone who is openly racist or anti-female equality either. The privacy of the voting booth allows people to express their truth in secret. Am I optimistic?…yes, but I’m also scared.

Facebook Testing Break-up Feature

facebook-relationship-status-update-sparks-gun-fight-f94f9e2d50It’s no secret that social media has influenced how we communicate. There are people that take to social media to announce EVERYTHING that happens in their lives, while others remain quieter. One phrase has been incorporated into the English lingo: “So have you made it ‘Facebook’ official?” This is of course reference to letting the world know that you are in a relationship. Conversely, Facebook is testing a new feature that lets you “take a break” if you break-up with that partner, making it so you see a lot less about what their life is like without you.

The features allow Facebook users to hide a former partner’s posts and profile; edit past updates in which both people are tagged; and control the status updates, photos, and other content their ex-lover will be able to view after the breakup

People in the United States will be prompted to test these features if they change their relationship status. Other users won’t be told if someone uses the utilities; the point of hiding someone’s profile or posts is to make it easier to do so without un-friending or blocking that person, and the other features are equally discreet.

Introducing these features is an implied admission of two things: There are real risks connected to using a service where people are encouraged to share everything about their daily lives, and not everything posted to Facebook has to be positive. These new features can make it easier for people leaving toxic relationships to protect themselves. Not having to see an abuser without having to block them, which could make them angry, is a valuable ability. Being able to hide new posts could help address the same issue.

Google+ Surviving by Refocusing Its Use and New Design

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Google+ is still trucking along as a social network, as Google announced a redesign for the site that focuses purely on the social aspects and moves the site from being people-based to focus more on “interests.”

The new design brings a splash of color and more of Google’s Material Design aesthetic to the desktop site. The whole thing looks a lot more like the mobile app. The header has changed from a boring gray to a bright red, and the mobile app’s floating circular button even makes an appearance as the new way to write a post. The “core” of the site looks pretty much the same—text and images inside a scrolling list of cards.

Narrowing the focus of Google+ was probably the best way for Google to salvage the service. It originally started life as a Facebook-style social network for posting links, photos, status updates, and more with your friends. The original big innovation was the concept of dividing the people you followed on Google+ into “circles” and then sharing content with just the relevant groups of people, but it failed to catch on with users. However, there’s no doubt that some good things came out of Google+ as well — particularly the excellent Google Photos project that the company separated out of Google+ back at I/O this year. With the change, Google+ will formally be less about interacting with your friends and more about finding topics that interest you and meeting people across the internet who have those same interests.

Google Allowing Users to Control Public Information

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There is a lot of talk regarding privacy and more people are concerned about their searchable online data. Aware of this change in the behavior of its users, Google has recently released a new tool to help control online privacy, called “About me”.

Users can adjust their personal and work contact information, education and employment history as well as the places they have lived. It is also possible to control who sees gender, birthday, occupation, personal websites and social network URLs.

Google explains that all the content on the About Me page is “information that people explicitly provided to Google.” Also noting that “people have control over what information is here and on the About Me page, they can control what others see about them across Google Services.”

Controversy Over Facebook “Real-Name” Policy

Facebook is planning on tweaking its policy that requires members of their social media site to use their real or “authentic” names on profiles, as advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union have shown discontent in the requirement.

The strictly enforced “real names” policy requires users to use the names that friends and family know them by, as Facebook says it helps to root out online bullying and makes users more accountable. However, the policy has seen many users suspended from Facebook despite using authentic names, with online trolls taking advantage of it to report sections of users. Transgender individuals who have chosen a new name to match the gender they identify with say they have been affected by the policy, as have drag queens and Native Americans.

Facebook has said they would add new tools that improve how users confirm their name on Facebook when signing up, and make it more difficult for trolls to target individuals. When users are asked to confirm their name (which it can do when users are reported or when a moderator questions an account) they will be allowed to add additional details to provide context. Secondly, people that want to report profiles for using non-authentic names will have to provide additional information about why they are reporting an account.

These new changes are part of the latest in a series of tweaks to Facebook’s real names policy, which include it demanding “authentic” rather than “real” names, and allowing users to verify names using more methods than just government IDs.

Facebook Digging Further Into Search

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The search feature on Facebook has always been good for tracking down an old friend or a page to follow, but usually Google was the better search engine for keeping up with news or finding a story from a year back. Facebook hopes to remedy that with a new, expanded search that sifts through its 2 trillion posts from all over the world — not just those from your friends and followed pages.

Now, for example, if you were to type “Mets World Series” into the search tool on Facebook, you would be hit with top post results from the Wall Street Journal and CBS Sportsline, followed by several posts made by your friends or public groups about the Mets.

The search was updated by Facebook in hopes to spark public conversations with strangers around the world about shared topics or news stories of interest. Seeing what your circle of friends has to say is one thing, but seeing what the world is saying is another.

YouTube Gaming Launches Today

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One year and one day after Google lost Twitch to Amazon, YouTube is taking gaming to the public. Launched today, users can head down Youtube’s gaming site to check out the new interface, see who’s streaming, or start a stream themselves. A slick interface, huge user base, and tons of content might have Twitch worried a bit.

YouTube calls YouTube Gaming the “go-to destination for anything and everything gaming.” It not only shows who is live streaming, but serves as a collection point for all gaming content on YouTube. YouTube Gaming automatically categorizes YouTube’s gaming content and sorts it by game and by the content of video.

The new dashboard makes streaming less of a scheduled event and more of a casual thing that streamers can do whenever they want. Streaming on YouTube Gaming is done on HTML5, and, unlike Twitch, streamers can enable a “DVR Mode” that buffers the last four hours of a stream and allows viewers to rewind.

YouTube Gaming will give Twitch the biggest competition in the live streaming space it has ever seen. Almost every Twitch streamer also uses YouTube for archival purposes and as an additional revenue stream, and now YouTube is a one-stop-shop for every kind of gaming video on the Web. It will be interesting to see how the battle of the game streaming service plays out.

Facebook Takes the Top Spot in Referral Traffic

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Content analytics platform Parse.ly recently released data showing that Facebook passed Google in referral traffic to publishers in June. And as of July, Facebook claimed a 38.2% share of referral traffic, compared to 35.2% for Google. These findings are based on Parse.ly’s analysis of referral traffic to hundreds of clients, including Condé Nast, Mashable, Fox News, The Atlantic and Reuters. Facebook’s rise has been slow and steady since at least 2012, as it has been gradually winning referral traffic market share from Google Sites.

Both companies have switched places before, including last fall, when Facebook passed Google for the first time. However this time the lead is more sizeable. Parse.ly’s study comes as Facebook seeks to tighten its grip on publishers even further with programs like Instant Articles, which allows publishers to host content directly on Facebook’s platform, making distribution and consumption easier and more efficient.

Facebook has also tweaked the algorithms that govern organic reach, in favor of publishers and at the expense of brand marketers. Google has also been refining the way it refers traffic to publishers. Most notably they started to give lower search rankings to algorithmic content publishers, which post content based on analysis of patterns in search traffic and auction bids. In December 2013, Google announced a big move towards “high quality” content, again by giving it a higher profile in news feeds. Will Facebook sustain its lead over the long-term? Only time will tell.

A Buyer for Twitter?

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I hate to join a mob scene, but really Google, it’s time to spend some money wisely and buy Twitter. The little blue bird has been having a tough year. It’s trading at about $30 with a market cap of about $20 Billion, which is roughly half of where it was 18 month ago. Its investors are screaming about profits, which must make trying to plan ahead tough (trust me, I know of which I speak). Its management team is looking a little shaky, and it’s also seen slowing membership growth, which makes the market nervous. Last time I checked, Google had roughly $60 Billion in liquid cash stuffed behind the sofa, more than enough to pay cash and still have walking around money to fund their next moon shot projects.

 

Some argue that Facebook, Microsoft or Apple should make an offer, but Google would be the best fit. Apple has more than enough to do already, Facebook doesn’t need it, and Microsoft has their own social effort in Yammer. In contrast, Google could really use Twitter. To start with, in addition to the cash behind the sofa, it has another $440 Billion in market cap to play with, so putting the deal together seems feasible. Next, Google has been getting it in the neck of late for spending cash on projects with a high cool factor but no actual revenue. Google isn’t a car company or a Wi-Fi company or a VR company; at its core it’s an advertising company and a really good one at that. What twitter represents is a massive pool of end users who could be great consumers for the advertisers Google already possesses.

In recent months, Google has been killing off its failed social media effort Google+ (may it rest in peace). That leaves Google with a ton of advertisers, a difficult landscape in terms of making money out of mobile users, declining desktop traffic, and no social media component. If they were smart, they would make a play for Twitter and get them under their wing as a wholly owned subsidiary like they did with YouTube. YouTube thrives with a light managerial touch from Google and is now the second largest online search. If Google can annex Twitter, it can pretty much guarantee that it will also have the third largest search in Twitter as well.

Facebook has been focusing more on search recently, Apple has fired Google as their search, and with Windows 10, there is a chance that Microsoft will be able to grow Bing’s market share. If Google loses Twitter to one of those guys, its opportunity to grow its search in social will be greatly reduced at the same time their rivals are making aggressive moves into Google heartland.

It will be expensive, no doubt, and many will cry “foul” and “monopoly,” but it’s a move which makes perfect sense in many ways. It may by now be as close to a “must do” play for Google as makes little difference.

RIP Google+

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Way back on June 6th, 2012 in the third month of this here blog, I bemoaned the annexation of what was Google Places, by the then upstart social media initiative Google+. At the time I said:

“Google+ has enjoyed rapid growth with millions joining the platform, but there appears to be good data that although many join, the level or return visits and engagement is much lower than on Facebook. Given that, Google’s strategy of fusing Google+ with the very successful and highly used Google Places follows the Google Buzz strategy of essentially forcing a large number of users (in this case local businesses and reviewers) to join the game.”

And now, a few years later, even after they forced users and businesses to come, the party has never really improved. The good features they came up with — like the pics and video streams and hangouts — have been carved off the corpse, the leadership has gone, and we are left with a platform that doesn’t even require you to create a profile to use Google products like Gmail.

Although they haven’t officially stuck a fork in it yet, Google+ is clearly done. What contributed most to the demise? Well, it’s exactly as stated back in 2012: engagement (or lack thereof). I have a rule of thumb, the “ten minute test.” when I come across something interesting online, I dig in, then eventually end up deciding if I’m prepared to dedicate about ten minutes a day to it to stay engaged.

I’m probably a poor use case in the example of Google+, since I really don’t do much Facebook (let alone Google+). But what’s clear is that millions of users went there once, did what they had to do to keep using Google products, and never returned. The upside of that limited engagement was that it did get most of us permanently logged into Google in general, and it allowed Google to get a much stronger handle on local businesses in general. Beyond that, there simply wasn’t a compelling reason to keep folks going back. People are busy. Finding time to check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram takes time. It feels like most of us held an informal meeting and agreed not to participate.

The other problem with Google+ (aside from its weirdly un-intuitive user interface) was how restricted it felt. Google keeps a famously vice-like grip on its products, and Google+ somehow felt like a social platform designed by the Post Office; not fun.

In any event, Google is clearly unwinding the remains. It’s not a huge problem for most people as they weren’t using it in the first place. Some marketeers were exploiting the heck out of it, but I imagine even they will get over it soon enough. It’s another example of Google being fabulously great at a handful of things (most importantly search and advertising) and stumbling over many others. They always want to play, but they typically show up late and demand by sheer willpower to be allowed into the game. They don’t always win.