Google’s 2015 Year-In-Search

google-year-in-search-2014In prior years, nothing gets people Googling quite like the passing of a celebrity. But in 2015, some of the most searched-for deaths in the U.S. weren’t famous people at all, but regular people who died while in police custody.

Google released its annual roundup of what the U.S. searched for this year. They aren’t the top searches by volume, but top “trending” searches, meaning they saw the biggest spikes.

People We Lost

The third most searched for death was Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was found hanging in her jail cell in July, three days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. Freddie Gray, who died from spinal cord injuries while in police custody, was fourth on the list. The passing of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter Bobbi Kristina topped the list, followed by longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.

Biggest Searches

The most searched for topic overall wasn’t someone who died, though he came close. It was former basketball player and Keeping up with the Kardashians fixture Lamar Odom, who was found unconscious in a brothel in October. Not all searches were morbid. The top trending searchers of the year were mostly on lighter topics:

  1. Lamar Odom
  2. Jurassic World
  3. American Sniper
  4. Caitlyn Jenner
  5. Ronda Rousey

Breaking News

As big news stories unfolded, people went to Google for updates and answers. Google Trends dug into the top global stories this year, with an interactive graphic that looked at how the stories spread around the world and the most pressing questions people had about them.

Google’s biggest news story of the year was Paris. When terrorists attacked the French city on November 13, people around the world asked “What happened in Paris?” “Why did ISIS attack Paris?” and “Is it safe to travel to Paris?” There were more than 897 million searches related to the Paris attack.

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.

Google Investing in African Wind Power

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Recently, Google announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The agreement includes buying a 12.5% stake in Africa’s largest wind project, Kenya’s Lake Turkana, from Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

The 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind park is set to about 15% of Kenya’s electricity needs, based on current generation capacity. The nearly $1 billion wind project offers the scale of infrastructure that international organizations say Africa needs for the continent to unleash its vast economic potential. Annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade, and an increased energy production would boost growth even more.

Google so far has committed $2 billion to 22 clean energy projects, including the continent’s largest solar project in South Africa. The company sees a big opportunity in fast-growing markets with rich renewable energy resources, and the Lake Turkana project would help reduce Kenya’s reliance on fossil fuels and emergency diesel generation.

Google and Vestas have previously cooperated on the 270-megawatt Alta Wind Energy Centre in southern California and the powering of a Google data center in Finland.

Google Loses Control of Its Own Web Domain

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Google has been going through a lot of shaking up lately. Big changes within the company are taking place with a new parent company being established and for a moment almost lost control of its own Web domain.

A former employee managed to buy the Google.com URL through (ironically) Google Domains for $12. And while the glory of owning the world’s most-visited website may have lasted only a moment, it seems many people will benefit from the mishap.

Sanmay Ved said he looking at different Google Domains and discovered that Google.com was available for purchase. Naturally, he bought it.

However, it didn’t last long: The purchase was almost immediately followed by a cancellation email from Google Domains. About a week later, Ved was contacted by Google Security, which offered a reward. Instead of taking the reward, he asked that the money be donated to the Art of Living India Foundation charity. Google agreed, and even doubled the reward for the Art of Living’s education program, which runs 404 free schools across 18 states in India.

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.

The Stillson Problem

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I’m about to head out for our summer vacation, then I have a bunch of business travel to get done, which means I won’t be posting as much in the next few weeks (I can hear the cheering from here). I’m hoping that by the time I get back fully in the saddle, the silliness which is the weird political bachelorette contest currently being carried out by the Republican Party will have come closer to some kind of sane conclusion, a conclusion which doesn’t include Donald Trump.

If you are a movie fan, you may have come across the 1983 adaptation by David Cronenberg of the Stephen King classic The Dead Zone (it’s streaming on Netflix). It stars Christopher Walken as a guy who suffers a brain injury and acquires the mysterious power to see glimpses into the future of people he touches. Enter Gregg Stillson: a brash, independently-minded senator (played excellently by Martin Sheen); a self-made man who worships his creator.

Stillson is a populist who believes in straight talk. His catch phrase is “Hot dog, somebody gives a damn.” Stillson draws large crowds of supporters who are fed up and “not going to take it anymore.” At one point, Stillson grabs the hand of our hero in a ‘Grip and Grin’ moment, and Walken sees Stillson as president pressing the big red button which sets off the nuclear exchange to end all humanity. Walken then spends the rest of the movie plotting his preemptive assassination. It’s a decent movie, one which has stayed with me more than most King adaptations.

What is so disturbing is that Trump and Stillson are eerily similar. They are both self-made blowhards who strike a populist note and garner way more political respect than they deserve. It seems there is a certain fragment of the GOP base that is completely OK with supporting a bigoted misogynist with no real answers and only a vague grasp of the issues. It’s horrifying, but not surprising.

By the time the dust has settled, it’s inevitable that the GOP will have coalesced on an “anyone but Trump” ticket — probably featuring two from Kasich, Rubio and Fiorina — and Trump will either go back to his board room and sulk or will run as a third party candidate, much like Ross Perot (remember him?). All Trump will have done is shine a light on the GOP, which will likely remind many minorities and women why they don’t vote GOP. At least that’s my sincere hope. I really don’t think that Trump will prevail, but just for grins, stream The Dead Zone and see how well you sleep after that.

Have a great summer.

So, Texas. Climate Change. Still Not a thing?

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Perhaps I should stay away from politics and stick to technology, but this past year or two, especially the past weeks, have made it almost impossible not to get just a tiny bit infuriated with Texas. As you will have noted, the state’s had a horrible month or so. Many areas have reported five times their average rainfall and thousands have been displaced by biblical flooding. Meanwhile, next door in SoCal, we are going into our third year of severe drought.

I was looking at some stats recently, and a couple of interesting things jumped out at me. In the last elections, Texas went overwhelmingly Republican. There are a few blue corners, but it typically votes over 75% republican. In most cases, it’s not educated republicans but the God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, Wahoo! kind. Fair enough. It’s a free country.

In some other research, I found stats on opinions around climate change. Only about 25% of self-declared Republicans said they though climate change was a real thing, and in the Tea Party section, that drops even lower. By the way, as an aside, I saw the exhausting Mad Max Fury Road yesterday and the bad guys in that epic are how I picture the Tea Party would be if they ever got to power. But I digress.

So most of Texas votes Republican; thus, most Texans probably think that man-made climate change is a concoction of those lefty scientists. As another aside, a decade or two ago, I found myself doing a tech install in a news room at the Lakeland Ledger in mid Florida. One of the very nice young editors I was working with was complaining that she had to edit and then run a story about some new kind of dinosaur which had been recently discovered. As a guy with a B.S. in Genetics and Molecular Biology, evolution is close to my heart. I questioned her and her colleagues and discovered that not a single person on the team (all educated nice young people) believed that evolution was real. The firmly held consensus was that it was a scientific conspiracy. When I pointed out that scientists are unable to conspire to order coffee without massive and very public disagreements, they weren’t buying it.

It seems that there is a streak running through many Americans who would rather believe in angels than gravity. On that point, why don’t these nitwits go after chemistry or physics? Why only question ‘softer science’ like biology and meteorology? Is it because they don’t have the math?

In any event, we have just had both the hottest year and the coldest winter on record in many places. There is, at the very least, something weird and/or worrying going on. As millions of gallons bring the reality of climate change to Texans first hand, you have to wonder if anyone there is reconsidering their beliefs, even very slightly.

Good Old Fashioned Graft

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We are so inured to corruption of all kinds that I really think most of us just take it for granted nowadays. In the same way that we always expected the Duck Dynasty idiots to be racist homophobes and the Duggar Family to be child molesters, we expect big business to buy and sell our politicians at every level. Beyond the loss of a few reality TV show sponsors, we also expect the perpetrators to go unpunished. So it was with something close to incredulity that I watched FBI agents and Swiss police people raiding the offices of FIFA today.

As a card-carrying Brit, I’m supposed to love the beautiful game of football, or soccer if you insist. In fact, as a card-carrying asthmatic incapable of running for more than a few seconds as a kid, I stayed back in the classroom and did needle point with the girls. Simpler times, I guess. I’ve always loathed soccer; I hate the macho hooligans who play it and watch it and I hate the constant spitting. I hate the endless statistics and ridiculous jingoism it generates. The antics of its governing board, FIFA, always struck me as perfectly matching the boring, boorish nature of the sport. Much like the MLB and the NFL, the sport got the governing body it deserves.

A few weeks back, the hilarious John Oliver (one of three reasons to keep HBO) did an amazing piece on the comic opera level of corruption which pervades FIFA. He brilliantly mocked the absurd level of old fashioned graft hidden in plain sight. Corruption so extreme that it could land the 2022 World Cup in the despotic regime of Qatar, a country where it’s 110 degrees in the shade most of the year and they are building luxury hotels for the games with what is essentially slave labor. I’m pretty sure most of us laughed and mentally shrugged our shoulders. Business as usual, what ya gonna do? Then this morning’s events.

It would be fantastic if the FBI and the Swiss Gendarmerie follow through and actually jail the greedy, arrogant idiots who have treated FIFA as their private ATM for many years. Perhaps next, they can go after the greedy arrogant idiots at AIG and BofA who crashed the world’s economy back in 2009, but I’m not holding my breath for that one. Anyway, Vive Le Sport!

The Wearable Solution

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It’s happened again. An armed white cop guns down an unarmed man of color who apparently presented no actual threat, after an altercation during a routine traffic stop. It’s interesting to note that simply because a passerby caught the entire thing on video, the cop involved has been arrested for murder rather than been given administrative leave pending investigation and cover up.

As I have mentioned probably half a dozen times before in this very blog, there is a simple wearable solution to the problem of our over militarized largely racist police problem. It’s called a body camera. In a perfect “slamming the stable door shut after all the horses have escaped and murdered a bunch of people of color” the Mayor of the town involved announced that they would be acquiring an additional 150 body cameras in an attempt to control their out of control police organization. With the 150 cameras they already have on order that’s enough to equip every officer on their streets.

It need not be expensive either, the 64 GB 1080 HD Muvee I have costs less than $200. They are already in wide use elsewhere, even the local animal control officer I met the other day was wearing one. It makes no sense that teens on skateboards boast better wearable tech than the guys who are supposed to protect and serve us.

I’m sure over time wildly over priced wearable “engagement visualization and analysis” equipment will be integrated with other secure systems which will not only cut down the police on public violence but will also be useful in identifying suspects and risks. That’s great…let’s call that the full on RoboCop 2015 solution. For now, every single cop on patrol on every street in this country should have $200 of wearable tech attached to their $500 Kevlar vest to serve as a reminder that it’s we who they are supposed to be protecting and serving and as a deterrent to more acts of casual murder.

Getting On The Wrong Side Of History

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I’m the first to admit that I simply don’t understand how part of America thinks. I think it’s insane how so much of the conversation is driven by thinking which in the vast majority of the civilized world would be thought of as simply nonsensical. The poster child for the kind of intellectual dishonesty which drives much of this thinking is of course Indiana who passed a “Defense of Religious Freedom’ bill which essentially gave anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” the right to refuse service to anyone they don’t like without fear of legal consequences. As you have no doubt noticed the roof caved in on the Governor with major companies and even the NCAA threatening or taking punitive action. The response by Indiana legislators has been that they will pass “clarification” language which makes it clear that the bill does not entitle people to withhold services….really? The honest thing would have been to simple repeal the legislation as a bigoted rush of blood to the head and move on.

What’s remarkable is the role which social media has played in orchestrating the backlash against this ill thought legislation. Apparently the vast majority of internet users think that it’s It’s not OK to discriminate  in the US. Companies which do so run the risk of serious financial impact…even jail in extreme cases. For the legislator to craft a bill which could encourage (but certainly protects) companies who wish to discriminate on pretty much any grounds they care to is shocking. Social media led an onslaught of bad publicity against this move. I’m sure there are many people who wish they could safely discriminate for any reason but the increasingly diverse majority of this fail country are down with that and social media empowers that discussion.

I’ve remarked before that social movements like the Arab Spring and the over throw of dictatorships in places like Myanmar and Egypt has been made possible by social media which acts as the spotlight to focus on dark deeds. Whether it’s the continued mass imprisonment of young men of color for minor drug crimes, the reckless murder of those same young men by our over armed police or the the deliberate attempt by a group of ideological driven anti gay bigots to cloak their primitive thinking in religious garb social media is making it uncomfortable or impossible to maintain an uncivilized social norm which is calculated to preserve the rights of the powerful over the powerless.

It’s a bit embarrassing for what is supposed to be an advanced country to be passing retrogressive legislation only for that legislation to be protested and essentially over thrown by the social media tools  invented in that country which is being used by people in much poorer places to over throw tin pot dictators….but if it gets the job done I’m all for it.