Amit has been writing for Techie Buzz since early 2009 and keeps a close eye on web apps, Google and all things Tech. He also writes at his own tech blog, Ampercent. Follow him on Twitter @ amit_banerjee
The intrusion of Facebook ads continues, the company will soon phase out classical ad formats and will replace them with new premium ads, according to leaked documents obtained by Gigaom. The official document clearly states that advertisers will soon be able to convert any published post on their Facebook page into an advertisement. These contextual and interest based ads, can then be targeted towards any Facebook user on earth, as I have predicted exactly one month back.
Here is how new premium ads on Facebook are designed to work.
Lets say John is friends with Harry and Bob and both of them have “Liked” your business page, which specializes in selling shoes and footwear items. Harry posts a status update about “shoes”, Bob comments on his status update and John likes his comment. This is nothing but a usual Facebook action but there is another catch to it. Facebook can (and they surely will) use this information to serve John relevant ads from your business page. There is a high chance that John will end up seeing footwear advertisements of your business in his timeline, this is justified by his interests (Facebook friends) and actions (Likes/Comments). Sounds quite similar to Google Adsense, no?
Classical ads such as the photo likes, video likes or events will no longer be available after February 29th. The logic is straight forward, this is the age of interest based user activity and serving ads to non targeted audience is a waste of time. And waste of money too!
In other news, this is a going to be great for advertisers and marketers. When someone seeing your advertisement has friends who are fans of your Facebook page, Facebook will automatically add social context to your advertisement at no extra cost. Which means, you will be able to gather more data about prospects who are taking interest in your products but aren’t engaging yet. More data and insights equals more ground for experiments, which is good for business. Upgraded Premium ads can be targeted to anyone you want, ANYONE!
I just hope someone comes up with an extension or something to block inline ads in my Facebook news feed. I don’t mind ads in profile pages, photo albums but advertisements plastered in the news feed is truly suffocating.
The official Twitter apps for iPhone and Android have just received a major refresh, bringing back swipe and other demanding features. Additionally, Twitter has also released a Kindle Fire app on the Amazon app store, while an update to the Barnes and Noble nook store is a work in progress. The Android app is now optimized to perform smoothly in devices running on Ice Cream Sandwich.
The much needed swipe feature introduced in this update, now allows you to swipe through a tweet in order to retweet, reply or favorite it. You can either swipe or tap and hold to reveal additional interactive options, no need to hop over someone’s Twitter timeline just to reply to a tweet or favorite something.
Here is how the swipe gesture works, in case you are not sure how it works:
After getting nuked over iPhone contact upload issue, Twitter has now updated both mobile apps to notify users that using the “Find friends” feature will upload their contact list on Twitter’s servers. When you navigate to the “Find friends” section under the #Discover tab, Twitter will show the following alert:
“We’ve added a confirmation alert when you select “Find friends”. This notification more clearly and explicitly messages the fact that when you upload your contacts’ email addresses and phone numbers, you can quickly find which of your friends are on Twitter (that is, if they’ve chosen to be discoverable by email or phone number).” – Twitter said in an official blog post.
The iPhone app, has now a huge edge over its Android counterpart, as this update has returned the classic copy and paste of text in tweets. Simply tap and hold to copy all the text of a tweet (including links), which is lifesaving. Talking of Android, I have to repeatedly hit the Share button next to a tweet, select “Messaging” and then copy all the text from my inbox. Then fall back to the Twitter app and paste the copied text as a status – a very time consuming affair. Boring!
There is more, the sharing features of the iPhone app has received more goodness. Now you can retweet, copy, email or select “read it later”, whenever you tap a tweet that contains a hyperlink. Pressing or holding links in a tweet provide similar options, along with the ability to open the link in Safari web brower. If you’re the type of person who gets three dozen Twitter DM’s every single day, you have one more reason to rejoice. The iPhone app now houses a neat “Mark all DM’s as read” button in the lower right corner.
By 2013, the Indian government has plans to track a majority of mobile phone users in India via GPS co-ordinates, according to a report by Express India. Starting May 31, 2012, mobile operators and service providers will have to provide location details (latitudes and longitudes) of handpicked phone numbers to the telecom department while within three years, service providers will have to provide location information of all customers. It turns out Telecom folks are pretty busy these days, trying hard to impose Internet censorship in India, not to forget that they have already achieved marginal edge over Internet companies like Google, Facebook and others.
We have sketchy details regarding how real time mobile phone surveillance is going to work, given the fact that Indian suburbs and cities are crawling with thousands of numbers every hundred meters. The report specifies that by the end of 2013, the Government will successfully track up to 60% of all calls in urban areas, when made 100 meters away from a closest cell phone tower. By 2014, this proportion may increase to 75 percent in cities and 50 per cent in suburbs and rural areas.
After 26/11, the Indian government started taking mobile communication surveillance very seriously and built a centralized monitoring system from scratch, which allows special units to track a mobile or a landline number within minutes. The CMS, now fully operational, keeps a central and regional database of suspicious numbers which helps police and law enforcements in intercepting and monitoring suspicious calls. The modern CMS is equipped with a number of real time features e.g the ability to set up automatic alerts on specific target numbers, thereby allowing cops to quickly zero in to a target, no matter where they are. Manual intervention from service providers and mobile operators is no longer a mandatory need, as far as tracking the location of the user is concerned.
Now that the government has plans to track and store the location information of all users within the country borders, there is bound to be a huge margin of error. Stolen phones, registering numbers in bulk and aberrations from law is not a very big deal in India. “In the existing system, secrecy can be easily compromised due to manual intervention while in CMS these functions will be performed on secured electronic links,” Sachin Pilot, MoS, Communications and IT, told Parliament recently.
Taking a cue from FED, this move makes sense. But as of now, we will have to wait and watch how the curtain is lifted.
If you can’t fight criticism, confiscate the medium. This is Indian government’s motto in fighting “aggressive political and religious thoughts” of Indian internet users. The campaign went beyond common sense, ordering Internet behemoths to remove objectionable content following court orders. Despite sound arguments from Facebook and Google India officials, Indian government asked 22 Internet companies to remove inflammatory material before February 6th 2012.
Google India responded quickly from a technical flank – permanently redirecting all blogspot blogs in India to a .in TLD. The search giant can thus easily fetch the alleged “inappropriate content” to users across the globe, while the same page can be blocked for Indian users only. This is equivalent to curbing free speech and by no means, adheres to democracy.
While everyone awaits the official words from 22 Internet companies before February 22nd 2012, Indian Telecom minister Kapil Sibal, has now said that social websites in India would not face censorship.
“I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media,” Telecom minister Kapil Sibal said, while inaugurating the three-day Nasscom India Leadership Forum today. “I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country,” he added.
Late 2011, Mr. Sibal, along with Indian cyber experts, were in talks with Facebook and Google India officials to discuss the possibility of pre-screening user generated content. The government showed executives obscene and vulgar images defaming religious leaders, politicians, which could ignite communal riots or lead to social chaos. Mr Sibal had shown journalists illustrations that portrayed congress leader Mrs Sonia Gandhi and present Indian prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh in compromising positions, as well as a site showing pigs running through Islam’s holy city of Mecca.
Despite the logical response that neither the search engine nor the social network actually “produces the content”, 19 internet firms were targeted under civil cases in New Delhi high court, holding them responsible for the content available on their platforms.
According to the laws of the land, all internet companies operating in India are obliged by law to hand over user information to government authorities. But how all the user generated content should be monitored and what type of content is considered inappropriate, remains a subject waiting to be finalized. A real time internet monitoring system for all Indian users? You’ve got to be kidding me!
YouTube has an interesting comedy slam page where users can compare two videos and vote the one which appeals to them. YouTube slam, which is categorized into music, comedy, bizarre and cute, is sort of a never ending addictive game where you watch bizarre videos and vote the ones you find interesting, funny or humorous. You get nothing out of this, except a mention as a top voter on the slam leaderboards.
But have you ever wondered how Google measures which video is funnier, which one is bizarre and which one is cute? What are the signals Google counts when ranking videos in the YouTube slam page?
Unlike textual content, Google and other search engines can’t “read” the content of a video or see through it. The only way a bot can have some clue about a video is its associated metadata, the title tags, description, anchor text, links from other domains, user comments and so forth. This mechanism is often, not so accurate and can be quirked for selfish reasons.
Coming to how YouTube ranks videos in slam pages, a Google researcher admitted that there is an algorithm which tries to measure the degree of laughter associated with a video. The algorithm is not entirely driven by view counts or mere votes because of the fact that human feelings are subjective in nature. What appears humorous to one age group might be a complete turn off for another.
The funny thing is that the algorithm tries to extract “textual laughter” from the comments section of a YouTube video. Words such as “hahaha”, “hehehe”, “jajaja”, “kekeke” in user comments counts as a strong signal towards the humorous nature of a video. This algorithm also considers web acronyms such as LOL, ROFL or LMAO and emoticons e.g :D, ;-) xP.
Google trains classifiers to identify funny videos and finds the reason why this video is funny and to what category or genre this video may belong to. The ranking algorithm is strongly driven by human reaction and their emphasis on emotions e.g a looooooool is considered a stronger signal than a lol because of the elongation which reflects the viewer’s emphasis. Here is what Google says:
We noticed that viewers emphasize their reaction to funny videos in several ways: e.g. capitalization (LOL), elongation (loooooool), repetition (lolololol), exclamation (lolllll!!!!!), and combinations thereof. If a user uses an “loooooool” vs an “loool”, does it mean they were more amused? We designed features to quantify the degree of emphasis on words associated with amusement in viewer comments. We then trained a passive-aggressive ranking algorithm using human-annotated pairwise ground truth and a combination of text and audiovisual features. Similar to Music Slam, we used this ranker to populate candidates for human voting for our Comedy Slam.
Now they are judging candidates for YouTube slam by how many “lols” are written underneath a video? Like this video which got more than 3000 comments and 1,566,000 views but it’s not funny!
Google is about to launch a new “get paid to surf” program where you can earn some incentives by trading your browsing habits and sending usage statistics to Google. Termed as Google Screenwise, the program will track your usage behavior in Google Chrome through a browser extension (pending official announcement). This is Google’s wild attempt to learn browsing habits of users in mass and create a better online experience for everyone. At least, the landing page at www.google.com/landing/screenwisepanel/ says so.
The monetary compensation is not direct hard cash, as panel members will receive the money via Amazon gift cards. As a panelist, you will get $5 for installing the Screenwise extension and a recurring fee of $5 will be paid every 3 months, provided you keep sending them your Chrome usage data and keep the extension installed.
If $25 sounds too meager, hang on for a year. The landing page has a tiny remark at the bottom which says – “As we continue to develop this research experience, we will evaluate what, if any, changes will be made to gifts amounts for continuing participation beyond 12 months.”
I am curious to know why Google is becoming data hungry day by day. They have Google Chrome, Gmail, Android, YouTube – the best players in each department. Sure this is not enough, as they are willing to pay you for your data, browsing habits and privacy. This is the easiest 25$ a year offer I won’t regret turning down.
If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer but the product being sold. And If you’re getting something for free and managing some cash along with it, you’re what? Probably, Google knows the exact term.
The Internet censorship scene in India has been heating up for quite some time now. Late 2011, the Indian government and Telecom frontman Mr. Kapil Sibal asked Internet companies to pre screen objectionable content, which can be a blog post, a photo, a video or a tweet. Google, Facebook, YouTube and 19 other social networking sites were precisely told to remove inflammatory material before February 6th 2012.
Pre screening user generated content is easier said than done. Everyone knows the size and volume of social users in India and removing all the user generated content is nearly impossible because of two reasons:
1. It is literally impossible to monitor each and every user on a social networking site. Anything that is posted online has to be viewed through human eyes, cross checked and then passed through the safe filter. How many eyeballs will faint reading 250 million tweets, that are posted every single day?
2. If we assume that the proposed system is successful in pre-screening content, how do you stop people from creating fake profiles and bulk post all the objectionable stuff in random order?
This idea is nothing but madness.Technically speaking, not at all feasible or achievable.
According to Google’s 2011 transparency report, Indian Government officials and cyber experts have made 68 requests to remove objectionable or obscene content. Metropolitan cities like Mumbai, have dedicated special cyber units who constantly monitor social networking sites e.g Facebook, Orkut and they will go all guns blazing, if they find someone crossing the line.
[January 13th]: Objectionable Content Can’t Be Filtered – Google, Facebook.
On January 13th 2012, both Google and Facebook appealed to Delhi High court arguing that it is impossible to pre-screen content posted by thousands of internet users. Instead, the users should be held responsible, not the social site or the search engine.
“The search engine only takes you to a website. What happens after that is beyond a search engine’s control,” Neeraj Kishan Kaul, a lawyer for Google India, told a packed High Court hearing on Monday. “If you use blocks, which is very easy for people to say, you will inadvertently block other things as well. For example: the word ‘sex’. Even a government document like a voter ID list or a passport has the word ‘sex’,” he added.
Likewise, it is not possible on the part of a social network to take down users who have aggressive thoughts or hatred towards political leaders, religions or a celebrity. A user who is innocent today may have some reactions tomorrow, where from you start drawing the line?
“The issue relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression, suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China,” advocate N K Kaul, appearing for Google India, told Justice Suresh Kait. For example, if you block the word “Virgin”, how will people find information about “Virgin Airlines”? Times of India has the detailed conversation here.
[February 7th]: Objectionable Content Has Been Removed – Google.
Google India has now admitted that the company has removed or filtered controversial content that were flagged to be offensive towards religious and political leaders. Which websites or pages were removed? Google hasn’t revealed any names but the company is now adhering to the laws of the land and the legal requisitions of the government. Please note that the objectionable content has been removed only from Google’s localized India domain, the same content is accessible to users of a different country.
Just one week ago Google forced a new web address for all blogger blogs in India, shifting from a .com TLD to a more localized .in address. This is definitely in conjunction with selective censorship, as the search giant can control (and remove) objectionable content for Indian users only, while they will continue to be available in other countries.
Amongst other companies, the Delhi high court has issued directions to Facebook and Yahoo to take down offensive content at their earliest. Facebook India came up with a compliance report on Monday arguing that the complaints raised are not specific in nature. Facebook told the court that it does not control or operate the servers that host the website available at www.facebook.com , which are located in the US, according to a report from Indian Express. The operating party is Facebook India Online Services Pvt Ltd and not Facebook Inc.
On the other hand, Yahoo and Microsoft filed applications for deletion of their names from the civil complaint stating that there was no allegation against them for webcasting any objectionable content. “The Defendant no.5 (Yahoo) is primarily a content portal offering e-mail and messenger communication services but not offering features generally associated with social networking websites. So to that extent the website of Defendant no.5 cannot be regarded as a social networking website” – this is Yahoo India’s official remark, after they appealed deletion from the list of alleged parties.
All the alleged websites have to produce official statements and explanations within 15 days counting from today.
Country wide protests and reactions from online junta/media sources are already pouring in. Pre screening user generated content will eventually lead to the death of free speech, and lets not forget that India is the World’s largest democracy. [Image credit]
It has been a while since my Facebook news feed has turned into a wall of App-spam, thanks to zillions of Facebook apps that exist for whatever god damned reason. From “yearly recap calendars” to “what your name says about you” to “estimated profile views”, my news feed is always struggling to stay clean. Blocking posts from junk apps has become my daily routine but since habit is man’s second nature, I have become used to this environment. Well, everyone is.
Then of course, Facebook rolled out timelines and the noisy news ticker on the right. The self updating ticker is like a never ending storyboard of what your friends are doing right this instant. This includes real time notifications of whatever actions my friends take e.g commenting on someone’s photo I am not friends with, reading an article on some social reader app or playing Bingo blitz all day long.
Now here is another twist in the tale. Facebook has officially announced the launch of open graph applications, which will allow people to express more precisely what they are doing, how they are interacting with an application, business or a fan page. This change, takes user actions to a whole new level and miles apart from only “Likes” and “comments”
Here is how Timeline apps work on Facebook timeline and news feed.
Every application developer can now define a “verb” within his app, which is a way of broadcasting the user’s “action”. “Mr X read an article in ABC social reader” – here read is the verb and it will be broadcasted only when Mr. X has started reading the article using that application. “Mr Y is listening to the ABC song on domain.com” – here “listen” is the verb; you can click on the live notification to land on that same website and listen to that song right away. The following video briefly illustrates how Timeline apps are made to work:
I must say, this is better than just a mere “Like”. More engagement, more reach and more precise nature of “online broadcasting”.
Here is Where Background Sharing Might Get Worse For The Novice User
When you hit “Like” on any webpage, you know that this is going to be broadcasted on your Facebook profile. 200%. Hence, you double check the content and then hit the “Like” button.
But with timeline apps, everything rolls on its own. Your activities and actions are automatically broadcasted and your friends will know your actions right from that news ticker. For example, you spot one of your friend using a video sharing app. You click the app, grant all the permissions, finish watching a crazy viral video and leave. So far, so good.
The next time you attempt to watch another video, it will be broadcasted automatically. “Mr X just watched a video on ABC video app”. There are chances that the video you’re watching might be obscene or vulgar but there is no way to stop the broadcast. The moment you perform an action, the trigger is pressed and there it goes on the news ticker and eventually on your timeline.
Of course you can review application permissions but considering all those novice Facebook friends you have, this is going to invite a boat load of embarrassment. Until they educate themselves how to block Facebook applications and review confusing application permissions, expect the news ticker and individual timelines to explode with recurring activities.
The confirmatory nature of sharing and broadcasting is fading away. FYI, these timeline apps can track your behavior and broadcast it, even when you’re not logged into your Facebook account. So before you jump into Timeline apps, review application requests and double check what they will be posting on your timeline.
Now what happens if a user adding a Timeline app hasn’t got Facebook Timeline yet? The short answer is that everyone will soon be switched to Facebook timelines anyway.
The Advertising Aspect Of Facebook Actions
I have strong reasons to believe that this roll out is Facebook’s core strategy to help marketers, business and brands engage more deeply with their users and audience. Businesses need a “Viral trigger” and there are situations when a mere “Like” is just not enough. The words read, cook, listen, played …….have a strong emotional hook, which causes an emotional drive in the user’s mind and makes him “CLICK”.
Facebook can take your information and mine it for useful nuggets. It can give you back statistical information about your behavior that you didn’t know about. If there was any doubt that Facebook is a data mining company with a lot of ‘big data,’ that ended today.
This is going to be a gold rush for marketers who want more conversions through advertising campaigns on Facebook. Facebook’s ad system (also known as action spec) which focuses on timeline apps, would allow businesses and app owners to pick more users on their radar. It is easy to convince someone to buy a particular product, if they see their friend’s name over it.
For media and entertainment companies, it is going to be easy to hand pick new consumers through the “Watch” and “Listen” action triggers. Furthermore, these businesses may run dry ad campaigns to see which of your friends buys the latest DVD of XYZ artist, they have the data – you listened to three dozen songs of the same artist last week.
This is indeed a win win situation for marketers, developers and Facebook itself. Timeline apps will drive more engagement, which will result in more conversions. More conversions will drive more user goodwill and developers will be more keen to devise action driven apps.
Personally, I like the idea. It is great for engagement and discovery but considering the number of novice Facebook users and garbage apps lying all over the Internet, the noise to signal ratio might just fall even further.
While the entire world wide web is busy searching for workarounds to access Wikipedia during the SOPA blackout, Android users have a reason to rejoice. The long awaited official app for Wikipedia has arrived in the Android market, the very same day when the web version of Wikipedia was blacked out in protest of SOPA.
Okay, it might not exactly be the very same day (the last update on record was on January 13th 2012) but reading the only 7 user reviews on the download page, it appears that the app has been released today only. Strange, no?
Wikipedia’s official Android app is free from black outs and personal appeals, the spartan homepage welcomes you with “Today’s featured article”, followed by a brief “In the News section”. The search box located at the way top is your only gateway to navigate around Wikipedia pages; as there is no way to find categories and specific topics through navigational hyperlinks.
Here are some screenshots:
Tapping on the menu bar, you can choose your preferred language from any of the 43 international languages that Wikipedia supports. One feature I really loved is the ability to save Wikipedia pages locally on your Android, so you can read it later when your phone is not connected to the Internet. You can literally build a library of cached Wikipedia pages on your Android phone, the only downside is that there is no way to organize downloads into separate folders or custom tags.
There is a “Nearby” option which lets you explore locations on a Google map and find related information from Wikipedia articles. This is pretty handy, when you are travelling to a new city and want to know the history, geography, people or popular culture about your current location. The “History” option works similar to the browsing history of a web browser, shows a list of Wikipedia paged you have read recently.
There are a slew of third party Wikipedia and Enclyopedia apps in the Android market with the same logo and identical names, so be sure to download the official one from this link.
It has been nearly one year since Google released Personal Blocklist, a Chrome extension, which can be used to block specific sites on Google search result pages. This was soon followed by a built in search feature, whereby you can block all the pages of a given site directly from the search result page. After performing a query and visiting the target website, if you hit the back button and return to the Google search result page, you would be greeted by a link which allows you to block all results from that specific website. An example is shown below:
On clicking the “Block all domain.com results” link, the site would literally disappear from the search result page and the domain will be added to the list of blocked sites on your Google search preferences . This feature was very useful in keeping spam results from junk sites at bay; although it appears that something has malfunctioned recently.
As noted by Alex Chitu, personalized blocked results have started re-appearing on Google search since this morning.This might be temporary glitch but as of now, you can’t block any website from a Google search result page. Have a look below:
Looking into my personal list of blocked sites on Google search, I found that the earlier preferences are sometimes, working normally. To be precise, if you have blocked a domain weeks ago, Google might still show the message “You have blocked n results” on top of the search result page. However, you can’t block a website right now, neither manually, nor from any Google search result page.
And here is another exception when a website which was blocked on June 17th, 2011, is still appearing on Google search result pages. No message is shown
Matt Cutts, the guy who heads the webspam team at Google said:
This is temporary and the right people are looking at what needs to be done to re-enable this feature, but it might take some time.
I am curious to know why is it going to “take some time”, considering the tech company we are talking here is Google. I hope this is indeed “temporary” and not a head on collision with the Search Plus Your World nightmare, which is going to happen within a week or two.