Google Seeks to Solve World’s Problems with Solve for X

Google has rolled out a new project called “Solve for X”. The project seeks to “amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork.” They’re looking for new ideas and new innovations that will solve some of the world’s most enigmatic problems.

Solve for X

“Solve for X” is a forum that hopes to engage individuals in a dialog to solve massive problems that our world faces. They describe the solutions they are looking for as “radical” as they state on their website:

Radical in the sense that the audaciousness of the proposals makes them sound like science fiction. And radical in the sense that there is some real technology breakthrough on the horizon to give us all hope that these ideas could really be brought to life.

Below is a small video they posted to describe their endeavor.

 

There are several speakers who have videos posted on this website. If you go to www.wesolveforx.com you can see several “moonshot” ideas. You can also view the videos on their YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/wesolveforx.

I really like the premise of this website. To me, the internet will never reach its full potential until we are able to connect the minds of people across the globe and truly seek solutions to the challenges we face. While the internet has been great for commerce, the potential for solving problems and sharing ideas is truly its biggest asset.

Internet Censorship in India: Google Removes Objectionable Content Following Court Orders

internet-censorshipThe 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.

freedom-of-speech

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]

Samsung Galaxy Note Coming To AT&T’s Network On Feb 19th

Samsung has just sent out emails to all bloggers out there confirming that the Galaxy Note will be landing on AT&T’s network on Feb 19th. The pre-orders for the handset will begin from 5th Feb itself, and they will be shipped by 17th of February.

Samsung had announced the AT&T variant of the Galaxy Note at CES earlier this month. The AT&T variant of the Note is different from its European sibling in quite a few ways. Externally, the AT&T version comes with the four-usual Android keys while the European version comes with a physical Home button surrounded by two capacitive keys.

The biggest change in the AT&T variant of the Note is internally though. It comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 dual-core processor, instead of the beast Exynos 4210 SoC found on the European variant. The screen, a 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED with 1280×800 resolution, the S-Pen, and other connectivity features all remain the same though. The Note will also supports AT&T’s ‘true’ 4G LTE network, in areas where the carrier has already deployed the service.

The Galaxy Note will set users back by $299.99 on a 2-year contract with AT&T. Interested readers can find more information about the Galaxy Note here.

 

Google Guesses Age and Gender Based on Websites You Visit

Quite recently, Google made several changes to their privacy policy to simplify it and merge several privacy policies into one. One of the changes Google made was to allow users to change their ads preferences easily across the board.

However, one interesting thing that Google has now disclosed through their Ad Preferences Manager is that, Google has been guessing a user’s age and gender based on the websites they have visited.

Google Demographics Guess

Google says that the gender and age are determined by the websites a user visits. In my case both the Age as well as the Gender were correct. Google does not say as to how they are coming up with that assumption but their algorithm looks pretty accurate for most users and might include data from as well. Of course, this information may not be right always and Google provides users with an option to correct it as well.

Google uses this age and gender information along with other preferences to display personalize ads for the users. If you are not comfortable with Google collecting this information, you can easily Opt out by visiting this page.

You can view your own Age and Gender information by visiting Google Ad Preferences Manager page, however, you will have to be logged in with a Google account to view this information. Do let us know if Google was correctly able to guess it for you or not.

Google’s SPDY Invited to be a Part of HTTP 2.0 Standard

Google’s vision of a faster web just got real. SPDY is Google’s internet protocol replacement for HTTP, which has some interesting features to speed up the internet. It was revealed for the first time back in 2009, around the time I joined Techie-buzz as a staff writer. Two years later, now, Mark Nottinghamthe chairman of the HTTP working group has invited SPDY to be included in the HTTP 2.0 standard.

The Chromium blog defined SPDY as,

SPDY is at its core an application-layer protocol for transporting content over the web. It is designed specifically for minimizing latency through features such as multiplexed streams, request prioritization and HTTP header compression.

The test results were impressive, with up to 55% speed improvement, over traditional HTTP. This was tested by developing top 25 websites using SPDY and HTTP. You can read all about it at this post. SPDY is also Open Source, allowing community-based development. The primary improvements in SPDY are

  • A slash of 50% in page load time
  • Communication from server end if the client needs resources and server can provide them
  • Use of SSL as the underlying protocol, providing a secure web
  • Use of header compression
  • Allowing concurrent HTTP requests in a single TCP session

HTTP is an old protocol, and the web has improved by leaps and bounds since then. There could not have been a better time for a new application layer protocol.

The next step for Google is travelling further down the protocol stack, and it is already proposing an alternative for TCP. Besides SPDY, Google also proposed increasing the initial congestion window from three to ten, which has already been hacked by them internally as part of the TCP Slow start hack, and incorporated into their Google.com domain. If you have been wondering, this is one of the reasons why the Google.com website loads so fast.

Suddenly, Blocked Results Are Back In Google Search

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:

blocked-results

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.

blocked-results1

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

blocked-sites-google-search

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.

Google Search Gets Even More Personal But “Our World” Is Not Just Google Plus

That’s right, Google search results will now be accompanied by results that are more “personal” to you. This is one of the biggest changes Google has incorporated in the past couple of years and it is expected that more changes are a “work in progress”.

Search Plus your world takes personalized search results to a new level; whereby a user can get answers from not only webpages, but people with whom they are connected on Google plus, Picasa photo albums, Google Plus brand pages and more social stuff that Google offers. No Facebook, No Twitter, No Flickr – Only Google. That says something.

Here is an example where people and pages from Google Plus are highlighted on the far right of a Google search result page:

Wow.

Google’s main product is acting as a “catalyst” and pushing Google Plus as far as it can. Britney spears has a verified Twitter account, a Flickr photostream and a Facebook fan page but none of them are shown. Blind eye!

“Search Plus Your World” Is Not Evil But It’s Not “Complete” Either

Some bloggers are saying that this move is not evil.  Yeah, not “so” evil but it is definitely headed towards being one. Here is why:

A search engine is like a court room where every website is treated equal in the eyes of the “law” (in this case, it is the algorithms and Google’s way of determining the relevant answer to the user’s query). But with this social mix, it appears that Google’s own properties are thrown on the face of the user.

Consider a typical Google Plus user who perform searches while he is signed into his Google account. For a “people search” query, Google Plus profiles and brand pages will be ranked higher than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles (almost always) . I update my Twitter profile almost every day and it has been months since I even logged into my Google Plus account. But, when I perform a keyword search for my name, I see my Google Plus profile on the way top.

Why this favor? I agree that I am using “your” search engine but you are assuming that my Google Plus profile is important than my Twitter or LinkedIn profile (and hence showing it on top). Not fair mate, not fair at all!

Social data is not just about a single social networking site that “connects people”. It is “the whole thing” and unless you have the system or ability to gauge, measure and evaluate “the whole thing”, it is too early to call this change “Your World”.

“Facebook, Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only social network that provides such a persistent service.” Google Fellow Amit Singhal told Search Engine Land.

It’s like –“Since they are not giving us your data, we will create our own Facebook and Twitter and force you to use it sooner or later. We will plaster Google Plus in every nook and cranny , be it Google Maps, YouTube, Google Reader or Gmail, we wont stop anytime soon. We will introduce new markups that influences search results, and we will slowly use search to propel our social network, which has failed over and over and over again.”

And it sucks. Not for Google, Facebook or Twitter but for us. For the entire web.

Samsung Unveils The Galaxy Y Duos and Galaxy Y Pro Duos Dual-SIM Phones

Samsung has just announced two new Android running dual-SIM handsets – the Galaxy Y Duos and the Galaxy Y Pro Duos. While the Galaxy Y is a touch-only handset, the Y Pro comes with a physical QWERTY keyboard as well. The Y has a 3.14-inch QVGA (240×320) resolution screen, while the Y Pro has a 2.6-inch QVGA LCD screen.
Both the handsets are powered by an 832MHz processor and run Android 2.3 Gingerbread with TouchWIZ running on top of it. Other key features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 3MP fixed-focus camera on the back, microSD card slot and A-GPS. The Galaxy Y Pro also has a front-facing VGA camera. The handsets are also capable of recording videos in VGA resolution. The phones will have 4GB of internal memory, and will come with a 2GB microSD card pre-loaded in the box. Both the phones also have 3G, 512MB of internal memory and 384MB of RAM.
Both the handsets are expected to hit the Asian markets sometime in January 2012. The Korean company did not announce the pricing of either of these handsets.

Another Reason Why Authorship In Google Can Not Be Ignored Anymore

A few months back, Google Introduced the new rel=authortag to highlight original content curators in search results. Married with Google Plus, the author tag uses a lot of signals which differentiates an original author from spammers and helps users discover useful content.

It is a simple way to inform Google that you wrote this content and your Google Plus profile image should appear on search results, as seen in the following example:

authorship

 

There is no guarantee that your Google Plus profile image will mandatorily appear on search results, after you have added authorship support on your website. The display of authorship was tweaked recently, in order to showcase the popularity of an author with his Google Plus circle count and more social data.

Now here is another reason why you should consider adding authorship support on your blog or website.

Earlier, when you clicked the name of an author from a search result page, Google would take you to the Google Plus profile of the author. This has been changed recently and Google now keeps the user on the search result page itself, showing more information about the author and some of his recent posts. Following is an example:

landing-page-authorship

Notice that a filter of author name has been added to the search box and you can add more keywords to refine the search. As long as the author name is contained in the search box, Google would show results that have been written by this author only. The results can be a blog post, a post on his Google Plus profile, a post on LinkedIn and so forth.

The idea here is to highlight the author and offer a way to filter content written by specific authors who hold Trustin the eyes of Google. All the search tools in the left sidebar will continue to work along with the authorfilter, so you can filter posts that are written by a specific person, within a specific time frame or date.

This is a nice and easy way to keep tabs on your favorite authors from one place, no need to subscribe to their author feeds on multiple blogs. No wonder, actual users will soon discover this feature and they will start using it to find content written by specific people. Hence, it makes sense to add authorship support on your website and tell Google that you are the person who wrote this content.

The future of searchis clear. Google Plus is slowly being integrated in every nook and cranny and you can no longer ignore its dominance.

The Father Of Hyper Search Is Preparing A “Google Of The Future”

massimo-marchioriEven kids know that Google has its own way to analyze the popularity and usefulness of a webpage using their own link analysis algorithm, dubbed PageRank. But very few people are aware of Hyper Search the first published technique to introduce link analysis for search engines.

Massimo Marchiori, an Italian Mathematician and computer scientist, created the Hyper search technique on April 7th 1997. The Goal of Hyper search was to analyze results not only on the ranks of single pages, but also on the relationship between the single pages and the entire web taken together. When Google co founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin introduced their own link parsing algorithm in 1998, they cited Marchiori, Garfield and Kleinberg in their original paper.

14 years later, Marchiori is planning to shake the web with his new venture, nick named Volunia.

It is a new search engine. It’s not like a Google improved by 10 percent that gives you a new perspective to find what you are looking for. Instead, it’s a   perspective completely different from the normal search engines that exist now. It’s a new radical view of what a search engine of the future could be., says Marchiori, when he was interviewed by Coreiere della Serra.

Volunia is expected to launch during early 2012 and is now accepting beta signups for power users. Power users will be given a chance to test the features before the search engine goes live in 12 international languages. Here is the introductory video where Mr. Marchiori explains what Volunia is all about:

We are not focusing on creating a better search engine than Google. What we really want to do is offer a different perspective of search. I can’t reveal the details right now, given the fact that a company like Google, for example, would have no problems in setting up a team of 100 engineers to work day and night on our idea, Marchiori said.

In my opinion, it will take more than an algorithm to get past Google’s huge dominance on search market. Whenever someone produced innovation (YouTube for example), they were either acquired or killed. Starting 2000, Google won users who never knew what the heck a search engine is in the first place. Volunia has to deal with an already educated audience.

Marchiori never boarded the commercial ship of Larry and Sergey. He walked away, but its never too late.