Google unveiled this morning a new undertaking from its Cultural Institute called the World Wonders Project. On the site, viewers can explore a map with pins marking famed places around the world and then, aided by visuals from Google’s Street View technology, they can go in and explore “in 360° just as if you were there.” The project currently includes 132 destinations from 18 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. No sites from Africa have yet been included, and the offerings from South America and Asia are noticeably sparse. Google did not say how it had made decisions about what to highlight, but that the selection would expand over time. Partners including UNESCO and World Monuments Fund provided information that runs alongside the virtual destinations.
Last year, Google, which had dabbled in official social-networking applications, released Google Plus. The site has all the things you’ve come to expect in a social network. There is a rich profile builder, a place for your photos, a nice videochat feature, a conversation feed, and, of course, “Circles,” which allow users to sort the people they know into different buckets. Word at the time was that Google’s full weight was behind this social push. The journalists who knew the company’s insiders best declared that Facebook was CEO Larry Page’s obsession.
I was bullish about Google Plus, even if it did feel like a Facebook clone. Google had built out a ton of infrastructure and was pushing Plus out through its major products. This had to be big!
But by most accounts and third-party research, the service is growing its number of users but not their engagement. People are “on” Google Plus, but they are not really ON Google Plus. The infrastructure is there. The street signs are there. People own plots of land. But there’s nobody actually visiting town.
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Tomorrow, Google is celebrating Robert Moog, creator of a modern synthesizer, whose 78th birthday would have been Wednesday, according to The Next Web. The synthesizer has a keyboard you can play with your mouse as well as oscillators, filters, and a mixer, and you can record and send people your creations.
How good is Google at both guessing what you want to know and having that information in its databases? In some cases, the company is really good. “Based on the other things that people are looking for when they are looking for Tom Cruise, our knowledge graph is going to show you 39 percent of the answers to the next thing you might be looking for,” said Joanna Wright, director of product management for The Google Knowledge Graph, which is what the company is calling this new feature.
To me, this update is the epitome of what Google does best. The graph makes the process of Googling something faster, easier, and better. The corporate imperative to keep people searching on Google in the face of renewed competition matches up very nicely with consumers’ desires for the best, fastest search experience. That hasn’t always been the case with the company’s social search integration, so this update feels so refreshing. It’s like a friend in the midst of a midlife crisis returning the Porsche and embracing a trusty new four-door.
You may not have Google Knowledge Graph yet, but you will soon. The company is rolling it out this week, so get ready to see your right column transformed.
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An investigative reporter might spend weeks (or months, or years) working on a single story, guided by her sense that the facts she’s uncovering will expose injustice and illuminate wrongs and otherwise make the world a better place. Whether her work has impact, though — whether it actually, finally succeeds in its goal of world-bettering — is a question that’s to some extent out of her control. The work of investigative journalists, the contemporary counterparts ofWoodward and Bernstein, struggles for attention — against slideshows, against infographics, against Kim Kardashian — in a Web-ified marketplace that teems with with competition. When you’re a lengthy story about systemic corruption, you may well be incredibly important; you may not, however, be incredibly interesting.
Enter the Center for Investigative Reporting. And then: Enter Google. The two — the former, the U.S.’s oldest investigative reporting nonprofit, and the latter, well, Google — are teaming up with the Public Insight Network to host a new conference: TechRaking 2012, a summit that will be held at Google’s Mountain View campus on April 12.
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Internet usage, studies have suggested, can improve older people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And yet, for many seniors, the shiny machines sitting on their kids’ or grandkids’ desks (or in their hands, or on their laps) are just that — machines, foreign and cold. Nearly 80% of all Americans, Pew says — and nearly 80% of all baby boomers — use the Internet; only 42% of seniors do.
The digital divide, in other words, has a corollary: the generational divide. […]
So it’s both ironic and fitting that the young company that made its name simplifying the web is now trying to bring that simplicity to the web’s oldest users. In a pilot program at its Dublin offices, Google has rolled out classes that pair up older people with (generally, much younger) Googlers, providing instruction on everything from email-sending to photo-uploading to searching for information to, in general, navigating a not-always-intuitive Internet.
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“Let’s face it,” Jonathan McIntosh writes, “Google really is just a massive advertising company at heart.” Google’s latest promotional video, which promotes an augmented reality interface built into glasses, doesn’t include ads, so the remix artist decided to create a new version, with a subversive twist. Relevant ads pop up alongside each search, cluttering the user’s field of vision with helpful links to Starbucks, Amazon, and McDonalds. McIntosh sourced the ads from actual AdWords search results, “based on the dialog or setting in the original.” It’s a hilarious, and unnerving, look at what ad-supported augmented reality might look like in the future.
A new tool under development by Oregon State computer scientists could radically alter the way that communications work on the web. Privly is a sort of manifesto-in-code, a working argument for a more private, less permanent Internet.
The system we have now gives all the power to the service providers. That seemed to be necessary, but Privly shows that it is not: Users could have a lot more power without giving up social networking. Just pointing that out is a valuable contribution to the ongoing struggle to understand and come up with better ways of sharing and protecting ourselves online.
“Companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook make you choose between modern technology and privacy. But the Privly developers know this to be false choice,” lead dev Sean McGregor says in the video below. “You can communicate through the site of your choosing without giving the host access to your content.”
Through browser extensions, Privly allows you to post to social networks and send email without letting those services see “into” your text. Instead, your actual words get encrypted and then routed to Privlys servers (or an eventual peer-to-peer network). What the social media site “sees” is merely a link that Privly expands in your browser into the full content. Of course, this requires that people who want to see your content also need Privly installed on their machines.