Goople Uber Alles

If you read the two following stories in rapid succession...

I, Cringely: The Google Box: Taking over the digital world four ounces at a time

Think Secret: Road to Expo: Reborn Mac mini set to take over the living room

...you can't help but think, at least for a moment, Google + Apple = Goople.

The rumored new entertainment-centric Mac mini ('Kaleidoscope') is just a couple notches up from the 'Google Cube' which Cringely describes. An acquisition -- or at least deep partnership -- would fall somewhere in plausibility between the perennial Sony-Apple rumors and the 1996 "Sun + Apple = Snapple" speculation boomlet.

Alas, goople.com is already registered. :(

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WTF? "Celebrate Festivus with BART"?!?!

I have no idea what this means. BART can't really be having a special giveaway based on holiday invented on Seinfeld. Can they?

BART.gov: Cal Rec students--Celebrate Festivus with BART!

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Rookie blunder on Google Sitemap stats

I was quite pleased to learn last week that by proving 'control' over a website, I could view detailed statistics about how the Google crawler sees it.

The signup process involved putting a blank file with an arbitrary name at the site root; the existence of the file in response to a Google probe confirmed that you, the Google account holder who had just requested the filename, controlled the site

I signed up and happily viewed some data on a site I control. Later, though, while offline, I recalled that many sites will give an OK response to *any* URL path requested of them. These "soft 404s" can cause some confusion for web crawlers, which wind up collecting pages of negligible value. Would a site that gave a "soft 404" OK for any path let anyone claim the right to view stats at Google?

As this is an old and well-known problem in crawling, I figured Google had accounted for it -- for example, they could probe a site with random paths and determine that it gives false OK indications, and then require a more rigorous test in those cases. But, I didn't check that they actually did this.

Well, others did check -- and found that Google had made a rookie mistake, ignoring the prevalence of soft 404s, allowing anyone to view the crawler stats for sites like EBay, AOL, and even Google Orkut. (The flaw has now reportedly been fixed.)

This was the second security flub just last week by Google: Google Base initially launched with a cross-site scripting vulnerability -- of the same sort as had bitten Google's AdWords site just last month.

Give 'em a few more launches, they'll eventually get this right. And it is important that Google does -- because the theme of most of their recent launches has been linking more web content and behavioral data than ever to precise human identities.

I think there's a master plan at work -- more on this in a future post. But both the 'false claim of ownership' and cross-site-scripting exploits are forms of identity theft, and if Google is cross-referencing all your web trails to a single identity, then that identity is going to be a very attractive target for hijacking.

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Seeing this in a feed reader? Please update your feed URL!

So that I get a vague idea of readership, I've wrapped my blog feed with Feedburner.

Unfortunately, Blogger/Blogspot gives me no option to withdraw/redirect the older original feed. So if you read 'Gojomo' via a feed reader, and are not already using the Feedburner feed, I'd appreciate if you could update your subscription to the new feed:


Yes, you'll leak a little anonymous info to me -- mainly your existence and reading software. And you may leak a little nearly-anonymous info -- your IP address -- to Feedburner instead of to Blogger/Google. But you'll help me understand who, if anyone, is reading my ravings, and how.


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Google Analytics & the "pay-per-click-you-like" future

Google Analytics:

Learn how visitors interact with your website and identify the navigational bottlenecks that keep them from completing your conversion goals. Find out how profitable your keywords are across search engines and campaigns. Pinpoint where your best customers come from and which markets are most profitable to you. Google Analytics gives you this and more through easy-to-understand visually enhanced reports.
This is a giant step towards the "pay-per-click-you-like" future I predicted previously in "Killing click-fraud (and the competition) with one stone". The gist is:

Offer a money-back-guarantee, no-questions-asked, on every click delivered. "Pay for only the clicks you like," Google could say.
No more haggling over suspicious clicks. Just use Google Analytics to see exactly which ones convert -- or otherwise look sufficiently like a real customer to you -- and pay only for those clicks, getting a refund on all others.

What does this mean? As an advertiser, you would pay more per click -- but for fewer, verified-valuable clicks. Google gets a new stream of feedback about what clicks you want, and which clicktrails leading up to -- and then through -- your site are most likely to convert. If you try to game Google by not paying for good hits -- well, that's just like no one clicking on your ads in the first place. You tend to fall out of the rankings because you're not making Google any money. You could game this for at most one payment period before you were only hurting yourself, and to climb back into the system you'd have to overpay in the future by about as much as you shaved off on the way down.

So I reiterate my previous prediction: a pay-per-click-you-want offering, with a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee on all unwanted clicks, is coming. And it will give a major competitive advantage to the player who effectively implements it first. As I noted:

So the day Google adopts this kind of policy, click fraud ceases being a major problem for them and starts to be a giant club they can use to beat off their smaller competitors. Who else will have as large and detailed a map of which clicks are wanted? And once you've been with Google for a while, and fed it months of data about the clicks you like and don't, switching to any other advertiser would involve a big cost and efficiency hit while the patterns are relearned.

Mmm, economies of scale and customer lock-in. Call it Pay Per Wanted Click (PPWC)/Cost Per Wanted Click (CPWC) advertising. And if Google doesn't eventually do this, someone else looking to leapfrog them will.

With Google Analytics, it's now even more likely that Google will be the first to offer a clicks-you-want guarantee. And the pricing power they'll acquire -- the ability to finely price-discriminate, in the economists' sense, charging each customer exactly by their ability to pay -- will be incredible, beyond that of more traditional monopoly pricing with only limited price discrimination.

Which leads naturally into another prediction. I agree with Rudy Rouhana's Long Bet: Google will face antitrust problems, probably before 2010. (This is not to imply Google will have done anything wrong. It's just the nature of the beast, as the also-rans and political opportunists of either party realize they can wield a regulatory club against Google.)

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Microsoft pushing illegal DMCA 'circumvention device' via Windows Update?

CNET: Microsoft will wipe Sony's 'rootkit'

Hmm. Might this 'update' from Microsoft, with the stated/marketed primary purpose of disabling part of Sony's DRM, qualify as an illegal "circumvention device" under the DMCA?

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Mickey Kaus: yes on 77, California's anti-gerrymandering initiative

Mickey Kaus has written a detailed case for proposition 77, the California initiative which aims to put some checks on gerrymandering. Some excerpts...
I'm going to vote for Proposition 77, which would try to end gerrymandering in California by giving the job of drawing district lines to a panel of retired judges.
Indeed, no California pol in either the U.S. House of Representatives, the state assembly, or the state senate was defeated in 2004. Yet state voters were pissed off! This impenetrability of elected institutions is as big an issue for our democracy as campaign finance reform, about which a hundred times more ink has been spilled. (After all, the candidate who raises more money quite often loses. The candidate who gets to rearrange concrete district lines to his advantage almost never loses.)
The New York Times Magazine's world-weary contrarian exposition of the difficulties of drawing competitive districts concluded that under Prop. 77
at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 congressional district could have competitive races.
A dozen? A dozen seems like a larger number than zero! A dozen competitive seats would be a big improvement. I'll take it.
For Democrats concerned that reform will only benefit Republicans, Kaus points out that...
There's a similar ballot proposition in GOP-controlled Ohio. There, unlike in California, it's the Democrats pushing reform.
More centrist Democrats will be elected! Prop. 77 won't result in a GOP takeover of the California statehouse. There aren't enough Republicans in the state to go around. It might easily result in an increase of Democratic seats, because there will be more districts with slim Democratic majorities rather than a smaller number of safe-seat districts with huge Democratic majorities. If Dems sweep the new swing districts, they'll win big. But the winners are likely to be centrists who appeal to the swing voters, not paleoliberals or interest group hacks who know they can't be dislodged.
(Of course the unstated corollary is that if all those Dem centrists in swing districts do a bad job, creating statewide voter disaffection -- then there would be a backlash, and a sweep of the slightly-Democratic districts by centrist Republicans. But isn't that how it should be -- rather than getting the same hack incumbents reelected no matter whether times are good or bad, whether policies are working or not?)
Democrats might retake Congress. Gerrymandering favors Democrats in California, but nationwide it's one of the things keeping Republicans in power. As Morton Kondracke notes, thanks to gerrymandering a surge for the Democrats analogous to the Gingrich surge in 1994 is probably no longer enough to change who controls the House. That's why the Republican National Committee has opposed Proposition 77, even though it's a pet project of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger.
If the initiatives in California and Ohio pass, jumpstarting a national reform movement, the ultimate effects for the two parties are unknowable: unable to run as many partisan hacks in safe districts, the parties themselves would change. But the effect on government and the incumbent politicians is certain: they'd have to compete harder, appeal to more diverse constituencies, respond more directly to the electoral process, and shake off the partisan insiders who now hold the process captive. That's an unalloyed good, whatever your political affiliation.

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Creative interpretations of copyright law, part 337

PrintFu: Super Fast. Super Cheap. PDF Book Printing. Neat idea for a service; cheap printing of any PDF on the web which is then bound (like a college course reader) and sent to you. But is it legal? From their FAQ:
What about Copyright?
PrintFu never looks at the content of the printed content. PrintFu is only a remote printer. The user is responsible for their own rights to the printed content.
Hmm. I think such a service should be legal, but I don't think "we never look at the content" is the standard. MP3.com got into trouble trying to use the delegated and indirect fair-use rights of its customers -- who had even "proven" (after a fashion) their possession of a legal physical copy. My magic 8-ball says for PrintFu: "Danger ahead. Watch your back."

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Crawling for dollars

Silicon.com: SEC in legal fight with Estonians over financial hack

Some folks apparently figured out a way to access BusinessWire press releases slightly before their official release, and used the information to trade stocks for profit. I'm guessing they speculatively crawled URLs where they expected releases to occur:

The SEC's complaint states that in June 2004 Lohmus became a client of Business Wire, which gave it access to its secure client website, after which a spider program was used.

However, the SEC could be moving into a grey area as a spider program does not circumnavigate access controls to a system but crawls around a site from weblink to weblink, reporting information back to its owner. The SEC may have to examine whether the spider predicted a weblink that was not publically available and then prove that was 'hacking' in order to prosecute the firm.

I'm not sure what law was broken. If anything, BusinessWire was lax in putting information at predictable URLs without access controls in advance of the official releases. You could think of the Estonians as simply engaging in very aggressive research; perhaps their true (or original) intent was just to be among the very first to see releases at the moment of their official release, and the viewing of releases even earlier just a 'happy accident' caused by the flaws in BusinessWire's system

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Pay no attention to the man behind the API

Amazon Mechanical Turk, "artificial artificial intelligence".

Complete simple tasks that people do better than computers. And, get paid for it.

Choose from thousands of tasks, control when you work, and decide how much you earn.

Freaky cool.

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FEMA's not ready for robot revolution -- so you'd better be

Here at Gojomo Blog, we've been following the threat of robot insurrection for years, starting with commentary about one of the more unusual 'Long Bets' (#86), positing that "[b]y the year 2150, over 50% of schools in the USA or Western Europe will require classes in defending against robot attacks."

Well now via Slashdot, we see that the rest of America is waking up to this danger. A new book by Daniel H. Wilson, How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion, will finally give Americans the skills they need to survive this threat -- a potential disaster that could be greater than terrorism, hurricanes, and earthquakes combined.

Wilson is an actual Carnegie Mellon roboticist, so you know you're getting the inside scoop the robots don't want you to know.

Writers Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant are taking a break from their usual lighthearted work to adapt the book for the big screen -- and no doubt this educational film will someday be a key part of American schools' robot-defense curriculum.

And again: it's not too late to buy Old Glory Robot Insurance (video) (transcript).

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