Google & Innovation

Gems gleaned from Google’s recent Think Quarterly-The Innovation Issue:

  • Spark_with_imagination, fuel_with_data–Google Search user said they wanted 30 results per page but actual tests showed they preferred 10 results per page.  “[P]roviding 30 results was 20 percent slower than providing 10, and what users really wanted was speed. That’s the beautiful thing about data – it can either back up your instincts or prove them totally wrong.” Susan Wojcicki, The Eight Pillars of Innovation
  • Credible Mass.  “The insights of how many people like something aren’t enough. The credible mass will help us curate with a greater sense of credibility by tapping the insight of experts.”  Scott Belsky, Favorite Innovations
  • The Internet of Things. “[Embedding the web in things will] be most exciting when it’s not the expected stuff like consumer electronics, air quality monitoring or the dreaded internet fridge. It’ll be bottom-up innovation, when we stick some intelligence and connectivity in our saltcellars, our picture frames and our hats. Not because we have an overwhelming reason to do so but because we might as well, because it’s getting easier.” Russell Davies, Practical Magic

We Can Handle The Truth

A friend criticized publication of Ander Breivik’s photo:

On July 25, the Globe published three handsome photographs of Anders Breivik under the headline “Norway suspect admits ‘facts’, not crime”. By doing so, the paper has elevated an extremist mass murderer to a position of relative glamour. I can only imagine how this choice of photos might encourage other potential killers to start shooting innocents — so they too, can get their images and crazy messages on the front page, even if it is below the fold. Bad choice.

My response was different:

I don’t agree with censorship.

Breivik committed a heinous, monstrous crime. But he doesn’t look like a monster. He could be a Gap model. One could pass him on the street or sit next to him on the subway and not be uneasy–until he opened his mouth. He was able to kill so many on the island because he called them out of hiding, saying he was there to protect them from the shooter. Obviously he was able to establish some trust because he was dressed as a policeman, but I expect his benign appearance helped convince others he was not a monster. His appearance is part of the story. Even if it were not, I’d want to know who did this thing.

From what we know his murders were driven by a lethal mix of ideology and mental illness. He’s acknowledged that he killed the victims but denies criminal responsibility because the killings were “necessary.” He’s written thousands of words explaining his fears of immigration, Islam, cultural mixing. The media is reporting his beliefs and their connection to the ideology of right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups. He killed because he was obsessed with these ideas. Other potential killers are far more likely to be similarly obsessed and motivated by ideas than by a desire to get their pictures in the paper. Should the media not report anything about these racist and murderous ideologies because doing so might inspire others to kill to promote their obsessions? I’d rather expose the hatred at the heart of these beliefs to public scrutiny.

Breivik is one of the most prolific mass-murderers in recent times. The scale of his shooting rampage is unprecedented. Should the media not report the number of victims because other mass murders will try to top it?

If the press censors every fact that might motivate, inflame, or inspire others to engage in similar acts, then what’s left to say? “In some place and at some time something really bad happened. No pictures, facts, or other information at 11.”

I agree with Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Google+, One Week Later

Last week Google+ had 10 million members.  This week it has 20 million members.  It’s rate of growth as a social networking platform is unprecedented, and it is still in beta and open only by invitation.  It allows more control over personal information than Facebook. Like any social networking site users must think through the privacy implications of using it.  For instance, its seamless integration with Picasa makes one’s shared albums more readily visible to people in one’s Google+ circles, so I changed the visibility of all of my Picasa albums to exert more fine-grained control over sharing.

I’ve had a Facebook account since the days when it was open only to .edu addresses but I’ve never truly used it. I explained to a friend why Google+ appeals to me:

Google+ is Facebook without the clutter and with privacy controls. It’s social networking where I don’t have to keep my eyes closed because 90% of my contacts are current or recent students with no boundaries and no discretion. It’s integrated with other Google products I use often. It’s the future.

Facebook users may love what it allows them to do (whatever that may be) but they don’t love Facebook.  The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) just reported that “Facebook ranks as the lowest-scoring site of all companies measured, not just in the social media category.”  Reasons “could include the complexity of the user controls, the introduction of ads, and the privacy issue.”  Facebook’s genius was in filling a need, not anything intrinsic about the site’s architecture or design.  Google+ provides an alternative with different architecture, design, and policies, especially for those not heavily invested in Facebook.

The Law School Game

From time to time readers accuse me of being too negative about law school.  They exaggerate.  I do not espouse a blanket “don’t go to law school” line.  Law can open interesting and rewarding career paths, provide intellectual stimulation, and enable a comfortable lifestyle.  The key word in the previous sentence is “can.”  I did not write “law will open . . .”  Over the past decade increase in the number of lawyers, outsourcing of legal jobs, technology, and the recession have all changed the economics of law practice. Prospective lawyers must weigh the cost of law school with the benefits they can reasonably attain.  The number of recent law grads who attain annual salaries greater than $150k is small.  The number of recent law grads of lower-ranked schools who attain such annual salaries is minuscule.  The number of law grads who struggle to repay law school loans is alarming.  The number of disenchanted lawyers whose mantra is “don’t go to law school” is discouraging.

Am I being too negative?

Prospective law students must add this New York Times article to their due diligence:  Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!   Some excerpts:

WITH apologies to show business, there’s no business like the business of law school. The basic rules of a market economy — even golden oldies, like a link between supply and demand — just don’t apply. Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.

The article focuses on “the strange case of New York Law School and its dean, Richard A. Matasar.”

For more than a decade, Mr. Matasar has been one of the legal academy’s most dogged and scolding critics, and he has repeatedly urged professors and fellow deans to rethink the basics of the law school business model and put the interests of students first . . . Given his scathing critiques, you might expect that during Mr. Matasar’s 11 years as dean, he has reshaped New York Law School to conform with his reformist agenda. But he hasn’t. Instead, the school seems to be benefitting from many of legal education’s assorted perversities. 

N.Y.L.S. is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country, but with tuition and fees now set at $47,800 a year, it charges more than Harvard. It increased the size of the class that arrived in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded. It reported in the most recent US News & World Report rankings that the median starting salary of its graduates was the same as for those of the best schools in the nation — even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.

It doesn’t get better.

Apology Without Responsibility

LONDON—News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch forcefully apologized to victims of phone hacking by his employees but declared he was not to blame—deflecting the responsibility for the fiasco to other managers, saying “they behaved dreadfully” and “it’s for them to pay.”

Murdochs Are Grilled, The Wall Street Journal, 19 Jul 11

Rupert Murdoch earned some $22.7 million last year as chairman of News Corp.  His News Corp. stock is worth billions of dollars.  What does that compensate him for, if not control and responsibility?  How much more do those cost?

“Do you accept that ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco,” lawmaker Jim Sheridan asked.

“No,” Murdoch answered.

“You’re not responsible? Who is responsible?” Sheridan said, according to a Roll Call transcript.

“The people that I trusted to run [the tabloid], and then maybe the people that they trusted.”

When Murdoch was asked if he was guilty of “willful blindness” or ignoring “knowledge that you could have had and should have had,” he said: “We were not ever guilty of that.”

Murdoch’s Refusal to Take Responsibility May Undermine Credibility as CEO, Bloomberg, 20 Jul 11


As I write stories about Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament appear on the home pages of the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Hartford Courant . . . but not on News Corp.’s

New Web Toys

Two diversions have landed on my desktop this week: Google+ (thanks to a friend at Google), which is attracting positive reviews (read David Pogue’s here) even though it’s not officially open, and on-demand music site Spotify, open today in the U.S. after years of buzz from Europe (yes, I paid for the premium service).  Google+ intrigues me because I don’t use my Facebook account–most of my contacts are current or former students and I can’t get past the awkwardness of being around things neither they nor I want to know about the other–, the Facebook interface gives me a headache, I like how Google+ allows one to organize people into distinct circles, and I use Google search, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Picasa daily on my computers and phone.  Spotify plays everything stored on my computers and everything in its extensive online catalog on any networked device.  How extensive?  It has results for everything in this stream-of-consciousness search: Glenn Gould, Buddy Rich, Eddie Harris, Compared to What, Frank Zappa, Witchi Tai To, Seatrain, The Tubes, The Fugs, Blondie, Philip Glass, Leonard Cohen, Eric Burdon, The Roches, Ronnie Spector, The Ramones, Balkan Beat Box, Natalie MacMaster, Duke Robillard, Vassar Clements, and over 120 versions of Since I Fell For You.  (But not Seatrain’s Marblehead Messenger, alas)

In other words, I didn’t complete today’s To Do list.