Posts tagged ‘Google’

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus That Isn’t There

It seems to me far from right that Clay Shirky should write a book about the internet without first having spent a few minutes surfing it. In Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, he lays out his case that as we turn off our televisions and log onto the internet, we are tapping into an enormous amount of brainpower that was being wasted watching Access Hollywood, Dancing With The Stars and Jersey Shore and using it to do all manner of useful things. His leading piece of evidence is Wikipedia, which he calculates to be the product of 100 million hours of human thought. Indeed, he says that if we tapped into the cognitive surplus of just the United States for one year, we could create 2,000 Wikipedia-scale projects.

Nothing wrong with his math. Plenty wrong with his example. First, if we were inclined to create 2,000 comparably “useful” projects per year, we would. This has not happened, nor will it. Second, let’s not simply accept that Wikipedia is an unalloyed gift to humanity. This the site that – I could choose from a more or less unlimited number of examples here – falsely published defamatory content (by its own admission) that implicated John Siegenthaler, publisher of the Tennessean and former administrative assistant in the Kennedy Administration in the assassination of both John and Robert Kennedy. It took more than four months for the error to be corrected, and Siegenthaler wound up writing an article about his ordeal and the pain it caused him in USA Today. Lest you think this is an isolated incident, look at the number of results Google provides for a search of the following terms:

+wikipedia +slander – 149,000

+wikipedia +lies -4,860,000

+wikipedia +mistakes – 1,860,00

Wikipedia doesn’t always get it wrong, but it gets it wrong a lot. Enough so that we should hesitate to crown it as the greatest collection of knowledge in human history. Even though it has tightened up its editorial standards a bit over the years, they remain far from rigorous. Reader beware.

Of course, Shirky is right that some other lovely things are happening online. People are coming together and raising money for charity and doing global sing-alongs of “Kumbaya” and so forth. But let’s be honest about what far more of them are doing. They’re going to They’re looking at porn. They’re playing games. How much of our supposed cognitive surplus is spent on video games? In March 2009, reported that the one billionth match of Halo 3 had been played. All together that’s 63 centuries of game play. And that’s just for one title. The numbers get out of hand pretty quickly when you start piling on Grand Theft Auto, Sims et al. Add in Facebook and Twitter and you are in danger of surpassing the power of most calculators.

Though it’s far from a perfect description, the interactive space can be divided roughly into things that save time and things that waste time. The latter predominate by far. That’s why we don’t and never will have a cognitive surplus to exploit. As we amuse ourselves to death with electronic media, our brains have been liquified. When we turn off our televisions and turn on our computers, the runoff is simply going into a different ditch.


August 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm 3 comments

YouTube will lose $470 million in 2009 – even more than the New York Times


If you think Google is infallible–and frankly, very often they seem to be–take a moment to consider the hemorrhaging going on at one of its most high-profile investments, YouTube. Farhad Manjoo writes in Slate that analysts at Credit Suisse estimate that YouTube will lose $470 million this year. This would be considered a horrific number even in the newspaper business. (Still chump change if you’re running a car company or a bank, of course.) What’s more, monetizing some of the most popular content on YouTube is problematic, because a significant amount of it is pirated. And the creators of the content–often TV networks–are unlikely to agree that YouTube deserves advertising revenue generated by their content. Can’t say that I blame them. 

The only good news for Google is that they’re sitting on a pile of hundred-dollar bills roughly the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza, which means they will have more time to work on a solution that most other companies would. That being said, Google is caught in a trap of their own devising, and a lot of very smart people don’t see a good way out of it. If they can’t stop the bleeding, Larry and Sergey may even have to downgrade to a 767 and/or cut back on the Alaskan king crab legs in the employee cafeteria. And a pity that would be.

April 22, 2009 at 12:46 am Leave a comment

Terrible news for the PC industry: Mobile phones and data plans have found their mojo.

Vic Gundotra, VP of Engineering for Google’s mobile and developer products, makes a simple but compelling case for the direction that mobile phones and data plans pretty much have to go in the immediate future.  And if anything, the current economic climate will accelerate the stampede towards mobile devices. In Gundotra’s own words: “Worldwide phone penetration continues to climb at a break-neck pace, with over 4 billion mobile subscribers at last count. (In comparison, the PC industry is forecasted to see its sharpest unit decline in history.”

As data plans get simpler, web browsers get better and devices get smarter, mobile data use will continue to skyrocket. This is great news, especially here in the United States, the carrier networks have a history of pursuing breathtakingly stupid policies that seem to be designed to thwart the use of their own products (e.g. pay-as-you-go data plans). Finally, they’re wising up. How long will it be before we see a phone serving as the main computing device of the employees of a major company? I put it at 2 and a half years. 

Click here to see the full post on 

March 30, 2009 at 12:16 am Leave a comment

Twitter, real-time search and the integrity of information.

Some believe Twitter could find its business niche in the area of real-time search, something Google and its army of algorithms still don’t do particularly well. The only barrier between something happening on one side of the world and your knowing about it on the other is the time it takes to type 140 characters. See the full story from Technology Review here.

While I see the appeal of real-time search, the real need in the marketplace is for authoritative search. In other words, right now no one is really in the business of providing search results based on the integrity of the information returned. The interactive space is the greatest propagator of hoaxes, urban legends, rumor, innuendo, slipshod reporting and outright lies in the history of civilization. This has harmed countless people, causes and brands. Mark Twain said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Now technology has made lies faster still.

Is a move towards real-time search a good thing, or have we simply made it easier for the truth to be trampled by a stampede of tweets?

March 29, 2009 at 2:33 am Leave a comment


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