Posts tagged ‘google’

Big Brother 2.0

Whenever I receive a Google Alert in my inbox for a search conducted on me, I get a little concerned. Who wants to know more about me? Why? And did they find anything incriminating?

This may seem rather silly or vain, but I bet I’m not the only social media user who’s wondered about their online privacy – if such a thing exists.

We’re the so-called Google Generation that lives a large portion of our social lives online.  Thanks to web 2.0 technology, we’re part of an infinite social web through which we construct our digital identities and connect with friends and family via blogging, facebooking, plurking or instant messaging. 

This type of communication is immediate, cheap and convenient.  It enables us to be users and producers, and share information on an unprecedented scale.  It satisfies the exhibitionists and voyeurs in us all. Our past and present is digitally archived for the world to find, ogle, admire or exploit. But along with this blurring of the traditional private/public boundary comes a barrage of threats to our privacy.

Watch out
IT Security Strategist Herbert Thompson has demonstrated just how easy it is to break into a person’s online banking account using the information they provide about themselves on the Net, via their blog or online CV.  Even little nuggets of your personal information make you vulnerable to exploitation.  His advice is to “think first, post later”, as most of the data we put online cannot be deleted.

Danah Boyd of Harvard University aptly points out that the current generation of social media users – i.e us – embrace a new conception of privacy.  Instead of regarding it as a secret to be concealed, we consider it more an issue of accessibility to information. 

Hence the mass protests and petitions against Facebook’s Beacon and Social Ads systems which were introduced last year. With the Beacon application, Facebook struck data-sharing deals with various e-commerce sites.  If, for example, a user bought a product online, that information would appear on the user’s Facebook profile.

Facebook’s social ads system went a step further – or too far.  If a user posted a positive comment about a movie or book, Facebook would include his/her name and photo in an advertisement for that product, and display it to his/her friends.

Following protests and petitions from users, Zuckerburg and co. have reformed their privacy settings but not enough to leave the privacy-phobes satisfied.

Wake up!
Privacy is not a privilege online. We should quit playing Victim and start taking responsibility for our digital identities in this networked world. These are my three simple rules of thumb:

1. Value your personal information. Most social networks require only your name, email address and birth date on registration. Everything else you provide is voluntary (and can come back to bite you in the rear end).
2. By using a social networking site like Facebook, you agree to its Terms and Conditions. Read it!
3. Do not share information that you don’t want others to know about you.  It’s that clear cut.

For the odd narcissists who demand their online privacy while still posting sordid details and images of their sex lives, I suggest you revert to web 0.0 and keep a journal. Unless the current legislation on privacy is amended, our online identities will continue to be fair game for companies, governments, employers, journalists and stalkers alike.

We’ve got to live with it. Responsibly.


1 September, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

Search Wars: Man vs. Machine

The more I learn about social media and Web 2.0, the more I think that cyber futurists are getting it wrong.  If we indulge their claim that we’re advancing towards a world in which machines and robots are going to reign, then technology – or at least the web – is going backward.  It’s become less mechanical and more social – and if the popularity of social media is any indication, most of us web users love being on the flipside. 

I’m not just talking about blogs and social networks, but the recent explosion of social search.  New search technologies that provide interactivity, personalisation and dynamism offer a remarkable alternative to mainstream search engines.  It’s time we look beyond Google because it doesn’t have all the answers.

Search 0.0 – 3.0
Search 2.0 developer Ebrahim Ezzy’s explanation of the three generations of search technology helps to understand how search has evolved:

Traditional Search Engines work to retrieve information using Boolean queries, link analysis and text relevance. These first generation search engines, like Alta Vista, rank sites according to page content.
Second generation search (eg. Google) uses link analysis for ranking search results.
Third generation search engines combine the functions of the “old” search engines with new models that take into account “user preferences, collaboration, collective intelligence, a rich user experience, and many other specialised capabilities that make information more productive”.

I’ve compiled a list (by no means comprehensive) of third generation/social search engines that will make you think twice about declaring Google King of the Search Wars.

Scour is a social search engine aggregator that allows users to vote and rank search results using their own criteria.  It delivers search results from the top 3 search engines  (Google, Yahoo and MSN) after taking into account  user feedback.  Users earn points for each search, vote and comment they make, which can be redeemed for Visa gift cards.

Rollyo is a community-driven search engine that allows users to create their own personalised search engines based on sites they add to their SearchRoll.  Given the information overload that we have to endure on the web, these search engines conveniently allow users to filter and control the amount and quality of their searches.  Swicki works in a similar way to Rollyo, but returns comprehensive text or multimedia searches on a specific topic/theme chosen by the user. 

While Google is great for searching pages, it’s less handy when searching for people.  That’s where Sightix comes in.  This unique service provides users with personalised searches based on their social networks, friends and connections.   While traditional search engines will return the same results to different users, Sightix takes into account the identity of each user and returns unique, personalised and relevant results based on that user’s social graph.    Whozat, SpocK and Zoominfo are other people search engines that are worth a visit, especially if you want concise information on an individual.

A major shortcoming of Google is that it doesn’t index multimedia content and Flash files, but now there are search engines dedicated exclusively to this.  Mediawombat is a search engine for multimedia and Flash files only. is another valuable multimedia search engine that can be used for finding video and audio files.

My favourite of the lot is Clusty, which organises search results into folders, making it easier and faster to navigate.  So while a Google search of Nelson Mandela will return millions of page results that you’ll have to wade through to find specific information on his 90th birthday celebration, Clusty returns this impressive, organized  collection of folders ranging from Biography, 90th Birthday Celebration, Nobel Peace Prize, etc. 

Another search engine that will speed up your research is Cluuz, because it goes beyond providing mere links as search results.  It peers into the Web, extracts information, images and tags relating to your search word and presents them to the user so that relevant information can be found faster.

Niche search engines are also on the increase: 5tvs is an Internet TV search aggregator, Metaverselink can be used to search within virtual worlds, Gogooligans is an educational search engine for kids, and Codase and Krugle are every programmer’s dream as they index only source code (Java, CSS etc) and technical information.

Traditional vs. Social Search
Social search may be more innovative and intuitive than traditional search, but it cannot replace traditional search engines.  When used together with mainstream search engines, they can yield powerful search results that can be more productive and valuable for the user. 

One of the problems with community-driven search engines like Scour is that they depend on the participation of users to stay afloat , and are also susceptible to spammers.

While many new Search 2.0 tools are aspiring to be the next Google, it’s not about competition but collaboration.  As Ezzy points out, even the mainstream search giants have realised the potential of social search and implemented some of its features.  Yahoo! has introduced My Web 2.0 and Google offers bookmarking and tagging of search history for users. 

The future of search- and the web at large – is definitely leaning more towards man, not machine.

23 July, 2008 at 10:13 am 7 comments

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