Posts Tagged ‘VentureBeat’

4chan founder: Zuckerberg is “totally wrong” about online identity

13 Mar

christopher pooleChristopher Poole, the founder of controversial online image board 4chan, outlined his vision for Web-based community today at the South by Southwest Interactive conference — and yes, his ideas are in pretty sharp contrast to those of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg has spent a lot of time talking about his stance on identity and privacy, especially recently, as Facebook has taken more criticism for its various privacy policies. (To get the flavor of his remarks, check out VentureBeat’s post about Zuckerberg’s privacy stance from last May, as well as David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect.) He’s been pretty aggressive about advocating for users to have one identity wherever they are online, because that encourages them to be more authentic (and also means they can carry their social connections with them to any site).

Poole, who is also known under his 4chan username “moot”, said, “I think that’s totally wrong.” He’s had plenty of opportunity to observe the pluses and minuses of anonymity in action, since 4chan is well-known for its anonymous user base. (In fact, the activist hacker group that emerged from 4chan is known as Anonymous.)

Poole argued that anonymity allows users to reveal themselves in a “completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.” One of the things that’s lost when you carry the same identity everywhere is “the innocence of youth.” (“Innocence” isn’t the first word that would come to mind when I think of 4chan, but okay, I’ll go with him here.) In other words, when everyone knows everything you’ve done online, you’re a lot more worried about screwing up, and you’re less willing to experiment. Poole compared this to being a kid, moving to a new neighborhood, and having the opportunity to start over. On the Internet, you don’t get that opportunity.

“The cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing as yourself,” Poole said.

In the case of 4chan, users feel a lot more comfortable trying to create funny images that can become memes, because content that doesn’t catch on disappears quickly, and they’re not weighed down by their failures. Poole said another benefit to 4chan’s anonymity is that content becomes more important than the creator, which is unlike virtually any other online community. Rather than prioritizing the most valued and experienced users, 4chan allows anyone to access the site and post something that might take off.

At the same time, it seems Poole’s attitude towards privacy has evolved. He’s working on a new community site called, which actually integrates with Facebook Connect, although users can still post anonymously. Poole said the fact that “you know that we know” the user’s real identity, even if other users can’t see it, discourages people from indulging in the most obnoxious behavior.

The “Wild West” approach, while important for 4chan’s popularity, has had an effect on Poole’s ability to turn the site into a real business. Very few brands are willing to run their ads alongside content that’s so unpredictable and potentially offensive, he acknowledged.

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Google already knows its search sucks (and is working to fix it)

12 Jan

google robotIt’s a popular notion these days Google has lost its “mojo” due to failed products like Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google TV. But Google’s core business — Web search — has come under fire recently for being the ultimate in failed tech products.

I can only ask: What took so long? I first blogged about Google’s increasingly terrible search results in October 2007. If you search for any topic that is monetizable, such as “iPod Connectivity” or “Futon Filling”, you will see pages and pages of search results selling products and very few that actually answer your query. In contrast, if you search for something that isn’t monetizable, say “bridge construction,” it is like going 10 years back into a search time machine.

Search has been increasingly gamed by link and content farms year by year, and users have been frogs slowly getting boiled in water without realizing it. (Bing has similarly bad results, a testament to Microsoft’s quest to copy everything Google.)

But here’s what these late-blooming critics miss: Yes, Google’s search results do indeed suck. But Google’s fixing it.

The much acclaimed PageRank algorithm, which ranks search results based on the highest number of inbound links, has failed since it’s easy for marketers to overwhelm the number of organic links with a bunch of astroturfed links. Case in point: The page that describes PageRank is #4 in the Google search results for the term PageRank, below two vendors that are selling search engine marketing.

Facebook, which can rank content based on the number of Likes from actual people rather than the number of inbound links from various websites, can now provide more relevant hits, and in realtime since it does not have to crawl the web. A Like is registered immediately. No wonder Facebook scares Google.

But the secret to Google’s success was actually not PageRank, although it makes for a good foundation myth. The now-forgotten AltaVista, buried within Yahoo and due to be shut down, actually returned great results by employing the exact opposite of PageRank, and returned pages that were hubs and had links to related content.

Google’s secret was that it could scale infinitely on low-cost hardware and was able to keep up with the Internet’s exponential growth, while its competitors such as AltaVista were running on expensive, big machines running processors like the DEC Alpha. When the size of the Web doubled, Google could cheaply keep up on commodity PC hardware, and AltaVista was left behind. Cheap and expandable computing, not ranking Web pages, is what Google does best. Combine that with an ever-expanding data set, based on people’s clicks, and you have a virtuous circle that keeps on spinning.

The folks at Google have not been asleep at the wheel. They are well aware that their search results were being increasingly gamed by search marketers and that this was not a battle they were going to win. The answer has been to dump the famous blue links on which Google built its business.

Over the past couple of years, Google has progressively added vertical search results above its regular results. When you search for the weather, businesses, stock quotes, popular videos, music, addresses, airplane flight status, and more, the search results of what you are looking for are  presented immediately. The vast majority of users are no longer clicking through pages of Google results: They are instantly getting an answer to their question:

Google weather search results

Google is in the unique position of being able to learn from billions and billions of queries what is relevant and what can be verticalized into immediate results. Google’s search value proposition has now transitioned to immediately answering your question, with the option of sifting through additional results. And that’s through a combination of computing power and accumulated data that competitors just can’t match.

For those of us who have watched this transition closely and attentively over the past few years, it has been an amazing feat that should be commended. So while I am the first to make fun of Google’s various product failures, Google search is no longer one of them.

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Google pulls an Asimov, announces self-driving cars smart enough to take on traffic

09 Oct

Knight Rider“So we have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves,” Google engineer Sebastian Thrun nonchalantly announced on the company’s blog earlier this afternoon.

Thrun, who is the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google’s Street View service, said that the company’s goal is to prevent traffic accidents, give people more free time, and reduce carbon emissions by changing the way people use their cars.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said last week at the TechCrunch 50 conference in San Francisco that he believed self-driving cars would eventually do a better job of driving than people. While some may have considered his vision to be a far off work of science fiction, today’s announcement proves that self-driving technology is already here — and apparently it works very well.

The automated cars — which are manned by trained operators — have covered over 140,000 miles so far with occasional human control, the New York Times reports. Seven cars have driven 1,000 miles without any human intervention at all. They’ve traveled from Google’s Mountain View offices to its Santa Monica location and on to Hollywood Boulevard. “They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe,” Thrun writes.

The cars use radar sensors, video cameras, and a laser range finder which helps them detect other traffic. They also take advantage of detailed maps, which are collected by Google’s manually driven vehicles. The company is working with engineers who’ve taken part in the DARPA Challenges — autonomous vehicle races put together by the U.S. government. Thrun himself led the Stanford team to win the 2005 Darpa Challenge with their Stanley automated car.

Thrun believes that Google’s automated cars could potentially cut the 1.2 million lives lost every in road accidents (according to the World Health Organization) in half. He’s confident that the cars will reduce car usage, change the shape of car sharing, and create new “highway trains of tomorrow.” “These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads,” he wrote.

The project is certainly a major new step into robotics for Google, although the company doesn’t yet know how it will create a business from the automated cars. Google may be able to sell its information and navigation services to autonomous vehicle makers, or it might sell or give away the navigation technology itself, according to the New York Times.

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