The end of CAPTCHAs?

Looks like Google has figured out how to use a “CAPTCHA” (those awful “what are these words”, “which ones are numbers” tests) without actually using one.

CAPTCHAs have always been a bad solution to a real problem. I’m assuming this new solution is some set of client-side/user-agent evaluation, IP reputation, and behavioral (i.e. how does the mouse move on the page). This is probably going to be a similar solution to what CloudFlare does, where they’ll let traffic through to your site automatically if they trust the reputation of your IP/browser, might delay you if they need more data, or ask you to fill in an old-school CAPTCHA if they can’t tell.

While CloudFlare got there first, Google’s reCAPTCHA is so much more widely used that it could greatly reduce how often those awful (but, often, necessary) CAPTCHAs show up.

(Via Ars Technica)

Half-baked Google Hangouts

A few months ago, my company moved to Google Apps for mail/calendaring/conferencing. Leaving aside the good and the bad, there’s been one big change: we now use Google Hangouts for the majority of our video conferencing and meetings.

That has made things a lot simpler—no more needing to look for the conference number, or trying to figure out everyone’s Skype username—but it’s come with one big downside:

###Google Hangouts is sort of a half-baked piece of crap. At least the video side.###

Let’s start with the easiest part. The Hangout video link that gets generated for a meeting isn’t included in a standard part of the iCal (the calendar format, not the application) file. So most calendar applications don’t show it.

For instance, let’s say you need to join a meeting from the road. You’re on your iPhone, you open Calendar. No idea where the meeting link is. So you open up Google Calendar on the web. It’s in mobile view, you quickly go to your meeting. And the link isn’t there. Because Google doesn’t see fit to include it in mobile view. You find the link to the full site, click it, then find your meeting, and finally, there’s meeting.

Of course, by now, you’re 5 minutes late, or your car is in a ditch on the side of the road.

The simplest thing would be for Google to actually include the Hangout link in the meeting description, so everybody (errybody) could actually see it regardless of calendaring app. But nope. Either a) they don’t care, or b) they do care (about lock-in). Your choice.

Thankfully, Steve Calderon worked out a solution to the problem (something I had actually tried to set side some time to do). It adds the Hangout link to the meeting description. Which is what Google should have done anyway. It involves Google Apps Script, which is a little JavaScript environment you can use to program your Google Apps account. His script worked great for me, I just needed to enable a couple of things on top of his instructions.

  • Use Steve’s script (your calendar id is probably your primary GApps email address)
  • Go into Resources -> Advanced Google and enable Calendar v3
  • Click the link to go to the developer console and enable it there as well
  • Set a trigger to have it run automatically. Mine runs every hour.

Since I’ve turned this on, I haven’t crashed my car once trying to join an early morning hangout.

Now that I can get into a Hangout, it brings me to the second thing that sucks about Google Hangouts. They are horrible on your battery.

I’ve had multi-hour Skype audio and video calls. My MacBook fans never spun up. I’ve had long FaceTime calls with barely an impact to my battery. I’ve had Skype calls on my iPhone and the batter barely moved.

A 30 minute Hangout on my phone, even with the display turned off and my phone plugged in, is probably 10-20% of my battery. With video enabled, it’s even worse.

On a laptop, it’s even more fun. 20-30 minutes into every Hangout, inevitably, someone will say “hey, there’s a lot of noise coming from ABC’s end of the call. I’m going to mute them.” That noise? Their fans spinning up and trying to keep their laptop from melting down due to the Hangout running.

Hangouts works across multiple platforms, which is a great advantage, and it’s baked into the Apps experience, so it’s really easy to set one up. But there are still so many rough edges that there are many folks in our company who go out of their way to still setup conference bridges or Skype calls to avoid using Hangouts. And the rest of us spend time working around deficiencies in Google’s implementation (like finding a way to make it so we can actually even get to the Hangout from our calendar).

Otherwise, it works great.

What Will Google Kill Next?

So Google killed Google Reader. That’s been pretty well covered at this point.

I’ve used Google Reader since pretty early on — not because it was the best feed reader, but because it was the glue between apps. Originally, I used it as the backend to keep the feed reader I used at work with the feed reader I used at home (for a while that was RSS Bandit, then maybe NetNewsWire.)

Once the iPhone came out, it was core to keeping feeds on your phone in sync with feeds on your desktop. And while I know developers had issues with its idiosyncrasies, it worked for me. Eventually, I moved to using Google Reader itself (and it’s magic j-k keys) when I was on a computer, and a variety of apps on the iPhone/iPad.

Google Reader had this nice trends feature where it would tell you how much you read, and when, and which feeds were inactive (super handy for pruning dead feeds or finding those that had moved). It claims I’ve read 300k+ entries since October of 2010, almost 11k in the last 30 days.

I’m probably not a top 1% Google Reader user, but I bet I’m a top 10% Google Reader user.

And even still, I don’t begrudge them their right to kill the product. All they get out of it (at least with me) is me using their ecosystem. I use Gmail (well, sort of — my mail is there, I read it in other apps), I use search, I use Google Reader. Gmail and search are far more monetizable than Google Reader (i.e. it’s much easier to put ad inventory next to what I’m looking at). Reader doesn’t easily fit into the Google+ social play (though, really, does anything really fit into Google+).

So it’s dead, and I’ll move onto other options like Feedly. Or eventually to a paid service where someone will give me a nice tool for a couple of bucks a month. No big deal.

The real interesting question is “what will Google kill next?”

The most obvious answer to me would be Blogger/Blogspot. They don’t monetize it (to my knowledge); it reproduces technology that is now in Google+; and it has to require a lot of care and feeding to keep it up and running happily. It’s a mini-social network with webhosting. They likely have support folk hanging around to answer questions and make sure stuff is working.

Don’t get comfy, Blogger users. You might want to see about importing your site into wordpress.com (or moving to your own hosted site!) in the short-term, just in case.

Actually, the thing Google is most likely to kill next is the goodwill of their brand. But hopefully it’ll take them a few years to do that, as I’ve got a bet going about the size of Google ten years from now.

Yahoo Making Lemonade Out of Sewage

I’ll keep this short, since my punditry is not strong.

Yahoo hiring Marissa Mayer as CEO was probably one of the only moves Yahoo could make to keep the company relevant in the short term. This is a major shot in the arm for Yahoo, putting a real technology person in the head spot, someone who (at least from the east coast) has some major star power and real dork creds.

She’s smart, she lead Google Search during its heyday, and she’s a pick that makes perfect sense. Which makes the fact that the pick is shocking enough to keep Yahoo in the news for a few more days (and enough to make everyone wonder why she wasn’t on the shortlist of speculated options all along).

But, more than that, Mayer should at least keep some smart people from abandoning the Yahoo ship, giving her time to plot a new course. It’ll be interesting to see where Yahoo goes, as the places they are really strong (Sports/Fantasy Sports, News/Finance, arguably Flickr, I suppose Yahoo Mail is still big) are places that are strong, but not really growing. Do they double-down and try to take ownership of those areas? Or do they carve a new path?

Two days ago, Yahoo had a short list of uninspiring candidates, with all of the interesting ones saying publically they had no desire to lead Yahoo.

Today, Yahoo has a new CEO with legit technology credentials; it makes a huge leap forward by having a young, female CEO; and Yahoo now has more of the world’s attention (and probably not just the tech world) than they’ve had since the shareholder revolt, which is not what you want attention for.

See, interesting. Really interesting. Way more interesting than if Yahoo had just hired another media person. Now I’ll pay attention to Yahoo for more than checking my 15 year old email address and managing my fantasy football teams.

Google Wants Me to Rename My Wireless Network

File this one in the Google tenet of “Do No Evil”, right?

“We’re introducing a method that lets you opt out of having your wireless access point included in the Google Location Server. To opt out, visit your access point’s settings and change the wireless network name (or SSID) so that it ends with “_nomap.” For example, if your SSID is “Network,” you‘d need to change it to “Network_nomap.”

So, if I don’t want Google to map my (private) wireless network, I need to change the name of my network, and go around and update the 15+ wireless devices that I have around the house? How about if I want you to map my wireless network, I change it to “_map”? Wouldn’t that be more fair?

(I realize that arguing about Google mapping a radio signal that’s broadcasting from my house is sort of pointless, but this is more of a principle thing.)

Just another sign of Google’s growing tone deafness.

(Via Search Engine Land.)

Google Dumps .co.cc From Their Results

Google has removed over 11 million .co.cc websites from its search engine results pages on the basis that most of them are far too “spammy”.

The .co.cc space is not an officially authorised second-level domain like .co.uk or .com.au. Rather, it’s offered independently by a Korean company (http://co.cc/) that just happens to own the domain name .co.cc.

Huh, why would a company want to offer a fake registry? It’s not like .co.cc is particularly attractive TLD.

The .co.cc “registry” offers single sub-domains for free, and enables customers to bulk-register 15,000 addresses at a time for a mere $1,000, or about seven cents a name.

Oh, I get it. It’s so they can sell thousands and thousands of domains to spammers and phishers hoping to avoid the Google Ban Hammer (or to avoid Cloudmark or any other spam services).

Good for Google. It’s pretty ballsy to dump 12 million websites/domains from your results. Now, just start dumping any site that puts up more than one AdSense block on a page, and we’ll be in business.

(Via The Register.)