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Alan Bland
Digital artist, computer scientist, technology geek
Digital artist, computer scientist, technology geek

Alan's posts

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Google the advertising company making an ad blocker? I think it's a great idea. What I see happening is Chrome will block "annoying" ads based on survey criteria as mentioned in the article (pop-up ads, auto-playing video/sound ads, ads that prevent you from viewing page content, etc.). Non-annoying ads from Google and its competitors will get through, so any ad competitor crying foul just needs to clean up its act and stop serving those kinds of ads. Google and all the other ad services get more ad views, ads get less annoying over time, and your phone's web browser becomes usable again. At least until the ad companies find other ways to annoy us.

I've been running ad blockers since the first annoying ads appeared on the web (anybody remember Punch the Monkey?). I don't mind innocuous ads, but today the only way to prevent the bad actors is to use the nuclear option and block essentially all ads. I recall reading some time ago that sites using annoying ad technology appeared lower in search rankings. This seems to be the next step.

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I have to agree with just about everything said here. G+ is not what it used to be. Many of the best users have moved on to other platforms, and Google seems to have no interest in making it great again.
Losing My Patience with Google+

Over the last six months or so I have watched as the quality of engagement here on Google+ has steadily declined. I have watched my follower count fluctuate and flatline. I have watched as people I used to engage with quite a bit here have left or dramatically scaled back their investments of time here. And yes, I have seen my own enthusiasm for investing time here wane significantly.

I ask myself why and the answers are never as simple as I would like. In the end though, I have come to the sad conclusion that the real thing that is killing Google+ is just plain bad management.

Lack of Attention
One gets the real sense that many of the people now charged with running Google+ don't really understand what it was that once made this service so good in its early days. Indeed, one gets the sense that few of the people managing the service today even really use Google+. There are a few noteworthy exceptions like +Yonatan Zunger and +Leo Deegan, of course. I once made a circle with some 50+ Googlers who were once active here, and when I click on that stream, well, it feels a lot like a ghost town.

+Bradley Horowitz, the VP in charge of Streams, Photos and Sharing, (which is where Google+ sits within the Google org structure) hasn't posted here on Google+ in half a year.

Oh, and remember +Luke Wroblewski, who used to manage Google+ and would send out all those updates on the redesign? Well, he hasn't posted a single thing here in over 7 weeks (even though @lukew is quite active on Twitter). You know why? I just happened to check his LinkedIn profile, and he's apparently no longer managing Google+. I don't recall seeing any announcement of this change - just a sudden silence from the man perhaps most responsible for the UI makeover of Google+.

Rudderless and Un-resourced
That decision to remake the Google+ UI followed a long string of decisions going back to the separation of Photos and Hangouts, each of which have seriously hurt the service. I know there were probably some good reasons to move to the new, mobile-dominant (as opposed to "mobile-friendly") UI, but the lack of enduser empathy from deprecating all the old functionality really was pretty staggering. Much of it hasn't come back, and much of what has is so stripped down (e.g. Events, community moderation) that it isn't really that usable.

As users, we have been asked to be patient and to have faith in the new strategy. Because I have been such a huge fan of Google+ for so long, that is exactly what I have done. I've been patient. I've believed. Believed that some big, cool fix was coming down the pike that would not only fix all the problems caused by the UI decision, but actually start innovating again with some cool new functionality.

Yes, we got Collections, and they actually are quite useful even if they do need a lot of work still. But that's really about it. It's been a couple years now and the silence is stultifying.

And finally, it hit me:

Maybe this is it. Maybe Google has significantly curtailed its investments in this network. Maybe the management squandered the scarce resources it did have on a redesign that users weren't really even asking for. And maybe, just maybe, what we see right now is pretty much what we're going to get.

User Investments
And this is where I start to get really mad. Like many others here, I have invested a lot of personal time and energy building a following here. Like many of you, I have poured heart and soul into filling this place not just with great content, but also with a sense of community. I could have made those investments in Twitter or Facebook or reddit, but like many of you, I made them here. And now I'm starting to wonder how smart of a decision that was.

All of this is particularly raw right now because I'm starting to play around a bit with the new distributed social network called Mastodon ( It's far from perfect, but one thing that is very different is that it is open source and federated, rather than centrally owned and controlled.

There are lots of implications to this different model. For one, there is lots of competition and innovation in the works because Mastodon sits on top of GNU Social and rests within a "Fediverse" of related, and interoperable, social network platforms. They are working on solutions that make it easy to export your content from one platform to another - to prevent lock-in. Also, there is a lot of visibility on exactly what investments are being made in the platform by various contributors.

More importantly though, there is a very conscious understanding that the value of these networks is only partially the result of the software developers behind these solutions. Just as much of it lies with the end users.

In the end, this is the thing that I am most frustrated about right now with Google+. End users have made this place every bit as much as the coders and product planners behind Google+. This isn't to in any way diminish the importance of those contributions. But what I do find frustrating is the way that Google seems to regularly dismiss the importance, and the real economic and social value, of end user contributions. This was true with Google Reader, and sadly it appears to be true with Google+.

I'm still rooting for Google+ to turn things around, of course. I have a huge soft spot for this place, given all the great learning I've done here with my fellow travelers. But one thing is clear: I'm losing my patience, and I don't think I'm alone. 

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"Being able to control devices in your kitchen via your phone is convenient, at least that was the case for owners of the Anova Precision Cooker. But many of those consumers say a recent update to the sous vide cooker’s app has rendered their products useless, unless they create an account and share personal information with the company. "

I was thinking seriously about buying one of these after visiting my sister last week who has one. But if they now force their customers to create an account just to cook a steak, no way. That's beyond ridiculous. Next thing you know you'll have to login to use your toilet.

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I've been a fan of Let's Encrypt since I first heard of them. Free SSL certificates? Sounds great to me. But there's a dark side. SSL certificates traditionally were granted only after the certificate authority authenticated the organization/person purchasing the certificate to make sure they were legitimate. The one time I purchased a certificate from Verisign on behalf of the company I worked for, Verisign looked up the phone number of the building where I worked and called it to check to see that I actually worked there. They did some other validation as well which I can't remember at the moment, but they wanted to be absolutely certain I was who I said I was and I worked for the company I said I did. Apparently Let's Encrypt does none of this validation, so anybody can get a free certificate with no hassle. Including phishers.

The big problem is that everyone has been trained to look for "https" in the URL and the green padlock symbol to make sure you've connected to your bank rather than a spoofed site. That doesn't work any more. A phisher could purchase a fake domain, say "" and purchase an SSL certificate from Let's Encrypt under the name Secure Pay Pal, Inc. Most people would probably fall for this and supply their Paypal login and password to the phishing site.

Of course, you should never ever ever click on a link in an email, or a link on a web page that might be compromised (good luck with that!). Only go to your bank's web site by typing in the address manually or by using a bookmark you yourself created. If you have any doubt that you might have reached a phishing site, the presence of the green padlock or however your browser displays it no longer provides assurance that you are probably at the correct web site. All it tells you is that the connection between your browser and the web site is encrypted. That's all it ever meant.

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If you're concerned about your internet service provider selling your browsing history to advertisers, insurance companies and the like, here's a little info on ways that can help you protect yourself. 

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♫ That’s a Moiré ♫

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