5 reasons you should be scared of Google

You should be scared of Google. I’ve been saying it for years… here are 5 good reasons from Cracked.com

Some people think that ‘Google’ exists to… help them.

These same people think Facebook is a way for people, to, like connect with each other?  In their worlds, Schmidt, Page and Zuckerberg are just cool people who got really rich by creating really useful stuff.  They don’t care what it means.  Jeez, stop getting all serious about it and just, like, use it, mkay?

If you’re one of these people, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sorry to poop your party. Google stopped being about ‘just finding things’ the second Schmidt and Page worked out that being able to know what people were looking for was the goldmine.

The same applies to Facebook. For about five minutes, it was about a guy just trying to be popular with girls. Pretty soon, it was about harnessing that same basic desire in everyone else to create a world that people would pay – a lot – to sell into.

Both these organisations are now so powerful they (along with others like eBay and PayPal) are effectively laws unto themselves, effectively free from control by any body, nation or even groups of nations.

I’ve never visited Cracked.com (strapline ‘America’s only humour & video site since 1958′) before and I came across this piece about why you should be afraid of Google by accident but it’s worth a read.

All I can say is that I hope we’re going to live long enough to regret allowing Google and Facebook to do exactly what they want.

User reviews into Adwords??

What’s Google doing adding reviews to Adwords listings in search results?

For some time I’ve been thinking that the anonymous user review + the competitive environment of Google search = a disastrous formula for all concerned.  Why? Because anonymity pretty much guarantees that reviews end up being used to ‘game’ the market. This isn’t me being negative about human nature, this is just pragmatism.  If 97% of all email sent everyday is spam…well, you get what I’m saying.

Now, Google is going to put user reviews into the search results beneath paying advertiser’s ads. But which reviews? Apparently, those that come from a ‘closed’ system provided by a partner,  Bazaarvoice.com.  According to this report, review information will only be added from a review system if the organisation using it agrees.

(picture from Earthblog News)

So who’s going to want truly open and potentially critical reviews turning up in the search results next to their carefully crafted, paid-for Google ads?  Er, no-one. They’re going to want nice reviews that will make their ads look more attractive. Bye bye transparency.

All of which continues to make a mockery of the noble ideas about feedback and transparency that social media pundits like to talk about. The true value of feedback in business (as in life) is its role in driving learning, development and change but Google – like every other business dealing in ‘user generated reviews’ – is only interested in feedback as a commodity it can trade to businesses seeking competitive advantage.

So what’s Google doing adding reviews to paid ads in the search results? Just more of what it’s always been doing from the start: converting human knowledge into cash via the technology of the ‘keyword’.

Don’t be evil? Don’t make me laugh. I can’t help think that Google has been nothing but – and that we’ve colluded with it every step of the way ;-)

Is this latent semantic indexing at work…

..or just that Google simply doesn’t care what things mean?

Lols.

Here’s a nice surprise for me in my web stats today.

Eww.  If you run a blog (or intend to), pretty soon you’ll get something similar to this appearing – leaving you wondering two things: firstly, “who’s searching my name like that?” (depends on how many unsavoury and vengeful people you’ve cheesed off) and second “why does Google return my site when that word isn’t anywhere in it?”

Is this the result of Google’s famous ‘latent semantic indexing’ at work? That clever algorithm that makes connections between words with related meanings? What’s true is that I have in the past blogged about protecting kids from unsavoury people online.  Is Google saying to me “Hey, since you’ve blogged about pornographers targeting kiddies via YouTube, we’ll return your site when someone searches for your name + …….. as a special favour”?

Why, thanks, Google.

Incidentally, the last item on that list (above) is an example of the same thing at work. Last December, a Google search for that phrase started to return my site – even though that phrase didn’t appear anywhere (either literally OR semantically!!).  The result? A lot of their dissatisfied customers looking for a place to share their experiences, plenty of revealing comments, a good deal of reputation pressure, some refunds – and finally a threat of legal action against me ;-) How did that occur? I had written a post about them a year earlier.  Add that (as Google clearly has) to the fact that I also write some posts about scams on this site and hey presto – a reputation crisis.

So, the moral of this story is that in GoogleWorld, you should expect to be guilty by association at some point or other – no matter what you have or haven’t done.

Chinese Communist Party Paranoia: The Great Firewall of China

You don’t need to be a web expert to smell the paranoia behind The Great Firewall of China

It’s there in the language.

The erection of the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’ is a pre-emptive strike against possible potential destabilising factors getting worse

Possibly, maybe, potentially… maybe if…
From where I stand, the real issue here isn’t what it pretends to be (‘good’ Google facing off  ‘Evil’ China), it’s two information superpowers fighting over control of information – each in pursuit of its own interests.

That self-interest also explains Google’s apparently ‘amoral’ stance throughout its years of collusion in the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship of its peoples’ access to information online (and it’s ongoing collusion to do the same in India).

Mind you, while UK lawyers seem to think they can gag the British press to stop them reporting the heinous crimes of Trafigura, the sexual infidelities of football stars and golfers or stifle the publication of books and documentaries about the Maddy McCann case, who the hell are we to preach about the freedom of information?

How good is my online reputation?

5 things you can do right now to assess your online reputation

1) Type your name (then your company name, then your brands or product names) in speechmarks into Google and search for it. What do you find? 

2) Set up Google Alerts for your name, brands and products. This will send you emails whenever you or someone else mentions you online.  Vital for picking up problems before they can become PR disasters.

3) Search Google for your email address. Whatever comes back in the search results, make sure it doesn’t compromise you, embarass you or leave you vulnerable to spam.

4) Search Google for any online IDs you use or have used. As above; make sure there are none out there in places that would damage your reputation or credibility.

5) Take a tour of your own online ‘real estate’. Step away from Google and take a drive through any sites you own or control as if you were a visitor.  This is hard to do  – but try to forget everything you know about your business, what you do and why you do it.  Be ruthless: ask yourself ‘what impression does this really create?’.  You need to remember that people will judge you on any website you put out as quickly and as harshly as they would if they stepped into your living room.  And the impression they get will be all-important – especially if your reputation comes under attack.

If you find nothing about you (or your products) when you do those Google searches, you’ve got a problem.  Why? Because you’re invisible and people won’t be able to make up their mind about you.  Worse, the first person to set out to say something negative about you will end up being the only thing out there to form the basis of other peoples’ impression of you.

If you find good references to you and your products, make sure to click through and find out where they’re located and what they say.  Make a note to connect wherever possible (via social media or email) and develop relationships with people who like and respect what you do.  What impression do these comments add up to create?

If you find negative comments about you, read them carefully and bookmark them.  Track backwards and find out as much history as you can.  Who is involved?  What is the issue? What are they saying? What’s being implied about you and your business? What seems to be their motivation? And how many people are saying it? Start taking notes. You’re going to need them if you want to do anything constructive about it.

These 5 steps will tell you a lot about your online reputation within minutes – and set up you up with basic monitoring so you’ll be the first (well, probably the second) to know if and when something starts to go wrong.

Google and China. Stop and think about it

I have to confess I haven’t really stopped to give this any thought – until now

Clare and I were discussing the relationship between Google, Twitter and Facebook when the conversation turned to China.  It occurred to me I didn’t really know what the situation was with Google and China and decided to dedicate at least half an hour to find out.

I knew that Google had cut some kind of deal in which it colluded with the Chinese government to provide a part-censored search engine and it made me feel uneasy – particularly with Google’s ‘do no evil’ corporate slogan ringing in my ears.

“I guarantee this will be far dirtier and more complex than it looks” I said to Clare and sat down to shed some light on my ignorance.

The first thing I learned was that Google and other US companies have recently been attacked by Chinese hackers. Second, that these attacks were aimed at the accounts of Chinese human rights activists.  Third, that the Google accounts of a number of non-Chinese critics of China’s human rights record have also been hacked.

Ok. Pause. Think.

Over to Google’s blog. According to Google, these attacks have led Google to review the “feasibility of our business operations in China”. In a post, revealingly titled “A new approach to China”, Google justifies its collusion with the Chinese government so far like this:

“We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

So – we can only capitalise this market if we collude with the Chinese government to censor what its citizens can access. But that’s ok, because some information for the people is better than none, right?  Now, with the Chinese hacks, the ‘do no evil’ mega Corp is lining up to throw away that whole market in a noble stand in defense of human rights, right?  Well, that’s how Google wants it to appear, certainly.

But hold on.

Closer inspection reveals that Google’s market share of web search is far lower in China than it is in India – with whose government it also colludes to censor the content that its citizens can access.  Whoa-aa.

Let that sink in.  No longer one, but two,  major boom economies where Google colludes to censor in return for access to the market.  ‘Do no evil’ starts to wear thin.

Add to this the astonishing claim in the last week that these hacks were achieved via an architecture specifically designed by Google to enable the US Governments (among others?) a means to monitor its own dissidents… and the story begins to smell of hypocrisy.

So let’s review the story so far.  Google agrees to help the Chinese government censor its citizens’ access to information in return for a share of the market. Google defends this by arguing that some information is better than none and by the deception that this has a role in opening up freedom of information in China.  Meantime, Google does the same in India with more profitable and less controversial results since the Indian government isn’t under the microscope for human rights violations in the same way China is.

Then Google gets embarrassed as Chinese hackers access the accounts of Chinese human rights activists, doing so by means of an architecture created by Google to allow the US to do the same to its own dissidents.

Response?  Make a big show of taking a stand against ‘evil’.  This from and excellent piece in the online Asia Times:

“Google took an important and inflammatory step of escalating its conflict with China by using the e-mail hack against democracy advocates to wrap itself in a human-rights flag. As a result, its threat to stop censoring its Google.cn search engine in retaliation for the hacks has become a cause celebre for free speech and Internet-rights activists.

This cause has been taken up by the US government”

It’s a win-win for Google: if they ‘win’, the Chinese market is fully open for their exploitation.  If they ‘lose’ and withdraw from China in protest, they lose that market but win a priceless ‘moral’ victory which will may help people overlook the idea that censorship only really matters to Google when it limits the scale of the opportunity open to it.

One thing’s for certain – I know more than I did an hour ago :-)

Online reputation: all your traces in one lump

Why is online reputation so important? Because the web puts all the traces you leave together in one big pile for people to make a judgment about

Once apon a time, you went somewhere, did something in the real world. Whatever you did, you left traces.  Footprints, DNA, garbage, bits of paper, notes, recordings..  But whatever traces you left stayed where you left them.  The only way somebody else would find those traces would be if they took the same journey as you; if they literally ‘re-traced’ your steps.  That’s why Columbo was such fun. That’s why the TV ‘serial killer’ was all the rage in the days before Google.

Your reputation was the same.  Because it was either ‘word-of-mouth’ or ‘old-fashioned-media’ it could be different in different places.  In this village you might be thought of as a scoundrel.  In that City, a respectable member of the community.  Unless you got into the broadcast media, the traces of your behaviour tended to stay where you left them – visible only to the people directly affected by them.

But things are different now – very different.

Google brings the traces of everything you’ve ever done online together into one big, steaming lump.  And very soon, Google will be adding everything you’re doing right now – every Tweet and every Facebook update – to the pile in real time.

What does that mean, Lt. Columbo? I’m glad you asked that question, Sir, I really am.

What it means is that people nowadays assess your reputation from the bigger picture they get when they look at that pile, not from any single thing in it.

Your online reputation – how someone perceives you – is the sum total of the following 3 risk factors:

  1. The things you choose to say about yourself (your websites, blogs, profiles etc)
  2. The traces you leave of yourself (your participation in any online discussions, activities etc)
  3. The things that other people choose to say about you (customers, critics, friends, enemies)

The real problem for most people is that they only really give their online reputation any thought when something significant happens in the 3rd risk area i.e. someone starts maligning them or their business on a blog or a forum.  My clients are invariably reeling from the shock of finding themselves under attack when they contact me.

Of course there is plenty we can do at that point to repair the damage and build a stronger reputation to limit the damage of any future attacks – and there’s nothing like being in a bit of discomfort to focus the mind on the issue.

Of course, the secret is to think about your online reputation before you come under attack.

So, to sum up: take notice of the fact that from here on in,  Google WILL bring together everything you do and say online for people to form an instant – and lasting – impression of you.

And start behaving accordingly ;-)

Online reputation management: do it yourself

You don’t need sophisticated or expensive packages to monitor and manage your online reputation

It’s not rocket science – you just need the tools that your prospects have got (i.e. Google); the ability to think like them, a dose of humility and a crash course in not being reactive.

Oh, and you need to know there’s a difference between monitoring and managing your reputation.

Online reputation monitoring

The simplest advice for monitoring your online reputation is to start with the FASTEST (and therefore potentially most damaging) channels out there:

1) Set up Google alerts for your name, your company name and products and brands.  Sit back and let Google bring the good – and bad – news to you whenever it hears you being mentioned online.

2) While you’re waiting for Google Alerts to bring you news, go to Twitter and search for your name, your company name and your brands.  It’s the most ‘real-time’ network / source of content there is.  If people are going to rant at the point of dissatisfaction, they’re going to do it via their mobile, and they’re probably going to do it on Twitter.

3) If that’s all clear, next do a search in Google.  Do a broad web search first.  See what comes up in the first couple of pages of Google.  Hopefully, a lot of it will be your web site pages and things you’ve done to market and promote yourself and your products.  If not, sack your web designer :-)

Remember: people use blog posts and forum posts to vent their anger or dissatisfaction. Learn to recognise how these posts and comments appear in the regular web results.

4) To focus entirely on blog content, do a dedicated Google blog search

5) Most of all, learn to think like a customer – an angry one and a prospective one.  When an unhappy customer wants to nail you for not listening,  they’re going to nail you by telling their trusted network how bad you are and follow up by publishing posts and comments online with words like rip-off’ ‘scam’ and ‘fraud’ to the end.  They want their experience of you to be found by others researching your company – and now they have the tools to do it within minutes.  Be warned; this stuff can kill your business in a matter of days.

When a prospective customer wants to find out the truth about your company, ‘XYZ consultants’, they’re going to start by searching for ‘XYZ consultants’.  Then they’re going to add the words ‘scam’, ‘feedback’, ‘rip-off’, ‘review’ at the end to see what comes up.

To manage your online reputation online successfully, you need to see these words as a code that customers and prospects use to bypass your own (naturally positive) propaganda.  So learn the code – and make sure YOU search the web regularly for these coded references to you and your company.

You wouldn’t believe how many companies’ reputations are in tatters online and yet they don’t even know about it.  It could explain that gradual drop-off in sales they’ve been seeing…

Online reputation management

Managing your online reputation priorities are as follows (listed in order of the amount of your energy you should expend on them):

1) Create the best products and services you can.  This is bleedin’ obvious, but the best way to create and protect a great on- and offline reputation is to do the basics really, really well.

2) When things go wrong, do everything you can to make your customer happy.  That means invite feedback, listen without being defensive, go out of your way to satisfy them

3) When you don’t do 1) and 2) properly, people will punish you online by Tweeting, blogging, forum posting and commenting anywhere and everywhere they can.  Count on it. When you finally find something angry / hostile / nasty (true or untrue) with your online monitoring (see the list above), the first thing you need to do is NOTHING.

4) While you’re doing NOTHING (i.e. not reacting, not getting into a fight to try to defend yourself), you should be getting really honest with yourself about what it is you might have done to create the situation.

5) Then you should be thinking about what you can do to put it right.  What you can do, and what you are willing to do.

6) Then consider approaching the disgruntled punter publicly (in whatever forum or blog his/her comment appears) and a) apologise for not having met their expectations b) apologise if you didn’t listen or respond to their original feedback or complaint.  Listen, I promise you, no matter how bad this makes you feel, you almost certainly didn’t listen the first time round.  If you can do this from a genuine place – i.e. that you really do care about helping this person to feel better about your company, you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.

7) If you’ve reacted dived in with both feet and made things worse, then call us to take the heat out of the situation on 01822 610841.

8 ) Start to create positive online content about you, your company and your brands to balance, and ultimately outweight the negative.  Beware: this only works when that content is genuine and credible.

Paying offshore SEO or Reputation Management Companies to flood Google with superficial stuff about you is a false economy (an expensive one at that!) – it will be transparent to any half-wit looking to find out what a company is really like.

If you want to do it properly, call us on 01822 610841.

Adsense phone verification fail

Trying to verify my Adsense account leads to classic ‘designer cant think like user’ fail

Yes, Google. You techie people are soooo guilty of this.

The classic ‘we can’t possibly imagine what it’s like not to know what we know’ mindset. The one where, for some reason designers and programmers aren’t able to imagine how their interface appears or works to other people. Y’know, people who aren’t them.

The result is that I blew up the Google Adsense phone verification system because it gave me no feedback.  ‘Too many attempts’.  Right.  Next stop, 48hrs of waiting for their support to do something vague to sort it out (whatever it actually is).

Same for Google Wave.  Watch the video of two smug techies geeking off with their latest cleverness.  What’s missing?  Some kind of real-world, human communication about what the hell it might actually be any good for or what all the various bits mean.

Communication failure.

Inside the mind of Google

Are Google, Facebook, Twitter, social media all coming from the same mindset?

BrinLikeMe2smallGoogle.  Facebook. Twitter.

Is any of this ‘social media revolution’ really about providing you with what you need?

Or is it just about creating a platform to sell products through ‘trusted network marketing’?

According to the Google and Facebook people, it’s all about communication, empowerment and interaction.

But ask yourself: would any of it really exist if it wasn’t driven by somebody selling something?  I don’t think so.

The Google boys will soon be the wealthiest people on earth.  Maybe what drives them is what motivated Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook and what seems to underpin most peoples’ use of social media so much of the time: a deep craving to be liked.