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How Google is planning to deal with governments

21. January 2011 – 10:15 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Yesterday Eric Schmidt stepped down as CEO of Google and he will act as the executive chair starting April 2010. The founder Larry Page will take over the day-to-day operations of the company (Sergey Brin will mainly focus on product development from now on). The impacts of these changes are discussed all over the web and I will not try to do that here.

But there is another interesting angle on this whole issue. In his role as executive chair Mr Schmidt will be working on Government relations more heavily than before which might have a major impact on how the net is regulated and how Google interacts with government – which in turn could influence the field of eParticipation.

Taking this into account it makes sense to take a look at what Mr Schmidt said about his plans in terms of government relations. In the Q4 2010 Earnings Call he stated that he thinks that the problems Google had with governments in last few years (accidental collection of wifi data or the Streetview debate in Germany) might stem from the fact that “people don´t really understand what we really do and what we don´t do”. He follows up with the statement that the core strategy will be do communicate more intensely with regulators and government – “We are trying to be as transparent and collaborative as possible”. He also makes clear that Google thinks that regulators have an important job to do and that “they are there for a reason and we respect that”.

While Mr Schmidt makes clear that there is a need for more communication between government and the company he also says that he thinks that what Google does is “very pro competitive” – answering the complains that Google might behave anti-competitive in some areas like for example favouring their own products in search results.

In summary it looks like if Mr Schmidt will be more active in working with governments in the next years and I would argue that it is good for both the company and governments. Without a doubt he is a very knowledgeable and straight discussion partner for governments and from a citizen’s point of view his involvement might help to both improve internet regulations and speed up the process towards them.

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App Inventor for Android – First steps into mobile participation

30. July 2010 – 10:31 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

ss-2010-07-30_092509Clearly mobile platforms are quickly becoming an important way to use the internet and some are arguing phones and other mobile devices have already become our most important devices. In the wake of this development the idea of mobile apps, most importantly on iPhone and Android devices, has become the way to get additional functionality in the hands of users. App development however is not for the faint of heart and very specific skills are needed to get started in this field.

Google tries to improve the app situation for Android phones by introducing App Inventor, a tool that allows building Android apps simply by using a drag-and-drop interface. The video below shows how a very simple Android app is build and run on a phone using this web-based tool. As I am getting into App Inventor right now I can assure you it is much more capable than what you see in the video but it still illustrates the concepts.

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Analysing positions and arguments – The Google data prediction API

21. May 2010 – 10:08 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Two of the major challenges for eParticipation today are scale (what to do if there are 100.000 contributions) and the problem of quantifying the positions in qualitative discussions (clearly knowing who supports what etc.). Automatic analysis and categorization of contributions could be a possible solution to these problems or at least a valuable support to human moderators and facilitators. The challenge of reliable automatic argument analysis has not been solved yet and a perfect solution might be out of reach for a long time, but with the announcement of the data prediction API at the Google I/O conference yesterday a workable solution could be available soon.

The data prediction API is a service that is able to categorize random text based on how it has been trained with known categorized data. For example: If the service was trained that “This is an english sentence” is “English” and that “La idioma mas fina” is “Spanish” it will be able to determine that “Qué Hay De Nuevo” is also “Spanish”. Of course this is a very simple example but the service is potentially able to categorize complex texts based on the training it has received with known data. Details about the process can be found in the developers guide (warning technical content). Read the rest of this entry »

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The other side of transparency: Google publishes government requests for private data

21. April 2010 – 11:37 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

When we talk about transparency of government data we mostly mean data produced be government (in parliament etc.) which should be public and usable by NGOs and citizens alike. But there is another aspect of transparency which is discussed less often:  How are governments using laws and power to request private data from companies and especially web-based companies like search engines and social networks?

Google published all requests for data and removal of content by governments in the second half 2009 on a website . The screenshot below shows the map on that site zoomed to Europe but there is data available for many other countries in the world.

googlegovdata1Click to enlarge

Some example numbers: In Germany there where 458 requests for private data and 188 request for removal of content in the second half of 2009. Ten of the removal requests where aimed that the Blogger service and 70 at Youtube. Interestingly Google also publishes the rate of compliance with these requests – which in this case is 94.1%. In other countries there were much more requests: Brazil leads the chart with 3663. For China however no data is available – or as Google says: “Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time.“

This shows that there are other sides to government transparency than one might think about immediately. I hope other companies also publish this kind of data in such an accessible way so that we can hold our governments to task for extensive use of laws and power.

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Google tools and eParticipation: no real match?

8. April 2010 – 17:54 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

As with any interesting question this one can also only be answered: Yes and No. It is clear that any web based project can not ignore the elephant in the room that is Google and its vast amounts of tools and services. But the last months have shown that not all Google tools can be used for eParticipation or have gained any real traction among mainstream users.

Google services, which can be integrated into third party websites, like search, the single-sign-on mechanism friend connect, or Google Maps have shown to be very useful if integrated into eParticipation platforms, while consumer facing products like Google Buzz or Wave have flopped with the general audience. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Social Graph: Identifying statements by the same person on the web

11. February 2010 – 14:55 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

In a recent post I argued that it is very promising to look at the distributed opinion expressed by people on the internet in eParticipation and other projects. One of the major challenges in doing so is to be able to know which of the many statements one can found all over the web have been made by the same person. The Social Graph helps to overcome this problem.

A Social Graph includes all the websites and relationships between websites related to any particular web user. The Social Graph for me would for example state that I am an author on the PEP-NET weblog, my Twitter account is, my Facebook name is bengtfeil and so own. The Social Graph also includes information on the people related to me as friends on the different sites. Of course only publicly viewable information can by included into the graph.

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Augmented reality and image recognition as tools for eParticipation

6. January 2010 – 13:14 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Augmented reality on iPhone (Wikipedia)

Locations and places play in very important role in many eParticipation processes. As a matter of fact eParticipation in urban planning is one of the most successful areas eParticipation to day. In the case of participation processes which are linked to a certain place mobile participation is a very promising trend in general and in this article I would like to take a look at two specific new technologies and what their use in mobile location focussed participation may be: Augmented reality and automated image recognition.

Augmented reality

In a nutshell the term augmented reality describes the enhancement of a live picture provided by camera (mostly on phones) with additional data (commonly gathered from the internet). The data shown is located in space so that the viewer only sees the data he or she is close to. The picture above for example is an example using the Wikitude world browser on the iPhone. Here the live view is enhanced with data from Wikipedia. This kind of technology is available on most location aware smart phones today and is very easy to use. Read the rest of this entry »

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Google has enhanced the level of political transparency in U.S., according PoliticsOnline

16. November 2009 – 10:41 by Eric Legale

Caitlin Morrissey, editor, explains in this video how the web’s oldest political Internet company selects during the last ten years the “10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics”. This year, the International e-Democracy Award was given by Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline, to Peter Greenberger, head of the Google division in charge of political advertising. The online tools that Google offers (YouTube, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Ads) were heavily used over the course of the recent American presidential campaign. Democratic candidate Barack Obama spent 7.5 million dollars integrating these tools into his campaign strategy. Peter Greenberger informs and educates policy makers and administration officials regarding the use of these tools in order to make the political process more accessible to ordinary citizens.

According PoliticsOnline, Peter Greenberger and his team have played a key role in enhancing transparency and democracy in the United States, which significantly change the worldview of politics among citizens.

A presentation to see in video: [To watch the video]

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Making RSS and the web real-time

27. August 2009 – 13:02 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Real-time or instant communication is one of the major trends of the internet today: Facebook-Chat offers real-time communication, exchanges of thoughts and information happens almost instantly on Twitter, push email on desktop and mobile devices is quickly developing into a standard and instant messaging via standards like Jabber or software like Skype has become an important tools for private and professional communication. eParticipation can benefit from this development as it opens up a door for a new generation of tools and services. But one major component is still missing on the way to the real-time web.

In a nutshell the instant updating is achieved by setting up a hub-server which acts as an intermediate and keeps track of all updates on RSS-feeds and quickly informs all subscribers. A quick introduction to the technical basis is given in the following presentation:

In summary the very simple implementation of this standard would allow all kinds of websites to exchange various sorts of content instantly. It is like changing setting up phone lines between different islands instant of using ships transporting paper mail. Consequently pubsubhubbub (despite having a rather silly name) could be a major building block of the real-time web.

The next generation of eParticipation tools which make use of the real-time web and its underlining technologies could be more distributed and can engage the participants where ever they are on the web without being totally depended on third party platforms like Facebook etc.. One example could be to integrate discussions on Twitter etc. on a given topic to an eParticipation site and to use instant updating RSS to have both discussions linked to one another.

To get more information about this project or to try out what can be done with it I would suggest taking a look at the project page or this short tutorial of how to implement it.

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Google want you

7. August 2009 – 08:38 by Fraser Henderson - ICELE

Google have taken a more aggressive stance in targeting the public sector with the launch of Google LocalGov here in the UK. While the offering is not particularly different from what anybody else can get, it certainly deserves some attention in terms of relevance. The pitch goes something like:

• Direct users to your site (enable people to find you better, position your authority as the no.1 destination)
• Manage your costs by making your website work harder (drive more traffic through the online channel to reduce print/call centre costs)
• “Monetise” (raise revenue from what you’re doing)
• Justify what you’ve done. Now more than ever data beats opinion (test, measure, optimize)

For example, Nottingham City Council has been using context sensitive ads on their site for about a year now and it returns a healthy return of around €13,500 per year in click-through revenue. In that time there have only ever been three complaints from the public and one of these related to the ‘type’ of advertisement displayed – easily rectified by the council. Arguably context sensitive advertisements on public sector pages can actually help citizens find services. So why don’t all councils do this? They also use Google Maps and Google Mini.

On the return path, the London Borough of Hillingdon (among others) pays for ‘Adwords’ on the Google search engine. They were able to target an audience within a 15 mile radius (estimated targeting accuracy 80 – 85%) to their annual Christmas market, achieving half a million impressions and a 1% click through rate. The cost per click (CPC) is a bit of a secret but reading between the lines my estimate is about 10p.

101 Rap

Click here to see the Goole top 10 tips for making websites work. Public authorities should also get wise to how Google indexes them. Done correctly and you get much better results:-

Brent google result

Then there’s Google Enterprise – which effectively replaces IT departments. Google estimate the cost of their cloud computing solution as £33 per user per year – and that the it costs the average IT department £200 per user per year just for email. Bear in mind Google gives you 25GB per user storage space!

OpenSocial, FriendConnet, Google Health, Google Optimiser, Google Analytics, Google Voice, Android, iGoogle… we need third party eParticipation software any more? There is certainly no excuse for avoiding OpenID or using insight to refine web design and ‘convert’ lurkers to participants.