The journey of an email – as told by Google

Today, when I opened up Google, I saw something new. In the past Google has used the space directly below the search box to notify users of holiday events, privacy policy updates, tributes to industry legends – such as the Steve Jobs tribute, among other things.

Google's Tribute to Steve Jobs

Google's tribute to industry legend - Steve Jobs

Today however Google is using this spot to advertise its new feature, which lets you follow the journey of an email: ‘The Story of Send’.

Google's homepage with a link to 'The Story of Send'

Google advertises 'The Story of Send: Follow an email on its journey.' on its homepage

When you click the link, you are taken to a page on Google’s Green website (.google.com/green) which tells you how you can

“Take a journey through Google’s data centers by following an email along its path.”

Click ‘Start the story’ and the journey begins! Google takes you through an interactive journey of a Gmail email, from when you hit send on your device, to when it arrives at its destination.

The tour takes about 5 minutes (around 50 if you watch all the videos) however, as we all know, the journey of a real email, takes seconds – if that sometimes.

It is evident that the project is meant to be promotional for Google, as it points out all the good points along the journey. For example, how they have ‘built an extensive Internet backbone across the U.S.‘ to speed things up; how they ‘protect your message with a wide range of security measures‘ and how their data centres use ‘50% less energy than typical data centers‘ etc.

What the journey fails to point out is the less desirable things that go on. One example being how your email is read (or spidered) by Google Bots/Spiders, keywords are picked out, and then relevant ads are displayed alongside the message. Another being how Google want not only to own the systems which deliver your emails, but also the infrastructure (the cables and power) which gets it there – is that not a bit of a monopoly?

I like Google, I think it does a wonderful job, and it is great that it offers us all so much for free, however they do also do a good job of covering up the stuff they don’t want us to here.

Check out the video below for more. I found it and tweeted about it a while ago, however never really found an article for it to go in.

So, have you taken the journey yet? Aside from the obvious PR (public relations not PageRank) stuffed in, it does make interesting viewing.

More interested in talking about the ethics of Google? Add your view below 🙂

Why not talk about them both!

Your views?

What are your thoughts on the recent PageRank update?

Google’s head of Google webspam, Matt Cutts (a Google employee and guru on everything search) is always telling webmasters not to obsess too much about PageRank. I would agree, it is not always that accurate, (give or take 1 rank either way) probably because it is not publicly updated that frequently – it is always updating, results are just not released regularly to the public.

At the end of the day, PageRank is just a lovely green (or maybe a not so lovely white) bar that a page is given. It doesn’t necessarily correlate to how a site is performing in the SERPs, and doesn’t guarantee good rankings.

That said, I am pleased for the blog, as our green increased a little, and white retreated back, as Technology Bloggers jumped from a 3 to a 4 🙂

Google say on their own website that PageRank represents:

“Google’s view of the importance of a webpage”

That is a direct quote from Google.

So basically, pages ranked 0/1 (in Google’s view) aren’t that special, there are loads out there, nothing makes them stand out. Pages with a PageRank 2 are more important, they are special, but not that special. The further up the scale you go, the more value your page is worth. You might have a high value homepage, but low internal pages, that is to be expected, as a lot of the algorithm is based on links.

One would assume that if you have serious traffic, you should be right at the top of the PageRank scale, as people find your page very useful, and therefore Google must think your page is important.

Google’s PageRank

Until very recently, Google.com has been a PageRank 10. It is the most visited site on the internet, by a long way. From what I understand, the site receives around 1,050,000,000 (1.05 billion) unique visitors a year. Facebook is second, with around 950,000,000 (0.95 billion) unique visitors a year – note not all those people have accounts.

Twitter gets just 220,000,000 visitors a year (0.22 billion). So why is it then that in the recent PageRank update, Google ranked its main homepage (Google.com) 9/10, it ranked Facebook 9/10, but it ranked Twitter 10/10. Twitter is one of around 10 sites on the net with a PageRank 10. Twitter is only the 8th most globally visited site on the web, whereas giants Google and Facebook are clear leaders.

The UN and the The U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal are two of the other few sites with a PageRank 10 on the web. Updates over the last year have seen a lot of PageRank 10’s loose their rankings. Why?

Larry and Sergey with the Google logo in the background

Larry Page and Sergey Brin - the founders of Google.

Is the web getting less ‘important’? What are your thoughts on this? I find it really interesting how Larry Page‘s (co-founder of Google) algorithm, which is used by Google, ranks Google less than top.

Talk to me 🙂

How to proceed in the age of big data?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times about the age of big data, and today at a science and technology conference I got into a conversation about the same thing with a US public health official.

Much has been written (and I am a guilty party) about Google’s quest for information, including allegations of infringements of privacy etc, but not all of this capability should be seen in a negative light. I would like to give you a few examples of why.

A wealth of data

Google collect all of the search terms used by every user and categorize them. Let’s take a hypothetical situation. You are director of a large hospital inManchester. What can Google tell you about your job? Well probably a lot, let’s say that this week there is an enormous peak in the search terms “Flu symptoms” used across the Greater Manchester area, or “rash on back and neck”. Indirectly the knowledge of these search trends tells you that you should prepare your hospital, because late next week you will have a massive influx of patients with the Flu or some other contagious disease as it takes hold of the population.

This information is potentially lifesaving, as one of the main problems with epidemics is they come out of nowhere and so health centres are not properly prepared.

Search terms can also give an indication of how the housing market will behave too, with a rise in searches for houses in a certain area being reflected 6 months later in new sales. The type of house searched could also improve planning, as developers would see what people were looking for and where.

Analysts and programmers are currently working on how to expand on the simple examples above using search terms as wider indicators, a system called ‘sentiment analysis’ looks particularly promising.

This form of analysis looks at terms used during on line communication and categorizes them in terms of their sentiments. The logic is that in an area that is prospering terms will be generally positive, but in an area that is threatened by demise, such as the closure of industry or other societal problems, the terms will differ. This is not dissimilar to the conversation analysis sociologists use to obtain a person’s own sentiments about their position in life, with their true feelings reflected in the terms they use without thought. The hope is that an accurate analysis of this type might signal unfolding problems before they become a reality so that action can be taken in specific areas to avoid social breakdown.

I have addressed these issues in more depth on the Bassetti Foundation website, but want to conclude by saying the following; in my posts I have often raised the issue of data collection as a problem, and collection of personal data for advertising or any other purpose for that matter does raise serious ethical issues, but here Google et al could be sitting on a mine of extremely useful and possibly globally important data if the technology and political will is developed to use it correctly.