https://www.google.com launches: Encrypted searching gets a boost

Though it doesn’t guarantee confidentiality from prying eyes if one’s computer is compromised through a trojan, virus, keystroke logger or other localised means, the launch of Google’s SSL search page comes as very good news. It’s not yet available for Google Sri Lanka, but I expect it will soon. As Google notes,

With Google search over SSL, you can have an end-to-end encrypted search solution between your computer and Google. This secured channel helps protect your search terms and your search results pages from being intercepted by a third party. This provides you with a more secure and private search experience.

Google also goes on to note that “Your Google experience using SSL search might be slighly slower than you’re used to because your computer needs to first establish a secure connection with Google.” This I did not find to be true. Searching for ‘Groundviews‘ on https://www.google.com took exactly the same time as the normal http://www.google.com – 0.29 seconds for about 285,000 results.

There are however some visual differences.

https Google
http Google
http Google

It’s not immediately apparent from the low-resolution screen shots above, but the date formatting, search result features (e.g. the Wonder wheel) and search results slightly differ between the two versions.

Google notes that https://www.google.com is still in beta, but it’s already my default search engine. Can’t be too careful in a country that recently wanted Chinese help in censoring the web and Internet.

Google and China: An end, and a new beginning

An article and podcast published on the Guardian with Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin suggests that the search giant has not just completely revised its standard operating procedures in China, but is encouraging the US administration to take action to safeguard the freedom of expression.

Brin, talking to the Guardian about Google’s decision yesterday to lift censorship from its Chinese internet search engine, called on government and businesses to act in order to put pressure on Beijing. “I certainly hope they make it a high priority,” he said. “Human rights issues deserve equal time to the trade issues that are high priority now … I hope this gets taken seriously.”

He also had pointed criticism at Microsoft for essentially toeing the Chinese administration’s line for little or no reciprocal profit.

The Lede by the New York Times gives more details on Google’s new approach to China taken from a blog post by the company’s senior vice president and chief legal officer.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk… We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.

I doubt very much the Chinese regime will respect the decision by Google, and it is very likely that their services will be blocked or banned very soon. Even today, the extent of the filtering is outrageous.

Hard to say which way this new development will take US-China relations, but first blood was drawn by the Chinese, and Google’s appropriate and courageous response must be fully supported and widely commended.

Google wants to make the web faster

Hurrah! Who can argue with such a noble cause?

Google’s new Speed site points to tools and techniques designers and coders can use to make web services and websites more efficient and effective, especially over limited bandwidth and high latency connections.

But as many agree, it’s not just the code that needs tweaking. It’s the pipes that need widening. Many agree that broadband provisioning for all citizens is what makes most sense when talking about a more pervasive web and making the world a better place.

HTC Sense and mobile phone user interfaces

My first mobile phone in 2002 was a Nokia 3310. It was a hardy beast and hands down, the most reliable mobile phone I have ever owned. I don’t remember playing the in-built games that much, but its screen was easy to read and the phone was dead simple to use.

I recently bought two Samsung i780’s for friends and upgraded them, after purchase, to Windows Mobile 6.1. I use a Blackberry Bold and have a Apple iPod Touch at home, which is the same UI as the Apple iPhone, which I’ve toyed around with a lot but never had the inclination to buy. I’ve also used the Nokia N series and the Symbian operating system in addition to Nokia’s own OS for its other phones. And for a short time, I also had a Sony Ericsson phone – that I hated enough to forget the model – and a Samsung X820, at one time the world’s thinnest phone.

Each of these phones came with a different operating system and UI, some with more bells and whistles than others. Not a single one of them were as stable as my Nokia 3310. In my experience, the greater the complexity of the OS and features on the phone, the more unreliable and unstable the OS was.

This is one reason I support device agnostic SMS as the best way to send and receive mission critical information – like election monitoring reports from the field. With the exception of apps for the Apple iPod Touch, which ran well, I have not encountered a single J2ME app or app for Symbian that has not at some critical moment just crashed and buggered the phone’s OS to boot.

If only because I know I will not be able to resist buying it, I really hope the recently announced HTC Sense UI in their new Hero phone works as well as it looks.

scaledhero_home_hires_05-05_jun17_2009

On another note though, with my Blackberry Bold, I hardly ever use my laptop when I travel long-haul or when I am in the field in Sri Lanka. Even basic phones today are capable of photo and video recording, some even voice. Phones like this new HTC model blur further the distinction between a mobile phone and features traditionally associated with the PC.

Focus on the mobile user, and all else will follow…

Worldwide phone penetration continues to climb at a break-neck pace, with over 4 billion mobile subscribers at last count. (In comparison, the PC industry is forecasted to see its sharpest unit decline in history.) Prevailing economic conditions will accelerate this trend, as users consolidate pricey communication services into cost-effective, all-in-one mobile devices. And for the first time ever, half of all new connections to the internet will come from a phone in 2009.

Google’s mobile traffic reflects these milestones — having quintupled since 2007 — and it underscores users’ appetite for mobile data services. But as a community of operators, device manufacturers and software providers, we continue to get in their way. In short, and as a general rule, we make it too costly, too unfamiliar, and too difficult to do anything beyond voice calls.

In reply I offer up three suggestions: simpler data plans, better web browsers, and a smoother on-device experience. And in each case I’ll use Google traffic numbers as a proxy for total internet usage and user happiness.

Emphasis mine.

Writing in TechCrunch IT, Vic Gundotra, Vice President of Engineering for Google’s mobile and developer products backs with evidence my submissions to the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) community since 2004 that mobile phones will match the capabilities traditionally associated with PCs, especially when it comes to Internet and web usage.

In The future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) – Technologies to keep an eye on, I pointed to smartphones (iPhone in particular) as a device that will lead the transformation of the mobile web as it is known today into a single web, accessible seamlessly though mobiles and desktops.

Google Latitude: Real time location awareness through mobiles

latitude

At the time I last wrote about the potential of location aware web / mobile mashups and services, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence disallowed the sale of GPS enabled mobile phones. That seems to have changed in the past month. Airtel and Dialog both sport the Blackberry Bold, which has in built GPS, and Dialog’s Crescat shop now showcases the Blackberry Curve 8310 again – which was taken off the market because it also had in built GPS. 

I find GPS and location aware services fascinating. In the insecure environment for human rights defenders and other NGO staff in Sri Lanka, this sort of technology potentially holds much value in tracking staff movement in high risk areas. Brightkite.com on the iPhone pretty much defines this genre of software. The iPhone’s UI coupled with the social networking and location aware services of Brightkite open up a range of possibilities that were unimaginable just a year or two ago. 

Google’s now got in the act with Google Latitude. Unlike Brightkite.com which is only available on the iPhone, Google Latitude works on:

  • Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
  • most color BlackBerry devices
  • most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
  • most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)

with support for iPhone and iPod touch devices and many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices coming soon. 

Google’s video on Latitude sums it up nicely. 

I’ve used Google Maps on my Blackberry Curve 8310 (with GPS), the 8320 (without GPS) and now on the Bold (with GPS) and have been blown away by its accuracy in cities where location data is on Google down to street level. In Copenhagen, I was able to find my hotel just by using it. In Salzburg, I was able to find Mozart’s birthplace using it and the most heavenly chocolate gateaux I’ve had from a local patisserie. It’s fast on the Curve and faster on the Bold. 

With Latitude built in, the version number on the Blackberry goes up to 3.0 from 2.3.x. One annoying thing is that you have to sign into Latitude even though I have Google Chat running on my Bold. Given that I have an over 15 character alpha-numeric-symbolic password that I can’t even remember off-hand, it’s a pain to type it in all over again. And at the time of writing this, Latitude fails to verify my mobile number, despite several attempts. 

Not that these glitches detract from what can be a very cool tool. As the video shows, you add friends and you can then follow them as they meander through their cities. It’s a bit weird to be tracked thus, and it’s a relief to find privacy settings that allow you to update location data manually. For the moment, I’ve put it on automatic, to see how well GPS works in Sri Lanka. Proximity alerts I guess will only ever work with street level data sets, not yet available here. 

The neat thing about Latitude is that it allows for web based tracking of mobile phone location information. As the screenshot from my iGoogle shows, you get a Latitude gadget that links to a Google Maps mash-up. Very cool. Potential uses for this for real time election violence monitoring, IDPs and refugee movement tracking, Human Rights and Ceasefire monitoring, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and disaster management are impressive and beg to be explored.

What is love?

google-2008

Source: AFP

Is Obama God? And with Jesus and Satan both out of favour with the web searching public, are we heading for a post-religious world to complement the post-racial US? Or does it mean that Scientology is increasingly in the public consciousness?

The Economist reveals the most popular search terms on Google over 2008.  

People may be searching for love, but I wonder if they find peace on the web?