Tag Archives: Google

Google PR–self-driving car accident and Microsoft tiff

I know I’m getting too cynical, but today Google is in the public relations news on two fronts. First, is their quite public and, according to what I read, increasingly embarrassing tiff with Microsoft over patents. I don’t know enough about the hairy details to comment, but what I can see from the commenters is that Google appears to be taking a bit of beating on the reputation side. That’s the problem with a “do no evil” corporate slogan–it’s so easy to point to the hypocrisies.

Second, is the little fender-bender car accident of their somewhat famous self-driving car. They outfitted this Prius with all kinds of gear that allows it to drive regular roads without humans. Apparently, according to the story, its been pretty darn successful with it logging 160 million miles (huh, one car?) without drivers. But, now this fender bender. Google is quick to point out that the accident occurred when the car was being driven by a human.

Wow, what a way to make the point about the safety of computer-driven vehicles. But, even better. If the Microsoft tiff is causing unhappy headlines, complaints from Google supporters, wouldn’t it be great if there was a great distraction–like having your self-driving car have an accident–with a human driver!

OK, I’m getting too cynical. No one in PR would be that devious. Or, maybe, that smart.

Is Google the Internet’s brain? Or, how to cut through the noise

In trying to get a grasp on what the Internet means for communication and information sharing, I keep coming up with the analogy of a nervous system. If all the people in the world constitute the “body,” the Internet has quickly evolved into performing a similar role in this body as it does in other bodies. It has senses, receptors and nerves. A toe is stubbed in, let’s say South Africa, and depending on the severity of the stub, the whole body groans in pain.

Looked at this way, the “body” that is the current mass of humanity alive in the second decade of the twenty-first century has gone through an “inflationary period” of evolution. Where before, we had the nervous system more akin to a slug or an earthworm, with only humongous inputs having any real impact on us (I’m talking mass media here), now, the slightest input from billions of receptors can be relayed around the globe in synaptic time.

But, I’m thinking we have evolved a pretty sophisticated nervous system without too much of a brain to make sense of it. That suggests to me we are in a pretty early stage of evolution. I don’t know exactly how many receptors I have in my body connected to my senses. I do know that I can smell a wide variety of things, see multiple things going on, feel pain or other inputs throughout my body, taste the smallest distortion in my morning coffee and do all of that at the same time. The inputs coming from all the nerve receptors are nearly continuous, and if my brain didn’t have the ability to quickly filter out the noise from what I really need to focus on, I’d be in big trouble. Chances are I’d just go into some kind of shutdown to avoid all the noise that didn’t make sense anyway.

In one way, that’s where we are today. The biggest challenge in emergency management related to the explosion of social media and how it is being used in disasters and emergencies is how to filter all the noise coming from hundreds or thousands of receptors and “nerves” and turn it into actionable intelligence. We have the nervous system, but do we have the brain power we need?

This article from New York Times made me think about this nervous system/brain/global body analogy. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the “content farms” it refers to and frankly, was not aware of the likes of Demand Media, but I’m intrigued about how many people are trying to capitalize on the noise that is today’s Internet. The idea seems to be to figure out what search terms people use, take advantage of Google’s algorithms to drive people to your site where you make money by delivering eyeballs to your paid advertisers. Not all that results from this is junk, of course. Many bloggers, for example, are doing essentially that and providing a lot of worthy content. But, the kind of meaningless, robot or semi-robot generated content that Virginia Heffernan is referring to contributes to the noise.

That’s why the attempt by Google with Panda is so interesting. This game will go on for a long time. But that is not what fascinates me. What is significant is the continual effort of Google and many others to organize the world’s information. We have a body, we even have nerves. Now, we desperately need a brain. We are the Scarecrow in search of the Wizard. Google along with the others trying hard to catch up or surpass Google in organizing the world’s information is already providing that. But it is rudimentary compared to what is needed. And it seems the faster the capability grows to filter and find meaning, the faster the nervous system expands into new and unpredictable directions–making it that much harder to keep pace. Think, for example, of the new AR Drones flying around with two cameras on them. Imagine the data if they were all linked and available on the same network–oh, wait, they are. Imagine what we could see and experience through everyone’s flying these machines around. Imagine where we could go. We have the receptors, the central nervous system, the spinal cord. We really need a brain.


Facebook, Google, Apple and thoughts on the road

In case you haven’t noticed I haven’t been very faithful with posts here lately. That’s because my wife and I enjoyed a nearly three week road trip. We drove the country coast to coast from our home north of Seattle to Charleston and Orlando for speaking engagements, then back home again. We saw 23 states and weather ranging from snow to blistering heat to a dark, scary thunderstorm in San Antonio. We survived an fire alarm in a hotel that had us standing on the street for an hour surrounded by fire trucks and survived a scary near-accident. We drove in comfort and economy enjoying our new Lexus CT200h with its 42 mpg zippyness.

Home again and time to turn thoughts to what is going on in the world of crisis communication and PR. There is much of course. Still a lot about Bin Laden, about social media in emergencies particularly in Japan, and then there is the Facebook, Google and Burson Marsteller fiasco.

First, having met and listened to Mr. Burson give a presentation a couple of years ago I really feel for him. It would be a shame if his reputation earned by a lifetime of stellar service and modeling of public relations built on integrity would be sullied by this event. Somehow I can’t help feeling there is more to this story than what we are seeing.

Clearly the fact that they were unwilling to divulge their client is a serious ethical problem. It’s hard for me to understand how two apparently savvy professionals thought they could manipulate coverage while hiding the company paying them. What else is hard for me to figure out in this is that Facebook fired them. Sure, like Chrysler its the safe way of distancing yourself from a contractor when the contractor screws up. However, as this Wired article points out, Facebook cannot come out of this looking like the victim. My question is issues like privacy and security are pretty technical and the “information” about Google’s supposed privacy problems had to come from Facebook. So the two PR pros end up looking duped by Facebook into thinking there was a problem there when apparently there really wasn’t. So, the Burson Marsteller staffers look to be the victims of Facebook manipulation rather than the perpetrators.

Regardless of what lies behind this sordid affair, the lessons are too obvious. It comes back down to the basic issues of transparency and honesty. If what you are doing cannot stand the full light of day, then you better ask yourself what your life will look like when it does come into the full light of day. I kind of hate to think that the fear of getting caught is a motivator for right and ethical behavior but I’d rather it be that way than to rely entirely on the moral character. Somehow, that seems to keep failing us.

But, I do think there is a deeper issue here. Apple has recently come under attack for storing users location information on iphone and ipads. When asked for a comment about this I noted that technology providers today face a bit of a dilemma related to using data generated by their customers. On the one hand, all that information provides a basis for some of the most powerful technologies–technologies that we benefit from and are essential in winning the high stakes innovation game. But often those advances depend on mining the ever increasing stream of data that is being created.

I benefited greatly from the navigation system in my CT200h including the warnings that would frequently come up about heavy traffic on my route or an accident up ahead creating stop and go traffic. How do they know that stuff? How can systems know traffic status on essentially all major streets and freeways across the nation? In this case, they must be tapping into data sources provided by state’s departments of transportation. When you start thinking of all the possible uses for the data being generated by the billions of people using smartphones and pad computers it is truly mind-boggling. This issue of collecting, mining, and applying that data for useful purposes will not quickly go away.

Prediction–there will be many more battles about privacy, security and application of user generated information to come. It’s a tricky road for technology providers and ultimately users will have to decide how much they are willing to share and what they will give up by limiting access.


Way too much information–the challenge for emergency management and crisis communicators

Today I blogged on something on Emergency Management that I have been thinking about a lot lately. The amount of highly useful information is exploding–but the useful information is buried in the detritus of that explosion. This has significant implications for almost every aspect of life–from shopping, to conversing with friends, to studying up on your next vacation destination. Since I work in crisis and emergency response, I’m looking at the implications for that field.

My blogpost is focused on emergency managers. The implications for response management is that more and more decisions about how to respond to an event are going to be based on the plethora of information available from information sources outside the response–the observers using their mobile computer capability along with all the information capturing sensors that are taking over our world–like webcams and building status sensors.

But this challenge hits crisis communicators hard in a couple of ways. Since part of the job of crisis communications is external monitoring, it right now typically falls on the communicators to do the media, social media and community monitoring. The purpose of this was to gauge communication, capture rumors and misinformation and generally use this info to improve the communication. But now we are seeing that the information gathered through this monitoring may be of extreme importance to the response managers. So suddenly communicators have a very important new role and one that brings them or should bring them much closer to the response management decisions. They may have the best intelligence available, and that intelligence is needed to make informed response decisions.

The other reason this hits communicators hard is that the information coming from the outside world is extremely dynamic. As we saw in the gulf spill as in all major events, the issues come and go like the stuffed animals in the “whack-a-mole” game. Smash one down and another pops up. While the dynamic nature of “mini-crisis of the moment” has been around for a long time, now it is more dynamic and potentially more of a crisis than ever. An issue can pop up in your trend tracker and become huge as you sit and watch the word cloud grow. You don’t know if it will transition into the broader blog world or the mainstream media world and become the “breaking news” story of the evening cable shows, or whether it will disappear into the ether like most of these instant issues. So it means that the monitoring never ends and neither does the necessity to be extremely nimble and responsive.

I fully expect that solutions will begin to emerge that will allow all the data coming in from outside a response to be strained, manipulated, algorithmed, and trend-tested to death. There will be major efforts launched to try to assimilate all this mountain of realtime information and turn it into actionable intelligence. In the blogpost I point to ALADDIN as one artificial intelligence project aimed at capturing this kind of information and automatically turning it into useful information for, in this case, robots to use in responding to disasters.

One might say, well, look at Google. We need to googleize realtime disaster or crisis information. After all, it is their stated intention to “organize the world’s information.” And I think Google needs to be considered as a sort of model for what needs to come next. However, for every action there is a reaction. Note this story today in the New York Times about how one extremely unscrupulous business man discovered that the worst he treated his customers, the better it was for his business–thanks to Google and its automated search.

Given the stakes in crisis and emergency management, I suspect there will be a role for humans to evaluate this mountain of information. So, in the meantime, there is plenty of work for crisis communicators to do in helping decisionmakers make sense out of all the information.