Is Google getting too big? Best of the web

Over at Xconomy, in the wake of Google’s recent decision to purchase smart alarm maker Nest, Wade Roush is getting a little concerned about the size of the smart giant:

Somebody needs to say it: Google is getting too big. When one organization controls so much of the infrastructure of the digital economy, it’s not good for consumers. And when it has such an outsized influence on the resources flowing to inventors, programmers, and entrepreneurs, it’s not good for innovation.

Roush points out that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, you will be able to spend a whole day without ever leaving Google’s tech ecosystem:

Think about it. Some morning in the not-too-distant future, you could be awakened by the alarm on your Google-designed phone (Motorola’s Moto X) running a Google operating system (Android). You could ride to work in a Google-powered robot car guided by Google-owned GPS maps (Waze). At your office you’ll log onto your Google (Chrome OS) laptop running a Google (Chrome) browser. You’ll spend your day analysing documents and spreadsheets saved on Google’s cloud service (Drive) and stay in touch with your co-workers and friends using Google’s e-mail system (Gmail) and social network (Google+).

The virtual personal assistant on your phone will stand ready to help you with any question instantaneously (Google Now), and if you miss a call from somebody while it’s doing that, they can leave a message on your Google answering service (Voice). At lunch you’ll choose a place to eat using Google’s restaurant guide (Zagat), make a reservation and get directions by talking to your wearable display (Glass), and pay using your smartphone (Wallet).

When you get home at night, your house’s HVAC system will adjust itself to your presence using its Google-powered thermostat (Nest) and you’ll cook dinner under the watchful eye of your Google-powered smoke alarm (also Nest). You’ll eat in front of your Google-powered television (Chromecast) watching shows hosted or licensed by Google (YouTube, Google Play). Before dozing off you’ll pop a Google-funded pill to optimize your metabolism (Calico) and use your tablet (Android) to read a few pages of the latest mystery novel (Google Play again).

The problem with Google’s scale, Roush contends, is that when it purchases an innovative tech start-up, the scale of the search and mobile giant immediately removes the market pressures that cause entrepreneurs to innovate:

Once a start-up is absorbed by Google, two crucial things happen. First, the founders and employees cash out their ownership stakes and stock options. They become much wealthier, in theory, but there’s no longer much incentive to work start-up hours, take big risks, or pour their lives into their product (assuming it hasn’t been discontinued) the way they did when it was just them against the world.

Second, all market pressures are removed. Desktop and mobile search are so enormously profitable for Google that there is only a tiny chance that any other product will ever generate a fraction as much revenue. So, again assuming that the startup’s product isn’t discontinued, it instantly becomes a hobby rather than a business. That’s not a great position to be in, if you really want to innovate and test yourself against the market.

The other more concerning problem for Roush is the possible threat such a vast quantity of information poses to your privacy and personal security:

And that brings me to my second big concern about Google’s growth. At a time when our privacy is being assaulted from so many directions—by marketers, by hackers and thieves, by our own national-security establishment—it feels like a bad idea to allow one company access to so much of this personal information. As Google expands into mobile, entertainment, transportation, robotics, and other markets, it will only want to hoover up more and more of our data, heightening the chances that somebody will want to misuse it.

Innovation and privacy, Roush contends, are the real cost of Google’s growing tech empire.

What makes tech fanboys and fangirls so obsessive?

Fanboys and fangirls. If you’ve ever read the comments section of a tech website, you’ve probably come across one.

Meet Brad Thorne. He’s a respectable middle-class family man. But as Lessley Anderson at The Verge discovered, that quickly changes when the topic of Windows smartphones is raised:

Anytime anybody in the universe says something negative about Microsoft, Brad Thorne* loses it. He fires up Twitter: “You’re f-cking pathetic!… You have your head so far up your a–!… I can’t wait until you eat your smug words!”

Thorne, a fortyish IT manager with a preppy wardrobe and shy grin, is actually a nice guy in person. He plays golf and enjoys spending time with his wife and step kids. He works as an IT director at a nonprofit charity organization in the South that’s run by nuns. He is not religious — unless you count his relationship with Microsoft, of course.

While obsessive fans, such as Thorne, are not simply limited to tech, the obsession seems to be stronger than for other hobbies:

Fanboy-ism is not just a phone thing, of course. There are Star Wars fanboys, and video game console fanboys, and comic book fanboys. Before the word even entered the pop lexicon there were fanboys: Grateful Dead tape-traders, ham radio enthusiasts, orchid nuts, and a million other things. But smartphone fanboys are different: They are noisier. They are more aggressive. And they seem, at times, truly out of their minds, or at the least to have seriously lost perspective.

As Anderson discovers, it’s not the tech toy itself, but rather what it represents, that is the defining issue:

Although fanboys can easily be lumped together as “angry nerds,” look closer and you’ll find that each one is like a snowflake. The reasons they’ve travelled to the fringe are personal, but also familiar. A phone might not seem to be something worth fighting over, but what it stands for most definitely is.

In the case of Thorne, hero worship for one of the world’s most successful business leaders is behind the passion.

For Thorne, loving Microsoft provides an inspirational organizing principle to his life. He uses Bill Gates and his record of accomplishments much the same way others use religion: as both a road map and a motivation to be one’s best self. And in true apostle style, he’s taking it to the streets.

As Anderson points out, from ideology to political affiliation, there can be far more lurking under a tech obsession than at first meets the eye.

Kids these days… They ain’t driving as much as they used to!

Young men are forever being presented in the media as being petrol-head hoons who love driving their cars a little too fast.

However, according to National Geographic, new figures from the US Energy Information Administration reveal a rather surprising statistic:

U.S. teenagers just aren’t as into driving as they used to be, U.S. government forecasters acknowledged Monday in dramatically altered projections for transportation energy use over the next 25 years.

The change is partly due to slower population growth, but also because of a generational shift confirmed by at least four studies in the past year. In the United States, young people are not only driving less than teens did a generation ago, they aren’t even getting licenses.

The figures have sparked a lively debate about why kids aren’t in love with their cars:

It sounds like good news for everyone except carmakers and songwriters, but the figures have stirred ferocious debate among numbers-crunchers. Is indifference to motoring, like so many other youth trends, a passing phase? Or have we finally erased the last traces of American Graffiti and the car-centric teen culture that once celebrated cruising, hot-rodding, and drive-ins?

One of the most obvious causes, put forward by social researchers, is the rise of the internet:

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) note that the percentage of young drivers is inversely related to the proportion of Internet users. Social media may be taking the place of motorized transportation, they theorize.

“Virtual contact, through electronic means, reduces the need for actual contact,” said Michael Sivak, a research professor in UMTRI’s human factors group. Bolstering this theory is international data the Michigan researchers compiled showing that in countries around the world, a higher proportion of Internet users was associated with lower rates of licensed young drivers.

If the research is correct, it seems a generation of kids would rather get high speeds on the information superhighway than on its six-lane real-life counterpart.

What to say in a job interview when you know you won’t get the job

If you’ve ever had an unsuccessful job interview, you’ve experienced that moment when it becomes obvious you aren’t getting the position.

Meanwhile, especially in the tech sector, sometimes some of the questions recruiters ask can be a little on the daft side.

Thankfully, Information Week has a list of 16 dumb questions asked in real-life job interviews, and some snarky responses.

For example, no recruiter with a love of humanity would ask this question – but there are some possible answers a would-be recruit can give:

“What is your least favourite thing about humanity?” — ZocDoc, Operations Associate interview.

Inadequately framed questions. There are so many potential answers here, the question is meaningless. Mortality. Disease. Cruelty. Reality television. Does that really tell you anything?

When Dell was foraging around and hunting for a new staff member, the recruiter decided to ask this:

“Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?” — Dell, Account Manager interview.

They’re the same thing once the prey stops moving.

[But] at times like this, I’m convinced I’m a martyr.

Airbnb hopes that its new staff have better luck than some of its customers:

“How lucky are you and why?” — Airbnb, Content Manager interview.

Luckier than EJ, that woman in San Francisco who rented her apartment out through Airbnb and was subsequently robbed.

Luck can’t accurately be measured.

This question was almost yelping out for a silly answer:

“How would you use Yelp to find the number of businesses in the U.S.?” — Factual, Software Engineer interview.

I’d Google it.

Then I’d use the Yelp API to fetch the JSON-formatted business phone number.

So have you ever given a snarky answer during a job interview when it became clear you weren’t going to get the job? Or perhaps you’ve received a witty response to a job interview question you’ve asked?

If so, be sure to leave the answer in the comments section below!


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