Google Everything (Week 7)

Google

If a Netizen told you that they have not used Google or one of Google’s many products, he or she would probably be lying. Google, it’s subsidiaries, and the various tools that have spawned from the company have most probably found it’s way in your life one way or another.

3 major factors come into play to attribute to Google’s success, the ubiquity of the Technology, the wide reach of the Internet, and the exhaustive scope Google has on the various major facets of the Internet.

Web Search Engines

We are all well aware of the stark omnipresence of technology and the Internet, representing the first two factors previously mentioned, so how did Google take advantage of that? As the number of people going online grows rapidly; even more so will the content on the Internet.  As such, the content on the Internet would need to be indexed, so as to facilitate searching for items on it. This ignited the creation of Web Search Engines. Early examples of popular web search engines include Lycos, Alta Vista and Yahoo!. These search engines were efficient and fairly popular in their heyday, till 1998 when Google arrived and changed the game.

PageRank

Google became the leading search engine with an invention called PageRank, an iterative algorithm that ranks web pages based on the number and PageRank of other web sites and pages that link there, on the premise that good or desirable pages are linked to more than others. Evidently, this unique way of searching for items on the Internet struck a chord with Netizens and the rest is history.

Google Everything

Google did indeed revolutionize the search engine and has many other search engines that cater to more refined searches such as Google News for News Articles and Google Patents for registered patents and patent applications. However, search engines were just the tip of the iceberg for Google. Heard of the saying “To have a finger in the pie”? Google went to have it’s figurative “fingers” stuck in virtually every “pie” that the Internet had to offer. Chrome for web browsing, Blogger for blogging and Groups for Internet communication are just a few of the many Internet related products Google created to propel itself to one of the most popular and wealthy brands in the world.

As a seasoned Netizen myself, I too have used a number of Google related products and subsidiaries. Google and YouTube are definitely websites I use on an almost daily basis. I am a registered user for Gmail and Google Groups and have also used Google scholar to search for journals, Google Maps to look for directions and probably many Google products that I was unaware of. A point to highlight is that I did not use any of these websites or products just because they were popular or were under the Google brand. I used them because they were they were efficient and useful; more points that contribute to the success of Google.


Google Books

For this week’s blog entry I has to learn something new on Google tools or services. I then decided to make use of this opportunity to expand my horizons. Upon Googling google (I hear that doing this will break the Internet. Well, it didn’t) I noticed that there was this search engine for books, cleverly name Google Books.

I used to be an avid reader when I was younger but stopped in my pubescent years because of a number of trivial reasons. However, I have been meaning to rekindle the joy I had for reading again after many recommendations and the priceless knowledge and entertainment that comes with reading, but was just lacking the push needed to start again. That is until I found out about Google Books.


I was blown away by the new world that Google Books had opened up for me. With Google Books, I can now read the synopsis and dozens of reviews for literally any book that was ever published. In addition to that there are pictures of the covers, and even scanned pages of a select number of books to preview. Moreover, there are even links to online stores where one can buy the selected book.

To add to the perks of using Google Books, I realized that I can view 3 free eBooks just by logging on to the website.

Google Books even indexes Graphic Novels and Magazines!


I can safely say that Google Books is an excellent tool for someone who wants to rekindle the love he or she had for books like myself. In fact, I believe even if one is new to reading or a seasoned book enthusiast, he or she would find Google Books extremely useful. I would now like to take the time to thank Google again for changing my life with yet another groundbreaking service.  Thank You Google!

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Here is a video of one of Google’s founders, Sergey Brin, talking about the future of Google Books.

From Ink and Paper to Glass and Metal. The Future of Textbooks (Week 6)


Textbooks

Textbooks are part and parcel of education. Every subject at every level of education has a number of related textbooks that are required of students to obtain to assist in the curriculum. However, the textbook is essentially a book, and books are part of the old media. The IT revolution has changed the way we process old media such as the television, radio and even books, why not the Textbook?

Untapped IT Potential
I feel that there is a lot of potential in IT that is still relatively untapped with regards to education. As of current, IT has made it easier for students to submit assignments and carry out administrative duties; saving time and money by increasing efficiency. However, I believe that the next step of the evolution in education is to have textbooks digitalized, as it can benefit a student in many aspects.

The iPad

Due to the text-based nature of textbooks, I feel that physical textbooks can be easily done without with the emergence of Tablet PCs. One such Tablet PC that is experiencing immense growth in popularity is the iPad. Thus, I will use it as an example to highlight the advantages that a Tablet PC has over the conventional textbook.

Advantages

Price
Although textbooks seem like a small part of the entire cost of education, studies have shown that an average undergrad can spend from $500 to even more than $1000 dollars a year on textbooks alone. An iPad costs from $700 to $1000, this is equivalent to just ONE year worth of textbooks. Furthermore, with an iPad you can save money on stationery and writing paper, as there are applications for the iPad that assist with note taking and journal planning. Additionally, with textbooks being digitalized, money can be saved on having a publisher for physical textbooks; further cutting costs.

Interactivity
With the audio/visual capabilities of an iPad, gone are the days where one has to stare blankly at static words and pictures. Pictures can be replaced by videos with voiceovers and audio effects. The touch screen feature also increases user-friendliness and efficiency. This will definitely help those who are not as IT savvy as the rest. Also, it will be more appealing to the younger generation by making lessons more interesting.

Convenience
The Internet capabilities of the iPad makes obtaining textbooks so much easier. Rather than standing in line at a bookstore, students can simply download textbooks into their iPads. Also, with the massive internal memory of the iPad (16 – 64gb), students can store and retrieve dozens of textbooks from one device. To add to the convenience, finding keywords and phrases, copying and pasting text and flipping through hundreds of pages can be done with great ease due to the interface of the iPad.

Physical Features.
Weighing in at 680 grams with a thickness of a mere 13.4 mm, it is a lot smaller and lighter than most University textbooks. A feature further enhanced when taking into consideration that literally hundreds of books can be stored into it’s harddisk.
Eco-Friendliness.
It is obvious that there is a large amount of paper being used to print textbooks and inevitably wasted when newer editions are released. The only paper that a student who has an iPad would be using, is the box it comes in.
It helps in saving the environment.


Conclusion

There are many glaring advantages and benefits that come with digitalizing textbooks and using iPads to view them. In fact, schools from all over the world are starting to adopt and experiment with the idea. Also, reading textbooks is just one of the many functions an iPad has to offer. There are also many other educational-related and useful applications that are available. The technology is already here, what better time than now to start using it?

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Here is a video of a report of how the iPad is used in the Nanyang Girl’s School. One of our very own local schools.

The Fundamentals of E-Marketing (Week 5)

E-Marketing

Ever since the dawn of modern civilization, marketing has been present in the evolution and flourishing of people. Like people, marketing has also evolved throughout the ages, taking many forms. From bartering to infomercials and now to one of it’s latest incarnations, E-Marketing.

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What is it?

In a nutshell, E-Marketing is when marketing is boosted by the advantages
Internet and Technology have to offer. It seemed like a simple idea, maybe not even that big a deal. We already had television and radio, how much more could this new media offer? Well, it was nothing short of a revolution.
Internet and technology changed marketing like how it changed almost every aspect of our lives. It improved it in ways and means that we could have never imagined possible, and in a very short period of time to boot. There were many reasons why this was so, but there are a few fundamental advantages of technology and the Internet that were vital in making it possible.

The Fundamental Advantages

Interactivity

The characteristic that immediately sets the Internet apart from old media like books and even television; is it’s interactivity. With the vast amount of interactivity the Internet has to offer, the possibilities that come with it are endless. Now we can customize, rate, review, sample, order, share and view products and services all in the comfort of our own homes. This is a big step from calling to place an order for the Abdomenizer after watching an episode of TV Innovations.

Ubiquity

The world has a population of about 6.8 billion people; and approximately a third of the world is connected to the Internet. That is a potential market that even the biggest corporations can’t fathom. Furthermore, due to the Internet’s omnipresence, a business can focus on almost any specific target audience. The Internet, the medium that commands the largest and most diverse audience ever in mankind’s history; is undoubtedly a marketing dream.

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Community

The Internet has been described as a network of networks, as it connects people from all over the world together; like a large community. This large-scale networking can only mean good news for businesses. A company can spend millions of dollars on advertising, but it still will not beat the selling power a “buzz” can generate. A “buzz” is when the word-of-mouth and discussions builds up a particular product, and it usually persuades and influences people more than multi-million dollar corporate advertising. Forums, blogs, chatrooms, social networking sites are just some of the various avenues available online where communities can create a “buzz”.

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Virtual Space

Space and location are definitely on the top of the list of priorities when it comes to setting up a business. These problems are almost negated on the Internet. With the appropriate servers to host your website and a catchy domain, the sky’s the limit. To put things into perspective, eBay.com, one of the biggest online shopping websites in the world, has approximately 168 million registered users over 33 countries and can process up to 4.4 million transactions daily. This means that one website can easily dwarf a cluster of the biggest shopping malls in the world based on transactions alone. The gist of it all is that the vastness of virtual space enhanced by the audio/visual capabilities of the Internet, websites can “contain” an immense amount of people, products and services, profusely more than any brick-and-motar mall on Earth.


Conclusion

Sure, there are many reasons why E-marketing is at a disadvantage, such as the lack of a human touch, intangibility, shipping and legal issues. However, it is evident that there are plenty of benefits that outweigh the disadvantages. Businesses are making billions just by using E-marketing alone. One would just need to keep in mind the fundamental advantages that E-marketing has to offer and utilize them to the fullest; doing that would definitely make any business a shining success.

FourSquare: The next Big Thing? (Week 4)

Technology is Everywhere

In this day and age, keeping up to date with the advancement of Information Technology is no feat. In fact, it would actually take more effort to shut oneself off from the incessant buzz that surrounds the IT world. Everyday, be it at work, school or play, we come into contact with the latest in technology. A major aspect of IT that fuels its omnipresence is Social Networking, and in turn, the Internet has enhanced the idea of Social Networking.

Social Networks

In a nutshell, a Social Network is just groups of individuals who have at least one thing in common. It could be mutual friends, interests, employers or hobbies. The Internet has made it easier for people with common factors to form these Social Networks. Perhaps my previous line could be an understatement; the Internet has literally revolutionized Social Networking. Social Networking on the Internet is a lucrative business, with the top Social Networking websites being worth billions of dollars. There are dozens of websites that provide social network services to hundreds of millions of members.

When it comes to Social Networking, I have to admit that I have jumped on the bandwagon. Besides being an active Facebook user, I also have a Twitter account. This is however, just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook and Twitter are pretty general social network sites. There are many others that are more specific in focus and purpose. One such site that caught my attention was FourSquare.

FourSquare

FourSquare is a website/application connects people by their geographical location.  The website provides an application that can be downloaded into most smartphones in the market. How it works is that anytime you reach a new location, whether it’s a shopping centre, school or even home, you can use your phone to “check in” there. Checking in to a location means that everyone who is checked in to that location would know see that you are there. This is FourSquare’s main feature.

Friend Lists

Furthermore, you can add other FourSquare users to a Friends List. By doing so, you would be updated every time a friend checks in to a new location; also whenever you check in somewhere, your friends would be on the top of the list of that location and you can even “shout” at them, which is actually just sending a message to all of your friends in that location.

Things to Do

Another interesting feature that FourSquare provides is the “Things-to-do” page. This page gives you a literally a list of things to do, provided by other Foursquare users, at the location you have checked in. For example, you have just checked in to a shopping centre for the first time and wondering what is interesting to do there. You would be able to use your Foursquare application to check out on places to eat, shop or play as recommended by other users. I would liken these functions to be like using Twitter for the specific locations.

 

The Business Edge

Now we ask the question, how can this application help businesses?
Think of it as the ultimate flyer distributor. Obscure restaurants and shops can send out messages to users telling them about their menu or products. Even established businesses can broadcast to users regarding special promotions or sales.

What edge does FourSquare have over regular advertising? Flyers can only be distributed at specific locations, while FourSquare has the reach of a radius of at least a few hundred meters from a particular landmark. Potential customers will already be of close proximity from the advertising establishment, so the task of traveling is immediately negated. Additionally, if the advertising establishment really does make its customers happy, the customers could write a review or recommendation of that establishment on the “Things-to-do” list.

Click on the picture to see some FourSquare statistics of 2010


Conclusion

FourSquare has just above 6 million registered users worldwide. That is a relatively small number of customers comparing to the bug social networking players. It could be because of the almost necessary requirement of a smartphone accompanied with the privacy issues (not everyone wants people to know where they are) that could be factors in its lack of popularity. However, with the ever growing number of smartphone users and maybe more elaborate setting customizations, I believe FourSquare could be the next big thing.

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Here’s a video on the benefits of using FourSquare and how it works.

Saying Yes to RSS. (Week 3)


Old Media

I remember a time when I would plan my activities around the Television schedule, when I would have to go to the Library if I wanted to read up on a particular subject, and when my fingers would get stained from the newsprint pages of The Straits Times. I do not do these things anymore, at least not remotely as often. It is not that I have given up on the things I have mentioned, but only because something big happened from the time then and now that changed everything, The Internet.

The Internet Explosion

In the past decade, the Internet explosion has revolutionized the way we play, study, shop and carry out various other activities. The Internet, among many other things, has made it easier to research and learn about any topic from the common to the obscure, keep up with current affairs on an International level and even discover new sources of entertainment in the forms of blogs and vlogs. As someone who embraces this phenomenon, I have subconsciously integrated various aspects of my life to my laptop and smartphone. By doing this, it almost eliminates the need of using older, more traditional media like books and newspapers.

RSS

One might think that the Internet has peaked in the art of retrieving information from websites with the many exhaustive search engines available. However, what if we already found the websites we were searching for, but want to continue receiving constants updates from that website? With RSS, commonly expanded as Really Simple Syndication, we now can.

How does RSS work?

Politics, medicine, technology are constantly changing and evolving. Artists strive to churn out new and groundbreaking content. People always have something new that they have to update others on. Thus, websites are rarely static. We find ourselves going back to our favourite websites to read their latest posts. These posts could be in the forms of news articles, product reviews or just what a friend studying abroad did at school. RSS makes it convenient for someone to read new posts from his or her favourite websites by consolidating the posts and consolidating them on a common platform in a standardized format. In other words, instead of visiting websites to read their latest posts, the posts now make their way to the reader.


Why RSS?

I have only recently picked up RSS. I did not see visiting my favourite websites one by one for updates as much of an issue. However, the prospect of having it all consolidated and in turn increasing efficiency and solving my problem of having too many tabs did seem tempting. Furthermore, this would ensure that I would not miss out on any of the websites I frequent.
To use the RSS function for websites, one would need to obtain an RSS reader to display all the RSS feeds that are subscribed to. 
I chose Google reader as it was reviewed to be the most popular and user friend RSS reader out there. Initially, it took a little getting used to; it seemed pretty disorganized and reading all the standardized posts from a feed felt different from reading them from their websites. After a while, I must admit that after customizing the settings to my liking, I understood the appeal of using the RSS reader. It was a lot more convenient. Furthermore, because long posts are summarized with the option to be expanded, I had the choice of skipping through articles that did not interest me. On top of that, I have even subscribed to new websites as Google reader recommends other websites that are similar to the existing ones a user has.

Conclusion

All this convenience, adding to the fact that all this information is mostly free with an Internet subscription means that more information on a wider range of topics is absorbed in a shorter period of time. One can even read RSS Feeds on a smartphone if he or she pleases. Like many other wonders the Internet has brought about in my life, RSS is definitely here to stay.

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Here are some of my favourite sites that I subscribe to:

Mr. Brown

Social Media: A win-win Situation. (Week 2)

Social Media in a Nutshell

Ever since the emergence of Web 2.0, the Internet has been teeming with input from its users. With a multitude of platforms to satisfy various outlets such as communication, multimedia and entertainment, users are able to share their talents, opinions, skills and resources with the world. As Web 2.0 grew wider in reach and more accessible, it was inevitable that it’s diversity and richness in content grew as well. Additionally, many of these platforms started to merge and interconnect. This phenomenon is called Social Media.

YouTube

Let’s take YouTube as an example. More specifically, it’s progress. YouTube started in 2005, as a simple website where people can share videos.
In a year’s time, it was ranked as the 5th most popular website with about 20 million visitors monthly.
Later that year, Google bought it over and YouTube never stopped growing.
Presently, there are literally billions of registered YouTube accounts; uploading videos with a multitude of different content from make up tutorials to political views.
On top of that, the extent of YouTube’s reach has been enhanced as it’s interface makes it easier to share links outside of the website. With a mouse click, you can put it on your Facebook wall, Blogger post or even send it to your friends and family through email.
YouTube is now a main player in the Social Media game.

What I have talked about is just one of endless possibilities that Social Media has to offer. With the boundless opportunities that the Internet has to offer now through Social Media, it raises the question, whom does it really benefit?

The corporations for one.

The “Killing in the Name” campaign

In the UK, being Number One on the UK Singles Chart a week before Christmas Day is regarded as especially prestigious.
X Factor winners have attained this coveted position consecutively from 2005 to 2008. “X Factor”, the brainchild of music executive, Simon Cowell, is a popular talent competition in the UK.

It was no surprise that 2009 X-Factor winner, Joe McElderry, would have his debut single, “The Climb”, be touted as a shoo-in for the Christmas number one single. However, Jon and Tracy Morter, a couple from England, would not stand idly by and give “mainstream society” another easy victory.

They set up a Facebook campaign, urging the masses to send, “Killing in the Name”, a song from 1992, to the top that year. Described as “a howling, expletive-driven tirade against the ills of American society.” They intended to send a public message to say that the citizens of UK do not blindly succumb to whatever the media wants them to believe in. Further adding to their cause, Rage against the Machine, the Alternative Metal band that sang that song, has been infamous for writing lyrics that speak against corporate America, cultural imperialism, social inequality, and government oppression.

Against all odds, “Killing in the Name” beat “The Climb” by a staggering 50,000 copies.
Besides the Facebook campaign, that had 950,000 members, many other Social Media platforms were used. Other celebrities and media personalities, who supported the cause, spread the word through their Twitter accounts, blogs, radio stations and so on. This was a huge boost to the Campaign that was already spreading like wildfire through YouTube, and other similar Social Media platforms.

“What a win for the underdogs!” many would have thought. Little did anyone know that amidst this epic battle, Sony Music, who owned the rights of both songs, was happily profiteering from the record sales. Wouldn’t this negate the triumph for the people who thought they had beaten the system by not giving in to the clutches of mainstream society?

Here’s the article.

Who wins now?

Some might think that the corporate monster has won again, but I choose to think otherwise. In this day and age, almost everything with any sort of value will be bought over or sponsored. It’s almost impossible to touch something these days that does not have some sort of backing from corporations. I feel that the people who bought the records did achieve something and made a clear and deep impression. It was a small and personal achievement, but an achievement nonetheless.

Let us just think of how this victory would not have been possible without the aid of Social Media. It was still an independent effort from the everyday man that ignited the cause. The strength it gathered to spread around was from the reach and accessibility that Social Media platforms offered. Many others have also benefited from Social Media. Netizens have voiced out their views and opinions and showcased their talents on the Internet. In turn, sharing their knowledge, raising awareness and even inspiring others. Everyday people have even been earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and gaining international
stardom from the Internet.

The PS22 Chorus

My personal favourite story is one of the PS22 chorus; a chorus group from a regular elementary school in New York that gained worldwide recognition when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton featured them and their YouTube videos on his popular blog. It was only going up from there.
Their angelic voices along with their enthusiastic director have spread the message that having arts in schools is important and how inspiring it can be to be a teacher. Due to their popularity, various international celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga and Beyonce have visited them. They have even performed in front of the President and First Lady of America. All these would not have been possible if Social Media had not existed.

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An awesome rendition of MGMT’s Kids by the Kids of the PS22 chorus.

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A win-win Situation
This is why, even though from behind the scenes, it seems that corporations do earn plenty of profits from social media, it doesn’t take away the intangible benefits we, the users, gain from it. We gain knowledge, awareness, skills, inspiration, joy and many other positive aspects. Corporations 1 – Internet Users 1. Let’s call it a tie and embrace this epic hallmark of our generation that brings us all a little closer together, Social Media.

The Internet: A Network of Networks (Week 1)

It is apparent that the majority of us do not understand the things we use, even if said things are ubiquitous and utilized often. Sure, we all know how to use a toaster or a television, but do we even have the slightest inclination of how they work? It is then no wonder that barely 10% of the population have an idea of how something like the Internet works, despite its omnipresence. Honestly, before this week, I too was not part of this select group.
What is the Internet essentially? How do we send and receive information? Thankfully, after a couple of COM 125 lectures, I must admit that I have a clearer picture of what the Internet actually is now.

The name “Internet” is a shortened form of the term “Inter-networking”. From the name alone, we can roughly interpret that the Internet is basically a network of interlinked networks. More importantly, there has to be a flurry of information traveling back and forth across this vast network of networks to take full advantage of it’s capacity. We use the wide reach of the Internet to procure, share and broadcast various pieces of information all over the world. Information uploaded by us on virtually anything and everything, from the weather to bank transactions, represented by text, image, audio and videos files. But how does information travel across the globe?
That is the gist of how the Internet fundamentally functions right?

Essentially, the information, regardless of the form it takes, is made up of binary data. Binary data that can travel from one computer or device to any other that is connected to the Internet at breakneck speed. The binary data has to be routed in an efficient and organized fashion to save time and increase reliability, this is done by channeling the data through a communication protocol, the most common one being the “TCP/IP” protocol.

A simple explanation on how the “TCP/IP” protocol works is that it is a standardized set of rules on how information is sent and received. For example, an image, is upon sending, broken down to binary data, encapsulated into packets, labeled with it’s intended destination and routed through cables or wireless waves. Routers read the packets’ destination and send it through the best route to their destination across the Internet. When these packets reach the intended destination, let’s say your Smartphone, the device would then receive the packets of information and assemble it back into it’s original form and granting you the ability to use the image as you please.

Here is a video that explains the TCP/IP communication protocol in greater detail.


There are many other aspects to consider regarding the Internet or even the TCP/IP protocol if one were to go further in depth.  However, this is just a general idea of what the Internet is, and how information is sent back and forth through it. The Internet is a legion of inter-connected networks that communicates information worldwide swiftly and efficiently by following the TCP/IP, a globally standardized protocol.

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Here’s a video to provide a little comic relief, a comedy skit showing how little some people know about the Internet. Enjoy! 😀