Everything: Coming Soon To An Internet Near You

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Mariah's photo outside our house
It's been awhile, and if I wait much longer, I'll miss my chance to wish anyone still coming by the blog occasionally a happy new year, so... Happy New Year. Now that I'm back home, my blog will probably not be about anything relating to me, at least not very often, but probably more about things that cross my mind and my radar that I'd like to pass on. But before I do that, I should say that Christmas was great, very glad I made it back home to be with the family, though what a busy time to come back! Still, it made catching up a little with everyone quite easy. New Year's was good too, I worked as usual, we had a nice dinner, and then had a good time in the 'ol lounge with some family and friends that came by. I'm back at work now and enjoying that too, and that's about all I have to report at the moment.

But before I finish with the holidays for another year, you absolutely must see this. It's a house with Christmas lights set to music and much more amusing than it sounds, hosted on Google's new Google video service. It also helps form a nice segue for me, so enjoy!

Christmas House of Awesomeness

So, with that out of the way, I had started this post some time ago as a preview of some of the 'unknown' features Google has. You know, things like if you type in "2^2+4*(6+5)" you'll get the answer, or "5 fathoms in metres" it'll do the converstion, or "465.66 USD in CAD" will tell you Google's share price is in Canadian dollars as of market close today (yeah, I bought some earlier this week), or "define perspicacity" brings up the definition, just as a few examples. What other ways has Google made itself the best search engine? Well, they keep making it smarter. Try a search for "Athena Restaurant Saskatoon" and look what's at the top of the list. Tried googling a movie lately? Go ahead. Google "King Kong". At least for me, it comes up with a list of showtimes in the city, with the averaged rating from different sources before it puts all the other links I might want to read. Same for music. Google "Frank Black" and you'll see that you get a link to the discography, reviews, and all sorts of goodies right there at the top. And the list goes on: stock quotes, quick facts, books, maps, weather, and one thing I also like is the wildcard: "Saskatoon best * in the world" and it will fill in words for the * and return everything that Saskatoon is best at (according to the web).

My Google Startpage
And I guess since I'm at it, here's something else that's very cool and I've just set up (and you can too). Google is my search engine, email, and news collector. It grabs news headlines from sites I select (like CBC, Slashdot, and others) but there's a feature they've had for some time that I bet many of you haven't used. If you have a google account/email - and if you don't you can sign up in 30 seconds - you can easily create a personalized homepage like the one I've pasted below. REALLY easily. You just select from a list the content you want and bam, there it is. You can even move it around the way you want it. If you look at the screenshot on the left, you'll see I have my Gmail inbox, global news, CBC news, Slashdot (news for nerds), yet more news for nerds, and then on the right, up to date weather, quote/word of the day, and, yes, for the purpose of this example, the site feed from my blog.

But enough on features. Here's how I see Google becoming ever more prevalent, incited by some insight from the past week's CES show. First of all, they have a brand that you can't buy, a reputation for being the best at what they do, and also innovative thanks to the massive quantities of brain power they've amassed. Let us not forget that, so far, they've mostly lived up to their "don't be evil" slogan, which certainly helps. Now, with all the features I've outlined above, they're positioned to essentially be the web portal of choice. Because even with all those features beneath the surface, their website still retains a clean, quick interface. Their search engine sticks to text ads (which I'm going to try on this site just for my own curiosity) and the breakthrough there is that the ads are relevant to what you're looking for. Imagine if you watched television and there were no ads for things that didn't relate to things you were interested in.

Internet Video on Demand
Enter Google Video, and lest we forget, the inevitable convergence of internet, television, movies, etc into the all-in-one media centre, which is already (finally) happening and has been predicted for YEARS. And there's one other phenomena that I think a lot of people haven't considered, and that's the amount of movie/tv show downloading that goes on today. We'll ignore the movie piracy for the moment, and I'm not even talking about the shows with available DVDs, but TV shows - why are they so popular that people take the time to encode them, distribute them, and then download them? Well, no commercials is one feature, but I don't think the driving force. The fact that it's available ON DEMAND, that you watch it when YOU want it, not when some executive in Toronto or California or wherever has scheduled you to be home and watch it. Look at Tivo? Why do you think it's so popular? On demand is the future.

Bundle video on demand with the internet, and you suddenly have the capability to deliver that content. And who better to index and provide that content than the site already being used more than any other: Google. Now, at first, what I think we'll see is a lot of pay-per-view type downloading, and covered in all sorts of ugly DRM (copy protection). $1.99 episodes of many popular shows are already available in the US a day after they air. Google is taking that route, too, for now, which will put them head-to-head with Apple's iTunes and many other up-and-comers. I don't think this strategy will win the day for Google, though. Here's what will, it's the same thing that television networks already use today to generate the massive revenues they do: advertising. The best part is, Google is already placed to deliver the goods in that better than anyone else in the world.

The world's largest Sudoku puzzle
So, picture this. If you have an account with Google, they already know a lot more about you than any of us is comfortable thinking about. Searches, ads you've clicked on in the past, sites you've visited, or pretty much anything you've ever done on the web - even if it's just playing hours of Web Sudoku (see my new link on the left). You take that knowledge, combine it with ads indexed (by Google) with information that helps determine target audience, and suddenly, you have television with targeted ads. And best of all, you are able to provide all these shows that others are charging $2 (US) a download for absolutely free. You make money on a percentage of the ads, with the rest going to the network that supplied the show in you're watching. What's more, suddenly DRM isn't an issue, because the content is free anyway, so users can take it and put it on any player you want. As far as I'm concerned, everybody wins.

Goodbye, television
And, with a stroke, television as we know it ceases to exist. Now you watch video when you have time, and, if you are an avid fan, perhaps the day it's "released" not "aired". Nielsen ratings are a thing of the past, because you now know EXACTLY how many people are watching, and all sorts of demographic information you never thought possible before. The recent format wars for DVD's replacement (HD-DVD or Bluray) will not matter 10 years from now when everything is on the internet anyway. We like to think of all the ways the internet has changed our life, but the reality is we've only just begun to realize the enormous potential of a converged internet. Which, inevitably, will have Google at the helm.

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