Whilst you are probably familiar with the traditional way that Google collects images for their popular Maps function, Street View, they have brought one of their little known inventions to Australia. Known as “Trekker”, this contraption is mounted on a backpack and allows the user to collect imagery of places that are only accessible by foot.
“Trekker” is said to look like something from outer space and is comprised of 15 cameras that are five megapixels each and capture images every 2.5 seconds. The backpack weighs about 18 kilograms and its cameras are mounted about 60cms above the head of the user. Its compact size allows the user to trek to places that a car couldn’t possibly enter.
Last Tuesday, a Google employee was spotted capturing scenes along the Bondi to Bronte walk in Sydney. There are currently two Trekker devices in the city and they will be used to capture some famous icons. The collected imagery will be integrated into Street View later this year, but first the pictures have to go through special software that ‘stitches’ them together and blurs peoples’ faces.
Shane Treeves, a Google Australia spokesman, said that “we’re starting in Sydney and then looking to go across Australia…hopefully it [will] encourage more people to jump on a plane and see [the locations] in person.” He also said that they hope to allow groups (like tourism boards, non-profit organisations and universities) to borrow Trekker in the future.
The Google Maps Street View feature was launched in 2007 using cars to capture imagery. They have since expanded from five US cities to more than 3000 across 43 countries (including many in Australia). Google have also expanded their collection methods to include cameras mounted on tricycles, snowmobiles, trolleys, underwater scooters, backpacks and even boats.
We can only wonder at the famous icons that Google teams and volunteers will choose to cover in Australia.
In the latest webmaster help video from Matt Cutts, an engineer who works with Google, the topic of auto-generated content and whether action, in the form of a penalty, is taken against these sorts of websites. “We are absolutely willing to take action against those sites,” Cutt said in the video.
Many years ago, websites that used auto-generated content were known as “Made for AdSense” or “MFA” sites. This is because they were created in the hope that people would land on the page, not find what they were looking for and click on one of the many AdSense advertisements to leave the page rather than hitting the back button.
The content for these websites is automatically generated with a script that takes snippets of search results or web pages including those keywords. Think about those times you’ve searched for reviews on a television you want to buy, for example, and you think you’ve found a link only to click on it and see “0 reviews found for Sony televisions”.
“We have rules in our guidelines about auto-generated pages that have very little value,” Cutts said. This is because, according to Google, landing on a page that doesn’t give you what you’re looking for results in a bad user experience. Cutts also pointed out that webmasters can avoid being penalised by ensuring that search result snippets aren’t being indexed.
So, what’s the bottom line? If you’re a webmaster who is creating websites with auto-generated text and snippets, understand that Google can (and probably will) penalise you. And if you’re a user who comes across these sorts of sites in Google results, know that you can send in a spam report.
Last week, Google announced that they would be launching a couple of new devices in the coming weeks – Chromecast and, in conjunction with ASUS, the Nexus 7. Sundar Pichai, the Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Apps at Google says that the launch makes it “even more effortless to enjoy the content you care about…wherever you are, across your devices.”
Introducing Chromecast This device has been designed to help you bring your online entertainment to the largest screen in your home – the television. It’s a small device that is simply plugged into your high-definition TV and allows you to use your smartphone, tablet or laptop to ‘cast’ online content onto the screen. You will even be able to multitask whilst enjoying what’s on the TV!
Introducing Nexus 7 This device is, essentially, a newer and better version of the original Nexus 7. The 7-inch tablet features 323 pixels, 9 hours of high-definition video playback and 10 hours of web browsing or reading. It’s also incredibly lightweight and has the addition of stereo speakers and virtual surround sound (thanks to Fraunhofer, the guys who invented the MP3 format).
Customers across the United States will be able to purchase Chromecast for the low price of $35 from July 28, whilst US customers will also be able to purchase the brand new Nexus 7 (starting at $229) from July 30; both devices will be released in other countries in the coming months. Google have also announced that a Lite version of the Nexus 7 is coming soon.
Last week, it was announced that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had taken action against search engine giant, Google, in regards to their compliance with the UK Data Protection Act. The ICO have stated that their reasoning for the legal action is because Google has not made it clear how user data will be used in their privacy policies.
The ICO is not the only European data authority that has made complaints; this action is actually the result of a coordinated effort with the 27 other data protection authorities present across the continent. This is also not the first time that Google has fallen foul of European data protection authorities – in 2012, they illegally collected data using their Street View cars.
If Google fail to update their privacy policies to make them more clear about how the user data collected will be used across all of their products, however, the ICO will not hesitate to take formal enforcement action.
Well, you can’t say that you haven’t been warned. After Google announced back in March that they would be closing their RSS service, Google Reader, it was officially shut down on July 1. This decision was due to the fact that the service, which had been in operation since 2005, had seen a decline in usage even though it was one of the most popular RSS readers on the web.
Google Reader operated via the creation of a single feed for individual users that was formed through the aggregation of headlines from a number of different websites into a single place. RSS (which stands for Really Simple Syndication) is the format that these feeds are stored in, whilst the reader is how they are displayed. Many other RSS readers operate in the same way.
Whilst news of the Google Reader closure has upset many members of the online tech community, it has caused the introduction of a number of alternatives. Digg Reader, for example, was launched a few days ago and offers users fairly basic functionality. AOL Reader, on the other hand, allows users to login using their Google Reader account and to transfer over all their feeds.
The most popular alternative, however, would have to be a service known as Feedly, which is the only one that is believed to be able to completely take over from Google Reader. It offers users more choice in regards to customising the appearance of the feed (such as a ‘magazine mode’) and has a dedicated backend that allows them to sync with other applications.
Even though the announcement has actually seen RSS regain some of its past popularity, there are many who believe that this will be short lived. Darrell Etherington of TechCrunch said that “at some point Google Reader just stopped feeling current enough, fast enough, and comprehensive enough.” It remains to be seen whether Google has made the right decision or not.