Friday, April 27, 2007

Google Toolbar

Google Toolbar Features

I'm playing with the latest version of Google Toolbar on Firefox. I'm finding it the tiniest bit confusing - hitting the blogger icon now performs a blog search, and to get to the Blog This! Interface I have to hit the 'send to' dropdown. Wha?

I do hate it when designers change the functions and meanings of icons. It's like making the word 'milk' suddenly mean 'nagging headache' instead of, well, milk, really.

On the plus side - I now have a Google Scholar search button, a 'define:' seach button (the secret to being able to understand technical specification documents, frequently!) and some kind of magic wand. Haven't you always wanted one of those?

The interesting implications seem to be around search history. I've had google's search history feature running quietly in the background since October 05, and it has always been patchy - collecting some search queries and not others, and inconsistently remembering clicks and so on. I'm sure Ask! will be heartened to know that their sinister competitor's mad surveilance techiques (ha!) are a little flaky.

Signing in today, however, through the new toolbar, I see that much more has appeared - whole swathes of activity are back against my name. Combined with the Browser Sync addon (possibly the neatest way I have ever found of having a bunch of idle weekend smut surfing show up on your work machine... oops!), I have a pretty complete view of my browsing habits. Not quite as beautiful as those at - which makes up for an inexplicable temporary loss of my data with some very, very nice graphs, but useful, nonetheless.

How valuable is that data, though? Well, if you wanted to blackmail me, or market things to me, pretty high, I'd imagine. It's a rich source of information, and I can see how mining it will let google serve ever more efficient and targeted adverts.But the availability of so much data - about who or what is using /reading what will, I'd hope, also mean that it will become much easier to find and buy goods and services that will be appropriate for me; I'll no longer need to laboriously 'teach' amazon that I like books on feminist literary theory, and don't like Miss Teen Cosmopolitain Makeup CD Roms (A genuine Amazon reccomendation from back in the day!) and just tell it to take a discrete look at my information history and work out that I'm more In Our Time than Take a Break. From there, you could weight reviews according to how attitudinally similar I am to a reviewer, strimming out that typical 'well, whoever gave that one star was obviously a dolt' thing you get sometimes.

I'm finding it very hard to get worried about the privacy implications of this ubiquitous behavioural information - after all, adverts are only intrusive if they're shouty and irrelevant, which google generally avoids. I'm slightly more worried about my new N95 with Jaiku! enabled on it (which I won in a random draw having completed a marketing survey for them, incidentally, and wouldn't have accepted if I thought there was any funny business going on there - although I have had a couple of casual interactions with the chaps behind the site). The main thing that worried me was the real-time location updating. The days of being a bit late in to the office in order to drop in to John Lewis are over, and I'll never be able to lie about my location again.

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