Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May 17th, 2013

Growing Pains

If you’ve been following the crop of links I’ve selected this week, it’s clear that it has been a big week for Google. From Mat Honan’s mockery to Nick Bilton’s privacy, and from video codecs to my disdain for Google+’s redesign, it might appear that I’ve been crafting a narrative of displeasure with Google over the past few days.

That hasn’t been my intent at all, however. What this week has illustrated is that Google is in an awkward place as a company. Their internal culture, their external perception, their realized products, and their conceptual ideas are all floating in a soup which has been brought to the front burner owing to this week’s I/O conference.

In the middle of the keynote of a geological time scale, Dustin Curtis tweeted:

Before last year, everything Google made was uninspired crap. Now it is carefully executed, designed well, and part of a massive vision.

I think it’s hinting at a massive vision, but I think what’s being realized throught the articles I’ve linked to this week is a clear sense of the blind spots in that vision. Google’s no longer the benevolent college search engine project. The company has the most popular search engine, smartphone operating system, and web advertising platforms, plus a massive quantity of other products of varying popularity. It’s not a small company any more; Google’s fucking enormous, but I think a great deal of people lack that sense — a perspective that has been cultivated through its spokespersons’ crafted statements which imply a sense of a smaller startup.1

This image is only one component of the cracks showing in these growing pains. What happened this week was due in part to the sheer quantity of updates announced over the course of the keynote presentation, each of which has been (and will continue to be) analyzed and critiqued. Google’s bigger vision is coming into its own, but the company is in an awkward phase of its realization of just how big they are. The commentary that you read this week has reflected that.

  1. Releases with titles like “Mo’ screens, mo’ goodness”, or the very practice of releasing most news as blog posts. ↩︎

Welcome to Google Island

Mat Honan, Wired:


The soft, froggy voice startled me. I turned around to face an approaching figure. It was Larry Page, naked, save for a pair of eyeglasses.

“Welcome to Google Island. I hope my nudity doesn’t bother you. We’re completely committed to openness here. Search history. Health data. Your genetic blueprint. One way to express this is by removing clothes to foster experimentation. It’s something I learned at Burning Man,” he said. “Here, drink this. You’re slightly dehydrated, and your blood sugar is low. This is a blend of water, electrolytes, and glucose.”

Cameras Everywhere

Nick Bilton, New York Times:

Yet when it was finally my turn to approach the rows of white urinals, my world came screeching to a halt. There they were, a handful of people wearing Google Glass, now standing next to me at their own urinals, peering their head from side to side, blinking or winking, as they relieved themselves.

Auto-uploading to Google+ for all the world nobody to see.

The Neighbors

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon:

“The Neighbors,” currently on display at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea, is, at first glance, a quiet, painterly collection of intimate yet semi-abstract images. A seemingly nude male figure stands illuminated behind a curtain. A woman sits serenely, holding a menacing pair of scissors. A lone figure naps on a couch. A figure in a green dress crouches on the floor, her rear pressed close to the glass.

None of the photos show the subject’s faces, but the residents of the luxury condo across the street from [artist Arne] Svenson are understandably none too thrilled to see their asses turned into artwork — that’s fetching up at up to $7,500 a print, all without their consent.

This is something I constantly question when I’m making work: the difference between implicit and explicit consent. Anything visible within a public realm is typically fair game, but it’s uncomfortable. Anything on Instagram that’s public is, in theory, alright to appropriate (provided you follow their terms of service, naturally), but is that fair to the subjects? Are public tweets of private matters okay to more widely broadcast? Consider the @NeedADebitCard Twitter account, for just one example.

In these cases, it’s not a legal question, but an ethical one. In the meantime, if you live across from Svenson, you might want to close your blinds. Via Dave Pell