woensdag 25 november 2015

The learning curve of Google Now

Update 2015-12-11 I started writing this post to vent my frustration with Google Now. It mainly lists some things that I was really disappointed with. I disabled it altogether. But some people pointed out some things that made me reconsider. Since then, I found some pro's as well. Plus, I learned that I shouldn't have tried to learn to operate a smartphone just by operating a smartphone. In my case (I'm a laptop addict), it's much more efficient find on the laptop how things work on the smartphone. Some people may operate a smartphone like a body part, it's not nearly as user-friendly as I had expected.

One pro of Google Now is voice control - if you speak English: it's much more intelligent in English than it is in Dutch (my native language). For example, the command 'zet bluetooth aan' brings up the bluetooth app. Which you then must turn on manually. But the command 'turn on bluetooth' does just that.

Why Google Now made me Angry

About five years ago, some googler on YouTube, while explaining some function in Chrome, said: "One of the key tenets in Google is that we don't want to interrupt the user". I didn't know what a tenet is, so I looked it up. A tenet is a belief, a creed. So five years ago, Google believed interrupting the user was wrong.

I liked that. A lot. I hate "Are you sure?" pop-ups on totally trivial changes. I hate pop-ups, full stop. I hate ads. I hate basically any machine that interrupts my train of thoughts, that deliberately tries to distract me from what I intend to do.

Google Now does just that. That's why I hate it, that's why it makes me angry.

Why Google Now Sucks

It started when I bought my first smartphone, about a month ago. It had a function called swipe launch: swipe up from home, and you launch - yes - Google Now. This meant I launched Google Now unintentionally many many many times, while scrolling.

At first, I thought I'd give it a try. But it kept presenting me things I didn't want to know, at the wrong moment. A partial list:

  • I don't want to read what the temperature outside is, I can go out and feel it. I can even look at a thermometer!
  • I don't want to see perpetual calender reminders. I know all my appointments by heart a few days in advance.
  • I don't want to know when new e-mail comes in, I have the discipline to check, daily, and do not want to be disturbed at other times.
  • I don't want to see "news" items "popular in my area". I read a good newspaper, and I follow a couple of other news feeds.
  • I don't want to see "information" that other people "like me" find interesting. This is because the criteria that determine "like me" miss the point, hopelessly. Apparently, most people my age and gender are interested in cars, games, gadgets, nude women, superficial TV-shows, and any consumer society whim. I'm not.
  • It kept asking me which means of transportation I use mostly. But I walk, cycle, drive or ride public transport in just about any mix that's handy - so there is no way I can answer that question. Yet it kept asking me.
  • When visiting a customer, it triumphantly reminded me where I had parked my car. Except it was totally wrong. It told me the place where I had stopped moving fast, and stopped to look for a while. I got there by public transport, my car was about 60 kilometers away from where it said it was.

Google Now is like the encyclopedia salesman at your door, a very agressive and stubborn one, when you already have a very good encyclopedia, or two. Piss off, you idiot!

So, I went and took all the necessary steps to disable Google Now on my smartphone.

But, Google Now is designed to invade your online activities, anywhere, everywhere. It popped up on my laptop. So I disable it there. I operate a couple of old laptops, infrequently. It popped up on them. That made me very angry. If my bookmarks get synced across three different machines, why not sync undesired features in the same way? Never before did I have to explain Google more than once that I don't want something. Never before have I seen a Google product so stubbornly ignoring that I want it to stay away from me.

That is what I find fundamentally wrong with Google Now. Google used to show they understood. Now they deliberately keep disturbing me. Google is not stupid, so the nag factor must be by design. They keep nagging you, because it works with most. Most people do get lured into using it, making more people click more ads.

Don't I want to know anything?

I am interested in a whole lot of other things. And I know how to find them. I don't need ads. I search. Using Google. So it's not that I hate Google. I love Google (the search engine), it helps me find what I'm looking for, faster and more to the point than any other search engine out there. I do try others, they do not help me as well as Google does.

Internet is pull, not push. I've learned to distrust pretty much all information that companies push to me unsolicitedly. I've also learned that information I went out and looked for, and found, is the most valuable kind of information.

Google has a reputation for hiring bright people. How come no googler was so bright as to predict the anger-inducing properties of Google Now? I really don't understand. I guess most people are more gullible than me.

The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. I think that sucks.

said facebook big data guru Jeff Hammerbacher, and then he left facebook, in 2013. I think he was right then and he is still right today.

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