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The announcement that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is stepping down raises new questions about what it takes to keep a tech company relevant and agile. An ad-blocking company’s campaign to sell its own ads is prompting a debate over the ethics and economics of online advertising. The Computer Guys and Gal talk about news and trends in the tech world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat's right. They're here. From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world and with the Computer Guys & Gal. They join us in studio. Allison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research. She's co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland, here to share information with us. Hi, Allison. How's it going?
MS. ALLISON DRUINOh, great, Kojo.
NNAMDIBill Harlow is here. He's a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid Atlantic Consulting Inc. Bill also here to share information with us. Hi, Bill.
MR. BILL HARLOWHi. How are you doing?
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy, is director of business development at Armature Corporation. And to no one's surprise, he has found an app for ordering beer, and I guess...
MR. JOHN GILROYYes. (laugh)
NNAMDI...that's what he is here to share with us today.
NNAMDIYou should know that this is an alcohol-free environment...
GILROYYes, it is, technically.
NNAMDI...so you can't use that app here today. With the announcement that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stepping down, there's a lot of speculation about his successor, the transition raising new questions about what it takes to lead a tech company and keep it competitive in today's fast-changing digital landscape. We're inviting your calls. What do you think Microsoft needs to do to remain competitive? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWhat characteristics will its new chief executive need? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can send us a tweet @kojoshow, using the hashtag #TechTuesday. Bill Harlow, it seems that in order to stay competitive, there's news today that Microsoft will be buying Nokia units and acquire an executive.
HARLOWYeah. So Nokia's handset and services are gonna be acquired by Microsoft. So this means that -- as well as patents and licensing of the brand. So I think for the foreseeable future, you're going to see Windows OS-based phones, but still being branded as Nokia handsets. And this is interesting because, you know, when you take it at face value, the Windows Mobile is a pretty good phone OS, and the Nokia Lumia series have been very nice phones.
HARLOWSo maybe this is just Microsoft's way of saying, we're going all in with this strategy. This is our way of making the complete widget, the same way Apple does.
NNAMDIWell, Windows phone, it's my understanding, so far only has about 4 percent of the market. Hopefully, this is for -- at least hopefully as far as Microsoft is concerned, this will boost that.
HARLOWHopefully. I mean -- and if you look at it as a long game, I mean, you know, the current generation of smartphones with full touch screens and apps, it's still relatively young. You know, Apple is dominant. Android's dominant. But who's to say how long? That's not forever. I mean, things can change. There can be another disruption.
NNAMDIAllison, what do you think?
DRUINWell, I mean, now, let's look at what Ballmer has said, that he actually sees Microsoft transforming to a devices and services company, OK? And so it's not just about Windows, stupid, you know? It's not -- it's really about the full experience, physical and virtual. And -- you know? The question is, though, he's made some missteps, OK? And not too many people were terribly surprised when he suggested he was gonna step down, you know, in the next year.
DRUINI mean, there -- they had a $900 million write-down from the tablet, from the tablets they were just working on. But you got to say to yourself, OK, so what -- so who's he listening to? Where is he getting his advice from? Is he listening to people, or maybe he's not listening to people? Now, if I were him, I'd listen to Jeff Bezos, you know, the -- actually, Jeff is visiting The Washington Post today, here. He's in the Washington...
GILROYFirst name basis, are you? (laugh)
DRUINYeah. Absolutely. There you go. But he -- and he's -- obviously he just bought The Washington Post. He's also, you know, obviously, you know, chief of the -- no, he is actually president of Amazon. But he has said not just think about the customer. He said put the customer first. He didn't just say innovate. He said invent, OK? It's not just about incremental change, and Microsoft has been best at incremental change. It really is about...
DRUINYes, reinventing. Get out of those comfort zones. Now, if you look at what Larry Page, CEO of Google has said, he said companies should step outside of their comfort zones and focus less on incremental progress. All right. So now -- so if you take a look at the top CEOs of these various companies, you've got to see that they are absolutely inventors. They are putting the customer first.
DRUINBut something Bezos seems to do better than most is that his third thing for people to listen to, be patient, OK? And he's actually said, if everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you're competing against a lot of people, all right? And so what you should be doing is competing in the seven-year time frame, and he's shown that. You know, who thought that, you know, getting into Kindles and getting into selling soap and hairspray was going to be -- to make Amazon, Amazon? But it was.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think Microsoft needs to do to remain competitive? We hear from a man who's reinvented himself several times: John Gilroy.
GILROYBack in 1975, when I was in grade school, that's when Microsoft started, and they were a software company. They're a software company in '85 and in '95 and 2000. This is a tectonic shift. This is a big shift. What they're doing is they're conceding to Apple. They're saying, OK, uncle, uncle, I give in, I give in. We're gonna do vertical marketing. We're gonna create the phone. We're gonna create the whole vertical market.
GILROYAnd why is that? Well, if you look at the numbers, the numbers are pretty obvious. So Microsoft Windows will get 10 bucks for every phone sold, and Nokia will get 30. And they're going, whoa, whoa, whoa. We don't like this split. Now they own Nokia, they can say, hey, now we get $40. We can take and reinvest this in the future of Windows or Windows 8. And so I think it's a major shift in Microsoft.
GILROYAnd since 1975, that's what they do. They buy companies. I mean, their first product, Bill Gates was running around, trying to -- I think it was Seattle computer, something or other. He bought it, and it's the first operating system. And that (word?) reach out, they find something, they buy it. Now, the question is, is this a sinking ship? Do they just tie themselves to a sinking ship? The people at Google look at this and say, two turkeys, you know, put them together, doesn't make them an eagle. And we'll see.
NNAMDILet's see what Adam in Fairfax, Va., has to say about this. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAMOh, yes. I mean, I think that -- I originally called to point out that there's a Nokia announcement from this morning. But I think that it seems clear that Microsoft is, like you said, trying to get into a device and services space, but it's not at all clear that they can. And on the one hand, it's not all that different from what their business has been over time, a little bit of hardware and the software to go in it and around it.
ADAMBut in addition, I think that Google is a lot more flexible and innovative. And Microsoft, you know, like the two turkeys, you don't get an eagle, I think that is very apt.
GILROY(laugh) That's 'cause, I think, it's gonna resonate, I think.
ADAMYeah. I mean, it's, you know -- OK, it's a big company. They've got a lot of money. They can obviously afford to buy a floundering handset manufacturer. Well, so what? I mean, it doesn't make -- that doesn't make good Microsoft Windows handset.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Bill Harlow?
HARLOWWell, I mean, the way I look at this with Microsoft and things that they make, I look at the Xbox, and I look -- you mentioned patience earlier. You know, you're talking about Jeff Bezos. And when Microsoft fails, I think, a lot of times, they give up too early, you know? I look at, like, the Zune's and such where they've said...
DRUINThat's exactly right.
HARLOW...you know what, well, this didn't work out. I'll wash my hands. Bye. And when I look at the Xbox, they looked like they really had a strategy of, OK, Sega's entrenched, Sony's entrenched. This is gonna be really tough. We know we're just gonna lose our shirts with the first Xbox, so let's just go with it. Let's commit. Let's get developers to make stuff for it, and let's make it, you know, the most powerful device so there's some incentive for people to buy it and for developers to make stuff for it.
HARLOWSo if they're going into this with a real long-term strategy and it's not a last desperate gasp, then, you know, we could see some good things from it. But I think a lot of it depends on what they're willing to do internally and how committed they are to this.
NNAMDIRobert seems to agree with you. And, Adam, thank you for your call. Robert writes by email, "Wait and see. Microsoft has the idea. Its most recent operating system and the hardware will propel it far ahead of the rest, a laptop that is also a tablet but runs the same software as the laptop. Stay the course," says Roberts -- Robert. In the wake of the revelation that the National Security Agency is spying on its own citizens, Congress has launched an investigation.
NNAMDIBut the panel that's probing how the NSA does its work does not include any tech folks who understand the how and why of digital sleuthing. What does that mean for the conclusions of this panel, Allison Druin?
DRUINWell, I mean, look, the goal of the panel is that we're supposed to move forward with a better understanding of privacy and security issues. Now, you say to yourself, OK. So are, you know, are they collecting data because of the way they're doing it? Are they doing it because of technology limitations, or are they doing it because of policies they have that are really overreaching? Well, they've appointed five people, and only one out of those five people aren't Washington insiders in the sense -- well, actually, he's an insider too.
DRUINBut he actually -- Peter Swire, actually, the former -- is the former chief counselor for privacy under President Clinton. And he actually gets a little bit about the importance of what people are calling metadata analysis. What -- how is privacy really going to happen when, OK, sure we don't listen to your phone call Bill, but I can tell you that you've called the suicide prevention hotline, that you take...
HARLOWAllison's ordering a pizza.
DRUINYeah. That you were calling the -- a K Street lobbyist, that you were -- I mean...
HARLOWThe pizza was for him.
DRUINExactly. So, you know, sure, nobody's listening to your calls, but it's not just metadata, stupid, OK? And so we've got this interesting panel. They're supposed to give an interim report in two months. But, you know, people are quite concerned because there's really no nerds or geeks on there that can say, you know what, maybe they were collecting it this way because.
NNAMDIOne spokesperson for the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project asked on Twitter, "Is it too much to ask that the NSA surveillance review panel include at least one person who knows how to actually run a packet sniffer?" Nobody like that on that panel, and John Gilroy did not get the call.
GILROYNo, they didn't call me. All my packet sniffers are on the shelf right now.
DRUINBut, you know, the other thing, too, that's a little bit disconcerting is that, you know, errors happen. And so I was reading up on this the other day, and I saw that, do you know that if you make a call to Egypt, you start with 20?
DRUINBut if you add 202, that's us. That's here.
DRUINAnd so they were actually taking a look at the metadata of our phone calls around here because they got confused between Egypt and D.C.
NNAMDIBetween 20 and 202.
DRUIN(laugh) I mean, it's crazy.
NNAMDIThe question of nobody who is -- who understands how being included on this panel raises another question. Do young computer programmers and hackers, all of them digital natives, actually will rule the world because the rest of us just can't keep up with them? Is that what we're dealing with here, Bill Harlow?
HARLOWOh, I don't think so. I mean, there -- it's just, you know, different levels of expertise, and experience matters too. So it's interesting. When you bring up the younger generation and privacy, I think a lot -- you know, you have an interesting mix of people who are just like, oh, well, privacy's dead, doesn't exist anymore. That's just the way things are. And other people who look at it look a little more closely. So I'm not sure if it's just a generational difference.
GILROYYou know, I think in Silicon Valley, the phrase is, build it, and they will come. And so when they first started with Gmail and they started harvesting information from Gmail, people were outraged. Well, what happens is people using Gmail. And I think what's happening is is maybe the innovators in Silicon Valley are desensitizing everyone, and the people under 30 are part and parcel of it and don't care.
DRUINWell, you know, there are organizations that are trying to help with what they call digital citizenry, and so what is digital literacy and citizen curriculum, OK, where people really are trying to teach kids, you know, what is it -- you know, how much information is too much information? Is it really creativity, or is it reckless borrowing?
DRUINYou know, are you talking about texting, posting, chatting and so on, and how do you do that responsibly? And so there are a number of different organizations. One of them is - if you take a look at Commonsense Media, you can take a look at -- they have actually a whole curriculum both for parents as well as for educators that think about this.
NNAMDIOnto the issue we discussed at the beginning, and that is Microsoft and Nokia. Mary, in Bristol, Va., has a question. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYYes. Actually, I have two questions, Kojo. First, thank you for taking my call. I love your show. First, does this mean that perhaps Microsoft will no longer update their Office package so frequently which gets pretty expensive? And secondly, will they ever come out with a desktop publishing program for the Macintosh? I'll take my call offline. Thank you.
GILROYMicrosoft Office is called the golden goose, right?
GILROYYou don't kill that goose. Ah-ah. No way.
GILROYYou feed it all kinds of good corn and make sure it's in an air-condition...
HARLOWAnd maybe switch it to a more subscription-based model going forward...
HARLOW...so you get, you know, guaranteed revenue.
GILROYGive it organic corn and a little music, maybe and...
HARLOWSo basically the opposite of what you want to see most likely, unfortunately.
GILROYYeah. No. No. No. Office, it's going be a long time. That's there, that's how they make their money.
HARLOWBut as far as publisher for Mac who knows? I mean I -- with the people I work with, I get ask, you know, how to work with publisher files, maybe twice a year. So I don't see...
GILROYYeah. It's a good idea 10 years ago. It really was.
HARLOWYeah. I don't see it happening.
NNAMDIMary, thank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll be discussing ad blocking software. You can start calling right now, 800-433-8850. What do you think? Do you use ad block? Do you think it's a great tool for the ad-fed-up or a dangerous device that could lead to the end of free content on the Web? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. John Gilroy is here. He is director of business development at Armature Corporation. Bill Harlow is a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. And Allison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland.
NNAMDITogether, they're The Computer Guys & Gal. We're taking your calls about ad blocking. Do you use ad blocking? Do you feel it's a great tool or a dangerous device? It's one of the biggest conundrums on the Internet. People want content for free, but they also want contents that free of ads. Ad blocking software makes that possible. But a fundraising campaign by the company AdBlock is raising new questions about the ethics and about the possible impact of blocking ads. Bill, explain how ad blocking software works.
HARLOWWell, it's -- they're -- the AdBlock Plus in particular is essentially an extension you can get for Firefox, for Safari. And when you install it, it has a list of common ad networks, servers, et cetera, that serves these ads, and it filters them out. So if you go to a page, that let's say, had a big intrusive blinking banner at the top, you'd view it with AdBlock, and there'd just be a white space.
HARLOWAnd I got to tell you I mean I've used it, and it feels great. It's very popular, and I get why. But then there's the angle, which is the people who produce all this content who kind of need you to see those ads and the data is collected for who sees what and what ads are being blocked so that they can keep getting paid to put out those content you like so much. So if you're going to consume it for free, do you have the right to block the ads? I guess you do, but on the other hand, if that site goes under, well, you know, there you go.
NNAMDIThe company AdBlock is starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to -- guess what -- make ads.
NNAMDIThey want to spread their software far and wide and create an Internet less cluttered with flashing, talking, irritating ads, but the companies, as Bill was saying, that carry ads on their sites complained that ad blocking cut into their revenues, and this move has renewed the debate about the ethics of blocking ads. I'd like to hear all of you on this. First, you, Allison.
DRUINWell, this is like TiVo for the TV, OK?
GILROYThat's a good anal -- that's good. That's right. It is.
DRUINYeah. And what's sort of interesting is now we have to ask ourselves, you know, what kind of TV models do we have right now and how is that changing and talk about the quicksand that they're all in between NetFlix and Hulu and all of these various different things. So I would say that the business models are changing in every single direction that we're getting our information from whether it's, you know, whether it's TV or if it's online.
GILROYWell, pieces of downtown, The Washington Post, you know, advertising downhill, downhill, downhill. I think advertising is gonna change drastically. There's a guy named David Meerman Scott. He's pretty famous in the social media world. He wrote a book called "The New Rules of Public Relations," and he's got a fourth edition that I just finished last week. And he said, you know, he does encourage advertising. He encourages creating fresh, original content on the Internet, possibly in a blog, that people want to read that are gonna solve their problems.
GILROYAnd that's -- he says the new game is not advertising flashy things and colors and interruption. He talks about generating new content. And I see SEO, search engine optimization, moving away from attracting people and seeing ads to attracting people with content that's good, like -- this radio station, by the way, has got good content. This is why it's gonna draw. It doesn't need the ads.
DRUINSo it's -- you're talking about really branded information, OK, and really going to a different way of saying, OK, we're gonna talk to you about these different brands, but we're not gonna be talking to you in the same traditional, you know, circus model that we've always used.
HARLOWWhat I find, too, is that if it's good content, I'm definitely willing to pay for it. So, you know, if you don't serve me ads but you produce, like you said, fresh content but also, I think, content that is different somehow -- and I think the websites I've subscribed to -- and it's not just like a magazine format online. There's more to it. There's online chat. There's a community they're building around that. They're very active. They're very active on Twitter. And when you start to get sort of this closer-knit feel to the content you're consuming, I think you're more willing to pay for it.
GILROYAnd AdBlock is carrying the mind saying, OK, advertising, time to change.
DRUINBut nobody thought that, you know, when Google first suggested that they were gonna put -- include just one little link on the side that that was gonna just blow up into an entire business, and guess what, it -- so now we've got to rethink what is that business again. And someone will because people are smart.
NNAMDIBack to Google in a second. But first, here is Lou in Silver Spring, Md. Lou, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LOUHi. Hey, Kojo, great show, along with "Science Friday," by the way. And great topic today. I think as long as there are ads, there are gonna be people who are gonna try to block them. I don't really mind the ads if they're static. But when they move across my screen, when they're flashing and jiggling around and it's really a distraction for me getting my work done, that I don't like.
NNAMDILou doesn't want any twerking ads running across his screen.
HARLOWWell, I will say that like -- there's definitely like -- there are respectful ads. Some sites go to the premium sponsors, you'll see like one little ad in the corner and then the other extreme where you've got -- you go to a website and the first thing you see is sign up for our newsletter, take a survey, here's a big blinking ad. And the other thing, too, is we're going mobile, right, and screen space is at a premium there.
HARLOWAnd the last thing I want is an ad on my mobile phone that takes up -- in addition to everything else, I've now got one quarter the view I used to have because of all this other junk you're putting on my screen. Oh, and on top of that, the performance suffers because of this extra stuff it has to render. So advertise to me, do it respectfully.
NNAMDILou, thank you very much for your call. Here is Martha in Falls Church, Va. Hi, Marta.
MARTAGood morning, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. Congratulations. It is a great, great program. It is very -- it's a very good public service. I appreciate it. I just wanted to voice my comment. I really find these block ad very useful. I started using it about three months ago. I usually have to resource information at work for investments and for grant applications.
MARTAAnd when I go to my Internet research, especially newspaper, in what pertains to policy, the new information about policy making and regulations, I have to wait for all these ads and flicks and tips until they downloading to my screen. It is just not annoying. It's cost efficient for me. It cost me money for my data plan.
NNAMDIBottom line, you love ad blocking. (laugh)
MARTASo I did ad blocking. And the wonderful thing is you can select in this program what you want to block or not. So it's non-totalitarian. You still can find some ads that will dutifully, you know, pay for your use of Google or Internet -- free Internet access.
MARTASo it's not that bad. It's very useful, especially if you want to use it for work.
NNAMDIOK, Marta. Thank you very much for your call. Didn't expect to hear the words non-totalitarian on the Computer Guys and Gal but...
GILROYOh yeah. You got to like the use of that.
DRUINGood for you, Marta, yeah. (laugh)
NNAMDIBut there it is. Marta, thank you for your call. Now for the possible problems with ad blocking, we'll start with Zachary in Annandale, Va. Zachary, your turn.
ZACHARYHello, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call this morning. I had a question about the security elements about ad-blocking software, particularly its ability to block invasive malware or adware. And I wanted to see if you and your panelists could talk about the more utilitarian features featured in AdBlock.
HARLOWWell, I think Martha brought up a great point with performance. I've seen that less lately, but yeah, there is a long stretch of time where the way websites were coded, if the ad network was having issues, it would cause the whole page to delay rendering. And you brought up malware too. And that's the other thing too.
HARLOWYou have all these other sources of content that, let's say, a news organization's website doesn't directly control because they're subscribing to an ad network. Well, if that gets compromised and there's malware injected there -- in fact, this happened to The New York Times a couple of years ago, I think...
HARLOW...then that's a case where ad blocking can be very useful.
GILROYNow, I think there's a group of 200 people that review the ads and decide which ones are acceptable or not. And who died and put them in charge? Is this an oligarchy, to use a fancy word, to go back, you know, on Marta's words? I mean, so who are these 200 people? Who are these people? And how do they know if an app's a valid app? Maybe it has a malicious code embedded in it.
GILROYDo they have, you know, some kind of certification for that and they'll indemnify anyone from -- I mean, you know, if you take a look at the ad stores, I don't think this ad blocker is allowed on the Google ad or the Apple store.
HARLOWI know -- well, I don't think there's a way to run it on an iPhone directly unless they built their own browser for the iPhone. But in the case of Google, I know at one point they actually did block it from Google Play, although what's interesting now is that they also apparently pay AdBlock.
NNAMDIGoogle is now paying AdBlock to put it on a so-called white list...
HARLOWYes, so they can bypass it.
GILROYProtection money. It's protection money.
HARLOWSo they can bypass it. Exactly.
NNAMDIThat means even people who block ads will still see them on Google sites. What's -- is that the nature of the deal that Google struck with Adblock Plus?
HARLOWI believe so. So that if you're running Adblock Plus, they're on the white list. You know...
HARLOWThey got through the velvet rope, and they're now on your...
GILROYYeah. And the director at AdBlock, his name is Michael Corleone, that's the guy (laugh) -- it is what is. This is -- well, protection money is what it is.
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Mike in Baltimore, who says, "I used the popular ad and tracking blockers on Safari, FireFox and Chrome. But over the past year or so, they've become as much a hindrance as a help. I found that using Disconnect and Adblock and Ghostery just makes it worst. Sometimes, they break it all -- they just break it all completely. So I only use Adblock with Ghostery, but even Ghostery is hard to keep up with. Trackers are added by the dozens on some websites, and it's too complex."
NNAMDI"Right now, as a user seeking a peaceful non-tracked experience online, I feel it's a totally hopeless situation. What combo or extensions do you recommend for most users seeking privacy and fewer ads that still permit access to videos?"
HARLOWI guess I would say it's sort of like spam, right? It's a constant cat and mouse game. The answer I'd give you today is gonna be different, you know, six months from now. I think in general, especially because you mentioned video and the way that they're constantly recoding pages to identify whether you're blocking ads and therefore cut you off the stream, it might be better to rather than just block everything, kind of blacklist the really bad sites with your ad blocking software so the stuff that's really invasive. Or just don't go to the sites that bad, maybe you shouldn't go to them in the first place.
NNAMDIAnd, Allison, Harrison writes by email, "I'm a junior at the University of Maryland studying computer and network security. I wanted to point out that even if people block ads and steal ad revenue, companies still make a large portion of their income by selling user information. I don't think people are gonna wanna pay for content, and companies will naturally revert to other means of collecting ad revenue."
DRUINOh, they will always revert to other means. There is -- in fact, that's what we were just talking about in terms of a change in the business model for how these companies stay afloat. I mean, that's the -- in some sense, that's the research of the future, and thinking about the businesses of the future is, what is it that people will pay for? What is it that will companies afloat, and what is it that is best for users to get their jobs done? And that's a pretty -- that's pretty hard to balance between those things because...
NNAMDISo if they're not selling ads, I mean...
NNAMDI...if they have -- not selling user information, if sites can't make money by doing those things, some say they'll have to make money by selling the content itself. We heard Bill say earlier, he's willing to pay for content that he really needs. How likely is that scenario?
DRUINSo to be perfectly honest with you, people are gonna be trying a whole lot of different things. So I agree with my colleague from the University of Maryland, there's gonna be a lot of different ways people are gonna go about this.
NNAMDIPay-per-view, John Gilroy?
GILROYWell, I just think there's gonna be a new modality. I don't know if we can predict what's gonna happen here. I think, you know, if you look in general at revenues for display advertising on the Internet, I mean, we -- I can name textbooks. Miller's got a great textbook on it, talks about, it's going down. And his (word?) said, a different way -- it's a change, and it's the same question that Bezos is asking downtown is, OK, we're in the middle of a change here. What's the best way we can maximize our revenue from these different models?
GILROYMaybe one way is pay. I think free content's the way to go. I like a -- I've written 83 blogs. I have all free content on my company website. You people come there. And they wanna get more information. They come there. If they don't like it, then they leave. All I do is provide information. If they wanna pursue it, fine. If not, I think that's the model for the future is providing, you know, if you're thinking about buying a car, provide a site that talks about where the top 10 cars to buy in the next two years or something. Or if you're looking at a vacation spots, I think that's -- and I think ads is gonna go away.
DRUINYeah. I think it's actually some middle ground, OK? I don't think it's a pay-per-view, the traditional pay-per-view. I think it's gonna be more of a middle ground where it's let me show you what we have. Let me let you kick my tires and get a sense of what we have. And then I'll pay for more content, or I'll pay for the, you know, for the better version of it. So -- because more and more people are not trusting what they're gonna buy online until they see some of it. And so I think that middle ground is gonna be where we're gonna go.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Julia, who says, "You nailed it. Good content is the new advertising." And an email from Rita, who says, "I've been ad blocking for over 30 years. That's why I joined NPR on public (unintelligible)."
GILROYWinner, winner. Send her a T-shirt.
NNAMDIAnd with that, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, you can still join the conversation at 800-433-8850 because then we'll be talking about predictive search. Do you feel it's useful or creepy? 800-433-8850. Do you like the idea of apps that anticipate your needs and send you helpful tips or documents or websites? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. The Computer Guys & Gal are here. Bill Harlow is a software and hardware technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. John Gilroy is director of business development at Armature Corp. And Allison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland.
NNAMDIThis segment, we are talking about predictive search. Picture this, an app on your phone sees an open table dinner reservation in your Gmail account, sees your location through your phone's GPS and then shoots you a message saying you should leave soon because the traffic is bad. As we get deeper into a world where our smartphones run our lives, a new type of app offers what's called predictive search to help manage the cacophony of information.
NNAMDIGoogle Now is one example. Some people think it's the wave of the future. Others think it's just creepy. Do you use Google Now? Do you like the idea of apps that anticipate your needs and send you helpful tips or documents or websites? Call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. There's been some buzz about predictive search and whether we are all ultimately destined to use it to help us manage the growing information overload. Do you use Google Now or another similar app? Would you try one, Bill?
HARLOWI think it's neat stuff, and if you look at it from the attitude of, well, our privacy is over and, you know, ads are everywhere, then you look at it, well, you know, I'm getting something for that cost, right? And Google Now is really cool stuff. And when I think of what it can do, I think of the phrase personal digital assistant that was all the rage years ago. That, to me, is what a personal digital assistant should be. So it is cool stuff. And, you know, they really do need your data to make that work too. So that's the catch-22, right?
NNAMDIWho remembers PDAs?
DRUINWell, you know, what's interesting is that the only thing that's different here is that they now have enough information to actually make the app smarter. OK, we've, you know, we -- you have to collect enough of this stuff and you have to have enough feelers out for this information to be able to integrate it. And so, I mean...
NNAMDIYou got your calendar. You got your GPS. You got your Gmail.
DRUINExactly. Now -- and this is not new. I mean, they've been talking about in terms of neural networks and artificial intelligence for years of being able to collect enough metadata on people to be able to understand what they want and dislike and so on, and they've been talking about agents -- smart agents, and this is just one more step. It's just -- it happens that now, you know, billions of people can actually use it. So I think it's an important step, but you have to ask yourself, is it creepy? Maybe. (laugh)
NNAMDIYes, because, John, are you comfortable with Google combing through all your digital communications and then telling you what to do? It almost seems like voluntarily subjecting yourself to an NSA-style surveillance.
GILROYSo I'm walking down Wilson -- let's say, Wisconsin Avenue here. And so I go -- I pass in front of a pizza place, and so my personal digital assistant pops and it goes, John, John, John, get a pizza. Get a pizza. I say, get a pizza. Then I go by the Walgreens. John, John, John, whatever's on -- Coke's on sale. Get a Coke. I mean, from a personal digital assistant to a pain in the neck digital assistant, I think that's just gonna happen because that's the marketing people gonna do. They're gonna say, oh boy. We got Bill walking down the street. He should buy that pizza or buy -- hey, shoes on sale. Five...
HARLOWWell, I can promise you this. If that's how it works, no one's gonna use it.
GILROYWell, it's gonna happen.
HARLOWI mean, there's definitely a balance, and I think they're gonna keep adjusting to try to find that balance where -- how can we gather this info? How can we, you know, make money from advertising in from all these user data, and how can we give function to users so they keep using it?
DRUINWell, you know, you got nudgy relatives that would do the same thing for you. So you just have to say to yourself, what's the user interface that's best for John versus best for Allison? I mean, because I'm asleep half the time. I do need things knocking me over the head.
HARLOWIf I make an app...
GILROYDr. Allison Druin used the word nudgy. (laugh) Is that a technical word?
HARLOWIf I make an app like this, it's gonna be called nudgy relative because that's how...
DRUINOh, that's it.
GILROYNudgy. That's it, nudgy relative.
GILROYIs that some kind of a PhD word or something?
DRUINNo. It's nudge. Nudge, yeah. (laugh)
NNAMDIBut this means you'll never be able to make an excuse again for not calling back somebody you really didn't wanna call back in the first place...
DRUINThat's exactly right.
GILROYYeah, your friend is popping up the phone next to you.
NNAMDI...because they'll know you -- they know you're getting reminders. (laugh) Here is Brett in Washington, D.C. Brett, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Brett. Are you there?
BRETTYeah. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can, Brett.
BRETTI like the graphical user interface of the radio more than TV. I haven't had a TV in 15 years.
NNAMDIWow. How about Google predictive search, do you use it?
BRETTWell, my budget is low, so the graphical interface causes a little bit of glitches with -- when I'm using more power, and I know the predictive search uses more power. On the downloading, one of your users said they crash, and I guess they were talking Windows. Are your guests aware of all operating -- or how many different operating systems can you download videos using just the command line? I know professionals should be able to do it in all operating systems. But is that available to the average user?
GILROYFrom the display line? Earth to Brett. Earth to Brett. What is this, 1995?
GILROYWhat's -- Bill, what exactly is display -- I don't even know what that means. (laugh)
HARLOWI presume, you know, using a command line interface. I suppose it's...
GILROYCommand line interface? What...
HARLOWI mean, at some point, you would need a player to view it. So I don't think you can entirely live in the command line.
NNAMDII don't think so either, Brett. Thank you for your call. Here now is Christina in Annapolis, Md. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
CHRISTINAYes. I'm not sure at this point now if this question has anything or -- OK. I have Verizon.
NNAMDIAsk it anyway. Relevance has no bearing on this conversation.
CHRISTINAYeah. I have Verizon, and after 11 o'clock in the afternoon, I start getting pop-up ads every time I open my phone. I use my phone like my watch. And every time I check on my phone to see what time it is, there's an ad. Now, it tells me that they didn't have anything to back up. They let me know that. And then there's an ad. Well, I don't need to know that there's nothing to back up. Just back it up and do your job. I don't what those ads.
NNAMDII have no idea what Christina is talking about.
HARLOWIf I had to take a wild guess, perhaps, it's just...
HARLOWI mean, I would guess -- this is, what, a cellphone, I take it?
CHRISTINAYes, it is. Just a basic cellphone.
CHRISTINANot an iPhone or anything new.
HARLOWI'm betting that it's...
DRUINOh, yes. That's what it is.
HARLOW...some sort of preloaded software that's on that you probably can't remove. Maybe there's a way to turn it off on the settings, but the problem is, you know, that's made by a third party, I'm willing to bet and...
BRETTThat's why feature phones are inexpensive and free normally, yeah.
DRUINYeah, was this a free phone you got?
CHRISTINAOh, no. No, it's not free. (laugh)
GILROYYou're paid for these ads. Wow. (laugh)
CHRISTINASo now - So now, I'm paying for the phone, and they're getting paid to put ads on it.
NNAMDIYeah. Yeah. That sounds like a...
CHRISTINAYou see what I mean?
HARLOWYeah, I definitely agree with you. It's an issue. But it was a -- it's a pretty -- I think it's less common now, but I think it still happens with -- even with some smartphones. There's a software that either customized by the manufacturer of the phone or by the cell carrier that it's just on there because they brokered a deal behind these things.
GILROYSounds like a disreputable dealer that would sell you a phone and you'd sign a end user agreement acknowledging, I imagine, you sign something -- yes, send me all the ads you can.
NNAMDIChristina, thank you very much for your call. And Jamie in Chevy Chase, Md., may have an answer for some of the kinks that pop up in predictive search. Jamie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMIEOh, thank you, Kojo. I really appreciate it. I had served as a privacy officer back at the dawn of the Internet. Now, I've got a 12-year-old daughter. So I have to make up for the stuff that I did 12 years ago.
JAMIEI joke, I've seen the enemy, and he is me. I find it fascinating that -- and we talk about big data that's gonna, you know, solve problems and help us get great answers. But I think one of the challenges is that consumers don't know and even the researchers and the brainiacs that are developing the algorithms, they don't know how much they need in order to get to a predictive point.
JAMIESo at what point does an application have the predictive ability to say, I'm gonna buy that next donut so that Dunkin' Donut, you know, when I walk by? And then the consumer on the other side say, how much do I need to give up? And what I think is fascinating is when you have an emerging area, there's not a right answer. There's a wise answer. So in order to get someone in front of a Starbucks to grab a homo sapien, you know, me, a demographic male, certain age group, maybe you need some information.
JAMIEBut I think some of the apprehension -- and it's appropriate but not paranoia because predictive technologies are great, but maybe we just need to ask a question, yo, brainiacs, what are you collecting? How much granularity do you need? Do you really need it down to this date? And consumers can say, oh, I can give up a little bit. I go to Starbucks in Chevy Chase. I can give up this much. And maybe it's the Goldilocks answer that somewhere, we need to give up and understand, you know, what we're giving up.
NNAMDIIt gets back to Allison Druin's question about Jeff Bezos' question and that is, what do the consumers want?
DRUINWell, and the way that you're gonna -- and it's fascinating. Jamie, I really appreciated your comments. I think it goes to truly doing real deep research, not on more and more features but on understanding human beings. And so there is -- the whole area of human computer interaction actually looks at the humans first and tries to understand their needs and what they're willing to give up. So you're exactly right on the money, and more and more people have to understand that you've got to do the research upfront so that you're not making the mistakes later on that are impacting millions of people.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jamie. Although the company will not confirm it, the word, so to speak, on street is that Apple will be holding a press event a week from today to unveil two new iPhones, one, an updated iPhone 5, and one, a less-expensive model to compete with the less-expensive Android phones and the popular Samsung phones. What would you like to see from Apple next week, Bill?
HARLOWNot a whole lot. Honestly, I have an iPhone 4S. If the new iPhone 5S, which is what people think, or the cheaper 5C come out and they're great...
GILROY5C is for cheap, right? (laugh)
HARLOWCheap or -- I don't know. Maybe, Chinese market. Who knows?
HARLOWBut honestly -- but I don't know. I don't -- my phone's really nice now, you know? What are they going to offer me that is so much better that I have to have at these days? And that's not a knock on Apple. I just think that we've got such mature devices now, and I think it's funny when people say, well, X device is so much better than Y. I really don't care anymore. If it does everything I needed to do...
GILROYYears ago, Adam Osborne used to say if it's twice as many things for half the price, then you have to make the switch.
GILROYThis was 30 years ago.
GILROYBut maybe that's what you're looking for, twice on app.
HARLOWI personally reached -- I've reached peak niceness.
GILROYAnother technical word, Allison.
DRUINYour peak nice -- oh, my goodness. Does he now...
NNAMDIDo you know what that means, almost over the hill?
DRUINAlmost over -- that's so true.
GILROYAnd I'm way over the hill. (laugh)
HARLOWKids today with their iPhone 5s and the bigger screens.
DRUINYou're turning into John.
GILROYAnd you're on the hill, though, Allison, so...
DRUINBut you know, I actually was thinking of finally upgrade 'cause I have a 4S as well.
DRUINAnd I've been hearing that there's -- there might be a fingerprint identification...
DRUIN...so that you don't actually have to type in passwords and such. And I have to tell you, I am the world's worst at trying to sort out my passwords, so this would be sort of neat.
HARLOWI'd like to see where that goes. Here's the way I look at it is for me, a good smartphone, like an iPhone or an Android, it's about the software I wanna run. So if new devices come out and they're much more powerful and really good software comes out that really needs that horsepower or new features, then I'll switch. If all the software I need to run runs great on my current phone, I won't.
NNAMDIYou can call us, 800-433-8850. What would you like to see from Apple next week? John Gilroy, what do you think Apple will be producing? And how important is this next wave of products for the future of Apple in the post-Steve Jobs era?
GILROYWell, you know, the next six months, my goodness gracious, you could a weekly show on mobile, you know, Mobile madness Monday or something. I mean, so Nokia and Microsoft getting together, they're gonna release a product. Apple's gonna have a new product like they do every year. I mean, do you think the Android people are gonna sit back in their laurels? No. This is gonna be, you know, in a year from now, there could be some unknown vendor that popped up out of nowhere and has 10 percent market share.
GILROYWell, the Bill phone. Where'd that come from? It's Bill Harlow phone. It's gonna be very exciting. I think what Apple is gonna do here is -- talk about incremental change. They do incremental change. A little bit better, a little bit faster and then people will get it 'cause it's stylish and -- I'm sure a lot of people have resisted in the last quarter buying because of this announcement coming up.
NNAMDINot to be outdone by Apple, Samsung has an event scheduled for tomorrow. Rumors are that Samsung will unveil a smart watch that will work with its popular Galaxy phones. But smart watches have not been very popular with consumers, at least, not yet.
GILROYWell, my good friend Dick Tracy had a smartwatch 50 years ago.
GILROYYou know, I think this is pretty entertaining. If I saw someone wearing these watches walking around, I would think they're a little...
GILROY...a little on the edge. Nothing personal, Bill, but a little on the edge.
HARLOWMine wasn't smart, mine was just an iPod, which I forgot to wear today. But, I mean, look...
HARLOW...a lot of smart watches haven't caught on, and we think we don't want them. But if someone makes one that does something really cool they haven't thought of yet, then maybe. I mean, I look fitness trackers and how they're a pretty compelling product. And a lot of people like the Fitbit, for example. And if you roll a lot of that stuff into a smart watch and there's some other functions, yeah. Maybe it'll take off.
DRUINYeah. But, you know, there are also -- there's that pebble, OK, smart watch that is actually -- that's pulling from your phone...
DRUIN...that the key bits of information that people are constantly pressing at their phone for. And, in fact, that thing broke all records in terms of funding for startup funding. And so I think there is a market for that. It's just a question of...
HARLOWI don't think pebble is the answer to that.
DRUINNo. It may not be the exact right one. But, you know, I think it's coming. And, you know, look...
HARLOWI'm open-minded about it, but I'm not clamoring for one.
DRUIN...how many -- yeah, but how many times did we listen to John over the last six years say, oh, Kindle's a fad. Oh...
GILROYIt's not a fad.
DRUIN...Twitter's a fad. Oh, my goodness. OK. I promise...
HARLOWYou don't include me. I was on your side.
DRUIN(laugh) But I promise you, these watches and what you're wearing, wearables, they are going to be the future.
NNAMDIYahoo is apparently catching up to its Internet search rivals. A new report says Yahoo had more visitors than Google for the month of July. Thanks in part to its revamped email and to its photo-sharing site, Flickr. Does that surprise anyone at all?
GILROYI thought it was gonna be Bing. I thought Bing was gonna move up there, and it came out of nowhere. I was surprised from Yahoo, it made a move there, and it's -- maybe it's a new CEO. Maybe she's making a change there. But I think if you just step back and look at it, you know, I still think, you know, the number one search engine is Google and number two is YouTube. People doing more and more searches on YouTube and they're trying to get content on video formats.
GILROYSo there's my SEO for everyone listening if they're thinking about search engines and optimization, I don't know if it's a, you know, a battle with Google and Yahoo. I think the battle is with video and YouTube and presenting your information in video format. So there is content for you.
NNAMDIBernie in Westminster, Md., wants something different from Apple. What would that be, Bernie?
BERNIEMorning -- or good afternoon, Kojo. I would like to see Apple devices be able to process spreadsheet applications on par with Microsoft Office. I've spent the last six months testing Android tablets, of course, my iPad and all the third-party software that are made to emulate Excel, but there is not a single application off of the Microsoft platform that comes close.
HARLOWWell, I'm sure Apple would gladly welcome that. All that Microsoft has to do is make Office for Android and Office for iOS. Why haven't they? They're huge markets. I don't get it either.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We got a tweet from Meegan, (sp?) who says, "The lady with Verizon cell service is being alerted by a back-up assistant. She can call customer service for instructions..."
NNAMDI"...on turning it off." App of the month, John Gilroy. Yours apparently involves, to no one's surprise, ordering beer anywhere in the world.
GILROYWell, ladies and gentlemen, last week, Kojo called me and said he's gonna travel to 59 countries. He wants to order beer in all of 59 different countries in their native language.
GILROYAnd so I found an app called Pivo, P-I-V-O, which happens to be the name for beer in the Czech Republic Prague, which is supposed to be the most beautiful city in Europe. So there, right there, Pivo. Get it. No matter where you travel, Kojo, you can order beer and be with the locals.
NNAMDIIn 59 different countries.
GILROY99 cents. What a bargain.
NNAMDIAllison, do you have a favorite app of the month?
GILROYYou're no fun.
NNAMDINo, no. All I can say is thank you very much.
GILROY(laugh) Thank you very much.
HARLOWI've got two then. How's that?
GILROYOK. Make some.
DRUINIt's just I didn't like anything this month. Sorry. (laugh)
HARLOWAll right. So I have two games. One new one, one old, both ones I like and my wife likes two, so I figured they've got more general appeal. One is called "Blackbar," which is a simple story-driven game where you are reading redacted text. You're gonna have to try to guess what the redacted text is to finish the story. Really simple. 99 cents. A lot of fun. Anything kind of topical. And the other one's called "The Room," which is an older title.
HARLOWI think it was $2, and it's just these gorgeously rendered puzzle boxes you can interact with on your iPad. It's like Rube Goldberg device that you unlock and unlock secrets hidden inside. And they're a lot of fun.
NNAMDIThe first app will unable you to read all of the FOIA documents you get from the (unintelligible)
GILROYYou try to figure it out, right?
DRUINThere you go. (laugh)
GILROYSo that's exactly what it looks like.
NNAMDI'Cause it helps you to be able to read redacted stuff. And I think, oh, one we got from -- email from Karen in Crofton, Md., before we go. Karen say, "I think predictive searches are creepy. I use Google as a search engine when I'm online, but I will not do so for my iPad and certainly not on my cellphone." No predictive searches for Karen, and I'm afraid that's all the time we have.
NNAMDIAllison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research. She's also co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. Allison Druin, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy, he is director of business development at Armature Corp. John, good to see you.
GILROYSee you in a month.
NNAMDIHe lied cleverly.
NNAMDIBill Harlow is a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting Inc. Bill, thank you for joining us.
HARLOWAnd thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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