Google ‘Plus’ their search in third attempt to topple Facebook

June 29, 2011

Anyone remember Google Buzz? What about that revolutionary new tool Google Wave? Yep, Google have never really been very good a social networking. But the web’s biggest player isn’t done yet, they’ve an all new social tool, the rather lazily named Google+ is on the way.

I won’t deny, that as with Google’s last two ventures into the social space, I am pretty excited about Google+. They’ve always been pretty good at taking the best of the web and transforming it into something awesome (just look at how GMail changed webmail). But I do approach Google+ with quite a bit of skepticism, after all it’s not going to be easy to take the social crown away from Facebook.

But the Californian search giant does seem to have done quite a lot of thinking this time. Google+ is quite different to both Buzz and Wave (which were essentially the same thing, repackaged). They’ve concentrated a lot more on taking the social experience you have with your friends in the ‘real’ world, into their new online space.

The service revolves round five specific areas.

Circles – This could be likened to the current Facebook groups or Twitter lists. The idea is to put your friends into certain ‘circles’. You can then choose which circles you want to share specific updates with, in a sense similar to how you mix in different social circles in the real world (wonder where they got that name from). It’s a basic idea, but the interface is looking nice so far, a drag and drop system, making Facebook look a little ancient in comparison.

Hangouts – Take a multiway conversation like we used to see in MSN messenger, add Skype to it and then multiply by as many users as you like and you are left with ‘Hangouts’. The idea here is to bring the whole idea of a big group conversation to life online. The system is a little different to current services. Anyone can enter or leave a ‘hangout’ whenever they want. People can also talk at any time – whoever is talking at that moment (or talking the loudest!) will appear largest on the screen automatically – pretty clever. I don’t think it will quite replace actually hanging out with mates, but it’s certainly a more powerful and perhaps more importantly web-based way of live video-chatting – something even Skype hasn’t achieved yet.

Instant Upload – It is what it says. You take a picture on your Android (and possibly other OS’s) powered phone and it will be uploaded to your own private library online. You can then choose which circles see it. Personally, I think online uploads are already easy enough for the social networks, but Google disagrees claiming that this will take the pain out of getting pics from device to online.

Sparks – Despite all their many web apps and mobile OS’s, Google will always be best at search, so it’s no surprise it shows up prominently in Google+. Sparks help you find people you may be interested in by searching for specific topics. You can then save these searches for later, all very similar to Twitter’s search of the timeline.

Huddle – The final feature Google are previewing. Huddle takes the idea of instant messaging, puts it with text and then adds several participants. This can be used on your phone or online and is of course instant. Nothing that revolutionary here, perhaps the instant part of it, but still a necessary part of any social tool.

And that’s all we know so far. Google have claimed that all their services will be integrated into Google+ , so that means map sharing and YouTube will no doubt be part of it too as they were with Wave.

The ideas are there, the tech is there and the know-how is there – but there’s one more thing Google need, users. This was beyond anything else, the problem I encountered with both Wave and Buzz. It was hard to make use of the services when everyone else was using Facebook. By changing the name to Google+ ( a more obvious term)and integrating their services together (presumably straight off the webpages) they may attract that audience that they so vitally need.

I also think Google+ could be a winner for business use. Facebook doesn’t seem like the right tool, Twitter can be too basic, but conferencing and sharing over Google+ could work. It’s already been successful for Google Docs.

At present Google+ is being tested by a small focus group, but Google claim this is going well and the full worldwide version will be launching shortly. I don’t see it as a Facebook beater, but it may well be the first to give them a challenge.

The Fast Lane – Vettel Victorious in Valencia

June 26, 2011

This years Formula One season has been edge of the seat stuff (well if you ignore the guy out in front which has hardly changed!). Tracks which have traditionally served up little overtaking have given us amazing on track action and a record number of overtakes thanks to the new Pirelli tyres and DRS addition. But some things never change. The European Grand Prix in Valencia has seen very few overtakes since it’s introduction in 2009 and today was no exception.

Having said that, the beginning of the race did see some great opportunistic moves, mostly from the Ferrari’s. Massa continued his current run of good starts by powering past his team-mate and the slow starting Hamilton. Heading towards the second corner, Felipe moved to the inside of Webber and looked certain to take second place from the Aussie, but was forced to yield. This allowed Alonso back through (after he too had passed Hamilton) into third place.

Further down the field, the second McLaren had made an equally poor start with Button losing out to Nico Rosberg, but just keeping in front of Michael Schumacher. Vitaly Petrov also had a poor start losing five places by the second corner, a bad weekend for Russian who also fell out of quali early on Saturday.

With so many moves at the start, it was looking like a good race was in prospect, but sadly it never materialised. After Button had dispatched of Rosberg, there was very little action on track. The top three of Vettel, Webber and Alonso stayed close for several laps, but there was no sign of an overtake early on, each having a comfortable margin over each other. Massa and Hamilton were close on track for fourth place, but again, despite DRS, Hamilton was unable to capitalise and take the position.

Eventually on lap 20, there was a bit of interest once more as Alonso made the move on Webber to take second place. It was a well executed move from the Spaniard, but it lacked any real excitement as it was completed with DRS (although one has to wonder if we’d have had any overtaking if it wasn’t for this system).

The Webber/Alonso battle did admittedly continue throughout the race, but the rest of it was to be played out in the pits. The positions were revered on lap 29 when Webber retook the place by undercutting Alonso. But a combination of traffic and some poor outlaps from Webber on the hard tyres gave the position back to Alonso after the final round of pit stops.

Further down the field, there were a variety of small battles, Paul Di Resta stands out as one of the drivers who made an impact, taking several opportunities and making them work without losing his front wing this week. That’s more than can be said for Michael Schumacher, who after a brilliant showing in Canada, faded into the background this weekend after losing his wing in a clumsyaccident coming out of the pits.

Kobayashi had his fair share of tussles, but none of them really paid off except passing his team-mate! Jaime Alguesuari is perhaps the man to mention from the rest of the field. By gambling on a two-stop strategy instead of three he was able to move up to eighth and battled hard to keep it to the flag.

One man I’ve hardly mentioned is Vettel. It’s perhaps unfair that I don’t say much about Sebastien, he drove impeccably as always. But the problem is, when he makes no mistakes and is involved in no incidents/fights there’s not a lot to say. The reigning champion stayed a few seconds in front of the field for the entire race and made it obvious that he had plenty in reserve, pulling out an 11 second lead by the finish line. A pure class drive as always, just a shame it makes it a bit dull.

So the story from Valencia has two clear conclusions. Firstly, not even the new tyre strategies and DRS can liven up this street-circuit. It’s never been entertaining, has never captured the magic of Monaco and Singapore and I quite frankly wouldn’t miss it if it was cancelled from next year onwards.

The second is that there’s still a lot of catching up needed for anyone else to even be competitive with Vettel, let alone beat him. Ferrari were strong today (for the first time this season really), but McLaren failed and were no real match at all.

Vettel remains way out in front, in fact he could miss the next three races and still be leading the championship! I’m starting to think it’s more likely he’ll quit out of boredom rather than someone will actually overtake him in the championship!

Next time out we’re at Britain, the new Silverstone. Hopefully the speedy straights and tight corners can reignite the F1 flame!

BBC Television Centre – Memories of a landmark

June 15, 2011

We’ve known for a while that the BBC have been planning to sell, but now the building is finally on the market it feels an awful lot more real. In case you’re unsure, I don’t approve of the sale of the building. The BBC belongs in London and it belongs in that building. But the Beeb have made their decision and so I thought I’d write a bit about what that building meant to me.

I can’t remember when I first saw BBC TVC on the telly, it was probably in one of the many Children In Need or Comic Relief telethons which have been held there. The building looked special right from the first time I viewed it, that famous wall, the iconic white blobs the beacon BBC logo in the top left hand corner. That view symbolises for British TV what the Hollywood sign symbolises for films. It was a staple of those big night-long live shows that only the Beeb can properly pull off and as such has become such a well known landmark in our country.

As a person who has always been enthralled by the media, I always loved the whole look of TVC. It just seemed like the magic factory where the wonder of television came to life. Naturally I always wanted to visit, but I didn’t get the chance to go to White City until 2005.

It was to see a TV show, admittedly not the best one (Dick and Dom’s Ask The Family – I was more a fan of their Bungalow show, but sadly you couldn’t go and watch that!) and it was an extremely exciting moment. I’ll never forget when I first saw TVC. It was a truly inspiring moment to finally see that wall and that circular structure.

After we arrived we were whisked through the main entrance, under the giant wall of offices at the heart of TVC, past the fountain in the atrium, beyond that famous clock and on to the studios. We were to go into studio 6, fantastic! Several great shows have been filmed there – ‘Buzzcocks’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, Would I Lie To You’ – most of the panel shows!

On the way in, I remember our BBC guide getting slightly lost (yes, I know!) and leaving us in the Studio 6 canteen. The canteen, wow! This is where the stars ate, the producers, the script editors, heck even the director general himself must have dined here! This was part of the backstage and it was great

Eventually we were shown through to the actual studio, past the giant black curtains and to our seat in front of the set. This was my first TV show I’d ever seen filmed. Whatever age you are, it is a bit of a special moment, but it was made better by being within the magic factory itself, television centre!

After my visit, I become even more obsessed with the place, researching the building’s history – discovering how and why it was first built, what all the various parts of the building were, discovering that it’s actually in the shape of a giant questionmark (google it – it is!). I loved this building, this landmark and in 2006 I was lucky enough to visit again.

This time, I got the full tour as part of a school trip. We toured through the live weather studio, downstairs dressing rooms for the celebs in live shows. Experienced an entirely empty studio that had filmed ‘Friday Night With Jonathon Ross’ the night before. We spent an extended amount of time in the brand new news studios (that’s right, fully refurbished in 2006 and now being made redundant in 2011!!?) and I realised that one day I wanted to work in this building for the greatest broadcasting institution on the planet.

But sadly, that looks like a very unlikely prospect now. The Beeb may keep the building as part of a partnership, but it’s future as the  corporations flagship venue is over.

From 2013, BBC TV will be based ina brand new Salford facility called MediaCity that looks like this.

Wow, does it look dull. It’s just the same as all other ‘new’ buildings around, nothing special, nothing outstanding. BBC TVC has the looks, the history (Blue Peter garden, for example!), the location and the facilities that the BBC needs. They should not be moving.

Luckily, whatever happens, the main section of TVC (the ring and studio 1) gained listed status in 2008 and will remain and possibly be restored after the Beeb leave, but it will never be the same. For a corporation who still seem so obsessed with circles, I have no idea why they are leaving a circular building, a building saturated with history and one that it will be sad to see go.

BBC drops Podcast’s for ‘Free Download’

June 14, 2011

I was surprised to learn whilst listening to my ‘Best of Moyles’ podcast today (yes I do listen to his show and I do find him funny!) that the podcast itself would be coming to an end from July 1st. Luckily that doesn’t mean that the actual feature will be coming to an end, I can still download and listen later on my iPhone, but the name will be changing… to ‘Free Download’.

What? I almost crashed my car trying to work out the thinking behind that one. Chris Moyles explained it as ‘[the BBC think] You don’t know what a podcast is, therefore the BBC are changing the name of the podcast’.

Is this really the thinking behind the change? I hardly think ‘Free Download’ explains what the product is any better. A free download could be many things, whereas a podcast is a show, normally audio, that is downloadable to your MP3 player to be listened to when you want. Perhaps the BBC are worried that the term podcast is a bit vague and confusing. Maybe it’s too new a phrase, after all we’ve only been using it since 2005… (and for that matter the BBC have for most of that time too).

But I don’t think this decision boils down to the fact that Podcast could be seen as favouring Apple’s iPod series of MP3 players. And it’s true that we get the name podcast from the a combination of iPod and broadcasting – in a way it has always been a subtle advert for Apple.

But I think we’re beyond that now, people see podcasts as exactly what they are, they don’t see it as favouring any one player (we all know they play on any or even stream online). Heck, podcast has even been accepted into the Oxford dictionary, it’s not just tech talk, it’s an actual term! And if the BBc were trying to avoid links with Apple, perhaps they shouldn’t have named their on demand service iPlayer!

I see absolutely no benefit in renaming the BBC podcast, out of all broadcasters in the UK, the Beeb have the most and we all know what they are. Although I don’t expect it to make much difference, the only thing the ‘Free Download’ name can bring is more confusion rather than less.

It’s a strange and bizarre decision, but then that seems to be very much the BBC’s thing at the moment – I’ll bring you my views and memories of BBC Television Centre tomorrow…

The Fast Lane – Canadian Grand Prix Part Two: Masterclass from Button!

June 13, 2011

Wow, where on earth do I begin with my review of the Canadian Grand Prix 2011. How about a quick summary.

We endured a grand prix yesterday on 12th June 2011 in length of 4 hours, 4 minutes and 39 seconds, there were five safety car periods leading to several shots of a bored looking Bert Mylander, Jenson Button was in every position at some point in the race, The track went from wet to moist to monsoon to wet to moist to dry to whoa, don’t drive on that bit!, Lewis Hamilton was blamed for everything including no doubt the two marshall slip ups during the event, Schumacher Webber and Button drove around everyone, seven drivers didn’t finish – six of those were weather related crashes, Kobayashi made both brilliant and terrible decisions and everyone got very wet (well except Mercedes,they had tents!)

Phew, I think that covers it, if you want more about the first part of the race, I wrote all about it during the break yesterday, if not read on for part two!

Now that’s out of the way, lets have a look at some specific detail. Jenson Button is undoubtedly the talk of the sport right now and rightly so. he produced a belter of a drive to come from the very back of the race to the very front by the end of the final lap. Lets not forget Jenson was hit by his team-mate, was haemorrhaging time using intermediates too early, lost even more time hitting into Alonso and found himself stuck behind several slower (and faster) cars.

This would on any other day be game over, but not yesterday as Button drove magnificently around his opponents and kept up consistently impressive lap times in the second half of the race. But Jenson did this rather quietly. We were all focusing on the battles at the front between Schumacher, Webber and Vettel. Most people no doubt had forgotten Button was even in the Grand Prix. But due to a combination of great driving, handling the conditions superbly (in the latter stages of the race admittedly) and a little bit of luck, the Brit closed in on the top three. With the help of DRS he was able to dispatch both Webber and Schumacher with ease and then it was on to Vettel.

It’s incredible to think that after all this time with Vettel strongly leading from pole and Button having been in every position thinkable, that the two were seconds apart in the final laps. Button was closing, but not quite fast enough – it was all going to come down to the final corner of the race, surely!

But it happened a few corners earlier when we saw the truth that Vettel is human. I don’t know if it was the pressure or just a wheel offline in the wet, but Vettel slid giving Button the lead. I did feel sorry for Vettel at this moment, he’s a great driver and doesn’t really deserve the wave of cheers that no doubt happened across the UK (and possibly a few other countries) when he made his error. But it was an amazing moment, high power sporting action at it’s best. Jenson Button won what was one of the most enthralling races I have ever watched.

But it wasn’t just Button who shone. I couldn’t be happier to see Michael Schumacher back up there in the mix. It was the first time since his comeback last year that Schumacher has actually driven like the Schumacher of old. A combination of good decisions and great handling of the wet weather (was always his strongpoint), Michael battled through the field and made it up to second (after a great bit of opportunistic driving against Massa and Kobayashi). This really is where he deserved to stay in my opinion. He lost the position due to DRS as both Button and Webber (eventually) streamed past him with the new system.

It’s a great shame because although DRS helped set up the Webber/Button battle, it also denied us of a proper fight between Schumacher and Button. Jenson was two car-lengths ahead of the German by the corner after the DRS zone. It was just a bit too easy. And who on earth decided that Canada should have two DRS zones, one was more than enough – that system still needs refining.

But despite losing out on a podium, Schumacher drove excellently yesterday, well above the capabilities of a still disappointing Mercedes racecar. It will be interesting to see if this was a one-off or whether Michael can keep this momentum and continue challenging for the bigger points in 2011.

Despite the success, a few teams had a torrid day in the rain. Ferrari were looking very strong before Sunday, but it all fell to pieces in the race. Alonso never really looked comfortable in the wet weather and ended up a victim of it when Button slid into him. Massa was driving impressively, fa better than his team-mate, until he also made a mistake tagging the back of Kartikeyan and losing his front wing. He recovered to sixth, but it was still a bad day in the office for all involved at the prancing horse.

Renault Lotus (or whatever they’re now called) must also be feeling quite disappointed thinking at what could have been. Nick Heidfeld was running high throughout the entire race until he had a frightening incident with Kobayashi in which the German drive over his own front wing and lost control. Despite fifth place from Vitaly Petrov, it was very disheartening for a team that need to be getting better results now.

Kobayashi ended up having a much more enjoyable day, running as high as second for the majority of the race before falling to seventh by the chequered flag.

Just a quick mention to Emerson Fittipaldi who I don’t suppose had any idea how busy a day it was likely to be in the Stewards room. It seemed every five minutes there was another stewards inquiry announced, but luckily they decided against giving Jenson Button any penalties for his questionable antics with Hamilton and Alonso.

But wow, what a Grand Prix. You can’t call formula one boring after that. It was a long old wait leading to a five-and-a-half-hour long broadcast from the BBC, but it was more than worth it, sport at it’s absolute best. And the winner wasn’t a certain man called Vettel… normal service will be resumed in Valencia!

The Fast Lane – Canadian GP Part One: Lewis Storms Out!

June 12, 2011

Thought I’d write an impromtu blog post in this period of race stoppage. So we’ve had 25 laps of the Candian Grand Prix and we’ve had enough incidents to pack an entire race in previous years – love the 2011 season!

But one man who probably isn’t enjoying it so far is Lewis Hamilton. The man has had his fair share of incidents this year, in fact hasn’t he been involved in all of them? Today has of course been no different after Lewis became involved in 3 investigations after 10 minutes of racing.

The first of these was his attack up the inside of Mark Webber at the start of the race. This was a great piece of opportunistic racing from Hamilton, but it sadly went slightly wrong. Due, no doubt, to the poor weather conditions, Lewis lost grip and crashed into the side of Mark Webber. I do think in this instance, Lewis was more to blame than Mark. There’s no doubt that Webber gave the McLaren driver room, admittedly not much, but it was Lewis that slid and hit the side of Webber – a victim of the conditions.

Unlike Webber, Lewis recovered quickly from this and it wasn’t long before he was back in the thick of the race, taking the Renault’s and his team mate back. He was then challenging Schumacher (who like everyone was sliding everywhere) and ended up sliding so far that he pushed Hamilton I think unfairly wide.

This eventually led to the next and final incident for Hamilton. Stuck behind his slower team-mate, it was clear that Lewis needed to get back through if he was to have any chance in this race. Hamilton saw his moment and pulled to the inside of Button on the start/finish straight. Jenson clearly didn’t see him and pulled across the track, causing the two to make contact ending in Lewis’ retirement from the Grand Prix. This is a tough one to call. Button did pull across on Hamilton, but I don’t believe he could possibly have seen Lewis’ hot-headed attack on the inside. I don’t think either are to blame at all, it was a very unfortunate racing incident.

This of course ended Lewis’ race. I don’t believe he was really in the wrong today, more a victim of the conditions. But he does seem to get that title quite often!

As for the other contenders, Vettel is looking very strong here (apart from a trip over the grass at the start) whereas everyone else seems to be struggling. Interestingly, I’d say Vettel’s main competitor at the moment is Massa who is coping very well in the conditions, outperforming Alonso and possibly giving Vettel something to think about.

But of course all of this can change in a heartbeat, let alone a long rain delay. As I type this, the Montreal track is looking more like a river (a bit worried the island the track is on could sink) so it’s not looking like a restart any time soon – but hopefully we’ll be racing again later today… sorry Antiques Roadshow fans!

Sunday Rants – Music Labels are soooo archaic!

June 12, 2011

A quick rant this week, but one that is fairly relevant to current events. As you should know if you’ve been reading the blog (which I’m sure all of you do!) this week Apple revealed it’s new iCloud service at WWDC. As part of this service, you will be able to match songs on your computer to cloud copies on iTunes and stream them to your Apple devices anywhere for a small fee.

Except it seems this aspect of iCloud is still not quite ironed out. Apple plan to launch the service in Autumn this year, but will be unable to in several territories including the UK. Why? Because the music labels still aren’t happy about the service. These are the same music labels who happily made multi-million pound deals with Apple to get this service live in the US, but wont do it across the pond. Granted we on’t know the exact ins and outs, but seeing as Google and Amazon already have similar service set up giving the music labels NOTHING, I would say they have a pretty good deal going.

They give the reasoning of not knowing exactly what impact the new service will make as yet and so are biding their time before continuing, but I think these bigwigs are yet to realise that their time is up.

The music industry have been notoriously poor at evolving when new things come along and they still haven’t really moved into the 21st century and the age of the computer. They do little about the piracy which is widely happening throughout the net and then sulk that their profits are down. They seem to think that they can still command every other media around them, as was possible in the 80’s when the music industry was all powerful and dominant. But now we have the internet and the big labels still seem to ignore it’s existence.

The iCloud service will give the industry a little bit of money back for music that has been pirated. In a way it’s a big step for the industry, effectively introducing an amnesty for those who have ‘illegally’ got music on their systems in return for a new cloud service for these individuals. It’s making money for the industry which they never had, yet due to them not making agreements in all countries including our own, they’re delaying progress and a chance for them to truly enter the digital age.

And who is disadvantaged from all of this? The consumer. It’s always us!

The music labels just annoy me because they just refuse to accept progress and continue on blindly thinking they’re the dominant force. They seem to think they can stop Amazon and Google’s music lockers even though the files stored on them are probably legally done so.  They need to evolve and move on and iCloud gives them the option to do so.

I do think they’ll do it eventually, but there’s no need for these ridiculous delays, maybe they should be watching the film, TV and games industries who have all taken to the internet in a big way and are therefore now beating the music industry for profits… stop being so damn archaic!

I’m off to watch some F1, enjoy your Sunday 😀