Sunday, April 29, 2012

Android and the Difficulties of Open Source

Betanews discusses the problems with Android being customized by Amazon and others:

It seems there are many problems with Android being so open-source, both for Google and the consumer. The fragmentation issue is a  frequent topic on the blogosphere - how Android is being fragmented into too many versions, both from manufacturer customizations and people on older versions of Android. This makes it difficult for developers to create apps that will work well on the various versions of Android. Manufacturers or cell phone companies are able to customize the OS is many different ways, frequently making changes that can be annoying to both the user and Google. For example, Verizon once made a deal with Microsoft to make Bing the default search engine on some phones. And companies such as Amazon can go further and create an entire competing ecosystem. In addition, it seems it makes it easier to sue over Android, since one can point to specific lines of code that infringe copyright or trademarks.

All these issues raise the question - why did Google make all of Android open-source? It's not like they're relying much on other programmers to contribute to  the code. While Android was based off Linux and started as an open-source project, couldn't Google have kept some of the code closed or at least placed certain restrictions on it? I asked this question a while ago on Quora, but I'm not sure if the answers completely resolve the issue. The purpose was to get more people to use Android, and thereby get them to use more Google services, such as search. That makes sense for why they would invest in Android and give it away for free, but did they need to make it fully open-source? Verizon and the phone manufacturers were desperate for something that could compete with the iPhone, so I doubt they would have minded if Android had a couple of restrictions.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Algorithms Writing Articles

An old post mentioned how algorithms are being used to help with diagnoses, but they're also being used to write articles. Wired just published an article about Narrative Science, a company that creates programs which can generate articles. They mainly publish articles on finance and sports, since those are well-structured topics and very repetitive. You don't normally have too many things happening in a baseball game or stock chart, so I could see why a computer could write such articles. They also have begun generating articles with other data:
Once Narrative Science had mastered the art of telling sports and finance stories, the company realized that it could produce much more than journalism. Indeed, anyone who needed to translate and explain large sets of data could benefit from its services. Requests poured in from people who were buried in spreadsheets and charts. It turned out that those people would pay to convert all that confusing information into a couple of readable paragraphs that hit the key points.

This is obviously quite impressive, though I wonder if all that information is necessarily better in paragraph form. Why can't some of the data just be turned into some nice charts that people can view? Articles can sometimes "textualize" the content and make it take longer for the reader/viewer to get the necessary information. They can turn tables into paragraphs, but will they be able to soon write more general articles?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Google & Microsoft Cloud-Drives

In the last post, I mentioned how I didn't think Chrome OS could compete well with Windows until it came with more offline features. I think laptops in the near future will still come with full offline capabilities, but they will be seamlessly sync'd with the cloud, so one's files will be backed-up and available from everywhere.

The Big Two have just launched new syncing products. Today, Google announced the long-rumored Google Drive, which will provide everyone with 5GB  free of sync'd desktop-cloud storage. Google Docs and Drive will merge, so people will be able to edit their documents from everywhere.  This beats having to download files from Dropbox to do some quick edits on a different computer.

Yesterday, Microsoft also announced their new version of SkyDrive, which will integrate better with Windows 8. They used to provide 5GB of sync'd storage (through Live Mesh) and 25GB of standard online storage for free, but now they're changing it all to 7GB of free storage. However, current users can claim their free 25GB from the online SkyDrive if they do so quickly. Microsoft also got rid of the ability to sync multiple folders, to make it easier for SkyDrive to work on various devices. By providing one service, it will make things simpler for people, and they will also allow for online editing of sync'd files, which wasn't available  before.

This means both Microsoft and Google will be offering very similar services, so one of the big differences will be Office Web Apps vs. Google Docs. It seems unlikely that Dropbox will be able to compete well with them, since they cannot offer online editing capabilities and they charge far more for additional storage. Stay tuned for a comparison of  Google Docs with Microsoft's offerings...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Facebook's Potential

To get a wider readership, I decided it would make sense to publish some articles elsewhere online. The first article is about Facebook's recent new features and the potential it shows for Facebook to expand into new areas. To be relevant to, I discuss at the end how this raises Facebook's IPO value. (It's pretty speculative though.)


Monday, April 16, 2012

Facebook Returns to Roots

Facebook recently launched Groups for Schools, a new community feature that lets people create groups exclusively for other people in their university.  This is a return to the time when Facebook used to be exclusively for students at  universities, though now its just a small feature of an 800-million person network. However, it has a lot of potential. It is often difficult for college students to find other people in their major or get information about certain classes. This will become much easier, assuming enough students sign up for the relevant groups. It will also be able to be used as a classifieds site for rides, roommates, textbooks and more. In a later post I'll provide some more details.