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AROUND MIDNIGHT ONE Saturday in January, Sarah Jeong was on her couch, browsing Twitter, when she spontane­ously wrote what she now bitterly refers to as “the tweet that launched a thousand ships.” The 28-year-old journalist and author of The Internet of Garbage, a book on spam and online harassment, had been watching Bernie Sanders boosters attacking feminists and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In what was meant to be a hyper­bolic joke, she tweeted out a list of political carica­tures, one of which called the typical Sanders fan a “vitriolic crypto­racist who spends 20 hours a day on the Internet yelling at women.”

The ill-advised late-night tweet was, Jeong admits, provocative and absurd—she even supported Sanders. But what happened next was the kind of backlash that’s all too familiar to women, minorities, and anyone who has a strong opinion online. By the time Jeong went to sleep, a swarm of Sanders supporters were calling her a neoliberal shill. By sunrise, a broader, darker wave of abuse had begun. She received nude photos and links to disturbing videos. One troll promised to “rip each one of [her] hairs out” and “twist her tits clear off.”

The attacks continued for weeks. “I was in crisis mode,” she recalls. So she did what many victims of mass harassment do: She gave up and let her abusers have the last word. Jeong made her tweets private, removing herself from the public conversation for a month. And she took a two-week unpaid leave from her job as a contributor to the tech news site Motherboard.

For years now, on Twitter and practically any other freewheeling public forum, the trolls have been out in force. Just in recent months: Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters mobbed Jewish public figures with menacing Holocaust “jokes.” Anonymous racists bullied African American comedian Leslie Jones off Twitter temporarily with pictures of apes and Photoshopped images of semen on her face.Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti quit the service after a horde of misogynist attackers resorted to rape threats against her 5-year-old daughter. “It’s too much,” she signed off. “I can’t live like this.” Feminist writer Sady Doyle says her experience of mass harassment has induced a kind of permanent self-­censorship. “There are things I won’t allow myself to talk about,” she says. “Names I won’t allow myself to say.”qa 

Jigsaw's Jared Cohen: “I want us to feel the responsibility of the burden we’re shouldering.”

Mass harassment online has proved so effective that it’s emerging as a weapon of repressive governments. In late 2014, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro reported on Russia’s troll farms, where day laborers regurgitate messages that promote the government’s interests and inundate oppo­nents with vitriol on every possible outlet, including Twitter and Facebook. In turn, she’s been barraged daily by bullies on social media, in the comments of news stories, and via email. They call her a liar, a “NATO skank,” even a drug dealer, after digging up a fine she received 12 years ago for possessing amphetamines. “They want to normalize hate speech, to create chaos and mistrust,” Aro says. “It’s just a way of making people disillusioned.”

All this abuse, in other words, has evolved into a form of censorship, driving people offline, silencing their voices. For years, victims have been calling on—clamoring for—the companies that created these platforms to help slay the monster they brought to life. But their solutions generally have amounted to a Sisyphean game of whack-a-troll.

Now a small subsidiary of Google named Jigsaw is about to release an entirely new type of response: a set of tools called Conversation AI. The software is designed to use machine learning to automatically spot the language of abuse and harassment—with, Jigsaw engineers say, an accuracy far better than any keyword filter and far faster than any team of human moderators. “I want to use the best technology we have at our disposal to begin to take on trolling and other nefarious tactics that give hostile voices disproportionate weight,” says Jigsaw founder and president Jared Cohen. “To do everything we can to level the playing field.”

Jigsaw is applying artificial intelligence to solve the very human problem of making people be nicer on the Internet.

Conversation AI represents just one of Jigsaw’s wildly ambitious projects. The New York–based think tank and tech incubator aims to build products that use Google’s massive infra­structure and engineer­ing muscle not to advance the best possibilities of the Internet but to fix the worst of it: surveillance, extremist indoctrination, censorship. The group sees its work, in part, as taking on the most intract­able jobs in Google’s larger mission to make the world’s information “universally accessible and useful.”

Cohen founded Jigsaw, which now has about 50 staffers (almost half are engineers), after a brief high-profile and controversial career in the US State Department, where he worked to focus American diplomacy on the Internet like never before. One of the moon-shot goals he’s set for Jigsaw is to end censorship within a decade, whether it comes in the form of politically motivated cyberattacks on opposition websites or government strangleholds on Internet service providers. And if that task isn’t daunting enough, Jigsaw is about to unleash Conversation AI on the murky challenge of harassment, where the only way to protect some of the web’s most repressed voices may be to selectively shut up others. If it can find a path through that free-speech paradox, Jigsaw will have pulled off an unlikely coup: applying artificial intelligence to solve the very human problem of making people be nicer on the Internet.

 
jigsaw_illo2.jpg

But slowly, the group’s lofty challenges began to attract engineers, some joining from other parts of Google after volunteering for Cohen’s team. One of their first creations was a tool called uProxy that allows anyone whose Internet access is censored to bounce their traffic through a friend’s connection outside the firewall; it’s now used in more than 100 countries. Another tool, a Chrome add-on called Password Alert, aims to block phishing by warning people when they’re retyping their Gmail password into a malicious look-­alike site; the company developed it for Syrian activists targeted by government-friendly hackers, but when it proved effective, it was rolled out to all of Google’s users.

  

“We are not going to be one of those groups that justimagines what vulnerable populations are experienc­ing. We’re going to get to know our users.”

In February, the group was renamed Jigsaw to reflect its focus on building practical products. A program called Montage lets war correspondents and nonprofits crowdsource the analysis of YouTube videos to track conflicts and gather evidence of human rights violations. Another free service called Project Shield uses Google’s servers to absorb government-sponsored cyberattacks intended to take down the websites of media, election-­monitoring, and human rights organi­zations. And an initiative, aimed at deradicalizing ISIS recruits, identifies would-be jihadis based on their search terms, then shows them ads redirecting them to videos by former extremists who explain the downsides of joining an ultraviolent, apocalyptic cult. In a pilot project, the anti-ISIS ads were so effective that they were in some cases two to three times more likely to be clicked than typical search advertising campaigns.

The common thread that binds these projects, Cohen says, is a focus on what he calls “vulnerable populations.” To that end, he gives new hires an assignment: Draw a scrap of paper from a baseball cap filled with the names of the world’s most troubled or repressive countries; track down someone under threat there and talk to them about their life online. Then present their stories to other Jigsaw employees.

At one recent meeting, Cohen leans over a conference table as 15 or so Jigsaw recruits—engineers, designers, and foreign policy wonks—prepare to report back from the dark corners of the Internet. “We are not going to be one of those groups that sits in our offices and imagines what vulnerable populations around the world are experiencing,” Cohen says. “We’re going to get to know our users.” He speaks in a fast-­forward, geeky patter that contrasts with his blue-eyed, broad-­shouldered good looks, like a politician disguised as a Silicon Valley executive or vice versa. “Every single day, I want us to feel the burden of the responsibility we’re shouldering.”

“Jigsaw recruits will hear stories about people being tortured for their passwords or of state-sponsored cyberbullying.”

 We hear about an Albanian LGBT activist who tries to hide his identity on Facebook despite its real-names-only policy, an admini­strator for a Libyan youth group wary of govern­ment infiltrators, a defector’s memories from the digital black hole of North Korea. Many of the T-shirt-and-­sandal-­wearing Googlers in the room will later be sent to some of those far-flung places to meet their contacts face-to-face.

“They’ll hear stories about people being tortured for their passwords or of state-sponsored cyberbullying,” Cohen tells me later. The purpose of these field trips isn’t simply to get feedback for future products, he says. They’re about creating personal investment in otherwise distant, invisible problems—a sense of investment Cohen says he himself gained in his twenties during his four-year stint in the State Department, and before that during extensive travel in the Middle East and Africa as a student.

Cohen reports directly to Alphabet’s top execs, but in practice, Jigsaw functions as Google’s blue-sky, human-rights-focused skunkworks. At the group’s launch, Schmidt declared its audacious mission to be “tackling the world’s toughest geopolitical problems” and listed some of the challenges within its remit: “money laundering, organized crime, police brutality, human trafficking, and terrorism.” In an interview in Google’s New York office, Schmidt (now chair of Alphabet) summarized them to me as the “problems that bedevil humanity involving information.”

Jigsaw, in other words, has become ­Google’s Internet justice league, and it represents the notion that the company is no longer content with merely not being evil. It wants—as difficult and even ethically fraught as the impulse may be—to do good.

 
Yasmin Green, Jigsaw’s head of R&D.

IN SEPTEMBER OF 2015, Yasmin Green, then head of operations and strategy for ­Google Ideas, the working group that would become Jigsaw, invited 10 women who had been harassment victims to come to the office and discuss their experiences. Some of them had been targeted by members of the antifeminist Gamergate movement. Game developer Zoë Quinn had been threatened repeatedly with rape, and her attackers had dug up and distributed old nude photos of her. Another visitor, Anita Sarkeesian, had moved out of her home temporarily because of numerous death threats.

At the end of the session, Green and a few other Google employees took a photo with the women and posted it to the company’s Twitter account. Almost immediately, the Gamergate trolls turned their ire against Google itself. Over the next 48 hours, tens of thousands of comments on Reddit and Twitter demanded the Googlers be fired for enabling “feminazis.”

“It’s like you walk into Madison Square Garden and you have 50,000 people saying you suck, you’re horrible, die,” Green says. “If you really believe that’s what the universe thinks about you, you certainly shut up. And you might just take your own life.”

To combat trolling, services like Reddit, YouTube, and Facebook have for years depended on users to flag abuse for review by overworked staffers or an offshore workforce of content moderators in countries like the Philippines. The task is expensive and can be scarring for the employees who spend days on end reviewing loathsome content—yet often it’s still not enough to keep up with the real-time flood of filth. Twitter recently introduced new filters designed to keep users from seeing unwanted tweets, but it’s not yet clear whether the move will tame determined trolls.

The meeting with the Gamergate victims was the genesis for another approach. Lucas Dixon, a wide-eyed Scot with a doctorate in machine learning, and product manager CJ Adams wondered: Could an abuse-detecting AI clean up online conversations by detecting toxic language—with all its idioms and ambiguities—as reliably as humans?

Show millions of vile Inter­net comments to Google’s self-improving artificial intelligence engine and it can recognize a troll.

To create a viable tool, Jigsaw first needed to teach its algorithm to tell the difference between harmless banter and harassment. For that, it would need a massive number of examples. So the group partnered withThe New York Times, which gave Jigsaw’s engineers 17 million comments fromTimes stories, along with data about which of those comments were flagged as inappropriate by moderators. Jigsaw also worked with the Wikimedia Foundation to parse 130,000 snippets of discussion around Wikipedia pages. It showed those text strings to panels of 10 people recruited randomly from the CrowdFlower crowdsourcing service and asked whether they found each snippet to represent a “personal attack” or “harassment.” Jigsaw then fed the massive corpus of online conversation and human evaluations into Google’s open source machine learning software, TensorFlow.

Machine learning, a branch of computer science that Google uses to continually improve everything from Google Translate to its core search engine, works something like human learning. Instead of programming an algorithm, you teach it with examples. Show a toddler enough shapes identified as a cat and eventually she can recognize a cat. Show millions of vile Internet comments to Google’s self-improving artificial intelligence engine and it can recognize a troll.

In fact, by some measures Jigsaw has now trained Conver­sation AI to spot toxic language with impressive accuracy. Feed a string of text into its Wikipedia harassment-detection engine and it can, with what Google describes as more than 92 percent certainty and a 10 percent false-positive rate, come up with a judgment that matches a human test panel as to whether that line represents an attack. For now the tool looks only at the content of that single string of text. But Green says Jigsaw has also looked into detecting methods of mass harassment based on the volume of messages and other long-term patterns.

Wikipedia and the Times will be the first to try out Google’s automated harassment detector on comment threads and article discussion pages. Wikimedia is still considering exactly how it will use the tool, while the Times plans to make Conversation AI the first pass of its website’s com­ments, blocking any abuse it detects until it can be moder­ated by a human. Jigsaw will also make its work open source, letting any web forum or social media platform adopt it to automatically flag insults, scold harassers, or even auto-delete toxic language, preventing an intended harassment victim from ever seeing the offending comment. The hope is that “anyone can take these models and run with them,” says Adams, who helped lead the machine learning project.

Adams types in “What’s up, bitch?” and clicks Score. Conversation AI instantly rates it a 63 out of 100 on the attack scale.

What’s more, some limited evidence suggests that this kind of quick detection can actually help to tame trolling. Conversation AI was inspired in part by an experiment undertaken by Riot Games, the video­game company that runs the world’s biggest multi­player world, known as League of Legends, with 67 million players. Starting in late 2012, Riot began using machine learning to try to analyze the results of in-game conversations that led to players being banned. It used the resulting algorithm to show players in real time when they had made sexist or abusive remarks. When players saw immediate automated warnings, 92 percent of them changed their behavior for the better, according to areport in the science journal Nature.

My own hands-on test of Conversation AI comes one summer afternoon in Jigsaw’s office, when the group’s engineers show me a prototype and invite me to come up with a sample of verbal filth for it to analyze. Wincing, I suggest the first ambiguously abusive and misogynist phrase that comes to mind: “What’s up, bitch?” Adams types in the sentence and clicks Score. Conversation AI instantly rates it a 63 out of 100 on the attack scale. Then, for contrast, Adams shows me the results of a more clearly vicious phrase: “You are such a bitch.” It rates a 96.

In fact, Conversation AI’s algorithm goes on to make impressively subtle distinctions. Pluralizing my trashy greeting to “What’s up bitches?” drops the attack score to 45. Add a smiling emoji and it falls to 39. So far, so good.

But later, after I’ve left Google’s office, I open the Conver­sation AI prototype in the privacy of my apartment and try out the worst phrase that had haunted Sarah Jeong: “I’m going to rip each one of her hairs out and twist her tits clear off.” It rates an attack score of 10, a glaring oversight. Swapping out “her” for “your” boosts it to a 62. Conver­sation AI likely hasn’t yet been taught that threats don’t have to be addressed directly at a victim to have their intended effect. The algorithm, it seems, still has some lessons to learn.

FOR A TECH EXECUTIVE taking on would-be terrorists, state-sponsored trolls, and tyrannical surveillance regimes, Jigsaw’s creator has a surprisingly sunny outlook on the battle between the people who use the Internet and the authorities that seek to control them. “I have a fundamental belief that technology empowers people,” Jared Cohen says. Between us sits a coffee table covered in souvenirs from his travels: a clay prayer coin from Iraq, a plastic-wrapped nut bar from Syria, a packet of North Korean cigarettes. “It’s hard for me to imagine a world where there’s not a continued cat-and-mouse game. But over time, the mouse might just become bigger than the cat.”

 

JIGSAW’S PROJECTS

Project Shield

Montage

Password Alert

The Redirect Method

Conversation AI

Digital Attack Map

When Cohen became the youngest person ever to join the State Depart­ment’s Policy Planning Staff in 2006, he brought with him a notion that he’d formed from seeing digitally shrewd Middle Eastern youths flout systems of control: that the Internet could be a force for political empowerment and even upheaval. And as Facebook, then YouTube and Twitter, started to evolve into tools of protest and even revo­lution, that theory earned him access to officials far above his pay grade—all the way up to secretaries of state Condo­leezza Rice and later Hillary Clinton. Rice would describe Cohen in her memoirs as an “inspired” appoint­ment. Former Policy Planning director Anne-Marie Slaughter, his boss under Clinton, remembers him as “ferociously intelligent.”

Many of his ideas had a digital twist. After visiting Afghanistan, Cohen helped create a cell-phone-based payment system for local police, a move that allowed officers to speed up cash trans­fers to remote family members. And in June of 2009, when Twitter had scheduled downtime for maintenance during a massive Iranian protest against hardliner president Mahmoud Ahmadi­nejad, Cohen emailed founder Jack Dorsey and asked him to keep the service online. The unauthorized move, which violated the Obama administra­tion’s noninterference policy with Iran, nearly cost Cohen his job. But when Clinton backed Cohen, it signaled a shift in the State Department’s relationship with both Iran and Silicon Valley.

Around the same time, Cohen began calling up tech CEOs and inviting them on tech delegation trips, or “techdels”—conceived to somehow inspire them to build products that could help people in repressed corners of the world. He asked Google’s Schmidt to visit Iraq, a trip that sparked the relationship that a year later would result in Schmidt’s invitation to Cohen to create Google Ideas. But it was Cohen’s email to Twitter during the Iran protests that most impressed Schmidt. “He wasn’t following a playbook,” Schmidt tells me. “He was inventing the playbook.”

The story Cohen’s critics focus on, however, is his involvement in a notorious piece of software called Haystack, intended to provide online anonymity and circumvent censorship. They say Cohen helped to hype the tool in early 2010 as a potential boon to Iranian dissidents. After the US govern­ment fast-tracked it for approval, however, a security researcher revealed it had egregious vulnerabilities that put any dissident who used it in grave danger of detection. Today, Cohen disclaims any responsibility for Haystack, but two former colleagues say he championed the project. His former boss Slaughter describes his time in government more diplomatically: “At State there was a mismatch between the scale of Jared’s ideas and the tools the department had to deliver on them,” she says. “Jigsaw is a much better match.”

But inserting Google into thorny geopolitical problems has led to new questions about the role of a multinational corporation. Some have accused the group of trying to monetize the sensitive issues they’re taking on; the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of international free expression, Jillian York, calls its work “a little bit imperialistic.” For all its altruistic talk, she points out, Jigsaw is part of a for-profit entity. And on that point, Schmidt is clear: Alphabet hopes to someday make money from Jigsaw’s work. “The easiest way to understand it is, better connectivity, better information access, we make more money,” he explains to me. He draws an analogy to the company’s efforts to lay fiber in some developing countries. “Why would we try to wire up Africa?” he asks. “Because eventually there will be advertising markets there.”

“We’re not a government,” Eric Schmidt says slowly and carefully. “We’re not engaged in regime change. We don’t do that stuff.”

Throwing out well-intentioned speech thatresembles harassment could be a blow to exactly the open civil society Jigsaw has vowed to protect. When I ask Conversation AI’s inventors about its potential for collateral damage, the engineers argue that its false positive rate will improve over time as the software continues to train itself. But on the question of how its judgments will be enforced, they say that’s up to whoever uses the tool. “We want to let communities have the discussions they want to have,” says Conversation AI cocreator Lucas Dixon. And if that favors a sanitized Internet over a freewheeling one? Better to err on the side of civility. “There are already plenty of nasty places on the Internet. What we can do is create places where people can have better conversations.”

ON A MUGGY MORNING in June, I join Jared Cohen at one of his favorite spots in New York: the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, an empty, expansive, tomblike dome of worn marble in sleepy Riverside Park. When Cohen arrives, he tells me the place reminds him of the quiet ruins he liked to roam during his travels in rural Syria.

Our meeting is in part to air the criticisms I’ve heard of Conversation AI. But when I mention the possibility of false positives actually censoring speech, he answers with surprising humility. “We’ve been asking these exact questions,” he says. And they apply not just to Conversation AI but to everything Jigsaw builds, he says. “What’s the most dangerous use case for this? Are there risks we haven’t sufficiently stress-tested?”

Jigsaw runs all of its projects by groups of beta testers and asks for input from the same groups it intends to recruit as users, he says. But Cohen admits he never knows if they’re getting enough feedback, or the right kind. Conversation AI in particular, he says, remains an experiment. “When you’re looking at curbing online harassment and at free expression, there’s a tension between the two,” he acknowledges, a far more measured response than what I’d heard from Conversation AI’s developers. “We don’t claim to have all the answers.”

And if that experiment fails, and the tool ends up harming the exact free speech it’s trying to protect, would Jigsaw kill it? “Could be,” Cohen answers without hesitation.

 

I start to ask another question, but Cohen interrupts, unwilling to drop the notion that Jigsaw’s tools may have unintended consequences. He wants to talk about the people he met while wandering through the Middle East’s most repressive countries, the friends who hosted him and served as his guide, seemingly out of sheer curiosity and hospitality.

It wasn’t until after Cohen returned to the US that he realized how dangerous it had been for them to help him or even to be seen with him, a Jewish American during a peak of anti-­Americanism. “My very presence could have put them at risk,” he says, with what sounds like genuine throat-­tightening emotion. “To the extent I have a guilt I act on, it’s that. I never want to make that mistake again.”

Cohen still sends some of those friends, particularly ones in the war-torn orbit of Syria and ISIS, an encrypted message almost daily, simply to confirm that they’re alive and well. It’s an exercise, like the one he assigns to new Jigsaw hires but designed as maintenance for his own conscience: a daily check-in to assure himself his interventions in the world have left it better than it was before.

“Ten years from now I’ll look back at where my head is at today too,” he says. “What I got right and what I got wrong.” He hopes he’ll have done good.

Source : https://www.wired.com

Categorized in Internet Privacy

Google is an amazingly powerful tool for finding information online.

Many of us use it daily in our personal and professional lives for all kinds of purposes. In its speedy and seamless way, Google retrieves web material based on keywords entered in its search box.

Although its relevancy ranking algorithm is a closely guarded trade secret and a big reason for Google’s success as the world’s most popular search engine, we know basically how it works. You simply type in words or phrases and Google will retrieve web sources that match those terms.

The ranking of those sources is based on such things as how many times your search-term words appear, where they appear (e.g. title), and how many other websites link to those sources.

Since Google is simply yet precisely executing a series of steps matching and weighting those terms, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should get identical search results if each entered the same words or phrases such as “ISIS” or “Black Lives Matter.” Or so we would think.

In 2011, political activist and web organizer Eli Pariser wrote the book "The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think." In it, he revealed that Google search results may in fact vary widely from user to user.

Why? Because in an effort to personalize your search results, Google will feed you sources that match your interests. And just how does Google know your interests? Because it maintains a log of all of your past Google searches and sites viewed, that’s how.

This kind of personalization of the web is widespread. Anyone who shops on Amazon or uses Netflix knows that those services review the items you have purchased or just simply browsed and then offer recommendations for other similar books or movies.

In the case of Google, most users realize that the ads that appear with their search results are connected to their own search history. But personalization also affects which sources are retrieved and the order in which they are displayed. While it may be seen as a benefit to have Google customize your search results, it comes with some serious consequences.

In its early days, the internet was seen as a marvelous way to broaden one’s world by making it easier to disseminate and retrieve information. The web seemed to embody the true spirit of democracy by providing free and equal access to information for all. And though that is still largely true, the filter bubble has had a substantial narrowing effect on the information we receive through web services.

A recent study by the Pew Internet Research Center showed that 62 percent of adults in the U.S. get their news from social media sites, and that 18 percent do often. And the leader of the social media pack is, as you might guess, Facebook. Earlier this year, a former Facebook employed charged that Facebook suppressed conservative stories from its news feed. After much media attention and a denial, CEO Mark Zuckerberg convened a group of conservatives to discuss the issue and build trust between them and Facebook.

Facebook recently made the news again when the New York Times reported last month that Facebook profiles its users by their political leanings, among other things. Like Google, Facebook knows every post or site you read or liked, every ad you followed, every Facebook friend you have, and categorizes you accordingly. To find out how Facebook has labeled you politically, go to http://nyti.ms/2bfm2gU.

Also significant is the amount of political information produced and shared exclusively within Facebook. There are numerous political organizations ranging from the Occupy Democrats to The Angry Patriot that host Facebook sites where they post their views. These posts may be shared, liked and thus circulated to a large readership. Taken all together, these sites reach a combined audience of tens of millions of people, comparable in size to that of CNN and the New York Times itself, who also reported this story in August.

The moral to this story is “user beware.” If you can spare nine minutes, watch Eli Pariser’s TED Talk on the filter bubble. It will forever change your view of the neutrality of the web and make you more aware of the type of information you are fed online.

Source : http://www.pressrepublican.com

Categorized in Search Engine

 

Following the launch of Google Allo, it was learned this week that the company’s smart messaging app may be a cause for concern when it comes to privacy.

Allo, an app which Google claims has privacy in mind, keeps all messages indefinitely until they are manually deleted. While that may not matter to some, there are others who aren’t comfortable with their correspondence being saved forever.

The reported reason behind Google’s decision to have Allo store messages permanently has to do with the Smart Reply function. It is thought that the technology will work better if it has a longer backlog of conversation history to draw from.

Allo’s approach to storing messages actually sets it apart from its competitors. While other messaging apps have privacy functions turned on by default, Allo is instead trasparent about the fact that it’s storing your messages from day one.

Users will have full control over how long the data stays on Google servers, with the option to delete entire conversations or just single messages. As another option, people can use Incognito Mode, which offers end-to-end encryption.

Over time we’ll see if the trade off of privacy is worth having Smart Reply being able to accurately predict what you’re going to say next.

Source : https://www.searchenginejournal.com

 

Categorized in Internet Privacy

The always online lifestyle of workers today means that their files need to be on hand anytime. To do this, many upload their files in Google's cloud service, Google Drive.

Some users though have complained that it is difficult to find files uploaded in the site. The tech company seemingly has taken these complaints into account and taken action to resolve it.

Google announced an upgrade to its cloud storage service, Google Drive, giving it search option capabilities similar to its internet search.

The upgrade includes the addition of natural-language-processing (NLP) features in the search bar of Google Drive.

User can now find files and information in the cloud in the same way they find information through Google's website search engine.

The updated Google Drive will allow the retrieval of files using commonly used phrases and will provide key word suggestions, which is already familiar to users who have used the Google search engine.

Apparently, the addition of natural-language-processing (NLP) has made these changes possible.

Google Product Manager Josh Smith described NLP as a "fancy way of saying 'search like you talk.'" He added, "Drive will understand what you mean and give you the option to click for those specific search results."

Searching "Google Drive" for documents using specific filenames can now be abandoned.

Instead, users can type, for instance, "show budget spreadsheets" or "find presentations from Jodie," and the cloud service will find the files.

Google Drive will also now autocorrect misspelled search word in queries. What is more important is that Google Drive's NLP can learn and even improve with each query.

Lastly, Google Drive users can now divide documents into multiple columns. Auto saving of files when using MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint will also take effect.

The search upgrade of Google Drive comes at time when the tech firm has just introduced a host of IT-friendly features for "Google Drive for Work" which include sharing controls, security features and custom alerts.

Google said that as of March 2015 last year, more than 1,800 businesses registered up for "Google Drive for Work" every week

Source : http://www.itechpost.com

Categorized in Search Engine

 

More than half of all traffic to luxury brand Web sites comes from search. Some 46% of this traffic is paid, greater than the paid rate seen for the broader apparel and accessories market at 39%, according to research released this week.

Once consumers reach the brand's Web site, according to data from the PMX Agency study, Google, alone, accounts for 48% of all referrals to luxury brand sites. The search engine is the biggest source of traffic to the luxury category. Nearly 40% of visitors leaving a luxury brand site keep shopping by going on to another retail site.

PMX Agency’s 2016 Trend Report — Luxury Brands Online – analyzes the success of top luxury apparel brands online by leveraging a variety of metrics such as site visits, brand searches and social media interactions to better understand reach and consumer engagement.

The report suggests that the market segment for personal luxury goods will grow between 2% and 3% by 2020, up from $282 billion in global sales in 2016.

More than 80 apparel brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermès, newer brands like Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, J.W. Anderson, and Christopher Kane serve as a benchmark for the luxury sector study.

Lancel has the highest percentage of visits from search engines to its Web site at 79.2%. Ironically, 0% comes from paid search ads and 100% from organic search. Manolo Blahnik at 78.2% of visits from search engines and Céline with 73.2% of visits from search engines also get all of the online traffic to their Web sites from organic search.

When it comes to online market share by brand, Ralph Lauren had top online market share among luxury brands, accounting for roughly 1 in 5 visits to the category.

Ten brands -- Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Coach, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Burberry, Hermès, Louboutin and Versace  -- account for 78.5% of traffic to the luxury category and are the same as reported in 2015.

Chris Paradysz, CEO of PMX Agency, said brands like Ralph Lauren will attempt to inspire and close that gap between the super-affluent and the consumers with the disposable income who may or may not choose to spend it with traditional brands. "They need a new experience to entice them and keep them connected and engaged," he said.  

Keyword variations of "handbags" -- such as "bags," "purses" and "clutch" -- remain among the most popular, and show that this accessory is still a key product for attracting consumers to luxury brand sites.

The coexistence of all players such as consignment sites, brand sites and partner stores in search results brings considerations like price, shipping costs and preowned goods to the forefront. Luxury brands that may not wish to compete on price should promote exclusive content or product selection as a key differentiator, according to the report.

Ralph Lauren captured top market share among luxury brands, receiving nearly 1 in 5 visits to the category -- 19.2% of total visits. The brand jockeys for the top spot with Michael Kors, which is nearly as popular at 18.5%. 

Source : http://www.mediapost.com/

 

Categorized in Search Engine

I am reluctant to write something about this because the chatter in the SEO community is all over the place. It seems like many are saying that Google is testing the new Penguin 4.0 update in the wild. Some are saying they see rankings for Penguin impacted sites jump up and down over the course of the same day.

It is possible that Google might be testing Penguin 4.0 on some users but I am not sure if that is how this algorithm release can work. I suspect it can, but again, it is hard to tell.

The Black Hat Forums thread on page 14 started to spike up again with people saying their sites were going up and down over the course of 24 hours. There is also some chatter about this in the ongoing WebmasterWorld thread.

The tools are hit or miss, it depends on when they run and if they hit the Google Penguin test (if there is a test). For example, Mozcast has been on fire all week:

click for full size

But some of the other tools are steadily high or just all over the place.

Here are some quotes from the threads:

Right now it's just dancing around bit, but in all likelihood these small patch updates are warning sings of an impending penguin 4.0
It is my opinion that Google is probably testing a filter on those weird days, and some people are winners and other are loosers. Since our company is expecting a Penguin recovery (due to recent NSEO disavowels), and since Penguin is imminent, and since we have good days when others report bad days, this behavior is most likely Penguin testing. About a year ago, Google said Penguin was coming soon. That's about the time "Zombies" started getting reported.

I am seeing many tweets from folks and I have tons and tons of emails from people asking me what is up.

Again, it is too early to tell but it wouldn't surprise me if Google is testing a Penguin refresh.

Forum discussion at Black Hat Forums and WebmasterWorld.

Update: As the day goes on, it seems more and more like Google is indeed testing the new Penguin update. No confirmation from Google on this.

Update #2: Friday at 8am ET, Google confirmed the roll out of Google Penguin 4.0, the real time version.

 

Source : https://www.seroundtable.com

Categorized in Search Engine

 

Columnist Jordan Kasteler notes that strong search performance requires more than just ranking well in organic results. The tools listed here can enhance your existing listings and help you to appear in other places on the search results pages.

 

It’s no secret that Google is in a constant state of change. The “ten blue links” that used to comprise a search engine results page (SERP) are diminishing in importance, and new features are becoming more essential with every passing month. From image results and local packs to site links and knowledge panels, Google is reshaping search marketing.

Clearly, focusing only on your website is no longer effective. Ranking higher than your competitor in Google’s organic rankings is less meaningful if that competitor is displayed in, say, an answer box. The current name of the SEO game is acquiring as much page real estate on the SERPs as possible.

For example, a best-case scenario for search would be to do well in AdWords results, land a featured snippet, get a spot in a local pack and rank high in the organic listings. It also helps to have a presence in the Knowledge Graph and be seen in video snippets, images and news feeds that show up on Google.

To really create a competitive edge in this changing SEO landscape, don’t hesitate to get a little help from some friends — and by friends, I mean tools that help you leverage SERP features.

Here are a few such tools that can sharpen your SEO sword:

1. Yotpo’s Search Enhancements

Do you work in e-commerce? If so, you’ll definitely want to look into Yotpo, which focuses on integrating reviews into your website for greater SERP visibility. Its helpful, SERP-enhacing features include:

  • inline SEO: Includes reviews as part of a website’s content. The goal is to give an online store fresher content and a wider variety of potential keywords to rank for.

yotpo inline seo

  • Google Product Listing Ads with product ratings: Yotpo can help your Google Shopping and search results display product ratings, which can make your listing stand out from the competition.

Google Product Listing Ads

  • rich snippets: Yotpo helps an online business become more visible on SERPs through review and rating rich snippets.  

Yotpo Rich Snippets

2. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool

Structured data is one element that really revs up today’s SEO. Because it labels a website’s data to make the website look better to Google, structured data boosts visibility and helps skyrocket traffic. Although Google doesn’t consider it mandatory for high ranking, using structured data is certainly recommended.

Are you using structured data effectively? Are there any errors that need to be fixed in your schema markup? The good news is that you don’t even have to ask these questions. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool will tell you if anything is out of place, making it easy for you to fix any issues.

Google structured data testing tool

3. Data Highlighter

This ultra-handy webmaster tool “teaches” Google about how you structure your website’s data. It lets you quickly and easily tag your site’s data fields so Google can better display your website in as many SERP features as possible.

Google Data Highlighter

4. Schema-friendly WordPress themes

To really make your SEO activities much easier, do yourself a favor and take advantage of the manyfree WordPress themes with schema markup built right in. There are schema-friendly themes for many kinds of industries, formats and blog platforms. When creating a blogcompare blog sites to know the best fit for you.

mythemeshop seo wordpress themes

 

 

5. Schema markup WordPress plugins

Also, as you may have suspected, several schema markup plugins are available. A few of them include:

  • Schema App Structured Data: This tool allows you to edit your WordPress site’s schema markup directly, even if you have zero coding knowledge.

schema wordpress plugin

 

 

  • WP Rich Snippets: This is an excellent plugin to explore if you run a review site. It helps you mark up your content so your site will be as accessible as possible to Google.

Wordpress rich snippets

 

 

All in One rich snippets

6. Moz Pro’s Advanced SERP Feature Tracking

Moz offers an excellent tool to help you stay aware of the vast SERP feature environment. They market their Advanced SERP Feature Tracking tool as containing the most comprehensive data set on the market.

This tool provides analysis of featured snippets, image packs, in-depth articles, local packs, knowledge cards and knowledge panels, site links and more.

Moz SERP features

 

 

7. Rank Ranger’s Google SERP Features Tool

Rank Ranger’s SERP Features Tool tracks the presences of various SERP features over time. How often is a particular feature appearing? Is its presence within the SERPs generally increasing or decreasing?

According to Range Ranker:

This free research tool can be used to benchmark and explore the presence and trending of Knowledge Graphs, Ads, Images, Local Pack, News Pack, Related Search and Organic Results counts, plus special page indicators (e.g., breadcrumbs, events, HTTPs, ratings, notable online, image and video thumbnails, search box, sitelinks, Twitter pack, etc.)

Rank Ranger SERP features

Rank Ranger also provides a helpful guide to all the existing Google SERP features, including visual examples of each, here.

8. STAT

This is an excellent tool for discovering if any of your keywords trigger SERP features such as answer boxes. STAT tracks 20,000 websites and 218,000 consumer products daily.

STAT tool

9. SEMrush

SEMrush is useful when you need competitive data. Use it to find out if the keywords your competitors rank for trigger any SERP features like featured snippets, local packs, Knowledge Graph panels, Google News and so on.

SEMrush tool

Don’t go it alone!

Effective marketing has always been a complex endeavor, and Google’s constant innovations don’t make things any easier. But with change and innovation comes progress.
Scott Lazerson

Staying current with SEO best practices will only give you a competitive advantage, and that’s where these tools come into play.

To be the best SEO practitioner, always be on the lookout for valuable tools that can make you more proficient. Experiment every day, use the apps that work for you, and know when to abandon the ones that aren’t improving your processes. Just like a good mentor, new tools can help you reach higher levels of success.

Source : http://searchengineland.com/

 

 

Categorized in Search Engine

It had been a while since SEOs were abuzz with a possible Google update, but a big one hit just before Labor Day weekend, according to chatter amongst webmasters.

In fact, website owners may be looking at two separate updates since many site owners reported seeing big fluctuations in their organic and local search visibility.

Here are 6 things we know so far:

1. It’s Hot Out There

The update appears to have happened on or around September 1, the Thursday before Labor Day Weekend, according to Mozcast.com. If you are not familiar with Mozcast, it is a weather report detailing turbulence in Google’s algorithm on a day to day basis. The hotter and stormier a day is, the greater the change in Google’s rankings. And on September 1, the temperature was 108, and the weather was stormy. In fact, it was the hottest, stormiest day on Mozcast over at least the past 30 days.Moz Forecast September 1

2. Core Search + Local

The updates, according to data posted by webmasters at several online forums, like this, and reported by Search Engine Land appears to affect Google’s Core Search algorithm and also changes to the local search 3-pack.

3. Quality Content is Important

Google’s core web search algorithm, aka Hummingbird, includes a ton of different elements, so pinpointing what aspect of the algorithm has been updated. However, if it is part of core search, you can bet the focus is on quality content and a solid site architecture.

4. RankBrain Could Be Involved

Also, about a year ago, Google announced their rollout of RankBrain, a component of the algorithm that uses “RankBrain” an artificial intelligence system that uses machine learning to process search results and provide more relevant results to users. There is widespread speculation that Google’s latest suspected update involves Rankbrain. More on that later.

RankBrain Diagram

5. Not Penguin

Google loosely confirmed that there was an update, but that it did not involve the Penguin algorithm – the system Google uses to evaluate a website’s links, both internally and from third party sources.Sidenote: Google announced on September 7th that they are working on the Penguin launch announcement. It’s been roughly one year and ten months since the last Penguin update in October 2014.

6. Spam Clean-Up

Most of the impact on local search results appears to have affected spammy results. Google Maps, historically, has been plagued by spam. A niche that had exploited Google Maps was the locksmith industry, with many site owners creating fictitious listings in an effort to generate phone calls and web traffic for more website searches in a geographic area without having physical locations.

There were a ton of complaints about these types of practices, but Google had been slow in cleaning up the data. The two images below show the difference for a “locksmith” related search near Times Square. The image on the left was from 2009 (image courtesy of blumenthals.com), when this type of spam was widespread. The image on the right is for what is currently in Google Maps.

Google Maps location spam

The Impact on You

The impact on you will be largely unnoticeable right now. Organic traffic and rankings for our own clients was reviewed on September 5 & 6, the Tuesday and Wednesday following the update. No changes, significant or otherwise, have been seen.

However, what makes this update, and many other Google updates so difficult to analyze is that they usually roll out an update just prior to a weekend. Additionally, because it takes time – sometimes weeks to months – for a rollout to complete, the full effects are not immediately known. Rest assured, however, that we will continue to monitor our clients traffic and rankings and react accordingly if and when the need arises.

So, What About RankBrain?

If this update to the core search algorithm did involve RankBrain, then Google could be placing more emphasis on search results that have poor user engagement and experience metrics. Low time on site, high bounce rates and poor click-through rates are all signals that often convey that the search query used or suggested by Big G did not match the search intent.

Think about this: 

Rank Brain is sophisticated enough to learn what people are looking for when they don’t search specifically for what they are looking for. It can do this because it has so much data, and it is confident it can effectively provide the answer the searcher is looking for, even if they don’t use the correct question. And if it is truly learning, then the quality of the results should be improving over time.

An example of this is a query would be: “who won the 1994 World Series?” The correct answer is that there was NO World Series in 1994, due to an ongoing strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Google is confident in the answer to this, so they provide the answer right in search results. Varying the keyword slightly (“who lost 1994 World Series”, “was there a 1994 world series”) results essentially the same search results.

Who won the 1994 world series?

Perhaps with this most recent update, Google has determined that they can rely on RankBrain more, and the most recent changes in search results are a reflection of that. Changes in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are difficult to attribute to any one element, so time, and hopefully an update from Google will tell.

What We’re Watching For

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking for drops in organic traffic across our clients’ sites that can be attributed to drops in organic and local search visibility.

If an organic drop is seen, you must determine if those affected pages are properly optimized and if there is enough variation in the keywords the page is targeting. Also, focus on improving the quality of content for those underperforming pages. Plan on looking at those engagement and experience metrics that Google may be evaluating to determine if a page does not match the searcher’s intent.

If a drop in local search results is seen, it will be important to audit all name, address, phone (NAP) citations for glaring discrepancies. Any issues for those locations affected by the update should be improved. Additionally, if a site has created local pages, those pages should be analyzed from a quality perspective as thin or over-optimized pages likely will not perform well.

Finally, in a few weeks, as this update has matured, expect more site owners and marketers to share their perspective; this information could inform ongoing strategy. One thing is fairly certain, Google will continue their focus on displaying organic results they believe are the best quality and satisfy user intent.

Source : http://www.verticalmeasures.com/

Categorized in Science & Tech

While Google remains the most important and dominant search engine, as it transitions into machine learning with RankBrain, marketers should not neglect other sources of traffic. Emerging search sites like SkyNet, Pinterest, Yelp, YouTube or Facebook imply that whether it is the artificial intelligence of RankBrain or organic searches, quality content and solid site architecture still count for a lot.

Content matters most

While RankBrain helps Google match results to searches better by seeing what pages are actually being consumed — regardless of page rank or authority, other factors like video, privacy, spam, and mobile devices are also changing the face of search. The Content Marketing Institute's recent lecture by founder and former CEO of Moz, Rand Fishkin noted a series of major themes driving search today.

With Google as the dominant search engine in the world, it will continue to drive what and how marketers approach SEO, Fishkin notes.

While Google is more focused on searchers, not marketers, the onus is on marketers to get more in touch with who their ideal visitors are. Learn what they want so they can reach out to them using the right content, terms, and expressions that meet their needs, not the needs of the company.

In other words, make user experience the cornerstone of the companies SEO efforts by generating content ten times better than the competition and Google will respond in kind.

Visuals improve rankings

Visuals help as well since Google is now ranking images, the expert suggests. The idea is to be on the right platform for the search engine results page (SERP) that matter most. So, for video: YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo; for e-commerce: Google shopping, Amazon, Etsy, and eBay; for apps: iTunes and Google Play, etc. Google is getting really good at matching searcher intent to returns (type in "circle of big rocks" and you get Stonehenge, for example).

Increasingly, Google is matching searcher intent to returns. This is good for users but not so much for marketers.

Intent makes direct keyword matching less of a competitive advantage so marketers now try to rank across the pantheon of terms and keyword strings searchers will likely use to find them. Also, how the keywords are used on a website's pages matter. So context counts even more than ever.

Google+ in decline, watch Twitter

The demise of Google+ is clear, Fishkin notes, and Twitter has replaced Google+ as Google's primary social result. Initially, Google defined the service as a social network, but when it didn’t work, the company referred to it as “a social layer across all of Google’s services.” Apparently, the social foundation of Google+ is problematic. Google just pushed (almost forcefully) the creation of a Google+ account in order to use other products and services such as when publishing a comment in YouTube. Marketers should be paying closer attention to how Twitter influences the keywords and SERPs they care about: engagement and "recency" govern Google's display of Tweets, for example, so use these two insights to one advantage, he suggests.

Determining SERPs

Basically, a good search engine results page (SERP) today means that searchers don't bounce from their first choice, but according to Google's own engineers, they don't fully understand what is going on. In the future, it may be that thousands or even millions of algorithms will determine SERPs.

For marketers this means focusing resources on pages that are performing well and even hiding pages with high bounce rates from Google so the whole website performs better. "For marketers, big things include focusing on signal-to-noise so bad pages on ones site aren't going to drag down the whole site," said Fishkin.

Source : http://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/09/14/google-still-rules-search-youtube-and-facebook-emerging-well

Categorized in Search Engine

David Collins, columnist and Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer at The Great National Hotels and Resorts Group discusses how things are about to become equally challenging and interesting for hotel marketers.

Earlier this year, Google ‘unveiled’ plans to change the layout of their search engine results pages (SERPs for short) whereby no longer would they feature ads on the right hand side of your desktop results page. In truth, this was by no means a sudden change; Google had been testing this revised layout as far back as 2010. The impact however has been nothing short of transformative since this took effect globally from mid-2016.

I’ll explain this more below but first let me tease out what exactly Google have done in the interest of ‘improving user experience’.

So basically Google have unilaterally decided that paid search ads will no longer appear on the right-hand side of search results for desktop users, and that up to four paid search results will instead appear at the top of the page. This was a maximum of three previously and the new format mirrors the mobile search experience which has obviously grown in relevance in recent years.

By the way, paid search ads that fall below the 4th rank now appear at the bottom of the SERP which in itself is also a big deal in terms visibility and capturing traffic.

The rationale cited for all this is that it will allow Google to provide more relevant results for end users and also provide better ad performance for advertisers by delivering a more dynamically intuitive search/shopping experience. Users have an increasingly lower tolerance for fruitless searches and this is aimed at targeting consumers during what Google terms as ‘micro-moments’ … a fancy term for where someone may be on the sales curve.

So far so good. Getting users to the information they’re looking for faster and more efficiently is a good thing. No argument there.

The problem however is simply this: organic or naturally occurring rankings are getting less and less of a look-in. Why? Because paid search ads are taking up more space on SERPs with the result that hoteliers have to spend more on paid search to maintain prominence above the fold and also become more sophisticated in their approach to site content so as to hold onto organic traffic and rankings.

Eventually it is likely that organic listings will simply disappear – this is already happening on mobile SERPs – and desktop will follow as sure as night follows day.

In the absence of any real competition (BING, Yahoo, etc. … really?), the temptation for Google is simply too great to monetise completely all search activity and whereas you can’t blame them, after all they are in the business of business, they currently enjoy a virtual monopoly and this might be construed by some as an abuse of their position. In fact, I am staggered at the lack of concerted, coherent objection from the travel and hospitality industry to this latest move but equally don’t be surprised when FaceBook wade in to carve out a piece of this increasingly lucrative ‘search’ pie.

So what can be done to avoid having to jack up your PPC budget? In truth, very little. Unless consumers suddenly change their behaviour from depending on Google for search, hotels are going to have to buckle up for the ride: your competitors will be doing everything they can to ensure visibility and you must do the same. Only better.

And that also means retaining customers better than ever before; you’ll be paying more to get them to your site as a result of changes to search so it’s critical that you maximise your ROI. Which is why content marketing is now coming into it’s own.

Typically we as hoteliers tend to see loyalty schemes and reward programmes as the solution to retaining clients. In truth whereas these may have worked in the past, end users today seem to prefer instead to be engaged by brands in a more intuitive, personalised way, one which recognises their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.. This in turn makes for a more meaningful, robust relationship and digital enables this thankfully in spades.

Just a word of warning here however, what content marketing is not is excessive promotional messaging. Instead it should be relevant, meaningful communication with your customer base – a short video piece, a personalised landing page, an engaging blog – that sets you apart as a brand and connects with your audience …

Things are about to become equally challenging and interesting for hotel marketers.

About David Collins: David draws his expertise from an intimate knowledge of the Irish and UK hotel industry with a proven track record of over 25 years in brand development, digital distribution and channel marketing. David’s work is well known in both Ireland and the U.K. where he has been instrumental in building some of the largest hotel brands, most recently the Great National Hotels and Resorts Group, currently one of the fastest growing hospitality groups in Europe.

Source : http://www.hotel-industry.co.uk/2016/08/googles-serp-changes-a-watershed-moment-for-hotel-brands/

Categorized in Search Engine

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