My Google piece in The Register

Thanks to the miracle of trans-Atlantic collaborative journalism, here’s my quick take on Google’s caching scheme:

Network Neutrality, the public policy unicorn that’s been the rallying cry for so many many on the American left for the last three years, took a body blow on Sunday with the Wall Street Journal’s disclosure that the movement’s sugar-daddy has been playing both sides of the fence.

The Journal reports that Google “has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content.”

Google claims that it’s doing nothing wrong, and predictably accuses the Journal of writing a hyperbolic piece that has the facts all wrong. It’s essentially correct. Google is doing nothing that Akamai doesn’t already do, and nothing that the ISPs and carriers don’t plan to do to reduce the load that P2P puts on their transit connections.

A lot of questions remain about Google’s public policy flexibility and how wise their server farm strategy has been, and we’ll deal with them as Google answers our questions.

Google Gambles in Casablanca

I’m shocked.

Google has been caught red-handed negotiating deals with ISPs to host servers inside the building, just like Akamai does. The semi-technical press thinks this is some sort of a game-changing event:

The celebrated openness of the Internet — network providers are not supposed to give preferential treatment to any traffic — is quietly losing powerful defenders.

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

At risk is a principal [sic] known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line.

Oh my goodness, where do I begin? Google already has a fast lane to most Internet users today thanks to their network of mega-data centers around the world, which I’ve written and spoken about at some length. These systems are wired directly to public Internet exchange points in high population areas and effectively move Google’s traffic to a higher priority than all but three competing routes: Akamai’s servers hosted inside ISP premises, Limelight’s private network wired directly to ISP networks, and the ISPs’ own content. Google’s desire to host servers (or routers, it could be either) inside ISP networks is a move calculated to improve on the ROI on the existing network of server farms and to blunt the Akamai advantage. It makes more sense to wire directly to the ISPs through private arrangements than to stress the public Internet infrastructure any further.

One thing that this deal doesn’t do is change the Internet infrastructure. Arrangements like this already exist, predating the kerfuffle over fast lanes created out of thin air by public interest advocates three years ago.

The Internet is not a network, it’s a complex set of agreements to interconnect independently owned and operated networks in various ways. There is no standard agreement, and this story doesn’t report on a new one. What it simply shows is that money buys performance in the technology space, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. Google has to do something like this to avoid being clobbered by ISP-friendly P4P as well as by Akamai.

Yes, Virginia, network neutrality is a myth, and it always has been.

UPDATE: Google’s response to the WSJ piece does nothing but muddy the waters. Net Neutrality advocates have insisted on a wall of separation between content and infrastructure, and this deal, if it happens, brings down that wall. I’m happy with that, because I don’t see the prohibition on expedited delivery as a good thing. But Google should admit they’ve come around to my way of thinking about the Internet instead of insisting nothing has changed. See my write-up in The Register.

UPDATE 2: The spin that Google’s supporters are producing around this issue is a marvel for those of us who appreciate the major league curveball. This subtle piece of nuanced distinction by Dave Isenberg deserves some sort of prize:

The concern of Network Neutrality advocates is not with access but with delivery. The fear is that Internet connection providers would charge for expedited delivery of certain content to the end user, and in so doing would put themselves in the business of classifying which content gets enhanced delivery.

Wow. Caching speeds up delivery, otherwise there would be no reason to do it. Google has paid for expedited delivery of its content in effect, regardless of the spin. What counts is bits on the wire, and Google is out to ensure theirs are better situated than yours are.

Don’t be fooled by the spin, this is a distinction without a difference.

Technorati Tags: ,

Bye bye G1

After suffering with the Google phone for 4 weeks, I took it back to T-Mobile yesterday (the contract says you only have 14 days, but I live in California where the time limit on an upgrade return is 30 days.) Jeff Turner describes the G1 appropriately: Like Windows 2.0, it’s good enough that you can tell it’s going to become the standard some day, but it’s not really usable in its present form. The main gripes I had with it are, in no particular order: poor battery life, dropped calls, a crappy Bluetooth implementation, unusable e-mail, a pathetic keypad, and a dearth of applications. My previous phone was a Blackberry Curve, which did everything that it did extremely well; if the Curve could do 3G I’d have got a replacement for the one I lost in London. But it doesn’t, so I’ve gone to a Sony Ericsson TM506, a feature phone that does phone things extremely well, has a built-in GPS (that doesn’t seem to work very well) and may possibly be used as a modem to tether a laptop to the 3G network (that feature seems to be controversial as Sony Ericsson supports it and T-Mobile may not; see update below.)

It’s basically a stop-gap until there’s a competent Blackberry for T-Mobile’s 3G network, which unfortunately uses oddball frequencies in the US.

The G1 has a high return rate owing to the generally pathetic implementation of Android by HTC. And I also don’t like sharing all the information about my personal life that Google wants. But that’s another story.

It’s clear the the iPhone has changed the game for mobile devices and the entrenched cell phone suppliers are struggling to catch up. I don’t doubt that Apple will continue to dominate the mobile device space for at least the next year or two, so I may just have to accede to reality and jump on that bandwagon.

UPDATE: Tethering works, I get close to 800Kbps at home, the Bluetooth limit, but the quota is pathetic: 100 MB/mo, and that’s not going to last long. Presumably, it downgrades to EDGE when the 3G quota is exhausted. The phone doesn’t have a standard USB connector, so I tethered over Bluetooth using the very nice PC Suite from Sony-Ericsson. It guides you through the Bluetooth hookup and makes accessing the Internet through the phone a point-and-click operation, even on a Mac.

It’s nice to use stuff that’s well engineered, isn’t oversold, and actually works, (except for that GPS, which must be defective on my phone.) including the GPS.

The 100MB/mo quota for $20 for the TM506 makes no sense compared to the 10GB/mo they sell for $25 to G1 customers unless Google is paying a subsidy to T-Mobile. If they are, Steve Jobs must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Keeping the Black Box under wraps

Cade Metz explains why Google canceled its pending ad deal with Yahoo rather than disclose its secrets in court:

“We canceled the deal with about one hour to go before a lawsuit was going to be filed against our deal,” Schmidt said. “We concluded after a lot of soul-searching that it was not in our best interest to go through a lengthy and costly trial which we believe we ultimately would have won.”

But surely, when Schmidt speaks of costs, he’s not concerned with paying his lawyers. A monopoly-expanding ad pact with Jerry Yang and Yahoo! would bring Google hundreds of millions of dollars a year. If the company was convinced of an antitrust triumph, legal fees were a drop in the bucket.

As head Mountain View lawyer David Drummond tells it, a long legal battle could damage relationships with Google advertisers – many of whom opposed the Yahoo! marriage. But the costs are even greater: An antitrust trial would finally give the world a window into Google’s black box of an ad engine.

The genius of the Mountain View money machine is that no one knows how it works.

The auction that’s not an auction is the heart of Google’s business, and disclosing its secrets would only unleash a torrent of anti-trust activity. Everybody loves Google because its services are free to consumers, but at the end of the day it’s simply an advertising-supported version of the KGB.

Technorati Tags:

No deal

Google has announced an end to its monopolistic advertising agreement with Yahoo!:

However, after four months of review, including discussions of various possible changes to the agreement, it’s clear that government regulators and some advertisers continue to have concerns about the agreement. Pressing ahead risked not only a protracted legal battle but also damage to relationships with valued partners. That wouldn’t have been in the long-term interests of Google or our users, so we have decided to end the agreement.

This is good. But Google didn’t strike out completely yesterday, as it successfully bent the ear of the FCC toward wasting the whitespaces on their hare-brained “Wi-Fi without testosterone” scheme. You win some, you lose some.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Google’s Telephony Patent Application not Novel

Google has apparently filed an application for a system that allows bandwidth provider to bid on phone calls:

Google’s patent is called “Flexible Communication Systems and Methods” and the abstract says:

“A method of initiating a telecommunication session for a communication device include submitting to one or more telecommunication carriers a proposal for a telecommunication session, receiving from at least one of the one or more of telecommunication carriers a bid to carry the telecommunications session, and automatically selecting one of the telecommunications carriers from the carriers submitting a bid, and initiating the telecommunication session through the selected telecommunication carrier.”

Read the full patent here

The thing I find interesting about this is that I invented a similar technique in 1997, motivated by the desire to get bandwidth-on-demand for video conferences. If this is granted, it certainly won’t survive a court challenge.

I’ll post some details on my invention, which was never patented, shortly.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Google Chrome is Sad

Chrome is a Windows-only browser:

This is just the beginning – Google Chrome is far from done. We’ve released this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible. We’re hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux too, and we’ll continue to make it even faster and more robust.

…and I spend most of my time on Fedora Linux, being an open-source kinda guy, so I wasn’t eager to try it out. But I did install it on my Windows Vista 64 machine, the one that I use to host Virtual Box. It’s clear that Chrome has lots of potential, because it’s fast and clean. But it lacks basic browser features, such as:

1. A modern bookmark handler. You can’t even keep your bookmarks open in a sidebar, so it’s back to Mosaic circa 1996. Chrome doesn’t like bookmarks because Google would rather have you search.

2. Plug-in support. I use ScribeFire to post to my blog, and without it WordPress is useless. Chrome doesn’t support plug-ins because they would slow it down.

3. Linux support.

So it’s nice to load pages fast, but Firefox will have to do because all the shortcomings are too severe for regular use.

Guardian takes on the Google myth

David Smith confronts the Google myth for The Observer, including accounts of the pilgramages politicians take to Google HQ:

Shortly after Obama’s pilgrimage to the ‘Googleplex’, it was the turn of David Cameron. Cameron was accompanied there by Steve Hilton, his director of strategy, who has since moved permanently to California with his wife, Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice-president of global communications and public affairs (she is also godmother to Cameron’s eldest son, Ivan). Andrew Orlowski, executive editor of the technology website The Register, says: ‘The web is a secular religion at the moment and politicians go to pray at events like the Google Zeitgeist conference. Any politician who wants to brand himself as a forward-looking person will get himself photographed with the Google boys.’

Washington, also, is keen to bathe in Google’s golden light. Al Gore, the former Vice-President, is a long-time senior adviser at the company. Obama has been taking economic advice from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and received generous donations from Google and its staff. Google will be omnipresent at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, providing software for delegates such as calendars, email and graphics. ‘Google has moved into the political world this year,’ says its director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, a former member of the Clinton administration.

Google’s staff in Washington include five lobbyists, among them Pablo Chavez, former general counsel for John McCain. This year Google moved into new 27,000-square-foot headquarters in one of Washington’s most fashionable, eco-friendly buildings. Visiting senators and congressmen can now share in the famed ‘googly’ experience of free gourmet lunches, giant plasma screens and a game room, named ‘Camp David’, stocked with an Xbox 360 and pingpong.

None of this much impressed Jeff Chester, the executive director of the small but influential Center for Digital Democracy, when he was invited there. ‘It puts all the other lobbying operations to shame,’ he says. ‘They invite politicians into their Washington HQ to give advice on using Google to win re-election. It is the darling of the Democratic Party and there’s no doubt that a win by Obama will strengthen Google’s position in Washington.’

Undeterred by criticisms of his benefactor, Google’s professor of piracy rights, Larry Lessig, congratulates Google’s boys at the FCC for protecting the Google monopoly in a rare foray into the world of the written word. It’s quite amusing and utterly deranged.

Technorati Tags: , , .

Will Google be the FCC’s next target?

Truth is stranger than fiction. This report in ZDNet suggests that Google may well find itself in the crosshairs of net regulators gone wild:

Google clearly wants the FCC to make sure that other private companies’ networks are open equally to all Internet services. Now, it will be interesting to see if that applies to networks in which Google is involved.

On Friday, the Commission takes up the question of whether Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest provider of high-speed access to the Internet, is “secretly degrading peer-to-peer applications,’’ as the FCC agenda puts it.

As Multichannel News reports, Google Inc. is pressing the Commission to provide clear guidance to broadband network owners on acceptable ways of managing Internet traffic.

Google is shortly to become a network operator, a partner with Comcast in the Clearwire 4G network. Google intends to secure itself pride of place with a Google button on the Clearwire phone, a violation of all that is holy and neutral. This should be fun.

Technorati Tags: , ,

House Anti-Trust Task Force Hearing on Google

C-Span has the archived video of the Conyers hearing on Google’s proposed ad deal with Yahoo:

House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Internet Competition
Recently, a number of transactions and potential transactions have raised anti-competitive and privacy concerns in the field of online advertising, online search, and web platform interoperability. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) chairs a House Judiciary Antitrust & Competition Policy Task Force hearing to examine the state of competition with respect to various online markets.

It’s quite long but as a bonus it’s also quite boring. Google maintains there will be no price-fixing because ads are sold in auctions, Microsoft points out that the auctions have a floor price and a subjective quality index.

The smoking gun was produced: Google proposed this deal to Yahoo the day after Microsoft made their tender offer.

Google’s girl, Zoe Lofgren, tried to spin the old “two guys in a garage can take Google down” myth, but I doubt anyone with a room temperature IQ is buying that nonsense.

There was one wild card on the panel, the Ask The Builder guy who seemed overly fond of the sound of his own voice.

Of all the members, Issa gets it the best. And he should, because he actually started and built a successful technology business before going to Washington.

Lofgren and Conyers – what can I say without being rude?