Google IO 2016 Highlights

Last month Google held it’s annual Google IO conference. Not really a surprise but it was chock full off conversation and AI based tech which is all the buzz of late.

Three bits in particular stood out for me.

The first is the demo of Allo, their new chat app. The app itself wasn’t particularly groundbreaking but the embedding of their new digital assistant tech (the Google assistant) is very interesting and it really shows where Google thinks things are going. The fact that 3rd parties will be able to hook into the Google assistant ecosystem, as shown with the Open Table integration at the end of the clip, should have organizations interested in conversational commerce buzzing.

Here is the clip:

The second demo was for Google Home, their answer to the Amazon Echo. I suspect there was a bit of hand waving going on in this video clip but having done some work with the Echo, everything they demo should be doable. The one thing that did not ring true for me was how it was identifying specific family members so that it could perform actions in the context of their data and “profile”:

The last thing that stood out for me was the new Android Instant apps tech. It basically allows a sliver of your app to be downloaded and run, which means that your users don’t have to first install your app. They demoed apps been launched from web searches and from an NFC tag scan. Really starts to blur the difference between an app and a web page. Here is the clip from the key node:

All in all, some pretty interesting tech will be hitting us shortly.

Y is for YouTube facts and figures

YouTube has changed the way we watch and shared videos so I thought that I would collate some fun facts about YouTube for this post.

First off YouTube was created by 3 PayPal employees: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim. The site was officially launched in 2005 and this was the first video ever uploaded to it (a video of Jawed at the zoo):

A year later YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion in stock!

Today more than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month. Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube and 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

YouTube is heavily entrenched in any Internet connect person’s life as evidenced by it’s usage on smartphones: 40% of YouTube’s watch time is done on mobile devices and it accounts for 4% of total time spent on iOS and Android devices.

Whilst usage is high amongst the younger generations, 83% of Generation Z visit the site at least once a month, it is used by all: Millennials 70%, Generation X 58%, Younger Baby Boomers 49%, Older Baby Boomers: 40%, Golden Generation: 30%.

Of course this all costs a lot of money to run. In 2007 Google introduced ads to YouTube with a revenue sharing model with owners of video content: 45% to Google, 55% to the uploader. Google doesn’t release any figures but their ad revenue was guesstimated to hit $5.6 billion for 2013. Which means that just over $3 billion went to uploaders, today there are many people who make a living off of the content they upload.

Another mind blowing thing is the number of servers that Google uses to deliver its services such as YouTube. It is estimated that they run over 2.3 million servers!

Here is a video about one of their data centers:

That’s a lot of $$$ for videos of cats ;)


Ask Gremlin…

I’ve received a couple of interesting emails recently from people asking for advice. I figured my answers might be of use to others so here are the (redacted) emails:

Android App

The email:

I am wanting a Android Application designed for me. I am wanting to know a little more about Android Applications and how to go about getting one designed for me. How do the laws work around making a app and around how much would someone have to pay to get one designed? If a Android developer was to make a app for me would the rights of that app be mine or the creator? Sorry for the inconvenience I’m really new to this. Any information would be appreciated.

My response:

Hi ****,

A few years ago there was a move in NZ to better clarify ownership of intellectual property and copyright for “commissioned works” which includes software developement. However this amendment did not pass see:

Although there are some existing laws that cover this area, what you want to ensure is that there is a clause in any contracts you sign (and you should ensure you have a contract with anyone who is written apps for you) that you own ALL the IP and copyrights on the work that is produced.

In terms of how much will it cost, the answer is it depends on how complicated the app is :)

Basically there are two general models followed for software development: “Time and Materials” (T&M)  or Fixed Price.

With T&M you generally pay the developer an hourly rate. For software development you can pay anything from $25/hr through to $150/hr. Typically the more senior or skilled the person, the higher their rates. Of course paying more doesn’t guarantee quality or success.

With Fixed price the price is determined ahead of time and that is the amount you will pay for the completed software. Whilst this seems a “safe” option, software development is often complicated and unexpected things turn up all the time, as such Fixed Priced contracts are often padded with a “contingency” to ensure that the developer makes money. If the project looks risky the contingency can be as high as 50% which means you would be paying far more for the work then it is worth. The other issue with fixed price contracts is that they often have a “change request” (CR) process which allows the developer to make additional charges for work (eg features of the app) that were not covered by the original specification (or “scope”) of the project. CR processes are often confusing & abused and you land up paying way more then you intended to in the end.

The best way to “protect” yourself against unforeseen costs is to be very, very, very clear on what you want to have built. In software development this is often called “scope” or the specifications of the project.

For an Android app I would suggest that you create what is called a wireframe or mockup of the app. You can use a tool such as or or even paper & pen and sketch out each of the screens of the app, add notes about what each screen should do and how you navigate from one screen to another.

Once you have your wireframe sorted you can then shop around and get different quotes from different developers to find a price and developer you like. If you think your idea is particularly unique, you might want people to sign a non-disclosure  aggreement (NDA) before you show them your wireframes or talk to them about the app.

Lastly you might want to try and write the software yourself ! Have a look at as a “gently” intro to Android development. It will let you create a working prototype that you can actually run on your phone :)

Hopefully the above has been helpful.


QR code generation

The email:

I saw your comment on the hack-a-day QRcode post.  You seem to have quite a bit of experience in QRcodes and other scanning apps.  One thing that I have been looking for (and maybe you might be able to help) is a program that creates unique QRcodes from list of URLs.  I’m helping out a non-profit **\* with their website and I was trying to find an easy solution to automatically create printable QRcodes for all of the ***\** at once.  This way each **** has their own QR code to an info page on a WordPress blog.  It could be done manually, but the ** change every two weeks! :)

A bonus would be automatically taking Bitly URLs and turning them into a bunch of printable QRcodes.

Just thinking

My response

Hi *****,

The Google Charts API can be used to quickly create QR codes. Check out: and

So the following #aliases:×150&cht=qr&chl=  would create a 150px by 150px .png QR code containing a URL to my blog (

You could probably use a tool such as Curl or WGET to script the fetching of the bar codes.


New theme is a go

Well, it has been a while since I posted something meaty, I’ve been kinda doing a lot of micro-blogging and tinkering with other things like my Privacy Check for Facebook, so haven’t really had time to sit down and write a decent post.

Of course as soon as I did sit down to write something, I got hideously distracted with the idea of creating a new theme for my blog…

Luckily due to some very handy tools, it did not take nearly as long to finish off my new theme as it could have.

First up Blueprint CSS, this is a fantastic CSS framework. I used it for and for my Privacy Check for Facebook app so it was a no brainer to use for the theme. If you are not a hard-core webcoder then this is the easiest way to put together a good looking website that just works.

Next up: jQuery, which, is a fantastic Javascript framework. I’m really getting to grips with it and there is no way I would ever build another site without using a Javascript framework of some kind.

For instance I have a lot of code examples on the blog. These I  format into

 blocks so that they are easier to read. Problem is that they are often very wide and would get cut off with this new theme. A bit of digging around on the web and little bit of Javascript and we have the following; a code block that expands when you hover the mouse over the it. Here is an example (and the actually code):

//this code finds all pre tags and makes them expand on hover
//code has been formatted to be extra wide to demonstrate the effect
                                                 var contentwidth = $(this).contents().width();
                                                 var blockwidth = $(this).width();
                                                 if(contentwidth > blockwidth)
                                                   $(this).animate({ width: '950px'}, 250);
                                               }, function()
                                                  $(this).animate({ width: '640px' }, 250);

I also used Fancybox to create a lightbox effect for images and image galleries. For example try clicking on one of  the images below:

Lastly I used the new Google Font API (that was released this week) to embed the cool font I used for the blog & post titles in a cross browser compatible way. The font is Reenie Beanie by James Grieshaber.

So what do you think? Leave a comment :)

YouTube drops IE6 support

Earlier this week YouTube officially dropped support for older browsers such as Internet Explorer 6. If you try access YouTube with IE6 you get this nice warning message:

The order of the browsers appears to be random, refreshing on each load. Hopefully they used a better random algorithm then Microsoft recently used for their EU browser choice site.

I’m really hoping that this trend will be followed by more mainstream sites and we will finally, finally see the death of IE6 which still holds around about a 20% market share!

And if you are still running IE6 (I’m looking at you big New Zealand corporates),  a quick read of the “Operation Aurora” attacks on Google and other big US companies should be enough to scare you into upgrading ASAP.

Death to IE6!!!

Google’s timetable for dropping IE6

I received the following email from Google yesterday. It details their timetable for dropping IE6 support:

_Dear Google Apps admin,

In order to continue to improve our products and deliver more sophisticated features and performance, we are harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology.  This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5.  As a result, over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as other older browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.

We plan to begin phasing out support of these older browsers on the Google Docs suite and the Google Sites editor on March 1, 2010.  After that point, certain functionality within these applications may have higher latency and may not work correctly in these older browsers. Later in 2010, we will start to phase out support for these browsers for Google Mail and Google Calendar.

Google Apps will continue to support Internet Explorer 7.0 and above, Firefox 3.0 and above, Google Chrome 4.0 and above, and Safari 3.0 and above.

Starting this week, users on these older browsers will see a message in Google Docs and the Google Sites editor explaining this change and asking them to upgrade their browser.  We will also alert you again closer to March 1 to remind you of this change.

In 2009, the Google Apps team delivered more than 100 improvements to enhance your product experience.  We are aiming to beat that in 2010 and continue to deliver the best and most innovative collaboration products for businesses.

Thank you for your continued support!


The Google Apps team

Inside Google Wave

ClearPoint held one of its regular tech-drop get-togethers last night covering Google Wave.

The Cloudbreak team gave a good walk-through of the product  and I gave a quick overview of some of the technology inside Google Wave and it’s APIs.

Here is my slide deck:

Click to see next slide

The PDF (with notes) can be downloaded here.

For those of you who know nothing about the wave, here is short intro video:

YouTube Preview Image

Hiding from Google Ads

Google has just updated its advertising system to do “behavioral targeting”, in essence they track you as you move around the web and display ads that are targeted towards you based on what the perceive are your interests.

For instance if you visit a bunch of sports related sites then Google will determine that you are into sports and serve up sports related ads to you.

This is all done using tracking cookies and is built around the Doubleclick tracking infrastructure.

Google have also asked anyone who displays Google ads on their to update their privacy policy information. Since I display Google ads on this blog  (and make 0 dollars to be honest, why don’t you click on some of the ads?) here is my updated privacy policy:

We use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit our website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you.

You are warned :)

More importantly what if you don’t want to be tracked ?

Well Google has two pages for you. The first lets you opt-out of the tracking system and the second lets you adjust your Google Ads preferences.

The preferences page is a particularly interesting, in that it shows you the “interest” areas that Google has derived based on your surfing habits. You can also manually add interest areas if you want!

My advice however is to just use a browser add-on such as Adblock Plus for Firefox and you will never have to worry about seeing those ads ever again (you will however disable the blocker for, won’t you? )

Search the web, destroy the planet

Apparently doing two Google searches produces half the amount of CO2 that boiling a kettle does ! At least that what has been recently claimed by the Telegraph in the UK.

Google has hit back, saying that, actually they are far more efficient then that. They claim:

  • a single search uses the same amount of energy as an adult body burns in 10 seconds (a very Matrix comparison)
  • a 1000 searches produces the same amount of CO2 as driving an average car 1km (which actually doesn’t sound that good)

Since Google claims to have some of the most energy efficient data centres in the world, one has to wonder what the planetary impact is of other search providers such as Yahoo and Microsoft.

I wonder if there is a marketing angle here for search providers: “We are the most eco-search engine so use us instead of them” :)

Of course at the end of the day using the Internet is far more efficient and eco-friendly the driving to the local library!

_[Update] Turns out the the paper got it all wrong and completely misquoted their “source”. Interestingly the guy they misquoted works for a company called C02Stats which helps you make your website carbon neutral._

Google’s Friend Connect

So I’d thought I’d give Google’s Friend Connect a whirl. Friend Connect allows you to embed social networking components onto your website. Out of the box you get a members gadget, a wall gadget and a review/rate gadget. Since it is all based on OpenSocial you can add any other OpenSocial gadgets to your site as well.

Here is the quick intro video:

YouTube Preview Image

Getting set up is very easy, you simple add two .html pages to your site and then embed some Javascript whereever you want the gadgets to appear.

It took all of 5 minutes to set up the members gadget as the “Friends” box in the left bar of my blog.

Google Friend connect is a direct competitor for Facebook Connect which lets you do similar functions but built around the Facebook API. Facebook Connect is much harder to set up but seems to be gaining more traction with big sites such as Digg.  It’ll be interesting to see who wins this race and if this whole thing takes off.