Google Fusion Tables Rocks

Google Fusion Tables is going to change the way we all interact with data. The site allows people to upload their own data, such as stuff stuck in spreadsheets, and do more interesting stuff with it, such as visualize trends, collaborate, and other stuff that works best when working together.

For example, someone could upload the Minneapolis Police Department’s crime spreadsheets so people can see which neighborhoods are increasing or decreasing in crime. Or filter by different types of crime. I’m working on this. Very close to ready.

Or, someone could get a data dump from the city of property records and view it by properties owned (I’m dabbling with this).

Google also pre-populates the service with publicly available data sets. For example, the map below shows 2007 fatality rates of pedestrians and cyclists by state.

Check it out.

A Good Day for Google



A Good Day for Google, originally uploaded by edkohler.

Google hooked me up with some free WiFi at the Milwaukee airport and stopped censoring search results in China in reaction to some government shenanigans today. That sort of stuff makes my life a little bit better.

This is on top of a conversation I had earlier today with a friend where he said he dropped his Yahoo account when they turned over the identity of a journalist to the Chinese government. I’d link to this stuff but I’m writing on my Google powered phone while waiting to take of right now.

No company is perfect, but it seems like Google is wielding their tremendous power responsibly these days.

Talking Google PowerMeter on AM 950 and The Uptake

I had a little chat about my latest obsession, the Google PowerMeter service, on Quick On The UpTake with Mike McIntee this afternoon. Good times were had. The theme of the hour was energy conservation starting with my segment at 15 minutes into the segment embedded above (that a live studio shot of Mike doing the show. I called in.)

If you’re into the local healthcare scene, you may find the entire video valuable.

I warmed things up for Molly Priesmeyer from LiveGreenTwinCities who shares her home energy audit experiences after my segment while Mike drops knowledge based on his own energy audit experience. That is some great information, especially for us inner city folks who’s homes may have developed a few leads over the years. Or, as Reuben recently discovered, are being insulated by squirrel carcasses.

Privacy Concerns

One thing that came out during this segment that’s worth explaining: The powermeter I installed from The Energy Detective can be used without sharing data with Google. In fact, the service’s primary value, today, has nothing to do with Google. T.E.D.’s basic energy monitoring software shows you your energy consumption from your circuit breaker box to your web browser directly and shares that data with no one. It’s up to you to decide whether you’d also like to share you home’s energy data with Google. The data provided on T.E.D.’s interface is more valuable than Google’s representation of the same data since it’s real-time, so you can immediately see the impact of turning a light or appliance on/off. Over time, Google may be able to provide equally interesting data in the form of local benchmarks, but they’re no there today.

If you have any hesitation about using this service based on privacy concerns, don’t opt-in to the Google PowerMeter service after installing the software. You’ll get all the benefits with none of the privacy concerns related to pushing your home’s energy consumption stats to Google.

As of now, they’re still back-ordered (the model I have is the TED 5000), but it looks like Amazon may carry it once they’ve caught up with demand.

10 Ways Google Could Use PowerMeter Data for Advertising

Jamie Thingelstad raised what is likely a common privacy concern regarding Google’s PowerMeter service in the comments of my previous post:

Knowing someone uses 2x the “neighborhood” average of electricity would be a great targeting opportunity. For whatever reason, I find that data crossing a boundary that makes me a little nervous. I don’t know why, just reacting to my gut. Perhaps in a year I wouldn’t care.

This caused me to ponder different ways that one could target advertising based on having access to precise power usage data (hour by hour or even more precise). Here are a few things that came to mind that one may be able to glean from the data:

1. Job changes. Do lights suddenly stop turning on at their regularly scheduled time? Are people suddenly sleeping in?

2. Growing family. Do lights suddenly start coming on at all hours of the night?

3. Home improvement. Are power tools being used?

4. Vacations. Did they just come back from a week on the road? They may need groceries.

5. Divorce. Has dinner’s power consumption switched to reheating pizza slices?

Dining Out on Google PowerMeter

6. Restaurant Junkies. How many times do you need to see this after-work pattern before you start adjusting your advertising to suit this crowd?

7. New TV. That plasma draws some serious power. Better ramp up the ads for Blue-Ray players.

8. College kid returns. Dang, that’s a lot of laundry all of a sudden.

9. Party thrower. Look at those weekend night spikes.

10. Frugality. This person will likely respond well to value based advertising. Ramp up the Consumer Reports ads.

Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with Google serving more relevant advertising to me based on factors such as those above that they should have no problem gleaning from the data they’re collecting. It has the potential of turning advertising into something I’d actually value. It’s good for me and good for advertisers if they can reach me when I’m actually in a position to care. Wouldn’t Pampers prefer to advertise to new parents rather than buy ads that reach an audience that’s only 10% in-market at most?

In some cases, there may need to be a balance of advertising vs. value. If I don’t feel like I’m getting enough value in return for sharing my data with Google, I may choose to opt-out of their program while continuing to use the meter within my own home. The PowerMeter service from T.E.D. is quite valuable with or without Google at this point. In fact, I get real-time rather than incremental data if I view it through T.E.D.’s footprints interface rather than Google PowerMeter. So far, the only advantage of PowerMeter is being able to see what’s happening in my home while I’m gone in 30 minute increments (which I can also see when I’m at home and in a position to do something based on the data).

My hope is that the service achieves a few things such as providing better insight into how I use power, helps me figure out how to conserve energy, and helps others conserve energy based on what I contribute to benchmarks. If the service also generates more relevant advertising that helps publishers make a buck or two off my eyeballs, that seems like a fair trade.

To be clear, I have no idea if Google plans to target ads based on any of the profiles mentioned above. As Jamie pointed out, it’s not clear what Google’s plans are for the data they’re gathering. I have no doubt that they’re capable of profiling people like that and serving increasingly relevant ads based on those profiles, but that doesn’t mean they actually will. For example, Google’s probably capable of profiling gambling addicts and could serve gambling related ads to those users across the web no matter what they searches for since gambling ads are so lucrative, but I’ve never heard of them doing such a thing.

It looks like Amazon will be carrying the PowerMeter from T.E.D. once they’ve caught up with demand.

Making the Most out of Google Preferred Sites

Google is in the process of rolling out a new feature called “Preferred Sites” that lets web users customize their search results by proactively telling Google that they consider certain websites valuable.

Assuming this takes off – or even if it’s a marginal success – it seems pretty clear that website owners will benefit from getting their website visitors to add their website as a preferred website. Backing up from there, the first step is to create quality content that someone would consider worthy of inclusion among their preferred site listings.

Proactively soliciting preferred site inclusion may lead to more appearance of your site on Google search results where you have relevant content. For example, if you’ve added TechnologyEvangelist.com to your list of preferred sites, then run a search on a topic that I’ve previously blogged about, you may have a better chance of finding my take on the topic.

Click “preference”s near the search box on a Google search results page (while logged into your Google account) to see if the feature has been turned on for you.

Increasing Google AdSense Revenue per Visitor

I like playing around with the stats of online ad programs to figure out how to maximize revenues. And why not? It’s a fun game with a financial reward.

For example, here’s a look at the growth in month by month traffic on The Deets over the past year alongside the growth in relative revenue from Google AdSense over the same time period. Notice that the red line is climbing at a faster rate than the blue line.

Visitors vs AdSense Earnings on The Deets

That means that I’m making more money per visitor than I was a year ago. Traffic is also increasing, so yes, I am making more money overall as well.

I think the biggest reason for the change has been avoiding serving AdSense ads to people who would rarely click on them, such as regular visitors or people visiting what Google would consider offensive content.

I control this using a WordPress plugin that was originally called Shylock AdSense but is now called, fittingly, WhyDoWork. If you’d like to increase your AdSense earnings, consider giving that plugin a try.

Google Improves Privacy. But What's the Cost?

Google announced yesterday that that made a change to how long they’ll associate a search with an IP address in order to better protect user’s privacy:

Another step to protect user privacy

We’ll anonymize IP addresses on our server logs after 9 months. We’re significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users.

Is this good?

What if I WANT Google to know more about me for longer? Now that they’ve dropped the time period to under a year, will I see less relevant results on searches I conduct annually?

For example, what I happen to like “Rose” wine, and like to purchase it for a friend’s birthday each February. Wouldn’t it be nice if Google knew I was looking for the wine and not the flower? By storing data for a year+ they may be able to do a better job with this.

See more on this here.

Owning Your Name on Search Results

What happens when someone searches for your name? Do they find you? Do they find other people by the same name?

There are obvious benefits to showing up when someone searches for you. Especially if the results on the page have nice things to say about you.

Here is a shot of the top-10 results on Google for my name as of today:

Ed Kohler on Google

Currently, I’m 10 for 10, meaning the Ed Kohler that shows up for each of the top-10 results is me. In fact, it looks like I’m the Ed Kohler that shows up in 89 of the first 100 results.

I spend more time than average on the web, and have a somewhat unique (but not entirely unique) name, so I tend to have a strong representation in search results.

But even if you don’t spend a ton of time online, there are some relatively simple things you can do to improve the percentage of top-10 search results you control for your own name.

1. Have a blog. And use your name on it.

2. Sign up and occasionally use social networking sites that have strong rankings like Twitter, Blip.tv, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Flickr.

3. Have a bio page on your company’s website.

4. Contribute comments to blogs that interest you.

5. Create a public profile on Amazon.

6. Create a video of yourself and distribute it to lots of video sites using TubeMogul.com.

7. Do things worth writing about.

If none of that works, just set a new record for Olympic gold medals.

Advanced Searches You Should Know How to Use

Here are a few advanced searches that are incredibly valuable:

1. “quoting phrases” will search for the words within the quote in only that order. This is especially valuable when searching for people.

2. Searching within a site: site:technologyevangelist.com twitter brings back pages from this site that include the term “twitter”

3. -negatives Throw a minus sign in front of a word to filter out results including that term. Say, you’re interested in the Olympics, but not gymnastics, diving, or equestrian. No problem: olympics -gymnastics -diving -equestrian

4. Top level domains: Want to find out what government agencies are saying about global warming? Try this: site:gov “global warming”

5. Google Alerts: Take searches that interest you and track them using Google Alerts. Whenever Google discovers something new on the web matching your search criteria they’ll email it to you.

What would you add?

Google – Let Me Click on My Site's Ads

Google came out with a post the other day clarifying different types of clicks they don’t charge advertisers for, when detected. They break down into two categories: fraudulent clicks and invalid ones. Frauduent clicks are generally defined as those there someone is motivated to click for financial gain while invalid ones are double clicks and other things of little value to the advertiser.

Below is Google’s examples of fraudulent clicks (emphasis mine).

Inside AdSense: Defining invalid clicks and click fraud

Click fraud is a subset of invalid clicks that are generated with malicious or fraudulent intent — in other words, clicks that are intended to drive up advertiser cost or publisher revenue artificially. Sources for these clicks include, but are not limited to:

A publisher clicking on his own ads, or encouraging clicks on his ads
-Users or family members clicking to support the site / publisher
– Third-party programs with user incentives, such as paid-to-click services and click-exchanges
– Automated clicking tools, robots, or other deceptive software

What blows my mind is that Google – to this day – does not offer a way for publishers to identify themselves to Google in a way that would allow them to click on ads on their own site without being considered a fraud. For example, I write articles on this site, and I spend a decent amount of time looking at the site in order to view comments, so I see the ads from Google that I’ve embedded in the site. Since Google’s ads are specifically targeted to the content I wrote, they often appear relevant to my interests. Yet clicking on them would be considered fraudulent by Google’s definition.

What I’d like to see is a way to let Google know that I’d like to click on ads on my own site that appear relevant to me. Don’t pay me for clicking on the ad. Decide for yourself my clicks are valuable enough to still charge the advertiser for a portion of the click. But don’t criminalize my behavior.