Fearing Change

Image via Flickr User busy.pochi

The Internet is, perhaps, the most progressive medium for self-expression, political discussion, commerce, and intellectual discourse that we have. And yet, despite this, there is a deep-seated and pervasive sense of conservative (sans political connotations) fear apparent in technology writing today. A fear born out of the misguided vision that the Internet - and all of the statutes and trends therein - would do well to remain developmentally stagnant for the benefit of the majority.

Just as the Internet lacks a sole governing body, it should not be bound and dictated by the fears of the few. The true brilliance of the Internet and its associative technology is the fact that there are no limits to its potential. Mistakes happen, perceptions of privacy shift, and the world changes - such is life. Latching onto a misguided vision of self-entitlement and self-righteous ethical superiority acts as a profoundly ignorant agent for the stifling and smothering of the Internet and its potential.

Be it the MPAA, the RIAA, or even a lowly blogger, there is a growing collection of people opposed to even the most harmless form of change and innovation, and it is becoming increasingly frustrating to observe.

Change is often difficult to comprehend and, indeed, for many, the world of technology we find ourselves in can be a frightening place when perceived in a certain light. Privacy invasions, dastardly developer plots, and companies monetizing you (you!), the user, for their own gain are perceived as prominent and wholly personal threats. For all the good a company or product does, there is now always someone detracting from it or taking personal issue with it. 

Many seem keen to forget that the technology we contend with in the consumer sphere is, and always has been, built with the goal of improving the human condition. You might take issue with the manner in which Google monetizes its many services but, when taken at face value, it's difficult to be excessively cruel. Google Reader and Documents, for instance, are tools designed to facilitate increased interaction, awareness and productivity. Google Search, although now tainted by a failing social network, redefined the way in which we look at the Internet. And yet, despite the company's services to our perception of the Internet, so many are quick to point the "evil" finger.

Whether you like it or not, technology and the Internet are both becoming fundamentally social and personal entities. Just as the computer graduated into the personal computer, the Internet is moving from a series of static pages and information outlets into an intricately interconnected web of people. The services that are powering such movement, therefore, unsurprisingly rely upon the people therein. Perhaps Google can see what you've searched for by default, Facebook can see your clicks, and Amazon can cater its product presentation to your needs, but is that really such a dangerous thing? Even if Google were to lapse into evil, what could such a corporation possibly do to hurt virtually all people that use the Internet in a truly actionable way? It's not like Eric Schmidt - the interesting fellow he is - will one day turn up in Mountain View, decide he wants my personal credit card details, pop into one of the server farms, and then run off to Amazon to buy some new films.

Google asked for a non-compulsory credit card when signing up for Gmail? Big deal. Google is expanding into payments and is providing a great deal of fantastic services for the end-user. Your personal information is a part of the machine that drives that service, but is that really such a profound evil? I doubt my mother sits awake at night worrying that some lifeless server has scraped a few keywords from her emails to deliver her an advertisement she will undoubtedly ignore. Neither should the intelligent Internet user.

The Internet - just like the world it has come to mirror - will change. The companies, products and services that comprise its backbone and dictate its usage paradigms will also change. Calling foul on each attempt to make a viable business, to improve services, or to further the Internet experiment appears unquestionably foolish. Furthermore, as an interconnected web of people, mistakes will be made. Some companies will exceed their bounds. Some initiatives will fail. But that is not to say that a mistake or one flawed idea should come to define a product or movement.

Google's Search Plus Your World initiative, for instance, is an example of a woefully flawed business plan. Not because of its reliance on my personal information, but because of its muddying of Google's otherwise fantastically accurate results. It is not a matter of privacy or intrusiveness, it is simply a misguided business decision on Google's part. One that - as Google+ inevitably falls in on itself like a poorly baked cake - will become null and void in due course. I've openly derided this business decision in the past and have suggested DuckDuckGo as an alternative. While I stand by this, I do not stand by the transition to DuckDuckGo as a means to escape privacy intrusions. Realistically speaking, how long is it before DuckDuckGo monetizes itself? How long is the privacy of your inconsequential searches sound and stable there? Leaving Google Search for an alternative will inevitably result in having to move to a further alternative and then another. 

My point is that there is a significant difference between dispassionately and critically examining a problem and fearfully hiding from a perceived change.

The ultimate key to the equation is that embracing change allows for a dialectic discussion between innovation and the status quo. Without this conversation, things cannot and simply will not improve for anyone. In that light, wedging one's head into the sand and swearing off anything different is absolutely pointless.

The world is a much better place once you snap out of an apprehensive and confused state - once you open the curtains and view the world for what it really is. Hiding under the covers and refusing to acknowledge anything beyond your desired state of affairs is cowardly, not constructive, and contributes absolutely nothing to the betterment of the situation.

Change isn't necessarily a bad thing, but fear of it certainly is.

(Image via Flickr)

"Adding a Custom DuckDuckGo Search Bar to Your Site"

Having rebuilt Ben Brooks' search functionality to use DuckDuckGo in favor of Google, Pat Dryburgh has shared his method on his personal blog. The implementation looks relatively straightforward, making it that much easier for people to try out DuckDuckGo.

Following my personal migration away from Google last week, I can report that I'm a largely satisfied convert. The !bang functionality is wonderful, and although search is a little slow, DuckDuckGo's privacy policy is difficult to beat. I'll report back in the coming weeks with some more detailed thoughts.

If you haven't tried DuckDuckGo out yet, like I said last week, give it a week or two. It's a worthwhile cause.

"DuckDuckWin"

Google has sacrificed its Search objectivity in favor of self-promotion and skewed pseudo-personalized results, and Ben Brooks has had enough. Ben writes:

If we want Google to stop jacking around our search results then we have to hit them where it hurts: search. That starts with people leaving Google search.

That’s what I am doing.

I wrote the following roughly just over a week ago:

Is it really [going to be] too long before we see articles cropping up touting the popularity of ditching Google? As difficult, impractical, and unrealistic as that might sound, I cannot think of another means for preserving the integrity and relevance of my interactions with the Internet.

Ben provides a great little guide for taking the first steps toward abandoning Google Search, but his information is constrained to LaunchBar and Safari. For me, despite its obvious ties to Google, Chrome is still the most practical browser.

Fortunately, you can easily set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine in Chrome. Simply go to DuckDuckGo.com (or the SSL encrypted version), click "Chrome" at the bottom of the page, and follow the brief instructions. Voila, DuckDuckGo is your default search provider.

Honestly, at the moment, DuckDuckGo doesn't quite hold up to Google Search for me (particularly since yesterday's introduction of the "Don't Be Evil" bookmarklet). But that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I don't want to rely on tenuous workarounds to retrieve accurate search results. Furthermore, without supporting alternative search providers like DuckDuckGo, how can we possibly expect them to reach feature parity with juggernauts like Google?

If you're perturbed by Google's extraordinarily flawed decision, I urge you to try out the alternatives. Use DuckDuckGo (or any other for that matter) for a week or so. Allow competitors to prove their viability and willingness to evolve in an increasingly anti-competitive market.

Google's distinct lack of a clear and concise privacy policy is deplorable, and until Google assumes accountability for its actions and privacy policies, I, like Ben, am willing to abandon their core service.

Rather than continuously tempting invasions of privacy, Google must embrace transparency. For an entity with such a high-level of access to our personal information, Google should, by all accounts, have an industry standard-setting privacy policy, certainly not a purposefully vague one. (For context, check out DuckDuckGo's extraordinarily straightforward privacy policy.) If Google can take such steps and clearly reassure its users of the integrity of their information, then Google will have made a case for its lack of "evil" in the marketplace. Otherwise, Google's actions have become irrefutably anti-competitive, invasive, and flawed, and that is simply unacceptable behavior.

As evidenced by the ease of implementation in Google's own browser, it doesn't take much to try out Google's competitors, so why not try out DuckDuckGo for a week or two? It's a worthwhile cause.