Google -- kill Google Plus but save G+ Communities.
Last March, Google discovered a bug that exposed around 500,000 Google Plus profiles. Only static, optional profile fields like name, email address, occupation, gender, and age were exposed -- no other information like post content, Community memberships, viewing history, etc.
They discovered and immediately patched the bug last March and spent six months investigating it before going public yesterday. They say their investigation found "no evidence that any developer was aware of the bug or abusing it" and "no evidence that any profile data was misused." In spite of their assurance that no harm was done, Google stock dropped 2.6% last Thursday morning, when the news may have leaked out, and it is down about 4% for the last five days.
In the same post as they announced the bug, they announced they would "sunsetting" the consumer (free) version of Google Plus (but not the paid, enterprise version). Google or any other company has the right to discontinue an unprofitable product or service and, as they point out in their post, the "social network" portion of Google Plus was a failure, but there is more to Google Plus than social networking.
I quit reading my Google Plus feed long ago -- it was filled with spam and fake news based on my (faked) political interests, but I have found Google Plus Communities to be valuable and useful. While Google could not compete with Facebook's social networking feed, the features and interface of their Communities are superior to Facebook Groups. (Even if you like Facebook Groups, there is no way to transfer the members and history of a Google Plus Community to a Facebook Group).
Google should save Google Plus communities. There is a precedent for such a move. When it was launched, Google Plus included a service called Hangouts on Air (HoA). HoA enables video "chats" among up to ten people. That is not unique, but the chats can optionally be broadcast online and archived on YouTube. HoA was and remains a unique, valuable service that I and many others use. In 2016, Google removed HoA from Google Plus and integrated it into YouTube so it will not be affected by the elimination of Google Plus.
The decision to zap Google Plus provides a good example of the danger of dependency. There is an Internet saying -- "do what you do best and link to the rest." That makes sense and it has facilitated the rapid proliferation of Internet-based services, but it also leaves one vulnerable. The cost of using a service you depend upon may rise or one day or, like Google Plus, it may disappear.
I use HoA and Communities in my teaching and other professional work. Google saved me when they moved HoA out of Google Plus and I hope they do the same with Communities.
In his talk, Díaz-Canel announced that four Cuban organizations -- the Havana City Historian’s Office, the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), Infomed, Cuba's medical network, and the Ministry of Culture had signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Google.
The Granma article on the talk (English, Spanish) did not say what the topics of those memoranda were, but Lorena Cantó of Agencia EFE told me she thinks the MOU with the Havana Historian's Office will have something to do with Havana's 500th anniversary and she reminded me of Google's previous multimedia tribute to José Martí.
Canto also suggested that Google might be giving UCI access to Google Code and other tools. That would be cool, but involving them in an undersea cable project would be even better. Last June Senator Jeff Flake said Google was close to reaching an agreement with the Cuban government on a submarine cable, presumably from Havana to Florida. That would be of significant benefit to Cuba since their current fiber backbone connects to a cable landing point at the east end of the island, far from Havana and other populated areas. A second cable would improve performance today and reduce the future need for backbone infrastructure.
What about the MOU with Infomed? Cuba has focused on medical research, training, and practice since the time of the revolution and Infomed, their medical network, predates Cuba's connection to the Internet. Could Google be offering hosting service or high-speed connectivity to Infomed? That would not only benefit Cubans but would facilitate access to Infomed's research, databases, and community from all Spanish-speaking and developing nations. An augmented Infomed could also be a valuable medical education resource.
Finally, might the MOU with the Ministry of Culture call for Google to establish a YouTube production space in Havana? It would be close to the US and a natural place for Cuban artists, filmmakers and musicians to produce content for the Spanish speaking world. (They currently have YouTube Spaces in ten cities, none of which is in a Spanish-speaking country).
Here is a look inside Google's Los Angeles production studio:
This post has been 100% speculative -- we'll have to wait to see what these four MOUs call for.
Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel's meeting with tech company executives
Who was at the meeting, who wasn't at the meeting and who else should the Cubans meet with?
While Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel was in New York to address the United Nations, he met with members of Congress and executives from the agriculture, travel and information and communication technology (ICT) industries. The ICT meeting was at Google's New York office and ten other companies attended. In addition to Díaz-Canel the Cuban ministers of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and Communications were at the meeting.
Since the only report I have seen of the meeting was a short article in Granma (Spanish), I don't know what was discussed or decided -- I can only guess.
The following is a list of the companies at the meeting with a little speculation.
Google: Perhaps they talked about their latest, rumored, unspecified deal to expand Internet access in Cuba. Another possibility would be bringing their African broadband infrastructure company CSquared (begun as Google Project Link) to Cuba.
VaynerMedia: I'd not heard of them, but they seem to be an Internet-savvy PR agency that has done work for many companies, including Google. Perhaps they would like to promote Cuban tourism, ICT or biotech companies or Cuban offshore development services. Or, they might be interested in a Cuban production facility. (Google has production spaces in ten cities -- how about Havana)?
Mapbox: I bet this map of Cuba uses their geographic information system tools. Perhaps they will develop something for the Cuban tourism industry?
McKinsey and Company: They might be looking for a strategic ICT planning engagement. (Others will work for less -- see below).
Virgin Group: This is a capital investment company with experience in travel, telecommunication, media and other areas where Cuba has both needs and assets -- might they invest in Cuba, S. A.?
AirBnB: They are already doing a robust business in Cuba by providing a good deal for both Cuban renters and tourists. (I wonder whether Trump's clamp-down on tourism has hurt them).
Revolution: I assume this is Revolution Ventures. If so, they may be interested in investing in Cuban startups.
Twitter: Cubans already use Twitter -- what more can they be thinking of?
Microsoft: Pirated Microsoft software is common in Cuba -- might they be talking about some sort of licensing or royalty agreement in return for support? (I recall long ago visiting a government-run storefront where you could bring floppy disks and order copies of all major US software, including Microsoft's). Microsoft might also be looking for tech employees, offshoring or opening a Cuban development center.
Bloomberg: Did they attend as financially-oriented journalists?
Cresta AI: might they be looking for developers or to build intelligent applications?
Those were the attendees. Who not there?
I was relieved to notice that none of the large US wireless or wireline ISPs were at the meeting. I would not want to wish my experience with Verizon and Spectrum on Cubans.
I was surprised that Cisco did not participate. Cisco supplied Cuban networking infrastructure in the early days of the Internet, but Huawei has replaced them today. Still, Cisco is the only US ICT company I can think of besides Google that has made the effort to build relationships in today's Cuba, enabling them to begin offering their Cisco Networking Academy training at the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas. Cisco-trained students may be willing to purchase their equipment once in the workforce.
I was also surprised that no one from ETECSA was there, although there may have been ETECSA representatives seated in the periphery of the room behind the conference table as is often the case in such meetings.
Finally, who was not there that I would advise Díaz-Canel and Cuban ICT decision makers meet with?
I would urge the Cubans to consider a broad set of advisers and collaborators as they plan the future of their Internet, for example:
Organizations like the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations Development Program and the Internet Society, which have expertise in networking in developing nations, national broadband planning, regulation, and policy. Cuba needs to consider next-generation infrastructure ownership and regulatory alternatives as well as next-generation technology.
ICT ministries of nations like Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information, which has been an ICT planning leader for many years.
Municipal networking experts like The Baller Group and a representative of Stockholm's successful municipal network AB Stokab.
Representatives of citizen networks like Havana's SNET and Spain's Guifi.net. Cubans are well educated and have a culture and tradition of innovation and self-sufficiency (thanks in part to the US embargo). SNET (and El Paquete Semanal) are providing much of what people use the Internet for. Might ETECSA look upon these organizations as collaborators (or customers) rather than extra-legal competitors?
To keep the technology and policy experts honest, I would also include some people concerned with the social impact of the Internet, for example, Yuval Noah Harari, Zeynep Tufekci and Elon Musk.
Don't get me wrong -- I think meeting and establishing relationships with companies from the US and other nations is a positive step for the Cubans, but I hope they broaden their contacts and meet with an eclectic group of people and organizations thinking about long-range planning for leapfrogging to future technologies as well as stopgap interim measures like WiFi hotspots, home DSL and 3 and 4G mobile connectivity. One can imagine a most interesting Cuban Internet-advisory committee.
===== Update 10/12/2018
For a Spanish language translation of this post, click here.
The rapid spread of the news of this unannounced test and the existence of a Cuban hacker culture born of years of keeping old cars and everything else running in spite of poverty and the trade embargo attest to a pent-up demand for connectivity.
The news ran like incendiary gunpowder on the Island. Hundreds of thousands of ETECSA customers trying to get access to IMO, to Facebook to Google while walking down Calle 23, the Malecón or from P2.
However, he went on to describe slow (.5 Mbps) unreliable service.
Is the cup half full or half empty?
The signs are not promising. Tourists and some officials and journalists have had 3G Internet access for some time, but the speed and reliability have been underwhelming. Now ETECSA says they will provide nationwide service to anyone with a compatible phone by the end of the year. Have they the capacity to handle the volume?
Upgrading a base station from 2 to 3G requires both new equipment and a faster link between the base station and the Internet -- a large investment will be needed to upgrade all 1,400 base stations.
They say there are over 5 million mobile customers in Cuba, but how many of them have 3G-compatible phones? ETECSA will sell a lot of new phones when 3G service becomes available.
Okay -- enough with the half-empty news. Let's assume that ETECSA eventually installs the infrastructure to provide 3G mobile connectivity at an affordable price in the most populated areas in Cuba and they have the capacity to meet the 1-3 Mbps speed alluded to on their Web site.
Would that constitute a half-full glass?
Not really. Mobile connectivity at speeds of 1-3 Mbps is obsolete -- too slow for today's modern Web sites, which are designed with faster speeds in mind. The speed mismatch is exacerbated by the relatively low speed of the phones that are affordable in Cuba. A slow phone with a slow connection is useful for consuming and sharing content, but not for creating it.
I've discussed the possibility of differential pricing and government policy encouraging Cubans to use their national intranet rather than the global Internet in previous posts and that plus the inability to run modern Web applications will encourage the formation of a Cuban walled garden.
Before he became Cuba's president, Miguel Díaz-Canel hinted at a walled garden strategy when he addressed the Parliament saying "We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online," adding that Cubans could thus "counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content." I can't argue about banal and vulgar content (and worse), but the cure of a walled garden in a nation with a government-monopoly Internet service provider is worse than the disease.
I'm willing to credit the forthcoming 3G rollout as a half-full glass if the Cubans regard it as a temporary stopgap while they plan for a truly modern Internet with the goal of providing affordable, next-generation connectivity to the Global Internet. I'd call it 3/4-full if they'd commit to making 3G mobile connectivity free in the long run.
ETECSA, Cuba's monopoly ISP, has been running free tests of their forthcoming mobile access. It seems that the latest test is over for now, but Andy Garcia (@Dancuba96) ran a speed test before it ended:
ETECSA has not announced when commercial 3G service will commence, where it will be available at first and what it will cost, but the following image at the start of the @ETECSA_Cuba Twitter page suggests that service will begin soon and they are serious about mobile Internet access.
One to three Mbps connectivity using a mobile device is fine for consuming and sharing content, but not for content creation. I hope Cuba regards 3G as an interim, stopgap measure and they are planning to leapfrog over today's technology to roll out next-generation technology when it and they are ready. For example, one can imagine Cuba jumping from 3G to 5G community networks.
Cuban 3G access is a positive step -- it will scale better than their current WiFi hotspots and navigation rooms -- and be more convenient, but the prices may favor access to the Cuban national intranet over access to the global Internet, creating a "walled garden" with all of its shortcomings.
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