July 25th, 2016 by Oren Smilansky

As a writer whose work appears primarily on the Web, I carry around a vague insecurity about its permanence in the digital sphere. What if I woke up one day only to find that many of the pieces I’d worked so hard to put together had just disappeared from the sites that house them? It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility, given that with the right password or hack, a person could simply press the delete button and remove a piece of content for good, leaving virtually no trace of its existence.

The fear is worse now in light of what happened recently to Dennis Cooper, a writer far more established than I. Late in June, Cooper was trying to log into his Google Blogger account when he discovered that the company had removed and deactivated it. Cooper, who is the author of dozens of novels, plays, and poetry collections (some of them heavy on subversive subject matter), said he was sent a generic link informing him that the blog had been removed because he had violated the terms of agreement.

According to the Guardian, the site included some potentially offensive materials that might have raised some eyebrows. (The Web site noted that Cooper included a bimonthly feature in which he ran ads by escorts and highlighted their literary qualities.) In the month or so since the blog was removed, however, Cooper claims that Google hasn’t offered him an explanation, and this is despite his persistence in seeking answers, and considerable media attention from outlets such as the New Yorker and the Guardian, among others.

While it’s certainly possible that Cooper violated the terms (whether intentionally or unintentionally), I’d argue that Google at least owes him a more detailed explanation. He should also be granted access to the work he posted to the site under the assumption that it at least had some staying power. This way, he might be able to find his work a home elsewhere, where the terms of agreement are less strict.

And on the chance that Cooper’s work has been permanently erased, it would only be fair if Google compensated him in some way. (I’m no expert in the matter but I know that Google makes a profit through ads that are generated on high-traffic pages, and by all accounts Cooper was no slouch.) After all, blogging is in part what authors do for a living, and Cooper chose to do so on Google’s technology, placing his trust in a company that often boasts its reputation for integrity. It’s not just Cooper who was effected, either, but the many contributors to his site, which included various musicians, filmmakers, and other artists who also make a living by sharing their content.

Cooper may not be a paying customer of Google’s, but his falling out with the Internet giant has already translated into a loss of faith from various other people and businesses. The author has said he would sue if need be, and now that word has been spread, it wouldn’t be surprising if others abandoned Blogger.  

Perhaps none of this backlash is enough to cause Google any immediate harm, but it does reveal that even the mightiest companies have little room for error when it comes to violating a user’s trust.

July 22nd, 2016 by Leonard Klie

In its continuing efforts to take on Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM, which are all building intelligent capabilities into their public cloud platforms, Google this week expanded its intelligent cloud developer tools  with the launch of a new Cloud Natural Language API. The service is aimed at helping mobile app developers work with more natural language understanding.

Google Cloud Natural Language API reveals the structure and meaning of text through powerful machine learning models that can be used to extract information about people, places, events and much more mentioned in text documents, news articles, or blog posts.

Companies can use it to understand sentiment about their products on social media or parse intent from customer conversations happening in their call centers, messaging apps, email, chat, or social media by using entity detection and sentiment analysis

It’s an important move for Google. The other companies ad their developer partners and communities, are racing to come out with new applications built with intelligent capabilities, including intelligent assistants and chat bots.

Google’s new API can provide developers a wealth of information about a block of text, including the overall sentiment of the passage, its sentence structure, word choice, and more. The system can also identify the people, organizations, locations, events, and products being discussed in the content.

Google’s Cloud Natural Language API is now available in beta.

Google Cloud

Google is also integrating the Cloud Natural Language API with its other Cloud Platform developer offerings, including the Google Cloud Speech API, which transforms audio voice files into transcribed text so users can extract insights from them, the Vision API OCR so users can understand scanned documents, and Translate API so users can understand sentiments in multiple languages by translating the text.

By connecting all these APIs, Google hopes to enable developers to create apps that can both listen to a user’s voice and understand what he is saying.

Good luck with that! I’m still having trouble with it, and I’ve been at it a lot longer than Google has.

July 21st, 2016 by Sam Del Rowe

38 percent of customers start their shopping journeys on Amazon, while 35 percent choose to use a search engine, according to a study conducted by PowerReviews, a provider of ratings, reviews, and Q&A software. The study suggests that retailers can improve their performance and compete with Amazon by improving the visibility of ratings and reviews in search engine results.

Among shoppers who began their journey on Amazon, 79 percent cited variety of products as a key factor in doing so, while 64 percent cited free shipping and 62 percent cited better deals. Furthermore, 55 percent of customers who started their journeys on Amazon reported that the presence of a large volume of reviews as being important, and 99 percent said that they read the reviews on Amazon.

For shoppers who begin their journeys through a search engine, equal numbers—41 percent each—go to a retail site or to Amazon. According to the study, retailers should target these search-first customers by displaying star ratings and review information in search results. 45 percent of shoppers indicate that they will turn to a search engine if they encounter a lack of reviews, with 40 percent turning to Amazon and 20 percent to another brand or retailer.

“From the data, it’s clear that shoppers are already turning to retail sites in pursuit of a better user experience and are proving loyal to those that can deliver,” Matt Moog, CEO of PowerReviews, said in a statement. “Consumers want to make informed decisions and are turning to sources that provide rich user-generated content like ratings and reviews. Retailers can improve the shopping journey across channels by making ratings and reviews easily and equally accessible to online and in-store shoppers. For brands, these findings echo the importance of making your product information such as ratings and reviews accessible throughout the entire path to purchase, including Amazon, Google and retailer sites.”


July 18th, 2016 by Oren Smilansky

Forrester today released the findings from its 2016 Customer Experience (CX) Index, an annual measurement of how effective a company’s CX efforts are at driving customer loyalty. The results indicate slight improvements for firms across industries.

According to the report, 28 US brands gained five points or more this year. These outfits were scattered across 12 industries, in addition to the US federal government, where three agencies saw significant improvements. This comes in contrast to a report from Q3 of last year, when only seven companies showed noticeable improvements.

Further, the averages of five industries rose while only two dropped. Those who saw a boost include wireless service providers, retailers, hotels, internet service providers and government agencies. The direct banking and direct/discount brokerage industries showed a slight decrease.

The percentage of companies who scored “good” or “OK” also rose slightly, while scores labeled “excellent” stagnated. The majority (59%) of those brands included scored “OK,” while only only 1% ranked as “excellent,” suggesting that there is still ample space for growth across the board.

July 14th, 2016 by Sam Del Rowe

40 percent of marketers struggle to apply intelligence from behavioral and attitudinal data to create valuable content, according to a study conducted by Forrester on behalf of cognitive content generation platform Persado. Furthermore, although consumers generally rate brands’ ability to deliver personalized content poorly, just 28 percent of marketers surveyed are prioritizing improvements in personalization in the next year.

The study also revealed several other findings that indicate a disconnect between marketers’ actions and consumers’ expectations. Despite marketers struggling to effectively use behavioral and attitudinal data, 89 percent of those surveyed believe that they are excellent or very good at using this data to create compelling content based on insights and emotions.

Additionally, just 15 percent of consumers reported being satisfied with brands’ comprehension of the emotions that will drive them to engage. Furthermore, up to 58 percent of consumers rated brands’ overall ability to make their content engaging on an emotional level as poor, regardless of what channel the brand chooses to reach customers.

“The survey data confirms consumer demand for more personalized experiences, even as marketers struggle to create emotionally relevant content that consistently performs,” Alex Vratskides, Co-founder and CEO of Persado, said in a statement. Persado provides a platform that aims to assist marketers in generating personalized messages at scale.


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