Monday, 15 October 2007

Blogger Play: fun, but secretly evil?






Blogger Buzz previously announced the release of Blogger Play, a slideshow of images recently uploaded by users of Google's Blogger, and have now made available a Blogger Play Google Gadget to add to your iGoogle home page (and also to your blog), and introduced some keyboard shortcuts too.

You can visit the Blogger Play webpage to see the slideshow or photostream, which apparently the Google team themselves have open permanently on big screen.

One of first my thoughts was, had Google considered converting that photo stream into a feed for Google Pack's screensaver - indeed had they used that technology for Play? Great opportunity for integrating Google services there. But then I wondered about aspects like bandwidth, copyright and privacy, which I'll come to.

Blogger Play - Pros

It's a fun time-waster. The constantly changing nature of the display of random pics certainly helps in this age of short attention spans, and there's a certain fascination with seeing photos by total strangers march across your screen, perhaps in the same way as it's fascinating to search for music by singing into your computer's mic and playing back total strangers' attempts at singing popular songs on midomi.

Blogger Play can also help bloggers publicise their blogs. Clicking on a particular image that grabs your interest takes you to the blog post it came from, where you can read what the blogger wrote. So you may get readers who might otherwise not have encountered your blog, and who knows, maybe they'll decide to stick around and even subscribe.

Blogger Play - Cons

Bandwidth

But it's also a bandwidth waster for us consumers and Net users who are on metered packages. Blogger Play eats bandwidth like nobody's business. When I first tried Play, I noticed constant Net activity when my browser was open on Play, so I opened Netmeter and, looking at the average change in totals, which I timed on a few occasions, it was using up about 2MB of my capacity per minute. That means that if I had it on in the background for 7 or 8 hours a day, I could get through my 8GB monthly allowance in 2 weeks, just on Blogger Play alone! The Blogger Play FAQ also confirms that "on a fast setting, Blogger Play can download as much as 200MB an hour", so that's about a gig in 5 hours - a month's bandwidth allowance in a week or less, for me!

I'm not sure if Google can do anything about that - is it somehow downloading the full size photograph or picture in the background instead of a reduced version, and if so why can't Google tweak it to download a smaller sized version to display? I really think they should do that if they can.

If you're on a limited bandwidth per month package like I am, you really ought to watch it. Just leaving a web page open on Play may be enough to churn through your monthly allowance in hardly any time at all. I've also noticed that the Buzz blog now has the Play gadget in its sidebar. If I leave my browser open on Buzz, that is also eating through about just over 0.3MB per minute on average, which is still using up 18MB an hour, or 1 GB in about 2 and a half days. I wonder if it's running through bandwidth allowance at about the same rate if you have Play on your iGoogle home page too (I've not tried it). It's all very well for the Google team, they no doubt have unlimited bandwidth to play with, but it's just not the same for the rest of us mere mortals in the real world!

In other words, I have now stopped using Play, except for very short periods at a time, and I no longer leave a browser page open on Buzz as I used to as standard. It's the same with any blog that displays the Blogger Play widget - I may skim it quickly but I'm going to leave that blog fast in order to save my bandwidth (so having Play in your sidebar may be a visitor killer in time, in my view). If you're a blogger I would ask, pretty please, be good to your readers and don't have Play in your sidebar, because many of them may be on limited bandwidth packages (or even worse for them, dialup access rather than broadband).

Privacy and copyright

There are surely also issues about privacy, copyright, draft posts etc. I upload pics to my blog in order to use them in my posts. I expect people will see them when they're reading the published blog post. But I have lots of draft posts on the go at the same time, 20-30 usually. I'm not sure I like the idea of people seeing my uploaded images till I've finished the post and am ready for the world to view them. However, to me it's not entirely clear whether Play only includes pictures from published posts, or any images uploaded to Blogger, even to draft posts.

I'm hoping it's only pics from published posts, as if you click on a photo in Play it takes you to the post it came from - but maybe I just haven't clicked on a pic from a draft post yet. It shouldn't take you to a private draft post for sure, for privacy, security and other reasons, so hopefully that means Blogger are only drawing on published images (if you'll forgive the mild pun) for Play. Does anyone know?

There's also the copyright aspect. I don't think copyright law has kept up with technology (see e.g. my post on the complicated position on using music in your YouTube videos), and there still are too many uncertainties. If you publish a blog post with your uploaded photographs, I think it's clear that you have at least given implicit permission for people to view the photos on their own computers when reading the blog post. But surely that doesn't mean that you knew or expected that your pics would be taken and used for things like Play? There's a similar privacy angle too, e.g. as one user put it (who wasn't comfortable with the idea of their children's photos being on someone else's blog or gadget), do most people even realise that their uploaded photos could get shown on someone else's blog or iGoogle page?

I'm no copyright expert and this isn't legal advice, but I wondered about it. And, looking at the Blogger TOS (terms of service), I see that it says in item 6 that "By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services." Which is interesting.

I never knew that uploading anything for public use on any Google service means Google can use it on any other Google service they like. Did you? That seems very broad. Does it mean they really can do what they like with our pics and text? Could they put up advertising on Play and not give bloggers who uploaded pics any cut? Could they even take our blog text content and distribute it via a new Google aggregator service, charge for it or run ads, and not pay us a penny for it ("royalty-free", innit)? Is there a copyright expert in the house...? But I digress.

Back to Play, yes, I know Blogger say in their FAQ that you can opt out of having your pics on Play. But that's a bit like direct marketers saying "Ah, but you can always opt out". What's more (and what's worse), the only way you can opt out of having your images on Play is to completely remove your blog from Blogger's listings. Which will also stop your blog from being indexed on Google, and reduce your blog's profile, visibility and visitors. That "all or nothing" approach hardly seems fair, does it? And perhaps even a bit dictatorial. I think it's only a slight exaggeration to suggest that it's like saying you can opt out of receiving marketing emails if you agree to cut off your email access altogether, because publicity and search engine indexing are the lifeblood of many blogs. Personally, I think Blogger should provide a way for people to opt out of having their pics displayed on Play without having to lose out on the search engine and visibility front. And I'd like some clarity on the draft posts issues too.

I am generally a huge Google and Blogger fan. But as you can tell, for a number of reasons, I don't like Play as it currently is. It's fun and interesting, yes. Maybe most people won't mind or care if their pics are used on Play. But why not be non-evil and play nice with Blogger users by making very very sure they appreciate that their children's pics are liable to be displayed on some random stranger's blog or iGoogle page and by providing a rather less drastic opt out option, and why not be kind to Play users by warning them very clearly that Play chomps through bandwidth, or alternatively make it a less bandwidth-hungry service?

(Yes I should be doing an environmental post as it's Blog Action Day. But I am doing my bit for the environment. I'm saving energy as well as Net capacity by not having Play on all the time!)

1 comment:

passing by... said...

hi
nice article. i know its pretty well... old ;) but i thought id let you know anyway (might help you know). Removing your blog from the listing doesnt actually remove your blog from search results anywhere. Thats another thing (this is actually mentioned on the faq) called 'allow search' or something like that.

oh what the hell
ill just quote it ;)

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The Add your blog to our listings? setting determines whether or not your blog will be linked to from Blogger.com - more specifically, the Blogger home page, Blogger Play, and Next Blog. If you select "No" your blog will not appear in these places, but it will still be available on the Internet. This blog will still be displayed on your profile unless you hide it by going here and unchecking the relevant box.

The Let search engines find your blog? setting determines whether or not your blog will be included in Google Blog Search and if it will ping Weblogs.com. If you select "No", everyone can still view your blog but search engines will be instructed not to crawl it.

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cheers !