Category Archives: Google

Google patent pulls personal data up from the crowd

dance club dancers

At SXSW this spring, Robert Scoble said the big news about wearable technology isn’t what it allows you to do (capture video via glasses or monitor health stats on your wrist) but rather the data it captures about you. Wearable tech is filled with sensors that watch what you do, where you go, and what you like. Google Glass, for instance, has a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetic field detector, light sensor, location sensors, touchpad, camera/video input, sound input, and sensor tracking your eye movements so you can wink to take a picture. Privacy advocates freak out over what large data companies could do with all of this information, since your hand motions, heartbeats and eye movements can signal, for instance, whether you are lying.

But what happens when all that new data helps companies monitor groups in a room?

Google has received a patent that would upload preference data from mobile devices to allow environments to personalize the media played for crowds in a given venue. The patent, titled sexily “Collaborative Rejection of Media for Physical Establishments,” would pull wireless signals from a group of people in a setting, such as a film screening, concert theater, or disco, and use either direct input from individuals or the history of user preferences to modify the media presented. If a group of country music fans from Tennessee walk into a New York City bar, the tunes could flip automatically to Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley. While the obvious use would be to customize music playlists in stores, restaurants or bars, this system could also tap the collective preferences of the group in a facility to tailor video content, ad messaging, even film plot lines. 

And not all votes would count. The most intriguing aspect of the Google patent is it recognizes that not all customers are created equal. In one scenario, “a customer having the premium status is afforded superior media file rejection.” If you’re walking next to an affluent businesswoman at an airport, a digital screen could size up both of you and flip to the ad message she is interested in, if she had greater financial value to the company pushing the message.

It’s an elegant concept, because it solves the problem of personalization in public spaces. When 20 people are in a room, it’s hard to know what image to push onto a screen or over the audio. If 3,000 people are at a concert, it’s cumbersome to interrupt them all to ask for feedback on the music set list. Now, Google can sort the media via monitoring signals from mobile gadgets (perhaps eye dilation or heart rhythms in the near future) to please the statistically most relevant people in the audience. And because all of this will be based on an invisible signal from all of your pockets, the implementation would not be as freaky as a large-screen ad retargeting only you, so consumers will be unlikely to rebel.

Cheers, mobile-device carriers. Soon at the bar, marketers will know all of your names.


Amazon and Google’s billion-dollar race to kill the mall

drone eerie

So news broke yesterday that Amazon has posted job listings for its much-derided drone delivery service. What seemed a few months ago like a futuristic whim may be getting traction, at least if you are a software engineer or communications professional willing to join “Amazon Air” in San Francisco. Soon, Amazon will be dropping packages you order from the sky within a half-hour of your click.

Same-day delivery, whether by airborne robots or regular trucks, is gathering steam. FedEx now offers same-day delivery in 50 states for packages under 150 pounds. A company called SameDayDelivery (.com) professes to specialize in the service, with 50,000 vehicles and air freight racing from coast to coast, although you have to fill out a lead form to get a price quote. And Google Shopping Express will nab you goods from REI, Toys R Us, or Staples, provided you live in San Francisco or a few other special urban areas.

While the press focuses on the cool factor of heli-robots, the real question is — what would all this do to brick-and-mortar retail? Crush it, of course. If same-day delivery scales, the nightmares of the first Internet bubble in which pet food companies worried about Internet disintermediation will become reality. Simply put, when you can click your way to a particular product and have it on your doorstep or office desk within minutes, why would you drive to the mall? Same-day shipping will reboot all the “channel conflict” challenges of the late 1990s.

Most retailers would secretly love to kill their stores

Channel conflict, at core, means any company faces an internal conflict if, say, it can sell a shirt for $50 at the mall and the same shirt for $50 online. Both shirts must have the same price point, to keep customers using both channels, mall and online web store. Companies selling shirts keep both stores and websites running, because they know customers want both. But the shirt at the mall may incur $20 in retail rent and overhead costs, while the shirt shipped to the home may eat up only $2 in shipping. That 90% cost difference means this shirt-maker would love to push more products through the web, and fewer through malls, creating a “conflict” within its competing delivery “channels.”

Yep, you guessed it. While most goods can be delivered more cheaply via Internet orders than store stocking, retailers keep the real stores open because consumers love to touch and feel goods in physical space … and Internet orders usually take 2-3 days, killing impulse purchases.

But same-day delivery? If you could go to any website now and get that new watch or dress in 30 minutes, wouldn’t you be tempted? This near-instantaneous consumption revolution will push huge traffic to online retailers, and cannibalize the old-fashioned stores at your local mall. As Internet retailers push same-day delivery, consumers will flock around the portals that can remember their preferences the best. It’s no wonder Amazon and Google are investing in tests of this type of same-day service. Huge retail dollars, and the preceding online search or other ad revenue, are at stake. Physical stores will never go away entirely, but even a moderate shift from brick-and-mortar to cyber-insta-delivery would put billions of dollars into the winners of flying robots and speeding trucks. In 2012, only 5.4% of all U.S. retail sales were made online. Imagine what Google or Amazon could make by doubling that.

If you thought buying pet food online was a silly 1999 Internet bubble concept, perhaps you just had to wait a few years.

SXSW observation: Prediction is the 5th stage of technology

tech hipster hand

As I watched a small heli-drone hover over a crowd outside the Austin Convention Center at SXSW, I thought: the evolution of technology will culminate not in gadgets, or data, or surveillance, but in predicting human behavior. This is not a moral declaration, but a statement of the inevitable. Like the five stages of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s structure for grieving, technology is passing through five intertwined steps of evolution:

1. Hardware came first — the wheel, the horse-and-buggy, the iPhone in your pocket, the physical “thing” that most people think of when they hear the word “technology.” Hard tools are human capacity expanders, from the leather shoes that allow us to run on hard surfaces to the mobile phones that connect us to the world. But hardware is only the bottom rung of technology’s ladder.

2. Software came second — the required knowledge system, in its broadest sense, to run any hardware. This includes human minds, as a construction worker must think to wield a hammer, and the programmable electronic strings that make tablets and DVRs run.

3. Sensors are third — defined as any input that collects data to drive hardware/software outputs. You must type into a typewriter to generate a letter. The gyro in your smartphone rotates its screen, keeping it vertical. Sensors are shrinking, dropping in cost, and rising in sophistication. Today, the Xbox can sense your location, motion and even heartbeat from across the room to run a video game. The Nest thermostat knows when you leave the home. Your iPhone dims the screen when you hold it close to your ear. Like the oblong telescreen built into Winston Smith’s 1984 wall, gadgets are watching you while you watch them, too. This has always been the case, as cars need gas pedals and steering wheels to be directed; sensors are simply, inevitably proliferating.

4. Data is next — any tool to work must input, collect, and store information to function. Note that data flows two ways, and as sensors/software/hardware scale in quantity and plummet in costs, the data that comes in from you will begin to outnumber anything that comes back out.

5. And prediction is final — because data will by necessity be used to predict behavior to make any tool more useful. People today — even tech leaders — often misunderstand technology to focus on gadgets or applications or data, which are “cool” and “new,” vs. the predictive knowledge all of these new systems combined will generate.

Because we hunger for our tools to provide more utility, and prediction is the fastest way for us to get what we want, prediction is where all of technology must lead.

How are observations proliferating?

On the SXSW stage, tech-trend observer Robert Scoble addressed how Google Glass, the little eyeglass gizmo with a screen/computer embedded on one side, is really a collection of sensors that observe you. “Glass,” he said, “is one of those products that you know is the future … and the real privacy problem is it is a sensor platform. It will know whether I’m sober or drunk. Will that data get sent to my employer, my insurance company, my wife? As these technologies shrink and disappear into our eyeglasses, our computer systems, Google will be watching what we think. And it is mind-blowing to think about the privacy problems of that.” 

Each day, people are already exposed to millions of interception points. At another SXSW presentation on UX Design, Alfred Lui of Seer Labs noted that the average U.S. consumer is interrupted 80 times a day by technology; by default, each system interruption may be backed by scores of hidden data observations. While designers focus on how to make the data around each technology bit helpful — “just being able to collect data does not make you useful,” Lui said, “you need to give data a purpose” — those growing interaction touch points create numerous ways any individual can be observed.

Why will all these observations morph into predictions?

Because forecasting action may be the highest utility of societal interaction. Governments (despite Snowden’s protestations and the associated debate around them) use data mining to predict and prevent terrorist threats, a societal benefit. 23andme, a genetics company that can test your profile based on a simple bit of saliva, is able to predict a person’s propensity to medical disease. The vendor floor at SXSW included headsup virtual-reality eyeglasses that monitor eye movements and a billboard display that tracked whether people walking by were men or women, young or old. Each of these inputs is used in its own way to monitor human behavior and predict something — a terror conspiracy, a health risk, what you will see, what digital ad you should be served. And marketers, the driving force that subsidizes almost all of today’s entertainment for consumers, will rush to collect new data threads that improve predictions that enable customized advertising matching desire with sale.

The sensors that watch us are shrinking and being built into every object. We will use these new gadgets to sense data that predicts our future. We will trade privacy for utility, if we find the exchange beneficial. As the great Kevin Kelly wrote in “What Technology Wants,” “progress is only half real. That is, material advances do occur, but they don’t mean very much. Only intangibles like meaningful happiness count.” In 5 years, your email will draft customized auto-replies in your own tone of voice, predicting what you would write when you’re out of the office based on your past emails. (Google has a patent on this.) In 15 years, you’ll get into a self-driving car that already knows where you want to go based on your daily habits. In 25 years, you may fall in love with a digital avatar that anticipates your every need.

Data exists to be observed; observations exist to form predictions; predictions are made because they improve happiness. Predictions are coming. It’s not an ethical debate. It’s an unstoppable technological evolution. We just can’t help ourselves.

Google patents a way to clone your mind

females in mirror

Imagine if software could automatically respond to a request using your own intellect while you were away on vacation. Not a, “thanks for your email, I’m out of the office.” But instead a detailed, “John, arg, mate, that’s a superb proposal, and I think the pink elephant-on-a-Mercedes is just the concept needed to win the account. Let’s do dinner at Emily’s next Thursday to nail this down!”

Two years ago we predicted in Businessweek that the convergence of three technologies — voice recognition, artificial intelligence simulation such as Siri, and social media datasets — would enable some savvy marketer to create an app that would simulate your personal response to any situation without you being there. Now, Google has patented a system for “automated generation of suggestions for personalized reactions” that does just this.

In essence, Google would pull data from all your social networks and email accounts to learn how you would respond, and then prepare detailed automatic replies for future events. Initially you would opt-in by clicking “approve” on the replies, but like email out-of-office notifications, eventually you could set your doppelgänger-intellect on autopilot. Mike Elgan over at Cult of Android suggests the most obvious application would be Google Glass (where responding via the eyeglass-frame computer is now cumbersome, and an expanded auto-reply would be most helpful), but other opportunities include managing waves of email without reading them or extending your social network persona while not really being there.

For instance, the Google patent notes,

“Many (people) use online social networking for both professional and personal uses. Each of these different types of use has its own unstated protocol for behavior. It is extremely important for the users to act in an adequate manner depending upon which social network on which they are operating. For example, it may be very important to say ‘congratulations’ to a friend when that friend announces that she/he has gotten a new job. This is a particular problem as many users subscribe to many social different social networks…”

The most startling aspect of Google’s system is it won’t just suggest replies, but also actions. Sure, you can set it to say “congratulations!” … but you could also have the system give your opinion, cast a vote on an initiative, or say go or no-go to a business decision. Add in voice simulation, such as that used by Roger Ebert after his throat cancer, and your persona could talk through your automatic replies.

As we wrote back in 2011, the social repercussions will be huge. Conference calls won’t require you being there — and the artificially intelligent version of you might even sound smarter. Or imagine a widow receiving a call from her deceased husband, in his own voice, opining on whether she should marry that new guy. Everyone could take actions without action, decide without thinking, and live long after they are dead. Google isn’t the only tech company chasing self-intelligent avatars; Apple has a patent that does exactly the same thing.

It’s heady stuff, this autonomous future. Yes, you may like Google’s self-driving cars. But do you want a self-driving you?

Why we fear Google Glass


We first saw Google Glass in March at SXSW. It was in the men’s room of the main conference hall, between the Elon Musk keynote and Al Gore’s onstage pitch for his new book, and as we stood in line a guy in jeans walked toward the urinals wearing Google’s new high-tech headset. Men around him twitched uncomfortably, one whispering, “dude, is that camera on?”

Glass, the tiny eyeframe-computer-screen-with-Internet-access-and-videocam set to go on sale by Christmas (the guys you see wearing it are app developers who won rights for early purchases), has won acclaim and scorn for its potential to revolutionize wearable technology. The tech is certainly hot: Glass projects a virtual image of a computer screen before your right eye, allowing a heads up display of whatever you wish to pull in from the Internet. Speak “OK Glass” and you can pull up subway directions, film your buddies, or do anything that an army of thousands of Glass app developers are now working on. No less a tech dignitary than Robert Scoble broke down the components and suggested Google could eventually sell the headsets for a few hundred bucks, giving smartphones radical new competition. Some analysts forecast Glass will sell 6 million units by 2016. Apple sold 6 million iPhones in its first five quarters. You can see where this is going.

The obvious dings on the Google frames are (a) they look ridiculous and (b) whoa, these could invade privacy fast. The look is certainly an adoption barrier; consumers have already rebelled against smartphone earbuds, and websites such as White Men Wearing Google Glass poke fun at the narcissistic selfies of early adopters. (If you want to delve into the psychology of this aversion, simply Google “The Uncanny Valley” to see our history of avoiding things that make humans look nonhuman.) And the privacy debate is not to be ignored. In early July, filmmaker Chris Barrett was watching fireworks in Wildwood, N.J., when he caught a fight and arrest on Google Glass. NPR reported that event could change journalism forever … but what happens if you are wearing Glass while speeding in your car? What if everything you do is recorded by yourself, or worse, by someone else without your awareness? So yes, geekiness and privacy fears might slow sales.

But that is not our worry. The real threat from Google glass is it, for the first time, has morphed humans into cyborgs with an always-on artificial view of the world. And that view will change everything.

Humans have been cyborgs for a long time, of course. In 1,600 B.C. the Mesopotamians discovered they could run faster on rocky hills if they strapped leather to their feet; since then, people have interwoven technology into their bodies until today we are half robots and don’t even realize it. Cooking pre-digests food for your stomach. Cars create rolling extensions of your legs. Clothing is a warm addition to your skin. The Internet acts as an extension of your memory. TV enhances the visuals of your eyes. Like crabs in shells, we are ensconced in a hard layer of technology that makes us more than fleshy humans are.

But Glass will change our view of the world, putting a floating screen before the images before us. The danger is humans may not be able to resist this higher-contrast view of reality. Marc Andreesen, founder of Netscape, has said Glass could give EMTs a heads-up display of every possible medical procedure to help save lives after car accidents … all good. But we could also have heads-up displays of people at business meetings with cue sheets of their bios, salaries, rankings, and suggested talking points. We could visit with our spouses while watching video of lovers overlaid in virtual space. We could go for hikes in nature and boost the saturation so the leaves look more green. The future envisioned by novelist Gary Shteyngart in “Super Sad True Love Story,” where anyone who walks into a bar can immediately see someone’s credit score and “fuckability index,” may soon be reality.

Wearable video screens will shift our worldview to whatever we want.

ABI Research, which monitors new technology, suggests seven types of wearable computing are coming: glasses like Glass, cameras, clothing, healthcare tech, sports activity monitors, 3D motion trackers, and watches. The glass devices may win because consumers are immensely attracted to video already. U.S. consumers currently watch 4 hours and 38 minutes of television daily. Add up all the other “screen time” including DVDs and games, and we spend 223 hours a month — time equal to 5.5 workweeks — spellbound by artificial visuals. Glass and its competitors, such as Vuzix and Kopin, will now put all that before our walking eyes.

For the first time, cyborg visuals will become the default view of the universe. Perhaps this new color-saturated, information rich, immediately shareable vision will enhance our communities and personal relationships.

Or instead, we might turn up the visuals of Facebook posts and iPhone messaging so bright that the real world around us fades completely.

The reason we fear Google Glass is it’s unlikely anyone will quell that temptation.


The computer design has left the building

Poor Apple. Hours after it announced a much-awaited smaller iPad (plus a sexier, thinner iMac), Wall Street pushed its stock down 3%, perhaps disenchanted at the relatively high iPad Mini price of $329. And now, a day later, Google is pushing ads for a radically new, svelte laptop that costs — gulp! — only $249. Google’s machine is a thing of beauty because — while perhaps not hinged aluminum that feels like an alien space probe in the hand — it works on cloud-based Google software, with nearly unlimited storage online, no need to backup files, and no worries about pesky viruses. It’s an advance over the prior Google Chromebook, which was clunkier and initially cost $499. It’s perhaps the perfect inexpensive gadget to give a 12-year-old for homework. And of course, it ties users into the Google content-and-search ecosystem.

All of this reminds me of a comment an analyst made on NPR in the late 1990s, during a news segment on Internet and e-commerce. When asked to predict the future of digital media, the analyst said, and I paraphrase: “You don’t walk into a room today and go, wow, this place is electrified! We just expect rooms to have wall outlets and light bulbs. In a few years, digital technology will be just like that — with connectivity everywhere.”

The cost of keyboards, glass screens and computer chips is falling so rapidly that soon marketers may give devices away as incentives to spend more time with their messages.

Oh, wait. Google just did.

The design that may keep the web alive

Is the web dying? And if so, will something else replace it?

Pew has a new report out that goes beyond the usual “99% of Americans use mobile phone” surveys to interview experts in digital media about whether the web is going away. For years now, you see, prognosticators such as Josh Bernoff and Chris Anderson have suggested the 1990s web browser interface is being killed by one-touch apps and a splintered gadget ecosystem.

Back in March 2010, I wrote in Businessweek that yes, Apple, Amazon and Google were deliberately selling iPads, Kindles and Droid phones that won’t talk to each other, so they can ensnare their users in content sales. I noted:

A battle looms, and it’s not about selling new gadgets — it’s about using devices to lock you into a content ecosystem. In an ironic evolution of the World Wide Web that once promised consistent access to all of the globe’s information, corporate giants are now striving to wall off sections of content and charge you for access.

So back to Pew’s report. There is huge evidence the “appification” trend will continue; by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices on the planet, 1.4 per human, and Apple and Google mobile audiences have downloaded 35 billion apps to date. Most damning toward the old web, Pew notes that by 2015 sales of smartphones and tablets will outpace those of computers by 4 to 1. It sounds like the web must fade, and that Steve Jobs was right when he compared computers to old dusty pickup trucks, once favored but now replaced by shiny new tablet wheels.


Something else is going on, something that may keep the web alive. If you’ve played with Google+ or Twitter recently, you’re seeing fluid interfaces that must make Microsoft’s software dev teams uncomfortable. Web page designs are morphing into app-like ease. Apple’s latest operating system captures swooping trackpad gestures that merge computers with tablet UX. Microsoft is launching a new OS that combines old Windows folder hierarchies with tablet touch features.

Software and web windows and one-touch apps are becoming all the same thing.

Paul Gardner-Stephen, a telecommunications fellow at Flinders University, told Pew that “HTML5 and other technologies will continue to blur the line between web and app, until the average end user would have difficulty assessing the meaning of this question.” William Schrader, founder of PSINet, said something even smarter — that apps eventually will recognize screen size and slide into large or small formats accordingly.

But the biggest idea for a web that survives came from Harvard professor Susan Crawford, who noted “apps are like cable channels — closed, proprietary, and cleaned up experiences … I don’t want the world of the web to end like this.” Consumers may rebel when they realize they can’t play Flash video on Apple mobile devices because Apple wants to sell them videos its own way.

We can already see signs that the closed app world is reopening. Amazon offers a free Kindle app on Apple iPads, and Apple accepts the app because the utility of allowing the huge Amazon giant in outweighs the dissatisfaction of grumpy tablet consumers blocked from buying readable books.

Apps may be forced to open up, because open systems create better experiences for consumers, and that stimulates demand.

If you step back, today’s closed system designs are pretty gnarly. Twitter redesigns itself constantly, and it’s a mess. (Great, this week you type your tweets into the left side of the layout!) Every app unfolds with different visual standards. Dan Lyons, the brilliant mind behind Fake Steve Jobs, once wrote in a post called “Does nobody care that Facebook looks like ass?” that “I look at Facebook and I feel the way I imagine I.M. Pei must feel when he looks at some giant public housing project. You just sit there going, Why? Why do this? Why make it so ugly when just for a tiny bit more effort you could make it, if not beautiful, at least not horrific?”

Walled gardens and poor UX designs are inefficient. Inefficiency is the signal for competitors to do something new to gain business. So in the deepest of ironies, the profit motive will keep the web open and alive. Something new will emerge, and it will look a bit like the old web and somewhat like a polished app. It will fluidly fill screens of all sizes. And it will be beautiful, because the ugly competitive forces of our world demand it.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Linda Cronin

Why Google+ should carry advertising

It’s curious how gun-shy digital networks are about running advertising. Facebook famously held off on traditional banners, inventing its own not-so-intrusive tiny promos at the side, and now Google+ insists it will skip ads. The most amazing restraint I see is the Facebook mobile app — imagine, with 350 million active FB users staring into smartphones, and Facebook holds off on monetizing that audience.

All of this indicates that consumers now hate advertising — why skip ads unless you’re worried it will degrade your networked product? Advertising works, of course (we plan it for clients), and traditional television media that carries advertising still remains king, with consumers watching 4 hours and 44 minutes of television a day on average in the U.S. But “watching” is an overstatement; studies by Nielsen and Pew show consumers actually do two or three things at once with TV or radio on in the background. In-home observations show that when TV spots appear, consumers pick up laptops, handsets or magazines, and attentiveness slides. Put another way, the typical consumer is exposed to about 160 30-second TV spots a day, and of course none of us really “see” or recall most of them. The radio industry has the same problem; data from new Portable People Meters, which replace the old diary journals to tabulate radio ratings by picking up signals embedded in broadcasts, show people tend to switch the radio dial as soon as radio spots intrude.

So new communication networks, trying to gain mindshare in this cluttered space of media options, are very careful not to diminish UX with advertising — almost comically so. Twitter could easily push ads into its stream (and is just starting to roll this out), but has been scared to death that degrading the Twitterer experience might chase users out of its network. G+ could easily provide personalized sponsored links at the right of its pages, but for now, says it will hold off.

Why the fear?
Advertising works; it educates consumers and drives billions into the economy. But at heart, consumers find it a pain in the ass and are migrating to new channels that avoid it. The danger I see is if marketers cannot influence you by clearly putting their messages in an ad box, they will try more nefarious routes of embedding the message into other content — sponsored tweets, paid posts, advertorial — that degrades the actual content we hunger for itself. You’re starting to see this with top bloggers bragging about Kmart shopping experiences or GPS gadgets that actually pay them for mention, and the result is confusion. Is the message true? Doe someone I respect like that product? Or is someone just putting their self interest ahead of mine, giving me a message that may not have meaning? The value of advertising is it clarifies the source of the message, allowing consumers to clearly judge the content by knowing it is meant to influence. A catalog is selling you; you know that; so you look and judge the material by its source merits. Alas, if marketers and people can no longer be clear about their intent to influence you, they may resort to trickery, subterfuge, embedded lies, and that form of pollution may degrade our experience far more than little ad boxes at the side of the stream.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Originally posted on G+. Image by Jesse S.

Bing bids on Google for Cain’s traffic. Clever.

This is interesting for those who work in digital advertising. The Bing search engine is running a PPC campaign on Google search tonight bidding on the term “999 plan” — sure to be hot during tonight’s GOP debate telecast on CNN — throwing the Google searcher to a Bing search results page. I hit it myself trying to find details on Google for Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan and … yes … was impressed with Bing’s comprehensive results.

Well played, Bing. Microsoft, like Herman Cain, tonight you are showing balls.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Google+ and the bridges of Königsberg

Brand strategist Gunther Sonnenfeld brought up a classic mental puzzle this week. Look at the bridges above; now, find a walking path through the city that crosses each bridge only once. This is an actual map of the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad in Russia), and the problem vexed mathematicians until Leonhard Euler solved it in 1735, doing this:

The answer was “no,” you can’t cross each bridge only once. Euler showed if you reduce the problem to a simple graph, with dots or nodes representing the land and the lines the bridges, you can mathematically determine that every entry into a bridge is canceled out by an equal exit (+1 then -1), so the number of bridges touching a landmass must be even for a walker to get on and off (because, if you can only cross a bridge once, the +1 and -1 entry and exit effectively vaporize that bridge behind you when you are done crossing it). Since all possible land connections in the Königsberg map end up odd, not even bridge links, trotting across each bridge only once is impossible.

Sonnenfeld suggests this logic scenario is like Google+ creating better standards for sharing information (crossing bridges, if you will, represents the links between our human nodes). We agree. At first, we’ve been annoyed by the hoopla over Google+ and the constant posts over there about how great this or that feature is. But now, we’ve realized Google has solved a simple problem:

1. People like social media because they can pause, reflect, and think more deeply before sharing. The few seconds it takes to write something allows us to compose our thoughts more cleverly, funnily, or wisely.

2. Yet all this typing and passing of links, photos and videos creates enormous information clutter.

3. So we all need better filters. We want to share more, and yet ironically need to consume less.

Google+ has solved our mental “sharing path” problem by simplifying our bridges, and helping us filter out the city-like noise. This new solution may not stick; all communication networks eventually grow, attract spammers and silliness and eventually a tide of data pollution that causes users to move on to the next new thing. We’ve seen this with fax machines (remember fax marketing?), telephones (telemarketing killed by the Do Not Call list), email (spam vs. spam filters), Facebook (and annoying FarmVille game updates) … and for now, Google+ remains clean. There’s a clear path ahead. The challenge for Google will be to not add too many new bridges and muck these paths up.

(Sonnenfeld takes the issue deeper, his post is worth a read.)

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.