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Larry Page serious

Larry Page just issued a letter to investors on the state of Google this year.

He unveiled the letter in a post on Google+.

Here's the full letter:

Sergey and I founded Google because we believed that building a great search experience would improve people’s lives and, hopefully, the world.  And in the decade-plus that’s followed, we’ve been constantly delighted by the ways in which people have used our technology—such as making an artificial limb using old designs discovered online.

But we’re always impatient to do better for our users.  Excellence matters, and technology advances so fast that the potential for improvement is tremendous. So, since becoming CEO again, I’ve pushed hard to increase our velocity, improve our execution, and focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world.  Google is a large company now, but we will achieve more, and do it faster, if we approach life with the passion and soul of a start-up.

Last April, I began by reorganizing the management team around our core products to improve responsibility and accountability across Google.  I also kicked off a big clean-up.  Google has so many opportunities that, unless we make some hard choices, we end up spreading ourselves too thin and don’t have the impact we want. So we have closed or combined over 30 products, including projects like Knol and Sidewiki. In addition, we gave many of our products, such as Google Search, a visual refresh, and they now have a cleaner, more consistent, and beautiful look.

A beautifully simple experience across Google

Creating a simpler, more intuitive experience across Google has been another important focus. I have always believed that technology should do the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so users can do what makes them happiest: living and loving, not messing with annoying computers! That means making our products work together seamlessly. People shouldn’t have to navigate Google to get stuff done. It should just happen. As Sergey said in the memorable way only he can, “We've let a thousand flowers bloom; now we want to put together a coherent bouquet.”

Think about basic actions like sharing or recommendations. When you find a great article, you want to share that knowledge with people who will find it interesting, too. If you see a great movie, you want to recommend it to friends. Google+ makes sharing super easy by creating a social layer across all our products so users connect with the people who matter to them.

When you sign up for Google+, you can use Circles to group people into different categories, such as “Friends,” “Family,” or “Rocket Scientists,” and then engage with them just like in real life. You can recommend great news articles, websites, and videos to specific Circles, or share photos with “Family” straight from your Android device. And the photos are even uploaded for you automatically! To follow people with shared interests, such as photography, just add them to your Circles. And you can share your own ideas with the world, or a smaller group, via the Google+ Stream and have others respond.

It’s still early days, and we have a long way to go. But these are tremendously important changes, and with over 120 Google+ integrations to date (including Google Search, YouTube and Android), we are on the right track. Well over 100 million users are active on Google+, and we’re seeing a positive impact across the Web, with Google users being able to recommend search results and videos they like—a goal we’ve had ever since we started the company.

Activity on the Google+ Stream itself is increasing too. We’re excited about the tremendous speed with which some people have amassed over one million followers, as well as the depth of the discussions taking place among happy, passionate users—all evidence that we’re generating genuine engagement. When I post publicly I get a ton of high quality comments, which makes me happy and encourages me to keep posting. I strongly encourage all of you to follow me on Google+—I love having this new way to communicate and share with all of you!

Next-generation search

Understanding identity and relationships can also help us improve search. Today, most search results are generic, so two strangers sitting next to each other in a café will get very similar answers. Yet everyone’s life experiences are unique. We are all knowledgeable about different things; we have different interests and our preferences—for music, food, vacations, sports, movies, TV shows, and especially people—vary enormously.

Imagine how much better search would be if we added… you. Say you’ve been studying computer science for awhile like me, then the information you need won’t be that helpful to a relative novice and vice versa. If you’re searching for a particular person, you want the results for that person—not everyone else with the same name. These are hard problems to solve without knowing your identity, your interests, or the people you care about.

We have an old-time Googler called Ben Smith, who is a good friend of mine. It turns out that he isn’t the only Ben Smith in the world! Today, it’s tough for Google to find the right Ben for me. Many people share only their public profiles, not their posts, photos, or connections. And privacy considerations certainly limit the information that can be shared between platforms—even if the third parties hosting it were willing to work with Google, which hasn’t always been the case.

Google+ helps solve this problem for us because it enables Google to understand people and their connections. So when I search for Ben Smith, I get the real Ben Smith (for me), right there in my search box, complete with his picture. Previously, the search box would just have had the series of letters I had typed, with no real understanding that I was looking for a unique person. This is a huge and important change, and there’s a ton more work to do.  But this kind of next-generation search in which Google understands real-world entities—things, not strings—will help improve our results in exciting new ways. It’s about building genuine knowledge into our search engine.

Taking actions

In the early days of Google you would type in a query, we’d return ten blue links, and you would move on fairly happily. Today you want more. If you search for “weather san Francisco”, chances are you want… the weather in San Francisco right there on the results page, not another click or two away. So that’s what we now provide. In fact, before you’ve even finished typing “weather” into the search box we give you the weather because we’ve learned that’s most likely what you’re looking for.

Truly great search is all about turning your needs into actions in the blink of an eye. There is a huge amount of data in the world that isn’t publicly available today.  Showing it in our results involves deep partnerships across different industries in many countries. It’s very similar to the work we did to get Google Maps off the ground.

Last year, for example, we welcomed ITA Software to the Google family. They have strong relationships with the airline industry, and using that data we can now provide more relevant results for travel queries. This means that if you search for “flights from Chicago to los Angeles”, you get a list of the most relevant flights with prices, and you can book directly with the airline—or click on an ad for an online travel agency. We’re also experimenting with a feature called Hotel Finder, which enables you to compare prices and book a hotel room right from the results page. It’s all about speeding things up so users can get on with the things that matter in their lives.

From desktop to mobiles and tablets, oh my

Getting from needs to actions lightning fast is especially important on smaller devices like mobile phones, where screen size is limited and context really matters.  That’s why I’m so excited about Android. Take Google Maps, one of our best-loved services.  With it, you can search for something, perhaps the nearest bookstore, find it, and be shown the way straight there.  And you can now turn your phone into a wallet using... Google Wallet.  So you can tap, pay, and save while you shop.  No more claiming you left your credit card at home when your friend asks you to pay for lunch!

It wasn’t always that easy. I remember first meeting Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, back in 2004. At the time, developing apps for mobile devices was incredibly painful. We had a closet full of over 100 phones, and we were building our software pretty much one device at a time. Andy believed that aligning standards around an open source operating system would drive innovation across the mobile industry. At the time, most people thought he was nuts.

Fast forward to today. Android is on fire, and the pace of mobile innovation has never been greater. Over 850,000 devices are activated daily through a network of 55 manufacturers and more than 300 carriers. Android is a tremendous example of the power of partnership, and it just gets better with each version. The latest update, Ice Cream Sandwich, has a beautiful interface that adapts to the form of the device.  Whether it’s on a phone or tablet, the software works seamlessly.

As devices multiply and usage changes (many users coming online today may never use a desktop machine), it becomes more and more important to ensure that people can access all of their stuff anywhere.  Constant downloading is a terrible experience, so I am excited about products like Gmail and Google Docs that work well across Android and desktop. With Chrome now recently available on Android, switching devices becomes painless, too, because all of your tabs are just there across your desktop and Android.  You can even click the back button on a different device, and it just works! And with Google Play, movies, books, apps, and games are all accessible from the Web or an Android device—no cables, downloading, or syncing required. I think there is a theme here!

In August, we announced plans to acquire Motorola Mobility, a company that bet big on Android very early on. We are excited about the opportunities to build great devices capitalizing on the tremendous success and growth of Android and Motorola’s long history of technological innovation. But it’s important to reiterate that openness and investment by many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success. So we look forward to working with all of them in the future to deliver outstanding user experiences. Android was built as an open ecosystem, and we have no plans to change that.

Long-term focus

We have always tried to concentrate on the long term, and to place bets on technology we believe will have a significant impact over time. It’s hard to imagine now, but when we started Google most people thought search was a solved problem and that there was no money to be made apart from some banner advertising.  We felt the exact opposite: that search quality was very poor, and that awesome user experiences would clearly make money.

Today it feels like we’re watching the same movie in slow motion over again. We have tremendous new products that were seen as crazy at launch yet now have phenomenal usage. They easily pass the toothbrush test: they are important enough that millions of people use them at least once or twice a day. Take Chrome, for example. In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser. Today Chrome has over 200 million users and is growing fast, thanks to its speed, simplicity, and security. If you don’t use Chrome, just try it out, you’ll never go back! I promise it won’t take too long to install, and if it does you probably need a new computer.

We are seeing phenomenal usage of our Web-based applications, too. When we launched Gmail in 2004, most people thought webmail was a toy, but its accessibility—all your email from anywhere, on any device—and insane storage have made it a winner with more than 350 million people. And our enterprise customers love it too. Over 5,000 new businesses and educational establishments now sign up every day.

In 2006, when Google acquired YouTube, we faced a lot of skepticism. Today, YouTube has over 800 million monthly users uploading over an hour of video per second. It enables an activist in Syria to broadcast globally or a young star to build an entertainment network from scratch. YouTube channels have real potential to entertain and educate, as well as to help organize all the amazing videos that are available. So I’m excited we have a new effort working with media powerhouses such as Jay-Z, the Wall Street Journal, and Disney to create channels that appeal to every interest.

People rightly ask how we’ll make money from these big bets. We understand the need to balance our short- and longer-term needs because our revenue is the engine that funds all our innovation. But over time, our emerging high-usage products will likely generate significant new revenue streams for Google as well as for our partners, just as search does today. For example, we’re seeing a hugely positive revenue impact from mobile advertising, which grew to a run rate of over $2.5 billion by the third quarter of 2011—two and a half times more than at the same point in 2010. Our goal is long-term growth in revenue and absolute profit—so we invest aggressively in future innovation while tightly managing our short-term costs.

Love and trust

We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love. But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind. We’re lucky to have a very direct relationship with our users, which creates a strong incentive for us to do the right thing. For every magic moment we create—like the ability to drop a photo into Google and search by image—we have a very happy user.  And when our products don’t work or we make mistakes, it’s easy for users to go elsewhere because our competition is only a click away.

Users place a lot of trust in Google when they store data, like emails and documents, on our systems. And we need to be responsible stewards of that information. It’s why we invest a lot of effort in security and related tools for users, like 2-step verification and encryption, which help prevent unauthorized access to information. The recent changes we made to our privacy policies generated a lot of interest. But they will enable us to create a much better, more intuitive experience across Google—our key focus for the year.

We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil. In fact, healthy revenue is essential if we are to change the world through innovation, and hire (and retain) great people. As a child I remember reading about Nikola Tesla, a genius whose impact was severely limited by his failure to make money from his inventions. It was a good lesson. Today, most of our revenue comes from advertising. We take pains to make sure that users know when something is paid for, and we work hard to make these advertisements relevant for users.  Better ads are better for everyone—better information or offers for users, growth for businesses, and increased revenue for publishers to fund better content.

Over one million businesses now use Google’s advertising products and we’re delighted with the ways in which we have helped other companies (both large and small) succeed. I recently heard about a Thai dressmaker whose store was destroyed by floods. To start rebuilding her business, she invested $5 a day in Google AdWords and doubled her revenue. Today over 80 percent of her orders come from the Web. Taylor’s Bike Shop in Utah, a family-run store, saw increase in sales of over 50 percent when they started using AdWords. Today they maintain a staff of eight people on a steady basis.

At the heart of our business model has always been the belief that we’re better off if we can create a larger pie for our partners. We started with AdSense, and Google has paid out over $30 billion to support content on the Web since its launch over a decade ago. That is a mighty big check (actually lots of smaller checks!) and I’m delighted we’ve been able to support our partners with that much resource. The same is true for our newer technologies like DoubleClick for online publishers and AdMob for mobile developers. YouTube also generates healthy revenue for Google and our content partners—in fact, partner ad revenue has more than doubled for the fourth year in a row. One thing I've learned is that if you keep doubling things, it really adds up fast!

All that said, we recognize that we don’t get everything right—and that the changes we make, like our recent visual refresh, can initially upset some users (even if they later come to love them). But we don’t operate in a static industry, and technology changes so fast that we need to innovate and iterate. Of course, when we do make mistakes we try to fix them as quickly as possible and, if necessary, change the way we do things to prevent problems from arising again. And we work hard to explain what we are doing—and why—because with size comes responsibility.

Googlers

People are a crucial part of Google’s long-term success, since companies are no greater than the efforts and ingenuity of their employees. Our goal is to hire the best at every level and keep them.  In our experience your working environment is enormously important because people want to feel part of a family in the office, just as they do at home. So we invest in great food, high quality medical care, gyms, and other fitness facilities, as well as cool work spaces that bring people together.

Most important of all, however, we believe that work should be challenging. People are more motivated and have more fun when they work on important projects. Take Google Translate, which we started eight years ago and now enables anyone to translate text in an instant between any two of 64 languages—including Hindi, Arabic and Chinese. That's actually 4032 different pairs of languages you can translate! In fact, by combining it with our voice recognition technology, we’ve turned mobile phones into pocket translators for millions of users globally. When you work on projects of this magnitude, it’s impossible not to wake up excited about work; the chance to make a difference is the greatest motivation anyone can have.

Happiness is a healthy disregard for the impossible

When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I went on a summer leadership course. The slogan was “a healthy disregard for the impossible,” and it’s an idea that has stayed with me ever since. It may sound nuts, but I’ve found that it’s easier to make progress on mega-ambitious goals than on less risky projects. Few people are crazy enough to try, and the best people always want to work on the biggest challenges. We've also found that “failed” ambitious projects often yield other dividends. Believe it or not, the technological innovation behind AdSense, which, as I mentioned earlier, has paid out over $30 billion to partners, was the result of a “failed” more ambitious project to understand the Web. The team failed at understanding the Web, mostly, I think, because they were distracted by their work making advertisements amazingly relevant.

Last year, the Google+ team decided to integrate multi-person video into their efforts. They had a small committed team that was crazy enough to believe this was possible, and Google+ Hangouts was born. You can now video chat with anyone, anywhere, even from the Great Barrier Reef. It was the same with driver-less cars, which we started on in 2008. Today we have driven over 200,000 miles, and Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, recently took a drive in one of them. So the one-sentence summary of how to change the world… work on something that is uncomfortably exciting!

Today the opportunities are greater than ever. Things we used to think were magic, we now take for granted: the ability to get a map instantly, to find information quickly and easily, to choose any video from millions on YouTube rather than just a few TV channels. People are buying more devices and using them more because technology is playing an increasingly important role in our lives. I believe that by producing innovative technology products that touch people deeply, we will enable you to do truly amazing things that change the world.  It’s a very exciting time to be at Google, and I take the responsibility I have to all of you very seriously.

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Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written 6 books on investing. His latest books are I Was Blind But Now I See and FAQ MEYou can follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.

Ken Lang could perform miracles. In 1990 we would head off to a bar near where we were going to graduate school for computer science, and we would bring a Go board. Then we would drink and play Go for five hours. At the end of the five hours, after a grueling battle over the board, I remember this one time when magically Ken would show up with two girls who were actually willing to sit down and hang out with two guys who had a GO BOARD in front of them. How did Ken do that?

Fast forward: 1991, CMU asks me to leave graduate school, citing lack of maturity. The professor who threw me out still occasionally calls me up asking me when I’m going to be mature enough.

Fast forward: 1994, one of our classmates, Michael Mauldin is working on a database that automatically sorts by category pages his spider retrieves on the Internet. The name of his computer: lycos.cs.cmu.edu. Lycos eventually spins out of CMU, becomes the biggest seach engine,  and goes public with a multi-billion dollar valuation.

Fast forward: Ken Lang starts a company called WiseWire. I was incredibly skeptical. I read through what the company is about. “No way,” I think to myself, “that this is going to make any money”.

1998: Ken files a patent that classified how search results and ad results are sorted based on the number of click-thrus an ad gets. He sells the company to Lycos for $40 million. Ken Lang becomes CTO of Lycos and they take over his patents.

$40 million! What? And then Lycos stock skyrockets up. I can’t believe it. I’m happy for my friend but also incredibly jealous although later in 1998 I sell my first company as well. Still, I wanted to be the only one I knew who made money. I didn’t think it was fun when other people I knew made money. And, anyway, weren’t search engines dead? I mean,what was even the business model?

Fast forward: the  2000s. Almost every search engine dies. Excite, Lycos, Altavista. Before that “the world wide web worm”. Lycos got bought by a Spanish company, then a Korean company, then an Indian company. To be honest, I don’t even know who owns it now. It has a breathing tube and a feeding tube. Somehow, in a complete coma, it is being kept alive.

One search engine, a little company called Google, figured out how to make money.

One quick story: I was a venture capitalist in 2001. A company, Oingo, which later became Applied Semantics, had a technique for how search engines could make money by having people bid for ads. My partner at the firm said, “we can probably pick up half this company for cheap. They are running out of money.” It was during the Internet bust.

“Are you kidding me, “ I said. “they are in the search engine business. That’s totally dead.” And I went back to playing the Defender machine that was in my office. That I would play all day long even while companies waited in the conference room. (See: “10 Unusual Things I Didn’t Know About Google, Plus How I Made the Worst VC Decision Ever“)

A year later they were bought by Google for 1% of Google. Our half would’ve now been worth hundreds of millions if we had invested. I was the worst venture capitalist ever. They had changed their name from Oingo to Applied Semantics to what became within Google…AdWords and AdSense, which has been 97% of Google’s revenues since 2001. 97%. $67 billion dollars.

Don’t worry.  I’m getting to it.

(Yahoo won hundreds of millions from Google on the Overture patent even before Google amassed the bulk of their $67 billion in overall revenues from AdWords)

Fast forward. Overture, another search engine company that no longer exists (Yahoo bought it) files a patent for a bidding system for ads on a search engine. The patent office says (I’m paraphrasing), “you can file patents on A, B, and C. But not D, E, and F. Because Ken Lang from Lycos filed those patents already.”

Overture/Yahoo goes on to successfully sue Google based on the patents they did win. Google settled right before they went public but long before they achieved the bulk of their revenues.

Lycos goes on to being a barely breathing, comatose patient. Fast forward to 2011. Ken Lang buys his patents back from Lycos for almost nothing. He starts a company: I/P Engine. Two weeks ago he announced he was merging his company with a public company, Vringo (Nasdaq: VRNG). Because it’s Ken, I buy the stock although will buy more after this article is out and readers read this.

The company sues Google for a big percentage of those $67 billion in revenues plus future revenues. The claim: Google has willfully infringed on Vringo – I/P’s patents for sorting ads based on click-throughs. I remember almost 20 years ago when Ken was working on the software. “Useless!” I thought then. Their claim: $67 billion of Google’s revenues come from this patent. All of Google’s revenues going forward come from this patent. And every search engine which uses Google is allegedly infringing on the Vringo patent and is being sued.

Think: Interactive Corp (Nasdaq: IACI) with Ask.com. Think AOL. Think Target which internally uses Google’s technologies. Think Gannett, which uses Google’s technology and is also being sued. Think, eventually, thousands of Google’s customers who use AdSense.

Think: “willfully”. Why should you think that? Two reasons. Overture already sued Google. Google is aware of Yahoo/Overture’s patent history. The patent history officially stated that Ken Lang/Lycos already has patented some of this technology.  What does “willfully” mean in legal terms? Triple damages.

Why didn’t Lycos ever sue? After Lycos had its massive stroke and was left to die in a dirty hospital room with some uncaring nurse changing it’s bedpans twice a day, Google was STILL Lycos’s biggest customer. Why sue your biggest customer? Operating companies rarely sue other operating companies. Then there are countersuits, loss of revenues, and all sorts of ugly things. The breathing tube would’ve been pulled out of Lycos and it would’ve been left to die.

Think: NTP suing RIMM on patents. NTP had nothing going on other than the patents. Like Vringo/Innovate. NTP won over $600 million from RIMM once Research in Motion realized this is a serious issue and not one they can just chalk up to a bad nightmare.

(the beginning of the end for RIMM)

Guess who NTP’s lawyer was? Donald Stout. Guess who Vringo’s patent lawyer is? Donald Stout. Why is Donald Stout so good? He was an examiner at the US Patent Office. He knows patents. They announced all of this but nobody reads announcements of a small public company like Vringo. It’s hard enough figuring out how many pixels are on the screen of Apple’s amazng iPad 3.

Well, Google must have a defense? Even though their AdWords results are sorted by click-throughs in the way described by the patent maybe they sorted in a different way (a “work-around” of the patent), and didn’t infringe on the patent.

Maybe: But look at Google economist Hal Varian describing their algorithm right here in this video. And compare with the patent claim filed in court by Vringo. You decide. But it looks like the exact same to me.

Maybe: But does Google want to risk losing ten billion dollars plus having all of their customers sued. The district the case is getting tried in rules 70% in favor of the plaintiff in patent cases. Most patent trials get settled on the court steps.

Maybe: But then there’s still Microsoft /Yahoo search which, by the way, sorts based on click-throughs and has not been sued yet.

Guess what? Google’s patent lawyer is Quinn-Emmanuel. They are defending Google. Oh, and here’s something funny. Guess who Yahoo’s lawyer is? Yahoo is suing Facebook for patent infringement in the search domain. Quinn-Emanuel. So the same lawyer is both defending and accusing in the same domain. Someone’s going to settle. Everyone will settle. If anyone loses this case then the entire industry is going down in the same lawsuit and the exact same lawyer will be stuck on both sides of the fence. I’m not a lawyer but that smells. The trial is October 16 in the Eastern District Court of Virginia and will last 2 weeks. An appeal process can take, at most, a year.

I’ve known Ken for 23 years. I’ve been in the trenches with him when he was writing what I thought was his useless software. I watched his company get bought and we’ve talked about these technologies through the decades.

I’ve read the patent case. I watched Hal Varian’s video. Also look at this link on Google’s site where they describe their algorithm. Compare with the patent claim.  I have a screenshot if they decide to take it down. $67 billion in revenues from this patent. Imagine: double that in the next ten years. Imagine: triple damages.

Vringo will have an $80 million market capitalization post their merger with I/P. NTP won $600 million from RIMM using the same lawyer. RIMM’s revenues are a drop in the bucket compared to Google. And compared to 1000s of Google’s customers who will be embarrassed when the lawyer shows up at their door also. That’s why I made my investment accordingly. Is Google going to take the risk this happens?

I doubt it.

You can think to yourself: “ugh, patent trolls are disgusting”. But the protection of intellectual property is what America is built on. Smart people invent things. Then they get to protect the intellectual property on what they invents. Other companies can’t steal that technology. That’s why we have such a problem outsourcing to China and other countries where we are worried they might steal our intellectual property. Patents are the defense mechanism for capitalism.

Ken can perform miracles. But no miracle would save me. At the end of one evening of Go playing and beer drinking in 1990 we gave two girls our phone numbers. I don’t know if Ken ever got the call. I didn’t. But I guess I’m happy where it all ended up.

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Have you started seeing images in online reCAPTCHAs that look suspiciously like house numbers pulled from Google Street View? Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what they are. Google confirmed it’s currently running an experiment that involves using its reCAPTCHA spam-fighting system to improve data in Google Maps by having users identify things like street names and business addresses.

reCAPTCHA, for those unfamiliar, is the system originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University to improve upon the use of CAPTCHAs (aka, the “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart”) – it’s the distorted text meant to stop bots from signing up for online accounts. The reCAPTCHA technology was acquired by Google in 2009, and if you use the web, you’ve definitely used it before. It’s what puts those security questions on websites that ask you to identify the words and numbers in the pictures displayed to verify you’re human.

The system is designed to cut down on spam and fraud, but it also helps digitize the text in printed materials, like books and newspapers. Google has been using reCAPTCHA to digitize content for Google Books, for example, as well as for the Google News archives.

Over the past few days, however, some users have been seeing another type of reCAPTCHA appear – photographs. The new reCAPTCHAs present an image where one side contains the warped text users are familiar with, while the other side shows a somewhat blurry (as if zoomed in) photo of numbers. The numbers are clearly street addresses, which has led to some speculation that Google was pulling these from Google Street View.

One place where this new reCAPTCHA has been known to pop up is on Google’s AdWords website, and specifically on the page hosting the keyword tool. You won’t always see this new reCAPTCHA, though – I refreshed this page a dozen or more times this morning, for example, and still couldn’t get it to appear. Your mileage may vary.

The above image is one example of what the new reCAPTCHAs look like.

A larger collection of these images also recently appeared on the Blackhatworld forums (below):

According to a Google spokesperson, the system isn’t limited to street addresses, but also involves street names and even traffic signs. We haven’t spotted any of those other types in the wild, though.

Says Google:

We’re currently running an experiment in which characters from Street View images are appearing in CAPTCHAs. We often extract data such as street names and traffic signs from Street View imagery to improve Google Maps with useful information like business addresses and locations. Based on the data and results of these reCaptcha tests, we’ll determine if using imagery might also be an effective way to further refine our tools for fighting machine and bot-related abuse online.

Although many users are just now noticing the new images appear, Google says the experiment actually began a couple of weeks ago.

Image credit: Ian for the top photo; Blackhatworld user “dirtbag” (heh.)

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Screen Shot 2012-03-27 at 8.24.56 PM

Mobile web and ad optimization startup AppStack has just closed a $1.5 million seed round from Google Ventures, Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures, 500 Startups, Gary Vaynerchuk, Don Dodge, and Punchbowl founder Matt Douglas.

It’s not a huge surprise that Google Ventures and Eric Schmidt are involved in the financing, as AppStack is Google’s biggest reseller of mobile ads, according to founder Steve Espinosa. What the startup basically does for a $60 monthly fee is provide small to medium-sized businesses with hosted mobile websites in addition to optimized Google mobile AdWords ads for those sites.

AppStack, which won “Best Business Model” at this year’s Launch conference, has amassed over 2,500 SMBs on the platform in a little over three months. And the company is on track to generate $1 million a month in revenue by the end of this year, Espinosa tells me.

What differentiates AppStack from ready-made mobile site competitors like Duda Mobile is its novel Google mobile ad optimization component, which takes into account AppStack’s granular network data in order to better target customers and campaigns. For example, AppStack has discovered that people who search for the key words “haircut and color” are more likely to call a store for directions than people who search for just “haircut.”

“You want a mobile website because you want mobile customers, you don’t want a mobile website for nothing,” Espinosa says, “And we’re the only company helping people take advantage of mobile ads.”

Espinosa explains that the AppStack onboarding process is simple, easing in even the most Normal of business owners, “We can make a website out of a phone number,” he says, “All I need is your phone number and how many miles (radius) you want to target.”

Espinosa believes in the AppStack model so much that he gave early customers a free trial initially; 75% converted into paid clients, as they discovered they could purchase a high-conversion “lead” for under $10.

Why so cheap? “There’s not a bunch of people targeting mobile phones,” Espinosa says, with glee.

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theodp writes "In June 2009, Google welcomed James Whittaker as its newest Test Director. In February 2012, Whittaker rejoined Microsoft. On Tuesday, Whittaker explained why he left Google: 'The Google I was passionate about,' Whittaker writes, 'was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus ...The old Google was a great place to work. The new one? -1.' Welcome to the real world, quips CNET's Charles Cooper in response to Whittaker's still-awesome-even-if-a-tad-naive rant."

More from from his post: "It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook ... Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information ... Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn't enough."


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The Remote Agent Experiment: Debugging Code from 60 Million Miles Away

Google Tech Talk February 14, 2012 Presented by Ron Garret. ABSTRACT The Remote Agent Experiment: Debugging Code from 60 Million Miles Away The Remote Agent Experiment (RAX) was an autonomous control system for an unmanned interplanetary spacecraft called New Millennium Deep Space 1 (DS1). In May, 1999, control of the DS1 spacecraft, a $150-million asset, was handed over to the Remote Agent software for three days. It was the first -- and, to date, the last -- time that an interplanetary spacecraft has been under fully autonomous control. RAX was a resounding technological success, but a political disaster. Instead of paving the way for future autonomous missions, RAX is the reason that NASA has not flown an autonomous mission since. This talk is about the lessons learned from an ambitious but ultimately failed attempt to introduce technological change into a large, bureaucratic organization, the limitations of static code analysis, and the unique challenges of debugging code when the round-trip ping time is 45 minutes. Slides available at www.flownet.com Dr. Ron Garret is a software engineer turned entrepreneur and angel investor. He has co-founded three startups and invested in a dozen others. In a previous life he was an AI and robotics researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab where he led the development of one of the four major components of the Remote Agent. In 2000 he went to work for what was at the time an obscure little Silicon Valley startup called Google <b>...</b>
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waderoush writes "For many startup entrepreneurs, getting acquired by Google is the dream exit. But these days Google is getting a lot more discriminating about what kinds of companies it buys — and a lot more careful about how it integrates newly acquired teams. This article offers an in-depth look at how Google achieves a two-thirds success rate with acquisitions, and why things still occasionally go south. 'The return on our acquisition dollars has been extraordinary,' says vice president of business development David Lawee, Google's M&A czar. But Google insiders say it still takes a lot of work to make sure acquired startups go the way of Android (the mobile operating system, acquired in 2005) and not Aardvark (the social search site, acquired in 2010 and shut down in 2011)."


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