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Yahoo, Microsoft Look To Merge Search Operations; Google Gets More Personal

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2009 – While Yahoo and Microsoft announced Friday they remain hopeful they will be able to conclude a deal that would allow Microsoft to power Yahoo search and Yahoo to take over search advertising sales for both companies, Google said Friday it is making a number of enhancements to its search engine including personalizing the search experience.

ComScore, a digital marketing intelligence company, found in September 2009 that Google sites led the U.S. core search market with 64.9 percent of the searches conducted, followed by Yahoo sites nabbing 18.8 percent, Microsoft sites with 9.4 percent, Ask Network and AOL each capturing between 3 and 4 percent of the market.

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WASHINGTON, December 7, 2009 – While Yahoo and Microsoft announced Friday they remain hopeful they will be able to conclude a deal that would allow Microsoft to power Yahoo search and Yahoo to take over search advertising sales for both companies, Google said Friday it is making a number of enhancements to its search engine including personalizing the search experience.

ComScore, a digital marketing intelligence company, found in September 2009 that Google sites led the U.S. core search market with 64.9 percent of the searches conducted, followed by Yahoo sites nabbing 18.8 percent, Microsoft sites with 9.4 percent, Ask Network and AOL each capturing between 3 and 4 percent of the market.

Eli Goodman, a search evangelist for comScore, said in August that a “search partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo certainly makes the combined entity a more formidable competitor to Google in the U.S. search marketplace.” Goodman said “the challenge will be to create a search experience compelling enough to convert lighter searchers into regular searchers which is generally easier than converting new users.”

“Separately, Yahoo and Bing, with 20 percent and 8 percent of the market share respectively, are unable to efficiently meet the inventory needs of advertisers which are attainable through Google,” said Craig Macdonald, a senior vice president of products for Covario.

Yahoo and Microsoft said Friday the companies have “finalized and executed the definitive search and advertising services and sales agreement and license agreement in accordance with the letter agreement announced in July.”

In November 2009 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it had no objections to the proposed deal between Yahoo and Microsoft. The companies said the Canadian Competition Bureau has also finished its review and raised no concerns pending final submission of the agreement.

However, Yahoo and Microsoft still need regulatory approval from the United States and European Union before they can implement the deal.

Google, meanwhile, is working hard to retain its search leadership. The company has a new homepage and last week launched a fresh layout for images. Google is offering site performance data, the ability to find and read content written in other languages, search options in more languages, region tags next to search results, and automatic spelling correction.

Google also said it will use 180 days of search activity from a user’s browser to provide the most relevant search results for an individual whether they are signed onto a Google account or not.

“Today we’re helping people get better search results by extending Personalized Search to signed-out users worldwide, and in more than forty languages. Now when you search using Google, we will be able to better provide you with the most relevant results possible,” according to an entry from the Official Google Blog Friday.

“Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well,” reads the entry.

Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said “Google’s new search customization plan highlights a continuing privacy problem: Google can and does uniquely identify the computers of users that aren’t even signed into a Google account, using cookies and IP addresses, and although users can opt out of this new search customization, they cannot opt out of that tracking.”

He continued that “considering the sensitivity of a typical Google user’s queries, and considering that Google does not attempt to anonymize your search queries until they are nine months old, this represents a significant privacy threat, enabling the government or civil litigants armed with your cookie value or your IP address to legally demand your search history.”

Google said it is still possible for a user to turn off customization results when they are conducting a search.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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