Good Monday morning. It’s September 28th. Yom Kippur began last night at sundown and ends today at sundown.
Today’s Spotlight is 1,280 words — about a 4 1/2 minute read.
1. News to Know Now
a. A picture cropping algorithm used by Twitter and Zoom may be removing the faces of black people. aaSimilar racial bias has been detected for years in algorithms used by other large companies including IBM, Amazon, and Facebook. (NBC News)
b. Amazon Sidewalk’s reintroduction last week may have found the right time for its close-up. The company plans to use its Echo and Ring devices to extend the distance of a network signal to an area surrounding your home so that your smart home devices work outside.
“It’s great to get an alert your dog left the yard, but those devices could also send data to Amazon like the frequency, duration, destination and path of your dog walk,” says Forester analyst Jeff Pollard. (CNET)
c. Password manager 1Password rolled out a new function to create a single use virtual credit card for online purchases. This video shows how it works.
2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News
COVID-19 Tech News
How to Track COVID-19 Trends on Google Maps — Lifehacker
Instagram’s Founders Explain Their Covid-Charting Obsession — Wired
Mayo launches nationwide COVID-19 predictions — Duluth News Tribune
What if All COVID-19 Deaths Happened in Your Neighborhood — Wash. Post
3. Search Engine Optimization News
Search engines often rely on a hidden sentence or two to help them understand a web page’s content. Called the meta description, you’re used to seeing it repurposed as the descriptive portion of a search engine snippet. Writing excellent descriptions that meet search engine needs and that generate clicks from searchers is an art.
Now the smart folks at the Portent agency have released a study called “How Often Google Ignores Our Meta Descriptions” and the answer is about 70% of the time. The data is relatively consistent among devices, but shows an interesting uptick when a page’s snippet is displayed at the fourth result or lower.
Unlike many things, search is a zero-sum game that has at most only one winner per search. But we all need to understand that Google’s algorithms are rewriting the meta description to challenge the top three results. When we explain to business people that search engine optimization isn’t static, this is the kind of behavior that we mean. Not only are the people involved with websites targeting the top results, but Google will use lower ranked sites as a stalking horse to continue to push click through rates higher.
That’s not a bad thing for searchers or for Google because higher click rates mean higher satisfaction if all other things are equal. But if it’s your marketing budget, you need to understand that you’ll need ongoing SEO efforts to remain competitive.
4. Also in the Spotlight — Insured Resilience
Environmentalist and philanthropist Chandran Nair wrote this week about insured resilience for the World Economic Forum. Nair warns that society must develop the ability to withstand and recover from the shocks of overexploitation, consumption-led capitalism, biodiversity losses, and climate change.
The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us that insured resilience, not technology, is what will allow society to prioritize important issues like climate change and social equality as it resets after extreme weather, pandemic, and economic catastrophes.
Technology organizations are trying to help, but aren’t the answer as they address only symptoms and their presence is sometimes complicating. Earlier this year, Facebook inadvertently wiped out an entire language spoken by two percent of the population in Myanmar who are already in a battle over what observers believe is ethnic cleansing.
MIT Technology Review reports that only three U.S. companies crawl the entire web: Google, Microsoft, and Diffbot. The latter company provides commercial-level knowledge graphs, those boxes of information seen on the right side of search result pages. Financial issues are a significant reason for the limited number of companies, but that means that the information can be potentially limited.
“The pandemic shows that we need to reset our priorities toward better serving the global majority with limited access to basic needs, and doing that by respecting limits,” Nair wrote Friday.
And while many of us are blessed with technological solutions to weather part of the pandemic, the Benton Institution reported this week that the digital divide is extreme in many areas of the United States.
One in four K-12 households in California do not have a computer and high-speed Internet connection. The same is true throughout rural and urban settings, representing tens of thousands of students in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, as well as 99% of students in one rural Alabama county, and 30% in rural Virginia.
Heeding Nair’s advice, one might ask what else those U.S. homes are lacking and how to create insured resilience.
5. Following Up: GPT-3 & Google Political Ads
We’ve written a lot about Open AI’s GPT-3 program and its ability to beat previous benchmarks. Microsoft announced last Tuesday that it has exclusively licensed GPT-3 for its own AI applications.
“Directly aiding human creativity and ingenuity in areas like writing and composition, describing and summarizing large blocks of long-form data (including code), converting natural language to another language — the possibilities are limited only by the ideas and scenarios that we bring to the table,” said Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott in a statement.
We’ve also told you a lot about political advertising during this election cycle and the criticism leveled at Google for not banning political ads. Google will now block election ads following Election Day, Axios scooped Friday. The move will hopefully limit some of the misinformation and disinformation regarding election results that experts expect to be circulating in early November.
6. Debugging: 2020 Ballots Were Not Discarded
The Sonoma County (CA) government had to take to social media to combat a rumor spread online and amplified this weekend by President Donald Trump that ballots were thrown away. Here is their post.
7. ProTip: Virtual Backgrounds on Android Zoom
No more house background envy. Here’s how to enable virtual backgrounds on Android phones.
8. Spotlighters Ask: More Zoom
Remember: press reply and email a question about integrating the online world into your life. We research and answer them all. We also publish one each week, but you’ll get an answer first.
Can you call in on a phone using Zoom and watch on a PC?
Screening Room: Skywalker Meets Picard
10. Coffee Break: Geo Guessr
This fun web game dumps you somewhere in the world on Google Maps. Your job is to figure out where using Google Street View. Setting up a free account lets you play the timed Daily Challenge for points and try your hand at Country Streak.
One hint only: go find commercial areas and search for clues on signage.
Here are three ways that we can help you:
1. Get a free SEO audit on our website.
2. Have a simple, fact-based question about digital marketing? Reply & ask George for free.
3. If your organization needs help with search, social media, or advertising, have a look at what we do.