Engagement Party: The Story Behind the Google+ Stats

I was sitting at home the other night, catching up on the latest episode of “Parks and Recreation” with my girlfriend when the above Galaxy Nexus commercial ran in the pre-run slot. In case you aren’t the video-watching type, the ad starts with the words “It’s your social network, all mixed together. With Galaxy Nexus by Samsung, now you can organize your contacts by circles, like you do in real life.” Despite the fact that I’m an avid nerd and have written about Google+ on several occasions, I’m still not clear on whether the phone allows you to organize your existing social network or if the commercial is just trying to hype Google+. In fact, Google+ is only mentioned as a sidenote to Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Why the ambiguity? Because Google+ isn’t a selling point.

A few days after I saw that commercial — which has been airing since December — Google announced that it now has 90 million unique users worldwide. That number far surpasses most of the third-party estimates for the service (comScore had Google+ just over 66 million users in November) so a lot of people are throwing around words like “impressive,” “amazing,” and “astounding growth.” To me, it is none of these things. Let’s face it, Google+ had a ton of hype leading up to launch. It is, after all, a Google product. Unlike Buzz and Wave, Google’s failed social projects, Google+ had a clear and consistent purpose. Let’s also not forget that one of the most discussed topics in the tech industry today is who will take down Facebook. Everyone is waiting for Goliath to fall and Google+ was the first serious contender. With all of those things in mind, I think 90 million is a pretty reasonable turnout.

But frankly, even 90 million doesn’t matter, because 90 million is just the number of unique users signed up for Google+. Those 90 million people are not on Google+ every day. I would guess a fair number of them have only been on Google+ once, and they haven’t gone back. The numbers I really want to see are about the world’s engagement with Google+, that is, how many people are using the service on a regular basis? Larry Page might be “super excited” about 90 million, but he’s less than thrilled to share real engagement numbers. The best he could say was, “I have some amazing data to share there for the first time: +users are very engaged with our products — over 60% of them engage daily, and over 80% weekly.”

As with the Verizon ad I mentioned, it’s the wording here that counts. There is really no reason for Page to tag “our products” on the end of his engagement statement unless that was exactly what he meant. Google+ users are using other Google products at the 60 percent daily, 80 percent weekly margins. Of course, he won’t confirm that, and neither will anyone else at Google. But why word things the way he did? If +users were actually engaged with the service at the levels Page is talking about, he’d be a good bit more than “super excited” to share the news. Those would be some impressive numbers, and I would happily agree that Google+ is showing “astounding growth.” Those numbers would, by percentage, be higher than engagement at Facebook.

Shortly after Page’s “super excited” announcement, Google altered its sign-up process to include forced entry into Google+. Want a Gmail account? You now have a Google+ account, too. I hardly need to say that this is indicative of disingenuous assessment of user engagement. With the new integration of social into Google’s search, it’s no wonder engagement — with other Google products — looks so good. Google has also made opting-out of the social project more complicated than it has been in the past. It looks like I can delete my Google+ profile and all of the associated features or I can keep it. No middle ground, and it’s worth noting that I can’t do this opting out until I’ve already opted-in.

The strangest part of all of this to me is that this seems very unlike Google. I have always loved Google for its open policy on the kinds of things I’m sharing and not sharing, participating and not participating in. As with any web service, usage implies a certain level of acquiescence with data sharing, but at least I felt like I had some options for limiting the extent to which that data was being shared. These recent developments around Google+ leave me with a super foul taste in my mouth, Larry, and it’s not one I’m likely to forget any time soon.

  

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DVD Review: Queen: Days of Our Lives

The big selling point of “Days of Our Lives,” the exhaustive two-hour BBC documentary on epic rock quartet Queen, is the material culled from the band’s very early days and their very last days. There are live performances from Smile, the group guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor formed before Queen, and some video of future singer Fredde Mercury singing “Big Spender.” The later footage, shot on the sets of the last music videos Mercury would perform, his body slowly but surely being ravaged by AIDS, are at once heart-warming and devastating. Mercury was positively gaunt, yet he gathered every ounce of will he could muster to go out fighting.

May and Taylor are wonderfully candid in their interviews, as are fellow managers, producers, roadies, and side men they recruited. (They even brought in Ultravox’s Midge Ure to talk about the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid.) Everyone has good stories to tell, and there are no attempts at revisionist history. If an album didn’t work – say, 1982′s Hot Space – they own up to it, and May is the first to admit that some bad business decisions early on led rendered them financially destitute for years, and it was out of desperation from that that they made A Night at the Opera. Best of all, each album is given an equal amount of coverage, with the exception of the soundtrack to “Flash Gordon,” of which the title track is played but never discussed.

The one unfortunate aspect of “Days of Our Lives” is that bassist John Deacon did not come back to do an interview, so the producers were forced to rely on archive interview footage for half the band. Yes, he’s retired from performing, but this seems like as good an occasion as any to put the Queen hat back on for a day and talk shop. It’s a small quibble, though, because the documentary hits all of the highlights of a truly remarkable career…with one small exception: there is no mention of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from “Wayne’s World.” We would have loved to see them talk about that. (Eagle Vision 2012)

Click to buy “Queen: Days of Our Lives” from Amazon

  

A Chat with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (from Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele”)

Although it ran for 14 seasons and 31 episodes, Fox’s “Mad TV” never delivered the kind of instant name recognition that the alumni of its Saturday night competition on NBC tend to get, but dedicated viewers will no doubt recall the faces of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele from such recurring sketches as “Coach Hines,” “Funkenstein,” “The Superstitious Knights,” and more. Now, the duo are reuniting for their own sketch comedy series on Comedy Central, and thanks to advance clips from the show going viral, the buzz about “Key & Peele” is tremendous. Bullz-Eye talked to Key and Peele about how they met, the origins of their comedic collaboration, what and viewers can expect from the first season of their series.

Jordan Peele: We’ve done a couple of these so far, Will, and I’ll just go ahead and pre-empt your request to have us announce our names…

Bullz-Eye: I don’t know what you’re talking about. It never would’ve occurred to me to ask you to identify yourselves before speaking.

JP: [Laughs.] Well, this is Jordan speaking, and…I guess I’m the one that sounds more like Bert. And he’s the one that sounds more like Ernie.

BE: I’ll try to remember that during transcription.

Keegan-Michael Key: [Laughs.] Yeah, just put B for one, E for the other. That shouldn’t be too confusing.

BE: Yeah, especially not when “BE” is the abbreviation for Bullz-Eye.

JP: [Laughs.] Well, just to be safe, we’ll keep announcing ourselves, anyway. You can also identify me as the tired one. I’m Jordan.

BE: Right. If someone’s slurring, it’s probably Jordan.

KMK: He’s Eeyore, I’m Piglet.

JP: Piglet? Oh, come on. You’re Tigger.

KMK: Oh, God, what am I talking about? Of course I’m Tigger. [Laughs.]

BE: So you guys obviously worked together for many years on “Mad TV,” but did you know each other at all prior to that series?

KMK: We did. Yeah, we met in Chicago when Jordan was at Boom Chicago, which is an improv theater in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. [Laughs.] As opposed to Amsterdam in New Mexico or something, right?

JP: Hey, there’s also an Amsterdam in New York.

KMK: All right, all right. [Laughs.] Anyway, I was at The Second City, and our casts had a swap. There’s two theaters at the Second City, so one of our casts went to Amsterdam, and Jordan’s cast from Boom Chicago – which is just a really incredible theater – they came to Chicago. So they flipped, and that’s where we met: I was performing on the second stage at Second City, and Jordan’s cast had come in to visit us for a week.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Ashley Palmer from the 2011 Hooters Pageant

The 15th Annual Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant that we covered last year is the gift that keeps on giving.

Today we’re featuring another contestant that we met at the event, the beautiful Ashley Palmer. Hooters gave us poolside access at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach where we met and photographed some of the contestants in their bikinis. Ashley showed off her amazing figure on a hot day in the Miami sun.

Check back for more poolside photos of Hooters contestants.

  

Blu Tuesday: Robot Rocky, Cancer Humor and Sex Slaves

Blu-ray enthusiasts have plenty to be excited about this week with MGM’s reissues of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” and a trio of films from Alfred Hitchcock (“Rebecca,” “Notorious” and “Spellbound”). None of these titles arrived in time for review, however, so maybe I’ll do another short column later in the week after I get a chance to check them out. Thankfully, there are several other titles worth discussing, including Shawn Levy’s best movie to date and a comedy about cancer. No, seriously.

“Real Steel”

I didn’t have very high expectations for Shawn Levy’s robot boxing drama when the project was first announced, but after being invited to visit the Detroit set back in August 2010, it became a lot clearer that “Real Steel” was going to be more than just “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie.” That’s not to say that the robot-on-robot action isn’t great, because it’s more fun than your average Transformers melee, but it’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t lose sight of its human characters amidst all the shiny, CGI-fueled action. The father-son relationship between Hugh Jackman’s down-on-his-luck fight promoter and Dakota Goyo’s spritely kid doesn’t just drive the story – it gives the movie its heart, with the actors striking up an excellent onscreen chemistry reminiscent of films like “Paper Moon” and “The Champ.” Granted, it’s just as predictable as every other underdog sports drama ever made, but it doesn’t make “Real Steel” any less the entertaining crowd-pleaser that it aims to be.

Blu-ray Highlight: Although the Second Screen feature offers a lot of great behind-the-scenes info, the last thing I want to do while watching a movie is have an iPad or laptop sitting around to distract me. Instead, I was more impressed by the “Making of Metal Valley” featurette, which offers an in-depth look at the various departments involved in filming the junkyard sequence, including production design, visual effects and stunts.

“50/50″

Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” is everything that Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” aspired and ultimately failed to be – a well-balanced dramedy about the Big C that has you laughing one minute and holding back your tears the next. Though I don’t think that the film is quite as amazing as some would lead you to believe (then again, I also thought that “Bridesmaids” was vastly overrated), it’s a really good movie anchored by some excellent performances. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has hardly put a wrong step forward over the last five years (save for perhaps “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”), and he’s at the top of his game here with an incredibly realistic portrayal of a young man stricken with cancer. Seth Rogen is a lot more tolerable than usual as Gordon-Levitt’s best friend and Anna Kendrick lights up the screen as his grief counselor/love interest, but the real plaudits go to screenwriter Will Reiser, who managed to turn his own bout with cancer into a movie that actually feels sincere.

Blu-ray Highlight: I never received a review copy and therefore couldn’t sample any of the bonus material, but fellow BE critic David Medsker singled out the disc’s audio commentary by Seth Rogen and Will Reiser in his review, claiming that “when you give Rogen and his best friend microphones and press ‘record,’ funny stuff will follow.”

“The Whistleblower”

Sex, torture and violence in Eastern Europe is usually a recipe reserved for the horror genre, but that isn’t the case with “The Whistleblower,” a political thriller that will make you sick to your stomach – not from any graphic visuals, but because it shows humanity at its most vile. Though Larysa Kondracki’s directorial debut is a relatively by-the-numbers message movie, the subject matter – based on the true story of Kathy Bolkovac, a former cop who uncovered a sex trafficking ring in post-war Bosnia involving UN peacekeepers and local police – will make your blood boil. What separates the film from the various made-for-TV and direct-to-DVD movies that cover similar ground is its talented cast, particularly Rachel Weisz as the resolute Bolkovac. Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn also pop up in small supporting roles, but it’s Weisz who makes this otherwise vanilla thriller worth watching with another of the kind of solid yet unflashy performances that she’s built a career around.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s only one special feature on the disc – “Kathy Bolkovac: The Real Whistleblower” – and it’s not exactly what you’d call a highlight. While several of the film’s cast and crew (as well as the real-life Bolkovac) sit down to discuss the movie, they’re unable to go into a whole lot of detail in the paltry five minutes provided.

  

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