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1 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: Latest FARR Release 2.221.01 BETA - April 22, 2015 on: April 25, 2015, 07:36:13 AM
That file installed v2.222.02 Beta, which started up with:
"Warning: Init controls failed to initiate"
- or something.
A screenshot of the whole screen and showing FARR->Options tab shows Options to be of much the same miniscule variety as in v2.221.01 Beta. There is a difference, but it is not any better.

This screenshot is per v2.222.02:


This screenshot is per v2.221.01:


The miniscule size of the Options panel is not apparent in the screenshot as viewed on this page, since it enlarges the image.
If the Options panel were actually the size/scale of that image, then it would not be difficult to read.
However, the screenshots do enable one to compare the (very) minor differences between the panels.

I reverted to v2.221.01 Beta after doing this comparison.
2 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: Latest FARR Release 2.221.01 BETA - April 22, 2015 on: April 25, 2015, 04:32:47 AM
Any idea how to fix the DPI problem? The current FARR version is unusable like this on my 4k laptop.
The FARR->Options screen is almost unusable on my laptop now as well. Very small text. I was thinking it was my eyes that were the problem, but no.
3 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: Latest FARR Release 2.221.01 BETA - April 22, 2015 on: April 24, 2015, 11:04:40 PM
I just made a correction, and added an image as an example, to my post above.
Sorry. I should have given an example when I made the post.

However, the "blank" icons all seem to be God Mode functions or non-applications related, so maybe they are correct (i.e., displayed as they should be).   tellme
4 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: FARR slow searching/pauses - tips on: April 24, 2015, 10:40:30 PM
I had not been experiencing any annoying slow-downs in FARR, but after reading this, it reminded me to go and add FARR (and a couple of other applications) to the Exclusions list in Windows Defender, just to see if it made a difference.
Though it didn't seem to make any noticeable difference at all to FARR, I reckon it is probably a good idea to experiment with this in Defender to find out what applications might be being hampered by Windows Defender.
The other applications I experimentally added to the exclusions list were CHS and InfoSelect. I don't know the cause, but CHS is always annoyingly "laggy" when scrolling the list of clips, and InfoSelect has become often painfully slow to refresh its pane display and usually gets stuck waiting to refresh the display.
Adding them to the exclusions list in Defender didn't seem to make any difference at all, which at least eliminates one potential cause.
5 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: Latest FARR Release 2.221.01 BETA - April 22, 2015 on: April 24, 2015, 09:08:39 AM
Running FARR v2.221.01 Beta in Win8.1-64 PRO, on a laptop.
I just noticed the correct icons were missing too. I don't usually look for the icons, so had not realised they were blank squares document rectangles.

EDIT: 2015-04-25 1559hrs:
Here's an example.

6 Software / Clipboard Help+Spell / Re: Feature request : Shortcut key to re-establish clipboard chain on: April 24, 2015, 06:32:52 AM
I think I'll find this useful. CHS has been losing the clipboard chain quite a lot lately. I think it's after various changes I made.
7  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice? on: April 24, 2015, 06:28:59 AM
Don't forget hand-cleaner.

Thanks for the reminder.

The main one I used to use in the UK was something called Swarfega. It was very good = got rid of grease/oil and cleaned up the hands very well. Also cleaned out the oils from your skin. So after some experimenting, I started using a barrier cream. Quite useful stuff.
8  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: NoteFrog Pro (clipboard information manager) - Mini-Review on: April 23, 2015, 05:09:16 PM
I am now doing Beta testing for NoteFrog, currently on v3.x Beta (2015-04-21).
9  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / GS-Base on BDJ again today, priced @ US$9.95 on: April 22, 2015, 07:28:03 PM
Heads up: This is on BDJ again today, priced @ US$9.95 (usually $19.95).
About 7 hours left (might be extended?).
Go to:

I decided to buy it for trial, after reading the BDJ notes and this review.
I wondered whether it could be a useful PIM for my purposes, so shall suck-it-and-see.
10  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: USB 3.0 problems with Windows; general discussion on: April 22, 2015, 04:50:34 PM
Just on the basis that this could be useful/helpful in this discussion:
I have tried to anticipate problems with USB 3.0 port spec., but have found it to be very resilient so far and I have not experienced any real "problems" per se with USB 3.0. It has, for example, shown itself to be properly backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices - something which I had been skeptical about, at first.

I have not checked, but I assume that the USB 3.0 port spec. means that it really does give a faster throughput (data transfer) rate using USB 3.0 hard drives than was the case with USB 2.0.

However, where I had been using USB 3.0 ports for connecting to portable external USB 2.0/3.0 hard drives (e.g., for backup/recovery), I had been religiously selecting the Safely Remove Media and Eject Hardware control in the Systray, prior to disconnecting the drives. This was because of my previous cautionary experience with USB 2.0 ports/drives, where the port control did not seem to be always happy with liberal use of Plug N'Play, and sometimes one could upset the system assignment of a USB 2.0 port simply by abruptly unplugging a drive (even when it would not have been active), with the sometimes result that the unplugging disabled the port for that drive's use, thus making it necessary to go through a tedious and arcane ritual to get the port to even acknowledge that that drive existed when you reconnected it to that same port.

The only apparent problem I have had with USB 3.0 ports is consistently recurrent: selecting the Safely Remove Media and Eject Hardware control in the Systray, prior to disconnecting a drive seems to inevitably result in a rejection (not safe to unplug) on the basis that the device is still being used by some undefined process, even when I know it would have completed any writing process.
I suspect that some system process - e.g., (say) Hard Disk Sentinel or Everything - might still have open handles on the device for read access.

However, after doing some DucklGoing, I discovered that this was a common issue for concern, and the general impression seemed to be that USB 3.0 ports are not so intolerant of abrupt unplugging like that, and that the only precautions one needed to take before abruptly unplugging a drive were:
  • (a) ensure that it had completed whatever write activity/process it would have been performing;
  • (b) ensure that it was already set to Quick removal (default) in Properties->Device Properties.

Also, I guess it would be prudent to untick a drive's settings in Properties->General for compression and indexing.
11  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Knight to queen's bishop 3 - Snowden charged with espionage. on: April 22, 2015, 06:25:22 AM
Met Police Condemn Snapchat
People: Mark Rowley
April 22, 2015 at 11:43 am

police snap

The Met Police’s Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has condemned tech companies that don’t make it really easy for him to do his job. Speaking at the London Counter Terror Expo, Rawley accused makers of encrypted communication apps of developing software that is “friendly to terrorists.”

Rowley begged technology firms to leave back doors in their products so the police can waltz into our private communications at will:
   “Technology] can be set up in a way which is friendly to terrorists and helps them and provides all sorts of opportunities for them, ways for them to work and creates challenges for law enforcement intelligence agencies or it can be set up in a way which doesn’t do that and maintains the ability of law enforcement intelligence agencies in different ways to defend their communities.”
Would you be happy with Rowley going through your snap chats?

Of course we would.
12  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: NoteFrog Pro (clipboard information manager) - Mini-Review on: April 20, 2015, 09:21:15 PM
After my bombing all the email addresses I had for Berry, he has just sent me an email.
I replied that I would be interested - and possibly others on DCF - in Beta testing, but left it very much up to him to make a choice and suggested he might make a post here about it.
A relief to know that apparently all is well with him anyway.
13  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: 2014-2015: Best tablet specs for ebook reading on: April 20, 2015, 10:28:42 AM
Sony has been selling the Digital Paper directly to consumers in the U.S. since last summer through their online store, but I'm not sure they are still making the device.  It's currently listed as "back-ordered" on the site.
Sony pulled out of the e-book market late last year and said they would not be making readers any more.  Whether that includes the Digital Paper is an open question.

That's an interesting find, thanks. This is kind of what I have been looking for for some time.

I seem to recall that someone (I don't recall it being me) did a post on DCF a while back about some research on something similar to this sort of device, but I can't find the post in a site-wide search. I think it was just research though. There wasn't anything actually produced and on the market at the time.
14 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: Latest FARR Release 2.220.01 BETA - April 12, 2015 on: April 19, 2015, 06:22:45 PM
@mouser: Thanks! I downloaded latest FARR v2.220.01 Beta from the link here in the opening post.
It installed and seems to run fine under Win8.1-64 PRO, but I noticed on DCupdater that it thinks this is v2.219.01.
Is that actually the correct version number for the latest Beta or have I downloaded a slightly older version?
15  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Interesting "stuff" - Google/Android Handwriting Input on: April 18, 2015, 01:01:37 PM
Google Handwriting Input Writes Text in Android the Old Fashioned Way

"Not bad."
16 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: FARR as bookmark manager? on: April 18, 2015, 04:37:08 AM
Apropos of tags, from this post: Re: NoteFrog Pro (clipboard information manager) - Mini-Review
Some points I would make:
Berry (NoteFrog author) stated that the NF software is intended to be an Information Manager, rather than a Clipboard Manager. I think the original prototype for it was ClipGuru - a clipboard manager. I thus class it as a PIM (Personal Information Manager). (By comparison, CHS is apparently a Clipboard Manager that started out life as being intended as a PIM.)
NF is a WIP, and will be slowly getting there with each successive release. ...
  • NF searches can be saved for re-use. (Similar to CHS, which uses saved SQL searches as "Favorites".) The effect in NF and CHS can be rather akin to "tagging" if you use special strings in text as tags - e.g., "#this is a tag", but you have to set each and every tag, which would be tedious in the extreme. Both NF and CHS could benefit significantly from automatic bulk text insertion/removal of the same text string into/from many clips.
  • NF uses "Stacks", and I discovered that it had the ability to hyperlink content within an individual stack and between different stacks. This was apparently not intended as a design feature, and has been disabled. Still, it would be great to have. For example, OneNote has hyperlinking, and it works a treat - is very useful. You can hyperlink within a single OneNote Notebook, across multiple Notebooks, and externally - e.g., to a file on a local or network drive, or a Cloud drive, or a URL on the Internet.
17  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: NoteFrog Pro (clipboard information manager) - Mini-Review on: April 17, 2015, 04:16:26 PM
2015-04-18 0742hrs:
I'm not sure what is happening with NoteFrog. Has anyone heard from them?

1. The blog and its 2014-06-02 post referred to in this thread, above - NoteFrog version 2.7 released - seems to have been completely rewritten and links have been removed. I had a copy of the original post in Scrapbook, but it now just leads to broken links (404) - e.g., at

2. The post of 2014-10-18 re NoteFrog 2.7.4 (a minor release with changes that I did not need, so I didn't download it) has had the links removed.

3. The post of 2015-03-26 re Pre release version 3 does not give any links bust just says:
...If you’re interested in being a Version 3 “early adopter” (pun intended), please contact
So on 2015-03-28 I emailed him there saying "I would like to be an "early adopter" for v3, please." and have so far had no response.
So on2015-04-13 I posted a comment on the blog:
I did email you on 2015-04-28, after reading your post, and tried updating via NoteFrog, but to no avail so far. Is something broken with the website? Several pages seem to be 404.
I look forward to the opportunity to be an "early adopter" of v3 of the excellent NoteFrog.

4. Furthermore, when I click in my copy of NoteFrog to go to check for an update (I have a paid lifetime licence) it says there is a newer version 2.7.3 (it should presumably now say it is a version 3.something), and it gets a 404 result when it goes to fetch the update.

I hope all is well with Berry.
This looks eerily like the sort of thing that happened with NoteFrog's predecessor ClipGuru - which I had casually trialled and which I thought was rather good. However, their website just disappeared and no explanations. I eventually tracked it down to Berry Taylor at HT Consulting and was happy to become a Beta tester for ClipGuru's replacement, NoteFrog.
I found NoteFrog to be a great piece of software, though it probably needed a few wrinkles ironing out - which I had thought v3 would be addressing.
18 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: FARR as bookmark manager? on: April 17, 2015, 02:25:33 PM
...One thing I find handy with separate .url files is that if you have a project folder on the harddrive with some files (txt, pdf, doc and so on) you can also put some important links as .url in the same folder and get a visible overview of all components as you browse the folder.

After thinking about what you say in that quote, I can see why you might have that as a requirement for improving (say) project file/folder categorisation and management on the hard drive, but it's apparently not relevant to the requirements as stated in the opening post by@gezley - which merely refers to the possibility of using FARR as some kind of a bookmarks manager.

One of the points I was making (perhaps not very well) in my comments above is that CHS looks like it could be a potential/de facto bookmarks manager already.
CHS offers up to 3 information view panes:
  • Tree:  (Can be set to auto-hide.) This enables the construction of a relatively sophisticated relationship/categorisation hierarchy tree, with embedded SQL search logic. It is very flexible, though the SQL implementation seems to have been constrained somewhat and does not enable "condition-action" - i.e., action on certain logical conditions being met - such as (say) setting a Flag if a certain condition is met.

  • Grid: - displays up to 24 user-selectable metadata columns (attributes/fields): These can be displayed in the CHS grid (of metadata) and can be selected and moved about in changed order, via a nifty little drop-down selector. Great thought seems to have gone into making this rather complex selection feature as simple and flexible to use as possible.

  • Memo: (Can be set to auto-hide.) This shows the Title column as a heading, and below that the Clip Text.

So, for example, if, in Firefox I take a clip into CHS of your quote above, the data/metadata that ends up in CHS columns/panes includes:
  • The quoted text (per above), in the Memo pane.
  • The page/window title: "FARR as bookmark manager? - - Mozilla Firefox" in the WindowTitle column.
  • The URL (in the Notes column. This is, however, apparently not editable/copyable by the user.
  • The date/time of capture.
  • The application name "Firefox" in the Application column.

  • Keywords/Tags: There is arguably no need for "keywords" or "tags" as the salient references are likely already captured. However, if one insisted in having separate "keywords" or "tags", then one could insert them in the Keyword or Flag or Type columns - which seem to be user-editable. In any event, these could be superfluous and it might be more efficient to append any extra keywords/tags to the body of the clip text, preceded by (say) a special character such as a "#" or something. For example, this is a practice recommended in the clipboard info.manager NoteFrog - as a manual edit - and it was automated in the PIM Lotus Agenda. There's also a predefined Ratings column (with a user-selectable ratings dropdown menu) in CHS, which could be put to some use.

  • Finding bookmarks: Since the bookmarks would already be in a database in CHS, with search and SQL enquiry capability, then one could rapidly find the bookmarks using CHS search/SQL. I'm not sure whether the SQL search capability necessarily extends to all the fields/columns though. It may be that FARR could play a role here, by "injecting" the search enquiry into CHS and displaying the result in FARR.

There's probably more that could be said about this, but I think this now should better convey the general idea of what I was attempting to suggest in my earlier comments.
19  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: SysExporter - (Screen-scraping) Export data from Windows controls - Mini-Review on: April 16, 2015, 06:58:07 PM
I had occasion to use this proggy again today and thought I should update the review  with the latest version number - v1.72
This is such an incredibly useful tool when you need it.   Thmbsup
NirSoft's software is a veritable mine of generally useful Swiss Army Knife-type applications.
20 Software / Find And Run Robot / Re: FARR as bookmark manager? on: April 14, 2015, 05:40:37 AM
You could save bookmarks as .url files on your computer and put tags in the url file names.
FARR and FARR aliases can then be used to search among those bookmarks.
Long ago I made the tool Tourl to do just that.

Two caveats:
  • 1. to be able to search not only the title of the bookmarked page but also its url you need to put (parts of) the url in the filename. Tourl has hotkeys for doing that.
  • 2. Tourl is old, maybe some parts of the code need an update to run with the latest version of Autohotkey. But you can try it out and the source is included in the download.

This comment caught my attention because it referred to some of the things (including capture and linking of content, keywords and bookmark/URL) that I was after in this request: Feature request: select/display Grid column data > horizontal rows in Memo pane. (Though I did not specifically state in that post what my requirements were.)
I am intending to use CHS (Clipboard Help & Spell) as my de facto bookmarks database for all browsers.

The background to this:
My view is that bookmarks are arguably an archaism. They were probably undeniably a "good idea" - and quite useful too - for whatever our "requirements" were construed to have been at the time they were invented, but they would not seem to have really evolved all that much since then to meet what our requirements might have evolved into today. In other words, bookmarks would seem to be more of a customary hangover from the days when our requirements were otherwise than what they might be today.
Nowadays though, look what happens when I, for example, bookmark this page in Firefox: (press Ctrl+D)


This current manifestation of this bookmark form in Firefox v38.0 Beta includes:
1. A field containing the string "page name" (data captured at this point) for edit/acceptance.
2. A field containing the string"URL" (data captured at this point) for edit/acceptance.
3. A field displaying the Folder name for storing the bookmark (the user either accepts the default or selects another folder).
4. A field for entering string(s) for "Tag name" - an optional data entry/edit/selection field.
5. A field for entering string(s) for "Keyword" - an optional data entry/edit/selection field.
6. A field for entering the string "Description" - the de facto page subject name, with optional data edit/entry.

This website page bookmark data/metadata is stored in a proprietary Firefox bookmark database, which is apparently different to the proprietary IE bookmark database, which is apparently different to the proprietary Google Chrome bookmark database, etc.
Since one may understandably wish to use the same bookmarks in the same browser but using different PCs in different physical locations, or across different browsers in the same or different PCs, then there is a potential problem - in that this is a recipe for potential bookmark duplication, loss and confusion.
The problem is compounded when one realises how one has to use a search system peculiar to each browser if one wants to access those bookmarks in those proprietary browser bookmark databases. Then, of course, there's the problem of syncing or backup/recovery of those proprietary browser bookmark databases. It's all a manmade PITA, but at least it's avoidable - which is why I pretty much abandoned the use of those proprietary browser bookmark databases, though they are useful for my children's browsing.

I refuse to accept being locked-in to any given browser like that, as I use up to 3 browsers, and I want to be able to standardise the use of bookmarks across browsers, without having to worry about tripping over duplication/loss, differing standards or other idiosyncrasies.
Thus, one of the objectives of my CHS feature request (above) is that one could perhaps start to move towards having a "browser-agnostic" bookmark database holding a common set of bookmarks for all browsers to use.
Certainly, CHS would seem a logical tool to capture the bookmark data and store it, and as for accessing it for use in a browser, then possibly (say) FARR could even be the medium of access linking to CHS for this database. There is after all a "set" of DC tools that could possibly be integrated to provide the required functionality to meet a given requirement:

For example:
Re: Feature request : input field
let me consider the possibility of having chs interact or hand off to another tool as it pastes -- that might make it easy to do what you want and keep chs from getting over complicated.

I thought this looked very positive.    Thmbsup
We shall see.
21  News and Reviews / Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: WizNote (a PIM from China) - Mini-Review + Provisional User Forum on: April 11, 2015, 02:32:10 AM
@motion12, looks like one can install the remote part on own server now. Pretty big deal if you ask me.
I haven't done it. Looks enterprisey.
@Ian, which is your primary notetakes now, onenote or wiznote? You have been a vocal advocate of both for a while smiley
Trying to make this decision myself. ...

My response:
  • I hadn't realised that about installing the remote part of WizNote on your own server. That's very interesting.

  • My primary notetaker is currently OneNote. Though OneNote still feels to me a bit like it is in Beta test, one of its major advantages for me is the integration with MS Office 2013 products and IE. However, that is only on one laptop. I have been experiencing so many problems which seem to prohibit smooth installation on a second laptop, and MS Suoort is so silent on the problems (which are common to many other users), that I am wondering whether this isn't a cunning strategy by MS to force you onto Office 365 (which does not meet my requirements). The upshot is a lack of trust - I do not trust MS not to take advantage of me.
    I am trying to wean myself off of the legacy InfoSelect8, and migrate to OneNote, but it will probably take a while yet. Inertia.

  • WizNote is waiting in the wings there with a tad too many uncertainties/unknowns for me to make a rational decision about it. So it's wait and see.
22  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Firefox Extensions: Bookmark Manager AM-Deadlink discontinued and crippled on: April 09, 2015, 02:52:28 PM
Useful catch here: Bookmark Manager AM-Deadlink discontinued and crippled - gHacks Tech News

This is pretty useful too: The ultimate bookmarks guide - gHacks Tech News
23 Software / Screenshot Captor / Re: Scan Image File Saving to PDF without also creating image file on: April 09, 2015, 02:12:06 PM
The Fujitsu fi-7160 - that's one nice scanner you have there.

Most modern scanners come with bundled software that enables the scan of a document image directly to PDF (and usually OCR it as well) without creating or otherwise leaving any intermediate .jpg or other images lying around. If that were the case, then using Screenshot Captor to "drive" the scanner would seem to be superfluous and not a good idea - i.e., the bundled software would be the most appropriate driver for the scanner.

The Fujitsu fi-7160 scanner would seem to be no exception to this - it has the PaperStream IP (Image Processing) and PaperStream Capture software bundled with it.
The PaperStream IP spec says: (at )
  • Cleans up the toughest documents, including decorated backgrounds, for improved OCR, reduced rescans, and curtailed specialized profile creation
  • Auto-rotates for less paper preparation and automatically fills in hole-punches and torn edges
  • Color Clean Up creates a uniform background for better reproduction and reduced file sizes on color scans

The PaperStream Capture spec. says: (at
Standard File Outputs
Scan to PDF, PDF/A, PDF with OCR, TIFF Group 4, Multipage TIFF, JPEG, BMP with a single click. ...

I have found that, if one does not have the latest software for a scanner, then one is usually able to download/upgrade it for free for one's scanner from the manufacturer's Support website.
Have you any experience of the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner as well, or is it just the Fujitsu fi-7160? I'd be interested in any user experiences of and comments on these scanners.
24  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: So, what pdf reader app is your fav? on: April 09, 2015, 01:31:10 PM
I'm still using PDF-XChange Viewer (latest $FREE version) after this: PDF-XChange Viewer ($FREE version) - Mini-Review.
The OCR is pretty good.
25  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Knight to queen's bishop 3 - Google so transparent that they are opaque? on: April 09, 2015, 01:02:41 AM
Following this comment: (my emphasis)
Potentially relevant to this thread - I just received this email (follows) from Google:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images, but I have given just the basic links without all the concealed Google/NSA ID coding that was in the hyperlinks.)
Google regularly receives requests from governments and courts around the world to hand over our users' data. When we receive government requests for users' personal information, we follow a strict process to help protect against unnecessary intrusion.

Since 2010, we have regularly updated the Google Transparency Report with details about these requests. As the first company to release the numbers, as well as details of how we respond, we've been working hard for more transparency.

- whilst at the time I regarded it skeptically as probably loaded with BS and corporate doublespeak, there was no indication that I just may have been right - that is, until I read with interest today this rather long and apparently well-researched and informative article by Ben Edelman:
(Copied below sans the many embedded hyperlinks and cross-references.)
Beyond the FTC Memorandum: Comparing Google's Internal Discussions with Its Public Claims

April 1, 2015

Disclosure: I serve as a consultant to various companies that compete with Google. That work is ongoing and covers varied subjects, most commonly advertising fraud. I write on my own—not at the suggestion or request of any client, without approval or payment from any client.

Through a FOIA request, the Wall Street Journal recently obtained--and generously provided to the public--never-before-seen documents from the FTC's 2011-2012 investigation of Google for antitrust violations. The Journal's initial report (Inside the U.S. Antitrust Probe of Google) examined the divergence between the staff's recommendation and the FTC commissioners' ultimate decision, while search engine guru Danny Sullivan later highlighted 64 notable quotes from the documents.

In this piece, I compare the available materials (particularly the staff memorandum's primary source quotations from internal Google emails) with the company's public statements on the same subjects. The comparison is revealing: Google's public statements typically emphasize a lofty focus on others' interests, such as giving users the most relevant results and paying publishers as much as possible. Yet internal Google documents reveal managers who are primarily focused on advancing the company's own interests, including through concealed tactics that contradict the company's public commitments.

About the Document

In a 169-page memorandum dated August 8, 2012, the FTC's Bureau of Competition staff examined Google's conduct in search and search advertising. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the WSJ sought copies of FTC records pertaining to Google. It seems this memorandum was intended to be withheld from FTC's FOIA request, as it probably could have been pursuant to FOIA exception 5 (deliberative process privilege). Nonetheless, the FTC inadvertently produced the memorandum – or, more precisely, approximately half the pages of the memorandum. In particular, the FTC produced the pages with even numbers.

To ease readers' analysis of the memorandum, I have improved the PDF file posted by the WSJ. Key enhancements: I used optical character recognition to index the file's text (facilitating users' full-text search within the file and allowing search engines to index its contents). I deskewed the file (straightening crooked scans), corrected PDF page numbering (to match the document's original numbering), created hyperlinks to access footnotes, and added a PDF navigation panel with the document's table of contents. The resulting document: FTC Bureau of Competition Memorandum about Google – August 8, 2012.

AdWords API restrictions impeding competition

In my June 2008 PPC Platform Competition and Google's "May Not Copy" Restriction and July 2008 congressional testimony about competition in online search, it seems I was the first to alert policy-makers to brazen restrictions in Google's AdWords API Terms and Conditions. The AdWords API provided full-featured access to advertisers' AdWords campaigns. With both read and write capabilities, the AdWords API provided a straightforward facility for toolmakers to copy advertisers' campaigns from AdWords to competing services, optimize campaigns across multiple services, and consolidate reporting across services. Instead, Google inserted contractual restrictions banning all of these functions. (Among other restrictions: of] the additional overhead needed to manage these other networks [in light of] the small amount of additional traffic” (staff memo at p.48, citing GOOGWOJC-000044501-05). Holden indicated that removing AdWords API restrictions would pave the way to more advertisers using more ad platforms, which he called a “significant boost to … competitors” (id.). He further confirmed that the change would bring cost savings to advertisers, noting that Microsoft and Yahoo “have lower average CPAs” (cost per acquisition, a key measure of price) (id.), meaning that advertisers would be receptive to using those platforms if they could easily do so. Indeed, Google had known these effects all along. In a 2006 document not attributed to a specific author, the FTC quotes Google planning to “fight commoditization of search networks by enforcing AdWords API T&Cs” (footnote 546, citing GOOGKAMA-0000015528), indicating that AdWords API restrictions allowed Google to avoid competing on the merits.

The FTC staff report reveals that, even within Google, the AdWords API restrictions were controversial. Holden ultimately sought to “to eliminate this requirement” (key AdWords API restrictions) because the removal would be “better for customers and the industry as a whole” since it would Specialized search and favoring Google's own services: benefiting users or Google?

For nearly a decade, competitors and others have questioned Google's practice of featuring its own services in its search results. The core concern is that Google grants its own services favored and certain placement, preferred format, and other benefits unavailable to competitors – giving Google a significant advantage as it enters new sectors. Indeed, anticipating Google's entry and advantages, prospective competitors might reasonably seek other opportunities. As a result, users end up with fewer choices of service providers, and advertisers with less ability to find alternatives if Google's offerings are too costly or otherwise undesirable.

Against this backdrop, Google historically claimed its new search results were “quicker and less hassle” than alternatives, and that the old “ten blue links” format was outdated. “ [W]e built Google for users,” the company claimed, arguing that the design changes benefit users. In a widely-read 2008 post, Google Fellow Amit Singhal explained Google's emphasis on “the most relevant results” and the methods used to assure result relevance. Google's “ Ten things we know to be true” principles begin with “focus on the user,” claiming that Google's services “will ultimately serve you [users], rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.”

With access to internal Google discussions, FTC staff paint quite a different picture of Google's motivations. Far from assessing what would most benefit users, Google staff examine the “threat” (footnote 102, citing GOOG-ITA-04-0004120-46) and “challenge” of “aggregators” which would cause “loss of query volumes” to competing sites and which also offer a “better advertiser proposition” through “cheaper, lower-risk” pricing (FTC staff report p.20 and footnote 102, citing GOOG-Texas-1486928-29). The documents continue at length: “the power of these brands [competing services] and risk to our monetizable traffic” (footnote 102, citing GOOG-ITA-05-0012603-16), with “merchants increasing % of spend on” competing services (footnote 102, citing GOOG-ITA-04-0004120-46). Bill Brougher, a Google product manager assessed the risks:

    [W]hat is the real threat if we don't execute on verticals? (a) loss of traffic from because folks search elsewhere for some queries; (b) related revenue loss for high spend verticals like travel; (c) missing opty if someone else creates the platform to build verticals; (d) if one of our big competitors builds a constellation of high quality verticals, we are hurt badly

(footnote 102, citing GOOG-ITA-06-0021809-13) Notice Brougher's sole focus on Google's business interests, with not a word spent on what is best for users.

Moreover, the staff report documents Google's willingness to worsen search results in order to advance the company's strategic interests. Google's John Hanke (then Vice President of Product Management for Geo) explained that “we want to win [in local] and we are willing to take some hits [i.e. trigger incorrectly sometimes]” (footnote 121, citing GOOG-Texas-0909676-77, emphasis added). Google also proved willing to sacrifice user experience in its efforts to demote competing services, particularly in the competitive sector of comparison shopping services. Google used human “raters” to compare product listings, but in 2006 experiments the raters repeatedly criticized Google's proposed changes because they favored competing comparison shopping services: “We had moderate losses [in raters' assessments of quality when Google made proposed changes] because the raters thought this was worse than a bizrate or nextag page” (footnote 154, citing GOOGSING-000014116-17). Rather than accept raters' assessment that competitors had high-quality offerings that should remain in search results, Google changed raters' criteria twice, finally imposing a set of criteria in which competitors' services were no longer ranked favorably (footnote 154, citing GOOGEC-0168014-27, GOOGEC-0148152-56, GOOGC-0014649).

Specialized search and favoring Google's own services: targeting bad sites or solid competitors?

In public statements, Google often claimed that sites were rightly deprioritized in search results, indicating that demotions targeted “low quality,” “shallow” sites with “duplicate, overlapping, or redundant” content that is “mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators … so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care.” Google Senior Vice President Jonathan Rosenberg chose the colorful phrase “faceless scribes of drivel” to describe sites Google would demote “to the back of the arena.”

But when it came to the competing shopping services Google staff sought to relegate, Google's internal assessments were quite different. “The bizrate/nextag/epinions pages are decently good results. They are usually well-format[t]ed, rarely broken, load quickly and usually on-topic. Raters tend to like them. …. [R]aters like the variety of choices the meta-shopping site(s) seem… to give” (footnote 154, citing GOOGSING-000014375).

Here too, Google's senior leaders approved the decision to favor Google's services. Google co-founder Larry Page personally reviewed the prominence of Google's services and, indeed, sought to make Google services more prominent. For example: “Larry thought product [Google's shopping service] should get more exposure” (footnote 120, citing GOOG-Texas-1004148). Product managers agreed, calling it “strategic” to “dial up” Google Shopping (footnote 120, citing GOOG-Texas-0197424). Others noted the competitive importance: Preferred placement of Google's specialized search services was deemed important to avoid “ced[ing] recent share gains to competitors” (footnote 121, citing GOOG-Texas-0191859) or indeed essential: “most of us on geo [Google Local] think we won't win unless we can inject a lot more of local directly into google results” (footnote 121, citing GOOGEC-0069974). Assessing “Google's key strengths” in launching product search, one manager flagged Google's control over “ real estate for the ~70MM of product queries/day in US/UK/De alone” (footnote 121, citing GOOG-Texas-0199909), a unique advantage that competing services could not match.

Specialized search and favoring Google's own services: algorithms versus human decisions

A separate divergence from Google's public statements comes in the use of staff decisions versus algorithms to select results. Amit Singhal's 2008 post presented the company's (supposed) insistence on “no manual intervention”:

    In our view, the web is built by people. You are the ones creating pages and linking to pages. We are using all this human contribution through our algorithms. The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us. We believe that the subjective judgment of any individual is, well ... subjective, and information distilled by our algorithms from the vast amount of human knowledge encoded in the web pages and their links is better than individual subjectivity.

2011 testimony from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (written responses to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights) made similar claims: “The decision whether to display a onebox is determined based on Google's assessment of user intent” (p.2). Schmidt further claimed that Google displayed its own services because they “are responsive to what users are looking for,” in order to “enhance[e] user satisfaction" (p.2).

The FTC's memorandum quotes ample internal discussions to the contrary. For one, Google repeatedly changed the instructions for raters until raters assessed Google's services favorably (the practice discussed above, citing and quoting from footnote 154). Similarly, Page called for “more exposure” for Google services and staff wanted “a lot more of local directly into search results” (cited above). In each instance, Google managers and staff substituted their judgment for algorithms and user preferences as embodied in click-through rate. Furthermore, Google modified search algorithms to show Google's services whenever a “blessed site” (key competitor) appeared. Google staff explained the process: “Product universal top promotion based on shopping comparison [site] presence” (footnote 136 citing GOOGLR-00161978) and “add[ing] a 'concurring sites' signal to bias ourselves toward triggering [display of a Google local service] when a local-oriented aggregator site (i.e. Citysearch) shows up in the web results” (footnote 136 citing GOOGLR-00297666). Whether implemented by hand or through human-directed changes to algorithms, Google sought to put its own services first, contrary to prior commitments to evenhandedness.

At the same time, Google systematically applied lesser standards to its own services. Examining Google's launch report for a 2008 algorithm change, FTC staff said that Google elected to show its product search OneBox “regardless of the quality” of that result (footnote 119, citing GOOGLR-00330279-80) and despite “pretty terribly embarrassing failures” in returning low-quality results (footnote 170, citing GOOGWRIG-000041022). Indeed, Google's product search service apparently failed Google's standard criteria for being indexed by Google search (p.80 and footnote 461), yet Google nonetheless put the service in top positions (p.30 and footnote 170, citing GOOG-Texas-0199877-906).

The FTC's documents also call into question Eric Schmidt's 2011 claim (in written responses to a Senate committee) that “universal search results are our search service -- they are not some separate 'Google product or service' that can be 'favored.'” The quotes in the preceding paragraph indicate that Google staff knew they could give Google's own services “more exposure” by “inject[ing] a lot more of [the services] into google results.” Whether or not these are “separate” services, they certainly can be made more or less prominent--as Google's Page and staff recognized, but as Schmidt's testimony denies. Meanwhile, in oral testimony, Schmidt said “I'm not aware of any unnecessary or strange boosts or biases.” But consider Google's “concurring sites” feature, which caused Google services to appear whenever key competitors' services were shown (footnote 136 citing GOOGLR-00297666). This was surely not genuinely “necessary” in the sense that search could not function without it, and indeed Google's own raters seemed to think search would be better without it. And these insertions were surely “strange” in the sense that they were unknown outside Google until the FTC memorandum became available last week. In response to a question from Senator Lee, asking whether Google “cooked it” to make its results always appear in a particular position, Schmidt responded “I can assure you, we've not cooked anything”--but in fact the “concurring sites” feature exactly guaranteed that Google's service would appear, and Google staff deliberated at length over the position in which Google services would appear (footnote 138).

All in all, Google's internal discussions show a company acutely aware of its special advantage: Google could increase the chance of its new services succeeding by making them prominent. Users might dislike the changes, but Google managers were plainly willing to take actions their own raters considered undesirable in order to increase the uptake of the company's new services. Schmidt denied that such tampering was possible or even logically coherent, but in fact it was widespread.

Payments to publishers: as much as possible, or just enough to meet waning competition?

In public statements, Google touts its efforts to “ help… online publishers … earn the most advertising revenue possible.” I've always found this a strange claim: Google could easily cut its fees so that publishers retain more of advertisers' payments. Instead, publishers have long reported – and the FTC's document now explicitly confirms – that Google has raised its fees and thus cut payments to publishers. The FTC memorandum quotes Google co-founder Sergey Brin: “Our general philosophy with renewals has been to reduce TAC across the board” (footnote 517, citing GOOGBRIN-000025680). Google staff confirm an “overall goal [of] better AFS economics” through “stricter AFS Direct revenue-share tiering guidelines” (footnote 517, citing GOOGBRAD-000012890) – that is, lower payments to publishers. The FTC even released revenue share tiers for a representative publisher, reporting a drop from 80%, 85%, and 87.5% to 73%, 75%, and 77% (footnote 320, citing GOOG-AFS-000000327), increasing Google's fees to the publisher by as much as 84%. (Methodology: divide Google's new fee by its old fee, e.g. (1-0.875)/(1-0.77)=1.84.)

The FTC's investigation revealed the reason why Google was able to impose these payment reductions and fee increases: Google does not face effective competition for small to midsized publishers. The FTC memorandum quotes no documents in which Google managers worry about Microsoft (or others) aggressively recruiting Google's small to midsized publishers. Indeed, FTC staff report that Microsoft largely ceased attempts in this vein. (Assessing Microsoft's withdrawal, the FTC staff note Google contract provisions preventing a competing advertising service from bidding only on those searches and pages where it has superior ads. Thus, Microsoft had little ability to bid on certain terms but not others. See memorandum p.106.)

The FTC notes Microsoft continuing to pursue some large Google publishers, but with limited success. A notable example is AOL, which Google staff knew Microsoft “aggressively woo[ed] … with large guarantees” (p.108). An internal Google analysis showed little concern about losing AOL but significant concern about Microsoft growing: “AOL holds marginal search share but represents scale gains for a Microsoft + Yahoo! Partnership… AOL/Microsoft combination has modest impact on market dynamics, but material increase in scale of Microsoft's search & ads platform” (p.108). Google had historically withheld many features from AOL, whereas AOL CEO Tim Armstrong sought more. (WSJ reported: “Armstrong want[ed] AOL to get access to the search innovation pipeline at Google, rather than just receive a more basic product.”) By all indications Google accepted AOL's request only due to pressure from Microsoft: A Critical Perspective

The WSJ also recently flagged Google's “close ties to White House,” noting large campaign contributions, more than 230 meetings at the White House, high lobbying expenditures, and ex-Google staff serving in senior staff positions. In an unusual press release, the FTC denied that improper factors affected the Commission's decision. Google's Rachel Whetstone, SVP Communications and Policy, responded by shifting focus to WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch personally, then explaining that some of the meetings were industry associations and other matters unrelated to Google's competition practices.

Without records confirming discussion topics or how decisions were made, it is difficult to reach firm conclusions about the process that led the FTC not to pursue claims against Google. It is also difficult to rule out the WSJ's conclusion of political influence. Indeed, Google used exactly this reasoning in critiquing the WSJ's analysis: “We understand that what was sent to the Wall Street Journal represents 50% of one document written by 50% of the FTC case teams.” Senator Mike Lee this week confirmed that the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will investigate the possibility of improper influence, and perhaps that investigation will yield further insight. But even the incomplete FTC memorandum reproduces scores of quotes from Google documents, and these quotes offer an unusual opportunity to compare Google's internal statements with its public claims. Google's broadest claims of lofty motivations and Internet-wide benefits were always suspect, and Google's public statements fall further into question when compared with frank internal discussions.

There's plenty more to explore in the FTC's report. I will post the rest of the document if a further FOIA request or other development makes more of it available.
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