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Google TV proves one thing: TV needs a 'hide' button

TVGoogle demonstrated its revolutionary new Google TV initiative this week but also revealed something we already knew: TV is rubbish.

At its Google I/O conference this week, Google spokesmen bravely demoed the many Google TV options, with live TV running in the background. They struggled with their Bluetooth controllers because of Bluetooth interference from the audience (Google gave every attendee a Bluetooth-capable mobile phone before the event began).

But the real comedy was provided by live TV. As Google representatives struggled to get their wireless controller to work, there was a horrible toilet paper commercial playing on the airport-runway-size giant screen. Then there was some pseudo news programme discussing various trashy, tawdry and inappropriate subjects. You know. TV.

The live programming actually made these grizzled Googlers blush, apologise and joke nervously about choosing a different channel next time. To me, they accidentally demonstrated the prevailing reality of television: It's mostly stuff you do not want.

Google TV is breathtaking. But if the entire vision has a flaw, it's that it buys into yesterday's more-is-better ethos of consumer culture. Google TV gives you all the options of regular TV, plus search, apps, social networking, internet video and a lot more.

A few decades ago, we had three channels. If you wanted to watch TV, you'd turn on the set and choose this network, that one or the other one.

Then we got VCRs, cable and satellite. An explosion in channels and options overwhelmed us. Throw in DVD and Blu-ray players, Sky+ and its ilk, Slingbox and other innovative ways to enjoy TV. In addition to several HBO channels, several MTV channels, a half-dozen cooking networks, endless sports channels and stations in many foreign languages, we have inane infomercials, endless reruns, embarrassing local programming and so much more. We can search, record and pause. It takes a half hour just to channel-surf your way though all the channels. By the time you find what you want to watch, it's over.

Not enough "stuff" to do with your TV? Now Google TV is giving us more, more, more.

What we really need is less.

Google pointed out in its Google TV demo that the average American spends five hours per day watching TV. Assuming only one of those hours is wasted on irrelevant commercials and channel-surfing garbage channels, here's a made-up-but-still-meaningful statistic for you: The average American wastes about three years in a lifetime on irrelevant junk TV. Three years!

Now that's a problem that needs solving. What we really need is the ability to block, kill, hide or otherwise make invisible the torrents of garbage that pour into our living rooms.

While that bad TV programming played in the background, I'm certain that Googlers would have received a standing ovation if they had pressed a "Hide Garbage Like This" button and made it vanish.

I come not to bury Google TV, but to praise it: Google TV is a Google Android-based development platform. So, developers, if you want to get rich: Be first to develop the Google TV Hide button.

Why everything should be like Facebook

While using the Facebook News Feed, you can hover your mouse pointer over the right side of a post to reveal a Hide button. Click on it, and Facebook gives you the option to never see posts by that person again or, if the item is from an app, never see posts by that app again. For example, if someone is using an app that broadcasts every song they listen to, you can Hide that app but still get actual posts from the person.

Hooray!

I love Facebook's Hide button. It makes Facebook far more usable and appealing. Rather than just adding junk, Facebook lets us take some away. The company could have provided the option to hide things with a buried setting under an Options menu, as most services do. But the Hide button is constantly available to you, making it very easy and appealing to use.

Facebook ads have something similar, which is a tiny "X" next to the ad. When you click it, you're asked if the ad was "Uninteresting," "Misleading," "Offensive," "Repetitive" or "Other." Users get to kill annoying ads. Advertisers get valuable feedback. Everybody wins.

We need Hide buttons in all kinds of situations where we're flooded with junk we don't want to see:

Search. Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines use a Boolean search operator that excludes search terms. You can put either the all-uppercase word "NOT" or a minus sign before a word, and the query will return only results that don't contain that word. Nice, but I think the search engines can do better. How about a Hide button that asks if you want to hide content from a particular source or eliminate some keyword? Maybe we could click on a word in a result to hide all results with that word.

Twitter. Like Facebook, Twitter apps let people auto-broadcast things, such as their locations. It would be great to have a Hide button that hides either tweets by the person or by the app. There are third-party Twitter clients that do some of this, but it should be baked right into the Twitter system.

E-mail. Microsoft unveiled this week a new version of Hotmail that includes a great new feature. It's called Sweep, and it's pretty close to a Hide button for e-mail. You can select a message and choose to "Sweep" all messages from that sender into another folder, either just that instance or all future e-mails as well. I'd love to see something like this on Gmail, Yahoo Mail and all e-mail software applications, but made more intelligent. When you choose to hide an e-mail, it should offer to hide all messages based on sender, subject, content, language (I never need to see e-mail that's in Mandarin, for example) or other criteria.

Online ads. Don't you hate those wrinkle cream, weight loss and teeth-whitening ads? They're everywhere. I'd love to see a browser or browser plug-in that puts a Hide button on ads. Just click Hide, and no matter where you go online, you just get white space instead of that ad whenever it would appear. Or give us another ad, as Facebook does.

Radio. One of the reasons people love Pandora Radio and services like it is the power of its Hide button. If you're using the phone app, for example, just pressing the thumbs down button immediately skips to the next song -- and tells Pandora you don't want to hear that song again. If radio -- whether terrestrial, satellite or Internet -- wants to survive in the age of playlists, it needs to copy Facebook and Pandora and give us a Hide button. Of course, you can't do that with live talk radio. But music is just a playlist anyway. Figure it out.

These are just a few examples, and we could all think of many more. The point is that the old-and-busted instinct to "improve" everything by adding more and more and more is obsolete. The most valuable things in our lives are our time and attention. We need to protect our sanity from information overload, and to be able to customize content.

The easiest, best and surest way to improve everything is to do what Facebook does: Put a Hide button on it.

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