Google Fonts: Your Questions, Answered

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  • There's a very good op-ed by Joe Nocera in today's New York Times entitled "Will Digital Networks Ruin Us?" It concerns Jaron Lanier's book "Who Owns the Future."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/opinion/nocera-will-digital-networks-ruin-us.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=0

    Lanier clearly articulates some points I've been vainly trying to make in some of my earlier posts to this thread, that giving away content may actually be harmful and costly. For those of you who can't access the link, I will quote here a few of the salient points. I think it has some interesting parallels to Google Fonts.

    * * * * *

    The . . . digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. [Lanier's] great example here is Kodak and Instagram. At its height, writes Lanier “Kodak employed more than 140,000 people. . . . When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”

    “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” [Lanier] writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.

    It is Lanier’s radical idea that people should get paid whenever their information is used. He envisions a different kind of digital economy, in which creators of content — whether a blog post or a Facebook photograph — would receive micropayments whenever that content was used. A digital economy that appears to give things away for free — in return for being able to invade the privacy of its customers for commercial gain — isn’t free at all, he argues.
  • "The relatively hilarious thing about the FE issue in the real world is, we're encouraged as hell by our clients' linguistic requirements, OSs' scaling abilities, browsers and css of lesser functionality, to reduce the file size by means entirely other than compression, i.e. subsetting and whole table whacking, to functional relevance. FE is a joke for web fonts from commercial founders and probably libre founders as well."

    You could stop that last sentence after "web fonts": Functional equivalence is a joke for web fonts. Allowing people to whack off the bits of the font they don't need is helpful and can greatly reduce file sizes and hence page load times.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,428
    Thanks Scott, good link.
    It would be nice to get micropayments whenever someone reads one of my fonts.
    But I would have to hash things out with the author of the text, the designer of the page, the designer of the site brand, the application developer, the device, and of course the network—which is already getting micropayments—&c. &c.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,652
    edited January 2014
    Functional equivalence in WOFF 2.0 compression terms means equivalence between what goes into the compression and what comes out of the decompression. Where's the joke? We're not talking about functional equivalence between desktop and web fonts, or between different web fonts that might be variously sliced and diced for or by particular users, or between the same web font in different environments. Just equivalence between input and output, before and after compression.
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited January 2014
    Scott, interesting article you linked.

    Aside from the author's recurring point of the digital economy requiring less people to run, the Kodak/Instagram comparison is way off. Kodak was a photography company that mishandled its future prospects by refusing to puruse the digital format it itself invented, for fear of cannibalizing its paper and film fortunes. Instagram is a company that applies software filters to already-processed digital images and allows them to be shared. This is comparison between a sourcer and a post-processor, which is kind of like comparing a cheese maker to a pizza joint.

    A more accurate comparison to Kodak would be Apple and Nokia, since they now are the two biggest camera manufacturers in the world. But such a comparison wouldn't produce the shocking technology eviction numbers for Lanier to support his point, so he didn't use it.

    And Lanier's radical idea of micropayments is nothing new. It's about 50 years old now, debated and reconsidered on many occasions. Look up Ted Nelson, Project Xanadu, Transcopyright and Hypercoin.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,046
    edited January 2014
    Just equivalence between input and output, before and after compression.
    In computer software, that usually means the input and output produce identical checksums. WOFF2 and EOT won't do that.
    Lanier's radical idea of micropayments is nothing new
    The form of micropayments Lanier describes are DRM, can not be done with libre software, and therefore can not work on the web which is dominated by libre software browsers.

    Microdonations work on the web - Flattr - but that is something I believe Lanier is opposed to.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,652
    In computer software, that usually means the input and output produce identical checksums. WOFF2 and EOT won't do that.
    Isn't that the differfence between functional equivalence and true (round trip) equivalance?
  • The aptness of the Kodak-Instagram comparison isn't really the point. (Unfortunately, I elided a sentence that questioned it.) Neither is the micropayment system.

    The salient point, I think, is Lanier's statement that a network's "value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it. Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.”

    It's difficult to argue with the first two sentences, as they reflect obvious truths. But the danger is in the third sentence.

    Had Google started a type department, perhaps they would have created jobs for a dozen or so people, about the same number who work full-time in Adobe's type department. Do you think the net effect would have been better or worse than the current model? It would have been better for the dozen, for sure. Do you think any dozen contributors to the current model of Google Fonts will ever benefit as much? I highly doubt it.
  • Patrick GriffinPatrick Griffin Posts: 61
    edited January 2014
    Well, that's the grand user-generated content model we all fell for, innit? Web 2.0, blogs, social networks, all the self-empowerment myths, promises of great exposure and riches all those cyber hipsters/experts/marketers could throw at us. But this user-generated content model is not really a new phenomenon, or even a recent one. It's been around for a long, long time. Think of all the people interviewed or quoted at length without being paid on pre-internet media for so many decades now — providing content that sells media and advertising, and basically making platform providers rich off of hapless peons whose compensation was never even considered.

    And sure, now the fat cats who fooled us with their PR armies and manipulated numbers are sticking out like bullseye circles. But did any of the hundreds of millions of us who commented or digged or reddited or blogged or tweeted ever lose their job because of it, and are we looking at some kind of treachery or coercion here? We feel outraged, perhaps rightly so — some sneaky people exploited our very human social nature and got rich off our own yawns and musings. But that's a far cry from sensationally claiming that traditional jobs are being lost because someone did the digital equivalent of bottling tap water.

    To get back on topic, I think Google does indeed have a type department. If you look at how their library got built, you can see an infrastructure of managers and internal developers at work. This isn't any different from the type departments at Microsoft or Apple — I'd even venture a guess that Google has more font-related people on the payroll than MS or Apple, but again I'm not sure. All three companies outsource the type design and production work, and all three do it in their own way, but the overall structure/process is very similar. As regards Adobe, I think their type department only recently rose from a minimally structured kind of software-support existence, after they bought Omniture and Typekit and got into the data mining business. But even long before that, the majority of the original designs published in the first three decades of Adobe's font library were done by outside designers, just like at Apple, Microsoft and now Google. The existence of type departments (inasmuch as you can call them that in software/internet companies) is only justified if they fit in a bigger picture, where their function is to support the companies' main products — really the same kind of products in all four cases here.
  • If that's getting back on topic, then never mind. :)



  • Yeah, you know, Scott did posit the type department theory. :)

    But you're probably right. The horse may have indeed left our plane, as Indra said.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 273
    edited January 2014
    Dave and John, I just re-read the definition of FE on the SIL site...

    http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?item_id=OFL_web_fonts_and_RFNs&highlight=functional~equivalence -

    It doesn't seem to require lossless binary round-tripping, so I'm back to my original opinion that an unsubsetted microtype express compressed EOT is functionally equivalent to original TTF, and arguably the obfuscated version is functionally equivalent too as it meets the bullet points listed on that page. Likewise for WOFF2.

    But as OFL fonts become more useful (ie bigger, with more features and larger character sets) then subsetting will be more common and that's what will break the FE.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,046
    edited January 2014
    Again, personal opinion only:
    Had Google started a type department, perhaps they would have created jobs for a dozen or so people, about the same number who work full-time in Adobe's type department.
    On the Adobe Font Team page there are 11 roles: 4 designers - Slimbach, Sousa, Hunt, Grießhammer - 3 engineers - Lunde, Roberts, March - and 4 managers - Engineering (Lemon), Product (Belohlavek), Marketing (Miñoza), Program (Ross).

    Anyone who carefully observes the Google Fonts blog and attends type conferences in recent years knows that the GF team has been 3 engineers, a product manager, has involved information architects and user experience researchers from across the company; and that the team has contracted 1 consultant - me - and 100s of freelance typeface designers. Some of whom were given large annual contracts to produce dozens of fonts, as anyone can observe from following the @googlefonts twitter stream in recent years.

    So instead of producing a small number of fonts in the last few years with a small in house team, they created contract opportunities for 100s of freelance type designers and published a huge variety of fonts.

    And then there's a team in Google's i18n group who have commissioned a small number of fonts from Monotype and a few others, and then the huge Noto project, again mainly from Monotype. And then there's Christian Robertson, who is a full time employee and made Roboto on company time as part of his employment.

    As far as I know, Microsoft contracts everything out and doesn't have any type designers on staff, with folks like John Hudson.

    So what's the difference, other than Google's budgets were used in ways you think lack good taste?
    Do you think the net effect would have been better or worse than the current model? It would have been better for the dozen, for sure. Do you think any dozen contributors to the current model of Google Fonts will ever benefit as much? I highly doubt it.
    I'd recommend asking the people with 10s of fonts in the collection, like Vern and Pablo, who seem plenty happy, on this very thread, if they feel they benefitted as much as they would have done as an employee of another foundry in that same time period.

    And this seems rather typical of me of the design industry in general. You can work for WPP or Conde Nast or Omnicom or some other huge conglomerate's design firm, or you can work freelance, and many designers have worked as an employee and prefer working freelance. Do you degrudge working freelance..? :)

    My personal guess is that there is a lot more money sustaining type design in the last 3 years from Google than Adobe or Microsoft.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 273
    I hear that in the three years from 1974 to 1977 Elvis spent more money on gold plated toilets than The Clash and The Rolling Stones combined! ;-)
  • Deleted AccountDeleted Account Posts: 739
    edited January 2014
    Do you degrudge working freelance..? :)
    Having to repair a spearhead every few days, no. I'm defuddled by such a question to this audience. Most of us work freelance most of our days. Which is, I think, by the way, fyi, quite different from being commissioned to do whatever you want for the variety of it all. ;)
    But as OFL fonts become more useful (ie bigger, with more features and larger character sets) [...]
    This is the most obvious license/woff/google trap. I'm not sure why John doesn't get it — that the license between the type maker and licensor, libre or non, and the license between the type licensor and the licensee (which is almost always for the real "original" font representing the whole style being licensed, without regard to format or glphys, features or hints, or whackable tables of any kind) magnifies the insignificance of the web wrapper, which was obvious before woff or eot. So, when the context of the term "original" shifts to a non-FE version relative to the real original, who cares. and who cares about round trip fidelity.

    I'm also not sure why Google ads have such pathetic live type, but by the time we've gotten there, it seems like it's off-topic question. ;)
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,046
    edited January 2014
    Isn't that the differfence between functional equivalence and true (round trip) equivalance?
    Precisely.
    I hear that in the three years from 1974 to 1977 Elvis spent more money on gold plated toilets than The Clash and The Rolling Stones combined! ;-)
    But they each outspent him in trashed hotel room cleaning fees.
  • What about the confirmation of the suspicion that all of Google's services are partly data-mining operations – including in this case Google WF?

    http://blog.xwolf.de/2014/01/01/wp3-8-spion-inside-google-webfont-nutzung-fuer-admins/
  • xwolf blog through google translate says,
    "The access of the user is tracked with at least the header data of the connection requests sent be. These then are also cookies from the Google domain."
    If you look closely at the HTTP headers, you can see the font request isn't tied to a cookie.

    Sorry for my lack of German language and use of Google Translate :)
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,652
    What about the confirmation of the suspicion that all of Google's services are partly data-mining operations
    Did anyone think otherwise? 'Surveillance is the business model of the Internet'—Bruce Schneier.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited January 2014
    All Libre Fonts can also be self-hosted, for those concerned about privacy.
  • Deleted AccountDeleted Account Posts: 739
    edited April 2014
    Pablo: What about kit updates and such?

    Jay: ...the suspicion that all of Google's services are partly data-mining operations.

    John: Did anyone think otherwise?

    How would you improve that? I.E. if you were to want more data about sites, from the fonts, and the way they are used, how would you proceed?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,652
    I.E. if you were to want more data about sites, from the fonts, and the way they are used, how would you proceed?
    If all the gaff about 'typeface personality' has any merit, one could presumably draw conclusions about whether the makers of a given website think of it as elegant, playful or functional, based on what fonts they use and how.
  • Jay LanglyJay Langly Posts: 33
    This is quite a long thread so excuse me if this was answered somewhere already:

    What is Google getting out of developing fonts? What's in it for them? And not just a sentiment about 'getting into design', anyone care to speculate or answer? Is this really about Open Sourcing IP?...
  • Jay, Google’s officially stated goal for their fonts program is to encourage the use of webfonts because it means more text-as-HTML and fewer text-as-images which cannot be indexed by the search engine.
  • Deleted AccountDeleted Account Posts: 739
    edited July 2014
    They also got corporate types for their own uses, (and Lobster all over everyone.)
  • Pity they stopped too soon, though. :\
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited July 2014
    Some recent adds:
    - Slabo by John Hudson (13px and 27px, Size specific)
    - Vesper Libre by Mota Italic (Latin + Devanagari)
    - EkMuckta by EkType (Latin + Devanagari)
    - 6 fonts by ITF: Kalam, Hind, Rajdhani, Teko, Karma and Khand (Latin + Devanagari)
  • Is this a summer rerun?
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,046
    Stephen, do you think they get anything else out of it?
  • Wait. Don’t I ask that question and you answer it?
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