Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Google Changes Privacy Settings on Search History

I've become more than a little unsettled by Google. The latest news from Google only exacerbates that feeling.

Google wants to provide YOU with more accurate searches and wants to do so based upon YOUR search history. That's great. Or is it? Will this search data become integrated with other Google products? This data helps Google know more about YOU. But do we really give our permission to Google (the corporate entity) to use our data throughout its subsidiaries when we use one of these subsidiaries? For example does participation in Google Search mean that YouTube (owned by Google) can share in the use of this data?

Right now Google seems to be limiting their search data collection to Google the search engine. Good. Let's keep it that way. But even here - users MUST have the ability to see what is collected and to be able to remove data from the database - for whatever reason it may be.


Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we're doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser.
Personalized Search for everyone

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Facebook's Privacy Policy Changes

I haven’t been happy with Facebook for a while now. My concerns can be placed into two categories: one is usability and the second is privacy. The usability issues have not improved and now, I fear, that the privacy issues have worsened. I have to thank EFF for reviewing Facebook’s Privacy Settings.

Although sold as a "privacy" revamp, Facebook's new changes are obviously intended to get people to open up even more of their Facebook data to the public. The privacy "transition tool" that guides users through the configuration will "recommend" — preselect by default — the setting to share the content they post to Facebook, such as status messages and wall posts, with everyone on the Internet, even though the default privacy level that those users had accepted previously was limited to "Your Networks and Friends"
At this point there's no "if" about it: the Facebook privacy transition tool is clearly designed to push users to share much more of their Facebook info with everyone, a worrisome development that will likely cause a major shift in privacy level for most of Facebook's users
Looking even closer at the new Facebook privacy changes, things get downright ugly when it comes to controlling who gets to see personal information such as your list of friends. Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a "fan" of — as "publicly available information" or "PAI." Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated. For example, although you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting — shown below — has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.

Mr. Zuckerberg whatever happened to: ”Our philosophy is that people own their information and control whom they share it with..."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just Say No to Coupon Codes, Part II

I've long argued against the coupon code. My primary concern has been that customers without the customer code would be turned off as they are missing a sale. Several clients (one in particular which will remain anonymous) thought that customers missing out of the sale would be more inclined to sign up in order not to miss future sales. I always thought that it would be preferable to include the customer code in the email link. This way the customer wouldn't have to remember the code. One could always entice others to sign up by having notices posted during the check-out process that if they signed up they would be able to take part in future sales.

How nice it was to see The Guru of Gurus, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators, Jakob Nielsen, mention these same points in his column: Short-Term Memory and Web Usability

Instead of using coupon codes, encode offers in special links embedded in your email newsletters and automatically transfer the coupon to the user's shopping cart. This has two benefits:
  • The computer carries the burden of remembering the obscure code and applying it at the correct time.
  • It eliminates the "enter coupon code" field, which scares away shoppers who don't have coupons (and who refuse to pay full price when the checkout flow blatantly signals that other users are getting a better deal).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

@Font-Face and Page Rendering Performance

I found an interesting article discussing the use of @font-face. Some key points are

IE doesn’t render anything in the page until the font file is done downloading if there is a SCRIPT tag above the @font-face declaration.
Although font files don’t block other downloads, they do trigger the browser’s busy indicators. This has a negative effect on the user’s perception of page speed because it gives the impression that the page takes a long time to load.
IE is a little jumpy when it comes to downloading fonts. IE starts downloading the font file as soon as it encounters the @font-face declaration. This means IE downloads the font file even if no elements in the page use the font.

The author has a good solution: put the font-file at the end of page.

I recommend deferring the font file download until after the page has rendered, as shown in the Lazy Load Test. This solves the issues in IE – the page renders and then the font is downloaded in the background and enhances the stylized text once it arrives. This technique has benefits in other browsers, as well. By lazy loading the font file, most of the browser busy indicators aren’t triggered.

Too many designers forget that page rendering is still a primary concern. Viewers are willing to wait for a page to render but their patience is limited. Delaying page rendering for 6 seconds in order to deliver custom fonts is not acceptable.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Net Neutrality - Still Wondering How It All Works Out

Last month the FCC announced the rules for "enforcing" net neutrality. As broad statements of intent they're fine - but the devil is in the details. The question is "how will these intentions be codified and enforced."

Chapter 5 of the FCC ruling displays both the intent and the problem.

This Commission has a statutory responsibility to preserve and promote advanced communications networks that are accessible to all Americans and that serve national purposes. Fouryears ago, the Commission sought to safeguard and promote the open Internet by announcing four general
Internet policy principles that would guide its interpretation of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act):

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

The Commission noted that all the principles “are subject to reasonable network management.”

fcc-09-93a1.pdf

So what does "reasonable network management" mean? We know it means that company A's content does not get placed before company B. But does real-time communication get put in front of email? We're still not hearing any details from the media. And what about point one in which "consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice." That's straight forward in one sense but how does this apply to ISPs? The role of an ISP is to transmit data from one computer to another, not to determine whether that data is legal, or copyrighted or anything else along this line.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Google Does Not Use Keyword Meta Tags

Nothing is easier to convince a client that Google does not use the keyword meta tag in its ranking than hearing it straight from the source.



Q: Does Google ever use the "keywords" meta tag in its web search ranking?
A: In a word, no. ... Our web search ... disregards keyword metatags completely. They simply don't have any effect in our search ranking at present

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The EU privacy initiative - ban cookies

EU has passed a law that will go into affect in 18 months that would require websites to get explicit consent from the user before using cookies - with the one provision, if the cookie was "strickly necessary" as in a shopping cart.

This decision will have some interesting ramifications that the lawmakers were not aware of. It will make it much more difficult for websites in Europe to conduct business. How will a business be able to track usage, to judge advertising campaigns without the use of cookies?

This coming from the very same people who are increase public surveillence. France passed a law recently requiring video surveillence cameras. IP video will become the defacto standard and those with old fashioned analog systems will have to upgrade.

Europe Approves New Cookie Law.
Consent will be required for cookies in Europe

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IE6 Countdown

Microsoft has a website, IE6 Countdown, dedicated to getting IE6 to drop below 1% of world-wide browser usage. Unfortunately that won't happen until Windows 2000 servers are replaced and corporate and government agencies decide to upgrade.

Still it's an interesting site showing a map of the world and displaying the usage (if known) in each country.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Check your WebSite

Usability is a central aspect of a good website. Too many clients still do not realize that their corporate website looks different on different platforms and browsers.

To that end I recommend that site owners go to the following two sites to examine their site:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Future of Marketing - Quick Response Codes

The more I read about Quick Response Codes (QR Codes) the more I see the future of marketing: a true interaction between consumer and marketer. Users able to to scan and get more information simply by scanning a code in a magazine or a billboard. Applications available to help users integrate a new product or service into their daily lives.

QR also brings in scary thoughts of dystopian futures where advertisers and governments know your every move. The technology that can bring a cornucopia of products can also bring in 1984 type surveillance.

Still - the future benefits are evident. QR Codes are easy to create and simple to display. Their uses run from the mundane such as quickly sending users to a website (or a subsection thereof) or providing them with up to the minute promotions. But there are more interesting uses such as stores luring consumers in based upon their buying habits; or by integrating a product with an existing app to give an unintended outcome. For instance you're in the supermarket and pass a product. Your recipe creation app has interfaced with your going out app and "concludes" that you are in the mood for Indian food. A voice or text message appears: "Buy this product and that one over there. Add it a your existing foods and you will have an excellent XYZ meal for your hot date tonight."

Oh, the future is bright. Where are my shades?

Friday, October 2, 2009

IP Delivery and Cloaking: According to Google



Wow!!! I was just having a discussion about this the other day!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Wizards Stay Up Late

The same person who asked "why search engines don't work as well as they should" also asked about a history of the internet. I gave her my copy of Where Wizards Stay Up Late. She's an intelligent person with advanced degrees and couldn't believe that there was an "internet" before the web.

What I found striking, when I first read the book years ago, was that the development of FTP was completed in 1972 (RFC 354). That was was the birth of the internet: the means by which files are transmitted from computer to computer over differing networks. It took 20 years from that point for the internet to enter the mainstream.

If you're interested in the history of technology and science this is a wonderful book. I was fascinated by the development of the internet as a series of distributed networks. Simply put the problem was not "how do you protect the system from attact" but how does the system survive after the attack. (Remember, in the beginning, the "internet" was a DARPA project.)

Baran's idea constituted a third approach to network design. He called his a distributed network. Avoid having a central communications switch, he said, and build a network composed of many nodes, each redundantly connected to its neighbor. ...

Theoretically it might might be possible to set up a network with numerous redundant connections ... But there was a technical limitation, since all signals on the telephone network were analog signals. The telephone-switching plan prohibited more than five links to be connected in tandem, because signal quality deteriorated rapidly with the increased number of tandem links.


At the same that Baran was developing his concept of distributed networks digital technology was coming onto the scene.

Wow! The first few chapters describing the breakthroughs were astounding.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The End of XHTML

Long Live HTML. Only 6 or 7 years ago it looked as if HTML was to be supplanted by XHTML, and now HTML survives and, in the taxonomy of HTML, XHTML turns out to be just another truncated branch.

While we recognize the value of the XHTML 2 Working Group's contributions over the years, after discussion with the participants, W3C management has decided to allow the Working Group's charter to expire at the end of 2009 and not to renew it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the future of XHTML

A central aspect of HTML5, and the retreat from XHTML is the abandonment of decentralized extensibility:

HTML 5 has a number of extensibility mechanisms, but none yet that satisfies the requirement XML namespaces was designed to address of decentralized extensibility - allowing parties to include their own elements or attributes in content without risk of name collisions (whether those names are the result of a consensus process or not).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the future of XHTML

Is this a good thing? Maybe. XML survives and organizations retain the ability to give access to priority data without giving access to their database.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bad Day at the Office

Not for the squeamish.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why aren't search engines more useful?

I was asked the other day "why aren't search engines more useful?" Why do they come up with so much junk?

For two reasons. One cataloging data is an incredibly difficult task. New data is added daily in an ever increasing amount of new website; and not only does this data have to be found and catalogued but it has to be presented to people in whatever way they happen to think of.

Second developers and SEOs (such as you would hire at GLM Designs) do their best to make their clients sites rank as high as possible in the search engines. Up until recently there was a perpetual battle between the two with the search engines trying to come up with the most relevant site and the site owners trying to become as highly ranked as possible.

For the most part, except for a few people who game the system, the war between SEOs and the search engines is over. There is a series of agreed upon standards and, by following these standards, you can quickly and surely increase the visibility of your site by providing relevant data to the search engine (Google, Yahoo) users.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Changing Link Colors in Blogger

One of the reasons we went away from our home built blog was to get a better feel of other systems and the problems faced by their users.

Blogger's CMS doesn't let one have much control over the page elements. Changing the link color in the posts also changes the links on the right column. Blogger did a good job allowing users to change a lot of the elements. I’m surprised that they missed this one.

There has to be a work around. We found three.
  1. The simplest one to implement is to add a style whenever you make a link. The problem with this solution is that you will have to add the style color code each and every time you make a link.
  2. The second way would be to go into LAYOUT > EDIT HTML and add the link style to the existing Blogger template. You would still have to add code to each and every time you make a link, but it would be slightly easier.
  3. The third way would not require you to do anything after the changes are made but you will have to alter the code. Don’t worry, it’s fairly simple and straight forward and you cannot ruin your site.
If you don't have any experience working with code see the following post, it will explain the process in detail.

Changing the STYLE in Blogger

To change the link style color in Blogger change go to LAYOUT > EDIT HTML and add a style right after you see the first link styles. Give it a fairly uncommon name so you will be to do a CTRL F. I used

After that select EXPAND WIDGET TEMPLATES and scroll to the bottom. Find the a href tags in the widget; it doesn't look as it normally does. You'll see something that looks like:
<a expr:href='data:item.blogUrl' target='_blank'>
after the "<a" insert your style name as you normally do. It should look like this:
<a class="sideRight" expr:href='data:item.blogUrl' target='_blank'>

Find all the widgets, add the class to the <a href> tag and you're done. Remember, each time you add a new widget you'll have to make this change to the template.

Changing the Color Style in Blogger

I'm assuming you read the previous post and want more information in how to change the color of your links in Blogger.

Putting in color may seem a little strange at first. Although you can use color names such as red and blue it is better to get comfortable using hexadecimal notation.

Color is put together differently on a monitor than you might be used to with paint and canvas. Add Red, Green and Blue paint and you get mud. Add Red, Green and Blue light and you get white.

There are billions of color combinations, using names such as red, cherry-red, burgundy is not an option. Instead one describes the color using a number system. A hexadecimal notation system (16 numbers) is used.
    0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-A-B-C-D-E-F

One set of numbers was not enough so two numbers are used for each color. A notation of 00 means that no light of a particular color is used and FF means that a 100% is used.

To display black one uses no red, no green and and no blue: 000000

White is 100% red, 100% green and 100% blue: FFFFFF

You can see this in Blogger's LAYOUT > FONTS AND COLORS.

First step is to get comfortable in your site. Go to NEW POST, select the EDIT HTML tag and make a link as you usually do (type in some text and highlight it)



Afterwards you will have this : <a href="http://glmdesigns.blogspot.com">Place Link Here</a> add style="color:#COLOR-CODE-GOES-HERE;" into the <a href> tag. If you want the color black the code is #000000; if you want red the color is #FF0000. You can experiment in the blogger LAYOUT > FONTS & COLORS section to get the color and color code you want.

If you wanted red the code would like this:

<a href="http://glmdesigns.blogspot.com" style="color:#FF0000;">Place Link Here</a>

This is the code in action

This was the easiest of the three methods: place the entire style into the link. The problem with this method is that you have to do this each and everytime you post a link.

For more see Changing Color Style in Blogger Part II

Changing the Color Style in Blogger, Part II

The next method is to place a style class in the <a href> tag and put this style into the Blogger stylesheet. You can call the style class whatever you want, such as "aaa" or "abc" but it helps if it is descriptive. It would look something like this

< a href="www.glmdesigns.com" class="YOUR-CLASS-NAME">

You'll have to LAYOUT > EDIT HTML. Very close to the top you'll see the first style codes. Find the following (yours may look slightly different depending upon your template):

a:link {
color:$linkcolor;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:visited {
color:$visitedlinkcolor;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:hover {
color:$titlecolor;
text-decoration:underline;
}

Underneath this place your style code
a:link.YOUR-CLASS-NAME {
color:#YOUR-COLOR-CODE;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:visited.YOUR-CLASS-NAME {
color:#YOUR-COLOR-CODE;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:hover.YOUR-CLASS-NAME {
color:#YOUR-COLOR-CODE;
text-decoration:underline;
}
If you wanted the links to be red and the name of the class to be "myLinks" it would like this:

< a href="www.glmdesigns.com" class="myLinks">
a:link.myLinks {
color:#FF0000;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:visited.myLinks {
color:#FF0000;
text-decoration:none;
}
a:hover.myLinks {
color:#FF0000;
text-decoration:underline;
}

This will do exactly the same thing as what you previously did "in-line" without making a change to the stylesheet. Why would you want to do it this way? If all you were doing was changing the color you probably wouldn't, but if you wanted the link to be bold and underlined or highlighted you would as typing in

< a href="www.glmdesigns.com" style="color:#FFOOOO; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; background-color:#CCCCCC; ">

is a lot more time consuming than:

< a href="www.glmdesigns.com" class="myLinks">

I'm assuming that you don't want to have anything to your links, not style="some-color-goes-here" or class="some-class-name". If that's the case you then need to do two things. Use the blogger tool to make changes to the links inside your posts and second set a style for your right side links: the blog archives, labels and whatever other Blogger widgets you may have.

You'll find that information in the next and last post: Changing the Color Style in Blogger, Part III

Changing the Color Style in Blogger, Part III

After all that, I hope you're ready to make the changes. If you've never made any changes to your template before you don't need to worry about ruining your site as Blogger has a "Revert widget templates to default" link. If things go kablooie click on the "Revert widget templates to default" link and everything will go back to what it was.

If you have made changes before then I assume you know that you need keep a back-up copy just in case. Otherwise the "Revert widget templates to default" link will erase all your previous changes.

First thing to do is to make certain that you like the class name. I think it is good practice to use descriptive names. In this case "sideRight" or "sideLink" or what-have-you. If you want a different name go back into LAYOUT > EDIT HTML and change the name of your style.

Then you'll have to add the class name to all the links on the right side. Don't worry if you have lots of links, you won't have to make many changes. HOWEVER this will probably be your first forray into changing server-side scripts so it will be a little different than what you're used to.

To test this out and to give yourself confidence to a CTRL F (to find information on a page) and type in "href" in the text box. You will probably have two matches. Go and verify that for yourself. Now select "Expand Widget Templates."


Here's where the confusing part comes in. You have to find the correct href to make changes too. If you're labeling your widgets you'll have an easier time. For my first few changes I searched for the WIDGET label, then it's easy to see where to make the change. The first image shows the text as I found it. The second one with the class added to



You'll see that I called the style "side". I did that to keep all the code lined up from image to image. Side is a bad name. It's not descriptive enough and there are too many "side" to do an efficient search. "sideRight" is a far better name.

Remember, after you make a change. Save it, take a look at what you've done. You can always reverse it later.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Organize your Programs in Windows

Maybe it's because it's a pet peeve of mine but I hate going seeing unorganized programs on a client's machine. Each time I mention it to someone I get the same "I didn't know I could organize my programs."

On XP right-click on the START button and select Open All Users. Select Programs and then create folders and move programs around as desired.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Microsoft versus i4i: Patent Trolling or Patent Infringement

There's a good article in eWeek, Patent Ruling Against Microsoft Hinges on Meaning of Custom XML, reviewing the patent infringement lawsuit between i4i and Microsoft.

Here's the kicker: Reading through the decision, it's almost as if both the jury and judge felt that the XML editor portion of Word was the only place where XML was being used (it's not) and that this is where the alleged metacode data structure was being created (doubtful; if there is one, it would be created elsewhere).

One of the problems I have with this lawsuit is that the process which was "patented" in 1994 had become commonplace five years later - without i4i doing anything to bring it into the market. It seems more and more to me like patent trolling to me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meta-Tag Generators, Which is the best?

Readers of this blog know that I've been saying, for a long time, that META tags are not very useful and, for the most part, not worth your time. Do not waste your time and money developing META tag generators. META tags will not help you get your site ranked higher.

The only value of META tags is that accurate META tag information may help in clickthrough. Google and other SEs will sometimes display the META description in their results page.

See Meta Tags and Title Tags

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AOL, Google & Facebook

At one time AOL was the 800 pound gorilla. They were the social networking site of the 1990s (and I must say that I ridiculed the idea at the time). AOL tried to be the portal by which we all entered the web. They failed. At one time people feared the rise of Microsoft. Now Microsoft has become like AT&T: last years powerhouse and today's ho-hum large corporation.

What will become of Google and Facebook? Combined they will make one hell of a team.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Who uses Meta Tags in Search Ranking

As far as I know Yahoo is the only major search engine that still supports the META keywords tag. The question that must be asked is: how high in their algorithm to they place the META tags in comparision to words in the title, body, anchor text, etc...?

We know that the META keyword tag is still being indexed and used in Yahoo's site description. For that reason and that alone it would make sense to KEEP the field (as well as META description) if, and only if, your CMS already has it built in; and you have default keywords and descriptions so employees do not have to waste time with them.

All in all, while these META tags don't hurt, they don't particularly help either. If they are automatically entered fine. Don't remove them. I don't see a ROI should you need employees to spend any time deciding on values for either of these tags.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Facebook and IE6

As of a few days ago Facebook no longer supports IE6. Hurray

Facebook puts up the following notice to IE6 users:
Did you know that your browser is out of date?

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 is no longer supported. To get the best possible experience using our website we recommend that you upgrade to a newer web browser such as: Firefox, Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer 8. The upgrade is free. If you're using a PC at work you should contact your IT administrator.

IE6 has been on the Facebook chopping block for about a year. See Facebook Doesn't Really Support IE6

What this mean for site owners, web developers, IAs, and the like is that one more nail is being put into the IE6 coffin. I'm not a Microsoft hater but IE6 is a terrible browser and testing for its non-standard idiosyncrasies takes an awful lot of time (money).

Of course, until big corporations do a system wide upgrade IE6 will continue to be a thorn in our side. Large corporation don't care if their employees can't use Facebook. It may even be considered to be a reason to forstall upgrades. :-) Nonetheless when major corporations, such as Facebook, stop supporting IE6 the writing is on the wall. IE6 is going the way of NN4+

As a side note, as far as my sites are concerned, IE6 is about 15% of the total usage. That's too high a percentage to ignore.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Amazon Pulls 1984 Off Users' Kindles

Oh how predictable this was.
"In a story just dripping with irony, Amazon Kindle owners awoke this morning to discover that 1984 and Animal Farm had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for, and thought they owned. Apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by George Orwell from people's Kindles and credited their accounts for the price. Amazon customer service may or may not have responded to queries by stating, 'We've always been at war with Eastasia.'"

Amazon Pulls Purchased E-Book Copies of 1984 and Animal Farm

The move was an accident but it shows what may be a future problem. I don't like the fact that data that I put on my machine may be altered or deleted at whim. Data must be protected. Once the data is installed on your device it should be IMPOSSIBLE for the publisher (and ideally anyone else) to remove or alter it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Google Wave - The Future of Office Meetings?

Last month Google unveiled a new application, Google Wave, brainstormed by the creators of Google Maps. It's meant to be a new communication platform for the web. Wave will combine the features of email and IM - a Facebook, so to speak, for business projects. Users can upload comments, which in turn can be commented on and graphics, video and other items can be included into the mix.

Unlike Facebook the history remains so that new users can easily come up to speed on a project by reading the posts and comments.

It seems to have great potential and there is great need for this technology. Conference calls and email work, but as everyone knows, it's certainly not perfect.

I would add voice to screen transcription so that phone conversations can be added to the comment section as IM communication is included.

See the product from Google's IO Conference:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wolfram Alpha - the Star Trek Computer Coming to Life

There’s a new search engine out, Alpha, which, instead of finding sites discussing the topic, as does Google and other search engines, actually attempts to deliver answers. Stephen Wolfram, the developer of Alpha says that it "makes it easy for the typical person to answer anything quantitatively.” Wolfram does not consider Alpha to be a Google competitor:

“We are not a search engine. No searching is involved here,” he said. “The types of things that people are currently searching for have some overlap [with Google], but it isn’t huge. What’s exciting is that we have a whole new class of things that people can put into a input field and have it tell them what it knows.”

It still has many problems as will be discovered but, whatever its problems it is an interesting first step to developing a computer that will provide answers – and give source material. I wish it well.

If you want to know more:



Saturday, May 30, 2009

Patent Trolling or Patent Infringement

It's hard trying to make head or tails about the i4i v Microsoft case. Anybody interested in a robust tech industry needs to be concerned about this. Large, powerful entities can't simply take processes created by smaller firms but neither should we allow the copyright process be taken advantage of.

The patent in question is for separating the manipulation of content from the architecture of the document, which the company, named i4i argues, covers basic XML editing. It's quite troubling that doing something as simple as adding an XML editor should infringe on a patent, but what's even more troubling is that the court somehow ruled that such an editor was worth $98 in the copies of Microsoft Word where it was used. An XML editor. $98. And people say patent awards aren't out of sync with reality?
Wait, Editing An XML Document Is Patented And Worth $98 Per Application?

Doug Cawley, i4i’s lead trial lawyer argued that i4i demonstrated its product to Microsoft in 2001 and that Microsoft, instead of buying it incorporated a similar function of its own. i4i did not accuse Microsoft of copying its code or product. The question then is - how is this a patent infringement? I'm not a patent lawyer, nor have I read the patent in detail, but it seems as if i4i is arguing that any XML editor written now, or in the future, owes i4i royalties. What would change my mind would be if the i4i patent was for something truly insightful. I'm not getting that impression in any of the reporting.

Patent Litigation Weekly: E.D. Tex Unkind to Tech; PubPat's Other Suits

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Make Your Own Fonts

Tell me this isn't great. YourFonts.com allows users to make fonts from their own handwritting practically instantly (a few hours). Twenty years ago, was it that long ago, when I was making my first fonts I would have been ecstatic about a program that could have made fonts so quickly, so easily, so inexpensively.

How I love what's happening. What used to be fantasy is now ordinary.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Forms, Labels and Usability

I received some interesting feedback on a website I was working on. It's a form heavy site where the employees, as they get new customers and leads, enter the information into the database. The forms were designed with the labels right-aligned. The creative team liked it because it looked better. The business owners signed off on it for the same reason.


However, we started to get complaints from the users that "the forms were hard to use." In the end it was decided that left-aligned labels were "easier to read" than were right-aligned labels.


Personally I find the right-aligned text more visually appealing and I don't find the left-aligned text "easier to read." But that doesn't really mean much, does it?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jakob Nielsens First Rule of Usability

Jakob Nielsen's First Rule of Usability still holds true today: pay attention to what users DO - and not what they say.

This holds doubly true in what users predict they will do in the future.
Say, for example, that 50% of survey respondents claim they would buy more from e-commerce sites that offer 3D product views. Does this mean you should rush to implement 3D on your site? No. It means that 3D sounds cool. The world is littered with failed businesses that banked on people's attitude toward hypothetical products and services.
First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users
When in doubt, think like Dr. House. "The patient always lies about what he does." Do not take the user's "word" for it - send out your staff to ascertain how the patient/user acts,

In short, any and all changes must improve the bottom line. It must reduce the time and effort in accomplishing a task by the users, whether they are customers or employees.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Does Google Analytics Slow Down Your Site?

I’ve heard complaints that Google Analytics slows down site rendering. I don’t see that being possible. A small bit of code calls a javascript file (ga.js) from Google’s servers; this file collects data and drops a cookie in the user’s machine. Since this file is in cache it doesn’t affect bandwidth. The file also calls a 1x1 pixel graphic (_utm.gif) and attaches the data in a query string – at 35 bits the bandwidth hit is irrelevant; nor should creating the query string have any affect.

And yet, while I haven't experienced it, others have complained about Google Analytics slowing their site. They would add GA and response time slowed. They removed GA and response time returned to normal. All I can say is -- place your GA call at the bottom of your page. I would also take a look at your site in general. GA could be the proverbial last straw: check your database calls, see if there is inefficient coding, are the graphics optimized, are you using tables for layout.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Right to Read

Just in case you haven't read The Right to Read by Richard Stallman, it's well worth it. It's a short-story about a dystopian future where copyright laws have run amok. The scary - and worthwhile aspect - of this article is that every provision is either already in affect or has been proposed.

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

And there wasn't much chance that the SPA—the Software Protection Authority—would fail to catch him. In his software class, Dan had learned that each book had a copyright monitor that reported when and where it was read, and by whom, to Central Licensing. (They used this information to catch reading pirates, but also to sell personal interest profiles to retailers.) The next time his computer was networked, Central Licensing would find out. He, as computer owner, would receive the harshest punishment—for not taking pains to prevent the crime. Continue Reading >>

Richard Stallman is the godfather of the privacy movement. While I disagree with him on many issues the world is a better place as a result of his work.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

IE 8 is out - first impressions

IE 8 is out. So far I like it. It's fairly responsive. It is fairly compliant to CSS standards but one thing I'm not to fond of is a feature called "Reopen Browsing Session." Its purpose is to allow you to restore browsing sessions but there doesn't seem to be a way to prevent this from happening outside of browsing in "InPrivate" where the browser, from the outset, doesn't record your session.

What if you want to remove your browsing session? Simply removing the offending site from the history does not remove it from the session list. This is a serious privacy flaw.

Why, you may ask would anyone care? The issue is more than pornography and hiding the fact that you were working on personal issues while at work. Privacy is just that. Privacy. It's an end in itself. You do not need to be writing evil, horrible things to not want your diary being read. You do not need to be reading evil, horrible things to not want people to know what you did and when you did it.

Now, if you are at work, and you are not doing what you are being paid to do - that is a different story.

EDIT September 14, 2010

How To Disable “Reopen Last Browsing Session” In Internet Explorer 8 An excellent tutorial to disable "Reopen Browsing Session."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sponsored Conversations

Analyst firm Forrester published a report this morning telling corporations that it's a good idea to engage bloggers in "sponsored conversations," or the exchange of goods or credit in exchange for blog coverage. The report, titled "Add Sponsored Conversations to Your Toolbox", is 8 pages long, focuses on a number of high profile examples like the case of KMart and Chris Brogan, and sells for $795.

We respectfully disagree with Forrester's recommendations on this topic. In fact, we think that paying bloggers to write about your company is a dangerous and unsavory path for new media and advertisers to go down. We recognize that it's a complicated question, but we don't feel convinced by Forrester's conclusions regarding those complications.

Forrester is Wrong About Paying Bloggers

Forrester is promoting a very dangerous idea. It is a good short term way for bloggers to make money but, if abused, will in the long run diminish the value of the blogosphere. The flip-side to this argument is that there is a lot of pay-to-play in the print media (you buy this ad I write an article about you) and few people question the validity of print media.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yelp is Having Problems

Yelp continues to have problems. They have an algorithm that purportedly decides which reviews are displayed and which are removed, and yet there is something not right about Yelp. I'm not the only one who has noticed that there are many "obviously" fake reviews and there is a lot of annecdotal evidence that if one buys advertising bad reviews can be removed. I have not experienced that but I have heard many first hand complaints.

According to Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp's CEO: "It's normal for a merchant to see the number of its reviews rise or fall from day to day, and for reviews to mysteriously disappear." "That's normal. It's part of how Yelp works," he said. The reason we do that is to show only the most trusted content. It's nothing nefarious.

"The timing of reviews that appear or disappear after a merchant accepts or declines an advertising contract is purely coincidental, Stoppelman said. He acknowledged that there can be false positives, in which legitimate reviews are removed.:

Yelp's credibility problem: Blame it on algorithm?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Information Spreads Because it Must

From the author of The Meme Machine - Susan Blackmore speaks at TED. Anyone interested in marketing or technology ought to watch this. How and why do memes spread?

"Information/Technology spreads because it must." If you like Ray Kurzweil you'll love this talk - especially her description that we're at the "third replicative point". [16:50]

We become teme machines: AI merges with people. Scary and wonderful. If so we become immortal.



See the video The Birth of Computers at 15:55 (a George Dyson discussion) for another take on this topic.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Social Media and Privacy

In case you haven't seen it read the story of How Facebook Ended My Marriage.


Update: A very strange new twist has made this much more public than I ever feared. Boing Boing, the top blog on the Internet, Time Magazine’s blog, the London Standard, LibĂ©ration the French newspaper founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, Fast Company have now all mentioned our experience. Is this the 21st century equivalent of a printed wedding announcement?

Yes Thomas it is the 21st C equivalent of a printed wedding announcement.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Facebook and Privacy

A week ago Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post stating thatOn Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information. And yet a few paragraphs into the post he writes:

One of the questions about our new terms of use is whether Facebook can use this information forever. When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person's sent messages box and the other in their friend's inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work. One of the reasons we updated our terms was to make this more clear.

Mr. Zuckerberg many people disagree with you. Facebook is not perceived of as email, where you send information to others. It is perceived to be a place where you can put up information, a journal so to speak, and share parts of it with friends and other parts with the world at large. Facebook is the medium by which the sharing takes place and as such *should* not have a say in the matter any more than does a piece of paper has a say in who can see a love note written on it. The perception is wrong, of course, that is why there is outrage.

Facebook has many problems. Privacy is the worst of those problems. As with email one should not put anything on Facebook which you would not be willing to have the whole world be aware of.

When a truly private system arises Facebook will reap what is has sown and go the way of earlier social networking sites. I don't wish this on Facebook, only that they recognize the importance of privacy. Today's teenagers will become tomorrows adults and they will not want their high school angst and insecurities displayed to their adult friends.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Facebook and MySpace

In case you're wondering about which social media website to concentrate your efforts upon take a look at this graph comparing Facebook and MySpace usage.


Twitter has arrived

What was an intriguing tool a year ago is now the winner of StartUp of the Year. They doubled from 500,000 monthly users a little over a year ago to 1 million users last May and quadrupled to 4.5 million users last month.

Quoting a post from last May:

Whatever you may think of Twitter, it is here to stay. The time is now to start figuring out how to incorporate Twitter into your marketing strategy.