Posts in the "Google" Category

Releasing Inline Code Finder as a Google Chrome extension

I put a lot of time into ensuring web interface code quality, both for code in projects I work in and in doing code audits for other web sites. One of the best ways to find undesired inline styles, inline JavaScript events and javascript: links, I believe, is my Inline Code Finder extension and now it’s available for Google Chrome as well!

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SEO gone overboard

The hunt for getting a good search engine ranking affects more and more companies. A higher ranking equals more visitors equals (most likely) more customers. More customers, in turn, equals more money, which is what business is about.

But sometimes, the hunt hurts the quality of a web site.

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What would make you switch search engine?

So, you all have your favorite search engine, right? And probably also the tools/approach you prefer to search with it; for instance, a text field in your favorite web browser, perhaps a web browser toolbar or have it set up through Quicksilver. What I’m interested in, though, is what would make you switch search engine? What would make you use another one?

Testing Google Calendar

As of recently, I’ve had enough of trying to keep track of appointments and other assorted obligations. Fredrika writes things for hand in her little secret calendar, which means there’s no way I can stay on top of things going on or actually double-check when I’m not actually in the same room as here.

This led to me starting to look around for web-based calendar services, where one can enter data and it will be available from any computer at anytime, and also get reminders. Just as I was testing some services, Google were kind enough to apply to my needs and released Google Calendar.

Google Calendar has got the look and feel of GMail and other Google applications and you can just start using it with your existing Google account.

Different views

Google Calendar supports five different views:

Day
A picture of Google Calendar's Day view
Week
A picture of Google Calendar's Week view
Month
A picture of Google Calendar's Month view
Next 4 Days
A picture of Google Calendar's Next 4 Days view
Agenda
A picture of Google Calendar's Agenda view

Creating events

It is very easy to create an event: just click the desired date/time and enter a subject. You can then drag and drop existing events to move them to another date/time.

A picture of creating an event in Google Calendar

Notifications

It’s possible to get a notification through an alert box, e-mail or a SMS text message. I would love that last option, but it seems like it’s only available for US citizens.

Sharing

You can also share your calendar and events with others, which is a great thing! This lets you have your own calendar, share some or all events and then also color-code your and other calendars’ events to easy distinguish whose appointment it really is. Your calendar with the events labeled as public is made available at a public address, and there’s also a private address you can use in other calendar applications.

Missing features

I would love some way to synchronize the information with a PDA or cell phone and be able to use it offline.

 

All in all, a great service that is yet another step for me from being dependant on just one specific computer.

Google Blog Search or Technorati?

When doing a web search and your search engine of choice (Google, for most of you, I presume) doesn’t return as accurate or useful results as you had hoped, you might decide that you just want search blogs. Reasons for this can be because blogs usually contain very interesting information, comments on the information and also that they are normally very up-to-date.

The way I see it, there are two major tools for searching blogs: Technorati and Google Blog Search. Google seems to be a little faster, although Technorati has really picked up lately. Technorati also offers ways to see how popular that blog is that contains the information you searched for while you also know that the information that is most up-to-date will be amongst the top results.

Personally, I use Technorati to see how many people link to me and which the latest links are. I never use Google Blog Search.

Do you use any? If you do, which one?

How to get a good search engine ranking

With the humble title of this post, I guess I really need to add that these ways mentioned below are the ones I’ve experienced to be very reliable to get a good search engine ranking. Naturally it varies a lot, but I get somewhere between 28 – 45% of my visitors from pure Google searches, out of just having a high ranking (and sometimes for terms that amaze me :-)). These are my advices:

Semantic code
Make sure you write semantically correct code, meaning that you need to use the correct element for the right situation. It is all about how you mark the words you are using, and how and in what context you want them to be interpreted.
Friendly URLs

Make sure you have URLs with a good descriptive value, as opposed to one being made up of just a lot of parameters. There are different tools and settings to achieve this in most, if not all, web development environments. For instance, these two links both lead to the same web page:

This is a good URL:

http://www.robertnyman.com/2005/11/07/the-ultimate-getelementsbyclassname/

and this is a bad one:

http://www.robertnyman.com/index.php?p=256

Get mentioned
If you get mentioned with good words in an appropriate context, especially from a web site that has a good PageRank, it will help push you up the search engine list.

 

These are the only tips I can give you; basically, it’s just about good web development practises and maintaining good relations with other web site owners.

I’m sure there are good SEO companies out there, but the ones I’ve come across have all been unprofessional and/or been using very suspicious methods. And as soon Google update their algorithms, there’s a big chaos when some SEO’s dubious work fail, since some of their tricks have been found out and taken care of. Then, naturally, it backfires so their customers get a very bad search engine ranking.

Just do as I suggest above; code properly and you will be safe. Look around to see how good search engine ranking most web developing blogs get, just because they know how to implement a web site in a correct manner.

Come on, give us a bad example

Sure, but only since you asked for it. Recently the web site http://www.larmdirekt.se/ was brought to my attention. If you navigate to their web site and disable CSS in your web browser (Ctrl/Command + Shift + s is one way to do it if you use the Web Developer extension in Firefox), alternatively view the source code of the page.

In the footer, you will then find a link with the text “y”, which leads to the page http://www.larmdirekt.se/laarm/ . Make sure to turn off JavaScript in your web browser and navigate to that page and you will not believe your eyes: a little link farm. If you surf around those links you will, amongst others, find the names of some fairly large Swedish companies, and the best thing of it all: the name of the SEO company in the title bar.

 

So, go check out the code of your own web site right now, or ask your SEO what methods they use.

 

Read more about search engine optimization

A war of personalization

A while ago I read Garret Rogers’ post The personalization war, which in part inspired me to write this introduction to different personalized start pages. So what are those, really?

The main purpose of such a start page is for you to get a good and easy overview of a lot of things, including the feeds you follow. Different services also offer different gadgets that you can use, such as seeing your e-mail inbox. Naturally, one of the most useful parts of this is that you have access to the same start view and information wherever you are and whatever computer you are using.

The ones I’ve tested are:

Google Personalized Home
A picture of Google Personalized Home
Netvibes
A picture of Netvibes
Live/Start
A picture of Live
My Yahoo!
A picture of My Yahoo!

Most of them are, of course (sigh…), in a beta state, so I haven’t really taken that into my observations. I’ve tested them in different categories, and I name a winner for each and finally, a total winner. Live/Start is developed by Microsoft, but I’m not sure if Start will still be around and if they’re putting all their energy into Live now. Both are pretty much the same service right now, though.

Design

Google Personalized Home’s service looks pretty much like all of the other Google services, as opposed to Netvibes and Live/Start who have got very lean interfaces. Netvibes has also got a nice distinct background and borders around its parts to easier tell them apart. My Yahoo! offers a lot of themes, and each and every one of them almost makes me barf.

Winner: It’s a tie between Netvibes and Live/Start.

Usability

All of them, except My Yahoo!, rely heavily on an AJAX approach with drag and drop to position your different parts wherever you feel like. Netvibes and Live/Start also offers the possibility to expand and collapse different parts, where Netvibes also has links for expanding/collapsing all parts. Netvibes is the only one showing you a number of unread posts for each of your feeds.

Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo! only present direct links to the posts in your feeds, whereas Netvibes and Live/Start present the text for each feed when a link is clicked, together with the other posts for the same feed, and there you can choose to expand or collapse the text for all of the feed’s posts.

Netvibes and Live overlays a “page/window/layer (yeah, I’m sorry for that word :-))” that fills the entire web browser window when the links are clicked, as opposed to Start that just opens a small one. Start’s behavior is definitely the one of these I prefer.

Live/Start also offers small arrows after each post in a feed which is a direct link to the post in question. This would have been great, if they haven’t added the functionality to these links to automatically open a new window. Extremely annoying. This is 2006, ok? People want to choose themselves if they want to open a link in the same window, a new window or a new tab; don’t force a behavior on users. And if you’re so worried most users won’t get, just offer this as a setting then.

I wish Netvibes would also have these arrow links, but naturally not with the behavior mentioned above that Live/Start have. In the overlay that is opened up, Netvibes’ also dreadfully opens new windows when each direct link to another web page is clicked. Stop it! Now!

Settings-wise, Live/Start is the winner with offering you how many columns you want to use, from one up to four columns. My Yahoo! is the only other service offering this, with the choice of two or three columns. My wish is that all of them should really offer a way to see the text for each feed post in the same view when it’s clicked, and also to expand or collapse all posts for a certain feed or the entire web page. I also wish Netvibes would add a way to mark all posts for all feeds read.

Another thing that blows my top is that the sign in-link on Live for a long time didn’t work in Firefox. Then they fixed it, but apparently added some new update, so now it’s broken again. It’s just a link, dammit, how hard can it be? And the number of dead links and things of inconsistency one stumbles on while using My Yahoo! are too numerous to mention.

If it hadn’t been for Live/Start forcing me to use a Microsoft Passport account, I would’ve declared a tie between Live/Start (because of being able to choose what number of columns to have, and Start also for its nice reading window) and Netvibes (for its unread items feature). However, because of that, it tripped Live/Start at the finishing line.

Winner: Netvibes.

Accessibility

I turned off JavaScript, and not surprisingly, none of them had a full proper fallback. Netvibes and Live/Start didn’t even render any content nor give me a message saying that I had to have JavaScript enabled. Most of the links didn’t work either for Live/Start when tabbing to them and then pressing Enter. Google Personalized Home rendered the content fine but told me that I had to have JavaScript enabled, and has a text saying that it now works on mobile devices (I haven’t verified this). My Yahoo! kind of worked without JavaScript except for some parts.

Winner: My Yahoo!

Importing/exporting OPML

The most efficient way to use your feeds in different services is to have them categorized in an OPML file and then just import them. Netvibes and Live/Start offer importing as well as exporting of OPML files, although, for some, reason, Netvibes didn’t work correctly with my OPML file that seems to work fine for all the other services on the web. The problem was that I could indeed import the feeds but then the grouping went wrong so I could never see the content of any feed or add it to my page.

Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo don’t offer neither of these, which, to me, is shocking.

Winner: Live/Start, for working flawlessly with feeds.

Gadgetry

Google Personalized Home offers you seeing your GMail inbox (surprise), My Yahoo! offers you to see your Yahoo! Mail (another shocker) and Live offers you to see your Hotmail (yeah, I’m trembling with excitement now…). However, Live also has a number of other gadgets for you to use, where Netvibes seems to have the best ones. Netvibes have, amongst others:

  • Mail (GMail, Yahoo! Mail or any other POP mail you want to add)
  • Webnote
  • To Do List
  • Delicious

Winner: Netvibes.

Code quality

All of them have validation errors, but Netvibes seemed to be the only one that didn’t have well-formedness errors or invalid elements. Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo! didn’t even have a doctype. Semantically, they were all pretty poor…

Winner: Netvibes.

The winner is…

If you’ve mustered enough strength to read this far, you have probably guessed that it is: Netvibes. Overall, they offer the most stable, reliable, usable and customizable service. While it’s far from perfect, it’s definitely my pick of the pack. Are you using any of these, or some other personalized start page service? Let me know!

 

Related posts

Online feed readers reviewed

As of lately, I’ve been trying to move my program/service usage online more and more, to make it accessible from any computer and also not to lose information in case of a computer crash. Part of that has been finding a service to follow all the feeds I subscribe to. If you don’t know what a feed is, read Wikipedia’s Web feed definition.

So, deciding which ones to test, amongst other sources, I turned to the statistics for this web site to see what the people who are subscribing to my feeds are using. My conclusion was that the four that seemed most popular were:

The important thing to think of when using these kinds of services is that they should support importing and exporting of OPML files. Then you can just move your feeds from service to service and save them in a file for later reference, instead of entering all the feeds over and over again.
Don’t regard this as a professional review but rather just as a regular computer user testing them out. My impressions were:

Bloglines

A Bloglines image

From what I gathered, Bloglines seems to be the most popular service online and generally I think it’s ok to use, no more, no less. I don’t like the layout using frames, although I really have to give them credit for their excellent PDA version (the only serviced I’ve had the opportunity to test on a PDA). My preferred usage is to keep my read and unread posts together in the order they were posted by the author, together with an indication in the navigation of how many unread posts there are in that specific feed. Bloglines, as well as all the other services have that indication.

However, one thing that bothers me is that the read feeds disappear from the default view when I click on a feed. It is possible to retrieve them again, but that requires extra steps. An alternative to this is to use Clippings to save your favorite posts, but that’s not as interesting to me.

NewsGator

A NewsGator image

NewsGator is very similar to Bloglines but with a slightly more appealing layout. It implements the same things with removing read posts from the default view and having Clippings for favorites. The thing with NewsGator, though, is that the whole feed disappears from the left hand navigation, if it doesn’t contain any unread posts. Very annoying.

Google Reader

A Google Reader image

Google Reader has a default layout which is very sparse but good, and it displays only the latest updated posts. It also has support for keyboard shortcuts, of which I’m a real aficionado. But, as soon as you click the Your Subscriptions link, it takes up the entire top part of the web page.

I would really like to see a way to check posts feed by feed without losing so much space of the web page. Google Reader definitely has potential in my eyes, though.

Rojo

A Rojo image

First, I love Rojo’s front page with the Most Read Stories and Recently Tagged Stories, it’s a great and simple way to see what’s talked about right now. Rojo has also taken a little different approach with tagging posts, something I really like and it makes it very easy to find mine and other people’s posts for a certain topic.

After that you have a number of ways to view your feeds, and the different options you make should stick. Unfortunately, expanded blocks in the Feeds tag view doesn’t seem to be consistent/stable when it comes to that, but otherwise it works fine. Overall, it does seem just a tad slow, though.

 

Conclusion

I didn’t really find any service that was perfect, but out of these I have to say that Rojo is my pick. One of the reasons for that was the updating frequency, the other services can lag behind up to half a day; I want my information instantly! :-)

So now I use Rojo and another similar service that I will tell you more about another day. I do urge you to test these out; maybe one or several of them are spot on for you.

Are you already using any of the above, or some other service that you would like to tip me about? Let me know!

Google Pack is released

It has been some talk about this lately, and Google has now released Google Pack. Basically, it’s a package of different software that’s there to make your computer life better. I guess this is targeted at users who aren’t very computer savy, or people that just want it all bundled. Google’s first step towards world domination, maybe…? :-)

The default package includes

Google software

Additional software

Optional software that can be added to your package

The Google software is pretty obvious, but I think Norton with a subscription that ends after 6 months will annoy people. My guess is that they will perceive this as a free package that will just work. No fees, no additional download, no extra costs.

The other shocker is Real Player. Is it a joke? I mean, really, come on. We all know how hard Real Player sucks. Not the company I’d like to get associated with, I tell you that.

What’s your take on? Will you download it?

Google Analytics – A first impression

The last couple of the days, the whole world wide web seem to be talking about Google and their latest release, Google Analytics. Since I thoroughly enjoy Gmail, think Google Maps is pretty cool and, naturally, use the search engine daily, I was intrigued to say that they were releasing a statistic service in the form of Google Analytics. And for free!

Of course I could’ve written a post right away telling about the release, but I wanted to test it first to tell you about my first impressions. Apparently it took 12 hours to get the account activated after signing up, a truth with modifications if you asked people who tried. After maybe 20 hours the account kicked in. Fair enough, I know everything about deadlines and tight releases schedules.

There seems to be lot of different views and ways of analyzing the data collected, all presented in a design that’s easy on your eyes. All you need to use it is to create an account (or use your Gmail one) and to include a JavaScript in the pages of your web site. Two things that bothered me right away were:

It’s not real time
To me, then it definitely loses its main attraction. I want to be able to check what has happened the last hours, hell, even the last minutes. Live, ok? Now it seems I can only see the data from the day before; that is, when the day is over according to US time. Pretty annoying if you’re located in Sweden.
No localization
There seems to be no way, at least not as far as I can find, to localize the time zone and the ways dates are presented. The American date format is pretty disturbing for the rest of the world, if you don’t know that.

On top of that, it gave off some inconsistent behavior in different pages, but I guess every new release has its problems. However, just before I wrote this post, I tried to sign in to check if it was more stable now, and guess what happened? Every time I signed in, I got redirected to the start page of the search engine. WTF? I mean, really…

For the moment, I’m pretty disappointed. If a product/service is as shaky as Google Analytics seems to be right now, cancel it. Pull the plug. Fix the problems and re-release when it works, before it has created such enormous badwill (or perhaps that’s already too late).

But what if they succeed?

Well, then this might become interesting. It’s a free service which supposedly offers a lot of ways to analyze your stats; it’s bound to compete with other services. What will happen with things like Mint, Measure Map and StatCounter? Will they be pushed to become better? Will all aspects of those mentioned, as well as other statistics services, become free? Who knows…?

What does Robert use?

I use StatCounter, and so far I’m very pleased with it. It has always worked but one time, and then I got instant feedback and support, and within an hour or two it was working fine again. Maybe it doesn’t offer as many ways to check the data as Google Analytics, but I prefer a small reliable service over a bulky shaky one any day.

I’m also very interested in what Measure Map will come up with. I signed up for an invitation a while ago (re-did it today), but still haven’t heard from them. If you guys read this, let me try it! :-)

Why not Mint, you say? It’s created by the multi-talented (I did a search for multi-talented, by the way, and one of the results was Vin Diesel. Ha ha ha!) Shaun Inman, and people say it’s really good. I have two simple replies to that: I want it to be free and I don’t want to host it myself. Simple as that, but I do wish Shaun all the best and I’m sure he’ll do fine without me as a customer. :-)

I also wonder, if you use one, what statistics software do you use? Let me know!

 

More reading

 

PS. By the way, why haven’t Google released Gmail to the public yet? Let people use it, it’s great. If you want a Gmail account, but don’t have an invite, just write a comment and tell me. I can send you one right away. DS.

PS 2. Thanks to Dejan who first tipped me about Google Analytics. DS.

Google Earth

Google Earth must be one of the coolest applications I’ve ever seen! With me loving to travel and a vast interest in seeing the world, this was a real eye-opener.

And just think about the implications! I really wonder where all this will end!

 

A tip: hold down the left mouse button to drag the map around, and the right mouse button while dragging up or down to zoom in and out.

 

PS. Thanks to Faruk for bringing this to my attention. DS.

Google Firefox?

So, just to spice up the rumour about a Google/Firefox web browser: Google has introduced functionality that will enhance searching
with Firefox and Mozilla browsers. Is this just a result of a good
collaboration of the two, or that they unite in their struggle against
Microsoft? Or is it maybe some preparation before an upcoming launch of
a special Google browser, based on Firefox with lots of extra Google
functionality.

For obvious reasons, people speculate what Google’s and Firefox secret fling is.

I was also pondering about this in The future of Google.

What is Google cooking with Firefox?
Will there be a Google Firefox?

Google Toolbar 3 and AutoLink

I just read about Google Toolbar 3 and an alarming feature of it in the latest issue of Internetworld 0. I hadn’t really read about it before, but the thing that upsets me is the AutoLink feature.
A good blog post about it was written by Kottke.

Basically, what it does if you have it installed (it can only be installed in Internet Explorer on a pc), is that it automatically turns ISBN numbers in a page into links to Amazon, addresses into links to Google Maps, Car license plate numbers into links to Carfax and Package tracking numbers into links to UPS.
Like the example in the editor’s column, if you navigate to Barnes & Noble, ISBN numbers in their pages were turned into links to Amazon (they have now implemented a fix so this doesn’t happen anymore).

I think this is a horrific behavior, alternating the content of different web sites, deciding like a God what, for instance, information about books should link to.

This is what Microsoft initially tried to introduce in version 6 of Internet Explorer with their SmartTags, but it was stopped by a storm of criticism. And now it turns out that the developer behind SmartTags is behind Google’s new AutoLink feature.
Even Microsoft employee Robert Scoble is against it, and he got an interesting feisty comment from a Google employee.

And, of course, people are already implementing fixes as well for this. And if it stays this way, many sites will have to implement fixes if they don’t partner up with Google…

I’m also worried about the implications of this. If this keeps up, I’m worried that this feature will indeed be installed in upcoming versions of web browsers, and in the future the user will never be sure where a link might lead, if it’s an intentional link by the web site, or if it
is added on by your web browser/toolbar etc.

Of course, lots of people have opinions about this, and we’ll see where it all ends…

Happy Easter!

PS. Normally, I try to write daily Monday to Friday, but with Easter coming up I’ll write next post on Tuesday March 29th. For you developers reading this, if you, as opposed to me, have some spare time during the weekend, I recommend reading Roger’s excellent piece Developing With Web Standards. DS.

The future of Google

Where are Google really heading? What is their major plan? They’ve gotten a
good reputation through their splendid search engine, but now they seem
to deal with a lot of areas.

This page
is a good example of things they’ve bought and take an active interest
in, and it contains a wide spectrum of different free sercives. Some of
them are:

Picasa
A program to handle image collections, similar to ACDSee and Adobe’s Photoshop Album.
Picasa is fairly ok, escpecially given that it is for free.

Blogger
A good blogging service.

Google Desktop Search
A local search engine to index and search through your own computer in the fastest and most efficient way.

Another
very interesting thing Goggle have done is hiring the Lead Engineer for
Firefox, Ben Goodger, although he coninues to work with Firefox while
being paid by Google. Read more about this at Spread Firefox, c|net, Ben’s blog och Kottke.

My
personal hope is that Google develop their own web browser, based on
the Gecko rendering engine and Firefox. I think it would be good for
the web browser market and I’m convinced that it would be noticed by a
lot of people and have enormous marketing potential. Googles name is
more recognized by the general public (that aren’t internet nerds) than
Mozilla (or Mozzarella, as my girlfriend calls it).

This
is just a small pick out of things Google are up to, and it seems that
they have an ambition similar to Microsoft’s: to become such a vital
part as possible of the computer user’s everyday use.