Posts Tagged ‘Google’

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this: Empty Gmail

February 27, 2009

Here’s what it looks like after a frenzied 10 minutes of sorting my rapidly expanding inbox (over 1500 messages at the last count):


I don’t know what’s better, the feeling of a newly emptied inbox, or the fact that it only took a few minutes to sort and archive all my messages. Truth be told, very little sorting was required: I have a few tags which I use to filter some new mail, but other than that I mainly rely on Gmail’s excellent search facility.

I’m planning on basking in the glow of this minor achievement for at least the next 45 minutes. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re off work!


Human Error Behind Google’s Search Fail

February 1, 2009

My wife and I experienced this yesterday. Searching for our local Odeon cinema threw up a “This site may harm your computer” warning in Google and blocked access:

Human Error Causes Google’s ‘Epic Fail’ – ReadWriteWeb

Okay, I thought, that’s a little weird. To access the website we had to type it into the Firefox address bar. A few minutes later, Jen was searching for the UK’s Foreign Office website to check travel advice. When is flagged as potentially harmful on Google then there’s something wrong at the big G’s end of the internet!

Still, at least they nobly admitted the error (the accidental insertion of “/” in their list of blacklisted sites, a character which is of course included in the URL of every website known to man) rather than trying to cover it up.

Since it only lasted about an hour, I doubt it’ll have any lasting effects on the use of Google as the premier search engine. Although maybe it will have opened some people’s eyes to the world of alternative search engines. Just like everything involving computers, it’s always worth having a backup.

Using Google Chrome At Work!

September 3, 2008

Here’s a picture of me using Google’s new browser at work:


Using Google Chrome

Using Google Chrome

I’m quite excited about this, since I usually have to put up with Internet Explorer during my 9-5, but for some reason my work PC allowed me to install Chrome! Sadly I can’t install any Adobe Flash plugins here without administrative privileges, so I can’t currently view videos on Youtube (or anywhere else for that matter) within Chrome, making this little more than a pretty diversion at this stage.

I also have the same middle mouse scroll issue on my work mouse (which is Dell) as I do at home (which is Logitech), so methinks Google have screwed up somewhere here.


Google Chrome logo

Google Chrome logo


Still, it’s a very pretty browser – and lightning fast too! The above screenshot shows me using one of Chrome’s nifty features: dragging a tab into its own window.

You can also create shortcuts directly to your favourite webpages from the desktop, which then run in their own window sans address bar. This is all part of what Google are referring to as the new breed of “web applications”, but I’m still struggling to understand why you’d want to open a browser window without an address bar. Maybe I’m missing something here…

There are other neat features, like the new tab button displaying a list of your favourite and recently visited sites, and the address bar itself which goes one stage further than Firefox 3’s Awesome Bar and allows you to run Google searches directly.

As you might expect, the early adopter/tech geek crowd are abuzz with a cacophony of opinions. Some love it; others aren’t so sure. Try searching Friendfeed for the latest rants, thoughts and fanboy speculation!

Cuil: Epic Search Fail

July 28, 2008

Apologies for the tired old fail blog meme, but it seems particularly appropriate for the results I got from Cuil (pronounced “Cool” – yes, really) just now, the latest semantic/web 3.0/buzzword-baiting search engine from former Google employees that’s unfortunately turned out to be approximately 5,000,000 times less effective than Google:

Cuil - Fail

Cuil - Epic Search Fail

Inevitably the blogosphere (and Friendfeed) is already abuzz with tales of Cuil’s rampant ineptitude – note that some of these reviews do point out some positives, but then they all managed to get a results page, which is more than I got in two minutes twenty seconds of frantic F5-ing.

Still, it’s clad in a mysterious black colour scheme, which is always a plus, surely.

100th Post! (With Bonus Stats)

December 10, 2007

Yep, you read that right:


Yay! Here’s to 100 posts on this blog and countless more hours spent carefully constructing text that virtually no one reads. That’s a lie, of course; to date I’ve had 24,084 hits — and that’s just since I moved to WordPress in July of last year.

All told, I’ve been blogging for 18 months, or 566 days, or 13584 hours, or 815040 minutes, or… you get the idea. In any case, that’s roughly 1.3 posts per week — not bad for an amateur!

Popularity-wise, How (Not) To Buy A Hang Drum has been far and away my most read post, with a staggering (for me anyway) 5,919 hits. Not surprisingly, most people find this blog by typing “hang drum” or similar into Google: the above post is actually on the first page of Google’s results for hang drum at the time of this writing.

I received 358 hits in a single day earlier this year, but most days I get a respectable 100-150. Hardly major league (or even Vauxhall Conference for that matter), but not bad for a non-specialist blog from a rank amateur. Of course, it’s not all about the traffic — well, actually, none of it’s about the traffic because I don’t have any ads on here, so I make absolutely no money — it’s all about the love baybee!

So here’s to another 100 posts. Goodness knows what I’ll write about, but lack of a topic or a marketing strategy hasn’t stopped me in the past!

Ask vs. Google

October 28, 2007

Google UKGoogle has always been the king of search; so much so that it’s become a household name — and, more than that, a bonafide verb. Sure, there’s always been Yahoo! and MSN/Live Search, with the latter in particular receiving a massive amount of traffic partly because it’s the default search engine for Internet Explorer. However, for years Google has been the tech-head’s search engine of choice.

But recently — formerly Ask Jeeves — has been aggressively marketing its search engine on primetime TV here in the UK as the all-singing, all-dancing alternative to boring old uncle G. Here’s a taster of Ask’s “can your search engine do this?” campaign:

Full credit to the marketing team: the ads are attention-grabbing, original and, above all, they really do make Google look like the kind of old-fashioned search engine only your mother would use. But is it really? And which is better when you actually want to find relevant information?

While I fully realise I’m by no means the first blogger to try this, I decided to run a small test to compare the two. The search term I used was “Lincoln”, my current place of residence. I also restricted results to sites from the UK. Here’s what Google came up with:

Google - Lincoln


And here’s the same search on

Ask - Lincoln

The main difference is that Ask has a three-column layout, whereas Google is limited to two. Moreover, when you’re used to the clean Google search, Ask’s results page can be a little discombobulating at first, but it’s fairly logical once you get used to it.

You have the search bar on the left, with suggestions to narrow your search, and the search field itself has autocomplete suggestions as you type, which is a pretty nifty feature. On the right are samples of images, music and video searches, which in this case were actually pretty useless, but I can imagine situations where you’d want them (for instance, when searching for a band, Ask will bring up weblinks, photos, videos and song clips all on the same page.

Ask also has a nifty ‘binoculars’ feature, which is a preview snapshot of the linked webpage when you hover the mouse over the relevant icon. This is similar to the feed preview feature on Bloglines, or indeed the Snap preview here on WordPress.

One thing I didn’t like about Ask was its ‘sponsored results’ which are directly above and below the main search results, so you have to scroll down a little before you find the links that aren’t paid for. What’s more, it doesn’t mark its sponsored results very clearly; there’s an incredibly pale blue box around them, but it’s tough to spot. In contrast, Google clearly separates most of its sponsored results by placing them in the right-hand column. Sure, you sometimes get sponsored links just above the results on Google too, but it just feels easier to differentiate than on Ask.

I’ve been talking a lot about Ask’s features, but Google has one or two tricks up its sleeve. For example, if you’re logged in it tells you how many times you’ve visited a particular website. It also allows you to ‘note’ or ‘clip’ a particular weblink for future reference, rather like social bookmarking sites, such as Finally, at the bottom of the results page are further search suggestions.

In terms of actual results, there really isn’t much to separate the two. Both ranked City of Lincoln Council and Lincoln University highly, while the Cathedral came slightly lower down the front page.

Bottom Line: I’ll probably stick with Google for now. Ask has some great features, but the results page feels a little overloaded for my taste.

How’s Your Online Visibility?

August 9, 2007

Everyone who’s spent any amount of their spare time on the Internet has run a Google search on their name. My first result is:

Yep, this guy can play two recorders — at the same time. I’ve no idea how, but perhaps a passage from his homepage can give us a clue:

“[David Young’s music] offers you an invitation to take a journey to the deepest, most precious place inside yourself. These melodies fill you with gentle, relaxing peace and healing energy while drawing you inward and upward, like a soft relaxing breeze.”

Relaxing breeze? Deep inside yourself? I’m not sure I like where this is going…

In related news (and here’s the point of this post), social networking blog Mashable last month posted a road test of six new “people search” engines:

6 People Search Engines Tested: Can They Find Me?

People search is a hot new area, particularly with start-ups, as social networking becomes increasingly mainstream with the exponential growth of sites like Facebook and MySpace (not to mention the dozens of other niche networking sites). With more and more of these sites available — and with the potential rewards of using them for business — any search engine which enables you to find your friends and colleagues fast is undoubtedly going to be in demand.

People search is also, apparently, several steps beyond the simplistic world of “find yourself on Google”; whereas Google trawls the entire Intarweb, these search engines are specialized, and many use data from the big social networking sites, as well as other, more business-oriented networking sites, such as LinkedIn.

But could I find myself on any of the sites tested at Mashable? Not a chance! Peekyou, Wink, Spock and yoName all drew a blank on my name, even when I filled in extra details… Like age, location, hobbies, where I was on July 24th 2004… Talk about a let-down. So maybe my online presence needs a boost? Nah, I’m happy being mistaken for a guy who can play two recorders simultaneously.

Adsense Turns Ugly

July 30, 2007

Earlier this month Google announced that they’re planning to bring Adsense — their context-sensitive per-click web advertising service — to the world of videogames:

Full story (via Topix)

Although Google didn’t show any examples of the ads in action, they did say they’ll be rolling out the system “soon”. Bad times lie ahead.

I’ve never been a fan of (real life) adverts in games, primarily because games are all about the ability to enter into the gameworld. Seeing an advert for a show on the TV later this evening is jarring — potentially destroying the carefully constructed fantasy world, and therefore undermining the gaming experience.

I remember when SWAT 4 added in-game adverts with a patch: there was an outcry among the community. Even in a game pitched in a contemporary setting, in an urban environment, even — in short — in locations where adverts weren’t horrendously out of place, they still looked… well, out of place. One of the big problems in that case was the fact that (surprise, surprise) the advertisers got greedy, and started hogging wall space in each map with more and more posters for the new episode of this, or the latest deodorant, or car. It ended up looking ridiculous and making a mockery out of the gritty atmosphere of the game. Here’s an example from SimHQ:

Swat 4 ads

Of course, it turned out that SWAT 4’s adverts were actually doing a lot more than just pimping whatever new TV show happened to be airing that week. They were also tracking which ads players looked at, and for how long, and they were sending that data back to the advertiser’s server. This is not on. As the Inquirer put it back in 2005:

“Gamers are therefore providing huge amounts of free market research into what is and is not working – something which advertisers usually pay millions of dollars to do in often times less than precise ways – in a videogame which they have paid the full price for.”

Maybe Google can do in-game advertising better — maybe they really can “do no evil” and serve a realistic number of ads which don’t impact negatively on the gamer’s experience. I doubt it.

Google-Powered Work Avoidance: Image Labeler

September 4, 2006

Last Friday Google launched Image Labeler, a maddeningly addictive online game designed to improve the accuracy and relevance of Google Image Search (GIS).

Image LabelerHere’s how it works: You and another player come up with labels or tags for a randomly-selected image from the GIS database. Neither player can see the other player’s suggestions at any time. Once you and your partner agree on a keyword, you get 100 points and the game selects another picture to label. Each game lasts just one and a half minutes, and in that time you have to match as many tags as possible to get a high score.

Google Blogoscoped explains more about its implications for GIS:

More than a game, for Google this is a way to tag images using human brain power… to improve their image search results. Two people finding the same tag can serve as validation the tag makes sense. I suppose for Google it’s not important that two people find the same keywords at the same time – they can simply let people tag the images and then add any threshold they want (like “4 people must have chosen this tag for it to become a confirmed tag”).

As TechCrunch reports, it’s a variant of the popular ESPgame which does pretty much the same thing, with a similarly ambitious goal of tagging the whole web. The ESPgame website claims that if enough people played this sort of game, all images on the web could be categorized in “a matter of weeks”. I’m not so sure, but the “just one more go” factor for Image Labeler is undeniably strong, making this the latest addition to my advanced work avoidance tactics. Yeah, this is the kind of thing lifehacker warned me about.

I’ve been playing on and off since yesterday, and my current highest score is 800 for a single game and around 8000 in total. Of course, this being the Internet, some players are regularly getting 2000-plus per game. The player at the top of the leaderboard already has 1.2 million points. By my calculations that means he or she must have correctly tagged over 12,000 images, not including passes. Since last Friday. Google Image Labeler: Serious business.

It’s not perfect, though. One problem is that the images are regularly too small to see. Often I’ll have to lean in and squint at the screen just to work out which way up it is. This is obviously for copyright purposes, and it’s the same reason that GIS itself only stores thumbnail-sized versions of any searched pictures. But when the whole point of the game is to accurately describe what you’re seeing, it’s a bit of a design flaw.

I also wonder whether the timed nature of the game will make the results less reliable. Since you’ve only got one and a half minutes to tag as many images as possible, you’ll inevitably think of only the most general descriptions to ensure a match. I’ve lost count of the number of images where the matching tag was “man”, when the point of the image was what the man was doing (digging a garden, climbing a ladder, giving a speech), not just the fact that it had a man in it.

Still, it’s a good excuse to waste a few idle minutes at work while telling yourself you’re making a difference to the future of internet search. What? That’s not a worthwhile cause?