Dec 16, 2008

Google Suggest, now with ads?

Google seems to be experimenting with ads in their search box, which will pop up as soon as you start entering a query. According to this SearchEngineLand article, the ads seem to be in test phase, and may not be implemented at all. They may be just testing the waters to see how users react, but this is surely an indication of how much pressure even Google seems to be facing in the current economic downturn. For a company which has kept its homepage free of any paid ads, integrating commercials right into the heart of its product is a big step.

Judging by the number of people who come to this blog, searching for ways to turn off the Google Suggest feature in the search engine's homepage, it may not be their most popular feature.

It will be interesting to see how the users react if they do indeed start ads in the search box. Maybe people will just grin and bear it, realizing that good things do come at a price, or maybe we will see some migration to Yahoo and Live search engines, which have been dwindling in market shares with every passing month. Google may have just given users an excuse to try them out after all.

Oct 17, 2008

Launching Chrome was good after all

When Chrome was launched early September, there was much hue and cry about the need for yet another web browser in an already crowded market. I thought it was a good thing. Now, it is getting better.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, at the Hardware 2.0 blog on ZDNet, has published some numbers on how the new Firefox 3.1 beta 1 stacks up against IE, Chrome and the rest. If Chrome set the bar high in ACID 3 and SunSpider Javascript benchmarks, Firefox 3.1 has pushed it even higher. Chrome still takes the lead in Google's own V8 JavaScript benchmark quite convincingly though.

The Firefox 3.1 beta 1 also comes with a slew of features which will hopefully inspire developers in the opposing camps to create some magic of their own. As Kingsley-Hughes puts it, competition is good.

Oct 14, 2008

Anti Spam - Spamming the spammers

Did you know that 95 percent of all email sent in 2007 was spam? Yes, that is a fact.

In spite of all the legislation, the spammers keep marching on. Filling up mailboxes, overloading servers and clogging networks worldwide, the spam keeps coming. So how do you get back at them? That's right, spam them back.

AuditMyPc, an online security testing site, has put up a tool that they hope will give spammers a large dose of their own medicine. Anti Spam is basically a web-page that fills itself with fake email addresses every time it is viewed. The way the developers hope to get it working is like this:

1. Spam-bots, which scour the Web, looking for email addresses to spam, land on the Anti Spam page.
2. They find loads of email addresses (all of them fake, by the way), and promptly adds all of them to their databases.
3. Finally, they follow the last link on the page, which links to itself, thereby loading the Anti Spam page with a fresh list of fake email addresses. The process repeats, filling the databases with enough worthless addresses to make it inefficient to spam.

That sounds like a really interesting concept, and I for one would love to see it work. But would it really? The Buzz Out Loud crew makes some good observations on the idea. Adding fake email addresses to the spam database surely would take down the conversion ratio, but still might not bring down the absolute hits the spammers get. As far as they are concerned, it is all automated and wouldn't matter much.

ISPs could see a flurry of attempts to send emails to non-existent accounts, and that could help them identify potential spammers more easily and blacklist them. This is all assuming that spammers don't blacklist the Anti Spam page first and let their bots go round in circles, feeding on fake addresses.

AuditMyPc encourages the public to link to their Anti Spam page, so that bots are more likely to find it and collect the bogus addresses. As far as I can tell, their appeal seems to be working. Type in 'anti spam' on Google and guess what is the first organic result? If the company decides to make an actual anti-spam product of its own in the future or even take ads for them, they surely won't be needing any search ads. The Anti Spam page may not take down too many spambots, but it won't hurt their site traffic.

Sep 16, 2008

DECE - The future of DRM?

“The nicest thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” - Andres S. Tannenbaum (Also seen attributed to Ken Olsen)

I love that quote. It is funny. It is funny because it is true.

In a digital media landscape littered with incompatible standards and casualties from the format wars, a host of technology and media powerhouses are joining hands to bring a consumer friendly version of DRM for content. In other words, a standard for DRM.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), which is backed by the likes of Cisco, Fox, HP, Intel, Microsoft, NBC Univeral, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony and Toshiba, among others, will offer customers the "buy once, play anywhere" freedom that has been taken away by conventional DRM. Simply put, the standard will enable content bought from consortium members to play on DECE hardware/codec. Not so much DRM-free as having no DRM at all, but a step forward, nevertheless.

Will DECE succeed in convincing consumers who are sceptical about DRM and how it restricts their usage of content they had paid for? Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, a technology columnist at ZDNet, says it beautifully with the title of his blog post - DECE : Lipstick on the DRM pig.

Read the Reuters story - Studios form digital-download ecosystem

Sep 10, 2008

Chrome - why another browser is good

It has been more than a week since Google unleashed Chrome on the Web. Statistics abound on the market share erosion of the incumbents from the newcomer's arrival. Frankly, I think it is far too early for the numbers to make sense. There will be enough downloads and installs in the first week as people try out the new software and figure out if it is actually any good. (Remember, it was promoted in the Google homepage, no less - the most expensive virtual real estate in the world. That has to count for something.)

So how can the new browser help the Web? In a market crowded by the likes of Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Opera, is there any need for yet another commodity software which is free anyway? I think there is.

Firstly, Google has open-sourced Chrome. This means virtually anybody can peer under Chrome's hood and take the best features and even improve upon it. Like the rising tide that lifts all boats, every browser developer and user stands to gain from this.

Secondly, I think the sandbox-approach to the whole browser and even individual tabs is an innovative move. If one site crashes your tab, just close it without bringing all the other tabs and browser windows down. (I am not sure about this, but I think only Chrome has implemented this as of now.) Spawning new processes for individual tabs keeps the user in control, and the entire system more secure.

Thirdly, Google has a way with how it puts the user in focus in product design. The clean, minimalist look of the Google homepage is appreciated by millions, and Chrome has borrowed this philosophy in its user interface. I am sure other browser designers can take a page or two from the Google design book and weave it onto their own. No big, bloated buttons and no useless menu bars. Keep it simple, silly.

There are many things that I don't like at all about Chrome, but that will form the topic of another post. But if somebody has ideas for yet another Web browser and intend to release one soon, I am all for it. Better too many than too few.

Of spam blogs and captchas

Seems like even Blogger has spotted my irregular posting patterns. I tried to make a new posting and it won't allow me to do that, unless I solve another one of those captchas. And they even have a nifty link nearby which says 'Why do I have this', which explains that my blog has the "characteristics of a spam blog". I have applied to unlock my blog from the captcha curse, which apparently requires human intervention. Serves me right for not posting by procrastinating.

Aug 26, 2008

Google Suggest - Turn off autocomplete

Google seems to be rolling out new features in a hurry, or in this case, integrating an old one. The official Google blog has announced that the Suggest feature will be available by default on the engine. Judging from the responses of bloggers, it is a love-it or hate-it feature. Personally, I don't care for it much, what with the suggestions coming nowhere near what I want to type in. Indeed, it is more of a distraction than anything.

It is quite easy to turn off too. Just type in - and you have it. The feature can be disabled easily using the Preferences link from the homepage as well.

Aug 16, 2008

Google sort by date or relevance

Google seems to be testing a new feature. Its News and Blog Search had this feature from the beginning, but seems like you can now sort your web search also by date or relevance. Probably they figured out that people were searching for news and blogs from the main search engine itself, and were shifting often to News and Blog search functionalities to get the latest updates. Maybe they had been working on this for sometime, and the Olympics just came by and users searching for medal tallies just pushed it to the tipping point. (It is worth mentioning that they have been manually tweaking search algorithms for Olympics related content, as has Yahoo and Live search.)

Here is a screenshot that I got a couple of minutes ago. Probably they are rolling it out only to a few users at the moment, as they usually do. Your mileage may vary.

Update - Feb 14, 09: From my web analytics, I can see that more and more people are searching for this feature from all parts of the world. Either Google is rolling it out slowly in test regions, or this has the potential to be an incredibly popular feature.

Feb 14, 2008

The importance of being Yahoo's Valentine

The irony about writing on technology is that much like the subject itself, it becomes obsolete before you can say "Gordon Moore". Which is why analysing Microsoft's bid for Yahoo and the subsequent refusal is not exciting, now that we are a couple of weeks into it. But what would be really interesting to watch is Yahoo's flirtation with News Corp., considering the fact that it just passed on over $44 billion from the Redmond giant.

Is Jerry Yang simply holding out for a better price from Microsoft, considering how desperate Microsoft has shown itself to be in the race for the Web dollar? Or does he believe that a tie-up with the media behemoth can actually bail Yahoo! out of its impending financial crisis, given its relatively poor performance in online advertising sales vis-à-vis Google? (Even with all the commotion around it, Yahoo has been acquiring online ad companies to stay afloat.) The Wall Street Journal says that its owner News Corp could hand over MySpace and some other online properties to Yahoo for as much as 20% stake in the Web giant. This could keep Yahoo safe from a hostile bid from Microsoft, and also give it access to a wider user base, not the least of which would be the world's largest social networking site. Of course, monetising it would be a different story.

Looking from Microsoft's perspective, it just may be willing to raise the offer if Yahoo plays its cards right. But given the fact that it would have to finance even part of the current offer with debt, which would be a first in the company's history, it is highly unlikely to be much of an increase. Microsoft's stock did crash as soon as the offer was made, reflecting possible shareholder opinion that even the current offer is too much.

But even this willingness to borrow for the first time clearly indicates how serious Microsoft is to get Yahoo. Both the companies have been playing catch-up with Google in online advertising revenues, and neither have had much success yet. Even together, they may not be able to do this, given the complexities of integrating two large hi-tech companies and hit the ground running in probably the world's most dynamic industry. As one comment in a news site said, "Tie two rocks together and they still sink." Maybe. Depends on what you tie them with.