Google Mail Trend Visualiser

The Google Mail Trend Visualiser is pretty cool. It’s a Python script which connects to your Gmail account using IMAP and then produces some pretty graphs, tables and distributions on information such as who is emailing you, subject lines, mailing lists and so on.

Check out the example output for the Enron e-mail dataset and if you’re interested, have a look at the getting started guide. I’ve tried installing this but so far no luck… I get “ImportError: No module named utils” but I’m running Python 2.3 on Windows… your mileage may vary.

Argggh

If I read another article about the Google purchase of Youtube, I am going to go crazy.

Every single article talks about the same thing and regurgitates the same points – why Google is going to be sued, why YouTube isn’t a great place for advertising and about how Youtube’s videos fit in with Google’s mission of indexing the world’s information.

Google and Youtube are great but is a business deal which has very little short-term effect on end-users really important enough to warrant several posts on every single technology blog and a tons of Digg articles?

I really don’t understand the whole obsession with Google

Web 2.0 Animated Loading Icons

I’m not Mr. Techcrunch and I don’t spend my time checking out every cool new Web 2.0 site. But I’ve been on my fair share of them to know what this icon means:

 

To me, that icon means the browser is busy doing something.

Today, I decided I’d give Google Analytics a go. I added the HTML to my site, returned to the Analytics page and clicked on the link to check the status of the site.

Then I sat there stone-faced for several minutes waiting for something to happen. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 

Google Analytics

Why? This icon is used by everyone else to show that some AJAXy goodness is being done behind the scenes. The message is also not clear and makes it sound like data is being generated on the server and being delivered to the browser.

The loading indicator is the wrong icon for the job and the message only supports the expectation that something AJAXy is supposed to happen.

I think this is a great example of confusing non-standard use of icons and misleading the user into thinking something is going to happen.

The Internet's Obsession with Google

I only use 2 Google services every day: Google Search (Web & Images) and Google Adsense (not out of choice but because every site on the net has Adsense these days). I have not replaced MSN Messenger with Google Talk, I have not replaced Thunderbird with Gmail, I have not replaced Microsoft Office with Writely and Google Spreadsheets.

I admit, Google makes some decent products. Google’s search engine is still miles ahead of the competition and I can’t see myself using another search engine for quite an amount of time. Google Earth provides fantastic satellite imagery but I’ve never used it for anything else. Google Toolbar, Picasa, Desktop, Talk, Spreadsheets can be useful utilities but I’ve never liked them. Other companies – notably Microsoft – make much better products. Google Video is pretty decent but Youtube knocks the socks off Google (primarily because it has decent content). Google Maps has been easily rivalled by Yahoo and Microsoft’s offerings.

What really annoys me is every time I log on to the internet there’ll be an article on half the blogs I read and Digg speculating about a future Google product launch. Everytime there is a change in the robots.txt file it’ll make headline news. Someone will find a file which Google has accidently left on the web and people begin speculating. A small change to the visual user interface of Adsense or some screenshots of some user interface changes to Google which are currently being tested get posted again and again and again.

Sure, Google are a great company. They’ve done some great things. But people are obsessed with Google and every single trivial thing to do with Google will make the headlines. And right now, I’m sick of reading about Google. 

Google Blogoscoped – Blog of the Week

As fed up as I am of continuously reading about Google every day (more on this later), Philipp Lenssen’s Google Blogoscoped still manages to be a really interesting blog. Although it’s mainly about Google, it’s not all about Google. There are posts on other search engines, cool web sites, challenges and some cool experiments. It’s written by the same guy who wrote 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google.

I really like the writing style of Blogoscoped – the posts are generally quite short and easy to read – they link to the source and relevant sites and the blog doesn’t obsess about tedious stuff like a new domain registered to Google or a change to the robots.txt file.

Google Operating System is a similar blog which I also enjoy reading; again mainly about Google but also about related stuff.

Microsoft's Live.com the worst search engine ever?

I was trying out some alternative search engines earlier as I wanted to become less reliant on Google. Live.com Search is supposed to by Microsoft’s Google killer. I think it’s absolutely terrible.

Take a look at the top results for Firefox on Live.com:

Live.com Firefox

The official Firefox download page isn’t even even in the top 20 results. The top result is a UK company called Firefox which is an acceptable result but most people won’t be looking for it.

The second result is a spammy page which makes money by providing a Firefox with Google Toolbar download. Compare the results to those given by Google which include official download pages, Firefox advocacy site "Spread Firefox" and a link to the Firefox Wikipedia page. Live, in contrast, has an Uncyclopedia result in the top 10.

It doesn’t seem to be limited to just Firefox, Linux comes up with pretty poor results. Even a search for Windows doesn’t even bring up the official Windows XP page. 

Worst search engine ever? 

Google Logo Magic Trick

In Philipp Lenssen’s "55 Ways to Have Fun with Google" (now CC and free download as mentioned yesterday) chapter 13, he described a magic trick with Google.

Quoting from the 13th chapter:

Here’s a magic trick to surprise your friends with. What they will see is this: you are at the Google homepage, and you casually ask someone to watch the Google logo. Then, you move two of your fingers to completely cover the “o”s in the Google logo. When you remove your fingers, to much surprise, the letters “o” will be missing from the logo. Now you ask your friend to move her fingers over the missing “o”s. After your friend removes the fingers, the logo will be complete again!

The trick here? It’s not really the Google homepage you and your friend are looking at – it’s a fake page (darkartsmedia.com/Google.html). And when you click on the page, the letters of the logo will disappear after five seconds. Clicking again will make them reappear after five more seconds. So when you move your fingers to cover the Google logo, simply click anywhere on the page, and wait a bit before you remove your fingers… and when your friend covers the letters, you click again. (A third click, by the way, will change the page to an actual Google homepage so you can perform searches to “prove” the page is real.)

An alternative implementation

I do think it is rather odd to be discussing the best way to implement a joke but it the joke page annoyed me as it didn’t look much like the way Google renders on my system and I knew it wouldn’t catch out anyone I knew. I thought I’d create an alternate implementation.

This implementation uses Javascript and can function as a bookmarklet. You actually use Google’s homepage and not a fake page. Simply visit the Google homepage, and type this in the address bar:

javascript:void(document.onclick=function() {document.onclick=function() { setTimeout("document.getElementsByTagName(‘IMG’)[1].src=’http://www.google.com/intl/en/images/logo.gif’", 3000)}; setTimeout("document.getElementsByTagName(‘IMG’)[1].src=’http://tinyurl.com/rtcol’", 3000) }) 

Alternatively, make this link a bookmarklet by dragging it onto your bookmarks toolbar (this will stop Firefox from changing the address bar).

Follow the same instructions as above – this time when you click once on the real Google homepage, the logo will change after 3 seconds. When you click again, it’ll return to the normal logo again after 3 seconds. I couldn’t be bothered to photoshop the Google logo without the "oo" so I used a picture of Steve Ballmer instead. 

The great thing about this implementation is it looks exactly as it would render normally in your browser (font sizes, custom CSS, etc) and everything still works as normal. 

Google Joke

Enjoy hours of endless fun of proving to people that Microsoft own Google and spamming Digg with proof that you’ve found exclusive information about Google’s next holiday doodle. 

55 Ways to Have Fun with Google

Philipp Lenssen who writes one of my favourite blogs, Google Blogscoped, has released his book "55 Ways to Have Fun with Google" as a free download in the PDF format. It’s also CC-licensed so you can "copy, read, share, remix, convert, quote, browse, and print the PDF to your liking".

You can also buy a printed copy of the book for $17. I think it’s pretty genius to release a whole book for free on the internet. If there was no free release, I wouldn’t be blogging about it right now and neither would many other bloggers. Thus more people actually end up buying the book. Mark Pilgrim did the same thing with Dive into Python and to my knowledge that was also a fantastic success. 

I’ve just glanced at the book and skimmed a couple of chapters and it looks pretty interesting. There is a full chapter list at the book site. It seems to cover quite a wide range of cool tricks and cool Google-related stuff.

It’s well worth downloading a copy and if you aren’t a big fan of reading off the screen, it’s worth printing it out or buying the book. Even if you buy the book, the pdf is pretty useful as it can be searched and if you wish to quote from it, it’s just a copy and paste operation.

Google Firefox Extensions

Google Browser Sync

Google Browser Sync is an official Firefox extension from Google which was released yesterday.

"Google Browser Sync for Firefox is an extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions."

The extension could be useful if you have a laptop and a desktop or you often use Firefox at work, school and home and want to maintain one browsing session between them.

It stores all your browsing session data at Google but Google claims that if you provide a PIN, nobody can read that information without your PIN code – not even Google. 

A bit like Session Saver but works for your whole profile.

Googlepedia

This looks like an interesting extension. It splits your Google results page into two columns – the left hand side displaying your search results and the right hand side displaying the result from Wikipedia.

Oh, it removes Google Adwords too. Get it at Mozilla Add-ons

Via Google Blogoscoped

CustomizeGoogle

CustomizeGoogle is a brilliant extension. It’s an outgrowth of Mark Pilgrim’s Butler Greasemonkey Script. CustomizeGoogle can do all kinds of things with Google – adding Suggest to the search box, removing adverts, anonymizing your Google User ID (so Google can’t track you), removing click tracking, filtering spam sites, use Gmail over https, make links in Google Images link direct to the image, remove copying restrictions on Google Book Search, and more.

It’s all customizable so you can turn stuff off and on and off again. Everyone who uses Google should use this, even if it’s just to rewrite links in image search and to protect your privacy. 

Nofollow fails

Dylan Tweney says nofollow is Google’s embarrasing mistake

Since its enthusiastic adoption a year and a half ago, by Google, Six Apart, WordPress, and of course the eminent Dave Winer, I think we can all agree that nofollow has done … nothing. Comment spam? Thicker than ever. It’s had absolutely no effect on the volume of spam. That’s probably because comment spammers don’t give a crap, because the marginal cost of spamming is so low. Also, nofollow-tagged links are still links, which means that humans can still click on them–and if humans can click, there’s a chance somebody might visit the linked sites after all. Heck, if we really wanted to eliminate comment spam, why don’t we just get rid of hyperlinks altogether?

Jeremy Zawodny says:

Look. Linking is part of what makes the web work. If you’re actually concerned about every link you make being counted in some global database of site endorsements, you’re probably over-thinking just a bit. Life’s too short for that, ya know? Link and be linked to. Let the search engines sort it out.

I’ve never been a fan of nofollow and there seem to be more effective ways of stopping spam by stopping spam in the first place rather than preventing spam from getting Google-juice.

If you use WordPress, Dofollow will remove nofollow from your links encouraging your visitors to leave comments and stop Google from penalizing blogs (blogs tend to link to each another using nofollow so blogs get less pagerank than they deserve)

Via Jeremy Zawodny.

  • In September, Google used nofollow to stop Katrina Charities from getting PageRank from the Google Homepage.