Google Maps expands to Europe, needs to learn more…

Finally Google Maps expands to Europe. First there was the UK and now the rest of the continent. 🙂

BUT! 🙁

I always had a hunch that Americans weren’t too involved in European geography. Especially the smaller countries. No problem there, but I would expect from Google to check and double-check their facts first. Take a look at this picture. (NO, it isn’t Photoshopped)

Google Maps Europe

Steps to reproduce:

  1. Go to Google Maps
  2. Left Click on the map and drag to the left a few times (Europe is on the right…)
  3. Just take a look at the country next to the UK. What’s that spelled?

Technorati out of beta

TechnoratiIt seems that Technorati is out of beta. If you go to Technorati, the ubiquitous RSS/Feeds search engine, you’ll see a totaly revamped lay-out. Sure, it was visitable on beta.technorati.com for some time now. But somebody threw the switch tonight.

In Short:

  • Improved the user experience
  • More Tags-stuff
  • More powerful advanced search features
  • More personalization
  • New Watchlist capabilities
  • Removal of duplicat entries
  • And some performance improvements

That’s quite a list. 🙂

More info about the new Technorati here.

Addendum
: Oh and for those in the vicinity of San Francisco *wink wink nudge nudge*. There is a Technorati party going on wednesday.

Usability Week 2005 San Francisco

Nielsen Norman Group This week, from June 20 till 25, the Nielsen Norman Group is holding a conference on usability in San Francisco. This is the last in a series of conferences which were held in New York, Stockholm and London.

The Usability Week 2005 Conference is:

Usability Week 2005 takes you beyond the typical conference experience, offering a three-day usability camp, a two-day intensive on interaction design, and several exceptional day-long tutorials that get both broad and deep on core usability topics. Attend as few or as many days as you like.

My lucky colleague, who somehow managed to be in San Francisco this week, is attending some topics. While we’re sweating it at the office. Being interested in web usability I just want to know what’s being covered. So strolling around the standard search tools it struck me that there are no reports, experiences, comments, etc. to be found. Google, nope. MSN, nothing. Yahoo, uhm. Technorati & Feedster, nada. What could this mean?

  1. Or usability experts don’t know how to blog
  2. Or NNg forces an NDA on every attendee
  3. Or there simply isn’t anything to report
  4. Or …

Dear Mr. Nielsen, please have a look at this aggregated coverage site of the XTech conference. Wouldn’t that be a good idea for your next conference?

The end of IE 5

IE LogoI’ve given up on IE 4 and Netscape 4 a while ago. Meaning I won’t do anything extra for them anymore. They’ll just have to take the page as-is, no unnecessary or fatal script errors though, but that’s where it ends. If it doesn’t work or looks horrible, too bad.

So how about IE 5? Will I say goodbye to that one too? Well, as long as there is a substantial public I will support it. But a quick scan of some statistics is showing a decline. Take a look at the W3Schools stats, which states a 2.8% audience of IE 5 in June. Looking at my own stats, I have to look hard to find any record of IE 5. But this will differ from site to site, so I haven’t written it off yet. So give it another half year or so?

Microsoft itself has a helping hand in the decline by pushing IE 6 with it’s Windowsupdate service, pulling support for Windows 2000, pushing XP and Server 2003. There is even the upcoming IE 7. And more importantly it doesn’t support IE 5 no longer (or at least will do so very, very soon).

Gervase Markham has a nice post about the IE 5 decline. He even invites us, web developers, to drop support for it already. I wouldn’t go that far, yet. Although with so many alternatives available I wonder why anyone will want to keep hanging on to IE 5.

If you’re still using IE 5, please take a look at IE 6, Firefox or maybe Opera. Oh and for those on a Mac. There’s Safari, Firefox or Camino.

Google Sitemaps is working

Google Sitemaps As I’ve posted previously, I started ‘testing’ Google Sitemaps last week. So what have I done? I added my feeds first. They were there already so that didn’t take any effort. Next I added a plugin to my WordPress installation that would generate a sitemap automatically and added that one also.

Now the big question. Is it working? It seems so…
At the Google Sitemaps ‘Control Panel‘ I see that the feeds and sitemap are being fetched every 12 hours or so.
Looking at my serverlogs I see Google spidering like crazy in the past 24 hours or so. Their spider jumped from a third to the first place in the bot-list. So spidering is great. What about the indexing? Seeing a spider is one thing, being indexed another.
Well, great news on that front too. If I lookup my pages in Google I see that a lot of them are cached on june 12 and 13. (That’s like yesterday)

In conclusion: Google Sitemaps looks like the tool to keep your pages in Google fresh. Now if other searchengines would follow, that would be nice. 🙂

Some reservation: It could be that Google is doing an all out spider-run which may (or may not) indicate a Google Dance is underway and we’ll see some updated PageRanks. Time will tell.

Corporate Egosurfing, or how to get market info for free.

Keeping track on what is being said in the media is somewhat of a luxury for big companies. They can afford to allocate people and time in special departments (PR, Communications, …) to track the news, journals, internet, measure campaign effectiveness, etc. Smaller family run companies don’t have that kind of resources. Their time is mainly consumed by running their businesses. There’s hardly any time to stop and look what is being said about them (positive or negative).

Enter the internet anno 2005. I know many of you type their names into Google, hence the term Egosurfing, to see what is known about you. You may want to go over to Yahoo, MSN or Altavista to check what’s being said there. But running around all those sites is time consuming. And time is something some people don’t have. Now, with some RSS-magic and a little time to set-up we’ll automate this task and spare ourselves some valuable corporate time. Best of all, it costs nothing!

Requirements

  • A browser.
  • An hour or so to set things up.
  • An aggregator.
  • A whole lot of feeds, more on that later.
  • A few minutes a day to check up on things.

So here we go.

Step 1: Get a browser

If you are reading this, you have browser. What kind doesn’t matter. So step 1 is taken care of.

Step 2: Get an aggregator

For this ‘Corporate Egosurfing’ to work you’ll need an aggregator. Say what? An aggregator! It’s a tool that lets you collect several sources at once and quickly scan through the latest news.

BloglinesFor this example I suggest you sign-up for a Bloglines account. Bloglines is an online aggregator so you don’t have to install anything, its available on any pc you work on and best of all it’s free. (http://www.bloglines.com/)

Once set-up your account is empty, apart from the ‘Bloglines | News’. Next we’ll add some feeds to go ‘Corporate Egosurfing’. You can add feeds using the ‘Add’ link on your ‘My Feeds’ tab. Bloglines offers some ways to easily add feeds, but for this example we’ll find and add our own feeds.

Our Company

For this example let’s say we are a small family run company that builds custom motorcycles. Or choppers as we call them. Our name is ‘Orange County Choppers‘. We have some internet-presence, even had a documentary on the Discovery Channel. 🙂

Step 3: Add Yahoo! News

Yahoo! NewsGo over to http://news.yahoo.com/. Enter the name of your company or see our result.
Now the important bit. In the right sidebar you’ll see ‘View as RSS’ with an orange XML button. Click on it and don’t be scared. You’ll see a lot of strange code in your browser. This is what a feed looks like on the inside. Now go to the addressbar and copy the URL.

Go over to your Bloglines and click on ‘Add’ under the ‘My Feeds’ tab. On the right hand side paste the copied URL in the ‘Blog or Feed URL:’ and click on ‘Subscribe’. On the next page click ‘Subscribe’ again and your set.

Congratulations! You’ve added your first egosurfing feed. Everytime you’ll login to your account you’ll see the latest additions. You can scan the headlines, read some summary info and/or click on the headings to see the original article.

Step 4: Add Google News

Google NewsOn to the next one. Google. There’s one problem with Google. It doesn’t offer any feeds. 🙁
But no problem, there is this other site that does what Google doesn’t. 🙂

Go over to http://www.justinpfister.com/gnewsfeed.php. Enter your companyname and press ‘Create RSS’. Next you’ll see another page with the same ‘weird stuff’, so did we. Just copy the URL from the adressbar and add it to your Bloglines account. Just like we did with the Yahoo! News feed.

Step 5: Add MSN News

MSN SearchGo over to http://search.msn.com/news/. Again, enter your companyname. You’ll be presented with a normal search result set. (Our result)

Now go hunt for that orange RSS/XML icon, yes it is on the bottom of the page. The page you’ll see when you click on the button is something we haven’t seen before. Instead of a lot of ‘weird stuff’ we’ll be presented a nice page. MSN offers a direct link to add this feed to your bloglines account. Just press the grey/white ‘sub bloglines’ button. That’s all. 🙂

The nice people of MSN Search also offer feeds for their normal search. So go back to the normal results and click on the ‘Web’ link on the top of the page. Now go to the bottom and click on the ‘RSS’ button. Just add this feed using the ‘sub bloglines’.

Step 6: Sit back and relax

Now you’re set with the top 3 search engines and you’ll be up to date to what’s being said in the ‘press’. Now close all your browsers and come back to your Bloglines account tomorrow. You’ll find it pretty easy to be kept up-to-date with just one visit instead of three.

Or don’t stop here! There are many, many more sources out there that you can add. All you have to do is when you find a nice orange ‘RSS’ or ‘XML’ button on your favorite site, remember to add it to you account.

Or how about keeping a track on what’s happening with the competition? Like for example those West Coast Guys. Just repeat the steps above but with a different companyname.

Now you have a free, custom built, news service about, well, you! How’s that? There’s more, but I’ll save it for later I guess.

Tabbed browsing in IE is here

Well, you’ll have to download and install the MSN Search Toolbar first. But this is the official Microsoft add-on to IE that does make the browsing experience tabbed right now. No longer do you have to wait for IE7. Plus you get the added bonus of desktopsearch, auto form fill and a popupblocker. And it’s not even XP Servicepack 2 only.

Ok, there are other 3rd party tools available to make IE tabbed and the first reviews aren’t that nice. Why don’t you install it now and tell me what you think. I’ll try it later. 😉

What font will we choose next for our site?

Web-enabled fonts Webdesigners have been limited in their choice of fonts for quite some time now. Who doesn’t use Arial, Verdana, Courier, Helvetica, etc. The list isn’t very long as opposed to print designers. I think about 99% of all sites use Arial/Verdana/Helvetica/or a combination, although I’ve seen the use of Tahoma and “Trebuchet MS” rising. (NO, “Comic Sans” doesn’t look good!)

Nevertheless there hasn’t been much improvement on the type front for some years. This is due to several factors. First the required font has to be installed on the visitors computer. That narrows the choice to the pre-installed fonts by the OS. Although I think BitStream made an effort to embed type in webpages, I haven’t heard or seen anything from them for years. Then there is the resolution of the screens, what kind of screen you’re using (CRT, LCD or TFT), whether ClearType is enabled, what font-size you’re using, eye-fatigue, column-widths, and so on. In short, reading from a display is totally different from reading from paper.
Interesting read: In Search Of: The Best Online Reading Experience and Eight Things You Can Do Now To Improve On-Screen Readability.

There are ways to cheat. You can use images, replace headings dynamically or use Flash. But that isn’t very friendly on us webdesigners. Do you (or your clients) like to startup Photoshop or Flash everytime someone’s come up with a new article heading?

So what is it we’re looking for? More web-enabled fonts, that everybody has installed.

Enter ‘Longhorn’ (the next generation of Windows). Although that OS won’t be here untill (make your bets now) 2007, it’ll bring some relief. Because it’ll bring 6 (six!) new fonts that are presumably more or less web-enabled. In depth review here. But if you just want to see a preview look here (Flash). (Somehow the fonts all start with a C: Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia and Corbel.)

So if it’ll be released in 2007 and everyone (and their mothers) have upgraded, it will be 2010+ before we (webdesigners) have some alternative to the gratuitous Arial and Verdana. …

More about Microsoft & Typography here.

What do search engines see in my page?

Search engines are your ultimate blind visitors. They don’t see JavaScript, stumble over framesets, ignore CSS, feel around HTML-tags and leave them alone, choke on Flash. All they really want to see is content. And that content is plain text. Text that can be indexed, weighed, stored, chunked, ranked & retrieved. Or whatever it is they do…

So if you want a glimpse of what Google/Yahoo/MSN can really see in your pages take a look at the Search Engine Spider Simulator. It’ll take your page, strip off all HTML, media, links, meta-info and commonly used words. What is left is a resumé of all the unique words that are on your page.

Now if this simulator doesn’t return anything maybe that’s your explanation for not being indexed.
No content? Why bother.

Google Sitemaps weblog plugins

In the previous post I said that Google Sitemaps will accept your feeds just as well. And it does, no worries. But as I looked further into the dynamic generation of sitemaps I found there were WordPress plugins already available. (Just 3 days after the service went public. How’s that for a user community …)

Currently I have Arne Brachhold’s Google Sitemaps Generator v2 Final running. All I had to do was upload the plugin, activate it, make an empty sitemap.xml writable and I was up and running. You’ll get an extra administration page after activation where you can set a whole lot of options. We’ll see how this one fares.

If that plugin doesn’t work for you. Dirk Zimmermann also has a plugin, although that one didn’t work out for me as I have my WP in a subdir (presumably).

People using Movable Type may want to look at Niall Kennedy’s Weblog.

Update: Arne Brachold’s Google Sitemap Generator for WordPress just bumped up to version 2.5. Good stuff: 1. you can now add external pages that aren’t generated with WordPress. 2. The plugin pings Google to notify them of an update. 3. The plugin has become multi-lingual.