Posts tagged ‘search engine’


Musings on making friends with mobiles

20.04.2015

I see Google has messaged me in Webmaster Tools about some sites of ours that aren’t mobile-friendly.
   No surprises there, since some of our sites were hard-coded in HTML a long time ago, before people thought about using cellphones for internet access.
   The theory is that those that don’t comply will be downgraded in their search results.
   After my battle with them over malware in 2013, I know Google’s bot can fetch stale data, so for these guys to make a judgement about what is mobile-optimized and what is not is quite comical. Actually, I take any claim from Google these days with a grain of salt, since I have done since 2009 when I spent half a year fighting them to get a mate’s blog back. (The official line is that it takes two days. That blog would never have come back if a Google product manager did not personally intervene.)
   When you’re told one thing and the opposite happens, over and over again, you get a bit wary.
   To test my theory, I fed in some of our Wordpress-driven pages, and had varying results, some green-lighted, and some not—even though they should all be green-lighted. Unless, of course, the makers of Wordpress Mobile Pack and Jetpack aren’t that good.
   Caching could affect this outcome, as do the headers sent by each device, but it’s a worry either for Google or for Wordpress that there is an inconsistency.
   I admit we can do better on some of our company pages, as well as this very site, and that’s something we’ll work on. It’s fair enough, especially if Google has a policy of prioritizing mobile-friendly sites ahead of others. The reality is more people are accessing the ’net on them, so I get that.
   But I wonder if, long-term, this is that wise an idea.
   Every time we’ve done something friendly for smaller devices, either (a) the technology catches up, rendering the adaptation obsolete; or (b) a new technology is developed that can strip unwanted data to make the pages readable on a small device.
   Our Newton-optimized news pages in the late 1990s were useless ultimately, and a few years later, I remember a distributor of ours developed a pretty clever technology that could automatically shrink the pages.
   I realize responsive design now avoids both scenarios and a clean-sheet design should build in mobile-friendliness quite easily. Google evidently thinks that neither (a) nor (b) will recur, and that this is the way it’s going to be. Maybe they’re right this time (they ignored all the earlier times), and there isn’t any harm in making sure a single design works on different sizes.
   I have to admit as much as those old pages of ours look ugly on a modern screen, I prefer to keep them that way as a sort of online archive. The irony is that the way they were designed, they would actually suit a lot of cellphones, because they were designed for a 640-pixel-wide monitor and the columns are suitably narrow and the images well reduced in size. Google, of course, doesn’t see it that way, since the actual design isn’t responsive.
   Also, expecting these modern design techniques to be rolled out to older web pages is a tall order for a smaller company. And that’s a bit of a shame.
   It’s already hard finding historical data online now. Therefore, historical pages will be ranked more lowly if they are on an old-style web design. Again, if that’s how people are browsing the web, it’s fair: most of the time, we aren’t after historical information. We want the new stuff. But for those few times we want the old stuff, this policy decision does seem to say: never mind the quality, it’s going to get buried.
   I realize Google and its fans will argue that mobile-friendliness is only going to be one factor in their decision on search-engine ranking. That makes sense, too, as Google will be shooting itself in the foot if the quality of the results wasn’t up to snuff. At the end of the day, content should always rule the roost. As much as I use Duck Duck Go, I know more people are still finding us through Google.
   What will be fascinating, however, is whether this winds up prioritizing the well resourced, large company ahead of the smaller one. If it does, then those established voices are going to be louder. The rich melting pot that is the internet might start looking a bit dull, a bit more reflective of the same-again names, and a little less novel.
   Nevertheless, we’re up for the challenge, and we’ll do what we can to get some of our pages ship-shape. I just don’t want to see a repeat of that time we tailored our pages for Newtons and the early PDAs.

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Duck Duck Go voted best search engine of 2011

04.04.2011

Duck Duck Go logo

According to a reader poll, Duck Duck Go beat Google for best search engine of 2011.
   ‘With 48% of the vote, relative search newcomer DuckDuckGo beat out search behemoth Google, who came in with 45% of the total vote,’ said About.com.
   Bing trailled at 3 per cent and Yahoo! at 2.
   There’s always room for improvement, but a search engine that delivers pretty accurate results and has no problems with privacy is streets ahead of Google. Plus, unlike Google, you can still email the guy who made the search engine. Last time I successfully emailed the founder of a popular site was in the mid-1990s when two guys called Jerry and David ran this thing called YAHOO out of their garage.

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Duck Duck Go adds a Lucire bang

03.12.2010

Aside from writing a branding report today (which I will share with you once all contributors have OKed it), I received some wonderful news from Gabriel Weinberg of Duck Duck Go.
   Those who are used to the Duck will know that you can search using what he calls bangs—the exclamation mark. On Chrome, which has a minimalist design, I have set my default search engine to Duck Duck Go. But what if I wanted to search on Google?
   I can either do what is built in, and what Google suggests, by beginning my typing in the search box with the word Google. Or, I can simply add !g to the end of the query, which, I might add, is something you can do from Duck Duck Go itself, too.
   Of course, Google would prefer that I put all searches through them, but having Duck Duck Go as a default isn’t a bad idea.
   There’s a huge list of bangs that you can use at the Duck Duck Go website, which include !amazon (which will take you directly to an Amazon.com search), !gn (for Google News—this one is a godsend, especially for Chrome, which has made it much harder to search the news section, even if programmed into the search settings), !video (for YouTube), and !eb or !ebay (for Ebay).
   I’m glad to announce that Gabriel has taken on board a few of my suggestions for motoring and fashion publications, such as !autocar, !vogueuk, !jalopnik, !randt (Road and Track) and !lucire (had to get that one in).
   We’ll announce this on Lucire shortly, but readers already saw me announce, on Thursday, a nip–tuck of our Newsstand pages. That’s not really news, so I chose to complement it with a few other announcements.
   Since we were already fidgeting with that part of the site, Gabriel’s announcement prompted me to do some changes to the search pages, which were woefully out of date.
   The community home page was last designed four years ago, and that time, we just shifted the content over. Never mind that that content was also out of date, and included some letters to the editor that are no longer relevant. It had a link to the old forum, which only results in a PHP error. So today, I had all the old stuff stripped out, leaving us with a fairly minimalistic page.
   I didn’t plan on making a blog post out of it, so I never took screen shots of the process. But at left is one of the old page from Snap Shots, and long-time readers will recognize this as the website design we had many years ago. When we facelifted other parts of the site, this was left as is: it’s old-fashioned dynamic HTML and hasn’t been moved over to a content-management system.
   The new one may be a bit sterile (below), but it takes out all the extra bits that very few used: the Swicki, the Flickr gadget (we haven’t added anything to it since 2008), and a complex sign-up form for the Lucire Updates’ service. It’s been stripped to basics, but it now includes the obligatory links to Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte and the RSS feed.

   Which brings us on to the search pages. These also have the updated look, but, importantly, I fixed a bug in the Perl script that kept showing the wrong month. Regardless of whether it was March or December, the script would show January:

   This is probably nothing to the actual computer hackers out there, but for a guy who has used an ATM only three times in his entire life (mainly because I lacked the local currency), this is a momentous occasion.
   It was one of those evening-tweaking cases where it was simpler for me to do it myself than to ask one of the programmers, and I managed to remedy something that had plagued our website for 10 years.

   The searches revealed a few strange links from long-expired pages, and here is where we might get in to a bit of discussion about online publishing.
   Once upon a time, it was considered bad form to have dead links, because people might point to them. Even more importantly, because a search engine might, and you could get penalized for having too many.
   This is why we’ve kept some really odd filenames. The reason the Lucire Community page is at lucire.com/email is that the link to a free email service we provided at the turn of the century was linked from there. Similarly, we still kept pages called content.htm, contents.shtml and editorial.shtml, even though these pages had not been updated for half a decade.
   There are now redirects from these pages, which were once also bad form as far as the search engines were concerned.
   But, given that search engines update so much more quickly in 2010, do we still need to bother about these outdated links? Will we still be penalized for having them? Should we not just simply delete them?
   If you look to the right of this blog at the RSS feed links, you’ll see some dead ones—there were more, but I have been doing online weeding here, too. It almost seems to be a given that people can remove things without warning and if you encounter a dead link, well, you know how to use a search engine.
   To me, it still seems a little on the side of bad manners to do that to your readers, but one might theorize that few care about that any more as many sites revamp on to CMSs to make life easier for themselves.

A side note: earlier this week, when weeding through dead links at Lucire, we noticed that many people had moved to CMSs, with the result that their sites began to look the same. Some put in excellent customizations, but many didn’t. And what is it with all the big type on the news sites and blogs these days? Is this due to the higher resolutions of modern monitors, or do they represent a change in reading habits?

PS.: The search script bug was fixed by changing $month[$mon] to simply $mon. Told you it was nothing, though I noticed that the site that we got the script from still has the bug.—JY

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I found a new search engine (after Google signed me up to another mystery service)

16.08.2010

I’ve a bit more reason to moan about Google of late, after a few more dodgy happenings on the site.
   But before I do, some good news: I found a very good search engine. And it’s not Bing.
   Ironically, one of the alternatives to Google search that I liked was Yahoo!, but even that company now has switched to Bing. However, it still has some search tools that others can tap in to.
   From what I know, Duck Duck Go (or, to use the site’s own convention, DuckDuckGo) takes some of those data and supplements its own. It’s surprisingly comprehensive and accurate—something I could not call Cuil, which once saw itself as a Google-killer.
   I got a similar feeling in 1998 when I first saw Google. ‘Wow, this is much better than AltaVista!’ Now with Google doing more evil, DuckDuckGo is a breath of fresh air. None of that ‘supplemental index’ BS, either. It also promises that it won’t store your private information. That, too, feels revolutionary in 2010.
   I liked Google better, too, when it just delivered good services, and didn’t bother with who I am or tried to pretend it was a social network.
   Here’s the real kicker: the founder of DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg, emailed me after I sent in a compliment. I remember when either Jerry or David did that back in 1994 or thereabouts on Yahoo!. You’ll be lucky to get that now.

Now, as promised, Google-dissing time.
   You’d think I’d have got most of it out of my system earlier this year with the privacy flaws I discovered around the time of the Google Buzz débâcle.
   But you’d also think that Google would have learned from that mistake. Apparently not.
   First up, here’s a screen shot of my old Google profile. I had deleted it once post-Buzz, but reinstated it because, ironically, it was the only way to remove Buzz. (Deleting my profile did not, as Google would have you believe, remove Buzz when the service was forced on me back in February.)
   I found an option in my profile (which had not been there prior to February) that claimed to prevent my name being found, if I unchecked it. It also said that by unchecking that option, one could not use Buzz and Latitude.
   I should also point out that I do not have a Gmail account.

I don’t know what that says to you, but I would have thought that that meant I would never get Buzz.
   Wrong.

   What part of ensuring that my name could not be found did Google not understand? What other US laws has it violated this time?
   It’s pretty rich for a company that did not have, the last time I looked, a privacy policy for Buzz.
   So, I went and deleted my profile again. This time, it did kill Buzz, though I still have 777 connections in my Social Search. How does it know, if I am no longer supplying data for that?

I also really don’t want to know the 285 friends-of-friends’ searching habits and Tweets. (It still insists I have four blogs with them—the actual number is zero. I wouldn’t trust Google to be able to do arithmetic correctly.)
   But here’s one big down side to not having a Google profile. Google suggests you can be contacted through the company by not signing up to a profile with them! In your Google account, there is now this:

You can’t have that box unchecked without creating a Google profile. What sort of a con is that?
   Some of you may remember when I whinged about Google saying I was signed up to a bunch of services I never knew about. Google goes one better now: it preempts new services and forces them into your account:

You are now a member of something that hasn’t even been invented yet! This is probably how, after all, it got all those Buzz users earlier this year. Google has “pre-consent”!
   Clicking on ‘New Service’ results in a 404. I don’t know what game Google is playing, but something is rotten in Mountain View.
   I can moan all I want, but I have acted and have drafted a letter asking Google to remove the unwanted services from my account. I would delete the whole account, but for a couple of services where colleagues have asked me to set things up (notably Analytics for the Medinge Group website—contrary to Google’s own claims, I cannot remove myself as an administrator).
   So why whinge? Hopefully it’ll have you checking your own Google accounts to make sure there aren’t unwanted things there.

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It’s hard finding the old stuff on Google

26.02.2010

My Wired for March 2010 arrived today (things take a while to reach the antipodes), with the most interesting article being on the Google algorithm. And hold on, this isn’t a Google-bashing blog entry.
   Steven Levy’s article was probably written before the furore over the Google Buzz privacy flap. And it points out how Google has learned from users for search, producing more relevant results than its competitors. With 65 per cent of the search market (and close to 100 per cent of my searches for many years), it has a bigger pool to learn from, too.
   Recently I have noticed in ego-searches that Google is now smart enough to distinguish between searches for yours truly and those for Jack Yan & Associates (both in quotes), so that the former results in a mere 53,800 references, and the latter with 124,000 (quite a bit down from yesterday, when I first hatched the idea about blogging this topic). That is smart in itself: knowing when people are looking for me (or my blog) and when they seek the company. By comparison, Yahoo! lists 280,000 for the former and 42,500 for the latter, as the latter is (if you look at terms alone) a more specific search.
   Once upon a time—even as late as 2009—a search for my name would result in both my personal and work sites.
   I’m pretty proud of my company and the people who work with me, and in election year, if someone were checking out my background, I sure would not mind them getting to JY&A as well. On the other hand, thanks to this distinction, my mayoral campaign site comes up in the top 10 in a search for my name. Either way, it’s relevant to a searcher—so all is well.
   But is this really how people search? If I were searching for, say, Heidi Klum, I would probably want (I write this before I even attempt a search) her bio, a bit of news, pictures to ogle, and Heidi Klum GmbH, her company. This is exactly what Google delivers, with her Wikipedia entry in addition (as the first result). (Bing does this, too; Yahoo! puts Heidi Klum GmbH at number one.) Maybe someone could get back to me on their expectations for a name search although, as I said, Google is doing me a huge political favour by distinguishing me from my business. The ability to distinguish the two is, by all accounts, clever.
   Levy cites an example in his article about mike siwek lawyer mi which, when fed into Google at the time of his writing, gets a page about a Michigan lawyer called Mike Siwek. On Bing, ‘the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.’ (A Bing search today still does not have Mr Siwek appear early on; in fact, most now discuss Levy’s article; sadly for Mr Siwek, the same now applies on Google, with the first actual reference to his name being the 18th result. Cuil, incidentally, returns nothing—so much for supposedly having a Google-busting index size.)
   But I have one that is puzzling to me. Ten years ago, Lucire published an article about the 10th anniversary of the Elle Macpherson Intimates range. One would think that the query “Elle Macpherson Intimates” “10th anniversary” would bring this up first—in fact, I did have to search for the URL last year when writing a blog post. On Google, this is, in fact, the last entry. On Bing, it is the first. On Yahoo!, it is second.
   Of course, Google may well have judged the Lucire article to be too old and that the overwhelming majority of searches is for current or recent information. And being 10 years old, I hardly imagine there to be too many links to it any more. However, I thought the fact that we can now, very easily, sort our searches by date—especially with the new layout of the results’ page—it might just give us the most precise result. The lead page to the article is in frames (yes, it’s that old), which may have been penalized by Google. But many of the leading results that turn up that have these two terms do not have them with great proximity (in fact, numbers one and two do not even have the term Elle Macpherson Intimates any more). However, I don’t think the page I hunted for should be last, especially as none of the preceding entries even have the words in their title.
   I am not complaining about the Google situation since a 2009 Lucire article that links to the old Elle Macpherson one comes up in the top 10, so it’s still reasonably easy to get to via the top search engine. (Cuil lists the 2009 article from Lucire in its top 10, too.) There’s also a blog entry from me that links it, and that appears on the second page.
   It’s just that I hold a belief that many people who search using Google (or any search engine) do so for research. They want to know about Brand X and, sometimes, about its history. If I type a person’s name, there is a fairly good chance I want to know the latest. But when I qualify that name with something that puts it in the past (anniversary), then I’d say I want something historical. That includes old pages.
   While few rely on a fashion magazine for historical research (though, believe me, we get queries from scholars who want citations of things they saw in Lucire), Google results nos. 1 through 53 and the majority of Cuil’s results (which are very irrelevant—the first two are of a domain that no longer exists and a blank page) don’t hit the spot.
   For the overwhelming majority of searches—well over 90 per cent—Google serves me just fine, which is why you don’t see me complain much about the quality of its results. Even here, it’s not so much a complaint, but professional curiosity. It would be sad for Bing or Yahoo! to be labelled as search engines for historical searches, but someone should fairly provide access to the older, yet still relevant, pages on the internet for everyday queries (so I don’t mean the Internet Archive).

PS.: There’s one more search engine that should be considered. Gigablast, which I have used on and off over the years, does not list the 2000 article, either. Like Google, the 2009 one is listed, and only five results are returned.—JY

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