29 April 2010

Turn off the social features in Google Reader

Even though is probably the best and most widely used application for following RSS feeds, it still has it’s problems and shortcomings. After the launch of , one of the most common complaint was the connection with Buzz, because it generates duplicates and disables comments on buzz originating in Google Reader.

Since Buzz doesn’t have a way to filter content (yet), for some the only solution to separate the two would be to hide the items shared by others in Google Reader and using only Buzz for social interactions. Unfortunately, if you follow a lot of people, hiding their shared items from the sidebar one by one can be time-consuming.

26 April 2010

For Facebook, it's just business

Facebook logo I’ll start with a small real-life story about social networks. I watched a movie some time ago that showed some beautiful footage of the New York Library. I was impressed by the paintings inside, especially because it didn’t fit into the popular image of the city, skyscrapers. A few days later, a childhood friend, now living in New York, uploaded pictures of the library on Facebook. As I saw them, I immediately thought: “Wow, that building really looks like that!” as if seeing it in a movie made it somehow less real, less tangible. So there you have it: the power of social connections and the trust it adds to most situations.

That’s the power seeks to tap into with their new personalization features for external websites based on your friends inside the network. But as promising as this sounds, I can’t shake a bad feeling about it, a sense of threat that I haven’t had before about social media and the Internet.

Developers and advertisers are probably genuinely excited about the new possibilities, but I’m not sure how well personalization will work for the average user in real life. Being friends with someone doesn’t always mean you share their tastes and interests. Until now, suggestions from Facebook to me have been off most of the time, so why would they magically improve now? Take for example people having hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends, whom they probably never met or talked to in real life. It’s hard to imagine these people becoming meaningful recommendations based on such a mixed and loose connection circle. And why would I want that noise following me everywhere I go? I don’t want stuff from my friends popping out on the web when I’m working or researching something for the blog.

25 April 2010

Neil Gaiman - Nicăieri

in Bucuresti, Romania

Nicaieri de Neil Gaiman la editura TritonicSă deschizi o ușă: o acțiune banală pentru cei mai mulți dintre noi, pe care o facem fără să gândim prea mult de zeci de ori pe zi, aproape la fel de automat ca clipitul. Și totuși pentru eroul din Nicăieri, Richard Mayhew, deschiderea unei uși urma să‑i schimbe complet viața banală și bine organizată. Încă dinainte de a părăsi Scoția natală pentru capitala Marii Britanii, o bătrână îi prezice că are un drum lung înainte, dar nu în Londra pe care o știe ea și avertizează să fie atent la uși.

În timp ce Richard se grăbește alături de logodnica lui spre cina organizată cu șeful ei exigent, într‑un tărâm paralel o fată cu puteri speciale fuge de asasinii familiei ei, duo‑ul de criminali prin vocație Crouch și Vandemar. Specialitatea ei, moștenită în familie, este să deschidă lucrurile încuiate, chiar și acolo unde pentru alții nu există nici o cale de trecere. Cu ultimele forțe, Door își deschide o ușă către cineva care să o ajute, aterizând în Londra reală chiar în fața lui Richard. Ignorând protestele și amenințările logodnicei, acesta o duce pe Door în apartamentul său, o ascunde de cei doi urmăritori periculoși care‑i aduc aminte de o vulpe și un lup și o ajută să se întoarcă în lumea ei.

Făcând acestea însă, Richard intră fără voie în universul de unde apăruse Door, Londra de Dedesubt. Odată „molipsit” de Lumea de Dedesubt, Richard devine aproape inexistent pentru concetățenii din Londra obișnuită. Interacțiunea cu ceilalți e aproape imposibilă, aceștia îi mai recunosc prezența doar forțați, fără să‑și aducă însă aminte de unde îl cunosc sau cum îl cheamă. Ca și cum el n‑ar fi existat niciodată în realitate. Foarte puțini dintre cei de Dedesubt mai pot avea o oarecare viață Deasupra, și chiar și atunci doar la marginea societății ca vagabonzi. Poate Gaiman încearcă aici să atragă atenția asupra indiferenței cu care societatea îi tratează pe cei din afara sistemului, cei fără casă sau fără serviciu, aproape ca și cum ar fi invizibili. Sau asupra vitezei cu care se desfășoară viața noastră într‑o metropolă, fără să ne lase suficient timp să privim puțin la lumea din jur, de dedesubt, de printre crăpături.

23 April 2010

Change your location in Google search

Google search Set your locationAlong with the new, more colorful search interface, Google is testing a more prominent location feature to further refine results on some queries. I noticed it only today, although the new Google search is my default since about a month ago. Maybe this means it’s getting closer to be released to the general public. After all, it’s been almost six months since the first mention of the changes! I checked how Google search looks in several browsers, but the new interface is present only in and on the international site, probably because I opted for an experiment a while back.

21 April 2010

Transform a Blogger label into a page

Ever since launched the Pages feature, I wanted to add a label to the ‘Pages’ menu, effectively creating a mini-blog with the articles that have a certain label. The native widget doesn’t include this option. I have seen some Blogger-based blogs having something like this, but nobody seems to know exactly how to do it. So I decided to give it a try myself, by looking at the template HTML code.

It turns out that this is not that hard after all. The Pages widget is actually a small piece of code that loops through the static pages you created and generates a list of hyperlinks to them. All you have to do is add your own items to this list and the widget will reflect them accordingly. Of course, this is not limited to my special case of linking to a label; you can add pretty much anything here, for example you can pin a blog article without messing around with it’s publish date or a link to your Google profile.

18 April 2010

Kurt Vonnegut - Sirenele de pe Titan

in Bucuresti, Romania

Kurt Vonnegut - Sirenele de pe TitanKurt Vonnegut nu abordează genul Science-Fiction ca majoritatea autorilor. El se ocupă în primul rând de problemele actuale ale societății, combinând ficțiunea cu satira unor situații din lumea reală, spre deosebire de alții care anticipează evoluția tehnologică sau socială. Și „Sirenele de pe Titan” nu face excepție de la acest stil de a scrie, ba chiar este printre cele mai reușite exemple.

Acțiunea se desfășoară după un scenariu SF clasic, cu nave, extratereștrii și călătorii prin Sistemul Solar. Ca și în alte romane SF ale perioadei (anii ‘50 – ‘60 mai exact) — a se vedea „Stigmatele lui Palmer Eldritch” de Philip K. Dick sau „Lumea non‑A” a lui A.E. van Vogt —, majoritatea corpurilor din Sistemul Solar sunt considerate locuibile, iar Titan e prezentat chiar ca având cel mai plăcut climat imaginabil și cele mai frumoase femei, în persoana celor trei Sirene. Precum îndepărtatele lor rude mitologice, ele servesc drept momeală pentru a atrage călători imprudenți pe cărări periculoase.

Vonnegut introduce și un nou fenomen astronomic, infundibulul cronosinclastic. Acesta transformă ființele vii care îl traversează într‑un fel de undă vibrând constant între Soare și Betelgeuse și în care toate tipurile diferite de adevăruri se potrivesc. Un cercetător modern ar asemăna‑o probabil cu o superpoziție cuantică. Prima sa victimă este unul din personajele principale, Winston Niles Rumfoord, împreună cu câinele său. Odată transformați, ei există simultan în toate locurile și momentele din Sistemul Solar pe care le traversează unda lor. Astfel Rumfoord are posibilitatea de a cunoaște și manipula viitorul și profită de această putere pentru a schimba viața omenirii în general și pe a unui anumit om în special.

17 April 2010

Ideas for better friend suggestions

‘Social’ is with little doubt the latest online trend. Some sites try to integrate social features because everyone else is doing it, even if doesn’t really adding anything to their business model. At least that’s what I thought when I first discovered a leading online job search site in Romania added contacts and suggestions style. It feels a wrong move on many levels, starting with the fact that this is far from an original idea and people are not about to leave established networks behind to sign up for one with far less features. Not to mention a job search site is probably the last place where you want to connect with work colleagues, especially if you are planning on leaving your current company.

There is another thing that struck me when I saw their contact suggestions: they were very bad! From a page of probably 20 people, I knew only 2, and most of the others had nothing in common with my professional background. That got me thinking about how these sites come up with these suggestions: having a detailed history of my education and professional experience, is this really the best they can do?

14 April 2010

Track visits from Buzz with Google Analytics

In spite of numerous critics, continues to evolve and add features at a fast pace. Just yesterday the team released a set of official ‘Share on Buzz’ buttons that can be easily added to blogs and websites. Almost immediately people started to adapt it for Blogger's home page or as a bookmarklet to share any site. Personally, I prefer to share pages in that has similar tools, because you can collect the entire page and search it’s contents later, if it offers a full RSS feed.

I have also included a compact button on my blog and, after reading Rick Klau’s article, got an idea how to make the button even better: add Google Analytics page tags to track clicks originating from Google Buzz. It’s just a matter of changing the original code to add some parameters to the regular blog post URL. The text you should insert in the Blogger template looks like this:

<a class='google-buzz-button' data-button-style='small-count' expr:data-url='data:post.url + &quot;?utm_source=Buzz&amp;utm_medium=BlogButton&quot;' href='http://www.google.com/buzz/post' title='Post on Google Buzz'/>     
<script src='http://www.google.com/buzz/api/button.js' type='text/javascript'/>

09 April 2010

Follow a Buzz conversation without commenting

Since the launch about two months ago, has made a series of changes and tweaks, from privacy settings to the rules that determine which posts are promoted to the top of your stream to comment collapsing. More improvements are on the way, and hopefully filtering will arrive sooner rather than later. One other thing people complained about is the noise from all the conversations piling up in the inbox and overflowing the other messages. While it’s easy to set up a filter to archive emails originating from Buzz, the team also implemented controls to let people choose which Buzz is important enough to land in the inbox.

Between all these rapid updates, some newly introduces features didn’t get as much press as the others. One thing that bothered me from the start about Buzz is that you couldn’t follow a conversation without actually commenting on it. And liking had no effect either. But Buzz recently gained that ability, that can be found in the context menu next to the date: it’s called “Deliver to my Inbox”.Buzz menu deliver to my Inbox

08 April 2010

Chrome’s silent update extending to Flash

Last week, one of the news circulating on the Internet reported that  is working with Adobe on improved integration with Flash and PDF, going as far as bundling these plug-ins in the standard install process of the browser. At first I was not impressed with the news. I’ve never been a fan of such bundles, because I prefer to decide for myself whether to install something or not. Not to mention the Flash and Adobe Reader plug-ins are shared between several browsers on Windows, which could lead to conflicts and having multiple versions of the same files on your computer. I can see how this could have advantages for mobile devices like a Chrome OS tablet or netbook: Flash would be already included in the operating system, enabling people to start using the device sooner. It would be both a marketing advantage compared to the forever Flash-less iPad and a genuine long-term bonus for users, because web-surfing would be closer to the desktop experience.

02 April 2010

Exclude personal traffic from Google Analytics reports

Ever since I started measuring my blog traffic with Google Analytics, I wanted to filter out my own visits. This could seem like a minor issue, but if you have a relatively small number of visits your activity on the blog can skew the results pretty quickly, like when you test changes to the template. Until recently, the solutions from Google Analytics were impractical: I have a dynamic IP address, so the first option was excluded from the start. And in you couldn’t create a private page for the JavaScript required for the advanced filtering alternative.

After Blogger launched their native ‘Pages’ feature, the problem finally has a fairly easy solution. In your Blogger dashboard, create a new page, switch to the ‘Edit HTML’ tag and paste the JavaScript code from Google Analytics with a custom string, lets say “filteroutGA”. This code sets a custom cookie in your browser containing that string. Since you don’t want anyone else to have the cookie, after publishing it use the ‘Pages’ widget to hide it from your audience (just uncheck it from the list) and make sure you don’t link to it from other pages or articles.  Blogger page to exclude visits in Google Analytics