google

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Some interesting alternatives for searching the web

My first searches on the web were using yahoo while it was still at a stanford.edu sub-domain. It quickly grew, got its own domain and started adding on more and more "features" that made investors feel something was happening and made most users feel annoyed. The page became so cluttered, they were trying to be so many things -- and putting all of them on the home page, crowding out the search features.

Then my world changed, in 1997 I stumbled on a new search engine called Google. It was clean -- a big empty page with a few links and it was clear that being a search engine was the primary focus. The results were really impressive also, it seemed to always return relevant items.

Over time, google has grown to be the giant behemoth of the internet. Gmail; advertising programs for website owners; website analytics/user tracking; translation; shopping; everything under the sun seems to have a link to google these days. At least they have kept the primary interface clean and about searching. As they have grown to own so much of the data on the internet, I have grown more and more leery of giving them all my data.

A few new search engines came to my attention recently. While lacking the game changing impact of yahoo and google's launch, they each have some interesting features that make them worth some attention.

First in the list is Scroogle. Scroogle is just a layer between you and google. The results are taken from google. The difference is that by standing between you and google, they prevent google from tracking your searches; they keep google from associating your searches with the other data they already have about you. This is a good thing, but it's still google.

Next on the list is StartPage. Startpage promotes itself as the search engine that is most concerned about and respectful of your privacy. They claim to collect no data about people using their search engine. The results are pretty good too.

The most innovative on the list is Blekko. The first thing that caught my eye is the option of sorting the results by relevancy or by date of the content. This is huge! Google does not give users control over sorting results, they are sure that their machine knows what you want.

Bleckko also introduces an interesting way of adding parameters to searches. If you want to restrict your search to one domain only, a topical group, or basically anything, you use what they call SlashTags. Enter a term in the field and click search and you get the full set of results, add in /flicker and you limit the results to flicker. They have some interesting pre-created slash tags such as /politicalblogs, /technology and /techblogs among many others. If you create an account, you can make your own slashtags which can then be used by other Blekko users (add in slashtag /ericfg/radref and you'll only get results from the Radical Reference website). I was impressed with the quality of the results as well.

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Today's photos:

 
 

Router Swap, anyone?

In a reaction to Google's wardriving, I'm thinking of setting up a website to facilitate a mass swap-meet for people to exchange their wi-fi routers.

Google stepped a bit over the line (again) this week. This time, it was focused around a new effort to make it easier to geo-locate a web browser's location.

As they've been driving around in those cute cars taking images for the google maps Street View tool, they have also been mapping the identifying information of every available 802.11 wireless access point (wi-fi) and storing that information along with longitude and latitude information. I'm not sure how I feel about the image street views has of me walking down Central Park West after a meeting, but the idea that they have locative information on my wireless access point definitely upsets me.

Having been helping the folks at Open Greenmap with technology planning and development, I understand the desire to map this information. Most cellular devices (phones, iPhones, androids, etc.) are able to report their GPS coordinates when they request data from a web server. This allows for a site like Opengreenmap.org to give a mobile devices information on interesting places in proximity to where the user is at that time (that's a hypothetical, opengreenmap.org will be able to do this soon). This is not possible for people using laptops (or desktops) connected to the net via a wired network or a wifi access point. Someone looking for interesting green locations from a coffee shop has to go through a few more steps to search the maps.

What I'm blocking this week

A little follow-up on my earlier post about using ad block plus to keep google analytics from violating your privacy :

Here are the filters that I've added in this past week:

*.hitbox.com/*
drupal.org/files/hbx/hbx.js

blocking the google hive mind

In an online discussion today, Matt pointed out to me that google analytics is less than useful because it is so easy for people to block the google javascript file via the firefox adblock add on.

Yet another reason to tell clients and friends to avoid getting hooked on google analytics.

So, everyone follow along:

Step one: get firefox ( http://getfirefox.com )
Step two: get the ad block plus addon ( https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865 )
Step three: open the ad block plus preferences
Step four: click "add filter" and put http://www.google-analytics.com/* in the field; click save

Done, you have no protected yourself (a bit) against the intrusion of google in your life.

A small rant about Google Analytics and Privacy Statements

This week I once again had the debate with a site's legal team about how using google analytics violates the privacy of a site's users.

This is not a huge issue for many sites, but if your site has a privacy statement, you are legally bound to adhere to it -- and many privacy statements are explicitly violated by the use of google analytics.