Privacy Quest

December 12, 2009

There have been a couple of big announcements in the realm of privacy in the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to take this post to talk about the developments.

The first announced this week is that Facebook has updated its privacy functionality ostensibly in order to give you more control over the information that you give out through the service. However, as many people are commenting, a lot of the privacy protection that was previously available now is not.

Facebook is a business that is designed to have as much information available as possible as this makes it a much more interesting site for users, however, if people are not comfortable with how much information is available this sort of plan could backfire.

As you can see here, if you aren’t my friend, I have my privacy setting set at a very high level. You can’t even find me in a search if you don’t know me. (The profile with no data isn’t actually me. I’m not on there at all.) While that might seem a bit extreme for some, I’m perfectly happy with that level of privacy. This is a setting that is still available with the new Facebook privacy changes.

Now a company that is getting some praise for its latest move is Google. Google has created a new privacy dashboard, which, when signed in, allows you to look at all the data Google has compiled on you. More importantly, it has many setting that allow you to delete that information. So, if Google has your search history and there’s something on there that you don’t want, you can finally do something about it.

Ultimately, privacy needs to be something that users have control over and don’t feel that they are giving away to use the Internet. This is certainly a challenge for content providers as this is a key way to deliver relevant advertising. I do believe there is a happy medium between these two positions, and I hope the future has more and more powerful privacy controls.

Don’t forget if you have thoughts, throw them in the comments.

(Bonus points if you can identify the obscure mid-90’s TV show I referenced in the title.)


Making the Google News Loophole a Noose

December 5, 2009

This week Google announced a plan to prevent unlimited access to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal‘s complete content. Normally, non-subscribers would have limited access to the complete text of articles on these newspapers. However, using Google News and typing in the headline or the topic and source:Wall Street Journal, you could easily and reliably get access to the complete content.

The Wall Street Journal is getting the most attention in this matter as their owner, Rupert Murdoch, had previously threatened to remove all of their content from Google‘s search engine and go over to Microsoft’s upstart competitor Bing. (It’s kind of funny to consider Microsoft an upstart at anything nowadays, but so be it.) That didn’t materialize, at least not yet, but it is something Murdoch will continue to hold in his back pocket.

The new program Google has started is called the program First Click Free. Reports say that you’ll be able to use the loophole I’ve just described five time a day and then you’ll be treated as the non-subscriber that you are. I mention the reports because I don’t see the clearly described in Google’s blog entry on the subject.

Now, what is a Techeap user to do? There are a couple of options. The first and most obvious to me is to simply switch search engines. Google News is certainly not the only news aggregator that can use this technique. Bing has its own news aggregator and there are many others. If you are a technically savvy user, you could change your referer and tell the browser that you are coming from another site.

However, the problem for the Wall Street Journal and any other paper continues. Previously, I’ve talked about the problems that newspapers face, and those issues are still out there. The business model for online news has simply not been perfected and until that happens content creators are tasked with the difficult job of making more with less.

Do you have any ideas for fixing these problems? Let me know in the comments…or fix them and make a lot of money. šŸ™‚


More Than a Season to Buy

November 28, 2009

After making many Black Friday gift purchases and admittedly, an item or two for myself, I thought that today might be a good day to talk aboutĀ  doing some maintenance on the karmic scales. That is to think of those less fortunate, who are not able to enjoy the benefits of the holiday season.

In the Techeap way,Ā  it is important to get the most for your donated dollar, and I have some ideas to do just that.

The first is DonationDoubler.org. This is a site that finds out about businesses that are offering matching donations to various charities. In this way, the charity of your choosing is getting double the bang for your buck. There is, however, a limited number of charities available on the site, and some of them require a purchase from an online store before hand. The good of a double donation, however, will probably equal out buying a 5 ft. ethernet cord.

Another good option is DonorsChoose.org. This site is set up to allow teachers to announce a specific need they have for their classrooms. People then donate money to the classroom or project they like and the classroom shows pictures of the items in use. Some of this site’s projects are also getting matching donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Finally, if you are not able to donate money, and in these economic times, that wouldn’t be surprising. There are always volunteer opportunities that you can participate in. One site of the many that are out there to help find places to volunteer is VolunteerMatch.org. The thing I like most about this site is how easy it is to find opportunities close to your physical location. In this way, you can save yourself the time and aggravation of traveling a great distance to donate your time.

Do you have any tips for getting that extra value out of your donations? Let me know in the comments.

 


‘Tis the Season for Savings

November 21, 2009

As Black Friday, the shopping extravaganza after Thanksgiving, comes once again. I have some tips and tricks for getting you through this time of year with the most savings.

The first tip is to read every flyer and advertisement carefully. As CNN’s Money site points out, many stores will try toĀ  lure you in with incredible deals in extremely limited quantities. So unless you plan on being in front of the store hours before it opens, you are probably best off avoiding those situations.

Some stores, like Wal-Mart, have decided in order to avoid those mad rushes for bargains to open stores 24 hours, but activate the sales at 5am. In this situation, you may be able to grab the item you want and just wait to checkout at the appropriate time. While this may not work in every Wal-Mart, it may be worth a shot if you want to grab the best bargains.

One site that I mentioned in my last post was BlackFriday.info, but if you prefer more of a blog format to the layout of that site you can check out BFAds.net. I also prefer this site’s search function, but both sites are worth checking out.

However, for online shoppers, it’s even better if you don’t have to leave your house. That’s where sites like DealNews and Ben’s Bargains come in. These sites will have update on online offers and coupon codes, many of which include free shipping. However, most of the deals are in the technology market, so if you are getting gifts for people who don’t like electronics these might not be the perfect sites for you.

One other thing to keep in mind is that after the Black Friday rush marketers have come up with a new way for online stores to get some attention by creating “Cyber Monday.” The theory is that everyone isĀ  coming back to work after the holiday weekend will be working on their holiday shopping list instead of working at their job. However, as tends to happen with these things, perception has become reality and “Cyber Monday” has become a real phenomenon with increased sales and deals to attract those sales. Make sure you check those websites on that Monday for the good bargains that can be available.

Do you have an inside track for deals in this season? Make a note in the comments.


TeCheap Winterized

November 13, 2009

As the temperatures start to cool off, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway, I have a couple of tips for you to make winter as tolerable as possible.

The first is a new offering from Google designed to help you avoid the flu. It’s the Flu Shot Finder overlay for Google Maps. Just enter your location into Google Maps and it will give you a list of locations near your area that are offering the seasonal flu shot, the H1N1 flu vaccine, or both. While you have to call to get fee information, it does give you a convenient list that you can call down to compare prices and double-check availability. (Thanks to Search Engine Land for the heads up.)

Last year, Google also came up with a map to track flu trends by tracking how often flu symptoms were searched for in different geographic areas. This map, at Google.org, shows a country breakdown, and if you click on any particular country, you can also get a state by state, or region by region map. There is also an interesting graph showing the time of each year’s flu season.

Along with keeping an eye on the flu, Lifehacker has some good tips on protecting yourself against wasted money on heat. Along with a couple of more standard tips, the tip most interesting to me involves attaching bubble wrap to your windows in order to add pockets of air. This helps keep the cold out and the warm air you are paying for in. The other nice thing about this method is that , if you are like me, you have a lot of bubble wrap lying around from packages that are sent from on-line retailers.

Since some of those packages may be holiday gifts, it is time to remember that Black Friday and the holiday shopping season are coming. I plan on talking more about Black Friday as it approaches, but the first place to find out info about it is BlackFridayInfo.com. They’ll have early looks at all of the ad scans that they can get a hold of and can let you know about some great deals.

Do you have any TeCheap ways of getting ready for winter? Let me know in the comments.


Charting a Course for News

November 7, 2009

I’m a serious consumer of news. I read, listen and watch a lot of it. Sometimes though I get caught in the trap of only reading stories that I find interesting. Certain major topics do not interest me enough to follow up and read about them as much as I probably should. I still don’t really know what Rihanna said about Chris Brown, so sometimes I need something that will force certain items to my attention.

One website that I’ve found that can do that is Newsmap. Newsmap is a colored-coded grid of stories that uses Google News to prioritize the most significant stories of the news day. Stories that have had more written about them are relatively bigger in the grid and have their headline in a larger font. Clicking on any of the stories will bring up the story where you can read more about it.

It defaults to having all categories of news, but if you want to limit it to just certain sections like health or technology, you can just click the appropriate check boxes and the grid will reorganize itself. It’s a nice little way to visualize the news.

At the 10000 Words blog, they have a great list of other news visualizers if you are interested in looking at news in a different way. There is the popular Newser tiled headlines with pictures, but this type of layout tends to make me focus on the interesting pictures insteadĀ  of finding good stories.

Another interesting visualization is 10×10, which offers a 10×10 grid of story pictures taken from Reuters, the BBC and the New York Times RSS feeds. It is very focused on international stories, but the way that it works is worth noting. It analyzes the words from the RSS feeds of these stories and computes the most important words of a particular hour. Then it will associate a picture with each word. Often times, the result will be that the same picture will come up multiple times, which lets you know that a story is worth looking at more closely. I would prefer if looked at a larger amount of time than an hour, because you will often get stories with no picture or only a very few stories and lots of repeated pictures.

How do you find news content? Have any interesting tips? Let me know in the comments.


Making Craigslist Look Good

October 31, 2009

Craigslist.org is a very useful site that a lot of you are probably already familiar with it. It’s how I got my apartment and a lot of my friends and colleagues have done the same. My major problem with the site is the design. It’s about as interesting as the newspaper Classified ads that’s it is replacing. The really sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Check out Craiglook.com. Using only the data that is already on the Craigslist site, you get a much more easily usable way to search for the types of ads that you are looking for. A few navigation tips though, the front page looks like it has check boxes, but they are actually links, so I would either use the text entry at the top or click through the category first. This minor hiccup, however, does not prevent the site from being a big improvement over the Craigslist site itself.

Makeuseof.com also had a few useful Craigslist tools that I would like to mention. The first is one I’ve mentioned before on the blog is called Typobuddy. This little site will check Craigslist (and eBay) for common typos and misspellings to see if it can find additional listing that may not have gotten much attention. This is a sneaky way to get a little more value for your search time.

The last site I want to point out is Weekend Treasure.com. This site uses Craigslist and other listings to help you find garage and yard sales that are happening in your area. Simply type in your zip code and a series of pins will pop-up on a Google map for you to check out. This makes it a very simple, but very slick tool for finding potential bargains.

Do you have other ways of getting the most from Craigslist? Let me know in the comments.