The Year in Search

December 20, 2009

As the end of the year rolls around, I find it interesting to look at the things people have been searching for on the web. Each search engine has their own list, so let’s take a look at the data for 2009.

Google:

1. michael jackson
2. facebook
3. tuenti
4. twitter
5. sanalika
6. new moon
7. lady gaga
8. windows 7
9. dantri.com.vn
10. torpedo gratis

Yahoo!:

1. Michael Jackson
2. Twilight
3. WWE
4. Megan Fox
5. Britney Spears
6. Naruto
7. American Idol
8. Kim Kardashian
9. NASCAR
10. Runescape

Bing:

1. Michael Jackson
2. Twitter
3. Swine Flu
4. Stock Market
5. Farrah Fawcett
6. Patrick Swayze
7. Cash for Clunkers
8. Jon and Kate Gosselin
9. Billy Mays
10. Jaycee Dugard

The first thing that jumps out at me in this data is that the only item that transcended all three lists was Michael Jackson. Certainly part of this is the methodology that the search engines are using to tabulate this data, and all of them are using “trending” topics. As you might guess, searches for things like Youtube or pornography are going to have relatively consistent growth on a year to  year basis.

The terms that made two lists were Twitter and Twilight/New Moon. It is certainly remarkable the growth that Twitter has had this year. It has certainly created a lot of public awareness in a short time. It will interesting to see if it remains a trend in 2010.

One interesting difference between the Google and Bing lists are the number of tech-related searches on Google versus the number of “obituary”-related searches on Bing. Bing has four celebrities who had died in the past year on its list while Google has arguably 7 different technology related results. TechCrunch Europe has an interesting entry on why Sanalika appears. Tuenti is the Spanish version of Facebook. Dantri.com.vm is a Vietnamese newspaper. Torpedo Gratis is a Portuguese site that allows you to send free text messages.

One thing you can certainly take from Google’s list is it’s international appeal. Techcrunch also argues that most international users will simply use Google over the address bar or bookmarks to get to particular websites.

Are there any interesting trends or notes that you’ve spotted? Let me know in the comments.


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.)


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.


It’s a Secret to Everybody

October 17, 2009

Pardon the obscure reference (bonus points if you recognize it without Google) and my unexpected time off last week, but I’ve got a new interesting, bit of free stuff on the web for you today.

This week, I’m going to talk about an unusual offering called Mystery Google, but this requires a bit of a side trip to explain what really brought this to mind.

A fellow blogger heard about a fellow who went to a cafe in Japan. Nothing too unusual so far, but the interesting thing about it is that you don’t get what you order and pay for.

You actually get what the person in front of you ordered and paid for. It seems a little strange so an example might be in order. Let’s say the cafe gets three customers a day.

Person A orders a cookie.
Person B orders a hot dog.
Person C orders 2 nachos.

However, what they receive is different.

Person A actually gets whatever was ordered last the night before.
Person B gets a cookie.
Person C gets a hot dog.

And the first customer tomorrow is going to get 2 nachos.

Pretty interesting, but you do have to be able to eat a variety of things in order to try this sort of cuisine. Food allergies or vegetarianism might lead to some trouble.

Anyway, Mystery Google works on the same premise. You actually get the search results of the person who did a search before you.

I just did a search for “It’s a Secret to Everybody” and got the search results for “Mistery Google,” which basically gave me the misspelling search results for Mystery Google. While that isn’t terribly creative, I have gotten some interesting results during other test searches.

Another search lead me to Kittens, which led me to the lolcatz website. Something that I had actually wanted to see what the fuss was about. This site mostly contains pictures of cats with sometimes humorous captions, but many of them seem to be inter-related and only funny to those in the know. I did like this one though.

In any case, this may be an opportunity for you to pick up some additional knowledge on a subject that you had no idea you were interested in. There are caveats though. I have gotten content inappropriate for younger folks trying to gross out the system. You could imagine people at the restaurant ordering liver and Limburger cheese or something worse.

Get any interesting results? Let me know in the comments.


Give Voice to the Google-less

August 8, 2009

After a prolonged wait, I finally got my invitation to try out Google Voice. While not without its quirks, it offers a lot of functionality with relative ease of use.

Google Voice issues you a new phone number which you can attack to land line or cell phones. You can actually use the service to ring all of your phones at once if someone is trying to reach you. People can dial the Google Voice number and it will automatically forward the call. The next thing that happens is when the phone rings, Google Voice will try to ID the person who is calling you to see if you want to accept the call.

This is where one of those quirks comes in. I  found that you did not have a very long time to make a decision and find the number that coordinated with the option that you wanted. If you use the line a lot, you’ll get over that issue, but it will take some practice. If you elect to take the call at any time in the conversation you can hit the ‘4’ key and have it record the rest of the conversation. It will take this call and automatically forward the recording as an mp3 to the e-mail you have linked with your account, or you can change to setting to just let it live in the Google Voice account.

Next, if you don’t want to take the call, you can send it to voice mail. This time Google Voice will attempt a speech to text translation and e-mail that to you. Like all speech-to-text, it bungles a lot of it up, but it can give you a solid idea of what the person was trying to pass along. Just don’t count on it to get detail like addresses and phone numbers correct. The voicemail is also recorded and becomes downloadable as an mp3.

The last main feature is the calling and SMS feature. From the Google Voice page, you can initiate a free call between your Google Voice attached phone and any number in the US. I found the connection process was a bit slow, but once you were  connected the quality was surprisingly good. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has certainly come a long way from the old days. You are also supposed to be able to send SMS messages to any number, but I had some problems with this and a couple of my test messages never got through. Unlike a phone call, it’s hard to verify if texts have gone through, so you might use this feature with caution.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the service, especially considering that you get it all for free. However, to use it you have to get invited by Google and I had signed up over 6 months ago before finally getting my service recently. So if you are interested, get yourself on the list now, and you might get invited by Christmas.

Google has announced an automatic invitation service for members of the military. That is, people with .mil e-mail addresses. This is a nice touch and I think people in the military overseas can really use this to get audio messages from their friends and family members in this country.

I do have to mention that using this service could potentially give Google a lot of information about you. I would check out their privacy policy before you sign-up, just to make sure you are comfortable with how they are using your information.

Have you used the service? Think you might sign up? Let me know in the comments.


Gmail Gone Gold

July 12, 2009

Well, it’s now official. Gmail is out of beta. Now, for you and me this probably means very little. I’ve been using the service for years and been very satisfied with it. This transition is more for large business, which Google hopes they will be able to hone in on now.

With this news hook, I thought I would talk about some of the advantage and a few tips and tricks that I use on Gmail to make it worthwhile for me. First, if you want a great mini-course on using Gmail, check out their page on becoming a Gmail ninja. I found it both good for a laugh and very informative. I won’t go over everything they have there, but there are a couple of things worth highlighting.

I really like the labels system. Many online e-mail services offer folder, and I really didn’t understand the difference between the two at first. Until one day, I had an e-mail that was related to both my job and bills I had to pay. Normally, I’d have to choose one folder or the other, but with labels, I can stick it in both and call it a day.

Another useful thing about Gmail is that it offers a more secure https: connection, if you are checking it on public wi-fi. While this may not be the end all of security when on a public Internet connection, it does help. You can access that on one-time basis at https://www.gmail.com or you can clicking on settings in the upper-right of Gmail, scrolling to the bottom of that page and clicking the radio button for “Always use https.”

There a lot of helpful settings in that area of the site, and if you are a heavy Gmail user, its worth some time to go through each page and make the settings are setup to make the most effective use of them.

One other tool to mention in the settings is the filters tab. I used to do a lot of eBay shopping, and would get a lot of e-mail from them. Mind you, I wanted this material, but it was clogging the front page of my inbox when I was looking for other material. The solution which worked for me was filters. This is very similar to Rules, if you use Microsoft’s Outlook. You set certain parameters, like who the e-mail is from, or e-mails that contain certain words and tell Gmail what to do with it. For this eBay problem, I simply had Gmail label them and archive them. This took them out of my inbox and put them in a place where I could look at them at my convenience.

This is a very powerful tool, and if your e-mail service is missing this, it might be worth considering a change.

The last thing I want to mention is Gmail Labs. These are add-ons to Gmail that are in testing. Some of them are a little crazy, like having to solve a few math problems before sending an e-mail late at night. (In order to prevent drunken e-mails) Some of them though seem really useful like tasks, which gives you a convenient to-do list in Gmail. These are in testing, so you definitely have to confident about your browsing experience before you go to far into the most experimental ones.

How about you? Do you like Gmail? Do you think its over-hyped? Are you worried about privacy issues?

Let me know in the comments.


When the Monolith Wobbles

May 16, 2009

At the beginning of this week, I was alerted by TechCrunch to a new service being offered to convert all of your old e-mail and contacts from places like Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail into Google’s G-mail, so that you could start to become a G-Mail user.

G-mail is a great service for e-mail and I do a lot of my e-mailing from there. I was even considering discussing with my wife moving her e-mail from Hotmail to G-Mail. Then, the monolith wobbled, and I was reminded why having too many eggs in one basket can be a dangerous thing.

Let me explain. Google, in the political language of the day, is too big to fail. There are so many services that are absolutely dependent on Google to operate that if they fail, their entire business model breaks. Even more operations are severely hampered by an interruption in service and almost anyone on the Internet is at least effected. The Google monolith didn’t tip over on May 14th, but it did wobble a moment and woe to anyone who has become totally reliant on the company.

I first heard of a problem with the trending tag on Twitter #googlefail. (As a side note, this trend of forming a compound word out of the name of something that is ‘broken’ and “fail” is not a very useful one.) I clicked on an saw some people were not able to use the main search engine or access G-Mail. I quickly checked for myself and found it working. I then went to Google’s Apps Status Dashboard, which was created after the February incident where G-Mail went down for a period of time. Google had indicated there was a small service disruption.

Satisfied for the moment, I later checked Google News (Ah, the irony) to see if anybody had written about and found a quickly put together, but well written article by CNET describing what was known so far.  Included in that article is the very interesting story of someone on Twitter, who says that she was not able to access her bank’s website, because it uses Google Analytics to track user statistics.

This story, I think really gets down to the heart of the matter of where the real problem with Google lies. For many people, the first point of entry into the Internet is Google. Without it, those folks couldn’t get anywhere. For some websites like this user’s, without Google Analytics tracking your entry on to the website, you can’t even get on it. Without G-Mail, some business can’t take orders or execute their day-to-day operations.

So what does this mean for you? It means that you should think about how dependent you are on Google. I have G-mail, of course, but I also have a secondary e-mail on which I do a fair amount of communications. I also have other search engines on the ready if needed and know the addresses of many of the places I needed to go on the web manually.

Clearly, there is something to be said for not over reacting to what amounts to a couple hours worth of an outage but you should consider if the monolith ever does topple…how the Internet will look vastly different.