New 30 day challenge: not replying to outside email

I just wrapped up two 30 day challenges (no sugar for 30 days and no iPhone for 30 days). I’ll try to report back what I learned soon, but in the mean time I wanted to alert you that today I’m starting a new 30-day challenge: not replying to outside email.

When I announced my first 30 day challenge and did a poll on what challenge to do next, “no email” was near the bottom of the list. But there’s good reasons for me to try to reduce my time on email right now:
- I have a big internal project at work (nothing related to webspam) that’s going to take all my time for a couple weeks.
- I’m also planning to take a couple weeks of vacation time in the next month.

So the fact is that I probably wouldn’t have had much time to reply to outside email in the next month anyway. Also, I’ve noticed that sometimes I spend 1-2 hours a day responding to outside email. I’d like to re-assess whether that’s the best use of my time. For example, if I spent that time on more scalable ways of communicating, it might help more people. Taking a step away from responding to outside email might also help me find better ways to manage that communication. Maybe someone else can help me. Maybe I can find ways to fix what people email me about (e.g. modify or improve the spam report process so that people don’t feel the need to email me directly with spam reports). This is a chance to re-assess how I’m spending a fair chunk of my time at work and look for a better solution.

I’m not taking the attitude that “if I reply to a single external email, then I’ve failed,” because emergencies do happen. Rather, I’m going to make a deliberate effort to respond as little as possible to outside work-related emails. At any rate, I think I’ll learn something new from this challenge, so I hope folks will support me in this experiment. Wish me luck, and feel free to provide suggestions or tips in the comments about how you tackle the email monster, or ideas for new 30-day challenges.

More material for web site owners

Here’s some more stuff you should know about.

- I did a monster-long interview with Eric Enge. I think the interview lasted an hour or something like that, and we covered several areas in depth.

- Next, take a break and go read this post by Rhea Drysdale. Heck, maybe send her a donation by Paypal (Added: the address if you want to send a Paypal donation is rhea_drysdale [at] yahoo [dot] com). Rhea took on a big fight for the benefit of the SEO industry, saw it through to the end — and won! In the process, she earned the sort of credibility that you just can’t buy.

- We continue to answer webmaster questions over on the YouTube webmaster video channel. My recent favorite video is an eight-minute discussion of “What are some good link-building techniques?”

We now have over 200 videos live on the webmaster video channel, including topics such as “Is it worth spending time on tags and categories?”

You might want to check out the video channel; there’s a lot of good material there. You can also follow me or the Google webmaster account on Twitter; we often tweet when new webmaster videos are released.

Google stars for bookmarking

Google is replacing SearchWiki with stars in Google search. The stars sync with Google Bookmarks, so you can get access to them wherever you go. Once you star something, it shows up above the search results:

Google Stars for bookmarking

Pretty cool. But I discovered an extra little tip. If you go to Google Bookmarks, you can find a bookmarklet that will let you bookmark random pages as you surf. Then you can edit the bookmarks — for example, I added the words “Chrome market share” to three different metrics companies that I check each month:

Google Bookmarks UI

The cool thing is that if your search matches the text that you added, that bookmark will show up in your search results:

Google Stars for bookmarking

This can be really handy. For example, at the start of every month I do the search [chrome market share] to bring up this blog post I did so that I can find the links to the three metrics services. But now I have those services bookmarked and I can access them right from the search results. Good stuff.

By the way, did you notice that unusual Google logo in the image above? There’s a great Chrome extension that lets you pick a custom Google logo. Right now I’m using the Google logo for the Tapati Rapa Nui festival in Chile. (Full-disclosure: a member of my team, Tiffany Lane, wrote the Chrome extension to change the Google doodle.)

Clarifying a couple points

[Just as a reminder: everything below is my personal opinion. I haven't sent it to anyone else at Google for a review, etc.]

Valleywag used a recent podcast I did as material for two points in Six Delusions of Google’s Arrogant Leaders. The two assertions that used my comments as material were “Google’s wealth means Google ‘gets it’” and “Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow.”

Valleywag has either misinterpreted what I said, or I didn’t express myself clearly, because I don’t believe either of those claims. I’ll try to explain the intent of what I said, in case I wasn’t clear during the podcast. I’ll address the latter claim first (“Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow”), because I certainly don’t believe that “Google must sacrifice user privacy to grow.” I think Google benefits the most when users understand what Google is doing and why; I also think that user trust in Google (and by extension our privacy policies) is paramount to our success.

A good example is our Google Ad Preferences page. As one blog concluded a couple days ago: “Google’s Ad Preference Manager, with its persistent opt-out plug-in, offers precisely the kind of robust opt-out that privacy advocates have always demanded.” And it’s not that we’re shy about talking about privacy; Googlers Alma Whitten and Nicole Wong recently talked privacy for an Ars Technica article that came out earlier this week. It’s a long article, but an example useful fact is that if X is the number of people who visit the Ad Preferences page and opt out, 10X people don’t opt out and 4X people actually edit their categories to improve the targeting relevance of the ads they see. Let me say that again: four times as many people change their settings to make their ads *more* relevant than opt out of interest-based targeting. I think the Ad Preferences page is a good example where users get more transparency and control regarding their privacy.

Another example where Google helps your privacy (rather than sacrificing it) is the Google Dashboard. This is a single site that gives you an overview of what information Google has from various services, and allows you to edit and to manage settings. This is another example where Google is trying to give more information to users, not less. I could point out lots of examples where we try to debunk privacy misconceptions. Where we actively fight for our users’ privacy. Or where we talk about privacy and engage in debates about user privacy. And of course there’s Google’s full privacy center (with videos!) at http://www.google.com/privacy.html . Suffice it to say, I don’t believe that Google “must sacrifice user privacy to grow.”

Okay, what about the other claim that Valleywag used me for: “Google’s wealth means Google ‘gets it’”? Ryan Tate wrote “It’s a truly bizarre moment, in which Cutts defends some horrendous management decisions based on Wall Street trades.” I don’t agree with that either, so let me try to clarify. Eric Schmidt joined the company in 2001. The first time I got to meet Eric was at the weekly TGIF meeting where he was introduced to the wider company. He answered questions for an hour, and I thought his answers were spot on. He was one of the original authors of lex, a well-known Unix utility that I had used in the past, so I knew that he was also a solid engineer and technologist. Schmidt also had experience at large companies (Sun and Novell).

All in all, I was very happy and impressed that Eric was joining Google. When I went home that day, my wife asked what had happened at work. And I replied with something like “I think the value of our stock options just went up a lot.” What I meant by that was that I thought Google had recruited the perfect person to lead the company from start-up to the next level. I still believe that. Eric has been a truly great CEO–and I’m not just saying that because for the last several years he has worked for $1 a year. :) Maybe I didn’t tell the anecdote well or clearly, but my intent was to explain that I think Eric Schmidt has been a great CEO right from the beginning of this decade, not to defend any decisions “based on Wall Street trades.”

If you want to listen to the full podcast, it’s available, but I hope this post helps to clarify.

Start an embedded YouTube video at a certain timestamp

In a previous post I covered how to link to a specific timestamp in a YouTube video. The short version looks like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjDw3azfZWI#t=31m08s

The “#t=31m08s” takes you to 31 minutes and 8 seconds in a video. I just found out that you can also start embedded videos at a certain timestamp.

To do it on an embedded video, use the “start” parameter. Note that start takes seconds as a parameter, not minutes and seconds. For example, to start an embedded video 31 minutes and 8 seconds into a video, 31*60+8 = 1868 seconds, so you would use this code:

<object width="640" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/PjDw3azfZWI&hl=en_US&start=1868"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/PjDw3azfZWI&hl=en_US&start=1868" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" width="640" height="385"></embed></object>

and it would look like this:

That’s all there is to it. :)

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