Sergey starts a blog!

I’ve checked with folks at Google and they confirmed that http://too.blogspot.com/ is Sergey Brin’s blog. The name “too” reflects Sergey’s additional life outside work. One of his first posts is about the fact that he might be more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease when he’s older. That’s based on data from 23andMe, the personal genetics company co-founded by Sergey’s wife Anne Wojcicki. It’s a serious reminder that healthiness is one of the top issues for anyone.

I’m sure that lots of people will flood Sergey with advice like “Add Google Analytics to that blog!” or suggest how to tweak his blog template or offer him free SEO tips. Personally, I’m just glad that Sergey is blogging. I think it’s a great idea and I hope that he keeps doing it. Sergey, welcome to the blogosphere. :)

Update: I didn’t even think to check before posting, but Sergey already has Google Analytics installed on his blog. He’s ahead of the game. :)

A Quick Tutorial on JavaScript Bookmarklets

Bookmarklets are very handy pieces of JavaScript code that you can bookmark. In HTML, if you want a link to open in a new window, you’d write it like this:

<a href=”http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/” target=”_blank”>Matt Cutts</a>

Go on, try it on this link: Matt Cutts

If you wanted to create a bookmarklet to open a new window or tab, you’d do it like this:

javascript:(function(){ window.open(‘http://www.cnn.com/’); })();

so the actual bookmarklet link that would appear in your HTML as

<a href=”javascript:(function(){ window.open(‘http://www.cnn.com/’); })();”>CNN</a>

and if you want to play with it, here’s the trivial CNN example bookmarklet. On Firefox, you can drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar. On Internet Explorer, you can right-click and select “Add to Favorites…”.

The reason I mention this is that bit.ly is a url shortening service that I like, and they have a bookmarklet, but it replaces the page that you’re shortening. Their bookmarklet looks like this:

javascript:location.href=’http://bit.ly/?url=’+encodeURIComponent(location.href)

So suppose you find a new page that you want to twitter about or shorten the url for some reason. You want a bookmarklet that opens the bit.ly url in a new window or tab instead of replacing the current page. Combining the two bookmarkets, you’d get

javascript:(function(){ window.open(‘http://bit.ly/?url=’+encodeURIComponent(location.href)); })();

and here is a bookmarklet for bit.ly that opens your bit.ly url in a new window or tab. You can just drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks folder.

That’s enough to get you started with bookmarklets, but you can find more info about bookmarklets by searching or by looking at example bookmarklets around the web. For example, industrial-strength bookmarklets often load JavaScript dynamically from a webserver. That way if you want to upgrade or improve the functionality of the bookmarklet, you can change the code on the webserver instead of asking every user to update their bookmark. On the other end of the spectrum, some quick-and-dirty bookmarklets don’t even bother escaping the url.

I want to open a new tab, not a new window!

Some webmasters want to choose between a link opening a new tab vs. a new window. I believe that you don’t get that choice — it’s up to the user and their web browser. For example, in Firefox a user can select their desired behavior under Tools → Options → Tabs → “New pages should be opened in:” and choose “a new tab”. Or to tweak the setting directly, the user can type “about:config” into the location bar/address bar and then modify the “browser.link.open_newwindow” option to be one of the following values:

1 = open new windows in the existing window
2 = open new windows in a new window
3 = open new windows in a new tab (this is the default in Firefox 2 and Firefox 3)

See this about:config page for more info.

Likewise in Internet Explorer, the user can go into Tools → Internet Options → “Settings” button in the Tabs section and then under “When a pop-up is encountered:” choose “Always open pop-ups in a new tab”.

Twitter/Summize search flaky?

I’ve started to post more on my twitter account recently. Less than two weeks ago, Twitter bought Summize. Good for them; I like both companies. But http://search.twitter.com/search?q=wordpress+mattcutts should return this entry in Twitter’s search results. I don’t see it in Twitter’s search results:

No joy on a Twitter search

What’s the story, Twitter/Summize folks? I can’t escape the feeling that I would have found that entry on pre-acquisition Summize. Does anyone know more about when Twitter’s search has gaps?

Idea for an Android/iPhone app: Call Me a Cab

I still like my last start-up idea about converting MP3 music collections to be legal and cleaning up mangled/ugly filenames. As Amazon and others start to sell MP3s, a startup could easily offer some interesting services. For example, I just saw that a new product called TuneUp will clean up your filenames, metadata, and cover art. That’s cool stuff that fixes a real problem a lot of people have.

Ready for another idea? This one is simple. Make an Android or iPhone app for people who need a taxi. Imagine: you’re in another city, and you just learned that from your hotel to dinner is not walkable. You’re standing on a street corner. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO!?

Answer: you fire up “Call me a Cab” on your app-enabled phone. Your phone automatically senses your location and (anywhere in the world) gives you 3-4 suggestions for local cab companies, with phone numbers. That’s the base functionality, but that’s still a huge step forward. When you’re standing on a street corner you don’t often have a page like this in front of you:

Example snippet of a directory of taxi cabs

Now how would you make the app even better? In some places (like, say, these cities) the app would show you where the closest cab is, call it, and get an “estimated time of arrival” as you watch the cab get closer on a map. Something like this page, but on your phone:

Ride finder

How would you make money? Maybe you sell a premium version of the app that does more (more features, or checks for buses or other public transit nearby). Or maybe taxi/cab companies would be willing to advertise in the app just like they advertise in the yellow pages. Maybe you’re a taxi company and you offer this app for free to make your cabs more efficient or to build a brand (most people think of taxis as a commodity right now). And it doesn’t always have to be about the money, you know. Maybe you do it to build awareness about your software startup and unlock future opportunities down the line.

Once you get GPS + cool sensors + the ability to run an application on a phone, there’s a ton of exciting apps you could write. Sure you could find nearby friends, but why not write a GPS-enabled celebrity spotter? Or an “Am I Speeding Right Now?” app that you can use in your car.

If you need other good ideas, I recommend reading through Paul Graham’s list of suggested start-up ideas. I’m a big fan of #3 (finding “New News”), #13 (online learning), and #28 (fixing email overload). Or for that matter, just think about things around your house or business that are messy or annoying and solve that problem.

The business case for goodwill

Carolyn Y. Johnson has a great article about companies that listen online today in the Boston Globe. She mentions that Comcast and Southwest monitor Twitter for frustrated users and Dell for improving its customer service as well as providing a site called IdeaStorm where people can provide feedback. Dell has implemented over 50 of the suggestions from the IdeaStorm site.

I’ve talked about listening online before, because I think everybody at Google should do it to some degree. Google is pretty good at hearing outside feedback, although there’s always more we could (and should!) do. Here’s what I said last time:

Some of the most dynamic teams at Google are the ones that listen to bloggers and respond. ….

My ideal would be if every Google project had someone watching the blogosphere for feedback. It could start as simply as a persistent search in Google News and Google Blogsearch for mentions of that product. That would help us spot if a particular project is causing headaches for someone. We should get the listening locked in first.

Both Google News and Google Blogsearch provide RSS feeds for search results, so you can search for your product name, turn it into a feed, then add that feed to Google Reader to see new mentions of your products. If you’re logged in, you can even customize Google News to create a “Google” section or only news about your favorite topic.

I wrote the quoted paragraph above in 2006. In 2008, you’d monitor more places. Monitor Twitter with Summize, which can provide a feed for a query. Monitor FriendFeed by adding “&format=atom” to the end of a search url (hat tip to lifestream blog for getting that info from Bret Taylor at FriendFeed).

By the way, it’s not just companies that benefit from feedback online either — most organizations can get good suggestions. Ubuntu’s brainstorm feedback site just received its one millionth vote on an idea and has its own blog. You can even download the code for Ubuntu’s brainstorm project and use it yourself.

The fly in this ointment is how to make a business case for listening. What are the metrics that argue for having someone engage with a community, listen to feedback, and push for changes? Any smart person intuitively knows that good community relations are a solid idea, but how do you prove that? In a company of size X, how many people should pay attention to or be dedicated to community relations? I’d be interested if other people have thought about the business case for goodwill, or know of resources that discuss this.

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