Archives for April 2007

My Feedburner feedcounter chiclet

I saw this list of the top 40 English blogs according to Feedburner and then I saw Lee’s list of SEO blogs and I just wanted to check on something.

Cool. 🙂 Historically I’ve sort of anti-promoted my site (no digg or “add to Google Reader” buttons). I figure that webmasters eventually hear of my blog and if they want to subscribe they will, so I don’t want to jam too many “Read me now!” links in peoples’ faces.

But if you do want to subscribe to my blog in Google Reader, here’s the button:

Add to Google

And here it is for Bloglines:

Subscribe with Bloglines

For other feed readers, use the “RSS 2.0” or “Atom” links over on the right-hand side in the “Meta” section.

A quick puzzle

If I said that in my opinion

AdSense : behaviorial targeting :: hydrogen bonds : van der Waals forces

how would you interpret that?

Update, 6/24/2007: In the same way that hydrogen bonds are much stronger than van der Waals forces, I personally consider AdSense targeting stronger than behavioral targeting. Why? Because behavioral targeting might learn that I like TiVo or Terry Pratchett, but I don’t want to see TiVo ads everywhere I surf on the web. But suppose someone sends me a link to a lolcat page and I go there. At the moment I’m on the lolcat page, you know I’m interested in that topic at that moment, because I chose to go there. So AdSense, by targeting to the content of a page, is more likely to show relevant ads based on my interests at that instant. Just my opinion.

Google and privacy

In my previous post I talked about some useful things I’d discovered about Google’s Web History feature. As you might expect, several commenters asked about various aspects of privacy for Web History. I gave a quick response in my comments, but I figured that I would also write my comments as a separate post so that I could easily point back to them later. The following is my personal opinion about Google and privacy, not any kind of company position.

My short answer is that from working at Google for the last 7-8 years, I’ve seen firsthand how much Google works to protect users’ privacy. I personally believe that we take more precautions and safeguards than any other major search engine. We also strongly protect users’ privacy outside of Google (e.g. last year when the DOJ tried to get access to users’ queries, and Google was the only company out of 30+ that said “no” and went to court about it — and won). Note also the recent decision Google made to anonymize user queries after 18-24 months; other search engines haven’t really tackled this topic after Google made its decision. Also bear in mind that even if you sign up for a Google Account, you don’t need much more than an email address to sign up; other search engines ask for much more info.

Another point is that your ISP has a superset of data that Google has, because everything you do passes through your ISP. So your ISP may have much more detailed records about places where you go on the net, plus they have a verified identity with something like a credit card, and they actually know which IPs you’re on. With Google if you clear cookies and turn off your cable modem for a minute or two, you’ll usually get a completely new IP address. Google would have no idea that it’s the same person, but your ISP would still know, because they assigned the new IP address. Many of the questions about privacy I see are interesting because ISPs have more data than Google does, but you rarely see people ask questions about ISPs, even though at least some ISPs do sell clickstream data.

As an employee who has worked at Google since 2000, I’ve seen how carefully we treat issues of privacy. If you haven’t read my declaration from the DOJ case last year, I’d recommend checking it out. Pages 11 & 12 are good reading, for example. So my personal belief would be that if privacy is important to you, Google should not be your biggest concern for two reasons. First, I believe Google does more to protect our users’ privacy than any other major search engine. Second, I believe other companies such as ISPs have a superset of the data that Google has, plus they have verified payment/identity, plus they know which IP addresses you are on, even if you switch IP addresses.

From what I know about Google and its respect for privacy, I will be happily using Google’s features. Ultimately, however, if you feel concerned about a particular Google feature, then I wouldn’t use that feature. That’s your choice and I absolutely, completely 100% support that. Again, this is just my personal opinion, but that’s my quick take on privacy and Google.

Update: Completely unbeknownst to me, Tim O’Reilly wrote a Google and privacy post at about the same time. It’s also an interesting read for a different perspective.

Other handy uses for web history

Let’s talk about Google’s new web history feature for a minute. This is a product that helps personalize your search results and it’s useful for that alone, but I wanted to highlight a couple examples of other ways it can be handy.

Example 1: What was that helpful site? A month ago, my wife was working in Adobe Illustrator and wanted to make an oval vignette effect. We figured out how to do it, and I promptly forgot how we did it. Last night, my wife wanted to do the same effect. Crap. I didn’t even remember the name of the Illustrator feature we used. So I go into web history and did a search for [illustrator]. I sorted by date, and there’s the stuff that we found three weeks ago:

An example of web history

It turns out that Illustrator 9.0 introduced a couple new features: layer clipping masks and opacity masks. By the way, if you reach this page searching for how to make vignettes in Illustrator, this page has a good compare and contrast about layer clipping vs. opacity masks and this page is a good tutorial on opacity masks.

My point is that I knew a keyword that I’d searched for weeks ago, so searching my history for [illustrator] told me that I’d done a bunch of Illustrator searches on April 3rd, and showed me the results that I’d clicked on while doing research the first time. That made it easy to re-discover that “just right” page that had helped me before.

Example 2: What was my timeline of viewing web results? I browse in a particular way in Firefox. When I’m reading an article and a link looks interesting, I open that link in a new tab in the background. That works great, except when I end up with 30 open tabs. Last week I ended up on this site called John K has a lot of thoughtful posts and before I knew it, I’d read a few months’ worth of his blog. But I’d forgotten: how did I find his site? Was it from a comment link on Battelle? A blog search? ThreadWatch? I didn’t remember. I’d opened John K’s site in a new tab, so I couldn’t tell where I’d opened it from.

I can hear you now: “Matt, you idiot! Why don’t you have Duplicate Tab installed? Or some other Firefox extension that clones a tab and preserves its history?” Sure, I agree, but at that point it was too late to install an extension. So I used my web history and looked at which things I’d opened most recently. Ah, there it was. I’d noticed the site on Techmeme and then surfed away from Techmeme. The timeline feature of web history is very handy to help you remember how you got to a web page.

Google’s web history feature is useful for personalization (that’s why I enabled it), but it can help in lots of other ways too. It’s a lot like the original Memex paper (which everyone should read):

The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. …. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.

My session of Illustrator queries and clicks looks a lot like one of those trails of interest to me. I like that much like Google Notebook, Google Web History provides a way to easily get back to research you’ve done before. In the last few days, it’s already helped me a couple times, which is pretty nice.

P.S. If it’s the personalization you’re interested in, Google OS did a prescient post a month before the feature even launched. And Danny did an in-depth write-up after the feature launched.

Meet my other cat, Ozzie

Heh. Danny shows off his dog Daisy in a recent post. One good turn deserves another, so I would like you to meet Ozzie:

Ozzie Cutts

He’s hard to get a picture of because normally he is streaking around at faster-than-the-human-eye-can-track speeds. He’s also a bit of a talker; this picture caught him in mid-meow. You might have also seen Ozzie in his two-second debut on Google Video. Last summer when I was doing my video series I needed a test video to upload and Ozzie obliged.

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