Archives for September 2010 url shortener is now open to everyone!

I love this: the url shortener is now open to everyone! I know the folks that worked on this, so let me answer a few quick questions.

Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Google needed a url shortener for its own products where we knew the shortener wouldn’t go away. We also wanted a shortener that we knew would do things the right way (e.g. 301/permanent redirects), and that would be fast, stable, and secure.

Q: Why open it up to the public?
A: Initially we launched it only for Google to use on things like the Google Toolbar and FeedBurner. It only took about week before someone dug into the toolbar to see how the shortening code worked. One popular Chrome extension showed up within a few days and now has almost 70,000 installs. Clearly, a lot of people wanted to use themselves. πŸ™‚

Q: Fair enough. Any cool new features?
A: The main feature is that you can use just by going to the web page. But if you go to and login with your Google account, you’ll get analytics and history features for the urls you’ve shortened. Here’s what the analytics page looks like for a recent link I tweeted, for example: analytics

Q: Is an “X killer”?
A: No, isn’t an effort to kill anything. I think the whole “product X will kill product Y” meme is getting a little threadbare. We needed a url shortener for Google itself. And then lots of people asked for this, so we’re opening our own url shortener to the world. Different url shorteners have different philosophies; I view the philosophy as running a tight, fast service without piling on a ton of features.

My favorite Chrome extension to shorten urls is right here, but see the official blog post for other good extensions that use Danny Sullivan is also writing a screenshot-by-screenshot article over on Search Engine Land.

I hope you like the service. I’m biased, because I know the people that work on it, but why not give it a try yourself?

Recapping Google’s new two-factor authentication

I wanted to post about Google’s new two-factor authentication announcement. Two-factor authentication is something you have (e.g. a phone) and something you know (e.g. a password). It’s a Big Deal because if your account or business has two-factor authentication, those accounts are immediately less likely to be phished, hijacked, or otherwise abused. There’s a neat Google Authenticator application that runs on Android, iPhone, and Blackberry:

Google Authenticator Logo

For the “something you have,” Google provides lots of ways to authenticate:
– SMS, e.g. for cell phones
– a voice phone call, e.g. for landline phones
– authentication apps, e.g. for smartphones that might be abroad or not have a signal. Android, iPhone, and Blackberry phones are supported.
one-time/single-use codes that you can print out as a final fallback and put in your wallet, desk or a safety deposit box.

This announcement has a few bonus features. Here are some extra-good things that make me happy:
– Two-factor authentication will be offered on all Gmail accounts “in the next few months,” according to TechCrunch.
– You can authenticate a particular browser using cookies for 30 days per browser. So you don’t get bugged with a login message on a computer you use every day, like your home computer.
– Google open-sourced the Android authentication app and according to that page will open-source the iPhone app soon.
Drew Hintz mentioned in the TechCrunch comments that the Google Authenticator app uses RFC 4226, so a lot of this work is open stuff that people could take and build on.

Drew also does a great job debunking misconceptions in the TechCrunch comments:
Random commenter: Google wants my phone number? (insert too-much-data-conspiracy here)
Drew: Actually, you can use the app if you prefer not to provide a phone number

Overall, this is a great launch. I’ve seen the pain that a hijacked account can cause, over and over and over again. Don’t just protect yourself with a password. As soon as you can, add an extra layer of protection with two-factor authentication on your account. Two-factor authentication: it’s not just for World of Warcraft any more.

I did another sprint triathlon!

This morning I did a sprint triathlon (700 yard swim, 18 mile bike, 4 mile run) called the Tri for Real. On the plus side, I had an actual road bike this year. On the minus side, I broke all the rules of preparing for a triathlon: I only got four hours of sleep the night before, I worked out the day before, and I only trained for a short time after coming back from Kilimanjaro. So how did I do?

In 2009, I completed the same race in 2:03 (two hours and three minutes). In 2010, I finished the race in 1:53:02. I shaved ten minutes off my time from last year! Yay! Here I am afterwards:

After the Tri for Real sprint triathlon

Sweaty, but happy. Afterwards, my wife and I ate a tasty breakfast at Stacey’s Cafe in Pleasanton. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, co-owns that restaurant, so I got to work out my geeky side along with my physical side today. πŸ™‚

Have you tried Chrome?

If you haven’t tried Chrome recently, you might want to give it a try. PC World recently picked Google Chrome as its top recommended browser. They said that Chrome had the best interface, best security, and best speed. (Firefox took top honors in the other category, best extensions.)

Jeff Atwood recently wrote that

Chrome was a completely respectable browser in V1 and V2. The entire project has moved forward so fast that it now is, at least in my humble opinion, the best browser on the planet. Google went from nothing, no web browser at all, to best-of-breed in under two years.

[I think someone else–Maximum PC?–also recently named Chrome their top browser. I’m on a plane now, but I’ll try to add the other reference if I find it when I get home.]

Linux Format also recently reviewed eight different web browsers for Linux. They gave Chrome a 10/10 and concluded:

The outright winner has to be Chrome. Not only did it blitz everything else in the speed tests, but it holds up in the compatibility stakes too. Although we were amazed by the speed of Chrome, we shouldn’t forget the wonderful array of developer tools that are also embedded.

Looking at the analytics for my blog, about 22% of you use Chrome. So for the other 78% of you, what’s keeping you on another browser?

P.S. Here’s a pro tip: you can use Chrome in four different levels of bleeding edge: stable, beta, developer (also known as “dev”) and canary. I prefer the dev version myself, because you get access to great features early, but it’s still been very stable for me. Here’s how you can download and install the dev version of Chrome. Or if you want something rock-solid, you can download that too.

Thoughts on Google Instant

The blogosphere is absorbing today’s announcement of Google Instant. I wanted to give some context and some thoughts.

Google’s web search (and web search infrastructure) team tries to do several things well:
– We want the most comprehensive index of the web. We explore ways to crawl the web deeper, faster, and better, from increasing our index size or indexing speed to crawling web forms to discovering links in JavaScript.
– We try to return relevant, useful results. Hundreds of people work on lots of improvements to our ranking algorithms.
– We try to return your search results really fast.
– We try to improve our search user interface (UI).

The first three things aren’t highly visible. Average users might not notice changes like Caffeine (improved indexing) or a better algorithm to detect hacked sites–although we have seen effects like users searching more when we deploy a fresher index. A bunch of people at Google have come up with amazing ways to make your search results faster. We’ve shared many of those insights to help make the web faster as a whole.

A key insight behind Google Instant is that if we want to get people answers and solve their problems faster, we can help with that by improving our UI to help you formulate queries more quickly (and then doing a bunch of hard work under the hood to answer that query too). Google typically returns search results in milliseconds, but it takes several seconds for you to type a query. In other words, the limiting factor on a typical search is you. πŸ™‚ With predictive search and instant results, you can often get the answer you want much faster.

Here’s some additional questions, along with my personal take:
Q: Does Google Instant kill search engine optimization (SEO)?
A: No! Almost every new change at Google generates the question “Will X kill SEO?” Here’s an video I did last year, but it still applies:

Q: Will Google Instant change search engine optimization?
A: I think over time it might. The search results will remain the same for a query, but it’s possible that people will learn to search differently over time. For example, I was recently researching a congressperson. With Google Instant, it was more visible to me that this congressperson had proposed an energy plan, so I refined my search to learn more, and quickly found myself reading a post on the congressperson’s blog that had been on page 2 of the search results.

Ben Gomes mentioned this during the Q&A, but with Google Instant I find myself digging into a query more. Take a query like [roth ira v]. That brings up Autocomplete suggestions like [roth ira vs traditional ira], [roth ira vanguard], and [roth ira vs 401k]. Suddenly I’m able to explore those queries more just by pressing the up/down arrow key. I can get a preview of what the results will be, add or subtract words to modify my query, and hit enter at any time. The ability to explore the query space and find out new things will inevitably lead to changes for SEO. When I was in grad school, I had a professor who mentioned that peoples’ information need often change over the course of a search session. Google Instant makes that process even easier: people can dig into a topic and find out new areas to explore with very little work.

Finally, Steve Rubel’s headline on Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant is too big of a claim to be correct, but the point he makes is that Google Instant includes personalization, and personalization changes SEO. Well, that’s common sense in some regard (see this interview from 2007 where I make that point). But that doesn’t mean that SEO will die. I’ve said it before, but SEO is in many ways about change. The best SEOs recognize, adapt, and even flourish when changes happen.

Q: I don’t like Instant! I’m turning it off!
A: We provide that option right next to the search box, but I’d encourage you to spend some time with it first before you have a knee jerk reaction. Instant is a great way to learn more about things you’re not an expert on, and it can save you time. As the Google Instant page mentions, “If everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 3.5 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second.” With over a billion searches a day and over a billion users searching each week, that adds up to 350 million hours of user time saved a year. That’s 500+ human lifespans saved a year by this feature if everyone used it. πŸ™‚