Monday, October 18, 2010

Site Outage due to Google AppEngine change

Sorry for the recent site outage. Google AppEngine made an incompatible change to their system last week, and I was out of town and unable to correct the problem until today. Hopefully everything is working OK now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

URL Shortener Ranking - Sept. 2009

Many new sites have been added for the first time in September; our URL-Shortener index now includes a list of over 300 services. In this month's list you'll also find data on the amount of increase of activity that each site is seeing in September as compared to my last index published in July 2009.

A new feature of the index this month is the ability to click on the "Tweets per Day" number next to any URL Shortener, and view what links people are tweeting right now.

As an aside, Google just shipped a web commenting tool called SideWiki. They are currently getting 3,400 Tweets per day from SideWiki users (about 1/3 of the links). It will be interesting to see if SideWiki fades away, or garners more and more adoption.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Distributed Facebook?

I think we're seeing Google's take on competing with Facebook. If you combine SideWiki with user Profiles as they have done, you're really starting to get into the same territory as sharing links through your social graph - except Google's approach is decentralized; you don't have to visit Facebook to see social content - you get it "in-situ" while your browsing.

in reference to:

- Google Sidewiki Allows Anyone To Comment About Any Site (view on Google Sidewiki)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Casual Gestures for Content Sharing Sites

If you're a user of Google Reader, you may have noticed all the ways you can interact with the content you're reading. I think most users are pretty confused about these options - and how they should be using them.

  • Add Star - I believe most people use this as a form of favoriting - they want some mechanism to remember this particular post, and find it easily later.
  • Share - Google using this to indicate that you want to share this item with friend that follow you on Google Reader, or in your publicly shared collection of stories.
  • Like - This is a form of light-weight commenting on a story. Whenever someone has visibility to this item, your name will appear below the item as someone who has "liked" it.
  • Share with note - This is actually quite different from "Share". When you "Share" an item, you redistribute the original item to your followers and public shared page. If you "Share with note", you are creating a new item which links to the original, and has your personal comment attached at the top.
  • Comment - Once an item is shared (by you or someone else), you and your followers can add comments to it. This can be a complete comment thread at the bottom of the story.

This is a lot of options, and seems pretty confusing for users; especially when you consider all the possible combinations of options that a user has. FriendFeed and Facebook have fewer options: basically just "Like" and "Comment"; the Share option is basically implied by these actions.

On, we have the option to Share ("Fave It"), and Favorite (a side effect of an Up Vote), as well as adding a comment (if the author is a friend of yours). Faves actually has an even finer grained permissions model once you do share something; you can save a Fave for "me", your "friends", or the "world" (public).

I would rather see a more streamlined version of this interface - one that puts the various options on a continuum and reduce the number of options that the user is presented with. I would order them this way:

  1. Favorite (or Star or Subscribe) - This should be a private gesture to help the user save the item for future reference. I view this action as an explicit "subscription" to this item. You are indicating that you want to remember this, and would also like to be able to see if there is future activity related to this item. It would also be useful to allow users to add their own tags to favorited items, to further help in searching or browsing for saved items.
  2. Like - It's very useful to have a casual gesture that is like a one-click comment. By Liking and item, you should, as a side effect, become subscribed to it just as if you had starred it. This gesture is viewable by other users who have visibility to the item.
  3. Comment - Just like "Like", with additional comment text added to your annotation. There is arguably a need to enable private comments, or those that are restricted to an inner circle of friends or co-workers.
  4. Share - This option is really only needed for "off-site" publishing of the item. For example, if you want to send it via email, or post it to twitter (if you don't automatically tweet all your Liked items.
  5. Report - In any social community, there will be some users who abuse it for self promotion or SPAM. Users should have a simple gesture to mark innappropriate items that should not be included in the current stream.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Google Automated Spam Filter Blocked My Spreadsheet

Google finally replied to me about "blacklisting" my spreadsheet. Apparently there are one or more link shorteners that are marked as spam sites. By putting links in my spreadsheet to them, an automated filter singled out my spreadsheet to be blocked. Here's the email I finally received:

Based on the spreadsheet URL you provided in your email, it looks like
some of the links in your spreadsheet were detected as spam by our systems
and caused your spreadsheet to be blacklisted. When putting links in a
spreadsheet it would be best to make sure that they do not redirect to
spam sites.

We have restored your spreadsheet and will use this case to help inform
our systems moving forward.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.


The Google Team

I have a few observations to make about this incident:

  1. Google can be responsive to problem reports - and a real person will investigate reported problems.
  2. I am happy that Google is working to reduce the spread of spam and mal-ware on the Internet.
  3. I would have appreciated some form of prior notification before my spreadsheet was blocked. Notice that Google has never explicitly identified which link they object to. Are they worried that this would allow spammers to game the system? Are they afraid of libel suits or allegations of restraint of trade ?
  4. I should take a bit more care in adding sites to this list. I have reviewed most of the domains to make sure they are bona fide URL shorteners; it can be difficult or impossible for me to determine if they are used as vectors for spam or malware.

I appreciate that Google apologized for unpublishing my data - and I accept their apology. But note that Google's Terms of Service allows them broad latitude in removing users content when they use Google products to publish it:

8.3 Google reserves the right (but shall have no obligation) to pre-screen, review, flag, filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content from any Service

This teaches that if you want to express yourself freely on the Internet - you should refrain from using Google publishing sites.

Monday, August 17, 2009 Planning a Shut-Down, then Donates All to "The Community"

Eric Woodward has reversed his decision to shut down link shortening site, by the end of the year, and instead donate all the code and data assets to "the community" to continue to operate in the public domain.

It's a magnanimous offer, and one which, I'm sure, will gather some supporters. But these announcements are coming out pretty fast, and it does seem that some of their decisions are being made too rapidly to carefully plan the transition.

But Eric has silenced all doubters by personally guaranteeing the financial viability of the service from his own personal funds. While he does not specificially address the structure of the new, it sounds like he will be setting up an independent not-for-profit foundation to own and operate the assets of (though the source code will be open-sourced).

It's an interesting wrinkle in the story. Will the "open" mojo be enough to materially impact the position of amongst url shorteners? This is reminiscent of social bookmarking site, Ma.gnolia (which subsequently lost all of their user data), and micro-blogging site, Jaiku - (now an open-source Google Service being operated as a 20% project).

Open-sourcing is not a panacea, but it may inject enough life into a foundering project to remain a valuable piece of the internet infrastructure and community.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Google Censoring Me?

I was surprised to see that the spreadsheet I shared in my most recent post has been blocked from the public. When I visit the page I see this warning:

This spreadsheet is currently blacklisted, and not visible to the public. You are seeing this spreadsheet because you are on an internal IP.

What does THAT mean. Unfortunately, Google won't tell me why my sheet was blacklisted. When I go to their problem report page, there is one link about the DMCA there. But my spreadsheet only includes domain names of other sites, and data I have generated myself. Did someone file a complaint with Google about it?

This points out a very serious problem with cloud computing and Google's policies in particular. If Google is going to try to censor my speech on the internet, should they not at least provide me with visibility to the reasons? I received no prior warning (NO notification at ALL, in fact) that they were going to blacklist this page, nor do I have an opportunity to confront my accuser - whomever that may be.

I am a huge Google fan in general - so this behavior comes as quite a shock to me.