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Thursday, 31 May 2007

Local Council's PageRanks: quick find

Google Directory have a new-ish feature whereby sites are automatically displayed by PageRank.

Unfortunately, it isn't one long list, but you can easily see the huge disparity in PageRanks across councils (more about that).

Look at the bar on the left.

This means that for many councils, their content is hard to find for most instances.

Danny Sullivan :

As I wrote back in 2002:

The issue of links and search engines, in particular the perception of Google's use of links, has gotten out of hand. For many, the original reason of linking has been lost out of the desire to simply do whatever they believe Google might like.

All major crawler-based search engines leverage links from across of the web, but none of them report a static "importance" score in the way Google does via its Google Toolbar. That score, while a great resource for surfers, has also provided one of the few windows into how Google ranks web pages. Some webmasters, desperate to get inside Google, keep flying into that window like confused birds, smacking their heads and losing their orientation....

Site owners are using the toolbar to find "good" sites that they should get links from, regardless of the fact that link context is also important, not to mention many, many other factors that are used by Google to rank a web page. Other site owners, getting a gray PR0 toolbar for their site, immediate assume the worst, that they've been blacklisted.

Enough, please, enough. Forget the Google Toolbar meter. Forget about worrying over "good" links and "bad" links according to Google. Just forget Google, when it comes to link building.

PageRank is only a score that represents the importance of a page, as Google estimates it (By the way, that estimate of importance is considered to be Google's opinion and protected in the US by the First Amendment. When Google was once sued over altering PageRank scores for some sites, a US court ruled: "PageRanks are opinions--opinions of the significance of particular Web sites as they correspond to a search query....the court concludes Google's PageRanks are entitled to full constitutional protection.)

Get a link to your pages from an high PR page and yes, some of that PageRank importance is transmitted to your page. But that's doesn't take into account the context of the link -- the words in the link -- the anchor text. If you don't understand anchor text, Google Now Reporting Anchor Text Phrases from me last month will take you by the hand and explain it more.


I'm going to try to blog a bit more about pagerank as I understand it, but the bottom line is always get more + get better links.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007 bought ...

.. and - touch wood - not sold out to CBS.

What a cliché...

I can't speak highly enough of but the way it's been described by non-users has been amusing me all day.

No, isn't recommending anything to me but I can understand why people think it does.

I have used it to find, mainly, older music which I love but have lost touch with. I'm describing their (or what was their) target audience. Oh, I'll say it then: middle-aged geeks.

The BBC gets it right:
It allows users to connect with other listeners with similar music tastes, to custom-build their own radio stations and to watch music video-clips.
I've used tagging to build up my own 'stations' and and 'gamed' it a touch in order to do that. I get to hear new things when I turn on 'Discovery' mode or I tune into another's 'station'. Usually in order to get something tagged which isn't otherwise available so I can hear it again.

I don't tend to just listen to another's 'station' but I do look at my 'neighbours' pages, those with similar tastes. It's not a very good word 'station' though: I ain't broadcasting.

Music clips leave me cold.

But it took months to get a real taste match (a couple I've found after 1,800 plays have spookily similar taste) and there's a lot of music which isn't available including from the likes of Aretha Franklin. I also have no way to save anything except by stripping info from my webpage (and remembering to).

I can only hope that the playlist expands as a result of the sale and that the marketing remains unobtrusive, though it's so good that I'd put up with a lot.

Democracy doomed, claims Freedland

Jonathan Freedland gives us his take on the impact of the Web on politics for The Guardian.

Title? 'The internet will revolutionise the very meaning of politics'. The 'very meaning'! Conclusion? "The changes now in train could go either way".

It's a wee bit more nuanced. Freedland thinks that "if we're all broken into small units - "parties of one," as a web guru puts it - we will lose [our] combined strength". [I have no idea who he's citing, unless he's confusing Singles Rights].

This is where the Web's driving us, he thinks: "broken up". He disagrees with Google's Eric Schmidt who believes traditional democracy will remain:

I can't quite believe that the internet will transform the mechanics of politics but leave politics itself untouched. Something bigger is afoot here.

Freedland touches on Wikinomics, he calls it "wikipolicy", and he thinks that the Web's role in disaster relief points to "a way the internet can bypass government altogether".

He also "foresee[s] a future in which national diasporas, for example, operate the way territorial societies do now".

Through the growth of endless interest groups:

The internet could be reducing the very idea of a collective society.

I can't believe a Jewish intellectual making that comment about diasporas, there is nothing new in that World, the Web organises it better — it's not creating a new phenomenon. This is also true of any interest group you might name — bar the truly new (few) interest groups which didn't exist before (zoophilia fans?).

Freedland forgets that the Web is not somewhere other than in (and of) the World.

Even Second Life's well publicised 'World' can be physically turned off — 'politics' intrudes on the Web, it's not just one-way. And Eric Schmidt is far less important than Gordon Brown.

The Web and new technology can simply boost traditional politics, whether that's Westminster or that's Chinese authoritarianism.

What else is he saying? That the principle is wrong? Who leads in this horror vision? And how can we vote for them?

He also forgets that Government isn't some minor player, which has no impact on trends and how the Web itself develops — just ask Al Gore about that.

Precisely because government is for 'all the people' it has a special role to intervene and to parse the Web's comment and opinion — look at the context in which everyone sits the Road Pricing petition.

A lot of the new movements he's citing are actually just the Web showing it's efficiencies, better organising pre-existing campaigns — why does 'better organised' automatically translate to 'broken'?

He misses some of the actual impacts and there are more than a few 'buzzfed' moments ...

Current technology gives politicians campaigning tools they never had before: witness the 62,000 Barack Obama supporters gathered on Facebook without the candidate lifting a finger.

62000 in the US is NOTHING. Even the estimated lifetime value is NOTHING. People used to organise phone trees "without the candidate lifting a finger".

When all the candidates are pulling out the same armory, where's Obama's advantage in those 62000? The advantages are not in matching others online marketing but leading it.

Now Freedland (any of the commentariat actually) mulling on how politicians do Search Marketing would be fascinating. If someone's searching on "mexico prescription drugs", do you advertise? Do you do battle in the vector for voter misery?

Meanwhile, a website offers a way to reach limitless numbers of voters with an unfiltered message at virtually no cost.

No cost! What does that make me then? Free! Pa-lease.The unit cost ONCE you've built the bloody thing and maintained it is much lower. ONLY then is it lower ...

Organising is swifter and easier: electronic mobilisation is said to have swung elections in Spain, South Korea and the Philippines.

And France?

Probably not 'swung it' in the Presidential Election but the lack of interest (due to the language differenece, n'est-il pas toujours ainsi ?) in the Web's role there is striking.

Not much buzz in the Valley about Disco Sarko.

Compare official disco-dancing with this and this and this and this. Contrast. What does YouTube do after DiscoSarko?

I don't think the 'revolution' will arrive overnight. For one thing, it needs to evolve as people work out how to use all the new stuff.

Quickly, activists and marketeers do. But the lag in the rest of the real world is enormous and often underestimated or simply ignored.

Pew just found that, at most, 8% of Americans are actively engaged with the Web. Not used it once in a month or occasionally with eBay: engaged. 15 million Brits are totally disengaged. Even with the young, not everyone's engaged.

Don't believe the Hype or the numbers. Claims of Second Life's millions are actually engaged hundreds or thousands. MySpace pages are set up in the millions and abandoned slightly less so, this is because the job they help do for people isn't yet done best on a MySpace or on a PC.

This is not to say that most people aren't using the Web. Most Brits now use it for some sort of important area, like banking. But engaged means much more than doing occasional transactions.

Even with the video, like Makakka and 1984-Hillary, their impact came from being picked up for mainstream TV news. Look at the response numbers for YouTube, the highest is a few thousand responses.

I come back to his actual conclusion, "the changes now in train could go either way". I don't know what will happen. All I know is it's going in one direction, greater engagement by all with technology and 'the Web' (that concept may change).

Who knows the real impact of a DNA database. On politics. Experience teaches me to be humble on the prediction front.

What I do know is that government is far from a bystander. If the commentariat can get annoyed by Blair being flippant about overseas air travel why aren't they barracking them about their attitude to the Web? The pride in their technical uselessness?

Why does Freedland think that government has nothing to do with or could do nothing about all the bad impacts of the Web he cites? That it has no influence?

It isn't 'the internet ... reducing the very idea of a collective society', the internet is what we make of it and what our government allows, disallows and facilitates.

We ain't powerless against Google or anyone else or the Web itself come to that and there are numerous ways - think accessibility - in which that power can be harnessed to fundamentally change the Web through very traditional political means.


Addendum: techPresident on candidates use of search terms, which drew this knowledgeable comment:
'Republicans seem to be latching on to search terms, whereas the Democrats seem to really be focusing on social networking approaches (as indicated by the differential in the number of friends). I wonder if this is indicative of their differing political philosophies?'
The dirtiest it's got so far though is advertising against your opponents names. How naughty.

The end of the HomePage?

Jeff Jarvis is usually a great read and he has very interesting things to say about After the page.

It’s time to break out of the old page and its now-common interpretations. But to what? I see a few possible models for a new architecture of the home page, the page, the site — hell, of the web itself. These models are not mutually exclusive, nor are they comprehensive.

I'm intrigued that one of his models is 'shows'.

Maybe I want you to make a show for me; maybe I want a more passive experience: Feed me. But I don’t want to be fed what everyone else is fed. See Dave Winer’s request to get news without the story he has tired of. See also Facebook’s news feeds, which Mark Zuckerberg says are algorithmic, giving you news the system thinks you want based on your network, your stated preferences, your use, its smarts.

Now mash all this together: In one corner of my screen, I have a show; Along the side, I have lots of feeds. On the other side, I have dynamic, constantly updated widgets. This stuff comes from anywhere and everywhere — from my own network of news sites, from friends, from friends of friends. It can be fed through any device. In fact, it may not even have a screen; what if it knows I’m in my car and can only talk to me? when the system knows my only tether to the net is a phone, it sends me just what it knows I need to know and when I get back home it catches me up on what I missed. While at home, it projects what I need to know on screens or walls, and This isn’t just beyond the home page, it’s beyond the page, the browser, the screen, the computer.

And he clips Seth Godin on the same meme:

Companies may have a website, but they don’t have a home page in terms of the way people experience them.

Dat's the point: whither the 20% and lowering use homepage.

So what's a homepage? Is it iGoogle?

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Bytes · McCain, tough guy - Nielsen attacks - Northampton 3D

analyses the online ad campaigns of the Hillary and McCain campaigns (he's being more innovative/reckless).

This is a McCain Ad ...

They're not talking about search ads. Surprisingly.


Jakob Nielsen has a go at academics Paul Van Schaik, University of Teesside, and Jonathan Ling, Keele University about online survey design.

They confirm Nielsen's finding to use a list of numbers when people are asked how much they agree with a statement and use radio buttons rather than drop-down menus — but he disagrees with their finding to "present one question at a time across multiple screens".

Nielsen reminds that asking 23 questions (the study length) is too many for commercial use.
MAXIMIZE the response rate by MINIMIZING the burden you impose on customers.
His finding is that most users want all the questions on a single screen.
Since practical Web surveys rely on *voluntary* compliance, it's important to make them as pleasant as possible and to follow users' preferences. (This is in contrast to the research study, where participants were *required* to complete the survey.)

The biggest usability problem in questionnaires on real websites is that they are inevitably TOO LONG. This again leads to low response rates, which invalidates the entire exercise. See:


Apparently MS Maps, Microsoft Live Search, new 3D online maps of six World Cities includes ... Northampton. You read right. Good on them.

The other lucky MS launchees apart from New York ("Imagine you are there" "As seen in Spiderman") are Austin, Texas, Cape Coral, Florida, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Ottawa. I would bring you screenshots but it's crashed.

Fortunately Matthew Hurst has already gathered a 3D shot of his mum's house in ... Northampton.

Monday, 28 May 2007

iGasm: Ann Summers missing a market

Most amusing to read the GeekoSphere's boyish delight over Apple v Ann Summers in iGasm Spat — the Ad is a wee bit of a rip-off though it's hardly discouraging iPod sales!

Gizmodo typifying.
"I don't think it will work on Steve, as I think he is lacking the correct—how shall we say this?—plumbing.


An orgasm induced from listening to songs on an iPod or other mp3 player.

I enjoyed that song so much it made me iGasm.

by kajsawilhelm London Jan 17, 2006

Better 404s + 501s

I recently sent this Comedy Central 404 around colleagues as an example of clear messaging, especially with 404 'site down / site unavailable'.

It turns a bad thing - site down - into a good thing - site getting better for YOU.

Alt tag secrets: be emotional

Why bother with writing proper alt tags? What do they actually add when you can't see the image?

This has been a moot point for me — understanding what role they actually play (as opposed to their appearance in a list of 'must dos' for accessibility).

glamour shot of the lovely leonie watson for nomensa's websiteLeonie Watson of Nomensa explores this on the EAccess Bulletin forum.

It's sometimes argued that providing [vibrant, emotion rich] images with descriptive alt texts provides too much "noise" for a screen reader user. [Background: Here's Jakob Nielsen from 1996: "Such literal descriptions are fairly useless for Web pages unless the user is an art critic. I much prefer utility descriptions"] If we screen reader users stopped to listen to every alt text, every time we came across an image, then this assumption would probably be right. But I'll let you into a secret: we won't.

Like sighted users, we'll skip around the content of the page until we find something that interests us. If the first few syllables of an alt text sound promising, we'll pause to read. If they don't, we'll move on to the next element on the page. Also like sighted users, we're often likely to pause on something unimportant, but which captures our imagination.

A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images.

A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon. Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users?

Background: If you ever get a chance to witness Screen Reader use, take it. I was amazed with a early experience. The voice was so quick I could barely keep up.

This would match others (like my mum's) experience of my web use, which is experienced and quick.

Not the same because it's basically about keyboard shortcuts use (unless it's dramatically changed, it requires a plug-in which isn't happening at my end) but here's the
WebAIM Screen Reader Simulation.

NB: Blogger doesn't have an easy Alt Tag method, you have to go into the code. Until the tools do this, accessibility is a way off (the new WCAG guidance will include this point). It's a time consuming pain to do and impossible for most Blogger users.

I have just written a note to Blogger, part of Google's empire on this point (that's all you get - one line to suggest new features): It's not in the WYSIWYG Editor. There doesn't appear to be ANY discussion within Blogger/Blogspot on this point, except about the marketing use of Alt tags!

Plus I added one to Leonie's image as there is a remote chance she may see this ... ;]

Bytes · Getting usability buy-in - Gender stats - Defamation + students

  • Christine Perfetti on User Interface Engineering runs through five ways of getting buy-in for user testing.

    Much of the article chimes with my experience, so I'd recommend it. Her first point is 'start testing right away' simply because of the power of the actual testing — once people see it, their attitude changes.

    When I’m teaching courses on usability testing, I’ve found that no amount of lecturing about the benefits of testing gets development teams onboard and past their skepticism. Instead, people only truly comprehend the power of testing once they’ve observed a user interacting with a design.

    This is so, so true. IME you can practically see the light bulbs going off. You can always start by using discount techniques.

  • Etre tell a great story about usability in practice in their newsletter. I related it to points made by Jacob Nielsen about Command Links:

    When Microsoft first added the "Program Files" folder to Windows, they received a barrage of complaints. Most came from armchair usability experts. What irked these experts wasn't the folder itself, but the folder's name. They didn't like the term "Program Files". They said that it was unfriendly and intimidating. They felt that users wouldn't dare click on a folder called "Program Files" for fear of upsetting the inner workings of their applications. They demanded it be renamed ...

    ... "Programs" was a non-starter. It was too user-friendly - enticing the average to step in, take a look around and get himself in a whole heap of trouble.

    "Program Files", on the other hand, was quite the opposite. It hadn't gone down well at all during user testing. Users found the term scary. Just as the experts would later come to predict. This, of course, made it the perfect choice. By choosing to name the folder "Program Files", the Windows UI team made users wary of it and afraid to explore its contents - and thus unlikely to make painful errors or learn ridiculously long-winded ways of working.

  • 5.7m Brits used a mobile device to access the Web during January 2007, compared to the 30 million people age 15 or older who accessed the Web from a PC, according to new research.

    The study, from Telephia and comScore puts the UK Web market at 19 percent of the PC-based Internet audience. This makes it slightly more developed on a relative basis than the US Mobile Web market, where 30 million (or 17%) of the 176 million US PC Audience accesed the mobile Web.

    As well, 63 percent of Mobile Web users in the U.K. are male, compared to 54 percent of PC Internet users.

    Hower Nielsen/NetRatings also reports that "young women are now the most dominant group online in the UK".

    Women in the 18 - 34 age group account for 18% of all online Britons and they spend the most time online - accounting for 27% more of the total UK computer time than their male counterparts.

    Of UK males active online, the 50+ age group is the most prevalent.

    NB: the BBC report of this fails to disclose the connections between the BBC and Nielsen, as do other recent reports by them about questions surrounding web stats.

  • Speaking of the stages of the two markets, SearchLatitude has produced a White Paper suggesting that US advertisers research the UK search market as it is much more advanced!

    Author Dylan Thwaites claims that:
    "A whole new sector has failed to thrive as effectively as it should have done, because the advertising industry in the US has adapted more slowly than in the UK."

  • According to Helen Milner, managing director of UK Online Centres (which as I may have mentioned are one of the few initiatives addressing the Digital Divide in the UK and are currently under funding threat), speaking at a recent conference:
    "Just a few years ago, people thought that time and market forces would close the digital divide, with everyone using the internet to conduct their everyday business, buy goods and find out information.

    "But around fourteen million people still aren't doing so. The high levels of interest in the conference and input from leading figures across government, industry and the third sector proved that the digital divide isn't over. It's not going away, and it won't be swept under the carpet.

    "Digital inclusion isn't headline news. It's not one of the issues on which elections are fought, like health, education, employment or crime. But what has emerged from the conference is the recognition that digital inclusion does have an impact on those issues, and that giving people the confidence and skills to make digital choices and take digital opportunities has a wider political, social and economic consequence.

    "The number of internet users has stalled, and at the same time the internet is changing from a passive information-providing medium to a participative global community. If even ICT users can be left behind, non-users are further behind than ever."
    · Milner's presentation (Powerpoint)

  • In Australia a new Do Not Call Register has been overwhelmed. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has confirmed that the public overload is creating delays for those trying to access the site at

  • A desktop application allowing organisations to convert their Word and pdf documents into accessible structured html web pages has been launched by Northern Ireland software company RiverDocs.

    It looks great and my colleague Dan Champion rates the software highly, and if anyone would know, he would.

  • IBM is developing a Web Browser which includes pre-defined shortcuts that enable users to start and stop video files, adjust the volume and playback speed of audio output, and choose whether to listen to the video soundtrack, output from a screen reader, or an audio description track if it is present.
    Currently, Flash Video + WMP compatible, this gets around the need to 'see' a button.

  • Parliament has quietly started running online consultations on behalf of Select Committees.

    It now has ones for Medical Care for the Armed Forces and Local Government and the Draft Climate Change Bill.

  • Keele University has reminded its students that defamation law applies online.

    The administration was provoked by a Facebook group called "James Knowles is a Twat" (not to be confused with 'Beyoncé Knowles is a bitch'). Professor James Knowles is an English literature academic at the Staffordshire university.

    Members of the group were warned that the group was unacceptable and would be dealt with "very severely" if it continued.

    The Uni also sent a general warning to all students against criticising the university on social networking.

    The former was the right thing to do, the more general email seems to have provoked a backlash from students as it didn't define what's legitimate and what's not and was therefore interpreted as an attempt to shut down all online criticism.

    The Register quoted an unnamed student: "We can all understand people being warned personally, but a global email to all students telling us to be quiet is a bit rich."

Bytes · MS dev roundup - Blogging eGov boost - Wikinomics

  • Etre sums up some of the most interesting recent MS developments:

    · A speech recognition browser (TellMe)
    ...Say the word "Microsoft" and you'll be transported to
    · A 1d barcode scanner (AURA)
    Snap a photo of a normal barcode using your phone, send it to Microsoft and they'll return you the product's info.
    · A 2d barcode scanner and software suite (Windows Live Barcode)
    Snap a photo of a Quick Response Code barcode using your phone, send it to Microsoft and they'll return you the product's info.
    · A mobile image recognition engine (Lincoln)
    A product that allows people to search the internet via their mobile phone camera (for example, users might snap pictures of movie posters or DVD covers to receive movie reviews via the web.
    · An RFID browser (in collaboration with Symbol)
    Technology built into your mobile phone that allows you to scan products with RFID tags and navigate to their associated websites for product information.
    · A colourful 2d barcode
    A new barcode standard, allowing identification of commercial audio-visual works such as motion pictures, video games, broadcasts, digital video recordings and other media.

  • Opera has released a new version with an updated 'speed-dial':
    "Similar to Speed Dial on Opera Mini (a version of Opera designed for mobile phones), where you can quickly access your top 9 bookmarked sites by simply pressing '*' with the bookmark number on the phone keypad (i.e. *1), the desktop browser allows you to use CTRL+1 to CTRL+9 for the top 9 sites. In addition, these bookmarked sites will also be shown in a thumbnail preview on blank tabs. Clicking on the thumbnail preview brings you to the site."

  • Australian eGov Minister Gary Nairn spoke up for blogging at CeBit in Sydney this week:

    An area of web 2.0 technology we are evaluating is Government web-logs or blogs. For example, I may establish an e‑Government blog.

    Blogs offer another means for government to seek feedback from citizens on major programs or topics of interest to Australians.

    Blogs could speed up consultation and enable the Government and other citizens to analyse and debate issues in reasonable detail. This could then lead to more informed policy and program development.

    Blogging could lead to a new era of community interaction – not just between government and citizens – but between citizens.

    For example, Australians in the cities might learn more about life in the bush or on farms – from people that live there.

    Likewise the blogs and other ICT enabled communication tools may allow our rural population feel closer to city dwellers.

    While blogs present much potential we are not waiting to realise this enhanced interaction between citizens and government.

    We have already established pubic [SIC — See. It does say 'pubic' on the Australian Government's website, common typo which is apparently worth $$$$
    ] consultation systems through facilitates public consultation with a range of agencies including:

    * The National Health and Medical Research Council;
    * The Office of the Access Card, and
    * The Office of the Privacy Commission, just to name a few.

    We are making progress!

  • Federal Computer Weekly has an interesting interview with ‘“Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything”’ author Don Tapscott.

    In Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles, you’ve got three pillars — business, government and civil society — working together to create something that didn’t exist ...

    .... you’re got a map of Los Angeles that changes as the data changes and communities start to show problems. Groups can intervene before problems grow into crisis situations. This is about delivering services that did not previously exist. We’re in the early days of some really big changes in terms of how we create new services .....

    Search of Neighbourhood Knowledge CA showing LA census data.

    Search of similar UK National Statistics website (it crashed my browser!)

    ... we’ve come up with 18 themes of democracy in the digital economy, and one of them is digital brainstorming. It’s a baby step toward a new model of democracy. By the time you publish this article in May, it will have been publicly announced that one of these sessions will be held in Canada. It’s going to happen in the fall. There will be a three-day discussion among all citizens of Canada. I’m involved in advising them on how to do it ...

    ... the biggest problem is that old paradigms die hard. And the way companies are getting into trouble today is not by moving too fast into mass collaboration. In industry after industry, you can see the old model being eclipsed by the new model. So the stakes are high for governments to somehow find the leadership to bring about similar change.
  • Still with Wikis, the National Archives has launched one called Your Archives. It is a virtual community where people can contribute their content and share their knowledge of archival sources held by The National Archives and by other archives throughout the UK.

  • More on Wikis. Tapscott collaborator Anthony Williams reports that:
    Wharton Business School is teaming up with MIT’s Sloan School of Management to publish the first full-fledged business management book to be written Wiki style. It’s called We Are Smarter Than Me (fall 2007) and the project is spearheaded by Barry Libert, cofounder of and CEO of Shared Insights. Libert hopes he can extend the project to develop a series of wiki-books on management and community. So far 900 people have signed on to be part of the networked book collaboration, but Libert wants up to 2 million potential authors to get involved. Visit the website if you’d like to pitch in.

Bytes · Playing catch-up

Been busy with ROL, out-of-town and a big work project! So playing catch-up with reading and clipping ....

  • Pew has released a new study showing that although 85% of Americans use the Web or Mobiles, only 8% are fully engaged:

    Fully half of adults have a more distant or non-existent relationship to modern information technology. Some of this diffidence is driven by people’s concerns about information overload; some is related to people’s sense that their gadgets have more capacity than users can master; some is connected to people’s sense that things like blogging and creating home-brew videos for YouTube is not for them; and some is rooted in people’s inability to afford or their unwillingness to buy the gear that would bring them into the digital age.

  • Whitelisting is when ISPs let your email (meaning your newsletters and other marketing) through without hinderance. Stefan Pollard on ClickZ walks you through why whitelisting is A Privilege Worth Earning.

  • Google Webmaster Central's tools show you where you're being indexed, where your 404s are and where the links are to your site — amongst much other free stuff.

    Tamar Weinberg has a great walk through on 10e20.

  • Here's an interesting website. In New Brunswick, Canada, a 'Wage gap' site allows employers to calculate their wage gap, absenteeism, retention and turnover rates.

  • Sigh ... In Lithuania, The Langas į ateitį (Window to the Future) Alliance, is implementing a project financed by the EU that expects to teach internet skills to 50 000 people by April 2008. Through its national courses, it has already taught the basics to 20 000 people who had no previous internet skills.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Must links always be blue?

Following a discussion with a colleague, I was sent back to review a usability basic: must links always be blue and underlined? Can't they be some other colour?

A good place to start is and in their latest newsletter they ask Should All Links be Underlined?'.

Pointing to the basics, the potential for user misunderstanding when you stray from 'norms', they say:

For example, your users will wonder:
  • Is the text clickable?
  • Or is it just being emphasized?

However there are some obvious exceptions.

Besides visual clutter, there are times when underlined links may not be appropriate, such as in left navigation and in tabbed navigation. In a long list, especially bulleted ones, the overwhelming amount of text and underlining hampers readability. The visual clutter may be especially rampant on home pages that are link and text heavy, as well as on index pages and launch pages.

Jakob Nielsen adds that:

  • Blue underlined text universally means 'click here', anything else can mean something else to a user.
  • The main issue is luminance, such as the difference with visited link colour: the standard purple colour is duller than standard blue.
  • The universal consideration though is 'is it usable?' — you don't actually know until you test pages.

Given the above:

"Shades of blue provide the strongest signal for links, but other colors work almost as well."

The issue is consistency.

Plus I think the blue helps break up text and draw interest to text. It makes content appear richer.

You know it's a link at a glance and any other choice would need to be tested to ensure your design isn't making it harder for users.

Common things are like if page titles use the same font size, face and color as links — users won't all know if it is clickable or a page title or heading.

Experts in content like Nick Usbourne say:

We like standard blue or:

#0000CC is a little darker

#000099 is a littler darker than that

Both clearly look like “links”

For visited you can use the same color (standard blue), standard purple or something like:



These colour choices also 'degrade' well — another usability basic which is particularly relevant when you have an audience which includes a % with dial-up/ancient machinery running with 256 colours.

Bytes · Green Yahoo - Modern interviewing - Hillary's theme

  • Continuing with the 'electronic trail will get you' meme ...A scary tale from The New York Times:
    Andrew Feldmar, a Vancouver psychotherapist, was on his way to pick up a friend at the Seattle airport last summer when he ran into a little trouble at the border.

    A guard typed Mr. Feldmar’s name into an Internet search engine, which revealed that he had written about using LSD in the 1960s in an interdisciplinary journal. Mr. Feldmar was turned back and is no longer welcome in the United States, where he has been active professionally and where both of his children live.

    Mr. Feldmar, 66, has a distinguished résumé, no criminal record and a candid manner. Though he has not used illegal drugs since 1974, he says he has no regrets.

  • Yahoo is pushing the Global Warming message through online education at Yahoo Green, as well as elsewhere on the Network such as in the AutoSales bit.

  • No doubt fearing Viviane Reding and the EU, UK behavioural targeting companies have begun the move towards self-regulation to protect them from accusations of privacy abuse.

  • Jeff Jarvis has an interesting tale about 'The thoroughly modern interview' for The Guardian.

    The fuss began when Fred Vogelstein - a Wired magazine journalist, reporting a story about a powerful blogger - asked two fellow bloggers for phone interviews. But they each set conditions. Jason Calacanis, a blogging entrepreneur, insisted on doing the interview via email so he could publish a full record of it online. Dave Winer, an internet pioneer, said he'd answer questions in public, on his blog, if he had anything to say. Both explained that they do this in part because in the past they have been misquoted. Wired's own bloggers piled in, sniping at Calacanis and Winer, launching more bloggers. And the kerfuffle was on.

    His conclusion?

    The article is a process. It is collaborative. It is three-dimensional, linking to background and depth. It's alive! Of course, phone and in-person interviews have a role. But how interviews occur can no longer be limited to a reporter's rules.

  • Tim Worstall points out to the Register that in the fall-out from the trainee doctors IT fiasco, Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt, appears to be blaming the whistleblowing bloggers - "criminal offences may have been committed".

    This when the clear breach of Data Protection law was due to her Department's incompetent web security.

    Then there are those who brought the problem to light, such as the NHSBlogDoctor. Distressed at being informed of such a gaping loophole in the system he went to have a look for himself. This is a criminal offence - hacking a computer system. Unable to believe what he saw, he asked a few trusties to have a look themselves - another offence, incitement to hack a computer system.

    Having committed these offences, what did the Good Doctor do then? He informed the Department of Health and the system was taken down within a few minutes, thus preventing said department from continuing in their own breach of the law.

    When alerted to a possible breach of the law by the authorities, it would seem that investigating such breach is in itself a criminal offence. That's certainly the way to bring about some accountability to the system don't you think? A way of preventing the more obvious lunacies, of improving the system?

  • Hillary Clinton's campaign is leading the pack of contenders on the Web.

    She's turned the much viewed YouTube hit of the sound of her own halting voice singing the national anthem into a positive by launching a 'Campaign Theme Tune' search. Via YouTube, and jokes at the end:

    "Whatever song you choose, though, I make you this solemn and sacred promise: I won't sing it in public - unless I win."

    She has nine choices up on her site. As well she has a pioneering text messaging campaign.

    I was looking at the Campaign sites and the similarity is striking (Edwards - Hillary - Obama > previous long post with all the sites links). They're also all extremely well done.

    I can only assume they all hired people from the same Dean campaign background?

  • Heather Hopkins reports good news — many more older people are getting online.

    The increase has come from rich and poor alike. The Experian Mosaic groups Twilight Subsistence (pensioners subsisting on meagre incomes) and Grey Perspectives (pensioners enjoying retirement with savings to supplement their pensions) have both increased their online footprint. Internet visits from Twilight subsistence are up 29% over the past two years and visits from Grey Perspectives are up 30%.

    Among the top categories visited by those aged 55+:

    · Search Engines, Adult and Shopping & Classifieds are the favourites, and are consistent with the most visited categories overall.
    · Silver surfers show a particular fondness for Travel and News and Media websites.
    · Money and leisure pursuits are more interesting to silver surfers than other demographic groups.


    Perhaps unsurprising but worth mentioning, comparing the percentage of UK Internet visits by Mosaic Group with the size of each group in the offline population reveals that the wealthiest groups are more active online than their less well-off counterparts.

    In particular:

    · Symbols of Success and Urban Intelligence, which are among the groups most likely to earn a household income in excess of £50,000, are 22% and 31% overrepresented online.
    · The groups Twilight Subsistence and Municipal Dependency, which are among the most likely to earn a household income of less than $7,4999, are 37% and 34% underrepresented online.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Mail savages 'Whitehall's jogging blogger'

Barder: 'Whitehall's jogging blogger' [actually one of several]

Sunday's Daily Mail carried a long, malicious attack on civil servant Owen Barder's blog.

Barder works for the Department for International Development.

Tim Worstall has taken the article apart on his blog. The Mail did things like quote from comments as if they were Barder's own words — the article is full of misquotations and falsifications. It's what an Aussie would call a 'beat-up'.

Unfortunately but perhaps not surprising Barder has taken his blog down — his personal site's still there though.

Worstall, who's of the right and opposed to all Barder stands for, nevertheless recognises an injustice and the underlying threat is represents:

I have to admit that I think this piece in the Mail is really rather extraordinary. As above, you can see that it's a mixture of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.

Which is really something that all of us other bloggers might want to start thinking about. If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that's rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn't it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.

Traditional here to start quoting Voltaire but the problem with that is that Voltaire never actually said it. I think we all know the Pastor Niemoller quote by now as well, don't we? So I'll just content myself with a small in joke shall I?

I am Spartacus!

Worstall also notes in the comments that although he has posted about this on the Mail's message board - surprise! - those comments have yet to appear.

I hope Barder sues the Mail. I'm sorry to see him bullied into taking his website down — he's done absolutely nothing wrong.

They need warning off. Otherwise anyone blogging, anyone, can see their words misquoted back at them (or words put in their mouth). A good legal decision would clarify the situation.

Same goes for the issue I mentioned before — about Google search of our electronic trails being used in HR.

I think the defining lines are clear, otherwise why would anyone who works also do a blog? (Or post on a Bulletin Board or write to a newspaper). What hasn't happened is clear legal (and political) line drawing, although it is good to see HM Opposition thus far steering clear.

Bottom line: people are allowed a life outside work and a political opinion. That's actually legally codified!

If employers want people to give that up they generally remunerate them very well or there's some other intangible prize.

A few right-wing bloggers (echoing the Mail) have said that his private life and opinion 'brings the civil service into disrepute' (aka, he has no right to a private life). But it has been good to see so many bloggers who would disagree with his opinions defending Barder.

Perhaps in producing such a shoddily researched article, the Mail has done bloggers a backhand favour? Jeremy Gould, another Whitehall blogger, comments that "something has happened". Indeed. Maybe The Mail over-reached.

The Mail makes a big deal of Barder's salary. Given the Mail's evident 'high moral standards' wouldn't it therefore be fair in their moral universe to trawl the electronic utterances of their journalists to see how the two match up?

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Bytes · Eye-trackin' - PDF 'illegal' - Car Tipping

  • Seth Godin picks up on an eye-tracking video posted by Etre on YouTube.

    He makes an interesting point about web design:
    I think websurfing is a hunting activity. The eye is looking for anamolies, for things that don't belong ...One of the takeaways is that bad web design might actually be a good thing! Slightly bad design isn't familiar. It's off. It demands attention. (Very bad design demands the 'back' button, of course). One of the reasons that experienced power tool users--like table saws--can still lose a finger is that they don't pay attention... it's too easy to turn the thing on and just use it.

  • Only supplying information in PDF format is illegal, according to the editor of IT law Web site

    Struan Robertson, said.

    "The legal duty is to provide the information in a way that is accessible and usable. Many PDFs are not accessible and the solution is to provide accessible HTML in addition to PDFs, if you wish to use PDFs."

    Robertson added that, although an organisation that has generally "addressed web accessibility" would be unlikely to be sued over its PDFs, a failure to provide an accessible alternative "might trigger a complaint".

    "Many of us will dutifully warn the user that a PDF is going to be opened ... but we stop short of offering an accessible document," he said, indicating that this meant that "many disabled users take 'PDF will open in a new window' to mean 'don't click here'."

    Hugh Huddy of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) said they'd tried to produce an accessible PDF of its annual report, but hit "glitches" with tables and slipping column headers -- factors he said could render such an important document legally invalid.

    "Most PDFs would not stand up to a basic accessibility check," said Huddy, who suggested that PDFs made from a "well-structured Word document" using Acrobat Pro might pass muster. He added that, in most cases, it would be "prudent to publish an alternative format, whether that is in HTML, [rich text format] or plain text, alongside [the PDF version of a document]."

    He told eAccess '07, organised by Headstar earlier this month that he was very concerned, given that so many important documents now come in PDF format. Documents rendered from Quark or other DTP software is a particular problem.

    Huddy recommended RTF or Word.

  • From Google Sightseeing

    Car Tipping

    The urban equivalent of Cow Tipping, the inner-city phenomenon of Car Tipping has begun to spread like wildfire across Germany now that its been spotted on Google Earth

    Also see our post on Extreme Parking for more.

    Via Gearth Blog.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Happy Birthday Alan

I'm a day older than Alan Johnston, the kidnapped BBC journalist, whose 45th birthday it is today.

You can add your name to the petition and read more about it on the BBC website.

New Google SERP look: 'Universal search'

Coming soon.

// \\

Very soon, Danny Sullivan reports, in a long article describing Google's new Universal Search.

He talks a lot about Vertical Search.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

'Jeremy Paxman, author of On Royalty, talks bullocks to amuse Jon.'

Web 2.0 classic experience, posting this ... TV 2u in 15 minutes ...

Paxman is pretty much floored by Jon Stewart. A little 'at sea' shall we say ... most amusing for a Brit to watch.

Drive-by Download? 0.16% say 'yes please'

If this isn't a screaming advert for the need for user testing I don't know what is ... from Wired

Hundreds Click on Google Ad Promising to Infect Their PCs

Drivebydownload1 Best white hat scam of the month: security researcher Didier Stevens bought a Google ad six months ago that said, "Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here!" 409 people clicked on the ad -- people who would have been owned up or infested with malware had Stevens been a true scammer instead of a security geek with a weird sense of humor. Stevens writes:

During this [six month] period, my ad was displayed 259,723 times and clicked on 409 times. That’s a click-through-rate of 0.16%. My Google Adwords campaign cost me only €17 ($23). That’s €0.04 ($0.06) per click or per potentially compromised machine. 98% of the machines ran Windows (according to the User Agent string).

It's hard to say whether people clicked on the ad because they assumed it was a joke, or because they simply misread it as an anti-virus ad. Still, the numbers are pretty scary. The other shocker here is that Google, which does quite a bit of policing on ad content, didn't notice the scammy ad. Stevens says, "I designed my ad to make it suspect, but even then it was accepted by Google without problem and I got no complaints to date." Apparently, he's still running the ad, with slightly different experimental parameters. Can't wait to see what he finds out next . . .

Get It Infected Here Experiment [via Didier Stevens]

Google itself has exploded the malware via websites issue - basically leveraging their power to get website security dealt with by websites.

But, of course, this sort of thing with AdWords undermines their revenue base directly — because it ran for six months un-noticed.

User testing? The comments within geekdom confirm this — can't believe user behaviour and hence wouldn't take account of it ("That's 409 morons who need to be removed from the gene pool."), especially the sort of 'strange' behaviour exhibited by a minority which nevertheless screws up systems.

But Eddy Williams, an expert in this aspect of user behaviour, confirms its normality.

Web gives kids surprising new gatekeeper role

What was that postcode again mom?

Where once it was just daughter showing father how to program the Video Recorder, now it's son showing mum how to fill in that form to the government.

According to "Surfin' on Mom's Turf: Cyber Chillin' With 8-14 Year-Olds," a report released by an American marketing company called Stars for Kidz and reported on ClickZ, 14 percent of kids have helped parents prepare their income tax return online.

"In this 8 to 14 age group, these kids are the first strong generation where they have had all these sophisticated levels of technology from childhood, and they function intuitively," said Adele Schwartz, research director at Stars for Kidz.

Additional chores given to kids include

  • sharing pictures and e-mails with relatives (38 percent);
  • looking up movie listings (38 percent);
  • responding to invitations, party and vacation planning (36 percent each);
  • and travel (36 percent);
  • getting driving directions (35 percent).

"What we see is the kids who are computer competent are becoming pivotal sources of information and planning for the family," said Schwartz.

"Kids think moms [parents] are clueless, while that may or may not be true, kids are quicker and they find [information online] easier."

Interesting stuff.

Certainly my experience is that it's the intuition element which doesn't cross generations easily. What are the implications when the kids control the information flow (apart from mum + dad learning how to search)?

Monday, 14 May 2007

Bytes · YouTube sorted - Online thermal surveys - You're Ian Huntley

  • Very neat. Great, clear interface too.
    What is Middio?
    Launched in mid-2007, Middio makes an effort of properly tagging the most popular music videos uploaded by members to Although the music videos are hosted by, they can be searched for and watched on Middio without ads.

  • Google posts about new policy about why [we] remember information about [you]

  • New US Army YouTube Channel.

  • Futureboy reports that:
    A British company called Hotmapping has been doing thermal surveys of local districts using spy planes. The results are being posted on the web by district councils, with the upshot being that you can now see which houses are leaking heat. Blue houses are cool; red houses are taking their energy dollars (or pounds, in this case), and spewing them into the atmosphere ...

    And if they are not aboard the lower emissions bandwagon? Then they will be shamed in front of the whole neighborhood as energy hogs. Green action groups will know which doors to knock on. Insulation companies will know where to send their direct mail.

    Naturally, there are the inevitable privacy concerns. And it's disturbing to learn that for Haringey Council alone, it took 17 flights on the spy plane to get all this information. That's a lot of carbon emissions right there.

  • Interesting point in this video-article about the size of the online porn industry:
    Usually the porn industry innovates first and key features make their way to more mainstream sites. But over the last couple of years, many of the new ideas around web applications, like user generated content, video sharing, etc., went mainstream first and are now hitting the porn sites.

  • William Heath reports to Ideal Government his bad experience with DirectGov (link added for o/s readers..):

    Do you know what’s a complete drag - far from ideal in fact? I KNEW before i did the search that the results would be absurd. I even started this article confident that DirectGov would throw up nonsense against this important search term. Privacy-enhancing technologies are the key to trust in e-government. NGOs have been saying it for a decade. The PM’s policy unit under Geoff Mulgan twigged, but it was all soon forgotten. Now we just build systems that assume everyone is a terrorist of paedophile. (You think I’m joking? A key government CIO responded to my concerns about data sharing by jabbing a pointy finger at my ribs and saying “You’re Ian Huntley, right? You’re Ian Huntley.” No Mr CIO. I’m NOT Ian Huntley. Nooo Noooo No. None of us are, except Ian Huntley, and he’s dead.)

    Anyway, the final depressing thought is that the only announcement I recall our e-government Minister making is that every web site other than DirectGov is to close down. It’s not that I’ll miss the others, it’s just I find DirectGov so dispiriting, with its pointey logo and smug editorialising. I just never go there, except to do the sort of comedy search I did tonight.