30 September 2008

Blogger has a splogger problem.

One of the reasons I love searching with Google is because I can remember what it was like searching the Web before Google came to be. While AltaVista was a decent search engine, I can't say too many nice things about many of other early search engines that I used to use. Even AltaVista couldn't keep spam from showing up in the first page of results sometimes. Although Google is not unfriendly to "thin" affiliate sites that don't have much content, I rarely come across the machine-generated, keyword stuffed junk that used to clog up the lesser search engines of years gone by while searching with Google. Nonetheless, the junk is still out there, and lately I seem to be running into it more and more often for some reason.

Unfortunately, a lot of the machine-generated, keyword stuffed junk being posted on the Web these days seems to be posted through Blogger. Google Blog Search is a good way to find splogs, no doubt because it indexes most Blogger content very quickly. Try a search related to the financial industry for particularly good (and by good I mean spammy) results. Blogger seems to be a convenient target for sploggers because it is a free service, allows for the unlimited creation of blogs, and is largely monitored by the community. Unfortunately, the very things that make Blogger an awesome blog creation and hosting tool make it appealing for spammers as well. Google seems to take spamming pretty seriously (as they should, since nothing makes search engines look worse than bad search results), and so Blogger has tried to combat the sploggers in various ways, including by requiring new blog creators to solve a captcha. Still, the spam persists; perhaps splog detection is best left for humans. Most native speakers can spot nonsensical machine-generated spam drivel "written" in their language a mile away so it makes sense for Google to offer an easy way to report spam Blogger blogs. I've recently reported a few very obvious splogs I've stumbled across so I'll soon find out if Blogger responds to spam reports in a timely manner.

As someone who has been trying to make money online for many years, I can well understand why spammers do what they do. Still, I can't exactly sympathize with their "plight." As much as I wish I was making a living purely online, I wouldn't want to make a career out of annoying people and junking the Web. I want to write content for the Web because I love the Web. I love being able to conduct a search on most any topic that will lead me to find something relevant to my query. Sploggers, though, don't love the Web; they want to disrupt the search process by putting junk between the searcher and what he wants to find. Some of them still no doubt make good money doing just that, but hopefully Google will be able to make this increasingly more and more difficult in the future.

05 September 2008

Google Notebook is great for clipping the Web, but it's not the perfect online notebook just yet.

I've become quite the enthusiastic user of Google Notebook over the past few months. As averse as I am to browser clutter, I've nonetheless installed the Google Notebook Firefox extension. I use my Google notebooks to write to-do lists, take notes on my favorite blogs, clip images and text discovered while surfing, and store ephemeral material of all sorts. It has proven to be one of the most useful Google services to me, but I wouldn't exactly call it "feature-rich." Then again, a notebook app probably shouldn't be the most complex of things. The genius of Google seems to lie partly in their ability to give people what they really need right away. The bells and whistles may be slow in coming, but Google's products are always effective for simple uses right out of the box. Google Notebook is a great example of this.

This philosophy works well because a good chunk of Google users will probably not need (or use) anything beyond the basic features already available. They're happy, and they should be. It's only when you want to do something in Notebook that you can't that you feel disappointed. Ultimately, I do think one should at least be able to do anything productive that you can do with a paper notebook with notebook software; Google Notebook is already far superior to a paper notebook when it comes to capturing material from the Web, and its online sharing options beat sneakernet sharing any day. Google Notebook isn't ahead of its paper cousins in all aspects, however. For instance, calculations are easy to do in a paper notebook, but they should be even easier to do in Google Notebook considering that even Google Search has a built-in calculator! Unfortunately, Google Notebook doesn't seem to have calculator functionality at the moment, so you'll have to do your calculating elsewhere. This is disappointing for those of us who work with numbers in our online notebooks. The lack of a drawing utility in Google Notebook is an even worse omission. Paper notebooks are great for sketching diagrams, maps, and graphs, not to mention random doodling -- Google Notebook just can't compete with that at this moment. I expect those features and more to be included in future iterations, but for now it might be wise not to go completely paperless.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Zoho's notebook solution here because at this point I think it actually captures the whole notebook experience a bit better than Google Notebook. It already has a drawing utility -- quite a good one, in fact. It also incorporates the idea of pages; that might seem unnecessary in a purely online environment, but I have to admit my Google notebooks would probably be easier to read if I didn't add new notes to the top of some of my notebooks and to the bottom of others. On the downside, Zoho's product does look a little busier and more complex than Google Notebook; I don't really mind that. Still, it will pose a continuing challenge for Google to hold on to its trademark simplicity while still adding features to all of its products.