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May 4, 2011

Why NZ's new internet law sucks

Recently John Key took some time off from flying around the country in helicopters so he could organise the NZ government to, well, basically bend over and take it from US copyright trolls. Starting in September, we'll have a law whereby the entertainment industry can accuse someone of copyright violation and have them cut off from the internet, guilty until proven innocent.

But don't take my word for it, Christopher Wood goes into it in more detail in 13 reasons why the Infringing File Sharing Act is bad for you.

I'm so glad the New Zealand government is spending its time on important things.

Posted at 6:45 PM | Comments (5)

October 25, 2010

Wikia: A Case Study in Keeping Your Users Happy


Some two years ago, when Wikia introduced their new Monaco site skin, the Transformers Wiki moved to independent hosting citing a number of complaints, such as misleading the community, and ignoring dissent and forging ahead with changes.

Wikia are now introducing an even newer skin. Have Wikia learned from TFWiki's departure? Well, from what I can tell from the Community Central blogs, they haven't changed a heck of a lot. Though they said that the skin was going to be mandatory for all Wiki, and that individual Wiki were not going to be allowed to modify the skin beyond a background image and colours, there were a couple of notable exceptions. One particular "shot themselves in the foot" moment was when Wikia offered to let the World of Warcraft Wikia widen the skin, apparently in an attempt to prevent them moving to independent hosting.

There have been many vocal protests on Wikia's staff blog entries, but despite those Wikia are forging ahead with little change to the skin, which has caused a bunch of Wiki to head for independent hosting. The aforementioned World of Warcraft wiki can now be found at, and Halopedia seems to be the latest Wikia to move. The skin change has even resulted in a movement calling itself the Anti-Wikia Alliance.

How much will this affect Wikia? Probably not much in the short term, as they get to keep copies of all of the wiki that leave, but in the long term...

Posted at 5:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 9, 2010

The Scourge of Web Toolbars

So, I've noticed a new web design element spreading insidiously across the web. Suddenly you can add web toolbars, which float at the bottom of the browser window, to your website, so every user who visits your site gets an extra toolbar full of various tools which may or may not be useful depending on your usual internet hangouts.

Wibiya, for instance, has one which will link to your Twitter, Facebook, and/or YouTube account, and allow visitors to Tweet or "like" your site (you can see a demo of a Wibiya bar on Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic). The Meebo Bar similarly allows you to link to Facebook, Twitter, et al. I first started noticing the things when Wikia threw one on their new skin.

Is this a new trend? I note that, unlike toolbars which are actually built into your browser, you can't turn them off. I also wonder if there are privacy concerns here — if a company can get its toolbar on enough sites, they can start building up a pretty comprehensive picture of people's browsing habits. Of course, this isn't new, and web bugs have been around for years, but these web toolbars seem to add an extra carrot to entice webmasters to place them on their web site. Hrm.

Posted at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)

September 13, 2010

Farewell Bloglines

Some time ages ago, I picked Bloglines as a feed aggregator. I'd already tried a bunch of non-web applications, but running something separate from my browser to keep track of new posts on web sites somehow seemed counter productive. For one thing, it meant I had to have my computer polling all these sites itself, looking for new posts. It made much more sense to use a web-based service, that would poll the sites for a bunch of people.

Bloglines is a pretty good service, with a simple and clean interface. It worked well for what I wanted, and made it pretty easy to find new stuff that interested me. It wasn't perfect, but I suspect half the problems I had with it were at least in part attributable to my internet connection, which sometimes works well, and sometimes works like a brick. Unfortunately when I logged onto Bloglines about a week ago, there was a notice saying that it's closing down at the end of the month. For now, I'm giving Google Reader a go, since Google controls everything anyway.

So, thank you, Bloglines, for years of service. I hope the team goes on to even bigger and better things.

Posted at 6:17 PM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2010

Why does...

Google has this awesome search suggest feature, which shows you what the most popular searches are for the query you're starting to type in.

"Why does..." search

Hmm, lotta hygiene conscious women out there.

And a lot of people with dogs that eat poop.

Posted at 4:26 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2009 passes 10,000 articles!

Today the Transformers Wiki passed 10,000 articles. There are many Transformers Wikis on the web, but only one dares to have more than 10,000 articles!

Of course, to put this in perspective, Wookieepedia currently has 72,759 articles (Fair warning, they are hosted on Wikia, so you will probably see many pictures of almost-naked fat people if you go there) but may catch up yet!

Posted at 3:50 PM | Comments (1)

November 12, 2009

Chrome beta release unbetter

Google rolled out a beta release of Chrome the other day, and unfortunately it's introduced a rendering problem when viewing the Transformers Wiki:

Rendering issue

The left-hand column is inexplicably pushed down under the content area, making it virtually useless. I've seen it happen on a few other sites as well, and I've submitted a bug report via the reporting mechanism built into Chrome, so hopefully it'll be fixed in the next release.

Posted at 7:51 PM | Comments (2)

September 25, 2009

Adding a peanut gallery

AKA jumping on the topic du jour.

Google's latest release is "Sidewiki", essentially a new feature on their toolbar which allows you to open up a sidebar and add a note about the page you're currently viewing. Other users can then rate your comment, and all the comments on a particular page are ordered by how useful other users found them. So essentially it's a commenting system with ratings. I'm not sure why they chose to have "wiki" in the name; Wiki implies modifiable content, but so far as I can tell you can't modify notes anyone else has added.

What does this give us? Well, in practical terms, it means every page on the Internet has a Google-controlled comment forum which the site owner has little control over, but which is displayed alongside their content. These can be displayed in any browser, even if it doesn't have Google toolbar installed - observe this Sidewiki comment on Wikipedia's main page. Now, Wikipedia's main page already has a talk page to comment on, which is modifiable by anyone, so the Sidewiki is providing a second redundant comment forum albeit, as the comment points out, one not under the control of anyone at Wikipedia. As a side note, this also means that blogs with the comments disabled now have comments again.

This post, too, has a section at the bottom for visitors to leave their comments, but it also has a Sidewiki. When someone posts a comment here, I get an email alerting me, so I know to come and reply to it. If someone posts a comment to the Sidewiki, I don't. Perhaps this is something Google ought to look at as an enhancement to their Webmaster Tools service? By verifying my site on sitemaps, I ought to be able to access a page showing all of the Sidewiki comments.

I'll be interested to see how long it takes before the first libel case results from something someone said on Sidewiki. I went to check the Scientology site to see if anything had been added there yet, but their site crashes IE on my computer, and I can't get Sidewiki to install on Firefox, so...

Posted at 7:02 PM | Comments (4)

March 26, 2009

Mystery - spyware or hack?

After getting home from work today, I checked the blogs I follow using Bloglines. All was well until I got to the last blog, which happened to be Zeusblog. When I clicked on the title of the entry to visit the blog, I was instead taken to the following URL:

I shouldn't have to warn you not to go there.

So, why did I go there instead of Zeusblog? My initial thought was maybe Zeusblog got hacked. I downloaded the server logs, but according to them, no request reached the server in order to be redirected. I even downloaded all of the files on the site and checked them, just in case, but found nothing.

I turned to my second assumption - that my PC had picked up some spyware. Scans with AVG, Ad Aware, Spybot and Windows Defender all came up blank.

So... what the hell? What caused this redirect? Some new spyware which the scanning programs don't know about yet?

I experienced the same redirect a few weeks back. I couldn't find the cause then, I can't now, and whatever it is is obviously still affecting my PC.

Googling found two relevant articles, but neither of them provide any good suggestions as to what caused the redirect in the first place:

  • The Norton AntiVirus guys seem more interested in telling the guy that their product blocked the redirect than why clicking on a google result took him to a different place than he expected

  • Geeks to Go couldn't find anything on this victim's system, though he was happy enough when the problem didn't repeat.

This is very odd and disturbing.

Posted at 9:33 PM | Comments (11)

February 7, 2009

Internet Explorer is broken

Before you all say "We know", I'll clarify that it's broken on my PC. Although it will happy load web pages off my hard drive, give it a URL and it sits there forever saying "Connecting".

Running up "Diagnose Connection Problems" from IE's tools menu merely reports that "Windows didn't detect any problems with your internet connection". Turning off Windows firewall doesn't make any difference, and I even tried adding IE to the list of exceptions. The other firewall which might affect it is on the router, but other PCs on the network have no trouble with IE. It could be AVG, which has several components which sit between browser and internet such as LinkScanner, though disabling everything I can in that doesn't seem to have made a difference...

However rebooting fixes the problem, so apparently some program I'm starting in the normal course of things is causing problems with IE. A mystery!

Meanwhile FireFox is working perfectly.

Posted at 1:32 PM | Comments (2)

September 4, 2008

Google Chrome

Current topic de jour is Google's new web browser. While I'm waiting for my extensions to upgrade themselves so I can switch to Firefox 3 without half of them being disabled, I thought I'd give it a try. The first thing I noticed was that it was blindingly fast. Firefox 3 is faster than Firefox 2, but Chrome is faster again. Impressively so.

But the main reason I'd switch to it is the whole separate-process-per-tab model. Too often I've had Firefox totally crash because I've opened a tab to a poorly-coded site. With Chrome, this is apparently no longer a problem - you only lose the tab containing the badly behaved site.

However I suspect they'll have more converts from Internet Explorer in the short term, as Chrome doesn't yet support extensions (I can't surf the web without some of them!). It's also only available for Windows at the moment. No doubt both issues will be addressed. I think this is going to signal another leap forward in web browser technology (are Microsoft so far behind at this point that they won't be able to catch up?)

The Google Webmaster suggestions group has been flooded with suggestions for Google Chrome - the group's supposed to be for suggestions about Google Webmaster Tools and says so clearly at the top - way to fail at simple comprehension, people.

You can get Chrome from the Google Chrome page. It's still in beta at the moment.

Posted at 8:44 PM | Comments (3)

May 21, 2008

AVG 8's LinkScanner

[screenshot]I updated my copy of AVG to version 8 recently, and discovered that they've added a while bunch of new features. One of these is LinkScanner. When you do a google/yahoo/msn search, LinkScanner inserts little icons into the search results to let you know if the site the link goes to is likely to be hazardous to your computer. This is pretty cool. Unfortunately it tests the pages by actually downloading them (and any javascript files they reference) so I suspect it's going to be unusable on a dialup connection. You can't turn it off, or AVG complains that you've turned off component.

There's a thread about it on Webmaster World, wherein it's shown that LinkScanner is actually quite easy to spot, so it would be quite easy to fool. Not only that, but it only scans search results, so once you go to a site, you're on your own.

The new GUI looks very slick though.

Posted at 11:57 PM | Comments (5)

February 12, 2008

News from Silicone Valley

The other day I spotted this at the bottom of a technorati page:

Which made me wonder exactly how Marisa Miller's bottom qualifies as a technology story.

Posted at 7:58 PM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2008

Doctor Who + Google Trends III

As Google has the data for 2007 up, we can now look at the Google Trends graph for Doctor Who last year:

[Google trends for 2007]

Comparing it with 2006's graph, it looks like there's a fairly consistant pattern emerging - queries roughly double once the show starts playing, spiking when the finale is aired, then in December there's another spike when the obligatory Christmas special airs.

[Google trends for 2005 - 2007]

Stacking all three years together, we can see that queries increased over 2006, though the difference between the Last of the Time Lords and Doomsday spikes is not as pronounced as the difference between Doomsday and The Parting of the Ways. I expect this trend will continue over 2008, though it will be interesting to see what effect decreasing output to 3 specials will have in 2009.

Continue reading "Doctor Who + Google Trends III"

Posted at 8:35 PM | Comments (4)

January 9, 2008

Star Trek Search Terms

People keep finding the DiscCon entry for "Real Time" using the search text "What Star Trek race has exceptional hearing?" This, as it turns out, is actually a question from a "geek test". Why are you people cheating by googling the answer?! You can't expect to get an accurate result if you cheat!

Now, ordinarily I'd say Ferengi, because with ears that size... but then I'm sure Spock mentioned having exceptional hearing several times in the original series (followed by Dr McCoy making a racially-insensitive crack about his pointy ears). Also, Borg probably have cybernetically-enhanced hearing. Plus Jem'Hadar are probably bred with genetically-enhanced senses. And then there are the Hynerians who - no, wait, they're from Farscape.

Glad I could help!

Posted at 7:22 PM | Comments (5)

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