Tag Archives: search box

The Thin Yellow Lines of Innovation

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Maybe you’ve already noticed this, but I very much like this feature in Google Chrome that lets you see at a glance matches for a search term within a page. The matches appear as yellow lines within the scroll bar (see above) so you can easily access them by dragging the scroll bar itself.b

Another nice twist with Chrome is that it will tell you how many matches there are on a page, and tell you which one you’re currently viewing:

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Nice touch. I still think the Firefox search trick of being able to highlight all instances of a search term within the page is very helpful:

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Which helps to make the matching words stand out on the page (along with the extra option of matching case:

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What’s interesting here is the innovation in a feature that has, elsewhere, become largely moribund. Check out the search box in Microsoft Word 2007:

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You can choose the Reading Highlight button to, well, highlight those terms you’re looking for, but frankly, I only just found that feature and I’ve been using Word for years. The features in Chrome and Firefox I found pretty much straightaway.

And the feature doesn’t really detract from the fact that the Find box itself is pretty poorly designed, and short of features. Surely in a program that is about processing words, this would be a feature you’d have a whole team working on to improve?

Bottom line: While old software stands still, we’re seeing a lot of incremental but valuable improvements in the new software—browsers, basically—and I think therein lies a lesson. Microsoft et al, you need to turn your attention to these small things, that may not be very belly or whistly (sorry, just wanted to use the word ‘belly’) but which we all use. A lot.

Loyalty to a program, whether it’s a browser or a word processor, may often come down to these small things.

Google Suggest: Your Company + Scam

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I find that the auto suggestions feature from Google Suggest in the Firefox search box very useful. But perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Google Suggest works via algorithms that “use a wide range of information to predict the queries users are most likely to want to see. For example, Google Suggest uses data about the overall popularity of various searches to help rank the refinements it offers.” In other words,  type one word and Google will tell you the next word most likely to be typed after it. Type “dimitar” and the most likely second word will be “berbatov” (this may not been a lot to non-soccer fans, but trust me, the two words go together like rock and roll for the rest of us):

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This can be useful, or at least revealing.

For example, I received one of those awful pieces of spam from Tagged.com that give the whole social networking thing a bad name:

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Click on the “Click here to block all emails from Tagged Inc., 110 Pacific Mall Box #117, San Francisco, CA. 94111” and you’re taken to a page where you’re asked to sign in or sign up. A sure sign of a scam if ever there was one; what happened to opting out a la CANSPAM?

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So I figured I should Google these clowns and see what’s being said about them. Type their name into the Firefox search box, and then hit the space bar, and this was what Google offered me as the most popular search terms:

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Having your product name coupled with “spam” and “scam” in its top three searches can’t be good.

Needless to say, tagged.com is a scam, at least in the way it tries to hoodwink users into signing up and signing up their friends. Here’s how the excellent and resourceful Amit Agarwal recommends you get rid of it from your inbox. It’s a shame that so many apparently good names are involved in something so blatantly anti-social and spammy. At what point do these people feel they’ve lost the game and allow corners to be cut? One of the founders even spoke at last year’s Authentication and Online Trust Summit for crying out loud.

The bigger issue is how to stop these sites from damaging social networking further. But that’s for another day. For now, using Google Suggest is a good quick way to know whether you’re on a hiding to nothing if you even click on a link in one of these emails. Take another scam networking site I’ve written about recently, Yaari. Its Google Suggest juice comes out looking similarly dodgy:

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Compare that with something a bit more bona fide, like LinkedIn:

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While this is a useful tool for us, I’m guessing that the companies involved are going to be hiring some drones to try to massage these results so they don’t look quite so  bad.

A Chip off the Old Flock

Flock, which I wrote about a few months back, is now in public beta (meaning ordinary folks can use it without too much weeping). TechCrunch carries an interview with the folks behind it.

What’s so good about it? Well, it’s all about trying to build Web 2.0 into the browser, so the browser isn’t so much a browser as a tool to upload photos, blog, read RSS, that kind of thing. You can drag a photo and publish it, view photos across the top of the browser, search faster (the search box includes results that update as you type the word.)

I’m most interested in the blogging tool. And while it’s better, it sure ain’t perfect. I’d like to see a proper editor with all the features of an editor, including shortcuts (Control + k for inserting link seems to be a pretty well-defined standard, for example.) That said, it seems a tad more stable than BlogJet, for which one would have to pay money.

How does these guys make money? Mainly through selling the spots in the search box at the top right corner, I believe. Yahoo! seems to rule the roost at the moment, and it doesn’t seem possible to change that as the default without opening a separate preferences window, unless I’m missing something. I assume that extra step is deliberate, something most folks wouldn’t bother to do.

Anyway, another browser can’t be bad news. I’m not going to dump Firefox for now, but I think I’ll keep Flock a-flickering too for now.

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Blogged with Flock

Confessions of a PDF Hater

There’s a lot of discussion about the ongoing spat between Microsoft and Adobe over whether Microsoft will be able to install PDF/Acrobat support in its next version of Office. This should be as straightforward as PDF support in OpenOffice — where you can choose to save (well, print, technically speaking) a file as an Acrobat PDF. But it’s not. Allowing a niche, free, office suite like OpenOffice to add this for free is one thing, but for the market giant Microsoft — who are preparing a PDF rival, XPS — to do it is another. So as things stand at the moment, Office users will be abe to have PDF support, but not out-of-the-box: They’ll have to install it as a download plug-in. Not too arduous, but as comments on the blog of Brian Jones, Microsoft’s Program Manager, suggest, a lot of folk won’t do that.

Everyone’s talking about this issue, blaming Microsoft, blaming Adobe, but no one seems to be asking a question I’ve been mulling for years: Why are Adobe Acrobat files so hard to use, and the Adobe programs to make and maniuplate them so darned user unfriendly? I’ve been using Acrobat reader and Acrobat for years, and each version I hope is going to be a little more intuitive and easier to understand. And yet every time I try to do something a little bit different or more complicated than simply saving a file or extracting a line of text I run into problems.

I’ve found no straightforward, wizard-type way to tweak a saved file to balance reduced file size with reduced quality of images. This means that I — and I’m sure lots of other folk, including a friend of mine who yesterday received a PDF file from a major international organisation that was 7 MB in size, had Chinese characters that appeared as gibberish on her screen — can’t easily use what should be the most powerful features in what should be a great program.

And don’t get me started on the naff way that the Adobe Reader includes a promo for the Yahoo! Toolbar — how low do you have to stoop? — and, next to it, a helpful search box. How many people have entered text in that box thinking it’s to search the active PDF document, only to find that it’s actually a Yahoo! search box?

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Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that it looks remarkably similar to the Adobe “find” box that appears if you hit Control+f:

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It’s telling that most of the best PDF tools are not actually Adobe’s at all, but simple PDF makers that bypass the whole Acrobat maker process. (My list of these programs is here, although it needs some updating. Here’s a free PDFCreator which will allow you to print to PDF from any Windows program.)

Sure, PDFs are great for the security measures they build in, and they have definitely changed the way people exchange and collaborate over documents. But usability has not improved. So if Microsoft or anyone can come up with a better format that’s easier to work with, I’m all for it.

Recovering Your Firefox Bookmarks

This is documented elsewhere, but perhaps comes across as too nerdy for some. If you’re using Windows XP, recovering from a crash or whatever, and find that your Firefox bookmarks (and bookmarklets and bookmark toolbar) have disappeared, here’s what to do:

  • Close Firefox if it’s running.
  • Find your profile in c:Documents and Settings[your XP user name]Application DataMozillaFirefoxProfiles
  • There should be a subfolder there called bookmarkbackups. Find the most recent bookmarks html file in there (usually with a date after the ‘bookmarks’ bit.
  • Copy it to somewhere safe and rename the existing one bookmarks.html.
  • Copy it to the default profiles folder (up one level from the bookmarkbackups folder, deleting the existing bookmarks.html file.)
  • Close Firefox if it’s running and launch it. Your old bookmarks should be restored.

(And, while I’m at it, here’s a solution if your Firefox browser refuses to remember any of your changed settings in toolbars etc when you close it, resetting everything back to what it was before. The same bug — likely to be fixed soon — also deletes your search engines in the search box to the right of the address box. This fix will fix both problems:

  • Locate the localstore.rdf file in the same place as above.
  • Delete it.
  • Restart Firefox. You should be good to go.

Thanks, GreenKri.)

Technorati’s New (Beta) Look

Dave Sifry on Technorati Weblog announces a new Public Beta:

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the public beta of this major redesign of the Technorati service. We’ve been listening to your feedback, and we hope we’ve reflected that in this release. This is a beta. So, if you have feedback, please tell us because we want to know what is of value to you, our users. We’ve made a big step with this release. Having said that, we also know we have more improvements to make and we’re working hard to implement them. Here are some of the highlights of this beta release:

* We’ve improved the user experience, making Technorati accessible to more people and, specifically, people who are new to blogging. We’ve tried to make it very simple to understand what Technorati is all about, and make it easy to understand how we’re different from other search engines.
* We’ve learned from the incredible success of tags, and brought some of the those same features into search, as well as expanding tag functionality. Now, if your search matches a tag, we bring in photos and links from flickr, furl, delicious, and now buzznet as well.
* We now have more powerful advanced search features. You can now click the “Options” link beside any search box for power searching options.
* We’ve added more personalization. Sign in, and you’ll see your current set of watchlists, claimed blogs, and profile info, right on the homepage, giving you quick access to the stuff you want as quickly as possible.
* New Watchlist capabilities have been added. For example, you no longer need a RSS reader to watch your favorite searches. Now you can view all of your favorite searches on one page. Of course, you can still get your watchlists via RSS, and it is even easier to create new watchlists. You can also get RSS feeds for tagged posts, just check the bottom of each page of tag results!