Tag Archives: Web surfers

Firefox And The Greasemonkey On Its Back

Good piece by ZDNET on a Firefox add that -on lets surfers tweak sites, but is it safe?

A new Firefox extension that lets people customize their experience of the sites they visit is stirring excitement among Web surfers and consternation among security experts.

The extension, dubbed Greasemonkey, lets people run what’s known as a “user script,” which alters a Web page as it’s downloaded.

That capability has gained the extension an avid following of Web surfers who want to customize the sites they visit, removing design glitches and stripping sites of ads. But the extension comes with substantial security risks, and could stir trouble among site owners who object to individual, custom redesigns of their pages.

Have to admit I haven’t looked at greasemonkey, but it’s an interesting conundrum. Makes me wonder, too, about all the other extensions I’ve loaded into Firefox. It would be real easy, wouldn’t it, to put some sneaky stuff in there too? Why are we so afraid of any IE toolbar, or free browser add-on, but so happy to download extensions to Firefox from folk we don’t know, and who haven’t had to pass any tests?

Yahoo Cuts Loose With Its Own Search Engine

Yahoo has cut loose from Google and now offers a very passable search engine of its own.

Yahoo today announced that it has deployed its own algorithmic search technology on Yahoo Search. Starting today, “the company will begin rolling out the new Yahoo! Search Technology and expects to continue the process on a worldwide basis over the next several weeks”.

A brief fiddle shows it’s pretty good, and will give Google a run for its money. It also lots of cool new features, according to the company’s press release:

  • A new search service that integrates Yahoo! Search with My Yahoo! by adding links to XML/RSS site syndication content in search results. This service enables users to search for millions of sites that support this format and easily add them to their My Yahoo! personal homepage. Once added to their page, users will see instantly updated headlines and links from these sites, keeping them in touch with all of their important information from the Internet in a single place.
  • Yahoo! Search has combined its own proprietary anti-spam technology with the talents of its team of editorial experts and Yahoo! Mail’s leading SpamGuard technology to help filter out irrelevant, redundant or low-quality URLs and links. Taking advantage of the synergies between Yahoo! Search and Yahoo! Mail, these two services will share data to reduce spam and further improve the user experience across Yahoo!.
  • Yahoo! Search Technology is already integrated into Yahoo! News Search and the award-winning Yahoo! Product Search and going forward will be leveraged into other areas of Yahoo!, including Yahoo! Travel, Yahoo! Local, Yahoo! Personals and Yahoo! HotJobs. In addition, Yahoo! Search Technology will power search for Overture’s algorithmic search partners and will be made available to future customers.

As CNET reported earlierYahoo dropped Google as the default search technology provider for its U.S.-based sites late Tuesday, “signaling the beginning of the end for the Web’s most high-profile marriage of convenience”. But the new search engine is not without controversy: CNET says that Yahoo plans to make money by charging companies for more rapid and frequent inclusion into its index –a program called ‘paid inclusion’. CNET writes: “Such programs have come under fire by industry watchers and federal regulators, which charge that their commercially oriented nature can taint results and mislead Web surfers without proper labeling.  Google does not offer a paid inclusion program.”

It’ll be interesting to see how they fare. I’ve never quite understand the attraction of the old Yahoo search engine; they never really found what you wanted unless it was obvious, and their directories were less than up to date or comprehensive.

And of course from a marketing point of view, all this has serious implications, which I’ll go into later. For me the most important thing is that the search for loose wire ends up with this humble blog top on both Google and Yahoo Search.

Goodbye To The Browser?

Here’s some more interesting end-of-year stuff from Nielsen//NetRatings: a report issued today (PDF file) says that three out of every four home and work Internet users access the Internet using a non-browser based Internet application, particularly media players, instant messengers and file sharing applications. “With 76 percent of Web surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst Nielsen//NetRatings. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

According to the report, the top five applications are Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger Service and Real Player. Of these top five applications, Windows Media has the largest active user reach at 34 percent. AOL Instant Messenger was next at 20 percent, followed by Real Player also at 20 percent, MSN Messenger Service at 19 percent and Yahoo! Messenger Service, which reaches 12 percent of the active user base.

Interesting. But what does it actually tell us? First off, we shouldn’t get confused by the data. This doesn’t mean that folks are eschewing the browser, just that a lot of other programs are also connecting to the Internet (where is e-mail in all this?). Second, if Real Networks and MSN Messenger are anything to go by, a lot of these programs access the Internet without the user doing anything (or even knowing about it) so does this actually count? Lastly, there’s been plenty written already about how Microsoft is moving past the browser to incorporate similar functionality into its Office and other products — say Microsoft Word 2003’s Research Pane, for example — so it’s clear the big boys would have us move to more proprietary, locked-in environments, which all of the top five applications have in common. We’re not so much witnessing a demographic change as a deliberate shove by the main players.

My wish list? I’d like to see all of these players stop hoodwinking the end-user by loading their programs into the start-up queue automatically (you know who you are). It’s deliberately misleading (read: sleazy), it hogs resources and it skews data like Nielsen’s. I’d also like to see AOL, MSN and Yahoo all agree to share their instant messaging lists so folk like me don’t have to use great alternatives like Trillian to pull together our disparate buddy networks (Trillian will lump all your different Instant Messaging accounts into one easy to view window, minus all the ads and annoying pop-ups).

I see no danger in the browser gradually being phased out for plenty of web-related tasks. But, if the Internet has really become ‘part of the desktop’ let’s try to make it a place where ordinary folk can hang out without too much hassle.

News: More Hacking Woes

 These days the Internet reads like a bad movie script. Reuters reports that security holes in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser have been exploited by hackers to hijack AOL instant messaging accounts and force unsuspecting Web surfers to run up massive phone bills. Some Internet Explorer users are also finding that malicious Web sites are secretly slipping trojan programs onto their computers, according to eEye Digital Security, which discovered the original security vulnerability. Such stealth programs can include keystroke loggers that record everything a person types or software to erase the hard drive, among other things.
 
The attacks are accomplished by leading Internet Explorer users to a malicious Web site, either by sending an e-mail with a link to the Web page or distributing a link through instant messaging. When the Web site appears, it downloads code that can execute commands on its own onto the unsuspecting computer user’s machine, according to Copley. An attacker has written a program that uses a security hole in Internet Explorer to hijack an already running AOL Instant Messenger account, changes the password and send a message to the buddies list with a link to the malicious Web page, according to postings on the Bugtraq security e-mail list.