Archive of articles classified as "Google"

Optimize Google Chrome

8/03/2011

Tim Davis Without a doubt, my favorite browser is Google Chrome. It’s incredibly fast, supports most HTML5 features, has an insanely fast JavaScript rendering engine and it doesn’t follow the large and bloated releases of Firefox and Internet Explorer who feel it’s better to release in “huge stages” instead of constantly releasing every 6 weeks as Google does to ensure that it’s users get the greatest features when they’re ready. In fact, Firefox are now moving to this strategy of smaller, faster releases and I really think it’s the best way to move forward in the browser market. Perhaps Microsoft might even follow suite [otherwise they’ll be left behind … again].

One little trick that you can try if you are using Google Chrome, is to tweak some of the settings to gain even greater performance. To get started simply type – “about:flags” – without the quotation marks into the Chrome omnibox and you’ll be presented with a whole range of additional options to tweak the browser performance for even greater loading speeds. To get started I recommend enabling:

  1. GPU Accelerated Compositing
  2. GPU Accelerated Canvas 2D [only on PC for now, sorry Mac users]
  3. Web Page Prerendering

and then hitting the “Restart Now” at the bottom once you’ve enabled the settings you want.

There are a whole lot of other nifty little addons that will speed up your performance but the current release I am using 9.0.597.107 is quite stable when these 3 additions are enabled. When you then visit any of your most favorite websites you’ll notice a substantial increase in your browsing speeds. There is nothing better than moving around the web at lightening speeds on a browser that loads faster, supports the latest technologies and is consistently improved every six weeks. If you don’t use Google Chrome or your Company is still stuck on Internet Explorer – I strongly urge you to update to Google Chrome.

You’ll never look back.

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Google Instant – Greater Bandwidth

9/09/2010

Tim Davis Google have released a brand new search interface called ‘Google Instant‘. To try it you must be logged into your Google Account and then access either the US or UK versions of Google.  Basically, Google have ‘enhanced their search technology to show your results as you type’. It is suggested that by offering ‘advanced prediction technology’ – that Google can actually show you results before you type.

A simple example – is “weather”. Under the current Google search structure, you would type “weather” and then hit Enter or press the Search button – consequently rendering the search results. This process has required 8 keyboard strokes – 7 for the word and 1 for pressing Enter. Using Google Instant, you would type the letter ‘w’ and it would automatically show you results for the top most common searched result ‘weather’ and an additional 5 top keyword searches saving you a considerable amount of search time for common searches. Google postulate that this is going to save more than 350 million hours of search time each year – due to the time saved in typing and the faster response delivery from Google. They suggest the key benefits are “Faster Searches, Smarter Predictions, Instant Results” – at least that’s the mantra.

So after we push through the gloss of the new release – what are the potential problems.

Firstly, Google suggest this is a fundamental shift in search and as a corollary of this – it’s going to cause a fundamental shift in the way people search. This suggestion is entirely based no the premise that page 2 search results are going to become increasingly redundant. Why ? Because Google Instant – at least in the short time period I have been using it – encourages you to redefine your search queries as the results appear. The previous mantra of ‘search, press enter, browse results, enter new search, press enter’ is no longer relevant since using Google Instant – the mantra changes to ‘start typing, see results, end’ or ‘start typing, see results, redefine search, see results, redefine, see results’ etc. Despite the fact that Google promises ‘nothing has changed as you can still always hit enter’ – the change in the user interface provides a disincentive for users to hit enter and frankly I forgot totally about hitting enter during my testing.

Secondly, this presents a problem for relevant results because amazingly – content is still highly relevant which appears on pages 2+ of Google. It’s just outside Googles top 10 ranking mechanism and is ranked from 11-30. This is forcing a dependency on Google that the results seen within the first 5-6 results are always the most relevant – if they are not – users simply change their search query and expect to see 5-6 new results. This is increasingly highlighted by the fact that currently – the ‘suggested search results’ box remains – even after you have finished searching and when you click outside the search box – encouraging you to search a new query. The box should really disappear once you have finished searching – highlighting search results and not suggesting that you search again.

Thirdly, I see a big increase in bandwidth. Checking out Google PageSpeed has shown a number of increases in bandwidth – checkout the 2 pics below. The first presents the search results using the current Google Search – searching ‘weather’ and the second presents the results under Google Instant searching ‘weather’. There is one proviso in this test – I typed the full keyword in both searches – so naturally Google Instant is going to return a greater bandwidth load. If I was just searching for ‘weather’ – then typing ‘w’ would have been enough.

However, any other search result which doesn’t relate to the top 5 searches is going to pull significantly more bandwidth – correlated, as a computational function, to the number of letters pressed. That is, longer searches “what is the capital of america?” – are going to pull results for each and every letter – significantly increasingly bandwidth. Notably, this didn’t bring up a “suggested search result” and so it means that I was required to type each and every letter. To show you just how much more bandwidth is eaten up, check out the results using ‘old google’ at the top and ‘Google Instant’ at the bottom for this test. That’s a 23.9KB increase in the old and new bandwidth requirements for Google Instant or a 122.5% increase in bandwidth – a significant amount.

Evidently, this becomes a much bigger issue on mobile. So far, I have not read any material from Google about the increase that Google Instant is going to have on mobile phones. Evidently, delivering results on the fly constantly is going to increase the level of bandwidth on mobile devices – and from seeing the results above – it’s pretty clear that this is going to be significant. How this effects users mobile plans, data flow and overall network bandwidth is questionable and so far hasn’t been addressed.

So it seems while some queries are faster – ‘weather’ – this is offset by the large proportion that are going to suck down a lot more bandwidth – “what is the capital of america?”. The question for Google is – while time is saved, how much extra bandwidth is consumed on the Internet ?

Some food for thought.

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Gmail Security Ideas – A Multi-Stage Sign Up

19/01/2010

Tim DavisSomething that really shocks me – is the ease at which Google Gmail accounts are being targeted by scammers and hackers. It’s a concerning trend and something really needs to be done about it from Google’s – and all free email providers – ends in order to better protect email account holders. Most email attacks originate from hackers infiltrating one users email account and utilizing the data within that account to consequently infiltrate other accounts. For all Google’s might – it flaws me they don’t implement, what would be seemingly easy to add security measures for Gmail accounts so that consumers are generally made ‘smarter’. This is part of the inherent problem – consumers, by their nature, are patternistic and use the same password for multiple accounts – which make them easy targets for hackers.

So what are some ways to solve this problem?

The primary issue with Gmail accounts – & in fact all free email accounts – is directly correlated to the sign up process. Companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are torn between getting a user quickly through the sign up process and using their products – against ensuring that accounts are made secure. Most are seemingly opting for the former and ultimately disregarding the latter. Email signup needs to be rethought and refocused by incorporating a mult-stage signup process rather than a single stage one.

For example, the process I have added below would be extremely beneficial to all Gmail users and would allow Google to easily require users to update their security information to ensure that accounts are not hacked.

More importantly, the information that Google requires to be compulsory needs to change with the modern age. When a email account is hacked, the scammers are quick to change all information within the account to stop you gaining access back to the account – this is part of the fundamental flaw of the sign up process and indeed the entire security process. Let’s look at some measures in which this could so easily change.

1. Require Mobile Phone Number – Everyone has a mobile phone in this day and age – and if you don’t have one, then chances are you aren’t on email anyway. The simplest methodology would be for Google to force you to add your mobile phone number as an added layer of security and automatically SMS you password changes. Most email users rarely change their passwords unless they are forced – so the degree to which SMS’s would be flying in from Google would be low. The mobile security feature could then be activated for password resets, core account modifications and so forth.

2. Match Country to Mobile Prefix – This is another big one that Google currently doesn’t do. Google has a huge record, and consequently a pattern, of the most common places you access your email via IP. I would go so far to say that they know even the physical location through reverse geocoding. In light of this information, why doesn’t Google force a Country Mapping to mobile numbers ? That is, you can’t change your mobile phone country unless you specifically enter a unique SMS code – which, of course, is SMS’d to your current phone and then ultimately a confirmation sent to the new phone. Why is this important? Because as soon as a hacker gets into an account, they change the mobile number. Most hackers aren’t in your own country – so this makes it impossible for them to attempt to change your mobile number to another outside of your country.

3. Backup Address Termination or Confirmation – The whole “Security Question” is so flawed in email systems that if I had my way – I would just terminate it. The world of social media and privacy disclosure now means that everyone posts everything online. And if they don’t – they post it on Facebook and befriend everyone who requests an invite. So what you say ? Well, 90% of the time, the answer to your security question lies in the data that you have posted around the Internet or on facebook. The “Security Question” just shouldn’t exist – there is really no need for it in our modern world – so lets just terminate it.

Of course, if Google aren’t willing to do that – then they should require confirmation of the secondary or “back up” email account. Do they do this at the moment? No, and it’s clearly a fatal error as the first thing hackers do is change the backup email so if the account owner attempts to reset the password – the reset confirmation is getting shot back to newly changed email. This should be linked back to your Mobile – so if changes occur you receive an SMS notification with confirmation code OR require confirmation from the old email address and the newly changed one.

4. Confirmation for Contact Deletion – This is another common trick for scammers – hack your account, copy your contact list then delete them all. Google could again implement SMS notification or secondary email confirmation which requires if >X contacts are deleted in any one session – or in any one amount – you are required to confirm such an action. Most people rarely purge huge number of contacts in any one session and if they did do their “spring cleaning” – then a simple confirmation confirms that they are trying to change their contacts list in large numbers.

5. Data Security Plugin – This one is my personal favorite idea – Google need to implement a lab plugin which allows your to customize account lockouts relevant to data changes or combinations. How would this work? Simple. You could setup Rules – or Google could do this automatically for you – similar to those filtering rules you have for your Email inbox as new mail arrives. i.e. if {forward email added AND 10 emails are sent in 10 minutes AND password attempt change} = lockAccount, send SMS with Unlock Combination. This would be such a cool plugin which would seriously beef up account security because it would be difficult for scammers to ascertain what account customizations would trigger a lockout. In some respects, this could be called the “Last-Line-of-Defense” plugin – since any number of combinations could be setup to really stop scammers or hackers who have infiltrated your account.

The reality is – while some of the above suggestions may be going too far [although the Data Security Plugin would be insanely cool] – the mobile and secondary email confirmations is really just something Google should enforce in a multi-step process. Sure, users want to sign up and start using their account – but just give them 30 days to complete Step 2 before it’s forced onto them. 99% of users will complete it within the first week anyway if they really want to use their email account as its for their own protection anyway.

Such simple additions would make email hacking incredibly more difficult for scammers and create an ultimately safer environment for consumers. Google do a pretty good job as it is and Gmail is an awesome product – but this would make it, well, “awesomer”.

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The Google Wave World

13/10/2009

Tim DavisSo the world has been abuzz about Google Wave – the new Google product which purports to “revolutionize the world of email”. Having recently received an invite as part of Googles ‘developer preview’ of the system – I can say that it’s a fairly slick offering. The ideology behind wave is that it’s a real-time collaboration platform which allows you to communicate with your family, friends and business colleagues in sync. It’s basically a system which allows you to “see it happen as it happens” – so when your friends are typing a response to a wave that you sent them – you will see exactly what they are typing.

In this sense – it’s sort of merging Instant Messaging with email – for good or bad – to allow you to see  what your contacts are typing as they type it. The system allows you to inject ‘blips’ (what Google call parts of a wave) into any area of a wave – which it’s great for document collaboration, but I’m not so sure this works as well with email. Injecting blips effectively allows you to break up an email and comment on particular sections of it – which is great when you want it turned on but having this feature available all the time – in my mind – confuses the flow of the wave when you are sending it to multiple people. Maybe it might take a bit of getting used too – but it means that everyone that the wave has been sent too can add and edit blips all over the wave at different points. This means, for example, that you could have 20 people leave comments on the first sentence of an email and then leave comments on the 2nd sentence and so forth.

google_wave

One of the most confusing things for me at the moment is that you cannot do this with normal emails. You can only collaborate with other people that have wave accounts. What would make wave much more user friendly would be allowing waves to be sent to any email address and then users can simple comment inside the wave. At the moment this is not possible – so I can only send waves to other Google Wave Account holders which sort of restricts me using it all that much at this stage.

To show you how all works, Google have actually allowed waves to be “embeddable” – that is, you can embed waves into blog posts. So – you can actually respond to my wave and speak to me – if I have wave open, I will be able to see what you are typing in real-time and respond – in real-time. This is one of the cool things about the platform and I can see this becoming extremely popular when the system hits main stream. I did try to do this below, but it seems that this is again only a feature that is available to people who have wave accounts – so I disabled this feature because it’s pretty much useless at the moment for the majority of the population. Instead, I replaced the editable wave with the Google Wave movie.

I can understand that Google Wave is in in beta and they have a huge community development program in place so I have no doubt that the future will very much allow waves to be embeddable and sent to any email address.

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Google and Bing – Closer than you Think

9/07/2009

Tim DavisIt’s has been amazing to watch the torrid of information and critical analysis floating around the web relating to Google and Bing – Microsoft’s New Search Engine product. I have read numerous articles and have reserved comment on all of them, instead waiting until something particularly erked me enough to write a post and pass my judgement. Interestingly, it was a New York Times article and the respective comments which really provided the passionate to write this post.

So, a few months ago Microsoft released their new search product – Bing – into the wild without a great deal of fanfare on launch. The product was initially demonstrated at the AllThingsD conference where Steve Ballmer was generally excited about the product but withheld the expectations that Microsoft was placing on the success of Bing – accepting that Google was a significant force in the market. Of course, the natural succession to the launch of Bing was the comparison to Google and whether a paradigm shift would occur with users willing to change from Google to Bing, and whether it would adversley affect Google’s bottom line. The initial reaction from the numerous articles I read was that generally internet consumers thought Bing was good – but it did not provide users with enough incentive to change. Articles and commentary appeared that presented an underlying connotation that Bing was a great product – but presented too late in the game to make a difference. Microsoft were also criticised about the effectiveness of their $100 million dollar advertising campaign to promote the product.

Soon after, several separate impartial engines were established which contrasted the results of Yahoo, Google and Bing together on the one site and asked consumers to generally pick the best results before revealing which search engine was responsible – here is one such experiment called ‘BlindSearch’. Such experiments significantly changed the basis on which technology enthusiasts reviewed the search engines and I think, surprised a number of people with the quality of results from Bing in comparison to Google. Of course, this lead to some influential technology journalists and bloggers writing increasingly positive articles about the search engine and how they were more willing to give Bing a go – and this is probably where the situation currently resides.

Of course, my opinion on the whole matter relates most specifically to who provides the best all round consumer experience. In my mind, this tends to be heavily influenced by where ones brand allegiance lies. I do not believe the issue is based entirely on the delivery of the best results – it was increasingly apparent from my testing that the results illustrated were both fairly similar. This is not to say Google was always better than Bing, or indeed, that Bing was better than Google – both returned varying degrees of satisfaction in the searches I conducted. The search terms I entered ranged from extremely easy subject matter right down to overtly abstracted searches relating to all sorts of weird and wonderful law and medical terms. Of course, over time it is expected that this is going to significantly improve as both Google and Bing continue to build out their products – but all in all, my testing provided me with the information that I needed to write this article.

I think the issue in this whole debate rests on brand power as opposed to who provides the better results. It is evident in the short-term future that both Microsoft and Google are going to have solid search products – solely from the sheer volume of money being poured into search from both sides of the fence. The purchase of any technology which will significantly improve search will be hotly contested by both Google and Microsoft and so will the human capital that is actually able to continually engineer and build out both products – after all, a company is only as good as the people it has working for it. But I digress, the point of this article is to focus on the flawed comparison of why one is better than the other – I believe this is non-argument. Google is of course a better engine – solely from the abstracted basis that it has invested all of its resources in the last 10 years to building an extremely successful search engine – Microsoft has not. Microsoft is now starting this process – and in my mind, has started significantly well with the Bing offering – but it’s going to be a long-term project to dint Google’s market share and I believe Microsoft also acknowledge this.

Importantly – Google, as a product, has been drummed into my generation as the pre-eminent search engine since the company was founded in 1998 and since I started using it in late 1999. Their culture, the effectiveness of their results and the entire Google story was something that related specifically to my friends and I – and pretty much everyone else. Of critical importance however, was that the product exceeded so many other search engines available at the time in scouring the Internet, finding and returning the information that was keyed into it – nothing else offered even came close to Google. It is therefore a fruitless, and down right pointless argument, to suggest that Microsoft is going to make significant in-roads into a product that has been relied on by people for the last 10 years on the Internet because natural bias will win through to Google’s corner. A similar analogy would be expecting the majority of consumers to just change to a new operating system after using Microsoft for more than 10 years – it just doesn’t happen that way. Brand power is an incredibly powerful thing – and the trust, faith and continual delivery of great results resides well in a lot of consumers on the Internet who correlate search to Google. In fact, Google as brand is so powerful that many people now even correlate Google as a browser – as witnessed in this video.

The point of my argument is that Internet users tend to very brand loyal consumers. If you check out the top sites you visit – it is more than probable that you have a list of no more than 5 to 10 sites that you visit regularly on a daily basis. For me, this would include GoogleGmail, Google Reader, Facebook, The Age, Digg, New York Times, Stack Overflow and of course our company’s product websites. This generally would infer that I am a loyal Google user and this absolutely rings true – because the only real search engine I have consistently used in the last decade has been Google. Furthermore, Google has successfully cross-promoted their products and I am also a regular user of Gmail and Google Reader products. The code and continual feature roll-outs in these products far exceeded anything that Microsoft offered in its Hotmail – now Windows Live – system and so the change became more of a Darwinian takeover as opposed to any associated choice decision equation. The converse is also true – I have never used anything except Microsoft Operating Systems for the last 10 years and would be very resistant to change. While it’s true that I own a iMac – I only realistically use it for Photo Editing and Movie creation as the products offered in iLife are extremely user friendly and I could not find any PC related software that exceeded the offerings by Apple at a similar price.

So for now, when I read an article – such as the one published on the New York Times –  and see the majority of comments include words such as trust, faith, relevancy, monopoly, market domination, advertising, speed, bias media, paid reviews, MS copying other products and all the rest – I pretty much laugh. I find it very difficult to believe that the majority of this is driven from anything other than pure brand allegiance and genuine belief that Google is a company that “does no evil”. Most of the non-tech populous does not even know about the huge struggles that each company is going through to beset the other – generally, they just want a product that works and want to trust the company that provides it – something Google has succeed with on the web. Of course, this is pure marketing genius and the power of the Google brand – as opposed to the reality of the situation regarding the actual data privacy concerns that majority of the world holds over Google. Consumers trust Google and do not trust Microsoft to the same degree, and it is this trust that emanates so wildly in the passion that is stirred up in any Google vs. Bing, or indeed Google vs. Microsoft debate. This infers that Google’s search product will continue to dominate over Bing – until Microsoft is able to breakdown the resistance that Consumers have built up towards Microsoft. Generally, becoming a more open and transparent company, creating more ads like these that consumers generally find ‘cool’, listening more intently to consumer desires and responding faster to feedback, and continuing to deliver more products like Bing is going to have a serious impact to the trust argument that consumers place in Microsoft. It’s an area that Microsoft really need to work on if they are succeed as spectacularly online as they have in the server and operating system market. Perhaps a good place to start would be attacking Googles data retention policies, making consumers aware of just how much information Google holds and changing their own policies to pass control to the user would be a very good place to start in my mind.

The flip side to all this – is that while consumers trust Google, businesses trust Microsoft. It is absolutely true that businesses are responsible for driving Microsoft’s bottom line – an area that I believe Google has the exact same problems that Microsoft has in the consumer space. Many businesses are extremely wary of trusting Google because of the advice they have received regarding Google privacy policies and the overall data retention policies that Google holds. Each company would actually be wise to analyse the positions of the other in each respective competitive field and I think they would find they have more in common than each actually believes. The key to all of this ? Listen to consumers, implement features they want and go out of your way to provide them with a great product – this builds trust and ultimately – this builds success in the online world.

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