Google Notebook’s future uncertain

Google Inc has begun to tighten its belt and one of the products whose future is uncertain is Google Notebook, a site for storing and taking notes on web pages, reports the Wall Street Journal. Too bad if the plug is pulled on Google Notebook. It is useful. There are substitutes, but Google is Google. Its huge network of servers makes using its online applications a snap.

Google has shelved plans for a new data centre to house its computer servers too, says the Journal: the facility planned in Oklahoma has been mothballed.

With the US economy in a recession, Google is cutting back spending, says the report. It adds:

“Still, with $14 billion in cash and roughly 30 percent of the U.S. online-ad market, Google is in a much better position than its competitors to withstand this downturn, Wall Street analysts say.”


Where will we be without Google?

Create word clouds for your website

These images are created using Wordle, a toy for generating "word clouds" from text you provide. You can also enter the URL of any blog, blog feed or any other web page that has an Atom or RSS feed. Here's the "word cloud" from this blog generated automatically based on the most recent posts. Go to Wordle and create your word clouds for fun. It's free.


Here's the word cloud for the New York Times:

Here's the word cloud for the Guardian:

Here's the word cloud for the Singapore news site, Channel NewsAsia:

I couldn't create a word cloud for the Singapore newspaper, Straits Times. I submitted the URL as I did for all the other sites, but while Wordle instantly generated word clouds for the other sites, it said "invalid data" for the Straits Times.

Yahoo and Microsoft

What’s going to happen to My Yahoo and That’s what I wanted to know when I heard yesterday that Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo. I love Google Reader and iGoogle, but I need My Yahoo and too.

Techcrunch says My Yahoo and are likely to stay even if Microsoft buys Yahoo. They are indispensable.

No social bookmarking site is as useful and convenient as Digg may be great for checking out the hottest technology stories, but when you want to bookmark articles for your own reference, is handiest.

And My Yahoo is one of the earliest and best personalised start pages around. iGoogle has more features. But if all you want is plenty of stories from your favourite websites on your start page, My Yahoo is great. I have tried Netvibes and Pageflakes. They are all right if you are happy with 20 or 30 RSS feeds on one page. If you want more, try My Yahoo.

And then there’s Flickr.

No wonder Microsoft has offered as much as $44.6 billion for Yahoo. For all its problems, Yahoo has some of the most popular and useful sites on the Net.

But will they get better under Microsoft? I am not so sure.


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Ministers worth more than search engines

I am glad to see Singapore still prizes human intelligence more than artificial intelligence. Singapore’s Agency for Science,Technology and Research (A*STAR) is offering $100,000 to the winner of a contest to build the next-generation search engine. That’s a fraction of the annual salary of Singapore ministers whose pay will range from nearly two million to more than three million Singapore dollars this year. (Two million Singapore dollars is about $1.39 million.)

I see nothing wrong with that. We can all create our own little search engines for free using Google Custom Search. But there is only one Lee Kuan Yew.

Still, for building the next-generation search engine, the prize money is inadequate, says search expert John Battelle. “Sorry, Singapore, that’s not enough scratch… that’s not gonna get it done,” he comments on his blog. 

A*STAR says it wants developers to create:

a rich media search engine that will be smart enough to identify text, audio and video containing any word, even if that word, or search term, has not yet been tagged in the internet material.  Millions of search engine users around the world stand to gain from such technologies that will help them navigate the rich material that is now on the Internet with the current Web 2.0 phenomenon and the proliferation of user-generated new media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Flickr.

Quite a mouthful, eh?

Contestants have to register by February 29 and the top five teams will be flown to Singapore for the finals in October.The winner will be decided by an international advisory panel which includes professors from Berkeley, Columbia, University of Washington and the National University of Singapore.

The contestants will have the satisfaction of competing with Google. A*Star’s quest is similar to Google’s own “vision for universal search”, said Google, which revealed plans to create such a search engine in May last year, reported ZDNet.

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Download FeedDemon

FeedDemon The best desktop reader for PCs, FeedDemon, is now available for free. Go, try it out if you haven’t already downloaded it since its developer, NewsGator, started giving it away for free more than a week ago. It’s the desktop version of Google Reader and has been around much longer but used to cost about $30. You will realise why it’s a premium product once you start using it. I guess it’s now being given away for free to make it competitive with Google Reader.

If you are using Google Reader, you may wonder if you really need FeedDemon. But Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration and Nick Bradbury, who created it, explain why FeedDemon is better than a web reader like Google Reader.

Personally,I like Google Reader. It’s fast, intuitive, great at discovering new feeds. In fact, Google Reader is possibly better at discovering new feeds than FeedDemon. NewsGator Online, the website which synchronises with the desktop FeedDemon, is not a great feed directory. Bloglines is better and so is Google.

But FeedDemon offers you the choice of discovering feeds through several search engines. And once you have subscribed to the feeds, you will really enjoy reading them on FeedDemon. It checks continuously for new content, so it updates fast. Pages download smoothly and easily. It also makes recommendations based on your reading habits like Bloglines and Google Reader.

In fact, FeedDemon has more features than Google Reader. So it takes getting used to, but you will soon come to appreciate it. I like its interface, which is cleaner than Google Reader’s.

Wikia, the social search engine


I searched Wikia and it reminded me of Facebook, not Google. Wikia is a social search engine which not only delivers information but also tries to bring people together.

Search in Wikia and results will come up with a box in the top right hand corner showing little icons representing people "matching" your search words, who share your interests. Clicking on the icons will lead you to their profiles and you could even contact them if they are willing to make new friends through Wikia. But first you have to open an account and give your own particulars to see their profiles.

Trust Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to come up with a new kind of search engine that’s very Web 2.0. And like Wikipedia, Wikia relies on feedback from the people. Wikia asks you to improve the search results: "discuss these results", says a box on the top of the page while another box in the left hand corner asks you to start or edit a "mini article" on whatever you are searching for.

Launched only yesterday, Wikia is very much in the beta stage. If you are seriously searching for something, stick to Google. Wikia is far from comprehensive. It has indexed only a fraction of the web so far. But as a social search engine, it could have the same appeal as other networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace.

But I expect a search engine to be like Google or Yahoo and come up with answers in the shortest possible time. I searched for the poet Dylan Thomas and got 1,320,000 results in 0.15 seconds from Google, 32,400,000 from Yahoo in 0.17 seconds and 5,032 in quick but unspecified time fom Wikipedia. And they were arranged in a rather strange order in Wikia, starting with the Dylan Thomas Bookshop.

Google and Yahoo seemed less commercial and better suited for research. Google was best with a "searches related to dylan thomas" section near the bottom of the page offering links to poems by Dylan Thomas and pages devoted to other poets such as Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Robert Graves, Robert Frost and Ted Hughes.

Try Yahoo Pipes

Now here’s a new way to keep up with anything interesting without actually having to search for it online. Try Yahoo Pipes. I can get news from various sources through Yahoo Pipes. It pipes a steady stream of information about any topic you choose, collecting the information from blogs and news sites and everything else online.

Yes, Google Alert does the same thing. But that’s delivered to your email account. Yahoo Pipes comes as a news feed, which means it’s being updated all the time. And you don’t have to check your email to get the information. I simply go to Bloglines or My Yahoo to get the latest news.

Yahoo Pipes goes even further than Google News, Pubsub and Technorati. You can use them to get a news feed on any topic of your choice, but can you publish the feed on your own website? You can with Yahoo Pipes.

And you don’t have to be programmer to use Yahoo Pipes. All I did was go to Yahoo Pipes website, browse the readymade Pipes and click on the one called Aggregated News Alerts. That took me to a page which said, “Configure this pipe”, and asked “What news are you looking to track”? In the search box, I typed “Singapore” and clicked. That created a Pipe Preview showing a collection of stories about Singapore. I clicked on the Subscribe button. Up popped more buttons giving me the choice to subscribe through Bloglines, My Yahoo and various other news readers. I chose Bloglines and My Yahoo and my Pipes were installed.

Actually, one doesn’t need a news reader to read the Pipes. Click on the “Get as RSS” button. That creates a version you can publish or read on your web browser.

Google Guide’s really useful

I just blogged about Google’s shortcomings, but still it’s the search engine we use most often. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came across Google Guide the other day.

The website run by Nancy Blachman carries the disclaimer, "Google Guide is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Google".

But I found it extremely useful, providing handy tips on how to get the best out of Google search. One may get the same tips in various books and Google itself offers pointers if one clicks under Advanced Search on the Google search page. But Google Guide is more friendly to dummies like me. It has tips for novices and experienced users as well. There’s also a cheat sheet as well as several printable PDF guides running from as few as two pages (general summary) to 150 pages. Wow!

Google isn’t always right

Google’s success is built upon its Page Rank system of searching, but it may not always deliver the right answer. The first few search results may be misleading. So I found yesterday. I was writing something where I used the phrase, "The devil’s in the detail". And then I wondered whether it should be "The devil’s in the details". Being online, I checked the Free Dictionary. Curiously, the words weren’t there. So I checked Google. It immediately linked to pages containing the words, "The devil’s in the details." No cigar. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it should be "the devil’s in the detail".

Maybe, I would have found the right phrase on Google too if I had continued my search. I looked only at the first search results page. But isn’t that what a good search engine supposed to deliver: The right answer immediately? 

Google, of course, relies on collective wisdom, the wisdom of the masses. But that’s not always very useful. We need other ways of searching too.

Blogger beta really better

I just had a look at the Blogger upgrade launched only two days ago and it’s really cool. Though it still looks the same, using the same old templates, there’s been a fantastic change. It’s fast, easy to use and, just like WordPress and TypePad, allows posts to be tagged and sorted into various categories.  Instead of "categories", it calls them "labels".

These will bring order to the blog. Posts can be tagged and archived under different categories, which could help them get picked up by search engines and other sites — and help the blogger too if he or she wants to refer back to an earlier post.

Bloggers know the importance of tags and categories. That is why some have been moving to, where one can set up free WordPress blogs as easily as one can post on Blogger. Now bloggers may have less reason to switch.

Blogger is releasing the new version only to a limited number of people but eventually everyone will be allowed to upgrade, it says.

After the upgrade, one will no longer have to crack heads over blog skins and templates. A blog can be created with just a few clicks of the mouse by dragging and dropping  "elements" such as posts, titles, bookmarks and sidebars wherever one wants them to appear on the page.

One can do the same on TypePad, but Blogger is free. And posts can be published and templates changed as fast as on WordPress, which is faster than TypePad and Movable Type.

Not that I am about to give up TypePad. It is superior in ways that only a blogger can appreciate. For instance, one comes across beautifully designed, excellent blogs on TypePad while Blogger is a vast wilderness.

But one can bet Blogger will improve. Google has finally woken up to the importance of Web 2.0 and the fact that people today want to create their own content and not just be the captive audience of the big media.  BlogSpot users will no longer need to know HTML to keep their blogs anonymous. They can keep their blogs private like almost every other blogger or user of a Web 2.0 product like Flickr or

And what does Google gain out of this? Intimate knowledge of its users.  Anyone who wants to start using Blogger now will need a Google Account, an email address and a password which can also be used to access other Google services. Such as AdWords, Google Groups, Google Alerts, Froogle Shopping List, Personalised Search and a personalised home page. The search engine will end up knowing the searcher, Google will have the goods on us.