The thoughts of a web 2.0 research fellow on all things in the technological sphere that capture his interest.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Christmas search term analysis

Hitwise have just published a list of the top hot christmas gadgets based on search term analysis, which provides "great insight into people's habits and desires". However when the iPhone fails to make the top 10 mobile phones you have to question the methodology.

Hitwise analysed:
the top 2,000 search terms that sent traffic to a Hitwise Custom Category consisting of the top 100 online retail websites in the UK during the four weeks ending 22nd September 2007.

Rather than listing the gadgets that people are after, it may be that the list shows those gadgets that: people are after AND online retail websites dominate the search results.

Hitwise's excuse that: "The new iPod Touch and the UK release of the iPhone were announced too late to have a significant impact on the retail search data", doesn't seem to hold much water, as we can see from Google Trends that searches for the iPhone in the UK are up with the N95, whilst the Nokia 5300 doesn't even register.

There is a lot of interesting data held in the logs of web servers, but it is important that we don't get carried away with how much we read into them.

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

LinkedIn: Yes to a profile photo, no to a superpoke

According to Mashable, from tomorrow you will be able to add a photo to your profile page on LinkedIn. Whilst I agree that it is a good idea, as it helps with the identification of people, I don't agree with Mashable's conclusion that:
It’s clearly a move that aims to keep up with Facebook, which increasingly looks set to steal LinkedIn’s audience.

Facebook and LinkedIn are extremely different animals, appealing to very different markets. Whilst there is a big overlap between the two social networks in the types of users, their purposes are very different, and the same user on the different networks will use them in very different ways and for different purposes.

Whilst Facebook has shown some innovative ideas that other social networks want to incorporate, such as the developer platform, this is not necessarily the same as the other social networks wanting to be Facebook. After all, it would be a very odd 'potential Facebook user' who decided to stay with LinkedIn purely due to the addition of a profile picture.

It would be nice if sometimes the web could talk about social networks without discussing Facebook, and mobile phones without discussing iPhones.

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Major Live Search updates

Microsoft have announced their biggest update to Live Search since its debut. Unfortunately whilst everyone seems to be talking about it, noone is raving about it; whilst it is accepted as an important piece of news, noone seems to think it is a particularly exciting bit of news. The general belief seems to be that the search wars are over (at least in the U.S. and the U.K) and that Google has won. Personally I live in the hope that the existing players manage to take back some of Google's excessive portion of the search market, and that there will be serious new entrants in the market.

I hate the fact that Google currently deals with over 60% of all searches, and feel ashamed every time I find myself typing in 'www.google.com' in a zombie-like trance; no single organisation should have such powerful influence over access to information on the web. When Google entered the search market they raised the bar of expections for search engines, and as yet (many year later) the other search engines have failed to succesfully reply. That is not to say they won't, but rather that it is going to take something truely new and innovative. The new search engines at the moment seem to just be rehashing old ideas, with some being a repackaging of a directory and others going for the conversational English that failed in the original Ask Jeeves.

As more users start creating on the web, rather than just consuming, there are many new sources of information for a search engine to tap into; rich, formated information. The successful search engines are likely to be those that find the best ways of making use of this new information.

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Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Facebook and Microsoft...again

I don't know how many times I have read rumours about Microsoft buying Facebook, or bits of Facebook, or how much Facebook are looking for in another round of financing. Every time these stories raise their head I think, surely this is the opportunity for Facebook to really be innovative on a big scale and utilise that social graph they are always banging on about.

Why doesn't Facebook sell a portion of the company to the users. Their enthusiasm would push the prices higher than they would get from Microsoft, and create a network of Facebook evangelists who would get everyone they knew on board, however young or old, tech-savvy or tech-incompetent.

Whilst I am sure it would be a logistical nightmare, and that Microsoft brings more to the table than a rather large chequebook, it would be nice to give the investment opportunity to those that have built the value of Facebook rather than the corporate suits who already have plenty of money.

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Friends Reunited: Some old dogs just won't die

Nielsen/Netratings have just released figures showing the most popular social networks in the UK by unique audience. The inevitable has happened and Facebook has finally overtaken MySpace, with Bebo continuing to grow faster than MySpace. As Facebook has been the topic of (what seems like) millions of articles in the mainstream press it is unsurprising to find it the most popular social networking site, although it seems likely that many of the users will be relatively short lived...a factor that will go unnoticed in the short term.

For me the most surprising result was Friends Reunited at number 5. Not only holding its own, but continuing to grow! Why on earth are people continuing to use this site? Where you pay on Friends Reunited, its free on Facebook. It may be that Nielsen have combined the ratings with Genes Reunited and Friends Reunited Dating, nonetheless it seems to show that the constant stream of Friends Reunited adverts on the ITV web site is doing them some good.

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Monday, 24 September 2007

Automatic algorithms risk trouble

Search Engine Roundtable have pointed out that when typing in "Israel is " into Google Suggest, it suggests that it is a terrorst state. Whilst that isn't very nice, before we get too carried away lets put it in perspective. It equally suggests that Britian is both shit and finished:

Search engines can only produce results based on the information that they are fed with, either through web pages or through search engine queries, unfortunately most people out there aren't very nice. We can't really blame Google for holding a mirror up to society and showing us that people in society are crappy. Although what do I know? According to Google suggest David is stupid.

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Has Paddington Bear sold out?

It seems that a bit of a controversy was brewing last week, and as with many things in the real world, it just passed me by. Nonetheless, now my attention has been brought to the subject I feel compelled to blog about it. The new advert for Marmite has Paddington Bear (famous for eating marmalade sandwiches) trying it. So, most rational people would be asking, where is the controversy? Well, that is it. Paddington Bear tries Marmite. He doesn't permanantly ditch marmalade or even fall head over heels in love with Marmite, he merely tries it.

The most outraged are the usual suspects of tabloid journalism (an oxymoron if there ever was one), Quintin Letts in the Daily Mail says it has "pillaged our heritage", whilst always one to keep things in perspective, The Sun has described the backlash as a war.

Personally, I just thought it was a really nice advert. I can think of a million things to get annoyed about, but this is definately not one of them.

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Friday, 21 September 2007

Is Facebook fatigue curable?

Whilst the popularity and growth of Facebook makes comparisons with search engines inevitable, it is missing one key ingredient: it is not indispensable. My numerous online hours can pass quite happily without feeling the need to look at Facebook, and I have noticed of late that days are passing before I remember to log on. Whereas once I made an effort to keep up with all the latest Facebook applications, news and rumours, now I find I give a little shrug. I find I really couldn't care less about the latest applications being sold on ebay or the introduction of Facebook's auto-complete for the sidebar search.

That is not to say that facebook doesn't have a lot of potential, I just haven't found that one thing that makes me need to go back again and again. Whilst there are applications that appeal to me, they are often clunkier versions of something that already exists at another URL in a more user friendly format and I prefer to visit those. For example, both chess.com and shelfari.com have applications on Facebook and standalone web sites, but applications aren't as good as their sites, and whilst I have no need to return to Facebook, I want to return to chess.com to make a move on a game I am playing, and return to shelfari.com to add the latest book I am reading. The purpose of Facebook is just not defined enough for me.

Somebody needs to create a Facebook application that requires an already established user network, and is so innovative that users will have to keep coming back...whoever does that will quickly become very rich.

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

What is in a name...Dave?

I have never been a big fan of the name 'Dave', or indeed the shortening of any name. Whilst a select few have managed to get away with with calling me Dave over the years, the majority of people are soon put in their place. I fear however my dislike of the name Dave is likely to increase ten-fold over the next couple of months with the launch of the G2 channel on Freeview under the new name "Dave"...after all, everyone knows a bloke called Dave.

Whilst I look forward to the replacing of UK Bright Ideas, a channel I never watched, with a new channel aimed at my gender and age group, I fear that the channel's idea of witty banter, and my idea of witty banter will not be the same.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

And who should turn up but Stephen Fry...

One of the many RSS feeds I subscribe to is that of 'O'Reilly Radar'; the ramblings of Tim O'Reilly and some of his cronies. Whilst the thoughts are often thoughtful and interesting, the last thing you expect to find being blogged about is Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry belongs to the world of Sunday night television and documentaries on the legendary Delia Smith, not appearing in international technological blogs!

It seems, however, that beneath the intellectual exterior, he is fundamentally a geek.

His first blog entry is an EXTREMELY long piece about his personal history with smart phones...which has been going on for many years.

Whilst Fry is known to be a big fan of Norfolk, he could have taken the opportunity to sing the praises of Norwich having free wi-fi in the city centre (is it still going strong??), after all surely that is best place to have the new iPhone with its lack of 3G.

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fbFund as 'Programming Collective Intelligence' arrives...

..surely it can only be a matter if moments (possibly days) until the millions start rolling in!

The only topic of conversation that seems to be successfully competing with the iPhone's European launch on the web and in the blogosphere is the launch of the Facebook Fund. The grants of between $25,000 and $250,000 which ask nothing in return except the right to fund the companies first, are obviously going to create a lot of interest especially amongst college students and recent graduates who may be looking to launch something new and exciting as the web 2.0 bubble gains pace.

There seems little downside to the fund (except for the weakness of the dollar for non-US citizens) and I would expect other networking sites to offer similar inducements if they are going to keep pace with Facebook's innovation levels. That is, after they have opened up their platforms.

That the news has broken at the same time as a new programming book finally arrived from Amazon surely can't be a coincidence...maybe the Facebook Fund will be the kick I need to actually read one of these programming books I keep getting.

Alternatively my time may be better spent tidying my desk.

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iPhone: Data included ..but not 3G

One of my quibbles about the launch of the iPhone on O2 was the lack of a decent data plan. According to engadget unlimited data comes as standard, so that is one of my objections dealt with, however it is finally revealed that the European version (like the US version) won't be 3G either. So, would I now touch it with a bargepole maybe a very long one, and rather tentatively.

With the talk of a 3G iPhone in 2008 I may consider it at that point, but until then I will stick to the N95.

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Monday, 17 September 2007

Is there more to life than Facebook and the iPhone?

It sometimes feels as though every other story I read on the web is talking about either Facebook or the iPhone. Surely more than they deserve? Especially for a UK reader where the iPhone is not yet available and the last I head Facebook was in third place in the UK. Admittedly it is the fastest growing, but much of this is due to the extremely low starting point as it only recently opened up to UK users.

So has the over-exuberance of the web, and especially the blogosphere, for the iPhone addled the minds of those people at O2 who, its being reported, have paid through the nose to be the UK carrier of the iPhone. Whilst the iPhone has created enough of an internet buzz to really get people interested in the next generation of mobile phones, does this mean it is necessarily the best, or that it is good enough to draw people to the O2 network.

There is no doubt that the iPhone is a stylish looking bit of kit, but does it really compete with the functionality offered by the N95? Whilst it doesn't look like it, it doesn't have to. The majority who buy the iPhone will be buying it as a fashion accessory, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of them.

Personally I weighed up the option of waiting for the iPhone on O2 (it had been rumoured for a while) or going for the N95 on a carrier who offered unlimited web use for £7.50 a month, it was an obvious choice. Looking at the O2 site today, I still can't see an unlimited web use option (the only price I could spot was £3 for 2MB of browsing), and unless it introduces an unlimited tariff for the iPhone (which they may not be able to afford to now), I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.

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Sunday, 16 September 2007

Facebookers v.s the 'Eccentrics'

The Facebook group law probably goes something like this:

The probability of a town 'eccentric' being the focus of a Facebook group reaches one when there is at least one Facebook user in the town.

Its not necessarily a particularly nice law, but it seems to be true. Facebook offers the chance for the rather childish poking fun at people who are different to us to continue beyond our school days with little fear of censure. My thoughts are brought to this topic of conversation after noticing a rather odd titled 'popular event' in Facebook's West Midlands network:

WE HAVE BEEN CLOSED DOWN AND I AM BEING PROSECUTED
THANK YOU BRITAIN FOR BEING SO FULL OF COWARDLY F****


A glance at the 'event' and a quick Google News of the terms Leamington, Spa and Facebook reveals the story. The 'eccentrics' of Leamington Spa are the focus of their own Facebook group: Leamington Spa Celebrity Mental Spotting. Whilst there are many groups devoted to those who are often riduculed and outcast from mainstream society (and even a 'What's the time Gordon the Tramp' application) the difference with this group is that this time a local mental health group contacted the police and asked them to do something about it as it is slanderous to the people featured.

I am unsure how somebody reporting a perceived injustice to the police would make them "a cowardly f***", but there again I am still trying to get my head around the group creator's current oxymoronic status where she is riling against the "politically correct nanny state facists".

Its unfortunate that we live in a world where there are people with so many problems, and that they feel the need to group together and poke fun at other people.

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Saturday, 15 September 2007

Where's George Bailey when you need him?

The UK is not the sort of place where there should be a run on a bank, it has one of the best regulated financial systems in the world, and supposedly a fairly educated population. Nonetheless a combination of stupidity and selfishness has managed to evetually force some branches of Northern Rock to close their doors. Unfortunately all those that have joined in getting this bank run going will be too stupid to realise that if there are any significant consequences it will have been their fault, and they will probably just stand around telling people that they were right to get their money out when they did.

From a technology point of view, this bank run has shown the importance of the web site for an organisation's dissemination of information in times of crisis. Unfortunately for Northern Rock there were reports on the BBC yesterday that customers couldn't access the web site. All of these customers that couldn't find out what was happening online will then overwhelm the telephone switchboards and, failing to get through, will then appear at the bank demanding their money. It is imperative that all companies have adequate procedures in place for dealing with swell of interest that will accompany any disaster: mirror sites and bare-bones versions; have them sorted before the crisis.

Northern Rock customers...shame on you.

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Friday, 14 September 2007

Blogging for money

Most people would like to earn a living doing something they enjoy and one of the things bloggers enjoy is blogging, unfortunately earning money through blogging is not particularly easy. Lasica points to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how to make money from your blog. Whilst the emphasis is on the different ways to make money by including advertising on your blog, for the majority of blogs the number of hits they are likely to receive means that including advertising may adversely effect the growth of traffic to a blog whilst failing to make any money.

Within the article the 'good rule of thumb' is suggested that every 1,000 page views will make the blogger 50 cents. Whilst this will vary a lot according to the topic of the blog and how ad-click-friendly the users of the blog are, it is clear that the vast majority of bloggers will fail to make even 50cents a month, and these few cents will have to be accumulated for a long time before they can be cashed in; by which point the blogger will probably have given up. Personally I find ads to be off-putting on some blogs, especially where you get the feeling that rather than being focused on the content of the blog the bloggers are more concerned with the revenue stream. Rather than ads making you money, they can make you seem very amateur.

Rather than making the blogger a few cents, the real value of blog to the blogger is through selling the blogger. Whilst few blogs are likely to make the blogger rich through adverts, they may drive business, job offers, or invitations to give talks to the blogger. Alternatively the blog may just provide additional useful contacts in a area of shared interest. All of which are of more value to the average blogger than the few cents from adverts, and all of which may be put off by adverts.

Obviously my blog is nowhere near having enough traffic to warrant the inclusion of ads, but neither is it interesting enough to drive business, job offers or invitations to talk my way, but there again, what would I really do with the 50 cents I could make over the next year?

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No mobiles for those under 16...Hooray!

Unfortunately the banning of mobiles for the under sixteens is only in the state of Karnataka in India, but I can only hope that it turns out to be a great success and countries around the world adopt the idea. Whilst the ban is ostensibly due to the advice of medical experts, I'm sure it has more to do with some official having to sit next to a child playing an awful song outloud on their mobile once too often.

Although a couple of months ago I would have had no qualms about having to give up my mobile (although it would be a strange world where anyone thought I was under 16), I must admit that I would find it difficult since upgrading to the N95. I like to be able to watch television, listen to the radio, surf the web, and find where I am with the GPS (ok this bit is not strictly necessary during a stroll around the block),and sometimes even make a phone call. However any sympathy I may have for those about to lose their phones soon evaporates when I venture outside, where I find myself: forced to listen to someone else's music as they consider it a violation of their personal freedom to use headphones; photographed everywhere I go as people capture every moment (however dull) for posterity; more likely to be run over due to car drivers recklessly texting/calling as they speed down the road.

Admittedly the anti-social use of the mobile phone is not only due to the under 16s, but it would be so much harder to pass a law that banned mobiles for everyone except me...and I'm not sure if I could really afford to pay for the whole network on my own.

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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Webometrics is addictive!

Despite knowing the meaninglessness of many the simple web metrics that can be calculated online and the inaccuracies that are inherent in the different tools available, for some reason I find that I am compelled to look at them.

The lack of inlinks or comments is not very surprising for a new blog. Many of the early posts are feeling one's way, determining what sort of areas are going to be discussed; 'finding one's voice' as the more pretenscious may say. Nonetheless there are already things of note for the addicted webometrician, albeit mostly about the tools themselves:
-Why does Blogpulse claim that I enthusiastically posted 16 posts on the 10th of September when looking at the blog I see I posted twice?
-Why has Technorati failed to index my post on Facebook metrics whilst seemingly indexing every other post?

And most importantly:
-Who is the lone Alexa user who visited three of my pages?


Although Alexa statistics are notoriously hit or miss, as relatively few web users have the software installed and once installed is often labelled spyware, it does allow comparisons between web sites. As an addicted webometrician the ability to compare my own blog with a fellow webometrician's is too hard to turn down. Webometrics.fi:

Unfortunately I lose this time, but it is still early days....and surely this is the smallest margin possible?

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Not even E-voting could help Burnley

The British National Party has won the right for a recount for a seat they lost in the May council elections.

Every time there is an election the media always discusses the possibility of incorporating some form of electronic voting. Depending on the proposed system under discussion it is thought likely to increase participation, speed-up the counting process, decrease the number of spoiled ballot papers, and provide a more accurate result. Whilst that is great in theory, at the end of the day people are still going to make stupid decisions and vote for parties like the BNP out of fear and ignorance.

Maybe we should be making voting more difficult so that the sort of person who would vote for the BNP would fail to correctly fill in the ballot paper.

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Wikipedia hits 2 million articles!

Whilst Wikipedia is filled with articles of debatable accuracy, debatable worth, and a tendancy to be a lot more exhaustive in the geek section (at the time of posting there are seperate pages for both 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' episodes and 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVDs'), its having 2 million articles shows that it has a place in many people's lives. Unfortunately, I fear, its ever increasing size and popularity means that it will gain authority in the public consciouness, which I think is a bad thing.

This is not to say that I am not a fan of Wikipedia, I use it daily, it is merely that I question the average users ability to investigate the authority of any web page, something that is only to be made worse by the inclusion of a recognisable brand name such as Wikipedia. Yes, errors will eventually be corrected, but that does not mean that what is being read is correct now.

I think it was David Weinberger who pointed out in his 'Everything is Miscellaneous', that Wikipedia is a great starting point for investigating a subject, unfortunately many people use it as the final word on a subject.

Whilst the web gives us access to more information than ever before, unfortunately our information skills were developed in an age where it was filtered by many professionals before it reached us.

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Monday, 10 September 2007

Here come the Facebook metrics...

Despite search engine optimisation being a topic that generally makes my flesh crawl, Search Engine Guide is one of those sites that I for some reason entered into my RSS aggregator and whilst there is rarely an article I bother to read fully, it has just enough going for it to stop me deleting it. Sometimes, however, there are articles that are so irritating that they make you reassess whether now is the time to finally delete the feed.

At the moment everyone is talking about Facebook, and it is not surprising that the SEOs are on the case with tips about how it can be used to promote an organisation and share news. I'm not sure which part of the article annoys me most, the lack of discussion about whether a Facebook group is necessarily appropriate for a particular organisation's web presence, the pretty obvious tips, or the awful suggested metrics. It would probably have to be the metrics which focus primarily on quantity rather than quality.

Its time that I either take the RSS feed out of my aggregator, or accept that those involved in web analytics are just inhabiting a different world to those in the academic world of webometrics.

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Facebook Freedom

Allfacebook.com has pointed out a small religious controversy going on over at Facebook, with people angrily protesting at one particular group called F*** Islam. Whilst the creator goes on to say f*** Christianity and f*** Judaism as well, the title has unsurprisingly caused a bit of a backlash amongst the muslim facebook users. Whilst this is by no means the first controversial facebook group, this is likely to be the one where we find out what Facebook is made of. If Facebook want to become the future of the web, then it must allow controversy and differences of opinion however objectionable; if they want to play it safe and bow to the vocal (not necessarily the majority) opinion, then they offer the opportunity for an alternative social platform to emerge that will offer the competitive advantage of freedom of speech.

This has the potential to be the most exciting Facebook story since they opened up the Facebook platform!

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Saturday, 8 September 2007

A bill of rights for users of the social web

I have just been pointed in the direction of a proposed bill of rights for users of the social web via Lasica's Social Media blog.

Whilst in principle I would love to see many of the proposed suggestions in the bill of rights acted upon by the 'social web', it is interesting to note how different the reactions are to when it was suggested that there should be a blogger's code of conduct. Too often on the web I feel that there tends to be a lot of talk about the individual's rights, and not enough about their responsibilies. Afterall, we all seem to know that we can be trusted, its just everyone else who can't.

It will be difficult to get any organisation to apply such rights retrospectively without them being forced to, most probably through a competitor seeing the opportunity to gain competitative advantage. But will such advantage come too late? Whilst teenagers may be happy to create new profiles at the drop of the hat, the older generation (who are possibly more likely to place store in a bill of rights) are more reluctant to lose a network that they have spent time and effort establishing.

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Friday, 7 September 2007

A webometrician's woes: Ignorance is bliss

According to Technorati my 'Webometric Thoughts' blog has hurtled up the blog rankings, in fact if it was on an old episode of Top of the Pops it would be this week's fastest climber. Climbing rapidly from position 7,966,799 to position 2,572,229, it can surely only be a matter of moments before the whole of the web is talking about my profound insights into life, the universe and everything!...unfortunately this is not the case, web statistics are rarely that simple, or rather in Technorati's case are even more simple.

Technorati's authority is based on the number of blogs linking to a site in the last 180 days...and the one link that I currently have will soon disappear as is was automatically created due to my support of Blog Action Day, so at the moment of my greatest success I must mentally prepare for the day I become the highest faller in the charts...unless of course I get the currently required authority of 31,619 blogs to beat Engadget and become top of the blogs!

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Catching up with Google Search

My inability to have successfully found a decent mobile RSS feed reader means that everytime I have even a couple of days off I return to a bloglines account that has thousands of posts waiting to be read...nonetheless, three days later, I am finally on top of them all again.

The good news that I have returned to is that Google Search are opening up more of their data for university researchers, this following quickly on the heels of Microsoft's new Webmaster Portal. Although the two programs are aimed at different communities, they are both likely to open up a wealth of information to those interested in webometric research.

Whilst access to the search engine data is welcomed, I'm guessing that the more sensitive additional information about how search engines are crawling and indexing web pages will continue to be a secret, and such information is perceived as necessary in the scientific community if much of the research is to be taken seriously.

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