One of the more obvious – and hard to overcome – obstacle to worldwide connections is the language barrier. It looks like, together with the many changes released not long ago, Facebook is starting to tackle it in their quest to become people’s preferred communication channel. I noticed today a new option ‘Translate’ on status updates besides ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’. As far as I can tell, it’s currently available only on content published by pages. And not all pages show the link – my guess it’s that Facebook uses an internal setting for the page language to offer translation only for pages publishing in another language than the Facebook interface. And, sure enough, after switching to the Romanian interface I started to see the link on the pages that publish in English. The mechanism is not full-proof: some updates have the option in either interfaces, others in none, while another set has the link, but the translation fails if you try. Given the cold relationship between Facebook and Google, it’s probably safe to assume the new feature doesn’t use Google Translate. It will be interesting to see if translation will be extended to the updates shared by friends or if the option will remain the privilege of bigger publishers who opted to create pages – it will surely make it easier for them to reach out to a wider audience with less effort.
30 August 2011
24 August 2011
These last few days, Facebook announced a couple of big updates, certainly bigger than anything we saw this year from the largest social network to day, including a redesigned newsfeed and more transparent sharing and privacy (finally!). While waiting for these changes to be rolled out, I noticed another small thing during the final steps of adding a new friend. After receiving a friend request and confirming it through the ‘Friends’-page from the sidebar, I got an additional prompt, asking me whether I know the person in real-life. If doesn’t seem to have any visible effect; I clicked ‘Yes’ and all I got was a simple
Thank you for your feedback.
I suppose Facebook could use this information to prioritize the friends you know outside of the network in the news feed, although I didn’t saw any indication of that; it would actually be quite difficult to notice a change, since these new friends haven’t posted much. Also, there’s no similar prompt popping up randomly asking if I know the friends I added before this started. More likely it’s a form of spam control: if a fairly new user starts adding lots of people and many answer ‘No’, it could be a good indication the profile is fake and used only for spamming. Personally I don’t usually add or confirm people I haven’t met offline; if I am interested in following or communicating with someone online, there are better ways to do it (Twitter, Google+ or even the good old-fashioned subscribing to his blog).
20 August 2011
A couple of weeks ago I had a small problem with Twitterfeed; one of the actions I had setup was to post new book reviews to my secondary Twitter account. It turns out Twitterfeed sent the wrong links in the tweets: instead of the link to the article, Twitterfeed picked up a link to the Blogger comment form. I am in no position to troubleshoot such issues, so I went looking for another app that could do the job. I didn’t want to use FeedBurner for such a simple task; I tentatively went with Hootsuite, although I generally dislike it. But later I discovered a small web-app that does the job easily and has a lot of potential in other areas as well: ifttt. The unusual name (an abbreviation for “if this then that”) sounded vaguely familiar; soon I remembered that Louis Gray covered the app back in February.
The basic idea of the service is pretty simple: ifttt monitors a series of events defined by you – the “triggers” – and based on a set of rules – the “tasks” – performs some specific “action”. Or as they put it on the About-page:
ifttt puts the internet to work for you. The app supports a variety of “channels”, basically other web apps or information sources that provide triggers for the tasks or can respond with simple actions. The current selection is pretty large, ranging from social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook, Google Services (Gmail, Calendar, Reader, Google Talk), blogging platforms like WordPress and tumblr, photo-sharing sites, up to more distributed services like RSS, email and SMS, currently totaling 35 channels. Setting up a new task is straightforward and user-friendly process built around a clear workflow with well defined steps: choose a channel, then a trigger and finally the action to perform with the corresponding options.
16 August 2011
After the visual refresh in Gmail launched last month, one thing bothered me that couldn’t be fixed by switching away from the new preview themes: ‘Oldest’ and ‘Newest’ were gone from the navigational buttons. While the interface looks cleaner with only two arrows – back and forward – the functionality is impaired, especially in search results, which still stubbornly show only 20 results per page. I even lamented about the missing buttons on Google+! Fortunately, I discovered them a couple of days back by chance: if you click on the number of messages, you get a small menu with those two options. Not exactly the first place you would look, it you ask me!
And while on the subject of things discovered by accident, the same day I saw that the search autocomplete in Gmail offers suggestions from your quick links as well! I’m not sure when this was added, but It’s a nice addition to the search box. Could it be that Quick Links will graduate from Labs soon?
15 August 2011
One of the recent features added to Google search is the ability to display author information in search results, specifically a picture and a link to the Google Profile. It’s another move that should improve the quality of search results, by adding a layer of trust and limiting the spread of scrapping and content farms. In the couple of months since the launch, the process has been revised and simplified and there are several methods available, as described in the Webmaster help documentation.
14 August 2011
Ca și în mai cunoscuta „Riverworld”, Philip José Farmer se bazează în acest roman pe o idee ieșită din comun, originală în lumea science-fiction, dar care poate părea la prima vedere insuficientă pentru a susține o întreagă trilogie: un nou calendar „vertical”, adoptat de Guvernul Noii Ere în anul 2084, care a devenit Anul Unu al Noii Ere. Romanul se plasează și mai departe în viitor, în 1330 N.E. Autorul ne explică încă din prefață noul sistem, înlesnind intrarea cititorului în atmosfera specifică: anul de 365 de zile a fost divizat în 13 luni cu câte 4 săptămâni a 7 zile, completate cu una sau două zile‑zero pentru anii normali, respectiv bisecți. S‑a discutat mult în secolul trecut despre adoptarea unei împărțiri mai raționale a anului, dar în lumea Dayworld schimbarea are o justificare mai profundă: fiecare om trăiește efectiv doar într‑o zi a săptămânii, pe restul de șase petrecându‑le într‑o stare de stază, „stonat”. Beneficiile sunt evidente: consumul de resurse e redus de șapte ori, ca și necesitățile de spațiu locativ. Societatea s‑a scindat și ea efectiv în șapte, ca niște lumi paralele care împart același spațiu, astfel că fiecare zi are alte stiluri vestimentare, alte expresii specifice, alte dominante culturale. Schimburile de informații orizontal între zilele săptămânii sunt minime, limitându‑se la previziunile meteo și la situații de urgență. Pentru un cetățean obișnuit, anul trece într‑un ritm accelerat în curgerea lui verticală de la o Luni la o altă Luni, și tot așa la nesfârșit.
Dar Jeff Caird e departe de a fi un cetățean obișnuit: el este un „spărgător de zi”, încălcând cu bună știință regula de bază a Noii Ere și trăind în fiecare dintre zilele săptămânii sub o altă identitate, ca o schizofrenie controlată. Lui Jeff îi revine Marțea, unde activează drept agent de poliție – destul de ironic, de vreme ce el ar fi considerat un delincvent mai periculos decât majoritatea celor pe care‑i prinde; Miercuri el devine Bob Tingle, funcționar la Banca Mondială de Date; Joia James Swart Dunski, instructor profesionist de scrimă; Vineri faimosul regizor de drame-western retro Wyatt Bumppo Repp; Sâmbăta Charlie Ohm, un barman alcoolic care împarte camera cu personalitatea de Duminică, părintele Tom Zurvan; în fine Lunea ciclul se încheie cu Will Isharashvili, paznic în Central Park. Poate vă întrebați deja cum reușește Jeff să păstreze aparențele, de vreme ce ar trebui să îmbătrânească de șapte ori mai repede decât restul populației; aici intervine al doilea element care contribuie la fundalul romanului: o substanță care încetinește îmbătrânirea, descoperită cu secole în urmă de Gilbert Ching Immerman. Un nume ales simbolic fără îndoială, de vreme ce în germană ar însemna ceva de genul: „Omul veșnic”. Spre deosebire de tehnologia stonării, această formă mai completă de tinerețe fără bătrânețe a rămas secretă publicului și guvernului Commonwealth‑ului Organic, Immerman alegând să formeze o societate secretă – immerii – care activează în umbră împotriva ordinii actuale și din care face parte și Jeff.
12 August 2011
Google Contacts has steadily improved over time and it lets users add family ties – spouse, mother, child, etc. – for quite some time now. Recently, I noticed some small improvements in this area that make it easier to use these connections. For any relationship added to a contact you now get a small link - ‘Find’ - when hovering over the name of the person. Clicking it will open the address book entry if this relationship is also one of your contacts, otherwise you will see a list of matching search results from the address book. It makes it much easier to navigate through related people without first going to the contact search box.
Another update took place in the dates section: instead of being restricted to birthdays and anniversaries, you can now choose ‘Custom’ and type in a label yourself, like ‘Wedding day’ or the name of the children for couples. Or simply delete the default ‘Birthday’-text and replace it with something else. Unfortunately, these custom dates are not displayed in Google Calendar under ‘Contacts’ birthdays’, which is a big caveat if you rely on it to remind you of these extra anniversaries. I can’t image it’s that hard to adjust the code behind this feature to include custom labels, so hopefully we will see them in Calendar soon.
Of course, there is still enough room for improvements in Google’s address book – and while we are talking about couples, it would be nice if they shared some fields: home address and phone, child names and birthdays come to mind. This way updating something for one person would be automatically synced to the spouse – less typing for users, less chance for errors, hence easier to keep the data in your address book fresh.
07 August 2011
After many popular Google services had their interface updated to be consistent with Google+ – the latest being Google Docs – it’s time for the less popular to slowly join the club: in this case Google Bookmarks. But curiously the main web interface hasn’t been updated, only the pop-up window you see when using the bookmarklet, as I noticed the day before. I have to assume a facelift for the web app is also planned, otherwise the move is a little odd. Or will the bookmarklet be integrated into Google+, enabling users to share any page without the Google bar? That seems rather unlikely…
05 August 2011
Firefox users have always enjoyed a high degree of customizability, not only at a browser level through extensions, but also at a page level with user scripts and style sheets. At launch Chrome was far behind in this area, but it quickly closed in with native support for user scripts, restartless extensions and later the labs to easily enable command flags. The one feature that was still missing was support for user style-sheets, which required the use of an extension, like Stylish. But it appears that this was silently added sometime during last year; I stumbled on it a couple of days before. Unfortunately there is no user interface for this, you have to manually edit a text file. This CSS file is located in the Chrome installation directory, in the subfolder \User Data\Default\User StyleSheets, with the name custom.css. Unlike Firefox, where you have two files, one for customizing the browser interface and the other for sites, Chrome has a single file, which controls the styles on webpages; modifying the user interface is restricted to themes in this case.