Resize any web page text area with a bookmarklet


That comment box on your favorite blog not quite big enough to type out your thoughts? Web designer Cameron Adams offers a bookmarklet that makes any web page text area resizable in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Just drag and drop that baby to your toolbar, and click it the next time you're typing into a web form that's just not spacious enough. Mouse over the corner of the text area and click and drag to resize. Handy!

Google's Master Plan (1.0) REVEALED!

Google Master PlanYou may have heard of Google's "Master Plan," which was sketched out on a very, very long whiteboard in the lobby of building 41 at the Googleplex. Back in September the original Master Plan was erased because it was getting, in the words of Google's Chris diBona, "a bit crufty." Fret not, however--this 1.0 version of the Master Plan is not lsot forever--this week Google lifted the veil of secrecy and the complete, original Plan can now be seen in a panable, zoomable widget at Spanish Brazilian Google-watching blog UnderGoogle. There's a lot t here about robot monkeys, Babylon 5, cattle mutations, weather control, "fish pods,", and lots more geeky fun. This was my favorite bit of the Plan, though: "Having achieved happiness, humankind is left wondering what is the point. After briefly distracted by reality TV, discovers enlightenment, which leads mankind to reject the trappings of modern life like in a bad ST-TNG movie."

By now Google is undoubtedly well on its way to concocting Master Plan 2.0, so none of the information in version 1.0 is likely to save us... but it's fun to read, at least.

Goodbye Google Answers (Danny Sullivan/Search Engine Watch Blog)

Goodbye Google Answers  —  Wow.  Google is shutting down its Google Answers service.  The company has announced that new questions won't be accepted after the New Year, though the site will continue to let people view the question archives.  Killing off the service, which never seemed to catch on much …

Source:   Search Engine Watch Blog
Author:   Danny Sullivan

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Answers deleted - What a relief. Google is finally trimming ... (Valleywag)

Answers deleted  —  What a relief.  Google is finally trimming its product line, closing down Google Answers.  This is, as far as I can tell, the first time the search company has ever shuttered a service, if one doesn't count Google X, a Google search page redesigned in the style …

Source:   Valleywag

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Don't cry for the Zune just yet (David Ellis/

Don't cry for the Zune just yet  —  Microsoft's challenger to the iPod takes second place in digital audio player market in first sales week, according to report.  —  NEW YORK ( — Reports of lackluster sales of Microsoft's Zune that surfaced earlier this week might be a bit premature.

Author:   David Ellis

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Google issues updates and fixes to Google Reader

Google issues updates and fixes to Google Reader
Since I'm a card-carrying Google Reader convert, I've been loosely following the discussions in its Google Group. I'm constantly impressed with how active some of their engineers like Chris and Mihai are in the conversation, and just the other day they announced some small but much-requested updates and bug fixes to Reader, including:
  • First and foremost: An "Add to folder" menu after using the subscribe bookmarklet, the Firefox 2.0 subscribe button and the "Add to Google" button
  • The "Feed actions..." menu lets you rename the feed and change its folders
  • Some IE 7 display bugs have been fixed
  • Some IE 6 display bugs have been fixed
  • OPML import should be more tolerant of invalid characters
  • The filtering that can be done in the settings page now handles multiple terms (separate them with spaces)
  • The settings page should display faster when you have lots of subscriptions
Nothing major, though that 'Add to folder' button is a God-send (Google-send?) for adding new subscriptions and easily filing them away without breaking one's workflow.

Open source Google Earth clone canceled

google earth open sourceGaia was working on reverse engineering Google Earth seeing as there was no open source API that has been made available yet. The work stopped when Gaia received a request to discontinue the project from Google's Michael Jones. The project was well on its way to producing a full-fledged open and customizable application. Gaia was being built to support Keyhole authentication, 3D views and layers. Jones, Google's Chief Technologist of Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Local search served the email papers and told the proj ect team that they do not own the data, and neither does Google. It is licensed to Google on the restriction that it is not to be accessed or used outside Google's client software. If this project was released in mass to the public, Google's license to use the raw data could be in jeopardy, forcing Google to potentially shut down their satellite mapping application due to the possible disruption of services, and loss of trust from data providers. For the whole letter from Jones visit the Gaia website.

YouTube + Verizon = Web videos in your pocket

YouTube + Verizon VCastThe New York Times pretty much says it all in its article's lead: "YouTube is coming to mobile phones - or, to be more precise, a small slice of YouTube is coming to some Verizon Wireless phones." The web video giant has struck a deal with Verizon to bring "an unspecified number of videos selected and approved by the companies" to Verizon customers who subscribe to its $15-a-month VCast video streaming service. YouTube's senior director of business development Kelly Liang sa id, "We'll select content that has the broadest appeal and the highest entertainment value." According to the Hollywood Reporter, the deal will also let Verizon cameraphone owners upload video recorded on their phones directly to YouTube.

It's been obvious for awhile now that YouTube needed to get moving on bringing its library to mobile devices, but is this deal too limited in scope? I think if they select the right videos, and enough of them, it could be a success--I've often wanted to show a certain video to friends while away from the computer, and if I could summon them on my phone while at a diner, there would be some value in that (not that my cell phone is actually capable of doing anything so advanced). And being able to upload videos directly from their phones might prove very alluring to videobloggers. But this certainly isn't the deal I was hoping for.

Geek to Live: Organize your holiday card list with Google Spreadsheets


by Gina Trapani

Your spouse has contacts stored in Outlook at the office, and you've got some in Gmail and in your computer's address book at home. How do you coordinate your holiday card list? With Google Spreadsheets, that's how.

Those of us who are still old-fashioned enough to *gasp* send snail mail holiday cards that we might even *double gasp* write in ourselves with an actual pen can still use tech to get organized. Today I've got a quick rundown on how to use Google Spreadsheets to create and collaborate on a holiday card list, with a little extra mail-merging and label-printing thrown in for good measure.

Export your contacts

Wherever your contacts live - whether it be Gmail, Outlook, or Thunderbird - your address book surely supports an export function. Export your address list as a CSV (comma-delimited text file) file from each of your address sources. The raw CSV will require a little massaging to get it ready to go into Google Spreadsheets. Open it up in Excel using the Text Import. Be sure to set the delimiter as a comma, or else it'll be a mess.


Once your address book is open in Excel, get to cleaning things up. Trim down your list to just the people you want to drop a holiday card and remove any columns you don't need for snail mail, like email, notes, cell phone number, etc. Shoot for six fields across:

First name, Last name, Street Address, City, State, ZIP

Leave your CSV file open.

Drop your list into Google Spreadsheets

Point your clicker at this extremely simple and public Holiday Card List spreadsheet. Anyone signed in with a Google Account can view it, but you can only edit your own copy, so choose File -> Copy Spreadsheet from the menu to make your own writable copy.


I added in a few sample entries in this Google Spreadsheet for illustration purposes, so feel free to delete those before you get started.

Now comes the fun part, the part which makes me want to press each individual Google Spreadsheets developer lovingly to my bosom (in a very platonic, virtual, metaphorical way): select the cells in your local Excel spreadsheet, hit Ctrl-C to copy 'em to clipboard, and then paste them into your Google Spreadsheet, and boom, everything goes into individual cells the way you'd expect. It's magical.

Wash, rinse and repeat for all your exported address book CSV files until you've got all the names and addresses you need in your sheet. When you're done, hit the Google Spreadsheets Collaborate tab and invite your spouse to view and edit this sheet. This way she can do the same and add any other folks to the list.


You'll notice I put in a few extra columns after the address information: "Received 2005," "Sent 2006," "Received 2006." See, here you're going to track your holiday card comings and goings, so that next year? You don't have to go through this entire rigamarole again.

Once your holiday card list is finalized by the ball and chain and yourself and stored safely up in the Google cloud until next year, from the File menu choose Export > .xls and save that final spreadsheet to disk.

But Gina, you say. Couldn't I just work from a master Excel spreadsheet on my desktop the whole time? Why get Google involved at all?

Well, Grasshopper, with Google Spreadsheets you get collaboration between you and your other holiday card-sending compatriots, plus the ability to check off who sent you what when. So when a few unexpected's send your wife cards at the office, she can log on, add their name and addresses. Then, back home you can run off a fresh, last-minute "holy crap I forgot about these people" mailing.

Option 1: Print your own labels

Now that you've got your list set up, it's time to address some cards. To print out your own mailing labels, download a Word template, like this here 20 per sheet jobber (which, sadly, requires Internet Explorer to download. I know.)

Open up that bad boy in Word, and from the Tools menu, choose Mail Merge. From here it's just a matter of following along with the Office wizard. When it comes time to import your addresses, choose the .xls file you saved above. Be sure to hit "Map Fields" to tell Word what fields are what when you merge.


Obviously, you'll need to pick up package of mailing labels to print these out on (this template works with Avery 8161 and 5161). Or you can be cheap like me and just print 'em out on paper and tape them to your cards. The bigger your mailing list, the more worth it the labels become.

Option 2: Make the USPS send those cards for you

Alternately, the US Postal Service offers a pretty neat option for the lazy and/or busy: upload your spreadsheet to their site, along with a photo (or choose one of theirs), and they print out custom holiday cards AND mail them for you. This one's perfect for busy parents who want to send out a recent snapshot of the kids with the least amount of fuss.

I haven't tried it myself, but my brother did it last year and he had nothing but good things to say. The cards come out well, the pricing is reasonable, and you suffer no paper cuts or printing crises. The service is called NetPost, and while the web site isn't the most intuitive thing in the world to navigate, it's worth sparing yourself from messing around with all those cards, envelopes, labels and stamps.

See also:

This article was inspired by Lifehacker reader Donn, who asked the readers how to deal with his card list. As usual there are a ton of great responses in that discussion, including:

Thanks all for your fabulous ideas. How are you coordinating and collaborating online this holiday season? Let us know in the comments.

Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, is slowly getting won over by the browser-based office suite. Her semi-weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Wednesday and Friday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Geek to Live feed to get new installments in your newsreader.

Upload Google Docs via email


Happened upon a neat Google Docs feature I hadn't noticed before: the ability to upload a document via email.

Very much like Flickr's upload photos by email feature, Google Docs provides you with a secret email address. Send a new message to that address and the text of the message or its attachment (Word, HTML and RTF supported) gets uploaded to Google Docs, with the email subject line as the title. Very handy, especially for files you're emailing to co-workers you'd like to back up online (just BCC your secret address.) Spreadsheets doesn't yet support this feature, but looks like that's coming soon.

Flickr image clock


A nifty little Flash app called Flicker Time grabs photos of the "momment" and generates a dynamic digital clock with them.

Enter the tags you'd like the images based on (or none for totally random choices), and Flicker Time assembles the clock: digital numbers made of images, with an analog ticker in the background. Mouse over any image to see a larger version, and be sure to hang in there for at most a minute to see the neat-o transition, where images fly in to create the new digit. This sucker requires a fast connection, and it's more of a time waster than a time saver, but it's could be a fun alternative to your screensaver.

Mapping Addresses in Yahoo! Mail

yahoo mail addressThe folks at Yahoo! have added a little feature to Yahoo! Mail that recognizes addresses and phone numbers. The new features will automatically recognize and underline all phone numbers and addresses in mail messages, and easily get directions or view locations. The new feature will also allow for the ability to instantly add addresses to your address book. Google's Gmail has had this feature for a while, however they have taken a much more subtle approach by tossing a link in the corner. So with this new Yahoo Mail feature, I hereby announce the start of email wars. Challenging Google, Yahoo!, and MSN to come up with an d release some additional helpful features for its users. What would you like to see added to online email applications to make your communications easier? How about some folders in Gmail? Or a notepad?

Sex and Social Networking Sells: Fake User Profiles in Marketing Campaigns

Increasingly marketing firms are using popular social networks on the Web as part of their campaigns - creating fake user profiles to sell their products. On one hand this is not a good thing for social networks, because the last thing they want is to be clogged up with marketing campaigns masquerading as users in their systems. But the reality is that marketing campaigns are becoming a popular aspect of social networks now - and in virtual worlds such as Sims - and so they help drive page views and therefore advertising for those social networks.

One interesting marketing campaign crossed my desk recently, which has stats to show how successful it was (see below). Niccolò Magnani from the Italian office of MRM Worldwide told me about a campaign he ran for an Italian beverage company called Campari. Now I should at this point warn you that the following material is not necessarily work safe!

The theme of the Hotel Campari website is of a raunchy hotel. Purely for research purposes of course, I browsed around the site. It is a Flash-driven website with sensual music and a lot of interactivity (mainly involving the opening of doors). The campaign and website features the lovely Salma Hayek too.

Campari Social Networks

To complement the website, MRM developed a social network campaign based on youtube, myspace, flickr and many more.

The MySpace profile features the same soft porn music as the Hotel Campari website - and is fronted by a "28 years old" female from Milano in Italy, called "Red Passion". Her interests include "Photography, movies, traveling..." and she is a fan of the movie Eyes Wide Shut. She is on MySpace for "Dating, Friends" and lists her orientation as "Not Sure". There are also some, ahem, photos of her that adorn the MySpace page. All of this of course is a fake profile, but I guess the casual MySpace user might think it's real should they come across it (especially ever hopeful teenage boys).

As for the Flickr site, it has a lot of photos and once again comes across as a real person's Flickr site (well, a real person who lives the high life in Italy that is!). The YouTube profile features some videos from the campaign, prompting one YouTube user to comment: "masks are cool". You get the picture.

Campari MySpace

Campari Flickr

Campari YouTube


Niccolò told me the results of the social networks campaign have been very good. The Hotel Campari website got 170,000 views. For the social network sites, they got more than 3,000 "friends" and 2,500 comments across the sites. The number of views across the social network sites is currently around 92,000.

All up, 13.5% of the total traffic to Hotel Campari was thanks to the social networking sites. Niccolò also told me they achieved "a lot of buzz around the website" and he pointed me to a page showing relevant links.

On the strategy of the social network campaign, Niccolò said:

"Our strategy was to focus on viral seeding and social networking, no traditional media adv online. I have no idea of the exact number of people going from Social Networks to Website [...] because we worked with a lot of social networks.

More than quantity, what I like to point is the quality of the relationship between users and Campari. Client is very happy about the close relationship between the brand and the users.

What I like is that we created a community of people that we can further talk about red passion."

Some people might argue about the quality of the community - because the profile of "Red Passion" (the 28 year old Italian woman) is fake. How can you have a real social networking community around a fake, marketing-driven user profile?

But there's no arguing that as a marketing vehicle, the fake social network profiles did their bit to drive traffic and interest in the Hotel Campari website. We're going to see a lot more of this type of usage of social networks. From a business angle, it makes sense. But on a personal level it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, because most of the appeal of social networks is that you are networking with real people. So I'm interested in knowing what Read/WriteWeb readers think about this...

RIP Google Answers, 2002-2006

Google AnswersGoogle is unexpectedly terminated Google Answers, its question-and-answer site that allowed expert searchers to get paid for answering questions. The service will stop accepting new questions in the coming days, and will stop accepting new answers by the end of the year. In their post to the Official Google Blog, Andrew Fikes and Lexi Baugher, whose very very first project at Goolge was Answers, don't really give an answer for the service's closing, but say that "Google is a company fueled by innovation, which to us means trying lots of new things all the time -- and sometimes it means reconsidering our goals for a product."

Though the pay structure meant that Google Answers' answers were generally very thorough and accurate, it would seem that Yahoo! has found more success with its recently-expanded Yahoo! Answers. If you want to see some of the best answers (and questions) Google Answers produced, I recommend checking out Best of Google Answers.

Microsoft Expression Web: Taking Over From Frontpage and Taking On Adobe

It's going to be a busy month or two for Microsoft, as the business launch of Windows Vista and Office 2007 is set for November 30 and there are a number of complementary initiatives that will see the light of day soon. One is the Expression suite of web design tools. Expression Web is part of the suite and is a standards based Web Design tool, which will replace Microsoft's staple WYSIWYG webpage editor Frontpage.

Expression Web is for building web pages, but there is another tool in the Expression product suite called Expression Interactive Designer; which is the designer environment for things like WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation, from which the New York Times Reader was developed) and WPF/E (a cross browser solution).

As part of the upcoming launch, I spoke to Leon Brown (responsible for the Expression Tools Suite business throughout the Asia Pacific Region) and Ray Stephenson (a Regional Manager) from Microsoft. Both are on their way to New Zealand next week to promote Expression and other things - interested kiwis should check out this page for the schedule.

Currently in beta, Expression Web is a tool designed to complement the release of IE7 and Windows Vista, as well as existing internet-enabled software such as Media Center and XBOX 360. Although it will essentially replace Frontpage over time, Leon and Ray told me that Expression Web is a complete re-write and is designed to be a true professional-level web design product.

Probably the defining feature of Expression Web is that it enables standards based design - so rather than dealing with proprietary Frontpage extensions, designers will be able to more easily design standards-compliant websites. Also it handles CSS and XML much better than Frontpage. Further details on the product are here.

Also Leon and Ray told me that Expression Web will reduce the working gap between designers (visual people) and developers (coders). Technologies such as Ajax in the web 2.0 era have intertwined the two disciplines in any case, so Microsoft hopes to make that easier with this new product.

Expression Web will compete with existing web design tools such as Adobe's Dreamweaver and GoLive. In fact, Leon Brown used to work at Adobe as a Senior Product Manager. So perhaps reflecting Adobe's relative dominance in the web design tools market, Microsoft is squarely aiming at taking back some of that mind share and business from Adobe.

There's more news coming soon about the Expression suite of tools, but in the meantime Microsoft platform designers should check out this page for the transition process from Frontpage to Expression Web. Frontpage itself will be discontinued in late 2006.

Amazon Web Services Success Stories

Written by Alex Iskold and edited by Richard MacManus.

We have written before about the innovative Amazon Web Services Platform. This stack was officially announced by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during the recent Web 2.0 summit and is now considered part of the core business strategy for Amazon. While analysts, competitors and Wall Street are pondering what to make of this move from a business sense, in this post we look at who is utilizing Amazon Web Services - and how. This post is based on personal communication with those people, along with the set of success stories available on the Amazon Web Services site.

The fact is many small, medium and even large businesses (even Microsoft), rushed to put Amazon Web Services to use. Why did they do it? Because Amazon offers a decade of experience in running one of the largest internet enterprises - and has wrapped this expertise into a set of pre-packaged services and APIs.

To remind you, here again is the Amazon Web Services Stack:

The Amazon Web Services stack is impressive in its scale and also well thought through. Amazon is methodical about this strategy and is aiming to create an offering which can truly be called an Operating System for the new Web. Many companies have already recognized the power and ROI of the Amazon platform and are literally betting their business on it. - email hosting provider is probably the most compelling success story for Amazon Web Services because of its huge ROI. It is an established business with over 27,000 customers. It had a real and simple business need - improve the cost and reliability of its backup system. After considering many alternative solutions, the company decided to utilize Amazon S3, The Simple Queue Service and the Elastic Compute cloud to address all of its needs.

The company claims to have improved its backup process and cut costs by 75%. The success story on Amazon contains a paragraph that nicely summarizes the technical and business gains: 

"Amazon's Web Scale Computing model shifts the focus from do-it-yourself to let-the-experts-do-it. It allows businesses to scale up or down based on requirements and demand, and provides pay-as-you-go billing models. This combination allows businesses to turn fixed costs into variable costs, while knowing that their data or services will always be available." 

SmugMug - online photo provider

SmugMug is another interesting success story. It is a straightforward one, because it uses Amazon S3 exactly how it was intended to be used - for storing large media. Today SmugMug hosts over half a billion photos on Amazon. And here is the real "wow factor" in this story: one week after writing the first line of code, SmugMug was storing all of its new images in Amazon S3. 

The Amazon S3 API consists of just a few simple method calls. It is equally easy to implement in Java, PHP, JavaScript, Perl, C#, Python and many other languages. As the SmugMug success story illustrates, a simple API means a very quick and painless adoption.

To pepper this with more numbers: SmugMug is now backing up all of its new images to S3, which amounts to 10 terabytes of data monthly. The SmugMug site has not gone down since adopting Amazon S3 and it estimates it will save half a million dollars on its disk storage annually. So, as the company points out, S3 makes it possible for SmugMug to compete head to head with bigger companies that have deep pockets, without having to raise massive amounts of cash for hardware. So this is game changing.

Altexa, ElephantDrive and JungleDisk - backup providers

As soon as S3 came out, many companies recognized an opportunity to deliver business and personal backup solutions. The model is simple - charge a small premium on the top of the Amazon S3 storage costs. 

With that approach it is essentially a user acquisition battle, where the implementation and marketing become paramount. Altexa targets small businesses, while ElephantDrive and JungleDisk target consumers - but all of them share the benefit and ease of use of S3. In their success stories, the companies emphasized incredibly quick (literally a few days) adoption, cost savings and reliability.

Scanbuy - mobile shopping solution provider

The success stories that we have covered so far are mostly using Amazon's S3 storage service. Scanbuy however is utilizing the Amazon eCommerce API to bring unique comparison shopping solutions to mobile phones. Their claim to fame is allowing the users to lookup prices by simply scanning the barcodes of items in a store. This is a clever approach that is made possible by a combination of technologies. 

One of the key technologies here is the Amazon eCommerce API, which offers unlimited and complete access to most Amazon items. Scanbuy uses the API to fetch the latest pricing information, letting the user decide if they are really getting a good deal in the store. And as the company explains, they simply could not have done what they are doing now without the Amazon eCommerce API.


So why are analysts not sure what to make of the Amazon Web Services? In an article in BusinessWeek entitled Jeff Bezos' Risky Bet, their main concern seemed to be: will businesses use this? Well in this post we've shown that for some businesses, the AWS stack provides a set of very compelling value propositions - both technical and business. And having real business success stories with ROI and cost savings in the 50-75% range, makes it basically a no brainer.

We think that the real question is: does this work for Amazon? Is it ready to be a software and Web Services company? Will Amazon be able to scale this business indefinitely... and most importantly: are the margins high enough for it to be worthwhile? We have to believe that Jeff Bezos and the Amazon team did the math - and that the answer is absolutely yes.

Rants: Heroes vs. the IPod Killer

Readers opine on the twits in tights and taking a bite out of Apple's iPod. Plus: Links to our most commented-upon blog posts.

Google Has No Answers

Yesterday we compared a new service called BitWine to Google Answers. Apparently that was the last day we could make that comparison because at 10 p.m. last night, Google announced that they would be closing the service by the end of the week. So if you’ve got a pressing question, ask now or forever [...]

Yahoo! Launches Group Texting Site

Yahoo! is getting in on the group text messaging biz with the launch of their new site, Mixd. TechCrunch was tipped off to the site’s existence today but we have not been able to determine how long it has been live. Mixd allows users to set up groups and text or share photos within those [...]

Stickis Launches Syndicated Web Annotator

Stickis, which we covered briefly back in October last year is launching its service this afternoon. Stickis, at first glance is a FireFox and Internet Explorer plugin much like other web annotation programs, such as Fleck, Diigo, and Trailfire. Stickis does do the webpage “sticky note” annotation of these programs. However, Stickis is not just [...]

Sex Blogger Slapped With Lawsuit

One of Jessica Cutler's former lovers sues for $20 million, claiming "gross invasion of his privacy." In Sex Drive Daily.

Hack your Zune to 80GB


Not satisfied with your Zune's measly 30GB hard drive? The folks at iPodMods have detailed instructions on replacing it with a 40GB, 60GB, or even 80GB drive.

This "repair guide" includes detailed photos of each step of the Zune's dissection (though not its reassembly), with a special section devoted to replacing the hard drive. According to iPodMods, you can swap in one of Toshiba's Zero Insertion Force drives--which they just happen to sell.

Looks like fairly easy surgery, though you may wonder about spending $240 on an 80GB drive when the Zune itself costs $250. Of course, bragging rights don't come cheap.

Add to-do lists to Google Calendar


Popular online task-manager Remember The Milk has added Google Calendar integration so you can see your to-do lists in your favorite online calendar.

The new feature adds a little check-mark icon to each day in the calendar. Clicking it lets you review and add tasks, complete or postpone tasks, and so on. It also works with Remember The Milk's recently added Google Maps integration, meaning you can see where your tasks take place--great for, say, planning an errand route.

You'll need an account with Remember The Milk, of course, but it's free--and if you're not already using an online to-do manager, you're sure to love this one. Thanks, Deborah!

Save 10 bucks with Google Checkout


If you haven't tried Google Checkout yet, now may be the time. A new holiday promotion gives you $10 off when you buy at least $30 worth of goods from a participating store.

For those unfamiliar with it, Google Checkout promises speed and security for your online purchases. Just give Google your credit card and billing info [insert Big Brother joke here], then shop online like you normally would. When you're ready to buy something, look for the Google Checkout button. One click and you're practically out the door (virtually speaking). Meanwhile, you can track all your orders and shipping statuses in one place, rather than bopping from site to site.

This holiday promotion isn't quite as good as the $10-off-$20 deal we wrote about a few months ago, but 10 bucks is still 10 bucks. And just about every major e-tailer now supports Google Checkout, so it's easy money if you're already shopping at, say, or Toys 'R' Us.

Download of the Day: WebDesktop (Mac)

webdesktop 1.png

Mac OS X only: Freeware program WebDesktop brings the functionality of Windows Active Desktop to the Mac... sort of.

WebDesktop places a resizable, overlaid web page on top of your Mac's desktop wallpaper with the option to vary opacity while active/inactive. You can point WebDesktop to any web page, meaning that you can use it for fun active desktop productivity tricks. You can set the page to refresh at intervals, so if, for example, you put your favorite productivity blog on your WebDesktop, you can have that bad boy refresh obsessively so you always stay on top of the latest content. WebDesktop is Mac OS X only freeware.

ZSubway: The New York City subway on your iPod

ZSubwayZSubway is a collection of New York City subway maps and schedules that you can download to your iPod (and some other portable media players). It's amazingly simple - just a bunch of images, really - and yet immensely useful.

This is something all cities should have, in my opinion. When I think of the ways mobile technology is "revolutionizing" our lives, I think the most important changes come in the form of these seemingly small things. No, there's nothing flashy or exciting about subway maps. But ZSubway ranks very high on the usefulness scale. No more having to carry a map around with you, or look for a map (much less a schedule) in a deserted station, or call a customer service number. I don't know about you, but every min ute I save is precious, and convenience is much more important than bells and whistles.

So let this be a message to other cities - it's time to get on-board and provide iPod-friendly transit maps.

Laszlo To Release a WebOS

laszloWhile in San Francisco earlier this month, I met up with Laszlo’s Founder and CTO, David Temkin, along with CMO Kent Libbey. Laszlo has an open source Ajax application development platform called OpenLaszlo - which has been used for external apps like Pandora (online radio and music sharing) and (Barclays sharemarket app). OpenLaszlo was released at the end of 2004 and claims to have over a quarter of a million downloads to date. Meanwhile Laszlo received an $8 million Series C round of funding in September and in October they made a deal with Sun Microsystems, to enable OpenLaszlo applications to run on the Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME).

When I spoke to David, my ears pricked up when he mentioned that Laszlo is building a WebOS. While he wasn't able to give me many details, he did say the WebOS will be a framework as well as a set of apps. Hmmm, the WebOS space is getting crowded! More on this as it develops.

Pandora, one of my fave online radios, uses OpenLaszlo

OpenLaszlo is often talked about as an open source competitor to Adobe's Flex, because both are rich client application development platforms. And from the user's perspective, a website built with Laszlo is almost identical to a website built with Flash (indeed OpenLaszlo has a Flash run-time option). From a company and developer perspective, the competition is pretty fierce between the two - illustrated by this post by Raju Bitter, an open source evangelist who uses Laszlo.

I asked David what the difference is between OpenLaszlo and Flex - he told me that OpenLaszlo is more consumer focused than Flex, which he says is mainly for enterprise.

In our briefing, David showed me some nifty apps. Laszlo Mail is a commercial rich client email app that is used by ISPs and other "communication service providers". Building on this is Laszlo's suite of personal productivity apps, currently in development, which they call Digital Life. Again, they plan to license this to ISPs and the like. It features email, IM, photo-sharing, calendar and works on mobile devices.

Laszlo Digital Life

All in all, OpenLaszlo is a compelling platform for building rich Ajax applications - or even Flash apps. They have a hard road to hoe competing against Adobe, a comparatively huge company with many more resources at their disposal (internal developers, marketing, brand name, money, etc). But being open source gives OpenLaszlo a lot of credibility in the developer community. It would be even better if they got a couple more 'glamor' projects like the Pandora one, to raise their profile in the consumer world.

What are your thoughts on Laszlo? Has anyone here used it?

Grading Newspapers' Website Progress: B (Steve Outing/Editor and Publisher)

Grading Newspapers' Website Progress: B  —  Just about everyone — finally — is on board and working to address the big problem: How to transition a significant part of the newspaper business to online and new media while keeping enough money flowing in during the transition period …

Source:   Editor and Publisher
Author:   Steve Outing

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Virtual Ticket: Media Player for Rock Band Websites

ultrastarUltrastar is a music fan site management company, started by David Bowie in the late 90's. They create and manage sites for a range of pop music acts - such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rolling Stones, David BowieSting, INXS and about 9 other acts. They emailed me today to tell me about out a new product for all their bands, a media player called the Virtual Ticket. Basically it's a rich media player that enables members of the fan sites to spread video clips to non-members. It's also kind of like a lite social network system, in that it features chat and commenting throughout.

Virtual Ticket is being marketed as an "on-line tour companion" for bands/artists, because it gives extra media content and regular updates (e.g. band member video diaries or behind the scenes action) to people who buy their concert tickets. The aim is to create more of a relationship between the artist and their fans.

The Who Virtual Ticket

A good example of Virtual Ticket in action is at The Who's latest tour website, where it has been labeled Squeezebox. It features videos of The Who playing, behind the scenes videos, setlists for each show, photosets, documentary videos, news stories, interviews... and much more. There is also a chatroom and the whole site is basically a social network system for Who fans. While all of this kind of content has been available before on music band websites, the system behind it (Virtual Ticket) is a turnkey solution for bands to provide all these features to fans.

Accessibility & Usability

I did have some difficulty loading the site and logging in. I also sent it to a friend of mine in Auckland, who is one of The Who's biggest fans, and he too had trouble loading the site. My friend, Dave, is exactly the kind of person The Who wants using this site - so it's crucial Ultrastar ensures accessibility is sorted out. [Incidentally Dave wanted me to note that a it was lifetime dream of his to see The Who play in Sydney 2 years ago - similar to me seeing Lou Reed play live recently... but I digress].

Also I found there were some usability issues - e.g. when a video clip I watched finished, there didn't seem to be any way to get back to the home screen. I ended up closing the window and re-opening. Also some icons were not obvious, so I found myself clicking them just to find out what they did. I'm sure these issues are being addressed.

How Virtual Ticket was developed

According to the developers, the Virtual Ticket Media Player client was authored in ActionScript 2 and Adobe Flash 8. Here are their goals for the site:

"Among the main goals for the Virtual Ticket Media Player to achieve was the ability to store and display highly relational content and data, of varying media types, in a straight-forward, user-friendly manner. Most importantly, the varying content types had to be viewable simultaneously. That is, a user could be simultaneously watching a video, reading a news story, looking at photos, and conversing with other users in the chat room.

The navigation concept allows for this to happen, as it can display content in a linear fashion (User goes to the News section, chooses a news story, and is presented with the full story) as well as non-linear fashion (User views a tour date entry and is presented with videos, photo sets, reviews found elsewhere within the Virtual Ticket Media Player, but are grouped with the specific tour date entry because of a relational qualification). This requires that deep linking and runtime display is possible from any given view to any other piece of content within the application."

The video is streaming Flash and the reason given for this is "because of UltraStar's obligations to protect their client/artists' rights". By which they mean there is no caching and "therefore no footprint of any kind left on the user's computer." For the video techies out there, the video files are encoded with the high-quality On2 VP6 codec and are hosted on a distributed network (CDN) by NineSystems.

The chatroom software is designed to be relatively open:

"The Virtual Ticket Media Player Chat Room is written and operated under Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) standards. This means that other users will be able to use their existing messaging software (Trillian, GTalk, etc...) to connect, authenticate, and log in to the Artist's chatroom. Currently, the built-in Virtual Ticket Media Player chat interface is the only public way to enter the Artist's chatroom though support for other clients is planned."

Viral marketing

Perhaps the defining feature in Virtual Ticket is that "every piece of content" in UltraStar’s Virtual Ticket Media Player has a viral marketing component. An example given was the “Send-To-Friend” capability, which allows users to send a personalized message and a link to any content entry (video, photos, etc) to a friend.

Also the Media Player aims to encourage dialogue and user-participation, with commenting and integrated chat built in. Users can leave comments on "any and all content found in the Media Player."


Currently The Who Squeezebox is the only live example of Virtual Ticket, but coming soon is a Rolling Stones Virtual Ticket. Both these examples use the same Virtual Ticket Media Player file, but have a different color scheme and content database.

As a big music fan, I love seeing this kind of web technology applied to music websites. I think once Ultrastar has addressed the technical and usability issues (and remember this is still a young product), they will find a ready and willing audience for their Virtual Tickets!

Google: 'iPod will hold all the world's TV in 12 years' (Jo Best/

Google: 'iPod will hold all the world's TV in 12 years'  —  The future of music inspires the future of mobile  —  The idea of fitting your entire music collection into a single device the size of a packet of cigarettes might have seemed outlandish 15 years ago.  But that was before the iPod.

Author:   Jo Best

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R/WW Trend Watch: User-generated Sites Define This Era of the Web

Lloyd Sakazaki has written a good overview of recent trends in global websites. It is based on Alexa data, a stats source which comes under regular fire for its faults (most recently ex-Netscape boss Jason Calacanis took aim). Nevertheless, there are some interesting underlying trends in the Seeking Alpha article. Not new trends, but well stated.

Over a two year period (Nov 2004 - Nov 2006), there have been 5 new websites enter the top 15 of Alexa in reach -,,,, Two of those are now owned by Google, which of course has shown significant growth of its own accord over the past two years.

The overall trend is that user-generated content is the defining feature of all of the new top 15 sites - except maybe, which is basically just a replacement (sometimes a duplicate) of other microsoft properties in Alexa. So whether you call this current era of the Web the Read/Write Web, or Web 2.0, or whatever - the proof of how it is different is right there in those alexa stats. Also as Sakazaki nicely points out, the success of search in this era is derived from the growth in user-generated content - since there is so much content nowadays.

Incidentally, behind the tired and tabloid-level communism references in this Register piece - lies a good point. Is Ajax a strong enough technology to take us to the next era of the Web? Perhaps not. But I agree with Ryan Stewart's assessment that, for all its faults, "Ajax has done a lot to raise the expectations of end users and gotten developers to think differently". Also I'd add, as the Google Docs & Spreadsheets developers suggested recently, that Ajax is still the most 'web native' way to develop interactive web apps. Although having said that, I don't believe myspace, youtube, wikipedia or orkut rely to any great extent on Ajax? So it's not like this era of the Web is dependent on Ajax. It's an enabling technology, but not the essence of the Web circa 2006.

Anyway, back to the high level trends. Seeking Alpha also notes that many of the fastest-growing websites are localized Google properties - showing two clear trends, the importance of Google and the internationalization of the Web. The former gets plenty of press and blog coverage, the latter less so. But both are of equal importance in my view.

Pic: Orli Yakuel (who got it from

YouTube Coming Soon to Cellphones (Matt Richtel/New York Times)

YouTube Coming Soon to Cellphones  —  YouTube is coming to mobile phones — or, to be more precise, a small slice of YouTube is coming to some Verizon Wireless phones.  —  While its explosively popular Web site is free, YouTube's phone-based version will require a $15-a-month subscription to a Verizon Wireless service called VCast.

Source:   New York Times
Author:   Matt Richtel

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10 OS X Apps You Might Not Know About But Should (Josh Pigford/The Apple Blog)

10 OS X Apps You Might Not Know About But Should  —  Over the past couple of years of running The Apple Blog, I've tried out literally thousands of applications.  A lot have been great apps that I still use today, but infinitely more have just been plain bad.  I know I'm not the only one who's experienced this.

Source:   The Apple Blog
Author:   Josh Pigford

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Googleholic for November 28th, 2006

In this issue of Googleholic we cover:

  • It was Cyber Monday yesterday, and Google has a present.
  • Eric Schmidt says that the internet is benefiting businesses
  • Belgian copyright settlement
  • Google Video sued in France
  • Google roughs up companies that block content
  • Google's Australian plans
  • Is Google a threat to banks?
  • is hiring
  • Google shuts down an attempt to open source Google Earth
Continue reading Tuesday's Googleholic...

Continue reading Googleholic for November 28th, 2006

Zune, Creative Commons Don't Mix

Microsoft's efforts to loosen up access to closely held music owned by record labels has an unintended consequence: It punishes artists who want to share. Commentary by Eliot Van Buskirk.

YouTube 'Selection' on Your Cell

A censored array of clips will be deigned suitable for mobile consumption beginning next month. In Gear Factor.

What Will YouTube Be Like On Your Mobile Phone?

YouTube and Verizon have partnered up to bring video clips to the mobile phone. The feature will launch in December as part of the Vcast $15 per month service. Verizon customers will be able to view “select” video content, as well as post videos from their mobile phones. Given that most mobile-generated content, videos or [...]

Murder on MySpace

When Daniel Varo, who lived his life on the web, is killed by a shot to the back of the head, his death plays out online, too. By Noah Shachtman from Wired magazine. Plus: Epilogue: A Reporter's Notebook

The Face of Facebook

CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about changes at Facebook, his super-popular social-networking site. By Aria Pearson from Wired magazine.

Find your next iPod with iPod Radar


If you need some help choosing the perfect iPod for your needs, you might want to head on over to iPod Radar, a nice mashup of various shopping API's.

Not only can you find the latest iPod deals and accessories here, you can also browse various iPod news, blogs, updates, etc. In addition, if you've got a very narrow iPod focus in mind (running, audiophile, in the car), you can check out the latest and greatest models for that as well - a pretty handy gift-giving guide, overall.

Google Docs and Spreadsheets Interview

Interesting podcast interview by Gizbuzz, with Jen Mazzon and Sam Schillace of the Google Docs and Spreadsheets team (both ex-Writely). They start off by saying that D&S is aimed at "people who need to collaborate and share their stuff online". To the question of whether people are using it instead of desktop apps (such as Excel), Jen said that "it's designed to enable people to work together online really seamlessly and easily - and if you're just creating something in a vacuum, then you might as well use a desktop and an offline application. But the minute that you need to start getting contributions and input from other people, then it's [D&S] a great solution."

I've written before about how collaboration and sharing are two compelling reasons for Web-based office software, but it's great to hear it from the horse's mouth (Google I mean).

Enterprise not their focus...yet

Another interesting tidbit from the interview was Jen's statement that "enterprise really hasn't been our key focus" - what they've been focusing on is everyday people, consumers, small workgroups and so forth. She doesn't rule out focusing on enterprise in the near future, but "it has not been top of mind".

Integration is coming

The question of integration came up. Sam said they will be integrating D&S with other Google apps - and that the Web makes this easy, with XML and similar open standards. He said "you're going to see more and more integration going forward. All of Google's apps will work better and better together, going forward."

Browser compatibility issues - like the early graphic Web

Next was a question about browser compatibility issues and how that affects D&S - and indeed the future of rich web applications. Sam responded that "it is definitely an issue [...] these apps are all cutting edge - it kind of reminds me of the early days of the graphical web, when you couldn't count on the browsers to render tables correctly [...]".

But he thinks it's "just growing pains" and it'll take about a year to sort those issues out.

Also on the question of whether Ajax is better than Flash and Laszlo etc, Sam thinks that Ajax is currently more web native.

It's about being Web native, not cloning desktop apps

Later in the interview, Jen stresses that they're "not trying to clone desktop apps". They want to be familiar to people, "but we're trying to do something that's actually more native to the Internet, more usable on the Internet."

Sam says they've had a lot of feedback that people like the fact they're not trying to copy desktop apps. He said "copying the existing stuff just feels irrelevant to us - we're not trying to copy, we're trying to re-invent."

Both Jen and Sam re-affirmed that collaboration and sharing is their main focus with D&S, as well as being web native - rather than trying to compete on features with desktop apps.

Note: there are sound problems with the podcast, which makes it an uncomfortable recording to listen to at times. But the interview itself was great and very informative, so well done Gizbuzz.

Google Settles Dispute With Two Belgian Media Groups (Update3) (Stephanie Bodoni/Bloomberg)

Google Settles Dispute With Two Belgian Media Groups (Update3)  —  Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — Google Inc., the world's most-used Internet search engine, reached a settlement with Belgian photographers and journalists in a copyright dispute over how the company's news service links to newspaper content.

Source:   Bloomberg
Author:   Stephanie Bodoni

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Web 2.0 and Tim O'Reilly as Marshal Tito (Bill Thompson/Reg Developer)

Web 2.0 and Tim O'Reilly as Marshal Tito  —  Forward to the (distributed) revolution  —  Comment As the Web 2.0 bandwagon continues its rapidly accelerating path downhill towards the inevitable crash we find ourselves at another turning point in the development of the networked world.

Source:   Reg Developer
Author:   Bill Thompson

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Avoid the loony Zune (Andy Ihnatko/Chicago Sun Times)

Avoid the loony Zune  —  Y es, Microsoft's new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful.  I've spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.  —  "Avoid," is my general message.

Source:   Chicago Sun Times
Author:   Andy Ihnatko

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The Flickr camera guide


Popular photo sharing site Flickr has published lists and graphs of the most popular cameras used on the site.

The results are an incredible camera guide. Not only can you see the most popular cameras overall, as well as most popular point and shoot cameras and cameraphones, but you can check out pictures taken with each camera for an idea of what kind of shots the camera is capable of taking. On the individual camera page, Flickr displays a graph of that cameras usage, which should give you a good view of whether or not it's going out of style. Naturally, you can also compare prices at Yahoo! Shopping if you find a camera you're interested in.

A couple of months back, Yahoo! Shopping posted the top 10 Flickr cameras - which was great, except that they're mostly high-end cameras. The new Flickr camera guide runs the gamut, and should be a great resource if you're planning to buy a new digital camera this holiday season.

Google Book Search upgrades


Google Book Search has been upgraded with a slick AJAX interface for faster, easier book browsing.

Borrowing a few pages (sorry) from Adobe Reader, the new Google Book Search lets you flip pages by pressing arrow keys or clicking a scrollbar, and change text size by zooming in or out. You can quickly jump to other chapters or sections by clicking links in the new table of contents. Google also amped up search speed and added a full-screen mode.

Alas, the actual book selection remains kinda weak (though we always appreciate free book downloads), but hopefully that will change over time. At least Google Book Search itself shows significant improvement.

Get more from Google Reader


Add an icon to the Google Reader bookmarklet, learn to use shortcut keys, share items with friends, and more with blogger Johnny's seven tips and tricks for the popular feed reader. For example, to tag an item for later blogging:

Let's say you're reading a post and realize that it would make a great blog topic, but you don't have the time right then to mess with it. Hit the 't' key, and pop "toblog" into the textbox to save the item for later. When it's time to start blogging, simply hit the 'gt' key combination, and up pops a great little Ajax'y goodness dialog that lets you easily select the desired tag.

That tip alone makes this list worth a look. If you've adopted Google Reader as your feed friend, you're sure to find these tips useful.

Google sued by film producer (Reuters)

Google sued by film producer  —  French movie studio alleges that world's top search engine distributed its film online for free.  —  PARIS (Reuters) — The producer of "The World According to Bush" has taken legal action against Google for distributing the film for free …

Source:   Reuters

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Use your Zune as a portable hard drive


One of the most ridiculous missing features from Microsoft's new iPod competitor, the Zune, is that out-of-the-box it doesn't allow you to use the player as an external hard drive (a "feature" available on almost every other MP3 player). Luckily the Phaleux weblog has figured out a simple registry hack that will fix Microsoft's irritating mistake. Check out how after the jump.

  1. Make sure your Zune is not plugged in and your Zune software isn't running
  2. open up regedit by going to the start menu and selecting "run". Type regedt32 and hit "OK"
  3. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\ControlSet001\Enum\USB\
  4. Search for "PortableDeviceNameSpace". This should be contained in the Vid_####&Pid_####\########_-_########_-_########_-_########\Device Parameters within the above ...\USB\ The ##'s listed here will be numbers and letters specific to your Zune
  5. Change the following values:
    • EnableLegacySupport to 1
    • PortableDeviceNameSpaceExcludeFromShell to 0
    • ShowInShell to 1
  6. Plug in your Zune, and make sure the Zune Software starts up.
  7. Hopefully at this point you can open up "My Computer" and browse your device, though it does NOT show up as a drive letter.

Now that you've got your Zune working like it should, you can use that portable hard drive to carry all your favorite apps with you wherever you go. As with any registry hack, you should probably back up your registry before you give this a try.

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