Google Instant Test #2 – Sectional Garage Doors Preston

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There’s been a few posts on this subject so we’ll jump right in without the usual waffle. If you need to catch up, take a look at some of my other rants against Google Instant.

And off we go…

Let’s see if we can beat Google’s previous record of 12 unnecessary screen refreshes. This time, we’re going to look for ‘Sectional Garage Doors’ in the Preston area:

  • S – gets us Sky. Excellent? Maybe we can watch a bit of satellite TV whilst we’re having our garage doors fitted?
  • Se – and now we’re onto Selfridges. Ooh lovely!! A nice new outfit to wear whilst we watch TV waiting for our garage doors.
  • Sec – another refresh and we arrive at Second Life. Never heard of it! Oh, apparently it’s a free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using free voice and text chat. Interesting, but I really need somewhere dry to keep my car overnight…
  • Sect – brings up Sector 1, a job website featuring public sector jobs. Erm.. Not sure there’ll be many of them in the current climate!
  • Secti – gives us a blog article on Section 21. Something for landlords to do with the Hosing Act 1988.
  • Sectiona – and it looks like we’re getting somewhere. A national manufacturer of sheds and garages with some regional sales agents. Not bad, but I’d rather look at a list of local suppliers.
  • Sectional Garage D – an on-line supplier of garage doors with a huge range of styles and colours, but do I really want to be fitting it myself?
  • Sectional Garage Doors – and as if Google was listening, the next thing we get is a DIY Guide To Fitting Garage Doors, but I’d still rather get a professional in!
  • Sectional Garage Doors P – next we get prices for sectional garage doors. Well, at least I have an idea of what to expect…
  • Sectional Garage Doors Pre – uh oh, we’ve gone off the deep end. Despite being set to ‘Page from the UK’, Google is throwing us garage door installers in Pretoria in South Africa?
  • Sectional Garage Doors Pres –  ah, much better! We’re back in the UK, but now its Prestwood, which according to Yell is in Great Missenden, near London. Hmm… I think they may be a little too far away…
  • Sectional Garage Doors Presto – and we’re finally there!

Only 11 pointless screen refreshes and we finally have what we were looking for, namely a local business that offers sectional and electric garage doors in the Preston area.

Sadly not a record this time though!

In Conclusion

Okay, now fair enough, some critics might suggest I deliberately went for a long search term. Well, yes I did, but anyone who’s ever looked at search terms in Google Analytics will know that such long phrases really aren’t that uncommon.

So, after demonstrating the futility of Google Instant once again, let’s end with the obvious question. Why Google? Why?

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Google Instant Test #1 – Emergency Scaffolding North West

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Well truthfully, it’s the third test, but you’ll only know that if you’ve also read my I Hate Google Instant!!! and recent Google Instant vs Internet Explorer posts.

Y’see I’ve become rather obsessed with the pointless refreshes that Google makes to display unwanted search results before I’ve finished telling it what I’m actually looking for.

Obsessed?

Okay, so I am eating normally and going outdoors every now and then to soak up some vitimin D, but it does really annoy me. Read my previous posts if you want the full details.

Anyway, I’m determined to find out what the maximum number of these pointless screen refreshes might be when looking for a legitimate search term. The last posts revealed 11 and 8 respectively, but I’m sure we can beat that!

Here we go…

We’re going to search for ‘Emergency Scaffolding’ in the North West of England. How long before Google gets there I wonder:

  • E – gets me E! Online, an American entertainment news site featuring celebrity gossip and pictures. Hmm… Great, but will it hold my house up?
  • Em – pulls up Empire Magazine, a film review publication from the UK. Yeah, I need scaffolding as my exterior wall is looking like it might collapse after a fire. Not sure I want to read a review of a remake of Towering Inferno thanks…
  • Eme – now I get Emeli Sandé, a singer apparently. Oh good, now I’ll have something to listen to while I wait for the scaffolders to arrive!
  • Emer – brings up Emerald Publishing Group. Er, sorry no!
  • Emerg – results in a Wikipedia definition for the word Emergency, just in case I wasn’t sure…
  • Emergency – gives me a list of emergency tax codes from HM Revenue & Customs. Nope!!!
  • Emergency S – and now I get the Wikipedia page for the emergency services. They’ve already been thanks…
  • Emergency Sc – gets me Emergency Scotland 2011. WTF?!?
  • Emergency Sca – over to a forum page about getting an Emergency Pregnancy Scan. Nooo!!
  • Emergency Scaf – appears to get me what I want as the top result is a scaffolding company in Manchester that operates in the North West, but wait a minute… Under that are several London companies and national companies. Where are my other local solutions?
  • Emergency Scaffolding Nort – well, we’re in the right zone. We’ve got scaffolders, but now they’re in Northampton. Keep trying…
  • Emergency Scaffolding North – excellent, back to scaffolders from (North) London. Oh, and one from North Wales…
  • Emergency Scaffolding North Wes – and we’re finally there!

Just one letter off what I’d have to have typed if I’d done it in full and after suffering 12 unecessary screen refreshes. I’ve eventually got what I wanted though i.e. Emergency Scaffolding North West

Did you say 12? Yes, indeed I did. A new record methinks!

In Conclusion

Why not have a go yourself and see if you can beat it? No prizes I’m afraid, just the kudos of knowing you’ve outsmarted (ahem) a search engine?

P.S. Sorry Google, but it’s too late! Whilst faffing with screen refreshes my wall has collapsed. Off to a bed and breakfast for me tonight…

Google Instant vs Internet Explorer

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Well it’s now nearly nine months since my I Hate Google Instant!!! post and things are no better. In fact, if anything, it seems to be getting worse.

I’ve now given up trying to use Internet Explorer (IE) to do Google queries as I’m sick of having my browser freeze up completely as Google tries to constantly update my screen with interim premature results that have no relevancy to what I’m looking for.

No IE bashing follows…

Now, I know the populist view might be to blame Internet Explorer as an inefficient browser, but I’m sorry to disappoint you all by telling you that it works fine with everything else.

You’d almost think it was a conspiracy though. Are Microsoft trying to force me onto Bing or is Google trying to get me to use Chrome? Well, I’m happy to disappoint both of them. I’m now on Firefox using Google, which still slows to a crawl unnecessarily, but at least doesn’t hang completely.

Sadly, like many other people I can’t ditch Google as despite its recent pointless and irritating improvements, it is still the best search engine for results. Sorry Bing, but you need a lot more than a new name if you want us all to switch.

But what is it for?

Exactly! As per the last post on this subject, we return to the question that has been on everyone’s lips for quite some time, “what exactly is Google Instant for?”

If I wanted the results for half the word or phrase I’m looking for, then surely I’d only be typing half the word or phrase in the first place?

For Example

Let’s take the role of a potential customer for the company of Swap yer for a driveway? fame. So I’m looking for someone who does concrete driveways in the Blackpool area. Here goes:

  • C – pulls up Currys. Er, no I don’t need any electrical equipment thanks..
  • Co – brings up Comet. Hmmm… Didn’t I just say I don’t want any household electrical items?
  • Con – gives me Congestion Charging. Well, it might be useful if I ever go driving in London, but right now I’m in Lancashire..
  • Conc – results in Concorde. A Wikipedia definition? I know that the cost of a new driveway might be equivalent to what it used to cost to fly on Concorde, but I hardly see how it is relevant. Keep trying Google…
  • Concr – after a brief screen freeze, I get the Wikipedia definition for Concrete. Well, we’re getting somewhere I suppose. Did you know that the word originates from the Latin word “concretus” (meaning compact or condensed)?
  • Concrete D – gets me one of those awful internet directory sites promising to get me the best pattern imprinted concrete installer in my area, whilst bombarding me with Google AdSense adverts…
  • Concrete Driveways – I now get Paving Expert, a very interesting site with a forum, faqs and more about paving and pattern imprinted concrete created by former installers who now do consultancy work for large urban projects. Not much use for my humble dwelling!
  • Concrete Driveways B – and next is  a local patterned concrete supplier for the Bristol area
  • Concrete Driveways Bl – and finally Blackpool! Wahoo! We’re there.

Okay, so that’s eight wholly unnecessary screen refreshes before I get to what I was after, namely Concrete Driveways Blackpool.

And was it faster? Nope!! In fact, the slow down and occasional freeze means that it takes longer. So what’s the point?

No better than spam…

And here’s a thought. Spam (unsolicited email, not the meat of Monty Python fame) gets a bad name for a number of reasons, one of them being that worldwide it accounts for significant unwanted network traffic, making servers work much harder for no reward.

Well, could Google not be said to be doing the same? We’re not talking about advertising here, but worldwide, Google Instant must be using exponentially more bandwidth than is necessary and for little result.

Even customers I’ve spoken to whose browsers do not freeze have said that they largely ignore what’s happening on the screen until they’ve finished typing!

No solution in sight…

And after all this time, and the internet awash with blogs posts like this one, Google still hasn’t taken the hint and provided a foolproof way to disable it.

It can be disabled using Google’s settings screen, but that means it gets stored in a cookie which is lost as soon as internet savvy individuals like myself clear down their temporary internet files. i.e. every time my browser closes.

C’mon Google, please, please, please either get rid of this useless irritating gimic or give us a querystring value that we can pass to turn the damned thing off.

And relax…

Right, rant over. Time to get back to work.

To disable right click or not to disable right click?

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I’ve recently finished designing a website for a Fleetwood customer who asked me for something that I don’t usually do. Namely, to disable the right mouse click on their website pages.

Why? Well, the reason is a commonly requested one. They wanted to protect the photographs of their bespoke wrought iron gates and railings from being copied via ‘Save Picture As…’ and then used by competitors.

Well that makes sense…

Yes, it does and it doesn’t. If you’ve designed something unique and beautiful such as these ornamental gates, it makes sense to try and protect your designs so people don’t copy them or pass them off as their own.

Sadly though, right-click is just one of a wide variety of ways of obtaining images and the truth is that once published to the internet, there is simply no technological method available to enforce copyright.

In order to get to an image, a user can:

  • Drag it to the address bar (using the mouse) in Internet Explorer and many other browers. And then right-click the image displayed in isolation of its original web page to save it as normal.
  • Drag it onto Windows Desktop or into a drawing package.
  • Switch off Javascript in the browser, so that the code to protect the image no longer operates.
  • Use the browser menu to view the source of the web page and find the location of the relevant image, then type that location into the browser address bar and use right-click and save as normal.
  • Use the ‘Prt Scr‘ key on their keyboard to copy the whole screen and then paste it into a drawing package, cutting out the image they want to copy.
  • Get the image from the browser’s cache, where it will have been downloaded to speed up access to the site next time .
  • Print the page in high quality to their printer and then scan it back in.
  • Take a digital photograph of the screen.
  • Use Mozilla Firefox which has an option to disable disabling of the right-click or Opera which offers quick disabling if Javascript is encountered on a right-click.
  • Ask a more ‘internet savvy’ friend or family member to get it for them.

Admittedly many of the above are beyond most users, but where there is determination, there is Google and a quick search will reveal dozen’s of sites discussing the issue.

And in the case of the customer in question, there is nothing to stop a competitor or anyone else from physcially taking photographs of any wrought ironwork in Blackpool, Fylde or Over Wyre that they encounter on their travels, save maybe if the owner of the property chases them off!

And fully disabling right-click can be annoying…

There are a number of very handy functions attached to a right-click that many users (myself included) rely on whenever we browse the internet. These include ‘Open in New Tab’, ‘Print’ and ‘Add to Favourites’.

Any site that denies access to these functions runs the immediate risk of being abandoned for one that doesn’t, such is the fickle nature of the internet user.

So what can you do?

Well, from a customer’s perspective it’d be better to do something than nothing at all.

So here’s what you can do:

  • Watermarking is a good way of protecting images (as employed on this wedding photography site), but it is time consuming and to be of any real use, needs to obscure the image you want your potential customer to be looking at.
  • Slicing up images is a way of making the job of copying them more difficult, but again it is time consuming.
  • Partially disabling right click does at least prevent those who are not in the know from getting to the photographs, without obstructing other right-click functionality.

The latter is the right-click method I used in the end, as it still allows users to shortcut to ‘Add to Favourites’ or ‘Print’ the page, etc.. Not perfect, but then nothing is!

Further Reading

If I’ve whet your appetite on this subject, the following interesting articles discuss this question in varying detail and with differing (and stronger!) points of view:

In Conclusion…

If the music and film industry can’t prevent the wholesale theft of their entire catalogues, what chance does a lowly local web designer like me stand?

If you don’t want people to steal your stuff, don’t put it on the internet.

I Hate Google Instant!!!

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Aaarghhh!!! I bloody well hate Google’s new predictive search results thingy (aka Google Instant). Why Google? Why? What have your loyal users done to you?

Why do you wish to punish us? Why have you taken something that worked and made it into something that doesn’t? Why, given the groundswell of opinion (for I know I am not alone in this), have you not changed it back?

What’s So Bad About It?

Well, how about the way my screen freezes up whilst I’m typing? Which in turn causes missing letters if I type fast as its too busy refreshing to acknowledge my keypress. And the fact that it is actually now slower to show results? Plus the other irritating new feature that when you use your cursor key now, instead of whizzing down the screen quickly so someone who knows what they’re doing can quickly scan the results, it steps slowly through the results one at a time.

But the all time most unforgivable thing about it is the most obvious: The fact that I never ever want the results for half the word or phrase I’m typing, because if I did…, I’d only be typing half the word or phrase in the first place!!!

An Example

Let’s look at a fairly typical example. I’m sat at work and I want to find somebody local who supplies workwear and other clothing embroidered with my company logo or slogan, so I set off typing “Embroidered Workwear Lancaster” into Google.

  • Em – pulls up Empire Magazine. A movie magazine with film reviews? Er, no thanks…
  • Emb– brings up Embarassing Bodies. A TV show examining problems with people’s privates? Can I wear them to work? Noooo!!
  • Embr – gives me Embrace. An English Indie band? Some cool tunes, but not really what I’m after..
  • Embro – gives me a Wikipedia definition for Embroidery. Well, we’re getting nearer, but I already know what it is thanks. Now I know about it’s origins too. Great, but if I had wanted that I would have typed “What is Embroidery” or “Definition Embroidery” or maybe “History of Embroidery”?
  • Embroidered – firstly gives me a screen freeze, then Logos 4 Polos. Well, that is what I want, but I want someone local who I can go and talk to about my needs…
  • Embroidered W – gives me another supplier, but not local…
  • Embroidered Workwear – and another…
  • Embroidered Workwear L – sighs… and another…
  • Embroidered Workwear La – one more…
  • Embroidered Workwear Lan – another…
  • Embroidered Workwear Lanc – hey, guess what…
  • Embroidered Workwear Lancast – and eventually…

Wahoo!! At last!! The thing that I was searching for: Embroidered Workwear in Lancaster

And it only took me two less keypresses than if I’d had to type it in full, along with 11 pointless screen refreshes and a screen freeze. Now, had I been typing quickly that screen freeze would have caused me to miss characters so it would have taken longer.

And that in essence is the point. It does take longer! And what’s good about that?

So Google, Please Take Note

If you’re going to introduce new features to the world’s most popular search engine, why not try them as an “opt in” feature rather than alienating your user base and driving them elsewhere?

But more importantly, sometimes just because a thing can be done, doesn’t mean it should be. This feature sounds lovely as a concept and I’m sure it was, but in reality it is a steaming pile of bovine droppings! 2/10. See teacher after class. Do not pass go!

In Conclusion

Well, I’m still going to use Google as even despite these glitches it remains the best option available… For now?

Okay, all I have to decide now is whether to be formal and wear a shirt, less formal and get an embroidered polo shirt or go casual with a printed t-shirt.

Why I strongly dislike Search Engines!!

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Okay, so I know it’s probably not best thing for a web developer to say, but it really needs to be said! Search engines are a pain in the proverbial back-side.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I use Google (still the UK search engine of choice) every day and I pride myself on being able to manipulate the results to find what I’m after.

And also, don’t get me wrong, website development itself can be a challenging and rewarding pastime, but its ugly sister, search engine optimisation is anything but. It is instead a frustrating and illogical nightmare.

Illogical nightmare?

Yep, that’s definitely the right word. Creating websites using programming languages and tools is done using a set of rules that on the whole make sense and generally behave as you’d expect (with some notable variations on how different browsers render HTML and CSS elements).

However, search engine optimisation (or SEO – the act of trying to increase a website’s position in Google et al), is based on a random set of rules and algorithms created by the search engine in question.

These change on a regular basis and are most certainly not based on logic, rather a desire to ensure that previously successful and therefore overused SEO techniques do not work.

So what are these crazy rules?

Well, suppose I do a website for a Blackpool based building contractor who amongst other things, specialises in property refurbishment.

When somebody types “Property Refurbishment Blackpool” into Google, we want their website to appear in the first 2-3 pages of the search results. After all, as we all know, beyond that and nobody will ever look at it.

How do we do this? Well, if there’s one thing Google has always liked, it is unique and regularly updated website content.

Unique? Hmm, he’s a builder and although there’s a lot you can say about building, the likelihood of a local builder coming up with anything revolutionary is highly unlikely. Regularly updated? Er, he’s a builder, NOT a journalist. He quite rightly spends his days building, rather than writing interesting building articles or keeping a diary about his ongoing building work.

Or take another example, what about an on-line store selling thermometers? Their website content is regularly updated with new products, promotions and reviews, but as with most companies, they’re in a competitive market.

What else can we do? Well, Google really likes (apparently) organic links to your website from social sites such as blogs and forums. Great, but let’s face it, when a customer buys a digital thermometer the first thing they think isn’t “I know, I’ll go and stick a link on a relevant forum about how much I like this thermometer”.

They may, at some point in the future; if they do use a forum; and the forum allows links; and they did like the thermometer; and someone happens to ask if anyone can recommend a thermometer; and they see that person’s post; and they can remember where they bought the thermometer; and they have the inclination; they MAY post a link to the website where they bought the thermometer and say “Here, try this one…”.

It all sounds unlikely…

It sounds unlikely and it is, because virtually none of this happens naturally. Sites achieve top ranking in many cases because their owners dedicate significant amounts of money and / or time to the aforementioned search engine optimisation (SEO).

Website content, reviews, links, comments, articles, etc. are nearly all created artificially to make Google et al believe that a website is important and should be prioritised above others within their search results. Virtually none of it is natural (or organic) which ironically, is what Google purports to like.

There’s a huge amount of content out there that exists solely to promote business websites and the internet is becoming clogged up with it! So much so that search results often show that content rather than the types of business it is intended to promote.

In the real world, builders create a website as a one-off exercise to advertise their business. They only want to change it when they start offering a new service, swap their mobile number, move premises or have a new project they’re particularly proud of, etc..

But that’s all good for you isn’t it?

Well it is and it isn’t. As stated, I don’t actually enjoy SEO work. Plus, you try going to talk to a local tradesman and say it’s going to cost more to promote your website than it is to create it.

And that you can only really guess how much money might be required. And that if Google decides to change its algorithms overnight, their precious good ranking could be lost and further money and effort may be required to re-instate it.

But the thing that really irks me is that it doesn’t make sense and I think Google can do better. Popularity and linking makes sense for social sites, hobby sites, special interest sites and the like, but not for businesses.

Internet users do not naturally link to boring and functional business sites, they rarely blog about them (unless they’ve been dissatisfied with their service) and they certainly don’t write articles about them!

For these reasons, it is stupid of Google et al to score business sites in the same way as other sites.

In conclusion…

Could be a better solution on the horizon? Google already seems to be trying to build a better business directory via it’s maps function.

Sadly though, as long as business websites are ranked alongside others and Google uses algorithms rather than human judgement to rank sites, there’s going to be a continued need for SEO of some kind.

And eventually I’m just gonna have to charge more for doing it…

Die disk ist kaputt

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Everyone’s nightmare! All your photos, documents, music and more lost to a serious hard disk crash. Yikes!! The good news at least is that it wasn’t my hard disk, but I am involved in the data recovery.

It all started at a drunken Blackpool party last week and is the alleged result of a collision between two alcohol soaked idiots (yes, I’m one of them!) and a very long USB cable running from an external hard disk to a laptop, which was providing the music for the party.

The upshot? One very knackered hard disk that steadfastedly refused to display any of its 1000s of precious files.

As a software developer, this isn’t really something I know much about. I generally try to avoid the hardware side of things as much as possible, but in this instance I felt somewhat responsible.

Idiots guide to Data Recovery

So where to start? I tried the obvious chkdsk /f (obvious if you’re an I.T. guy), but to no avail. It did reinstate the drive, but none of the files were to be found, thus suggesting a corrupt file system (NTFS) and possibly damaged disk, rather than a non-functional external casing and mounting.

Okay, over to Google. As per usual, a quick search revealed more people who had the same problem than it did solutions. I tried several utilities that claimed to get your file system back, even if chkdsk had failed, but they were useless. One even failed to read the hard disk that was now clearly there.

The next thing to try was data recovery software. These work by reading the entire disk sector by sector and looking for patterns on the disk that represent particular file types such as JPG, AVI, MP3, DOC, etc.. There are a lot of these programs about, from the very expensive to the freeware and shareware alternatives.

Rather stupidly (given that time is money), I started with the cheaper options. All of these failed to yield any results and several crashed out. I then reverted to the more expensive paid options. These all offer a free download demo that will scan the disk for files, but will not let you recover them until you pay for the full product. That way, you know that they’re worth buying.

Well, in short, most of them aren’t. In total, I must’ve installed just shy of a dozen products (free, cheap and expensive) before I eventually found one that worked.

Credit where credit is due

I’d just about given up hope and had already advised my friend that all his precious files may be no more, so I was extremely chuffed at the moment it started to say files found. I didn’t want to get too excited as another piece of software I’d tried had previously gotten up to 16 files and 8 folders before promptly crashing and refusing to run again.

But the files kept on coming, 10, 100, 1000 and so on…

I told my friend and he suggested we download a pirated copy of the software, something I’m not comfortable with and about which another post will shortly be written. After all, these guys have written a program that recovered 1000s of photos, including a first date, first holiday and a wedding. Surely that deserves some financial reward?

As I felt partly responsible and software piracy is against my principles (and chosen profession), I forked out for the full version. A very reasonable £23 at the current exchange rate and I could pay via PayPal.

So this is an unadulterated plug for those responsible for the software that saved my neck:

Please note, I make no warranties. It worked for me when others didn’t, but I’m sure all disk circumstances are different. There are tonnes of others out there for you to try. Just Google “Data Recovery Software”.

One last note, if this ever happens to you, be prepared to leave your computer running for some time. To say the process is slow is an understatement. My computer has been running for five days now on a 600gb hard disk and is only halfway through recovering the contents.

In Conclusion…

As well as web design and database development, I can now add data recovery to my repertoire. So if you’re in the Blackpool area and your data has gone south, give me a call.

But beware, unless you can prove I was drunk and in the direct vicinity of your hard disk when it went wrong, it’s gonna cost ya!

Right, time to get on with the day job…

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