Get Back On Windows Live (formerly MSN)!

Bud Gallant_s Profile - Windows LiveI’ve rediscovered Windows Live, and it’s not just a step above Yahoo IM (which sure wouldn’t be hard), it’s a step above Google, too. Now that is saying something.

Windows Live has gotten an overhaul.  Your profile is now actually good for something… There’s been an integration of Windows Live, which has left it looking fantastic and offering some very useful free services, such as SkyDrive.  SkyDrive gives Windows Live users the ability to share folders and files online, complete with permissions.  The best thing about SkyDrive? The free 25 gigabytes! It would seem that Google has more or less abandoned it’s rumored “GDrive” attempt to keep pace.  I probably don’t need to point out how lacking in file-sharing Google is.  Anyone with a Gmail account knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The other thing that should get you taking a second look at Windows Live, is your profile is no longer just a profile, it is a social networking tool, with integration of all the popular services out there, such as Twitter, Last.fm and WordPress. In fact, personally I find it more attractive than Facebook.  It’s sort of a Facebook light, without all the garbage and spam.

So, if you’ve been neglecting Windows Live, you might want to go back and have a second look. For the longest time, I’ve been a critic of Yahoo! Instant Messenger, but also a regular user.  In that time Yahoo’s IM has sunk in popularity quicker than it’s arrogant CEOs (here’s lookin’ at you, Yang).  Only with Yahoo have I used a service which literally got buggier and junkier with each version, and they sure did pump out those updates. 90% of my Yahoo contacts were Windows Live users, anyway, and the buggy integration between the two clients led to no updates on status messages, and display pictures never appearing, as well as my contacts not being able to see my online status correctly. I’ve more or less dumped everything Yahoo now, in fact.  It’s never been a decision I have ever regretted.

Rarely have I seen Microsoft absolutely excel at offering a service over Google.  Orkut never impressed me… Windows Live’s social network is much better visually, and practically. Skydrive is just the icing of the cake. It’s almost enough to make me consider using my Windows live account for email, too. Go take a look. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Any Windows Live fans out there? Anyone who, like myself, has ditched Yahoo for something better? Do you have other similar services to suggest? Comment below!

AlphaInventions.com Revisted

Alpha Inventions created by Cheru Jackson, is a site which displays and automatically cycles through recently updated blogs. I reviewed this site some time ago, and did have a few criticisms of how it was running.  Cheru Jackson was quick to comment and engage in a dialogue with readers on that post to address their concerns. Overtime, AI has been tweaked and improved vastly over it’s original design.

The site’s pacing for automatic switching of blogs is much slower.  At times, perhaps a bit too slow, but this is a huge improvement over it’s original speed setting, which was so fast that by the time your eyes caught something interesting, it had disappeared. There is also now a back and forward button, although they do not seem to work consistently, and some design flaws are apparent..

Cheru Jackson says he created the site to help people, and I think we can give him the “benefit of the doubt”, as the saying goes. The bottom line is, the site is improving and is responding to feedback.  Alpha Inventions has come a long way since it first began, and Jackson is assuring people that the traffic it is generating for their blogs is legitimate user-based traffic, not “false hits”, as some have claimed.

The bottom line really is this: If you have specific criticisms of the site, they can be addressed, or you can choose to opt-out. Most bloggers are happy for any extra exposure that comes their way, and it’s with that in mind, that I’d like to support the site, and encourage others to give it a try, if they are not familiar with it.  It’s not the only tool to help your blog get some extra traffic, but it is one tool that you can make use of.

For more information from Cheru Jackson on Alpha Inventions, see “What Is Alpha Inventions?”

Since I had reviewed the site in it’s original form, I think I owe it to the site’s creator and designer to give a more up-to-date perspective.  Have you tried the new AI, and if so, what did you think of the improvements?

Similar sites:

If you like Alpha Inventions, you might also like Blog Surfer. Does anyone have any other good sites for finding new blogs to read and sharing your own for others to discover?

The other side:

Not every critic has been tempered by AI’s apparent improvements. See Alpha Inventions: A big waste of time for bloggers for current criticism. But, afterall, you can’t make everyone happy. I hope we will see further improvements to come.

Squidoo: Blogging Made Easy

Even Squidoo can't ressurect the "singing fish".

Even Squidoo can't ressurect the "singing fish".

I’d like to talk a bit about Squidoo now that I’ve experimented with it enough to form a pretty consistent opinion on it. First, let’s deal with some common questions:

Question: Do you actually make money on Squidoo?

Answer: Yes. You really do get money, though most people might make more money with Amazon affiliate links. It really depends on your skill set, however.

Question: Is Squidoo actually faster and easier than standard blogging?

Answer: Yes, it definitely is faster. You could put together a bare-bones page in Squidoo in 10 minutes, that has the appearance you worked on it for 2 hours. The quick interface makes publishing multiple posts fast and effective.

Question: Is Squidoo harder to use than WordPress or Blogger?

Answer: No. It’s actually quicker and easier to use than both, and still manages to give you more options.

Question: What is the biggest advantage with Squidoo?

Answer: Squidoo is, in a way, like the YouTube of web publishing. It’s very easier to network on, and the platform is great for learning what works and what doesn’t, as far as attracting traffic. Getting paid is also nice, but keep in mind that unless you donate your money to charity, Squidoo will take 50%.

Question: What is the biggest flaw or downside to using Squidoo?

Answer: That 50% of revenue being taken, that I just mentioned.

Ok, let’s get down to my review.  I stumbled across Squidoo many months ago.  A lot of people seemed to be saying that there was money to be made on it.  It was like blogging, only with much better integration of pictures, videos, and other content, and it earned cash. Well, I was interested. I spent a few hours researching it, and then finally started up my first “lens”, which is what Squidoo calls your web page.

Your lens is like your post, but it is not one mass of information.  A lens is composed of modules, which let you focus on the smaller sub-sections that make up the whole.  There are modules for pretty much everything, and you can add or remove them at will very easily.

Squidoo isn’t technically blogging, but more generally, web page publishing.  However, blogs benefit very much from the platform. Generally most people have not monetized their blogs to their full potential, and 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Squidoo makes it quick and easy to incorporate relevant merchandise into your lens, in a very unobtrusive manner that users respond positively to. There are many, many modules taking advantage of affiliate programs, including Amazon, Ebay, Zazzle, CafePress.

One great advantage to using Squidoo is that that you can use it “test the waters” out on a particular topic. Instead of spending a couple hours fully making a lens about singing fish, for example, you can put out bares bones version of singing fish, and 11 others. You can then watch the stats, and see what is in the highest demand, and fill it out further. There’s always some  “hit or miss”, like on anything else online, but Squidoo maximizes “hit” and minimizes “miss”. It’s worth checking out, and if you’re wondering if Squidoo is, in fact, visually more appealing and engaging, you can see for yourself.

Here is my post about job interview strategies in blog format:

https://budgallant.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/job-interview-success-secrets/

Here is the post on Squidoo, where it’s module format not only makes it look better, raises it’s visual appeal, and monetizes it, but it also helped me get in new content, but helping me to take the article one section at a time and further flesh it out:

http://www.squidoo.com/job_interview

Which do you like better?

Click here to start your own Squidoo lens today!

Google Wave Invites: Don’t Get Scammed

Google Wave invites are the latest fad to hit the net.  Like many people, you might be wondering how to get free Google Wave invites, or you might even be willing to pay for one. You should exercise some caution, however as there is no shortage of opportunists out there looking to take advantage of the hype.

Here’s some brief points on what not to do, and some advice on the quickest and most effective methods to get yourself that invite you are looking for.

Do Not:

  • Respond to Twitter spam claiming you will receive an invite if you re-tweet or follow. It’s a lie, and Twitter is banning accounts for encouraging this. You can report them to @spam. Do not re-tweet them, as you may be banned yourself.
  • Bid on Google Wave invites on Ebay. These listings are a violation of the terms of service, and are probably scams, in addition. You can report these to Ebay if you come across them.
  • Post randomly on every blog or forum you can find begging for an invite.  You will be wasting your time.
  • Fill out surveys online in response to offers for an invite.  These are scams. Report the url to the survey site.
  • Attempt to buy an invite through PayPal or some other method online.
  • Put in multiple requests for multiple accounts to the official site for requesting an invite from Google. They know what you are doing, and they won’t reward you for it.

Do:

Google Wave is the latest big thing from Google, and we’re all looking forward to trying it out.  I’ve yet to get an invite myself, but if I do I will be sharing them with others.  Please be patient, and when you have your invite, remember how you got it, and be generous. There’s at least  100,000 of them out there, so chances are if you go looking within the next week, you’ll be o.k.  Not everyone follows tech news as closely as others.  If you do not receive your invite, just be patient.  Once Google releases a large amount, the second batch is never too far away from the first.

Good luck, everyone.  Please do not support the scammers and liars.  If you see one of the deceptive attempts at exploiting users listed above, take the time to report them and help educate others.

And while you’re here, let us know what feature most excites you about Google Wave.  If you can’t think of one, you shouldn’t be worrying about an invite to begin with! If you’ve seen the video, or are already familiar with Wave, what do you like best?

Update: Thousands of people are now tweeting and re-tweeting this post. I’ve been getting a lot of requests for my Twitter account, so if you’re interested in following on Twitter, I’ve set this one up to share similar posts and have relevant discussions, and thank you everyone for helping get the word out and get people the tools they need to get invites in a legitimate fashion! @budgallant

Update: There’s a lot of fraudulent websites popping up (such as http://www.googwave.info). Do Not give these sites your Twitter info or email address! They are scammer sites. Google Wave Invites site, as posted above seems to be legitimate, since it has a forum and has been referenced by media, but I haven’t confirmed anyone has actually received an invite through that site yet.  Exercise caution always when it comes to your online identities.

Update: Originally this post endorsed the Google Wave invite trading platform that was in use on GoogleWaveInvites.com. Unfortunately, the website was closed with an announcement from Google that recent Wave invitees would no longer be able to invite other users, effectively shutting down this site and other similar invite trading platforms. So, as it stands now, beware of ANYBODY claiming they can get you an invite. With a few exceptions, there is no longer any way possible.  The only way to get an invite now is from Google or from a friend who has 1 of their original 8 left over (don’t count on it).

Digg this post.

Google “News” New Features: Profanity In headlines, more

Google news includes profanity, paradoy, bigotry

Google News now includes profanity, parody, bigotry.

Something happened to me last week that I am not proud of. I was momentarily fooled by an Onion News story headline. In my defense, though, it was appearing on the front page of Google News under it’s “Spotlight” section, along with the “real” news.   At the time I thought including parody on the page was some sort of oversight.  Since then, I’ve been seeing more and more changes taking place with Google News.  It seems the requirements on having content that is actually “news”, are being lifted, and every online hack who can mash some keys is now rushing to take advantage of it.

Just minutes previous to this article first being posted, the above screen shot was taken showing the headline “I will not read your fucking script” on the main page. It demonstrates a notable slackening in Google’s vetting process, as the article from the Village Voice, an ego-driven rant by an obscure self-proclaimed “professional” is being featured.

The Village Voice, which is not “news” by any reasonable definition to begin with, is now providing Google News’ front page with profanity laced headlines.  Is it possible some high school dropouts over at the Voice are having some sort of competition with college dropouts at the “Daily Mail”? I imagine it’s for readers of Google News to judge which of the two use the most juvenile-shock tactics in their headlines. To the Daily Mail’s credit, it only implies profanity (within the context of quotes) in it’s headlines, rather than stating expletives itself for no other purpose than to attract attention.

Lately, I’ve been perplexed as to why private blogs and opinion pieces, or amateur trash-tabloid like “Glosslip”, keeps being endorsed by Google as “news”. I’m now finding myself wondering if these are oversights, or a deliberate attempt at keeping “current”, in a society exercising less and less discretion over, and adopting lower and lower standards of, information sources. At least we can find some solace that these “merchants of chaos”, make little attempt to mask their motives and tactics, but does Google really benefit from giving them a platform to do it?

It’s not the profanity I necessarily take issue with, though I don’t think it belongs in a headline, and find it ironic considering Google’s attempt to remain family friendly through filters.  The profanity is just the latest inappropriate content to be heralded by Google News’ front page as “news”. I suspect if this trend continues, many people will begin to look elsewhere for news aggregation.

Click here for original screen shot (without commentary).

.

Update: Google appears to have removed the link to the Village Voice article from it’s news page around 9:00 pm EST.  As of this time, Google has not responded to a request for comment, upon being made aware of this issue.

Update: As of 11:02 pm EST today, the article is back on Google News. It appears as though it was initially pulled and then a decision was made to reinsert it. Click here for an archived version of the entire front page in zip format (uses MegaUpload). In addition to it’s return, it is now being listed as one of the most popular news articles by Google. Apparently, the attention-grabbing use of profanity in a headline is paying off for the Village Voice, as more and more people click the article out of curiosity, or to voice their disdain in it’s comment section.

Update: Google News eventually removed the headline.  It’s also notable that it appears Google also removed this article from the index of their search engine.  I can confirm it was indeed indexed, and appearing in searches.  There is now no direct link to the article from Google.  I’m not sure how much more underhanded they could possibly get.

Google News-profanity-returns

Spotlight - Google News

I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script - New York News - Runnin_ Scared

Question for readers: Is this just smart marketing on behalf of the unskilled writers over at the Village Voice, or will a reader backlash lead to better judgment in the future on their part? Do you believe Google News should be putting headlines with profanity on the front page?

See Should Google News Be Swearing At You? for more comments.

Update 09/13/09: Google refused to acknowledge requests for comment, though it’s clear they received them.  This article was banned from Google’s search index a few days after it was posted. I can confirm it was originally appearing in search results.  There is no no direct link to this article. A Google employee responded to a user complaint of this issue by saying “Thanks for bringing this inappropriate content to our attention. We’ll contact the Village Voice following your alert.” This is a laughable deflection of responsibility. Village Voice did not make a mistake with their headline. Google made the mistake, by featuring it, and ignoring complaints about the inappropriate content, then trying to cover-up the story by removing articles about it from their search engine.  Give me a break, Google.  “Do no evil”, alright.

The Cult Of Wikipedia

From the internet debut of the anti-Scientology group “Anonymous”, Wikipedia became one of several “cyber battlegrounds”, and perhaps the most significant. With the unprecedented announcement by Wikipedia that IP addresses used by The Church of Scientology would be banned, “Anonymous” has found itself virtually uncontested in it’s campaign of internet vandalism. It wasted little time in filling all Scientology-related articles with the same handful of spurious claims, in many cases not even bothering to falsify citations as usual.

Wikipedia is perhaps one of the most insidious creations to come about online, due to the perception among many of it’s users that it is a legitimate encyclopedic source, and relies on “user submitted content”. The reality is, as any college or university student can attest to, Wikipedia is not recognized as a valid information source academically. Unfortunately, those that most rely upon Wikipedia for “facts”, have little experience with formal education, and subsequently do not seem to be aware of this.

Wikipedia is not run on user submitted content. It’s a closed and controlled forum, where information is designed to have an appearance of openness, solely for the purpose of creating the illusion that it is not micro-managed by administrators. Wikipedia itself has shed any last vestige of impartiality or neutrality, with it’s ban on Scientology staff members. There is little doubt that Wikipedia does on a larger scale, what private micro-managed web forums due on a smaller scale, it manipulates public opinion by creating an appearance of a consensus. To that end, users and information that clash with the agendas of it’s controllers, are eliminated.

Though there are numerous examples of Wikipedia’s clear bias and lack of credibility, the Scientology issue has brought greater attention and scrutiny to the shell game that is being played. Just a cursory overview of Scientology articles, demonstrates a clear and malicious intent on Wikipedia to allow libelous false claims to receive publicity and protection.  Though Wikipedia seems to believe third party content protections may void it from responsibility for the fabrications it hosts, it’s ban of the Church of Scientology may complicate that defense, should legal action eventually be taken.

That Wikipedia itself fits many of the “warning signs” of a cult listed by Anti-Scientologist and convicted felon Rick Ross, whose personal web site appears regularly as a valid source in Wikipedia entries, is perhaps ironic. Upon reading the article by Paulo Correa, M.Sc., Ph.D., et al, titled Wikipedia: A Techno-Cult of Ignorance, I’m wondering if “fitting” is a better term.

If you’d like to see just one example of Wikipedia’s hatchet job on Scientology, and decide for yourself if it lives up to Wikipedia’s supposed standards, take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology:_A_History_of_Man. You’ll quickly find yourself wondering what sort of entry supposedly focused on the book it is named after, managed to not cite that book once the entire way through. If that wasn’t enough, the speculation on supposed aliens and uncited (fake) quotations, as well as external links pointing to anti-Scientology websites and books, completely unrelated to “A History of Man”, show what type of content Wikipedia wants to “protect” from Scientologist editors.

No matter your opinion on The Church of Scientology, Wikipedia’s “arbitration committee” working hand in hand with those with a clear anti-Scientology bias to ensure that users of it’s site receive distorted, inaccurate, and patently false data about Scientology, sends a message. That message is certainly not characterized by any notion of “preserving integrity”. While some who, lacking even a basic education, have simply accepted and regurgitated the ridiculous claims made against Scientologists by “Anonymous”, Wikipedia has now handed them a platform to spread their venom uncontested under the pretense of encyclopedic knowledge.

This is just the latest reason that Wikipedia deserves the scorn it receives from the real academic community, whom it plays at being an extension of, or complimentary to. And this is a scorn that is only building with time, as even media has been caught up in Wikipedia’s circus of lies. Several lazy  journalists, relying on Wikipedia to provide content for the articles they were paid to write, ended up in the crossfire, when that information proved false. Even Wikipedia itself has been forced to address the mounting criticisms against it, in what is a surprisingly thorough impeachment of itself.

Also see Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism

And while we’re on the subject of “digital maoism”, how could I resist posting this (not exactly related) video from YouTube?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “On the Occasion of the First Annivers…“, posted with vodpod

Is Bing Better?

Even the wiki cultists over at Wikipedia know “Bing is a web search engine operated by Microsoft.” But if you’re not a Wikipedia geek, and chances are you’re not, since most of it’s user base is probably bots, what does it all mean for you?

“Is Bing better than Google?”, you might wonder. It’s a simple question, but there isn’t really a simple answer.

I reviewed Bing upon reading the announcement it was released.  In fact, I switched to it immediately.  I set it as default in the browser, and over the next few days Bing.com was my go-to-guy (or gal) for search. I was eager to give it a chance. Hell, I even gave Cuil a chance *shudder*. During that time, I found some things to love about Bing.  In the end, I switched back to Google, but barely, and for a reason I never would have predicted.

First, let’s talk about Bing’s advantages.

  • Does not promote SEO spam to the degree Google does
  • Results seem much more current
  • Special result format for certain types of searches
  • Shows your blog or web site a lot more love than Google (Unless you’re a spammer)

Bing is doing what Google should have come up with years ago, but in Google’s defense, they’ve been spending most of their time trying to take over the world, rather than tweak the search platform!

Bing is more relevant, more current, gives a better format for many searches, and it’s front page is actually accessible to the little guy, not a result of who bought the most links or page rank. These are not things to gloss over when it comes to search. They make for an overall better experience, and the more you use Google and see pages full of spam sites, the more you realize Bing has a role to play.

But…

  • Google’s interface is cleaner and perceptually simpler
  • Bing’s blue, white and orange b with a target in it symbol is annoying (at least to me)
  • Bing’s sidebar seems more like reserved advertisement space than anything useful
  • Bing’s spellchecking is inferior

Now, some of you might say that complaining about Bing’s look is pretty unfair, but it’s a visual internet, and Bing’s look is completely relevant.  There might really be some people out there who like it more, but I strongly favor the minimalist, clean interface of Google to Bing’s busier look. Sure the tri-color (if you count white) “bullseye ‘b'”, and the city scape taking up space in the top left corner might be nice eye candy…  presumably to comic book super hero fans, but it didn’t win me overBing b bullseye

Actually, I still really haven’t figured out what the lowercase “b” with the orange dot in it is supposed to be…  Why is it there? It seems impossible to find this graphic anywhere online, even though Microsoft has is using it as the favicon for the site. Maybe that means they’re not too attached to it, and might replace it with something better. Even just a plain (gold), stylistic b would be nice.

In the end, despite the other considerations above, it was one simple search that prompted me to go back to Google. I tried to pull up some information on Bing, not wanting to waste time checking the spelling, I put in a close approximation, and Bing had no results.  I put in the same name through Google, and it knew what I was looking for. As useful as Bing is, getting the “We did not find any results for…” message is a deal breaker for me, since I’ve come to rely on Google’s intuitive nature as far as spelling is concerned.

Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice though. Sure, Bing cost me a few extra seconds on that one occasion, but how much time has Bing saved me when it comes to all the phishing sites and pornographic spam sites that seem to so easily creep onto Google’s 1st page results?  Every time I see traffic coming through on one word searches, I know they are from Bing.  You see, Bing puts relevant updated content on the first page, Google stacks malware sites and phishing sites upfront. Sure it’s the “algorithm” , but it’s also a choice to turn a blind eye to how they’re system is getting gamed.

Bing seems the more ethical choice…  I always feel just a little guilty when Bing sends me some nice traffic after posting an article.  It’s like choosing between two partners, and the one you left keeps reminding you that they exist and sending you little gifts.  Bing seems to be saying, “Look, just give me one more chance!” every time I check my statistics.  Bing is sending me more traffic and seemingly that traffic consists of more engaged users, than Google ever has.

In the long-run, if Bing keeps giving, I’m going to want to give back, and this could be the type of market strategy that really eats a hole through Google’s near-monopoly on search.  If you run a website or blog, you’re benefiting from Bing’s structure as a content provider, as well as a user.  Most of us can’t say the same with Google, unless we’re using the manipulative spamming techniques the internet has come to know and loathe.