Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Google Blog FTP Shutdown

Google is shutting down FTP support for its Blogger Blog service from 1 May 2010. However, so far I am unable to understand Google's instructions for migrating to an alternative service.

The current service, which I use for two blogs, allows me to create postings using Google's Blogger software, which then posts the resulting entries to my own web site.

FTP causes support problems for Google. As an alternative they are offering a service where they will maintain the content on their own service, but accessible from a sub-domain on my site. So instead of the current my postings would be at

The Google alternative sounds reasonable (FTP seems to be slow), but I can't understand the instructions provided. Google provide a migration tool which I can't get to work. I can't find a written description of what the tool does, just a video. There are no instructions for creating a sub-domain, just a domain and even there there are no instructions for the popular CPanel interface which my ISP uses. It seems likely that if I followed the instructions given, at best I would end up making my web site inaccessible, and replacing it with just my blog. In place of the usual online support, Google provide a Google Docs form with everyone's site listed.

Perhaps I am asking a lot for a free service, but I do have web ads on my blog pages and Google is probably making several hundred thousand dollars a year from these, so I do expect a little service.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Google advertising campaign to sell green ebook

Prompted by a free voucher from Google, I started an AdWords web based advertising campaign for my "Green Technology Strategies" book. I set the campaign for $7.50 a day for a week and left it to Google's system to work out how many ads to put where (except none on my own web site). The result was 1,119 ads placed on average position of 4.1 (that is forth down in a list of ads), with Google's system automatically bidding US$1.39 per ad.

The result was only one "click" on the ad, at a cost of 50 US cents. There were no sales of the product advertised.

Admittedly, I set AdWords a tough challenge by trying to sell the most expensive, slowest to deliver hardback edition of the book (cheap instant ebooks sell best).

While this was a failure for book sales, I seemed to get more direct leads about my consulting business. It would appear that companies read the ad, did not buy the book, but thought "he wrote a book and so must be an expert on the topic, lets contact him".

Starting by running an advertising campaign which lasts a week is a good idea, as this will coincide with the tips Google sends you. Each week they send new advertuisers a mail message about one page long with some suggestions. The one tis week for me was on "Top tips for great keywords:

A great keyword is:

  • Ideally, 2-3 words long
  • Specific (keywords that are too broad or general will not reach users as effectively as keywords that are highly targeted)
  • Directly related to the text in your ad
  • Directly related to the page your ad links to (specified by the destination URL) ...
Apart from being a useful technique which educators could emulate, these email messages are very useful marketing. Promoted by this I started a new campaign, linking to the eBook, rather than the print edition:
Green Technology eBook
Computers can reduce energy use.
As used by leading universities.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Google experimental fibre network

Google announced last week that it was planning to trial 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home to between 50,000 and 500,000 people. Much like Australia's NBN, suggested applications were 3-D medical imaging for rural health clinics, downloading high-definition films and collaborative education with 3-D university lectures. Google issued a request for information (RFI) for local government and the public. This was intended for the USA, but I sent a nomination for City Edge in Canberra anyway.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

No AdWords Sales So Far

Yesterday, promoted by a free voucher from Google, I started an AdWords web based advertising campaign for my "Green Technology Strategies" book. This did not start well, as the spell checker in my Firefox browser does not work with the forms the Google AdWords system uses. As a result I misspelled "Telchinology" in the title of the advertisement. No one is likely to buy a book from someone who misspells the title. There is no way to edit the content of an existing ad, you have to delete it and start again.

With that done, I set the campaign for $7.50 a day for a week and left it to Google's system to work out how many ads to put where (except none on my own web site). I set AdWords a tough challenge by trying to sell the most expensive, slowest to deliver hardback edition of the book. I was going to attribute a sale of e-book to the campaign, but so far the ad hasn't been through Google's review process and so can't run on web sites (and hasn't appeared on the Google search).

Google do try hard to make AdWords easy to use, but there is still a lot to learn (and for traditional marketers, a lot to unlearn).

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Possible Google Adwords Scam

In the mail I received a letter offering a Google AdWords $75 free advertising trial. However, after following the instructions to register on the Google Adwords site, I was told that the particular voucher had already been redeemed. Is this some sort of scam?

I tried calling the phone number on the letter (there was no email or street address for "Jason Chuck, Head of Marketing, Google Australia and New Zealand"). I got a recorded message: "All circuits to the destination you are calling are busy, please wait a few moments and try again".

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Google ceasing censorship due to Chinese hacking attacks

Google has announced they will cease censoring web search results in Chin. I was just interviewed about this by ABC Sunshine Coast Radio. The reason given by Google to review its business operations in China are sophisticated attacks originating from China attempting to access Gmail accounts of human rights activists. While the Google announcement does not so in plain language, Google is clearly accusing the Chinese government of attacking its systems. Google has about one third of Chinese search revenue and this is a significant market to give up. What might be also significant is the effect on China of the loss of access to Google, if the Chinese government decides to block the site. It will be an interesting economic experiment to see how quickly other companies move in to fill the vacuum and if the lack of Google impedes the Chinese economy.

ps: I had top declare my interest in the radio interview, as I have Google AdSense advertising on my web pages and earn money from them.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Google Technology User Group Sydney second meeting

Greetings from the Sydney Google Technology User Group (Sydney-GTUG) meeting in the Google building at Google Sydney. This is only the second ever meeting, with about 30 people (half were at the first meeting).

Pamela Fox gave a quick demonstration of the Chrome Frame plugin for Internet Explorer (for people who are required to use the IE browser). She mentioned iUI provides a code library for creating applications which look like native iPhone applications.

October 14, from 6pm to 9pm Google will host a mashing session for people interested in putting in an entry in the Government Web 2.0 "MashupAustralia Competition".

There was then a demonstration of "Tracklet" created for the ADC2 Android Developer Challenge. Some comments provided on Android phone application development:
  • Easy to start, but hard to get working well.
  • Memory limitations on manipulating images.
  • Treads cause problems with the user interface.
  • They used a graphing library called Flot.
There was then a demonstration, using the Android emulator. The UI looks like a set of posit notes with photos of the good on them. The notes can be moved around the screen. There is a Google map interface with purchases marked.

At question time I asked if they were redoing the application they would just use the Android for the user interface and run the application and store the data in the cloud. The developers commented that they looked at offloading processing of image data, but wanted data stored and processed locally to speed up the application. They said they would add an upload/data synchronisation facility.

This is a discussion I have been having with developers for decades, but I suggest if they instead used ordinary web pages for the interface and ran the application elsewhere, it would be reasonably fast. This would have the bonus of providing access from any desktop browner and not requiring synchronisation. There would be a cost in terms of data transfer, but if the interface was carefullydesign the communications overhead need not be large.

The next talk was about "The Patrick O'Brian Mapping Project" Patrick O'brien mapping project with Google maps and AdSense.

Google Earth plugin added to Google Maps. One point was that having static pages for the maps allows the search engines to find the data, whereas if it is hidden in a database it will not be found. This made the site well ranking. AdSense helps cover the hosting cost.

Another project was the "Timeline Project" with a WWII timeline project. This used a timeline updating a map of Europe in World War 2. As you move along the timeline, significant locations at that time are marked on the map. This could be applied to many historical battlefield material.To help enter data a request to the community was made. He is now working on a smart phone version with Google Maps.

Military organisations traditionally document battles in the battalion dairy. This timeline mapping technique could be used for an electronic diary. This week ABC Media Watch criticised the Australian Department of Defence for providing minimal information for the public about what is happening in Afghanistan. Perhaps as well as a war artist, there could be a war blogger, providng a timeline map of what is happening. I might mention this at the War 2.0 symposium in Canberra this week (the head of Defence PR will be there).

The last talk was about the Google Docs API Version 3.0. This now allows images to be OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to text. Documents can be translated into other languages. Documents can be converted between formats (such as MS-Word to PDF).

Google Sites was then demonstrated. This provides an alternative to SharePoint and Lotus Notes. This allows a web site to be edited live by a group of people, with the changes tracked.

The talks went until after 8pm. I think this is a bit too long. There were some yawns from the audience, despite the interesting content.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sydney Google Technology User Group Meeting on Tuesday

The Sydney Google Technology User Group (Sydney-GTUG) is having only its second meeting October 6th on "Android, Geo, Docs & Sites APIs". Details of who is speaking is limited, but it it is worth attending, just being able to see the Google bulding (I gave a talk there a few months ago).

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google pays Affiliates via AdSense

Google is now requiring clients of the Google Affiliate Network to link their account to a Google continues to consolidate its two web advertising systems: Goodle AdSense and the less well known Affiliate Network. Google is now requiring that Affiliate Network payments are made via an AdSense account.

Goodle AdSense and Affiliate Network both pay web publishers for putting ads on their web sites. AdSense pays per click on the ad, whereas Affiliate Network pays when the customer buys a product or registers interest. Google acquired Affiliate Network long after setting up AdSense and the two have had separate registration and payment systems.

I found this very confusing when I got the first notice asking me to link my Affiliate Network account to Goodle AdSense. When I went into my AdSense admin system I couldn't find anything about it. Then I got one saying I would receive no more Affiliate Network payments if I did not link the accounts, so I looked into it more. It turned out that I had to go to the Affiliate Network account and enter the AdSense details, not the other way around.

This should be an improvement for clients, as the AdSense payment system works well, allowing for electronic payment in Australian dollars to an Australia bank.

I have not found Affiliate Network that useful. Its advertisements are not as well targeted as those of AdSense and are therefore much more annoying. Affiliate Network was known as DoubleClick before being acquired by Google and had a controversial history. Also very few of the people who click on a Network ad actually end up buying a product and so payment is infrequent.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Sustainable education with open source and smartphones at Google Sydney

At the next Sydney Linux User's Group meeting I will be speaking on "Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT", 31 July 2009 at Google Sydney:

Fri 31 July: SLUG monthly meeting

2009-07-31 18:30
2009-07-31 20:30
Google Sydney, Level 5, 48 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont

General Talk

Tom Worthington: Learning to lower costs and carbon emissions with ICT

Tom designed the first globally accredited course on Green ICT and has been teaching it via the web since January 2009. The talk will discuss how ICT can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% by 2020. Also outlined is how to use the web for running formal, university accredited courses using free open source software with open access content delivered to smartphones. The Istanbul public transport system also gets a mention. ;-)

See Tom's Web site for more information.

Tom runs green IT courses at ANU and ACS. You can read the free open access version here.

In-Depth Talk

Meeting Schedule

See here for an explanation of the segments.

  • 18.15: Open Doors
  • 18.30: Announcements, News, Introductions
  • 18.45: General Talk
  • 19.30: Intermission
  • 19.45: Split into two groups for:
    • In-Depth Talk
    • SLUGlets
  • 20.30: Dinner

Dinner this month will be held locally, not at Golden Harbour as originally planned. Details are TBA.

We will be taking numbers at the beginning of the meeting. If you have any particular dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian), let us know beforehand. Dinner is a great way to socialise and learn in a relaxed atmosphere :)


General discussion and Q&A about Linux, free software and open source.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Google comes to Canberra

Pamela Fox, Maps API Support Engineer at Google, will talk on "Living in the Cloud: Hosting Data & Apps Using the Google Infrastructure" at the ANU in Canberra, 14 May 2009. Google staff talk at ANU regularly on techncial issues and several students have gone on to work for Google. Pamela was respo0nsible for a Google Maps mashup used for Mapping the Victorian fires. I suggested the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission talk to the Google Mapping people and that seems to have happened as media respots suggest that the Commission will make use of Google maps.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Google PowerMeter

Google say they are working on "PowerMeter". This will be a web based application reporting household power use in detail. A low cost energy meter reports power use to the Google application when then infers what is using the energy from its power use signature. This is not the first proposal for such an application and it is not clear that even Google's brand can make it more than a niche product for a few energy conscious people. Google might do well to offer an expanded service which allows for monitoring of other home resource use and offer billing services for cluster housing.

As an example my apartment has a communal solar boosted gas hot water system. This uses very little gas and results in a very small gas bill. But the gas costs are dwarfed by the fixed fee the gas company charges for doing the billing. Instead of interfacing the data logger in the basement to the gas company, the body corporate could connect the logger to Google and have them do the billing.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Google battery backed shipping container server

According to "Google uncloaks once-secret server" (Stephen Shankland, CNET, 1 April 2009) google uses a 12 Volt battery to back up each of its servers. The servers have two disk drives and two CPUs in a 3.5 inch high unit and then puts 1,160of them in a shipping container. What is not clear is if Google actually puts these in industry standard racks, or in some lower cost mounts.

The batteries used seem to be gel sealed lead acid units. Presumably these are designed to last the life of the server and not be replaced individually.

The Google server looks logically designed. My only slight worry is that the unit pictured looks like a DIY prototype, not a finished product which tens of thousands of are made. The article is dated 1 April and Google have previously produced April fools day jokes. But there seem to be other independent postings reporting on the design as well, from a data centre efficiency summit.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

GoogleAds Preferences

Google are adding "Ads Preferences" so that people can select the type of google ads they want to see on web pages. It will be interesting to see how well this is accepted.

Google AdSense previously was based on the idea that the ads displayed on a web site would be related to the topic of the page. This made sense: if you are looking at a web page about a rail journey in Australia, you may be interested in products and services related to rail travel in Australia.

With the ad preferences, Google will attempt to track what people are interested in and show ads for that. This the approach used by and others. The results can be a bit jarring, with ads completely unrelated to the topic of the web page they are on. Also there is the issue of privacy. Google have addressed these issues to some extent, by allowing people to set the topic they would like ads about, or to opt out of the personally targeted ads. However, with logic worthty of "Catch 22" it appears that Google will still attempt to set a Cookie on the web browser of the user's computer, so as to indicate that the user doesn't want personal information recorded.

I was going to paste here a list of the categories I selected for ads. But I ended up with the entire list of categories. This would therefore seem to reflect Google's view as to what products are of interest to the world:
* Animals
o Pets
+ Pet Food & Supplies
+ Exotic Pets
o Veterinarians
o Wildlife
* Arts & Humanities
o Books & Literature
+ Book Retailers
+ E-Books
+ Fan Fiction
+ Poetry
o Humanities
+ History
+ Myth & Folklore
o Theater & Performing Arts
o Visual Arts
* Automotive
o Auto Financing
o Auto Insurance
o Auto Parts
+ Vehicle Tires
o Car Shows
o Car Stereo
o Custom & Performance Vehicles
o Hybrid & Alternative Vehicles
o Motorcycles
o Off-Road & Recreational Vehicles
o Trucks & SUVs
o Vehicle Brands
+ Acura
+ Audi
+ Cadillac
+ Chevrolet
+ Chrysler
+ Citroen
+ Dodge
+ Fiat
+ Ford
+ Honda
+ Hyundai
+ Jeep
+ Kia
+ Lexus
+ Lincoln
+ Mazda
+ Mercedes-Benz
+ Mercury
+ Mitsubishi
+ Nissan
+ Peugeot
+ Pontiac
+ Porsche
+ Renault
+ Saturn
+ Subaru
+ Toyota
+ Volkswagen
+ Volvo
o Vehicle Licensing & Registration
o Vehicle Maintenance
o Vehicle Shopping
* Beauty & Personal Care
o Beauty Magazines
o Body Art
o Cosmetic Surgery
o Cosmetology & Beauty Professionals
o Face & Body Care
+ Cosmetics
+ Fragrances
+ Hair Removal
+ Hygiene & Toiletries
+ Skin & Nail Care
o Fitness
+ Bodybuilding
+ Yoga & Pilates
o Hair Care & Products
+ Hair Loss
o Spas & Beauty Services
+ Massage Therapy
o Weight Loss
* Business
o Advertising & Marketing
+ Marketing Services
+ Public Relations
+ Telemarketing
o Business Plans & Presentations
o Business Schools & Training
o Business Services & Consulting
+ Fire & Security Services
+ Knowledge Management
+ Outsourcing
+ Physical Asset Management
+ Quality Control & Tracking
o Corporate Events
+ Trade Shows & Conventions
o E-Commerce
+ Merchant Services & Payment Systems
o Human Resources
+ Compensation & Benefits
+ Corporate Training
+ Payroll Services
+ Recruitment & Staffing
o Management & Corporate Operations
+ Business Process
+ Strategic Planning
+ Supply Chain Management
o Office & Printing Services
+ Office & Facilities Management
+ Office Furniture
+ Office Supplies
+ Printing Services
+ Writing & Editing Services
o Small Business
+ Home Office
+ MLM & Business Opportunities
* Computers & Electronics
o Computer Security
+ Antivirus & Malware
+ Hacking & Cracking
+ Network Security
o Consumer Electronics
+ Audio Equipment
# MP3 Players
# Home Stereo
+ Home Video
# Video Players & Recorders
# Televisions
+ Personal Electronics
# Handhelds & PDAs
o Electronics & Electrical
+ Electromechanical Devices
+ Electronic Components
+ Optoelectronics & Fiber
+ Power Supplies
+ Test & Measurement
o Enterprise Technology
+ Data Management
o Hardware
+ Desktops
+ Hardware Components
# Chips & Processors
# Memory
# Sound & Video Cards
+ Laptops
+ Mods & Customization
+ Peripherals
# Input Devices
# Monitors
# Printers
# Scanners
+ Servers
+ Storage
# Network Storage
o Networking
+ Data Formats & Protocols
+ Network Monitoring & Management
+ Networking Equipment
o Programming
+ C & C++
+ Developer Jobs
+ Development Tools
+ Java
+ Scripting Languages
+ Windows & .NET
o Software
+ Audio & Multimedia
+ Business & Productivity
+ Device Drivers
+ Educational Software
+ Graphics & Publishing
# Fonts
+ Internet Software
# Internet Clients & Browsers
# Content Management
+ Open Source
+ Operating Systems
# Linux & Unix
# Mac
# Windows
+ Software Utilities
o Tech Support
* Entertainment
o Celebrities
o Clubs & Nightlife
o Comics & Animation
+ Anime & Manga
+ Cartoons
+ Comics
o Dancing
o Entertainment Industry
o Fashion & Modeling
o Fun & Trivia
o Movies
+ Bollywood & Lollywood
+ Horror Films
+ Movie Memorabilia
+ Movie Rentals & Sales
+ Science Fiction & Fantasy Films
o Multimedia Content
+ Flash Content
+ Podcasting
+ Video Clips & Movie Downloads
o Music
+ Alternative-Punk-Metal
+ Classical
+ Country & Folk
+ Dance & Electronica
+ Jazz & R&B
+ Latin
+ Lyrics & Tabs
+ Music Art & Memorabilia
+ Music Retailers
+ Music Streams & Downloads
+ Musical Instruments
+ Rock & Pop
+ Urban & Hip-Hop
+ Vocals & Show Tunes
+ World Music
o Radio
o TV
+ TV Programs
# Soap Operas
+ TV Networks
* Finance & Insurance
o Accounting & Tax
o Credit & Lending
+ Credit Cards
+ Debt Management
+ Student Lending
o Currencies & Foreign Exchange
o Insurance
+ Risk Management
o Investing
o Retirement & Pension
* Food & Drink
o Cooking & Recipes
o Cookware
o Culinary Training
o Food Retailers
o Nonalcoholic Beverages
o Restaurants
+ Restaurant Supply
* Games
o Video Games
+ Online Games
+ Cheats & Hints
* Home & Garden
o Domestic Services
o Gardening
o Home Appliances
o Home Furnishings
+ Lighting
o Home Improvement
o Homemaking & Interior Decor
o Pest Control
* Industries
o Aerospace & Defense
+ Space Technology
+ Defense Industry
o Agriculture & Forestry
+ Agricultural Equipment
+ Aquaculture
+ Crops & Seed
+ Food Production
+ Forestry
+ Horticulture
+ Livestock
o Chemicals
+ Agrochemicals
+ Cleaning Agents
+ Coatings & Adhesives
+ Dyes & Pigments
+ Plastics & Polymers
o Construction & Maintenance
+ Building Materials
# Doors & Windows
# Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning
# Nails Screws & Fasteners
# Plumbing Fixtures & Equipment
# Wood & Plastics
* Flooring
+ Civil Engineering
+ Construction Contractors
+ Property Development
+ Urban & Regional Planning
o Design
+ Architecture
+ Graphic Design & Publishing
+ Industrial & Product Design
+ Interior Design
o Energy & Utilities
+ Alternative Energy
+ Electricity
+ Oil & Gas
+ Waste Management
o Engineering Technology
o Industrial Materials & Equipment
+ Generators
+ Heavy Machinery
+ Valves Hoses & Fittings
o Manufacturing
+ Factory Automation
o Metals & Mining
o Pharmaceutical & Biotech
o Retail Trade
+ Retail Equipment & Technology
o Textiles & Paper
o Transportation & Logistics
+ Aviation
+ Couriers & Messengers
+ Distribution & Logistics
+ Freight & Trucking
+ Import & Export
+ Maritime Transport
+ Moving & Relocation
+ Packaging
+ Rail Transport
+ Urban Transport
* Internet
o File Sharing & Hosting
o Online Goodies
+ MySpace Codes & Graphics
+ Skins Themes & Screensavers
o Search Engine Optimization & Marketing
o Web Design & Development
o Web Hosting & Domain Registration
o Web Portals
o Web Services
+ Affiliate Programs
+ Email & Messaging
+ Search Engines
+ Web Stats & Analytics
* Lifestyles
o Activism & Social Issues
+ Environmental Issues
o Charitable & Non-profits
o Clubs & Organizations
o Holidays & Seasonal Events
o Parenting & Family
+ Baby Care
+ Child Care
+ Genealogy
+ Youth Camps
o Self-Help & Motivational
o Weddings
* Local
o Classifieds
o Event Listings
o Jobs
o Regional Content
+ Africa
+ Caribbean
+ Central & Eastern Europe
# Greece
+ Central & South Asia
# Afghanistan
# India
# Iran
# Pakistan
+ East Asia
# China
# Japan
# Korea
+ Mexico & Central America
# Mexico
# Costa Rica
+ Middle East
# Egypt
# Iraq
# Israel
# Lebanon
# Turkey
# United Arab Emirates
+ Oceania
# Australia
# New Zealand
# Pacific Islands
+ Polar Regions
+ Russia & Caucasus
+ South America
# Argentina
# Brazil
# Peru
+ Southeast Asia
# Indonesia
# Malaysia
# Philippines
# Singapore
# Thailand
# Vietnam
+ US & Canada
# Canada
+ Western Europe
# France
# Germany
# Ireland
# Italy
# Netherlands
# Portugal
# Spain
# Sweden
# United Kingdom
o Traffic & Public Transit
o Weather
* News & Current Events
o Business News
o Gossip & Tabloids
o Local News
o Magazines
o News Networks
o Newspapers
o Politics
+ Elections & Campaigns
o Technology News
* Photo & Video
o Photo & Video Equipment
+ Cameras & Camcorders
# Cameras
# Camcorders
o Photo & Video Sharing
o Photo & Video Software
o Professional Photo & Video Services
o Stock Photography
o Webcams & Virtual Tours
* Real Estate
o Home Financing
o Home Inspections & Appraisal
o Home Insurance
o Property Management
o Real Estate Agencies
o Rental Listings & Referrals
* Recreation
o Boating
o Cycling
o Equestrian
o Hobbies
+ Crafts
+ Paintball
+ Radio Control & Modeling
o Outdoors
+ Fishing
+ Hiking & Camping
+ Hunting & Shooting
o Running
o Surf & Swim
* Reference
o Biographies & Quotations
o Business & Personal Listings
o Calculators & Reference Tools
o Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
o Educational Resources
o Forms Guides & Templates
o How-To & Expert Content
o Language Study & Translation
o Libraries & Museums
o Maps & Geography
o Online Directories
o Time & Calendars
* Science
o Astronomy
o Biological Sciences
+ Anatomy
o Chemistry
o Ecology
o Geology
o Marine Science
o Mathematics
o Physics
o Scientific Equipment
o Scientific Institutions
* Shopping
o Antiques & Collectibles
o Apparel
+ Clothing Labels & Designers
+ Clothing Retailers
+ Footwear
+ Lingerie & Undergarments
+ T-Shirts
+ Watches & Accessories
o Auctions
o Consumer Affairs & Product Reviews
+ Consumer Affairs
+ Price Comparisons
+ Product Reviews
o Coupons & Rebates
o Customer Services
+ Warranties & Service Contracts
o Flowers Gifts & Greetings
+ Cards & Greetings
+ Flowers
+ Gifts
+ Parties & Occasions
o Luxury Goods
+ Gems & Jewelry
o Mass Merchants & Department Stores
o Shopping Portals & Search Engines
o Ticket Sales
* Social Networks & Online Communities
o Blogging Resources & Services
o Dating & Relationships
+ Matrimonial Services
+ Personals
+ Photo Rating Sites
o Forum & Chat Providers
o Online Journals & Personal Sites
o Social Networks
* Society
o Education
+ Colleges & Universities
+ Distance Learning
+ Homeschooling
+ K-12
+ Lesson Plans & Teaching Resources
+ Test Preparation
+ Vocational & Continuing Education
o Government & Regulatory Bodies
+ Royalty
+ Visa & Immigration
o Legal
+ Accident & Personal Injury Law
+ Criminal Law
+ Family Law
+ Intellectual Property
+ Labor & Employment Law
+ Law Schools & Training
o Military
+ Veterans
o Public Safety
+ Crime & Justice
+ Emergency Services
+ Law Enforcement
+ Security Products & Services
o Social Science
+ Demographics
+ Economics
+ International Relations
+ Psychology
o Social Services
+ Welfare & Unemployment
* Sports
o Baseball
o Basketball
o Cheerleading
o Combat Sports
+ Boxing
+ Martial Arts
+ Wrestling
o Cricket
o Extreme Sports
o Football
o Golf
o Gymnastics
o Hockey
o Horse & Dog Racing
o Motor Sports
o Olympics & International Competitions
o Racquet Sports
o Rugby
o Soccer
o Sporting Goods
o Sports Magazines
o Track & Field
o Volleyball
o Water Sports
o Winter Sports
* Telecommunications
o Communications Equipment
o Location & Tracking (GIS-GPS)
o Mobile & Wireless
+ Mobile & Wireless Retailers
+ Mobile Phones
+ Ringtones & Mobile Goodies
o Service Providers
+ Cable & Satellite Providers
+ ISPs
+ Phone Service Providers
# Calling Cards
o Teleconferencing
o VOIP & Internet Telephony
* Travel
o Adventure Travel
o Air Travel
o Attractions & Activities
o Bus & Rail
o Car Rental & Taxi Services
o Cruises & Charters
o Hotels & Accommodations
o Vacation Destinations
+ Australia
+ Caribbean Islands
+ Hawaii
+ Hong Kong
+ Las Vegas
+ Mexico
+ New York City
+ Orlando

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Open Source Disaster Management Project in Google Summer of Code

The Sahana open source disaster management system has been selected for the Google Summer of Code 2009. Students interested in particiapting, by helping develop software can obtain details at the Google Summer of Code 2009 IDEAS and Guidelines for Students Participating in Google Summer of Code 2009 for Sahana.

Mentors: If you are an active Sahana Contributor and would still like to be involved in the GSoC as a mentor, it's not too late. Please visit to register and we will also get you caught up on all pertinent information you need to know about.

A full timeline of important dates for this summer can be found here:

We look forward to seeing all the proposals that come in!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Victorian Bushfire Maps

Google have provided a Flash Map, using information from the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) RSS Feed. The intention is to provide a better visual representation of the information and take the load off other web based information services. One of the services which was overloaded over the weekend was Geoscience Australia's national bushfire monitoring system "Sentinel". This was reporting "Service Temporarily Unavailable". This is the public version of the service and hopefully the separate password protected service provided to firefighters was operating. Even so it is unfortunate the public service was not able to cope with demand when needed.

The problem is that Sentinel tries to provide a very interactive and customized service to each user. As a result the system can become overloaded in periods of high demand. The web has features built in to reduce the load, but this would require a comprise of the interactive design.

In 2003 I suggested some changes to allow the Sentinel system to cope better with high demand. CSIRO, who at that time were maintaining the system, adopted some of the suggestions.

As an example, I suggested providing canned maps of major events, so that the general public would not need to use the interactive application. In the current version this is implemented as "Current Overview". The usefulness of this feature could be improved by moving the link up from tenth place in the menu to a more prominent position. Also the paragraph about it on the bottom of the page could be moved to the top of the page. More people would be likely to use the feature.

In addition the "Cache-Control" of "no-cache" could be removed from the maps provided in the overview. Maps at fixed points in time on unchanging web pages would then be created. When there was a new map, it would be placed on a newly created page. To get the latest map the user would be directed to the latest page, rather than refreshing the same page. This would allow caching of the maps and reduce the workload to the server. While this may made for a less interactive design, it would allow the system to cope with much higher loads.

Another option would be to supply the data to another system, such as that by Google. However, local network limitations could also hamper access, even if the server can cope with the load, so a more streamlined designed would still be a worthwhile improvement.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Google Book Search Mobile Version

Google have conducted a very low profile launch of a mobile version of their Google Book Search. This allows you to search for books using a mobile phone and view the full contents of some of them. Google are using Web for display: that is HTML with JavaScript is used for an interactive web interface. One problem seems to be that the interface depends on JavaScript. Using the Opera web browser with JavaScript turned off I was unable to view the books. There appears to be no "Basic HTML mode" as there is with the desktop version of the book search. One good feature is that the mobile version can be used on a desktop web browser, which may be of use if you have limited bandwidth.

There is no use of PDF or other e-Book formats. An example is "Oliver Twist". In practice you need a smart phone with larger screen and a keyboard to make this practical. One limitation is that there are very few free books currently available. Most of the searches I conducted for free books only found historical documents hundreds of years old. Another limitation is that older documents appear to be in the form of page images, rather than real text. This will result in them taking longer to download and be harder to read on a small screen. These are limitations which other e-books have as well.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Google Detecting influenza epidemics

Staff of Google in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have published a letter in Letter in the prestigious scientific journal Nature on "Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data". The idea is that people with the flu will do web searches about it, thus alerting authorities to an outbreak. This is a cleaver idea, but not the one I had in mind when I proposed using the web for an combating avian influenza epidemic.

Seasonal influenza epidemics are a major public health concern, causing tens of millions of respiratory illnesses and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year1. In addition to seasonal influenza, a new strain of influenza virus against which no previous immunity exists and that demonstrates human-to-human transmission could result in a pandemic with millions of fatalities2. Early detection of disease activity, when followed by a rapid response, can reduce the impact of both seasonal and pandemic influenza3, 4. One way to improve early detection is to monitor health-seeking behaviour in the form of queries to online search engines, which are submitted by millions of users around the world each day. Here we present a method of analysing large numbers of Google search queries to track influenza-like illness in a population. Because the relative frequency of certain queries is highly correlated with the percentage of physician visits in which a patient presents with influenza-like symptoms, we can accurately estimate the current level of weekly influenza activity in each region of the United States, with a reporting lag of about one day. This approach may make it possible to use search queries to detect influenza epidemics in areas with a large population of web search users. ...

From: Detecting influenza epidemics using search engine query data, Jeremy Ginsberg, Matthew H. Mohebbi, Rajan S. Patel, Lynnette Brammer, Mark S. Smolinski & Larry Brilliant, Nature , doi:10.1038/nature07634; Received 14 August 2008; Accepted 13 November 2008; Published online 19 November 2008

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Detect Influenza outbreaks with web searches

Graph of five years of flu estimates for US Mid-Atlantic region compared with CDC dataGoogle have created a service to "Explore flu trends across the U.S.". The system tracks the use of search terms which indicate that people have influenza and plots this on a graph over time and a map of the USA. According to "Google Uses Searches to Track Flu’s Spread" (By MIGUEL HELFT, The New York Times, November 11, 200), a paper on this will be published in Nature.The idea of using web searches to detect natural phenomena is not a new one, with previous proposals to use internet traffic to detect earthquakes. The technique might be used as part of an ICT system to deal with an Avian Influenza Pandemic.

Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer. You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Trends. But can search query trends provide an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for "flu" is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discovered that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States. ...

From: How does this work?, Google Flu Trends, Google, 2008

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Fake blogs make Blog search risky

IT World reported a comparison of rival Blog search engines ("Is Google Blog Search a Techmeme killer? No way.", by Ian Lamont, October 2, 2008), so I did some ego surfing to see who said what about me. But the search resulted in so many scam blogs, it makes blog searching a risky business and not very useful.

A search for "Tom Worthington", taking out the references to my own site and other well known people of the same name (in the USA there is an attorney and a fish seller who frequently feature in news web sites), left only 122 references. Some of these were by me, others were just relays of posting from my own blog, but some were thoughtful, if not always positive, comments on my work. Some are from people I know, but most from people I don't. Even from people I know I was not aware of the postings.

One worrying aspect is that about one quarter of the postings seem to be pieces of random text copied from web pages to produce fake blogs, mostly on These are then used to lure people to web sites packed with dubious advertising, re-directions and pop ups. One which seems popular with scams is Jim Byrne's summary of the web discrimination case "Bruce Maguire versus Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG)", in which I get a mention. It is not clear why this would be used to promote sex web sites, but perhaps the document is very popular and so useful to attract web traffic.

The blog search engine designers need to improve their algorithms so reduce the risk of recommending fake blogs. The problem does not seem to occur with normal web searchers, so a solution should not be too difficult. The blog hosting sites, particularly, need to put in tests for such sites. This a serious problem which makes it so likely to end up at a dubious web site that it is not worth using a blog search at all, until it is fixed.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome web browser detailed in a comic book

screenshot thumbnails from Google Chrome ComicGoogle was planning to release its own web browser, called "Google Chrome". But the details went out a few days early. The main feature is that it will be more reliable for running web based applications, with multiple processes. What is as interesting as the web browser itself, is that it is detailed in a comic book, put on the web by Philipp Lenssen. The comic format is similar to the storyboards which can be produced by scriptwriting software such as Celtx and perhaps is the coming trend in documenting technical systems.
At Google, we have a saying: “launch early and iterate.” While this approach is usually limited to our engineers, it apparently applies to our mailroom as well! As you may have read in the blogosphere, we hit "send" a bit early on a comic book introducing our new open source browser, Google Chrome. We will be launching the beta version of Google Chrome tomorrow in more than 100 countries. ...

From: A fresh take on the browser, The Official Google Blog, 9/01/2008 02:10:00 PM

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Google AdSense for Feeds

Google now provide for advertisements in RSS and Atom feeds, including podcasts. Google's AdSense system allows someone who has a feed to have a text or image advertisement added to the top or bottom of each feed item (bottom is the default and seems a better idea to me). Google tracks who clicks on the ads, charges the advertiser and give the feed owner a commission. I have created one to try it out for my Net Traveller blog.

If this is too much for your readers, you can select ads to display every 2nd, 3rd or 4th item. By default the AdSense system will choose the colors and format of the ads (choosing the ad format can be bewildering for the beginner, so this is useful).

One issue may be with big ads in short postings. I have my feeds to only provide the first few lines of each posting. The idea is that this saves bandwidth: you then click on the link to get the full item, if you want it. But if each small item has a big ad on the bottom, it will get very annoying. Also I suspect there will be an arms race between designers of feed readers who will try to block the ads and Google making them appear.

The most confusing part of the process I found was that the feed ads only seem to work using Google's own Feedburner. That is you can't just put a code in your own feed code, as is done for ads on web pages. Instead you give AdSense the address of your feed and then it gets FeedBurner to create a version of it with the ads, supplied from the server. So your existing subscribers will not see the ads: you have to give them a new feedburner address.

Using FeedBurner might have advantages, if caches the feed. The feeds from my web server make up a lot of the download traffic and if I can get someone elee to do that it might be useful. It might be worth then providing the whole item via the feed, not just a summary.

FeedBurner provides facilities for checking on readership of feeds, but this is a whole new management system I have to learn about.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

iGoogle annoyances and Add to Google

Add to GoogleGoogle have taken another step to being everyone's default computer desktop with their customized iGoogle home page. With this you can customize the look of the home page with themes and add gadgets, such as news feeds. You cna then use this from any computer by logging in.

What I found annoying was I didn't ask for any of this, just one day recently iGoogle appeared when I went to do a Google search. The previous clean and simple Google search page was suddenly cluttered with news feeds, the time and date (why would I need a web widget to tell me the time and date?) and the like. It took me a couple of minutes to switch this all off (there is an option to revert to "classic Google", but a few of the iGoogle features are worthwile).

One featire I am trying out is "Add to Google Subscription Button". This lets you offer a button on your web site to allow readers to add your RSS feed to their iGoogle page. I didn't like the design of the button, so I just used the ALT text from it like this: Add to Google. The result is much the same as subscribing to the RSS feed, but instead of using the feed reader installed on your PC, the feed goes to the iGoogle home page. I can't imagine many people would want to keep my Blog feed on the home page, but it will be interesting to see how many do.

The add to Google also works with Gadgets (little web based services which will provide things like a news service, or a game). These could become a security and maintenance headache for system administrators.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Google's Infrastructure and Google Traffic

Google presented a Tech Talk at the ANU in Canberra today. Google comes to the university once a year to give some insights to how they do ICT and to recruit students.

This year's talk centered on Google's mapping function, which is developed in Australia. This can be used to easily develop mapping applications, such as for tracking vehicles.

Google's execution model uses racks of x86 computers, each of which has an IDE disk. A custom job scheduler allocates tasks to the CPUs, with the code written in C+. This is in many ways like an old fashioned job scheduling system, and in other ways like the systems used for managing scientific processing systems with very large numbers of CPUs. Google has centers distributed around the world, with the system routing jobs around problems, up to the loss of whole centers.

One interesting point is that HTTP is used for managing the jobs. Also there was a reference to "shards" of data. 64Mbyte chunks of files are allocated by the Google file system. Interestingly the same disk drives on the local clusters seem to be used both for the local temporary files and the long term Google file store.

One of the audience had used the open source version of the Google system for running a government application.

Google has jobs at its office in Sydney for software engineers, UNIX/Linux application administrators and product managers. There are also internships, graduate opportunities and a special scholarship for females. About one third of Google's staff come directly from university. Google has 60 engineers in Sydney and 140 other staff. Overseas students are welcome, provided they meet Australian immigration requirements. Google staff may also work at other offices around the world.

At question time I asked if there could be Australian involvement in the Sahana 2008 Google Summer of Code. This is to add mapping and other functions to the Sahana disaster management system (which I help with). The answer was that this tended to be a northern hemisphere event, but Google Australia is keen to foster Australian involvement.

Perhaps there would also be scope for Green ICT projects with the ACS Green ICT Group and Computers Off Australia (also Google has a new green building in Sydney). One possibility would be some online training materials to teach ICT people about power saving technology.

ps: Last year Google suggested ANU could replace its computer systems with Google's, giving each student a Google email address. There was also an emphasis on the Google free lunch and Google ethos. This did not go well with the audience and this year they did not make the same mistake. The presentation had much more of an Australian flavor to it.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Google Webmaster Tools

Google are now providing free Webmaster Tools. Like other free Google tools, clearly Google are getting something in return for providing you the service: the information you provide will help Google index the pages better, which is good for them (as well as you). To sign up for the servcie you need a Google account (usually a Gmail account). To use some you have to verify the web site you want to check is yours by uploading a code to the home page.

The servcie provides:
  1. Diagnostics
  2. Statistics
  3. Links
  4. Sitemaps
  5. Tools


  1. Web crawl: problems Google had accessing pages. My site had no errors: HTTP errors , Not found, URLs not followed, URLs restricted by robots.txt, URLs timed out, Unreachable URLs.
  2. Content analysis: problems with site metadata (title and description information). Google found one of my web pages was missing a title. It also looks for duplicates, very long or titles and "non-informative" ones. The missing title turned out to be in a web page in the Moodle system.
  3. Mobile crawl: problems with pages designed for mobile phones. Google looks for CHTML and WML/XHTML . CHTML is a variant of HTML mostly used for Japanese mobile phones. Some of my pages have XHTML and CSS specifically designed for mobiles.


Search queries

This shows which queries to Google returned pages from the site and which were most often selected by the person searching. This was an interesting list for mw web site as it differs from the results the statistics package my web server provides. The difference is essentially, that this is how others perceive the web site from the outside, not how I see it from the inside. As an example The 2020 summit does not figure highly in my web site stats:

Top search queries
# % Query Position
1 45% 2020 summit 23
2 25% 20 20 summit 11
3 4% 2020 summitt 9
4 4% australia 2020 summit 16
5 3% 2020 summit submissions 5
6 2% 2020 39
7 2% 2020 summit summary 9
8 2% australia 2020 28
9 2% "2020 summit" 17
10 1% 2020 summit video 6
11 1% 2020 summit australia 30
12 1% 2020 summit submission 4
13 1% alan smart 10
14 1% australian 2020 summit 11
15 1% what is the 2020 summit 15
16 1% smart 33
17 1% cookies enabled on your browser 4
18 1% forum 2020 4
19 1% 2020 summit governance 7
20 1% 20 20 summitt 10

Top clicked queries

# % Query Position
1 27% konkan railway 5
2 18% 2020 summit official opening speakers 2
3 18% 2020 summit submissions 5
4 18% australia 2020 summit submissions 5
5 18% indian ferry 7

Crawl stats

The crawl stats are a little hard on the ego, as it shows what proportion of the pages have a high, medium or low PageRank. Most of mine rated low. My highest rating was one on the accessibility of Olympic web sites.

Subscriber stats

This shows hom many have subscribed to RSS feeds using Google services, such as such as Google Reader. There were none for my site, although I have an RSS feed on it.

What Googlebot sees

This shows words and phrases in the anchor text of links to the site. This is not information from the site itself, but what other people used to describe it, when linking to it. So this is what the system which collects links to the site (the "Googlebot "), sees.

This information is quite confronting as it does not necessarily match the idealized picture of how you see your carefully crafted web site being viewed. Also in some cases you say "who was silly enough to say that?" and find the phrase is from something you wrote. Here are the top few phrases and words from my site (Google provide a longer list):

Phrases in external links:

1. open 2020 summit moodle
2. all the notes
3. help cookies must be enabled in your browser
4. moodle for local summit details and links
5. create new account
6. http tomw net au moodle course view php
7. new account
8. summit on open source
9. writing for the web
10. aide votre navigateur doit supporter les cookies

Keywords In your site's content

1. australian
2. australia
3. government
4. tom
5. computer
6. worthington
7. system
8. technology
9. post
10. canberra

Keywords in external links to your site

1. tomw
2. stores
3. net
4. other
5. line
6. online
7. html
8. ltd
9. pty
10. communications

Pages with external links

This shows which pages external sites are pointing to. This list did not make a lot of sense at first. As an example, there was an entry for with 74 links. On closer inspection, this turned out to be the page for the Open 2020 Summit and numerous people had put in links to it. But I think I still don't quite understand what this report is trying to tell me.


Sitelinks are a small table of contents which Google generates itself and places in its search results. My site doesn't have one of these, which might suggest the site is not clearly enough organized for Google's algorithm to work it out. Sightlinks have been controversial as they might supplant the web site's own navigation.

Pages with internal links

This provides pages pointed to from other pages on the site. This was not a lot more use than the tools usually provided with web development tools.


This reposts any sitemaps associated with the web site. These are XML files which provide Google bot (and other web crawlers) with a list of the pages on the web site and make it easier for new pages to be indexed. This can reduce the traffic on the web site from web crawlers and allow them to index the site more frequently. Google provide a list of tools which can be sued to generate the sitemap. Ideally this should be built into the web server, so each time a page is added, or changed, the site map is updated. But there are some external web based tools, such as to try.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Google Ads on Mobile Phones

After years of trying, and failing, to interest people in the problem of providing accessible web sites for the disabled, I gave up. But I think they will listen to how to put Google ads on mobile phones (which uses the same accessibility techniques). All welcome at this free seminar in Canberra:
Seminar Announcement
Department of Computer Science, FEIT
The Australian National University

Date: Monday, 15 October 2007
Time: 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Venue: Room N101, CSIT Building [108]

Speaker: Tom Worthington

Title: Google Ads on Mobile Phones: accessibility, standards and implementation


Google's AdWords/AdSense system allows businesses to advertise on the web. This service was recently expanded to provide advertisements on mobile phones using XHTM/WAP 2.0, WML/WAP 1.0 and CHTML/iMode, implemented with PHP, CGI Perl or ASP. This is a brief overview of how the Google system is implemented and a demonstration. The differences between the system for desktop and hand held devices is discussed, as is Google's adherence (or lack of) to web standards. The accessibility of the ads, particularly for disabled will also be looked at.

Tom Worthington a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University, where he teaches the design of web sites, e-commerce and professional ethics. Tom has been an expert witness in several court cases involving international patent, computer, web and Internet issues, as well as advising governments and companies on ICT problems. In 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy.


DCS Seminars:

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

St George Bank Annoying Queuing System sent me a check for royalties on online sales. These are difficult to deposit and made more difficult by a very annoying queuing system introduced by St. George bank.

Unlike Google, who send checks in Australian dollars (and even do direct deposit to Australian banks), send paper cheques in US dollars. At least I think they are in US dollars, as the cheques do not identify the currency or the country they are from. The first time I tried to deposit one of these the teller looked at me suspiciously.

This time I did not manage to get to the teller at all. St. George Bank have introduced a "take a number" queuing system. I pressed "international transactions" and was issued number "D810". A screen showed that A240 was being served, as were some B and C numbers, but no Ds. So I had no idea when, or if, I would ever have a turn. After a while of standing around and seeing if there was any way to find out, I gave up and put the cheque in a deposit envelope in a slot.

The bank called the next day to say that I must come to the counter to deposit overseas cheques. However, by then I was interstate. The following week I turned up at the branch used the name of a teller to bypass the queuing system. This seems a bizarrely inefficient way to run a bank and is not good for the customer.

In the longer term I will see if I can find another bank which does not have this very customer unfriendly system, which seems to be designed to drive people away from St. George bank. Or perhaps will realize that not everyone in the world works in US currency and will have a direct deposit system in US dollars by the time of my next payment.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Google Adsense Referrals 2.0

Google added an expanded "Referrals 2.0" feature to its web advertising service in 2007. In theory this should provide more revenue from the Google Adsense advertisements on my web site, but so far the results have been disappointing.

Google previously paid a referral fee when customers were referred to Google services, such as downloading the Google toolbar. This has now been extended to referrals to other companies. So if, for example, a customer clicks on a Google ad and buys an airline ticket, the airline pays a referral fee to Google. In theory this is better for advertiser than the regular Google AdWords service, where advertisers pays when the the customer clicks on an ad, even if they never actually buy anything.

So far the results from Referrals 2.0 have been disappointing. Over the last few weeks I have tried some Referrals ads on some web pages. These have resulted in 31,640 third party ad impressions (number of times the ads appeared), 44 clicks (people selecting to look for further details from the ad), but no signups (people registering or buying the goods). As a result there was no revenue from this. The Referrals displaced other regular Google ads, resulting in a drop in Google revenue overall.

It may that it is too early to judge the success of Referrals. One problem seems to be that there are few quality advertisers using the service. Also the matching of advertisers to web pages does not seem as finely tuned as Google's regular ads. There are many ads which do not seem to match the topics of the web sites they appear on.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Big Brother Google?


Big Brother Google?
Roger Clarke (DCS, ANU & Xamax Pty. Ltd.)

DATE: 2007-08-27
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101, ANU

Google is increasingly being perceived as the company that will follow IBM (1965-85) and Microsoft (1985-2005) in dominating the IT industry. This presentation will outline the many business lines that Google is endeavouring to build, and then focus on what has become the major part of its business - knowing a lot about people.

From 1984-95, Roger Clarke was Reader in Information Systems in ANU's then Department of Commerce. Since then he has been back in full-time consultancy through his company, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd. He focuses on strategic and policy aspects of eBusiness, information infrastructure and dataveillance and privacy.

He has retained his connections with academe as a Visiting Fellow in the ANU Department of Computer Science (1995-2005) and as an Adjunct Professor from April 2005. He is also a Visiting Professor in eCommerce at the University of Hong Kong (2002-), and a Visiting Professor in Cyberspace Law & Policy at UNSW (2003-). He has also undertaken Gastprofessur at the Universities of Bern (Switzerland) and Linz (Austria), and been a Gastdozent at the European Business School and the University of Koblenz (both in Germany).

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Google jobs and scholarships in Australia

Last week, Will Blott and Alan Noble from Google's Sydney office and Neetu Sabharwal from their ANU in Canberra.

Google are expanding their Sydney engineering center. So they need students to work as "interns" and also graduates. On the visit the Google staff emphasized that they want people who can write useful computer programs. This is different to some centers where one group of people theorize and then hand it to someone else to build a working system.

The popular Google Maps started in Sydney (at a company Google acquired). They can't say what is currently being worked on, but there is a list of jobs on the Google web site.

For students, Google offer:
One thing Google don't mention in their advertising, but which I discussed with them on their visit, is that they have labs in other countries in the Asian region. Students studying in Australian universities may well find it easier to get into Google in Australia, than in their home country. Once in, they can look to work at another Google center.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Google Came to Canberra

On Thursday, Will Blott and Alan Noble from Google's Sydney office and Neetu Sabharwal from their ANU in Canberra:
"Google Australia is looking to forge relationships with key universities as they now have a dedicated 'on campus' focus in Australia. Google is keen to explore opportunities to partner that will add value to students' experience and help develop computer science engineers for Australia. ".
The overall message from the visit is that Google is looking for staff who can write useful computer programs. They are happy to provide support to researchers, to offer students the opportunity to work with Google people, but in the end they want people who can write useful computer programs, not just research papers. This was a refreshingly down to earth view.

One aspect I found interesting was Google's global nature. The company has a US West Coast base. This results in some slightly annoying cultural aspects of their promotional material making them a bit like a cross between the McDonalds hamburger chain and The Wiggles. But Google is developing labs around the world which are growing rapidly. While the staff are physically located in one lab, they work with those in others.

National research offices for global corporations can have their problems. When I visited Microsoft Research Labs in Cambridge (UK), there seemed to be a fear that they would be out researched by low cost PHDs at Microsoft Beijing. Google use their company culture to attempt to overcome this.

One interesting aspect of having a Google center in Australia is that students from the Asian region at Australian universities might have a better access to Google scholarships and jobs than they would at home. There is a much smaller pool of students in Australia to compete for attention, than at an Indian or Chinese university. Once in the Google door, they then have access to the Google center in the home country.

Google Work With the ANU

Before Will and Alan gave a seminar, there was a discussion of possible areas for cooperation. Three areas I thought worth looking at were:

* Digital Mapping for the Public Good: Mobile phones for bushfire mapping, and applications for a GPS open source smart phone.

Sentinel Interactive Fire Tracking Map DemonstrationBushfire mapping

One student evaluated what was needed for an emergency management web site.

One application is adaption of the Sentinel Fire Mapping System for mobile devices. An experimental alternative web interface is available.

* Broadband Applications for Non-Broadband Users: New web applications are tending to require more and continuous network access. This makes it more difficult for those still on slow dial up connections and for wireless users with slow intermittent connections. These could be people in developing nations, such as India and China, but also in regional parts of places like Australia. These might not sound like high value customers for a company to target, but many of the same techniques used to provide Internet applications to rich people with smart phones can also be used for slow dialup users.

Sahana home page on a mobile phoneAn example is to modify the Sahana open source disaster management system for a phone.

* Cultural Links: As I found when teaching web design to museum workers in Samoa, there is great interest and value in providing web access to cultural material. But this tends to result in relatively dull, academic web sites, separate from the lively commercial stuff. Creating lively web sites is hard work. It should be possible to enhance the culturally worthy stuff, using some automated techniques like those applied commercially.
Ten Canoes Study Guides
Two students undertook projects to provide a better web interface to Australian museum materials, including those which inspired the movie Ten Canoes.

One student now working out how to use this to provide more relevant links from the ACS Digital Library to services such as Google.

Google Apps

There was a little of a sales pitch in the visit, with Google saying how good their Google Apps Education Edition. I am not sure how many universities, or companies, would be convinced of this. While organizations may be willing to use free third party systems to allow people to interact remotely, they are reluctant to have these systems as part of their "mission critical" applications. They are even more reluctant to have their data stored on someone else's system at an indeterminate location in some other country under that country's laws.

A lot of this reluctance to use external providers is irrational. Shared and remote systems used to be an everyday part of computing. Google's system is likely to be more reliable than the average corporate system and there are benefits in having your data stored away from head office. In a recent case a hail storm closed several buildings in Canberra for days. The ANU campus was closed, but the computer systems kept working and people were able to work remotely. With something like Google Apps an organization would be able to keep working remotely (perhaps even via smart phones).

However, I have to admit that while I use Google's Blogger service to prepare my blog, I still get it to put the files on my own web server located in Australia. I like the comfort of my data on a system I am paying for in a location under the same laws. Google will be hampered in promoting Google Apps in Australia, as their data centers are located in other countries, and so mostly not subject to Australian law.

Google would have difficulty locating a data center in Australia, as there are limited international telecommunications links to Asia and the USA. Perhaps the ALP could dip into the Future Fund some more to pay for extra fibre optic links to the USA and Asia. Given the amount of traffic coming from Google, this may have a significant impact on Australian telecommunications.

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