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Google Sidewiki: I totally had this idea years ago.

Google SideWiki brings comments from users right to your browser.

Google Sidewiki brings comments from users right to your browser.

For those of you not completely glued to Google Labs or RSS updates from Google, there’s a new feature of Google Toolbar that’s found its way to Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers: Google Sidewiki.

Google Sidewiki puts everyone’s opinion or insights about a page right there with you on a site.  (To be honest, I’m pretty sure Google found some way to read my mind from 10 years ago and decided to implement the idea that I had, but I digress.)

Google Sidewiki can be used by visitors and site administrators alike.  If you’re the (verified) site owner, you can leave comments that are sticky at the top of the Sidewiki, which is very useful for getting feedback about your site, or prompting a conversation about your site.  However, if you have a blog or some feature that allows feedback on a specific article, it might be best if you promote that and let the user leave comments on that specific article, so the comments don’t get lost in the Sidewiki.  You can get a lot of great hints and feedback that will help better your site.  If a certain feature of your site is acting up, people would be more likely to leave a note in the Sidewiki as opposed to filling out the contact form just to let you know that something’s not working.  Any way that users can interact with your site will help you get return visitors.  So keep peoples’ Sidewiki comments in your mind when you make updates to your site.

To get the Google Toolbar (and in turn, have access to the SideWiki) you simply go to the Google Toolbar page and click the conveniently large “Install Google Toolbar” button.  Once it’s installed and you restart your browser, you can log in to your Google account and gain access to not only Sidewiki, but GMail, Your Google Bookmarks, and access to Google Translate.  Being a Mac/Safari nerd at home has made me miss Google Toolbar, but there’s a good chance I might sway to Firefox on my home computer with the release of Google Sidewiki.

Let’s Talk About How Awesome It Is!

I’ve always been a fan of reader interaction on webpages, whether it be posting on a forum, a chat room, or blog comments (*ahem*); however, those systems typically require a user to signup and can do so with a completely anonymous username.  With Sidewiki, you use your Google ID to leave comments on the side of webpages.  Google also gives users the ability to rate if a comment is useful or not, and if the comment is just spam, you can report it as abuse and Google will take action.  This is definitely a necessary feature because as we all know, spammers are out there trying to get their links to Russian Mail-Order Brides to as many people as possible.

I also really like how you can also make a comment specifically about one section on the page.  If there’s a certain paragraph or headline that I want to make a comment about, I can just pop open the Sidewiki, highlight the text that I wanted to comment on, and start typing my soliloquy about how Chewbacca is the greatest movie character ever.  It’s a pretty cool idea, but I am not sure how it will work when people make a comment on a news article on the front page of a site.  Once it gets moved to an archive, the comment won’t follow it, unless Google’s figured out some magical way to make the comment hook into the permalink of the page.  And if they’ve done that, then I’ll be completely flabbergasted.

Sidewiki also gives the ability for a verified webmaster (through Google Webmaster Tools) to post a comment and keep it pinned at the top of the sidebar.  I think it’s definitely a great idea for being able to welcome someone to your site and maybe ask for specific feedback on a certain element of the page.  Now, I may be biased because I have an affinity for all things Google, but this is definitely a step towards Google Wave which looks like it’s going to be the future of the Internet.

Relevance on Dynamic Content?

The main drawback I see to SideWiki is that there’s a big potential for an enormous amount of comments on a few popular pages which will dilute the usefulness after a while.  If there are some consistently “useful” comments on a page, and then the content of the page changes, those comments will no longer be relative but will still hog the top spots on the Sidewiki preventing the now relative comments from reaching the top.

What You Can Do To Help

As I always do, I recommend all of you check out Google Sidewiki.  It’s always fun to be an early adopter of some new technology and play around with it before it gets super bloated.  But most of all, you might have some awesome insights about a page or article that no one has thought of before, and you can be the one to bring it to the world.  So download that toolbar, sign in, and start sharing your opinions with all of the other users out there!

This Week’s Favorite Links – June 7, 2009

Information Week: Anti-U.S. Hackers Infiltrate Army Servers

We got into the nation’s cyber war capabilities and challenges on the radio last Thursday.  The story about Turkey-based (basted? lol) hackers M0sted infiltrating US Army web servers very much stuck out in my mind.  Not because hacking into a web server is that unique, or even the military element of it.

Most interesting to me was the very common method used to carry out the attack, namely SQL injection.  As described in a comment by InfoWeek user DigitalGrimm on the article linked in our post here:

These ‘hacks’ are easy enough for any person worth their weight to exploit and happen every days to hundreds of web sites. Most likely, judging by the described defacement, these were 90% automated attacks. Furthermore, if the web server is setup correctly (be it Linux, Windows, MAC, BSD, etc) the most the group would have access to is the web site’s database which should have nothing more then information for dynamic content. As I doubt any company would be foolish enough to actually have an externally accessible server to have access to internal only data.

Sorry, but there will be no ‘kudos’ to the ‘hackers’ on this one.

We have seen many sites fall victim to this method of attack, and that an Army-maintained site was vulnerable just emphasizes what another recent Information Week article details quite well: Cybersecurity Review Finds U.S. Networks ‘Not Secure’.

DumbLittleMan.com

This blog is one of my favorite recent discoveries.  Their tag line is Each week we provide a handful of tips that will save you money, increase your productivity, or simply keep you sane” and it has feel similar to LifeHacker.  With posts like “Mono-Task and Work More Effectively” and “How to: Share iTunes Media With All Your Computers” how can you not like it?

Reuters via the New York Times: Facebook Sells 1.96% Stake for $200 Million

According to the story “the stake, sold to Digital Sky Technologies based in London and Moscow, values the social networking site at $10 billion” which should bother you, even if you love Facebook.

This Week’s Favorite Links – May 29, 2009

Google Wave “Is What Email Would Look Like If It Were Invented Today” (LifeHacker)

One of the reasons I find Google so intriguing as a company is that it very often appears to be driven by ideas over immediate profits.  Google Wave, which was announced today and scheduled to be released later this year, is the newest example of this.  Wave is an real-time, open-source communication and collaboration tool and appears to be aimed at stretching the limits of what can be done within a browser.

Wave generated immediate interest.  ComputerWorld asks if Wave is the “Spork of the Internet” while Mashable calls it a “frothy mix” and offers a complete guide as well as a full description of Wave.  Google’s announcement is avaialble in video form here.

Wave might be the most interesting web tool I’ve seen since Twitter – and yes – I’m aware of how odd a sentence that is.

How to Save Your Keyboard After a Spill (LifeHacker)

As soon as I write that I’ve never spilled liquid all over my keyboard, I am sure to do so.  So for purposes of this post – let’s pretend that I’ve done it.  The LifeHacker post linked here includes a video entitled “Keyboard Surgery” which is hard not to like.

Small Business Blogging Gets a Boost (US News)

‘Nuff said.

BlackBerry Wins 101 Domain Names in Single Case (Domain Name Wire)

One of the domains won by Research in Motion in the arbitration case detailed in this post was – amazingly – “onceyougoblackberryyouwillnevergobackberry.com” and one can only hope RIM plans to take this domain completely out of circulation.