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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!

Protect Yourself On-Line by Not Being an Idiot

The Internets are a nasty, foul, disorganized place full of people and systems designed to steal what you have and who you are.  Whenever you are about to do something on-line ask yourself if an idiot would do that thing.  If the answer is yes, do not do that thing.

Every time you lower your defenses you become an easier and easier target.  Never forget that your common sense if one of your best defenses.  Do not suspend your skepticism and common sense when you open up a web browser or read your email. Instead, keep these things in mind:

1. Do not be an idiot.

You are a target, and don’t ever forget that fact.

Just because you can’t write or read HTML, or can’t describe a packet of data doesn’t mean you don’t know enough to protect yourself.  Not to be cruel, but spammers, phishers and scam artists thrive on naive and unguarded users and their behaviors.  A Google search for “Nigerian Prince” brings you this 2002 post on the InformIT blog about the notorious phishing scam where someone posing as a Nigerian Prince asks users to divulge their personal and banking information.  Why do spammers keep sending these spam emails long after the Nigerian Prince’s pleas have become a punch-line?  Simple: Because people keep falling for it.  We call these people idiots.

Ask yourself – do you know a Nigerian Prince?  How about anyone at all from Nigeria?  Do you have the phone numbers of any Princes in your mobile phone?  No.  You don’t.  You also don’t know 97% of the people who send you email, and you likely know none of the senders of emails found in the junk or spam folder of your email inbox.  If you don’t know the email sender’s name on sight, don’t open the email.  If a random box pops up on your machine asking you to enter your credit card number or allow a download you did not request, don’t allow it.

2. Use strong passwords, not ‘password123’ and use fake answers for security questions

A password is intended to restrict access to a given resource, such as your personal or work computer or a password-protected web site.  To keep out everyone who is not you.  How secure are those systems if you select passwords which are easy to remember and easy to crack?

Create random passwords which are highly secure and extremely difficult to crack or guess due to an optional combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers and punctuation symbols.  So, like this:

Bad: password123

Good: c4APa96qu

Good passwords are more difficult to remember.  That’s the point.  One would also do well to change their password every few months or so, and avoid using the same password across the board.  Your bank account login should be different from your email login, which should be different from your login.

Also, when establishing answers to security questions, be careful not to use real information.  Don’t enter your mother’s real maiden name.  Use names and answers to security questions which are not connected to your identity.

3. Keep protection systems current and use them regularly

The protections systems around you include the security suite on your home network as well as everything around it – including your telephone, mailbox and garbage cans.  Here’s a quick rundown of the big things to be aware of in your home.

Bills and other personal documents: Shred what you do not need to save.  Store what you need to save in a private, preferably locked location.

Computer anti-virus and anti-spyware: Keep your subscriptions up to date, and utilize them. Run scans on your machine; keep your software firewall running.  We are often asked which security suite is the best, and we usually give the same boring answer.  Using a free tool the right way is better than using an expensive tool the wrong way.  If you are going to purchase a system, we recommend checking out these reviews first:

PC World: The Best Security Suites for 2009

CNet’s Internet Security and Firewall Reviews

Wi-Fi: Always, always, always have your wireless internet connection encrypted and not open to the public.  This involves usage of an encryption key which is required Each wireless router has a factory default username and password, and will say so in the manual.  Follow the instructions, or seek advice on how to change these credentials.

When discussing the topic of personal security online, I’m reminded of early childhood expert Dr. Benjamin Spock’s advice to new parents.  In the preface of his long, detailed book on caring for young children, he implored parents to trust themselves.  He tells them they know more than they think they do.  The same advice hold true when protecting yourself online.  If something doesn’t make sense to you, don’t risk your personal data to avoid feeling dumb.  You may feel dumb erasing the email which appears to be from your old schoolmate, but not as dumb as if you handed over your wallet and keys to a crook.  When you give in to on-line predators, that is excatly what you are doing.  Stay safe; don’t be an idiot.

What mobile technology do you use every day?

What technology products or services do you use every day?  What stuff could you not do without?  What brings you joy or makes your day easier?  What web services, software applications or gadgets light your fire, or just keep the fire from going out?  Nearly all of us have mobile phones now.  What do you do with yours?

The Mobile Applications I Can’t Do Without

It goes without saying, or at least it should, that my Blackberry Curve, Toshiba Laptop, and Sprint mobile broadband card top the list, and are in their own categories.

I use a Blackberry Curve 8310 on AT&T service, with multiple email addresses pumping correspondence into it. In addition to using the email, text messages and phone services, here are my can’t-do-without mobile applications:

Twitterberry – (Free) Developed by Orangatame Software, this applicaiton allows me easy and quick access to my Twitter account.  Twitterberry seems to be having issues loading large avatar photos with its latest release.  It can slog a user’s ability to quickly scroll through the updates of their followers.  Twitter uses Amazon Web Services for the hosting of images, but I’m not sure that’s the issue.  I don’t remember experiencing an issue with Twitter’s avatars or background during Amazon’s hosting outages last month.   Twitterberry also has a known issue with Twit Pic integration.  Known issue being a euphamisum for “something that’s busted and won’t be fixed today.”  Tiny Twitter is another application I have sampled, and did not enjoy.  Where Twitterberry limits the features it replicates on the handheld, Tiny Twitter goes overboard with too much functionality.  I’ll expand on the best ways to experience Twitter on a handheld device in a coming post.

Viigo – (Free) A mobile RSS reader.  I liked it before this newest release, and now I love it.  Among the features added was one for which I had pined: the ability to sync the RSS feeds I read with a web application.  Now I can manage my RSS feed reading from Google Reader through a web browser and it just feeds into the Viigo application on my handheld.

Google Sync – (Free) Crucial for managing and backing up my calendar, and keeping it at my fingertips.  Mine is setup with the Blackberry calendar as the primary, and it automatically syncs additions and changes on the handheld with my personal web-based Google calendar.

Google Maps – (Free) Working in concert with the Blackberry’s GPS feature, Google Maps helps me get to new places or places I forgot how to reach with ease.  It is not OnStar’s audio turn-by-turn navigation, but it is free.  You can view each step of the trip on a list, or on the map.  You show up as a little blue dot as you make your way.  Each turn is marked in yellow, and the final destination is red. Not that I’ve ever looked at it while driving.  That would be unsafe.

Remember the Milk (Free, but I use the Pro version for $25 a year) – RTM is a web-based task management service, a nice way to remember the things I have to do, like write this blog more often.  I can add new tasks via email, data entry into my handheld or a web browser, and even direct through Twitter if I wanted to. The Pro version I use allows me to sync the tasks between the web and mobile sides.

I also have a 2 GB SD memory card installed in the device for extra storage space.  This is the same type of memory card used in digital cameras, and is a very inexpensive storage option for BB users.  It installs under the battery, similar to how a SIM card is installed.

I am clearly addicted to my Blackberry, and all the many tools I’ve installed on it.  But I’m just one user.  How do you use mobile applications?

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