Category Archives: Web Tools

Yahoo broke their GeoCode API

It appears to be working again today (Saturday, 3 days after the first reports). I wasn’t able to make the switch to Google’s yet, so I’ll still use Yahoo’s for now. But, there are some changes I need to make to better prepare if something like this happens again.

Yahoo rolled out some updates to their Maps API on Tuesday night, but unfortunately they broke their Geocode API in the process. I know, I know, don’t rely on free APIs, nothing like a day without new users to drive that point home. In spite of knowing I shouldn’t rely on this API, I’m troubled by the way this was broken. I would expect better from Yahoo, who put a lot of resources into their developer network.

First, they didn’t version this release, it’s still “V1”. If they had bumped the version and kept the old one around, the problem could have been avoided. Secondly, it’s essentially a schema problem which are much more difficult to code around than the service being down or throwing errors. While the response still technically passes schema validation, it’s easy to see that the data is not right. Third, it is still not fixed after they’ve known about it for over a day.

Here’s the bug. Run a zip code lookup:

this is the response:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
   <Result precision="zip">
      <City>Portland, OR  97201</City>
      <State>United States</State>
<!-- compressed Thu May 17 09:55:39 PDT 2007 -->

The city, state and zip are combined into the city field while the country is put into the state field. Whoops. So the city field has to be further parsed in order to put the data in the right place. I use this service to take care of that for me, and don’t have time at the moment to do it. So, I bumped the limit on my state field in the database in order to work around this, but my geo data will be all messed up until this is fixed and then I’ll have to go back through and clean it up.

I’d argue that zip code lookups are fairly common and there should be a test case for this. Time to look at Google’s geocoder I suppose.

Dump the CAPTCHA

Why do do new or moderately trafficked sites insist on using a CAPTCHA on their registration form? A CAPTCHA is a simple test to verify an actual person is using the computer and not a machine, usually in the form of a “type the letters in this graphic” question. They are used primarily to thwart spam bots roaming the web.

Sites create an unnecessary roadblock to user adoption, and it seems to be becoming more common. The problem is, these tests can be unintelligible and a normal user can’t pass it. If you’re MySpace or Facebook and getting thousands of registrations a day, then it makes sense to worry about thwarting the bots, but until then, please dump the CAPTCHAs. Use email verification instead, which you probably do anyway, so no need to beat up your users before they’re actually users with too many tests.

Today, after 5 attempts, I failed my CAPTCHA test at fatsecret (techcrunch coverage). It looked interesting, I wanted to see how they did some things as the idea is similar, feature-wise, to what we do with personal finance on NetworthIQ. Plus, I could stand to lose a few, so maybe it could help me out. But, now we’ll never know for sure because I can’t sign up.

Playing with GeoRSS

I was just reading the Radar post about Google Maps new support for GeoRSS and wanted to take it for a little spin. I know that Platial supports GeoRSS, so I decided to take the Web 2.0 HQ Feed (which is where new startups are mapped, since I coudn’t keep up on the Web 2.0 Innovation Map), and plug it into Google maps.

Here’s the result:

Platial also lets you create maps from GeoRSS, so the new Google feature doesn’t really do anything new or better, it does however make it a bit easier since I just have to enter a URL for the feed (no account required). Plus I always like playing with Google Maps and its API features and this gives me reason to learn a bit more about GeoRSS.

Sponsored Post: SEO Toolbar Review

SEO Toolbar: The bad, the bad, and the not so ugly

There is definitely no lack of tools in SEO arena. But, there is also a wide range of quality in these tools. I have a couple of favorites in my toolbox including SearchStatus and SEO for Firefox. I have to say after giving the SEO Toolbar a run through, I like the tools overall, but I give it thumbs down and will not be adding this to the toolbox. Apparently I’m wrong though, because 100% of polled people can’t live without it. (note, there was 1 vote at the time of this post)

The bad: Personal data required to download

I start off by visiting the download page for the SEO Toolbar. Immediately, a prospective user is presented with a form to fill out before they can download the toolbar. Fortunately, you just have to fill out the form and not wait for an email with a link to the download as some do. So, any ol’ data will do here. When was the last time you had to enter data to download a Firefox plugin? But, that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves because…

The bad: IE Only

Nowhere on the download page does it say what browsers are supported. There are no system requirements of any kind on the download page, and I didn’t find anything elsewhere on the site. But, eventually, after installing it, discovered this is an IE only tool. For me, if you don’t support Firefox, why bother? How many professional and aspiring SEOs use IE? With the abundance of SEO plugins for Firefox, I’m sure Firefox is the browser of choice. However, for the person in the Marketing department that’s just learning about SEO and still uses IE, this may be helpful for them. I was a good sport though and completed the install and fired it up in IE.

The not so ugly: There are some handy tools in here

Ok, we avoided getting ugly. But frankly, if I were to just come across it normally, I never would have gone further. So, let’s look at the tools provided by the SEO Toolbar.

  • Web Searches – There is a nice search function where you can choose between 11 search engines. This would have been cool a couple years ago, but FF and now IE 7 have this ability with no toolbar needed.
  • Ranking – This one is handy. You can visit the target site, enter a search term and then get the rankings for that search on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. My current toolset doesn’t have this at the click of a button. I also like how it shows it summarized in a popup window.
  • Site Data – Three tools in this area, a keyword analyzer, a html validator, and a site analyzer tool which gives a good overall summary of the site. The html validator is worthless here, I already have tools for this in FF, but the other two are nice to have.
  • Engine Data – A quick count of backlinks and page counts in the various search engines. Again, handy to have it summarized in a popup at the click of a button (as opposed to going to a 3rd party tool’s hosted tool or loading up each engine’s query page)
  • Network Data – A few logistical tools, IP lookup, load time, ping, WHOIS data, and HTTP header info. Nothing here that I don’t already have quick access too with the Firefox toolset.

So, there are some helpful tools once you get going. Perhaps if they release a Firefox plugin, I would use it. But, as it stands now, I don’t see enough to make me want to use it on IE.

Please don’t use Snap Preview Anywhere

There are good uses of AJAX and bad uses. The Snap Preview Anywhere widget is what I would consider a bad use. I cringe every time I go to TechCrunch now and actually wan’t to visit one of the sites they mention. It’s distracting and unexpected (I hover over a link wanting to click on it and all of a sudden this damn window pops up). Even if I wanted a preview of the site, the thumbnail isn’t big enough to provide anything of value other than a cursory look at the page’s design. I think it’s on its way to becoming the blink tag of the blog world.

Please, I beg all site owners, do not use this thing.

Clearspace looks cool

Local company Jive Software is readying what appears to be an extremely compelling team collaboration suite called Clearspace. I’ve seen a lot of job postings for Jive in the pdxMindShare newsletter, but never really looked into what they were building. Nino pointed out the the cNet review which has some nice screenshots.

Clearspace looks to be bringing together blogs, wikis, forums, and document sharing into a single product, perfect for teams. Clearspace reminds me a lot of SharePoint, but who likes using SharePoint? I’d love an alternative and this looks like a good one. Sharing information on teams is often a pain. I know my current team at work has come back to email again (yuck) as the primary means of cummunication, even after installing SharePoint. Email is horrible for team communication as messages are easily lost and ignored, and they are often disruptive to workflow. We occasionally use the SharePoint forums, but most of the time people have to send an email pointing to the discussion because it’s just not part of the natural communication flow yet (not entirely SharePoint’s fault).

Blogs, forums, and wikis are ideal for team communication because they can be viewed out-of-bound from your current workflow. You can view them on your own schedule and can much easily filter unwanted information. Say I find a great new tool (like Firebug), I can simply blog about it instead of emailing everybody. Plus I can have related conversations on the forum thread or blog comment thread that only involve the interested parties. The biggest weakness of SharePoint is that it lacks good tools for knowledge sharing. It’s ok for documents, lists, and some wiki-like functionality. But, I’m looking forward to seeing the blogs, blog reading, and wiki tools in Clearspace, and if they can really help facilitate discussion and knowledge sharing.

Though it’s not likely we’ll see Clearspace adoption on my team, because it’s currently so Microsoft tool focused, I’ll still be interested in trying it out for my own interest for use on side and future projects.

If you’re interested in more on collaboration suites, see the WordPress/Knownow agreement and the Intel SuiteTwo release.

Firebug 1.0 Beta out

If you’ve been waiting to try out Firebug for any reason, wait no longer. Skip right past the current release and install the the new 1.0 Beta.

I can describe this new version in one word: Amazing. Firebug will make debugging your web app a joy. No matter if the problem is in the markup, script, CSS, or HTTP request/response, Firebug will help you find it. You’ll actually want to have bugs just so you can use it. Great to see it’s going to stay open source too.

Stickies everywhere

Stickies (and similar notes-based organizational tools) are all the rage these days with 3 4 recent product launches:

As much as I want to like these tools, (especially local entry stikkit), I just can’t get behind them yet. I’ve tried using all kinds of organizational apps like Ta-da lists, wikis, Basecamp/activeCollab, all of the different start pages (google/ig, pageflakes, and their todo widgets, Google Notebook, and Microsoft OneNote among others.

But, as hard as I’ve tried, I just keep coming back to the same two tools I’ve used for a relatively long-time, Gmail (using drafts and yahoo mail before) and todo.txt files in different places (one at work, different ones at home for different projects). Using Gmail allows easy online access from anywhere when needed and the ability to upload related files, while todo.txt files are great when offline and when needing more room to process thoughts and lists. I find it requires too much effort at times to open a browser or another application. I’m reminded here of Cory Doctorow’s Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks presentation from a couple years back.

I’ll definitely try out stikkit because it looks like such an elegant UI and back-end engineering effort, but we’ll see if I stick with it (sorry, bad humor). How do you organize yourself?

Note, this is for my personal organization, when working with a team, I’d still recommend a tool like activeCollab/Basecamp or a wiki.

Discovering top blogs on a specific topic (and Top .NET and PHP Blogs)

How do you discover new blogs/feeds? The question becomes especially interesting when you want to start studying a new subject area. I checked out Share Your OPML, which certainly seems useful, but that only seems to be helpful for finding the most popular blogs overall or new blogs related to things you already have in your subscription list, not really helpful for finding the top blogs in a new subject area. I suppose Top 10 sources could be helpful too, but I didn’t see anything that helped me. I need to look at it a little further though.

I’m trying to track down a good list of top PHP bloggers in order to keep up with the latest in the PHP world, something I haven’t been doing over the last year. It was a lot harder than I anticipated. But, I got lucky and found an article that listed several, then searched through (I dig tag combinations).

I’d love something like Share your OPML where you could upload multiple subscription lists and tag the list. Anything in the tagged list then inherits the tag and you could find the top blogs for the tag. Or if the OPML has parent outline elements (folders), the name could be used as the tag (therefore you’d have less work to do to break out your subscriptions). Google Reader has some potential here to, seeing its use of tags and the feed bundles. I wonder if they’ll expose the most popular subscriptions by tag? Anybody do anything like that already?

Any other tips for finding the top blogs on a specific topic?

I’ve gone ahead and published my .NET and PHP subscription lists (you don’t see those technologies combined together too often, now do ya?), but I’d love to see other good lists (on both technologies):

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Web 2.0 Job/Gig/Matchmaking Board Roundup

We all got a good laugh (at least I got a good laugh) out of Richard MacManus’s job board announcement, but reality is stranger than fiction sometimes, as they still just keep coming. So, I thought I’d take a moment to recap. It’s been a while since I’ve actually looked for work, but if I ever need to again, I’m honestly glad there are so many resources available now. Down with and HotJobs!

Why search so many places, when these guys bring everything to you? And by everything, I mean everything. Of course it depends on how focused your search is, but be prepared to mine though a lot of listings.

Social networking
What you get when you combine social networking with a job site.

Niche job boards
Sure, they all have their own audience right? Wrong. But, hey it’s easy money so who can blame them. Seriously though, if you’re looking for full-time work in a specific industry/field, these are much more focused than the big job sites.

You’re a contract/freelance web professional and you want to get paid for your work? Check these out. You think TechCrunch is going to add a gig board now?

These don’t necessarily pay, but if you’re looking for help on that hot startup idea or looking for the next Sergey & Larry to hook up with, they’re worth checking out.

Crowd sourcing
Have some time and want to tackle some tasks that may earn you some cash? Then crowdsourcing may be for you.

Green Jobs
This category isn’t really tech/web2.0 specific, but if you’re as concerned about the environment as Al Gore is, then this could be your ticket to doing something about it.

Managing your search
We wouldn’t be truly Web 2.0 without something to manage all of this, what with the todo managers, time trackers, etc. growing like weeds.

What did I miss? Add other job sites/board that you like?

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