Monday, April 27, 2009

Google takes holiday logo to ultimate extreme: code!

Google has always had a lot of fun with holidays. Their graphic artists do a great job of adorning the normal Google logo with special treatments, such as adding iconic Irish symbols on St. Patrick's Day.

But today they've taken it beyond anything you'd have imagined:

Yup, that's right, you don't even see the word Google... Wait a minute, yes you do: spelled out in Morse code!

This is actually pretty brave. Google will probably scare a lot of people with this move. People will land on the page and either think that Google has been defaced or they've landed on a phishing site. It'll be interesting to see if they stick with it for a full 24 hours.

Sunday, April 26, 2009 enables world map tracking swine flu

Someone has put up a world map (using Google Maps, of course) that depicts with push pins areas of illness or death, reported or confirmed. Click on a push pin to get details about that incident. See the Google H1N1 Swine Flu Map.

It's not totally clear how official or authentic the information is. So far, it seems to match what's reported in the news, and at But I couldn't find an obvious "About" page. All I could find was that the author has a screen name of "ninan."
He or she only says this in the user profile:

Biomedical Research
Pittsburgh, PA USA
That doesn't offer much confidence. This could be a distinguished professor at Carnegie-Mellon, or a 12 year old who is good in science class.

Google's charity arm,, last November launched, an experimental attempt to track flu trends by analyzing search patterns. They speculate that when people search for various symptoms, researchers could map those geographically, and give a leading indicator of flu outbreaks -- ahead of official public health data and reports. One news report claims was responsible for enabling the swine map.

By the way, appears to be functioning well -- and providing current information on this H1N1 outbreak. On the other hand, the World Health Organization site,, has been down all day. Wonder how robust a server farm WHO has? televises death of Bea Arthur

Writing for the Web has its own special rules, most importantly that you must be concise. Writing headlines for the Web can be even trickier. I was a little surprised to find that ABC News televised the death of Bea Arthur. But it said so right on the screen: "Watch: Bea Arthur Dies..." Sounds kind of creepy!

Update, 4/27/2009

Amazingly, the topic of today's Alertbox by Jakob Nielsen is how hard it is to write headlines for the Web, and how the BBC excels at it:

World's Best Headlines: BBC News
Summary: Precise communication in a handful of words? The editors at BBC News achieve it every day, offering remarkable headline usability.

It's hard enough to write for the Web and meet the guidelines for concise, scannable, and objective content. It's even harder to write Web headlines, which must be: short (because people don't read much online); rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article; front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items); understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and predictable, so users know whether they'll like the full article before they click (because people don't return to sites that promise more than they deliver). For several years, I've been very impressed with BBC News headlines, both on the main BBC homepage and on its dedicated news page. Most sites routinely violate headline guidelines, but BBC editors consistently do an awesome job.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maureen Dowd: Coy about Twitter

Maureen Dowd's column in The New York Times today offers a coy interview with the founders of Twitter. In a face-to-face interview, she asked Biz Stone and Evan Williams to limit their answers to 140 characters -- the same as Twitter.

They ended up breaking that limit, but not by much.

At the end of the interview, Dowd asked:

ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey
poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is
there anything you can say to change my mind?

On a hunch, I looked Maureen Dowd up on Twitter. Guess what I found...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the news: Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana

The number one movie right now is Hannah Montana. I was amused when Google News listed as important people in the news Hannah Montana and the young actress who portrays her, Miley Cyrus, at the same time. She also shares Google News billing with Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, and Jesus Christ. Pretty impressive company!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A sign of desperation? Microsoft advertises on Google

A fellow named James White posted a thoughtful, detailed item about the proper ways to handle "state" on the Web: how session variables or database drops are the right way to go, and JavaSript countdowns are not.

For some reason his post fired up the Google ad machine like nothing you've ever seen. That was surprising enough, but I was astonished to see a Google Adwords ad for: Internet Explorer 8!

Is this a sign that Redmond really is losing to Mountain View? IE has been losing market share to Firefox, and more recently to Google Chrome. Is Microsoft so desperate that they have to buy eyeballs from their arch-rival? This is akin to, say, CBS buying commercial time on ABC to advertise CSI.