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Google Online Security Blog

By hagrin - Posted on 06 June 2007

Google recently started their Online Security blog which discusses security related issues encountered on the web and with the infrastructure that powers the Internet. While they only have 3 posts currently, I can see this blog becoming one of my favorite blogs since Google has access to so much security data that I believe that they will be able to identify Internet trends extremely fast and potentially police the Internet in a "gray hat" manner.

Their most recent post talks about web server software and malware infection rates. The Google Online Security team drew some pretty interesting conclusions about web server software and its infection rate in different sections of the world. According to the data they uncovered, malware infected machines were split right down the middle 49% to 49% when talking about infection rates on Apache web servers and IIS servers. However, when looking at the regional infection rates for each, we see that IIS is extremely more vulnerable in the Pacific than anywhere else. Now, one might conclude that people in the Pacific can't secure IIS well, but that would be a poor conclusion. Instead, the Google Online Security team identified (correctly IMO) that the issue stems from the rampant piracy in those areas and the fact that piracted copies of Windows are not privy to receiving updates from Microsoft. Google's Online Security team goes on to state that this may show evidence that Microsoft needs to change their policy and allow for pirated copies of Windows to still receive security updates since pirates will continue to run the software and that these infections hurt valid users more than pirates.

Google has the opportunity here, with their unparalleled data collection abilities to really make a difference in web security and I look forward to seeing exactly what their online security team comes up with in the future.

Google Secure Search

By hagrin - Posted on 03 June 2007

Update - As of 17 May 2010, it looks as if secured search will be offered by Google!

After reading about another vulnerability found in the Google Desktop software (a new man-in-the-middle attack), I was reading through some user comments at Slashdot and was hit by one of them like a ton of bricks -

Why doesn't Google offer secured search?

Wait a second, they don't? They offer a secured version of their Gmail application. Although Google doesn't make it very public that a secured version exists, you can login through a SSL page and all pages will be appended with the https prefix. But, what happens when you try to navigate to https://www.google.com ? Simply, you are redirected to the basic Google search page.

So, is this even a big deal? Probably not since many services are not encrypted over SSL. In addition, the data being passed are simply search terms. However, if search terms can be sniffed and recorded and indexed by parties outisde of Google, there is a certain level of privacy that doesn't exist that maybe should. When Google released their search history and web history functionality, many outsiders complained about the privacy violations. However, if a third party could garner the same information through back channels, should we be as equally concerned? When you think about the biggest sites around on the Internet, I cannot think of one single site that gets nearly the smae traffic Google does and that offers a SSL connection for all their pages. Therefore, one has to wonder how well the secured search solution would scale and what type of overhead would be involved on offering the solution at all - no less by default.

My final thought - I think it would be nice if the option existed, but it definitely doesn't need to be a default connection that "normal" users need to conern themselves with. I think that you will see a secure search page within the next year or two for sure.

Google Buys FeedBurner & What this Means for SEOs

By hagrin - Posted on 02 June 2007

Today, Google officially announced the purchasing of FeedBurner, the RSS analytical company providing statistics for RSS feeds such as subscriber counts, clickthroughs and other web metrics. This is an extremely wise purchase by Google because this closes a gap that their other analytical offering, Urchin (and its free web based version for webmasters), didn't provide RSS metrics. Prior to the FeedBurner purchase, Google could only provide RSS metrics through Google Reader subscriber counts for a specific feed - highly inaccurate due to the fact that Google only had access to only a slice of the RSS-using population.

What does this mean for webmasters? Well, I would think that the SEO implications are pretty obvious - either take advantage of the FeedBurner service or sacrifice the RSS metric potentially effecting your site's ranking. Sure, Google could still get some of the information from the user side (i.e. Google Reader subscribers to your feed), but webmasters would lose the metrics race to those optting-in to the Google services. Since Google currently drives a large portion of traffic to all sites, webmasters really do need to make a decision on linking all of their site's information into Google related services and what that means to their search position on other engines.

While most of all the other Google analytic initiatives still allowed webmasters to not sacrifice their position with other search engines, redirecting your RSS feeds through FeedBurner directly is a dangerous move long-term. Instead, I would suggest webmasters redirect their original feed URL to FeedBurner and display the original feed to site users. This will allow webmasters to relinquish control in some manner, but still does not solve the problem of having to potentially muticast the feed to other RSS analytic services.

Using Unique META Description Tags

By hagrin - Posted on 28 February 2007

SEO Roundtable posted an article recently about why a webmaster should use unique META description tags. Their informative post describes how the dreaded "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 1 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included" Google message is a clear warning sign that your site doesn't use unique META tags. META description tags are used to give search engine users a clearer description of what your page is really about past the title and some text from your root site page.

Interestingly enough, this site doesn't use unique META description tags and that is something I hope to rectify after a little research as to whether or not Drupal 5 has an option for turning them on. Hopefully, these descriptions will help search engine users find my content easier and more frequently. Once I do find a Drupal 5 modification, I will relay it to the community through this site.

View Your Supplemental Index Results

By hagrin - Posted on 27 February 2007

Aaron Wall, from SEO Book (one of my favorite SEO blogs on the Internet currently), recently posted a guide on how to view your site's pages stuck in Google's supplemental index. Aaron's article really is spot on as he talks about what causes your pages to be thrown into Google's supplemental index, how to calculate your Supplemental Index Ratio and exactly what that ratio number means to your site.

To determine what pages are in Google's supplemental index, perform the following Google search:

site:www.yoursite.com *** -sljktf

This is definitely a good query to add to your SEO tools so you can see exactly how many of your pages are hitting the supplemental index and whether or not your supplemental index ratio is increasing or decreasing.

Google Apps Released

By hagrin - Posted on 22 February 2007

Today, Google announced the public release of Google Apps. Google Apps now offers a "Premier Edition" which is a subscription based online Office suite. At a cost of $50 per user per year, Google Apps Premier Edition offers users Google Calendar, Gmail (with 10GBs of storage), extended business hours tech support, VoIP through Google Talk, web page creation through Page Creator, Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. This cost per user greatly undercuts the licensing fees required to own and utilize Microsoft Office so this marks one of the biggest efforts by a Google to capture a piece of Microsoft's market share. Several large companies have already signed on to use Google Apps Premier in attempts to lower their IT infrastructure costs. It will be interesting to hear any case studies that emerge from these larger companies over the next few years in terms of productivity, data security, downtime, technical support and user satisfaction.

Anyone who has used Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, GTalk, etc.) usually ends up loving the applications built by Google. However, the prevailing industry opinion was exactly how "online Office applications" would function in the real-world corporate environment. The obvious risk is downtime where your workers will generally be unproductive - even in a usable offline mode. A second efficiency factor stems from all your files now being "remote shares". Although you will most likely be saving your files on a remote file server, those file servers usually sit somewhere on your LAN as opposed to sitting on a WAN where connection speeds are generally slower. This causes a major concern especially when dealing with larger files because downloading and accessing large amounts of data over a WAN pipe could end up being very inefficient. Only time will tell if online office applications will succeed in the corporate environment.

How To: Using Google Base

By hagrin - Posted on 10 February 2007

Posted By: hagrin
Date: 21 November 2005

Overview:
Google has released yet another new web application called Google Base. With so many offerings from Google, many users (even experienced computer users) are a little perplexed by exactly what Google Base is. The following tutorial will breakdown what Google Base is, what it might be in the future and the tips and tricks on how to use this new system.

What Exactly is Google Base:
So, what exactly is Google Base? As defined by Google's About Google Base page:

"Google Base is a place where you can easily submit all types of online and offline content that we'll host and make searchable online. You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle, Google Base and Google Local."

Huh? Let's examine this statement a little more closely. Google Base provides users a web interface to manually submit content to Google's search index as opposed to Google automatically crawling your website. This allows users to submit content that they want to make sure shows up in Google's indexing services. Giving users an additional method by which to post their content just ensures Google's ability to "control the Internet's data". Many see Google Base as a direct competitor to websites such as Craigslist. One of Google's first practical applications of Google Base came in their announcement of small merchants selling on Google.

But why else would Google offer a service such as Google Base? As ZDNet's Garrett Rogers writes, Google could be preparing for the "worst" - a shift in compiling Internet data based on future legislation outlawing web crawlers. Search engines illegal? A recent CNet article reports how Canadian legislation was proposed stating that the caching of a web page should be deemed illegal. If this worst case scenario occurred, Google would be prepared by using Google Base as a user submitted "opt-in" approach to indexing web content.

Google is currently offering the Google Base service free of charge. The sevice, in its first iteration, is only available in one language - English. Google Base in effect is a "hosting service" for users who do not have a web site to house their material in a centralized location.

Starting Out - Registration:
Now that we have explained a little more about what Google Base is, you're probably asking yourself how do I use Google Base? Well, if you just want to browse data, you can just go to the Google Base home page and start browsing the offerings of others based on content categories. However, if you want to post your own content, you will need to either use your existing Google Account or sign up for a new Google Account here. Once you have your account setup, you need to be logged in on the Google Base page.

Posting a Single Item:
Users can post their content to Google Base in two basic ways - posting a single item or posting items in "bulk". The easiest method is to post a single item. To do so, first go to the Google Base home page. Here, you will see that you have two options - to choose an existing item type or create your own item type (see Figure 1).

Choosing a pre-defined category over a unique category created by the user doesn't offer any additional benefits it seems. Unique categories can make your content stand out, but this can also be done by applying accurate labels and attributes (discussed later). After choosing your desired option, click the next button to be brought to the posting form.

The posting form that you will see on the next page will vary based on what category you chose to post your entry under. The form is tailored to ask you to input details that are relevant to category you are posting to. The example I will use will be a "Reference Article" posting and I will use this tutorial as the content I want to post (see Figures 2 and 3).

The first field Google Base requires you to fill out is the "Title" field. Think of the title field as the "headline" or the subject of your post. You want your title to be "keyword dense" and concise. Having a "catchy" title isn't as important as a precise, on-topic title due to the nature of how search engines and their algorithms interpret and rank each document. Underneath the title field are several detail fields that are specific to the category you are posting under. In this instance, the detail fields (which are not required fields) include author, publication name, publish date (and time), pages and publication volume. As you can see from Figure 2, you have the ability to add additional details and, in my example, I have added the detail "Format" to clearly define what format my article is in. To the right of the details section is a blue box that allows you to upload up to 10 pictures relating to the article. You can either include images that are stored on your local hard drive or images that are already available via the web.

Following the details and picture sections, users are prompted to enter "Labels" or keywords to describe the posting. These can be equated to meta tag keywords and how they were used in determining the content of an indexed page. Again, the section is optional; however, I suggest filling it out as this will be one of the key ways web surfers will find your content. You can post up to ten keywords or phrases and they need to be separated by commas.

Near the bottom of the form, users are required to enter in a description of their post. Basically, this section translates to the body of a web page with one catch - HTML is not allowed. Therefore, you can't just copy and paste your code from your website - you will need to strip the HTML tags out of your description. Following the description section are fields for your contact information and the Item's location. Item location will play a massive role when trying to get listed into Google Local as you can define down to the street, city, state and zip where your item is located. Finally, you can insert an optional URL that links your Google Base posting back to your website and the page that actually contains this contact.

Once you have everything filled out the way you want, click the preview, save draft or publish buttons depending on if you need to revise or if you are not ready to post yet. Once you approve the posting, you have successfully posted your first Google Base item.

Posting Items in Bulk:
So, we've covered how to post a single item to Google Base. However, what if you already have a lot of content with an existing website and you want to "bulk" upload all this information to Google Base? Well, Google provides a method of performing those bulk uploads. To get to the bulk uploading interface, click on either the bulk upload link on the Google Base home page or the "Bulk Upload Files" option if you are viewing your already posted items.

First, you will notice that Google gives you the option to sign up for FTP access. Of course, this is a great idea. Click on the sign up link and choose a username and password. Once that's done, your FTP information will be shown for ftp://uploads.google.com which, when FTPing in, drops you to an empty directory. Once you have your FTP account, click on the "Specify a bulk upload file" link.

Creating the name of your bulk upload file is a necessary step - you cannot just upload items to the Google FTP. If you do upload items to the FTP that don't havea corresponding bulk item file name, it will processed and discarded by the Google Base processing service. At this point, Google Base requires that you format the file you just specified in one of several formats - Tab-delimited , RSS 2.0 , RSS 1.0 or Atom 0.3. Which format you choose should be entirely based on your needs, available options and the easiest way for you to automate this process. Personally, I "hacked" together an automatic bulk uploader using PHP, .Net and a task scheduler. I highly suggest reading through this tutorial to understand the complexity of the bulk upload file creation.

Once you have your file created, all you have to do is upload the file to the uploads.google.com FTP site. Once that is done, the file will be moved out of your FTP directory and processed several hours later. If all goes well, you will see your Active Items number increase, you'll receive no errors and you will get a screenshot that looks like the image below (see Figure 4).

The Future of Google Base:
The future of Google Base is uncertain to many right now; however, that is not due to the lack of possibilities. On the contrary, Google Base has a limitless supply of practical uses for it from using it as a free hosting service, to a replacement for database applications, to a free auction site and many other ideas. So with so many possibilities, what should Google do to harness Base's power?

Step One screams at most tech savvy users - API, API, API. Once Google releases an API for Google Base, programmers everywhere will scramble to create the latest and greatest Google Base applications that assist in pulling down and uploading information into the Base indexing service. An API's power can be seen on numerous fronts including programmers hacking their way through Ebay's API to create Ebay stores, Paypal's API to help create e-commerce websites and numerous other exmaples. An API would allow web developers to interface their web applications into the Google Base system eliminating their need for a mySQL, SQL Server or some other database application to be installed. For as many possibilities that currently exist with Google Base, those options will multiply with the creation of an API.

Second, and an issue I have with many of Google's applications, Google Backs lacks clear and understandable help and support information. Even though they offer an About page and a FAQ, there are several other places that they can expand their knowledge base. For instance, when first looking at the categories, I wasn't sure what the difference between some of the categories were and where my content should be posted. General descriptions of the categories are needed to help users more accurately define what category their content should reside.

Finally, many users have already expressed concerns over the lack of content filtering going on with Google Base submissions. Already, users are finding numerous spam pornography posts as well as posts relating to illegal or potentially illegal material. Although giving users the ability to directly interface with Google Base sounds great in theory, in practice, spammers and other malicious users will try and capitalize and profit on being included in Google's indexing service. The worry from most web publishers is that their content will be buried underneath a pile of spam and money making schemes.

Resources:

  1. Official Google Blog
  2. Official Google Base WebSite
  3. ZDNet's Googling Google Blog by Garrett Rogers
  4. News.com's c|net - "In Canada: Cache a page, go to jail?" by Elinor Mills

Version Control:

  1. Version 1.02 - 06 December 2005 - Added additional information concerning bulk item uploading.
  2. Version 1.01 - 23 November 2005 - Added blurb about opening up Google Froogle to small merchants to list their items using Google Base.
  3. Version 1.0 - 21 November 2005 - Original Article

Google Inbound Links Tool

By hagrin - Posted on 05 February 2007

The Official Google Blog announced a new tool that shows webmasters their inbound links through Google Webmaster Central. This tool replaces the broken link: operator and is thoroughly explained on the Google Webmaster Blog here.

The tool provides links differentiated by external and internal links. External links are links that direct to your site that are located outside of your domain. Internal links are links that direct to pages on your site and are located on your domain. A new "Links" tab was added within the Webmaster Central tool which allows you to see external and internal as well as links to specific pages on your site. This data can also be downloaded through the Webmaster interface.

Thank you Google for providing us with a valuable tool to evaluate link information.

Search Hagrin.com

By hagrin - Posted on 04 February 2007


  

Google to Offer Real-Time Stock Quotes

By hagrin - Posted on 12 January 2007

And this is why I love Google.

Google announced that they will be offering free real-time stock quotes once the SEC approves their proposal. Now, this isn't a done deal; however, the progress being made in the financial data area is very exciting. Hopefully, this deal gets done and the information not only becomes accessible to the public, but available through a Google Financial Data API.

However, what's the moral of this story? What do you read between the lines?

I would point to this as an example of the potential power of corporate blogging. When was the last time a company put its "cards on the table" before a final deal was struck? Google is putting the screws to the SEC and Wall Street by getting their "free data (read - love) for all" approach out to the public while their efforts are being held up by the "big bad" SEC. Corporate blogging, especially from Internet powerhouses like Google, has hit the mainstream and is now being reported on by social news sites, traditional news sites, other blogs and the print media. Hopefully, more companies see the value in blogging and provide the public not only with propoganda, but useful information and alerts.