SitePoint Podcast #98: A Change in the Matrix
Episode 98 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week your hosts are Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy), Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), and Kevin Yank (@sentience). They are joined by special guest Simon Pascal Klein (@klepas).
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- SitePoint Podcast #98: A Change in the Matrix (MP3, 63.7MB, 1:09:29)
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- Google to drop search rankings for content farms
- Google drops search rankings for copycat content sites
- Google accuses Microsoft of stealing its search results for use in Bing
- OpenID: on the way out?
- Special Interview: SitePoint launches Design Festival!
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/98.
- Pascal: I Love Typography
- Stephan: Visor
- Patrick: Micah David Sutton – baby geek
- Kevin: Google Follow Your World
Kevin: February 4, 2011. Google declares victory over spam and starts in on the farmers, Microsoft gets caught red-handed, and something new from SitePoint for designers. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #98: A Change in the Matrix.
And welcome to the SitePoint Podcast! We are getting ever closer to #100 and I’ll have more news about that at the end of this show, but we are joined once again by our panelists Stephan and Patrick, hi guys.
Patrick: Hey Kevin.
Kevin: Brad is snowed in today if I’m not mistaken. He sent his late apologies that a massive storm is descending on him and he had to unplug all of his electronics, so we’re gonna have to do without Brad today. Is it snowing where Brad is or is it just a storm guys, do you know?
Stephan: It’s snowing, yeah.
Kevin: It’s snowing everywhere.
Patrick: It’s a big storm, yeah.
Kevin: It was 40 degrees here in Melbourne, 40 degrees Celsius, yesterday.
Patrick: Right, you had to clarify that, Celsius.
Kevin: So neener, neener, neener I think is what I meant to say. We are also joined by a special guest today, Pascal, Simon Pascal Klein, hello.
Pascal: Hey, how’s it going? It’s also really hot here, just a bit further north in Canberra, also in Australia, but yeah.
Kevin: Our nation’s capital.
Pascal: Yeah, indeed.
Kevin: Pascal is joining us today to talk about a new site that’s being launched under the SitePoint brand, but that too we will come back to in a little bit. Before we get to all of that exciting stuff we’ve got a little news to get through, this is what you all tuned in for so let’s launch it right off.
As happens very frequently on the Podcast these days a lot of our news is about Google, so let’s just dive right in here. We’ve got a few sort of Google-related stories that kind of string together here so see if you can follow the progression from one to another. This first thing is an announcement that Google made, wow, it seems a little while ago now, January 21st is when this broke on techdirt.com which is news out of Google that they are planning to make some changes to their search ranking algorithm to penalize so-called content farm sites. Patrick did you read about this?
Patrick: Yeah I read about it, it’s hard to take a whole lot from the general statements that are being made by Matt Cutts and others, but basically they are taking some sort of action, we never really know what type of action exactly.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s all sort of vague double talk.
Patrick: The algorithm has changed.
Kevin: (laughs) Something has changed in the Matrix. Matt Cutts is well known as Google’s sort of spokesperson for their anti-spam efforts, so he’s the guy who’s responsible for communicating to web developers the naughty behaviors that Google is punishing over time, and so I guess his job is one that gets more and more difficult as time goes by. But this latest announcement, he says that basically reading between the lines here Google is declaring victory over obvious spam making its way into Google search results, and now they’re going after some of the gray areas, among them Demand Media. Stephan, Patrick, what do you think of Demand Media?
Stephan: They’re my favourite website on the Internet.
Patrick: Well, I’m only vaguely familiar with Demand Media, but I know they are behind sites like eHow, livestrong.com, crack.com, trails.com and a couple others, and they are some call them a content farm, that’s an unflattering term, I don’t know if they would call themselves that…
Kevin: I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t call themselves that. (laughs)
Patrick: A marketplace for freelancers more or less, but I don’t know, I see issues with this and one of the issues that I see, and especially reading the comments at Techdirt and this comment that this thought has brought up is that— Matt Cutts is using the term low quality content, so pure web spam is decreasing and it’s not the main thing that they’re focusing on, now they have to worry about his words “shallow” or “low quality content”. How you divide that, how you decide what fits under that is very difficult and you have people commenting that the Demand Media sites like eHow fall into that category, you have people throwing
About.com into that and the thing about it is just from my casual searching of the Internet and looking for information I can say that I’ve actually been helped by eHow articles before myself personally.
Kevin: And I can also say that I’ve read things that were helpful at About.com. Now, were they the only websites on the Internet to have the information? No, I don’t think so. So are they ranked well in the search engines? Certainly. But they still helped me so at what point does repetitive content let’s say, or content directed towards search engines, really become dangerous or counterproductive? The most important thing is that people who search for something get the relevant page, and whether that comes from a “content farm” that writes posts as questions that actually provide the answers, or a leading publication, if the question is answered then I don’t really see that as a problem.
Kevin: Hmm. Can you share the story of how you were helped by these sites because I know my experiences often I feel duped when I arrive at these sites; I do a search, I click on the most relevant looking result and as soon as I see the About.com logo I go “ah, crap, I’ve been fooled again”, and sure enough the page is I suppose technically about what I was searching for but it doesn’t have anywhere near the level of information that I was interested in. At best I would call it like a dictionary definition sort of depth, as few words as they can get away with to answer that question, that’s what you get on those pages.
Patrick: I can give you a couple of examples, and I mean I would say that about a lot of websites and I wouldn’t so-call them content farms necessarily, but I can give you a couple of examples just from my history, from a browser history I enter eHow so I can pull up a couple of things. First thing, one of the things that comes up and this will be a varied array of things, one of the things that comes up is “How to defeat all bosses in Megaman 6,” and how that came up was my little brother asked me, he said, “What is the weapon that beats this boss again?” So I entered that, it came up, I went to it and it had the information that this boss you’re supposed to use this special weapon to defeat this person, so that’s one example it’s just kind of a random video game question. Another one that came up was “factors that affect police officers’ discretion,” and so why was I searching for that? Well, I was working on an article that correlates forum moderators with law enforcement officers because two of my moderators just happen to be law enforcement officers; one is a squad car officer and then one is SWAT or similar I believe. And so we talked about demeanor and so I’m looking for subject matter on that topic and they had five different things that affect demeanor that made sense and will help with the article. And I have a couple other things here like “how to do Wii Bowling tricks and cheats,” another one for my little brother where he was looking for this trick I had never heard of on Wii Bowling, I don’t know if you play Wii Bowling any of you, but on the challenge where you try to knock down as many pins as possible and the number of pins keep getting larger, at the last frame, 91 pins, you can throw it along the wall, ride the ball to the back, hit a red switch and all the pins go down with a boom; I had no idea about that (laughter) now you might know out there if you play Wii Bowling, but, I found it through eHow so, again, those were some situations that were helpful to me and there you go Kevin.
Kevin: Alright, alright, I think you’ve made your point. Why are these things called content farms?
Patrick: I don’t really know who coined that term. I don’t know; does anyone know who came up with that?
Kevin: No, I don’t know who came up with the term.
Patrick: Well, I don’t know either. The nature of a content farm, the implication is that there are all of these writers similar to a farm that’s growing all of these same types of vegetables and they’re here churning these articles out and the implication is that they produce generally low quality content because they produce a high volume of content from an assortment of different sources. The Wikipedia article for content farm is rather bleak looking I would say, it says “Content farms are criticized for providing relatively low quality content as they maximize profit by producing just ‘good enough’ rather than best possible quality articles.”
Kevin: Listening to that wording I can just imagine the history of that Wikipedia page that the first version said content farms have low quality content and exploit their writers, and then it was very quickly amended to content farms are criticized for having low quality content and exploiting the writers which you could then provide a citation for (laughs). I can just imagine the evolution, I’m sure someone not very happy with content farms was the original creator of that page.
Patrick: Point of view, point of view.
Stephan: I think one key in there in this wording on the Google blog, it says that people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low quality content, the second part of that is kind of worrisome don’t you guys think, I mean spam I’m fine with, get rid of that, but low quality content that makes Google the judge and jury of what’s quality and what’s not, right? And so what about some kid that’s just trying to get started or something, does he get — maybe he writes something actually useful one time and he gets knocked off Google because the rest of his stuff is low quality?
Patrick: Yeah, I think that’s Google’s job, right, I think in the way he says that it’s almost an obvious thing I think and something that Google should do anyway, their emphasis should always be to return the most quality results for that query, and so they should always try to limit the low quality content; I don’t know that you need to limit it necessarily by saying, okay, eHow or any site that has this mass market of freelancers is low quality content, Google just needs to focus on always delivering that high quality content regardless of where it comes from as long as it is in line with the Google Webmaster Guidelines ™.
Kevin: (Laughs) Well, I suppose whenever people get worried about what Google is doing is when they stray from I suppose where their original success came from. People fell in love with Google because they came up with this way of ranking “quality” of websites based on the link economy, so if a lot of people linked to a page Google considered it high quality because a lot of people are voting for it with their links and therefore that goes to the top of the search engine rankings. From a puristic standpoint I think that is an ideal that the vast majority of people can get behind, but the problem is obviously it’s fairly easily gamed and so over time in its spam combating efforts Google has had to introduce other factors which I’m guessing are less palatable to those idealistic minds who liked what Google stood for originally. So to give a spurious example here, if Google started ranking sites based on misspelled words and the more misspelled words you have the lower you drop in the rankings because you have lower “quality” on your site I think some people would get upset with that especially if as you say, Stephan, the best take on a particular topic was dragged down just because the author of it couldn’t spell as well as some of his competitors.
Pascal: Just a thought here, I was just thinking ultimately I think that these sort of aggregated sites, they might not be that great and I think we just have to live with them because it’s just part of the distributed and free nature of the Internet, and I don’t see them as a threat or I don’t see them even really performing that well because they don’t offer anywhere near as good experiences usually as the sites that come up with the initial content themselves. And like you said, Kevin, when you’ve got to About.com you kind of realize that you got cheated or something, there’s like a different experience that I think a user has when they land on a page like that, they instantly know they’re not at a primary source, they have a secondary source or maybe even further down the source range here.
Kevin: Yeah. I guess, you know, if Google is able to make some obscure change to its algorithm that will de-prioritize those sort of pages that people arrive at and feel duped by then great, I think the best thing for them to do is to do it rather than to talk about doing it because talking about doing it seems to get people worried and upset whereas doing it is just going to make people happy unless I suppose you are an employee of Demand Media or even a stockholder in Demand Media.
And this is the trail of headlines leads us next to Demand Media’s great big IPO, their initial public offering of stock, Demand Media, the company behind these various sites we’ve been talking about went public last week and Google made its announcement just in the days leading up to that public offering which raised a lot of eyebrows. People thought maybe Google was trying to torpedo that public offering; I suspect maybe they just felt like they would get into less trouble by letting the world at large know that they were planning to make a change that would affect the business of this company that would suddenly have a whole lot of stockholders in not very long. But that public offering went ahead anyway, and from reports I’ve read was wildly successful; this is from a story at Searchengineland.com by Danny Sullivan, and he says that Demand Media “after going public quickly ranked up evaluation higher than the New York Times.” What do you guys think of that?
Patrick: You’re aghast. I can tell.
Kevin: (Laughs) I don’t know how big Demand Media is, I have a hard time sort of getting a feel for how big it is, but in terms of its business model and its long term prospects a lot of people think that I guess it’s a lot more valuable than a “traditional newspaper” these days.
Stephan: No, I was just thinking about of course the papers are gonna be less valued so I don’t know if that’s saying much about Demand Media, I mean we’re kind of at the print age of papers is somewhat dying.
Patrick: Demand Media does have lower overhead, right, because their writers are already centralized around the world and freelancers who work in their own offices or homes so they have that lower overhead than the New York Times where they assume the costs of investigation, sending reporters to different places around the world, and having an expensive building in New York City or multiple expensive buildings.
Stephan: Well, no, they’ve kind of built a beautiful business model, right, because the New York Times can write the article and then Demand Media can put something up on eHow about something that New York Times already did the research for.
Patrick: Right. And that’s reporting in general, though. “The New York Times first reported that … this happened.”
Stephan: Yeah, exactly.
Kevin: The story at SearchEngineLand by Danny Sullivan is an interesting read, it opens up kind of with a tongue-in-cheek reimagining of the New York Times homepage if it were produced by Demand Media. You can see immediately all of the headlines are changed into search-engine-friendly questions and all of the links are turned blue with underlines which I’m not exactly sure what that does, maybe that’s just Demand Media’s design style that they’re mocking there. But he goes on in the second half of the post to say, in seriousness, this raises some questions about news gathering and its role if the Demand Media’s of the world are going to be rising to similar prominence as traditional news outlets as the New York Times. His worry is that Demand Media, content farm that it may or may not be, its business interests are best served not by reporting what is important or what is interesting or what is useful for people to know, but rather by writing content that people are searching for on topics that have advertising easily associated with them, because that’s how Demand Media makes its money. It pays attention to what people are searching for and whenever it detects a topic that there are profitable advertisements to be run against that topic, they’ll get one of their stable of writers to write up a thin piece of content to create a page that answers that question and then they’ll run ads next to it and rake in the dough from the search engine traffic. So if Demand Media starts eclipsing our news organizations, are we at risk of losing coverage of the important stories in favor of the monetizable stories, is what he’s worrying about.
Patrick: Is valuation a way to determine whether Demand Media is eclipsing the New York Times in that category? That’s a question I would ask. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the most accurate way to look at it. I mean, obviously, Disney is worth more than the New York Times, that didn’t seem to hurt the New York Times either, so Disney can start their own news-controlled organization and start feeding us the news they want us to know that makes money but they don’t because it’s not their business. Demand Media obviously it is more their business but I think that there will always be room for organizations that actually break the news because there is money to be made there and there’s a whole transition thing, the old media/new media thing, it’s this whole sort of mess of a topic that has been well discussed on this show and others where New York Times has a very nice website, in my opinion, a very nice presence and they’ve made a lot of strides in that area and I think that they’ll continue to find ways to modernize the business that they’re in, which is print journalism and now web journalism, and without those sorts of outlets then you don’t have a lot of these other stories and we can’t really report or comment or have an commentary. So to me I’m not really concerned about it because the money being made— As long as there is money being made, but comparatively one organization making more money than another or being valued higher than another I don’t think that’s reason for it, I don’t think the New York Times is gonna disappear because of that.
Kevin: Well, they may not disappear but that money that is there to be made by ads against search engine traffic it’s a siren song they’re gonna have to be careful not to follow, this is what I think the core of Danny Sullivan’s concern is that the New York Times of the world, struggling to stay profitable, are going to see this business model of Demand Media’s and embrace it and, just as he mocked up, create the Demand Media editions of their content which will lead to skewed editorial policies. I suppose there are a few wrong turns to be taken before we get to that.
Patrick: Sure. Yeah. One thing I would say is a lot of people would consider WikiLeaks to be good news gathering, right, all the WikiLeaks stories the New York Times has put out and the New York Times made bank off the WikiLeaks stories with the amount of traffic that it drove to them. So I mean I think that there’s always that choice to make between writing content and, you know, even the way you described it was kind of funny to me when you described Demand Media, because in an ideal situation it’s not really that bad of a thing; you find out what people search and in an ideal way you give them what they want. Now that is ruined if you don’t, as your experience has been if you find bad content, but obviously there’s room to do this right.
Kevin: There is, but I guess the criticism against Demand Media, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, Patrick, but the criticism is that they pay as little as possible as they can get away with in order to get content that will rank in the search engines. That is their interest, their interest is not in producing content that informs people fully, that answers people’s questions fully, that is even especially readable. It’s get the search engine clicks through to them, and this leads to content producers working for chump change to not produce their best work ever. I guess it’s a race to the bottom.
Patrick: Right, it’s not paying at a rate that a veteran writer or an established journalist would accept payment as I would say, I’m not in that field but the article that is linked to by Danny Sullivan, which is at the money.cnn.com website says that typically the price is $15.00 for an article of several hundred words, so let’s say four to six hundred words, $15.00 or $30.00 for a video. Now I don’t know freelancing rates for writing so maybe that isn’t the worst pay in the world, but obviously it’s not a high level of compensation either.
Kevin: I want to give the last word to Danny Sullivan here. He says, “In reality a smart news publication would be doing both news coverage and ‘answers coverage,’ repurposing its existing content into the type of high quality answers that people are really seeking.” Well, fingers crossed that that’s the future we’re heading towards here.
The next story in this Google cavalcade of news is again from Matt Cutts, we go back to Matt Cutts, and I was surprised to see him talking about two different changes to the Google search indexing algorithm in as many weeks, this one on January 28th this time on his personal blog, I guess I don’t know why he wouldn’t publish this on the Google Webmaster Blog where he usually writes this kind of stuff, but it’s kind of a follow-up to his official post on the Google Blog, he writes this on his personal blog, “I just wanted to give a quick update on one thing I mentioned in my search engine spam post, my post mentioned that ‘We’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content,’ that change was approved at our weekly quality launch meeting last Thursday and launched earlier this week.” Have you guys noticed that those sort of results in Google, I certainly have. For the past month or so I’ve been getting increasing levels of results of where the top ranking things are sites that have obviously copied their content from somewhere else, and then if I go back to the Google search results page I can’t for the life of me find anywhere in that list the original, originating site for that content. Is it just me or have any of you guys had this experience recently?
Stephan: Yeah, it’s called Tumblr.
Kevin: (laughter) Point well taken.
Patrick: Google’s gonna buy Tumblr next week and then where will we be? No, just kidding.
Kevin: Tumblr, the quick and dirty blogging service that a lot of people tend to just re-tumbl is that the term?
Patrick: Right. It’s kind of like their ecosystem, Stephan, you might be a more veteran Tumblr than I, but their ecosystem part of it is this re-blogging feature where it’s not — if I take your post from sitepoint.com and put it on my blog at patrickokeefe.com, whatever, that’s copyright infringement, but on Tumblr this is a natural thing where people re-up other people’s content, they re-blog it, that’s their means of sharing content; sometimes they excerpt it, sometimes it’s posted in full, is that pretty much correct Stephan?
Stephan: It’s kind of the modus operandi I think of Tumblr.
Kevin: Things that originated on Tumblr tend to be pretty well credited when you just hit that re-blog button it usually puts the original writer, and it’s not uncommon to land at a Tumblr page and see like ten layers deep of people having quoted and re-quoted the same story and what you’ve landed at is the tenth copy of this story deep. But like you said, Stephan, that just seems to be the way people expect Tumblr to work. When content has originated from outside Tumblr it seems as often as not the person who originally posted on Tumblr has not given credit to the original source, and so you then get the posting and re-posting within Tumblr, but if you follow that whole trail back you end up at someone who has taken it from the outside world without crediting it.
Stephan: Yeah, it blows my mind; I didn’t realize so many amazing photographers were in one place. (laughter)
Patrick: What type of photography, exactly? No.
Stephan: Just all kind of stuff— yeah, that’s the other question too.
Patrick: (laughter) Ah, walked into that. No.
Kevin: So Matt Cutts here says that this change is actually a minor one, maybe this is why he didn’t think it worthy of posting on the official Google Blog, but he says that slightly over 2% of search queries are going to change in some way as a result of this change, but I suppose if you own one of these sites where all of your content is something that is quoted from elsewhere or even taken wholesale from elsewhere with just a little credit provided at the bottom this may be sinking your business model. I’m not gonna shed any tears over you I suppose if that’s the case. So I don’t know, are we unanimous? Is it a bravo for this little change?
Patrick: When it comes to full sale copyright infringement, I would say yes. When it comes to quoting obviously you have to be a little more careful there because there is such a thing as legitimate quoting as proper citation and in some way that’s how news spreads responsibly where people quote something and comment on it or add details with links and full attribution and I do that myself in some cases and have quoting practices that I adhere to in line with that. So I trust that Google is smart enough to understand that and just make sure that the people who are penalized are the ones who deserve it.
Kevin: Yep. One last story from the annals of Google this week, and this is a late-breaking story that someone chucked to me via Twitter just as we were sitting down to record this, so I have not read a whole lot on this, but Patrick in our discussion it sounds like you were the most informed on this: is it true that Microsoft is copying its search results from Google?
Patrick: Well, that’s not saying much, I’m the most informed. No.
Kevin: Take us through this.
Patrick: I just read briefly to be fair, of course this is a new story, I’m not really well versed on it, but what I gather from reading an article by Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand is that Google had some sort of inclination that Bing was using Google’s results to improve the results that Bing delivers. And so what they did was they set up a sting of sorts where they created a search result page for a term that had no search result page on either service Google or Bing.
Kevin: So they created a fake search result basically.
Patrick: Basically, yeah, they created result pages for something that really no one would search for most likely and that wouldn’t be found on any website, just random strings of letters like mbzrxpgjys, that sort of thing. And then they had a result and they found that Bing all of a sudden now has the exact same result for that nonsense term. And so of course I guess they gave this story to Danny Sullivan and he’s reported it in full and Google’s had their say on their blog and Bing’s responded on theirs and I think, I don’t know, it depends on your perspective; either this is unethical or it’s I think shrewd business because on one hand either they’re stealing the results, which is the unethical side, or they’re learning from the best and trying to apply it to their algorithm the most successful competitor. I don’t know; where do you fall on that?
Kevin: Hmm, yeah, it’s tricky. Just reading about how they did this because the first question that sprang to my mind is how did Bing even know to add these nonsensical strings to its search index, and reading the official Google Blog on this, this is Google’s blog post, Microsoft’s Bing Uses Google Search Results—and Denies It. (Laughs) They kind of explain their whole sting operation here, and they actually gave 20 Google engineers laptops with fresh installs of Microsoft Windows running Internet Explorer 8 and the Bing toolbar, and then they ran those searches in the Bing toolbar and got nothing, and then after a while got something. And so the accusation here is that Bing is noting when they have no results for something and then is going looking for what their results should be on Google. I don’t know, Patrick, I can see that if I were Bing and I knew that people were not finding stuff, not finding answers for their queries and my best answer for how to get the results would be to go and ask Google and index the same thing I might be tempted to do that, I think it’s pretty unethical though.
Patrick: Right. Yeah, I mean I can understand both sides of it. It’s one of those, I don’t know, it’s just one of those questions; on one hand if you eliminate the Google thing from it it’s genius to use the toolbar entries and say if this is what people are searching for and they’re not getting anything we need to get on this, that’s just a good use of data and Google might even do that with their various browser and toolbar integrations, but on the other hand when they do take the results from Google directly then the whole unethical discussion enters into it. Stephan?
Kevin: Hang on. I’m just re-reading this Google blog post. Just a clarification here, what they’re saying they actually did they didn’t enter these synthetic terms into the Bing search query, they went in Internet Explorer 8 and entered them into the Google search engine homepage. And so the accusation here is that Microsoft is spying on searches that Internet Explorer 8 users are making on Google and using those to update Bing, so there’s a potential privacy issue here as well.
Stephan: That piece right there is really interesting though, I mean I would say that’s more of a violation then for users, I’d say that’s worse off than what Google’s getting copied really. I mean people should really be concerned about this.
Patrick: Yeah, because we can all log what people search for on our own websites, so I know when someone searches for something on one of my sites using search, I can look that up and see what people are searching for and then see if there are any links for that or even the bounce rate and all those things, you can set that up with analytics, but monitoring what people enter on other websites there’s the problem.
Kevin: So they’re saying that that particular monitoring is a feature of the Suggested Sites feature of Internet Explorer 8 which they opted into, so that feature when you turn it on it obviously asks you to agree to some big legal policy that would include sending your browsing traffic to Microsoft in order to compile a list of suggested sites for other Internet Explorer 8 users to use, I suppose they are using that. They’re saying that feature and the fact that the Bing toolbar was installed in the browser, which can also send data via Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program; those are the two possibilities where Microsoft is collecting that information. I’m not sure that anyone agreeing to opt into either of those programs would expect this particular type of data collection to occur; at least they wouldn’t naively expect it. The suggested site feature you’d expect to be used to suggest sites to other people’s Internet Explorer not to populate Microsoft’s search engine database. And similarly just because you have the Bing toolbar installed doesn’t mean that your activity on the Google website not using the Bing toolbar you wouldn’t expect that sort of activity to be monitored and tracked. Wow, so it’s interesting, Microsoft’s initial denials ring a little hollow in light of this evidence, I’d be interested to see what the next response from Microsoft if any is here, I mean I would imagine that at some point they’re gonna be forced to point to some obscure line of their Bing toolbar agreement and say, look, we said we could do this, people agreed, and that’s just the way it goes. But I suppose the fact that they denied it initially could not weigh in their favor. It’s all a bit of he said she said right now.
Stephan: I was wondering how quickly they would separate themselves from the programmers who put this, like “We didn’t know what they were doing!”
Stephan: Aw, do we have to? (Laughter)
Patrick: I kinda forgot about it.
Kevin: We’ve seen a few stories in the past week about OpenID and this is something we talked about, oh, it feels like a year ago on this podcast last. And the stories I’ve been seeing have been a little unkind to old OpenID, and I wanted to see if Stephan, Patrick, if your takes on this have changed or if you agree with the naysayers who are saying that OpenID’s on the way out, that it’s a failed experiment and that increasingly sites that built their login systems around OpenID are thinking they may have made a mistake. Patrick, I know you had the most contrarian opinion from memory on this.
Patrick: Don’t trust The Cloud!
Kevin: Yeah, don’t trust the cloud.
Patrick: No, I mean here’s the thing, I use OpenID on precisely one thing, that is Tweet— What the heck is that thing that tweets my stories via RSS to the account? Whatever it is, TwitFeed, or TwitterFeed. I think it’s TwitterFeed, and I use it for that and I either had them switch it or I want them to switch it to my account on their service. And the reason is that I just like having that individual control of how I log in. The whole OpenID thing is so strange to me where I tie-in logins to all these services that I use into just one thing, and I feel that way whether it’s Facebook Connect or OpenID or whatever it is, I try to limit that and I try to have these individual accounts; some might say that’s an inconvenience but for me it’s just a matter of quality.
Kevin: I have to say I’m the same way with Facebook, that I resist using Facebook Connect to log in to other sites; if a site that I want to create an account for gives me the choice of creating a new account with a password or reusing my Facebook identity I will create my own account because I don’t trust Facebook with my identity, but my OpenID provider I do trust with my identity.
Stephan: I think I agree with you, Kevin, and I think that the Webmonkey article points out its saying that Facebook’s implementation is much easier to use and easier to understand, I think it’s kind of ridiculous, I just think that more people use Facebook and so tons of people use Facebook everyday and when they see the little logo down there at the bottom they’re gonna click on it to log in to a website, and it’s not because of the developers it’s easier for them to do I don’t think, I mean maybe I’m wrong but I think it’s a— I can’t even think of the type of fallacy this is but it’s one of those that you’re drawing conclusions from something that’s not really … you can’t prove. So I don’t think it’s a good example, I think maybe OpenID’s just too complicated, and that’s part of the problem.
Kevin: Yeah, well that’s the argument I’m seeing made here that OpenID is not, it’s not that people are going back to passwords, that users are going back to passwords from OpenID, it’s more that OpenID seems to have failed in a user experience sense whereas solutions like Facebook Connect, which technically are really just OpenID with a particular brand behind them, the reason Facebook Connect is succeeding where OpenID failed is it’s all about user experience; OpenID was a technical standard with no particular user experience attached to it, and so every site that implemented OpenID had to come up with its own way of presenting it, its own way of explaining it and because there was no one single way that people recognized, or at least regular users didn’t seem so to use it. Pascal, you were saying you recently worked on a site that had OpenID, right?
Pascal: Yeah, a friend of mine, Rohan Mitchell, another very cool developer type here in Canberra, the two of us got together last year and we wrote a very small Ruby based web app to handle voting for BarCamp talks, like which one’s the best talk, and we decided that it would be a great app for BarCamps to use so that people could find one place for all their slides and brief information, and they could also see the sort of cream of the crop talks from all past BarCamps, and we had initially Twitter login and usernames and passwords, and the Twitter login was used fairly well but we kept having problems with it and in the end we entirely ditched OpenID simply because we found usernames and passwords were better; we had some people with trust issues who asked us are their details of their accounts that they’re logging in sort of accessible. And I trust Rohan’s development skills but we haven’t looked at like security or anything like that, and we just felt like why not stick with something that works.
Kevin: Yeah, definitely. I know if you rewind the clock by about three years and you go to a web conference like the ones I tend to go to, people were walking around complaining about every new site that came out that asked you to create a new username and password. It was called the “password design pattern” and usually had the name “fail” next to it because there was this consensus among web developers that having users create a new password for every site they visit was fundamentally flawed. And I know even now my improv theatre company that I work with in my spare time I recently created just a little online booking system for their workshops that users had to create usernames and passwords for and fully in the space of the first three months fully I’d say half of the users who used it had to write back and say “I forgot my password, can I reset it please.”
Stephan: But the idea that we need a central repository of usernames and passwords, I mean it’s kind of ridiculous because your work has a different key than your home, right, and you’re not gonna have one key for both those things, right, I mean I don’t buy into that whole argument, sorry.
Patrick: My OpenID provider that I use is weird because when I log in with them I have to pick a series of three pictures to validate my identity every time, and we were talking about password management just the three of us in the little private chat we had for the show, but I mentioned I use KeePass, well in KeePass in the notes I have my categories which are things like toys and games, money, and I have to actually click on these things to validate my identity. And I think also, Kevin, you just said it, consensus among web developers, a bad thing in general because just such a small niche of the world, echo chamber—
Patrick: —where it’s these people, and well meaning, but you know.
Stephan: “These people,” what do you mean “these people?” (Laughter)
Patrick: I’m part of it! I’m part of it! (laughter) I’m just kidding also, I should say, this is very tongue in cheek. But the thing is it’s kind of an echo chamber in a way and we see things a certain way whether it be RSS or whether it be OpenID that’s going to be good for us, maybe good for the Web, but then there’s the 99.9% of everyone else.
Kevin: I think OpenID has got the right idea but they lack the user experience finessing that is required to sell their solution to the masses. Whereas Facebook Connect is kind of a half measure for me, like you said Stephan, what we don’t need is a central repository for everyone’s passwords; the idea behind OpenID is you get to pick your own provider or even set up your own server if you really want to if you’re that hardcore and untrusting a person, there is no central repository, anyone can set up a repository and you get to choose who you trust with those details. And the idea being that this is a decentralized system. Facebook Connect, it’s the same sort of idea as OpenID in that you’re not creating a new password for every site you visit but it is a centralized repository, it’s kind of OpenID with that central— everyone is trusting one commercial entity with their details. I think what Facebook Connect proves and what I’m hearing is that regular users do use Facebook Connect where they don’t use OpenID. Facebook Connect has shown that with the right user experience people will use a system like this, but Facebook Connect is not going to achieve all the objectives that OpenID had in mind, the decentralization, so I guess the ball is now in the web developers’ court to re-imagine OpenID in a way that can compete with the user experience that Facebook Connect has.
Stephan: When they come out with MySpace Connect I’ll be there.
Kevin: (Laughs) Right, okay.
Stephan: Sorry, that was too easy.
Kevin: So, the Webmonkey story here ends up admitting that OpenID is probably on the way out in and of itself, but that the floor is open here for a new standards-originating technology to come out and compete with the likes of Facebook Connect. It’s this back and forth that we always see, we all had crappy mobile phones—Patrick you still have a crappy mobile phone. (laughs)
Patrick: Thank you.
Kevin: And we lived with them, and Apple came out and has this beautiful iPhone that everyone fell in love with and agreed was a superior experience that was a lot more enjoyable to use. There were a few curmudgeons out there who held out because Apple’s technology was closed and you didn’t want to tie yourself to Apple and trust Apple with everything that you put into your mobile phone—
Kevin: —and so Google came out with a more open alternative with the Android operating system and there’s even been efforts to create entirely open source and free software stacks for mobile phone type hardware, and so we have this ball bouncing back and forth between the worlds of open and closed and it seems like the closed often leads the way in user experience and then open runs to catch up and “a rising tide raises all boats,” is that saying?
Patrick: Yes, you nailed it.
Kevin: I’m looking forward to the next iteration of OpenID so that I once again can stop creating new passwords for every site I visit.
Alright, it’s time to talk about a new website and this is why we have our special guest Pascal on here today, and this new website comes to us from none other than sitepoint.com. SitePoint’s trying something new here, and that is launching a new site under a completely different domain name about a particular topic. What’s the site Pascal?
Pascal: Everyone should open up a new tab in their browser and make their way to designfestival.com.
Kevin: Alright, what is this site?
Pascal: So it’s a new SitePoint project to basically put up a platform to host the voices from various web design professionals from around the world to share sort of tips, inspiration and their expertise in the various exciting fields of design. Like so we’ve got typography, logo design, and sort of user experience covered quite well, and we have a core blogging team and a whole range of really cool guest bloggers who will also be blogging on occasion. That’s basically it in a nutshell.
Kevin: You’re one of this core blogging team.
Pascal: Yeah, I was kindly invited to be on the core blogging team, and on that we also have Emily Smith who covers UX, she’s an information architect and does really cool stuff with Apple devices, and we also have Jennifer Farley who is covering logo design and works at Laughing Lion Design, and then I’m doing the typography sort of stuff.
Kevin: Jennifer Farley has been blogging on sitepoint.com about design for a while and I’m a big fan of her posts. What are you blogging about Pascal?
Pascal: So the core range of topics that I’m going to be covering all basically falls under web typography, so essentially covering typography on the Web, applied to the Web, the ground rules, sort of, of typography are well established but because the Web is a very interesting and always sort of moving in dynamic medium with various new technologies coming out and considerations that need to be … considered, so I’m going to be basically looking at that and helping people out with a couple of tips and a couple of articles here and there sort of my experience and some suggestions and a couple of new fonts that might come out or how to implement
@font-face web fonts or how to deal with table data or that sort of stuff.
Patrick: The big question is does it pay better than Demand Media, I’m only kidding, don’t answer that (laughter). No, just curious Pascal, are you relatively new to the SitePoint brand or have you been a member of the forums or how familiar are you with sitepoint.com?
Pascal: With the company itself and with their ongoings, I suppose somewhat familiar. One of my best friends and colleagues worked with SitePoint for a brief period of time and I have written I think two or one, no two articles I think, on sitepoint.com and otherwise if I’m in Melbourne I try to give them a visit and say “hi” and I see the gang at the various tech and web conferences.
Patrick: And that kind of leads into what I was gonna ask, and this is more I guess Kevin, but way back when back in the day the webmasterbase, ecommercebase.com, a few different base type sites I think and then that was unified under SitePoint and now kind of how does this affect sitepoint.com I guess is my question whereas obviously web design is one of sitepoint.com’s core issues and now you have this new site; is this a further curation, is this a higher level of expertise, what’s the value proposition there?
Kevin: Well, what we’ve seen is that over the years SitePoint has grown to mean a whole lot. When we first started SitePoint, web design, web development was something that one person could say to be an expert in all aspects of—just barely maybe. But I’m thinking way back in 1999, 2000 when we were first putting the site together you could call someone a webmaster and that actually meant that they were a master of the Web. These days web design development is such a multifaceted, multi-disciplined thing that no one person is an expert in everything, nor should they be, I think. And consequently to expect everyone who is a member of the SitePoint community to be interested in every piece of content that we would publish under the SitePoint banner is probably a little unreasonable. In fact, I’d say that most users who come to SitePoint are interested only in a subset of what we do, what we say, what we publish about.
And so this site, Design Festival, represents kind of an experiment for us, a new way of publishing content on a particular subject in a particular niche, in this case design. We believe that there are people, plenty of people out there, who will be interested in every single thing that comes across the front page of designfestival.com. Now, how this links with sitepoint.com and how we maintain the SitePoint community feel once we start splitting into multiple sites like that is something that is going to be an ongoing learning experience for us, so I suppose this is step one in a multi-step experiment. If a site like this gets traffic, gets eyeballs, gets readers and followers as we would hope it to, we will then the next natural step is to bring this site back into the SitePoint community and sort of start crafting this overarching experience that once you become a fan of one of these sites you may then want to take the additional step to engage in and explore the SitePoint community as a whole. I can say that some of the ways we’re gonna do that are already planned and in fact are already well under way in terms of technical implementation, others we’re kind of going to wait and see and let our users and readers be our guide.
But quite honestly we got to the point where every time we added coverage of a new topic on SitePoint we weren’t necessarily getting more traffic, we were diluting the traffic that we already had. So the fans of PHP who were on our site weren’t that impressed when we started putting ASP.net content on SitePoint, and so for every ASP.net interested person we would gain as a fan of SitePoint we would lose a hardcore PHP developer as a fan. So this is our attempt to try and balance those competing audiences in a way that will make more people happy.
Patrick: That’s very cool; I’ll be interested to see it kind of develop. It sounds like it could be a situation where you have, I guess you already kind of said this, but these sort of separate elements but then the shared elements between them, like for example you could have all these publications but maybe they share a set of forums or a community, not that that’s gonna happen or anything like that, but that sort of thing to develop I could definitely see that.
Kevin: You’re thinking along the same lines we are Patrick. (laughter)
Pascal: I think both excite me equally, I don’t know, I’m looking forward to just getting going, I don’t have really a big preference either way.
Kevin: Alright, well if you haven’t already taken a look, listener, head over to designfestival.com and follow @DesignFestival on Twitter and let us know what you think of the new site, is it something that if you weren’t familiar with SitePoint at all and you stumbled across this site what would you think of it, is it something you’d want to subscribe to? If you think we could be doing better with it or if you have any thoughts at all please do drop us a line, feel free to comment on this podcast or follow the relevant links on designfestival.com to share your feedback directly with the team there.
So, yeah, thanks for giving us the scoop on that, Pascal, this is now the time of the podcast where we normally have our host spotlights, and we are down one host this week, so Pascal could I tempt you to share with us a spotlight, something that you think our listeners might be interested in checking out?
Pascal: Yeah, sure, so I had a couple of ideas in mind but I guess since we’re talking about design related things, or at least that was the big message for me I suppose, I feel it would be inadequate for me not to mention John Boardley’s awesome work on ilovetypography.com. He’s pushing I think last I checked over 69,000 RSS subscribers alone, so I think that number might have gone up since then but I would highly recommend anyone who is in the slightest way interested in good text, legible text and enticing text, text that really honors the content that’s being set that invites you to really read and that makes it easy to skim, easy to browse, to head over to ilovetypography.com.
Kevin: I’ve tried to subscribe to that site before thinking that I loved typography and what I discovered is that this guy loves typography way more than I will ever love typography. (laughs) Would you say it’s for those who have more of a casual interest in typography on the Web that following your writings at Design Festival will give them a nice highlights reel of what you’d get at I Love Typography?
Pascal: The I Love Typography website is not — it’s more dedicated to good type and good typography, it’s not dedicated to good web typography, although it gets a mention here and there, and good articles or links or videos or whatever material does get plugged on it. If you’re interested in design, design of the Web and therefore you should also be fundamentally interested in setting text on the Web because it’s such a fundamental component of content on the Web, then I would probably recommend head over to Design Festival and check out the typography section.
Patrick: So what you’re saying is that there’s more than Arial and Verdana? That’s got to be the worst comment ever to make to someone that loves typography. (laughs)
Kevin: You need to subscribe to this new site Patrick. Yeah, I’d say I Love Typography lets you share in the frustration of people like yourself who know what you can achieve with type and then are faced with the limitations—the gradually loosening limitations but not limitations anyway—of what you can do on the Web. Stephan, why don’t you lead us off with your spotlight.
Stephan: So it’s been on the Internet for a couple days now but there’s a system wide terminal hotkey called Visor, it’s this little bundle that you can use to bring up that terminal just with a simple key combination that you set. It requires SIMBL but other than that it’s simple and it’s awesome. I always hate having to go up to spotlight or do command search to get the terminal to come up so this is great for me.
Kevin: Ah, I love this thing! I discovered about three years ago when the creator of Quicksilver, the much-beloved and now much0ignored application launcher for the Mac, he wrote this original Visor and, yeah, it was like for those people who play first person shooter games and are used to having a hot key that pops down the chat window over top of their game so they can quickly toss an insult at whoever they’re about to shoot, (laughter) it kind of turns the Mac Terminal into that, it’s this sort of thing that can pop down over your screen over whatever you’re doing and you can quickly fire off a command into the command line and then tuck it back away. But I remember it got really buggy and I guess like Quicksilver the developer started neglecting it over time; I guess he got some paying gigs that took his attention away from his free hobbies like Quicksilver and Visor. But it looks like someone else picked up the torch and started maintaining it again so this is great news.
Kevin: Patrick what’s your spotlight?
Patrick: I’m just glad Pascal didn’t spotlight the “I Just Had Sex” video by The Lonely Island because I’ve already got that covered a few episodes ago, so we’ve already covered that ground, I know it’s amazing but we have to move forward, no.
So my spotlight, and this is not my spotlight but a friend of the podcast, Wayne Sutton, who’s been on a couple times just today announced that he’s taken a new role as the director of digital for TechMedia which is a parent company of Tech Journal South and some events in the Raleigh area, and my spotlight though is the website for his brand new baby boy micahdsutton.com, Wayne being kind of the digital guy that he is of course already had the domain name registered and of course already had this site ready to go for when the baby was born which was on January 20th, I believe, and so you’ve got this website with pictures and video and not only is it a neat little thing but it’s also an example for all digital parents to follow so you have to be at least at this level.
Kevin: Congratulations. My spotlight is a nice quick and dirty application from the fine folks at Google. I think a lot of people originally got excited by Google Earth, the desktop application that lets you browse satellite imagery of the earth in 3D, and then sort of fell away because it was more convenient to just go to Google Maps in your browser. Well, this one is one that I hope will bring you back to check out Google Earth again if you haven’t checked it out lately. This is a little web application put together in the spare time of some folks at Google called Google Follow Your World, and it’s at followyourworld.appspot.com, and the idea here is it’s a site that will notify you by email whenever Google gets new satellite imagery in Google Earth for a particular point in the world that you specify or as many points as you like. So if you’re like me I like to see the changes that are happening to my home town where I grew up because I don’t live there anymore, and also my girlfriend is from the country in a part of Australia that doesn’t have good satellite imagery so I’m always interested to see if Google has updated their coverage of that part of the world with better photography that will give you a clearer picture of where she’s from. And so what I do is go to followyourworld.appspot.com, mark that spot in the world, give it a name and tell them the email address to notify whenever that part of the world gets updated imagery, that’s all there is to it. You can pick as many locations as you want and you’ll get a nice little email in your inbox the next time Google updates their satellite imagery for that part of the world in Google Earth. Nice little freebie there.
So that’s it for the show today but before we go we have some news about an upcoming show that I mentioned at the very beginning, this is #98 which means we are only two weeks away from our 100th episode of the SitePoint Podcast, I cannot believe we are there already, and every week seems to go by quicker, it’s like we’ve been accelerating towards #100. So we can’t let a milestone like that go by without doing something a little special, and what we’re going to do is do a live show. This is going to be a live audio show hosted on USTREAM [actually it will be on TinyChat, not USTREAM —ed.] and what we’re going to do is try and get as many of our favorite guests from past shows of the SitePoint Podcast to come back on, give us a little update, give us a mini-interview, and we will do this with a live chat room where you our listeners can follow along, ask us questions, ask them questions, and really we’re just gonna make it a two-hour online party to celebrate the 100th episode of this podcast. So we’re still about a week and a half away from the recording of that at this point, and of course that will be recorded and edited up for a regular podcast release, assuming there’s anything at all in that online party that we can use as a traditional podcast to publish later; I’m sure we’ll get at least an hour of good material out of those two hours. But if you would like to join us for the live broadcast, and we hope you do, mark this date and time in your calendar: Sunday, February 13th from 4 to 6PM, that’s Pacific time, so on the west coast of the United States that’s 4 to 6PM, if you’re on the east coast that will be what—
Patrick: 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. which is GMT minus 5.
Kevin: There you go. And if neither of those are your time zones and you have trouble with time zones check out the SitePoint Podcast page at sitepoint.com/podcast, we’ll have a link up there to a page that will tell you the exact time in your local time zone. Just head over to tinychat.com/sitepoint, that’s the channel where we will be broadcasting live from 4 to 6PM on Sunday, February 13th. Hope to see you there; we’ll include another reminder about this show in our interview next week, and Patrick speaking of that interview that’s already in the can.
Patrick: It is, I spoke to Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, the co-authors of The Now Revolution today and it was a really fun interview, so look forward to that episode number 99.
Kevin: So that’s coming up in Podcast 99 next week, and just a couple of days after that we will have our live recording of Podcast #100. Hope to see you there and that’s it for this Podcast #98. I’d like to thank Simon Pascal Klein for being on the show here today, thanks Simon.
Pascal: No worries, cheers.
Kevin: Simon, can you let our listeners know where to find you if they are big fans of your writings.
Pascal: Yeah, grab me at klepas.org.
Kevin: And they can follow you on Twitter @klepas.
Pascal: Yep, that’s my Twitter handle, @klepas.
Kevin: Excellent. Guys let’s go around the table.
Kevin: And our usual co-host Brad Williams missing in action we hope you dig yourself out of the snow and join us for our #100. You can follow Brad @williamsba, and I’m Kevin Yank, you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and you can follow SitePoint @sitepointdotcom. Visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker. Thanks for listening, bye, bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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