Archive for the 'Web' Category

Is human powered search the next big thing?

I'd be well within reason to suggest that it would be somewhat difficult to use the web without a good search. Google has been so successful that their name has become a verb in the English language that defines using their service to search for something on the web. Traditionally, search engines compile a ginormous index of all the data their crawlers can collect on the web and then provide the fastest possible way for you to compare a search phrase with the content in their index. As good as the services have become, they haven't been able to truly differentiate between relevant and irrelevant results for a large number of search phrases. You still have to sift through a few pages of results a lot of the time.

Lately, I've come across a few search engines that are attempting to take a different approach to the content relevancy problem. Instead of a proprietary algorithm that attempts for calculate relevancy, e.g., Google's PageRank, they are letting relevancy be determined by human review. I decided to give RankNoodle.com a try and see if I could get better results with something powered by a bunch of other people than I can by simply typing in the search phrase in the search box of my browser and instantly getting a bunch of hits.

Here are a few review criteria I decided to test out:

  1. Does it work?

    First things first. Can I find information with their service? I decided to try and search for a few things I was in need of while I was writing this post. I didn't want to just type in random search queries and browse the results. I wanted to try and find specific things that I need. For instance, I've been wanting a WordPress plugin that will tell me the word count of my blog posts. I searched for "wordpress word count plugin" and was pleasantly surprised to find a good option as the 2nd result. There are not 1000s of results like when you search on Google or Yahoo. I'm not exactly sure if users contribute the results or if RankNoodle uses crawlers and then just lets the users vote the results up or down. Either way though, the results page contained perfectly sufficient resources and I found what I wanted right away.

    RankNoodle.com still has work to do on basic functionality though. All the search results I obtained, for all my different search queries, advertise as having 41 comments. Nothing happens when I clicked on comment though so I'm not sure what is going on there. For a search engine however, I'm not terribly concerned about what other people say about the URLs. I'd rather just see what I want in the title and description listed with the URL and be able to make a quick decision from that about which URL to click on next. For the record, nothing happened when I clicked on "Share" or "Bury" either. I don't know if that is a browser problem (FireFox 3.0 on Mac OS X), or just that they still have work to do on the interface.

  2. Is it fast enough?

    I think to for any search engine to be competitive, human powered or not, it has to be fast. There simply isn't time to wait for results to fetch and display when other options can do the same thing in fractions of a second.

    I noticed that common search items are cached on RankNoodle.com so I thought I'd search for something that isn't likely to have many users searching for it. I spent a lot of time this week working with wxPython and XRC resources (Yes, I'll probably be needing to write a post about this too.) I wanted to know how to extend a wxPython Widget and have it automatically be loaded with the XRC handlers. I searched for "wxpython xrc custom class". As I expected, the search did take a little extra time. As it stands now, it's a little too slow to be competitive with other search options but I imagine if the concept is something that users will like and use, that performance can be tackled as the service grows.

  3. Usability

    I think overall, RankNoodle.com adheres to what a typical user would expect of any search engine. There is a search box on every page and results are not obscured by other page features. It would be nice if your current search terms were still listed in the search box on the results page though. It's difficult to remember exactly what you typed and retype all but a portion when refining search results. I do like how image, video and related articles are listed on the side. In my opinion, that is a lot more worthy usage of the extra white space than filling it up with ads.

    That brings me to another subject. Search result pages are considered "articles" by RankNoodle.com. In addition to your search results, you get a general description and comments/questions by users for that article. I found it funny that the wxPython search I did when I first started testing had a question that was answered with "This is not a good place to ask this question." Perhaps certain articles will get better results.

Anyway, overall, I think social or human powered searching has a lot of potential. For me to spend more time with it, it will have to be fast, integrated into my browser, and get me to the results I want. I can't think of a better way to go up against current major search engine players though than by taking a completely different approach.

Using YUI to Create Nested Tabs

Recently, I was browsing the YUI JavaScript forums and found a post about nesting the tab control. I haven't done that before personally, but have done things where my tabs had Ajax or DHTML dependencies inside the tabs. I decided I'd take a whack at this one and see what I could come up with.

Continue reading 'Using YUI to Create Nested Tabs'

Ten Principles Of Effective Web Design

Here is another article from Digg.com highlighting some effective web design techniques. I'm stockpiling these for the next time I have a new project that requires a new face. This one is particularly informative since it gives examples at the beginning of how users use the web and then shows how you can take advantage of that. From the article:

Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has established as a standard approach for successful and profit-oriented web design. In order to use the principles properly we first need to understand how users interact with web-sites, and how they think.

read more | digg story

8 Web Design Mistakes That Developers Make

I decided to make a blog entry for this so I can come back again and review it later. I fall exactly into the category of "developers creating websites". Luckily, most of the work I do, at least professionally, has someone else to be in charge of how it looks! I found the tips mentioned here very useful however.

From the article:

An excellent website takes a particularly savvy blend of both great design and great code. Because of this, you often find designers having to figure out code and developers trying their hand at design. Speaking as a developer who spent his university years studying among other developers, I can safely say that programmers are not designers.

read more | digg story

A Few Cool Ways To Use RSS Feeds

So what is all this RSS hype? I've known about RSS feeds, what they are for, and how to use them for quite a while. It's not like they are new or anything! It wasn't until recently that I started to actually use them though. I didn't know what I was missing. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". You can read a whole definition for RSS here. Basically, an RSS feed allows you to easily keep yourself up to date with the publisher of the feed.

There are all kinds of interesting feeds available. Instead of checking a favorite blog for instance, you can subscribe to their RSS feed and go back when new content is available. There are feeds for Podcasts, products, and there is even a feed available for letting you know which stores have the Nintendo Wii in stock.

I decided to list here a few ways that I'm using and enjoying RSS feeds. Continue reading 'A Few Cool Ways To Use RSS Feeds'

Key Website Statistics: New Visitors and Conversion Rate

There are a few key statistics that every website operator selling a product or service should track. Of course, these are useful for other types of sites too, but when you're attempting to sell something, you need to know where to spend your time and/or money to be most effective.

Unique vs New Vistors

A lot of website statistics software, e.g. Awstats, Webalizer, will tell you how many unique visitors you have each day. These are important numbers, but you don't get a good picture from day to day of how many of those users are new, i.e. how many of those users have visited your site on a previous occasion.

New Visitors are certainly a part of the unique visits, but you have to track them separately. Why? This number gives you insight into how many people your marketing effort is driving to your site. If you have 100 unique visitors each day but only 100 unique visitors for the month, you have a pretty good retention rate on your visitors but certainly not a very good acquisition rate.

One way to track new visitors programmatically is to test for and set a cookie upon a visit. If you have the capability of doing this, and then storing a record each time you set a new cookie, you'll be able to watch your acquisition rate from day to day. Another alternative would be to find a 3rd party service, e.g. Google Analytics, that provide you with code to place on your page.

Acquisition vs Conversion

Once you have the number of new visitors, you can start to form statistics based on that number that provide insight into the effectiveness of your site. The number of new visitors that purchase a product for the 1st time give you a conversion rate. These two numbers together can provide insight into where promotion money will be most effective.

  1. Increasing Traffic

    There are a number of different ways one could spend marketing dollars to attract new visitors. Assuming that your conversion rate holds fairly consistent, more users ought to translate into more conversions. If you have a pretty good conversion rate, spending money on driving more traffic to your site could be the way to go.

  2. Increasing the conversion rate

    If you are getting a pretty good number of new visitors, but your conversion rate isn't very good, driving more users to the site might not translate into more profit. In this case, it may be best to evaluate how effective your website is at selling your product.



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