Google Trends

I went to a Google techtalk at MIT yesterday, and they showed a Google project that I'd never seen before: Google Trends. It shows you a graph of the query volume for particular phrases. You can enter multiple phrases to compare them, and it also labels the graph with related news reports. Here's some interesting charts:

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New website design

I'm very proud to present the first redesign of kimbly.org in 10 years! The page organization is the same (so there shouldn't be any broken urls), but the appearance is completely new. I have my wonderful wife to thank. Be sure to check out the front page, with the punch card-inspired background. Let me know what you think.

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Blog traffic

During the month of August 2006, kimbly.org has received 122,040 hits from 12,204 different ip addresses. Where does all this traffic come from? It's 50% more than what I was receiving a year ago. Does this just happen to any site that's been around a while? I don't think I warrant that much attention from the rest of the world.

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del.icio.us firefox plugin

I've known about del.icio.us for years, but never really saw the point. But their new firefox plugin has changed my mind completely. I've started bookmarking all kinds of things, from programming languages to type theory, politics, economics, news articles, work-related stuff, everything. I'm starting to see the point. If you care, my del.icio.us page is here.

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Browser Reminders

I wish my web browser let me schedule reminders. For example, I might be reading about something that I'd like to check back on in a week. It would be nice if the browser would let me schedule a reminder for a week from now, and remember the url. Then, a week later, it'd pop up a reminder. Bonus features would be if it cached the page ahead of time so that it was all ready to go, and if it let me add a description as to why I wanted to be reminded about the page in the first place.

This kind of thing will get more useful over time, as more and more things become web accessible.

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MT-Bayesian is Destructive

A couple months ago I installed MT-Bayesian on my blog, because I'd been getting about three spam comments a day. Since I list new comments on the front page, it really bothered me to see explicitly pornographic comments presented so prominently. So I started looking around for spam-battling tools and I eventually settled on MT-Bayesian. Its main selling point was that it filtered comments immediately, instead of waiting for me to get around to doing a manual scan.

However I just noticed that many of my most cherished comments had been flagged as spam while I wasn't paying attention. For example, in this entry, nearly every comment except for the ones I wrote had been filtered out. It read like one end of a telephone conversation.

I hadn't realized that MT-Bayesian would filter out old comments, but I suppose I should have realized that that was only to be expected.

Anyway, I've decided to disable the filtering of comments on individual entries. Instead I'll only filter out potential spams in the listing of new comments on the front page. And I'm mentioning this as a warning for anybody else who has MT-Bayesian installed.

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Blog vs. Mailing List vs. Wiki

Here's a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of blogs, wikis, and mailing lists. Since I run a blog, designed a wiki, and participate in several mailing lists, I find the subject very interesting. However, I feel the subject could be taken a lot deeper. For example, I feel like the guidelines presented for when to choose a wiki vs. a blog vs. a mailing list aren't sufficiently robust -- they came from just a few datapoints, so it's hard to decide to what degree the conclusions are repeatable, or just noise.

I think the most useful conclusions from the presentation are probably the comments about how people interact. For example, I've seen at least a dozen instances of the phenomenon where you have a highly technical subject, and most of the readers simply can't follow along, so they stay quiet. But then a trivial issue arises, like how to choose names, or whether indentation should be significant, and suddenly everybody not only has an opinion, but feels that they need to share it with the world. This gets really annoying, but I know of no way to effectively counter it. (It would be nice if there were some terse latin phrase for this, like post hoc ergo propter hoc, or ad hominem, that you could just reference and have done).

The comment about how weblogs and wikis are subject to positive feedback is interesting, but I think it could be developed more. There are two reasons for this phenomenon: weblogs and wikis have urls, so you can quickly point random strangers at them. Mailing lists don't have this feature (web-based archives not withstanding). Also, weblogs and wikis have quick, simple techniques for letting strangers add comments. Mailing lists require more effort to contribute (you typically have to subscribe), so offhand comments from strangers are discouraged.

The comment about how mailing lists attract flamebait is also very interesting. This time, the reason is explained: wikis let others water down inflamatory wording, while mailing lists and blogs make revision difficult or impossible, even by the author.

(Via John Sequeira).

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Searching Your Web Cache

It would be nice if browsers had the ability to let you search their web-page cache. For example, I might remember that I reading something about chocolate in the last few days, but not remember where I had read it. Scrolling through the list of visited urls is a decidedly suboptimal way to find what I'm looking for. This idea is just crying out for a mozilla plugin, if it hasn't been done already.

If I were to "productize" this idea (as opposed to just making a quick hack), I'd take it even further. Rather than just searching the cache, you could incrementally build an index of which urls contained which words. Since the index would take a lot less space than the original web pages, it could remember documents that had long since been flushed from the cache.

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Blog Books

I was at the bookstore the other day, buying christmas presents, and I noticed they were selling diaries -- little blank books with wildly varying cover designs. Some had a simple leather cover, others had sewn-on sequins, geometric designs, or a reproduction of a famous painting.

When I saw these, I realized I'd really like it if my blog had a physical feel like these journals. I'd probably go for a simple suede cover, one which could accumulate scratches, creases, and stains over the years. It would be my journal, instead of just an impersonal user interface.

Of course, I'd still want my entries to be published online, and I'd still want to be able to embed links to other pages, and so on. I guess I'm thinking of something like a palmtop with a leather cover. Except it wouldn't be a general-purpose palmtop -- I'd actually pay extra for a special-purpose device that was good for nothing but blogging, as long as it truly felt like a physical thing, rather than just a virtual device wrapped up in a fancy cover. It would have to feel more like a book than like a computer.

I don't think we have the technology to enable this type of thing yet. At a minimum, we'd need displays that felt like paper and that are passively lit instead of glowing from within. I know that people are working on this kind of thing, and I hope that we'll have it within a couple generations (human generations, that is).

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Blog Followup Links

I added a new feature to my blog: automatic generation of links to followup posts. For example, after writing Put it in the Syntax, I made a couple followup posts that elaborated on the ideas in that post. All of the followups link back to the original, but until now, if I wanted the original to link to the followups I had to put the links in by hand.

With a judicious mixture of server-side includes, a perl script, and crontab, I now have things set up so that every night my website will automatically put a followup link into any old post that I link to from a new post. Here's how it works.

This perl script gets run every night at midnight (via crontab). The script scans through the web page for each of my blog entries, and makes a list of the other entries that it links to. It then generates a new file for each entry, which contains a snippet of html listing all the followups to that post. If there are no followups, then the html snippet is empty. Next, I include the html snippet into the original page, by adding this line to my movabletype entry template:

<!--#include file="<$MTEntryId pad="1"$>.backlinks"-->

And voila, I have automatic generation of followup links. Check out the Put it in the Syntax post to see what it looks like (it's at the bottom of the post, just before the comments). Note that this post isn't actually listed as a followup, because I linked to that post using a different url syntax than I normally do, so it isn't picked up by the perl script.

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Googleshare

Steven Johnson had an interesting idea for using Google to calculate mindshare for a particular concept. You search for the concept, and note how many pages it returns. Then you search for the concept plus a person/company/whatever, and note how many pages that returns. Divide the second by the first, and that's your Googleshare. For example:

  • programming: 32,700,000 pages
  • programming "programming languages": 3,430,000 pages

From which we can deduce that programming languages have 10% mindshare within the field of programming. Now let's see the mindshare within "programming languages":

  • "programming languages": 3,430,000 pages
  • "programming languages" Java: 1,510,000 pages (44%)
  • "programming languages" C++: 975,000 pages (28%)
  • "programming languages" Perl: 787,800 pages (23%)
  • "programming languages" Scheme: 228,000 pages (6.6%)
  • "programming languages" Prolog: 94,600 pages (2.8%)
  • "programming languages" Haskell: 60,200 pages (1.8%)
  • "programming languages" (Kernighan OR Ritchie): 22,100 pages (0.6%)
  • "programming languages" Peyton Jones: 11,700 pages (0.3%)

Out of curiosity, I tried comparing the googleshare of men versus women, and I was surprised to find that women have a larger googleshare for politics, programming, war, and sports (all stereotypically masculine fields). In fact, it's difficult to find any area where "men" has a higher googleshare.

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Search Tips

30 Search Tips on how to use internet search engines effectively. I consider myself relatively sophisticated about internet search, but there were quite a few tips I had never thought of. For example, "Google’s synonym feature ~search-term; e.g. ~sheep returns sites with terms livestock, lamb."

I tried a google search for "~pascal", and Delphi was the first hit. But a search for "pascal" didn't mention Delphi anywhere on the first page. Unfortunately there are apparently no synonyms for prolog. Perhaps "mercury" is too general to be used as a synonym.

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Blog Survey

Via Gnomon, I found Scott Nowson's PhD Thesis on using blogs to correlate writing style with personality type. If you have a blog that was active during May 2003, you might want to contribute to the study. Appropriately, he's also writing a blog about the project.


School's Back

My website traffic is telling me that the school year has begun again. I haven't been posting very much recently, and over the summer that would have meant I would get about 70 unique visitors a day. But now I'm getting 120 or more a day, even on the weekends (over the summer, I only got about 50 a day on the weekends).

So welcome back, all you bastards that had a 3-month vacation!

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Spamming Google

Apparently Amerisave spams google. I've never seen Google spam before. Check out the top search results for "amerisave". A whole lot of the hits have urls that end with "amerisave_mortgage_rates.htm". Nearly all of these pages have "Amerisave Mortgage Rates" randomly interspersed in the text. My favorite one reads:

This site provides independant reviews on mortgage organizations and subjects such as Amerisave Mortgage Rates. We have no relationship to Amerisave Mortgage Rates , and merely attempt to provide unbiased info to the public.

Yeah right, unbiased info. I think I'll report it to Google. Note that I haven't linked to any of the spam pages. I don't want to up their PageRank.

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Movable Type Busted

Ugh, my Movable Type database seems to have gotten corrupted. You might notice that there are three posts from April at the bottom of the front-page right now. I haven't gotten any help from the support forums yet. I'll probably have to end up reinstalling Movable Type from scratch -- fortunately it's still able to limp along enough to export all my entries, although I had to comment out some error handling in the perl code in order to coax it into rebuilding my index pages.

If I were to do this again, I think I would use a simpler system. Preferably one that allows me to regenerate everything from plain old files. I don't mind databases as long as they're not where the source code is kept. I'll keep this in mind if I ever get around to writing a new bliki system...

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Guest Blogging

Howard Dean is "guest blogging" over on Lawrence Lessig's blog. I haven't seen anything like that before. It's a very interesting idea. Why didn't I have a guest blogger while I was on vacation? ;)

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Bliki

I just came across the term "bliki" in Martin Fowler's blog. It's a cross between a blog and a wiki. I've recently been pondering adding a wiki to help me keep track of some of my more interconnected and longer-lasting thoughts. If I did run a wiki, I'd probably cross-post new entries to my blog, so the combination seems very natural.

But the bliki that Martin Fowler has cooked up for himself doesn't seem to allow either comments or wiki-style editing. It seems like you're missing a major part of both wikis and blogs if there's no possibility for user feedback.

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How to Measure Web Site Popularity

For years, it has been known that website popularity follows a zipf distribution. What this means is that if you number all the websites in the world by how popular they are, then their traffic is inversely proportional to their rank. That is, website #10 gets one tenth the traffic of website #1. Similarly, #100 gets one tenth the traffic of #10.

Given this fact, and given the fact that I run a website, it's only natural for me to wonder how popular my website is, compared to all the others.

There are several ways to measure the popularity of a website. You could measure page-views per day, or unique visitors per day, or number of inbound links. Unfortunately, on all of those scales, my website is almost too small to measure (350 hits/day, 35 sites/day, and no inbound links except the ones I made myself).

If the web followed a linear distribution, instead of a zipf distribution, then the above statistics would mean that my website must be near the bottom of the heap, probably in the bottom 10%. If this were the case, I would become completely depressed, and probably give it up entirely.

However, the web follows a zipf distribution, which means that the vast, vast, vast majority of websites have hardly any traffic, while a select few have tons of traffic. It also means that if your website has any traffic at all, then it's actually pretty far up in the rankings. I decided to take heart from this fact, and set out to find out what my actual rank is.

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April Traffic

What a difference a month makes!

The change in traffic comes from two things, for those who are interested. The first is that I made my old website redirect to this one. The second is that I made a few posts over on Lambda the Ultimate. The LtU posts are what account for the bump from the 8th to the 18th:

After the LtU posts, a couple people apparently decided to pull my rss feed once an hour, which is what accounts for most of the daily visits between the 18th and the 28th. And then on the 28th, google started noticing my website, and sending searches here. I got hits for endeca, gate to women's country essay, objects with virtual function pointers shared memory, hundred year language, i hate spiders, kimberley burchett, and programming language productivity.

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