Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Blog Invasion - A Drop In Journalism Quality At CNET News

It's a little silly that I'm going point this out in a blog post. I'm feeling increasingly sick of the unusually large number of blog posts coming up on some of my (till recently) favorite and most-read news websites - such as CNET News.

There was time some years back when I would daily go to CNET News (it was located at back then) and would find a dozen or more fresh and well written news stories, free from immature and misinformed personal opinions and also both enjoyable and insightful. The advent of blogs on the Web, initially by independent individuals on third-party services such as Blogger, and later on News Websites started the trend of what CNET now calls a News Blog. Initially, these News Blogs took up only a small proportion of the total number of stories published by CNET News. Slowly and slowly, however, the proportion of these blogs grew, till a day came when News Blogs finally outnumbered News Stories on the homepage of CNET News. And this, in my opinion, was an unfortunate event, not just for CNET News (and its discerning readers), but for Web-based journalism as a whole (I see similar trend on some other websites such as Wired).

The final blow came when CNET stopped marking these News Blogs with a large and clearly-visible News.Blog banner, and gave all types of stories a unified domain (previously all these News.Blog posts had a separate Internet sub-domain). Together, these 2 changes ensure that not only does one not know before clicking on a link pointing to CNET News (Say, from Google News) that it points to a News Blog and not a news story, but worse, one can't always be sure that one is reading a blog post even after having landed on the page. Additionally, news aggregators such as Google News are mistakenly including these News Blogs in the news stories they include, when the correct place for such posts is the newly revamped Google Blog Search (now in Google News format). One of Google's goals is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, and an important step in this direction will be to separate indisputable and reliable facts from disputable and unreliable personal opinions. My reasoning for this is that there is a clear line of distinction between News Stories and Blog Posts, as outlined below:-
  1. A News Story: Should present pure and unbiased facts (as they happened), and only pure and unbiased facts
  2. A Blog Post: Should present pure and unbiased facts (if it presents them at all, something not required of a blog post), but can additionally add personal opinions (which sure can be biased, provided reasonable and sufficient attempt is made to ensure that the reader is made aware that he is reading a blog post and not a news story, as well as implications of the same)
The issue I have with CNET News is that it labels and markets itself as a News Website, whereas with News Blogs generally outnumbering News Stories on its homepage, it should ideally be branded as CNET News Blogs, thus reflecting the disproportionate share of blog posts. Readers at large should not be tricked into believing that they're visiting a News Website when in reality they are being given a heavy dose of personal opinions, instead of facts and logical analysis.

Which brings me to the pathetic, and often hilarious News Blogs that many (most?) journalists write. With apparently no real understanding of the underlying business models or technologies, many journalists are dishing out "analysis", "opinions" and hilariously, even "forecasts" and "predictions" about brands, products and segments in the technology sector. Just look at this story and I bet you'll either laugh holding your tummy or get to the verge of crying. The hopelessly pathetic nature of this unusually immature post can be effortlessly judged from the expectedly large number of reader comments it has accrued (which, by the way, are way more correct and enjoyable to read than the story itself - maybe it's Computerworld's secret futuristic 2025 AD strategy of making readers themselves create great content for Computerworld for free, by Computerworld putting up a post full of the material ejected from south end of a cow, thus triggering a surge of corrections and fresh inputs from infuriated readers).

Not only is the correctness of journalism questionable at these so-called News Blogs (I can't digest this term- How can something be both News and Blog?), the professionalism of language used is questionable as well. Look at this story on CNET News. Comparing it to the flavor I get on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal (notice that WSJ has a separate sub-domain for blogs at to clearly separate authentic news stories from blog posts), I realize why NYT and WSJ are NYT and WSJ, and why CNET is CNET and perhaps will remain CNET.

It infuriates me how right now CNET News homepage is highlighting 15 stories in large font size, and out of those at least 8 are blog posts (most blog posts on CNET News look so identical to news stories that it's hard to decide what is what). Unless a clearly-visible banner is added to each blog post which indicates that this is a blog post and not a news story (along with cautionary implications of the same), such masquerading of blogs as news stories by CNET is tantamount to misinformation.

My 2 cents on the degrading quality of journalism in the age of the World Wide Web.

Update (18-12-08): A recent story on The Wall Street Journal claims that Google's recent actions are an indicator of a reversal of its previous stance on Net Neutrality. Once again, it's a confused, ignorant and misinformed journalist - making premature conclusions and judgments - to blame. With apparently no fundamental knowledge or understanding of computer science, computer networks, cache, content delivery network, and edge computing, the WSJ journalist is making hyperbolic claims which indicate his state of confusion, ignorance and misinformation. I completely agree with Google's visibly enraged response blasting this story on The Journal.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Credibility Of 3.0 As An Alternative To Microsoft Office 2003 - My Transition Experiences (And More)

From a month or so I've been trying out the new 3.0 Release Candidate 1 (I've previously been using Microsoft Office- XP, & 2003- for well over 6 years).

Why am I trying out
  1. To build an understanding of its capabilities, ease-of-use, quality & performance
  2. To find out the issues which are inhibiting its mainstream adoption
  3. To compare it to Microsoft Office & list out major positive & negative differences
  4. To find out if it can really be an alternative to Microsoft Office (This feasibility study is for both my personal use and for deciding whether is ready for adoption in SMBs/Enterprises)
Results of my month-long tryout:-
  1. is very suitable for my personal needs. It can fulfill all my 'creative' Office-Suite needs. By 'creative' I mean that is suitable for purposes of creating documents. It isn't the perfect solution for importing/opening documents in the Microsoft Office binary formats. The importing is buggy and just plain dissatisfactory, and leads to significant productivity loss in form of manual cleanup/editing required to restore the document's original form. However, broader adoption of Office Open XML and OpenDocument formats and improvements to's import filters for Office Open XML formats should considerably solve this issue.
  2. applications start-up considerably slower than Microsoft Office applications, and this is a significant issue. The effects of this performance lag can be imagined from the woes Web-browser users faced a few years back when Netscape and Mozilla browsers would start-up painfully slowly. Quick application launch is a mandatory requirement for good user experience, and needs to bridge this performance gap sooner rather than later.
  3. applications require considerably more system memory than Microsoft Office applications. Also, the responsiveness of user interface of applications is considerably less than that of Microsoft Office applications (Although in absolute terms it is above satisfactory). In summary, has performance issues that need to be addressed immediately. would benefit immensely by stringently following the Google User Experience Design principles.
  4. is a feature-rich, high-quality and easy-to-use suite of applications. It is close-enough to the ease-of-use of Microsoft Office 2003 applications for it to be declared fit for consumption by general public.
  5. Apart from the performance and file-format-compatibility issues, another significant issue inhibiting mainstream adoption of is the lack of awareness (among masses) about its existence, its quality and its suitability as an alternative to Microsoft Office. People just don't know that there exists an office-suite out there which is a credible alternative to the expensive Microsoft Office. How many of us, who are aware of, know that there exists an extension system for which is akin to Mozilla's Add-ons system? needs to learn from Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation to solve this issue.
  6. Finally, masses (and in this case SMBs and Enterprises as well) are unaware that use of in conjunction with the free (and official) Microsoft Office Viewers can be a largely complete and compromise-free combination for users whose needs revolve promarily around opening/viewing Microsoft Office documents obtained from third-parties and first-hand creation of their own documents.
In summary, 3.0 is a serious and credible challenger to Microsoft Office 2003. Version 3.0 is well ahead of its relatively unbaked predecessors, and minor annoyances apart, 3.0 promises to be the first credible challenger to Microsoft Office. Customers looking to save hundreds or thousands of dollars should adopt with open arms, if their specific needs are in line with those outlined in this post. Recommended for adoption by individuals, SOHO and SMBs, since cost of acquisition is a relatively more pressing factor for them than for cash-rich large enterprises which are not willing to make any compromises, whatever be the monetary cost.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Google Is (Probably) Tampering With Its Search Results (Perhaps To Hurt Microsoft) - Intriguing Evidence

When I read about Microsoft's launch of the SearchPerks! program, I felt like reading about it on Wikipedia (I generally visit Wikipedia to read about something). I typed microsoft searchperks wikipedia into Google and got the top result pointing to the SearchPerks! webpage on Wikipedia.

Specifically, I reached this version of the article. Since at that time this version was the most recent version of the article, it was running as the main article. Once again feeling like puking about Microsoft's desperate actions, I decided to edit this article to give readers a
real perspective of this program.

So in the subsequent hours, I made multiple edits to the article which can be seen here, here, here, here, and here (these are in the order of older to newer). Note that I still believe that my perspective of this program (the way I presented it in Wikipedia) should be included in the Wikipedia article- it is something that deserves to be told to readers since it is true.

From time to time I would visit this webpage (always using Google to get me to the Wikipedia page) to check if someone added-to/edited/removed what I had added in the article. And every time Google would show the wikipedia article as the top search result, whether the query would be searchperks wikipedia, live searchperks wikipedia, windows live searchperk wikipedia or microsoft live searchperks wikipedia.

However, today when I wished to reach this page via Google, Google doesn't show link to the Wikipedia article any longer.

Following screenshots prove this:-

Also, a search conducted only on the Wikipedia in English domain returns zero results for the term searchperks:-

Finally, searching for the URL of the SearchPerks! program returns zero results:-

It seems that Google is manually tampering with its search results.

There is another interesting thing to observe. Look at this screenshot:-

It shows the search results page on Google for the query windows live searchperks wikipedia. Note that there are results from Wikipedia in the list of results returned by Google.

However, when I click on More results from link on the webpage, there are zero results, as visible in the screenshot below:-

This is awkward (and illogical) because if Google's algorithms return results from on the main search results page for the query windows live searchperks wikipedia, then why aren't at least those same results returned when the same query is ran for the domain

Thursday, October 02, 2008

My Concerns About The Proposed Google-Yahoo Search Advertising Deal (In Context Of AOL Search &

The current state of Web search engines is as follows:-
  1. Google: Search results = Google | Ads = Google
  2. Yahoo: Search results = Yahoo | Ads = Yahoo
  3. Live/MSN Search: Search results = Microsoft | Ads = Microsoft
  4. AOL: Search results = Google | Ads = Google
  5. Ask: Search results = | Ads = Google / LookSmart
My present concerns are as follows:-
  1. Google already powers search results on 2 of the top 5 search engines, and ads on 3 of the top 5 search engines. In effect, although we have an impression that there are 'Five' distinct search engines, in reality we have only 4 search engines and only 3 mainstream search-ad engines. AOL and nicely create an impression of prevailing competition in the search engine business, while hiding the fact that Google powers them in one way or the other.
  2. Far more important than the number of top search engines powered by Google's search results and Google's ads is Google's 'share' of search results and search ads. If both direct and indirect counts are made, Google is an unquestionable monopoly when it comes to search results and search ads.
  3. Google's share in the search engine market is growing relentlessly month-by-month, further choking the air supply of the few credible alternatives left and sending them into a downward spiral.
  4. Since search engine business is very capital intensive, it's almost impossible for any startup to compete with Google (and other top search engines). Look at Cuil and Wikia Search- both started off with lots of buzz and media coverage, and now have been relegated to the 'virtually non-existent' and 'insignificant' category. Their presence or absence doesn't matter.
  5. It is possible (and likely) that in the next 2 years, Google will have over 90% of search engine market share, a dangerous situation for the Web and for the search business.
  6. is the leading underdog out of the top 5 search engines. Its search results page already seems to rely more heavily on Google-powered ads than on it's organic search results and embarrassingly, many times the ads are more relevant than the search results themselves. I have observed that gives irrelevant results non-infrequently, and if it wishes to maintain or grow its market share, it must switch to search results of Yahoo. I believe that Yahoo-powered search results and Google/Yahoo-powered ads is a life-savior combination for Ask. Also, Ask should sell its search engine intellectual property (algorithms, engineers, patents, etc.) to Microsoft, as it's unlikely that Ask will be able to compete with the other search engines with its own search results. Finally, the user interface of is cluttered, complex and slow, and Ask must revamp its user interface (especially the search results page) if it wishes to stop its audience from defecting to rivals.
The above list will look like the following if the Google-Yahoo deal does take place:-
  1. Google: Search results = Google | Ads = Google
  2. Yahoo: Search results = Yahoo | Ads = Yahoo & Google
  3. Live/MSN Search: Search results = Microsoft | Ads = Microsoft
  4. AOL: Search results = Google | Ads = Google
  5. Ask: Search results = | Ads = Google / LookSmart
My additional concerns, if the deal does take place are as follows:-
  1. One out of the only 2 credible Google alternatives (Yahoo and Microsoft) will start to get dependent on Google. Increased cash flows because of Google ads will leave little incentive for Yahoo to innovate and improve its advertising technology. The deal is a poison pill for Yahoo, and although Yahoo contends that increased cash flows from the deal will allow it to make investments to improve its advertising technology, the will make Yahoo's advertising system less attractive for advertisers and Google's platform even more attractive, thus further decreasing the profitability of Yahoo from its own ads, and making it more dependent on Google ads (for revenue). The downward spiral may actually lead to a collapse of Yahoo's ad system.
In summary, I believe that this proposed deal should be blocked, so that Yahoo is forced to innovate and improve its own search engine and advertising network. This will be good for both Yahoo and the Web- in the long term.

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