We all love Paris… but which one?

26 September 2008

I took my daughter to school for the first time this week. I had been given clear instructions to be there at least 10 minutes early before the gates opened at 9. This was understandable, given my tradition of waiting until things are in full swing before I arrive (some people call this being late). Fine for a party, not so fine for school. So you can imagine how pleased I am with myself when I arrive at 8:45. And I am not even sweating because I haven’t rushed. I make small-talk with the other parents. My daughter chases their children. We take a little photo in front of the school to celebrate the moment. I then put on her ‘smoke’ (she can’t say ‘smock’). I even put it on the right way around. At 9 am, right on schedule, the gate opens and we neatly flock into the school. As I walk in a smiling lady introduces herself as Melissa the head teacher. I proudly introduce myself as dad and tell her how exciting this is. She kindly absorbs my excitement and tells me I am at the wrong school. You see there are two schools called Sunshine House in the area.

I tell you this story to introduce an interesting problem with software called Entity Resolution. Amongst other things, it deals with resolving identical names. When you talk about Paris do you mean Paris France, Paris Texas or indeed, Paris Hilton?  Or what if there are two Paris Hiltons (now there’s a thought…)? My good friend Jane Silber (from Ubuntu fame) pointed it out to me last year when we were first thinking about Snagsta but it’s something we have only started grappling with recently. The problem is addressed in a variety of ways. Geotagging adds metadata tags that has a physical location in it. Some software looks at the context: the associated links or words in the sentence can often provide the answer. We’re looking forward to seeing how its going to work on Snagsta.

Note: the fact that whether I am talking about Paris France or Texas I am generally still thinking about Paris Hilton is a problem that software has not yet managed to solve… and probably the subject of a completely different type of blog post 😉

Time to sign off, it’s Friday afternoon, and just like at school, Alex has started ringing the bell and is shouting: “Boys & girls, tidy up time! It’s tidy up time!”

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photocredit: my unusually talented (yet humble) friend Meriem Aissaoui
http://www.flickr.com/photos/meriem/128324699/in/set-72057594103866384/

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What’s Google playing at?

11 September 2008

This is a guest post form David Fullbrook, aspiring webtrepreneur, Snagsta flagwaver and all round good egg. This is a summary of a recent exchange of emails I had with him over the past week about what he thinks the Big G might be up to…

google can't satisfy every search

Since November, Google has taken three important steps releasing Android, Gears and, on 2 September, Chrome.

Android is Linux cut-and-pasted to operate mobile devices, like phones.

Gears is a piece of software letting online utilities, like Google Docs, work offline.

Chrome is Google’s way of helping people kick around the wonderfully wide web.

Android puts Google on mobile phones, probably the most ubiquitous computers on the planet. Chrome puts Google into the arena of perhaps the most widely used software today, the internet browser.

But why stop there? If the pace since November is anything to go by, during the next year or so Google is going to be releasing more products. Android suggests Google could be working on Google Linux for desktops – Ginux? Cyborg?

Google Linux, to really hit home, must be really easy to use, still a sticking point for most Linux distributions. Few if any pass the ‘mum test’ (if your mum can use it, anybody can).

Linux users are often ignored by major software developers. iTunes for Linux? Keep dreaming. But Google is making most of its products available for Linux. Okay, so most major types of software are available in one shape or another, usually for free. But compatibility is still an issue, even for the latest versions of OpenOffice/StarOffice; and the music players are still not quite up there with iTunes.

This is another space Google could enter. Google has all it needs – Chrome, Checkout, Froogle, V8 Java, Search – to build a great music player, one that easily syncs with Androids, Cyborgs and Windows.

Easy Linux and a powerful music player could break Microsoft’s monopoly on the operating system market, creating hundreds of millions more outlets for Google’s ads and potentially customers for its services. It might even put a bruise on Apple.

There also looks like a gap for Google to fill in personal information management. Google does email and calendars, perhaps mix in Chrome, V8 Java and Search, and something interesting could happen.

Would Google spend its cash to build V8 Java just to run a browser?

Or perhaps V8 Java is a sign of other things to come. Google has the resources, perhaps the intellectual curiosity, and probably the needs to develop an entirely new operating system, one which is lightweight, robust and open, and which passes the ‘mum test’.

More software and services pushes Google closer to Apple and Microsoft, both of which build hardware.

New products and perhaps those to come are taking Google to places where it hasn’t been before. Google may be the first to provide seamless integration, connectivity and availability of information and the experiences it generates across multiple platforms anywhere.

Which might mean that no matter what people do on a computer they will see ads from Google. The boundaries of search are being pushed further and further into our lives.

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8 Reasons Why Google Chrome is better than IE and Firefox

5 September 2008

Fellow Snagsta co-founder and developer extraordinaire Paul Stancer has been staying with me this week. I don’t get to see him much as I live in central London whereas Paul lives in a remote cave in one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.

At about 7.30 the other morning I stumbled in to him at the breakfast table and saw he was having a play around with Google’s new browser Chrome. We wanted to see if the private beta version of Snagsta worked on it and we were glad to see it did (we would have been pretty shafted if it didn’t).

Later that day I read a review about it from Nick Carr on RoughType via Nic Brisbourne’s Equity Kicker blog.

I’ve just had a test drive and have also read up on some more of its features. Here are a list of eight things I like about it and why it could be better than the latest versions of both IE and Firefox:

1. More stability

Google implies that Chrome is more stable than existing browsers. A major selling point for me. As their little Google’s comic book puts it, “When you’re writing an important email or editing a document a browser crash is a big deal”.

2. More speed

Google claim that sites will download quicker on Chrome; this appears to have something to do with Chrome’s JavaScript Virtual Machine named V8. Google state that Chrome looks at the JavaScript source code and “generates machine code that can run directly on the CPU that’s running the browser”, this apparently helps speed things up.

Brendan Eich (the founder of Mozilla CTO and JavaScript creator) claims a new Firefox’s new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine outperforms V8 so this particular claim is hard to verify.

3. More secure

I like how they have built Chrome using a sandboxing technique that prevents unwanted software installing itself on your machine and stops what happens on one tab affecting what happens on another.

4. More open

Google have decided to open source the entire browser. This could be of huge benefit to the web community. Yes, I know Google has more money than God so they can afford to do this but they deserve a pat on the back for doing this.

5. More style

Google definitely lacks Apple’s style but what they’ve build here looks really slick. I’m a big fan of the smooth and uncluttered look and feel.

6. A dynamic start page

Chrome have done away with the traditional start page approach used by other browsers to display your 9 most visited pages when you boot it up.

7. More Privacy

Google have included an “Incognito window” in this build. None of your history is saved in the browser when you use this window and when you close it the cookies from that session are wiped out.

8. Better approach to blocking pop ups

Pop ups are confined to stay in the tab they came from unless you want to drag them out in to a new tab. I just tested this out on one of my favourite music sites and it works like a treat.

Nice job Sergey and Larry.

Digg!

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