Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Art of Article Tools

A great trend we've seen on online newspaper and magazine sites, as well as many other sites that feature article content is the increased use of "Article Tools." Article tools include links or buttons like "Print This, " "Email This," "Increase/Decrease Font Size," etc. Some sites only include one or two (usually "Print" or "Send") while some like the excellent news site The International Herald Tribune go crazy with the concept, including things like "Clip This" for saving articles to your own private area.

I've put together a bunch of examples, which you can see by clicking on the image on the right there. As I mentioned recently regarding, I have no problem with "clutter" and the more article tools I see the more I think the publisher wants to empower me to read the content the way I want.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yahoo! Widgets: More of the Best

In a previous post that has easily been the most popular I've written, I mentioned some of the Yahoo! Widgets I've been using regularly. With the advent of Yahoo! Widgets 4.0 (which I'll look at more closely later) I've decided to mention a few more of the widgets I use regularly:

TachClock: A slickly designed and deceptively simple clock that pops up unobtrusively on the hour and/or half hour. No numbers, just tick-marks for the hours, minute and second.

PowerX: Another simple but elegant widget that allows easy one-click access to log off, shutdown, and restart. I use it every time I reboot.

ClipDrop: A handy clipboard tool that saves and displays as many clipboard items as you want. Click a copied snippet from the list and it's ready to paste.

Yahoo! Maps: I prefer Yahoo! Maps over Google Maps these days and this widget makes looking up locations and directions a snap. I just wish it connected directly to the "Broadband" version of Yahoo! Maps by default.

AfterVote (a.k.a. Younanimous), The Hardest Working Engine in the Search Business

I've been holding off on mentioning because it was early, but now they've changed their name to "AfterVote" (which I just can't seem to like) and have been adding features every few seconds, so I guess now's as good a time as any.

AfterVote is a social search engine, which I've already voiced my concerns about, but after talking to the guys at AfterVote, I think it just might work. I guess I was thinking a bit simplistically about the concept of voting search results up and down. With AfterVote, rankings will be based on more than the simple + or - voting system and they plan to adapt the alorithms as needed.

For instance, if you click on a result and don't like it, you will probably return to the results and click on another. The system logs that behavior and uses it to "passively" tally votes for or against the results. If you really like or hate the result, you can also vote with the + or - buttons. While they didn't elaborate further on how else they'll police the system, I'm sure they'll look for the same things sites like Digg look for.

In addition to the social ranking aspect, AfterVote includes a plethora of social Web widgets (this link is already out of date, but shows many of them) for sharing results via, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. and seeing where the result ranks on Alexa, Compete, Google PageRank, etc. These widgets can all be turned on and off as preferences dictate. Personally I like to leave all of it on because I have no issue with clutter.

Did I mention it's actually a metasearch engine pulling from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN and that it has links to cached sites for all three? There's also a widget for the Trust level of the site. I haven't figured out where that comes from yet, but then, at the rate they're adding features I may never have a complete grasp of what's going on.

The question becomes "How much is too much for the average user?" I think AfterVote, in its current form is extremely appealing to people like me who can't get enough "stuff" when it comes to search and the social Web. However, if this stuff is all turned on by default when they get out of beta, I'm a little worried more casual Web users might feel a bit overwhelmed and confused. And I would think that to take best advantage of the voting system mass appeal will be key. Perhaps there are enough people like me to make this a success. I'm hoping so, because I think this is a terrific tool.

Switching Startpages Part One

I'm considering a switch from Protopage to Netvibes as my start page mostly because of the dearth of snappy widgets available for Protopage. While Protopage has been adding them since the latest version went live, I generally don't find them very polished or useful. However, I've always preferred Protopage's highly configurable layout and, even more importantly, the ability to create custom mini HTML pages. I primarily use this feature to create link pages and I have them scattered all over my start page. Some examples are over there on the right.

Netvibes doesn't have a widget for creating mini HTML pages, which is part of the reason I haven't considered it. However, their Bookmarks widget is very cool and uses a tag system. So I figured out how to import my HTML link pages into the Netvibes Bookmarks widget (which was a pain in the ass!) and then tagged them all. The result means I have to click a tag and then the link, but it's not too bad and will just take some getting used to.
However, I've come to realize a major flaw in using Netvibes: page load time. Admittedly, I have a lot of stuff on my Netvibes start page, but it's no more than I have on Protopage. Individual RSS panels, for instance take twice as long to load on Netvibes. This means that every time I launch my browser I'll have to sit and wait before I can do anything. I'm going to try to slim down what I have on the page and see if that helps, but it could be a dealbreaker. Netvibes, I'm sure gets loads more traffic than Protopage, so the problem may not go away anytime soon.