Chrome – New Browser from Google

Google has announced a new web browser they have produced: Chrome. The application is open source, which means anyone can use the application for free and adapt the source code to meet their needs.

The announcement is less than a day old. Nicholas Carr has the most interesting analysis I’ve seen so far. An excerpt:

Although I’m sure Google would be thrilled if Chrome grabbed a sizable chunk of market share, winning a “browser war” is not its real goal. Its real goal, embedded in Chrome’s open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message.

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S.F. officials locked out of computer network

I think a couple William Gibson novels start out this way: S.F. officials locked out of computer network

A disgruntled city computer engineer has virtually commandeered San Francisco’s new multimillion-dollar computer network, altering it to deny access to top administrators even as he sits in jail on $5 million bail, authorities said Monday.

This is likely the result of a failed management process rather than a technical vulnerability. In fact, the system must be pretty secure if they are still trying to get in!

With systems this large, you have to have audits and monitoring of everyone with significant access, including those doing the monitoring. Otherwise, stuff like this becomes possible.

Plus, this guy was a known problem for quite some time, apparently. Always make sure you’ve secured the network before trying to terminate the top system administrator.

(Via Deane at Gadgetopia.)

Emitting HTML

Any HTML markup generated by a web content management system should be customizable. This includes everything from the opening html tag to forms. If the system creates tags they should be customizable by the site publisher.

Why? This provides maximum flexibility to the site owner in deploying their desired template and overall design. Sounds like a no-brainer, huh?

You might be surprised how often this can be an issue, particularly with content management systems that are not very mature or have not been updated in a while. It creates many headaches in deploying web site designs and might even prevent the site owner from deploying the best possible design for their needs.

Add this to your list of key things to assess when reviewing web content management system.

Robots.txt Protocol Enhanced by Big Search Engine Companies

I learned today, via Search Tools, that Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google have agreed to specific extensions to the robots.txt file protocol. All of their search engines will now honor additional directives. More info from Yahoo! and Google.

What is robots.txt some of you may be asking? It is a simple text file you can place on your web site to tell search engine spiders what parts of your site they should index and which they should ignore. It has been around for a long time and these are the first additions to the standard in at least a decade.

WYSIWYG Web Editors

All modern content management systems provide a Word-style editor that lets non-technical staff edit and add content to web sites. It is a key part of enabling line staff around the organization to produce and manage their own content.

What you may not have realized is that you have several options avaiable for adding WYSIWYG editors (what you see is what you get) to your own web applications. Sometimes they are as easy to install as adding a few lines of code to a web page.

Here are a few free and commercial solutions for providing an easy to use text editor in your own web applications:

Tiny MCE
This editor works across numerous platforms and is available under an open source license. It is written in javascript and is used widely in many applications. It has many configuration options available and can be tweaked to support a defined set of styles.

Ektron eWebEditPro
A widely used commercial editor from Ektron. It is also highly configurable and allows you tie down functionality to just what you want editors to have access too. It is not cross platform and only works on Windows-based browsers. (Their suggestion for Mac clients is a bit of a joke.)

openWYSIWYG
Another open source content editor written in Javascript.

FCKeditor
And one more open source, Javascript-based, editor.

Given all the options available, it is unreasonable not to provide a rich editor for your applications that should support user formatting of content.

World Bank 2.0: The BuzzMonitor

I just heard about a new open source application for tracking discussion of specific issues in social media (blogs, tags, podcasts, wikis, etc.) online: The BuzzMonitor. This was developed by the World Bank for their own purposes and then released as an open source application. From the about page:

Like many organizations, we started listening to blogs and other forms of social media by subscribing to a blog search engine RSS feed but quickly understood it was not enough. The World Bank is a global institution and we needed to listen in multiple languages, across multiple plaforms. We needed something that would aggregate all this content, help us make sense of it and allow us to collaborate around it. At the time, no solution (either commercial or open source) met those requirements so we decided to build our own.

We were playing with Drupal, a solid, open-source content and community platform for different pilots. Drupal being so flexible and module oriented, we decided to write the specifications for a “super aggregator” that would help us people understand, follow and collaborate around mentions of the organization online.

I asked Pierre Guillaume, who announced it on the Social Media Measurement Group on Facebook, how they are using it internally at the World Bank. His response:

Thanks David. We are rolling it out to communicators across the bank with a guide on how to use tagging, voting, rss feeds etc…there is, not surprisingly, a bit of a learning curve both in terms of “getting” social media and using the tool but some champions are emerging, embedding findings obtained through the buzzmonitor in their regular comm and web reports, adding relevant bloggers to their contacts etc.. We also feature the most recently voted on items on a page available two clicks down from the intranet home page, for all staff to see.

Sounds like a great tool for raising awareness of how issues important to the Bank are evolving online. I recommend listening to the online conversation as a key activity for any organization and this looks like a great tool for assisting in that. I have downloaded the application and will give it a try this week.

Is this feedback really necessary?

I received the following error on a web site today:

An unexpected error has occurred and technical information regarding this error has been reported to the site administrator.

In order to improve the quality of our site, please contribute helpful feedback using the form below. Otherwise click here to return to the site.

This text was followed by a feedback form. There are a couple issues here:

  • They already know what the problem is here. What feedback could I provide other than, “Fix it!”?
  • On the other hand, I’m not entirely confident they have been alerted to the problem automatically.
  • In fact, I’m not too confident the feedback form will actually get feedback to them, given the current error.

So I left the page and came here to post about it instead. 🙂

Pay attention to what your error messages say. Everyone has issues on their site now and then (I got a server error from the New York Times just yesterday). You should review all the standard error messages your site can generate and make sure they convey the right impression.

In this case, a form for an e-mail address and an offer to let you know when the problem was resolved could have been a good alternative to a standard feedback form.

Marc Andreeson on Facebook's API

Marc Andreeson, founder of the original Netscape, has posted his thoughts on Facebook’s new API, which has created quite the storm of attention since it launched. This observation is quite interesting:

Analyzing the Facebook Platform, three weeks in

The implication is, in my view, quite clear — the Facebook Platform is primarily for use by either big companies, or venture-backed startups with the funding and capability to handle the slightly insane scale requirements. Individual developers are going to have a very hard time taking advantage of it in useful ways.

In short, creating a Facebook application with the API requires that you provide your own server resources to power the application. Facebook’s super-viral distribution of popular apps leads to crushing load on your web servers in a very short amount of time if you are (un)lucky enough to create a popular application.

The capacity to rapidly scale up server capacity is probably beyond even some large corporation’s ability unless they have specifically prepared themselves to do so. Your web application needs to be designed for scaling up the number of servers as well.

Microsoft's Hammer

Is it just me or has Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) mania taken over the IT world?

I have heard lots of buzz about this package, especially in the association industry, but I’ve yet to see the overwhelming value in MOSS’s interfaces and services over previous versions of SharePoint. MOSS is nice for collaboratively managing documents and searching but beyond that basic project work I think its interface gets in the way. It is a horrible community platform compared to many of the open source and low-cost solutions already available.

Not to mention the organizations that are diving in head first and planning on using MOSS (with MS CMS rolled in) as the total solution for their intranet and public web sites. There is a good reason that different classes of solutions have evolved for public and intranet sites: they have vastly differing requirements for most organizations.

My advice is to bide your time and carefully consider which nails you ultimately decide to whack with the MOSS hammer.

Draft Standard from ASAE Data Standards Committee

If you need some reading for beach this weekend, have I got a draft standards document for you!

Seriously, the draft standard described in the announcement below is the first step in an overall effort to improve the ability of association systems to integrate more effectively and efficiently. If you are an association IT exec or a technology vendor serving this market, please take the time to review and comment upon the draft.

The ASAE Data Standards Task Force is pleased to announce the release of
a draft standard for expressing constituent records in XML. This
standard will serve as a core for expanding into other data
representations. Therefore, it is especially critical to gather feedback
on the draft standard from the association technology community.

Please go to this page on the ASAE web site in order to download the
standards documents: http://www.asaecenter.org/datastandardsreview.

Please review the draft standard and consider how well it serves your
needs as an association or those of your customers if you are a
technology vendor. Once you have reviewed the standard, please provide
your comments.

You will need to register with the site in order to submit a comment,
but you do not have to be a member of ASAE. Go to the same page from
which you downloaded the documents
(http://www.asaecenter.org/datastandardsreview) and follow the
instructions on providing comments.

Non-IE browser (Firefox, Safari) users: Before logging in, you will
receive an error message “Website Certified by an Unknown Authority”.
Accept the certificate permanently and you’ll be able to continue.

Please share this message with your database experts on staff or with
supporting vendor companies. Their input as experts in implementing your
technology is highly valuable to the standards development process.

We thank you in advance for your critical review of the draft standard
and the feedback you provide.