60 Million Captchas a Day

Products by on May 25, 2007 at 5:37 pm

That’s how many captchas are filled out by people proving themselves to be human.

Enter reCaptcha - they have figured out a way to make all of this captcha solving useful - digitizing books.

Each ReCaptcha captcha has two words:

  1. An unidentified word from a scanned book
  2. A known word

So, you get to digitize the world’s information by doing something that machines can’t. Assume an average book is 80K words (200 pgs by 400 words per page) and that OCR is 95% accurate: 4K captchas mean 1 book is digitized. That creates a potential of 15K books a day.

Cool. It kind of reminds me of the first SETI screensavers.

I’ve installed it on my comment form.

Google Analytics – Screwing the Power User

Products,Search by on May 17, 2007 at 10:37 pm

I’ll be the first to admit that the prior Google Analytics user interface left a lot to be desired. It was unintuitive and took a while to find information. The new interface is much improved and certainly prettier.

However, pretty isn’t always powerful. Among the power-user features that Google excluded, I was disappointed to find that Google took away their most powerful feature: export to csv.

It is actually a little worse. They didn’t take away the feature entirely - they actually changed how the feature performs, making it close to useless for large sites. You can now export 100 rows (as opposed to full reports). This is certainly the feature I use most - I routinely use it to understand how users are getting to our site (what page classes, from what sources), as well as troubleshoot site-wide issues…

The functionality is still available in the old interface, but Google states that interface will be going away in 2 months. My inquiry to customer support resulted in a claim that Google is working to add the feature back in:

Unfortunately, it is not possible to export the entire data table
in the new version of Google Analytics. We understand that this is an
important feature and are working hard to add it back into the product.

We’ve invested heavily in Google Analytics: tracking URLs and tracking codes are scattered throughout the site and our marketing campaigns. I guess I’ll wait 2 months to see if Google makes good on its promise, but I’m not looking forward to implementing a new solution.

How to Password Protect you Blog AND your Feedburner RSS Feed

Products by on March 27, 2007 at 10:17 pm

I recently helped set up a password protected blog that uses Feedburner for RSS management. I didn’t find much useful information on how to make the two services work together so here is what I learned:

Password protect your blog
This isn’t actually too hard. WordPress, Typepad and Blogger all allow you to password protect your blog. It is relatively easy and their FAQs are more than sufficient. WordPress (with plugin) allows multiple username/password pairs, while Typepad only allows a single user/password account. I don’t know how blogger handles it.

Give Feedburner access to your blog
This was the most undocumented part of the process. In Feedburner, you need to modify your original feed URL with the username and password to your blog. If your feed URL was:


you would change it in feedburner to read this way:


Password protect your Feedburner RSS feed
Feedburner only allows you to create one username and password for its feed, so you’re not going to be able to do much user access management. Your RSS subscribers will all share the same username and password. Go to the “Publicize” tab of the feed you want to protect. Select the well-named “Password Protector” Service and enter the username and password you’d like to use.

The feed your subscribers will need to add to their RSS readers would look like this:



New Google Custom Search Button Popup

Products,Search by on March 27, 2007 at 6:45 pm

I saw this popup today while I was searching our internal Trac repository:

I’m running Firefox & Google Toolbar 3.0.2.

This prompt was generated when I placed my cursor in the search box. Presumably the Google toolbar recognized the box and was prepared to auto-generate the button. I generally don’t like Toolbars and addins doing things to my browse experience without my explicit permission, but this didn’t bother me. In fact, it made me realize what a useful feature this could be.

Transitioned WordPress to a New Hosting Company

Personal,Products by on March 21, 2007 at 9:53 pm

I’ve finally moved over to a new host. 1and1 hosting is awful, and after seeing Rahul down for several days, I decided that my sworn transition was long overdue (I’ll also add that 1and1 began experiencing problems again).

The transition between hosts was kind of painful. Moving files over, installing wordpress (they used Fantastico), and even restoring my data were simple. Then came the plugins. Fantastico installs the wordpress files and directories with different access settings (R,W,E). It took close to 2 hours to figure out what directories and files needed to have which settings (being careful not to allow unwarranted access). This was one of those times where I was envious of those on hosted blog platforms.

DNS settings are still transitioning. Feedburner tells me it is still having problems with my feed (I hope its DNS related - I’ll give it another day to sort itself out).

Sharpcast – Group Photosharing & Auto Backup (Finally!)

Products by on March 7, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Techcrunch and Venturebeat covered the launch of Sharpcast’s photosharing platform. I listed this service as one of the four websites that I wished someone would launch back in January. Sharpcast’s initial offering hits two huge pain points: group photo sharing and automatic backup.

I’ve created an account, downloaded the application and have been playing with it for a few hours. I’m fairly impressed. They’ve approached the photosharing market very differently than the likes of ofoto, snapfish, etc. They focus on “sync”. You install an application on your desktop, and identify which photos to manage through Sharpcast. These photos are then uploaded to Sharpcast’s servers and thumbnails are made available to software on other machines that utilize your login. You can then choose to download full versions of the pictures or just keep the thumbnails.

Group sharing works similarly. Create a group, upload photos, share it. Other people can upload their own photos, add comments, etc. And anyone in the group can get full versions of the photos that were uploaded by other people - no crappy downscaled images.

I do find the UI still lacking in a few areas, and I’m a bit annoyed by a few things on their website and in their product:

  • Buried Price I had to install the application before I could find out the price for full file backups (1500×1200 pixel backups are free). $6 a month. I hate when prices aren’t front and center - it just feels deceptive.
  • Upload vs. Sync. Their website stresses avoiding ‘long uploads’ with their sync-based product. This distinction between sync and upload confuses their offering. Uploads are a component of sync. Yes, sync is far more powerful, but attacking the long upload pain point only seems to confuse the value prop.
  • The UI isn’t intuitive. There are lots of small things that indicate the product is still in need of polish. For example:
    • I can’t drag a multi-tier personal album into a group album
    • A shared personal album and a group album are two different things, and an album does not easily move between the two states.
    • The context menu always seems to under deliver. The menus don’t have the functions I expect them to have.

Anyway, shortcomings aside I’m excited about the offering and will continue to experiment with it.


I may have spoken too soon. Sharpcast crashed while it was in the middle of ‘uploading’ a bunch of pictures. Now I’m getting a ‘Sharpcast Servers unavailable’ error. It looks like they have more issues to sort through than just the UI.

Is that a Ning in your Group?

Products by on February 27, 2007 at 9:28 am

I was disappointed with the first iteration of Ning - the promise was social networks for everyone, but the delivery was social networks for programmers. The lackluster product saw minimal adoption, and just over a month ago, Arrington added it to the Deadpool (RIP Ning).

Well, the Ning team has been working hard. They just relaunched their site today. Arrington about-faced, declaring “the New Ning is an Impressive and Useful Service.”

I mostly agree with Arrington. Ning has finally focused on making it easy for regular consumers to build a social network. This offers far more potential than creating developer tools. However, they’re still a bit short of the target. Tools for social networks aren’t a new thing. Forums and Groups have been around a long, long time. How different is Surfpulse (Yahoo Groups - 660 members) from Offshore (Ning - 25 members)? The Yahoo Groups Directory provides a good sampling of how Ning might be used.

Ning is well-positioned to replace the thousands of niche forums & groups. Ning doesn’t have the functionality yet, but for the first time I can see the path forward for them. I’d argue that they fill out their feature set with an eye towards giving users a richer experience than they can get today. Look at Yahoo Groups or vbulletin and fill out their feature set to allow users to replace their groups and forum activity with a richer experience on Ning.

Co-founder, Gina Bianchini also has a great post written on the eve of the relaunch: Everything I ever needed to know I learned by launching a company. I’m a big fan of the second item on her list: “Underhype your service and see how it stands up.” We’ve had a tendency at JB to let our marketing get ahead of our product. The result was that we underdelivered on our promises and not surprisingly, users didn’t like it.

Anyway, this post isn’t about JB - its about Ning and I’m very impressed with their product and very curious to see how users will engage with it. They need to sharpen the product more, but they finally have a solid offering which users can begin to embrace.


VentureBeat reports that Ning has 35K social networks created (before this user-friendly launcy), and is seeing 20M page views a month. Wow.

WeTube – YouTube the Movie

Products by on February 25, 2007 at 6:19 pm

Rahul, Alison and I went to WeTube, an incredibly entertaining YouTube event last night. Yes, it was as funny as it sounds.

The lights dimmed and the show started with Peanut Butter Jelly Time, while people ran around the small theater tossing out peanut butter jelly sandwiches (awesome at 11pm). They then experimented with three formats during the show:

  • moderated: the hosts gave a bit of background on YouTube and some of the types of videos popular on YouTube. The moderators were big fans of the ‘remixing’ that happens with popular videos and showed a number of original and remixed versions of the same idea.
  • mad lib searches: “Name a sport”, “name a food” then search, etc. This didn’t work out too well - we mostly stumbled on random, unamusing clips: try a search for ‘breastfeeding cracker’ and you’ll understand.
  • audience competition. Three people from the audience got up and each selected a video, and the audience voted on their favorite. This was actually the best part of the show, as people brought up tried and true favorites.

It was fun laughing at the same thing you’ve seen before ,but this time with a hundred other people. I also enjoyed seeing the gems that other people found. However, the format still has a way to go. Video quality was poor (although it kind of worked on the big screen), and the audio timing was a little off. Numa Numa just isn’t as funny without the millisecond audio-video lip sync precision.

Before the show, Monica Guzman, a reporter from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer approached us and asked us a few questions aimed at understanding what we thought about the YouTube format (both on the big screen, and as entertainment in general). We’ll see how coherent Rahul and I sounded if the article gets published, but it did get me thinking a bit about the role that YouTube will play in the future of media.

Does Internet video threaten Hollywood?
Mark Cuban posted that YouTube was to TV as snacks are to a meal. That is certainly true today, but I don’t believe it will apply in 5 years. Many people have a tendency to associate YouTube with the “stupid human tricks” that frequently become viral phenomena (America’s Funniest Home Videos anyone?). But YouTube is much more than that - there is a tremendous depth and variety of content being developed. Sure, the format is pretty limiting today, but that will change. Rahul described it best in our discussion with the reporter - “It isn’t that different than independent film”.

As the costs to produce go down and the quality of delivery goes up (joost), we’ll begin to see longer, higher quality videos distributed online that begin to replace traditional TV shows and Movies. Is there any difference between telling your Tivo to record Friends and telling it to download the next episode of ‘Lonely Girl’?

Hollywood has long had a lock on video distribution. There will always be a place for high budget films that are promoted heavily, but we’re going to see a lot more low-budget, innovative films find and build audiences online first. In time, Internet Video be able to deliver ‘prime-time’ size audiences to creative filmmakers. We’ll see more and more unknown filmmakers get discovered and build their careers online.

The PI article is on the web - it was less about the future of media and more about the event itself and is a good entertaining read. I also corrected the paper (I originally had the Times, not the PI).

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