Furl “absorbed by Diigo”

News broke this morning that Furl, the online bookmarking service, has been “absorbed” by Diigo and is to be phased out. The Furl web site says:

“We worked hard to find Furl a home where loyal users like you could continue to benefit from best-of-breed social bookmarking and annotation tools. Hands down, Diigo.com was the winner due to its innovative approach to online research tools and knowledge sharing.

The Diigo team is dedicated to making sure you continue to get top notch features and service. They’ve got a crack team of technologists who love making research and knowledge sharing as easy and efficient as possible.”

Frankly, I’m not surprised. Despite having a vastly superior range of features to Del.icio.us it has never managed to match the latter’s publicity. It has always remained in the backwaters of social boomarking, being used mostly by researchers who need to annotate their bookmarks, download or back up files, or archive copies of pages they have referred to in reports. The last is what had appealed to many of my clients. One of the problems with using information from free web pages – even on government sites – is that the content can change within minutes of you having completed your analysis and report. The client may then come back and point out the the cited page does not have the data you claim, or even worse, has disappeared. Furl allowed you to archive a copy of the page as it was when you visited it.  I must confess that I was always uneasy about this part of the service as I suspected that in some cases it would be a breach of copyright, but the alternative is to either use the Wayback Machine (not reliable) or keep a local copy with something like Scrapbook for Firefox.

I don’t use online bookmarking services. I travel extensively and am often in situations where the wi-fi is unreliable or non-existent, so I prefer to have as much of my reference material available offline as is possible. Many of my clients do make extensive use of  them, though,  so I have tested several over the past couple of years – Del.icio.us, Furl, Connotea, 2Collab. Of them all I found Furl to be the most useful for what I call  “serious” business resource management.

On Furl this morning there are options to transfer to Diigo. I decided to test it out and went for the the new user option but was told that my email address for the login had “already been taken”. The fact that I had forgotten trying Diigo is worrying; I was obviously so unimpressed the first time around that I did not record the details. I assumed that I had used my default password for testing new services and it worked. Diigo is now busy importing  my Furl files.

I only hope that Diigo has improved since my last unmemorable visit and that it will combine the best of both services to provide an even better one. But, as we all know, online life’s not like that.

LGSearch – UK Public Sector Search Engine

As people who have attended my search workshops will know, I am a great fan of customised search engines and in particular Google Custom Search Engines. LGSearch is a Google CSE set up by Dave Briggs, an independent social media consultant who works mainly with the public and third sectors, to search just UK public web sites.

The sites are broken down into the following categories:

  • Local Government
  • Central Government
  • Health
  • Police & Fire
  • LG Related
  • Social Media

Once you have run your search, you can select which types of sites you want to appear by selecting the appropriate category link.

Further background information is on Dave Briggs’s blog at LGSearch update.

Government signs up Jersey in tax agreement

Quoted from HM revenue and Customs:

“Jersey is to join other Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories as a signatory to a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the UK. TIEAs play a vital role in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) drive against offshore avoidance and evasion.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Rt. Hon Stephen Timms MP said:

“Exchange of information and transparency between countries and territories is vital in combating tax avoidance and evasion. Jersey’s decision to embrace this principle is very welcome and a crucial step in the right direction.

“More countries and territories must now follow Jersey’s example. In coming weeks we will be working with G20 partners to boost global co-operation to address tax evasion. I urge those who have not yet met international standards to think again and start work on the necessary reforms immediately”.

HMRC Permanent Secretary for Tax, Dave Hartnett said:

“The importance of this TIEA with Jersey should not be under-estimated. It will enable us to obtain the information we need to ensure that the days when putting assets off shore provided an unfair tax advantage are well and truly over.”

The text of the agreement is available  on the HMRC website at  http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/international/jersey-eol.pdf and will in due course be laid as Schedules to a draft Order in Council for consideration by the House of Commons.

This is the fifth TIEA signed by the UK and follows the OECD Model Agreement on Exchange of Information on Tax Matters. The UK already has a TIEA in place with Bermuda and signed TIEAs with the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and Guernsey. Jersey has signed TIEAs with the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Faroes.

From a business researcher’s point of view, this doesn’t change the problems we have when looking for information on companies registered in Jersey or the other tax havens mentioned in the press release.

Batten down the hatches on your WordPress blog

“Install a WordPress blog on your own site and you’re asking for trouble” someone once said to me. I went ahead anyway and switched my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I knew that I would need to keep the WordPress software updated: hackers are quick to spot and share vulnerabilities in php and MySQL, which are used by WordPress.

The first time I didn’t do this was because a major upgrade was due in a couple of weeks so why go through the hassle of installing minor bug and vulnerability fixes? The answer came as I was demonstrating my blog’s features to a very public workshop. Sniggers from some of the participants indicated that something was awry.

“Do you really recommend those viagra sites listed in your blogroll?”

“Oh s**t!” I thought. It was a good example, though, of the dangers of not keeping your software up to date. It was not a major disaster and quickly sorted. I removed the offending links and upgraded as soon as I made it back to the office. I also swore that I would never let that happen again, but easier said than done.

I have been pretty busy lately and doing a lot of travelling. That sometimes makes it difficult to download and install the WordPress updates. Version 2.7.1 had been announced but I was up in Glasgow for a couple of days. A couple of days was enough for the hackers to do their work. As soon as an update is announced, WordPress very kindly tells you and the rest of the world which vulnerabilities the update deals withs. If  the hackers did not know about them before they do now and target blogs usiing the previous version. And they targetted mine!

As a visitor to my blog, you would not have noticed anything unusual because the toe rags managed to add a couple of extra files that added invisible links to the template for my category pages. The first I knew about it was as I was sitting in Glasgow airport waiting to board my flight back home. I checked my email and there was an email from Google saying:

“While we were indexing your webpages, we detected that some of your pages were using techniques that are outside our quality guidelines….. Specifically, we detected hidden text on your site. For example…”

Then they dropped the bombshell:

“In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from rba.co.uk are scheduled to be removed temporarily from our search results for at least 30 days. We would prefer to keep your pages in Google’s index. If you wish to be reconsidered, please correct or remove all pages (may not be limited to the examples provided) that are outside our quality guidelines. When such changes have been made, please visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/reconsideration?hl=en to learn more and submit your site for reconsideration.”

It had only taken the hackers 2 days to identify my blog as using the older, vulnerable version of WordPress with the result that I was consigned to the Google sin-bin for at least a month.

Once I was back I tracked down and removed the offending files and code – the hackers  had modified the template for my blog category pages – and updated WordPress. I then changed  my user name and password and did something I should have done months ago: added the new security keys. There are now four of them and they make your site harder to hack and access harder to crack.

Having done all that I toddled off to Google, abjectly apologised and, as they requested on the appeals page, explained what had happened and what I had done to prevent it happening again. Then I sat back, viewed the 30% drop in traffic to my site, and sobbed into my G&T as I contemplated at least another 25 days of the Internet equivalent of being sent to Coventry.

Good news this morning, though. I am back in Google’s index! The security on my blog is now tighter than the proverbial duck’s posterior but I shall make sure that I shall

a) update “as soon as” and whatever it takes

b) install all additional security features that WordPress recommend
and
c) regularly check my web site and blog for files that weren’t there yesterday.

I might not be so lucky next time.

“Hurricane Obama hits offshore tax havens”

I spotted this article in the hard copy of the Daily Mail while I was on the plane back from Glasgow last night. It particularly caught my attention because we had been discussing International filing and disclosure requirements at the workshop I had been running in Glasgow. According to the article a new bill – the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act 77 – is passing through the US Congress with presidential backing.

The article singles out four regions in particular: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Cayman Islands, Delaware and the City of London.

Switzerland is in the list because of its “banking secrecy laws”, and Liechtenstein is one of three tax havens listed as uncooperative by the OECD. The other two countries are Monaco and Andorra.

The Cayman Islands should come as no surprise, but I am still amazed at how many analysts and researchers keep asking me why they can’t find any financials or detailed information on companies that are registered there. Just take a look at Cayman Islands Companies: Formation & Registration:

“The Registrar of Companies can only release the name and type of company, its date of registration, the address of the registered office and the company’s status. Disclosing any other information is prohibited unless requested by a law enforcement agency.”

The US state of Delaware is another well known “haven”.  The Delaware Division of Corporations refers to its “modern and flexible corporate laws” and “a business-friendly State Government”. Roughly translated it means that you will have a hard job finding accurate, up to date or sometimes any information on companies registered there.  Many of the companies I have looked up on their register don’t give any proper contact details or give fictitious names. But perhaps Homer and Marge Simpson really are directors of multiple businesses in a wide variety of sectors?

The naming and shaming of the City of London came as a surprise, though. The UK is the last place that most of its citizens would regard as a tax haven but the article is referring to the so called “non-dom” laws. A non-dom, or non-domiciled person, is someone who is resident in the UK but claims it is not their home, their  ‘domicile’ being in another country. As a non-dom they pay no UK tax on their overseas earnings unless they bring the proceeds into the UK. UK Chancellor Alistair Darling’s announcement last year on proposed changes to the tax laws for non-doms caused an uproar and there have been many subseuqent “clarifications” and amendments to the proposals. I won’t bore you with the details here but if you are interested go to Chipwrapper and search on non-dom Alistair Darling and select Past Year as the time slice.

For the majority of us, tax havens will remain a dream. Substantial donations to the author of this blog would be gratefully received – used notes in a suitcase preferred :-)

Top Search Tips – February 18th, 2009

Here is the list of Top Search Tips that came out of the Advanced Internet Search Strategies workshop held in London on February 18th, 2009. Participants came from the private sector, professional bodies and associations, academia and local government.

  1. Site search for searching individual web sites that have appalling navigation and useless site search engines. Use the site or domain search to look for difficult to find information on a particular web site, or to limit your search to types of organisation for example gov.uk for UK government or ac.uk for UK academic pages. Use the advanced search screens of the search engines or the site: command for example site:statistics.gov.uk car ownership.
  2. Advanced search especially numeric range
    Click on advanced search in Google and Yahoo for a screen giving you options for focussing your search by file format (e.g. xls for data and statistics, ppt for expert presentations, pdf for industry or government reports); site and domain search to limit your search to just one web site or a type of organisation (e.g. UK government, US academic); and in Google there is a numeric range search.
  3. Thumbshots Ranking http://ranking.thumbshots.com/ – for checking the overlap, or lack of it, of the major search engines for a search strategy.
  4. Blogs can be useful sources of information for scientific information and discussions, competitive intelligence and reputation management. To search blogs try http://www.google.com/blogsearch , http://www.ask.com/ (you first have to do a web search then select More on the results page, and then Blogs), ttp://www.technorati.com/ and http://www.blogpulse.com. Blogpulse has a trends option that shows how often your search terms have been mentioned in blog postings over time. This is used by researchers who monitor competitor or industry intelligence to see what are hot topics and when, and also to monitor what is being said about a product or company. Many of the ‘peaks’ will tie in with press announcements: it is those that don’t that are really interesting. Click on the peaks in the graph to see the postings.If you are monitoring what people are saying about you, you should also check out Twitter (http://twitter.com/). Set up a search alert at http://search.twitter.com/.
  5. News: Silobreaker, Google Archive.
    Silobreaker.com
    pulls together information from newspapers, journals, blogs, video and audio. In addition it offers geographical hotspots, trends and a network visualisation tool.Google News Archive at http://news.google.com/archivesearch covers news older than 30 days and some sources go back 200 years. Results are sorted by relevance but you can select to view them by date or display a timeline. The Advanced Search includes options for searching by date, source, language and price. The source coverage is not the same as the current 30 day Google News search. Many of the articles are priced and it may be cheaper to buy them elsewhere on a pay as you go service, for example Factiva.com.
  6. Compare search engines To compare search engines side by side try Graball (http://www.graball.com/) or Triple Me (http://www.tripleme.com/), which searches Google, Yahoo and Live. Use services such as Zuula or Browsys Powersearch to remind you of the different types of information that are available and the relevant search tools. Type in your search once and click on the search tools one by one.
  7. Visualisation tools. For example Allplus.com, Quintura.com. These show links between documents and search terms, and suggest, alternative keywords and phrases. Useful for teaching information literacy to students.
  8. Use specialist search tools for subject areas and scientific disciplines. Some are listed at http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2008/09/22/science-search-engines/
  9. Design your own search engine Try Google Custom Search Engine at http://www.google.com/coop/cse/. Ideal for building collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a more focused search option.
  10. Link commands Use the link commands to find pages that link to a known page or web site. This helps you find pages of similar content and type. Live.com’s link commands have been de-activated but Yahoo’s still work. To find pages that link to a specific page on a site use link: followed by the full URL of the page, for example link:http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/stats.htm . To find pages that link to anywhere on a site use linkdomain: followed by the domain, for example linkdomain:rba.co.ukLive.com’s linkfromdomain command, which is still working, lists all the external links on a site, for examle linkfromdomain:rba.co.uk