Compfight – quick and easy way to search Flickr

Compfight (http://www.compfight.com/) was recommended to me by a couple of people at the Open University.  It searches images on Flickr and has an option for Creative Commons images. Next to the search box you can switch between Creative Commons Only, Creative Commons Commercial and Creative Commons Off. The results are displayed as thumbnails and you simply click on an image to go to the original image page on Flickr.

Compfight

This is a very quick and easy way to search and preview Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses, but do check the license of the image on its original Flickr page. There are several CC licenses with different levels of permissions and for all but one of them you are required to acknowledge the photographer.

Malta Registry of Companies

The Malta Financial Services Authority Registry of Companies (http://rocsupport.mfsa.com.mt/pages/Default.aspx) has been added to my Official Company Registers page at  http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/registers.htm. The registry provides free basic company details including registered address and company ID/number. You can browse the companies alphabetically or search by name or company ID/number. There is also a list of companies that have registered over the last 15 days.

Checking broadband availability and speeds

Whether at work or at home, a fast and reliable internet connection is an essential for many of us. An increasing number of people spend at least one day a week working at home, some run their businesses from an office at home and, like it or not, the UK government and utility services are pushing us in the direction of managing our business and personal affairs online. There are numerous broadband providers touting their wares and trying to persuade us to switch to their super duper fast services with promises of  24 MB downloads, but the speeds achieved in reality are often far less. In some areas there is no broadband access at all. The problem is that should you discover you have been sold a very expensive dud you could be stuck in a 12 month contract with no easy way out. If you are moving house or thinking of switching provider you need to know what is possible in theory, which providers are available in your area and the speeds that people are actually getting.

First, can you get any broadband at all? For a long time after it was introduced I was unable to have broadband. The length and quality of the cabling from the exchange to my street was such that it was doubtful I would maintain even a 256 KB connection. And, no, I do not live in the middle of nowhere but in Caversham on the other side of the River Thames from Reading. I kept checking the BT broadband availability page (http://www.dslchecker.bt.com/adsl/adslchecker.welcome) and finally, after a major line and cable upgrade, I discovered I could have 1-2 MB – possibly. I went with an Eclipse business package – recommended by several colleagues – and muddled along with around 1MB download speeds for a couple of years. The only major issue I had was the time taken to download software and BBC iPlayer programmes (around 1.5 hours for a 45 minute broadcast). A few weeks ago the availability checker had good news: my exchange had been upgraded.

BT Broadband Checker

Eclipse upgraded me and I am now whizzing along at 11-14 MB download and 500-600 KB upload.

The second matter is that of speed, and I do not mean what the providers claim on their web sites or in their glossy brochures. Broadband Speed Checker at http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk allows users to test their actual line speed. As well as running the speed check you can add your test results to a Google map by giving your postcode and see other results for the surrounding area. If you are moving house or just want to see what is available in a neighbourhood go straight to http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/broadband_speed_in_my_area.aspx and enter the postcode.

Broadband Speed Check

Speech bubbles mark the approximate location of the speed tests and give the name of the provider with the average download speed. Results are based on tests at the location over the last 6 months. Click on one of the bubbles and you can view the individual test results. Some have only one whilst other people seem to run them regularly. The broadband package, price and advertised speed are given but this might not be totally accurate. My own business package was not listed so I had to pick the closest home package in terms of speed and price. The maximum speed advertised for me is 24 Mb but I was told by my supplier that I would be unlikely to reach that. At 11-14 MB I am not complaining – it is at least 10 times what it used it be. I do feel sorry, though, for those poor souls who are paying for 20 MB and barely reaching 1.5 :-( It is probably why they ran they tests in the first place. Evidence with which to confront their provider!

Seriously irritating things about Google Instant

Having had a few more hours to explore Google Instant there are four things that I find seriously annoying about it:

1. The way the suggestions and results are displayed is so messy and busy. AlltheWeb’s LiveSearch implementation was so much slicker and easier to follow. A pity that Yahoo did not follow through on that one but they never have taken really good experimental stuff further.

2. You only get 10 results per page regardless of what you have on your Settings page. This is a major problem for me because I have my display set to 100. I don’t trust the first  results in a Google search to be – er, how shall I put it – unbiased, and I want to be able to quickly scan through at least 30 or 40 to get an indication of whether or not I need to modify my strategy. Having to keep clicking for the next page is going to drive me up the wall. I can understand, though, that allowing everyone to have more than 10 results per page would probably slow down the processing and display of results.

3. The Wonderwheel has gone from Google Instant results. I don’t use this feature that often but it does sometimes help me narrow my search or to branch out in a completely different direction.

4. It messes up several of my Firefox add-ons, in particular OptimizeGoogle. Google SearchWiki (now defunct) did exactly the same.

I have now turned off Google Instant. It offers me no benefits that compensate for the loss of features and options.

Many people are also complaining that the ability to turn off query suggestions has now disappeared (thanks to Paul Chapman for bringing this to my attention – see his comment to my initial Google Instant  review  at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2010/09/09/google-instant-display-results-as-you-type/comment-page-1/#comment-8637). You can still do it if you use Google SSL at https://encrypted.google.com/ but that is no help whatsoever if you want to use a country version of Google as I often do. To be honest I rarely pay any attention to the suggested queries and most of the time I start my search from the Google Toolbar where I have suggestions turned off. But if you really do not want query suggestions or it causes technical problems, and Google does not reinstate the turn-off option, the main alternatives are Yahoo or Bing. Both still allow you to switch it off.

Google Instant – display results as you type

No, Google hasn’t branched out into groceries – yet. Google Instant is not a brand of coffee but a new search and display feature that shows changing results as you type your search. Google says that it is actually display before you type because it tries to predict your full strategy and delivers results for that search. As you add more terms the predictions and the results change:

“Google Instant is search-before-you-type. Instant takes what you have typed already, predicts the most likely completion and streams results in real-time for those predictions—yielding a smarter and faster search that is interactive, predictive and powerful.

The list of predicted searches – they are the same as Google Suggest – appears below your search box. If you spot a better strategy you can scroll down the list to select it.

Google Instant

I found that Google does eventually run out of predictions. In some cases it was after only three terms: in others it took seven or eight before Google gave up but carried on changing the results as I typed in extra terms. If you are a more experienced and advanced searcher who uses search commands such as ‘filetype:’ or ‘site:’ you are suddenly presented with a blank page. This totally confused me at first and I thought that Google simply did not have any results for my search. In these situations Google reverts to ‘old style’ search, so just carry on as normal and press enter to view your results.

Note: You have to be signed in to your Google account to see Google Instant.

Not everyone will have Google Instant right now:

Google Instant will become the core search experience on Google.com for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE 8. We’ll also be offering Google Instant to our users in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the U.K. who are signed in and have Instant-capable browsers. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll work to roll out Google Instant to all geographies and platforms.”

I am guessing that IE 6 is not included in the “all geographies and platforms” as Google has already withdrawn support for it in some of its other services, for example YouTube.

The idea is not new. AlltheWeb – owned by Yahoo – was trying out a similar approach with its Livesearch a few years ago. I found it extremely useful because you could quickly spot if you had a gone a search term too far. The progression might go: OK-ish results, relevant, even better, superb, total rubbish. It was then easy to remove the last term you had typed in to get back to your superb results list. When further development of AlltheWeb stopped Livesearch was discontinued.

Alltheweb Livesearch

Another good idea abandoned by Yahoo and later taken up by someone else. Some of you may also remember Yahoo Mindset which gave you a slider bar to change the emphasis of your results to find more shopping or research oriented pages. Google now has a fewer/more shopping sites option in the left hand menu on its web results pages.

My first impressions are mixed. Sometimes the predictions work, sometimes they don’t and I don’t find it as easy to take in the changing display as I did with AlltheWeb Livesearch. I think that is because Livesearch had the search box on the left hand side of the screen and I find it easier to glance across the page rather than down to monitor what is happening to my search.

Find Google Instant distracting and want to turn it off? Either sign out of your Google account or click on the Settings link in the top right hand corner of the screen. The option to turn it off is at the bottom of the Settings screen.

Further information is available on the Official Google Blog –  Search: now faster than the speed of type
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/search-now-faster-than-speed-of-type.html