Facebook calling time on RSS?

Those of us who have opted to receive RSS notifications of updates to our Facebook pages woke up this morning to find that the feed was no longer working. Instead of “Alfred has commented on your status” or “Lisa likes your link” we saw “This feed URL is no longer valid. Visit this page to find the new URL, if you have access:”.

Some of my friends were redirected to a 404 error page. I was presented with a totally blank page.

Off I went to Facebook to seek out the RSS feed for my account. Nothing on my Home page and nothing on my Profile. Aha! Perhaps under Account, Account Settings, Notifications? No. Only email and txt options. Hunted around for another 20 minutes and enlightenment eluded me.

I went back to my RSS reader and looked at the properties for the old feed, There was a link to http://www.facebook.com/notifications.php that took me to a page with options for receiving notifications via txt or RSS.

So why isn’t the link to your RSS feed easy to find from your home page, profile or settings? Could it be because Facebook does not like you checking a feed to see if there are updates that you need to respond to? If there aren’t any there is no reason for you to visit the Facebook web site, which means that you do not get the opportunity to see the wonderful advertisements and promotions that are on offer.

Google still thinks coots are possibly cats (or cows)

I have been dining out on the ‘Google thinks cats are lions’ story for several months but decided that its inclusion in my presentation at INFORUM 2011 in Prague should be its last outing. (See my blog postings at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/ and http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/21/update-on-coots-vs-lions/ for the details on this story). Towards the end of my talk I pointed out that Google has now abandoned coots=lions and carries out what I consider to be a normal search for coots mating behaviour, or as normal as any Google search can be. I had checked in Google.co.uk, Google.com and Google.cz a couple of weeks before the INFORUM conference and coots were definitely black, medium sized water birds and not large furry mammals with huge fangs and claws. As I concluded my presentation, though, I saw a few people in the audience staring at their laptops and shaking their heads. One of them came up to me during the break and pointed out that Google Czech Republic was offering cats instead of coots for the first two results. This prompted a quick review of the Google coots/cats/lions situation.

The search: coots mating behaviour

Google.co.uk gives a reasonable set of results but having blogged and included details of the search in so many presentations and newsletters my own pages are taking over the top positions in the results.

Google UK coots search

Google.com gives similar results.

Google.cz however has different ideas. It offers me three articles from Google Scholar and then says “Did you mean cats mating behaviour” in Czech and gives me two results on that subject. The rest of the results are all about coots, so at least Google.cz is giving me my original search as an option rather than unilaterally deciding I really meant cats.

Google Czech Republic and Coots

Looking at other country versions of Google, Google.no and Google.se came up with similar results. Google Germany, however, thinks coots are cows and even throws in a Youtube video:

Google Germany Coots

I am not going to even begin to try and work out what is going on. Three of us nearly went mad attempting to get to the bottom of the original coots=lions oddity. But it does make one wonder even more whether Google can be trusted to come up with even a handful of useful results.

Kent’s Top Tips for Google search

This week I was in Kent running a full day workshop on using Google for search. The participants came from a variety of subject backgrounds and interestingly their Top Tips have a slight technical bias.

1. Preview. Click on the magnifying glass next to an entry in your results list to see a preview of the page highlighting areas containing your search terms

2. Google Trends. http://www.google.com/trends Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched in Google over time and in different geographic regions. This is a way of identifying how people are searching on a subject. Several workshop participants also explored the Websites option: enter a web site URL and see what other sites people visited. This can be useful if you are not sure about the main sites that cover a subject and want to expand your search from the one you have already found; for example enter moveto.co.uk and a list including other UK online estate agent sites appears. It was interesting to see that typing in a UK university web site came up with job and CV pages!

3. Take control. A tip that has been proposed in other workshops – sometimes along the lines of “Don’t let the ******s grind you down!”. Switch off targeted advertising by going to http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/. Log out of your of your Google account so that you are not bombarded with tweets and other stuff from members of your social networks. Use advanced search commands and the side bar on the results page to focus your search.

4. Timeline and time restriction options in the results page side bar for the most recent news but also for historical information.

5. Public data explorer. http://www.google.com/publicdata/home There was a lot of interest in this but some of the participants wanted to merge data sets from different sources, which led them to….

6. Fusion tables. http://www.google.com/fusiontables/Home “Merge data from multiple tables. Visualize your data on maps, timelines and charts.” This in turn led them to ….

7. Google Labs http://www.googlelabs.com/ – lots of interesting experiments including Google Correlate http://correlate.googlelabs.com/

8. For a different perspective, search for pages and sites in other languages using the Translated foreign pages option in the results page side bar.

9. Don’t forget the advanced search commands. It is all too easy to slip into lazy searching habits when everything goes well and results are relevant. If Google starts to do its own thing and comes up with bizarre results then using an advanced search command (e.g. filetype: or site:) or one of the two tips mentioned below usually brings it heel.

10. Two reliable standbys for getting out of a search rut or forcing Google to give you different results: repeat your main term(s) to change your  results (sometimes radically), and/or change the order of your terms in your search strategy.

(Some of my recent Google and search workshop presentations and notes can be found at http://www.rba.co.uk/as/)