Five ways to win when Google fails


So Google freaked out over night. Thousands of people all over the world were cut off from all things G as an error in the internet giant’s system diverted vast amounts of traffic through their Asia servers. It caused 14% of all their users to have a slow and interrupted service. That’s a lot of users.

For many it brought their web life to a standstill, so reliant are they on Google and all its products but there’s no need to fear. Google don’t and will never own the internet and there’s a million and one alternatives to everything they do. So, next time their service goes down, here’s five ways to keep you winning while Google fails.


Before Google came along there was a huge choice of search engines. The likes of Webcrawler, Lycos and Ask were around a good five earlier and they’re still going strong – just not compared to the G monopoly.


I entered the term “Squeaky Bum Time” into Google, Alta Vista, Yahoo!, Lycos and the self-proclaimed “World’s Biggest Search Engine” Cuil. All of them came up with relevant results, most of them started with the definition of the idiom as the first result and they all returned pages on Alex Ferguson – often in relation to the Russian and Swedish football teams.

Each engine demonstrated understanding of the phrase and its relevance to modern culture. The bottom line is that you’re going to find what you need, certainly, between them, if not, with each individually, and design-wise, there’s plenty to chose from for something that’s both straight forward and pleasing to use.


I don’t use gmail but I understand I’m in some kind of minority here. I know that there’s plenty of good things about it, such as IMAP and POP3 options, the layout and the spam filter that’s pretty much as good as it gets, but everyone has back up e-mail accounts, right? Tell me you do? Everyone needs junk mail services – ones that you might use for entering competitions or signing up for newsletters or just when some website makes you register with them before you use it.

Just make sure that you don’t put all of your e-mail eggs in one basket. Spread your e-mail service of choice around a bit. They all go down from time to time so you unless you want to be stuck every time they do, keep all your contacts in a few different ones.

Hotmail may be a bit of a dinosaur but it still works well. They keep up with the times even if they don’t innovate and functionality is very straight forward. Your ISP will have probably given you a free e-mail service when you signed up for them and if, it’s obscure enough, you might even still be able to get [email protected].

At the end of the day, e-mail’s e-mail. You can attach a world of bells and whistles but so long as you’ve get plenty of storage, you can search, you can send and receive and it doesn’t cost anything, then it’s good enough.

Oh, and if you really can’t face leaving Google’s bosom on this one, then at least use one of the online services that stores all your contacts like 02’s Bluebook or Mobyko. At least then you’ll be able to contact friends and family when meltdown next arises.

Online Office

“My Google Docs!” was a typical cry yesterday on Twitter as access to all manner of the most important spread sheets and cloud office files were rendered inaccessible. The first thing I can suggest here is a bit of an obvious one – back them up.


Now, I’m not saying back up everything – no one can be bothered – but don’t leave the most important files at the mercy of the whims of the web. If Google doesn’t go down, your own home or office network might so keep mutliple copies of the grade A important bits and pieces. That’s really down to discipline though and either you’re that kind of person or you’re not.

Don’t worry, I’m not either but I am the kind of person to spread my footprints around the web and I use Zoho Docs as well as Google’s service. It’s got more than I could ever use from docs and spreadsheets through to calendars, planners, projects, invoices and business reports. In fact there’s more than any other service, it’s easy to use and it looks pretty too.

Video Players

When Google goes down, all its little buddies do too including the enormously popular YouTube. Sure it’s got over 62 million videos and gets at least five times more daily plays than anyone else but there’s still plenty of competition and, more to the point, weeks’ worth of footage to enjoy on all sorts of others services.

Vimeo, Imeem and Metcafe are all good choices and, because they’re not quite so big, there’s probably a better overall standard of quality, a little less of the happy slapping and not quite the insanity of the famous “YouTube community” to contend with. The other bonus of being smaller is that any copyright sensitive material is more likely to remain there unseen without the big companies demanding its removal.

Web Analytics

Websites relying on Google Analytics had a bit of an issue last night with many refusing to load while they were waiting for the stat service to kick in. Now sadly, as a user, there’s not a lot you can do about that if the site in charge hasn’t done the decent thing and disabled the service to keep their site afloat.

What I can at least do, is recommend a few other good stat services that’ll run at the same time as GAnalytics so that you can keep an eye on your traffic even when Google throws a wobbly.

StatCounter is one. It doesn’t necessarily give you the most accurate reflection of what’s going on but it is consistent, so you will be able to view the trends – probably all that matters when you get down to it. The other bonus is that it’s easy to use and it’s free.

If you want to feel good about yourself, you can try a service from the open source community called AWstats. It doesn’t have quite the same straight forward functionality as Stat Counter but it is accurate and free to use too.

RUMOUR: Apple to buy Twitter for $700m


First Facebook had a go, then the word was that Google made an offer and now the rumour is that Apple plans to buy Twitter and announce it in time for WWDC on 9th June.

The mooted price has jumped a mile from the last supposed offer of $250 million to a far healthier $700 million and according to the quote from an insider, “Apple is in late stage negotiations”.

Hard to know how much truth there is in this one. Last time it was just a meeting about advertising, apparently, so if there even is some talking between the two companies, then it could have been about a whole bunch of things. If it is about a deal, then that represents a very interesting move for what is, essentially, a hardware and software company into the world of services.

Google is fast becoming the giant of the tech world and it’s their take over of the internet that the waning Microsoft covets. Is this Apple’s first steps towards ensuring long term growth or is it just the next big company on the list to be linked with the microblogging darling. A fiver says it’ll be Twitter to buy Yahoo! next.

(via @Zee Tech Crunch)

Yahoo! Mail: the past, present and future


Back in October last year, we previewed a lot of the changes that Yahoo! would be making in 2009, including some of the changes they’d be making to their webmail product.

Well, this morning I descended into the depths of Yahoo! HQ in central London to meet the Head of Mail for Europe, David McDowell. We spoke wide-rangingly, but most of the chat focused on extra detail on what will be happening to Yahoo! Mail in the next two months or so.

Losing Popularity

It turns out that the introduction of a new, slick, interface proved unpopular with users. The javascript-heavy frontend might have proved usable when running locally, but on many users’ PCs it crawled. Yahoo! started losing marketshare, dipping down several percentage points, which in the mature market of email means trouble.

So, acting nimbly, the big Y! jumped into action, stripping down the features and lightening the application considerably. Out went the snazzy RSS reader that less than one percent of people actually used. A vocal minority complained, but the users started to trickle back. They also put a lot of work into speeding up the code and now Yahoo! is back to 39% marketshare – higher than it’s been in a year.


Why didn’t people like RSS? McDowell is non-committal: “It boils down to narrowcast and broadcast. Most people will tell you that they like customisation and personalisation, but most people will not make the (time) investment to make that happen”. Yahoo found that people couldn’t be bothered to set it up.

But they haven’t given up on RSS. I suggested that the company should use the ‘social graph’ that it has for each user – where it can work out who a user’s friends are by how much they interact with different people – to suggest relevant blog content. “The user says: if you can (set up an RSS feed) on my behalf, in a transparent way,” McDowell concurred, “then that would be very beneficial”.



We also talked about mobile. Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Yahoo! Mail’s users take advantage of the wide range of mobile clients available to access their email on the go.

Yahoo! wants to pump that up, though, and users will soon have the ability to visit a website on their phones where the company can auto-detect the best experience they’ll be able to get, and point them to the relevant bit of the site. People with smartphones will get downloadable apps, but less capable handsets will be pointed to the HTML version.


Lastly I asked McDowell about a couple of common complaints about Yahoo! Mail’s service. Firstly that the screen resolution limits are too restrictive – users of netbooks with resolutions below 1024×768 can’t get the shiny new interface and have to use the ancient HTML version.

Apparently the company aren’t too bothered about that – seeing it more as a feature: “The application is like a desktop application. So, if the resolution gets too small then the elements just merge and you can’t see what’s going on,” McDowell continued, “We’re the only big email provider to offer two distinct products – they meet two different sets of needs.”


Secondly, I asked why users were forced to choose between .com and addresses – with many wanting to receive UK content on most of the site, but sticking with a .com address because it’s easier for people to remember. McDowell acknowledged that this was an issue and they’re addressing it:

“Coming up very soon, users will be able to register .com addresses but still get UK content, and then they’ll be able to go into options and choose if they want any email that’s sent to [email protected]”.

That’s a great step forward for usability, especially as it’s currently impossible to register a .com address if you’ve already got the corresponding


Yahoo!’s working on bringing users a smarter, faster and more social inbox. It’s still a very ‘traditional’ approach to email, especially when compared to GMails tags, conversational threading and labs features, but it’s probably the best ‘traditional’ webmail client out there. It doesn’t scan messages for advertising reasons, unlike Google, it offers fully infinite storage and McDowell is adamant that people still like filing emails into folders.

I’m not about to jump and go grab a Yahoo! mail account – I’m very happy with my GMail – but if you’ve tried Google’s client and you didn’t like it, then Yahoo! is probably the next best thing. It’s just a shame that Yahoo!’s userbase isn’t really ready for RSS yet.

Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo! to drop GeoCities later this year


Early adopters and original archeticts of the internet are in mourning this, er, morning with the news that Yahoo! will be shutting down GeoCities. A release from the internet powerhouse readers:

We have decided to discontinue the process of allowing new customers to sign up for GeoCities accounts as we focus on helping our customers explore and build new relationships online in other ways. We will be closing GeoCities later this year.

GeoCities was the web’s easiest and most user friendly way of designing your own piece of internet real-estate for years before it was bought up by Yahoo! for the princely sum of $3bn back in the dot com boom.

On the one hand, I won’t miss it as someone who a) never used it and b) was eternally frustrated when my search results came up heavy with GeoCities logos like badges of untrustworthy fact. On the other hand, I’ve never built my own website. It might have been a good place to start. Oh well.

(via Mashable)

Yahoo! to go for a further round of lay offs


Yahoo! looks to be continuing it’s slow slide into total meltdown with rumours of a third round of lay offs within the last 12 months.

An insider told the NYT that cuts could come as quickly as next week and there’s every reason to think that the next one will be well in excess of 1,000 jobs with the first thousand leaving in early 2008 and a further 1,400 at the end of last year.

Yahoo! still gets 500 million or so eyes over its pages each and every month but, with the internet still booming, it’s the growth where they’re missing out. While Google was out buying Blogger and YouTube, Yahoo! missed opportunities to pick up Facebook and last year had to spend an awful lot of resources in talks with Microsoft. The offer from Gates, Ballmer & Sons will be starting to look very good right about now.

Yahoo! clawing back market share from Google?


If the latest figures from traffic-trackers comScore are correct, it would appear that Yahoo! is slowly but surely clawing back some of Google’s utter dominance of the search sector, in the USA at least.

After many years of decline, Yahoo!’s search numbers have been increasing now for six months in a row, and in January they jumped up half a percentage point to 21%. Simultaneously, Google dropped half a percent to 63%.

It’s great news for Yahoo!, because it means that despite the acquisition dance around the company last year hasn’t had any negative effect on their core offering at all. Meanwhile, MSN Live Search is languishing at 8.5%, while Microsoft pours money into it, and Cuil is nowhere to be seen.

Bush's Googlebomb hits Obama


Remember when bloggers, a few years back, “googlebombed” former US President George W Bush by linking his official biography to the phrase “miserable failure”? Well, along with the war in Iraq and a devastated economy, poor Obama looks to be inheriting Bush’s googlebomb, too.

Searches for “miserable failure” on Yahoo! and Live Search both bring up Obama’s bio. Google has successfully killed the bomb on its own search engine, however. In the meantime, one enterprising blogger has started a campaign to link the words “Cheerful Achievement” to Obama’s biography. Sounds good. Sign me up.

Cheerful Achievement (via SEO & Web Marketing News)

Related posts: Daily Mail journalist suffers the wrath of bloggers | Rumours of Google planning an incredible unlimited cloud storage service

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang steps down


Following intense pressure from shareholders, the board, and every technology blogger in the world, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang has decided to step down from his post at the top of the ailing internet giant. It’s a shame, as the moves that he’s been pushing over the last couple of years show a lot of a promise in terms of getting the company back on its feet.

Unfortunately, however, once Google withdrew its advertising deal in fear of regulatory hell, Yahoo! was left high and dry, pleading with Microsoft to buy it at a price way below the price point that Microsoft were offering and Yahoo! rejected earlier in the year. Most people pinned the blame for that failure to secure financial security for the company on Yang.