Social Networking

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This post’s been brewing for a few weeks now. Google’s acquisition of Writely can be called as a trigger pulse for this post.
Orkut is still a very popular social networking site, atleast among the school and college community (which forms a large group of web users). Since its launch two years back, it has grown in magnitude and it is sort of a social status symbol to have an Orkut Profile, owing to its “Invite only” nature. Although it has grown over the years in terms of the number of users, feature-wise it is still primitive, considering how quickly Google is trying to give it’s products and services a face-lift by using AJAX.

Social Networking sites have a lot of potential, and if only a service with some of the following features were to be introduced, it’ll be a huge success. (Like what Meebo did, and how everyone else was grateful to Meebo for it :) )

Firstly, a strong ‘Search within website’ service. Not only Profile search or Community search, but search for keywords within the Community and Profile – something similar to Blogger Profile Search. The present Social Networking websites do not allow that. For instance, it is not possible to look for all the people who’ve listed ‘Web 2.0’ as an interest in their profile. That should be enabled, for such sites are a hunting ground for people who are looking for fresh talent.

Secondly, a conversation tracker. Newsvine, which was launched recently has a similar feature. A user can find out, which article they commented on recently by a simple mouse-over action on Newsvine home page. Handy. For social networking sites to be useful, there should be provision to find out if anyone has replied to a thread posted (Newsvine does this with a field ‘Comments since you last checked’); also there must be a tracker for all the messages that a user posts a comment.

Although this is quite unnecessary, given the above mentioned two requisites are met, it would be great to have a conversation archiving feature similar to what is offered by Google Talk’s  or Zoho Chat. The archiving feature could store the recent five conversations for easy access and reference.

Probably the poor organization of many social networking sites can be attributed to these reasons.  Many communities contain great resources and not organizing the conversations properly will probably maintain the status of most social networking sites are to be merely a prodigal waste, save for the occasional “stumbling upon a long lost acquaintance” event.

On Maxthon

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TechCrunch published an article yesteray about Maxthon browser. It strongly recommended Maxthon as an alternative to Firefox and Opera. Daily Om also reported recently that Maxthon crossed 50 Million Downloads. So what are Maxthon’s strong points that make it popular?

Firstly, the features it offers. Tabbed browsing and built in RSS reader have become the standards of any web browser after Firefox’s success. Maxthon has these, and more. Tabbed browsing is a lot easier in Maxthon. Tabs can be given a “Sticky” short name to page titles, so that when having something like 20 tabs open at a time, one doesn’t have to fish out too much. Tabs can be aligned too.
Also, Maxthon requires fewer Extensions than Firefox. Built in Flash support, right click enabled almost everywhere, a customizable Utility manager on the toolbar for easy access of frequently used Computer utilities such as Notepad, URL aliases – something that can be done in Firefox by installing an extra extension to use a short URL. Most of the features require no extensions to be installed.

But many of the ready to use features make it look clumsy as opposed to the sleek elegance of Firefox, which is, by the way, a lot faster than Maxthon. Also, in terms of Searching within the browser, Firefox is a lot less painful to use – albeit it requires a few extensions such as “Context Search” to be installed. Also, Mozilla’s Mycroft Plug-in site provides more plug-ins that can be installed for searching within the website – apart from the standard Google, Yahoo, Amazon search, one can include BitTorrent, Answers.com and many other reference websites. Maxthon supports Wikipedia and IMDb, in addition to Google Search. Not much, really.

Atleast as far as browsers are concerned, more doesn’t mean better. A lot of features that Maxthon comes packed with are not useful really. This is why I disagree with the TechCrunch article. Firefox’s idea of “Provide some really useful features as a basic package, and let the users download extensions if they want more” is great because the requirements of each user vary. This article provides insight into various browsers. But there is no “the best browser”; Firefox 1.5 has its share of flaws (or “The Dark Side” as the above mentioned article refers)

Really, the browser wars will never end.

Google Pages

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Google’s AJAX powered Web-Page builder is here. Perhaps the web alternative to Microsoft Frontpage in its Beta, or an AJAX powered Yahoo Geocities, understandably it’s not quite there yet. Upto 100 MB of Free Hosting, this seems to be an early April Fool’s Day present from Google. Fully powered by AJAX and feature rich, the interface is easy to use and folks who wish to build Web pages needn’t suffer from HTML Handicap anymore. Strike one. Now, back to speculating what else could they possibly release on April 1st.

Small Wonders

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An oddity:

With Google Suggest turned on, if “How to” is entered in the search box, the first option it suggests is “How to tie a Tie”.

Now to the post. Ajaxian carried extract from a story about Web 3.0, carrying a couple of puns and names from animation world like Chuck Jones and fantasy things like ACME invisible ink. The author is quite funny, and writing about future or emerging technologies in the manner in which he’s done it is no mean piece of writing. And it’s only essays like these that are pointers to developers “who are toiling over an AJAX- and Ruby-powered social software product”, no matter how sceptical or irritated they feel about it.

“Some small teams of sharp people—people who once, perhaps, worked for those with dimmer visions—are now following their own muses and designing smart web applications.” With each passing day, there seems to be some AJAX powered application or the other hitting the new web, I can’t agree more. It’s actually the liberty that it offers, more people are lured into it everyday. A couple of years back, when sending a batch of image files to a lot of people, was synonymous with attaching every individual file and sending them as an e-mail. And one had to see to it that it wouldn’t exceed their storage limit, which was around 4 MB. Later on, Flickr happened and made the life of a lot of people, especially those people who spend their time distributing those odd and interesting pictures a lot simpler.

I wonder if the idea of a concept such as Flickr would have been a success if a Computer Conglomerate which sells a wide variety of software packages decided to develop such an application. Flickr wouldn’t be Flickr if it were that way. It wouldn’t be human enough. As mentioned, AJAX developers will have to “determine all the things a user might do, and wireframe the blessed moments of each possibility.” All those applications that use AJAX almost understand what you want. The tagging service del.ico.us, for instance, tries to predict what tag you can possibly use based on previous user’s experience. Gmail sorts the e-mails and their replies in conversation view, instead of making people fish around the Inbox or Mail folders. That is the advantage of having smart people who worked previously with boring projects. They’ve made the Web almost intelligent. That, precisely is the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. While Web 1.0 had answers that cater to the crowd, Web 2.0 has (or will have, in the near future) a solution that suits the individual user.

It will not be long before the Web tries to understand the possible mistakes that happen while tying a neck tie, and display a warning message in the screen that most probably it was wrong, based on the responses obtained from the previous users who tried to do it by the same method.