Stumbleupon – Surfing the web is BACK!

I heard about stumbleupon a while ago. It seemed to be the next “fad” like bebo, myspace, facebook, digg, technorati, the list goes on. I tend to avoid these “fads”, ok with the exception of facebook, which seems to be as essential nowadays as owning a mobile phone! It seems you no longer exchange numbers with people, you poke’em then ad’em! (but that’s for another post!).

The Install

I was initially turned off from stumbleupon because of the need to add a toolbar to your browser (boo hiss). I have been caught out in the past by this sort of thing. You install a product and all of a sudden your browser is highlighting links in yellow and hijacking everything.

So it was with caution that I installed stumbleupon. Fortunately the toolbar is harmless and well laid out.

Getting started

The registration process is quick and easy. It asks you about your interests. This is important as it determines what content is thrown at you.

You are first presented with a Stumble toolbar,with the obvious “Stumble!” button on the left.

Press the Stumble button and the browser will load a page Stumble thinks you might like, from your list of interests. If you like the page you can click the thumbs up button on the toolbar, or thumbs down if you don’t like it. Stumble uses this data to work out your likes and dislikes. The idea is the more you stumble the more accurate it will get.

Friends indeed

Once you have registered with Stumbleupon and greated your account you can add friends. This is a similar process to adding friends in Facebook, it even used the MSN API to grab your contact list if you allow it to.

Friends makes the whole stumble experience much more worthwhile. Rather than emailing your friend a funny link, or pasting it into MSN (if they are online) you can click the “send to” button and choose your friend. This will then pop up on their stumble toolbar next time they log on. It allows you to send a comment too. This is great fun but be aware, stumbling with friends is addictive!

Channel hopping

There is a selection of channels on the toolbar. If you wanted to search for a single topic, say internet games, you choose the channel and hit stumble. Your search will be narrowed and you will stumble just that area. This is a neat feature.

Favorites

If you discover a site it (are the first to stumble it) the site it automatically added to your favorites. This forms part of your mini-blog within your logged in area. When you stumble you can see who stumbled befor you. You can then enter their mini-blog and see their favorites. Not sure how useful this feature is, feels a bit too much like stalking to me!

So, what’s the big deal?

To me the big deal is getting back to the days where you actually “surf the web”. In recent years the internet has grown so big but has got cluttered with a lot of crap. Stumbleupon is a vehicle for navigating the good stuff and filtering out the bad.

I can come home from work and stumble for half an hour. To find this many good sites would take hours using google. It’s also great to be able to keep track of where you have been. All your “thumbs up” sites are kept in your user area and int he new version of Stumbleupon it actually adds it to your bookmarks (or favorites, in IE).

I love Stumbleupon, it’s a great way to find new sites, the only down side is I seem to find it very difficult to go to bed now… just… one… more… stumble!!!

Speed up Firefox

You may have heard that Firefox 3 has just been released. In case you didn’t know it is more secure, more flaxible and faster than IE. That said, there is room for improvement. Because it is an open source product it is easy to customise it and speed it up.

Follow these steps and you should notice a speed improvement:

1: In the address bar, type about:config (it will warn you, are you sure… yes, you are!)

2: Scroll down and alter the following settings:

Set network.http.pipelining to true

Set network.http.proxy.pipelining to true

Set network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to some number like 25. This effectively mean Firefox will do 25 things at once, cool eh?

3: Right click anywhere on the screen, select New and then Integer. Give a name of nglayout.initialpaint.delay and when it asks for a value, enter 0 (zero). This means the browser does not wait before it starts to draw the page.

There you go. You should notice that pages load faster. The speed increase will largely depend on the internet conection you have, the faster it is the more you will notice.

There are legitimate reasons these are not set as default. 25 connections at the same time to a server does put strain on the server. You doing it will make minimal difference, but the several Million users of Firefox on the Internet all using this setting would have an impact. For those reasons the browser designers have to conform to certain standards.

Enjoy!

Internet regulation – losing net neutrality

Some of you may have seen on some of the news sites, there is a big debate at present about Net Neutrality and the threat to it.

Net Neutrality is basically the level playing field on which the Internet is based. It allows sites to load at the maximum speed it can, given the infrastructure in place. There is no fundamental, deliberate, throttling in place which would upset the balance.

Dig a little deeper and there is a lot more to it. Basically Internet Service Providers want to control the delivery of the Internet service, to control what we can see and what we can’t. They would also be able to throttle the connections based on who pays what.

Google are heading up the campaign against a bill to give the ISP’s power to control Interne content.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.

Read more

Slow broadband – sites take a long time to respond

A number of people have contacted us with similar issues, sites taking a long time to respond and then loading quite fast. It turns out these people are almost always ADSL users and quite often on a handful of providers (bulldog, O2, be internet etc).

The problem seems to be with the DNS servers. Quite why they are performing so poorly I don’t know, but there is an easy solution.

The solution is to use OpenDNS, free to use DNS servers that perform very well and very fast.

How to I use OpenDNS?

There are 2 ways. Firstly you can configure your computer to use them. Secondly you can configure your router to use OpenDNS.

You need to login to your router (see your router instructions for how to do this).

Once you have logged in you should see settings for Primary and Secondary DNS. You need to change these to 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 respectively (make note of your current settings before you do this).

Once you have done this, press “Apply”.

Your router should then reboot and the settings should take effect.

This should solve your problem. If it does not then put your settings back and call your ISP. You can now tell them you have tried using OpenDNS servers and it didn’t help, thus ruling out a DNS issue.

Spotlight – ShipStamps.co.uk

We have just launched another of our interactive websites, ShipStamps.co.uk.

This is aimed at compiling a list of stamps featuring ships from all over the world. Various sites exist surrounding this hobby but none seem to have high quality information and images on the same site.

Anyone can view the site and anyone can submit new stamps. There is an intelligent anti-spam system built in and an Admin approval system to ensure quality is maintained.

This site has a fully searchable database and high quality 300dpi images of every stamp featured. This means that with a simple entry in the search box anyone can identify exactly what they are searching for by ship name, line name or anything else relevant to that stamp.

The site has been live just a week or so and already the database is beginning to grow.

Firefox 3 has been released

Today was the launch of Mozilla’s long awaited Firefox 3. There was a slight hiccup when their servers all fell over due to the demand, but it seems to be ok now and I have just installed it on my Macbook Pro.

I have been a fan of Firefox ever since it first came out, taking every version as they came out and enjoying discovering the new features.

It has not been an entirely smooth journey. There have been memory leak issues, strange CPU behavior, flash was very resource intensive (especially in early versions) but all in all it has been all the time better than IE. I dislike IE for political reasons as well as how MS has made our (the web design community) lives more difficult in terms of cross browser standards and site conformity. That said, I do try every new browser that comes out and try to keep an open mind.

So, back to Firefox 3. I have installed all the Beta’s and the Release Candidates so it’s hard to think back to Firefox 2, but casting my mind back the main differences are the history, the address bar and the back/forward buttons. RSS and bookmarking had been smartened up as well. Read more

Would you want to work for Google?

I came across these pictures today. It is the Google office in Zurich.

At first glance I thought “cool”, that seems like a great place to work. However, thinking about it you do have to wonder why they NEED so many different ways to relax and let off steam? Do these people ever get to leave the office and go home?

I can only imagine the pressure these people must have to work under for these kind of anti-stress facilities to be required:

Microsoft Silverlight – Love it or hate it?

If you are involved in development in the Internet in any way you cannot fail to hear the excitement surrounding Microsoft’s announcement of their Silverlight platform.

What is Silverlight?

Put simply it is being taken among the Internet in general as a competitor to Adobe’s Flash product. It is basically a framework for providing rich applications to the Internet browser.

Where Silverlight differs from Flash is it has been tailored to hook into the Microsoft API’s (under a generous but not completely open) license. This will enable applications to interact with MSN, Live Maps etc.

What’s to Love?

It’s cross platform user experience (not development environment.. see below). That’s good, but so is Flash. Come on, cross platform should be a minimum requirement in this day and age, not something to boast about!

Silverlight uses a mark-up language called XAML, “Whoopiedoo” I hear you shout, “another mark-up language, just what we need!”. This means absolutely nothing to the user, and developers will be able to adapt to it easily enough. The major advantage of XAML is that the search engines can read it. No longer will your site be crippled by the fact it has balls and whistles on it. Ok, so the readable part (XAML) of the app is only part of it, but hey, it’s better than Flash. Read more