Sunday, December 21, 2008

Google Help Center taking shape of a Wiki with help from Knol

google knolWhile researching for video formats recommended by YouTube, I came across this article hosted on the Google help center. Now unlike other support articles on that are written by staff, this one is written by several contributors

through Knol and not all of them may be employees of Google.

Anyone with a Google Account can edit the support article in Knol and once the edit is approved by an official representative, your change could make it to the Google Help Center.

While I haven’t see more Knol articles outside the YouTube support site, they could be coming as Google says - "Knol is a new platform we’re using in the Help Center so you can update articles and share community-edited information with others."

The growth of Knol may be nowhere as planned but Google’s idea of transforming their support center into a wiki-like structure will will definitely help Knol.


What Can Nokia do to trump Apple’s iPhone

I have been an iPhone user for almost 10 months now and have been thinking about getting a new phone. So when I started looking around for new models, I was amazed to see how none of the available phones would satisfy my requirements. Not even the super Nokia N97.

I am not sure if my usage pattern is unique but I tend to use my iPhone as a music player (podcasts mostly) more than as a communication device. My other iPhone activities would include checking emails, using Google Reader and Twitter (Oh yeah, follow me @acmhatre).

Back in 2005, Sony was the first company to introduce the concept of a walkman phone. Nokia soon followed Sony but both these companies faltered on the software and that’s the secret of iPhone’s success. What makes the iPhone so unique and loveable is not the highly responsive touch screen interface or the good looks - it’s the backbone - the iTunes software.

Unlike the half-baked software developed by Nokia and Sony, iTunes can hold its ground to be used a primary music management software so anything one does in iTunes gets synced to their iPhone. Similarly, iPhoto a great photo management tool and synching with an iPhone is a breeze. Before iPhone was introduced, nobody even talked about updating the firmware on a cell phone because it was just too difficult to be done by an average user.

I am not sure if Sony has the energy to stage a come back but I can see Nokia competing with Apple/ I am not taking about the revenue numbers or number of handsets sold. We all know that Apple is far from even competing on those grounds. I am talking about mindshare and perception based competition.

So what should Nokia do? How about Nokia using SongBird, a free and open source music management software from the Mozilla foundation to do everything that iTunes does for iPhone. It’s being positioned as an iTunes killer anyway.

Nokia, at least for its high end phones, should look into developing plug-ins that’ll allow people to manage and synchronize not only music but videos, photos and as a platform to provide firmware updates to Nokia users. Nokia needs to give its users a single point of interaction with their devices. Nokia should do negative of iPhone and do just exactly opposite. The iPhone App store is a closed environment; Nokia should open up a Symbian Appstore on SongBird and integrate it with Ovi. The solution just seems so obvious but sometimes it just is that obvious!

The writer, Aditya Mhatre, is based in Mumbai and hosts Indicast, a popular audio-video podcast show from India.


How to Rebuild your Computer and Reinstall Windows Without Headache

If you are planning to rebuild a ’slow’ computer by reinstalling Windows (XP or Vista) from scratch, here’s a pre-installation checklist + some time saving tips.

Fix Problems by Reinstalling Windows

As a tech blogger, part of my job involves reviewing software which is so interesting but frequent installation (followed by un-installation) of software programs also tend to slow down the computer.

To deal with this problem, I did a clean installation of Windows last weekend and re-installed all the important software programs from scratch. As expected, the boot-up time has reduced and the computer’s performance has improved significantly. Luckily, this task is not as complex as it may sound but here are a few things you should remember before taking the plunge:

Pre-Installation Checklist

1. Get Magical Jelly to retrieve a list of product keys that were used to install Windows and Microsoft Office on your computer. Print this information.

2. Get Belarc Advisor to create a detailed report of all software programs, hotfixes and hardware devices available in your system. Print this report as well.

3. Uninstall all software programs that had to be activated at the time of installation (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office). It’s important that you do a proper un-installation of these programs through Add/Remove Programs because simply deleting the folder from Program Files directory will not free up the license on the manufacturer’s activation server.

4. Install Driver Max to create a backup of all device drivers currently installed on your system. This will come handy after reinstallation incase you are not able to locate the driver installers on the vendor’s website.

5. Create a backup folder on c: (say c:\old_files) and add the following files to this folder

i. Your Outlook pst file that has all the mails, contacts, tasks and other Outlook items.
ii. If you have purchased any custom fonts, copy the relevant ttf files from the c:\windows\fonts folder. c. All documents, Live Writer drafts, pictures, music and videos from your My Document folder.
iii. Backup your custom dictionaries from Firefox, Microsoft Word, Live Writer, etc.
iv. Export all browser bookmarks and copy them to the backup folder.
v. Open your Firefox add-ons window, take a screenshot and paste that image in the backup folder. This is a good way to remember your favorite Firefox extensions.
vi. Export your podcast subscriptions in iTunes as as OPML (XML) file.
vii. Product keys (serial numbers) of all licensed software.

6. If you have a partitioned hard drive (say C: and D:), just copy* the backup folder created in step 5 to the D: drive. If you don’t have a partitioned hard disk or if the size of partition is small, install Live Mesh, add c:\old_files folder to your Live Mesh account and wait until all the files are uploaded on to the web. Mesh offers 5 GB of space and it may therefore be a good idea to burn all the heavy files (like videos, music, etc) onto a DVD instead of transferring them online.

*You can copy large folders across drives through Windows Explorer or the xcopy utility.

Re-Install Windows from Scratch

Now is the time to do a clean installation of Windows. This is probably the easiest part. You can either boot your computer from the original Windows installation CD** or, while you are running Windows, pop-in the installation CD and run the setup.exe program just like you would install any other Windows app. Always choose "Fresh Installation" instead of "Repair".

**If you installation media doesn’t include the latest service packs, try creating one yourself. Windows XP with SP3 is available as a downloadable ISO while you can slipstream SP1 into Vista fairly easily.

Post-Installation Tips

It can take around 30 minutes (or more) for the whole installation to finish. Now jump to the Windows Update website and let your browser download all the hotfixes, security updates, driver updates, etc. If your computer is unable to connect to the Internet, chances are that your computer doesn’t have the proper network drivers. No problem as you can easily get the drivers from the dump that you created using DriverMax utility.

If your display is acting funny or there’s no audio, just install the right drivers from the vendor’s website (preferred approach) or use your backup media. Once all the patches are installed, Windows Vista users can free up few gigabytes of disk space by making SP1 permanent. Windows XP users may skip this step.

Now turn on the Firewall and install all the other software programs and associated updates in any order. The next important step is to clone your disk image via DriveImage XML (free software), Acronis True Image or Norton Ghost. Windows Vista Ultimate also comes with a "Backup & Restore Center" that you may use to create a complete backup image of your entire computer to another drive, external disk or a DVD.

These disk images will come very handy after few months when your Windows PC get slow again. You won’t have to repeat the rebuilding exercise as the PC can be easily restored to the original state through these disk images.

Don’t experiment on your main PC

If you are tech enthusiast who loves to try new software / browser add-ons, I would strongly recommend that you don’t install these software on your main system - instead get Virtual PC (it’s free), create a Windows XP / Windows Vista virtual machine and use that environment as your new playground.

Another recommendation - do get a cane of compressed air to remove all the dirt from components inside the computer case. Sometimes software may not be the reason behind your slow and slugging PC - the culprit could be the dust sticking on the CPU heat sink.


For Bloggers: How to Distribute Your Blog through Amazon Kindle Store

How to Get Your Blog on Amazon Kindle

Almost all famous blogs are available for subscription through Amazon Kindle but if you are just a small publisher and like to get your own blog listed on the Kindle store, here’s what you may do:

Step 1: If your current RSS feed includes advertising (like AdSense for Feeds) or you offer only partial feeds, create a new feed for your blog that is both full-text and ad-free.

Step 2: Go to and fill their interest form. This is the official approach but Amazon says they have a huge backlog so you never know how long will it take for Amazon to approve your blog for the Kindle store.

Step 3: Other than the official Amazon channel, you may also want to partner with Newstex. Become a content provider at Newstex by filling this form and they’ll directly work with Amazon to get your blog listed on the Kindle store.

That’s how Digital Inspiration got into the Kindle store. There’s no listing fees and Amazon will pay you 30% of the revenue per Kindle user who subscribes to your blog.


Internet Disrupted across Asia and Middle East as Undersea Cables Cut Again

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The undersea cables linking Europe and Asia, which were damaged by ships early this year, have reportedly been cut again causing severe disruption to internet and voice traffic in the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

India seems to have been particularly hit with around 82% of voice traffic getting affected. I have been experiencing slow connection speed on my Airtel Broadband line since yesterday so this could be a possible reason.

France Telecom is estimating that the cables would be repaired by December 25th but the Internet traffic can only be restored by December 31st.

How Undersea Cables are Repaired

Here’s an animation showing how the damaged undersea cables are repaired by ships:


YouTube Star Dancing for Visa Currency Cards

The New York Times recently talked about people making a living (read six-figure income) from their videos on YouTube through advertisements but what they probably missed is this part where YouTube stars are getting featured in TV commercials due to the right popularity of their videos.

Matt Harding, popularly known as Dancing Matt on YouTube, is one such unique example. His video "Where the Hell is Matt" has been watched around 15 million times on YouTube and that prompted Visa to sign him for their TV commercials promoting Visa Currency Cards.

The 30 second commercial is now being aired across different countries and I just got a chance to see the ad (embedded above) during the India-England cricket match. Matt is not disclosing the financial arrangement with Visa but it’s the first case where viral videos made someone a TV star.


Training Presentation for Building Google Friendly Sites

google training presentation

The webmaster team at Google has put together this nice 20 minute video presentation with tips on how to improve your site’s presence on Google and how to deal with common issues like duplicate content, fluctuating PageRank, image search, etc.

You can download the presentation slides used in this video directly from Google Docs.