Tag Archive for: google

How to stop posting public Google+ Communities posts to your profile

06 Mar

I cannot believe I did not know this.

Ever since Google+ Communities became available, people complained about their Community posts automatically popping up on their profiles. This has been the default for public Communities. In fact, many Community owners on finding this out killed their public Communities and started over doing private ones.

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Using instant Gmail aliases to track sources of inbox spam

15 Jan

It is a surprisingly little known fact that Gmail and Google Apps for Businesses customers can use instant aliases to better track potential spam mail originating from singing up for (free) services.

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Hangout on Air: Following up on the Nexus 4 Switch

10 Jan

German journalist Gunnar Sohn asked me for an interview via Google Hangout On Air for his popular German blog Ich sag mal. Here it is as a follow up on my now widespread post about switching from the iPhone 5 to Nexus 4 (in German only).

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How to find people on Google+: A brief update on Google+ Counter

28 Aug

It’s only been some four weeks, since I started Google+ Counter. Initially, I just wanted to play with some  advanced web technologies, sort of a proof-of-concept project.

Even in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have expected it to become only half as popular, as it already has:

  • http://gpc.fm is now visited more than 75.000 times a day
  • We are crawling roughly 85.000 profiles, among them the most active Google+ users
  • Users have conducted more than 150.000 searches
  • The average time a user is spending on the site is 3:34 minutes, which is pretty high
  • More than two third of Google+ Counter visitors return to the site more than once
  • 57% of the visitors are based in the United States, closely followed by German, British, Spanish and French folks
  • Google+ Counter has been covered by many popular technology blogs, with The Next Web being one of the strongest referrers
  • Even the fine folks at Freakonomics seem to love it
  • Within the first eight hours after introducing interest tags, users have suggested more than 1.100 tags to be added to the system, most of which we’ve approved immediately (for details read on)
  • Even Bradley Horowitz, Google’s Vice President Product Management and main person in charge for Google+ in an email told me “We love your site”

No deep integration… yet

As the more technical part of my audience knows, there is yet no official Google+ API, which would allow a much deeper integration with the network. This means, Google+ Counter literally parses the raw HTML to do it’s magic. The absence of a programming interface is also the reason, why I cannot yet implement some pretty obvious features.

A prominent example being to circle a complete list with just one click. I’ve prepared the Google+ Counter code to be completely API ready. So once Google opens the doors for developers, expect Google+ Counter to offer some cool new stuff within hours.

If you are a user of the very popular list feature, you might have wondered why Google+ Counter does not yet offer sign-up and sign-in functionality but instead uses list-related passwords. That decision is actually also driven by the lack of an official Google+ API. If you’re like me, chances are you already have way too many logins and accounts for various outlets on the Web.

I deliberately did not want to add an additional one to your list. It is pretty safe to expect, that Google will at some stage provide an OAuth like delegated login mechanism for third party services. Given that Google+ Counters services are deeply tied to it anyway, I rather want to wait and see what Google is going to offer.

Hopefully, it will create a greater user experience than adding anything proprietary to the site.

It’s not about statistics

My initial idea was grouped around numbers, most followed, top growing and top losing users.

However, I soon changed the direction. Many discussion on Google+ have proven, that those numbers really don’t mean anything. The most followed – or, to say it the Google way – most circled user doesn’t necessarily have to be very interesting. For example, Mark Zuckerberg, who still leads many charts, has not yet said a single word on Google+.

And while the Most Famous Ladies page is still the fourth most visited on Google+ Counter, I’m not actively working a lot on the Halls of Fame, which constituted the main part of the site, when it launched.

Instead, it’s about discovery

There are now three main areas, Google+ Counter focuses on:

  • Helping you finding interesting new folks on Google+
  • Providing means to share lists of profiles, e.g. for a specific interest group, event participants, company etc.
  • Promoting your profile and making it more discoverable

Everything I added to the site during the last two weeks, drives one of the above objectives.

Here’s a brief rundown of the stuff rolled out since my last post:

  • Search: Pretty obvious one, but not that easy to implement. Initially, I planned to separate profile and list search, but ended up unifying everything. The search feature is not yet incorporating the recently added interest tags, but will soon.
  • Open lists: I planned to support open lists – everybody can join a list – from day one, but had a delay in implementing it. There are now user curated lists comprising more than 2000 selected profiles!
  • Improved algorithm for most popular lists: Initially, I planned the lists feature to purely allow people to share profiles with their social graph. I never really thought of a “Most Popular Lists” page for Google+ Counter. I soon found out, that this was exactly, why many users came to the site the first place! In a first attempt, Popular Lists simply ordered the lists by member count. This opened the doors for “list spam”, people were starting to add as many profiles as possible, just to rank high on the landing page. I subsequently fine tuned the algorithm that is tagging lists as popular. It’s now a vector calculated – among other factors – from list views, member count, follower count per member, exposed list owner/disclosed list owner, relationship between list owner and profiles on the list.
  • Bug fixing: Though I carefully review all changes prior to pushing them to the production servers, given the many changes and enhancements, there were many minor bugs. My number one source for scouting those are my users. I don’t have a testing department. It’s really just me. So I’m glad for every email I get that helps improving the overall quality of the service.

Interest Tagging: The most important addition since launch

Inspired by a post from Robert Scoble which, unfortunately, I cannot find anymore, I’ve started to work on what will probably be the most important addition to the Google+ Counter features: Interest Tagging.

In a nutshell, interest tagging allows you to attach tags to your profile, which will (soon) facilitate a powerful new search capability. Think about curating a list of your hobbies, interests, passion or profession. Here is how it looks like (click to enlarge):

When submitting your profile to our index, you can now add up to seven interests from our growing database of tags. You can add more at any time later. If you have already been in the Google+ Counter index before, the procedure is exactly the same, just resubmit your profile along with some tags that best describe what you want to be associated with. We’ll attach the new tags to your profile.

While search on Google+ itself is already pretty good, I believe that there is a huge difference between purely algorithmic search and letting users tag their profiles. Actually, I make for a very good example: One of my long-time hobbies is close-up-magic. However, I never ever discussed it on Google+. It’s also not part of my public profile. It’s not that I’m hiding it, it’s just that I focus on the more technical part of my persona on Google+. However, I’d love to get in touch with other “magicians”. Adding interest tags will make it easy and simple for others to find me for keywords, that I have chosen.

When designing the feature, we I one particular challenge: I wanted to make absolutely sure, that all submissions are genuinely been made by the person behind the respective profile. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken long until we would have seen “Adult Movies” attached to “Barack Obama” or even worse.

Without an official Google+ API, there was just no easy way, to programmatically check authenticity.

Therefore, I’ve introduced a two step process: Once you attach tags to your profile, those requests are enqueued within our system. You are then asked to add a unique verification link to your Google+ profile. Obviously, this second step can only be concluded by the person who owns – or at least has admin level access – to the Google+ profile in question. Our crawlers check for the existence of the verification link within 24 hours after the tag request has been received. You can also trigger ad hoc verification by visiting the verification link at any time (even beyond the 24 hour period).

This is very similar to the well known sign-up > email confirmation link > click confirmation link scenario, it just uses Google+ as the verification source.

Once verified, you can remove the link from your profile.

I’m very happy to report that more than 1.200 users have completed verification within the first 12 hours since the feature launched earlier tonight.

What’s next

Here is the list of stuff which ranks high on my list for the days ahead:

  • Incorporating interest tags into search: Personally, this is my favorite one and I’m really looking forward to start coding. I envision a search where while you keep adding and removing interests (in a very graphical, drag-and droppy way), relevant profiles dynamically get added and removed from the results list. This will likely make for a great resource to find people with similar interests.
  • Incorporating interest tags into the rest of the site: Profiles are everywhere on Google+ Counter, from the Halls of Fame to the user curated lists. Interest tags are not yet displayed anywhere. This is an easy one, so expect to see it soon.
  • Provide bulk import and export for lists: Starting a list is easy with the current, ajax-ified user interface. However, sometimes you already have a large Circle inside Google+ and just want to transfer it into a list. No API, no elegant way, yet. Google already allows you to export your data into .csv files. I’m working on an importer, which will make bulk adding members to lists dramatically easier.
  • Natively support profile suggestions: Today, if you decide against an open list and want to remain in charge, chances are, you get swamped via Google+ with requests from others to be added to your list. Since the launch of the lists feature, I planned to create a more integrated experience. The idea is, that visitors can submit an “Add me to your list” request via Google+ Counter. List owners will get a dashboard that easily allows them to accept or reject.
  • List statistics: Internally, Google+ Counter already counts various factors about the visitors of user curated lists. I’m planning to expose some of the data to list owners, making it more fun for them to come back and see how their lists are doing.

Supporting the project

A few days ago, somebody sent an email to support@gpc.fm, asking the tech support department for help.

This was funny in many ways. For once, there really is no support department. Google+ Counter is entirely done by me. From infrastructure to design. From prototyping to coding. Frontend and backend and Customer Service. And I love it. For developers, there’s really nothing more rewarding than experiencing users loving your creation.

I have been asked how one can support the project.

While I resist the temptation to put ads on the site, I obviously do invest a lot of time and given the current growth, scalable hosting and smooth operation becomes a greater issue. I’ve therefore added two ways for you to support Google+ Counter:

  • Featured users: Promote your profile, brand or services through Google+ Counter. Just head over to http://gpc.fm/FeaturedUsers and check out the available options.
  • Donations: If you want to support Google+ Counter, but don’t want to do it publicly, I accept donations via PayPal. Every single dollar is welcomed.

Wow, that was a lengthy post…

I once again would like to thank everybody for feedback, ideas and suggestions. It’s you guys, motivating me to do what I do.

If you want to get in touch, find me on Google+ or Twitter.

Popular Google+ user lists on gpc.fm

05 Aug

A few days ago, I’ve launched the lists feature at Google+ Counter.

Within the first week, users have created more than 1.200 lists – way more, than I ever expected in my wildest dreams. And the number keeps growing.

So, what are Google+ Counter lists?

In short, gpc.fm provides you with an easy and elegant way to create and maintain lists of interesting Google+ users.

There currently is no method on Google+ to publish your Circles – they are always private. However, you might want to publish lists of interesting profiles with. Think Android Developers on Google+ or My favorite Baseball Players. gpc.fm gives you exactly that and even allows to crowdsource list creation!

Why should I use it?

While you could create your own webpage with links to profiles, using gpc.fm to curate your lists has some major advantages:

  • Keeping your lists up to date with gpc.fm is straight forward and easy.
  • Our crawlers constantly parse and update all profiles in our index. This means, your lists will always show the latest follower counts and occupation for all members.
  • In case a member leaves Google+, or her profile gets pulled, gpc.fm automatically updates your lists. No manual intervention required. Your list always looks fine.
  • With the powerful guest password option, you can allow others to add members. This is a great way to crowdsource list growth.
  • gpc.fm is visited by more than 30.000 users per day. The Popular Lists page is a great way for others to discover your list. At the moment, we include all lists with more than ten members!

How does it work?

To start your own list, visit gpc.fm and click the Your Own Lists button.

If you additionally set the Guest Password, your list is prepared for crowdsourced operation. People who know the Guest Password can add new members to the list, but they cannot delete anybody.

The idea is, that you might want to share the Guest Password with others, but keep your Owner Password secret.

Next you add profiles by simply copying and pasting the URLs to Google+ Counter and hitting the Add Profile button

The unique Google+ profile URL is in your browser’s address bar when you click on the Google+ user’s name.

Once you click Add Profile, gpc.fm checks whether the user is already part of our index, reaches out to Google+ to parse and update the profile data and adds it to your list. You can then paste the next profile URL and add it, too.

Finally, don’t forget to Save Your List!

When others visit your list via the permalink, members are automatically sorted by follower count, with the most prominent one at the top.

How do I edit my list?

At the top of each list, you find the Edit link. Click it and you’re asked for a password. Depending on whether you submit the Guest or the Owner password, you can either just add new members, or also change the list title and remove members.

In case your list is a long one, you also find the edit list at the end of the page.

Is there a list of lists anywhere?

Yes! I’ve just added this tonight and rushed it out, so chances are, it’s still a bit rough around the edges. The Popular Lists on Google+ Counter page at http://gpc.fm/l/all shows our most popular lists. Popularity is calculated based on visitors. Also, we only include lists with at minimum ten members.

Any plans for the future?

Google+ Counter is just one of my side projects. I love the open web, web development and culture. That’s really the only reason why I created it. So please don’t expect a formal roadmap or anything similar. Most of the stuff, that’s on my list for the next few nights is based on user feedback.

Here’s what I will definitely add over the next few days:

  • List descriptions: This seems to be the #1 requests. In addition to the list title, you will be able to provide a more detailed description.
  • Open lists: If you don’t want to maintain some level of control over who can add members, you will be able to allow guest editing without the need to provide any password.
  • Profile search: The ability to search for profiles in our index.
  • Profile statistics: We keep updating each of the more than 32.000 profiles in our index on an hourly base. However, I currently do not provide detailed stats, like follower count over time, etc. Those stats are next on my list.
With that said, I’ll call it a day. It’s 3:09 am here in Germany, and I can hardly keep my eyes open.
Thanks for all your great feedback. I’d love if you spread the word.
As always, I’m available at Twitter and Google+ should you want to get in touch.

A brief update on Google Plus Counter (gpc.fm)

30 Jul

When I started creating Google Plus Counter, I didn’t expect it to become only half as popular as it already did.

Here’s a brief update on stuff that I’m currently working on:

It’s kind of strange to see many lists lead by Google+ members, who actually never said anything publicly. The most prominent example being Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO. The updated detail popover, the one which animates in when you hover over a profile, now shows a little “has no posts” text, lowering your expectation if you actually plan to visit a profile.

I’ve also added a link that let’s you sort of blank-out those profiles:

I hope this will make it easier for you to discover new people on Google+ and fill your Circles!

While the Hall of Fame will continue to include no-posters, the new Top with Posts hall at http://gpc.fm/posters only lists active members. It is important to note, that my crawlers only see publicly available posts. Chances are, no-posters did share stuff within their circles, only.

I’ve also improved some of the internal mechanics for the site. The crawlers written in Python already did a pretty good job of updating the more than 30.000 profiles in gpc.fm’s index hourly, but they occasionally  missed to parse some of the profile info correctly. I’ve ironed out most of these bugs and at the same time improved speed. The crawlers have also been offloaded to a separate machine to keep up the great speed of the site.

Initially, the sidebar navigation and the suggested users have been coded into the dynamic part of the site. I’ve factored those snippets out. They are now static elements reused across the entire site and re-rendered hourly (like all the halls).

People have created more than 1.000 lists with the lists feature, introduced a few days ago. You can access it yourself at http://gpc.fm/lists. Lists provide you with an easy way to share Google+ Profiles. One good example is the Android Developers list at http://gpc.fm/l/androiddev.

I am totally aware, that the inability to edit lists once you’ve created them is desperately missing, but I wanted to get lists out first and see how it does.

Well, the wait is almost over!

I’ve finished all coding and am currently testing the implementation. Soon at the bottom of Google Plus Counter lists you’ll find an option to add or modify members:

In fact, the Android Developers list linked above has already been enabled for editing. I plan to roll out list editing this Sunday night (CET). You don’t have to do anything, gpc.fm will re-render all existing lists and add the required markup. Just make sure that you set a password, when creating lists. Should you have forgotten to do so, contact me at Google+ and I’ll be happy to help.

A final remark: As described a bit more in-depth in a previous blog post, most parts of gpc.fm are actually static.

This has turned out to be a great design decision as the site is hit by some serious traffic after having been featured by The Next Web, WebProNews and others. Technically, whenever somebody visits one of the Halls or a List, no PHP and no database queries are involved at all.

Instead, the worker processes written in Python are constantly rendering static HTML and move the final pages into the correct places inside the folder structure, thus keeping the content dynamic without passing every single HTTP request down the stack.

I’d like to thank everybody for the great feedback I’ve received and sharing gpc.fm with their peers.

As always, I appreciate getting in touch with my readers, visitors and users. Find me at Google+ or Twitter.

Last but not least I’d like to thank Sagar Kamdar who is with Google and has helped me setting up the verified author relationship for Google Plus Counter. If you search for my service, my Google+ Profile now shows up within the search results!

This is super cool and Sagar has been extremely responsive – and patient. This seems to be true for all of the Google employees these days and I truly admire the spirit and culture Google manages to keep up despite it’s enormous growth.

The story behind Google+ Counter, now tracking 30.000+ members

16 Jul

When Google+ launched and I got one of the early invites some two weeks ago, I was pretty damn excited. Not only is Google+ a welcome other place on the Web to hang out – no pun intended –  I was also looking forward to start some coding I had in mind for longer.

I started working on Google+ Counter a few days later and within just three days, more than 30.000 Google+ members submitted their profiles.

So what exactly is Google+ Counter?

Well, first and foremost it’s my personal proof of concept for a couple of technologies I planned to play with for quite some time.

At the moment of this writing, the only visible part is the Hall of Fame, a nice collection of the top followed people on Google+. Hover over an image and you get some details. Click it and you’re taken to the member profile.

I do, however, already collect much more than just that.

And am planning on giving users back more than just follower counts soon. Who needs those scores, anyway?

Before I move on, let’s discuss privacy and Google+ Counter for a moment.

It’s as simple as this: Google+ Counter can only access what’s visible publicly.

I don’t use any special API (in fact, there is no Google+ API, yet) nor can my scripts log into Google+ as you, a process usually established via OAuth. Google+ Counter to Google+ really just looks like any anonymous visitor. It’s not even signed in.

All the crawler scripts see is the minimum information, you’ve decided to make available publicly.

I’ve been intrigued by the technological challenges of creating services that scale for almost my entire professional life. For example, over at GrandCentrix we run a platform that drives the mobile experience for Germany’s Pop Idol TV show. When the show’s final airs, we literally see hundreds of thousands requests coming in within seconds.

Handling that kind of load is not easy to solve with out-of-the-box recipes.

But dealing with peak load is only one aspect of large-scale services, handling massive amount of data is another one. And Google+ was sort of the ideal playground for me to start some experiments.

I built the frontend with PHP and jQuery. Don’t laugh, please. I know, it’s way more on vogue doing it in Rails these days. However, as there would not be so many dynamic parts on the site anyway, I chose to go for the old and reliable horse that is PHP.

Wait a minute? Not so many dynamic parts? Isn’t Google+ Counter all about analyzing a social network that is sort of a continuous moving target?

Sure it is. But the frontend part of Google+ Counter – and that’s the one leveraging a bit of PHP – comprises almost completely of static HTML pages.

Early on, I made a design decision to move all the hard and CPU intensive work to background processes running asynchronously.

Actually, the only processing happening in real-time when somebody visits is when users add a new profile. Google+ Counter instantly reaches out to the new user’s profile, grabs a name and a follower count and provides immediate feedback.

The profile URL then gets normalized and enqueued for later processing.

Throughout the day, a set of hardcore Python worker processes is launched in 30 minute, 60 minute and daily intervals to build the static pages of the site.

The Hall of Fame is as plain a HTML page as it can get. No PHP scripts and no database roundtrips are involved at all. The worker processes take care for everything, from updating profile links to adjusting the paginated navigation at the top of the page.

By far the most difficult part was dealing with the data changing over time.

A newly added profile is added to the index within a maximum of one hour after it has been submitted. I’ve chosen this slightly larger interval because the initial parsing of a complete profile can take some time, depending on the number of public posts etc.

Subsequently, Google+ Counter updates all of its data on an half hourly base. That means, we re-crawl all of the 30.000+ profiles every 30 minutes and extract profile and additional stream information. This includes keywords found in public posts.

We also keep a complete history, so we will be able to identify trends shortly. Not only in follower count but also hot topics, areas of expertise and much more. I’m not planning to offer a Google+ search engine, as I’m pretty sure, Google will add that shortly.

But it opens for a number of interesting opportunities, I’ll talk about in another post.

The Hall of Fame is updated hourly and it always incorporates the latest available data.

I use a number of technologies, from compressing data to map reduce to allow the worker scripts to scale beautifully. So far, 30.000 listed profiles do not seem to do much harm, so I’m eager to see what will happen, when I hit the 100.000 mark or even larger numbers.

So far, creating Google+ Counter has been a fun experience.

I’ve been focussing on developing mobile apps for some time. Most of those require some sort of backend either for content management or driving application logic. I found returning full force to Web Development and playing with large datasets very rewarding. And I hope, what I’ve learned will also allow me to build better mobile experiences.

If you want to get in touch or follow along with the evolution of Google+ Counter, you can find me on Google+ and Twitter.

Google+ vanity URLs are here – and they do not start with gplus.to

05 Jul

It hasn’t taken long for some third parties to build services on top of Google’s new social network, Google+.

The folks who brought us TwitterCounter, have started Google+ Statistics and somebody else offers the gplus.to redirect service. From discussions I’ve followed over at the network I’ve learned, that some users initially thought, gplus.to was an original Google initiative. Well, it is not.

Also, given that there is no disclaimer and no imprint whatsoever on the gplus.to website, I’m holding back at the moment.

It seems to be a little known fact, that every Google+ user already has sort of a vanity URL.

For example, the URL showing up for my profile in my browser is https://plus.google.com/110025177084709634671 and that’s the one I’ve referenced in other places.

However, turns out that my Google Profile address – the one I’ve had for years – does work, too. So the shorter and speaking pointer to me on Google+ is: http://profiles.google.com/ralf.rottmann.

By default, it links to your posts tab. You can, however, attach whatever works on the longer version and it’ll work here, too. So http://profiles.google.com/ralf.rottmann/about will link to my about tab.

ralf.rottmann is the username associated with my Google account. It’s the part prefixing the @gmail.com.

Before you sign up for the next suspicious Google+ vanity URL service, you might consider just using what Google has already built for you! It’s easier to remember, will be reliable as long as Google keeps up the service and likely even fits on your business card.

If you want to read more about Google’s exciting new service, just put me into one of your circles.

Confirmed: Google+ iOS app is awaiting approval from Apple!

04 Jul

Today, Google’s own Erica joy has confirmed, that the iOS app has in fact been submitted to Apple for review some time ago. It is now stuck in review and waiting for approval. Erica actually posted it to the public on the Google+ network itself:

While her initial post related to the iPhone she clarified, that it’ll likely be a universal app, one that runs on the iPad and iPhone: “Sorry, even though I have an iPad and not an iPhone, I always call iOS apps “iPhone apps”. I’m sure its something to do with conditioning.”

Google+ has been available as an Android app since it launched for a very limited field trial earlier this week. It works pretty well in Mobile Safari but some features are limited or not exactly optimized for an iOS audience.

Hopefully, Apple will approve Google+ for iOS rather soon.

I frequently discuss Google+ related stuff on the network, so if you want to check it out, here’s a link to my public posts. (You don’t have to be a Google+ member to follow those.)

The blogosphere is a buzz about the Google Nexus One – but why?

03 Jan

Okay, a few days from now Google will officially start selling the Google Phone Nexus One.

If you have not been living under a rock there’s absolutely no way you don’t know about it, yet.

Otherwise, Engadget should bring you up to speed. That’s obviously also, where the image credit goes to.

Here is my question for you:

Do you see anything revolutionary with the Google Nexus One, that would justify the noise? To me it appears as yet another HTC manufactured device running a slightly tuned version of Android that ships unlocked for US$ 500.

Apparently no multi-touch, though Android has built-in support for it, and nothing else which sets it apart from the Motorola Droid/Milestone and other Android powered devices, except better hardware specs.

So why the buzz? Simply because it has got a Google sticker on it? Or, because it’s unlocked? You can get a factory unlocked iPhone 3GS in Europe for US$ 500 and run it with whatever carrier you like.

Irony warning ahead: I would understand some of the excitement if the updated version of Android would finally add support for IMAP folders. The IMAP protocol is only some 25 years old, so I totally understand why it took Google more than two years to support those on a platform intended primarily for Internet enabled smart phones. Email is such an edge-case these days anyway…

Seriously, what’s so exciting about the Nexus One?

© Copyright 2017 by Ralf Rottmann.