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on click tracking, logfiles--and back to google

So I was wondering today what was happening with one of my logfiles, which couldn't be parsed (This after spending ONE HOUR cleaning up a rash of spam comments on this weblog). The parsing was failing even though the log format was fine, and I finally identified the culprit as a line which included something similar to the following baffling text in the referer field:

onmousedown=\"return clk(2,this)\"

This was, needless to say, extremely weird. After some digging I found this thread at webmasterworld. Quote:

I know, Google has been sporadically tracking clicks on result listings through redirects. It looks like click tracking is obviously now a default but instead of rewriting the listings' urls to redirects, the tracking is done through a "hidden" JavaScript function that activates a image request to track the click + position of the listing.

[...]

The listings' urls within the serps look like this:
<a href="http:*//www.webmasterworld.com/forum3/" onmousedown="return clk(2,this)">Google News</a>

By itself, tracking is a teeny bit worrying. But tracking that destroys my ability to parse logfiles without fuss is evil. Evil I tellsya!

Okay, maybe not Evil. But certainly a problem. I've never seen this tracking myself before from Google (see below), not sure if Google is aware of the problem with this method--Hopefully they'll fix it.

Speaking of tracking.

Currently with Google when I see tracking (which happens more and more often these days) I see something of the form:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=1
&q=http://www.dynamicobjects.com/d2r/archives/002587.html&e=7898

While Yahoo! Search shows the following:

http://rds.yahoo.com/S=2766279/K
=d2r+new+yahoo+search/v=2/TID=F223_45/SID=w/l=WS1/R=1/H=0/*-
http://www.dynamicobjects.com/d2r/archives/002587.html
Yikes! (Sorry for the line breaks, those are some pretty long and ugly URLs!).

Now, since the new Yahoo! Search came online I have never, never seen a link NOT tracked. They are tracking everything. And as the example above shows, Yahoo! tracks not only what you're clicking, but also the query and a number of other things that are unknown. Is that a cookie value there? Are they tying cookie IDs to searches? Their privacy policy didn't clarify this, as it has no reference to tracking that I can see.

I switched to Yahoo! a few weeks ago, and there are a number of other things that I find annoying about their new search. While the results are relevant and it's generally fast, I find the "sponsor results" which appear both at the top and at the bottom something that is pretty intrusive. In only two weeks I've learned to ignore them completely (I never click on them, barely see them) but now they're getting annoying. Sometimes I have to scroll down to get past the "sponsor results" which is ridiculous. Not only that, but the constant tracking slows down the request, if not by much, at least noticeably (something that doesn't happen with Google in my experience).

Finally, a small point: the page is too busy. It's weird that I feel this way now, but that's what it seems. The current Google results page is too busy as well, but less so. Then through Aaron I found a way to activate the new (as yet unreleased) Google look. So I tried it, and I liked it!. I like it better than anything else out there. Fast, and simple (the ads look a little weird without clear borders though, and make them a bit confusing). Let's hope that hack that makes it available doesn't stop working anytime soon.

So I'm switching back to Google, and Google is again my default in the Firefox/Firebird search box. All the reasons are fine, but in the end, it's as simple as this: at the moment, minor problems aside, Google is a better product, period.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 3:51 PM

reversing the privacy flow

In a post talking about Python Jon mentioned, at the end, this (in reference to an email quote he made with permission):

Emails from Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, include a .sig that ends with:
this email is: [ ] bloggable [ x ] ask first [ ] private
Great idea! I've added this to my own .sig.
It is a great idea (I'll follow the meme as well :)). This led me to thinking further about what's underlying including a signature like that. It's not only a matter of privacy, but also of trust, ie., if you don't trust whoever you're sending the email to, that signature is worthless.

So this is a kind of purely social control on the openness of a digital medium (in the case, email), and it underscores is that we need to start reversing the privacy flow of applications. What I mean by that is that many applications today (including most current social networking apps) don't have a poor "understanding" of privacy as much as they have a bent towards assuming that everything's public unless you say so. The notion of privacy "flows" from the user to the application, requesting adjustments to the user, instead of the user giving up elements of his privacy to the application (reverse flow). I'm sure many people are ok with that, but I prefer the idea that everything is private and you can open up elements as you prefer.

This makes it more difficult to do things like searching and browsing, since not all the information is public. So there has to be a fundamental design decision made to enable this behavior.

Plus: I find it interesting that the first option is "bloggable" which is basically as public as anything gets. Bloggable replaces public, and it's reasonable in the context of blogs as "information that can spread out of control." Could we not have a category called "public for coworkers" or "public for your friends"? Yes. But in this case the levers we can pull are useless, because your trust relationship (which determines whether that message is useful or not) is with the first person; once the information goes beyond that trust relationship (eg., to your trusted contact's coworkers) then they are not bound by it. Sure, your trusted contact might point out that it shouldn't go beyond them, but when they decide not to mention it they will have to act not based on their trust relationship of your contact, but on the aggregate of your contact's trust relationship to them and the perceived value (for them) of your contact's trust relationship to your (whom they presumably don't know). That simple statement, "bloggable" is an acknowledgement that once you go your immediate trust circle you have for all purposes lost whatever control you had of the information spread. All or nothing.

Makes sense? I think a diagram might be in order ...

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 12:34 PM

the wonders of SSH

I've been using SSH more and more (for a number of reasons that include a restrictive internet access setup at the office until everything is set correctly). Tunneling X Window over it is common, but sometimes I forget that it's useful for almost anything you need to do that involves sockets. For example, today I set it up to tunnel SQL access, using PuTTY and these instructions. Not too complex, and much more secure. :)

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 2:11 AM

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