Searching the CPU Blog Space
As you might guess, I’m a big fan of web search. Disclosure: I work at Google now, but I’ve always felt that being able to effectively search is really a key skill, whether you’re searching in a library or in an online web-based corpus. And we know that being able to provide your users with easy-to-find information is absolutely essential.
A while back, Google introduced something called “Custom Search Engines” (CSE) – it’s basically a way to make a very simple widget that lets users search a particular piece of the web. Since you get to say which piece of the web gets searched, you can focus in on information that’s very targeted to your users.
Not long after Google launched CSE, I built one for our Creating Passionate Users blog. Just as a mini-experiment, I put the search tool at the bottom of the blog and wondered if anyone would find it and use it. (Sure, go ahead… you can look down there now. It’s really there.)
All it really does is (in my best techno-geek-speak) is a “site restriction operator over the CPU blog space…”
What that really means is that when you do a search using the widget at the bottom of each CPU posting, that search is limited to just the contents of all the CPU postings and the comments.
So if you really want to find that great blog post Kathy wrote about Icelandic horses, or the one about acrobatic dismounts, or maybe the sexy t-shirts post, all you’ve got to do is scroll to the bottom of the page and find the search box. It’ll look like this:
Figure 1: Note this is an IMAGE, the real thing is down below…
To use it, just type your search terms in the box on the left (where you see the words “Google Custom Search” in light gray). Hit enter, and, voila.. you’ll find the posts you seek.
If you have a website or run your own blog, you might want to consider adding your own Custom Search Engine to it. It’s really pretty simple - it took me about 3 minutes to make our CPU Custom Search Engine, then another 5 minutes to fit it into the Typepad HTML.
As I mentioned, I dropped the search box onto the bottom of our CPU blog posting page. I know, I know… that’s a terrible place to put it if you’re looking for traffic. But I was really curious how many people read all the way to the bottom of the post and would then use the feature.
Here’s the answer:
Figure 2: Statistics of the CPU Custom Search Engine. Uses per day since startup.
As you can see, we’re slowly picking up more and more traffic over time. This is a typical adoption curve for a well-hidden feature. It’s been used a little bit each day. Notice how use typically drops on the weekends. Is that because we tend to post midweek, or are all you readers checking out CPU at work??
Now that we have some experience with it, it might be time to move it up to the top of the page.
Consider adding custom search as a way to quickly and easily increase the overall usability of your web site / blog / whatever… Since it’s now pretty easy, you no longer have any excuse for making your users work to find the information they really want about your product.
Just out of curiosity, now that the secret is out, how many of you noticed the search box down there, and never tried it out? If not, can you say why?
And if you have tried it out, did it work for you?
Inquiring minds want to know! We're experimenting just a bit to see if we can't make CPU an ever-better place to learn the latest and greatest. Tell us what you think!
Call for Head First Design Meditations
We've got books covering programming techniques, APIs, idioms, and of course design patterns. But do you ever find yourself needing some software design insight, wisdom, or just a little creative push?
Although I'm not a musician, I've always been inspired by Brian Eno's work called Oblique Strategies, which consists of nothing more than a deck of cards in a black box. Each card in the deck contains a working principle that Eno used in the studio in a pressure situation or in a situation where he just needed a little mind jogging. In those moments he could turn to the deck and choose a card at random.
The instructions that came with the cards were as follows:
These cards evolved from our separate observations on the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were identified as they were happening, sometimes they were formulated.
They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case,the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.
Here's a few examples of cards:
Honour thy error as a hidden intention.
Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do & do the last thing on the list.
Don't be frightened of cliches.
Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics.
Only one element of each kind.
Now these don't translate all that well to software development (although I'm sure I'm going to get email arguing that they do), however I personally would love to have a deck like this based on the software creative act (rather than music). The point isn't so much to get you out of a sticky situation (although it might), but rather to add a little inspiration and insight into your day.
So, here's what we're going to do: We're going to start collecting short quotes of software design wisdom, insight, little idioms and perhaps some outright quotes from some notable people in the field. These are going to be combined into a REAL deck called Head First Design Meditations. Here's a couple prototype cards (maybe not the best, this was more a graphic exploration):
We definitely need YOUR input to build this deck, so please send us your submissions. We'll post our favorite candidates here on the site, and possibly even allow people to vote on them. If you submit an idea that makes it in the deck we'll also have a nice card that has all the contributors names on it. Also, everyone who submits an on-topic entry will be entered in a drawing, and we'll give at least a half-dozen away when the deck is finished. The Head First gang will sit down and judge the entries and pick the final deck. We're not quite sure how big the deck will be yet, but we're hoping to allow preorders and also have them for purchase on Amazon.
Here are the submission guidelines:
(1) Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org (feel free to post your ideas as comments as well, but we still need the email).
(2) Keep your submissions short, remember this has to fit on a playing card!
(3) You may submit as many ideas as you like.
(4) In your email indicate the source of the quote (or if it is yours, give us permission to use it).
(5) Make sure we have your name and mailing address.
That's it! If you like the idea please help spread the word!
Update: We've now got a new, special page for Design Meditations
Retro Information Management Continued...
Well who knew, but after posting on the topic of throwing out your PDA and replacing it with a Hipster PDA or a Moleskine, sure enough the Wall Street Journal came out with an article this morning on just that topic. If you're not a WSJ subscriber, there's an excerpt on the topic at the moleskinerie blog, here's a small bit:
"LOOSE WIRE By JEREMY WAGSTAFF
Turning Over a New Leaf
January 14, 2005
It may seem like a backward step, and not the sort of thing a technology columnist would suggest, but have you ever thought of ditching your laptop, personal digital assistant or smart-phone for a pen and paper?
That's what an increasing number of people seem to be doing, and, having tried it myself, I heartily recommend it. The thinking is basically this: While we have pushed hard for our computers to do as much as they can for us, there are some things they haven't been able to do, or at least, aren't very good at. One is thinking for us. Another is making us physically more attractive (unless you're into online dating and know how to digitally touch up a photo of yourself). The third is being there for us when we most need them....
You'll also find lots more on the topic on Jeremy's blog.
While this topic is fascinating, I can't help but wonder if there is an application that would allow us to mix these two (bits and moleskines). Something like an iPhoto app that is all ready to scan your moleskine entries (writing, notes, pictures) and organizes them, OCRs what it can and allows a bit of meta data to be exposed (both implicit and explicit). From there you can share them just like iPhoto (to a web page, email, or a blog).