Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fixing the bad Google Reader redesign with a userscript

Updated  16-01-2012: list view preview improvements were added in early December and added fixes in mid January for sometimes improper loading of additional posts due to Google script bug

Updated 08-11-2011:  Fixed a regression that was not properly calculating the iframe height for previews. FIXED. thank you to @addadi for pointing this out

  • Add preview to list view
  • Add style a couple of style improvements to list view

PS: If you like the script please share it with others.

Download the google reader script directly from

Updated 07-11-2011:  Now you can toggle open or closed the nav sidebar pressing Shift+W.  Hope to add a little icon in the next version. thank you to @magorrias for the suggestion

Updated 04-11-2011:  I have made the following improvements to the script since yesterday:
  • Better layout for search area and fixed search problems (it was a z-index problem)
  • Reduced whitespace in the nav bar and slightly smaller fonts
  • Preview Function - Now you can see the full post inside gReader (similar functionality to Google preview enhanced which broke with the gReader redesign). It works by clicking the preview link as well as using the keystroke SHIFT+V.  It also manages the number of IFRAMES created to keep memory usage reasonable.
Download the updated google reader script

This will be a short post. I may write something later commenting on the bad design choices I see Google making. I have a hard time believing that they have solid data supporting these changes to the UI of various sites, especially Google Reader. As a daily user this change has been a step backwards in a big way in the name of "unity".

OK, for those who are interested I have made a Greasemonkey, Scriptish, Chrome userscript that vastly improves a lot of the problems with the latest redesign of Google Reader
  • Greatly shortened the height of the fixed header area....removing the logo, collapsing the search with the other feed/nav buttons
  • Made the subscribe button a normal color since it is something not used very often and should not scream read by default
  • Tightened up the nav area to make better use of the vertical space
  • Added a border separating the nav area from the post/feed area
  • Added a top and bottom border to better identify the currently active post
Here are the links. Works with scriptish, greasemonkey on firefox as well as Google Chrome.

Download the google reader script directly from

Pimp My gReader Script Homepage
This is Google Reader after using the script....making a bit of lemonade from a lemon of a redesign

This is gReader using the Preview functionality

To Do for the Future:
  • The search is not working completely well with this script.  I will need to make some adjustments
  • If no one else does it soon, to fix the script that allows for full post previews in Google Reader that broke with the redesign.  It was part of BetterGReader and I hope someone will fix that soon. Otherwise, I'll add it to this script.
  • Add a feature to collaspe / expand the side nav bar - Shift + W

Friday, September 30, 2011

Google Analytics Premium - Finally what I have been looking for

I am very excited about GA Premium announced yesterday.  I am hopeful that the pricing is reasonable because it seems like a great leap forward for businesses who find GA today a bit too limited in speed, functionality, and especially "fast-access-mode friendly".

Also I am very curious as to when it will be available outside of the US, Canada & UK.  Perhaps we could just signup via the UK and then use it for all of our other sites...?

Great intro commercial for the new service.  The only thing is that it seems perhaps a bit too inspired from a 2009 video from Grasshopper communications.  There sure seems a be a recent wave of videos/motion graphics pieces that all come from a common ancestor.  Mannatecheurope soon after Grasshopper seemed to have done a complete ripoff of Grasshopper the same year it came out. I wonder who was the first to do this type of piece. I think the first video that I can remember with some of this same style-DNA or at least something that could be an ancestor were the end credits from An Inconvenient Truth.

Look at the similarities between these 3 videos and you'll see what I mean.  You even get a nice audio effect if you start the first two videos at the same time (or start video 2, let it run 10 seconds and then start video 1). They complement each other quite well.

If you know of any other similar videos with the same DNA, include them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Updated Script: Yahoo! Mail Ad Removal plus Better Layout

As with most user scripts they break from time to time when webmasters introduce changes to their sites. In this case, Yahoo! looks like it implemented some new standardized CSS strategy into its Mail app. In the process the userscript code broke because it was looking for old IDs that no longer exist. The script has been updated to work with the new CSS for Yahoo Mail and works well both in Firefox and Chrome. Please download it again if it has stopped working for you. Original post about the script  

Available for Firefox* & Google Chrome  
Download the user script directly or from the script page>

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slate Culturefest Dry T-Shirt Entry

I had hoped they were going to include my entry in the Slate Culture Gabfest T-Shirt contest.  I guess I'll just stick to business, SEO, analytics, and coding....leave the "art" to others...

If you like this one.... you can at least put me in as a write-in candidate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Modern motivation philosophy: more companies need to understand this

Today, not enough companies (or more broadly organizations) understand yet the need to adapt the way that they approach talent and intellectual resources.  Although so much of our work has moved from the factory to the office, so many firms still maintain an outlook on management and labor relations that reflects the characteristics and aspects of an industrial age, low to semi skilled economy.

Perhaps it was the way I was brought up, the friends that I have been fortunate to have during my life as well as the mentors that have helped me, I have always known inside that the traditional mindset to managing organizations does not fit with the informational economy we live in today and have been moving towards since the explosion in IT and personal computing.

Two years ago, I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and it struck a nerve because it was one of the first times that I came across something very digestible that focused on the importance of meaningful work.  I recommend the book (as well as his other writings) quite often because it is so relevant to everyone, from parents to leaders.  We all want some sort of success, however you want to define it, for someone.  Understanding the points he makes in that book can give people a clearer sense on how to achieve success (again, however it is defined).

Now I had the fortunate chance to come across this talk about motivating teams.  This encapsulates in a short and entertaining way, so much of what I believe is necessary for successful organizations today and tomorrow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is this a Reader, Feedburner, or Blogger Error? Webmaster Central really wants to be a photo blog

The search engines just announced to standardize the way the webmasters can enrich their content with structured metadata.  I was looking foward to read all about it on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.  So, naturally, I logged into Google Reader to look for a post.

The first thing that seemed weird was that all of a sudden the blog had 20+ new items. 

That never happens.  GWC is a blog that normally posts a 1-2 times per week, not much more than that.  After clicking on the feed, I was presented with a large photo of some woman.  I thought is this a joke?  Anyway, I kept navigating through the posts and they were all large, well taken photos. 

Here is an example: (Notice that I am in the GWC Blog and the url is poinging to the atom feed for GWC.)

Clicking on the feed details, you can see that something is amiss:

As you can see, something went terribly wrong here. It turns out that the feed seems come from a photgrapher named Joe Hewes.  Looking at his blog, you can see that he uses Blogger as his platform.

My guess is that this was not a hack but a bug/error in Blogger.  The actual GWC blog website has only its original (non photog) content.  If it were a hack, GWC would likely have had its content changed as well.

Well, hopefully Joe likes getting a bit more exposure of his work to the tech community.  As for Google, I hope this is not a sign of more problems with quality to come.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Want iGoogle made for laptop / netbook screens? Use PimpMyiGoogle

Download updated PimpMyiGoogle (May 2011):
Install Pimp My iGoogle –

View Pimp My iGoogle –
Writing userscripts for most sites feels a bit like a game of cat and mouse.  Everytime Yahoo! or Google or anyone else who has a site that I write scripts for changes their page the following occurs:
  1. My existing scripts partially or completely break
  2. I go to work on writing an update
  3. I get most of the way there and hit a roadblock
  4. I need to relearn a bit of the differences between script behavior en Firefox and Chrome
  5. Updated script is fixed and posted to userscripts
  6. Make a new post on
I am pretty much at step 6 again.  This time it was PimpMyiGoogle.

Google looks to have completely rewritten its content layout and changed its backend JS functions.  I noticed that on 1 computer in Chrome a few weeks back that the script no longer worked.  However, it kept working fine in Firefox and on my computer at work.  I figured that they might be running a new test.  Well, fast forward to last week and all browsers on all of my computers stopped respecting most of the improvements made by the userscript.

So, this weekend, I dove in and made the fixes.  Basically, the script had to be rewritten from scratch.  I decided to clean up a bit and change the old "show sidebar" button to a new CSS3 button.

ToDo for the script:
  • Get min/max buttons to work in Chome (odd Object does not have click method error although the JS inspector shows that their is a valid click event listener).
  • Check the module status (expanded/minimized ) to determine which button icon to show.
Any other suggestions for the script? Please let me know.  One idea I want to play with is pulling gTalk out of the sidebar and make it a floating menu.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Google Adwords Does not Like Firefox Aurora (5)

It seems to me that every day Google is taking one further step towards going completely hostile towards Mozilla and Firefox.  Either that or they are indifferent to them. 

Logging into AdWords today with the latest Firefox Aurora browser (Firefox equivilant to Google Chrome Canary - near-nightly updates, some risk of instability) this is what I saw.

When did a release from 2 days ago become defined as "old"?
I got the alert message up top, which has become quite common when entering many sites with Internet Explorer 6, thanks to the campaign to kill IE6.  They must be doing some poor UA sniffing and they have not updated their code to reflect the fact that Mozilla copied Google's own release schedule for their browsers.  Being the fans of web standards that they are, Google should be using feature detection anyway. 

I hope this is just an oversite.  Hopefully it is not in conflict with "don't be evil".  You would hope that the AdWords developers would be trying the apps in all types of browsers in advance and only once they have been released.

As recently as 2008, Google was the source of 91-94% of the Mozilla Foundation's (non-profit behind firefox) funding.

When Google decided to launch Chrome instead of further bolstering Firefox, that was the biggest sign that the partnership was going in the wrong direction.  Then, when Eric Schmidt had his privacy gaffe, the Mozilla camp used the dreaded M and B words in suggesting a move away from Google.  I don't know if a partnership with Google can heal, once that has happened.

This is heading towards a sad end for what was a beautiful partnership responsible for forcing the advancement of web browser technology and web standards.  We should leave all of our browsers at half-scroll when the deal finally dies likely later this year.

At least Google does not have a long history of partnerhips turning sour

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Angry Birds Web App using Firefox 5

Yesterday Google announced that it has launched Angry Birds as a web app in collaboration with Rovio and it is available in the Chrome App Store.

Now that I have been using Firefox Aurora a bit more than Chrome Canary these days, I wanted to give it a shot since a web app should work in both HTML 5 enabled (mostly) browsers.  Unfortunately, the Chrome store said that my browser does not support this web app and that I should use chrome instead.  Well, I installed the app in Chrome to see that it basically is just an app bookmark that points to a specific website

Once I saw the URL, I decided to give it a cut and paste try in Aurora (currently Firefox 5).  The rest was bird flying, pig crushing history...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Google Analytics Fast-Access Mode = FAIL-Access Mode

GA is a great service.  Google gives away this great service that other companies charge thousands of dollars. Besides that they have a wonderful API that you can use to write useful data applications.  My main complaint over the years, has been the use of Sampling.  In general, it may be good enough when looking at high level visitor data, but my experience is that sampling dramatically distorts calculations related to goals, e-commerce data, as well as data related to traffic sources which send relatively small amounts of visitors.

Recently, GA has introduced some new changes to its use of sampling. It appears that they have started using it in more cases.  Reports that would never trigger sampling with the amount of visits involved are now using "fail fast-access" mode.  That is Google's euphemism for "this report was based on sampled data and may be totally wrong".  Plus it looks like there may be a bug in the sampling method.

Take a look at this report using normal data for a site I monitor:
Normal graphic (you can see Easter's impact) of Google (Paid/Organic) coming to a site
Everthing above looks fine showing a fairly typical traffic pattern, with the exception of Easter week and an extra holiday in Great Britain (It must have been special hat day in the UK) .

Where did the traffic go?

Now look at the next two images which are the same report as above but with advanced segments applied:

Non-Paid Search Traffic: This should show the Google organic traffic the site received.
Non Paid Search Traffic....I didn't think that I only bought PPC???
Paid Search Traffic: This should show the Google PPC traffic the site received.
Data Dave is sad and confused.  If Google the search engine is sending me this traffic, what is it if not PPC or Non-Paid

What happened here?

OK, wait.  What if I just looked at the same report showing all three segments at the same time. Perhaps, it will start to make sense (or not):

Nope.  If anything, the results look even weirder and more distorted than when looking at the data individually.  There sure seems to be a big time bug in the sampling trigging and calculation system of GA.

In conclusion:

  • With no segments applied, the site data looks normal....however:
  • With segments applied, 1 month of relatively little data triggered sampling ("fast-access"). This never used to happen for relatvively little traffic in GA. 
  • In both cases of sampling, Google sent the site 0 visits during the month of April.
  • Where GA showed visits, it was very incorrect (multiple stand.devs apart from the actual observed data)
    • With sampling applied, in the first week of May, GA reports that Google PPC sent more way traffic than all of Google combined.
    • Non-Paid alone surpassed All Visits traffic for a coupld of days as well.
Data integrity is the foundation for any analytics / decision support tool.  We cannot improve our websites if we cannot rely and believe the data upon which we will be basing our decisions.  Luckily, I am not alone in seeing this latest turn for the worse with GA and sampling. 

 Hopefully, they will fix it soon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Updated App engine project GA Evolution

Despite the lack of posts.... this blog has not been forgotten.  Just wicked busy at work and home for the last few months.

I have updated with a few improvements:

  • Fixed bug in Weekly reporting that caused weird placment of data when the weeks in included the middle-end of Februrary (parseInt bug in most browsers was to blame)
  • Updated jQuery to 1.6, Flot to 0.7 and fancyBox to 1.3.4 - it really flies now
  • Using the latest SDK for appengine
Next up I will need to change how the app handles sampling.  The CI value has been marked for death deprecated by Google, so I'll switch to another parameter they have that indicates if sampling was triggered in the report or not.

Any requests out there? Please let me know through the feedback form or as a comment here on the blog.

Soon, I hope to write a post too about how I won my Nokia E7 in February while in London.