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Noman Ali: Gadgets, Websites, Google, Social Media and SEO


Monthly Archives: September 2010


If you’re currently writing us an email to tip us that Facebook is down, you can stop — we’ve gotten a few hundred of those in the past few minutes. Yes, Facebook appears to be down at the moment. I’m currently getting a DNS failure message (above), others are apparently seeing other things. (Update: I’m told that DNS message is actually an Akamai server error.)

This is a problem not just because the site is down, but Facebook’s omnipresent Like button is also completely down, and so is Connect, and Platform — in other words, the entire Internet (or a good percentage of it) is feeling this pain. We’ve reached out to Facebook to see what is up. More to come.

Until then, might I suggest you view the list of things to do when Twitter is down? It applies here as well.

Update: Facebook’s Platform status page gives a little more insight:

Current Status: API Latency IssuesWe are currently experiencing latency issues with the API, and we are actively investigating. We will provide an update when either the issue is resolved or we have an ETA for resolution.

You’ll also note that they had the same issue yesterday for a few hours — and yes, there were a number of reports yesterday of Facebook’s site being down as well.

Update 2: Here’s the statement from Facebook:

We’re currently experiencing some site issues causing Facebook to be slow or unavailable for some users.  We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

Update 3: It appears that after well over an hour, Facebook is finally back. We can probably expect to hear more from them shortly about the cause of the problem.

Update 4: And here are the details about what caused the massive failure today — Facebook’s worst in 4 years.


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Can’t get enough of Mark Zuckerberg? Well, if the upcoming movie The Social Network doesn’t sate your desire for the Facebook founder, he’s slated to star in his own comic book come December.

Bluewater Productions — a Canadian production company specializing in comic books, graphic novels and multimedia that has previously told the tales of celebs like William Shatner, Roger Corman, Ray Harryhausen and Vincent Price, among other luminaries — plans to release Mark Zuckerberg: Creator of Facebook as a 48-page saga that seeks to answer the question: “Who is the real Mark Zuckerberg?”

Is he the philanthropist who recently donated $100 million to public schools in Newark? Or is he the darker character we’re all anxiously awaiting meeting in David Fincher’s The Social Network?

“Rightly or wrongly, Mark dealt harshly with some people on his way to where he is today”, says comic book author Jerome Maida. “As we see, he left many people feeling betrayed. I try my best to be fair here. No one is totally innocent in this story. I try to represent each of the major players’ point of view.”

Zuckerberg has become a figure of massive public interest over the last couple of years as Facebook has reaped both praise and torrents of criticism. It will be interesting to see how history looks back at this period in the coming years — we’ll certainly have a trove of source material in the archives if this Zuckerberg-centric storytelling trend continues.

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More details have emerged about Facebook’s plans to launch a smart phone, with reports that the social networking site is working with handset maker INQ Mobile. Bloomberg writes that INQ could launch two Facebook smart phones in Europe in the first half of 2011, followed by the United States later in the year.

Bloomberg’s sources indicate the phones might be branded AT&T in the U.S. although the carrier is still considering whether to carry the phones. It’s understood they would run on Google’s Android mobile operating system and may not carry Facebook branding.

Mobile is increasingly important to Facebook, with about one in four of the 500 million users already logging into the site while on the move. That number will likely continue to grow as smart phones become more widespread and location check-in services such as Places take off. It’s also important for Facebook from a revenue perspective that mobile game players can buy the Facebook Credits virtual currency with the phones to support their game habit on the go.

I don’t think a Facebook-branded mobile phone makes a whole lot of sense. The company is known for its services not actual gadgets so it would confuse the brand message to launch its own phones. (However, I would have said the same thing about branding phones with the name of the phone network and that practice seems relatively common).

The best scenario for Facebook would be if all smart phones – whether Android, Apple’s iPhone or Blackberry – ran the social networking site smoothly. Since Facebook is unlikely to be allowed input into either the iPhone or Blackberry, it makes sense for it to work with Android developers to ensure that it gets the features it wants.

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Intrigued by the experience of viewing a friend’s Twitter timeline, angel investor Shervin Pishevar collaborated with 15 year-old iTunes Instant creator Stephen Ou to after a week of work.

With Twtroulette, users can now visit what industry notables like Mike Arrington, investorBrad Feld, and YouTube’s Hunter Walk see when they open Twitter i.e. what it’s like to follow the people they are following. People can also volunteer their own timelines by adding themselves to the directory. And, like Chatroulette, there’s a random function so one can shuffle through profiles if they’re feeling lucky.

Twitter actually used to have this feature (called “With Friends”) but took it away because relatively few people accessed it. Apparently some users still wanted to have the option to sneak peeks of what other Twitter users see — Pishevar describes his motivation behind the project;

“In my quest to see the New Twitter, I had a friend who had it login into his account, so I could see it. When I was on his account I had this funny feeling; like I had stumbled upon someone’s account who forgot to logout of their Facebook or Twitter account at the Apple Store.

But I was fascinated. I was seeing a view of the world curated by someone else that I couldn’t see anywhere else. In the current world, I only get a sliver of this view via the small percentage of tweets that my friend might share, RT or comment on. By accessing each other’s full timelines we get to peek into each other’s world views.”

Ou’s Twtroulette is one of the first projects launched through Pishevar’s nascent incubator, Pishevar and Ou plan on adding more features that further expand the use case possibilities of Twitter shortly.

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Facebook Software Engineering Director Robert Johnson was kind enough to explain to a curious public exactly why Facebook went down earlier today, calling the mishap “the worst outage we’ve had in over four years.”

In a brief blog post, Johnson discussed today’s downtime, which occurred from 11:30 a.m. PST. The site wasn’t functioning again for most users until around 3 p.m. PST.

Today’s outage was unrelated to another period of downtimeyesterday, when issues with a third-party networking provider caused problems for some users trying to connect to Facebook.

Johnson said the downtime today was caused by “an unfortunate handling of an error condition” involving an automated system designed to verify configuration values in the cache and replace invalid values with updated values from the persistent store.

Today we made a change to the persistent copy of a configuration value that was interpreted as invalid. This meant that every single client saw the invalid value and attempted to fix it. Because the fix involves making a query to a cluster of databases, that cluster was quickly overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of queries a second.

To make matters worse, every time a client got an error attempting to query one of the databases it interpreted it as an invalid value, and deleted the corresponding cache key. This meant that even after the original problem had been fixed, the stream of queries continued.

The automated system for correcting configuration values has been turned off for now, and Facebook is reportedly exploring more, ahem, “graceful” methods of handling this in the future.

Johnson also notes that getting the feedback loop to stop was “quite painful,” saying that the entire site had to be turned off to stop traffic to a particular database cluster.

We don’t envy Facebook the at-scale disaster the site has just survived; 500 million users and a feedback loop adds up to some nasty business however you slice it. And Facebook’s downtime problems aren’t nearly as persistent and severe as those of other social media staples out there.

If you have any opinions on the subject — or horror stories of your own to share — please leave us a comment and let us know about them.

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Microsoft released Internet Explorer 9 beta 1, and this is the software giant’s best effort in years at reclaiming mindshare from developers, designers and users alike.

IE 9 is a big release. It’s a complete overhaul of whatInternet Explorer was, and Microsoft is very focused on beautifying the web. IE 9 is faster, has better support for HTML5 and CSS3, and seems better-tuned to the needs of the user than previous versions did.

There’s a lot to like about IE 9. Taking UI cues fromGoogle Chrome, Microsoft has streamlined the interface, making the browser less apparent and allowing the user to focus more on content. Likewise, the addition of pinned websites makes accessing frequently accessed bookmarks faster and adds some great features by way of jump lists.

Having said that, IE 9 is still very much a beta product. Although the browser performs well for the most part, we ran into a number of crashes and other issues, especially while accessing (or attempting to access) media on our various test setups. In our walkthrough video below, you’ll see that the browser crashes and stops responding at times. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t do a single take without that happening.

Crashes and irregularities aside, IE 9 is a great direction for Microsoft and its one we hope it is a path the company continues to walk down.

Check out this video that highlights some of the newest features and pits IE 9 against Firefox and Google Chrome.

What are you impressions of IE 9? Let us know in the comments.

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As Google’s Chrome browser celebrates its second anniversary, we thought it appropriate to commemorate the occasion with some handy tips and tricks.

Here are 10 tried and tested hints that will help you to get the most out of Chrome  by taking advantage of some of its more functional tools and time-saving setups.

Read through the suggestions below and let us know which ones you’ll be trying out, or any tricks we haven’t included, in the comments box.

1. Open Multiple Pages on Startup

Rather than just one trusty homepage, you can get Chrome to open several pages as it starts up, giving you instant access to whatever sites and services you prefer to start your day with.

It’s easy to setup. Just click on the wrench icon on the top right of your browser window, select “Options” and under the “Basic” tab check the box where it says “on startup… open the following pages.”

If you click “Add” it brings up a list of recently browsed sites to choose from, or you can manually enter a URL in the box at the top.

Now, the next time you fire up your browser, those pages will be automatically loaded in the order in which you entered them, saving you some precious time.

2. Pin Tabs in Place on the Browser Bar

If you are going to be using a site or service a lot in one web session, you can “pin” a tab in Chrome, which will shrink the window down to the size of the favicon, leaving more room for multi-tasking. It also prevents tabs from getting lost on the side of the screen when you have many open at once.

To do this, right-click on the tab you want to pin and hit “Pin tab.” To enlarge the tab, just right-click and hit “Pin tab” again to uncheck the option.

3. Turn Your Favorite Websites into “Desktop Apps”

There’s another option open to you in Chrome if you want fast access to a favorite site — turn the site into what could be loosely described as a desktop app.

To do this, navigate to the site you want to desktop-ize, head over to the wrench icon on the top right of your browser window, select “Tools” and then click on “Create application shortcuts.”

This will then bring up a window that gives you the option to create shortcuts on your desktop, in your start menu, or on the quick launch bar and you can check or un-check the boxes to make your selection.

If you opt for desktop you’ll instantly see an icon for the site appear on your desktop display, as per the grab below:

Now, double-clicking on that icon will load up that website in a separate window with no navigation tabs, giving it the feel of a native desktop application — so it could be great for webmail services.

4. Add a Home Button to the Toolbar

Chrome boasts a minimalist design that many love, but there are some users who just need to have a “home” button to click.

Adding a home button to Chrome is very easy — just click on the wrench icon at the top-right, select “Options,” and under the basic tab you’ll see a check box for “show Home button on the toolbar.” Hit it and you’ll never be homeless again.

5. Carry Out Calculations in the Omnibox

In addition to being a URL bar and a search field, Chrome’s “omnibox” is also a basic calculator. Rather than load up your computer’s calculator, Google (Google) or Wolfram Alpha, you can just type your mathematical query into the omnibox and the result will show up where you’d normally see auto-suggestions.

Beyond simple sums, this also works for unit conversions like feet-to-meters, pints-to-liters, etc,.

6. Use AutoFill to Auto-Complete an Address

If you find yourself typing your address time and time again, you might want to consider Chrome’s AutoFill options which can remember it and save you the repeat effort.

To activate the feature, click on the wrench icon, select “Options,” then click on the “Personal Stuff,” then choose “AutoFill options.” By selecting “Add address,” you can enter your details. The next time you are presented with a form, you won’t have to manually type it all in.

You can also choose to add a credit card via AutoFill, but for security reasons we’d advise thinking twice before going down that route.

7. Use Chrome URLs to See History, Bookmarks & Downloads

Chrome can show you some of your browser data and settings via special Chrome URLs, which is a handy way to see the info in your browser — especially as all options are searchable.

You can view your bookmarks, downloads and history by typing “chrome://bookmarks,” “chrome://downloads,” or “chrome://history” in the omnibox.

8. Make a Favicon-Only Bookmarks Bar

There’s yet another cool way to get quick access to your favorite, or most-visited sites in Chrome. Plus, it looks pretty cool.

You can get Chrome to display your bookmarked sites in the toolbar, but by deleting the site’s name from the bookmark settings, the browser will just show the site’s favicons, making for a colorful display along the top of your window.

To get this going, you’ll first need to make sure you have the bookmarks bar displayed. You can check this by clicking the wrench icon, selecting “Tools” and then ticking “Always show bookmarks bar.”

Once you’ve done this, as you add new sites to your bookmarks, be sure to delete the text in the name box, as per the screen shot below, for a favicon-only list.

Alternatively, to edit existing bookmarks so that they display favicon-only, go to “chrome://bookmarks,” right-click on the bookmark, select “Edit” and then delete the text in the name box.

To add the bookmarks to your bookmark bar, simply drag and drop them from your bookmarks list.

9. Sync Your Chrome Settings to Your Google Account

This isn’t the most exciting tip, but it’s darn useful if you work or play across multiple computers. You can sync your Chrome settings to your Google account so all those preferences you’ve taken time to set up, and all the bookmarks you’ve saved along the way, will follow you wherever you go online.

Simply click the wrench icon, go to “Options” and under “Personal Stuff” you can “Set up sync” by signing in to your Google account. This will now mean all your Chrome settings will sync wherever you sign in with your Google account.

10. Play a Trick on Your Chrome-Using Buddies

If you’ve a buddy or a work-mate who uses Chrome, you can use the “developer tools” functionality to play a really clever trick on them, should they step away from their computer at any time.

When on a webpage, right-click and choose “Inspect element.” This will split the screen to view the page code. In this view, you can select and over-type the text that appears on the page and replace it with wording of your own choosing, or even change measurements, colors, etc. if you’ve got a basic grasp of HTML.

Here are a few more familiar webpages we “edited” via the “Inspect element” function. As you can imagine, a sneaky couple of minutes at a friend’s computer as they wander off for a comfort break and you could really have them going.

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