All posts by Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Digg Continues It’s Downward Spiral: Fires 37% of Workforce, Faces Cheating Allegations

2010 is shaping up to be a terrible year for Digg, the once poster child of the Web 2.0 crowd. The much-delayed redesign (Digg v4) triggered a user revolt and drove away several dedicated users, key executives like Chas Edwards and Matt Williams are leaving the company, and now the site is facing allegations of gaming its own voting system to benefit its publishing partners.

Clever sleuthing by a Digg user has revealed the occurrence of large scale manipulation of Digg’s ranking system over the past couple of weeks. Immediately after Digg’s mystery tour of its algorithm, several users (159 of them, to be exact) signed up with usernames like a1, a3, a5, d1, d2, d3, dd1, dd2, dd3, diggerz10, diggerz11, diggerz12, s1, s2 and s4. All of these users then went on to digg upcoming stories in large numbers, more specifically, upcoming stories from Digg’s publishing partners like TechCrunch, Huffington Post and YouTube. In fact, these fake accounts almost single handedly pushed dozens of stories to Digg’s front page.

Digg-Fraud
Impact of Suspicious Accounts on Digg (full stats)

While the evidence at hand is compelling, and it’s clear that some sort of an unfair practice clearly took place, there are plenty of unanswered questions. The biggest question for me is, why? Why would Digg need to game the system, when they can easily (and more securely) achieve similar results by tweaking its algorithm? Even if Digg felt the need to game the system, it’s hard to digest that they would be so crude about. They had to be aware of the risks involved. Digg has yet to issue an official response, but they definitely have some explaining to do.

Even before this controversy broke, things were looking somber for Digg. Earlier today, its CEO acknowledged that Digg was bleeding money and let go 37% of its staff (25 employees) in an attempt to reach profitability by 2011. Announcing the layoffs, Digg’s CEO Matt Williams wrote,

“It’s been an incredibly tough decision. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, I know it’s the right choice for Digg’s future success as a business. I’m personally committed to help find new opportunities for everyone affected by the transition. Digg’s Board members have also offered to help find placements within their portfolio companies.”

Digg was once the hottest Web 2.0 website in the block. Getting dugg meant instant fame, as Digg had the potential to send hundreds and thousands of users within just a few hours. However, of late, Digg has lost most of its charm. Reddit has emerged as a strong competitor with better social features, and a more welcoming (and mature) community. Digg’s deterioration started even before the catastrophic redesign. However, if users now start losing faith in Digg’s impartiality, this might just be it for the website that changed the way many of us consume news.

Update: Digg has finally responded. According to the official explanation, the accounts identified are indeed fake accounts that were being used by the Digg team to test potential shortcomings of the algorithm.

How To Block Flash Videos in Opera

One of the most popular extensions for Firefox is Flashblock, which prevents flash and shockwave files from being automatically loaded. There have been quite a few ways to achieve the same in Opera, however all of them required some effort on the user’s behalf. The good news is that with Opera 11, this feature is now baked right into the browser.

Related: How To Install Opera in Portable Mode

To block flash and other plugin driven content (other embedded video files, Silverlight files etc.), simply open up Opera’s “Preferences” dialogue box (Alt+P), and browse to the “Content” tab. From here, check the “Enable plug-ins only on demand” box.

Flash-Block-Extension-Opera

Once this option is enabled, Opera will stop loading plug-in driven content automatically. However, you can still load/play the flash videos you want by clicking on the play button (see the screenshot).

Flash-Block-Opera

Microsoft Will Relaunch Games for Windows Marketplace in November

When it comes to distributing content through online stores, Microsoft’s track record has been less than impressive, to put things politely. They fumbled with the Windows Marketplace and ultimately shut it down. Games for Windows has been a similar sorry tale. While others like Steam, Direct2Drive and Impulse Valve signed on hundreds of developers, Microsoft restricted itself to just a few dozen titles. Microsoft’s only saving grace has been the Zune Store and the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Games-for-Windows-Marketplace

Now, Microsoft has announced that it will relaunch the Games for Windows Marketplace on November 15. The revamped online store will sport a redesigned interface and feature 100 high quality titles at launch. Customers will be able to purchase games using either credit/debit cards or their Microsoft points (from existing Xbox Live accounts). Purchased titles can be downloaded using the web browser, 3rd party download managers or Microsoft’s download manager. Thankfully, Microsoft has decided against forcing customers to go through cumbersome mechanisms involving the Windows Live desktop client.

With Games for Windows Marketplace, we set out to create a digital store built for PC gamers end-to-end,said Kevin Unangst, senior global director, PC and Mobile Gaming, at Microsoft. And by integrating with our existing Xbox LIVE and Windows Live services, we’ve made it easier than ever for millions of gamers to see for themselves how easy buying PC games can be.

Titles that will be available at launch include Fable: The Lost Chapters, Grand Theft Auto III, Dead Rising 2, Lost Planet 2, Flight Simulator, Gears of War and Halo. Microsoft has also promised to launch new titles every week. One of the biggest draws of the Xbox store, ‘Deal of the Week’ that offers high quality titles at a deep discount, will also be available.

Google Hits a Technical Snag: Stops Updating its Index

GoogleIt won’t be an exaggeration to claim that Google Search drives most of the world wide web. Look around, and you will see that Google is the biggest (often by a large margin) source of traffic for a majority of the websites. So what will happen if Google breaks? Just the thought alone is enough to scare me as a webmaster.

Thankfully, Google has performed with admirable reliability over the years. However, it’s not easy managing the beast that is Google. Little technical snags are bound to occur, and it appears that Google has just hit one. According to reports, Google has stopped indexing numerous blogs and even popular websites, over the past few days. In other words, new content from several websites have stopped appearing in Google Search.

Google’s John Mueller confirmed the there is a technical problem that is preventing Google from efficiently indexing some websites. Here’s the message he posted in one of the Google Webmaster Central discussions.

I just wanted to provide a short update. This issue should be resolved soon, but it will take a several days for everything to catch up and for these changes to be visible. I’ll provide another update after the weekend.

In the meantime, there’s no need to make any changes on your side. Content from your sites will continue to be indexed during this time (though perhaps at the moment not as quickly as before in some cases).

Mueller has also clarified that the problem is entirely technical and not due to a change in Google’s algorithm.

I’ve been in contact with the indexing and diagnostics teams since your initial reports — we are taking your reports seriously and doing what is necessary to resolve this problem as soon as possible. We love sending users to your sites quickly after you have published something too :-).

Just to be clear, the issues from this thread, which I have reviewed in detail, are not due to changes in our policies or changes in our algorithms; they is due to a technical issue on our side that will be visibly resolved as soon as possible (it may take up to a few days to be visible for all sites though). You do not need to change anything on your side and we will continue to crawl and index your content (perhaps not as quickly at the moment, but we hope that will be resolved for all sites soon). I would not recommend changing anything significantly at this moment (unless you spot obvious problems on your side), as these may result in other issues once this problem is resolved on our side.

Firefox 4 Continues to Fall Behind Schedule: Major Delays Expected

Last month, I reported that Mozilla had axed some of the features from Firefox 4, in order to meet its release deadline. The first feature to be dropped was the new Account Manager that had received rave reviews from most users. However, it now appears that, even cutting down on features might not be enough to get Firefox 4 back on schedule.

Firefox-4

According to this publicly available schedule, Firefox 4 Beta 7 was supposed to arrive on Sept 17, and Beta 8 was supposed to land on October 1. However, both of these dates have come and gone, without any new Firefox 4 builds being released. Quite obviously, Mozilla also missed its target of achieving code freeze by Oct 15 in preparation of the RC (Release Candidate) release.

Firefox-4-Schedule

There’s still plenty of work left to be done. Just a couple of weeks back, Mozilla reported that it had 17 blockers (bugs that are major enough to prevent the release of a build) to deal with before the next beta release, and as many as 510 blockers to fix before they can move on to the RC stage. This has prompted Softpedia to speculate that Mozilla might not even manage to pull off the release by the end of this year.

How To Install Opera in Portable Mode

Opera@USB is an unofficial mod of Opera, which adapts the venerable browser for installation on removable drives (USB drives). However, with Opera 11, you don’t need to use a 3rd party tool to use Opera in portable mode.

Until now, Opera Software used to offer two different setups for Windows users – one was a Classic installer, and the other was an MSI installer. With Opera 11, Opera Software has done away with both, and is instead using a custom installer. Besides being incredibly fast, the new installer also has a major benefit – it includes a portable mode.

To install Opera 11 (and beyond) in portable mode, simply follow the following steps:

Opera-Portable-Options

  • Launch the installer and click on “Options”.
  • Set “Install path” as a location on the USB drive
  • Opera-Portable-External-Devices

  • Change the “Install for” option to “External Device”.

That’s it! This mode forces Opera to simply extract the files to the specified destination, without touching any system settings. Also, it makes Opera read its profile from the installation folder.

Angry Birds Arrives On Symbian

Angry-Birds

Close on the heels of the launch of Angry Birds for Android, Rovio Mobile has released the full version of Angry Birds for Symbian. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably already aware that Angry Birds is a fun little mobile game that took the iTunes App Store (iPod/iPhone/iPad) by storm, and has since then has been busy disrupting numerous other app stores. In fact, Angry Birds has gone on to become the game everyone wants for their own operating system.

Angry Birds for Symbian^3 ships with 105 levels, and Rovio has promised to deliver more content in the future. The gameplay is similar to the other versions, and from what I have heard, is still addictive as hell. The objective of the game is deceptively simple. You have to fling birds using catapult to hit all the pigs present in a level. The pigs are often sheltered by various obstructions, which must be strategically destroyed to succeed.

Angry Birds for Symbian^3 can be downloaded from the Ovi Store.

Opera 11 Extensions: Quick Preview

A short while ago, Opera Software released Opera 11, which finally introduced extension support the venerable desktop browser. Soon after launch, the extension gallery went down, so I wasn’t able to preview the extensions in my earlier article. Fortunately, Opera sorted out the issues quickly and the gallery is back online.

As mentioned earlier, extensions for Opera are simply web applications that adhere to the W3C Widget specifications. They are developed using existing web technologies, and interact with the browser through certain methods made available in the API. Opera expects their implementation to be secure and fast. In fact, all extensions submitted to the gallery will be checked to keep out the buggy and malicious ones.

Opera-11-Extension-Installation
Extension Installation

Installing as well as uninstalling extensions is a breeze. Like Chrome, Opera doesn’t require a restart for either installation or uninstallation. However, users upgrading over an existing installation should note that extensions don’t seem to get installed properly, if you are using a modified toolbar configuration.

Opera-11-Extension-Completed
Notification of Installation Completion

Extensions might or might not have a user interface. If the extension has a user interface, it is generally exposed through a button that brings up an overlay screen. The buttons can update themselves dynamically based on the context. For example, a reddit extension button can display the number of upvotes the currently open page has received. Installed extensions can be managed through a dedicated Extensions tab that can be opened from the Opera Menu. Surprisingly, there isn’t any panel for extensions. However, this will be probably added in the future.

Opera-11-Extension-Manager
Opera 11 Extensions Tab

To kick things off, Opera is showcasing about fifteen extensions for Opera 11. However, in terms of quality, the showcased extensions are frankly all over the place. Some of them are useful, some of them are interesting for demonstration purposes, and some of them are a bit pointless. Listed below are some of extensions I found useful:

i) Fastest Tube – YouTube Downloader: This extension is very similar to the Download YouTube Videos as MP4script for Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari. It simply adds a download button to YouTube video pages (next to the embed button). You can download the videos in standard or HD resolutions in FLV as well as MP4 formats.

ii) Translate: This extension is quite obviously inspired by the automatic translation feature of Google Chrome. Whenever you open a page that is not in English, a notification will appear offering to translate the website to English.

Opera-11-Extension-Translate
Opera 11 Extensions: Translate

iii) Reddited: It adds a button for quickly submitting a page to reddit. If the page has already been reddited, it will display the number of upvotes the page has received and link to the submission.

Opera-11-Extension-Reddited
Opera 11 Extensions: reddited

iv) miniFeed: This extension leverages the Facebook touch website to enable you to quickly check your Facebook stream and even post updates without having to open a new tab.

v) Opera to Phone: If you have an Android device (with FroYo), you can push any link from your Opera browser (for desktop) to the phone with this extension. Again, this functionality is quite obviously inspired by the Chrome to Phone extension provided by Google. In fact, it even utilizes the same Android app.

You can check out all the available extensions at addons.labs.opera.com/addons/extensions/. More extensions should start appearing soon. StumbleUpon and LastPass extensions are already under development. Don’t forget to share share your favourite extensions with us.

Opera 11 Alpha Released with Extension Support

The first alpha build of Opera 11 is here. Opera 11 boasts of all the benefits of the Opera 10.7 trunk, and introduces a major new feature – extensions. As revealed in last week’s Up North Web press event, Opera 11 finally allows developers to build add-ons that can interact with the browser and add new features.

Opera-11

To kick things off, the folks at Opera have created about fifteen extensions, which are available for installation from the Opera Extensions Gallery. Unlike Firefox, which allows extensions to pretty much configure any and every aspect of the browser, Opera’s Extensions are essentially web applications (written using HTML, CSS and JavaScript) that can interact with certain aspects of the browser exposed through the API. This is quite similar to the way Chrome handles extensions. As a result, extensions are expected to be more secure and have minimal impact on performance. If you are a developer, check out the video embedded below or head over to dev.opera.com for more information. It’s worth keeping in mind though that the API will in all likelihood be expanded in the future to support more functionality.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t check out any of the extensions first hand as at the time of writing this article, Opera’s extensions gallery was getting hammered and was unreachable.

Opera 11 will also benefit from the speed improvements introduced in the Opera 10.7 snapshots. Although, I didn’t conduct any benchmarks of my own, I expect Opera to hold onto its healthy lead over Chrome and other browsers in the performance department.

Opera-11
Browser Performance Benchmark (via BetaNews)

There are a few minor UI changes also. Again, anyone who used the 10.7 snapshots will already be familiar with these. Opera has added a new Mail Panel to quickly switch between different accounts or RSS Feed sources., and the personal bar has been replaced with a new bookmarks bar, which appears below the address bar.

Opera 11 continues Opera’s push towards supporting latest web technologies. New in this version is support for HTML5 server-sent events and websockets. Several dozen bugs have also been squished since the Opera 10.6 release.

You can download the alpha build for Windows, Mac and UNIX from opera.com/browser/next/.

Max OS X 10.7 “Lion” Sneak Peek

OS-X-Lion

It’s official. Apple has just announced the next edition of the Mac Operating System – the Lion. Although Apple didn’t reveal everything about the Lion at today’s event, it gave us a sneak peek at what we can expect from the successor to the Snow Leopard.

OS-X-Lion-Meets-iPad

Over the past several months, it has been all about the iOS. The success of the iOS has helped Apple reach new heights and carve out segments that simply didn’t exist before. And, the same iOS is the main inspiration behind the new OS X. The highlights of today’s presentation were:

  • Apple will introduce full multi-touch support in Lion to take advantage of the multi-touch capable trackpads present in MacBooks, as well as Apple’s very own Magic Mouse. In fact, Apple is also going to launch a full-fledged multi-touch capable trackpad for desktop users.
  • The Lion will also allow apps to run in full screen mode, similar to the way we are accustomed to using apps on the iPhone and the iPad. This should make reading books or surfing the web a joy.
  • OS-X-Lion-Mac-App-Store

  • As predicted by many, Apple will also launch an App Store for desktop apps. Obviously, the new App Store will be modeled after the highly successful iPhone App Store. There will be both free and paid apps, with Apple taking 30% revenue share. Installation as well as uninstallation of apps will be hassle free and a single click affair. The App Store will automatically ensure that you have the latest version of each app installed on your system.
  • OS-X-Lion-Launchpad

  • Another new feature in Lion is Launchpad, which is simply a home screen for your apps. It will display all the apps installed on your system in a neatly arranged grid, similar to the iPad. In fact, Apple is even dubbing this as an iPad layer.
  • OS-X-Lion-Mission-Control

  • Full screen apps, Launchpad, Spaces and Expose are going to be the cornerstone of the Lion user interface. And integrating all of them together will be another nifty feature called Mission Control, which will group apps with multiple instances into stacks.

The Lion will be launching in the summer of 2011. The new set of features are just what we have come to expect from Apple – fresh and exciting. Don’t forget to share with us your initial impression of the Lion.

via Engadget