Reviews

The Fonz is Cool. Cuil, Not So Much.

The Fonz is CoolThe buzz the past few days has largely centered around the new search engine, Cuil.com, created by some former Googlers, including SMX West 2008 Keynote Speaker Louis Monier.

For those of you not geeky enough to know, Cuil is pronounced “cool” which could be a problem for the upstart search engine. I can already hear the uninformed trying to explain about this new search engine they found . . . pronounced “swill” or “sewill” or “kwill” and so forth. Not real good for easy branding.

And, judging from my initial attempts and searching with Cuil.com, Fonzie is cool, Cuil.com, well, not so much.

We all remember The Fonz in his black leather jacket and slicked back black hair, the epitome of cool in the 1950s based TV show Happy Days.

Cuil.com’s interface is also jet black, simplicity itself, though strangely not centered on the screen (at least not on mine). Type your query and off you go.

Cuil.com interface

I’ve heard that the new search engine claims to have the largest index on the planet. I’m seeing old and even off-kilter content that needs to be removed or fixed. For instance, I ran a search for “FramesDirect” since I do SEO for FramesDirect.com to see what Cuil.com would come up with. They were gracious enough to make our home page first in their results, but one of the other results on the page pointed to and described the site’s lens option page using an image for a “Corvette Black Book” which obviously came from another site.

Cuil.com result with mystery image

I then ran a search for “richard v burckhardt” and who the heck are these guys?

Cuil.com just can't get the pictures right

In another case, the Cuil results included a page on the FramesDirect.com site that was 301 redirected something like two years ago.

A search for “eyeglasses” resulted in Eyeglasses.com coming in first place. No offense to the competition, but that site has been down for several months with a single “Under Construction” page in place. I believe in the power of back links, and Eyeglasses.com will have some powerful keyword rich anchor text for “eyeglasses” in its back links by virtue of the domain name. But, a search engine that ranks a single page that is under construction and has been for months in the top spot needs some algo work.

That said, the search engine has a nice clean interface, with images and related search tabs at the top of the results. Better yet, Cuil.com doesn’t collect any information from you. If you are concerned about privacy, you’ll like this feature.

If Cuil.com wants to be The Fonz of search engines, it just needs some refinement, which I’m sure will come with time. After all, slicked back hair and black leather jackets got stale in the 1960s, kind of like some of Cuil’s current index.

Time for a Beatle haircut!

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Reviews

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium Plus

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USA flash driveSanDisk has an updated version of their Cruzer Titanium USB flash drive. I gave glowing reviews to the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive with Skype a few months ago. The updated version keeps all of the great features and adds a few more.

In addition to sturdy, ready-for-heavy-duty-action construction and tons of free and inexpensive software, the new SanDisk Cruzer Titanium Plus boosts the capacity from 2GB to 4GB and also includes a new, innovative feature – automatic online backup.

As you’ll recall, the idea is to allow you to sync the Cruzer with all of the files and programs you need on your primary PC so that you can simply pop the USB drive into another PC somewhere and use all of those files as if you were working on your main PC. Once you eject the Cruzer from the “guest” PC, there will be no trace that you were ever there.

Sort of a PC in your pocket!

But, what if you change some crucial files on the Cruzer and lose it on the plane or, heaven forbid, run over it with your Hummer (That’s about what it would take. This baby is tough!) before you have a chance to sync up with your primary PC?

That’s where the automatic online backup comes in. Powered by BeInSync with Amazon Web Services technology, the encrypted online backup service is free for six months, and costs $30 a year after that.

The benefits of the online backup are many. If your Cruzer Titanium Plus is lost or broken while you are on the road, you can access your files through the online backup service on any Internet connected device. If you delete needed files by accident, again, you can retrieve them through the online backup.

No Internet connection at the moment? The Cruzer Titanium Plus will do the backup automatically the next time you are connected. Worried about security if the drive is lost or stolen? You can activate an encrypted password protection system to keep prying eyes out.

Alas, there still doesn’t appear to be any kind of VPN client available in U3 software format, severely limiting what could be a great business product.

The Cruzer Titanium Plus retails for $59.99 (But can be found for less online. See the link below) and is compatible with Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista.

Check out the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium Plus at Amazon.com.

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Reviews

Living With My iPhone

Living with the iPhoneI’ve had my iPhone for a few months now and it has seen lots of use. I’ve carried it in my pocket everywhere I go, including on almost daily three-mile walks where it doubles as an iPod. It served as my pocket journalist and photographer at SMX West and it has been my personal and business telephone (no more land line for me).

So, here are some of my observations for this amazing little communications device. You might also want to read my initial iPhone review or watch the iPhone review video.

For those of you who think that Apple products don’t know what the three-fingered-salute (that we Windows users have become so accustomed to) is, think again. The iPhone has locked up on me several times over the past few months. This really surprised me the first time, but the iPhone is, after all, a computer.

To do a hard boot to get the phone working again, there is a two-fingered salute. You press the sleep button at the top right of the phone and then the home button at the bottom for a few seconds. The iPhone will reboot and get back to business. One thing to keep in mind is that when the iPhone locks up, it keeps draining the battery. Mine apparently locked up after I ended a call one day and I didn’t notice until I got home a couple of hours later. I rebooted and found my battery almost dead.

Granted, it’s only two fingers for the iPhone. Guess that’s a little improvement.

😉

There was also a period that I couldn’t get YouTube videos to play. I can only assume it had to do either with an Apple software update (they’re almost as frequent as Windows updates) or a side effect to doing the hard boot mentioned above. After a little research, I turned on Airplane Mode for 15 seconds then off again and, voila, the YouTube videos were playing once more!

I used this baby a lot at SMX West in Santa Clara. It was still pretty new to me then, so I was finding out what it could and couldn’t do well. For instance, I used the camera to take photos of the sessions. In good light and up close, the camera is really very good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do so well in low light and could certainly use a zoom function. I just couldn’t get close enough to most speakers for anything but distance shots.

But, what was really impressive was that as soon as I took a few photos, I could use the iPhone e-mail client to send them for instant posting to my Flickr account with titles and descriptions, while the session was going on! According to the SMX West conference site, I had the honor of posting the very first photos from the conference. They weren’t the best, mind you, just the first.

It became addictive. I found myself sitting up front in every session and address that I attended to grab some photos, send them to Flickr and then start writing my blog coverage on my laptop. I could get the article written, use the Flickr photos I had already uploaded to illustrate the article and be published within minutes, frequently right as the session ended. I started out as a journalist way back in the 1980s and I can tell you that this is a dream come true. Absolutely fantastic!

I could also Twitter quick notes out to my followers, including those subscribing to my blog RSS feed since I have the feeds connected. SMX West provided free WiFi so I had a good connection, but I could have still managed with the really slow Internet access provided by AT&T.

At home or on the road, I can catch up on my SEO feeds just about anywhere with the iPhone. Even without the rumored forthcoming broadband Internet access, I can pull up Google Reader in Safari and read the latest from my favorites like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal and SearchNewz. You’ll see me sitting at many a coffee counter with my nose in my iPhone. For me, this is one of the handiest features.

And, I love the iTunes integration. I don’t buy a whole lot of music, but I am subscribed to a ton of SEO podcasts and listen to them religiously on those three-mile walks. I hate when The Daily Searchcast isn’t, well, daily! (Hope you’re reading this, Danny).

In a nutshell, the iPhone has become a very important part of my daily life. As I mentioned in my initial review, it’s not perfect. I’d still like a real keyboard, broadband Internet access and a way to share that access with my laptop when needed.

But, it’s one Hell of phone/iPod/camera/Internet appliance…well, you get the idea.

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Reviews

SkypeFind: One Year Later

SkypeFind is one of the tabs in the Skype VOIP software

It’s been a year since I wrote about Skype’s introduction of SkypeFind, their local business directory, so it’s about time to take another look to see how things have progressed.

First of all, getting included in SkypeFind is simple. You can submit yourself or have a friend do it and include a review (hopefully positive!). But, if you are looking for any SEO benefits, there aren’t any. This directory exists entirely within Skype (just click the SkypeFind tab in the Skype client software), so there’s no back link benefit. The idea is to provide businesses that can be called entirely within Skype.

What it does provide, however, is a way to have your phone number available from the desktop of millions of users. The potential here is fantastic.

There are two types of listings. The standard listing is what Skype users submit and rate in a manner not unlike Yelp or similar social sites. These listings include the name of the business, address, location and phone number. In these listings, if you call from Skype, you’ll be using Skypeout credit, which I have to assume limits the attraction. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to call a standard business listing Skype to Skype. This is disappointing because a lot of businesses do take Skype calls.

The second type of listing is for paid services, part of Skype Prime. The idea here is that a company or specialist will charge by the minute for advice. For instance, as an SEO, I could charge $1 per minute (or other amount) for Skype users to call me and ask for advice on optimizing their web site. Below is one way to advertise your service (see my post Instant S E O Overview Service via Skype).

Personal Site SEO Overview

Want a quick overview of your site’s SEO? Call now for a personal look by The WebOptimist.

Call now

$1 per minute

I tried running a few searches and, unfortunately, the paid services seem to be sprouting like weeds. I doubt seriously that any of these folks are making money as Skype takes a big chunk of any per minute charge even if they do get any calls. And, the listings are full of, well, questionable experts like fortune tellers, prophets and dream interpreters.

Skype needs to implement some guidelines for listing submissions, especially the paid ones, along the lines of Yahoo Directory submissions (minus the hefty $299 per year fee, of course). They need to be reviewed and approved based on quality scores of some kind. What I am seeing appears to be a free-for-all like you would find in a really trashy free classified ad site.

And, considering the millions of Skype users worldwide, I’m a bit disappointed in the standard listings as well. For instance, when I searched for “search marketing” for the Los Angeles area in SkypeFind, there was only one standard listing and nine paid services, some in Europe, Costa Rica and elsewhere. Considering the population of the Los Angeles area, I find that ridiculous.

A sample search in SkypeFind

Needless to say, I’m disappointed in the progress that SkypeFind has made over the past year. What could be a powerful business resource seems to be a forgotten orphan. Will it hurt to be included in the directory? No, it’s free and you never know. You might even get a call and some business from it. But it’s certainly not Yelp or even the local Yellow Pages. Instead it’s a mishmash of questionable listings.

Without some serious attention, that fantastic potential is being wasted.

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Reviews

A First Look at Flytunes

Flytunes offers a way to tune into Internet radio online and offline.
Flytunes offers a way to tune into Internet radio online and offline. This press photo channel menu is slightly different from what I currently see on my iPhone.

One of the criticisms that the iPod and more recently the iPhone have had tossed out against them is the lack of a radio. After all, if you can build Wi-Fi into them, why not at least an FM radio?

Flytunes is attempting a unique and innovative solution to this lack of tuning in with a web based approach. The idea is to let the connected iPod or iPhone stream music from various Internet stations or cache the tunes to be played back later.

Having signed up for an account with the fledgling service, I received an e-mail inviting me to register on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the e-mail was caught by Outlook on my PC and not by the e-mail client on the iPhone, which meant I had to type in the long registration URL on the itsy-bitsy screen keyboard.

After that little ordeal, I registered my e-mail address and a password and was off and running. Before I knew it, I had the 60s & 70s station blasting away from the tiny iPhone speakers. It literally took me back to my childhood in the 60s when I would sit out in my front yard listening to a transistor radio. All I needed was a skin for Flytunes that looked like a transistor radio!

I listened for a while, but had to run meet some friends for lunch. On the way back from lunch, I tried to tune in from my car to check out the caching only to have a message pop up telling me the service was unavailable. I tried a few more times, gave up and decided to wait a while.

A couple of hours later, the “service unavailable” was replaced with a “scheduled maintenance” message and the service was down until Sunday afternoon.

Granted, it’s a new service, but it seemed unfortunate that my new registration e-mail came at the same time they went down.

Flytunes offers a number of different channels divided into genres – Country, Dance, Decades, Eclectic, Jazz, News, Sports, R&B, Rock, Top 40 and World music. Each genre is divided into subcategories. For instance, under the Rock category, you’ve got High Voltage, Live, Classic, Today’s Rock and Alternative Rock. You can also program presets by selecting any genres as a favorite.

According to the press materials, Flytunes will soon offer a premium version that includes more channels and, I’m assuming more cache time. I read in their press information that you can get up to four hours of cached music for plane trips and so forth, but so far I haven’t been able to come close to that, more like a few minutes. The premium version is also supposed to include software that will run on your PC and allow you to time shift and add more personalization to your music experience like building your own channel with your favorite artists. And the goal is for Flytunes to eventually work with other web-connected phones and music players.

So far my experience has been hit or miss. Sometimes it works great and other times not at all. You really need a Wi-Fi connection. The Edge service that comes with the AT&T contract is just too slow. And, there are other bugs to be ironed out. For instance, I was at a local Starbucks and wanted to listen to some cached tunes. Problem was, the darned T-Mobile hotspot kept popping up so that I couldn’t even get to my Flytunes page in the Safari browser. At times, some stations just wouldn’t come up at all and, despite requesting that my e-mail address and password be remembered, I find myself repeatedly typing them in.

I also noticed my battery indicator dropping rapidly as I used the service, which is to be expected, so don’t be surprised if you have to recharge more frequently if you give Flytunes heavy use.

I’m extremely excited about Flytunes. It definitely fills a niche and, in my opinion, is a far better option that trying to cram an FM radio into a phone or music player. Cached music and news can go with you anywhere.

If Flytunes can fix a few glitches, they’ve got a winner.

You might also want to see my related post iPhone Video Review.

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Got Backup? Try It Online

Have you backup up your files lately?
Before you have your own Carrie Bradshaw moment, give online backup a try.

I recently had one of those “Aw, nuts” moments when my PC froze and wouldn’t boot up after I powered it off. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get past the Windows Safe Mode. I had to resort to a total System Recover, which, of course, wiped my hard drive clean.

Fortunately, I had learned my lesson from a client and have backups run each night to an external drive. My client had been working on a 35-page online course in Microsoft Word. He had no backup in place and somehow overwrote the document with another one (more of an “Aw, expletive…!” moment). I tried for two hours to recover the 27 pages he had written so far, but the best I could retrieve from the temporary files were the first seven. He basically had to start all over again. Needless to say, I set him up with a backup system after that.

My recent experience got me to thinking about my own backup plan and how we all pretty much take backup for granted, if we even think about it. (Remember the Sex and The City episode where Carrie Bradshaw’s Mac laptop crashes and she loses everything? Everyone was asking her “Did you backup your files?” She said something like “Am I the only one who doesn’t know about this?”)

I’m in the process of converting old VHS videos, LPs and audio tapes to digital. The collection of files will be huge. I could get larger hard drives and back them up to an external or network drive as I have been doing, but what about theft, fire, or earthquakes (I am in earthquake alley), etc.? The best bet is to have the backup off site somewhere.

This brought on a revisit of online backup. I checked it out a few years ago when the idea was first introduced. At that time, most of us were on dial-up Internet access and it made no sense. Even if we set it up to dial in and update the backup at night, the phone was tied up and, at the speed of dial-up, the phone would probably still be tied up with it in the morning. Keeping the phone line tied up at night made me nervous. I had an alarm system that depended on dialing out and then there was the possibility of incoming emergency calls. Online backup just wasn’t for common folks yet.

With more and more broadband access, that has changed. Backing up my gigs of precious files to a secure, remote site now makes sense and Mozy makes it affordable and easy to do.

I discovered Mozy when I was looking for a simple way to backup my laptop documents. As an SEO, I generate keyword lists, feeds, blog postings, articles and a ton of e-mail. I just needed a way to keep my Word, Excel and e-mail docs backed up. I came across MozyFree, which provides 2 gigs of storage for free. That’s perfect for my laptop and it’s been running smoothly for several months.

So, I decided to take the plunge with MozyHome, their unlimited storage option for home users. At $4.95 per month, it sounded like a deal. The sign up is easy. I just entered my e-mail address, password, credit card information and so forth, and I was downloading their backup software.

Once installed, it scans your computer for typical files to backup (image below). You can expand that list in their expert mode. For instance, I have a ton of audio and video files in my “Shared Documents” folder that I share across my home network. I definitely wanted that backed up, so I added it, scheduled the backup and waited to see if they really mean “unlimited’ as far as storage. After all, my little test was only 50 gigs of audio and video files. 😉

MozyHome online backup configuration screen

Even with broadband, expect your initial backup to take a long time if you have a lot of multimedia files like I do (days in my case), so schedule it at night or when the PC isn’t being used. Future backups will be quicker as they will only add anything new to your online backup.

The downside to online backup? It’s still slow for huge amounts of data and the lengthy backups can drag down your access a bit. The same is true for restoring files. Large backups can take days to download. Even Mozy admits this. It pops up a little window on the first backup that tells you that it’s not unusual for the initial backup to take hours or even days, but that after the first one, it will be much quicker.

And, be sure you don’t have your Windows PC set for Auto Update. You can bet that it will pick the middle of your backup to reboot your PC every time!

The upside is that the data is stored safely away off-site with easy browser access. No more worries about what would happen if your backup was destroyed or stolen along with your PC.

Did Mozy balk at my 50 gig backup? Nope. It went without a hitch.

Frankly, I’ll be using a hybrid backup system for my backups. I’ll continue to backup periodically to an external backup drive while Mozy keeps the same information tucked away safely off-site. The $4.95 per month fee is pretty darn cheap insurance.

Mozy currently requires Windows Vista, XP, 2000, or Mac OS X 10.4.

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iPhone Video Review

Play the iPhone review video I recently walked into my local AT&T wireless store fully intending to upgrade my three-year-old mobile phone with a Windows Mobile phone/pda device. Like, I assume, many others, I walked out with an iPhone instead.

For the same price I was going to pay for the Windows Mobile phone I had my eye on, I could get the revolutionary iPhone. For the original price of $599, I wasn’t even going to consider it. Nice as it is, I’m too poor for that. But, once the price was dropped to striking range of the competition, things changed. After playing with the iPhone in the store, I decided to give it a go.

Here’s my video review. As whiz-bang, high-tech, sci-fi as the iPhone is, there are just some basic things that keep it from living up to what it really could be – the phone of the future now.

Some things to consider before choosing an iPhone over a Windows Mobile phone:

1. Oily fingers make the phone a mess.
2. The on-screen keypad is difficult.
3. Can’t do VOIP like Skype.
4. Internet access is slow
5. Due to #4, connecting to iTunes requires WiFi.
6. Forget custom ringtones unless you buy from iTunes.
7. Can’t share web connection with laptop.
8. Audio connection requires an adapter.
9. No manual. (See iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue.)

Don’t get me wrong. The iPhone is fantastic! I love it, but, yes, I miss some of the very basic things I could do with a Windows Mobile phone.

Watch the video review for more. Just click on the image above or play it right on this blog on the video page.

By the way, this blog looks great on an iPhone. See The Web Optimist on iPhone.

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Reviews

Roadrunner Support/Linksys WRT350N – Let’s Talk Turkey!

Roadrunner gets a thumbs down for support This really has nothing to do with SEO other than being about connectivity so that I can do my job as a search engine optimization analyst and trainer. But, I have been fighting with a Linksys WRT350N Wireless-N Router that refuses to keep an Internet connection. I’m trying to keep my cool with this thing, but don’t be surprised to see a not-so-nice review of the turkey here at some point. So far it has been a total dog, so unless you are into self-abuse, look at another wireless router.

Anyway, I digress. I’ve been all over the various support forums, even the one at Linksys, trying to figure out why this router loses its Internet connection after a few minutes. On one of the forums, it was suggested that I fill in the ISP information (Host, Domain) in Admin even if I don’t think it’s needed. I’ve tried just about everything else, so what could it hurt?

So, I sent a request off to Roadrunner (I’m in Palm Springs, CA) through their online form explaining the situation and asking for their ISP information since it was nowhere to be found on the “support” site.

Here’s the response: Continue reading

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PC Repair Services Review – Firedog

I recently had to take a Windows Media Center PC in for repairs. I had moved and the PC had been in storage for a couple of months. It worked fine when I packed it, but when I pulled it out of the moving box and connected it, all kinds of error messages were popping up. I tried running diagnostics, but came up with conflicting results.

It was time to call in the, uh, experts.

I first tried my local Best Buy store and their Geek Squad. Either they are real good or real bad. I didn’t get a chance to find out which because the geek behind the counter informed me that it would be at least ten days before they could even hook the PC up to run diagnostics in the store. On the other hand, if I wanted to use the (way more expensive) in-home service…

I passed. Down the street is a Circuit City which I noticed had recently put up a “We do PC and laptop repairs” banner, so I took it over there. Their Firedog desk could take it immediately.

Anyway, here’s a copy of an e-mail I sent to Firedog outlining my experience: Continue reading

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SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive with Skype Review

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive with SkypeIn my seemingly never-ending quest to find just the right gizmos to make life with VOIP all that it can be, I now find myself with a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive with Skype pre-installed on it to try out.

This tough little keyring-sized USB drive comes in either 1.0GB or 2.0GB (I’ve got the 2.0GB – $59.99 at Amazon.com) and comes preloaded with not only Skype, but Avast antivirus software, CruzerSync to sychronize files and Outlook for access on any PC and also Signup Shield to make password retention easy. It’s compatible with Windows XP or 2000, Linux and Mac OS 9.1.x+ and OS X v10.1.2+.

It comes with a little clip that I assume can be used to clip it on your pocket or “nerd pack” (remember those?). SanDisk also provides a cord you can clip it to and hand it around your neck.

Continue reading

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