Archive: browsers

A thought suddenly occurred to me last week when I was attending a presentation at IWMW about HTML5 and friends. One of the slides contained the logos of the five major browsers. It suddenly occurred to me that they are all round!

Internet Explorer logo
Mozilla Firefox logo
Google Chrome logo
Safari logo
Opera logo
Netscape logo

It is almost as if the circle or sphere has, by stealth, become the standard shape of the web. Because of the sort of person I am, I began to wonder just why this is. After a while, I figured that it was because a circle, or something vaguely spherical, reminds us of a globe, symbolising the ‘world wide’ nature of the web.

None of the logos go out of their way to look like a globe though. The most globe-like is the Firefox logo, and even then it is a made-up map that is mostly obscured by the fox. The Safari logo also features, quite subliminally, part of a world map. But this takes a back seat to the compass.

As many will remember, a globe was a big feature of the Internet Explorer logo about ten years ago. It was the big ‘e’ that rotated to reveal a globe on the other side while a page was loading. But nowadays the only throwback to that is the yellow ring, which looks a bit like an orbital path.

Goodness knows what the Google Chrome logo is actually supposed to be (a gay pride pokéball?). But the spherical nature of it is quite a strong reminder of a globe.

I have been thinking lately about good visual metaphors for the web. I am not particularly keen on the image we currently use in the University of St Andrews web team for the avatar of our Twitter account @stawebteam. I think it looks too much like we are forcing Firefox down people’s throats. The question is how to differentiate our Twitter account from others that use the University crest.

WWW logoA spider’s web doesn’t work — it is cheesy, laboured and just a bit too obvious. The original world wide web logo (on the right), designed by Tim Berners-Lee’s co-conspirator Robert Cailliau, has not aged well and is not particularly versatile.

Maybe the answer is just to somehow adopt the sphere. What I wonder is if going spherical was a conscious decision on the part of the browser logos’ designers — and it is a sheer coincidence that they have all had the same idea. Or perhaps it is something that sits subconsciously in the back of a designer’s head when thinking about the world wide web.

An alternative theory is that the logos are designed not to look like a globe, but to look like the Internet Explorer logo! While having a look to see if anyone had spotted the trend for browser logos to be circular or spherical, I came across another blog post with more theories as to why.

In the comments there, momentum gathers behind the idea that the other browsers are following what Internet Explorer has done because it has become so ingrained in people’s minds that you click the circular logo to surf the web. I particularly like the first comment from Simon:

People got used to the idea that the icon that goes to the internet is the round, blue one, so other browser-makers followed suit with at least the shape.

In fact, looking at the logos again, I think it goes even further than the shape. Many of the logos feature blue prominently. Even Google Chrome’s multi-coloured logo places a blue sphere centre stage.

Perhaps this is the real reason why Opera has never quite got much of a foothold in the desktop browser market! Its logo is arguably the least spherical, and is the only one of the current major browsers that doesn’t feature any blue.


I’ve been wondering a bit about the way technology news is still ghettoised. I don’t mean news about the latest rubbish web 2.0 start-up with a ridiculous name. I mean quite important stuff. Security problems and the like.

Take what happened last week. A patch to fix a major flaw in the DNS was released. It is pretty important stuff. But the only mentions of it have been ghettoised in the darkest recesses of the technology sections, cordoned off in yellow and black tape with “warning: geeks only” written on it.

I don’t watch the television much these days, so I might be wrong. But I saw no mention of it on the news. I heard no mention of it on the radio. You certainly don’t hear people talking about it on the streets or in pubs.

You might think, “So what? Security update for X, Y and Z are released every day. You can’t have the news reporting it every day.” But something extra happened with that security update that was released last week: it crippled many users’ computers. Including my parents’ computer.

It is just as well I was still able to use my computer to try and find out what the problem was and how to workaround it. It turned out that ZoneAlarm threw a hissy-fit after Windows XP had updated and prevented users from accessing the internet.

In fairness, the BBC reported this on their website — but that’s not very useful if you’ve got no internet. Perhaps there are still people scratching their head about why they’ve not been able to access the internet for the past week.

The problem is twofold. One, the mainstream media seems quite averse to any technology story unless it’s to do with [say this like a caveman] “GOOGLE” or “APPLE”. Or “GOOGLE”. Simply, if you want to find out anything meaningful about technology you have to really know where to look for it.

And this brings me on to the second part of the problem. The people who don’t know where to look for information are also the most vulnerable users. There are people who, for whatever reason, can’t be motivated to take proactive measures to prevent themselves from the various security issues that inevitably arise when you use the internet.

I have a friend who bought a new computer a few weeks ago. The other day he complained to me that his new computer has already got spyware on it. The thing is that it’s not difficult to protect yourself really.

I’m not really a computer expert in the slightest, but I know the basics of how to protect myself — essentially keep all your software updated with the latest patches and don’t click any dodgy links. I don’t think it’s really a difficult concept. And — touch wood — these basics have worked for me. Since I got my own computer early last year I’ve never had anything worse than a tracking cookie on my computer (as far as I know — I just know that this is an invitation for my computer to explode under the weight of pop-ups tomorrow…).

But even simple measures like these that anyone can take are difficult to get through to some people. So many people still treat computers with awe. It is sometimes easy to forget how foreign computers are to many people.

I remember a couple of years ago when there was a really bad signalling failure on the train line into Edinburgh. Basically every train was cancelled. An old lady pointed to the automated departure monitor and asked why it said a list of trains towards the bottom of the screen were still listed as being on time.

This is what she said in protest (as though it would make her more likely to get on a train to Edinburgh): “I thought computers were wonderful things that never ever went wrong.” But even my basic knowledge of how computers work told me exactly why the trains were still listed as being ‘on time’ — because they hadn’t even departed from their start station, so hadn’t passed any sensors and weren’t technically late at all. The computer was none the wiser for obvious reasons.

This can be put down to the old issue that people in their thirties and younger have been using computers for almost all of their lives and understand what a computer is good for and what it isn’t. Youngsters who have lived with computers all their lives understand how a computer works, but for many people older than that computers just work by magic.

The thing is, that divide between young and old is not so clear cut as I used to think. I was listening to iPM yesterday and there was an interview with Clive Sinclair. He pointed out that back in the 1980s computer users really understood computers because they had to in order to get them to work. Today’s youngsters growing up with computers generally don’t understand computers at all.

So we come back to my friend who is the same age as me and has a problem with spyware. I have had a few conversations with him where I have tried to persuade him to use Firefox. For him, the internet is the internet and he doesn’t understand how one browser can be better than another. Even though I have told him about all the superior features and better security that a browser like Firefox or Opera can provide, he persists on using Internet Exploder version bum point poo.

Many people, through ignorance, don’t take the simple measures to keep themselves safe on the internet. I’ve had a look at the stats for this website to see what bad browsers visitors to this site are using.

In the past month, an amazing 20% of visitors used Internet Explorer 6. This is a web browser that was originally released seven years ago and last updated four years ago. It is notorious for its security problems. The more up-to-date Internet Explorer 7 was released almost two years ago.

You would expect Firefox users to be smarter, right? Not always. In the past month, 243 Firefox users that visited this website were using a version of the browser that is considered unsafe (which I defined as and below). This included 19 people using, 11 using 1.0.7 and 8 using Most amazingly, 4 visitors were using Firefox 0.9.1, a browser that has been out of date for four years. I dread to think what kind of security problems these users have been getting themselves in.

It got me wondering. If this many people are using dodgy browsers, how many people are still trying in vain to unsubscribe from spam emails? How many don’t know that even viewing an image in an email alerts a spammer that your email address is active? You could go on.

I don’t mean all this in a preachy kind of way. I completely understand why it is difficult for people to keep up to date with all the security issues that arise. I just find it really frustrating that simple awareness issues are not, well, made aware to people.

Things don’t get much more ubiquitous than the internet. It is impossible to imagine that someone growing up today will not be a regular internet user in some form or another. And there are real dangers on the internet that aren’t to do with [say this like a caveman] “PEDOPHILS” and “CYBER BULLIES”. But the media reports on made-up dangers like “KNIVES” and “YOOFS” and “KNIVES” as though we are on the verge of bladeageddon.

Yesterday I was listening to Digital Planet. They had a chap called Stefan Frei on reporting that around 60% of all internet users are using an out-of-date browser. He had a really smart way of thinking about software security. You should think of software as being perishable, just in the same way as foodstuffs. You wouldn’t eat a mouldy slice of bread, so why would you use a browser with a huge security hole in it?

It’s a really smart analogy that should be spread far and wide. It’s just frustrating that the place I heard it was on Digital Planet, which is probably listened to mainly by people who already know that they should be updating their browsers.

Yesterday WordPress 2.6 came out which is pretty unbelievable because it feels like WP 2.5 just came out last month. Anyway, a new version of WordPress comes with the necessity to upgrade and the hair-pulling that comes with it.

My upgrades went fairly smoothly, but I did notice an issue with .swf files not being installed. I saw that a couple of other people had the same problem.

It got me thinking about what might be causing the problem. The obvious candidate was that the Flashblock Firefox extension wasn’t playing nice with the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin.

Flashblock, incidentally, is a must-have Firefox extension for me as it allows you to have complete control over Flash files. No more stupid adverts or autoplay or any of that other nonsense that comes with Flash. Meanwhile, WordPress Automatic Upgrade is slightly flaky, but at the end of the day it makes upgrading WordPress much less painful and much faster than it would be otherwise.

Anyway, I have three blogs. I had the problem with the .swf files on the first two blogs. So that gave me a perfect opportunity to see if my theory about Flashblock was right on my third blog. So I disabled Flashblock and ran WPAU. The upgrade went well, with all the files uploading.

If you already ran WPAU while using Flashblock, your WordPress upgrade may be incomplete. Check to see if the following files are missing and upload them manually.

  • wp-includes/js/swfupload/swfupload_f9.swf
  • wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/media/img/flv_player.swf

I’ve emailed the author of WPAU to let him know. He says he’ll work on a fix, but I thought I’d post it here to give people a heads-up.

I’m in the process of writing the next post in my series about music and the internet, but it’s proving to be a bit of an epic. It is probably better to spread the posts out anyway. I doubt many people want to read my ranting and raving about the music industry between Christmas and new year.

In the meantime, here is a quick post to point out that I have tweaked the design a bit. I took account of the feedback you all gave me when I originally unveiled this design — all much appreciated.

MatGB wanted a darker background. I have made the background slightly darker, but you probably won’t notice it isn’t white. It is a very light grey. I tried darker greys, but it never looked right to me.

Clive thought the font size was too big. It is big, but for some reason Cambria is quite a small font (to my eyes at least). I did try to reduce it, but it just doesn’t work for me. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the column is so wide now that reducing the font size means having too many words on one line. So I’ve decided to keep the font sizes as they are. If you want a smaller font size, adjust the browser settings.

I have made the colours slightly more muted, as Duncan suggested. The original design had rather simple greens, yellows and reds colours. I have toned down the greens so that they are darker, and the yellow for categories has become a mellow orange.

I have fixed the tags page, so it is back with even more taggy goodness than before. I should point out that tags is a bit of a work-in-progress now. Over the years the tags have become quite messy, so I am having to tidy them up. It is quite time consuming though. I did ‘a’ a couple of months ago and yesterday I did ‘b’. So it’ll be a while until it’s perfect. But it works fine as it is really.

I have also opted to put the dates back in everywhere. I did feel lost without them.

There are still some weird spacing issues in both Internet Exploder and Opera. I guess this is to be expected since I designed it using Firefox. I’ve tried to sort out as many of the niggles as I could, but some of them have really stumped me. They are not too serious though, so I’m just going to leave them as they are.

“Only” 55% of this blog’s visitors use Internet Explorer any more anyway. Probably in 2008 IE users will finally be in a minority (for this blog at least). Seriously people, just use Firefox. It would make our lives so much easier.

I just have a couple more tweaks here and there to do (mostly getting a ‘credits’ section finished). So I am tentatively calling the design finished. Comments are still welcome though.

Yes, I’ve decided to give the blog a new look again. I couldn’t wait to get this up, but it’s not quite finished. I still need to do a few tweaks here and there. (Surprise surprise, it looks a bit guff in Internet Exploder.) But it’s quite late now and I can’t bring myself to switch it back to the old theme, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and leaving it up.

I’ll update this post later some time in the afternoon explaining the thinking behind it all. In the meantime, if you spot any problems or if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Update: Okay, so now I have the time to post a bit about what I’ve done here.

Perhaps the first thing I should point out is the fact that, regrettably, some URLs have changed. Permalinks to posts and the like should still work perfectly. But you’ll notice that I’ve moved the pages in the navigation panel around a bit. I’ve also reorganised the categories (in fact, I haven’t quite finished that yet).

Speaking of categories, I have finally created a ‘media’ category. It never quite made sense for media posts to be listed under ‘entertainment’, particularly if I was writing about some kind of media coverage of a serious story. So I’ve gone ahead and separated them, and now television, radio and newspapers are listed under media. As such, some category URLs have also changed, so sorry about that if you had them bookmarked or something.

So why the change? Well, I am still very fond of the old design. It will probably make a reappearance somewhere — possibly on another blog. But perhaps I will release it as a WordPress theme for others to use — if I can find the time to make the appropriate tweaks to it.

Despite my pride though, I was always aware that a lot of people were not very keen on the previous design. And it has been there for almost a year. (Maybe this change will become an annual occurrence, a doctorvee Christmas tradition.)

Common complaints were about the dark background (apparently an acquired taste) and the bright links. So I’ve decided to swing back to a white background and rather more muted colours, if you can call green muted.

This is also the equivalent of growing a moustache to try and signify that you are growing up (not that many people grow moustaches these days, but you know what I mean). The previous design was deliberately jazzy and distinctive. But since then I have become a can’t-get-away-from-it adult. And in the next few months I will hopefully be finished with university.

So that means ditching the childish neon colours and adopting a serif font. I have spoken before about my devotion to Verdana, but I am afraid I have become rather tired of it. It is suffering from Times New Roman syndrome.

You know. It’s become a ubiquitous, default font. As such, it is used in so many pieces of ugly design. We have all stumbled upon badly thrown-together websites written in Verdana, just as we see too many passive aggressive notes written in Times New Roman.

I had become very keen on the recently redesigned websites for Times Online and Guardian Unlimited. Both use plenty of Georgia, so I was going to use that. Besides Times New Roman, it’s the only core serif font anyway.

But while I was designing I visited Modern Life which uses Cambria. It is basically the Vista version of Times New Roman, but lovely. I fell in love and decided to use the font on my blog. But as far as I know Cambria is only available on Vista, so for everyone else it is still Georgia.

A funny thing about Cambria is that it appears to be extraordinarily small, so the font size is rather large. But there’s nothing wrong with that I suppose.

Headings and some other bits and pieces are in Helvetica where possible, although Windows users (including me!) will have to make do with Arial. I know it’s a bit clichéd, and rather too ubiquitous, but you never grow tired of it. I do love Helvetica so I was keen to use it when I decided to give the blog a cleaner design.

I suppose now is a good time to talk about the general inspiration for the redesign. I was tempted to go back to a clinical, Helvetica-led design when I first saw screenshots for the new beta version of Delicious. Delicious is a very apt word. Mind you, the end result on this blog has ended up looking very little like the Delicious screenshots.

A more direct inspiration has been the beautifully-designed Lokesh Dhakar website. In fact, parts of this blog’s design have turned out to be embarrassingly similar. I first came across his blog when I read this guide to different kinds of coffee and it instantly struck me as an excellent design.

Layout-wise, I very much went for the ‘less is more’ approach. This has meant compromises in places, but I’ll go on to that. The main change is that I’ve moved away from a three column layout to two columns. I had read somewhere that multiple columns just confuse people, which makes sense. So it’s back to one sidebar.

I was keen to get everything lined up nicely with each other. This does make it look quite neat, but one problem is that the main column is quite close to the sidebar. The solution was to have a neat line running along the left of the sidebar, although I’m still not sure if it is enough. I toyed with using full justification, but decided in the end that the cons outweighed the pros.

Despite the intimate position of the main column and the sidebar, the page is wider than before. Making good use of the space available and all that. As such, the design only really works if your screen is at least 1024 pixels wide. But the same was true of the previous design. And people with smaller screens make up around 3% of this blog’s visitors. Sorry to those 3%, but the rest of us just get masses of white space.

On to the content. One thing you’ll notice is that categories are now taking pride of place above every single post. They used to be hidden away, only appearing in the sidebar of single post pages.

The reason I’ve made them more prominent is because over the years I have become more and more guilty about the fact that this blog is a bit of a ragbag of different topics. And the Formula 1 posts in particular are beginning to overshadow everything else. So having the category as the first thing of every post is just a heads-up for everyone, so that you know what the post is about and you can easily skip the posts you aren’t interested in.

Another new addition is subtitles. I saw this on a few other blogs and really liked the idea, so I’m going to give it a go. Inspired by this article, I did it using custom fields, a feature of WordPress that I have never really explored before.

Gone from the top of the post, however, are the date and the comments link. The date still appears there on single posts, but I am thinking of including them everywhere again. I already feel a bit lost without them (although I didn’t use dates much on any of the designs I used before the previous one).

I am also open to putting the comments link back up there, although the link still appears at the bottom of the post as expected. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

I have also taken the plunge and decided to add a ShareThis button, despite what I wrote about it a few months ago. I’m still experimenting with the position of this, so any ideas would be welcome.

Over to the sidebar. I’ve reduced the amount of stuff that’s there to a bare minimum. The latest comment is still there as I like to highlight the great discussions that go on in the comments, which is really what blogging is all about.

Twitter is still there, although I’ve reduced it to just the latest update rather than the last three. Delicious too has been reduced to just the five most recent links. I normally post to Delicious more often than five times a day, so this might be a bit odd. But there is method to my madness.

I made a decision a short while ago that this blog should concentrate mainly on original content. That’s just the way the blog has evolved, and I don’t really like to fob people off with YouTube clips all the time.

But it’s good to highlight interesting websites and videos. After all, that was the original meaning of the word ‘weblog’, celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. So I will create another home for them. Probably a tumblelog, but I will get round to that later.

The other prominent feature on the main page (and, indeed, every page, the big whore that I am) is adverts. An early version of this design had the adverts appearing in a garish green colour scheme, but I screwed my head on enough to revert to a more sane grey version. I am ridiculously proud of having the idea of paying homage to Associated-Rediffusion, which wouldn’t really have worked with the green scheme.

The part of the design I am most worried about is the comments. For some reason, I always find the comments section the most difficult to design, and this time was no different.

I decided to move the comment author information to the left of the comment rather than above. Part of this was to get the full size of the Gravatar displayed, which would take up too much room if you have it above. It is also a layout familiar to message board users, so no real issue there.

There is a problem, however, if somebody has quite a long word in their name. In a recent example, Bellgrovebelle is cut off, although there are worse examples. Thankfully, these are quite rare and hopefully not too distracting.

As has already been noted by Ollie in the comments to this post, there is an inconsistency between the sizes of the Gravatars and the Identicons. I’ve not worked too hard on this yet, although my attempts so far have only produced pixellated-looking Identicons. I am working on it though.

Other features I’m thinking about adding to the comments section are favicons and OpenID.

In the pages (about, archives, etc.) I have also removed a lot of stuff that I didn’t really consider important any more. I’m thinking of completely uninstalling the post popularity plugin as this blog now has a post ratings system which I prefer. As for the other stuff, see if you can work out what’s gone. I doubt anyone will be too upset.

One last thing. I am using some icons from the Silk set by Fam Fam Fam. I’ve still not quite finished this aspect of the design, as I’m not sure which bits should have icons and which shouldn’t.

I think that just about covers it. Sorry this post went on for so long. I would be grateful to hear any comments or ideas. And of course, if something seems broken then please let me know about it!

I am usually a defender of Facebook. But this time I think they have overstepped the line and have introduced a ‘feature’ that makes me personally uncomfortable. From The Facebook Blog:

Just as Facebook shares your on-site interactions with your friends through News Feed, we now give you an option to let News Feed share your off-site actions with your friends as well.

News Feed created a huge privacy concern when it was introduced last year. But I didn’t buy the complaints then. News Feed amounted to Facebook displaying things you did on Facebook. If you don’t want your Facebook friends to know something, perhaps you shouldn’t do the action on Facebook. Just a suggestion.

However, Project Beacon is on a completely new level. Now Facebook friends may know about things that I do on sites that aren’t Facebook. There is no way of knowing whether or not a website is going to report to Facebook what you are doing. As this blog post points out:

It’s a little bit creepy to know that if I visit the Internet Porn Emporium, this store might attempt to tell Facebook that I’m a patron.

And although you can select for the information not to appear on your News Feed, Facebook will apparently still have the data.

It just feels a little bit like it’s too much of my private information getting into the hands of too many people without me necessarily knowing. There is a brilliant comment at Mashable which makes another good point about this:

Letting my friends know that I ordered x, y, and z from Amazon doesn’t sound very appealing. Could also totally spoil the surprise of a birthday gift or something.

So I will be blocking Facebook Beacon.

Via Tom’s View of the World’s Delicious account.

There is a fixture of the modern web that I really don’t understand. And in terms of annoyance it is probably second only to Snap Preview.

Millions of links to social bookmarking websites littering the bottom of every news article and blog post written. You know the ones. “Digg this!” “Send to!” “Pimp-me-do to Reddit!”

A particularly bad example comes from one certain WordPress plugin which appends this awful mess onto every post:

Far too many icons to make sense of

I mean, just what the hell are you supposed to do with that?

It is not just blogs that do this sort of thing. Many major newspaper websites also now incorporate such links pretty much as a matter of course. Thankfully, they tend to show a bit more restraint than that WordPress plugin.

BBC News social bookmarks BBC News has become the latest website to add such buttons to its news stories. Thankfully, they too have kept it relatively restrained, with simple links to five of the most popular social bookmarking services.

Ryan Morrison thinks that the inclusion of the buttons is a good move from the BBC (by the way, sorry, Ryan, for nicking your screengrab! I’m not leeching off your bandwidth though, honest). But I just don’t understand why they go to that bother.

I have steadfastly refused to include such buttons on this blog. For one, the advantages of being submitted to Digg are dubious (something like having hundreds of drunk arseholes coming into your living room to violently vomit on your carpet before going away without paying the cleaning bill, never to be seen again).

But this is what I really don’t understand about these social bookmarking links. As Inquisitor points out, surely if you wanted to submit a story to, Digg or whatever, you would already know how to do it. If you make a habit out of Digging a site, you will surely have the relevant plugins / browser buttons installed in your browser. Why rely on the disparate approaches taken by the near-infinite number of websites on the internet when you have that trusty button in your browser?

I am a heavy user of Yet I have never used one of the buttons placed on a website itself. I always use the buttons that I have installed on my browser. I am familiar with these plugins. I know exactly where to find them and what to expect when I click them.

Browser buttons for, Digg and StumbleUpon

Most major social bookmarking websites have Firefox extensions or little bookmarks that you can drag into your toolbar. The above image is a screenshot of the navigation toolbar bar in Firefox. Next to the address field are two different buttons for (one for my main account, the other for Scottish Roundup). Then, if I should feel like Digging a story there is a Digg button. Next to that is one for StumbleUpon. Facebook has an entire toolbar if you really want to use it.

You might say, “Okay, maybe that is how you submit stories to social bookmarking websites. But you are an awful geek. What about the rest of us?” Maybe so, but how many normal, non-geek, web users are users of social bookmarking websites? If you took the geeks off the internet, social bookmarking websites would probably not exist at all.

I would be interested to know how often the buttons used on websites like BBC News and blogs are really used. I can’t imagine they are used that much. Why would you, when you can use browser buttons that are so much more efficient?

Still, I guess the links placed on websites must work, otherwise nobody would bother with them. I have pondered installing Alex King’s “Share This” plugin. At least it quite sensibly hides the ugly smorgasbord of links before you actively ask to be shown them. But still, why would you do that when you — presumably — already have your own trusted methods of posting an item to your social bookmarking website of choice?

Actually, I’m not. But I had forgotten about CSS Naked Day, and it would be a bit silly just to take part for half of the day. Anyway, I think (hopefully) this blog works fairly well without the CSS. If you want a look at this blog naked, I know at least that in Firefox going into View > Page Style > No Style achieves pretty much the same thing.

A question for you. Has this blog been slow to load for you over the past, say, couple of weeks? I had noticed it, but I just put it down to something loading slowly in the sidebar. These things happen from time to time and usually they get fixed eventually.

But I had also noticed big problems accessing my Sitemeter account. The results pages were extremely slow to load, and often they didn’t even load at all. I thought maybe they were just having some temporary issues. These things happen from time to time and usually they get fixed eventually.

On Saturday evening I was putting the finishing touches to Scottish Roundup. I was wondering what I should use for tracking stats. I had used Sitemeter on my blog for years, but I was tempted by StatCounter. I had used it before on an old, long-forgotten blog, and it does the job fairly well.

When I was browsing the StatCounter site, I spotted this little ‘news item’ in the top corner of the page: “StatCounter Says NO!” No to what? I was intrigued. I clicked through, and read the post.

A few months back, StatCounter was approached by an advertiser, offered lots of $$$, and asked to include a spyware cookie on all of our member sites…we refused on the spot.

We were shocked to discover just today that another well known stats provider is allowing up to 9 cookies to be installed in the browser of every visitor that hits one of their member websites. This means that the provider is making money by transmitting data on you and your visitors to a third party advertiser. Not only that, but to add insult to injury, the cookies are causing the member websites to load very slowly too.

Oh, a familiar story. The blog post written by StatCounter did not name the provider involved, but this was clearly what I had been experiencing recently. But I couldn’t find confirmation. Although I had an inkling that they were talking about Sitemeter, I couldn’t be certain.

I opted to give Sitemeter the benefit of the doubt. I was, after all, used to their service and it had never caused any major problems for me before. I decided to keep the Sitemeter code on my blog. But the commitment from StatCounter was encouraging, so I chose to use StatCounter for Scottish Roundup.

Today I have read this post on Troubled Diva. Well it pretty much seems as though Sitemeter has been using dodgy spyware cookies which not only invades your privacy but — to add insult to injury — also makes your web pages as slow as hell to load.

It’s funny. Sitemeter always had a funny whiff about it. The pages were ugly, and unlike most websites there didn’t seem to be much of a human voice about them. It did feel like it was being run by either robots or secretive people. That had changed when they introduced their blog, but posts on that have dried up. And the fact that they haven’t replied to any emails or made any statement about this news speaks volumes.

Mike at Troubled Diva says that the problem hasn’t affected Firefox, but I use Firefox 2.0 and I noticed the chronic slowdown. Needless to say, I removed Sitemeter from this blog immediately and I have replaced it with StatCounter.

It’s madness for Sitemeter to do this though. Users of the internet despise spyware and anybody who assists in this kind of behaviour is portrayed as the some kind of spamming e-Hitler. It’s especially bad news on the internet, where blogs and the like allow this kind of news to spread like wildfire. Sitemeter’s reputation will be irreparably tarnished, and they won’t be able to make much more dirty money again. Certainly not by using me anyway.

Firefox 2 The Firefox 2 feature that seems to have got people most excited is the fact that each individual tab now has its own X button.

But come on. Why did you even use the X button anyway. Did you not realise that middle clicking on a tab closes it?

Infact, middle clicking is probably one of the greatest things about Firefox, yet nobody seems to know anything about it. Middle clicking on a link makes it open in a new tab. That’s right. Those webmasters forcing links to open in a new window or in the same tab and suck it. I have control over where my links open.

It’s so great, yet nobody else seems to do it. It’s not very well-known. I think I discovered it by accident. But I thought it was so great that I now click just about every link with the scroll wheel, even if I’m not bothered about keeping the current tab open. You know why? Because I can easily close the tab by middle clicking on it.

See how great this is? I think this is the real reason why I don’t use IE. My beloved middle clicking would be gone.

Do I get too excited about a mouse button?

Update: One thing that sucks about Firefox 2 is the spell checker. Colour is wrong. Labour is wrong. Realise is wrong. Defense is right. What sort of fucked up dictionary are these people using?! Amusingly, also wrong are ‘img’ ‘src’ and ‘jpg’. Doh! Wait a minute. ‘Doh’ is aswell! And so is aswell! I should just switch this spell checker off, shouldn’t I?

Update again: By the way, I love the fact that I can set it to subscribe to RSS feeds using Google Reader (or any other feed reader I want). Nice!

Update: Found out, via Gordon McLean, how to get rid of that Go button. I had been wondering about that! Now, does anybody know how to get rid of the search go button (with the magnifying glass)?