Google Instant Previews

Google has quietly rolled out another interesting feature to their search offering. It's called Instant Previews. It allows you to hover over the list of search results and see a thumbnail preview of the site.

The thumbnail, while not small, as thumbnails go, is certainly not big enough to read any text on the site. It's even less legible than viewing a full Web page on an iPhone. It seems the only benefit it affords you is helping you with that gut reaction you get when you click on a new site. At a glance, you get a sense if the site is 'legit' or not. Instant Preview would certainly help weed out the's of the world from the's of the world.

One downside for these indexed websites is that it may actually cause less click-throughs. If you can glance at 10 sites to judge its relevance to you, then there's no need for you to click on those 10 sites. For Google, it would subsequently keep you on their page longer, perhaps by design.

In terms of usability, you do have to click on the little magnifying lens next to the search result, the first time, in order to activate the thumbnails for all of the results. In fact, you have to click on the magnifying lens each time you run a new search. Also, there are no thumbnail previews of the Sponsored Results -- something I'd actually like to see added.

An important point for Web developers and administrators ... some websites do not display properly with Instant Previews. Across the board, Flash sites and Flash elements to websites show up as a puzzle piece in the preview. And some sites, like, don't work at all.

What do you think? Have you used it?


Games Rule Mobile

For all of us who constantly think of that great and useful app that we'd love to make for our iPhone or Android phone, it seems that the best bet is ... games. Not surprisingly, games dominate the mobile app world.

Of smartphone owners surveyed by Nielsen who downloaded apps last month, 61% said they've downloaded a game. In second place was weather apps, then maps/search, social networking, and music. Surprisingly, health-related apps ranked pretty low at 14%. I think that could be, in large part, due to the fact that there aren't many great health-related apps out there.

As I look to my own app-purchasing habits, this does follow suit. And if I can only stop playing Angry Birds and Boggle, I'll regain some of my sanity.


Commuter Tip

I've been riding NJ Transit for many years now. All groans aside about service and their latest mega-round of ticket hikes, I wanted to pass along a tip for times just like this.

And by this I mean the very end or beginning of the month. You know ... when there are 100 people in line to get their monthly pass, and you only have 4 minutes to catch your next train? Well, as you can see in this photo, this is the typical line for customers of the monthly pass. Long lines at both the ticket windows and at the ticket machines. 

Well, here's the little gem that I might regret passing along. Every one of these people is getting their tickets at the same place -- either at the main ticketing windows, the nearby machines, or at the machines that are on the outward-bound tracks. The tip is to go to the inward-bound tracks (the ones heading into NYC) during evening rush hour (and vice-versa). There's no one heading INTO the city during evening rush hour trying to get a monthly pass. As you can see from this picture, there's no one there! That's how I get my ticket -- lickety split.


The Activity of Music

If you're old enough (I'm days away from 40 now), you probably remember sitting around listening to music as something to do. You'd gather a couple of friends in your room, unseal the new "Kiss Alive II" LP (bad example?), and hang out ... just listening to it. It was an activity unto itself.

I recall spending endless hours soaking in Genesis's self-titled album "Genesis," and resetting that needle just to play it over again. And you'd listen to an entire side, if not the entire album, straight through. For one, albums were written back then to have a certain flow to them. Concept albums (recall Styx's "Kilroy Was Here") were meant to tell a story from start to finish. Second, it was kind of a pain getting up out of your bean bag chair to reset the stylus to change songs.

Now, I don't mean for this to be one of those old-fart-whiny posts about the good ol' days, but I do feel this has two consequences. First, I think it'll become even rarer that artists write albums in this way (thanks Green Day and the late, great Kevin Gilbert). Artists -- actually the record labels -- write songs nowadays just for the quick fix. It's formulaic. Throw together 10 pop tracks, 2-3 of which will be released as singles, and market the hell out of the artist until they're all dried up. Too many great artists have been consciously dropped from the marketing machine simply because they no longer have pop appeal (Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Bleu, Björk, et al). Second, because listening to music is no longer a past time, truly great music today will be reduced to background noise in tinny earphones during a commute or a tune you can sort of listen to while you play your favorite iPhone game.

That's no sort of life for Ben Folds Five.


Found My iPhone

I had my first real need to use Apple's "Find my iPhone" service, available through my MobileMe account (and now available as an app without the need for a MobileMe account).

After realizing that I had misplaced it, I roamed around the house with a cordless phone calling my cell phone. No luck. It was a busy morning, so I may have left the phone at either the gym, the bagel place, the dry cleaners, the Radio Shack, or the barber. I did not feel like retracing all of those steps, and then I realized I could just log onto my MobileMe account and have it find my phone for me.

When I activated it, I saw that it was still at my house but slightly off. Then I realized that I must have left in the car, which was parked two houses away. I told the service to send a tone to the phone for 2 minutes, along with a message that read, "Please give the phone to daddy." Sure enough, the phone was under the seat in my car. Must have slipped out of my shorts.

That service alone is worth the $99 a year I pay for MobileMe.