Last modified, better preview, and ask

Clock_1
The status line now shows when a site was last modified, which can be useful to know if you’re searching for time-sensitive information. Not all sites return the header I use to find that out though.

I’d noticed there were some sites still showing up with missing pictures or bad formatting in the preview. I spent some time debugging some of the problem cases, and realized there were some bugs in the code I was using to insert the tag that resolves relative URLs. I put in fixes for those problems, which made a lot of CSS based sites appear much better.
It also allowed some scripts to run that hadn’t before, so I then had to fix the bugs in my script blocking that let those through. The end result is that preview works a lot more reliably.

I’ve also been experimenting with offering ask.com as an alternative to Google. I managed to get something working pretty quickly, but hit problems with their use of Javascript in the results pages. It works fine in Safari and Internet Explorer, but Firefox throws a lot of errors. I’ll be returning to debug that some more when I have a chance, for now I’ve left the code in, but I’m not providing any obvious links to it. If you want to experiment, use http://mashproxy.com/search?ask to invoke it.

Google launches their own SearchMash…

Searchmash
… and I was the first person to discover it! On Monday morning I did my usual Google search for ‘searchmash’ to see who was linking to me, and I was surprised to see http://www.searchmash.com come up as the first result. I looked at the site, discovered from whois and the privacy policy that Google were running it, though trying to be low-key about it.

I posted to Google Blogoscoped about my discovery, and it mushroomed from there. It’s fun being part of a news story, and I’m glad to see Google trying some really different looks to their interface.

I’ve also got a lot of traffic from the news, it’s been great to have so many people discover my SearchMash, I really couldn’t have paid for that sort of publicity. It’s interesting to compare their approach to mine too; they’re providing a new interface but with the same information, whereas I’ve stuck pretty closely to their original interface, but try to offer some extra information on top.

Added a firefox search plugin

Firefox

I just finished a plugin for Firefox, so you can now add SearchMash to your search toolbar, just like the standard Yahoo, Google and EBay ones. To install it, go to http://mashproxy.com/search/previewframe.html, and click on the “Add SearchMash to Firefox’s toolbar” link.

Once it’s there, you can do searches with SearchMash by clicking on the top right toolbar, that shows a ‘G’ and does Google searches by default, and select ‘S’ for SearchMash instead.

You may also like… (aka the competition!)

Grin

ask.com and snap.com both offer preview images of some websites in their search results. Unlike SearchMash, these are pre-rendered thumbnails, so you can’t click on them, they only have them for the most popular sites, and they may be out of date.

Google Preview is a free Firefox plugin that provides similar functionality to ask and snap’s thumbnails, but pulling the images from thumbshots.com and alexa rather than a proprietary database.

Browster is an ad supported browser plugin, and the only other one that does give you a live preview of web pages. As a browser plugin, it does require an install, doesn’t do any search term checking, and is only available for the PC. The upside is that as a plugin, the integration is tighter than SearchMash.

For more mashups, ProgrammableWeb has a great directory, and recently gave SearchMash four stars.

SearchMash FAQ

Faq

What is SearchMash for?

SearchMash makes searching faster and more reliable by weeding out dead or stale results.

Why do I get a security warning?

SearchMash uses a securely signed Java applet to process and display the web pages. Because signed applets have these powerful functions, the browser wants to make sure you trust one before it’s run.
You should trust SearchMash because it’s fully open-source, highly secure, and certified by Verisign. It’s source code is open to scrutiny on Sourceforge, and its full security model is described on this blog.

Why do some pages show up incorrectly in the preview?

There are some bugs with the preview page loading that cause some images and CSS style sheets to fail to load. I made some fixes recently, but there are still some remaining issues. I will be addressing these as soon as possible.

How do I report a bug?

The easiest way is to just email me at searchbrowser@gmail.com. Any details you can give me about the operating system, browser and Java versions you used would be very helpful. If you’re comfortable using Sourceforge’s bug tracker, you can also go here to enter one directly.

Where can I get more information?

This blog has regular updates on the latest SearchMash news.
The Squidoo lens has articles on how to use SearchMash.
For the technically minded, the SourceForge project page gives you access to all the source code, as well as a list of current bugs and feature requests.

Preview polished

Eye
I’ve been talking with Philipp Lenssen from the excellent Google Blogoscoped, and he had some great feedback. In particular he called out the problems with some things not showing up correctly in the preview window.

This is something I noticed too, and have a bug filed in sourceforge’s bug tracker on, but it hadn’t made it to the top of my list.

I spent a bit of time on it this morning, and managed to greatly improve it. First off, I was changing the HTML to all lower case as part of my security measures, which messed up any case-sensitive resource paths. I’m doing all my search and replace case insensitively now, so I was able to remove that.

I also discovered that the BASE tag I was adding to resolve relative resources should actually point to the full URL of the page. I was trying to be too clever, and setting it to the URL up until the last /, assuming it had to be a folder name. Just setting it to the full URL made a lot more pages show up correctly.

There’s still some pages that have problems so I’m leaving the bug open, but these two changes seem to have fixed most of the issue.

Philipp also asked why I don’t just set the URL of the frame, rather than writing in the HTML into a local one. That’s a good question, since the current functionality would still work. I’m planning on adding something to help find search terms in the page in the future though, highlighting and scrolling to the right words, and that wouldn’t be possible just setting the location. I like to make life difficult for myself!

Prettification

Lipstick
I’ve made some cosmetic changes to SearchMash, so that you don’t just see a blank screen while it’s loading. You now see “Loading…” in the results frame, and a quick primer on how to use SearchMash in the preview. The primer is there because I had a lot of feedback that the initial screen was confusing to first-time users, since it’s just the google start page in a frame. Hopefully the extra information should make it easier to get started.

I also worked on the problem with the preview window sometimes causing script errors in IE, filed as Preview window can stop working after changing pages and Previewing missing sites on IE stops window in Sourceforge’s bug tracker. I added a try/catch around the access to the preview frame’s document, and tried to reset security by setting it back to the original local ‘src’ if there was an exception. I still see the exception occuring (I’m using MS’s very handy script debugger, which I’ll cover soon), but I haven’t been able to reproduce the problem with the window getting stuck, I hope my changes will unwedge it if it’s in that state.