Here is a puzzle which had been in MENSA and Tech Review. If you want to work at the Googleplex try to solve it because “anyone who can solve the problem will get their resume moved to the front of the line."
Content negotiation is a mechanism within the HTTP to deliver a web page in a language best suiting the user’s language settings.
Let’s take search engine FindForward.com as example. If you installed a browser in Germany and you didn’t fiddle around with your language settings, chances are your priority language is “de” (which is the standard abbreviation for “Deutsch”, German). So when you visit FindForward, you will get a German menu, German help texts, and German links. If however your main language is “en” (English), then you will see the page in English. (There is also Chinese, French, and Spanish available.) You can try this out by visiting FindForward, switching your language, and reloading the page.
If your browser doesn’t want to negotiate the language, there will be a fallback (usually, as webmaster you would go along the list of supported user languages from most-wanted to least-wanted, and select the first you can offer – and if you don’t find any, switch to English).
So with content negotiation, the same address offers different texts depending on the client settings. (As opposed to cloaking this is a meaningful standard, not a SEO tactic.) Interestingly enough the specific Google language versions (like Google.de) do not interpret this correctly*. One would expect that German Google would negotiate for German content to index. What it does instead is take the English/ fallback version. So even though FindForward will show itself as a German website to German visitors, it can not be found using Google.de’s “German pages only” search (and the result snippet is always English).
* This is not to be confused with Google delivering a different language to different users. This is due to an approach called geo-location (in combination with cookies), in which they check your IP to guess where you are from, and serve up the language common in that area. Naturally the result isn’t always precisely what you want (think of a Spanish tourist travelling in France, checking Google, and seeing the French version – this would happen with content negotiation too, by the way).
Yahoo, by the way, is showing the same behavior as Google during my tests.
So how can webmasters cope with this lack of support from search engines?
Either, we give up on content negotiation methods. That means specific URLs for each language. Like www.findForward.com/de/ (a folder) or de.findforward.com (a sub-domain).
Or, we just don’t care about which version the search engine indexes (for FindForward, this is the case).
Finally, we might care but hope for the best and wait until search engines implement content negotiation. But we have reason to ask, will they ever?
Nielsen in his Alertbox for August 23 emphasizes once more: users arriving straight from search engines need explicit, context-relevant links.
Grokker is a search cluster visualization tool. A 30-day free trial of this desktop application is available for download. Grokker works smoothly and looks superb, though it is definitely suited for getting a broad view on a subject one knows little about (as opposed to day to day searching needs).
Below you can the result for a search on the subject “Google”, zooming in on the circle in the lower left titled “Services”:
The overview on “Google”, mouse over lower left “Services” ...
... click and zooming in on “Services” ...
... showing the detail view.
Besides exploring the web, you can also switch the the selection to “Amazon”. This will give you books and other media on any subject. The following is a zoom in on the Amazon search for “Google”:
Grokker displays Google-books from Amazon
Here’s the swiss army knife of webmaster tools: URLInfo lets you enter a URL on top and choose from a variety of services to find information for this web site. For example you can enter the address of your blog and click on the “Links” tab below. You then choose Technorati, Feedster, Daypop, Bloglines and other backlink-checker without ever leaving the URLInfo site.
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