Saturday, September 06, 2008

Misadventures: finding a new home for my Google custom seraches

I'm a big fan of Google Custom Search. I've made my old Page Creator Google hosted custom search page into my start page everywhere.

Alas, Page Creator is going - even though Sites isn't ready. So I really ought to find a new home -- and add some new searches. In particular, I wanted to add a custom search that searched all the web but had the following biases:
Oh, and I wanted the resulting search page to render cleanly in my iPhone.

Of course this turned out to be far harder than I'd imagined. In fact, I'm stymied at the moment.

Creating the new search engine was easy. I exported my Google Reader OPML file and imported into into a new custom search engine using the Advanced feature of "upload annotations".

When I looked at moving the search engines however, I discovered the CSE function that had generated the code for my my old Page Creator Google hosted custom search page was gone!

In its place were a scattered set of ways to embed a search engine. Some appeared in the code tab of a search engine control panel, others appeared only in the "homepage" of a search engine, and one on the CSE overview page that added the entire set to my iGoogle page.

I think there's a bit of entropy setting in here!

I tried adding a Gadget to a Sites page. I knew Sites forbids Javascript, so I couldn't use the other code generation options. I found the code with the hidden Gadget URL on the homepages of my custom searches, I extracted that URL (see prior link) and used the almost invisible "add URL" option you can find in the Sites add gadget dialog.

That worked, but Sites pages look awful on the iPhone.

So then I tried taking the various code fragments generated by the CSE links and embedding them in the (obsolete) Google pages -- but they either failed to work on Google Apps Pages or they worked with Firefox but not the iPhone.

Lastly I tried creating a barebones blog as a faux page management solution. That actually worked well from an editing perspective, but even with some template hacks (remove search bar) the iPhone display was not as good as a simple web page. I tried looking for an iPhone template -- no problem there. I found hundreds of blogger iPhone templates. Turns out there's a mini-industry of Blogger templates and WordPress themes. Trouble is, half the sites look crooked as can be. Blogger doesn't provide an official template.

I've stopped for now. It's sad, but I bet I'll get the best results crafting a page in ... FrontPage 98.

I'll come back to this one -- I feel like I've taken a walk on the dark side of Google.

Update 9/8/08: Wow, was this ever trivial do using FrontPage 98. Instead of wasting an hour with various messed up Google authoring tools, five minutes with FP gave me a decent result. I've created a subdomain redirect, so should shortly go to my iPhone friendly custom search page.

It's not quite right -- somehow iPhone is guessing a bit off for initial page size. I'll have to read a bit about iPhone web optimization. Also the code that Google's CSE generates embeds a fairly bulky gadget -- I preferred the old simple forms. It works though, I'll tweak it as needed. ( think this meta tag might help; I used viewport=720.

Proof that Google needs to reexamine their Page Creator/Sites strategies.

Update 4/11/11: Three years later I adore my custom search engines. I use them all the time. Some things have changed however. When I created a new search engine for special needs services in MSP I couldn't find the code snippets I was looking for on the Custom Search Engine configuration panel. I could only find some ichy dynamic javascript stuff that didn't work well on blogger. The trick for a "search element" hosting option engine is to go to the Google page generated for the search engine and use the "add this search engine" link to get a simple embedded script statement.

No comments: