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Marshall's Web Tool Blog

Training and Consulting in New Tools for Effective Web Use

This site is an archive of posts that I hope you will find useful. Please visit my new site at Marshallk.com.

Streamload: Super Low-cost Storage Creates a World of Options

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Just one more example of the kinds of things that become possible is StreamLoad, an inexpensive subscription service that will store an unlimited amount of your digital media and only charge you for how much you or other people access. You can download 10 Gigabytes for $10 a month. That's pretty rad, and it opens up a lot of possibilities for back-up and sharing of audio, video and other types of files. The company has been running for 6 years and is today managing 400 Terabytes of customer data.

The CEO of the company was recently interviewed on IT Conversations and I've saved the link to that interview here.

Ubiquitous broadband and dirt cheap storage, combined with innovative products and online services are what Web 2.0 is all about. Who knows what the future will bring?

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AJAX: So Hip it Hurts (But it Does Hurt Good)

This is a long and somewhat complicated post. Or at least it will be for some readers. It will be far too simple for others. Please skip past or to headlined sections as you see fit. The part about the brain implants is at the end, but don’t skip to that until you need to.

A big new topic in the web world (as of a few weeks ago, but now it's big) is what's being called AJAX, an acronym for asynchronous JavaScript and xml (two types of programming languages). After you read my two sentence explanation of it, go look at some of the examples after it. Then reread the explanation and it will make a lot more sense.

Short Explanation

My short version of an explanation, as I understand it is this.

The web's usual system so far requires that every click you make on a web page must be communicated back to the hosting server of the page you are on before the page content can change. The page’s host server then communicates back to your browser how to reload the whole page to reflect the changes you've selected. Very slow and unsmooth compared to what AJAX enables.

AJAX delivers far more information to your browser at each web page than is initially displayed on the page, thus enabling actions you take to be responded to quickly. The browser itself can change sections of the page without the whole page needing to be reloaded.

A more intense definition is available at Wikipedia's page on AJAX, which is edited every day but has only existed since mid March. This stuff is that new, but big.

Examples – Check these out!

AJAX is so hip that the tag "AJAX" is one of the top 5 most active tags in the social bookmarking tool Del.icio.us right now. (So go check out what's getting tagged AJAX in de.licio.us to get a wider view of the field, though a lot of it is really technical. Better yet, transcend the hip-kid spell of Del.icio.us and see a tag search for AJAX at the metasearch engine TagCentral.net)

But...Problems Are Already Here, and So Is a Look to the Future

Alright, so it's very cool and lots of fun to use. I'm advocating use of it in the websites I'm subcontracting to do content development for, but it's going to be up to the programmers to go for it or not. (They know it's hip and cool, but when we should use it is another question.)

But, people are already looking for what comes next. Capabilities are growing exponentially, so why rest with AJAX? The fascinating magazine and website InfoWorld now has an article titled "What's Next After AJAX? : There are some capabilities that Web-based apps can't handle -- yet". It's a relatively technical article, but the gist of it is that there are certain disadvantages to not sending a message back to a page's server with each click and then reloading the changed page. Specifically, when the page should contain something totally new that wasn't available when you first loaded it, then AJAX could prevent you from seeing that information until you chose to reload the whole page. Breaking news via RSS, changes being made to a wiki or any other plugged in doc, new content of any type: all these things are more easy to know about the instant they are available via increased broadband and Web 2.0 applications - except AJAX apps as they are today. It's not that other apps all interrupt what ever you are doing, but they require more page loads and thus more chances to refresh with any new content available. AJAX holds everything it has at the moment you download a page and lets you look quickly and smoothly through it, but decreases the number of page loads you are going to click for. And those are when you get new information that emerged since your last page load. And there is pertinent information available since your last page load. (Familiarity with these new web tools will change your expectations.)

What Is Next

So, the InfoWorld article asserts that this problem will be solved soon and everything will be even better as a result. Using the increasingly cheap and ubiquitous nature of high-speed connections, "push" content will be delivered to you via Instant Messaging or Flash or some other tools, even when you are busy enjoying an AJAX page instead of reloading. By synching those technologies, you can sit and enjoy the quick smoothness of an AJAX page and still be notified by other means that, for example, "hey! some one new just linked to your web site/posted a comment in response to yours/patented something of interest to you or did anything you want to know about right away." Waiting for info until you go looking for it yourself is so Web 1.0 (OMG!). Amongst 2.0 apps, only AJAX as far as I know could slow down the rate at which you discover emerging information. So that must be fixed. And it probably will happen very soon.

What About Gmail? (What about Gmail?)

I wonder though, what about Gmail? I keep a Firefox tab open to my Gmail inbox while I'm using other sites in other tabs, and Gmail periodically refreshes the inbox page and changes the number of new messages on the tab if there are new messages. I do a lot of work on public computers, so this is a simple way to watch for incoming emails. I can often respond within 60 seconds of being emailed. Gmail uses AJAX, but is it also a successful integration of AJAX and old-school page reloading protocols? Perhaps what really indicates otherwise is that the inbox doesn't appear to use AJAX, only the conversations:messages with tabs do.

Conclusion About AJAX Brain Implants

One way or the other, Moore's Law says that computing power will continue to double every 18 months, there are internet tech and knowledge workers spead quite widely around the world now, and technical innovation is understood better all the time. So this stuff is going to look elementary in the relatively near future. But compared to what the internet has looked like for the last 10 years, AJAX is pretty big news. In the near term future though, the internet will be an even more quick, graceful, globally connected multi-media experience wherein we get our information instantaneously without even looking for it.

I intend to draw the line before a brain implant, but not everyone will. The relationship between concepts like AJAX and general human perception is an interesting one.

For example, do our brains respond to our queries based only upon what we knew when we began asking a question, or are we capable of assimilating new information that arose mid-question? ? How well will we be able to process rapid reference to old information mixed with interrupting new information? What if it fundamentally changes our assessment of the situation in general? What is the relationship between concepts like AJAX and others like "ego-casting," or consuming only media that we agree with? There are lots of interesting questions to ask. In the meantime, we need to make sure that these tools are used by more than just the international elite.

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Traffic: Busy Enough For Me

Sunday, May 29, 2005
It's been a slow weekend so far in terms of people visiting this blog. My girlfriend says that's because other people are camping for the holliday instead of being online (hint hint, she says). Point taken, but I thought I'd blog a bit about traffic, and some of the interesting things I've noticed so far.

I got the idea to write a bit about the traffic to my blog first from the Nate and Di Show, where a "Top 10 Countries, Top 20 Cities" list is a regular part of the podcast. They have fun announcing their changing list of visitors, and in particular that their show recorded in a Carolina beach storage shed has a number of listeners in Zimbabwe.

Also, when working with a client last week, the fact that I could say that my little blog allready gets read by people all around the world was an eyebrow raiser for someone interested in doing online content production for the first time.

So, since no one but my mom and dad posts regularly here yet, I thought I'd tell you about who is reading the blog quietly. Using the free, easy and totally legit services of StatCounter.com, I can check each day how many visitors I've gotten, how long they spent on the blog, what links they clicked, etc.

At the begining of this month, it was not uncommon for me to get between 2 and 5 visitors per day. Hopefully those days are gone. This week my low has been 10 (today) and my high was 36 (Wednesday). That Wednesday, I had 75 page loads! That's front page visits plus clicks on internal links. That was exciting for me, though I'm sure in the near future that may seem like a very small number. That would be nice.

The majority of visitors here come looking for one thing: my comparative review of different wiki software via google and Technorati Tag Searches. I had no idea that people would be so interested in that when I wrote it several months ago. I wish other entries got half as much attention, but I hope those ones can be of service.

So, who's coming here? A number of people have visited recently from the Netherlands, via a link in a wiki I can't read.

Somebody from Union, New Jersey is all about it, having returned to the site 7 times so far. Hi!

Sombody just up the road in Portland, spent an hour and a half on the site yesterday. Let me know who you are and maybe we can get a beer together next time I'm in town!

Italy, Germany, Australia, quite a few folks from the UK. India, Canada. TX, MA, UT and sometimes here in my home town.

There was a Floridian coming here regularly for awhile.

These numbers are relatively small, and I've barely done any promotion. But I'm excited about getting this many visitors from so many places. That's what being online can do. I hope people who read the blog are finding something useful in it.

Overall, this blog has had 122 visitors over the last week. That feels great! If you don't mind my mentioning my personal life, I worked an 80 hour week this week between my 4 different jobs (starting this consulting biz, web content developement in concert with a friend's design company, managing the 3 unit rental property I live at with 2 new groups of tenants this month, and I worked 38 hours at a convenience store. Must quit convenience store.) I feel pretty satisfied with having 122 people come check out what I'm writing during a week like this, and I'm excited to see what that traffic looks like in one, six and twelve months. I hope that writing useful content and making it easily findable will lead to what I produce being found, used and enjoyed.

Thanks for visiting!

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Talking Web 2.0: Not Web Pages but Web Services

Thursday, May 26, 2005
Lots of people are trying to articulate what's going on in the Web world these days, all these new tools are really changing the landscape. Widespread broadband is one part of what's making it possible, new programming developments is another, and just plain innovation is another. A common term to describe it is "Web 2.0."

One good explanation of the past, present and future was offered by Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang in an interview at the Web 2.0 Conference several months ago. Yahoo! is now 10 years old, and the company is a lot more now than the index of web pages it began as. He said that the first generation of the Web was all about static pages that someone published, but now the most dynamic thing happening is the rapid creation of new services or applications. The blog software I'm typing on now is a great example. Almost all of the things I write about here and teach people to use are Web 2.0 type service based phenomena. There is certainly lots of new content being published, but there is also a huge amount of energy now being invested in creating new ways to find and deliver that content.

Integrating different services into a usable whole practice is a big part of what many huge service providers are focusing on. Making data interchangeable across different service platforms is a key aspect of this. Many people are working on making that possible not just for giant corporations, but for small users as well. Tagging is one example of that. (See my previous post on Tag Central.)

IT Conversations, the site that posted Jerry Yang's Web 2.0 interview this week, is another great example of a confluence of new web services. In addition to podcasts, the site also uses a wiki and RSS. It's a great place to hear what many interesting IT (information technology) industry people are thinking and working on.

These are exciting times. The politics of how these developments develop is a whole other matter. The first factor in that question is who gets involved.

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Client Feedback from Individual Research Training Session

More client feedback can be read at this link.

A little while ago I did an individual research training session with Emily Howard, an anti-racism political organizer at the University of Oregon. After a pre-session interview about her interests and current skill level, we spent two fast paced hours learning how to use social bookmarking, wikis, RSS syndication, many types of search, basic blog knowledge, podcasting and VOIP (see introduction to concepts link for more info). It was a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time, but Emily handled it great.

If you are interested in an individual research training session, either in person or long distance via IM or VOIP, drop me an email and we can discuss it. My fees are very reasonable, sliding scale, and will pale in comparison to the value you'll get from our time together. To read about all the different services I offer beyond individual research training sessions, go here.

Here's what Emily had to say about our session:

My training session with Marshall was invaluable. It was very informative and very well thought out. The session was thorough in the breadth of tools we went over, the order in which they were presented was also well thought out and I was able to see how they can be used together or separately.

He moved at a pace I was comfortable with and presented the material in a non-aggressive but confident manner. Despite the natural power imbalance that occurs when one person has more information than another, I felt comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and controlling the direction the session if I wanted to focus on a specific area over another.

One of the most important aspects of the training, is that I was invited to contact Marshall whenever I had questions either regarding the training or about the tools/internet research in general. So far I have shamelessly emailed him a number of times for either clarification on certain aspects of the training or simply to ask new questions, and he has always made himself readily available and willing to act as a resource away from the training. I would highly recommend working with Marshall to enhance one's internet savvy and to expand one's range of research and communication abilities.

Thanks Emily!

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Tag Central: Cross platform search tops Technorati

Ever since I discovered Technorati Tag Searches I've been doing them as one of my first steps in searching on any subject. Technorati searches tagged blog posts, flickr shared photos by tags, furl and declicious bookmarks. I have been very impressed, until I discovered Tag Central, a scrappy little outfit put together quite well, apparently just using RSS feeds from Technorati, Flickr, Furl, Delicious and 10 other tag-enabled search engines. You can also grab the RSS feed URL for your search in each engine as well, and receive notification of new results in your feed reader as they become available.

It almost seems an experiment, it's so simple, but I expect it will be useful. It's a great example of what kinds of things the world of web applications can do and should be able to do more of in the future. As with all folksonomic endeavors (popular classification), the value of the data set will depend on its number and diversity of users.

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Furl: Tips on Use

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
When I began this blog I was very excited to run syndicated content on the right side bar, especially obscure but interesting RSS feeds from sources like the del.icio.us tag: wiki feed. That was fun, but I've replaced those feeds on the bottom of the sidebar with streams of what audio files or podcasts I'm listening to, what I'm bookmarking about RSS (feed syndication) and about Search. My bookmark categories are all from my Furl archive, a valuable but under-accessed content stream that is updated far more often than this blog.

I intend to post soon a large piece of writing about how to get the most out of Furl, but for now I thought I'd just post a few things.

Screen shot from Better Days Blog

Furl is a social bookmarking tool, which means you can see other peoples' bookmarks as well as your own. Marking certain categories private is possible, thankfully. It also saves a cached screen shot of what a page looked like when you Furled it (wow), and lets you do many other things as well.

A few things to think about when using Furl:
  • Furl doesn't use the word "tag" like nearly everyone else does. When you chose a topic or multiple topics to save a URL under, that's the Furl equivalent of a Tag - not the keywords field as far as I can tell.
  • Technorati Tag searches are awesome! They search blog posts, flickr photos, delicious tags and Furl topics.
  • Furl is called a Social Bookmarking tool for a reason, so try to contribute to our collective knowledge base with your Topic title choices. For some mysterious and probably technical reason, the world of folksonomic tags operates under a standard of single word tags. So, if you do a multi-word topic then what you save is way less likely to be discovered by someone else. I want to discover things from your Furl archives! Multi-word topics are not the end of the world (they are discoverable by Technorati, but I believe users are much less likely to try looking for multi-word tag searches.) After wikiwax and OneLook, Technorati Tag searches are the first place I go to do research on any topic. Revision: My friend Justin points out that it is better to be found less often with more value to those who are looking specifically for what you are Furling than it is to be found often by people looking for other things in the same general catagory. Point taken: I was thinking from a promotional point of view and one stuck in a world where Social Bookmark users are still relatively few. Let's think big and into the future!
  • Please check the title field before you save something in Furl. If it is blank, has only the website title and not the article title, or is otherwise indecipherable -- then it's not a very social bookmark. You may need to type a few words up there so the rest of us know what it is if we come across it in a search, or if we've subscribed to your feed.
  • The "clipping" field is filled with anything that was highlighted when you clicked Furl. This can save everyone time by showing us the best part of an article from it's Furl bookmark page, without having to go to the original page itself and read the whole article.
  • Furl recommends other users' archives that you might be interested in because of their similarity to what you've saved in your archive. I've taken a few minutes to examine these recommendations by looking first at the last week or so of each person's archive and then at their topic/category titles and number of items filed under each topic. That gives me a good idea if this person is Furling things I want to see. I've subscribed to probably 10 people by email and it is one of the richest content streams I have access to. I'd say that when scanning the headlines I probably click on 40% of them and reFurl as much as 25%. That seems awfully relevant to me.
  • Finally, if you click subscribe to other peoples' archives, I am told that this will effect what else you are recommended to look at by Furl. Some people don't like this. If, for example, you were most interested in music, but your brother (totally hypothetical situation) Furled a huge number of strange web tool links every day, you'd be bummed to find nothing but links to more web tools in your recommendations from Furl - instead of recommendations to music you really want to discover. This problem can be solved by either 1) subscribing only to the most relevant topics of someone else's archive feed, or only those they rank a 4 or 5, or 2) just grab the RSS feed link to their archive and read it through your aggregator instead.
You can check out my whole Furl archive here. Some great examples of very well organized Furl archives that I was recommended by Furl because of our common interests are those of Darlene Fichter, Amy Gahran, and millette.

Remember, social bookmarking is cool because we do it together! Who's in it with us? Nobody but tech nerds? Then searching our collective database isn't going to bring results for anybody but more tech nerds; so let's evangelize to lots of different groups about Social Bookmarking so that all of us can share lots of knowledge with each other. Del.icio.us is a very popular alternative, but it has far fewer built in functions and the User Interface is so bare that I think many non-super-nerds are likely to be intimidated away from full use of it.

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Google Portal: Proof of Fallibility

Sunday, May 22, 2005
Lest you think that Google is infallible, their newest release falls far short of expectations. A great write up over at ResearchBuzz explains in detail some of the shortcomings of Google's new Personalized Portal Home Page service.

The service looks like MyYahoo, but with way less functionality. I know several people are subscribed to my RSS feed through their MyYahoo account (including one in Florida. Hi!) but that's not something you could do with the new Google service! There are an extremely limited number of content streams you can put onto your page. Hard to believe they call it personalized, when it would be very easy to allow any of the millions of RSS feeds available to be displayed.

I haven't looked closely at the new Mac OS RSS reader, it does look good, but I am still not convinced that anything is available yet that rivals Newsgator (see my demo account there at username:marshalldemo password:welcome). It's not perfect, and it's certainly not a portal (if that's what you're into) but it still seems a lot better than this new Google thing.

My archive of Furled web content regarding RSS is available here and about search, including lots of alternatives to the big G here. See also my Introduction to Concepts and Article List.

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Introduction to Wikis

Saturday, May 21, 2005
  • Collaborate
  • Update
  • Centralize discussion and text development

Wikis are special web sites that anyone can edit with one click, where all previous versions of a page can be viewed, and any changes made trigger an automatic email sent to all users of the wiki. Wikis are made for collaborative knowledge and document development by people in different places at different times.

Reading about wikis is one of the most common reasons people come to my blog.

Search for articles I've written about wikis.

Introduction to Podcasts

  • Listen any time, anywhere
  • Easy to broadcast
  • Can target audiences large or small

are MP3 format audio files, typically delivered as attachments in syndicated RSS feeds. They are essentially syndicated radio shows that you can subscribe to and play on a portable MP3 player or your computer whenever you like. Some people call it "radio on demand." Many major media outlets are beginning to offer podcasts, but pure podcasters create a very different show than commercial media ever could.

Podcasting can also be used internally to communicate within organizations.

Started only recently, there are now thousands of podcast shows available online. Some are very good, some are very bad. Links to podcasts I've downloaded recently are available on the right side of this blog's front page. Three places to find podcasts are Podscope search engine, Podcast Alley directory, and Radio4All.net.

Search for articles I've written about podcasting.

Introduction to Social Bookmarking

  • Never lose web sites again
  • Share with others easily

A new class of online tools lets you bookmark web sites you find into a personal web archive, lets you organize them by categories or subject tags, lets you share them by subject with others, and recommends other web content or users' archive streams similar to what you've bookmarked. This is only the beginning of what some tools offer. Several also save you a cached copy of what the page looked like when you bookmarked it.

The basic idea is to allow web users to collaboratively classify what they find on the web, instead of relying on centralized systems of organization and discovery. My Furl.net archive can be viewed here.

Search for articles I've written about social bookmarking.

Introduction to RSS Syndication

  • pull all your web content into one location
  • rapid notification of new information
  • learn more
  • spend less time surfing aimlessly

A growing number of organizations are using syndicated "feeds" to deliver news and other content; when you open your feed reader inbox, it will automatically visit each feed you are subscribed to and deliver any new headlines to your inbox. No more forgetting the web addresses of your favorite sites, visiting sites that haven't been updated, or getting news sent to you from sources you haven't requested. That means more and better information in less time. You'll never want to go back to surfing the web manually again.

One of the most powerful applications of RSS is called persistent search, subscribing to the RSS feed of a particular search engine's results for your search terms. This will allow your feed reader to check every time you login for new search results, deliver them to your inbox as soon as they are available, and otherwise sit quietly waiting until new results become available. It's a great way to stay up-to-the-moment about your issues of interest, without performing searches manually.

Feeds can also be syndicated on your website. You can have headlines from somewhere else appear automatically as they become available. This could include press releases, search results, news stories or much more.

RSS stands for rich site summary, or some people call it really simple syndication.

I've set up a sample account with a feed reader at Newsgator, just enter username: marshalldemo and password: welcome You can log in to that account to see what it's like to use an RSS feed reader. I've seeded it with feeds from a variety of news sources.

Search for the articles I've written about RSS syndication.

Skype: 3 million free long distance calls at once

Wow. The fantastic people over at Skype, or more specifically Share.Skype, have announced that last week there were for the first time 3 million people logged in at the same time. Skype is a tool you can download and use to make free, high-quality long distance "phone calls" over your internet connection to anywhere in the world FOR FREE. It is unbelievable, but it's true.

I had heard about it for quite some time, but saw it in action a few months ago at a friend's house. We talked to his mom in Mexico and his sister in Canada at the same time, for 45 minutes, for free. And at the time, the program said that 1 million people were logged in at the same time we were. Can you imagine the way that could change things? It makes long distance phone calling accessible to anyone with a high-speed internet connection, not just to people who can afford the expense of long-distance charges. It's really incredible.

The way that the service works is that any people who have downloaded Skype can call eachother for free, and calling the land-line telephones or cellphones of people who haven't downloaded the program costs 2 cents per minute. That's how the company makes their money. According to the site, as of today 113,327,664 people have downloaded the program. It's really fantastic. Now they offer all kinds of new services as well, like voice mail, etc. More and more people are adding to their contact info, after name, email, and phone number, the words "skype me at: username".

There are other companies trying to do similar things, but charging more money, and some that are priced similarly...but Skype is a movement. The fact that there were 3 million people using it at the same time is testimony to that. You should check it out, and tell (call!) a friend.

It works best with a cheap microphone or a set of headphones to listen with, so there's not feedback.

You can also check out my Furl archive category "telephony" for more information.

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Rush Limbaugh to Podcast

Friday, May 20, 2005
Billboard magazine's Radio Monitor website reports that the demonic Rush Limbaugh will soon begin to offer his daily show as a podcast, or at least an MP3 file that can be downloaded to a portable player. The Podcast version will be stripped of advertisements and break music, in addition to being listenable in any place at any time as are all podcasts.

Podcasting is not expensive, or difficult to do. The only reason that a big elite media organization like Limbaugh's would start doing it is because they are paying attention to new forms of media and have the energy to make it happen. You might have that energy too. If you do, please contact me and we'll get you recording, promoting and Rush-pre-empting in no time.

For now the best I can offer is to say -- go check out Democracy Now! Though it's usually filled with bad news, it's so well done that it will make you feel better. Even if you only get to listen to the headlines in the first ten minutes, that part of the show is so powerful that you'll be less likely to be kept up at night worrying about this whole Rush Limbaugh podcasting thing.

Thanks to Steve Rubel's blog Micropersuasion for the tip, though he may not agree with the politics.

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Adding a Creative Commons License

Thursday, May 19, 2005
I'm excited to say that I just began participating in a fascinating phenomenon called Creative Commons (CC). You can see the license icon on the right side bar of this blog, just below the search box. As an alternative to the copyright that the US government assumes is on all creative works once they have been created, I have chosen to designate the contents of this blog to fall under the CC-Share Alike license. This means that anyone can reuse the content they find here, under two conditions: first, that they attribute it to me, and second that they use it to create their own work that anyone is allowed to further reuse in the same way. It's pretty cool.

Lots of different works are using the CC licenses, for example the photo from India in my last post was found via the Flickr Creative Commons section.

Rather than going into the intellectual explanation of CC licensing and the movement's short history, I'll refer you to two wonderful short videos from the CC website (click titles to play). These are so well made, they are a testiment to the importance of remixing rights.

Building On the Past

Reticulum Rex

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Blogging the Government

I've been too busy to blog for a little while as I'm working on a couple of content production gigs for other peoples' websites. It's always a challenge to consistently keep producing content for multiple outlets. Acclimating to that challenge is one of the things I discuss with folks I set up blogs for.

Speaking of blogs, a new story in the Times of India reports that the Indian government is working on some formal rules for accrediting bloggers to cover government affairs. Blogs are really entering the mainstream around the world - all the more reason for folks outside the mainstream to enter blogs. Not to get more predictable themselves, but to keep the blogosphere from getting too predictable. If the "blogs covering government" space gets filled predominantly with folks writing traditional online columns, with a relatively narrow spectrum of political perspectives -- it will be a real disservice to the medium.

Photo of a wedding in India via Flickr user Alon Laudon

Accredited or not, I hope that lots of freaky bloggers will start using tools like GovTrack to ramp up their timely knowledge of US government actions, as well as all the other different tools now available to research and communicate. Blogs covering government is one story, but groups like disability rights activists, immigration organizers, etc. using not just blogs but persistent search, podcasting, etc. (definitions) to research and report on the state would really be exciting.

Thanks to the daily Furl feed of Amy Gahran for the Times of India Story. Gahran is a "Content Strategist, Info Provocateur" who runs the blog Contentious.
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Flickr: The Secret Life of Plants in Photos

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Flickr is one more example of an exciting web application that allows the online world to be an increasingly open site of communication every day. It's a free digital photo sharing service that allows users to upload their photos, tag them by subject, organize them in a variety of ways and leave descriptions for each image. Then, other users can browse the photos by tag or group or "photographer" and easily post comments below each photo. There's a lot of neat groups out there, but I was inspired to blog about it today after seeing The Secret Life of Plants photo pool. It currently has more than 4,000 images in it, more are added all the time (several since I began this blog post) and you can view it as a slide show here. It's very nice.

The concepts involved here are amazing. Take a little time to explore the site and you'll see what I mean. Or, check out the Flickr Blog, where the company's employees highlight some of their favorite photos uploaded by users and talk about developments in the system. More than just fun and art, Flickr also used their service to post photos of people lost in the recent Asian tsunami. There are many more possible uses. Imagine, for example, an environmental group encouraging people to post photos of an endangered ecosystem all in the same viewable group, or a company encouraging participants in an event it has hosted to post their photos of the event in a common Flickr area.

Many people use their Flickr account to run photos they've taken recently along the side of their blogs. See, for example, the blogs of Darice de Cuba and Big Dog, Little Dog (look at bottom of right side bar). Flickr was recently purchased by Yahoo, and hopefully it will be allowed to continue developing in the organic manner that it has to date. More and more companies are realizing that great value can be created in a user generated data set. Amazon.com book reviews were one of the first well known examples of this, but now there are countless examples. It's pretty exciting.

Flickr photos are also amongst the search results included when you do a Technorati Subject Tag search. See, for example, this Technorati Tag search for "genetics". It includes search results of Flickr photos tagged "genetics" along with blog posts and items tagged "genetics" in two of the biggest social bookmarking tools (Definition).

Unfortunately, the photos are copyrighted by default. You can search through those with a Creative Commons license for reuse here (for example, the photo above is not from the Secret Life of Plants, I found it in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.) As I understand it, this isn't so much the fault of Flickr as it is the fault of the US Government, who changed the copyright system in 1978 from assuming no copyright unless you asked for it, to now assuming copyright unless you declare a work not copyrighted. To hear a great talk by attorney Lawrence Lessig about why default copyright assumption is bad policy, check out this talk (audio file) of his posted on IT Conversations.

Such are the political battles being fought these days, but tools like Flickr are pretty fantastic none the less in the mean time.

Secret Life of Plants photo pool found via Weblog-ed

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Educause's Intro to Social Bookmarking

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Educause has published a two page pdf titled "7 Things You Should Know About Social Bookmarking" that is quite interesting. It's a very readable introduction to this powerful class of tools. You can also check out my introduction to the concepts via the right side bar of this blog, but it's interesting to check out some one else's way of explaining things. It's a pretty basic explanation of a simple concept, but it still takes two pages to introduce. (For reference, of the tools discussed, I highly recomend Furl.net. It has many unique features that you won't want to miss out on.)

Found via my subscription to long time Furl user Darlene Fichter's Furl archive feed.
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Persistent Search with Google News and RSS

I was just linked to from Rok Hrastnik's fantastic RSS focused blog MarketingStudies.net after I recommended a cool new tool to him called ScrappyGoo. The tool creates an RSS feed (definition) of Google News search results. Yahoo has long provided this service, but Google still doesn't.

ScrappyGoo is a tool for persistent search, meaning that any new search results are delivered to you whenever they appear, without your having to go and repeat your search to check for new results. This is very cool. There are many different tools for different sorts of persistent search, but this is a new and useful one. It delivers your results as an RSS feed into your RSS reader. (It "scrapes" the results page into an RSS feed.)

Users have long been able to set up an email alert for new Google News results, but email is much much clumsier than RSS. For example, I receive an email every time a new result appears for the search phrase "water privatization" in Google News. Now I can just add a feed of these results in my RSS reader, freeing my inbox and making the search results more malleable.

Developed by a Malaysian man named Tim Yang (see TimYang.com, a beautiful blog), ScrappyGoo is for personal use only and not for resyndication. Its developer believes this to be the most legally sustainable strategy, and it is a real shame that there's need to fear a lawsuit. (one side of mouth says "do no evil" (google's unofficial slogan) and other says "lose no chance to make more money.")

Resyndication, for those who are not familiar with the concept, is what I have done in the bottom of the right side bar of this blog. I've taken the RSS feeds of other sites and syndicated them onto my site. This is a powerful tool that can be applied in many different contexts. For example, imagine an environmental organization who's website resyndicates headline links for any new timber industry press release that comes out and search results about the local watershed in the news.

Any site can automatically displays headline links or whole stories from elsewhere as a part of its own content. It makes for a much more dynamic, connected site than can be done by hand, if it is done well. (That's something I can help with.) I use RSS Digest to create the few lines of code I drop into my site for the display. There are other tools that do this, but RSS Digest is the one I've used the most so far.

I use this tool as a way to create RSS Radars, a concept that Rok and his friend Robin Good introduced me to as I listened to Rok's podcasts. RSS Radars, by automatically displaying customized feeds from other sites or well formed searches, turn your site into the place people look for new news about a topic of shared interest.

And so we've come full circle. I certainly appreciate the link, already people from Slovenia, Tokyo and Malaysia (maybe Tim Yang him self) have visited my site via the link at MarketingStudies.net. Now all of the people linked to in this article will probably be notified that I've linked to them via persistent search tools like Technorati or PubSub, and the results of those searches will appear in their RSS feeds.

Ah! We've got to get these tools spread out into the nonprofit, academic and small business worlds!

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Online Promotion Possiblities

Saturday, May 07, 2005
The following is an example of of a proposal I made to a local non-profit organization seeking suggestions for promoting their campaign online. I'm posting it here for any feedback from my readers and to give people another look at what kinds of options are available, via my services and new web resources in general. Please feel free to leave comments!

Thematically, I think the best way to use the web to get people
involved with a campaign is to create a dynamic, informative and
timely online conversation that compels people to invest in a
relationship with your efforts. Email alerts, postings to
announcement boards and similar methods are a good way to call initial
attention to your efforts, but I believe that many people require
repeated interactions with an organization before they are most
willing to provide support. (Market research indicates this is
especially true of women, and my personal experience indicates that
members of indigenous communities often operate similarly.) In order
to keep people coming back to you, you need to be offering new
information frequently. In other words, I think you should use a
blog. If not multiple blogs. (Blogs are simple web pages that are
easy for non-technical people to add new content to, with short,
frequent articles, usually organized chronologically, allowing
comments and heavily linked to other sites.)

The best way to start and sustain a buzz in the blogosphere is to
utilize communication methods already in use in the medium. Blog-use
training and promotion are skills I can offer. I can also offer help
in automated and accelerated research methods so that there is never
any shortage of up to the minute information to discuss on a blog. I
think that your tour promoter should be blogging, and it would be very
cool if at least one participant on your tours was blogging as well
from the road. At the very least, I think that you should be
promoting even a relatively static web site in the newest online

So those are my suggestions described thematically. I am presuming that you are not familiar with some of the tools discussed below, so please forgive the over-explanation if I am incorrect. Specific recommendations would be as follows:

*I think that whoever currently does your web design should format a blog template using either blogger.com redirected to an URL of your
own, or using the Typepad system.

*I would recommend that your tour organizer set up an RSS feed reader
account to centralize and automate breaking news intake from all relevant news sources. I have a short explanation of RSS, as well as a demonstration feed reader account available via http://digbig.com/4dspa

*Included in your RSS feed reader inbox can be persistent search results regarding your issues of interest and the communities your tours are headed towards. In other words, you can easily create a system to have Yahoo News, for example, search automatically every day for the words "Coos Bay" and "Sustainability." Using RSS, the system can then deliver any new content to you as soon as it\'s available. It would otherwise sit silently in the background, invisible to you until new search results became available online. This way, when your tour rolls into any given town, everyone involved can already be as up to date as the web allows on what issues are underway there.

*Your organizer should use a Social Bookmarking Service (SBMS) (I
highly recommend Furl.net) to save clippings and articles that they come upon, for later reuse from any computer, as a source of involvement in the SBMS community, and as the soil from which regular blog posts can be developed.

*A blog written by one or more participants in the tours could
compliment the issue-based research and writing that a promoter could
engage in. From-the-road blogging would be a way to personalize
what's going on and provide emotional impetus for people to get

*The above three tools (RSS intake, SBMS archiving and blog writing)
form a whole system for high-quality, rapid intake and output of
information. A dynamic, informative stream of new content will, in
and of itself, bring in potential supporters - but below are some of
my suggestions for maximizing attention for your efforts.

*Site traffic is maximized for social change efforts, I believe,
through participation in conversations elsewhere. If your tour
organizer is up to date on what other people are discussing regarding
the issues you focus on, and makes effective, valuable contributions
to those discussions while clearly identified as part of your
organization - that will bring people to your site to see what you are
doing. Using search engines like Technorati.com, Technorati.com/tag,
Feedster and Pubsub you can keep up with who else is discussing any
given issue. Your group has a built in contribution of high-value to
make to any pertinent discussion. Everyone loves real world action
that goes beyond words. Anywhere people are discussing the issues is
an appropriate place for your group to post a comment saying, "We are
currently acting on these issues by...You can read about our efforts at http://xyz.com/

*Blogs are now a huge part of public discourse, and some promotion
efforts should target them specifically. See, for example, Russel
Sadler's recent op-ed in the Eugene Register Guard about a huge story
almost dropped by the mainstream media but blown up huge by blogs.
("Political Parties Lose Touch with Oregonians" via shortcut at
http://digbig.com/4dxft )

*Blog editors and writers are fickle, however, and promotion in that
medium cannot happen via traditional press releases. It needs to be
far more conversational and reciprocal. It also helps if the
conversation is in part about blogs themselves, as well. I would
suggest offering bloggers the option of syndicating the headlines of
the tour blog on their sites as a way to help support your efforts. I
think that could be an exciting way to build buzz around the campaign.
You could offer a few simple lines of code that people could cut and
paste into their site to make your newest headlines appear
automatically beside their content. I think some people would be into

*Skilled bloggers are aware of when you write about them, using
persistent search reputation tracking. When you write about what
someone else is doing, they come to see who you are, and they bring
their readers with them. You too should be kept up to date on what
people are writing about you online.

*Podcasts. Podcasting is an exploding medium with a very enthusiastic
community of users. (If you are unfamiliar with the term, I've
defined it here: http://digbig.com/4dxgf ) I think that a well
produced promotional audio announcement would go over well in the
podcast world. I also think that a podcast series from the road could be an exciting way to build and sustain interest. Audio interviews with people met on the road, posted to a campaign blog, would be great.

*Additionally, making sure your campaign offers an RSS feed, email subscriptions, and informative introductions to the concepts are all key.

If you've read all the way to the end of this post, congratulations! It was a long one. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Blogs Around the World

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Business Week has a new section of their web site, called Blog Spotting, dedicated to watching blogs. An article there yesterday discussed the explosion of blogs outside of the United States. (full article link) According to the head of blog tracking firm PubSub, there are more bloggers in Korea, China and Japan than there are in the rest of the world combined. Likewise, he identified Brazil, the Philippines and Malaysia as places where blogging is very big.

The article recommended Global Voices and RConversation as good places to get in touch with the global blogosphere. I'd also recommend the very important Committee to Protect Bloggers.

Blogs are catching on around the world because they are a simple, powerful way to quickly communicate information to a lot of people. Almost no matter what your work or interests, a blog might come in very handy for you. They certainly are for people around the world. To check out the articles I've saved in my Furl archive about international application of blogs and other groovy web tools, you can go here.

See also: Adding Real World Radio to my list of favorite internet radio, lots of 2 minute print and audio stories from around the world. Looks very good, available in several languages. Found via Radio4All.net.

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Increasing Usability & Email Newsletter

Monday, May 02, 2005
After some consultation with the ultimate usability tester, my mom, (don't people say if you can't explain it to your family, then...) I have made some changes to this site. If you are a regular reader you'll notice them. If you aren't, hopefully they will just work well for you.

One of the biggest changes is that I've written more explicitly about my training and consulting services via a link on the right side bar.

Additionally, for those who are not yet reading syndicated feeds, but want to keep learning about the types of things I'm writing here about, I am now offering a free email newsletter. I'm not sure how often I'll be sending it out, but I guarantee you'll be excited when you get it. I'll include news, reviews and lots of helpful links to online places you'll be excited to visit. Send me an email if you are interested in receiving it.

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