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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.

What does Furl call a Tag?

Thursday, June 30, 2005
Just sent this email to Furl after ongoing discussion with Delicious lovers demanded clarification. (Both of those are Social Bookmarking Tools.) I hope they will respond soon. It's a fairly big question, but they've always been good about responding to my questions in the past. Watch this spot for their reply, hopefully!

Help, I love Furl for many reasons, but am having a hard time convincing Delicious users that Furl is as usable. There is a real lack of clarity around the relationship between what everyone else calls "tags" and what Furl uses. I believe that "topics" are the equivalent, is this correct?

What is the Furl equivalent to seeing all items users have "tagged" with a certain term? Is there a way to exclude full text search and just search by topic, or keyword?

Is Furl planning on somehow integrating with the rest of the folksonomic and tagging community? I love that Furl lets Technorati include its search results (and other people too) but the relationship between what everyone else is calling tags and your whole world could really use some clarification. I'll post this email to my blog, so maybe you could reply there. Thanks for your time and your great service.

Related: My Furl archives of articles and websites related to Social Bookmarking are available here.

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Blogger Now Hosts Your Images, and Mine!

Here's picture number one of me, hanging out at the park by the river that runs through my home town. It's a great park. We were having a picnic with my girlfriend's sister, partner and daughter. It was a nice day and then we went bowling.

But that's not of interest to you all! Here's some web news: I just posted this picture using Blogger's own free image hosting service. That's new and very, very nice. There is absolutely nothing to it, you really just use the button on the post editor that didn't work before now. All the more reason to use this free and easy service. Now if they only let you categorize your posts and view by category, then there would be almost no reason for me to consider using other, paid blog software services.

I am currently recommending Blogger to clients with limited programming skills because of the simplicity. It's also simpler for me to focus on the skills I have around training in use of the medium than it would be to develop new programming skills faster than I already am.

Just for kicks, here's one more photo of me. I rarely post anything personal here, but I thought I'd try out the image hosting service and give regular readers a glimpse of what I look like. What does this image say? " Hire me, I never rest?" Hmmm...

We'll see how this image hosting plays out in the long run, how usable it is, etc. I'll probably put one or both of these images in the My Services section and keep an eye on them over time.

Discovered via The Blog Herald.

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Wickerpedia: The Hard Woven Plant Fiber Encyclopedia

Anyone familiar with Wikipedia may enjoy this satire: Wikermedia. It made me laugh, anyway. Try doing a search for something random on it. I think it's pretty funny.

How to Find RSS Feeds

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Alexandra Samuel, a fellow RSS evangelist, and I were exchanging some emails last week and she mentioned that many people have a hard time finding RSS feeds that they want to subscribe to. (See intro to RSS if needed.) I thought I'd write an entry here about some ways I recommend that people find RSS feeds of interest to them.

  1. Search by subject in directories and RSS search engines, like Feedster, Feedminer, and 2rss.com
  2. Make sure you know how to recognize a feed when you see one. Common links to feed URLs appear as orange buttons reading "RSS" "XML" or sometimes "ATOM." Sometimes it's just a text link reading something like "Syndicate this site." Those buttons are links that you should copy the URL of and paste them into your feed reader. Sometimes there are buttons to subscribe with one click via your feed reader (MyYahoo, MyMSN, Newsgator, Bloglines, etc.)
  3. Firefox and Safari users will be notified any time a site they are on offers an RSS feed (in Firefox there is an orange button that appears in the bottom right corner of the browser.)
  4. Just about all news organizations, and many sites that have regularly appearing new content, offer RSS feeds. Hopefully this will be more and more true over time. You really can take it almost for granted already, though, that a site with news will have an RSS feed.
  5. All Blogspot (Blogger) blogs have RSS feeds, whether their authors know it or not. Just add atom.xml to the end of the URL and that's the feed for that blog. For example, marshallk.blogspot.com/atom.xml was my default RSS feed, before I upgraded with Feedburner. Now my RSS feed URL is in the sidebar of this blog's front page.
  6. Many sites that should have an RSS feed, but don't, can have a simple one created for them via Feedfire.com. I love that service, but I hope that someday I won't have to use it anymore.
  7. All Furl and Delicious users and tags have RSS feeds. For example, if you want to get the feed for everything I save in my Furl account, you can find that feed URL here. But if you want to just find what I save under topic RSS regarding search, those results and the feed for new ones are here. Likewise, if you want to grab the feeds for everything anyone tags with regarding a particular topic, I recommend you do a search at Tagcentral, where your results page will show you lots of feeds from different tag search engines.
  8. Other people like Gataga, though I haven't used it much. It's a cross platform tag search engine, with search results available as an RSS feed.
  9. Speaking of search, why search for your topic of interest manually, only when you remember to? You can easily set up persistent search feeds in many search engines that offer RSS feeds of your search results. That way, whenever the engine finds something new as a result of your search, you'll see that item in your RSS feed reader! I wrote about persistent search to RSS here.

Soon you'll have so many feeds you'll never surf for news again. The next step is learning how to best organize your feed reader, something I'll write about later.

Related: My Furl archive of everything I save related to RSS is syndicated on the sidebar of this blog's front page, and be viewed and searched here. That content itself also has its own RSS feed!

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Site Redesign: Side-Bar Switcheroo

I decided while designing some blogs for a couple of clients that I really did need to be puting sidebars on the left-hand side instead of on the right. Several people have told me it is more visually appealing on the left, and more likely to be looked at. I fill sidebars with content that is very important to me, so I want to make sure people look at and use them.

It brought to mind a visual attention study described over at EyeTools Research. They used this eye-heat map to demonstrate that most people who are running ads on the right hand side of their blogs are wasting their time because most people never look there. I wondered upon seeing this wether that's because the right hand side naturally doesn't get attention, or wether people aren't looking at it when there are ads there.

At the same time, the left side doesn't get a whole lot of attention either. So who knows what it means. One way or the other, I think taking my sidebar to the left is a good idea. Any feedback on how it looks now?

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Google Shoots Down Mash-Up Of Itself

So the folks over at XtraGoogle say they've been ordered to take down the site upon orders by Google. Bummer! XtraGoogle was a site that had graphic icons for many of the Google services that are not described on the front page of Google.com. You typed your search term into the box, then clicked one of the services (eg. Google Maps, Google Scholar, Google Video, etc.) and then it took you to the results page of that Google Search.

Why would Google do this? They weren't losing any ad revenue, as the searches ultimately ended up on their page with their ads. Xtragoogle just looked better and was more functional for users of Google's many services. The only thing I can think of it that it was a matter of control. That's a real shame. At a time when other companies are releasing their source code, engaging in collaboration, enlisting their biggest fans instead of suing them, etc. - why does Google keep doing things like this?

Related: Previous article I wrote about Google's new developments.

See also my Furl archive re Search here.

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NPtech: Non-Profit Tech Adoption via Web 2.0

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Just came across a whole community of people working to help non-profit's adopt new tech (via Technorati tag search for non-profit). One of the funnest I've found so far is Peter Campbell's blog, which is a good place to start looking around for like-minded folks. He and his associates (including some folks from TechSoup.org, who I wrote about earlier) are using the tag "nptech" in delicious to create a stream of found web content about non-profit tech issues. Despite my frustrations with Del.icio.us, this is really exciting. The tag "nptech" is now being called an attention stream - items online tagged as related to a particular subject that many people keep consistent watch over (via RSS). Cool. You can view the stream at this Del.icio.us page, or better yet, at this Technorati Tag search page.

I'll start contributing to that via Technorati tags, though I'll be darned if I fire up the old Delicious account again. Of course, if Furl got it together like Spurl does to cross post to your delicious account automatically, then we'd be in business. True cross platform collaboration. But I suppose if you'd prefer to go back to the days when you could only call people who had telephone service from the same companyas you did...

Said group is also starting a site just for this attention stream and related resources, with an as yet undetermined name. Check it out here.

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Stop Wasting Time With Failed Searches

Just reread an article from a year ago called "The High Cost of Not Finding Information" from the publication KM World (as in Knowledge Managment). (found via JohnT's Furl feed) It's a good source of information about the amount of time that knowledge workers waste with failed internet searches. It's really incredible how much time and energy professionals spend looking for information online with zero results!

These stats are from the article:

  • Knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% of their time searching for information.
  • Searchers are successful in finding what they seek 50% of the time or less, according to both Web search engines and our own surveys. An IDC study in 2001 found that only 21% of respondents said they found the information they needed 85% to100% of the time.
  • 40% of corporate users reported that they can not find the information they need to do their jobs on their intranets.

Those these statistics from the corporate world are several years old, I believe that people in the non-profit and small business sectors likely suffer these problems even worse than those more corporate because we used to rarely have access to the information storage and retrieval software that big companies invest in. (Now that's changing with Web 2.0) It is also possible that this time wasting is less of a problem for small biz and non-profit parties because many such people set their standards lower.

Either way, I think that our access to information through search can be vastly improved by a handful of things, including:
  • learning how to use Google properly

  • learning search engines other than Google, including metasearch engines, specialty and multi-media search

  • using persistent search automation to know what information is available concerning your work, as soon as it is available, instead of only finding it when you go look for it manually

  • saving your information properly the first time you find it: in a web based searchable database with title, key information included as a clipping, and a cached copy in the archive in case the information is no longer available online elsewhere when you need it. For all these purposes, I use and highly recommend Furl.

I believe that tools like these I can make a huge difference in your time invested to work with information that you need vs. the amount of time you waste looking for it in the first place. The search situation in terms of users' success is currently dismal, but it doesn't have to be. The tools are there, we just have to learn how to use them.

Related: See my Furl archive of articles I've saved about search, as well as lots of search engine options beyond Google. See also a previous article I wrote about search and google here.

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RSS Digest Update

Ok, so it's the middle of the night and I can't sleep. Maybe this will help, though. I just got an email from the folks over at RSS Digest letting me know that I don't need to freak out - their service is back up and available again. (See post just prior to this one where I was totally freaking out.) In fact, they will be releasing a new, better version of the service in a week, as described on their site.

Was the temporary shut down an attention getting ploy? I don't think so at all. Their service really is so great that I have every reason to believe it was overloaded. The person who emailed me thanked me for my enthusiasm about their "little service," which I thought was funny. I'm sure it's not difficult to write the code to display an RSS feed on a web site - but that's not something I know how to do. I know about creative use of services like theirs, and how to communicate with people about the possibilities. But I don't know the programming required to recreate that service myself. So to me it's not a "little service" and judging by the number of users they have, it's obviously a big deal to many other people as well.

(To see an example of how I use RSS Digest, check out the bottom of the sidebar on the front page of this blog. There you'll see automatically syndicated the newest items in certain catagories of my Furl archives. It's RSS Digest that takes the RSS feed and turns it into a viewable display for my site. Yay!)

Tragedy! Horror! A Key Service is Overloaded!

Sunday, June 26, 2005
Update: Hello to everyone visiting from Peter's teasing post re this one. While you are here I hope you'll check out the rest of my site. I have since made another post where I stop freaking out (see front page) since the service is back up. Still, if anyone else is interested in ritual sacrifice (per our cult), just let me know.

I am in shock, though I know I shouldn't be. The folks over at RSS Digest have announced that they are too slammed with users to continue their fantastic service right now. They create javascript RSS feed displays like the ones I've got over on the right sidebar of my blog (Podcasts Downloaded, My Recent Furls re Search, etc).

I'm not surprised, as this is an invaluable service. I can't believe that no one else is offering it for free, though I'm sure this is why. Feedroll will give you a script you can copy and paste to display on your RSS feed on your site, but it is unclear whether you get multiple feed displays for their $15 a month subscription rate. Furthermore, they are probably unwilling to create a display to syndicate a feed you don't own. And I love displaying search results automatically by RSS. That's what makes the sites I work with little hubs of the newest information in their fields. (What Rok over at MarketingStudies.net calls RSS Radars)

I am heartbroken that RSS Digest is down. I sent them ten bucks as a donation to help. If you use their service you should too. This will be simple Web 2.0 function someday and performing this it will be no problem. But for now I can't use it on client's blogs and I am so upset about it!

Obviously this calls into question the business model of so many little Web 2.0 service providers, "tell me what you want, I'll create a javascript to make it happen, you link back to me, and enough people will click on my ads that I'll make a profit." Apparently, that's not always the case.

But just like Haloscan commenting provides a great service for $12 per year, I imagine that RSS Digest could move towards a subscription model. So long as they let me display the feeds of other sites beyond my own, I'd pay $10 a month for their service.

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Lawrence, KS: Newspaper Tech Convergence

Saturday, June 25, 2005
Just listened to a wonderful, funny podcasted talk by Rob Curley, the head of online activity at the Lawrence Journal World. It is absolutely incredible how much multi-media content and user contribution they have going on, for a news site focused on a town of 80 thousand! It's a great talk and gives you some idea of the future that news/multi-media organizations may have ahead of them.

One tidbit: every little kid who plays sports in the town has their own web page, with box scores, cumulative stats, an audio interview and a service to compare their stats with any other player! T-ball players, even. It's adorable. And parents can sign up to receive an automatic email or cell phone text message if a game gets canceled. The KU basketball team's section of the paper's site offers to text fans' phones every ten minutes during a game with an update, and last weekend 5,000 people were signed up for the service! Of course there's far more involved than sports, but that's just some of the most endearing.

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Technorati Tag Bookmarklet

Friday, June 24, 2005
Update: bookmarklet can now be grabbed best here. Grab it while you can!

So, in helping someone new to blogging get set up, I came upon a Technorati Tag Bookmaklet that helps avoid all the HTML of tagging a blog post. (See Technorati Tag Search, a great first research step.) Check it out here. Just drag the link on that page to your toolbar, and then click on it at the end of any blog post. The bookmarklet will give you a snippet of code to paste into the end of your post, and voila, you've got Technorati Tags for your blog post. I know I get a lot of traffic from Technorati Tag searches. They are a key part of the new era of popular classification and a great way to relate to information.

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Softening the interface: RSS and Delicious

So, in my everlasting quest to find the best way to explain RSS feeds to new users short of demonstrating them (by far the easiest way!) I have come up with this: (What's an RSS Feed Reader?) I set it up originally for a client, but I think I'm going to use it on my sidebar as well. If you have a blog or website that you'd like to use that link on, feel free to view the source code, copy and paste it in. The linking code is specially written to make the new window pop up the way it does, so please copy the whole code if you are going to use it.

Del.icio.us, a very popular Social Bookmarking tool that people build add-ons to all the time continues to develop. Social bookmarking will rock your world, in case you don't know. Check out this cool new AJAX tool called del.icio.us direc.tor by Johnvey Hwang. It's very cool, if you've got a del.icio.us account. Someday, del.icio.us is liable to surpass Furl and I'll make the switch. It still has a ways to go, though. I'd love to see the features of Furl mixed with the features of Spurl mixed with the development community of Del.icio.us. Is this too much to ask?

One way or the other, I use Furl for now. My entire furl archive is available here and I syndicate via RSS feeds my Furl categories for Podcasts Downloaded, Search and RSS on the right hand side of this blog's front page. If you are interested in social bookmarking, you can see the top rated items in my Furl archive in my Social Bookmarking category here.

Related: Check out the official blog for Del.icio.us. It's going to be a very interesting contest between them and their competitors. I hope that they can cooperate to a degree, as can be seen in Technorati Tag Search.

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Beyond search, Google Wallet may challenge PayPal

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Sid Yadiv over at The Daily Rundown just wrote about rumors that Google is going to start on online payment service that will function as an alternative to PayPal. For anyone who has not used it, PayPal is owned by EBay and really is very reliable and trustworthy. It's also very easy. It takes less than 5 minutes to get a PayPal account. It's worth doing.

Google offers more and more services all the time. Check out Google Labs for a peak into one layer of what they are working on. See also XtraGoogle for a shortcut to many of Google's services and Soople for a graphic interface making advanced search queries easier to use. Wikipedia has a great entry listing Google tools that are available.

If you dislike Google's search hegemony (I know I do some times) you might enjoy Clusty, A9.com and Jux2 for searches. All produce very good results, as well as offering cool features that Google doesn't have.

Most interesting is his call for cooperation between Google and PayPal. Collaboration between services should happen far more often than it does. It's a real pain to use different Instant Messaging services, and I really wish there was more collaboration across tagging and social bookmarking systems. Can you imagine how horrid it would be if you couldn't email people who were using a different email service than you? I don't know why competitor cooperation is so rare still online, other than that companies are still stuck in an old paradigm of trying to lock users in to their service alone. It's ugly, and hopefully it's a paradigm that is dying in favor of services competing based on their relative merits.

Related: Don't miss the short film Epic 2015, a funny but informative guess into the future of Google and the web in general.

My Furl archive re Search is viewable here.

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TechSoup: A Great Tech Place for Non-Profits

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just rediscovered the fantastic work being done over at Techsoup, a very high-quality site for non-profit groups. Their forums are very well ran, they offer headlines by RSS, it's fantastic! The people involved also seem to prioritize recognition of the limited budgets and tech that many non-profits have access to. It's a place I hope to participate more in the future. I think many of my readers here would find it useful as well.

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LA Times Wiki and A Lack of Understanding

Sunday, June 19, 2005
So the LA Times let users wikify a set of editorials about the war in Iraq this weekend, but since posting the experiment on Friday they have already removed it come Sunday. It was taken down because of defacement! What a shame. For those who don't know, a wiki is a web page that anyone can edit. That's the basic idea, but a good wiki also contains all previous versions of the page, makes it easy to revert to previous versions, and asks users to describe any change they make. With enough eyes on it, a wiki develops wonderfully and spammers and saboteurs are quickly taken care of. They are great for collaborative knowledge and document development, amongst other purposes. I don't think an editorial is a very good use of wiki, but it was removed before I saw it, so I don't know how it played out. The best example of a wiki in the world is Wikipedia (link to English version).

About.com's columnist on US Politics wrote a couple of dreadful articles about the Time's wikied editorials: here (discussing it's launch) and here (on its closure).

Here's what I emailed the columnist:
Hi, re your suggestion that there be a waiting period before you can edit a wiki. I'm a consultant who trains people how to use tools like wikis, and there is no reason for a waiting period or any other kind of control. There was no reason for the LA Times to remove their wiki article.

The way a wiki works is that each reader should make sure the article is in good shape when they find it and leave it (deleting spam in it if necessary, for example) and readers must understand that the content cannot be found in the front page of the article alone, but is found in the whole body of previous versions and page history. Wikis are unbreakable for this reason. If enough people are deleting spam when they come upon it, the system will work just fine. I imagine the Times folks were just scared, and the users were rude, and people involved didn't know how to use a wiki well enough.

Best wishes,
Marshall Kirkpatrick

Of course her spam filter denied my email, so she'll never get it. A discussion wiki space after each of her articles sure would be nice. There's nothing like that, but there sure are lots of ads on the page! I also used the comment space over at A Real Waste of Time's write up on the LA Times wiki to stick up for wikiworld.

These are such simple concepts, it makes me sad that people are so quick to grab hold of simplistic critiques. Yes, the fact that anyone can edit a wiki article means that anyone can deface it as well. But it also means that anyone can fix it. Usually with one button "revert to previous version." Is this really so complicated? Perhaps critics should learn how something works better before being so vocally critical.

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Web 2.0 Blogs

The world of Web 2.0 is picking up more and more discussion. Two great sources of information about the phenomenon are Read/Write Web and TechCrunch.

Defining Web 2.0 is a challenge still. I define it as the current period of services oriented web applications enabled by ubiquitous broadband, cheap storage and programming innovations like RSS, AJAX, etc. That's the short, high-context version. For a longer, but simpler explanation, see my post titled "Talking Web 2.0: Not Web Pages, But Web Services."

My goal is to get social justice oriented organizations and small businesses into the world of Web 2.0. I think the tools are fantastic - they need to be used by cool folks so the work can be done all the better.

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Posting equals traffic

Thursday, June 16, 2005
I haven't posted here in several days, my other jobs are asking a lot of my time this week, I've been taking some personal time and I've been working with clients instead of blogging. As a result, I had fewer people visit this blog yesterday (3) than had in a month. (Most days between 15 and 35 people view this blog. I think that's great given that I haven't done any promotion.)

It's pretty clear that posting articles is what gets people reading what you've written. Even older content is more likely to be seen if there is new content brining people to your site. I've been trying to write one post per day for awhile, but the extreme end of the spectrum looks very different still. Anna Marie Cox, who writes the D.C. gossip blog Wonkette, said in a recent audio interview posted on the wonderful siteIT Conversations that she is contractually obligated to write 12 blog posts every day! As part of the Gawker Media blog empire, she's paid ultimately by advertising dollars. And advertising rates rise and are sold according to page impressions, or reader numbers. It is an established fact, not just for me, that more posting equals more readers.

Blogging daily is a hard routine to get into (imagine 12 posts per day! ) but it's something that separates the serious online players from those of us that just use the internet for our various purposes. Both orientations are of course just fine. But establishing a name for yourself and making an impact in online discourse appears to require very regular posting. If your blog is just a support service for your real work elsewhere, then daily posting may not be needed. But either way, it is good to push yourself to try and regularly write about your work, experiences and thoughts. If you are proud of what you do, then it will probably be interesting and valuable for others to read about.

Blog posts need not be very long, and the writing practice is great - since most peoples' writing skills are awful. But adding anything new to your routine, even if it's something designed for easy adoption, is difficult.

As an aside, the Wonkette interview is a great discussion on blogging, politics, ethics and the high-end of the industry. I recommend it for sure.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Upgrading Comment Systems to Haloscan

"Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog."

Those words appeared automatically when I used the "easy-install" system at Haloscan to replace the dreadful commenting system that comes with Blogspot blogs. Haloscan is better looking, fasting, simpler to post in and allows anonymous comments even more easily than Blogger does. It also automatically adds trackback features, to show you who is linking to your blog posts. It looks good, a huge number of people have been using it for quite some time, so we'll see how it goes.

Unortunately, I've been having some trouble installing it. The copy and paste code is very unclear, I wasn't able to get it to work. And I consider myself relatively capable. But now I'm using the "Blogger automatic install" provided by Haloscan. I've had to go through that 3 times so far, and I think what I'm going to do now is not trust the instructions when they say I can edit or delete the above automatic posting about Haloscan being added to this blog. So far when I edit or delete it, the comment function goes away. Well, many many people have figured out how to use Haloscan on their blogs, so I'm sure I can too. Hopefully this will be the last we speak of it and it will just work great.

People haven’t been posting very many comments here so far, maybe this new system will make it more appealing. I’d sure like to know more about some of the readers. Like the two regulars in New Jersey and Florida. Who are you people? There are people coming here from interesting places everyday, but I’m really curious who some of the regulars are. I use Statcounter to see who’s visiting and what you are reading. It’s one more web based service that works quite well.

There are so many little services popping up like mushrooms that the competition for users must be getting intense. Probably in part as a result of that, I’ve been very happy with many of the services I’ve found and incorporated into my information input and output practices. It’s really exciting, and I do try to be discerning about what I jump on board with.

But this week has been super blog soup-up week, hasn't it? I'm excited to have a package of services I know how to use - so that I can offer clients advice on what their options are and how to get advanced features on their blogs. Little things, gracefully done, could make quite a difference in a reader's experience. That's my theory for now, anyway. We'll see if feature overload occurs.

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Blog Poll with Easy Set-Up

Saturday, June 11, 2005
I'm working with someone who I think might like to have polls on their blog, so I thought I'd try out one custom poll creation service myself first. Now available on the right sidebar of this blog's front page is a poll about the blog's readability and level of detail. It was created in probably 10 minutes through the service Blogpoll.com.

To use Blogpoll you go through a number of different screens where you tell it what you want the different text fields to say, the colors you want, and the size of the display, then it spits out one line of javascript code that you copy and paste into the template of your blog. It's very simple. You can't look under the hood, but that's the trade-off you get for it being so easy. The service makes its money by running ads on its home page.

I did a Technorati search for Blogpoll.com and found that it was created by Charles Coxhead, whose blog Surfarama includes one post about all the different services he's launched. I've used several others, so I have every reason so far to trust that Blogpoll is one of a huge number of handy new services on the web that are worthy of use. Now we'll see if people are interested in it!

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Technorati Beta Improvements - Yay!

Technorati's new Beta release looks like a major improvement on the old Technorati blog search engine experience! It's the best search engine for finding out what people in the blogosphere are saying about any given subject. The service says it is currently tracking 11.1 million sites and 1.2 billion links.

Right away I can see that they have changed the Technorati Tag Search to allow you to look at ALL of the items tagged with your queried subject tag, instead of just the 20 most recent. That's good, because I was about to freak out. Technorati tags are the dominant tag classification system on the web right now, and for them to only display 20 results was a shirking of their responsibility. Not a problem anymore.

Tags are a way that all users can classify things they write or find on the web; subject classification is no longer centralized in the hands of directories, web masters, and other authority figures. Try out any subject of interest to you in a Beta Technorati Tag Search and you'll see what a fantastic research resource it is. Any blogs, Flickr photos (and Buzznet photos too), del.icio.us and Furl bookmarks that have been tagged with your search term appear in your search results.

In addition to tags, Technorati is also one of the best ways to see who is linking to your blog. See my previous post "Reputation Tracking and Rapid Response."

Related: Technorati's founder Dave Sifry's 15 minute talk at the Web 2.0 conference.

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Bloglet: Email notification of new articles

Friday, June 10, 2005
In recognition of the fact that not everyone reads blogs with an RSS reader (introduction to concepts, if needed) I have installed an email subscription field, via a service called Bloglet. It looks like a very good service, but we'll have to see. I'll subscribe to it myself first.

When training researchers, I would never suggest subscribing to email notifications because RSS is so much easier, more centralized, more organized, etc. But, when training people for promotion, I would definitely recommend using an email notification system because RSS just isn't that widespread yet and you want your content to be accessible. So, if you haven't started using a free RSS reader yet, check out my introductory article and simple demo account via this link. If you still prefer reading your news updates via email, or aren't in the habit yet of using RSS regularly as a primary info channel...then let's try out the Bloglet email system. I hope it will help build the community of readers around this site and new web tools in general.

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The Future of the Web in Flash Short Film

A friend just turned me on to Epic 2015, a 5 minute short film about the past, present and potential future of Web 2.0 - the keyword being Googlezon. It's pretty funny, and thought provoking. It was made by Robin Sloan of Current TV and Matt Thompson of Snarkmarket (their shared blog), two people who are obviously very hip.

Despite the unexplainable exclusion of any reference to Craig's List, you should totally check out the film. It's actually a very good introduction to the concepts and it's a viable guess as to one possible future of the web. Or maybe it's just funny.

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Reputation Tracking and Rapid Response

Thursday, June 09, 2005
In the last week or so I've blogged here about a number of different organizations, including Feedster, Ask Jeeves and a blog called NEI Nuclear Notes. All three found out that I was blogging about them and responded in a matter of hours or days. When I wrote that Ask Jeeves's user comment page on their website was suffocating and insulting, the company's Customer Support manager emailed me a couple of days later. She said, basically, thanks for the feedback, we'll see what we can do. Cool. When I blogged about Feedster's search to RSS function not working the way I needed it to, a member of their company posted a response and told me that it worked just fine. (It does appear to now. Oops.) The Nuclear Notes blog posted a link back to me and now I've been having nuclear industry people visiting my blog a bunch. (Strange.)

You should know when someone online is writing about you, good or bad. If it's bad you should be ready to respond asap if appropriate. How do organizations like this do it? Most commonly, people set up a search through either Technorati, PubSub or Feedster for their web site's URL. (These engines specialize in searching the millions of blogs on the web.) That way, whenever someone posts their URL on another site, the search engines will find it. The searches are set up as RSS feeds (see definition of terms, if needed) so that every time you log in to your RSS reader's inbox, along side new items from all the news sites and blogs you've subscribed to, you'll see if there are any new results for the searches for links to your blog or website. It happens pretty fast, and the faster you can respond the better it looks. If someone is linking to something you've written or if they have nice things to say about you, then knowing about it allows you to further extend the conversation and develop a relationship.

Linking is a big part of what the web is all about, and always has been. I got lots of traffic, and thus participation in discussions, from being linked to by Geek News Central and Marketing Studies.net. We didn't exchange links just for the sake of traffic, but because I wrote about something that was useful to them (a review of GNC's podcast and a link to RSS Mix sent to MarketingStudies.net.) Providing valuable and interesting content is the key to quality linking and online discussion, and the above persistent search engines are an important enabler for all of it to occur - for all of us to get the most out of this medium of communication called the web.

Which one of these blogosphere search engines works best? I don't know, but I do know that they find different results in different time frames. So why not use them all? A good RSS reader will let you put feeds in a folder, so start a folder for reputation tracking and just put as many search feeds as you can in it. It won't do anything but sit there quietly until it finds something new.

Searching for people talking about you is of course just one subset of a larger search strategy you can employ to be similarly notified automatically of search results regarding any subject of interest. Automating and personalizing your information inflow saves you a huge amount of time and energy while exposing you to valuable content streams you would have otherwise never seen. Then, when something important comes down the stream, you can save it in your archive (like Furl.net) for later retrieval. It's pretty cool.

See also: my earlier post, Persistent search to RSS options

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Introductory Article Re Corporate Blogs and Wikis

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
A great looking blog called WikiSquared (motto: In the world of wikis, everyone is smarter than anyone) just reposted a terrific article titled INFOCONOMY Review of Corporate Blogs and Wikis. It's an interesting and thorough overview of both technologies, and the type of thing (as the reposter writes) you could plop on some one's desk and as an explanation of the phenomena and evidence of the need to adopt.

New info I gleaned from the article included the following:

I really liked the introduction.
THE Internet is evolving, and finally showing signs of delivering some of the interactivity that has been promised since its inception. At the forefront of this evolution are technologies like weblogs (online diaries usually referred to as 'blogs') and wikis (a web page that anyone can edit).

On the future of blogs, the article cites Forrester Research:
Although only around 5% of the online populace regularly reads blogs, Forrester Research likens the current situation to the mid-1990s, when companies were beginning to launch their own websites. Analysts predict readership (predominantly young and male today) and applications will change as more corporate blogs appear. Forrester even envisions a day when all new employees are given a blog URL alongside their phone number and email address.

Something I'd never heard before: Microsoft now employs wiki inventor Ward Cunningham!

On the psychology of adoption:
THE most significant barrier to corporate adoption of blogs and wikis is a psychological one. With wikis, the problem is not getting people to read them but to realise that they can and should edit them too. For blogs, there can be a fear of the candour and honesty which the pages encourage - though this can be their most rewarding feature.

On wikis vs. group email, the article uses this quote:
"A wiki is really a substitute for a group email. 90% of collaboration and 75% of a company's knowledge assets exist in emails, but there is no value for the organisation apart from what people produce from the information." Ross Mayfield, CEO and founder of wiki vendor SocialText.

The full article is available here and it's really worth reading as an introduction. I just selected the things that were newest or most noteworthy to me for the above excerpts. The blog WikiSquared looks like something worth watching too, I'm going to add it to my RSS reader.

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Persistent Search to RSS Options

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Yesterday I populated an RSS reader account for someone with persistent searches (definition of RSS, if needed) concerning their issue of interest via a variety of search engines. That way, they don't have to go out and do a search on 18 different search engines every day to see if there are any new results for their search term. They just log in to one inbox and any new results from any of the engines are all fed into that one place. I think it is going to save them a lot of time. And it will make them immediately aware of darned near anything on the web that's relevant to their concerns, in near real time. They're going to be psyched.

In the world of Web 2.0, you shouldn't have to go looking yourself for information you need. Your computer should bring it to you automatically.

I also set them up with a Furl account, so they can save and comment on the articles they find via the RSS feeds. I think it's all going to work out very well and they will have better access to more information, faster. And I think they'll feel less overwhelmed once they get used to it.

Here are the engines I grabbed RSS feeds from:

News Search, General

Financial News

Web Page Search

Blog, Social Bookmarking, and Multimedia Search

I think they'll love it. I was disappointed to be unable to get audio search in there. I tried scraping the search results from Podscope but was unable to get good automated links. I've emailed them asking for support of search results in RSS format.

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More Client Testimony

Monday, June 06, 2005
Justin Kistner is the Director of Creative Development at The Portland Internet Company. Several months ago I helped him select between wiki (see definition of terms) software options for a non-profit organization that he's on the board of. We then planned the wiki design and training session together, and I trained the members of the group how to use their wiki for internal communication and collaborative document development. We worked well enough together that he has since recommended me to several of his clients as a web site content developer. I asked him to write a few sentences about our work together for posting here. Other client feedback is available at this link.

I began developing websites in 1996 and I've always worked with an assumption that cyberspace is too big for any one person to wrap their brain around. Since I've been in regular communication with Marshall, I feel like for the first time I have a clear picture of what's really out there on the web. His insatiable appetite for information has inadvertently made him the best Internet sherpa I've personally known. -Justin Kistner

Blogs Gone Nuclear

Came upon a fascinating blog today called NEI Nuclear Notes, owned by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based policy organization that represents the American nuclear industry. It's simple, but very well done. There are 11 contributors, but the vast majority of posts come from one man. There are multiple posts every day, mostly reposts of nuke related news from other sites with added commentary and links to the organization's information about the topics discussed. Each post is tagged with a Technorati Tag, and the site gets more traffic than you might expect!

It's quite an example of high-quality news and information gathering for a political purpose. It certainly makes one wonder what people with other perspectives on such matters could be doing with blogs and related technologies! One way to look for groups that are doing something like that would be to do a Technorati search for the NEI Nuclear Note's URL address, like this, and see who is linking to this interesting pro-nuclear group.

Update: Nuclear Notes detected the link from here to there right away, presumably through Technorati, and now I'm getting lots of traffic today. From nuclear industry folks! How funny. Well, hi folks! Hope you have a nice time here. Please help get us out of this apocalyptic mess we're in, and ask yourself honestly whether nuclear energy is part of the solution or not. Not to preach, but I couldn't help but make one little comment.

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Some Search Engines Are Wretched

Saturday, June 04, 2005
Ask Jeeves gets some pretty good search results that Google and Yahoo don't. (Check out Jux2 for a demonstration.) But they don't offer search results in RSS format, so you can't find out if there are any new results just by reading your RSS feeds. Google has the same problem, but there are other services that can get around that problem with them, like GoogleAlerts.

Ok, so that's not the end of the world though. I went to their "send us feedback" link, and they have a 10 question multiple choice form that you MUST answer, or they won't let you submit your "additional comments" typed into the box at the bottom of the list. THEN, if your comments are more than 250 letters long, it cuts off words from the end of your message to make up the difference! I couldn't believe it. It was the worst online customer service experience I've had in weeks. I won't be clicking on any of their ads any time soon. It's noteworthy that they recently bought Bloglines (a very popular RSS reader), and then everybody was bought up by InterActiveCorp, the owners of Ticketmaster. Pretty typical corporate attitude about end users.

You can see everything I've Furl bookmarked under "Search," including other search engine options here.

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Search to RSS Permutations and Problems

Update: After the comment was posted below from someone from Feedster prompting me to retry my search, the function appears to be working now. I don't know if it was my mistake or not, but the complaining below no longer seems to apply. My apologies to the company. Go check out Feedster!

Just tried out Feedster for the first time. It's a cool looking blogosphere search engine, but it has one problem that makes it unusable for me.

I really like the way that after doing my search the first time there was an option that read, "many of your search results are from livejournal.com. Would you like to exclude livejournal or search only inside livejournal.com?" When I tried excluding LiveJournal it then told me that many of my results were from Blogger! Cool! Unfortunatley, persistent search results as an RSS feed were available for
  • "search terms as whole quoted phrase"
  • search terms as ungrouped words (no quotes) minus results from LiveJournal.com
But when I tried to do my search as a whole quoted phrase (in my case, a 3 word corporation name) and exclude LiveJournal results, the RSS feed was broken! Apparently "" and -site: in the same search query was more than Feedster could handle, and that's exactly what I need. Maybe it will work in an hour, but I doubt it.

Not to be mean, but this is just another example of how all these nifty tools are only as useful as the people who design and maintain them! They even have a "developers' wiki" but it's filled with nothing but links to online pharmacies and other link spam. I reverted the front page back to its pre-spam content, but every other page looks trashed too. What a shame. There are lots of other persistent search to rss options out there, but I sure wish Feedster worked. It looks cool.

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State-Machine: Visualizing Statistics and Political Influence

Thursday, June 02, 2005
You should go check out State-Machine.org, make sure you hover over the top and bottom grey toolbars. It's really neat. I'm not sure how it could come in handy, but I'm sure it could.
It's similar to TheyRule.net, something I know comes in handy. Another key service for tracking government action is GovTrack.us.

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Podcasting as the Classroom

Unsurprisingly, someone has started something called The Education Podcasting Network. It looks like there's already a number of podcasts posted there, ranging from shows about English Literature to Elementary School related series. (Definition: Podcasts are serialized audio files intended for being heard on a portable MP3 player, most famously the iPod, but enjoyable via any MP3 player or your computer.)

Portable MP3 players will presumably continue to drop in price over the years (I got mine on clearance at Radio Shack for 40 bucks, and it will work until I can afford to get a bigger better one), and MP3 files will be listened to more and more over peoples' cell phones, so you can expect content to be delivered via subscribably audio files in a large number of fields. Education is a very logical one.

I can't tell you how exciting it is to live in a small town but be able to listen to news from around the world via downloadable audio files. I listen to Democracy Now and Free Speech Radio News every day and The Global Shortwave Report every week, just walking around town or biking to and from work. (You can see what I'm listening to on the right side bar of this blog's front page.)

Being freed from the time and space restrictions of having to listen to those shows when they are broadcast over the radio or having to sit at a computer makes it a fundamentally different experience to listen (the industry calls it time-shifting). Being able to learn similarly via education podcasts only makes sense. I know that I just graduated with a degree in Political Science, but was largely disappointed with the experience. Many methods of learning have worked for me much better than school, and listening to an hour of high quality news from around the world each day followed by 2 hours of lectures from fascinating people while I'm sitting on the bus or doing my dishes...that's an intense state of perpetual education.

People say that most people around the world will experience the internet first, if not only, via mobile phones. All the more reason why information available via audio is key.

Update:Check out ArtMobs, a group of art students producing "unofficial" audio guides to the Museum of Modern Art and other galleries. Very cool.

See also Podscope, a Podcast search engine. Education Podcast Network found via John T's Furl Archive feed.

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Podcasting Government or Anything Else

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Super Furler Amy Gahran wrote a great article over at Poynter Online, a site for tech savvy journalists, about the possibilities of offering audio recordings of government meetings and hearings as podcasts. She summarizes a number of different perspectives on the idea, including some arguments against (can you believe there are arguments against it?)

In particular, Business Week's Blogspotting says that listening to podcasts will not be big enough anytime soon to justify the trouble. A very interesting discussion follows on that blog.

Given that data storage is so cheap it may as well be free, and bandwidth is similar in most of the world (the US so far has terrible high-speed internet connectivity relative to other places), there is no reason not to offer darn near everything as a downloadable audio file. The Internet Archive is working to store every media artifact ever made in their digital archives (check out some of Kahle's talks via IT Conversations here) so why can't I download anything onto my MP3 player and listen to it? Of course all government hearings should be audio recorded and available for download online! So should corporate shareholder meetings, speeches at political rallies, and almost anything else!

The concept of The Long Tail is that people will find value in something long after it's original use if they have access to it in a variety of ways. Fewer and fewer people will find something like a government-hearing audio file useful as it travels through media further and further from the original hearing itself, but the Long Tail theory is that this tapering tail of users will in end, make up more total value all together than the value of the original use in the first place. If they are allowed to, and not blocked by things like copyright or technological laziness.

Aside: Check out this audio file (Super Dubya) and be thankful for recordings of government proceedings and the long tail of remixing.

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