Monthly Archives: September 2005

Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents

Reporters Without Borders have a handbook downloadable or viewable on their website on blogging aimed at political dissidents and the like, offering advice on staying anonymous along with the usual stuff:

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.

Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

Palimpsest 2.0

Palimpsest

My quietness of late is largely down to the massive amount of work I have been putting into Palimpsest, head over there and take a look for yourself.

Basically, the old phpBB forum software just wasn’t up to the job. I think that when they get round to releasing version 3 this might chnage, but it was taking too long. Every other day the site seemed to go down with sessions error problems, and it seemed like the phpBB feature set was becoming more and more antiquated. So, I took the plunge and invested in vBulletin.

I had seen the software in use on the pretty dreadful book site The Book Forum, and it seemed to be pretty effective and feature-rich. I then headed over to the VBulletin site, where you can test drive using the forums and also the control panel – the complexity of which really makes it clear what a powerful piece of software this is.

So, I bought it and downloaded it and started to set it up. This is where I started to run into problems and should have planned much better. In many ways, I was very lucky as the import of data from the phpBB database into the vBulletin one was pretty seamless and meant that no data was lost. However, in my haste to get cracking, I had merely locked down the phpBB board and sent out an all-users email to warn people that changes were afoot, and letting them know that the forum URl was changing. What I should have done was develop the new site until it was completely finished, and then make the switch.

It wasn’t long before the complaints started to come in! To be honest, they were all very polite, but having had a difficult night getting the install and upload right (with tedious backing up in between) it made me bemoan rather than celebrate the loyalty of the Palimpsesters. Still, soon, with stylesheet modifications made things started to look more like home. The remaining issue was that the icon set that came with vBulletin was overly fussy and hard to distinguish. This was easily solved by using the icons from the phpBB installation – simple solutions being the best.

So, what makes vBulletin so much better? Firstly, security. New members now have to complete one of those graphical tests, typing in the letters on an image, to try and discourage false members signing up to promote a product or website automatically. Secondly, stability. The number of guest users has reduced dramatically, and not one error along the lines of the sessions one that so beleagured phpBB has been seen.

Thirdly, the features. I’ll run through some of the big ones quickly, at random: moderators can merge threads, sub-forums, wysiwyg post editing, retrieval of deleted posts, customisable user profiles and custom BB codes being just a few. The latter is great, we have created an icon on the wysiwyg editor that, when provided with an Amazon ASIN number, produces a link to the product in question that will credit the Palimpsest coffers if bought.

The other major aspect of vBulletin is the way it can be customised with good quality third party plugins. I use two, the vbAdvanced Portal which produced the dynamic front page, and their link manager which allows users to add links to a directory held on Palimpsest. Both work very well and were very simple to set up.

All in all, I think Palimpsest comes across as being a far more professional site than it did before. In the process of this it is possible that it has lost a little of its charm, sadly. I would like to think that the new features outweigh any disappointment though.

Still, lessons have been learned, most notably about keeping members better informed and also to get a working almost-100% complete site ready before unleashing it.

Links 14/9/05

Have been so crap of late I thought I ought to bung up a bumper load of links today!

Lack of updates

Apologies for the total lack of new updates over the last week – have been working on another project which has been taking up an awful lot of time. Once it is set up though, it will be all systems go again here!