links for 2006-12-31

Recent Photos

Just had the chance to get some new photos up on my Flickr account.

Here’s a view of the flooding we had in Llansantffraid earlier this month:

Floods in Llansantffraid 2

This is St. Bridget’s church in the village (Llansantffraid means ‘Church of St. Bridget’), where Jnr Briggs performed spectacularly as Joseph in the crib service on Christmas Eve:

St. Bridget's, Llansantffraid

And finally, here’s a shot of the lower part of the immense Pistyll Rhaeadr:

Pistyll Rhaeadr 3

The Blog Train

Hugh McCleod:

I am no longer interested in being a “professional blogger”, whatever that means. I like blogs, blogging and bloggers, but I think we’re in “post-revolution” times now. The train has already left the station. If you managed to get a seat on it, great. If not, it’s not that big a deal, either. There are plenty of other good ways of expressing yourself. Succeeding at that is far more important than what precise method you use.

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PfF/ScribeFire Review

I’ve been using Peformancing for FireFox, shortly to be rebranded as ScribeFire, for my last few posts on hyprtext, and my initial impressions are pretty good. It certainly fills the gap left when my switch to Ubuntu meant I could no longer use my beloved BlogJet.

It works, as I am sure most people know, as an extension to FireFox, that allows you to create blog posts by either clicking the little icon at the bottom right of the browser window, or by using the right-click context menu’s ‘Blog This’ option, which will insert a link to the current site into the editor, along with any text you have selected. Nice.

The Good

  • Setting up blog accounts is very easy, and most settings are automatically detected
  • FTP settings are easy to complete, making the posting of images very simple
  • All the little extras are there when making your post: technorati tagging, automatically adding a post to your bookmarks, trackbacks, etc
  • All the standard formatting is there, and it works very well, unlike quite a few rich text editors I could mention…
  • You can save draft posts as ‘notes’ and finish them off later

The Bad

  • Deleting notes doesn’t seem to require a clarification. I lost the first draft of this post that way.
  • I can’t edit the way some automatic content appears. For example, in my Technorati tags, I’d like the “Technorati Tags: ” bit to appear in bold.
  • The way line breaks are handled is a bit different to others – and the HTML view doesn’t insert <p> tags so it’s a bit tricky to know exactly what’s happening there

The Ugly

  • I can’t add alternate text to images, or text links. This is very bad for accessibility.

In conclusion, I like PfF/ScribeFire and I’ll be using it as my blog editor from now on. Most of my ‘Bads’ were pretty pernickety, but those alternate text issues need sorting out quickly.

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Blogsmith Coming Soon?

It looks like there will soon be a new contender in the hosted blog platform sphere. Blogsmith, the engine which was designed to run Weblogs Inc, Jason Calacanis‘ early blog network which was subsequently bought up by AOL.

WordPress seems to be the market leading platform at the moment, certainly among hardcore bloggers. It will be interesting to see whether Blogsmith’s imminent arrival will affect that service at all – especially in terms of the release of the awaited 2.1 release. currently forwards to Brian Alvey’s blog. I’ll keep an eye on it, as it’s likely to change soon.

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End of 2006: Books

Here’s the pathetic list of books I managed to read this year. Excuses: new job, wedding, house move.

11. The Prone Gunman – Jean-Patrick Manchette
10. He Died With His Eyes Open – Derek Raymond
9. The Damned United – David Peace
8. Four Stories – Alan Bennett
7. The Complete Talking Heads – Alan Bennett
6. Writing Home – Alan Bennett
5. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
4. Port Mungo – Patrick O’Brian
3. Newton (Brief Lives) – Peter Ackroyd
-. Virtual Light – William Gibson (abandoned)
2. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro (carried forward from 2005)
1. The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton (carried forward from 2005)

Google: Good or Evil?

There has been much discussion of late about Google’s antics in providing ‘tips’ at the top of searches. For example, try running a search on the word ‘blogging‘. What’s that, just under the sponsored links? A tip telling us to give Blogger a go! Not, or LiveJournal, or TypePad, but Blogger, Google’s own blogging platform. Hmmm.

There have been loads of posts about this issue, but more attention was gathered when Blake Ross, FireFox founder and all-round good guy, blogged about it:

Google is now displaying “tips” that point searchers to Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa for any search phrase that includes “calendar” (e.g. Yahoo calendar), “blog” and “photo sharing,” respectively. This is clearly bad for competitors, and it’s also a bad sign for Google. But I generally support anything that benefits users, even if it’s controversial. I believe, for instance, that shipping Internet Explorer with Windows was a good move. So why are tips bad for users?

I care that Google is doing it because the company’s integrity over the years has impressed me and earned my loyalty.

Dave Winer, who was at the very least heavily involved in the development and propogation of RSS and related technologies, makes a further point:

I stopped believing in Google fairplay when they added a Blog-This feature to their toolbar, and didn’t use open APIs so users could post with any blogging tool, not just Google’s. To be clear, I wouldn’t have objected if they had set the default to work with their tool, as long as users could change a preference to use it with other tools.

Absolutely right – the ‘Blog-This’ function on the Google Toolbar was enough to make me remove it in annoyance. Why add a feature if it turns users away? A similar example is the fact that Picasa will only upload photos to Google’s piss-poor web albums, and not other sites like Flickr or PhotoBucket.

So why are people pissed off with Google? After all, they are a corporate company – and a damn big one. Surely they can do whatever they like in the interests of themselves? That’s what business is about, right? It’s like the decision to collude with the Chinese government in the censorship of search results. Whatever helps Google get ahead in its chosen markets is ok.

But as Ross points out, Google was meant to be different. That mantra of ‘Don’t be evil’ meant something to a lot of people and played a part in the huge and rapid growth of the company. Google were seen as the good guys, and continue to position themselves in that way in their competition with Microsoft. But the tides appear to be turning in popular opinion.

Matt Cutts – who plays a similar role for Google that Scoble did for Microsoft when he worked there – has responded to the barrage of criticism the search giant has received on this issue, and generally, he’s in agreement with the criticisms. He notes several searches where unwanted and irrelevant tips have appeared, and concludes that,

In each of the previous cases, I was not in the market for a blog or calendar or photo sharing service. Furthermore, the triggers appear to match on substrings: if I type in “blogoscoped”, I’m looking for Philipp, not to create a blog. The poor targeting alone is enough reason to turn off these tips (if I had my way).

He also agrees that it is reasonable for users to expect more of Google:

…it’s a fact that people expect more from Google than other companies. People compare other search engines to Google, but people compare Google to perfection. We have such passionate users that they’ll complain loudly if they think Google is ever straying from the right path. If you’re a Googler, it may feel frustrating. Instead, I’d choose to be grateful, because that passionate feedback keeps our heads on straight. When our users yell at Google, they care and want us to do the right thing (for their idea of what the right thing is). What other company gets that kind of feedback? Besides, if Yahoo or Microsoft jumped off a building, would you jump off too? 🙂 So yes, if the decision were up to me, I’d remove these tips or scale them way back by making sure that they are very relevant and targeted.

Let’s hope that whoever is in charge of the introduction of these tips into Google’s results soon sees the light and gets rid of them. They aren’t tips, they are advertisements.

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I wrote a couple of days ago about the purchase of Performancing Metrics by PayPerPost. The Performancing blog editor and advertising partnership programme were to be continued by the same team under different banners.

Well, the blog editor is now going to be called ScribeFire, which is a nice enough name. You can still download the editor (which is a FireFox plugin) from the Mozilla site, under its previous banner.

Since my switch to Ubuntu, I’m on the lookout for a new editor. I didn’t get on with PfF the first time round – it kept asking me to put my password in all the time which got annoying. I might give it another go now.

[tags]performancing for firefox, scribefire, blog editors[/tags]