Archive for the 'Blogs & Blogging' Category

Changed My WordPress.com Theme

August 9, 2009

In an effort to make me actually write something here, I decided to revamp the look of the site with (what I think is) a nice, clean white two-column theme. Like it, hate it, indifferent, or think I should just shut up and write and stop messing on with themes and widgets? Let me know.

Ping.fm And The Social Media Duplication Problem

July 25, 2008
Ping.fm

I just got a beta signup to Ping.fm, so I’ve been trying it out over the past half hour or so. Essentially it posts a message to all your microblogging/status update services at once from one place. Here’s my first post:

“hoping I’ve successfully added my identi.ca account to ping.fm”

And indeed I have! It’s easy to set up. Now it’s just a question of deciding (carefully) which services to use it for.

And herein lies the rub. Because my use of ping.fm and other social media/web 2.0 services raises a related problem which could soon make signing up to any more services counterproductive: that is the problem of information duplication, also “noise“.

Every time I update ping.fm, it sends that update to Facebook, Twitter, Identi.ca and Tumblr (at the moment). However, I’ve set up twitterfeed to post all my tumblr updates to Twitter, so that will repeat information on Twitter – not good. To make matters worse, Twitter and Tumblr posts also appear on my Friendfeed, leading to further reduplication of information.

And so on. It turns out – surprise, surprise – that the more social media/aggregation services you use, the more complicated it becomes to manage your online lifestream.

Happily, you can customise Ping.fm to a certain extent to ensure that only certain types of update are sent to certain services. So you can, for example, set ping.fm to only sent status updates to Twitter, Facebook and Identi.ca, whereas microblogs and blogs are reserved for WordPress and Tumblr.

This is good to an extent, but it does mean you have to think carefully about the services you use if you’re into lifestreaming on Friendfeed etc. and you don’t want to piss off your followers.

How about you? Anyone else who compulsively signs up to new web 2.0 aggregation services and gets deluged by repeat info – leave a comment and let me know how you deal with information overload.

New On Tumblr

June 22, 2008

Tumblr logoI blogged here about tumblelogs a long time ago.

Now I’ve finally signed up for one. Here’s mine: Lost and Found

I plan to use it for shorter, more frequent posts, pictures, songs and links which deserve a little more comment than you can give on del.icio.us. This blog will remain of course, but I’ll try to post longer, more in-depth articles, reviews and comments.

Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog recently you’ll know that I’m into web 2.0 services which aggregate all your content in one place, so you may never need to visit my Tumblr blog at all. But please feel free to catch up with me on Friendfeed and Swurl.

If You’re A PC Gamer, You NEED This Link

March 15, 2008

It’s Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and it’s a PC gaming blog:

Rock, Paper, Shotgun dot com

Here’s the 411: It’s written by some of the funniest and most experienced people in PC games today (people like Jim Rossignol, John Walker, Alec Meer and Kieron — BremXJones — Gillen, if you don’t believe me). It’s also not bogged down with the kind of crappy publisher-funded non-reviews that populate big-name sites like Gamespot, Gamespy, IGN, et al.

That means there’s a good balance of big-name stuff — like Far Cry 2 — and weirder indie games, as well as some retro trips down memory lane, such as when Kieron remembers the genius that was Syndicate, before Peter Molyneux lost his marbles and Bullfrog went down the toilet… Ah memories.

10 Tips For Better Tagging

January 17, 2008

Luggage tagWhether it’s bookmarks on del.icio.us, music on last.fm, email on Gmail, photos on flickr, or blog posts right here on WordPress, tagging has become an everyday part of life for the Web 2.0 generation. We do it because it’s fun and addictive, but above all, it’s useful. Tagging enables you and others to find and organise posts, bookmarks and any other content more quickly and easily than a simple search.

Part of the reason why tags are so widely used is because they’re simple to understand: a tag is just a keyword (or short phrase) associated with a piece of information. For bloggers in particular tags help readers to find posts on their site, and also drive traffic to the blog.

Everybody knows there’s no right or wrong way to tag, but the following tips might be useful for those new to tagging. They’ve certainly helped me organise my content both here and on del.icio.us. Feel free to leave some tips of your own in the comments section.

1. Don’t leave it blank! It’s an obvious one, but I often see del.icio.us bookmarks listed as unfiled or uncategorized. There aren’t many items that are truly unclassifiable. Why not mark something as to-tag or similar and then return to it later?

2. Develop a system This is a good tip if you often struggle to find items in your bookmarks. By “system” I don’t mean somthing rigid, but it might be a good idea to reserve one or two words or phrases for certain kinds of content. One example would be tagging time-sensitive items with timed or deadline. I do this at work with del.icio.us, so that I can occasionally prune funding opportunities which are out of date.

3. Spend some time pruning your tags occasionally This is a well-known and oft-repeated tagging tip. Don’t be put off by thinking that it will be time-consuming: it needn’t be, if you keep on top of your tags regularly. Most tag-based websites (e.g. del.icio.us) allow you to view and edit your tagging master list.

4. Get rid of plural (or singular) tags This is a more specific instance of number 2, really. In some ways, it’s a personal preference thing, but usually there’s no point in having both, e.g., blog and blogs. Decide which you’re going to keep and ditch the other. Over time, more plurals and other forms of duplication will creep in, but as long as you carry out regular pruning, it shouldn’t be an issue.

5. Categories are not tags But not necessarily vice versa! Check out this excellent article on the difference between the two. Lorelle makes the point that tags are often less formally structured than categories, but can be used to flag up fine-grained “micro-distinctions” between topics. This can allow readers of a blog to find posts quicker. Aaron Brazell at Problogger agrees, and outlines a few strategies for using tags on your blog.

6. Check which tags others use Use this with caution! Del.icio.us, for example, provides a list of other user’s tags when you submit a new item. Other people’s tags may provide inspiration, but at the end of the day tags are an inherently personal thing. If your brain works differently, don’t use the same tags as everyone else! Of course, this depends on what you’re using tags for (see number 9 below).

7. Keep it simple This applies to most things in life, but it’s especially important with tagging. Most tag-enabled websites these days (with the notable exception of del.icio.us) allow spaces in tags, but this shouldn’t be taken as liscense to have long phrases as tags. In some cases that might be appropriate, but often one or two words does the trick.

8. Try not to have lots more tags than pieces of information Sometimes this may not be possible, and it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule, but in general, if you have 100 bookmarks and 250 tags, you might need to rethink your system a little. My own wordpress blog right here is a counterexample to this, of course, but that’s more of a problem with the way wordpress manages tags – you can view and edit your categories but you can’t, currently at least, see a master list of all your tags.

9. Think about others as well as yourself Here’s another general life principle which can be applied to tagging. In many places (a notable exception would be your Gmail account), tags are a fundamentally social way of labelling information. As well as thinking of keywords which you would associate with a particular item, think about what might help others to find it. This can only be good for everyone in the long run: other people can find useful information, great photos, or bookmarks, and you’ll be raising your profile and developing online social networks. For example, I tag items with research at work. Now, virtually everything I bookmark at work is research-related, but if I don’t tag with that basic keyword, others might not find the information.

10. Use tags to make a note to yourself For example, tag an item toread and then you can see at a glance any news stories, etc., that you have yet to read. You could also use the tag classic or similar for extra-special links. Wantz.it uses a similar idea to create a personalised wishlist: Simply sign up, tag any item on del.icio.us with dowant and it’ll automatically be added to your Wantz.it wishlist.

Okay, I’m out! If you have any suggestions about using tags or tagging, or if you just think I’m plain wrong, why not leave a comment.

More Commoncraft Goodness: Blogs In Plain English

December 16, 2007

Commoncraft logoYou may remember Commoncraft, creators of simple but effective ‘For Dummies’-esque, 3-minute online tutorial videos, such as Social Networking in Plain English and Social Bookmarking in Plain English. I like them because they’re uncomplicated and get straight to the point, packing in enough content to get the message across to newbies without being overwhelming like, say, reading an article at Wikipedia on the same topic.

They’ve recently released a new video entitled Blogs in Plain English, which you can also catch on Youtube:

It’s an interesting take on a complex topic. LeFevre decides to show the difference between ‘old’ news which relied on publishing companies, editors, professional journalists and so on, and ‘new’ 21st century news. The latter, through the internet, allows anyone with an interest in any topic to become a newscaster.

I’d have liked it if they’d given a few seconds to the ‘splog‘ phenomenon, instead of just glossing over with facts about numbers of blogs being on the increase, and ‘oh, look how easy it is, why not start one yourself?’. Still, you can’t have everything: overall, this is a very effective and entertaining introduction to the world of blogging and blogs that even your grandmother could understand.

100th Post! (With Bonus Stats)

December 10, 2007

Yep, you read that right:

100

Yay! Here’s to 100 posts on this blog and countless more hours spent carefully constructing text that virtually no one reads. That’s a lie, of course; to date I’ve had 24,084 hits — and that’s just since I moved to WordPress in July of last year.

All told, I’ve been blogging for 18 months, or 566 days, or 13584 hours, or 815040 minutes, or… you get the idea. In any case, that’s roughly 1.3 posts per week — not bad for an amateur!

Popularity-wise, How (Not) To Buy A Hang Drum has been far and away my most read post, with a staggering (for me anyway) 5,919 hits. Not surprisingly, most people find this blog by typing “hang drum” or similar into Google: the above post is actually on the first page of Google’s results for hang drum at the time of this writing.

I received 358 hits in a single day earlier this year, but most days I get a respectable 100-150. Hardly major league (or even Vauxhall Conference for that matter), but not bad for a non-specialist blog from a rank amateur. Of course, it’s not all about the traffic — well, actually, none of it’s about the traffic because I don’t have any ads on here, so I make absolutely no money — it’s all about the love baybee!

So here’s to another 100 posts. Goodness knows what I’ll write about, but lack of a topic or a marketing strategy hasn’t stopped me in the past!

Changed My Theme: Digg 3 Column

October 21, 2007

I decided to change my blog’s theme today to the recently released Digg 3 column theme by Small Potato. I’ve wanted a 3-column theme for a while mainly because, under the old 2-column theme, my sidebar went on for miles. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll keep this new one or have a look around for others, but I thought a fresh look can’t be bad… Right? It looks a bit cluttered at the moment, but maybe I just need to reorganize my sidebars a little bit. I also need to find a new image for the header – I was getting a bit bored of the old head-melt graffiti.

In any case, watch this space…

UPDATE: Later that day: Er, yeah, well – I got bored of Digg 3. Basically, it didn’t really fit with the style I was looking for, so I ditched it in favour of this one: Cutline by Chris Pearson. Despite the fact that it’s back to two columns, I think it’s a lot neater and less cluttered. I’m keeping it… For now…

Beta Bloglines Goes Live!

August 27, 2007

Yesterday Bloglines, one of the first ever web-based RSS readers, launched its new-look beta version:

beta.bloglines.com

Bloglines beta Start PageI only found out about this half an hour ago, via this excellent post from Read/WriteWeb, so I’ve had limited opportunity to roadtest it. My first impression, as a dedicated Bloglines user for over a year, is that it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Finally, Bloglines is on an equal footing — in terms of looks and overall presentation — with popular alternatives like Google Reader and My Yahoo.

The first thing you’ll notice is the slick new Ajax interface: now you can drag and drop feeds on the fly, without having to enter a separate editing mode. The major innovation, though, must be the new start page. This brings Bloglines into line with most other modern web-based aggregators. Now you can drag your favourite feeds onto your home page and see all the top headlines in one place before you dip into individual feeds.

There are also a couple of different viewing modes: Quick View displays just the headlines for a given feed, while 3-Pane View splits the reading pane in two and puts headlines in the top pane and the full story below.

Since this is a beta, several features are lacking at present, such as options to save posts and clip to a blog — something which I use extensively on vanilla Bloglines. However, these are allBloglines Beta Sidebar scheduled for future releases, along with options to share posts (in true social bookmarking style) and greater power for users to personalize their feeds.

I’d also like to see Bloglines browser buttons so that I can subscribe to a feed in a single click from any webpage, as well as a button to clip a page to my clip blog for later reading. If this can be rolled out in conjunction with some robust sharing tools, it could make Bloglines a credible alternative to social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us.

UPDATE: 28/08/2007: The new beta doesn’t display properly in IE (at least in version 6, which is what we’re stuck with at work — I will test it on 7 tonight when I get home). It seems Bloglines are aware of this since they issue a notice to that effect when you attempt to log in: effectively, it states that you can upgrade to Firefox, or “continue on foolishly anyways”.

How (Not) To Buy A Hang Drum

August 15, 2007

Like many other bloggers, I’m incurably self-obsessed, so I inevitably spend a large amount of time looking at my blog stats in WordPress. Recently, I noticed that a lot of people come to this blog to read my Hang Drum post. In fact, it’s one of the most popular posts on this blog.

Hang Drum

Thanks to the magic of WordPress stats, I also noticed that these people have often found this blog by searching for “buy a hang drum”, “hang drum dealers” or similar. I expect that they’ll be disappointed with that post which is, essentially, a mild expression of interest in a unique and quirky instrument, rather than a How To guide.

Of course, I hate to disappoint, so over the past few days I’ve been trying to answer the question: how do you buy a hang drum? Unfortunately it looks like the short answer is: you can’t.

Here’s why: It turns out that a couple of guys in Switzerland — Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer — design and produce the hang themselves. Judging by what I’ve read on several other blogs and forums, these guys are only willing to make a “handful” of these instruments every year to order through their company, Panart. See this Metafilter post (and comments) for more details:

Discover the hang drum

If you can make the trip over to Switzerland — and assuming they’re still making them — you can expect to pay upwards of US$500 for one. If not, forget it. Apparently, they set up a distribution network as well as a website (www.hang.ch – don’t bother going there; it’ll either give you a 404 or a filler search page) in the early days, but this was quickly overwhelmed by high demand. You may be able to find one or two on E-bay, but you should expect to pay a premium for them, as I indicated in my original post.

It’s actually incredibly difficult to find up-to-date information on the current situation, but it appears that they’ve either stopped producing the instrument, or are still making it in very limited quantities. Judging by the level of demand online, it’s highly unlikely that anyone outside a select few will be able to get their hands on one in time for Christmas 2007.

UPDATE: 26/08/2007: You’ll see that Michael from das hangblog has dropped by the comments section to helpfully give an updated picture of the hang-buying situation. Bottom line: you may be in with a chance of buying one next year — but you’ve still got to travel to Switzerland.

UPDATE: 24/04/2009: A hang drum fan called Tim has helpfully left a comment on the other hang drum post with some up-to-date information.