Friday, 25 February 2005

Gmail: username tip for the idle

For some basic info about Gmail usernames generally, such as allowed characters, scroll to the end of this post. [Added 5 April 2005 - as people seem to be searching for more general info on Gmail usernames.] On using the Gmail "aliases" feature so you can effectively have more than one email address or Gmail alias with the same username and Gmail account, see this post. [Added 28 April 2005]

Tip: when signing up for Gmail, don't use any dots (periods) in the username you select.

Why should you not include any dot in your Gmail username? Because Gmail, for now at least, seems to treat your username as including all "dotted" versions of that name, however many dots there are within it, and it also seems to deliver email by ignoring any dots in the username. (I think that's an interesting bit of trivia, but then I'm sad like that...)

What I mean is, if you sign up with the username "abcd", anyone who later tries to register the username "" won't be allowed to - all variations of that username, whether there is one dot or more dots in between, will be considered "taken" by you. (So even "a.bc.d", for instance, can't be used by anyone else). (Yes, I know usernames on Gmail have to be at least 6 characters long, that's why I used that example - so that I won't inadvertently mention someone's real Gmail address!). Maybe Google do it this way to avoid possible confusion that could arise from different people having the same username except for where the dots are within the name.

A neat thing is, if someone sends you email, they can use your username with extra dots anywhere (or nowhere) and you'll still get the email - the person with username "abcd" would get email sent to "", for example. (This also works even if the original username had dots in it).

The only point to note is that when you sign in, you have to use the version of the username that you originally registered. So if the username you originally picked was "a.b.c.d" you have to login with that exact username, dots and all, whereas if you pick "abcd" you can avoid having to type those three extra dots, and anyone will still be able to email you using "" if they want to.

So, I think choosing a username without dots is the best way to go. But then, I'm also lazy!

[Added 5 April 2005:] When choosing a Gmail username, bear in mind (this may be obvious to some, but not to all):

1. Minimum 6 characters (not including any dots/periods, but see below)..

2. As you'd expect, for username "user", the Gmail address would be "". You can't pick one name for your username and another for your Gmail address.

2. Username can be any combination of letters and numbers. Dots are allowed (but don't bother - see above); hyphens, underscores, spaces, other punctuation, symbols etc aren't.

3. Username is not case-sensitive - capitals or lowercase or mixed, it doesn't matter (whether logging in, or as used in the email address itself).

(The password however is case-sensitive, and has to be minimum 6 characters too.)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, 21 February 2005

Technorati tags: an introduction

Delicious bookmarks before domain name change:

This is a introductory guide to "tags" on Technorati, the blogosphere search engine, which started using them in mid-January 2005. It's a practical introduction rather than a tutorial (ending with some personal thoughts about tags), but I'll summarise the basics about Technorati tags and how to use them in your own blog posts - stuff I've learned from digging around, playing around and, as you'll see later, much tearing out of hair. I do assume knowledge of basic HTML (for which see e.g. this or this), but if anything needs to be made clearer or expanded upon, please post a comment and I'll try to help.

What's a Technorati tag anyway?

A Technorati tag is a keyword or category used to describe the subject matter or topic of a blog post. For instance, I've labelled my post about ID cards with the tags Identity Cards, ID Cards, Government, Politics, Society, Privacy, Human Rights, Identity Theft, Crime, Hackers, Terrorism; whereas for my post on the rather rude interpretation one-track minds can give to ambiguously-worded Google Groups FAQs, I've used the tags Humor, Humour, Funny, and Dirty.

So, Technorati tags are like the tags with which people label their photos at Flickr, the free photo management/sharing site (e.g. using the tag "Cat" for a photo of a cat). Or like the tags used to categorise bookmarked Webpages at and Furl, the services (also free) which enable you to bookmark Web pages, organise/tag them and search your bookmarked Webpages from any computer (Furl even saves a copy of the Webpage on their servers). In fact, due to a hookup with those sites, when you go to Technorati and view their page for a particular tag, you'll see not just blog posts using that tag (e.g. "Funny"), but also any pics and links to Webpages which have been given the same tag by users on Flickr, or Furl.

You can tag (i.e. keyword) a post with anything you like. You can even make up a tag which didn't exist before anywhere (such as my "Gnashing of Teeth" tag for one of my earlier posts) - and, theoretically, they'll still index it and display it on their tag pages. (I say "theoretically" because I had real problems getting any Technorati tags to work - see this post and this post - but fortunately David Sifry the Technorati boss picked up on it (see his comment at the end of my previous post), and, miraculously, Technorati tags are now working for my blog - as of last night. It's odd because it's been about a week since I posted or tagged those posts - why did it take so long for them to show up on the Technorati tag pages, when the Technorati's info page on tags says that, after pinging them, "Your post should appear on the page in a few minutes (up to an hour during periods of intense activity)"?)

How do you view a Technorati tag page?

To see what blog posts, pics or Webpages have been tagged with the keyword of, say, "Privacy", just go to the URL "". (Or go to Technorati first, and in the search box search for "tag:Privacy" - don't include any quote marks, or any space after the colon). This works for any keyword you like; for "Privacy" just substitute, for example, "Politics" (or indeed "Latex", if you prefer, and who can blame you). Be warned (and be patient): Technorati tag pages can sometimes take an age to load, even on my 1MB ADSL connection.
Note: tags on Technorati are not case-sensitive, so either capital letters or lower case letters are OK. The format above is recommended on Technorati's site for use when tagging your blog posts (the method is explained below). But when you're searching for a tag, at least, it doesn't seem to matter if you use a "www" in the URL or not, or if you use "tag" or "tags" in the URL - the results are still the same. So I believe that when tagging posts also, it doesn't matter - I've seen blogs on Technorati tag pages which have been tagged using "www" and "tags", and obviously they've still been indexed.

To see a list of the major tags on Technorati, go to their general tag page. This only shows the most popular tags. The bigger the fontsize of the tag word, the more posts, photos etc which have been tagged with it. That page is worth a look see to figure out which tags are the most common, and which the most popular (so you can adopt them in your own posts to get more visitors - assuming that the tag is relevant to your post, of course. People wouldn't be very happy with you if you tagged a post with "Game" and it was about your Morris dancing proclivities). There are, it seems, over 300,000 more tags that aren't listed on that page. And counting.

What's the point of using Technorati tags in your blog?

Well, first, to get your blog posts onto Technorati's tag pages in an organised, structured way - and also the tag pages of other blogosphere search engines that recognise tags, like Icerocket. That means people searching or browsing through those tag pages will be able to find your blog posts - more exposure, more traffic, hopefully more readers for your blog.

Also, these tag pages often get indexed on Google, and Technorati tag pages commonly appear quite high in Google search results lists due to the high number of blog posts pointing to those tag pages. So, if your blog is linked to from a tag page, someone searching Google is again more likely to come across your posts.

For other possible uses of Technorati tags, see below.

How do you use Technorati tags in your blog?

That's the 64 million euro question. If your blog platform already supports categories and RSS/Atom (e.g. WordPress, Movable Type or TypePad), just assign categories to your posts and publish via RSS/Atom, and you're laughing - Technorati will automatically use those categories from your feed for its tags. (Though note that Technorati tags are more flexible than the broad "categories" used in many blogs - they can be anything from general categories to very specific individual keywords.) UPDATE: in Blogger Beta, which made its debut in late 2006 and is now out of beta as New Blogger, Blogger introduced a new feature called "Labels". Labels essentially operate in the same way as categories on Wordpress etc, so you no longer need separate tools to use categories and, more importantly, Technorati tags, see this post.

If you want to include tags manually on your blog, you're still laughing, because you should be able to make up any tags you like, use them in your posts, and Technorati should include them on its tag pages.

How do you do that, then? Well, according to the Technorati help page on tags, all you have to do is insert this sort of markup into your post (using the privacy example):
<a href="" rel="tag">Privacy</a>

The important bits to include are those I've put in bold - the "rel="tag"", and the "/privacy" at the end of the URL, in order to get the post (1) recognised by Technorati as tagged in the first place, and (2) filed under "Privacy" on their tag pages.

The "href" URL could in fact be for any site at all, not just Technorati's, as long as the URL ends in a backslash followed by the name of the tag you want (though, if nothing else is suitable, then the Technorati page for that tag may be the easiest choice). To adapt one example Technorati themselves gave, you could use
<a href="" rel="tag">iPod Stuff</a>

for a post to be tagged with "iPod" and show up on their iPod tag page (but it will NOT be tagged "iPod Stuff"). In other words, you don't have to link to Technorati for your tagged post to show up on Technorati's tag pages.
Tip: if you want to use a tag which consists of more than one word, like "Customer Service", Technorati say to use a "+" symbol between those words in the "a href" bit (although I've found that a simple space works just as well, check out the contrast between my first two tags at the end of this post - both should work, but "+" is safest). Example:
<a href="" rel="tag">Customer Service</a>

You can have more than one tag for a post. In my case I've listed the tags with that code at the very end of each post, see e.g. the end of the ID card post example. I've deliberately included both singular and plural versions of tags and similar terms to try to help people looking for this kind of information find my post, for reasons I go into further below - and you might consider doing that too.

The tag markup could be included in the main part of the post instead, it shouldn't matter, as long as it's in the body of the post (and not, e.g., your blog's sidebar); I just find it easier to keep all my tags together at the end of the post.

Invisible tags?

If you want your Technorati tags to be invisible to readers, but still get your post tagged on Technorati's tag pages, one possible way is to add the tags but just leave out the link text (the text that's normally clickable) between the > and the < - so in the first example above you'd just use the following, and the post will appear on Technorati's "privacy" tag page, but readers won't see the tag in your post (unless they view source, of course):
<a href="" rel="tag"></a>
However, for all sorts of reasons using invisible tags probably isn't a good idea, e.g. it probably goes against the purpose of tags. Kevin Marks of Technorati thinks it doesn't make sense, and more to the point many believe that if you try to make your tags invisible, Technorati and other search engines won't like it and may decide not to index your posts. While leaving out the link text as above worked once upon a time, that doesn't mean it will always work - I wouldn't be surprised if Technorati for one tweak things to penalise those who leave out link text for tags by refusing to index their posts properly, if they haven't already. For some debate on invisible tags please see the comments to this post.

Nevertheless if you really want to try invisible tags (and on your own head be it!), the best way to increase your chances of having them indexed is probably to have them there on the page, but just not displayed (though who knows whether the search engines would want to penalise that sort of thing too). You can do this through CSS - use a class for your list of tags and set it to display:none (for more info on that, see this post and this post).

Then, of course, you need to publish your post and ping Technorati, and theoretically, according to their help page, your post should be indexed by them and added to their tag pages within an hour if they're busy, less if they're not.

[Note added 14 Jan 2006:] This post is just about how you tag individual posts. After it was written, Technorati introduced their Blog Finder, with the ability to tag an entire blog (see their instructions on how to tag your blog). Tagging your blog isn't dealt with in this post - see my separate post if you're interested in tagging your entire blog generally. They are two separate things, tagging your blog generally (as a blog about e.g. knitting), as opposed to tagging an individual post (e.g. with "purl" or "knitting needles"). Tagging your blog (Technorati call it "listing" the blog in their directory of blogs, which is by general topic), will not make your individual posts automatically appear on the pages for that listing category, though your blog should appear on that list. Similarly tagging a post individually (e.g. with "knitting") won't cause your blog to be listed in Technorati's directory in the "Knitting" category listing blogs about knitting, although the post should appear on the knitting tag page for individual posts. You can do one or the other, or indeed both kinds of tagging, and you probably should do both if you want to increase your blog's exposure.

How does Technorati pick up your tags? Amended tags?

When you update your blog's main page by adding a new post, your blog's feed gets updated too. Technorati picks up on the changes in your blog feed, including your new post with the tags you've included in it.

The important thing to note is that Technorati, like many other search engines (e.g. Google's Blogsearch), indexes blogs by their site feeds. It mainly indexes going by what it sees in your site feed. That's why it's important to ensure that your blog settings are such that you output a full feed in some form, and that the search engines are given the URL of your full feed, not just of e.g. an excerpts or headlines-only feed. If your feed only shows the first X characters of each post, and your tags are at the end of your post, Technorati will not pick up your tags because they are missing from your feed, even if they're on the blog's Webpage. See further this post - scroll down to "Checking your feed" - on how to set a Blogger blog to output a full feed; and this post on feeds and search engines, plus how to offer your readers the choice of what type of feed they want.).

Update: Technorati's spider will cross check your feed against your main blog page so that if you only put out a summary feed, it will still get the full text from your front page - but unfortunately, until recently it had trouble with blogs whose URLs started with "www" for the feed but not for the main page (or presumably vice versa) (e.g. see this post). And it wasn't fully indexing posts from those kinds of blogs, as Kevin Marks has explained. Fortunately, he says they've now fixed that bug.

Because most blogosphere search engines, not just Technorati, base their indexing mainly on your feed (unlike say Google's main crawler, which does revisit old webpages), this means your old posts - which no longer appear on your main page - may not get indexed for tagging purposes, not even if you go back and edit them to add tags. If a post is not on your main blog page (eg in my case) the tags in it will not get indexed. You can try increasing the number of posts that appear on your main page via your blog settings so that your old posts will appear on your main page (with the intention of decreasing it back down again after the old posts have been indexed), but this doesn't always work and will certainly slow down the loading of your main page considerably, which may annoy visitors to your blog. I was also told by Janice Myint of Technorati support in April 2006 (my emphasis):
"Technorati does index all posts on the main page, or Atom feed if the Atom feed contains full post content, however old. If the posts have been indexed before, only updated posts are reindexed. This applies to all post content.

For tags, all new tags in new posts on the main page, or Atom feed if the Atom feed contains full post content and tags, are indexed.

New tags added to an old post that previously did not have tags are considered an update and are indexed as well. However, if a post has been indexed before and the tags indexed before, then changing the tags, deleting or adding tags to the post, to my knowledge do not get indexed at this time. This is a bug that is currently being researched and fixed."

That last point is important to note: if you change your mind about a post you've published and you want to tweak the tags, even if the post is still on your blog's main page after you republish the edited post, Technorati will not pick up the changes - not until they've fixed that bug, anyway.

[This section added 13 August 2006 - just to share what I've learned since, including what Janice Myint of Technorati support told me.]

Problems getting your posts onto Technorati's tag pages?

When I first tried tagging, I was sure I'd done everything right (these tags ain't exactly rocket science); I tried pinging them direct and also later (in desperation) through Pingomatic too - and yet, though the pings seemed to be successful, none of my posts showed on their tag pages, even after raising the matter with Technorati support and chasing them a few days later... until last night, when the whole lot suddenly appeared at once on Technorati's tag pages, mysteriously all dated the same date (of yesterday). So it took a whole week, and going to Technorati support, for my posts to show up on their tag pages. I think that for some reason they'd just not been indexing my blog. I'm still looking into why - too many posts with tags on one single blog page, for instance? I'll post further as and when I find out.

[Added 14 June 2005:] I've now got as much info out of Technorati as I've been able to, and summarised why sometimes your posts don't appear on Technorati's tag pages, even though posts before and after them may appear - for an explanation of what's behind these problems and possible solutions, see this post including this comment by Niall Kennedy of Technorati regarding validating your blog. Note that the problems continue - sometimes certain posts don't get picked up on the tag pages even though you can find them on Technorati by searching. For days or weeks at time, you may find that none of your posts get picked up at all - I've had at least 3 spells of my posts not getting fully indexed by Technorati for tag purposes; the last time, they had to tweak something behind the scenes to get their crawler to start recognising my tags again. I can only suggest that you make it a habit to regularly check that your posts are appearing on Technorati's tag pages, and if not, get on to Technorati support immediately and try to keep the "missing" posts visible on the main page of your blog (not slipping into an archive) until they've sorted it, or else they will never get recognised on their tag pages.

[Updated March 2006:] The last time I had problems, in February 2006, I decided to test what it was about the post that Technorati's system didn't like. I've posted my findings, and David Sifry Technorati's CEO says they're puzzled too, but they're on it. If you suffer problems with certain of your tagged posts not appearing on Technorati's tag pages (but appearing on say Icerocket's), you should report the bug to Technorati, giving them a link to the problem post's permalink, which should help them work out what's going wrong. I sure hope they sort it out soon!

[Added 13 August 2006:] I have since had an issue again with two posts where some tags did not get indexed. Technorati told me that it seems that they did pick up the tags, but then due to an index glitch the tags were dropped mid-way through. Thus the posts fell into the last category mentioned in the previous section (if a post has been indexed before and the tags indexed before, then if changing the tags, deleting or adding tags to the post, the changes do not get indexed). So the tags were treated as "previously-indexed" (because they were - they just got lost in Technorati's system) - and they could not be indexed again after I updated my posts and the posts stayed on my main blog page. I raised the problem with Technorati who tried to override that in the back end and have the tags indexed, but they were unsuccessful. I don't know if it's related to the bug that I've mentioned before, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Question: will your tags work if you use the target="_blank" attribute or similar in your markup in order to display the Technorati tag page in a new browser window? I really don't know. I can't see how it should matter, but there's nothing about that in the Technorati tag help page. When I first tagged my posts, I included that attribute, and Technorati didn't index my blog for a week (even after I deleted that attribute from all my tags and then tried again). I don't know if that's what made Technorati's crawler choke, but I've asked Technorati support about it. I've not heard back on that point, but as far as I can see, people who use that attribute are managing to get their tagged posts indexed fine.

Tools for Technorati tags and other info

Creating tags - for tools to help you easily create, without any hand coding, tags that consist of multiple words:(I used to link to the Oddiophile bookmarklet which seems to have been the first attempt at a bookmarklet for creating Technorati tags, but they only supports single word tags, plus the Oddiophile webpage has been down for many months, so I have deleted those links.)

UPDATE: on New Blogger you no longer need third party tools in order to create tags that Technorati and the like will pick up; you can use the new labels feature for that now, see this post. However, I will still be using the Magical Sheep Greasemonkey script for my tags, because I consider them to be low level keywords, while I'll be using labels for higher level categories -I think those are different concepts.

Bookmarklet to search Technorati tags - highlight text on a Webpage, and this bookmarklet searches for the highlighted words in Technorati's tag space. It only seems to work with Webpages, not if you highlight text in say your word processor.

Tag searches, newsfeeds, Technorati Mini - Technorati have since introduced feeds for specific tags. Search on Technorati for say "tag:trainspotting" (or browse to a Technorati tag page, or from the Tags tab just search for "trainspotting"), and at the top right of the search results page you'll see a little orange RSS icon, which if you hover over it gives the URL for the tag search feed to paste into your feed reader. You can also create a Watchlist for a tag search (effectively, your private feed on your own Technorati watchlist page with all your watchlists shown together, which you can view only after logging in). (Only Technorati members can create Watchlists - but it's free to join. For an intro to Technorati watchlists, see this post.) Or you can have a tag search result show in a Technorati Mini window, continually live and updated (just click the "View in Mini" button).

Technorati's info page on tags gives a good general overview - and don't forget the Technorati developers' tag tools page, which still has some stuff for the less techie amongst us (that's where I found the precursors to the tools mentioned above).

Technorati have now introduced a helpful howto page with links to tutorials and tips (including this post, thanks Technorati!), plus their own tools page again with links.

What else can you do with Technorati tags?

"Meblogging" is one use I've come across, and very clever it is too. If you post to several blogs but want to see all your posts in one place, just tag each of them with a unique identifying word and then the Technorati tag page for that word will pull all your posts together (I'm going to start labelling my own posts with "Improbulus", "Consuming Experience" and, because I'm anal retentive, "A Consuming Experience" too). Of course there's nothing to stop other people (like practical joker friends) from using the same tag too, and cluttering up "your" tag page with their stuff...

A group of people could even set up a "secret" group page by tagging their posts with a special private tag (say a jumble of letters and numbers) that no one else knows, perhaps making that tag invisible on their posts (although that may go against the idea behind the rel="tag" specification, which intends tags to be visible links).

A tag could also be used to collect together conveniently a whole bunch of related blogs on the same general topic, all on the same page - if the bloggers concerned co-operate to use the same unique tag (decentralised group blogging).

No doubt people will be able to think up many more creative uses for Technorati tags.


As I can foresee an explosion in Technorati-tagged blog posts, I wanted some way to be able to narrow down a search better. For example, being able to search for "tag:dogs" AND "tag:cats", if I want to find posts that are about both dogs and cats. At first you couldn't do that, but Technorati have since come up with the goods and you can now do quite sophisticated searches of their tag pages.

More generally on Technorati, I think it would be really useful to combine a search for "blog:this" and "tag:that", to look for posts on a particular topic within the one blog, for instance. (Then you could even add links in your sidebar to bring up all the posts in your blog (or someone else's blog) about a single subject/keyword, for instance.) Perhaps all this will come, in time - the Technorati people seem very savvy and responsive. In the meantime one solution is to do an "AND" search with the meblogging tag for the blog you want, combined with the tag you're looking for. [Added 13 August 2006:] Technorati have now provided a way to search for a particular tag just in your blog. In your browser go to[YOURTAG]?from=http://[YOURBLOGURL] to search for YOURTAG in your blog URL.

But the most important issues I have with tags are as follows.

Any downside to Technorati tags?

In principle Technorati tags seem a very good idea and, if they can be made to work properly, are an excellent way to get categories functionality for Blogger blogs, amongst other things. But there are two possible problems that I can see: the potential for confusion, and the potential for abuse.

Order, order...

First, there's the potential for chaos and confusion - people not finding what they want (or other people not finding what you want them to find). What do I mean by that? Well if you look at the main Technorati tag page you'll see for instance that people have been using as tags both "Humor" and "Humour" (and "Funny", too). If I search for the tag "Humour", I wouldn't find anything tagged just with the US spelling "Humor", or the similar concept "Funny". Same for singular and plural - searching for items tagged with "Blog" would not find those just tagged with "Blogs", and vice versa.

This is because the nature of tags used on Technorati etc is that people choose whatever words they want to use for a particular concept, and different people may use different words to mean exactly the same thing. Or the same words to mean entirely different things. There are no rules or even rough guidelines for tags on Technorati, Flickr, etc - people can use any words they like.
(In researching Technorati tags I've learned a new word, "folksonomy" - which seems to mean, people making up their own categories/keywords as they go along, instead of using a recognised standard classification set or "ontology" or "taxonomy", as it's called. See also this post and the paper linked to from sardonick's post (warning, learned paper alert!), if you're keen on that kind of thing.)

Plus, here's no way of figuring out how categories of keywords are organised in different people's heads. You wouldn't believe it from the state of my desk, but I do think about information in a fairly structured, hierarchical way, with categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories (transport, car, Ferrari) - and so do lots of other people. The problem is someone else may be thinking in a completely different way with different hierarchies (sex, babe magnets, Ferrari). It'll get worse and worse as more people get tagging, and create more and more new (and different) variations on tags.

That's the first problem which occurred to me, but (not surprisingly) I'm not the first person to have thought of it - see for example this post or this one. (For an alternative viewpoint, see this post. Don't think I'm saying folksonomies, a.k.a. "social tagging", are a bad thing as such - I think they're a good thing, but I'm just concerned about possible chaos in the longer term if something isn't done soon about organising tags; even several multiple parallel hierarchies, like my Ferrari example, would be fine (see, I've got the jargon down pat now - that's known as "polyhierarchical", that is). And as a further aside, I don't think the Google vs. Yahoo analogy is valid (i.e. that if hierarchies were the way to go, Yahoo would be a Google-beater), because Google use their own, very effective, techniques to figure out how to rank search results; they don't depend entirely on what Webpages authors say, as tags do. Yes, it's interesting to be able to see which tags are the most common ones, but that doesn't actually help me find what I want especially if what I want is something quite specific, given that the popular tags tend to be so broad.)

You can see where I'm going, can't you? I'm on the side of order and structure, rather than a free for all mess. In my view, Technorati needs as a minimum something like Google's "Did you mean..." for mis-spellings or similar words. I don't know how Google does it - uses a dictionary, maybe; but it must be possible to combine an actual thesaurus for the search software to look up (with humans editing the thesaurus - e.g. to add associations between say "humor", "humour" and "funny"), plus a list of common mis-spellings etc. [Note added 6 March 2005 - Technorati have now introduced the concept of "related tags"]And what about providing a comprehensive list of tags for people to view and perhaps click to select their own tags from (so that they can use any existing one which fits the concept they want, rather than having to coin their own)?

Yes, I know, the maintenance burden on the teams of (volunteer?) people organising and editing the "taxonomy" would be a pain (not to mention the pain of organising the people concerned!) - but wouldn't it be worth it? There's still time, while Technorati tags are in their relatively early stages, to introduce some form of order into the chaos, perhaps a standardised list of synonyms at least (even if not organised in a hierarchichal manner) - and, personally, I think that opportunity should be taken. Even Furl provide for their users a basic list of major categories ("business", "entertainment", "health", "technology" etc, not to mention the all-conquering and all-embracing "general" and "personal").

Tag spamming

Second, there's the potential for abuse. Too many sites already overload their Webpages with meta keywords that have nothing to do with their subject matter, in order to draw traffic. There's nothing to stop people from stuffing their posts with irrelevant tags which then show up on Technorati's tag pages (and could drown out the legit stuff), but I guess Technorati would ban their sites in that case - if they found out.

I'm not sure what can be done about that, apart from blacklisting "bad" sites. If this is done however, it must be done intelligently. I'm still trying to work out if my blog got blacklisted for having so many tags on one page, but as you can see if you scan the posts on my main blog page, I wasn't engaging in tag spamming. I was trying to use variations on the same word to make sure that my tags were comprehensive enough, plus there are several posts (and therefore even more tags) on the main page, because that was how I had to set my blog so that my Feedburner animator would cycle through the last few posts (instead of just sitting on one static post). I have asked Technorati if this is why my blog didn't get indexed, and I will report back when I hear from them.

(Updated on 10 January 2006)

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Saturday, 19 February 2005

Technorati tags - further attempt, still wailing

The tag generator tool I tried uses a "www" in the Technorati URL for the tag link. I've seen other blogs on Technorati which have clearly used that tool and they're still being indexed.

I'm trying a(nother) post now without the "www" (I'd already got rid of target="_blank" in case that was getting in the way). It's now (though it was before) EXACTLY as they say on their pages. Including + instead of %20 for phrases (even though that seems to work to access the pages generally - it's just not getting my posts onto their tag pages).

I need my lunch.

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Technorati tags - weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth

[Added 27 June 2005:] Now see this post on what may be behind the problems with Technorati indexing your tags.

I am going nuts here. I've been trying to incorporate Technorati tags into my blog for days now (they had confirmed that if I edited my old posts they'd show up on their tags pages as long as the old posts were on the main page of my blog).

Nothing's working. Nothing is showing. Not even for new posts let alone the old ones. Even the posts where I've used unique tags due to the subject matter, so it's not like I won't be able to spot them on an otherwise empty Technorati tag page.

Maybe they're not indexing my blog, despite the pings. Maybe I've got onto their indexing blacklist for some reason. Who knows.

So, I'm trying again with this post. Then I'm going to tear all my hair out, stamp my feet, and cry. Or something. Someone bring me a cuppa tea. Please...

[Added 27 June 2005:] Now see this post on what may be behind the problems with Technorati indexing your tags.

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Thursday, 17 February 2005

Blogger profile search form updated

I've changed the form for searching profiles (the form, for anyone who wants to use it, is in my sidebar, just scroll down towards the end) so that it opens the search results in a new window, rather than the same one. (Previously, with my limited Javascript knowledge, trying to get the results to open in a new window just produced a weird result in the original window).

[Edited 12 November 2005 to add the search form here for ease of use, as I see this post is getting more direct hits than the other relevant ones!] The search form is also below:

Many thanks to G-BOAC from Blogger Forum for the fix.

I've also updated the code for the profile search form, which can be copied and pasted into Blogger templates - see my previous post which gives the code and also includes the search form.

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Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Jobs reflecting names (nominative determinism, or aptonyms)

New Scientist magazine coined the terms "nominative determinism" or "aptonyms" to describe the phenomenon of people whose names reflect their jobs - or rather, who end up working in areas that reflect their names (hence the "determinism"!).

An example might be a plumber called Pipe. Real life instances abound.

A great one recently included in New Scientist's 12 February 2005 Feedback section: the noise and vibrations engineer for the Queensland Electricity Commission, Australia used to be someone called Ron Rumble.

Ones I've come across myself - there's a finance director called Stephen Purse. And an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) warden called Partridge.

Added on 17 February 2005: In London there's a dentist called Blood-Smyth. And a surgeon named Hack! More of a homonym for an almost aptonym, but have you heard of the sexologist and author whose surname is Heiman?

Contributions from others to add to the list would be welcome, and will be duly credited - just email me (link in the footer) or post a comment!

Update: for more examples of nominative determinism and other funnies see

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Sunday, 13 February 2005

Speed up Firefox a zillion times!

A fantastic way to accelerate the free Firefox browser, mentioned by Copygodd on the Blogger Forum, is described at Forever Geek.

It only works for broadband. I have a 1MB ADSL connection (just upgraded from 512k) and this tweak has made all the difference. Pages are opening up in Firefox almost instantaneously now! I love it. But the cautionary comments on that page are worth reading too, though it's working brilliantly for me now.
Tip: it might be obvious to most, but to change some of those settings mentioned on that page, you just doubleclick on whichever line it is, and it will toggle the value or allow you to enter the value, depending. To get it back to the default value, rightclick on the line and choose Reset.

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MyYahoo! - how to add your feed

If you try to add your feed to My Yahoo! but can't, that's because the link on Yahoo's help pages about RSS (where it says "add by RSS URL") is no longer working. You'll just constantly get an "unable to update" etc message, even after you sign in to Yahoo.

But this link does work:

So just click that link and sign in to MyYahoo!

Under the "
Add New Sources" heading fill in your feed URL and hit Search.

And in the results page under the "
Add New Sources to New Page" heading just make sure your feed is listed there, and ticked, and click "Add".
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Friday, 11 February 2005

Bouncing w-h-A-T??

I've recently started playing with Google Groups Beta (effectively just a mailing list system with Web archives, but with the magic Google name attached).

Maybe it's just my regrettably filthy sense of humour, but I couldn't help laughing when I saw these FAQ titles:
I'm sure we could all make a suggestion or two...

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Thursday, 10 February 2005

UK identity cards (ID cards)

Why not introduce identity cards in the UK?

  • They won't work - identity cards won't be enough to stop terrorists or organised crime - the determined and the criminal will always find a way to forge or fake
  • It's compulsory - they say it isn't, but if you don't get an ID card you can be refused public services (e.g. NHS)
  • Bye bye privacy - too much personal information can be required to be stored on the "National Identity Register" or the ID card, including all your addresses, fingerprints etc - whatever the government minister (not an elected Parliament) says, really
  • Too many people can get at that information for too many purposes - effectively, whoever and whatever the government minister says
  • Comparisons with other countries' ID cards schemes aren't valid - it depends on the setup and security of the infrastructure and who can have access to the associated information
  • Hello crackers (i.e. bad hackers...) - the info will be in electronic databases - so crackers can get at it too (see above on terrorists and organised crime), and don't forget leaky staff. Do you really trust government departments' IT security and confidentiality? (remember the various incidents involving police staff using police databases for their own purposes?)
  • Hello identity fraud - identity theft is much more prevalent in the USA because they have a single social security number associated with an individual; do they want to make life easier for identity thieves in the UK too?
  • Hello divisions in society - it's going to foster a climate of suspicion, fear, resentment, paranoia and dissent - racial, religious, you name it; spot checks, maybe depending on what you look like; having to carry the thing around even if you're just going about your lawful business
  • Bye bye hospitals, schools - like all UK government IT projects it's bound to be underscoped and undercosted, and will come in way over time and way over budget - transferring money from taxpayers' pockets to private IT contractors'. Money which most ordinary people would much rather was spent instead on sorting out the hospitals, education, the Tube and public transport. That's the best way to defeat terrorism - education, raising the average standard of living, and people talking to each other.
Even that bastion of economic conservatism the Financial Times is against identity cards, and has published many a good article or letter about it. If the Conservatives had promised to never ever introduce ID cards, that is the only thing that would make me vote for the Conservatives - and it would by itself be enough to make me vote for them too. That's how strongly I feel about this.

Bottom line: it'll be a waste of taxpayers' money and do more harm than good - it just won't be worth it.

Government Links on Identity Cards

Other Links on Identity Cards

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Monday, 7 February 2005

Under the Scotsman's kilt

It's true what they say about what's under a Scotsman's kilt. Or, at least, one particular actor playing a Scotsman in the "The Amorous Prawn", a 1962 comedy which is lightweight and dated but entertaining enough if you don't take it too seriously.

A few years back I videoed that film as it was on in the mid-afternoon of a weekday, and I was working.

Towards the end of the movie there's a scene where a Scotsman in a kilt leaps into a bedroom through a hatch in the ceiling. He jumped down, the kilt flew up, I thought "W-h-a-t?!" and hit rewind. Did a frame by frame playback and - yup. No underwear. And a clear view of what lies beneath underwear but which we are seldom lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) to be vouchsafed even a glimpse of, except maybe for a nanosecond in an out of focus documentary on Channel 5 after midnight. Yes, at 4 in the afternoon. In full anatomical glory.

Cue lots of dirty laughter, telling of friends and lending of video to a friend's mother who had a great time inviting the little old ladies of the neighbourhood round for a fun-filled afternoon of pause-rewind and tittering. This was a film familiar to many of them from their youth, and they'd never spotted that before. Ah, the wonders of modern technology...

Sadly, what technology giveth, technology can taketh away. Recently The Amorous Prawn was shown on TV again, and I set the digital video recorder with bated breath. Was I disappointed to find that they'd digitally airbrushed out what was all too visible just a few years ago. Don't know who told them, the spoilsport, but it sure wasn't me.

Now I wish I hadn't taped over that video. Could have made a tidy sum renting it out to the disbelieving. But that's life...
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Lakeland: great customer service

There is only one company in the UK that consistently delivers on customer service, and indeed outperforms on occasion: Lakeland.

Unsexy they may be, yes - kitchen/household items and consumables, though branching more now into into other stuff for the home (even some PC-related stuff like a laptop cooler!).

But other companies in the UK, and indeed elsewhere, could learn a thing or two from them.

Recently I ordered from them, paying extra for a next day delivery service as I was going to be home to receive delivery of the stuff the next day. Unusually, by 5pm it hadn't arrived, and when I rang them they apologised profusely and said they'd experienced exceptional demand. It would be delivered the next working day instead. I would have had to take that day off to be in - so I asked them to refund the cost of the next day delivery service. Which they did without a quibble.

When my boxes arrived, I found that they'd included a voucher for 20 pounds off my next order, along with a note of apology. Even though they'd already refunded the special delivery charge.

Now that's customer service. And it's not the first time I've had something similar with Lakeland. I'm pretty fussy and have high standards - and I've always been delighted with Lakeland (except for one incident I won't go into, and which I willingly forgave them for given everything else before and since). Yet I've shopped with Lakeland for years, and I intend to continue to do so. They're a joy to deal with, and I don't often say that about a home shopping (or indeed any) company!

Most companies don't realise that customers acknowledge everyone makes mistakes, and with the best will in the world things will go wrong sometimes. What separates the company which will keep an almost fanatically loyal customer base from the indifferent rest is how it deals with the situation when things go wrong. And in this area, Lakeland is unequalled, in my experience.
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Sunday, 6 February 2005

Colley's Rule: making decisions

What's the best way to choose the most suitable Christmas gift, or the most fun party to go to, etc etc?

In December I saw a lighthearted article by Robert Matthews in the Financial Times, in the pre-Christmas context, suggesting the application of scientific rules to some Christmas-related problems. One which particularly struck me was Collee's Rule (also known it seems as Colley's Rule), apparently named after a British doctor who popularised it in the 1990's, although the rule seems to date back from before that.

The article said that the rule had recently been mathematically proven - and it seems to me a brilliantly simple yet fantastically useful rule one could apply in practice.

Here's how it works:

* Find yourself something which looks suitable
* Then put it back or reject it!
* Keep looking
* Take the first thing you find that's better than the one you put back or rejected.

It seems that, scientifically speaking, following this rule makes it much more likely that you'll end up making the best choice, compared with taking the first thing that comes along.

But note that the rule only works to produce the best outcome for decisions in situations where there is no going back (e.g. because you've no time to retrace your steps, like when you're on a one-day shopping trip, or it's something like a job offer where you can't exactly go back and take the one you rejected before!). The article applied the rule somewhat tongue in cheek (and obviously against the principles behind the rule) to party invites too, suggesting that if you didn't get a better offer than the first invite that you'd already rejected, you could always go gatecrash it!

Oddly enough I could find very little on the Net about Collee's Rule - just this blog mention and this newsgroup thread (which I must say I found a bit of a struggle to comprehend, maths eeeek!). [Added 9 June 2005:] See also this interesting article from

If anyone decides to try Collee's Rule and would like to share their experiences about their use of Colley's Rule in real life, and whether it actually worked for them, I'd be really interested to hear all about it.
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Norton - buy from US, not UK

If you're in the UK, it's cheaper to download Norton software from the US site where you:

  • already have a Norton product (e.g. anti-virus)
  • have broadband, and
  • don't mind having an electronic rather than printed manual, and printing it out yourself as and when needed.

I have various Norton products and just decided to upgrade to Partition Magic 8.0 and Ghost 9.0. I used the US site in the end - and you can buy any Norton software cheaper if you have ANY Norton product already, you're not confined to a newer version of the same product.

From the Symantec US site's upgrade center (or this link), including paying for the ability to download Ghost again within a year if all went haywire, it cost me US dollars 102 for the download (though admittedly it took a couple of hours on my 512k ADSL connection). That's about 54 pounds sterling at current rates.

The Symantec UK site's "upgrade" section would have charged me about 67 pounds sterling for the same downloads.

Big difference, and confirming it's the same ol' rip-off Britain again.

Obviously it's essential to check the total prices and currency exchange rates to see if it'll be worth it for particular software, but in my case it certainly was.

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Friday, 4 February 2005

Internet bank with no email??

Big marketing drives - you've seen the posters on the Tube. Internet bank with not only a good rate but the same rate for all customers, supposedly. And they say they can afford to be so generous to us lucky customers because it's all done online - no branches.

So how have ING Direct UK in their wisdom decided that UK customers should contact them? You guessed it - not by email, oh no - that would be going a step too far towards actually being an Internet bank, one assumes. No email address is given, not even a Web contact form. If a customer (or potential customer) wants to contact them, that has to be done by phone - or post. Very 21st century, indeed.

The company's US Website offers an email address, so why aren't UK customers afforded the same convenience? Welcome to the Internet revolution, indeed.

Note-taking software

I've been looking for years for note taking software to assign a note easily to multiple categories, where I need edit the note only once for the changes to appear in all category views. Outlook with its Categories and Group By Category view was the closest I found, but its keywords are just arranged in a flat list - I want to group keywords into hierarchical trees and assign a note to more than one category in more than one tree.

Also vital to me is easy copy/paste insertion into a note of clickable links to a file on my system or a URL, to which I can add my annotation about the file or webpage etc.

My final essential requirement is keyboard shortcuts as I hate being slowed down by having to move my hand continually between keyboard and mouse. (Gmail is superb in this regard.) I feel such shortcuts provide flexibility, which is desirable (everyone works differently; a good program should cater for all the main ways: in this context mouse, keyboard, tablet). Also, keyboard shortcuts are of course a very good thing for reasons of accessibility for people who can't use a mouse - accessibility being now a hot topic, and in some countries essential for legality.

I have Microsoft's OneNote, but found that, for the way I work, it's cumbersome and unintuitive to use.

After some research I've settled on three possible options, and I'll be trying them all out over the next month or so and reporting on the results:
  • Evernote, currently downloadable as a free beta and using a "endless tape" system
  • Zoot, an "information processor" which is available on a free trial and
  • General Knowledge Base from Baltsoft, shareware which seems to have Outlook-type categories and a full Word-like editor for individual notes.