Thursday, 23 June 2005

Blogher bloggers' conference: in London?

[Added 13 July:] It's off, but there's another meet you can go to if you're interested in meeting fellow bloggers - see this post.

[Added 5 July:]With very many thanks to Cory Doctorow and Gwendolyn Carpenter of the Stanhope Center, we now have the possible offer of a venue in Central London for Sunday 31 July. Probably late morning/early afternoon. However it's not worth going ahead if not enough people are interested. So if you're a UK blogger and would like to attend, can you please let me know ASAP by posting a comment or emailing me? Ideas for topics are welcome too but I thought if nothing else we could mirror some of the topics to be discussed at Blogher. As with the Blogher conference all would be welcome, female or male, newbies or long-time bloggers.

I posted about this conference before, and a contest (which has now closed) for a free place. The Blogher conference (see is happening on Saturday 30 July in California ("specifically cultivating the female blogging community", but open to all bloggers including men and beginners).

Personally I'd love to go but it's too short notice, I only heard about it about a week or two ago, and even if I just went for the weekend and took 2 days off work, to be frank the plane flight will cost too much (700 quid *gulp!*) for just a weekend there - wish they had one several days or a week long, or that I'd had time to combine it with a week's holiday in California afterwards!

There was a suggestion of people meeting up anyway, wherever they were: "Please use this post to link off to your blogs, where you can suggest a time and place for a July 30 BlogHer meet-up near you. Bring on the jpegs and podcasts!"

So if there was a venue available, perhaps we could have a simultaneous(ish) parallel meet up in London? Maybe even with a broadband connection set up so we could watch or listen to some of the live streams, over here? With the time difference (8 hours behind GMT) we can probably only catch the morning sessions live, as their afternoon ones will take us way beyond midnight.

In which case alternatively we could maybe meet on the Sunday 31 July and catch up with the previous day's podcasts etc there, and then perhaps discuss it?

It's a thought… is anyone interested, and if so do you think Saturday 30 July or Sunday 31 July is better? Most importantly, is anyone going to offer a venue or suggest a possible one? (Gotta be London, out of sheer self-interest, I'm entitled to say that as I think I'm the first one to raise the idea of a UK parallel meet - "conference" would be too grand a term for it!)

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Wear red to win?

Being very behind the times on this, but I noticed some publicity following articles in Nature, National Geographic (which also mentions red conferring a mating advantage for monkeys, from research by Cambridge University primatologist Joanna Setchell) and Livescience about a month ago on research by Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham (UK).

They analysed combat events in the last Olympics where contestants were randomly assigned red or blue outfits, and the Euro 2004 soccer tournament. Those wearing red won 55% of the competitions (or 60% where bouts were evenly matched) in the Olympics case, or tended to perform better when wearing red than when they were not, in the case of the soccer. The "red edge" was found to be statistically significant.

Wearing red didn't however help if there was a big difference in skill but gave the edge if the two were otherwise of a similar level.

Possibly this is because "red seems to be the color, across species, that signals male dominance and testosterone levels".

A couple of the articles (including one in the Financial Times) pointed out that some consistently successful English football teams wear red: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United.

Who knows, but every little thing helps, so it looks like I ought to be changing my wardrobe, at least when I play sport!

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Saturday, 18 June 2005

Blogger: deleting the navbar or Blogger button

Bloggers who use Blogger with Blogger's free Blogspot hosting service sometimes wonder whether they can get rid of or hide the Blogger navbar (the horizontal bar at the top of Blogspot-hosted blogs, which starts off as orange though you can change the colour - effectively the Blogger header), or delete the "Powered by Blogger" button from their template.

Well there are ways of "deleting" the navbar, and the Blogger button is easily got rid of just by deleting the code for it in your template - but Blogger don't want us to. (Unless you host your blog elsewhere - if you do, and use ftp to upload your blog posts to another provider, you're fine - Blogger don't mind your deleting the navbar in that situation.)

Their terms of service don't actually spell out that, in return for our being able to publish our blogs to Blogspot for free, we have to retain the navbar and the Blogger button. (In fact their TOS don't even seem to have been changed from the days when Blogspot offered a paid-for premium option, so it seems rather in need of updating).

They do suggest that the navbar should be retained, in their Navbar help page ("Unless you publish your blog via FTP, the Navbar cannot be disabled" (my emphasis)) - but that's an ambiguous "cannot" and could refer to the mechanics, which is initially what they said to me (In fact, they said that if they hadn't provided an option to do something in Blogger, then it mustn't be done. I queried that very narrow view, as you can imagine - there are loads of areas where Blogger haven't provided an option to do something, but that doesn't mean everything they haven't specifically provided an option for is therefore forbidden by their TOS. If such a rigid view was taken, that might mean no hacks were allowed, which surely can't be the case!).

Now if only they'd said "must not be disabled" in the TOS or even help pages, we would all know for sure where we stand. I suppose they could say that not including the navbar and icon would be against the "spirit" of their terms (see item 9 of the terms), but "spirit" is just so vague. [UPDATE: it's good that Blogger have now updated their TOS to remove the "spirit" requirement. Good for them.]

However, that is indeed what Blogger require, so Blogger support told me. Let's hope that their legal team will update their terms to make it very clear what the bare minimum is that Blogger requires of its members. Most of us want to be good citizens and to do what we're supposed to - at the very least it's only fair, when they give us a free publishing tool and free webspace for our posts - but it's not easy to do what they want us to, if they don't spell out exactly what it is they require of us.

Anyway (unless anyone has been told differently by Blogger?), that's the long and short of it, folks: don't delete or hide the navbar or Blogger icon, or you may find Blogger taking down your blog or stopping your hosting on Blogspot. They might not in fact do anything as drastic as that in practice, who knows, and maybe they have better things to do with their time than track down and warn the offending bloggers or worse - but it seems that they're saying they think they have a right to. Best not to risk it, in my view.

[Updated 23 March 2006]: Blogger have now come right out and said very clearly that they consider it a violation of their TOS if you modify the navbar. I think this has to include hiding it altogether too - see my post.

Besides the navbar has its uses - it can be used to search Google's index of your blog (see the Navbar help), without your having to do anything more (assuming your blog has been indexed by Google, of course). And you can change its colour to tie in better with your blog's colour scheme (in your Dashboard go to Template, the Change the Blogger NavBar dropdown menu is above the template box). Plus the button can be changed a little to blue and orange, grey and orange, or silver and - yep, you guessed it - orange!

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Technorati: tagging on Blogger with Firefox and Greasemonkey

[Added 12 December 2005:]
NB The script mentioned in this post has been updated and enhanced, please see this post instead now.

For anyone who hasn't come across it, if you use the free Firefox browser, the terrific Greasemonkey extension lets you do all sorts of clever or fun things to Webpages you view (personally I think it's revolutionary, and I don't use that word lightly - it enables people to effectively rewrite Webpages displayed on their own computers to get the features they'd like, such as turning all unlinked links and email addresses mentioned on a Webpage into clickable links. Greasemonkey is the best incentive I can think of to really learn Javascript properly! Better get to it then...).

Anyway, to use Greasemonkey you have to first install that extension from the Greasemonkey site (Firefox users should be familiar with how - click the Greasemonkey extension link, if nothing happens and you see just below your tabs a message in horizontal bar that "To protect your computer, Firefox prevented this site ( from installing software on your computer", you should click "Edit Options" at the end, then "Allow" and "OK" to allow that site to install software, then try clicking the Greasemonkey extension link again, give it a few seconds then click "Install now". Close and re-launch Firefox.)

Then you install the appropriate user script (Greasemonkey won't do anything without a script). To install a script you click on the link to the script. When you're on that page (which looks like just a bunch of text), in your Firefox Tools menu choose Install User Script. Alternatively you can just rightclick on the link to the script and choose Install User Script. (Beware though, not all scripts will be innocent, some could wreak havoc if malicious!).

The definitive list of Greasemonkey scripts seems to be at GreaseMonkeyUserScripts (though not all scripts are listed there [added 12 December 2005:] - now see, so even if you can't write scripts you can easily make use of the large and growing library of useful scripts.

For the addon to help you create Technorati tags if you're using as your blogging platform, the script that's of interest is by Fabricio Zuardi - I use the version amended by Bryan Price and they're conveniently listed on this post on False Positives who also modified the script to produce a version that outputs tags (note that using that version doesn't add your post to Delicious's tag pages, it just provides clickable links to those pages whose tags you list - you still have to bookmark your post separately - to help speed up that process, see this post).

[Edited 9 July 2005:] Now Truckspy has modified the script so it can handle multiple word tags, see this post. [Added 12 December 2005:] The script mentioned in this post has been updated and enhanced, please see this post instead now.

What this script does is to change your "Create post" page on Blogger to add an extra line after the box where you write the post, which looks like this:
Image Hosted by

To add Technorati tags to your post you just type in the tags you want, separated by spaces, and click "Append Tags" and it will add to the end of your post something which looks like the following, with the correct Technorati format behind the scenes (where the tags you've entered are "test" and "test2") (I've not included the tag stuff for this as I don't want this post to get tagged with "test", this is just to show you what it would look like!):
Tags: test test2
For those interested, the code it adds is in fact the following, so you can create a "tag_list" class and style it, and you also could edit what it adds by editing the script:
<div class="tag_list">Tags: <span><a href="" rel="tag">test</a> <a href="" rel="tag">test2</a> </span></div>
To use multiple word tags I run the words together when I enter them, then edit the post to insert a space in the link text and a "+" in the "rel" bit in the appropriate places (see my intro to Technorati tags, which I've edited to add a note about this tool, for a fuller explanation). [Edited 9 July 2005:] Now Truckspy has modified the script so it can handle multiple word tags, see this post.

Note though that the tool only works when you're in the "Edit HTML" view, not the "Compose" view of Blogger. You need to change to the Edit HTML tab if you find yourself repeatedly clicking "Append" to no avail!

(I first saw mention of this tool on Oui-Blog - not that I could read that post, but I got the picture, literally!)

[Added 12 December 2005:] The script mentioned in this post has been updated and enhanced, please see this post instead now.

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Blogher bloggers' conference and contest: enter now!

Do you want to enter a Technorati contest announced by their CEO Dave Sifry (that was the original announcement where a link didn't work, this is the corrected announcement) for a free place for one Continental US female blogger to attend the Blogher conference at the end of July?

What's this conference?

This conference, it says, is "specifically cultivating the female blogging community", but open to all bloggers including men and beginners (hmmm, I can see hordes of male bloggers eager for the chance to meet lots of women rushing to register - good unintentional promotional ploy there to get as many people of both genders there as possible…!).

When's the closing date?

The closing date is tomorrow, Sunday 19 June. So, not much time to get writing. (I'd have posted this earlier but I've been frantic these last few days).

How do you enter?

To enter you have to (1) claim your blog on Technorati and (2) tag with a special tag the post which constitutes your entry. (I'd recommend doing it in that order). If you want to enter but don't know how to use Technorati tags or to claim your blog yet, you may wish to see generally this introduction to tagging, and this post on how to claim your blog on Technorati.

Actually you don't need to read the intro to tagging in order to enter (though you might want to read the one on claiming your blog). In a nutshell, for the tag just include this code somewhere in the main body (NOT head) of your competition entry post:
<a href="" rel="tag">TechnoratiBlogHer</a>
The text around which you put the "a href" tags doesn't have to be "TechnoratiBlogHer", but may as well be.

What a neat way for Technorati to induce bloggers (or competition-inclined female ones anyway) to start using Technorati tags and claiming their blogs on Technorati! Though it would have been good if they'd announced it earlier, the deadline I suspect is a little tight for many people who might otherwise have wanted to enter.

Where can I read the entries?

For anyone interested in seeing the competition entries (not many so far, sadly - I wonder why?), they should be visible on Technorati's "TechnoratiBlogHer" tag page. Note I said "should" - let's just hope that the problems with Technorati tag pages won't scupper your entry by preventing your post from displaying on that page. That would be a real blow for anyone it happens to.

I can't enter (they're not paying for flights from London, boohooo) but I'm using that tag in case my post helps anyone who's viewing entries and is trying to figure out how to make their blog and their post eligible for consideration.

Good luck everyone! I would love to go to that conference and might even fork out my own dosh to attend, but I'm not sure yet if I can at such short notice. Maybe another year. Here's hoping they'll hold the next one closer to me, like New York - or even luvverly London?

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Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Technorati: how to get your old posts tagged

Bloggers from time to time wonder about how to get Technorati to recognise old posts which they've gone back and tagged.

As mentioned in my previous post on the problems with Technorati tag pages, when Technorati's spider starts crawling your blog it only looks at the posts showing on your main page - not your archive pages, not previous posts which aren't on the main page.

If you're keen enough and have the time to go and tag your old posts from before you first got Technorati to index your blog or before you first started tagging your posts, here's one way: set your blog so that ALL those old posts (once you've tagged them) appear on your main page (if you're on Blogger, then here's how). Then ping Technorati (ideally doing a new post too, for luck, to make absolutely sure it doesn't get ignored as a superfluous ping).

It's cumbersome, it will probably make your main blog page take an age to come up which may frustrate your readers, but it should work - provided Technorati don't then classify it as a spam blog. So if you try this, on your own head be it, and you'll need to contact Technorati if it doesn't work because it results in your being labelled a link spammer (on which see my previous post), plus you'll then have to leave your massive main page up there for as long as it takes Technorati to get round to unspamblacklisting you, thus possibly prolonging your readers' agony (alsos it may not work for all your posts as there's usually a limit on how many posts your blog platform will allow you to display on your main page at once). If you do try it, don't say I didn't warn you...

If anyone knows another way I'd be glad to hear it. And I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who does try this and gets it to work.

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Technorati: tag pages problems

Have ever you tagged your blog posts with Technorati tags but then not had them show up on Technorati's tag pages for yonks? And when they do show up eventually (if you're lucky), they're said to apparently have been posted X hours ago, all of them at once, instead of at the times when you actually posted them?

You'll notice too that typically this may happen even if your posts do get indexed on Technorati (though that too is taking longer and longer after a ping), i.e. even when the same posts come up in a standard Technorati search for words in the post. And it may happen even when other posts of yours, before and after the problem posts, show up fine on the Technorati tag pages.

Now I'll explain below what I think has been going on, and what to do about it. And just to get an idea of the scale of the problem, if you have ever experienced that problem yourself, why not answer the poll at the end of this post (and please pass the link to this post on to your fellow bloggers) - so hopefully we'll all get a better picture of how widespread the problem is and how many are actually affected.


If you've had trouble getting your tagged posts appearing on Technorati's tag pages, and you feel you've done everything you should to tag them in the right way, then the problem is probably down to Technorati, not you.

First, check this: can you find those posts via a simple search on Technorati (e.g. for an unusual word or phrase in the post)?

If no, then Technorati haven't indexed them at all. Make sure all the posts concerned are displayed on your blog's main page and not just archive pages or post pages (for why, see further below) - by, if necessary, tweaking the number of posts displayed on your main page, then ping Technorati and check again later, hopefully no more than a day at most.

If yes, then there's a problem either with Technorati not picking up the tags for their tag database, or with some particular tags where the posts are in Technorati's database but they are just not showing on the tag pages. The only thing you can do is email Technorati support (making sure those posts are on your front page in case they need to crawl your blog again. It would be helpful if Technorati could confirm whether they need to re-crawl your blog to fix the tag page problem or whether they can just adjust their database, but in the absence of solid information from them about this, best have them on your main page just in case... details below.)

The details

Well I've had the problem mentioned above, repeatedly, since I started experimenting with Technorati tags (see my introduction to Technorati tags, this post and this post!). At first I thought it was my fault: maybe I'd been tagging wrong, handling multiple word tags wrong, using too many tags per post, etc. Then suddenly it started working though I hadn't changed what I was doing at my end. Ever since, on and off, the problem has kept recurring. In fact, it's happened again - my recent posts weren't on their tag pages for days, then today I see that they are.

Now I'm a persistent chapess, and I've tried hard on and off to get to the bottom of this problem. If the problem's not at my end, which seems to be the case as it'll suddenly start working though I haven't changed anything, then it must at Technorati's end: it must be something to do Technorati's spidering, indexing or handling of their tag pages. And it is.

Why should I care why it sometimes doesn't work? Well if it's down to my something wrong, like using too many tags so that Technorati's crawler thinks my blog is a spam blog and refuses to index it, then I want to know how to fix it: how many tags is it safe for me to use per post before I am considered an evil spammer, etc.

So, I kept trying for a while but just couldn't get a proper answer out of Technorati. Now I'm a big fan of Technorati, and I could understand it if Technorati didn't want to give too much away - e.g. if they told us exactly how many tags would be considered too many, spammers as well as legit bloggers could make use of that information - but if that's the case I believe that it would just be a courtesy to say to users that they won't give the information, and why, rather than ignore the question.

However I suspect the failure to respond and, in some cases, lack of clarity and comprehensiveness in the response, has been due mainly to scarce resources and pressure of work rather than anything sinister (they've indeed had some turnover in their support staff, Technorati's community manager Niall Kennedy said, and are hiring if anyone's interested! In that vein I think any tech support operation would do well to take a leaf or several from redryder52/Truckspy's book (just check out the Blogger forum), in fact why not just hire him for huge sums of money and be done with it? Not that I'm trying to unwarrantedly blow anything up his... I mean, blow his trumpet without good reason... I mean, sing his praises for nothing... psssst! we'll chat about the fee later...).

Technorati issues

Anyway, here are some key points to note about Technorati, based on what I've deduced from the hints in the responses I did get (and I gather I've been much better off than many people who haven't had any response at all):

1. Technorati sometimes doesn't pick up tags in your post for their tag pages

This can happen when Technorati are updating their indexes and your blog gets caught up in it (maybe it also happens in other situations I don't know about). Somehow some blogs get left out during this process. If it's yours, tough luck. It's nothing to do with your tags containing multiple words or digits, it's to do what Technorati have been doing.

The only solution: email Technorati support to report that your tagged posts aren't appearing on their tag pages, telling them the last date when your posts properly appeared on their tag pages and which posts aren't appearing, and ask them to fix their database or reindex your pages or both. If they don't respond and your posts are still not on the right tag pages in a few days (be kind, give them a little time as they're currently short staffed), then chase them up, and keep chasing every few days until it's sorted out. That's all we users can do, at our end. (Note that if the problem was due to their updating their indexes, often your tagged posts which were published before or after they were doing that work will be fine - it seems to be just the posts from around the time of that work, and just posts from a few blogs too, that are affected - not all of them. But then you need to get the problem posts sorted.)

Suggestion: you should get on to Technorati as soon as you notice a problem, before too many of your posts go off your front page and so might get missed.

Which leads to the next suggestion - before you contact Technorati support, you might want to make sure that your missed posts are all on your blog's main or home page, not just your post or item pages (in my case for example my main page is just at, and that the posts stay there for as long as it takes for Technorati to pick them up properly and show them on the right tag pages. (All this assumes that Technorati need to reindex the missed posts in order to fix the tag pages problem - it could be that they might be able to sort it out, if their spider has crawled those pages and they have the posts in their index, simply by tweaking their databases without re-crawling your blog, but I really don't know the answer to that, so unless Technorati confirm the position I suspect the safest bet is to make those posts available for a re-crawl).

How to control number of posts shown on your main blog page - there will usually be a setting in your blog platform for this. With Blogger, in your Dashboard go to the blog in question then click Settings and Formatting and it's the first tiem. With Wordpress, go to Options, the Reading tab, and it's the first item again.

Doing all this may make that page load more slowly, which is a pain for your readers especially if you use a lot of pics or have long posts like me, but (assuming a re-crawl is necessary) you may find you simply have to do it or your posts may not get indexed by Technorati. This takes me to the second main problem with Technorati.

2. Technorati will only index posts (including the related post or item pages) which are on your main blog page

This is not so much a problem as a "feature", as they say - in that it's due to a deliberate decision by Technorati not to crawl or index anything that's no longer on the main page (maybe for resource reasons? I'd certainly be interested to know why). Contrast this policy with Google's - Google will go back and re-crawl "old" webpages or blog posts, so changed or added text from later edits will be stored in Google's cache, and be fully searchable. Which is what I personally prefer, as I do edit some old posts to keep related information together in the same place. Google will pick up those changes, Technorati won't.

The combination of 1 and 2 is unfortunate. If Technorati are regularly failing to index tagged pages properly or posts are lost from their index or tag databases, which by many accounts is happening, it compounds the problem if (assuming a re-crawl is needed to fix the problem) they won't index "old" posts that are off the front page after their system is working properly again. Bloggers get the worst of both worlds; tagged posts which should have been added to and retrievable from the tag database may never get added. Technorati really should fix that problem - ideally by re-crawling old posts including those linked to from the main page, where the posts don't get into the tag database because of a glitch at Technorati such as index updating. In the meantime, and certainly if they don't address this problem, all we bloggers can do is keep lots of posts on our front pages, and keep emailing Technorati support about the issue.

Sidebar links: will Technorati's spider follow links to individual post pages listed in your sidebar? I don't know. I've asked them that several times and they've never answered that question. I suspect not. Pity, because at least it would pick up recent posts that way, given the way many blogs are set up (eg Blogger always seems to list and link to the 10 most recent posts).

3. Technorati do have a way to tackle spam blogs or link farms - that is, blogs with no real content but just lots of marketing or promotional links

I don't know exactly what their method is and how it works, but I gather from what Technorati have told me that some blogs do get labelled as spam by their software, and it seems to have something to do with the number (or density, I am speculating here?) of tags or perhaps of links on your main blog page.

All I can suggest in the absence of further information about the mechanics is, if you think you've been unfairly caught out by this and your blog isn't being indexed by Technorati (whether on their tag pages, or indeed at all), you should contact Technorati support about it.

4. Technorati's tag pages don't always correctly display what's in their database behind the scenes

An example is the "nominative determinism" tag which I started. As I write this only one post appears on that tag page. But there are more posts that have used that tag, see e.g. some of the posts under the Humour heading in my sidebar.

Technorati told me that their database is complete, the tags are in the underlying database, but with a few tags like this one their display code is missing them out. The issue seems to be related to specific tags (they're not all multiple word ones either, there's a problem with the "Wailing" and "aptonym" tag pages too, I was told) - sometimes the tag page displays all the posts with that tag, and sometimes they don't. They know about it and they're working on it. But this issue doesn't seem to be generally known. Which brings me to another point.

But even for individual tags which might seem OK, there are problems too. For example, I tag all of my posts with "Improbulus". Most of my recent posts are on the Improbulus tag page, but two of them from 9 June (see my archive) aren't there. See for example my post on rules of thumb, which can be found on searching Technorati for "cognitive heuristics", but isn't on their tag page for that word. So those pages did get indexed by Technorati - they're just not in the tags database, or they're not displaying properly from that database, and I haven't a clue which it is. It can't be to with that specific tag, because some posts with that tag are showing both before and after those posts. I have emailed Technorati about them and with any luck they'll sort it out soon, but I'd sure love to know what went wrong there.

Problems with tech support? (generally, not just Technorati!)

Customer service is something I feel strongly about, including tech support. The Americans are meant to be way better than the Brits on this front, but not always.

In all sorts of areas, communicating with users is important: particularly when there are severe and continuing difficulties which seem inexplicable to those not in the know. To mangle a phrase, people abhor a vacuum, and in the absence of information will fill it with frustration (which can ultimately rebound on the company concerned, and not in a good way).

It's about time Technorati introduced (and then should thereafter keep updated) "Known issues" and "Status" pages, and have big links to them from their main page and search and tag pages. That would be less work for Technorati too than having to field numerous emails (and risk alienating users by not answering them). And the first thing on the "Known issues" page should be an explanation about the problems with tag pages: exactly what the problem is (indexing? Adding to the tag database? Retrieving info from it?) and how it's being addressed (and is re-crawling of particular blogs needed to fix it once spotted?).

Companies like Technorati should build up a database of issues and queries not just for a "Known Issues" page but also to facilitate quick standard replies to support requests. It's entirely possible for responses to be rapid, resource-efficient and succinct yet sufficiently informative to keep users happy. A lot of the time, most people are quite tolerant and can live with bugs and issues, particularly with a free service, but only if they are kept informed - being ignored just breeds anger and frustration, and even mere resignation may be enough to induce mass desertion if other blog search engines appear with tagging facilities.

Dave Sifry the Technorati CEO said at the end of his post introducing Technorati's new beta service that feedback comments were the first thing people at Technorati looked at each day. It's all very well and good to have an eye to the future, visionary thinking is indeed laudable, but what about problems in the here and now? Support requests should be equally important, if not more so, as a source of user feedback - e.g. for clues on bugs or issues, such as with tag pages. Or is it the case that users with problems would be better off emailing Feedback rather than support, in terms of getting their issues addressed?

It's received wisdom that companies should pay heed to their "difficult" users/customers, the ones who have problems, the ones who ask for help, the ones who complain. For each person who takes the trouble to put finger to keyboard, you can bet there will be many others who've suffered the same problem, but just gone away dissatisfied rather than bother to give any feedback to the company. It all adds up. Reading and responding fully and promptly to support emails is one of the best ways for a company not only to get feedback from its users, but to let them know they're listening, that they care about their users, and that they intend - even if not quite yet, due to limited resources and more pressing priorities - to address their issues and problems.

Now that Technorati have launched their new beta, let's hope that after they have a bit of a breather (which seems much needed after rolling all that lot out!) they'll turn their attention to the tag and tag page problems.

The poll

So if you have views about the tag pages issue, please take part in this poll. I hope that even those who haven't had problems will take part (there's only one question to answer in that case!) as that will help gauge whether in fact only a small percentage of people have had problems (and they're the only ones I've heard from!). I'm not the best person in the world with HTML layout/design, OK I'm useless at it hence all the spaces, and it should be obvious but note it's meant to go from left to right...
Have you ever had a problem with your tagged posts not appearing on Technorati's tag pages?
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If you've had that problem, how often have you noticed it since January 2005 when Technorati introduced tags?
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If you've had that problem, how often did you report it to Technorati or ask for their help?
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If you reported it to Technorati or asked for help, what happened?
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If you reported the problem or asked for help from Technorati, how do you feel about the results?
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Consumer advice: telephone helpline

According to a BBC news item, a 6 day a week government funded consumer helpline (local rate) is offering free telephone advice on consumer issues.

The news item says it's a London-wide service, but the Consumer Direct website which displays the same phone number appears to be available throughout the UK and indeed the Web-based service "Complain online" is even available to non-UK people, presumably to complain about UK traders.

The helpline number is 08454 04 05 06.

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Sunday, 12 June 2005

BBC: free downloads

The good ol' British Broadcasting Corporation is really coming along nicely with things digital these days.

UPDATE: free download of BBC TV programmes, for a limited period after initial broadcast, should be with us in May or June 2007 via the new BBC iPlayer - with UK-based computers, anyway. See this post.

Creative Archive

First they started the Creative Archive Group (for more on which see this post), to allow free personal downloading of video and audio clips from the archives of the Beeb and other members like Channel 4, which can be freely used and remixed etc. True, not much has been made available yet (only some old short films from the British Film Instititute), and the BBC hasn't actually put out any video via the Creative Archive, itself - but it's a start, and they seem to be trying to negotiate with programme makers for the ability to make their programmes available in the Creative Archive in future. This archive seems to be very much focussed on "educational purposes" though, and no I don't mean "educational" in that sense, sorry to disappoint you! The most popular type of clips voted for was apparently science and nature, and then history. All I can say is, I missed the voting on that myself, and I don't think it would have been my personal top choice… so if you want to have your say on what you most want to be downloadable on the audio front (with the oh so exciting choices of classic speeches, classical music and sound effects - it's all to help you get creative dahling!), then vote here.

Podcasting and downloading trial

Next, they stepped up a podcasting/downloading trial - allowing free downloading of radio programmes in unprotected non-proprietary formats like MP3 which you can transfer to your MP3 player such as the ubiquitous Apple iPod (and they've even included basic instructions, a "howto" on podcasting). Again the programmes in their trial, like the Today Programme and Sportsweek, aren't exactly the most thrilling as far as I'm concerned, personally - until this last week, when they decided to make all of Beethoven's symphonies available for free download for a week starting with the day after the radio broadcast (they started broadcasting on Monday 6 June). For some strange reason they've included the links on the downloads page, but announced the symphonies via the Creative Archive site.

The main purpose of this post is to suggest, if you like that sort of thing, that you get downloading now. Tomorrow, Monday 13 June, is the last day when you can download Symphonies No. 1 and 3.

iMP (Interactive Media Player)

The iMP concept is the best thing, to me (more info is on a BBC Ask Bruce! page).

I'd love to be able to download for free BBC programmes (and indeed other channels) for a week after they've been aired. Time shifting with a vengeance, indeed - but it uses digital rights management or DRM software, so a week is the limit. Never mind a week, I think a month would be even better, to cater for being away on holidays etc.

[Updated 29 December 2005:] There was a very limited trial earlier, which they're extending soon beginning September 2005. I've signed up to be considered (if you want to sign up too, email try registering for it) so I hope they'll include me - if they do I'll of course report back. (The software by Kontiki is here if anyone's interested, but installing it won't do you much good without the official user/password you get if/when you are accepted for the trial - I tried! But if you must have a go, to uninstall it use the Control Panel (on XP), it's under the heading "Secure Delivery" or similar no longer available except to triallists. To uninstall it, use the Control Panel (on XP) under the heading "BBC IMP"). [Edited 13 November: I got onto the extended trial, see my preliminary review of BBC iMP aka MyBBCPlayer, and also some BBC iMP tips and tricks for more info on BBC's iMP.]

This is the absolutely the right way to approach convergence, with TV/radio broadcasting being made available via the Net (and conversely the Net being used to complement TV and radio programmes, which the BBC and others do very well.) Now if only they'll hurry it all up!!

UPDATE: free download of BBC TV programmes, for a limited period after initial broadcast, should be with us in May or June 2007 via the new BBC iPlayer - with UK-based computers, anyway. See this post.

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Friday, 10 June 2005

Technorati: new public beta service

Technorati, the blogosphere search engine, launched a new public beta last night (London time - hey, I can be UK-centric for a change, can't I?) as Dave Sifry, the Technorati CEO, announced.

It looks good, but I need to have a play. Expect a fuller review later.

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Thursday, 9 June 2005

Making decisions: rules of thumb

I'm fascinated by rules of thumb (the fancy name for which, I've now learned, is "cognitive heuristics") based on maths analyses which actually work in making real life decisions.

An article by Robert Matthews in the Financial Times in late April (yes, I'm very behind catching up on stuff!) says that finding rules humans can use is in fact an active area of research and mentions ongoing work by the Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition Group (the ABC Group) at Berlin's Max Planck Institute for Human Development looking particularly at "fast and frugal heuristics" - rules you can apply quickly and effectively, yet which are frugal in terms of how much data you need. Some of the rules have been found to be as effective as complicated sophisticated maths techniques.

Here are the rules of thumb mentioned in the article:
  • "Take the best" (TTB) - to decide quickly between two options, look for a characteristic both of them have which you think correlates best with what you're trying to assess, then use that to make your decision. An example given was if you have to guess which city is bigger, you could figure that the the more famous one is likely to be bigger (i.e. decide that fame correlates with size) and then pick the one which you've heard of, or which has the more well known football team. And if that doesn't work, try another feature which you think should correlate with the "target property" (in this case size) and use that. This rule even works better than mathematical models, in situations where you don't know the options well and don't have much information to go on (e.g. the research included people choosing stocks based on mere familiarity - picking companies they'd heard of - beating the market, while economics experts using more "sophisticated" methods actually lost money!). Apparently considering all the options carefully may not be as effective as you'd think, because the payoff may not be worth the extra effort and you could be misled by meaningless detail into actually making the worse decision. (Another aspect of the "familiarity" rule seemingly used by animals is "Do what you see most others do" when searching for food. I'd venture to suggest that rule is applied, consciously or not, by most people too, and not just in relation to food!) We will probably be most efficient in our decision making when we're pushed for time because that's when we're forced to use the TTB rule, so the author suggests, when trying to choose food in a restaurant, just to say "We're ready to order" and make yourself pick something fast, to end up with a good choice!
  • Don't accept the first promising choice - that's just Colley's Rule, I've covered it in a previous post (which I've just updated to add a link to another interesting item). This article describes it another way, as using the first good option to set the baseline of quality, then take the first one after that which beats it.
  • In weighing up likelihood and payoffs, focus on what if it goes wrong - should you do something if you don't know how likely it is to succeed? Look at what might happen if you do it and it goes wrong, and if the consequences are no worse than the consequences of not doing it, then do it. The example given is, should you take a job offer if you don't know how well it will work out? If, even supposing the job goes all wrong, you'd be no worse off than if you rejected the job, then the rule says take the job.
  • And a rule of thumb about rules of thumb! Rules of thumb themselves just make it more likely you'll make the right choice, but don't guarantee it - so be prepared to get some wrong in return for, as the author puts it, "being right more often than not".

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Technorati: claiming blogs pt 2, and Technorati support

Previously I posted about what it means to claim a blog on Technorati, the blogosphere search engine; why you'd want to; and how to claim a blog - plus some concerns to do with the blog claiming process and security/authentication.

Niall Kennedy of Technorati commented regarding the security issue and offered to let me try to claim his blog and see if that worked!

Now the reason for my concern was that I'd tried out claiming a blog (a new one of mine), and noticed that Technorati reported the blog as claimed by me even before I put the required code in the blog. It was not only on the members' only page that it said my blog was claimed - I'd also seen (although I didn't spell that out before) that on doing a Technorati search where posts from that blog appeared in the search results, my profile pic appeared against those posts - again confirming that the blog had been successfully claimed by me.

The disappearing claim

Interestingly, after my previous post, that profile pic no longer appears against the entries from that blog (which at the moment just duplicates entries from this blog, a little behind as I haven't got round to copying the recent ones yet). See for instance this search page and scroll down to the blog called "Improbulus": there are no profile pics against those entries any longer. Yet on my members' page it still says my claim to that blog has been successfully embedded.

I speculated in my previous post that this premature successful claim could be due to my trying to claim that blog by just posting the Technorati code (without filling in their claim form), and when that didn't work I removed the code and tried to fill in the claim form alone (without the code being in my blog) just to see what happened - and perhaps Technorati then read an older cached version of that blog which did have the code, so it treated it as claimed. But then it caught up with the code removal and no longer shows the profile pic... I don't know what they did really, as the claim is now said to be recognised on the members' pages but not when you do a search.

Since my last post I've tried claiming another blog I created for the purpose (I thought I'd spare Niall any hijack attempts!), by just filling in the claim form but not including the code, and Technorati now won't let me claim it - so that's great, that is obviously a lot more secure. I would still be interested to know if just including the code in my blog (with the link direct to my Technorati profile, not the special unique ID which Technorati provide on completing the claim form), but without filling in the form, works to claim a blog eventually. I hope Technorati will answer that question - Niall or Kevin Marks perhaps? - i.e., do you have to include the Javascript with the unique ID for the member/blog to complete the claim, or can you just link to your Technorati profile (because that's really all the script adds to your blog page: a link to that profile and your pic etc). For security's sake, I hope the answer is Yes - it has to be the unique ID, not just the profile link.

I'd also like to know whether, if just posting a link to your profile works, someone could claim a blog just by posting the link in a comment on a post in that blog (and filling in the Technorati claim form). I'm hoping that they've fixed it so that a link just to a member's Technorati profile isn't enough, it now has to be to the unique ID code they generate which then redirects to your profile, but that's not been entirely clear.

No more quick claim?

Also interestingly, since my previous post, Technorati appear to have changed their claiming procedure. The last time I tried (after my previous post on the subject), when you fill in the claim form they give you the code to put in your blog or blogroll or sidebar, but now (or at least the last time I tried!) they don't seem to offer a quick claim route where you enter your blog username and password.

That's a shame - I know some people may be reluctant to give their user details to Technorati but I think that can be dealt with by Technorati clearly stating to members that they will use their details only for the purpose of verifying the claim and won't store the details afterwards (or will store them securely). That way people will have the option, they can choose to rely on that privacy policy statement if they wish to. Other services do take user details, e.g. Haloscan require it if you want to do an auto-installation of their commenting/trackback system.

One useful thing is that if you try to proceed with your claim after you've filled in the claim form, but haven't put the code into your blog, they send you an email explaining how to post the code. (Interestingly, the button to proceed with the claim has now disappeared from my Claimed Blogs page, maybe they're still tinkering - that's a pity as I thought it was a very useful innovation from a user viewpoint, that if someone doesn't know what they're doing and hits the button, they then get an emailed explanation).

Technorati support

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of Technorati, and so are many others. I think part of the issue, from the feedback I've had regarding my previous post (and see comments about not understanding various aspects of Technorati or about Technorati support in the Blogger forum), is that the Help pages could be written more comprehensibly and clearly, and the support responses more timely and to the point (I've heard some people don't get any response at all - admittedly it's a free service, but failing to respond is of course not good for building up a reputation).

Obviously there is a resource issue for Technorati - Technorati don't seem to have many staff despite their high profile - but in terms of building up a user base and, in the notoriously fickle world of the Net, developing and maintaining user loyalty so that people won't abandon Technorati for the next blogosphere search engine which comes along that does provide better support (and better searching as well, people aren't daft!), I think Technorati could do worse than beef up their online help as well as their support service. (If the online help was clearer, people shouldn't need to contact Support as often).

A couple of people had kindly said on my last post that my explanations made more sense than Technorati's, and that Technorati should put me on their payroll! I certainly wouldn't be averse to writing more about Technorati and its workings if only they'd give me the information and full answers I needed in order to do that. And while I wouldn't be so blatant as to say "Gizza job, Dave!" to David Sifry (the Technorati CEO), if Technorati were to offer me (as well as the info) some money and an interesting job title to go with it, I don't think I'd say no...

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Thursday, 2 June 2005

How to search

[Edited 2 January 2006 to add searches by geographical location and general profile searches. Now works in New Blogger aka Blogger Beta, too.]

How you search Blogger depends on what you want to search for, but I'll cover different ways of searching as I've noticed people recently arriving at my blog who clearly want to know how!

Blogger help

To search the official Blogger help articles, go to this page or use this box (not case sensitive and it seems to ignore <, > and $ symbols but otherwise it searches whole words only) - results open in a new window:

How to find Blogger members by interests, movies, music, books, (updated Aug 07:) industry, occupation

To search the profiles of Blogger members to find Blogger users who have a particular interest or like particular movies, musics or books or (updated Aug 07) works in a particular industry or has a particular occupation, try this post (which also gives code you can insert in your own blog or webpage for the search form), or use the search form below (opens in a new window).

Note that I don't know how Blogger have chosen to order the results, and don't forget that though it says Results 1-10 on the results page there could be more than 10 results so keep hitting that Continue button if you want to see more results.

How to search for members by geographical location

Use the form below to find bloggers living near you, or Blogger users from another particular geographical place (with thanks to Michael Bates for the syntax and KRS/Truckspy/redryder52 for sussing out that they use standard international country codes and providing the code for the full list!).

Note again as above that there could be more than 10 results, and also note that:
  • Country and state, province or city is essential to find a town - you have to enter both country and state/province/city for it to work, you just can't enter a town without entering the state too (though you can enter just the state etc without a town, or the country without a state or province etc)
  • No abbreviations - you have to enter the full name of the state or town, no abbreviations (e.g. Ca won't find anything, you need California).
Find members - anywhere! (results open in a new window)

How to find bloggers by name, and search their profiles

To search for a particular Blogger member by their username, or just to search within Blogger members' profiles for a combination of things e.g. someone with particular interests in a particular location, use the form below (but bear in mind it only searches profiles which have been indexed on Google, and "London" can find someone named "London" as well as people living in London, so if you want something specific use one of the other forms - unfortunately you can't combine a specific location search with a specific interests etc search, the only way to search both is to use this form with the one issue I mentioned):

Search words in Blogger profiles via Google:

How to search blogs which use Blogger/Blogspot

To search the content of blogs which use Blogger, i.e. the text of blog posts, at least where they are hosted on Blogger's associated (not all Blogger blogs are), search on Google against (i.e. type in your search term then type "" in the Google search box) or use this form; again results open in a new window:
(Note though that this only searches blogs which Google has indexed; it doesn't search all Blogspot blogs unfortunately, as Google doesn't crawl them all, and furthermore it won't search Blogger blogs which are hosted elsewhere than on Blogspot and whose name therefore don't end in "". Technorati do have much better coverage of blogs but sadly you can't yet search for words from particular domains or subdomains on Technorati.)

Or you can now search Blogger blogs via Google's Blog Search, which crawls more blogs than the main Google service:

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