Sunday, 30 October 2005

Icerocket: getting old posts tagged? Nope...

Well the attempt mentioned in my previous post didn't work. So please visit my main page all you like now, it's back to normal. And what happened?

First, I couldn't get all my posts to show on the main page (in Blogger it's Settings, Formatting, Show X posts on the main page. I had also, by the way, changed things in Settings, Publishing so that Notify was set to No - I didn't want to muck up the indexing of my page by any other search engine in the process, and setting it to No means Blogger won't ping when my page updates. I've set it back to Yes now, of course).

I came up against Blogger's 1 MB per page size limit. I kept getting error message "006 Please contact Blogger support "(usability point: why the heck they don't set the error message to say "Page size exceeds 1 MB limit, see", I don't know - that must garner them a lot of unnecessary emails to Support, and a waste of everyone's time).

By trial and error (working backwards from 90 and trying a smaller number of posts each time!) I found that 84 posts was the max, but that was still not bad - it took me back to June 2005. Icerocket started their tag pages service around the beginning of August 2005, so at least I would get some extra posts picked up on their tag pages. Or so I thought.

Well I was wrong. I duly pinged Icerocket with my blog URL after I got my 84 posts on the main page. But nothing. I pinged 2 or 3 times, left my blog for about 9 hours (which should be more than enough to get it reindexed), and the earliest post with the "Improbulus" tag on Icerocket's tag pages is still dated August 2005.

Oh well. Blake Rhodes of Icerocket said it was worth a try, but obviously it's not working. Pity. It would be good if they would explain what one can do to achieve this, but...

What's worse, it seems my various attempts to get this done have resulted in Blogger turning on their wretched CAPTCHA requirement for posting (that's "prove that you're human"!) - presumably because I then had 84 posts on my main page with loads of links in them, and they seem to assume that if you have lots of links it must be a spam blog. Unless it's a coincidence, of course. I have emailed them (see the Blogger help on how to get them to remove the word verification requirement for posting if you find yourself in the same boat), but who knows how long it'll take them to sort it, if at all. This is not a splog, Blogger!

The tags you use to get your posts on the tag pages of Technorati, by the way (see my introduction to Technorati tags if you're not familiar with them), will also work on Icerocket as is. The problem is that Icerocket only started picking up tags in August, so your pre-August 2005 posts just won't appear on Icerocket's tag pages, though they might be in their index for normal searching.

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On Sunday 30 Oct: don't visit my blog's main page!

In the morning, London time, I shall be changing my settings so that a whole bunch of posts will show up on my main page for a few hours, in an attempt to get my old tagged posts onto Icerocket's tag pages aka Blog Topics..

It may get me flung off Technorati's indexes, I don't know. Or indeed Icerocket's. We shall see... if it works I'll report back. And if it doesn't I will anyway.

So please don't visit my main URL for a day, though individual post pages will be fine - otherwise it will take forever for your page to load!

Nominative determinism 6

More from the Feedback column of New Scientist, who originally coined the term "nominative determinism".

The funniest is the official profile of one doctor: "Dr. Richard (Dick) Chopp is well known in the Austin community for performing Vasectomies."

While an article in the Journal of Neuroscience on "How fish hear and make sounds at same time" is by someone called Andrew Bass.

And there is a Reuters reporter named Elaine Lies.

(See also my other posts on nominative determinism)

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BBC iMP trial: review part 1

I've blogged about the BBC's pioneering iMP (Interactive Media Player) trial before (see the end of this post about the BBC and things digital), saying I'd signed up to be considered for the further trial.

For those who don't know, this involves testing a planned new BBC service called MyBBCPlayer, supposedly launching in 2006, to allow BBC programmes, TV as well as radio, to be available free via the Net (to UK users only) for 7 days after the broadcast date. After the 7 days the downloaded programme will be automatically deleted from your hard drive. (For more on that see the BBC press release in August 2005).

Well I've been accepted for the trial, so I shall be reporting on my experiences. The software is by KonTiki.

The first thing I have to say, though, is that the very long questionnaire they make you fill in about all sorts of things on yourself and your habits and your family etc, before you're allowed to download the software is way longer than they claim - it took me at least half an hour not just 15 minutes, and it was so long that I had to keep going back to it in between doing my work (I was naughtily doing it in the office because I had believed them when they said it would only take a few minutes) and it kept timing out on me. They've also been staggering the downloading (as in, letting people do it in batches - men first, apparently!) to ease the load on their servers.

And then as a triallist you have to fill in an online diary for one week each month, charting not just your TV and radio usage (and exactly which channels you watched or listened to when), but also your Internet use. Period. Not watching video or listening to audio over the Net, but ANY Net use, like shopping or browsing! Got to say I didn't see the point of that (and as I'm online virtually all the time, mine was pretty much full), but mine not to question their stats gathering.

Usability niggles with the online diary (as usability is a big bugbear for me): you can only fill in the diary for a particular day AFTER that day has passed; it's greyed out and inaccessible before that. Why you can't fill it in as you go along, on the SAME day, is beyond me. That would have been the most accurate and easy way for triallists to do it. Sure, we may not be online or logged in to the required page all the time while the TV or radio is on, but I usually am, and they should have catered for the people who are, rather than eliminated that option.

Plus, for each thing you do (watch TV, use the Net etc) you have to indicate whether you do it Live, or as a Replay. Including Net usage (which really should default to filling in "Live" automatically if you check that box). How can you use the Net on a "replay" basis, I ask, unless you're viewing a page offline maybe? (And I'll bet you anything that's not what they had in mind!). I also counted email as "Net usage", not just web browsing, as they gave no guidance on what they meant.

OK, on to the more interesting stuff. Some more info on iMP:
And I discovered that you can actually see some of the pages you get via their special iMP software, which clearly uses Internet Explorer behind the scenes, even if you don't have the software, so if you aren't on the trial you can still get an idea of what part of it looks like (the part which displays Web pages downloaded from the BBC site) just via your web browser (use Internet Explorer as that's what the trial is designed for). Here are some links, which will open in a new window - note that the page will be missing the tabs along the top and not all the links on it will work (nor will the search box, and you may get a popup box you have to get rid of if you try it in Firefox):
So far, it's been working well for me. You will have seen from the official page (including FAQ) that it's all very PC, Windows and Internet Explorer-centric, using Windows Media 9 Digital Rights Management. But " Should the service be approved, we aim to make it accessible for different platforms, like Macintosh and Linux. Our suppliers are currently working towards this."

You can even transfer downloaded programmes to your mobile or other portable device, though I've not tried it yet.

Initial impressions are that viewing (again hooking into Windows Media Player) is decent - clear pictures, good sound, a "full screen" view - but that the finding of programmes, particularly through browsing rather than searching, such as the filtering, leaves something to be desired.

I'll report further after I've been using it more. [Note: now see BBC iMP tips and tricks, thoughts on the major issues with iMP, and the BBC Trust consultation on bringing in what will now be called iPlayer in May or June 2007]

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ID cards: more authoritative views against

You'll know if you've read my posts on ID card proposals in the UK and what's wrong with them (and a child's view on ID cards, and on the LSE report) that I think the UK government are going too far in their proposals for identity cards here, laudable though the aim of fighting terrorism is.

Well guess what? Concerns continue to be expressed, including by official bodies such as the UK Information Commissioner, not to mention Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights in a recent progress report on legislation (PDF file, 55 pages).

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Google Reader: improvements

For those who've not yet noticed, while my previous Google Reader post mentioned some glaring flaws in Google Reader (the beta online news reader service from Google), at least Google have been improving the product. As one would hope, of course.

There is now an official Google Reader blog with some useful posts e.g. summarising the recent changes so I won't repeat them here. But with the improvements and Greasemonkey scripts for Google Reader, also helpfully linked to from the Google Reader blog, plus tools for Google Reader, it's on its way.

For those who don't know: on what Greasemonkey is and how to use it

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Opera: definition!

I heard that this was said by a twelve year old when asked "What is opera?":

Opera is fat ladies singing Shakespeare in Latin.

True, many might think!

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Thursday, 27 October 2005

How much is your blog worth? Code for your template

I posted previously about a cool form to find out hypothetically how much your blog is worth based on the link/dollar ratio derived from AOL's Weblogs Inc acquisition.

Having lamented that it's not dynamic, i.e. the code provided for the search results only shows the value of your blog at the time of your last search, it just occurred to me (sorry, being slow that day!) that there is a solution with a very simple template hack.

You can just add code to your template so that when you or someone else clicks on it, it instantly gives you the value of your blog at the time of that click. I'll be amending my template later to add it to my sidebar, but for now here's what the link would look like for my blog (just click the link and see):

How much is this blog worth?

And here's the code to insert in your blog template, for Blogger users - if Blogger is acting up and that <$BlogURL$> template tag doesn't work (which I've noticed sometimes with my blog), or if you are not on Blogger, just change "<$BlogURL$>" to whatever template tag represents your blog URL on your platform, or easier still just change it to the URL of your blog, see the second example below:

<a href="<$BlogURL$>">How much is this blog worth?</a>

Directly using your blog URL you can use this code (but of course change to your blog's URL):
<a href="">How much is this blog worth?</a>

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005

How much is your blog worth?

You can find out how much your blog is worth by entering your blog URL in the form on Dane Carlson's "How much is my blog worth?" post (which calculates your blog's value from its Technorati ranking by using a link to dollar ratio derived from how much AOL recently paid for acquiring Weblogs Inc).

After you enter your URL you also get code you can paste into your blog sidebar to show how much it's worth, but it's only a snapshot of what the figure was at the time you entered the URL, so I won't be doing that. It would be nice if the code could always display the current figure as links to your blog change (hopefully, by increasing!). No doubt someone will be coming up with that twist soon. [Edited 27 October:] Not quite the same thing, but I've now posted the code to insert in your template so you can check your current blog value with one click at any time.

My blog is apparently worth $82,987.38, at least today - not too bad considering I only started blogging in earnest in January 2005. Now if only someone were to offer me that in real money…

Not so much use to us without the the hard cash, but a fun ego tool nevertheless!

(Via Technorati's blog, which also outlines the history behind this clever calculation.)

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Nominative determinism 5 and similar stuff

Some gems contributed by André Brands (thanks André!):

The New York Times employs a journalist called Louise Story. And you may know already that the US Secretary of Education is called Margaret Spellings, and that the former Reagan White House spokesman was Larry Speakes.

André also reports another very funny name, if you're acquainted with financial terminology: the Head of Investor Relations at Deutsche Bank is a Vincent Libor. LIBOR is the often-quoted London Interbank Offered Rate:

"What is LIBOR? LIBOR stands for London Interbank Offered Rate. It is the rate offered by a specific group of London banks for U.S. dollar deposits of a stated maturity and is the rate at which banks borrow funds from other banks, in marketable size, in the London interbank market. As such, it is the most widely used benchmark or reference rate for short term interest rates on adjustable or variable rate credit accounts/loans."

And I have noticed that there is a lecturer in London named Minger who must have rued the coining of that slang term. If it were me (I'm obviously not made of as strong stuff) I might well be reaching for the deed poll.

While, for a related funny, there is actually a job title "Director for horizontal affairs". An interesting (drumroll) position, no doubt!

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Saturday, 22 October 2005

Flag as objectionable - censorship vs freedom of speech

At first I was delighted when Blogger in August 2005 introduced "Flag as objectionable" - after all, I am sure I'm not the only one who's been urging them to add a button to their Navbar to let blog readers flag spam blogs.

Flagging spam blogs is one thing - but marking blogs as "objectionable" is another. I'm really not sure if that's going too far. No, this post hasn't been triggered by anyone flagging my blog - at least I hope they haven't been! It was the recent laudable step up in efforts to stamp out spam blogs which made me start wondering more about the whole thing. Yes, we all hate spam: but in extending flagging to "objectionable" blogs too, has Blogger gone too far?

Clearly Blogger are conscious that this is a potentially tricky issue - their first sentence in their Help page on the Flag button says:
The Flag button is not censorship and it cannot be manipulated by angry mobs. Political dissent? Incendiary opinions? Just plain crazy? Bring it on.

So why am I concerned about this? Well OK, this feature lets them identify blogs that many people don't like:
We track the number of times a blog has been flagged as objectionable and use this information to determine what action is needed. This feature allows the blogging community as a whole to identify content they deem objectionable. Have you read The Wisdom of Crowds? It's sort of like that.

But what bothers me is, is it really right to trust "the wisdom of crowds" on what is or is not objectionable? And secondly, is what Blogger do to "objectionable" blogs right, is it really the best way to deal with "objectionable" blogs?

I'll start with the latter.

What happens to "objectionable" blogs?

Spam blogs (aka "splogs") are pretty obvious; everyone (except spammers of course) would be very happy for them to be zapped immediately. But what about the other blogs? The ones which express views the majority don't like, whether religious, political or sexual, whatever? Blogger say:
The "Flag?" button is a means by which readers of Blog*Spot can help inform us about potentially questionable content, so we can prevent others from encountering such material by setting particular blogs as "unlisted." This means the blog won't be promoted on but will still be available on the web — we prefer to keep in mind that one person's vulgarity is another's poetry. Or something like that.

So far so good. But what does being "unlisted" really mean? Is it really very different from being deleted altogether? Glance at the bottom of Blogger's help page about "unlisted", and you'll see that not only will the blog not appear against the owner's Blogger profile - it won't be crawled by search engines either (if the blog is using Blogger's BlogMetaData tag - which includes all blogs using one of their standard templates). And on the web, as everyone knows, if you're not crawled by the search engines you may as well be invisible. So, it's not very different from censoring the blog in question - to say otherwise is really being quite disingenuous. It seems to me the bottom line is: if you're unlisted, you're toast. Especially if yours is not already a hugely popular blog where zillions have bookmarked your URL (and how many of us have that?). Effectively you'll be silenced, and never have the chance to develop your readership.

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Turn the clock back a couple hundred years, and the crowds thought slavery was acceptable. Even just a century ago - women shouldn't be allowed to vote. Germany during the second world war - certain kinds of people aren't really human and should be exterminated. Sorry, but when it comes to some things, trusting the "crowds" can be downright dangerous, in my book. We're supposed to be living in a free society now, well many of us anyway. It's not hard at all to envisage concerted flagging efforts by certain organised groups who object to particular forms of expression (or the people expressing them) resulting in some blogs being "unlisted": "Let's all go hunt down blogs about X, or by Y kinds of people, and flag them as objectionable".

It's great that Blogger decide to publish a list of deleted Blogspost blogs. It would be even better if they published a list of "unlisted" ones too. And info on how many people have to flag a blog as "objectionable" before they decide to unlist it. And how they decide what to do - if Z people flag a blog, do they just go with that automatically without thinking about it further themselves? If not, what criteria do they use to determine whether to unlist a blog?

It worries me somewhat that, despite Google's "Don't be evil" mantra, Blogger should be "unlisting" (or is it "delisting") blogs which are merely flagged as "objectionable" by lots of people, when they could address the issues by doing something short of unlisting.

A compromise?

Could Blogger do something else that's more compatible with freedom of speech where a blog is not spam, but just "objectionable" to some groups? I think so. I suggest they could do any of these (or ideally a combination):
  • give bloggers (via Dashboard) a checkbox to class their blog as "Controversial" (or the like), which should mean, NOT that the blog becomes unlisted, but that -
    • it will automatically include a warning at the top of each page that says something like "Some may find the contents of this blog objectionable, if you might, do not read it!" (and make it part of their Terms of Service (or TOS) that any template edit that deletes that warning will render the blog liable to deletion), and
    • the "Next Blog" link in the navbar will never, ever take anyone to that blog
  • at least contact the blog owner and give them a chance to have their say, if enough people have flagged the blog as unobjectionable to reach whatever threshold Blogger has set
  • if a blog is nevertheless deemed "objectionable" by Blogger, and they don't agree with the owner, then insert that warning at the top of the page (and delete the blog if the owner removes it) [inadvertent omission corrected 22 October, thanks Neddy!:] and make sure that the "Next Blog" navbar button can't take anyone to that blog
  • unlist the blog from Blogger profiles, but at least don't stop it from being indexed by the search engines.

I would hope that sort of thing should deal with any serial objectors, while preserving some semblance of freedom of speech and allowing minorities to be heard. Maybe it's too much work for Blogger to implement something like that, but with Google's money behind them, why not show that they still care about not being evil?

Meanwhile, if your blog has been "unlisted" as "objectionable" - you can always delete the BlogMetaData tag and insert your own tags, so that your blog can hopefully still be found via the search engines (unless of course Blogger change their TOS to stop you doing that too!).

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BBC: more free downloads

You can now download for free some 450 images from the BBC's stills archive, for non-commercial use.

It's part of a competition but you don't have to enter to download the pics. Just go to the BBC's Collective website, click on "competition gallery" and Enter, pick the pics and download them! There are some quite fun ones there.

(You can also get free downloads of film clips/video clips from the BFI for non-commercial purposes).

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Thursday, 20 October 2005

Molly Holzschlag: London Geek Dinner 24 November 2005

The ever-energetic Ian Forrester (Ian, how do you do it?!), who organised the recent Tim O'Reilly Geek Dinner, has announced that the guest of honour at the next London Geek Dinner on Thursday 24 November 2005 (at the Hogs Head pub, 11 Dering Street - a stone's throw from Bond St/Oxford Circus Tubes) will be none other than web design/development icon Molly E. Holzschlag of

Not yet officially a "geek girl" dinner, but certainly one of particular interest to the girl geeks. I'll be there, for sure! Hope lots of other girly geeks will, too.

Just go to the Geek Dinner Molly Holzschlag page to RSVP.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Blog usability and design mistakes

Blogger's Buzz points out an article by usability guru Jakob Nielsen yesterday on "Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes".

It makes some good points, a lot of which are common sense, and has some useful links. Sticking to many of the things mentioned will help to increase your blog ranking as far as search engines are concerned, too (and have been discussed by others before, e.g. see my post on your blog and search engine rankings).

So for instance I may start a "Popular posts" section in my sidebar. But a bio, well I can't see that happening given that I blog anonymously, and people seem to read my content for its own sake regardless of who I am (who really cares about my formal credentials - do you? If anyone wants to know, on blogging and the Web at least I'm entirely self-taught. That's why I think it's easier for me to pass on what I've learned, than someone who just knows it all and assumes everyone else does too!).

I may even go against the feedback I was originally given when I started this blog, and split out my non-blogging related posts to a different blog (as at least one person has suggested). I did start out with different blogs but it seemed people thought it was best to have the variety.... I'd be interested to know, so -

To my readers: would you rather that my non-blogging type posts (e.g. humour, gadgets, digital rights, consumer tips etc) were split out to a different blog? Or do you like the variety and think it leavens the mix, as long as I don't have too many posts unrelated to blogging tips and tools?

But one thing I agree with Blogger on is that "Having a domain name owned by a Weblog service" is not necessarily a no no. I've certainly thought about having my own domain for this blog, but I am keeping it on Blogspot because I'll lose the authority/rankings my blog has at the moment if the URL changes - all the links to my blog are of course to here at the moment. If there was a way to transfer all the links from other blogs, maybe I'd do it. Yes I could leave them in place, and Blogspot say they won't get deleted, but the rankings still won't follow through to my new URL. It's one of those things of course, the longer I don't change my URL, the harder it will be to change it as the more links I'll have to this one... Nielsen does emphasise that the longer you delay the more pain you'll feel. But I think I've got beyond the point where it's worth the move, for me it's probably too late!

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Blog Search and spam blogs

I'd posted before about the problem with Google's Blog search and spam blogs.

But it looks like Google are well aware of it, and trying to address the issue, according to Blogger's blog Buzz, e.g. by using the "Flag as Objectionable" info (so do help the process along, if you encounter a spam blog on Blogspot, remember to click that flag in the Blogger navbar). That post makes interesting reading e.g. they explain why they're not using CAPTCHA for posts.

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Display links to your posts via Blogger Backlinks, Icerocket Link Tracker etc

In this post I'll cover:
  • how to include simple one-click links to achieve (almost) the same result as backlinks using Blogsearch, Technorati etc - whether you use Blogger or not
  • how to include backlinks in your Blogger blog if you have customised your template
  • how to combine backlinks and one-click links from other services, including Ice Rocket's Link Tracker and links to your blog on Delicious, in your blog.
As I previously mentioned, Blogger's "backlink" feature (which was announced on Blogger's own blog, Buzz) using Google's newish Blog Search is really nothing particularly innovative - Technorati's Cosmos has done the same thing, but via searching Technorati's own index, for ages; Icerocket's Link Tracker is also a variation on the same sort of theme.

The difference is that backlinks can cleverly show automatically, on your post or item page, a list of the posts linking to your post, with the ability to see extracts from a post by clicking the right arrow by the post title. Link Tracker shows the number of linking posts, but no list of titles, and Cosmos does neither, providing only a simple link to click to search Technorati for links to your post.

(I'd also add that Blogger have now fixed the Firefox copying problem noted in my original post, and they seem to have improved the loading speed too.)

Simple link to search on Blog Search or Icerocket (all blogging platforms)

I've covered the Technorati Cosmos search link before. If you want simple links to click do the same search via Blog Search or Icerocket etc, instead of Google's backlinks, you can have them - and this works for any blogging platform, not just Blogger. (If you're on another platform, just change "<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>" to whatever template tag represents your post's permalink on your platform, e.g. I believe it's "<$MTEntryID$>" for Movable Type and "<?php the_ID(); ?>" for Wordpress). Obviously you can change the link text (e.g. "Google Blog Search Backlinks to this post") to anything you like.

Here's the code for Google Blog Search:
<a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>">Google Blog Search Backlinks to this post</a>

<a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>">Icerocket links to this post</a>

<a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>">Blogpulse links to this post</a>

<a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>">Bloglines links to this post</a>
Delicious [added 31 December 2005]:
<a title="Who's bookmarked this post on Delicious?" href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>">Delicious</a>
(this isn't so much who's linked to your post, but who's bookmarked that post on Delicious.)

And you can also find out who links to your blog generally (not just specific posts) by changing "<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>" to your blog URL (or on Blogger "<$BlogURL$>") e.g. in my case it's

Blogger: backlinks for custom templates

Blogger's help page on the Backlink tags is now working, and it's pretty self-explanatory, so I won't need to go into too much detail here - just take a look at that page. I'd just add a few things.

What Blogger call the "backlink indicator" is just a link (on your main blog page) to the section of the post page or item page which displays the backlinks in full. As Blogger point out, the <BlogItemBacklinksEnabled> tags around the backlink indicator are used so that if you haven't turned on backlinks for a particular post, the backlinks link won't be displayed (you can do it for individual posts when creating a post, where it says "Allow New Comments and Backlinks on this Post" underneath the box just above the Save as Draft/Publish Post buttons. It seems though you can't turn backlinks on and off independently of comments, it has to be both or none - pity). The same tags also surround the backlinks display on the item page or post page, for the same reason.

The code they give for the Itempage (under the heading "Displaying the backlinks") is exactly what I've used in my template, with one change. To create a link for Blogger users to click in order to add a link to your post (basically, by enabling them to create a new post on their own Blogger blog about your post, with the link to your post already pre-filled in), Blogger use the tag "<$BlogItemBacklinkCreate$>". That automatically generates link text ("Create a link") which I thought was a bit misleading, because that link only allows Blogger users to create a link - not bloggers using other platforms. So I changed the text to read "Create link here by posting on Blogger" to make it clear it's not much good for non-Blogger users to click it! To do that, or similar, just change "<$BlogItemBacklinkCreate$>" in the Blogger code to "<a class="comment-link" href="javascript:BlogThis();" id="b-backlink">Create link here by posting on Blogger</a>", inserting whatever link text you prefer.

The final thing to mention is one possible gotcha. If you have deleted your <Blogmetadata> tag from your Blogger template, e.g. in order to enable feed autodiscovery for your Feedburner feed, you may find that the backlinks code provided by Blogger won't work. To get it to work you need to do one more thing - between the head tags of your template, you need to insert this (first changing XXXXXXX to your own blog's ID number):

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript">var BL_backlinkURL = "";var BL_blogId = "XXXXXXX";</script>

Combining backlinks, Link Tracker, Cosmos etc

From the above you will be able to figure out how to combine them. I've mentioned before that that's exactly what I've done. For an example of the combo in use, see my main page for the "backlink indicator" (which I've changed so as NOT to surround with conditional <BlogItemBacklinksEnabled> tags, because even if I've turned off Google backlinks I may want to be able to include Technorati or Icerocket etc search links) and my "how to edit comments on Blogger" post for an example of the displayed backlinks and Icerocket etc links. But just to save time, feel free to copy the code I've used for my template. Here's my own combo code (not forgetting the additions to the head section mentioned above):

Main page/archive page:
<a class="comment-link" href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>#links">Links to this post</a></p>
([note added 31 December 2005:] I've since shortened the above to cut out the list of services, i.e. the word " on Google Blogsearch, Technorati, Icerocket, Blogpulse, Bloglines")

Itempage/post page (the backlinks code only works for Blogger, the others will work for other platforms as long as you change "<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>" to whatever template tag represents the post's permalink on your platform, as discussed above):
<a name="links"></a>Links to this post on:<br />
<li><a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>" title="Search Technorati for blog posts linking to this post">Technorati (Cosmos)</a></li>
<li>Icerocket - <script language=javascript>writeCitationsFrame("<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>");</script></li>
<li><a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>">Blogpulse</a></li>
<li><a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>">Bloglines</a></li>
<a title="Who's bookmarked this post on Delicious?" href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>">Delicious</a>
<BlogItemBacklinksEnabled><li>Google Blog Search -</li>
<dl id="comments-block">
<dt class="comment-title">
<a href="<$BlogBacklinkURL$>" rel="nofollow"><$BlogBacklinkTitle$></a> <$BlogBacklinkDeleteIcon$>
<dd class="comment-body"><$BlogBacklinkSnippet$>
<br />
<span class="comment-poster">
<em>posted by <$BlogBacklinkAuthor$> @ <$BlogBacklinkDateTime$></em>
<p class="comment-timestamp"><a class="comment-link" href="javascript:BlogThis();" id="b-backlink">Create link here by posting on Blogger</a></p>
([note added 31 December 2005:] I've since shortened the above to change "Posts linking to this post on" to just "Links to this post on".)

Icerocket's Link Tracker

One more thing to add. You'll notice special code for Icerocket - not just the single one-click link I mentioned earlier. That's because I've made use of the Icerocket's Link Tracker code. That enables you to display not just a simple link, but also how many posts on Icerocket's index link to your particular blog post e.g. "5 Linking Posts". I won't say much more about that as the Icerocket page explains what to do - see their instructions under "2. IFrame based version of Link Tracker" if you use Blogger or another platform that doesn't let you install scripts on your blog server. Unfortunately I haven't been able to figure out yet how to tweak the text, if I don't want it to say "X Linking Posts" but "X Linking Posts on Icerocket", or even "X linking posts". I don't think you can. Pity Icerocket don't allow you to.

I would add that the code they tell you to install in the head section of your template can supposedly be tweaked to style it to your preference - but I couldn't get it to work except by specifying the style of the link direct (in my case, I used "var linkStyle = "font-size:62.5%; font-family:'Lucida Grande', Verdana, Arial, Sans-Serif";" which should fit in with my blog) - leaving that variable empty or trying to specify the class for the link just didn't work at all for me, and indeed what I did still hasn't worked completely (wrong font family still for instance), and I've not yet heard back from Blake Rhodes of Icerocket as to why. So don't despair if you find the link text is a bit weird, just experiment with different styles in the var linkStyle line until you get something that just about does it, which is what I did. (If anyone figures out how to get it to work properly, let me know!).

The other thing is that the code they say to insert after each post can of course be anywhere you like, before your comments or after - in my case I put it after the trackback link, under the Technorati Cosmos link. No doubt Technorati will be working on a Link Tracker or Backlink type display where the titles of linking posts appear on your blog, or at least their number (and who knows, maybe Icerocket will produce a list/expandable extracts display a la backlinks sometime too). Ah, innovation - great for us bloggers and Net users especially if everyone adopts everyone else's good bits!

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Bikamper - biking and camping holiday?

Yep, this is real, and not an example of chindogu.

A well, interesting and ingenious, gadget, this - a bike that turns into a tent kinda sounds like a good space saving idea if you're into cycling holidays and camping both. But I gotta say that you wouldn't get me using one... not unless someone else does the pedalling away while I snooze in the tent! (Not into camping holidays, me, not when there are comfortable hotels available - and as for exercise through lots of hard cycling, well eeeek.) I wonder how many of those they've actually sold?

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Friday, 14 October 2005

Links to your blog: backlinks & other template hacks

My template's been long overdue for an overhaul. I'd added Blogger's Backlinks feature previously (which was mentioned on Blogger's own blog, Buzz). But now I've tweaked my Blogger template so that:
  • Blogger's "Create a Link" text under the backlinks list now reads the more accurate "Create link here by posting on Blogger"
  • the backlinks from Google's Blogsearch now display together with similar links from other blogosphere search engines such as Technorati's Cosmos, Icerocket's Link Tracker, and simple searches of Bloglines and Blogpulse. (I could have added Feedster too but one has to draw the line somewhere, plus its coverage is minimal compared with the others). Correspondingly I have removed the old Cosmos links at the top of each post as they're no longer needed there.
  • my email subscription form now points to Feedblitz (though I'm still keeping Bloglet going for the benefit of my previous subscribers)
  • my sidebar categories for my previous posts (laboriously produced manually - Blogger are you listening??) now take up much less space by using the show/hide trick explained on Blogger's help page (thanks to Truckspy for the suggestion and the help!).
I did want to change my Recent Posts lists to a dropdown list based on the handy script by John of Blogfresh, but my post titles are sometimes quite long, so the box extended into the right margin of the page - very ugly. So I didn't make that change. (Same reason why I didn't put my categories into a dropdown, which I would have preferred).

I will post a howto on the backlinks code for customised Blogger templates plus the (platform independent) code for the other backlink-style services, separately. [Edited 18 October:] Now done, for the howto see this post.

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Tim O'Reilly London Geek Dinner, 13 October 2005

Another geek dinner, so soon after the second London Geek Girl Dinner, whew… But it was with Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Networks, and I was free, so I thought I'd go along to my first geek dinner that wasn't a girl geek one, having seen mention of it on the Geek Dinner page and Geek Dinner wiki. The Hog's Head pub is nice and central with plenty of buses serving the area, which was lucky given the Northern Line shutdown. It was £1 each for some finger food but I missed most of it as I was in the corner when the plates were being passed round, so I ended up having to pick at some chips, that's fries to you Americans, during the talk (though I did manage to bag one scotch egg, thanks Dave!).

People were pretty friendly - I didn't do a count but I guess there were about 30 there, but only 3 women (maybe 4?). I don't know where all the women who went to the geek girl dinners were! I chatted with Josette and Lianne (hope I've spelt that right?), and saw Suw again too. But there were boys aplenty, many from the BBC (presumably because the organiser Ian Forrester is at the BBC). I didn't catch all their names but I met Michael, Edward, Ian of course, Sherwin, Henrik, Andre who videoed Tim's talk, Colin, and Copyfighter Dave (again), as well as Tim briefly.

His talk was interesting but it was so noisy (people in the adjoining area - pubs would be so much better if it weren't for all the people, eh?) that it was hard to hear even though I was near the front. Plus the audio recording didn't take, so… c'est la vie. He spoke mostly about Web 2.0 (though he was also asked to speculate on Web 3.0!) and future plans for O'Reilly. Don't know how he had the energy to talk for, I think in the end, almost half an hour, after flying all the way from California only the day before. But not surprisingly he left not long afterwards, and then the place just emptied out very quickly - people had obviously gone mainly to hear him rather than to chat to fellow geeks.

Ian mentioned that the next mixed Geek Dinner is going to headline a female geek. I shall definitely try to go to that one too, commitments permitting.

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Thursday, 13 October 2005

Copyright UK: should copyright protection term be shortened of extended?

A PDF summary of a seminar "Should the term of copyright protection be extended or shortened in the uk?" makes interesting reading.

The seminar, organised jointly by the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), PCMLP (Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University) and the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts etc), included speakers such as Professor Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons fame. I didn't hear about it in time to try to go - but I'd have liked to. The summary is pretty comprehensive though.

(Via the IPPR's "Intellectual Property and the Public Sphere" blog.)

By the way, if you're interested in Creative Commons (my own blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence, see the bottom of the page), Prof. Lessig has recently started an introductory series about the history and future of Creative Commons on the Creative Commons blog, available in Spanish as well as English - well worth following. There's a Creative Commons UK site too.

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Feedburner and Newsgator hookup

Feedburner doesn't seem to stop! (see e.g. my post on Feedburner teaming with Feedblitz). For those who didn't hear, Feedburner (the feed management specialist whose service helps you do whizzy things with your site feed) have just partnered with the online feed aggregator Newsgator "to provide a one-stop shop for major commercial publishers" by enhancing Newsgator's "Private Label" service for online publishers and media companies.

It sounds like this involves Newsgator using Feedburner technology to improve their offering to commercial publishers, rather than any restriction on what Feedburner will do in future, and I assume Feedburner-burned feeds will still continue to be widely accessible to the full range of feed readers. I hope so, anyway - about 33% of those subscribing to my blog's newsfeed use Bloglines, and about 7% use Newsgator, but I don't know how typical those figures are.

(Odd that the link on the Feedburner press release page to Newsgator's Private Label page is broken, though - from a PR viewpoint, I hope they fix it fast!)

Via the Feedburner blog.

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Foreign use of credit cards: before you travel abroad

Before you travel abroad, make sure you tell your credit card company where you're going and when - or else, when you try to use your credit card in a foreign country, as a result of their anti-fraud security systems (or ignorant cashiers) you may find your card being refused or even blocked. Even in this age of international travel.

Those systems which guard against credit card fraud are hairtrigger with some credit card companies, let me tell you - I've even had my card refused in London when I've gone out for a shopping trip in town and wanted to buy lots of stuff in one day. (Like my posts, I tend to do my shopping all together in one go - apparently that's a no no according to the monitoring technology which watches for unusual card use). It would certainly not be fun to be away from home travelling, with no way to use your credit card.

Reported in The Times 8 October 2005.

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Mobile phones: don't bother with insurance?

In the UK at least, it's probably not worth taking out specific insurance for your mobile phone.

Even the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) recently said that "mobile phone insurance policies can prove expensive and may be difficult to claim on" because of the get outs built into those policies - the very times when you need to claim will probably be the situations where they've said they won't pay up! (e.g. leaving your phone unattended in a public place).

BIBA advice to consumers:
  • Never leave your phone unattended in a public place or unlocked vehicle
  • Bar your phone as soon as you are aware it’s been lost or stolen
  • Read your mobile phone insurance policy carefully to see what it does and does not cover for
  • Check your household contents policy to see if it includes cover for mobile phones
  • Ask your home contents insurer what it would cost to extend your policy to cover a mobile phone
They have a consumer helpline (national rate) at 0870 950 1790.

More in the BIBA press release of 10 October 2005.

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London Geek Girl Dinner, 11 October 2005

Adriana Cronin-Lukas. Fingers courtesy of Andrew... ::)

The second London Girl Geek Dinner (aka London Geek Girl Dinner aka London Girly Geek Dinner!) took place on Tuesday, organised as before by the ever efficient Sarah Blow (thanks Sarah!). It followed the same pattern of drinks and mingling, then a sit down dinner with speeches at the end.

After an intro by Sarah there were speeches, mainly on blogging, by Eileen Brown, Microsoft evangelist and the first woman ever in the merchant navy, and blog specialist Adriana Cronin-Lukas. Sadly the speakers, though miked up, had to compete with the boisterous Yalies with whom we shared our upstairs room, though they were rightly roped off into another area (I say that only tongue in cheek! But you can tell I didn't go to Yale...). So, sat at the back in perhaps a subconscious attempt to compensate for my dutiful front row position at college, I could barely make out some parts of their speeches. Perhaps, a la Spinal Tap, the Texas Embassy could be persuaded to invest in an amp that can be cranked up to 11?

Eileen is also going to do a podcast of the evening - the link should be available via the Girl Geek Dinner wiki when it's up.

It seemed to me there was more mingling this time and people kept less to their tight little groups. I managed to chat with a few people, though again not as many as I would have liked (and if I've forgotten anyone or got your details wrong, my apologies, feel free to correct me and hit me for a drink next time to make up for it!):
  • Dot, gamer and future legal eagle, passionate about open source and intellectual property rights
  • Julia, marketing expert
  • John, the mystery bloke with(out) Alison again (hmmm, I'm beginning to think Alison is a figment of John's imagination...)
  • Karen H, double bassist in disguise (I still want to know more about that music project)
  • Maria Ingold, technical director (which seems basically to involve her doing everything!)
  • Foxxie, hardware and software fixer
  • Helen Keegan, mobile marketing maven
  • Andrew the astrophysicist [link added, Andrew!]
  • Deirdre Molloy, editor extraordinaire [corrected 18 October!]
  • Rachel Clarke, blogger
  • Adriana herself.

Helen Keegan

It's a pity that there were fewer people than last time and that a smaller proportion of them were women (about two thirds to three quarters, compared with all but 3 or being women last time). I hope more women will turn up for the next dinner in January. In case anyone needs extra persuasion the food was tasty and there was heaps of it (I stuffed myself and still had to leave some on the plate, shocking I know), with free wine by Stormhoek as before, but no dessert so you can feel virtuous not having a sweet - sadly we didn't get the excellent starters they served last time, but again the Texas Embassy staff were really friendly and helpful.

It would be great if we could have the equivalent of a Blogher conference (aimed primarily at female bloggers) here in London, perhaps growing out of these dinners - I bet Sarah would be great at organising something like that! Out of the Blogher 2005 conference they've developed a Blogher vision, mission and position statement. The Blogher 2005 survey post by Lisa Stone makes interesting reading, summarising what those who attended that con thought about it and what they'd like out of a future conferences. You can also listen to audiocasts of the Blogher 2005 sessions (just change the "1" at the end of the URL to 2, 3, 4 etc for the others - the page with the full list doesn't seem to be up at the moment) and even subscribe to a feed for the Blogher 2005 audiocast series. But of course blogging took off in the USA well before it did here, and even so Blogher 2005 was I believe the first conference for female bloggers ever, so it may be a while before it's feasible to hold one in London.

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Sunday, 9 October 2005

Technorati: more searching tweaks

Technorati continue to tweak their searching, or more accurately the search options they provide to the public, latterly the refining of searches from within search results. (They already allow searching within just one blog for a particular word, and now offer that on their Options page - they didn't use to.)

After you've done a word search you can search just within a particular blog in the search results list for that word with a "Search this blog" link.

And after you've searched for blogs that have been given a particular tag (as in the entire blog, not individual posts), then you can search just within those blogs for a particular word.

Or you can do the "search one particular blog only for X", or "search only the blogs tagged with X for the word Y", via a single search from their search options page - rather than having to do two searches in a row.

Technorati call these "new ways to search", but to me they just seem to be tinkering around the edges. They appear to involve just a different way to do a type of search you could have done before in another way. I think they may risk confusing people, complicating their interface by continually introducing too many ways to do the same thing when they aren't really necessary.

What I really, really want is to be able to do different things instead, things that you can't yet do on Technorati. Top of the list is a tag and blog-specific combo search - to be able to search within a particular blog only, for posts tagged with X; next is multiple tag searching, the ability to search for posts tagged with X AND also tagged with Y (they only offer "OR" searching for tags at the moment). Plus the ability to search just blogs tagged with X for the keyword Y, i.e. combining keyword search and tag search. Surely I can't be the only one who wants these features? Can I?

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Blogger: backlinks feature (not quite trackback)

Just introduced by Blogger (can barely keep up with all the changes everywhere this week!) - a new "backlinks" feature (pointed out by my Magical Sheep pardner Truckspy). It's not really trackback. It's a bit of a fudge - what it does is to use Google's newish Blog search to search for blog posts which have linked to a particular post:
So it only searches blogs which have been indexed by Google, and there may be a time lag between a post linking to one of your posts, and its appearance on your post page (i.e. it only appears when it's been picked up by Google's crawler).

[Added 9 October:] It's a bit like Technorati's Cosmos for finding posts in blogs indexed by Technorati which have linked to a particular post of yours, except that it cleverly lists on your post page itself the titles to all those posts, with the ability to click the right arrow by a title to expand and see an extract from any of those posts (which does mean your pages take a bit longer to load), and you can click the arrow again to hide the extract. For long lists this can be cumbersome and time-consuming - it would have been better if there had been a single link to click that opens a new window containing all the individual links (which could in turn open in new windows). Or if they could at least offer the option to have a single link to open a popup, I'd have preferred that. No doubt someone will figure out how to do it...

You can turn backlinks on or off for any particular post, and you can also (if you're logged in) delete an individual backlink from the list with the trashcan icon.

It also produces a "Create a Link" link, which works via BlogThis by allowing Blogger users to create a new post which automatically contains a link to the post they want to link to. It's nowhere near the same as "true" trackback, e.g. it won't allow non-Blogger users to create a quasi-trackback link to your post and I'd like to be able to change the "Create a Link" text to something else, but it seems we're stuck with it. [Added 18 October:] I've since figured out how to change the "Create a Link" backlink text.

You can only turn on backlinks easily if you (1) have a newish Blogger blog, and (2) use one of Blogger's standard templates. If you have an old Blogger template, or use your own custom template, the help page supposedly contains a link to instructions on how to add backlinks to your blog, but that doesn't work (and the link actually goes to "not written yet" if you hover over the link text!). But I've figured it out and will post a howto about it soon. Probably tomorrow. [Edited 18 October:] Well it took a bit longer but I've done it now, and the Blogger help page link is now working too - see this post.

Meanwhile if you want to check out how it works on a blog other than Buzz, take a look at my introduction to Technorati tags post.

[Added 9 October:] One problem Truckspy has pointed out is that the linkback code, at least in my non-Blogger standard template, does funny things to your blog in Firefox (and, I've noticed, in Opera too - but not Internet Explorer... does this herald a Google/Microsoft linkup, I wonder...??). It stops you from selecting/copying the text on the blog page, not so good for my blog where I sometimes post code for people to copy/paste. In Firefox, it even stops you from copying what's in the address/location bar. Must be a bug - I've just written to Blogger about it and if you have the same problem, even if you have a new standard template, you might write them too. Oh, and I've noticed it intermittently mucks up scrolling your blog page with the keyboard too. Bit of a pain, that - hope they fix it or I'll be taking the code off soon! [Added 18 October:] They've fixed that now, great. And it's loading faster too.

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Saturday, 8 October 2005

Blogging in the USA: defamation and privacy/anonymity

In the U.S., at least, it seems bloggers are free to express certain negative opinions about another person in their blogs anonymously, and their ISPs can refuse to reveal who they are, even when sued by the person who claims he's been defamed by them - however, if what they said could be shown to be basically defamatory, e.g. if they said their negative statements were facts rather than personal opinions, the ISP could be forced to disclose their identities.

In a case decided earlier this week, the Delaware Supreme Court thought that, in the interests of freedom of speech, it wasn't enough for the accuser (a local public official) to say he had a "legitimate, good faith basis" for his defamation claim, because it would too easy for people to gag others by threatening to sue, or use knowledge of the bloggers' identities for intimidation or revenge, even when the claim was trivial: "The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all".

The court will order ISPs to reveal who the bloggers are, though, if the accuser can meet a "summary judgment" standard of proof - essentially, make out the basic elements of a defamation case. The most important element is that the challenged statement isn't legally considered defamatory (even if it's negative or critical), if it is an expression of opinion, as opposed to a statement of fact.

It's good that the court recognised the importance of anonymity to freedom of speech and also that most bloggers only express opinions, they don't claim to state facts: "chat rooms and blogs are generally not as reliable as the Wall Street Journal Online. Blogs and chat rooms tend to be vehicles for the expression of opinions; by their very nature, they are not a source of facts or data upon which a reasonable person would rely." Also, the court pointed out a unique feature of the internet, that "a person wronged by statements of an anonymous poster can respond instantly, can respond to the allegedly defamatory statements on the same site or blog, and thus, can, almost contemporaneously, respond to the same audience that initially read the allegedly defamatory statements. The plaintiff can thereby easily correct any misstatements or falsehoods, respond to character attacks, and generally set the record straight. This unique feature of internet communications allows a potential plaintiff ready access to mitigate the harm, if any, he has suffered to his reputation as a result of an anonymous defendant’s allegedly defamatory statements made on an internet blog or in a chat room."

(Via Out-law, which also quoted a lawyer with Public Citizen as saying: "The court’s determination to require sufficient evidence before a critic is outed will go a long way toward reassuring citizens that they remain free to anonymously criticise public officials.")

In the UK, though, it seems it's still not entirely clear to what extent bloggers can be legally liable for what they blog, with the risk of being done for copyright violation (there is no proper right to "fair use" here, unlike in the USA) as well as defamation. Obviously all this is becoming increasingly important and topical. The UK government recently consulted on the possibility of extending protection from legal liability to hyperlinkers, search engines etc, and it's interesting that Google are lobbying Washington on matters such as copyright and "intermediary liability" for search engines. I hope someone equally powerful will be lobbying the powers that be here in the UK and Europe. After all, the internet knows no borders, and search engines could just as easily be sued here as in the USA. Let's hope they bring some clarity soon, and strike a fair balance between protecting bloggers and protecting who and what they blog about.

In the meantime, anything I say in my blog about anyone is of course only an expression of my personal opinion!

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