I Am Not a Terminal Blogger

Time BombIn the last 24 hours there has been a flurry of posts in reaction to an article on The New York Times, basically saying that the bloggers lifestyle is a fatal one. The article goes on to chronicle the recent deaths of a few more prominent bloggers and near misses from heart attacks mostly. In addition to the details about what it is like to be a corporate blogger and how much it is worth. They even mention a quote from Michael Arrington saying:

“This is not sustainable”

This may well be the case with the global giants such as TechCrunch, Gawker Media, ZDNet and others who are in a constant 24/7 race with each other to break the latest news. Even with a huge team and massive financial resources these guys don’t aways win. Yes it is nice when the little guy scores. Despite the fact that they will pretend that he didn’t.

Truth is that there is no point in trying to beat these blogging machines at their game. Why torture yourself? These machines have inside knowledge and get “tipped off” plus they do insane amounts of just poking to see if it moves and then speculate. Their reader numbers and influence makes people take notice regardless of the truth. A search for “rumor” on TechCrunch is a perfect example.

In addition if your a blog that has millions of page views a day and can generate a lot of traffic for companies, the fallout is that these are the blogs that are going to be sent emails about new start-ups, news or “insider information”. The “A-listers” are being used as another cog in the marketing machine. They are making money so everyone is happy.

I think that this means you can’t really have that great a relationship with your readers. Your too busy getting the next big story. Sure they might have a comments section and the “share this” plugin (or some variant) in order for you to participate in the “conversation” but they care more about you talking about them than they do about what you have to say.

In contrast I take a genuine interest in the communities around me. This for me has been the most rewarding part of blogging and podcasting. I actually allocate time and make a point of interacting with our community, especially with regards to the podcast. I have many listeners that are a part of my Skype contacts, twitter, Facebook not only as listeners but as friends. They all have something valuable to say and how much more valuable is that when they know that you have read it and responded to it. I care about them and the fact that they took the effort to say what they think.

But then I am not doing it for a living, maybe things would be different if I was. But to my thinking it is the community that follows you that matters, without them you don’t have much value. Either monetary or the satisfaction of knowing that what you are doing is appreciated. Some bloggers don’t even need this, they are happy with self contentment.

I also agree with what Steve Hodson said about the article. Steve detests the concept of the “A-listers” considers himself a realist and writes like one. Stating that there are plenty of bloggers (the majority) that are adding more value to the conversation by adding substance that the “A-lister” can’t because they are off getting the next story. And they are making a decent living doing it!

So for me the take home message is that death by blogging is not unique to blogging. There are plenty of individuals out there in many occupations that work too hard and forget about life. There are plenty that are dead as well. It is the corporate machine that applies this pressure or themselves. Sure follow the machine just don’t try and compete with it. Ignore the pressure and carve your own niche and community, make them matter and the rewards will come, if that is what you want. Add value to the conversation by providing substance, I get more by reading and hearing about reactions than I do the original story anyway.

I am going to let the machine do it’s own thing, kill em selves in the process and have an opinion about it when they do. I could even write for the New York Times one day.

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Find Sounds Easily Web 2.0 Style

Soundsnap LogoWith my involvement with The Global Geek Podcast, I am always on the look out for great resources. I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of production is in mixing in all the sounds and effects to give the piece a unique feel and personality. I derive a great deal of satisfaction getting the right sound and timing perfect. One of the most frustrating things about production is just that though, getting the right sound for what you can hear in your head. Soundsnap is a sound effects repository with a Web 2.0 slant, it is brilliant and just made the task of finding that perfect sound a breeze.

The front page presents all the categories of sounds that are available to browse. Clicking on any of these categories opens up a view that presents these sounds as pages. Here you can sample any sound with a simple flash player and get other information on each sound such as length and a wave form. Although I am not sure of the purpose of the waveform as it is too small to be useful. Clicking on it however gives you the sounds technical info. Sort by popularity or other criteria. See comments made on sounds, who uploaded it and click to see their profile and what else they have uploaded. You can expect the usual set of ranking and sorting features that are ever present in Web 2.0 style sites.

One feature that I really like is the ability to drill down the data within each category without searching. Under each category you can click on sub categories to refine your manual search. Makes it easier to find a specific type of sound. This is also a nice way to search for a specific sound as you might find something better than what you were thinking of.

Once you have found a sound that you want they are free to download and use. Sounds are available in .wav, .mp3 and .aiff. You don’t have to have an account to download files. Great to have the access without another login to worry about. The quality varies slightly but on the whole they are very good.

The presentation of the site is excellent. It looks slick and well done. There is plenty of Ajax goodness and the navigation is easy and intuitive. Full credit to the developers on this front. There are a number of sound repositories out there but there are none that are this well done. For a new (to me at any rate) site there are many, many FX to download and even some obscure ones that are hard to find. I noticed that the is a bucket load of loops available for music buffs; around 3,700 and this will only grow as time goes on. Hopefully one day it will make those very expensive sound effects disks that are available commercially obsolete. As a podcaster this is a fantastic resource and I would encourage those that are actively involved in the community to keep producing sounds and samples that will save our bacon.

Soundsnap Screenshot

 

Thanks etc.

COLOURlovers: Now That is a Niche!

COLOURlovers LogoJason Calacanis will say that if you want an audience and you want to grow it quickly then go to the white space. That is go and write or do something that isn’t being done by anyone else. COLOURlovers I would argue is a site such as this. If anyone else knows of such a site let me know. Regardless if there is another site that does a similar thing it is narrow and unique. Plus it is very, very well done.

COLOURlovers is a site about, well; colour! The purpose of which is to monitor colour influences and trends. It includes news, new palettes, articles about colour, discussions, articles and even jobs you name it; if you are into colour it is here. It is a great resource for web developers, designers, artists and anyone that is interested in or uses colour as a medium or as an aspect of their work. There are but few of us that could say that colour has no influence on us. Even colour blind people see shades of colour. We all know what colours go well together and what doesn’t. So this site probably has something for everyone as well.

There are pages dedicated to trends, although I noted that there were mainly print media examples. But why not submit a website or a palette yourself? You can also search for colours using filters tags and keywords. Join the community, rate colours and be involved in discussions all about colour.

Well executed site that is well and truly a narrow niche that will attract very like minded people. So good in fact I wish I was a colour nut!

COLOURlovers Screenshot

Tagging Folksonomy & WordPress

Tagging of your blog posts is not a necessary step in publishing your post. However it does make a significant contribution to the blogging community. Selecting tags has been described as:

“… the most important social contribution an individual can make.”

I have seen one post in particular here on WordPress recently and a few others around the place generally that seem to have a lot of tags in their posts. By that I am talking excessive, really excessive. To the point where the actual post was significantly shorter than the tags that followed. I am talking hundreds of tags here and most totally irrelevant to the post. The lack of a link is not an oversight.

This got me thinking. There are no rules as such for tagging posts:

“Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by the author/creator of the item — i.e. not usually as part of some formally defined classification scheme.”

Wikipedia: Tag (metadata)

There are however accepted norms or conventions that bloggers have come to expect fellow bloggers to follow. Although these conventions may vary within different networks or communities. Finding a definition for tagging is actually not as simple as it might seem. However to be more specific tagging is a folksonomy, which is defined by Wikipedia as:

“… an Internet-based information retrieval methodology consisting of collaboratively generated, open-ended labels that categorize content such as Web pages, on-line photographs, and Web links.”

[emphasis added]

A community relies on such tagging in order to make content searchable to relevant topics within a specific tag. So in searching a the tag “audio” you would expect to find articles related to all things audio. But not if someone has tagged a post about “The Emergence of Green Tea in Western Culture” with the tag “audio”. This is why relevent tags benefit the blogosphere and the WordPress community. Relevance is very important to tagging. Rather than relevance, tagging should be thought of as words that attach meaning to resources. You could conclude from that then, if your tags are irrelevant then the resource to which they are attached is equally meaningless. When thought of in relation to the association with tagging.

The study into tagging, folksonomy and nomenclature in general is quite complicated and involved. The fact that it has got a lot to do with the development of the symantic web has got a lot of developers interested in it’s evolution. This very fact is why the indiscriminate tagging of posts with unrelated words, terms and concepts is counter productive both technological development and the communities that rely on appropriate tagging.

The local community here on WordPress relies on an author’s ability to choose appropriate tags for their posts, within the realm of personal significance. Without that then “Tag Surfing” (This is an option within the WordPress “dashboard” available to members) would be useless and a waste of time. Indiscriminate tagging affects the wider blogging community in different ways. People expect that a tag will relate to a topic or context. If you have placed a tag that has nothing to do with your post then you have wasted the visitor’s time and your own in writing it and adding it. Plus you just lost a potential reader of your blog. You may have also lost some creditability.

Spam blogs or Splogs use this technique of unrelated prolific tagging to drive traffic, I call it “Tag Dragging”. They get hits on a particular page not because of content but because of the tags that have been used. In this instance you would consider the tags that were used as misleading and deceitful to the visitor. There is no difference between a Splog doing it and a legitimate blog, it is spam. It is misleading to the community and makes your contributions to that community less useful and meaningful than they otherwise could be. In addition to the possible assumptions that you may well be Tag Dragging for hits and not on letting your content do that for you. Good content drives traffic and tags help place that content in context. Mix those two up and you will loose you creditability and respect in the blogosphere and your work will repulse readers because of it’s lack of relevance to them.

I see one of the drawbacks to tagging is the fact that different words mean different things to different people. However the association can usually be made between the words used in tags with a bit of thought from the reader. It may not have been a connection that the reader had made but one that can be seen and associated with the post by the reader. Sure occasionally an abstract term will pop up in a post. However, due to the abstract nature of the tag and the frequency of use; the tag becomes irrelevant to the wider community and is more relevant to the author. Excessive and frequent indiscriminate unrelated tagging is far worse than the odd strange association or concept.

For example; the prevelance of specific tags or tag used inappropreatly could cause the WordPress Tag Cloud to be skewed in a deceptive manner that was not representative of the posts that were being made in this community. This would result in the relevance and usefulness of said cloud to diminish and potentially become useless as members of this community loose trust in the relevance it might have to them. Although this is unlikely as this outcome would rely on a good majority of this community using inappropriate tags, the same ones and multiple times on different posts.

In an article that I read as a part of my research I found an excellent guide as to what makes a good tag. There were some interesting points raised in relation to tagging for a community and maintaining tag relevance to that community. The most glaringly obvious one to me was:

Observe the norms of the network. Pay attention to tagging conventions followed by other members of the network, and if they make sense to you, adopt them. Lots of good ideas can come from observing the tagging practices of others.

– Ideant: Tag Literacy

Do as they do in other words. So that got me thinking as to what is the “norm” here at WordPress or in your own blogging community. I believe that as individual bloggers we have the responsibility to tag appropriately for the posts that we write. This is of benefit to this community and the blogosphere at large. I know that the opinion of some might be that “I can tag any way I like, it is my blog and I do not care how it affects this or any other community”. If that is the case then we are worse off for your opinion and we will be plagued by your pestilence of useless, irrelevant tags. Not to mention stall development of the symantic web and technological advance in addition to promoting the cultural relevance and acceptance of blogs as a “source” within the digital media revolution.

The community drives the relevance of the tags that it generates. We as a community determine how useful our tags are to us. However, we should also remember that the tags are viewable by non-WordPress users. I don’t know about you but I would rather make WordPress a place that visitors can come to as a source of relevant content. We can do that by thinking about how we as a community are representing ourselves in the tags that we choose. That is if you have any concern about what people think collectively of “bloggers at WordPress” then think about the contextual relevance of your tagging practices. Call it our collective public presence.

The aim of this post was not an in-depth study of tagging. Rather some thoughts and some encouragement for you as a blogger to think about how you tag your posts and how such a step affects this community. Both the perceptions of this community and you as a blogger. I know that I am looking at tagging in a very different way than I did before tapping out this post. If you would like to read more then I would suggest the following resources as a place to start:

Within the theme of this post, this tag cloud is of this post and generated by TagCrowd:

Tag Cloud

Support Firefox 2.0

Firefox 2I already knew about this website but until today I did not know they had updated the buttons.

Spread Firefox is a promotional site for Firefox or more to the point it explains and provides resources for you to spread the word about Firefox and in part Thunderbird. Thunderbird is the email client from the Mozilla people.

One of the ways that they assist people is to create buttons for you to use in your blog or email signature. I was posting about Firefox 2 on the podcast blog and I looked to see if there were any Firefox 2 buttons, there was not. But today I notice that they are now available and the one you see here is just one.

The HTML code is provided for you on the page. Just copy and paste the text provided into the HTML where you want to display the logo.

There are some other very cool projects that Spread Firefox is involved with and they have a very active user base, so if interested then head on over and sign up as an affiliate.

By the way the page that the link redirects you to has yet to be updated with links to the new version, patience. As I said in my previous post, the final version has only just hit the Mozilla FTP 24 hours ago.

A Bullet Proof Way to Cheat Digg?

Spike the Vote ImageDigg used to be about content. Content that deserved attention based on the quality of that content. Spike the Vote is set to destroy that once and for all.

Digg is constantly on the look-out for people that cheat Digg, such as with multiple log-ins. But what if each Digg is from a unique user with a different IP? You could not say that it was not legit. That is exactly what Spike the Vote is aiming to do.

“Spike” the founder of the site says his motivation for starting it:

“… I’m tired of 30 elite users (or bots, perhaps) controlling the front page content of digg.com. That’s why I created this little community here. We collectively vote each other’s stories to the front page.”

I am not sure that is entirely accurate. Especially considering the fcat that the algorithms on Digg were recently changed to prevent a group of “Top Diggers” from controlling what gets to the front page. Now there has to be a greater diversity of Diggers, Digg a particular story in order for the story to get to the front page. I guess ironically that very fact makes this venture even more successful.

So how does it work? You must be registered to use the service. Second each day you are given a “mission”, that mission is to Digg some stories on Digg. You have 12 hours to complete your mission. 20% of the stories are users of Spike the Vote the other 80% is random stories on Digg. This is to:

“… eliminate footprints and keep things anonymous.”

Each story you Digg will earn you points that you can trade for Diggs on your own stories. “Spiking” was not going to start until there were 1000 registered users. They must have reached this total as at the bottom of the page there is a list of the current “missions” and their status. Seems they are having some success.

I don’t know what Digg can do about this. There is no way of determining which users of Digg are a part of the “Spike theVote” community… unless they intend to plant a spy? Be careful Spike.

More than anything does not the actions of this site contradict the very principles that motivated it’s invention? That stories are pushed to the front page by few users. I think so, so how does he justify that.

Sink or swim? Swim I think, who would not go for a fool proof way to game Digg and for Digg to be able to do nothing about it?. That is of course if “hits” are all you are in it for. The motivation is certainly there for people to complete their mission as they then get to have their own stories Dugg. It is pyramid schemes for Digg! I also wonder how many commercial and profit organisations will gravitate toward this service? Many would find even a few thousand hits profitable.

I am not blogging just to get noticed and I have written before about the value of being Dugg. While the buzz is nice the everlasting effect can be argued. But the other fact is that I don’t have the time to Digg in the first place. Is this the tip of the iceberg and beginning of the end of Digg? Potentially the end of creditability.

UPDATE: Sold to Jim Messenger for $1275 on ebay. It would seem that he is a strong Digg supporter and donated it to them. Looks like a few Digg gamers just got caught. Seemed like a bit of a low thing to do even though they were gaming Digg. That is just my opinion though.

Facebook Privacy Issues: I Don’t Get It

This last week saw a huge problem blow up at Facebook the social networking site “…an on-line directory that connects people through social networks”. Basically two new features were rolled out; “News Feeds” and “Mini Feeds”. From what I can gather they are like any News Feed aka: RSS type of deal, as you might have for a blog. These features allowed users to see what their friends were up to such as; items added, pictures, comments and the like. What Facebook did not realise was the outrage this would cause from users.

So these new features were rolled out and there was a revolt. Here are some of the actions taken by users:

In my effort to try to understand what all the fuss was about I have found some of the reasons that users have issued as to why the new features are unwanted. I do not have a Facebook account myself so this is all I have to go on: Here are various quotes taken from a few sources and since they seem to be talking for the masses…

“It damages what privacy was left on Facebook. Before Feeds, it was already easy enough to stalk anyone at your school, and everyone on your friends list; but with the advent of Feeds, it is now nearly impossible not to be “stalked” or to “stalk””

“Without even trying an individual now knows the changing relationship status of individuals on their friends list”

“It is almost impossible now to keep your information to yourself…”

“Before Feeds there were steps that could be taken to prevent your information becoming everyone’s property; now there is literally no option to prevent your information from going completely public.”

“This feature was not requested by the users”

“People that I have spoken with are perturbed by the overwhelming collection of personal information that is displayed about friends, acquaintances, and other Facebook buddies.”

“Despite the fact that this does not “violate the privacy policies already in place,” we feel that it is invasive and directs us to information that we are not normally interested in.”

While not ranking too high on the priority list, there were issues raised about the aesthetics of the additions.

“There are other reasons users are complaining, ranging from the fact it takes away the time-wasting aspect of Facebook to aesthetic complaints about the new look.”

I am not sure if this is truly representative as there are 9.5 million users of Facebook. But there are reports that there are 100 thousand users belonging to the “Students Against Facebook News Feed” group. So that is a fairly large representation and not to be ignored. So I will assume that the anti-feed lobby is a fairly universal feeling among users.
This all created a huge buzz, resulting in an issue that has become much talked about until steps were taken to subdue the masses on Facebook. Indeed the CEO himself responded personally to the negative reaction that the features received.

The issue seems to be resolved in so much as the Facebook people have developed a bunch of privacy controls to give the user control over what is put into feeds, if anything; and who can see them. That sort of thing anyway.

While I do not criticize users for the way that they feel. I would also argue that any company should put the users first and listen to them. I would also say that if they feel this way, even with the exaggerated responses that are inevitable that there must be truth in their concerns and these should be addressed.

But here is the bit I just do not get. News feeds within the blogging community are valued and relied upon as a useful tool and an accurate indicator of just how many real readers you have. It also helps you disseminate information. For me I would be devastated if I lost the feed from my site. Indeed the changes were reviewed favourably by some. But to me the reaction by Facebook users flys in the face of contemporary feeling and sentiment of the Internet community and information sharing. To me it is the equivalent of me asking WordPress to allow me to have privacy controls over my RSS feed and allow some people to access it and not others. Sure this can be done with secured RSS feeds that require passwords but I have not set up a public blog to do that. Maybe that is not the case on Facebook.

I am not criticizing the users of Facebook for the way they feel. Certainly there looks to be a generalised fear of “stalking” and harassment. Perhaps even assault in real life, but this was not stated. This may be a genuine fear and well founded. However it does seem a little “school playground” type mentality in so much as they seem to want to stick to their “clicks” and groups and maintain their privacy within those groups. This is a strange concept to me, seeing it in on-line communities. It could be argued that it comes accross as immature, but that is from the outside looking in. Not sure if this is a reflection of the demographic or not but I would expect that there was a large school-aged user base, given that these are the groups where Facebook started; colleges, schools, areas, regions etc.
Adding to that it looks like you could belong to a group within Facebook that was your school. I can see how some information getting out could be damaging to an individual at that level. However that in turn would cause me to ask why is that people are putting that sort of information in a public space on the web.

So that is what I see and how I have seen the whole Facebook fiasco. I am quite open to being corrected in regards to the finer points of Facebook. However, I am looking at it from an information sharing and the comparison to RSS feeds and the differences that can make in a tight community. The prompt action and changes made by Facebook are to be commended.