"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

‘Death by Blogging’ – Modern Life Strikes Again

Posted: April 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Life | Tags: , , | No Comments »

The New York Times has a short piece on a few prolific bloggers who recently dropped dead. The concern is that the highly competitive (and lucrative) market for fast breaking blog stories is driving up stress levels amongst top tier bloggers. Habits such as no life/work separation and the business need to have the first post on a new tech break-through in order to drive better views and advertising revenues is endemic. People now expect information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and many home grown bloggers take this to heart, not realising that larger organisations have teams on shifts to produce the same results.

Personally I’m not sure that these first recorded ‘blogging’ deaths a summer of dead bloggers make – to badly paraphrase an old saying. Modern life and health habits all conspire to preventing long life. All of us working on computers day in, day out would do well to take a moment away, de-stress and enjoy a physical life away from the screens that surround us. It’s a hard truth, but one we all need to follow, however fun our internet lives are.

Top Blog Tool: WordPress

Posted: March 20th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

WordPress Logo

Blogs are a part of our daily landscape now. Almost everyone I know reads them regularly, even if they don’t know it, and a good chunk of my friends blog. For a while now I’ve been using Blogger, one of the earliest and most popular online blog tools that lets you log in to their site, write a post, and either have it published to your web host or hosted directly on their “BlogSpot” site. MovableType was another early popular favorite, and it offered something Blogger didn’t – the ability to host their open source software on your server – so you could hack/improve/integrate the code any way you wanted. A more recent arrival on the scene is WordPress, not that recent mind, but late enough that the team behind it got to look at the landscape and cherry pick the best from what was there, and cherry pick they did.

WordPress, like MovableType, offers two ways to run your blog with their software – you can either host it on their site (WordPress.com) or download their free, open source software (from WordPress.org) and host it on your own server. Both approaches offer their own advantages, but where WordPress really wins out is when you host it yourself. The beauty and simplicity of the code’s design has made it easy for a fanatical base of developers to create any number of plug ins, that quickly and easily extend the power of the basic WordPress blog. You can change your site into a PhotoBlog, plug in support for third party tools like the ubiquitous gallery software, or even create an eCommerce site (although those plugins are less full featured than focussed software right now). The choice is yours. Can’t find what you need? Then write your own plugin, and if you feel like it – share it with everyone else.

Plugins are only one part of WordPress’ genius. The admin interface is simple to use and cleanly designed. A range of beautiful templates are provided out of the box and many more can be downloaded, many for free. Search Engine Optimization is provided out of the box – with human readable URLs. The admin interface easily lets you create pages outside of the central blog and with a simple plugin you have something akin to more ‘powerful’ content management systems. Oh, and if you want to create a multi-user blogging environment, they even offer a multi-user version – the same as they use to run their commercial site (and soon expect official support for a user written plugin that makes the whole install an out of the box social network). Phew.

There is so much there to recommend this software, and the best part is it’s free and just keeps on getting better. So without hesitation – WordPress is my current recommendation should you want to create a blog or even if you want to just create a simple, dynamic website.

One Ma.tt to Rule Them All

Posted: March 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: SEO | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

You have to give credit to Matthew Mullenweg, not only is he the force majeur behind WordPress – the most sensible and elegant blog tool in the word – he also realised that he could buy Ma.tt as his domain before anyone else did… Clever chap.

As a bit of background, ‘tt’ is the top level domain (TLD) for Trinidad and Tobago, based on the sensible logic of using two letter country ISO codes for each country’s domains. This works sensibly around the world everywhere except the U of K, where for some reason we’re stuck with ‘co.uk’, ‘org.uk’ and other various third level domains only. Thanks British domain regulator – you sc.uk.

Anyhoo, in the meantime, you can buy your own .tt domain – but would you want to? There are actually very few words that end with ‘tt’ that aren’t mis-spellings, and ‘bu.tt’ is the only one anyone would really want. There’s also another catch. If you live outside of Trinidad and Tobago then owning such a domain will set you back $1,000 for the first two years, then $1,000 every five after that. A bit too rich for my blood.

Ps, Matt, I apologise for this post still being on Blogger… I promise I’ll move this blog over to WordPress as soon as I get a spare mo.

Unlicensed Photos in Blog Posts, An Increasing Scourge

Posted: February 26th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Privacy & Security | Tags: , , | No Comments »

With the blogosphere currently growing at around 120,000 blogs a day it’s no surprise that most of my day seems to be spent stuck behind Google Reader, rapid scanning articles to find something of interest – or something not involving Britney at least. Most professional bloggers know this is how we all work now, so in an effort to grab our attention they use the trick of posting an image into the text. The image, depending on how we react to it, will stop most people in their tracks and make them look more closely at a post. Definitely a handy tool in the blogging arsenal.

So all well and good, blog authors can just take their camera out, snap a few cool photos relating to their well written post, and see the viewership ramp up – and one can only assume their sponsorship and adwords payouts as well. A just reward for creating their own quality content and fostering their audience. But wait. It turns out that most bloggers, professional or otherwise, don’t take their own photos.. What! It seems you can just go to a site like Flickr, search for a photo you like and put it up on your site – generally with a handy link back to the photo’s original owner (the attribution). Clever. Why bother taking a photo when someone already has, and by attributing the photo’s owner also gets kudos. Everyone is happy.

Hold on a mo though. The professional blogger is making money from their post.. but does any of this money go back to the photo owner? I mean. They haven’t paid stock fees or anything. That’s OK though, as most photos on Flickr are under Creative Commons licences – the modern form of licencing that supports things like sharing without profit, and creating derivative works. For example, if I take a photo and want to let other, not for profit organisations or artists take it and edit it as they like, then I can set a licence for that under Creative Commons – I can even require that the new output is ‘share alike’ – ie, it also has to be shared. As Jean-Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take things to”. Perfect. Everyone’s happy. If a business wants to use the same photo they can approach the owner and ask to licence it, which generally results in a win win.

So we have a situation where professional bloggers sometimes take CC licenced, non-commercial, photos and putting them on their blogs. What gives with that? These bloggers are, plain and simple, breaking the terms of the licence. Should a professional blogger use fully open licenced photos, with free commercial usage then that’s fine and right, but any other licence does not match with their business use. One could argue that where the image is attributed it’s actually beneficial to the photographer – having their photos exposed to a major blog audience, but again this should be the photographer’s choice – unless it is an appropriate usage such as direct publicising of their work.

To summarize: If you’re writing a blog and want to use a photo, then just make sure the photo is licenced correctly for your use – whether personal (non commerical) or professional (commercial). If in doubt, contact the photographer, or find another photo. For photographers, always keep an eye out for your images being linked and you have every right to ask for it to be removed should you want – of course you might enjoy the extra publicity, but that should be your choice. For the rest of us, if you see images inappropriately used in a post then you can always follow the image attribution link through and let the photographer know their image was used in a post on their site, allowing them to make a decision about their content. In a few years this might become moot, as Google, Flickr or someone, creates a service to search for your images being used across the net – proper image for image searching, not text based.

Make Money from your Blog With Less Work

Posted: August 7th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Marketing | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Amazon have just introduced a new feature for their Affiliate Program, it’s a script that you place at the bottom of each page on your site that looks for key terms that Amazon has products for – then it creates a link on those products wired into your affiliate program.

How this works in practice is if you write about Harry Potter, then the script looks through your text, finds that phrase, and than auto-magically adds a link to that phrase. A site visitor can then hover over the link and a popup to go buy the article at Amazon then appears. Clever.

To try it out I’ve added it to my book reviews – so go check it out. I’ve noticed it can be a little bit slow – as I think it uploads the page to Amazon, then next time someone goes to that page it has an index. So if you use it yourself you may want to visit some of your pages to trigger that indexing. Also it only picks up phrases in the body text, so any headings are unaffected.