Monday, September 29, 2003

Microsoft employees who blog

If you want to keep up with what is going on in an industry, what better way then to read the blogs of those employed by the industry? Take, for example, Flashgoirl (no, I didn't misspell it). This is an interesting Blogger blog that links to other Microsoft employees.

If you want something really interesting, take a look at her webcam page which usually shows an empty chair complete with sleeping cat. Sometimes the cat is there, sometimes it isn't. That's what makes it interesting.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Blogging under a totalitarian regime

In the United States and in most of the world, the "right to blog" is pretty much taken for granted. You can say what you want whenever you want --no matter how outrageous. We blog for fun. In some places blogging can be a way to express dissent, even at great personal risk.

Try going to the site of Iranian blogger Sina Motallebi. What do you see there? As part of a crackdown on dissent in any form, Motallebi became the first blogger to be put in prison. Freed after three weeks, it seems the message is clear: criticism of the Iranian government or the clerics who run it in any form can mean prison.

The biggest fear of totalitarian governments is the free exchange of information. Iran was fairly successful in eliminating satellite television since the dishes are obvious. But communication via the Internet is harder to control. For an interesting article, take the time to read Cyberdissent: The Internet in Revolutionary Iran found here.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Your blog and the First Amendment

Bloggers are pretty much free to say whatever they want to say (with a few exceptions). However, the issue gets murky when the blogger is an employee of an institution and the blog is carried on the institution's server. Take Eric Rasmusen's blog, for example. He is a professor who does not believe that it's a good idea to hire homosexual teachers. Once his statements on the subject came to the attention of the University who employs Professor Rasmusen because of mention in another popular blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, things started to get hot.

The university had to decide what to do in light of all the publicity and controversy. Do they make him take down his blog? Do they make him move his blog to a different server where there is no connection to the university? The line that caused the most problem was Rasmusen's observation that hiring gay teachers "puts the fox into the chickencoop." However you happen to feel about the comment, certain groups immediately responded that the comment was "hurtful." If you don't know what that buzzword has come to mean in today's thinkspeak society, it means that you have treaded in an area that is verboten and you must now prepare for the consequences of speaking your mind. The controversy continues.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Startup to offer business to business blogging

The concept of Business to Business (B2B) marketing has been a darling of the Internet for the last several years. So far, the world of blogging has not tapped into the concept (with a few exceptions) although it has to come. Enter Weblogs, Inc. which relies on "creating niche Weblogs across niche industries" to tap into the business end of blogging.

With a "talent wants to be free" attitude, Weblogs, Inc. plans to partner with bloggers who have important things to share about niche industries. Obviously, they are not talking about the "I had a cheese sandwich for lunch today" type of blog. They are talking about the type of blogs that people might actually be willing to pay for. Again, niche is the key. I would assume that in the field of IT management, for example, managers would be happy to pay for content on the IT subject contributed by experts in the field. For example, content provided by a few authors of textbooks and/or other managers who have a reputation for leading-edge thinking.

When you look at what it takes to publish a book on a given subject, it is an expensive and time-consuming process. In some fields, whatever you have to say can be obsolete long before you hit the bookshelves. On the other hand, with blogging you can update thinking in moments. How valuable might it be for a business to have experts "on call" giving advice. Isn't that what businesses pay consultants for? Don't consultants keep up with the latest trends in an industry and advise their clients on how to react? Think how valuable a service this could be. Think of the potential. This is a concept that is at the ground level and has to be ready to take off.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Captain Kirk blogs

Star Trek geeks can get into arguments about whether Captain Kirk or Captain Picard were better at running the Enterprise. Wil Wheaton ("Wesley" on the first Picard version of Star Trek) has a well-known blog that most people in the blogging community know about. But did you know that William Shatner has a blog as well?

Where Wil's blog (tagline: "50,000 monkeys at 50,000 typewriters can't be wrong") discusses just about everything under the sun, Bill's blog is centered more on what he's doing:

"I was in Toronto recently, doing a series of commercials for Kelloggs, which is a lot of fun and looks like will result in some fairly amusing spots. While I was there I put together a syndicated radio show and tried to get together another show for divers that hunt for sunken treasure. There are other projects in the works, too --including one at Sci Fi channel, tentatively titled "Inferno of Hate." At some point this month, I plan to take a breather, take a swim, barbeque, have a cool lemonade or two. I just can't figure out exactly when!"

Monday, September 22, 2003

Blogging taken to new lengths

Most blogs are general in nature. Some blogs are very specific. In the realm of the extremely specific is this blog which is either a total spam attempt by the same folks who like to flood your email, or it is a legitimate blog site. You decide. We have to blame Ernie the Attorney for bringing it up.

With our creation of the Bloscars (more on this later), perhaps we should consider a separate award category. Most specific? Most obviously spam? Perhaps a new Internet word needs to be coined. Blam? Another: those who create a blog solely to push a product: Blammers.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Blogs, copyright and Hitler

Simon Waldman has a quiet little British blog he calls Words of Waldman. Recently, as he was going through some old magazines from the 1930's, he ran across an article in Homes and Gardens about Hitler and what a nice chap he was. It occurred to Simon that this would be a good blog subject. That is, how public perceptions are created by media perceptions. So, he scanned the article and made it part of his post.

In response, Homes and Gardens demanded that he take the post down. "This piece, text and photographs is still in copyright and any unauthorized reproduction is an infringement of copyright. In the circumstances I must request you to remove this article from your website. Sorry that I had to take this stance, but am sure you will appreciate the legal situation."

Simon did take it down, but sent Homes and Gardens an email: "These are interesting and important historical documents. As you are clearly aware. They should be widely available for as many people as possible to learn from them. That they can be, instantly, is one of the great beauties of the internet. I'm afraid as well, that simply getting them taken off my site is unlikely to be the end of it. These are digital files. They have been seen by thousands of people. It is incredibly easy for people to copy them and put them up on their site anywhere in the world. As of now, I have no idea how many versions there might be on the web."

Well, Simon knew how the Internet works. The corporate world apparently does not. In trying to apply a very weak and nonsensical copyright claim, Homes and Gardens insured that their embarrassing article would be seen a thousand-fold more times than if they had kept quiet. Mmmm..... let me pick just one of the many places you can see the article. Ok, how about here?

As for Simon, he is a bit bewildered by all the attention this has brought his blog. "I don't know...for a couple of years I blog away in a quiet little backwater of the blogsphere, barely registering among the Technorati, writing my all matter of things to a daily audience barely big enough to fill a minibus. Then all I do is scan in a few old magazine pages and put them up...and before you know media exposure."

You gotta love blogging. It can turn any of us into a journalist with something important to say. By the way, here is one of Home and Gardens "copyrighted" photos from the article. Notice how enforcing their copyright magically made everything disappear?

Making your own RSS feeds

Since Blogger Pro no longer exists, and since standard Blogger does not include RSS feed creation (yet, but it's coming), and since anyone signing up for a new account with Blogger gets an "in-between" version somewhere between Pro and regular Blogger, let's look at RSS feeds and how to create them for any blog.

There are plenty of technical papers out there on RSS creation, but precious little information in the "RSS for Dummies" vein. Enter the Blog Bloke who put together his own RSS feed and shares the simple approach on how he managed to do it.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Live blogging, a promising trend?

Here is an interesting idea. Not a new idea, but newly interesting because of the subject of the blog: John Cleese (Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, etc.).

Cleese was the keynote speaker at SunNetworks and Mark Jones was there blogging live and in full color for InfoWorld's TechWatch (but misspelling Fawlty Towers). Cleese's subject was about mistakes and how they are a part of life and need to be acknowledged. Here is what I consider the fascinating part of live blogging: capturing ideas as they happen and distributing the ideas planet-wide. Here are a few Cleeseisms that might have been lost without blogging technology:

"Remember this: It's practically impossible after a really good idea emerges to recall exactly what the process was that gave birth to it."

"A man who is afraid to make mistakes is unlikely to make anything."

"Today's protected system is tomorrow's unprotected system. So does that make today's system a mistake? Well, yes, if it's a Windows System. "

TV station invites live reports from bloggers

"Send us your live reports from the scene! is compiling a "blog" (Web log) of public comments on Hurricane Isabel."

Taking advantage of the blogger's tendency to want be in the middle of things, WVEC had a very large response to their call for blog reporting on Hurricane Isabel. From damage descriptions like "We have a 10 foot by 20 foot hole in our yard where our sea wall breached and sucked out the ground" to minutes old digital photos, the blogging community kept everyone up to date on the hurricane.

Friday, September 19, 2003

So, what features of former Pro are lacking in regular Blogger?

Since we had the issue come up in the Blogger Forum about why RSS is not available, I thought we might look into this a little. The best way to get information is from fellow bloggers. Radio Free Blogistan (a former Blogger blog, if I remember correctly), asked the same question. If you follow the links there to Steve Jensen (Blogger/Google guru/inventor) and Jason Shellen (ditto) you get as close to the source as you will find.

The upshot? RSS is coming to all Blogger users "relatively soon." Meanwhile, if you weren't aware, regular Blogger users can now have headlines. Go to your settings page and turn them on. A blog is not a blog without a headline.

BTW: one of the comments to Xian's post was "Now if they could only add some commenting as well." Amen.

Finding out who's linking to you

One of the most interesting things about blogging is finding out whether other bloggers think you're interesting. After all, blogging is like any other type of writing, you want an audience. The bigger your audience, the more (apparently) interesting you are. And how do you measure the degree of interest? --By the number of people who either link to you or mention you in a blog.

There are several ways to keep track of who is talking about your blog. Today, we'll look at Technorati which is a service that tracks blog links. If you enter your blog's URL, it will search for links and for blogs that mention your blog site. This can serve two purposes for you: it can enable you to jump to the blog that mentions you to see what they had to say, and it can give you an instant picture of how "important" your blog is. This importance factor is the same measure Google uses to rank your site. If you look at, for example, through Technorati's eyes, this is what you get:

The return show there are 50 "inbound links" and 32 "inbound blogs" to the site. Technorati then displays a summary of who posted and the context which you can order by freshness or by "blog authority." Blog authority is the ranking the blog that mentions you or links to you has.

The Technorati basic service is free. Technorati has more advanced features for a nominal price of $5-$10 per year. These services include watch lists and comparisons of competing sites along with objective measurements of your site's performance.

Technorati is not the only source for this type of information. We plan an article for the near future that compares and reviews link reporting services.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Adobe Reader 6 has annoying ads

Another upgrade, another problem. The newest upgrade to Adobe's free reader, now called Adobe Reader instead of Adobe Acrobat Reader (good move) has an unfortunate "feature" --it has a colored box on its toolbar that cycles ads for Adobe products. Fuzzblog, an interesting tech-oriented Blogger powered blog seemed especially upset by the self-contained spam.

Fortunately, Planet PDF explains an easy fix to turn this annoying feature off. Under "Preferences" and then "Startup" there is a check box labeled "Show messages and automatically update." Sounds like that should be a good thing, right? Unclick this and the ads are gone for good.

Newspapers getting into RSS feeds

Some of the major newspapers are discovering that creating RSS feeds for their publications leads to an easy way to distribute news. "RSS is getting a boost from the popularity -- even on newspaper sites -- of blogging, or Web logging. Many bloggers, who write online journals that typically link to other Web sites, use RSS because it's an easy way to aggregate headlines from a large number of sources."

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Free toolbars: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Are the free toolbars available from several sources handy utilities or a backend pipeline into your computer and your privacy? As they say, it depends on how you look at it.

The Good. I use the Google toolbar. It has several good features that enhance searching and it has the ability to display a page's page rank based on Google's assessment of the site's importance. For bloggers, this is a handy way to keep up with rankings. The Google toolbar also includes a pop-up stopper that works well and can be selectively set to allow popups for sites you choose.

The Ugly. I have to say the Yahoo! Companion qualifies for the Ugly category not because of its looks, which are marginally OK, or even its name, (companion?), but because its search is limited solely to Yahoo! listed sites.

The AltaVista toolbar also qualifies as Ugly at this time, although it is very close to being good. It has all the necessary features, including a pop-up stopper and the ability to translate a site into any of ten languages. However, its only shortcoming at this point is that it lacks a certain amount of accuracy in its info button which is supposed to take you to weather forecasts and so on. Also, its method for ranking sites seems to provide only outdated information. I do have to say that the AltaVista toolbar is worth looking at and may rank as Good for many people.

The Bad. There are several toolbars and utilities that are nothing but spyware that are designed to track your habits and clutter your computer with ads. One of the worst offenders is Xupiter. I won't even post a link to them, but I will post a link to a site that explains how to get rid of Xupiter if you are unfortunate enough to be infected with this parasite. There are many more that are similar, so beware.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Some businesses are not blogging fans

Blogging is starting to get noticed in the work place. For some, this is a good thing. For others, blogging leads to time wasting by employees and, worse yet, it leads to leaking sensitive information.

"Web logs are a terrific tool for companies to communicate," said Rebecca Blood, author of "The Weblog Handbook." But, she added, "people have a funny way of thinking about Weblogs. They think they should divulge everything. And that can cause problems."

Here lies the problem, according to an article originally appearing in the Chicago Tribune, but more easily found at the Billings Gazette. Are blogs nothing more than the equivalent of a daily diary containing personal and sensitive information? I guess that could be the case, but I seriously doubt that any business person who has found the value in blogging will look at it that way. There is no more danger in leaking sensitive company information in a blog then there is leaking information at a cocktail party. And consider this: you can edit a blog. You can't edit what you said last night after four martinis.

Christopher Wolf, a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Proskauer Rose, advises clients not to start blogs because of the perils: "People are just more casual in the stuff they put on the Internet. Recording one's thoughts can lead to problems for both the employer and the employee because it becomes readily available for all to see."

Blogs are a productivity and communication tool. I think perhaps Mr. Wolf just doesn't get it.

AOL adds telephone blogging

AOL recently added blogging as a service for its customers. It seems that AOL is not a company to sit by and congratulate itself on the move. AOL has announced that it is improving its "AOLbyPhone" service to include blogging by telephone. Basically, you can update "personal blogs via audio files left over the phone."

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Telemarketers can dish it out, but can't take it

Dave Barry always has something amusing to say. I guess his columns are the closest thing to a blog that you can find in newsprint. Of course, since Dave is a computer-savvy writer, he also has an online blog utilizing Blogger and hosted on Blog*Spot.

In a recent column, Dave talked about telemarketers and their very annoying use of the First Amendment to claim a "right" to call and disturb your dinner. Dave suggested that perhaps his readers might want to all call the American Teleservices Association to see how they like getting unwanted calls. It seems that once Dave published the number, the ATA had to stop answering their phones because of the flood of calls. All callers could get was a recording that said that because of "overwhelming positive response to recent media events, we are unable to take your call at this time." Talk about putting a spin on the response from angry telemarketing victims. The executive director of the ATA actually had the nerve to complain that there "appeared to be some malice" in Dave's intent. Dave's response was: "They have phones like the rest of us have phones. Their attitude seems to be if you have a phone, people are allowed to call you."

Friday, September 12, 2003

Blogger drops Pro version

Google announced that Blogger Pro is being dropped as a separate product. Most of the features of Blogger Pro are going to be wrapped in regular Blogger which will remain a free product. As Blogger users know, the Pro version has been a $35 per year "extra" set of features.

Kind of a surprise to me. I wonder where Google, the new owner of Blogger, is going with this? I would have thought that Blogger might move in the direction of TypePad --charging a monthly fee. Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, says "...we're excited about the many new things we have in the pipeline." This should get interesting as the strategy unfolds.

By the way, if you subscribed to Blogger Pro, your money will not be wasted. You should be receiving an email that entitles you to a free Blogger sweatshirt.