Sunday, December 13, 2009

Technorati seems to be totally futzed, no longer relavent, or at least horrible on-site navigation degrades its usefulness

Back in the day Technorati was the place to be ranked as an important or unimportant blogger. Today it seems to be to have lost its way, and the services it used to offer now seem totally useless. The straw which broke open this rant I'm writing is the ranking widget I used to display on another of my blog sites that has now been removed.

Back in the day the technorati ranking widget was commonly displayed. It showed the technorati authority, linked to the technorati profile for the site, etc. By causing us to link to it of course influenced the search engine popularity of that site. And presumably in return a blog with a good technorati authority number would gain some credibility by being able to display that number.

technorati.jpgA long time ago Technorati had given me some javascript code for the ranking widget, that used to display a nice ranking widget, but for the longest time didn't work. It didn't display anything and instead a couple links showed through. About a week ago it began displaying the image shown here. A big big prominent rectangle, much wider than a useful sidebar, overlapping my content, being obnoxiously intrusive, blaring its presence, showing no useful data, etc.

Fine, I thought, I'll just go to and see what optional widgets were available. BUT there is no apparent selection of ranking widgets anywhere findable on Go to your profile page, go to the claim page for a specific blog, go to the list of administrivia links at the bottom of the page, nowhere is there a link to a page listing widgets. Go to the support area and type "ranking widgets" into the search box and one of the results is a question about ranking widgets saying they are working on something that will be available 'soon'. Bleah. They used to have a page giving various widgets and while it used to be hard to find it was findable. Not now.

How hard can this be?

For some reason I rarely see them mentioned any longer, I rarely see technorati ranking widgets etc any longer. A google search for "technorati rank" didn't turn up recent articles indicating to me that nobody is writing about Technorati any longer.

What the hell is up with Technorati? asks a similar question, notes a different set of problems, and concludes "Technorati FAIL".

Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking a fresh look at (a.k.a. is one of the earlier social media websites which had its own 15 minutes of fame several years ago. It's fading into relative obscurity may (or may not) be a warning to upstarts like Twitter but I digress. It seems that has had a facelift of sorts with a bit of modernization or at least the incorporation of some (ahem) twitter support.

Speaking of which here's the setup screen for the twitter support:


When posting to twitter there are a couple new fields to fill in


NOTE: Make sure to fill in the "Message" box with your message. My first time through this I thought it would tweet the title field but it instead made a blank tweet with just the link.

Finally the tweet looks like the following.


Overall this addition to takes an excellent service and extend it into the twitter landscape. There are other services whose purpose is only to shorten URL's and also post to twitter, such as These newer services don't have what already did so well several years ago, which is to have a well thought out service that already makes excellent use of links to web sites. Obviously has a URL shortening and post-to-twitter service but it's so much more than that.

Tag bundles may be new, I don't remember seeing them before. It's described as a way of grouping tags into meaningful groups. Maybe they mean hierarchicalization of tags? Dunno.

delicious-badge.jpgThey now have a Badge you can add to your website. It has convenient social media features including a link to your profile and more importantly an easy way to get new subscribers to your profile.

Blog posting is still marked as an experimental feature. I tried it once or twice, it never worked for me and I gave up on it long ago. I think today with the twitter support I won't even miss the nonfunctionality of the blog posting feature.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Drupal as social media platform, what's needed next?

I came to the Drupal community with (to the best of my recollection) Drupal 4.6. That makes me a sort of old timer though really there was a lot of Drupal releases before my time. In the 4.6 days most extension of Drupal meant writing modules whereas you youngsters today don't know how easy you have it with Views and CCK ... What drew me to Drupal was the tagline "Community Plumbing" as I was looking for a platform with which to build online communities or what's now known as social networking. My vision is the use of online community to create positive social change.

I just watched this interesting presentation from DrupalCon Paris (2009) - Social Media: What We Need Next ..

I can't agree more though he didn't really come down to specific suggestions. He created a strawman argument that Drupal is in a place in the adoption curve where it's facing a chasm that will determine whether Drupal stay's "small" and secondary, or whether it hits the real big time. Right now Drupal is widely seen as being geek friendly where it's not so easy to do simple things but is simple to do hard things (if you add the right modules like Views and CCK).

Yeah. Very true. e.g. if your goal is "blogging" then Wordpress is probably better suited because it does good quality blogging out of the box. Drupal does adequate blogging out of the box however but that's not good enough because Drupal's user experience and configuration is more like a box of parts rather than a polished product. Wordpress on the other hand is, for all its flaws, focused on solving a particular area ("blogging") and it does that really well.

In most cases someone new approaching a gizmo will be put off if their first step is an installation guide telling you how to put the parts together. What's worse with Drupal is depending on the users goal they may need contributed modules and that involves a number of hairball steps to learn how to navigate the contributed module repository, evaluate which ones are any good, wade through inadequate or nonexistent or wrong documentation, and figure out how the whole thing would work.

Someone wanting to implement a given solution .. they can see the problem in their mind but unless they spend a lot of hours trying out different modules they won't know which modules are best for what and won't have much of a clue on how to get to the solution.

But back to the presentation..

He posited there are two ways the Drupal community is thinking to go:- a) create a "solution" / "product", b) be a "framework" with which others can build solutions

e.g. Does the Drupal community move to a "Core" Drupal distribution on top of which others build Distributions of Drupal? This would be like how the Linux kernel is just an operating system and it requires Distribution teams to assemble all the pieces of a an OS usable by mortals. Or does the Drupal community focus on a given solution and build Drupal for that solution.

I can see value to either. But what must come out the other end is a better product-like user experience.

The easiest direction which I think the Drupal community is already going towards is something like this:-

  • Core Drupal as one tarball
  • The Drupal site would also distribute one or more product-like Drupal distributions, one of which could be a Generic Drupal that's in the vein of the existing Drupal distributions, another could be a Blogging Specialized Drupal.

It would take until Drupal 8 to really implement this, perhaps, unless they're thinking to really bite the bullet and get this model going for Drupal 7. I recently did a D7 install and it offered a couple installation options that hint of this direction. I don't remember the terminology but one option was a slimmed down core Drupal whereas the other was presented as a fancier full Drupal. The admin area of the slimmed down Drupal was very much like current Drupal whereas the admin area of the fancier full Drupal used a wholly different theming and user experience.

Now.. I want to get back to my specific use case: Building communities. Despite the tagline of "Community Plumbing" it isn't such a great platform for building community websites. Community websites in the old days were simply forums, and in the the forum implementation in the core Drupal tarball is a competent forum in the old style. That is except it has behavior differences from popular forum systems and in practice it turns off people who like the behavior of popular forum systems. In any case modern social networking sites are much more interactive and provide a bunch of stuff that Drupal doesn't offer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Customized tweeting of RSS feed's with feed-aggregation-tools

There are many web applications that offer different takes on what a "power user" does with Twitter. For example feedtweet takes an RSS feed and tweets the latest entries. But what if you want to tweet the feed entries in a manner other than feedtweet's designers thought you should do? What if you do not want to hand your twitter account credentials to a third party? What if you want to have control over your own ship? Blessedly it's relatively simple to write tools for both RSS feed consumption and tweeting.

My own open source project, Feed Aggregation Tools, is one such home grown toolset. It doesn't come packaged as a slick website, instead it's a pile of Java and Groovy code you download and run from a cron job preferably on a Unix-like server (Solaris, Linux, FreeBSD, etc).

A number of tools are built into the Feed Aggregation Tools and its twitter capabilities are a minor bit of what it can do. In any case let's look at how to do interesting things with RSS feeds and Twitter.

First step is installation and setup. This will require having Java, Groovy, Ant and Mercurial installed on your system. Once those are set up follow the instructions (basically run "ant setup").

Among the tools are ones to retrieve an RSS or Atom feed including keeping a long archive of posts on a given feed. For example causes a given RSS feed to be saved in the file "rss-example-local.xml" and further it remembers old entries that were in the RSS feed even when the RSS feed no longer contains those entries.

groovy scripts/feedarchive.groovy <a href="" title=""></a> rss-example-local.xml

But, we are here to talk about twitter. The first tool is tweet which is a simple wrapper around's JSON interface.

groovy scripts/tweet.groovy tweetID <a href="" title=""></a> "message to tweet"

This sends a tweet listing both the URL and the message to the account credentials given in "tweetID". The account credentials are given as "account:password".

The next tool, feedtweet, does a combination of the feedarchive script mentioned above along with tweeting new entries. For every new feed entry (not in the feed archive) it tweets the entry.

groovy scripts/feedtweet.groovy <a href="" title=""></a> tweeted.xml 100  "account:password"
The last tool that's been written, <a href="">feedrandtweet</a>, tweets a random entry from a feed.  It doesn't save the feed locally, it simply reads the existing feed and tweets a randomly chosen entry.
groovy scripts/feedrandtweet.groovy <a href="

Friday, August 21, 2009

Twitterfail: Nambu (and other twitter clients) trap social connections data

My previous entry I talked about some problems with Nambu. Twitterfail: website, alternative clients, Nambu crashing At the end of that I came to a core problem with Nambu and other social networking applications. They entrap you into using their app by trapping the social connections data you've entered into that application.

In my case I'd spent a fair amount of time with Nambu with the accounts I'm following, dividing them into groups and in all making it into a useful tool. But due to bugs in Nambu the data file got corrupted or something and Nambu stopped working (it would only crash) and the cure was to delete the old data files and start over from scratch.

There are several problems with this picture ..

What if I want to switch between applications? e.g. the guy(s) behind Nambu might fall off a cliff or something and the Nambu Corporation wither into dust. As the Buddha says nothing is permanent and there's a zillion reasons I might in the future switch to a different application or even a completely separate set of services. Making it impossible to take my data with me creates a big barrier to switching between applications.

Let me ask - whose data is it? It's your list of social connections, it's your audience list, etc. It was your work that created the grouping of twitter accounts. What right does Nambu have to prevent you from using that data for other purposes?

Nambu, by using a proprietary binary data format is preventing Nambu users from reusing their data. There's a saying in the DIY community that you don't own it unless you can take it apart and change it. That's the problem with Nambu's use of a proprietary binary data format, it prevents you from taking apart your data and changing it. Nambu is interfering with your ownership rights over your data.

There's a vaguely similar issue going around the twittersphere right now.. The Twitter API's do allow you to retrieve all sorts of your data from your twitter accounts. However the Twitter API's have a limit of allowing only the most recent 3,500 tweets to be retrieved. Hence if you have made more than 3,500 tweets you cannot retrieve those tweets.

Twitterfail: website, alternative clients, Nambu crashing

I've been happily using the Nambu twitter client for Mac OS X. After following a few people, and setting up a few accounts, it seemed clear using the twitter website was not very usable. It may be usable if you have one account but as soon as you set up multiple accounts it becomes very hard very quick.

Why set up multiple accounts? In my case my interests are pretty wide spread, and I wanted to have an account for each interest. Specifically the 7genblog account is meant to promote my blog, while visforvoltage account is meant to promote the VisForVoltage forum http://www.visforvoltage, and wwwatts account is meant to promote the electric vehicle blog and podcast directory at Each has a distinct enough purpose it makes sense they have distinct accounts. Maybe the visforvoltage and wwwatts accounts could be merged since their topic area is the same, but the topic overlap between them and 7genblog is minimal hence it would be useful for them to remain distinct. Maybe.

I came across Nambu originally by default. Looking at the state of Twitter clients awhile back, Nambu seemed to be best. A lot of people googoo over Tweetdeck but it wouldn't run at all on my system.

Nambu generally works well and does a great job with multiple accounts. The traffic for each account is kept separate and it's easy to see which account has new traffic to look at. It's easy when sending a tweet to pick which account to send it as. It can also send info to accounts which then gives the chance for your tweets to go to pretty much every social network via's reach.

Additionally Nambu has a really great feature: groups. Nambu of course shows the traffic for all the accounts you're following and that's fine so far as it goes. I've found that the accounts I'm following fall into several types. Such as the people I really really really want to pay close attention to, if their tweets are lost in the firehose-like stream then I will have lost the value that twitter is. There's a lot of accounts publishing news-like tweets whose content is useful but not always desired to read. This is what groups solve, the ability to segregate the accounts you're following so you can more easily focus on the ones who are important to you.

Thus came the problem... Nambu has always been less than stable. There's something here about free software (cost=$0) and maybe I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. But it crashed quite a bit. Sometimes it gets really really slow. Whenever it refreshes the display because it has new tweets, the display jumps around which is real annoying if you were actually reading something because whatever you were reading disappears out of view and will be almost impossible to find again.

Then one day it crashed, and then it would only crash every time the app was launched. Ergle..

Somehow I had this notion that letting it rest for awhile would make something different and it wouldn't crash. Well, okay, obviously bits don't heal by resting unlike people.

After a couple days I looked at some of the other twitter clients. I remember using HootSuite, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck does work now but it appears to only support one account and the user interface seems horrid to me. I don't understand this multicolumn approach that appears popular in twitter clients. Each of them followed that style, and none of them were as nice as Nambu. Oh and Hootsuite made me tweet into all my accounts that I'd upgraded to v2.0.

Eventually I decided to take a drastic step.

% cd ~/Library/Application Support
% mv Nambu Nambu.broke

Yay! Nambu now launches. But wait, where's all my accounts and everything. That is, I moved the broken Nambu data files out of the way and now Nambu launches. The problem is obviously somewhere inside Nambu's data files. Such as some sort of corruption or other bit of data which is leading Nambu to crash. Unfortunately those data files are in a proprietary binary data format making it impossible to repair the data files myself. The only recourse is to start over from scratch.

The easy part is re-establishing the accounts to watch. But the most valuable thing in the old Nambu data files was the group lists.

Nambu has no way to export the group lists or other account data. So when it crashed it took my old data with it. Bleah.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Twitterfail: multiple accounts, same message

The latest observed twitterfail was a blatant form of multiple accounts posting the same message. There are many ways to do this, I just happen to be unlucky enough to be following two accounts engaging in this practice.


NOTE: Rather than use I use a twitter client (Nambu) which means the messages are shown as they would on In any case see how two accounts are speaking the same message one right after another. See it once and it might be a coincidence .. but ..


I saw the first one and immediately saw several more. Hurm, I thought, what's up with that?


First let's ponder why these accounts might be doing this. Clutching for straws... I think the reasoning might be two accounts are better than one. There's a line of thinking in twitter marketing which says to gather the largest number of followers, and you'll get the greatest reward. It's a numbers game where you suppose that m% of your followers will click on the link you send out, n% of those will take a desired action based on the page you send them to, and therefore the more followers the the bigger is the (m*n)% number who take the action you want them to take. The next conclusion from this is 2 accounts full of followers are even more followers to connive into taking the action you want them to take.


Maybe. Or maybe not. It's true the theory is out there that more followers means bigger results. Hence there's a big push to get more followers, and people are selling each other on systems guaranteed(*) to produce more followers. Never mind that no sane person could possibly track the ramblings of 10,000 or 100,000 people, the quest for bigger results means more followers.


Funny thing is a day or two ago I was pondering a very similar strategy. It's so easy to do this in a stealthier way. The problem in this case is it's easily detectable. The owner of these two accounts is simply tweeting the exact same message to the two (or more) accounts s/he owns, AT THE SAME TIME. The way to make this stealthy is to spread out the tweeting. The simple way to do that is to randomly select (or randomly generate) tweets for each account each tweets are generated. That means account A gets message 12 and account B gets message 67. Further one would collect up enough messages so the randomly selected tweets have little chance of overlapping or otherwise being detected.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Twitterfail: @usedcarsuk

A new twitter account began following one of my twitter accounts, and the presentation is so amusing it's causing me to launch a series of blog posts: Twitterfail

The first entrant for everyones perusement is: @usedcarsuk

First off, did they not run this through a pronunciation test? Or did they simply do SEO analysis and find that Used Cars UK is a frequently searched-for term? Did they not consider the meaning of the "suk" that's embedded in their name?

Second, their tweets are all in the format: "buy #carMakerName #nnn at URL vehicletext" ... the absolutely most horrid of robotweet's

Clearly they're trying to game the #hashtag syntax, right?

Lastly their account page looks pretty decent. Somehow their account has over 4000 followers so there may be something of value to some people here. Or maybe many of their followers are roboaccounts that are autofollowing the account?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Give a hoot on twitterville - A look at hootsuite

Hootsuite is the home of the links and the little linkbar that goes with them. It's a web application which adds useful functions to the twitter user experience. It's not so strong however on automation like auto-follow.

You start by registering an email address with hootsuite. This is instead of registering a twitter ID with them, as you do with other twitter applications. This is to enable managing multiple twitter accounts from one hootsuite account. Along the way you'll have to verify the email account with the normal method where hootsuite sends you an email containing a verification code, you copy the verification code and paste it into a box (or else click on a verification link).

Once verified and registered and logged in you're on a screen that lets you tweet. And that seemed to be about all it lets you do, tweet. Hm, say what? What's the big hype about if all you can do is tweet? Oh, there's a FAQ at the bottom of the page and reading the FAQ actually gives useful information. I think they should instead do a bit of redesign on their dashboard page rather than depend on the FAQ to get you going. Anyway the trick is to click on the Settings link and a whole world of options opens up for you.

On the dashboard page there is one feature that's important: The "Add twitter profile". In case you manage multiple twitter accounts, click on that button and set up additional accounts. It's unclear whether there's a limit on the number of twitter accounts you can set up. Something to watch for is in the dialog to add a twitter account there's a button to autofollow the hootsuite account. Hopefully they don't blast out zillions of spamtweets. But if you have lots of accounts it's going to be boring to see the hootsuite tweets in all of them. So be careful and only follow hootsuite in one of your accounts, eh?

The last item on the dashboard page is the hootlet. It's a thingymajob to drag to the bookmark toolbar. Upon selecting the hootlet a window pops up letting you tweet about the current page you're looking at. It's pretty convenient, more convenient than going over to to tweet, plus with the hootlet you can select which of several twitter accounts to send the tweet through.

Now let's all click on the settings button and take a tour of those features.

First interesting thing is the Google Adsense integration. You generate an advertisement in your adsense account (you do have one, don't you?) and paste it into the box they provide. However there is a warning that they're having trouble getting the adverts to display and are working it out with Google. The interesting thing is it's a revenue sharing arrangement where sometimes it is their advertisement that shows, and other times it's your advertisement. Obviously tweets themselves cannot have advertisements in them. Instead the advertisement is shown when the user clicks on an link making your tweets a possible source of direct revenue.

Let's take a little detour and discuss There doesn't appear to be a website residing at but there's a lot of links published on that domain. Most URL shortening services simply jump the user to the destination page. Some put a frame around the destination page with a little title bar at the top. The bar has a number of useful features. It shows which twitter account the link is associated to, linking to the twitter profile page. It has a tweet button letting you tweet about the page. It has a share button letting you post about the page on various services. It has a 'Top Tweets' button showing a list of the most tweeted pages. It has a + and - button pair to vote for (or against) this link as a positive or negative experience. Pretty darn useful.

Back in the settings page ... Manage Users is an interesting tab. Apparently you can have multiple email addresses with access to one hootsuite account. For example it can be difficult to have one or more group managed twitter accounts using the normal twitter account features. Hootsuite may make this simpler but I've not tried this feature.

Last feature to mention is they can autotweet items on an RSS or Atom feed. They allow up to five feeds to be managed this way and suggest if you need more than that to visit yahoo pipes.

A concern about autotweeting a feed is whether it will flood the universe and piss off the people following you. I sure find it annoying to have a firehose running because some tweeter feels they can tweet 10 posts at a time every 10 minutes. Over on they talk about usage limits and being nice to your fellow tweeters. There's an argument to be made in some cases it's useful for information services to make lots of tweets. But too much can be easily achieved with autotweeting robots. It was nice to see in their autotweet setup page that it strictly limits the number of tweets per 24 hours, and you can select 1-5 tweets per 24 hour period. Very nice.

hootsuite doesn't have any leave-it-in-the-background-automated functions. All it's functions are ones for users to use directly in person. If you want to do automated in the background functions, look elsewhere.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking at Tweetscript (

I saw this tweet "How cool is tweetscript??" and decided to take a look. I've done a bit with a Groovy script to automatically tweet contents of an RSS feed, and I've been thinking it would be useful to have a more comprehensive twitter toolset. Unfortunately tweetscript isn't what I was thinking about but it may be useful as it is. It offers you tools to manage your lists of followers, scheduled tweets, and to update the design of your twitter account. These features are useful in making powerful use of twitter. By becoming a paid user of even more features are available.

"Smart Tweets" are the way to schedule tweets. I think it might be useful to post occasional messages about your product or service or some cause you're promoting. That's what scheduled tweets offer. But I can followers would be turned off reading the exact same message from you over and over. Smart tweets generates varying tweet text. It uses "Lists" to hold words or phrases that are substituted into a tweet template.

For example the account comes with the 'adjective' list containing: amazing, cool, stupendous, awesome, neat

With that list your smart tweet could be: check out this [adjective] site about electric vehicles:

Okay, it's going to take more thought than this to be truly compelling. Lists are more powerful than this simple example.

With a smart tweet created it can be scheduled to be sent. A tweet can be sent once, or sent repeatedly (if you upgrade).

A message scattered all through the basic account screens is "Upgrade for More".. the Basic account is free, and at a monthly subscription price you can have more features. More smart tweets, the ability to schedule a smart tweet more than once, more profiles, more lists, more flexibility in follow management, more, more, more. More is a slippery slope.

In "Designs and Profiles" you can easily update the design or bio on your twitter page. Twitter gives you a short bio and a link to a web site, plus a few background designs. Supposedly if you customize the account even further it makes you look more professional and more worthy of following. The site lets you maintain several bio's and designs, and easily upload those to your twitter account. You can even schedule rotation of bio's and designs.

In "Friends and Followers" you maintain the relationships with other twitter accounts. This area may be the most powerful section and most of it is available only in the upgraded account.

It gives you a small report of accounts you follow, those who don't follow you, accounts who follow you, and those you don't follow. You can purge your follow list of those who aren't following you, and can follow accounts that are following you now.

The report seems useful but this auto purge or auto follow strikes me as not very useful. It would force you to follow accounts who follow yours, or not follow those who don't follow you. There's a lot of accounts blasting outright spam or otherwise aren't terribly useful. There is a practice of following a zillion accounts, simply to gain more followers. I explicitly do not want to follow an account simply because that account followed mine, so that I don't have to see tweets from less-than-useful accounts.

The 'immunity lists' are accounts you want to never unfollow. 'Nofollow lists' are accounts you want to never follow. Those two features solve the issue I just mentioned, and are only available in the upgraded account.

There are two interesting tools to find accounts to follow. 'Keyword following' searches twitter for accounts using words you specify, and automatically follows those accounts. 'Mimic following' is based on a practice many use of following the followers of accounts you specify. It shows you the percentage of overlap between the followers of your account, and the followers of the specified account, and it can be instructed to close the gap by following the followers of the other account.

Friday, February 6, 2009

To tweet or not to tweet, let's help the tweeters do their magic

Twitter is this up and coming social platform which I still don't quite grok the usefulness. However it can draw some traffic to your site and I have managed to learn a few interesting things through twitter. It's growing on me. In any case since there's a lotta twitterers tweeting away it is helpful for website promotion purposes to assist them in any way to tweet about your site.

The tweet module for drupal does that. It's very simply installed and requires the teensiest of configuration. Simply unpack it in the modules directory like normal, enable it like normal, go to the tweet settings page and see that the defaults are probably what you want, and that's about it.

What happens is a twitter icon appears in the bottom of each node page. When clicked on the user is brought into their twitter account with tweet text already configured for them to post. How cool is that?