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28 posts from January 2007

Will blog comment spam and trackback spam kill the global conversation?

Thanks to spammers, there are definitely some days that I do wonder whether I have the stamina to continue to engage in the "conversation" that is so much a part of social media.  Take today... I get the standard email that someone has submitted a comment to the "Voice of VOIPSA" weblog and I need to moderate it.  So I go and find that just in the last day there are 10 comments awaiting moderation... one of which is real and the other 9 are comment spam.  And not just quick spam but rather these big giant link dumps that I have to scroll down through, hoping that I don't miss a "real" comment in all scrolling through the crap.  VoV is a WordPress blog, so I do the quick "Mark all as spam" and then find the 1 that isn't and mark it for approval. 

Now note that this is with the wonderful Akismet Spam protection module installed! In fact, Akismet helpfully tells me that there are 3,108 spam comments that it has caught since I hit "Delete all" just a couple of weeks ago.  It tells me that 18,311 spam comments have been caught since we installed Akismet on the VoV blog sometime back in the fall.

 A quick trip to Akismet's home page will show you this nice graphic to the right, along with a page with more stats.  Now, of course, they are a vendor of blog comment/trackback spam prevention software, so naturally it is in their interest to show a high number of spam comments. (Just as it is in the interest of anti-virus vendors to talk about how many viruses are out there in the wild.)    But whether or not their stats are indeed accurate and 94% of all comments are spam, I think we can all agree that it's a problem.  As I wrote earlier, fellow VoIP blogger Alec Saunders wrote back in December about how spammers were outgunning him 275-to-1.   Shel Holtz writes of having to deal with 100+ trackback spam messages each day.  Any search of Technorati or Google for "trackback spam" will show you the many pages and articles that are talking about the issue.  Even black hats are talking about the issue.

And the level of spam is definitely changing the openness and speed of the conversation.  As I noted, Voice of VOIPSA is using both Akismet and moderation.  On TypePad, I've implemented CAPTCHAs to reduce automated blog comment spam, and it's seemed to work okay, although occasionally one gets through.  I've also moderated trackbacks... which is fine, but does obviously introduce latency in the conversation and requires more work for me.   Shel Holtz can't moderate trackbacks on his platform, so he's turned them off completely:  "Farewell, trackbacks; screw you, spammers".  He's not alone as I know of others doing the same. I've seen some bloggers turn off comments completely. 

I don't blame them.  Who has the time to deal with sorting through all the junk?  And if you don't moderate or somehow deal with the issue, who wants their blog to turn into a pure spam site?  And each time someone turns off trackbacks or comments, the global "conversation" of which we are all a part dies a little bit more.  Even turning on moderation huts the conversation... others don't see comments quickly and can't reply to those comments - and it's more work for the blog author. I submitted a comment to a blog last week and because it said comments were moderated, I knew I wouldn't see my comment right away, but when it never appeared I contacted the author and found out the comment never showed up in his moderation queue!  It was a software error, apparently, but I had no way to check.  Now, almost a week later, is my comment even still relevant?  Do I really have the time to go post it again?

What's the solution?  It's not entirely clear to me.  Part of the solution is obviously back-end tools like Akismet and the other similar services.  Part of it may be the CAPTCHA tools that we use (although that's really a bit of an arms race against spammers developing tools to overcome the CAPTCHAs... such tools are out there with varying levels of effectiveness).  Part of it may be identity assertion - things like TypeKey or OpenID (although note that there is nothing preventing spammers from creating OpenIDs).  Part of it may involve a retreat into gated "communities", i.e. you have to register and be approved by the blog author before commenting (some sites do this now) or be added to the authors known and trusted "friends" list.  I could, if I chose, do this on my LiveJournal blog right now and restrict comments to only my LiveJournal "friends".

But each one of those solutions throw up barriers and potentially diminish the openness of the conversation.  What about the comments from random readers that sometimes can lead you to other very interesting topics?  (Or might simply make your day in their praise?)  If everyone must be registered or moderated, how "real-time" can the conversation be? (unless it is within the walls of trusted users?)

Will spam kill the "conversation" of social media just as that medium emerges so strongly?  Or will we find the ways or create the tools to allow the conversation to continue?

Terry Fallis launches a new book via podcast on Canadian politics

Listening to FIR #207 this morning, I was pleased to hear Terry Fallis on the show talking about his new novel, The Best Laid Plans, that he is releasing first as a series of podcasts. While Terry is best known within social media circles as one half of the Inside PR podcast and also as the president/co-founder of Thornley Fallis Communications in Toronto and Ottawa, when I met him out at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo in California last year he turned out to be a major politicial junkie.  Given that I, too, share that interest/passion (although obviously more with US politics), we clicked rather well and had some interesting conversations.  He mentioned he was working on a novel about Canadian politics and I'm delighted to see it come to light.

It's also an interesting approach.  Here he is putting out podcasts of the book chapters before it's in print.  In fact, one of the goals he mentioned on his FIR promo is to actually attract a suitable publisher!  Now, he's not the first author to do this... Scott Sigler has certainly garnered a good bit of fame (and, now, a publisher) with his sci-fi-focused books, but it's still very cool to see and I will be curious to watch how it works out for him.

And Terry, I did download your prologue and first chapter... I'm getting on a plane to Atlanta in a few hours so the timing was perfect.  :-)

P.S. Wonderful music you used in your FIR promo!

The Levelator saves the day...

There's a very twisted irony in the fact that I don't use the Levelator very often at all... but after I wrote the post early this morning about the Levelator, it would wind up being a key tool for me to use this day.  I had an interview scheduled in the early afternoon for an prototype of an internal podcast we're working on.  Just minutes before I was to do the interview, I determined that something was wacky on my laptop and my normal route of using a softphone on the laptop with a mix-minus from my condenser mic was not going to work.   Not having the time to diagnose the problem and not wanting to lose the interview window, I went to Plan B (well, it should be Plan Z, as in "just don't do it", but it was B) and grabbed my JK Audio QuickTap from the closet, inserted it inline between the handset and one of my teleworker phones, and ran a cable over to an input on my mixer. As I did this, I was dearly hoping the Levelator could help out... or I was going to be re-recording another day.

You see, the problem with the QuickTap is this - you get both sides of the conversation on a single track, and I'm right there talking into the handset microphone, and the other person is on the other end of a phone connection.  The result is almost always: I'm loud and the other person is soft.  Maybe others have different results, but that's almost always how it is for me.

However, the Levelator did save the day.  Dumped the recording to a WAV file, dropped it on the Levelator and opened up the levelated file.  Ta da... the levels were at least much nearer to each other.  Not the quality that I'd get out of my regular audio rig (because of the handset microphones and QuickTap), but certainly acceptable and a decent way to recover.

Just very ironic given my post this morning...

The Levelator gets coverage in Make magazine... All Hail The Levelator!

Nice to see The Levelator getting coverage in the Make magazine website.  Knowing of my interest in podcasting audio quality, a Blue Box listener sent me the note about this posting in Make, which was great to see.  I've actually been a huge fan of the The Levelator ever since Doug Kaye, Michael Geoghegan and Paul Figgiani released it through their Gigavox company.  It's done wonders with some interviews I have recorded. 

If you aren't aware of it, the Levelator is basically a tool to do most all of the audio post-production you need to do on a podcast or other audio file.  The Gigavox team wrote it for their own usage so that they could level out the different audio levels in podcasts they were producing.  They were then kind enough to release it to the broader community - and we have all benefited from that.

For me, where the tool is most useful is with field-recorded interviews or podcasts that are recorded via a conference call.  When I'm doing my own podcasts, my audio setup is such that I can control the audio levels of myself and a partner.  But field interviews often have varying levels of audio, sometimes purely by mic placement.  And conference calls?  Either on a traditional audio bridge or by using a tool like Skype?  Audio levels can be way off between the speakers.  And from a production point-of-view on my end, all of those people are one track coming into my recording rig (with my microphone being the other).  So, yes, I could do all the audio post-production to make it sound great.... or I could simply export it to a WAV file, drag and drop it on the Levelator window... and listen to the generally outstanding result.

If you are doing podcasts, or any other kind of audio production, the Levelator is definitely worth checking out.

What's a poor blog got to do to get listed in Technorati?

UPDATE: Okay, so maybe I was just too impatient. The blog is now listed.  I was just surprised that it took several days for it to appear.

I've generally been a big fan of Technorati and they still are the primary blog search tool I use... but I admit to being a bit puzzled about what's going on right now, specifically with this blog.  Or more precisely - what is NOT going on with this blog.  For whatever reason, it is not appearing at all in the Technorati blog directory.  If you do a search of the blog directory on the URL, you get:


There are blogs, and then there's whatever you just typed in. If it's a blog, we don't know about it. Maybe you made a typo. Or maybe it's a blog that doesn't exist. Maybe you don't exist. (In which case, please ignore this.)

Which, okay, is one of the cuter error messages I've seen lately, but doesn't address the issue.  Given that I've launched a good number of different blogs and websites over time, I find this puzzling.  In the past, the pattern has always been one of "start pinging Technorati and typically a couple of hours later you are in the blog directory".  Given that I started pinging Technorati from this blog, I think, sometime late last week, I don't think this is a case of me being impatient.  And they must now be getting pings from this blog, considering that:

  • The offline editor I'm using, Windows Live Writer, is set to ping Technorati when it publishes a post in this blog.
  • TypePad is set to ping Technorati (and other services) when a new post is published in this blog.
  • Feedburner's "PingShot" service is set to ping Technorati whenever a new post appears in the RSS feed.

So one would think that Technorati would be getting the message.  (Incidentally, this is the same way my other blogs are set up.)

So is it something else?  Did the name of this blog trigger some filter and I'm in some anti-spam-blog queue awaiting approval? Very puzzling indeed.  We'll see... perhaps I am just being impatient.

Technorati tags: ,

Welcome to the new "Disruptive Conversations"!

Welcome to this new blog, "Disruptive Conversations"!  Here you will find my writing about blogs, podcasts, wikis, virtual worlds like Second Life, tools and other aspects of "social media" that are fundamentally changing how we have conversations... with customers, with vendors, with friends and with each other.  As our modes of communication are being disrupted, this is my attempt to chronicle the ongoing changes.  So far it's been a crazy ride... and all signs are that it's only going to get crazier!

For over six years, I've been blogging about these and a variety of other topics in a single weblog, which for the past three years has been at (aka "").  With the start of 2007, I decided to break my writing out into focused weblogs.  This blog is one of the results.  Thank you for stopping by, please do subscribe to get my latest posts - and please do let me know what you think.  Thanks.

Exploring Microsoft Windows Live Writer, part 1: Initial impressions

As I have started the transition from a single blog to a mini-network of blogs, I have had to find a new offline editor.  The editor I've been using for most of the past three years of blogging, Semagic, is a fantastic offline editor for LiveJournal and is one of the reasons for my often prolific posting there, it makes it just darn simple and fast to post.  It's also really one of the main reasons I stayed over at LJ. Just made it too easy to blog fast! However, as I explored using it with TypePad, I found it had an issue with multiple accounts using the same user name.  I use the same user name (but different passwords) with both LJ and TypePad, but because of this, I couldn't switch quickly between LJ and TypePad. So I decided to keep using Semagic for LJ posting and find another editor for working in multiple weblogs here at TypePad. I checked out ecto, and was quite pleased with it.  I set up templates and was getting all ready to buy it, but then I discovered that it would not handle my Blue Box postings very well, and in fact when I tried to switch to HTML view on a Blue Box posting, it would lock up ecto and jack my CPU. Probably something related to the Libsyn Flash player or some other object.  And while I could (and should) report the issue to the ecto developer and see if it could be fixed, I want to get blogging... now!  So in the meantime I decided I should give Microsoft Windows Live Writer a try, even though I'd heard decidedly mixed reviews from other bloggers.

So I have to say after using WLW for several days: I am impressed!

Here are some initial impressions - I intend to blog about this in probably a series of posts as I use it more and kick the tires a bit more.


1. Easy switch from WYSIWIG to HTML - I'm an old-school HTML guy.  I started creating web pages back in 1992/1993 when all you did was hand-code them all in vi. And as much as I enjoy and use WYSIWIG editors, I want to be able to quickly switch between a WYSIWIG and HTML view. Sometimes I want to just tweak the HTML... or insert some HTML that isn't fully supported by the editor.. or I want to resolve a problem that the editor won't let me fix. WLW makes this trivial: "Shift+F11" flips you to HTML, "Ctrl+F11" flips you back to WYSIWIG. Hit plain old "F11" and you're in "web layout" mode. Hit F12 and you see one of the best preview screens I've seen in any offline editor, period.  This switching is truly a thing of beauty.

2. Embedding images - If you want to accompany a post with a graphic, like I did above with the screenshot, the process can be cumbersome: a) take screenshot; b) save it to a file; c) upload it to your server; d) link to it in your blog post. Offline clients should make this easy.  Semagic certainly did... you were prompted to save the files, but otherwise it handled all the upload and everything else for you.  WLW takes this a couple steps further: you aren't asked to save it as a file, and the images are auto-thumbnailed. Clicking on the link gives you the larger image.  It's a nice implementation.

3. Easy creation of links on text - Semagic has this one magic keystroke "Ctrl+Alt+L" that is a almost irreplaceable keystroke for the time-challenged blogger.  Simply highlight a URL in your browser, copy it, switch to Semagic, highlight the text and press Ctrl+Alt+L... ta da... you text is wrapped in the appropriate <a> tag linking to the URL you just copied.  Simple, easy, and allows for very rapid blogging.  This one feature alone has stopped me from using other offline editors (and was one issue I had with ecto).  WLW almost delivers this... and the way to do it is something I can live with.  You highlight the text and press "Ctrl+K" to get the link dialog box where the Link URL box is highlighted.  Press "Ctrl+V" to paste and press Enter.  So you can do it fast with "Ctrl+K Ctrl+V Enter". (As a bonus "^K^V" can take those of us WordStar users on a trip down memory lane.)

4. Easy switching between weblogs - So far, this has been very simple to do once each weblog account is set up in WLW.

5. Plugin gallery and architecture - It's quite interesting to see that WLW has its own Plugin Gallery with all sorts of ways to extend the functionality (similar to what Firefox and Thunderbird allow).  For instance, the "Text Template" plugin so far seems to be the way to automate inclusion of HTML snippets into posts. (Such as images that are associated with certain kinds of postings, etc.)


1. Lack of keyboard macros? - One of the things Semagic let me do was associate any keystroke combination with a "macro", which is essentially an HTML snippet.  So, for instance, if I wanted to start a post about Blue Box, I simply went into Semagic, typed "Ctrl+Shift+B" and, ta da, the BlueBox log was there all wrapped in appropriate <a> and <img> tags.  These macros allowed again for very fast creation of a post.  In WLW, the previously mentioned "Text Template" plugin gets me close.  I just have to click on "Insert Text Template..." on the sidebar and then double-click on the template to insert.  It has some nice categorization capabilities that I could see being useful if I had lots of templates.  But I had to click on a link.  I don't want my hands to have to leave the keyboard.  I want to pop open a window and start typing with keyboard shortcuts letting me drop in text, images, whatever.  Now, maybe I just have found this in WLW yet - or maybe it's another plugin.

2. No option to keep the window open but clear the text after posting - This was a curious thing to get used to.  When you click on the Publish button in WLW, the post gets published, and then it is still there in your window.  Semagic's behavior was that once you hit "Post", the post was published and then your window was clear so that you could begin your next post. If you wanted to get back to the old post, there is a menu option to edit your last entry.  WLW leaves you instead with the now-posted entry still there in the WLW window.  Now, I've already found that this can be positive because when I realized that I had an error in the just-posted post, I could quickly change it and re-post.  However, most times, I just want the post to be published and I want to start a new post.  I can of course hit the "New" button, but this then gives me a new window - and I've already got too many windows floating around!  There is an option in Tools->Preferences to "Close window after publishing", but that then closes out your window... and if you close all WLW windows, you have to relaunch WLW from the Start menu or QuickLaunch bar to be able to blog again.  What I would like is the option to simply erase all the text after the blog entry has been posted.  (And maybe I've missed the option...)


So those are my initial impressions... if any of you have used it and have comments, I'd certainly be interested in hearing that as well.  Stay tuned for more posts as I push it through my normal blogging.

Heidi Miller jumps into video podcasting with "Four Keys to a Crowded Trade Show Preso"

Creating video podcasts is something that I keep toying with, but simply running out of hours. The esteemed Heidi Miller, though, of "Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter" fame, has taken the plunge and posted her first "vidcast"[1]: The Breadcrumb Approach: Four Keys to a Crowded Trade Show Presentation. The subject is quite interesting... if you have never worked in a trade show booth, the amount of psychology that goes on is absolutely amazing. Heidi gives you a nice taste of it here.  Having spent a good chunk of time in such booths - and being one of the people to sit down and seed the presentation - I can relate to what she's saying here.

Anyway, I enjoyed how she edited the show together and inserted overlay text, etc. Nicely done, Heidi! I'd be curious to know more about what she used for the actual editing (i.e. was it just Windows Movie Maker or something else).

By the way, I enjoyed the chance to meet Heidi out at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo last fall in California... she, Shel Holtz, Terry Fallis and I wound up having a nice dinner one night that was quite enjoyable.  Her DSSP podcast is also well worth a listen.

Now, for a test of embedding content from, here's Heidi's video:

Ever wonder why that other company's booth is crowded, and your presentation is a flop? Check out my first vidcast about four strategies for drawing a crowd into your booth, straight from the mouth of a professional trade show spokesperson. Thanks for watching!

This was a straight copy-and-paste from their site after clicking "Share" below the image. Seems to have worked quite well.  Kudos to the folks for making it so easy.

[1] Maybe someday we'll agree on what we call these things... are they "video podcasts"? "vidcasts"? "just "videos"?

Lee demonstrates a great use of a badge graphic to promote the brand of a blog...

Given that I keep harping on the need for people with web sites (including blogs and podcasts) to have graphics available for bloggers to use on their sites, I really have to commend our friend Down Under, Lee Hopkins, on really showing how it can be done.  He finally got sick of hearing me talk about it and he came up with the very nice graphic for his blog that I've included on the right side of this post.

In fact, Lee went one step better on his blog by using the Title attribute of the <a> tag to provide this nice suggestion when you hover the mouse over the image (which I've included on the image here):

Please feel free to use this image if you want to promote me on your own blog

Nicely done, Lee!

P.S. And yes, I'll shortly have an image up on this blog, too, although I don't know if it will be as nice as yours!

If you want to see what this blog is *supposed* to look like, use Firefox or Safari, not MSIE...

So if you are a user of Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or 7 and want to see what this blog is really supposed to look like, try opening up the page in either Firefox or - on a Mac - Safari.  In both FF and Safari, it looks great.  The little tabs line up with the line underneath them... there is a dividing bar between the main column and the second column (the one with my picture in it)... and all around it just looks better.  I have now spent a serious chunk of time trying to get the CSS to work for IE and have to finally just say I can't...  it will have to wait for another day.

Of course, the content should look the same in either browser, and at least I've solved the issues so that IE is now displaying the columns correctly...  argh... all of this is rather annoying.