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30 posts from July 2007

Congrats to "For Immediate Release" (FIR) for sponsorship by Ragan Communications!

I just have to post my congratulations to Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson for landing a sponsorship of FIR by Lawrence Ragan Communications!  As noted in their blog post and also in their social media news release, this is a long-term relationship that will both promote Ragan to FIR listeners and also promote FIR to the many Ragan customers.  (Shel and Neville also discuss this in today's FIR #255.)  As a weekly correspondent into FIR, I'm excited for Shel and Neville that they have both the financial backing and also the wider exposure within the communications industry.  I think it will only be a positive thing for the show and its listeners!  Congrats, Shel and Neville!

Twitter as an outlet for "fiction"? Scott Sigler shows how it could be done with "the iPhone War"...

image Twitter has been labeled many things... but I don't know that I've yet seen anyone talking about it as an outlet for fiction.  However, Scott Sigler is now experimenting with it as exactly that.  This came about because last Friday (iPhone Day, in case you have somehow forgotten), Scott started a series of tweets (first one here) that escalated into what was called the "iPhone War".  In a series of what looked like posts from an embedded war reporter (albeit one in a dumpster), he rapidly had Canada, Mexico and Russia invading the US to get all of our iPhones, the USA being wiped out and the ultimate collapse of civilization.   (Unfortunately with Twitter in order to see them you'll need to go back in Scott's Twitter page to see the posts - you also can get a taste by clicking the graphic on the right to see a larger version and some of the text.)  It was an entertaining diversion to read. (Hat tip to the tweet from C.C. Chapman that clued me in to it.)

C.C. implied that the "iPhone War" storyline was picked up by other Twitterers, i.e. they joined in, but I didn't see those tweets and unfortunately I don't know of an easy way to pull that all together.

Scott Sigler is now continuing his experiment with another short story that he put up back on July 2nd.  Not quite as personally compelling to me as the "iPhone War", but an interesting experiment nonetheless.   Fun to see people trying to use new tools in old ways (telling stories).

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Windows Live Writer 1.0B2 Tips - Linking to Previous Posts

Right at the end of May, Microsoft released a Beta 2 of Windows Live Writer and ever since then it's been in my queue to write about, given that it is now the offline editor I use for almost all my blogging. However, I think I'll give up on writing the massive comprehensive review I was intending to do and instead write a series of smaller posts about various aspects of the program.

image So first up, I thought I'd mention the new capability to easily link to previous posts.  When you choose "Insert-> Hyperlink..." (or simply "Ctrl+K", which brings back old WordStar memories) you get the dialog box shown on the left (click for larger image) that allows you to enter the URL to link to and potentially edit the link text.  The cool part, though, is the "Link to" dropdown button which has as one of the two choices "Previous Posts".  If you choose that, you then see the dialog box shown on the right (click for larger image).

image In this window you see the recent posts you have made across all the blogs for which you use Windows Live Writer.  You can simply click on one of them and the link is automagically inserted for you.  Alternatively you can click on a blog title to see the posts to that specific blog. (The posts are retrieved from the blog itself so it does not matter whether they were written using WLW or through your blog web interface.)  If you want to go back in time, you don't have an option to go back to a specific date (which my previous editor, Semagic, did) but you can see the last n posts, where n is 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 or 500 and so you can scroll back that way.

All in all it's pretty slick and has saved me already a great amount of time in linking to previous entries.  Given that I blog across multiple weblogs, the ability to link to entries in other blogs is definitely a great timesaver.  (Note that you need to have setup all the weblogs within WLW, which I have done for mine.)

If you haven't checked it out (and are on Windows), do go to the Windows Live Writer Zone and download a copy. I think you might be impressed as to how well it can help you blog faster.

What do you use to add screen captures / logos to your blog entries?

Question for you all - what do you use to incorporate screen captures into your blog entries?

For a variety of reason, I like to incorporate images into my posts.  Sometimes it is just the logo of the company/product/service that I am discussing[1].  Sometimes it is a part of a web page or program screen (here's an example).  In any event, my highly unsophisticated process of getting those graphics right now on my Windows XP PC is to do the following:

  1. Press Ctrl+Alt+PrntScrn to copy the current open window to the Clipboard.
  2. Switch to Windows Paint and paste the image into the window.
  3. Click on one of the other tools (like the eraser) so that I de-select the entire area and then click on the selection box again.
  4. Select the region I want to copy and then do the standard copy to Clipboard.
  5. Switch to Windows Live Writer (my current blogging editor of choice) and paste the graphic into my blog entry.

Like I said... not very sophisticated, but it works well.  However, I'd like to simplify it a bit - ideally drop it down to simply my steps #4 and #5, i.e. select a region of the screen and then paste it into WLW. 

Unfortunately, there doesn't yet seem to be a WLW plugin that does what I want, although this plugin seems quite close if I feel like dropping $39 for TechSmith's SnagIt program (and perhaps I will).  It sounds like Vista has a built-in utility for doing this, but I don't have Vista and don't foresee getting it for some time.

What do you all use?  How do you bring in screen captures?  logos?  etc.?  [2]

Thanks in advance.


[1] And sometimes a logo can be brought in by simply right-clicking it in Firefox, choosing "Copy Image" and pasting it into my blog editor.  But sometimes the colors don't work and sometimes a site doesn't make a logo easy to get this way - the logo is part of a much larger image or embedded in Flash... so you need to capture that part of the screen to get the logo.

[2] And Mac users, please don't bother telling me that this is: a) trivial and built-in on the Mac; or b) I should get a Mac and run Parallels to use Windows and again would be able to do it.  I get it, okay... I understand the belief that Macs are superior for graphics.  But that doesn't help change the fact that my corporate laptop is a Windows XP box!

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Returning to NOT using comment moderation...

I've decided to reverse my earlier decision and turn OFF comment moderation on this blog.  Today I suddenly realized that I shouldn't have been ignoring those TypePad emails and I in fact had 4 unpublished comments in the queue.  Oops.    Sorry about that, folks.  I am going to try returning to using CAPTCHAs... it's working fine on my other blogs so I'm not sure why it wasn't working here.  Anyway, comments are now NOT moderated - please do email me if you experience any problems leaving comments.  And yes, eventually I will get rid of the problem where the preview and CAPTCHA appear in a small middle column - I just need to find the time to move to the native 3-column layout of TypePad and then do my further customizations on top of that.... some day...

Feedburner frees their TotalStats and MyBrand services (previously part of the PRO subscription)

image It would seem that those of us who use Feedburner are seeing an early payoff of the acquisition by Google - per the Feedburner blog announcement today:

Beginning today, two of FeedBurner's previously for-pay services, TotalStats and MyBrand, will be free. Not in the sense of soaring high above the clouds or recently sprung from the hoosegow, but free like you'll no longer gladly be billed on Tuesday for a burned feed today.

Very cool to see!  I've already activated what is now called "Feedburner Stats PRO" on my main feeds and am looking forward to seeing what other stats I wind up getting.

I'm also VERY pleased to see the "MyBrand" service being made free.  One of my biggest concerns about using Feedburner all along is that people subscribe to the RSS feed at Feedburner's site.  They are essentially all now Feedburner's customers (well, now Google's!).  If for some reasone I ever want to move my feed to some other site, or to host it myself, I basically lose all those folks who have subscribed to the feed via Feedburner.  I have to somehow get them to re-subscribe to my new RSS feed.  The beauty of "MyBrand" is that instead of having an RSS feed set up as:

I can instead have the feed appear off of my own domain name like this:

While this URL does look a bit repetitive, the point is that should I need to move the RSS feed elsewhere - or should Google someday shut down Feedburner (which I can't see happening) - the feed URL is under MY control!  I might need to do a web redirect to point "/DisruptiveConversations" to some file like "/rss.xml" but that is something that I can do on my server or service provider.  I'm no longer locked into Feedburner's service and systems.

Now, I have no reason whatsoever to leave Feedburner.  I'm a very happy user who is not paying a dime and enjoying the stats and all the other many capabilities that Feedburner offers.  But that's today... and who is to say that sometime in the future I might want to move my feed to somewhere else?  The MyBrand service gives me this flexibility and "insurance".  Sometime in the next few weeks I'll make the time to make this transition for all of my feeds.

Thanks, Feedburner team, for making both of these services available to all of your users!

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Huh? No "date sort" in Technorati photos? Am I imagining this?

image While I have historically been a huge fan of Technorati, I'm increasingly getting disappointed with the site (as can be seen in my recent posts) and today provided yet another disappointment.  Since my employer, Mitel, had a major reseller conference last week, I was searching technorati for postings about the event.  There seemed to be a number of photos, so I followed the link for the page of "photos about mitel".  However, once there, I found there was no way to sort by date!


Did I imagine this?  Am I missing some option somewhere?

Why should I really care about photos posted 362 days ago?  or 131 days ago?  (Or even, amazingly, 806 days ago?)  How about something closer to, oh, today?  When I did scroll down the page I did find a few posted 4 days ago... but that was all the way at the bottom... and there would seem to be at least 6 more pages of photos... would I really have to scroll through them to find more recent photos?

Now, I don't really think of Technorati as a place to go search for photos, but that's part of what Technorati aims to be, by their own admission.  If they do want to be "the place to go" to search the multimedia web, though, I do think they need to improve things like sort capabilities!  I want to see the search results not only in terms of what my be most relevant, but also in terms of timeframe.  I want to see new photos first.

I know the team there is working hard on improving the site.  Hopefully some of these changes will be made.  In the meantime, I think I'll pretty much ignore the photo search capability.

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Pownce pummels you with email notifications... and the inevitable comparisons to Twitter

On Day 2 of using Pownce - and remembering that it is in "beta" - my initial reaction was one of complete disgust at the sheer number of email messages that the site generates by default.  I mean, who in their right mind would think that people would want email notifications for basically everything that happens on the site?  Now, maybe there are people out there who don't get as much email as I do, but sheesh...

image Thankfully there is a way to turn off the notifications to reduce the flow.  I think the "Plain message received" is the biggest culprit.  It seems that anytime any of your "friends" send you a message you wind up with an email message letting you know that you have a new message!  Get more than a few friends and... ta da... your email inbox is deluged!  So here would be my #1 feedback item to the developers:

Turn most of the notifications OFF by default!

Maybe just the "Pending friend request" and "Event invite received".  Or put the notification screen as part of the signup process so that when someone is joining Pownce they see all this and can specify what they want.  All I know is that my initial reaction on opening up my personal email this morning was that I almost immediately wanted to get out of Pownce!

As the bright, shiny object chasers keep moving to Pownce, there are the inevitable comparisons to other darling, Twitter, and while I don't have the time to write up my own thoughts today, a blogger named Tamar Weinberg posted a nice  comparison: "Twitter vs. Pownce: Who Pwns?" that captures a lot of the differences very nicely, complete with screenshots.   I agree with most of her points.  The biggest difference to me seems to be APIs.  With Pownce you must use either the (non-auto-refreshing) web page or the separate Pownce application.  With Twitter, you can use the (auto-refreshing) web page, but there are now a ton of other apps that allow you to update Twitter.  You can also connect to Twitter from other applications/devices that fit within your normal daily workflow.  So, for instance, when I am in my home office, I use "twitter4skype" to read tweets from friends directly in a Skype IM chat window and post my own updates to Twitter.  When I am on the road, I use my blackberry to SMS in updates (and could read them on my BB via SMS if I wished to do so).  I have also updated Twitter from within Facebook.  The key point is - I don't have to run yet another app on my PC, or be limited to having to go to a specific web page.

We'll see.  I like the "Sets" that are part of Pownce, and the idea of sending files is interesting (but, gee, I can do that with any of my IM clients!)... but I really don't like having to go to the one web page (or using the app).

Noah Mittman also chimed in with a post comparing the two and offering the view that Twitter is aiming at being a multiplatform messaging system while Pownce is aiming to be a multipurpose "sharing" system.  I understand the difference he's making, but it seems to me that right now people are viewing Pownce as primarily a better version of Twitter.  It still to me is a micro-blogging/status/presence system.  As to the "sharing", my ongoing thought is that we already have so many different ways to share files and links (as I count the number of IM clients I am running), that I'm not sure we really need yet another.

I think both Pownce and Twitter are stepping stones toward something else that amalgamates all these different communication needs.... I'm not sure what precisely that is (or I'd launch a startup!)...

Pownce, Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook... and the perpetual quest for the next bright, shiny thing...

Does this sound familiar?  There is suddenly a site about which absolutely "everyone" you know is suddenly talking.  Suddenly, you have just got to join that site - but of course you must have an invitation and they are hard to get.  You are, though, being asked by all sorts of people you know... who keep telling you how great it is and how this new site will completely revolutionize the Internet and fundamentally alter the way in which we communicate.  Once you give in and join you suddenly find yourself deluged in requests to be added as a "friend" by some people you know and then also by many others you have no clue who they are.  It's the "new" Internet.  It's the end of everything old and the start of everything new.  It's the best invention since sliced bread.  You just gotta see it!

What site am I talking about?

Hmmm... how about Orkut in 2004?

That was certainly the view in those days.... everyone was madly adding Orkut friends, filling out their Orkut profiles... wildly creating "communities" within Orkut and finding new communities to join.  Just like today's Facebook Groups, you could learn a great amount about someone by the communities they joined.  Private messages were flying back and forth and it was just the place to be, even if many were uncomfortable with the focus of the site on dating.

But then somewhere along the way a good number of folks, myself included, were off to chase the next bright, shiny thing and we stopped checking in to Orkut all that often.  Spam increased within the site, the Brazilians took over ... and the rest is history.  There are obviously still a lot of folks using the site, and occasionally I get a message in email that reminds me I need to go visit (usually to remove the "scraps" that spammers leave).

The pattern repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats....

After Orkut, the place to be was LinkedIn... Friendster... Xing... LiveJournal... MySpace... today's darling seems to be Facebook.

Over the past months "presence services" have seemed to be the rage.  First it was Twitter... then there was a "great migration" over to Jaiku.... then some folks started thinking Facebook status updates were the best... meanwhile all the IM addicts were wondering how these new services were all that different from the IM "advisory" or "mood" messages people had been changing for some time.  (And fundamentally they really aren't different, except that you can get them via RSS or on a web page and thus have a history.)

image Now, today, some of the Twitter-addicted seem to be convinced that Pownce is the next bright, shiny thing and it will solve all the problems with Twitter and bring us to communication nirvana.  Naturally, being a professional chaser of bright, shiny things, I had to sign up for Pownce.  First impression is that it's a lot like Twitter with better replies and a way to have both public posts and also ones only visible to your friends.  (Which, of course, I've had from a blogging point of view with my LiveJournal account since back in 2004.) Okay, and it has its own desktop software.

Of course, to use it means that I have to rebuild a list of "friends" similar to the lists I already have in all the aforementioned presence, IM and social networking services.  I will, naturally, because there is something in my mental makeup that compels me to try out new services like this.

Meanwhile, of course, someone else is telling me that is really the place to be... if I'll just go there and sign up, the mist will be lifted from my eyes and everything will be amazingly clear.   Hmmmmm.....

The strange fascination of "LOLCats"

image Ever since I started using Twitter, I have often been quite amused (and annoyed) by the various images with kittens that appeared whenever there was a server error.  The typical image has a cat inside a computer with words like "IM IN UR SERVER".  I usually either laughed or cursed... but I didn't realize that I'd missed the larger meme of which these are a part - a meme called "LOLCats". The Wikipedia entry for LOLcats naturally has plenty of interesting links.  It seems that this began about the beginning of the year or late in 2006.  The premiere site really seems to be "I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?" which started with this eponymous entry.  Around April 2007 there seems to have been a big explosion in interest and coverage.

I missed it all.  If you did, too, here's some links to get caught up:  :-)

And of course, should you wish to create your own LOLcat images, you might want to first read:

and then visit the:

The linguist and lover of languages in me finds this all rather amusing... yet another way to abuse the English language!  Yet I admit that many of the images are amusing and fun...  just another one of those curious things to emerge from this thing we call the Internet.