Blogs and wikis in space

Scott Trudeau and I were talking about the intersection of blogs and wikis, which I realize everyone else talked about two years ago. Maybe next I’ll start blogging about how I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged more, or pull post ideas from Anil’s list of clichés. I also had an insightful conversation with Mark Dilley about wiki organization and how it might apply to groups of blogs; something that might find its way into ArborBlogs.

One of the things that came out of my conversation with Scott was the idea of space with both. Blogs are one dimensional, posts are points on the axis of time. Posting over time makes a blog taller visually and wider metaphorically.

Wikis are two dimensional. If the fundamental unit of a blog is a post, the fundamental unit of a wiki is the page. Adding pages makes a wiki wider using our imaginary graph, and as a wiki page evolves over time the wiki gets taller.

Mark’s idea of organizing blogs into groups involves adding that second dimension to blogs. The blog becomes the fundamental unit, and the network grows wider as it adds blogs, taller as those blogs add good posts and deeper as blogs accumulate posts over time. Mark is looking for a tool to organize blogs and he thinks in wikis. He wants interlinking, backlinks and recent changes distributed across a network of blogs.

Another mental framework I stumbled on is that blogs link to the past and wikis link to the future. When I blog at PVRblog, I usually want to provide background on a post. For example, a post about EchoStar suing TiVo links to an earlier post about TiVo suing EchoStar.

Wikis are built around links to the future. In order to create a page, you have to link to that page first; you have to link to a page that doesn’t exist. Linking to a stub on the Wikipedia is a link to the future when that is a full page with good information.

I don’t think that a blog equivalent of a future link exists, but it could be powerful. I’ve been working with some people in Ypsilanti on their grassroots journalism project and one of the things that we’re looking to do is provide a way for people to request coverage of meetings. In a wiki you request a page by making a link to it and waiting, but there’s precious few ways to request that a blog that is connected to yours make a post about something. NowPublic tries to address that for grasssroots journalism. A way to distribute these requests over a network a blogs would allow conversations to evolve organically.

Drupal modules in RSS

One of the hard things about searching the web by keyword is that sometimes you want to find things with a specific relationship. Take Drupal’s module list for example. I want to know when there are new modules available, which is perfect for RSS.

There’s plenty of information about Drupal modules that make RSS, but it’s hard to find something about getting the module list in RSS. I’m sure the capitalized Semantic Web will make that easy, but until that happens I guess I’ll just have to roll my own.

So I set up an RSS feed at I scrape the page once a day (technically once a night in EDT, once an early morning in UTC, once a…) and make a fresh new RSS feed. If you know of any Drupal users/developers, you might want to let them know.

Happy Snow-On-Tulips Day!

Snow + Tulips

It snowed a lot on Sunday. While this isn’t unheard of in April, a lot of people thought that winter was over because on Tuesday it was 81°. A lot of people write it off as “LOL it’s just Michigan weather” but I think that’s a cop-out and that plenty of other places have unpredictable weather and people who say that desperately want to believe that they don’t live in a flyover.

Anyway, see if you can spot a common theme in these posts that I spotted on the ArborBlogs picture aggregator (Scott, linked below as S. S. Trudeau, picked up on it too):

(As an aside, when I’m signed into Yahoo! and they know damn well what my ZIP code is and I go to Yahoo! Weather, why don’t they just show me the damn weather? Am I the only person who goes there for the weather around me? Are there that many people going there to find weather in places they aren’t that they need to provide a general view of the weather?)

Update Sep 16, 2005: I hear that Yahoo! doesn’t infer ZIP codes or birthdays (for, Yahoo Astrology, for example) from user info because those are used for password reset requests. While I certainly appreciate the thought Yahoo gives to security and identity in general, I wonder if life would be better if there was no overlap between “general facts” and “protected information.” Yahoo has almost certainly given this issue more attention than me and concluded that the general public needs some overlap in the balance between security and usability, but I hope that they are considering what Bruce Schneier has to say on the subject as well.

Does blogging mean a return to hard news?

Blogging routinely gets called out for credibility problems, and instead of admitting them bloggers usually just deflect by saying “CBS! Memogate!” But blogging does have a credibility problem; a lot of it is speculative and inflammatory. The naysayers think that rumor and innuendo will replace the New York Times, while both sides pretend that there’s a war between citizen media and the “MSM.”

Meanwhile, pro media has been having its own problems. On The Media talked to of Tom Fenton during this week’s show about the failings of the news media.

There were the attacks on the American servicemen at Kubar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in the early 1990s. That was followed by the attacks on two American embassies in Africa, followed by the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and in each case, we reported the stories, but we gave almost no context. We didn’t try to connect the dots for the American public. And then, when 9/11 came along, people asked “Why do they hate us?” I mean, that was the most damning indictment of what we had failed to do during the 1990s.

The news media is spending a lot of time on soft news these days, and that’s where bloggers are going to eat their lunch. Gawker is going to be able to cover Paris Hilton twenty times as well as the local news with their “You won’t believe what Paris is up to now” teasers. There will be a market shift, and newspeople who don’t adapt will lose their jobs.

Does this mean the end of the traditional journalist? Hardly; bloggers and journalists have a symbiotic relationship. Bloggers mine the news for interesting stuff, then add opinions. Journalists can mine blogs for tips, then add context and fact checking. Bloggers on the ground will report what’s going on around them, it’s up to the journalists to take that and turn it into something that informs people. The journalists that embrace their role as professionals will thrive. The ones that re-print press releases will fail to compete in the market against the likes of Engadget.

Drupal Atom Aggregator

One of the big problems with using the Drupal Aggregator for ArborBlogs was that it doesn’t support Atom out of the box. My initial fix was to create an Atom -> RSS converter using Magpie but this weekend I was able to set up Drupal to use Magpie for RSS and Atom parsing without the need for a mediator.
I don’t know how the Drupal community deals with contributions, I’ll investigate that when I have a chance, but if you’ve got a Drupal site and want to try out my modifications, you can try out my modified aggregator module. It creates modules/aggregator/aggregator.module so you’ll need to move modules/aggregator.module out of modules for it to work.

I am the smartest user in the world!

[Update: no need for my tool anymore, it’s built in]
A friend was talking about my inbox and I realized that he was under the impression that people put stuff in there, instead of me pulling stuff from other people. I told him I had heard that Joshua was planning to implement for:username tags that would put stuff in your inbox when I realized that I could just subscribe to for:revgeorge. Duh.
OK, so this is probably already obvious and I’m not really as smart as the title of this post suggests, but there’s nothing I can do about that title. What I can do is provide you with a form that will add your own personalized for:username tag to your inbox. Go ahead and put your username in there, then sit back and watch links come rolling into your inbox. username:


"nofollow" seems to be the name people are giving for the new anti-PageRank tool, it’s been pretty well received but there has been some criticism.
nofollow is not a panacea. Large-scale social problem don’t have easy answers, like stopping the spread of STDs (which I’ve heard comment spammers have plenty of). One person implementing it on their own doesn’t remove enough incentive to stop a comment spammer. Everyone using it removes the incentive for comment spammers. I’m hoping that enough people use nofollow that comment spammers will see a negligible PageRank boost (I use PageRank only because I don’t know the name for Yahoo! juice or MSN juice) and stop spending their time spamming and their money on spambots. E pluribus unam and all that.
On the plus side, the blogs with the highest PageRank are the best cared for and most likely to use nofollow. I assume software that allows comments will start shipping with nofollow in the default template, so the new blogs (and wikis, and guestbooks, and…) are taken care of. Hosted services like TypePad, LiveJournal, MSN Spaces and Blogger are deploying nofollow site-wide, which takes care of a lot of bloggers.
That leaves the abandoned blogs and the legacy blogs run by people who don’t keep up with this sort of thing. For the people who are unaware, get in touch with them and let them know how to help protect against comment spam. Reach out and touch someone and smack them upside the head until they fix their site.
Abandoned blogs are a tougher problem. Comment spammers already gravitate towards the abandoned blogs; how do we deal with a site that isn’t maintained anymore? I suspect that abandoned blogs that are self-hosted are in the minority due to the fact that it usually requires regular cash infusions to keep running, so it’s possible that we don’t need to reach those people.
One criticism I’m hearing is that removing PageRank from comments will lower the PageRank for commenting users. Guess what – if I want to support your site by linking to it from my own I’ll do it in a post. If you leave a comment on my site, that doesn’t mean your site is any good, it just means you left a comment. PageRank for comments artificially inflates a site’s worth and I think that losing that will make Google more useful. You can still earn PageRank the old fashioned way — post something interesting that people link to.
nofollow does have a fatal flaw though. When 90% Crud gets comment spam, the comments on the post are closed, and Google ads show up on posts with closed comments. It was a nice coping strategy, I could take comfort in the fact that comment spam was encouraging me to earn money on this site. If nofollow does succeed and comment spammers move on to greener pastures, I won’t be encouraged to make my 7 cents per day. Luckily it’ll take a while for the benefits of nofollow to appear, so I’ll have plenty of time to buy my yacht.
[Update: In the area of security there is a mantra: “Deny by default.” That means that the default action should be to deny access, and then if they meet the conditions, allow. nofollow is a deny-by-default approach to PageRank in comments. If you’re responsible enough to delete comment spam with whatever tool your blogging system provides, you’re already preventing comment spammers from getting PageRank (unless Google indexes your site before you get a chance to delete them…). For people who forget about or abandon their blogs, the comment spam can pile up. If no action is taken, nofollow will default to deny comment spammers PageRank.
This won’t stop comment spam overnight, but once weblog tools ship with this as the standard configuration, and once those tools are widely deployed, then comment spammers will not receive PageRank by default, it will be the exception, not the rule. At a certain point, the time spent developing and configuring spambot software would be better used doing some other sort of Google spam and we’ll see the number of comment spammers stop increasing. Then, as existing comment spammers stop and their cron jobs get broken, we’ll see a gradual decline of comment spam. In order to stop an epidemic, you need to inoculate everyone.]


Technorati announced their new tag search engine recently (more info on that), so I’ve written a Movable Type plugin that will take an entry’s Keywords field and turn them into Technorati tags. If you want to see it in action, look at the sidebar on the top right of this entry.

Download TechnoratiTags 0.3 (zip)

Update: If you have the PerlScript plugin already installed you can achieve the same effect with these instructions.

Update 2: If you’re looking for a more general purpose keyword plugin, check out MTKeywordList which loops over the keywords.

Update 2005-05-05: Jan Theofel created a PHP function for Movable Type 3’s dynamic publishing, which is now included. Thanks Jan!

Continue reading “TechnoratiTags”