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iplayer diary and a tool i was never going to use again

A lot of online services have tried to introduce social elements in to their product. This is normally annoying, but in the case of the BBC’s iplayer I found it interesting and useful.

The problem was I was about the only person who did.

A brief recap, when the current design was launched, it had an extra (smaller) column on the homepage. Along with Featured and Most Popular was a column called Friends Recommend or something like that. They made some sensible design choices, rather than having another site where you needed to maintain a ‘friends’ list, you could simply point it to twitter and co and it would do the rest. The problem was that in turned out that at any time it would have maybe three programs to recommend, each of which just one of my friends would have recommended, and that was about it. It was therefore showing ‘anything my friends recommend’ – due to lack of take up – rather than ‘the most recommend programs by my friends’ which would probably be more useful and avoid the slightly narrow topics that came through (oh look Formula 1 and Dr Who).

There were other reasons why it probably didn’t take off. First each program on iplayer had options to favourite, plus recommend, plus share using the usual social suspects. Too many options. I enjoyed something, so I favourite or recommend it? More, to recommend, and see recommendations from you friends you had to be logged in, when to watch or listen did not require to do so – so most didn’t. Quietly the feature disappeared.

But why was I interested in it?

At any given moment iplayer is treasure trove of content. Especially in radio. It’s much easier for good TV to rise to the top, partly because there is less of it, and partly because good TV tends to be expensive. Any sort of semi decent good drama will be prime time viewing and probably on the featured section of iplayer. I’m not shocking anyone by saying Daytime output can be ignored, you’re really looking at a few hours of prime time a night on three channels (well, four if you’re really nice and allow BBC Three to be counted, bless it).

But radio is different. You can make the most amazing radio with a script, voice and microphone. Interesting stuff is being pumped out at all times of the day on various stations.

Sometimes – not often – I’ll fall asleep with the radio on Radio 4. Because it’s not something I often do it makes me drift in and out of sleep, waking for a few minutes every so often, sometimes reaching a level of consciousness that knows what that sound is but can’t quite reach the levels of energy to turn it off. It creates very strange dreams – and snippets of conversations and monologues. The first time I did this, I wanted to listen again to some of the things that were coming back to me once I was awake. It took a while to find, the Radio 4 Schedule just said ‘World Service’ and the latter’s schedule was quite difficult to navigate, but I found the programs in question. Some were really interesting, one was an Arts magazine program with a World slant, and I actually bought a book they were discussing as a result.

All that interesting stuff, in just one nights broadcasting, on a channel I would never listen to, and programs I would never bump in to on iplayer. What if others could highlight these gems as they listen to them. What if I could highlight them to others.

I have a rule that I don’t put the TV on unless there is absolutely something I want to watch – and as I never look at the TV Guides, that is quite rare (though I can smell Family Guy on BBC Three a mile off). I have this rule because I am a Lazy Person. If the TV is on I will sit in front of it as if chained, moving for nothing, even if it was stuck on the test card (I scratch my knee, I have to scratch the other).

Because of this I listen to a lot of radio recordings in the evenings, when one program finishes I stop what I am doing (whether online, or – depressingly rarely – something in my flat that doesn’t require an internet connection, ummm, hang on, I’m going to think of an example… Like… like the washing up! you see, I’m not so boring) and need to find something else to listen to.

Once I’ve exhausted the ‘most popular’ list of things that take my interest I get a little stuck. The categories on the bottom right of the Radio iplayer page never really work for me (long lists, the fact they include stuff from all the regional stations doesn’t help). And browsing yesterdays schedule for each station is a bore. So after the ‘most popular’ list I head for the main radio station pages on the BBC website with the first stop being, of course, Radio 4.

You get six highlights on the Radio 4 homepage. For me, today is a bad day for the highlights. The first seems to be a running fiction series (no thanks), another talks about making chocolate mousse (which isn’t the same as eating them), and while I’m interested in things music related, mostly because I’m so ignorant of it – people talking about how a piece has changed them doesn’t really appeal (I’m guessing a couple met each other as a result of it, and someone from a ‘disadvantaged estate’ was destined for a life of crime until hearing it). What I need is Highlights, sure, but lots of them.

After that I need to make more effort hunting for things worth a listen. And I need to pace myself. Too much hard listening on one night will leave me with nothing to listen to the next. Like Drug barons the world over, Radio 4 has learnt the art of limiting out supply to its addicts. Bastard.

Where was I? Discovering stuff. Yes. And the thing is there is good stuff where you least think it – even Radio 2. Bloody Radio 2! (Henning Wehn, probably the funniest comedian in the UK, and Michael Grade’s documentary on Television since you ask). Radio 3 has debates, I’ve mentioned the World Service, and 6 Music obviously has a lot worth listening to.

It did occur to me this was an itch I was trying to scratch – and perhaps I could make my millions by developing the universal solution (obscure UK radio documentaries surely have the same mass-market appeal as Facebook). And while the BBC have done much with APIs, supporting developers and Linked Data, I couldn’t see any obvious way to build a third-party site to cater to my (and the millions) needs with what was available.

I might need to follow in Bob Monkhouse’s footsteps. Buy the Radio Times each week and going through the listings each week with a highlighter (note to self, must purchase highlighter).

But what about the other side of the coin, sharing the things I have listened to? There’s nothing really charitable about this aim. This is good honest preachiness – I’ve decided you should listen to something and YOU’RE JUST GOING TO OBEDIENTLY LISTEN TO IT. You will like what I like.

This is easier. The iplayer has sharing tools to post to various social network sites. I use Twitter and Reddit (and have a Facebook account so I can’t stalk people, don’t we all). So what if I could use one of the other services offered as a way of recording and sharing what I liked.

Long story short (though if you have reached this far you will have realised it’s more long story thankfully a little less long) – I went with delicious. You may have heard of it.

Delicious was my bookmarking tool of choice for years until the famous Yahoo! ‘Sunsetting’ slide leaked out – even though it did not state the site was closing – and it provided (as it should – but many don’t) easy export options, I didn’t like the idea of my bookmarks being on a service whose future was questionable. Besides, a recent change to their system seemed to require me to constantly re-enter my password no matter what I tried. When would these first world problems stop haunting me?

So I moved to pinboard.in – in the knowledge that there is no safer place to store my bookmarks than a one-man operation – the one-man spending much of his time promoting and baiting his competitors and mocking his users. Using pinboard felt good – in as much as a service that remembers links for you can ever make you feel good, and as it had imported everything from Delicious. I haven’t ever needed to log in to the latter until last week.

So it goes something like this. If I listen (or watch) anything I feel noteworthy I now use the Delicious share option on iplayer. I use the Delicious note field to add (get this) notes, and text I want to share. I wanted this to be frictionless as possible and originally wanted to not use tags, but then decided that to spare those who follow me on twitter I would use the tag ‘t‘ for those i wanted to share. Next I use twitterfeed (now owned by bitly, which pleases me as I could never work out how they would find a business model) and pass it the RSS feed the t tag on delicious, and tell it to tweet what ever comes in.

And so Delicious – a site I thought I would never use again, is now (until I get bored with the idea) my iplayer diary, and via twiterfeed, a way of telling the world (where world = my followers) what they should be listening to.

The first tweet to come out of this was for Masters of Money: Marx written and presented by Stephanie Flanders – which yes is a TV show (a prime time one at that) flying in the face of most of this article. Interestingly it got a few replies and retweets and a favourite – all down to the brilliance of my tweeting I’m sure, and nothing to do with the program being an incredible smart, interesting and well made.

So for as long as I remember to do this, I will have a record of what I have watched, and with careful consideration of the annoyance-threshold of my followers, a way to share what I have been listening to and watching.

Monday 8th October

I wrote the above on Saturday. I didn’t quite finish it all, and kept on meaning to get around to hitting ‘publish’. Then on Monday: BBC launches iPlayer Radio to promote audio content. The literally minutes I had spent typing this were now wasted – to think I could have spent that time staring at new DMs on twitter saying “have you seen what they are saying in this video….” (No I haven’t, I’m totally clicking on the link later). This post is out of date before it is even published. BBC Iplayer has changed, the new version seems to be merged with what was the main BBC Radio page.

Now, when things change on the internet strange things happen to people, especially when it’s the BBC Homepage (OMG the direct link to 16th century weather formations over Essex have been removed from the homepage, do those overpaid autocratic plebish so-called experts have a clue how much they have destroyed it for EVERYONE) or Facebook (OMG my profile page now has two columns rather than one – does no one understand the pain). Yet for once I feel like getting my green pen and joining in.

I mean on the plus side it gives Radio its own space (but some will note bbc.co.uk/radio/ was pretty much a space for radio) and makes listening online to live and recorded items an integral part.

However – green pen time! – where are my Featured and Most Listened to? While by definition highlighting what the editors decide to promote, or what others are listening to, is hardly finding that rare nugget that no one else has found, it was a great way of bumping in to things that you would not normally – well – bump in to.

In fact the nearest thing looks to the highlights on each stations homepage, similar to those I describe above on the Radio 4 homepage, back in the good ol’ days of early October 2012. Ironically – or intentionally – this highlights and strengthens the original stations that produce the content – on iplayer they were just shows, it was easy to listen to something and have no idea what station it came from (except Radio 4 Extra / Radio 7 – which oddly always adds four or five minutes of recording to the start and end of each programme).

We do have categories, like before, but these always seem to have a little too much noise to signal. For example Factual (the place to go to for things like the chat/music/comedy/not-many-facts Loose Ends, The Bottom Line and Midweek) is currently dominated by “Everything you need to know about Cumbria’s day.”, “All of Oxfordshire’s news, sport and essential information in one place.” and “Digon o sgwrsio, cyngor, cerddoriaeth a chwerthin yn fyw o stiwdio Caerfyrddin yng nghwmni Iola Wyn.” (ok, there was the odd national broadcast in there, the odd one, I didn’t have to point this out. This is how honest I am). Of course, all of these are just lovely I’m sure, but I don’t want to wash up to them. and I can’t be bothered to scroll through page after page looking for the odd thing I want.

My final observation is that it seems to focus on the current. I’m sure this is deliberate, but, for example, iplayer will default to showing yesterdays schedule, which is useful when you just want to listen to things already available. I’m guessing the search feature of the Radio page is going be quite a key feature – and they do allude to it in the introduction text – as a way of finding regulars (it could really do with auto-complete).

Google Street view

To read this post you first need to pop along here. [opens in a new tab]

Then go to Street view at the precise point where the pin is (where the road crosses the river).

Do it now, we’ll be waiting for you.

…You hopefully saw a bizarre view, dark warped and not clear at all what it was, but at the same time there was the street view overlay showing there was a road ahead.

Meanwhile, try to rotate to the left or right resulted in more oddness. Depending on how you do it it can feel like you are rotating around the walls of the tunnel (when you first go to Street View, pull down, i.e. so that normally in Street View you would be pulling down to move the camera up to look at the sky, you should then see the tunnel ahead, you can then drag along the top, or bottom, of the screen from left to right, or use the compass in the top left)

You might well have realised what it is. You can try using Street view a little to the right of the pin in the map where the junction is with what looks like a cul-de-sac, and then move towards the tunnel for an idea of what has happened here. The Street View Car couldn’t go through the tunnel with the cameras up so the bar with the cameras was lowered. This leaves the ‘forward’ camera facing up, and the behind camera facing the car itself. However the controls still act as if you are seeing the normal view, making it odd to control.

For info, the water is actually the Grand Union Canal. Just below this road is where the river Nene (not far from its source and still small) crosses the canal, heading towards Northampton and on to The Wash. The railway you can see is the West Coast Mainline.

TwaperKeeper archives

TwapperKeeper is shutting down it seems. It’s a popular online tool for archiving hashtags and other twitter searchers, and certainly well used in UK Higher Education where I work. I actually met John O’Brien, founder of TwapperKeeper, when he attended Dev8D (a developer event for those working in UK HE) a couple of years a go, nice chap.

Anyway, Martin Hawksey has created a wonderful tool for archiving, ummm, archives before they are gone. The tool is actually a Google Spreadsheet and to me it’s a testament to Google Docs power that an application that fetches and stores data from another site can be created using it.

Here’s my Twappers. Saved thanks to Martin’s brilliant spreadsheet.

  • UKSG is an organisation whose members are mainly University Libraries and Publishers. While I only attended their conference for the first time this year, it seems I was the person who originally created a TwapperKeeper archive, you can access the document by clicking the link (and if you’re signed in to Google Docs you can save a copy etc), note you need to click the archive tab at the bottom.
  • data.gov.uk – again nothing really to do with me, but an archive of tweets mentioning data.gov.uk (again, click the archive worksheet tab at the bottom)
  • bcb4 – Barcamp Brighton 4. I attended this event a couple of years a go
  • dilsr – Developing Innovative Library Support for Researchers. Not only did the twitter archives of this event, held at Sussex last year, almost disappear, but the website originally on ning has already gone with the dodo.
  • nickcleggsfault – during the run up to the election the Lib Dems looks like they may come a respectable third place rather than a distant third place. Our great papers put their usual impartial views to one side to – for the sake of Britain – destroy the Lib Dem leader. Twitter decided to join in. (I blogged about some of the articles for one day at the time). For some reason, I can only get 4,500 tweets, I think a tweet around that point is causing an error, I will try to get more.

I make no claim on owning any of the data. I’m guessing the original tweeters do. Or maybe Twitter Inc. Or Facebook. Actually it’s definitely Facebook. And it’s already alerted your mum that you’re reading this. Sorry.

Meta : blogging

There’s a long tradition of bloggers blogging about blogging. This post follows in the self-obsessed insular tradition.

This blog post is somewhat unusual in that I’m posting it to nostuff, my blog. I’ve been using posterous a bit of late and like it a lot. Posterous is also setup to post to a WP instance on nostuff here: http://www.nostuff.org/posterous/ it was setup as a way to archive an externally hosted service, but the end result is very useable (and seems to rank quite highly in Google).

Why am I using Posterous more, and this blog less? A number of Posterous posts have started off as ‘I can’t quite fit this in to 140 characters on twitter so I’ll use Posterous’, and normally write much, much more than I intend.

I also find using gmail as a post creator rather nice to use, it makes me focus on writing as it doesn’t support any fancy formatting or blog specific features.

In fact the composition window of WordPress has always been its weak point. Does this put me off using it? Even though the WP developers have put a lot in to the interface, it is at the end of the day, a TinyMCE (or similar) WYSIWYG editor. The text box for which always seems a little small to me. And it feels a little like editing a form. I wish it looked more like a Google Doc, taking up nearly all the screen with the text editor, large text, and excellent ‘constant save’ / view changes support.

What’s not helpful is that my blog is hosted in the States, or a server that ins’t always as responsive as it should be, so the experience feels slower than using gmail. Finally, the categories, tags, perm link etc all make blogging feel like a ‘heavy’ experience, even though – of course – I’m free to ignore them. The simplicity of posterous was liberating.

So, for this post, and others recently to this blog, I’ve used a client called ecto to compose it, and at the end post it to WordPress. This is something ironic in doing just about everything in a browser except composing something that is so at its heart a web-based thing, a blog. You could argue that writing (relatively) long bits of text is better suited to local apps than web apps, but this doesn’t explain why I head for Google Docs and Google spreadsheets by default rather than Word of Excel. I selected ecto many years a go after trying it and MarsEdit. I can’t help thinking I made a bad choice as ecto has not since had a single update and MarsEdit has gone from strength to strength. Still, while it works I shall resist paying the £28 for MarsEdit. This is a rare area where the Microsoft alternative is better and free.

One to(o) Many

When I started out with this blog many years a go, I thought I was in the same boat as many of my peers. Over time I’ve noticed that I’m quite rare in that nostuff.org/words is a ‘anything goes’ blog – most are either work/professional related or of a particular interest. In fact very few of the blogs I follow are of a general style such as this (Dave Pattern and Tom Roper are two examples I can think of which buck the trend). Many people seem to have a professional blog, perhaps a specialist blog (cooking, running, knitting, etc) and increasingly perhaps a tumblr for random stuff.

I’ve rather keen to keep the general feel. I know I’m guilty in so many ways at letting work/personal intermingle in so many ways but you can categories blog posts (and probably twitter to) as one of: I’ve done something I want to share; I’ve got a view/opinion on something, and the third, related to the second, I want to reflect on something (which this post probably falls under), and I like the idea of this blog reflecting those things no matter what subject they are about. This space is a dump of my thoughts and things worth sharing. I prefer to let categories and tags provide a way of filtering should people only be interested. Of course, there’s an argument that you may want to avoid people in a professional network (I hate that phase) from seeing your thoughts and rantings outside of work. It’s a very good argument, but one so far I’ve resisted changing what I do because of it.

Of course, the idea that this is the place for the thoughts and outputs of Chris Keene is nonsense. As mentioned above, I also dump stuff on posterous. I’m using Google+ more, there’s flickr, youtube, comments on other blogs and most of all twitter. There’s no easy answer to this, I’ve gone away from the route of adding a lot of plugins from other sites to the sides of this blog, it makes things look messy, but it does leave a hole through my general ‘this is my dumping ground’ philosophy.

Blog TLC

I haven’t done much with this blog over the last year though I do have some things on my mind.

  • I have regular plans to move to a new theme. I like many of the very stripped down themes now out there including this one and the default Twenty Ten theme. However, somewhat cynically, I like the fact that the current theme gives it a somewhat unique feel, I like to feel that someone somewhere comes back after a year and thinks ‘oh yes, the green one, I’ve been here before’. And while it has failings (the left hand side if far from perfect, and it relies too much on images for the background shading) I have put effort in to it over the years, including a first stab at converting it to html5 last year. All in all, I’m going to hold on to it a little longer.
  • I’ve just added some social media buttons, ‘plus ones’ for Facebook/Google+ and a tweet button. They need some customising and a currently a little large. I’ve found I use these a bit on other people’s sites as a simple tip of my hat that I have read and enjoyed the post. A simple ‘hit’ within web stats just doesn’t convey this. So while they are clutter, and somewhat ugly clutter at that, I hope people might take the time to hit them, using which ever network they like to use, if they enjoy reading something.
  • I’m going to re-do Categories. I’m going to base them on potential categories of reader. Somethings like this: Library Technology, Technology, Libraries (general), Politics, Brighton (and Sussex), UK. I may also include some meta categories: essay, short, interesting (for those I think worth highlighting) and me. Of course each post can belong to many categories. Some of the current categories date back to when this was the place to share links.
  • Consider setting up my posterous to post to this blog, either automatically or when I flag it to do so. Some of the stuff I have posted there deserves to be here (which I see more as a permanent record).
  • Re-think the front page of the blog. Is the most recent blog post, in full, the best thing to see?
  • I find that on landing on to someone else’s blog (via Google or twitter) I want to know a bit about them, for example what they are saying may have a different meaning based on where they live, or what they claim to specialise in. So I may beef up the brief blurb at the top left of the page.

I have one final idea but it will take more than a bullet point to explain.

For a long time I have felt that Blog comments leave me wanting, on my own and other sites. I only get to see those who commented before me, I probably won’t see those left after mine, people who already have commented will not see mine etc. If I write a long comment with some good points, I have no way of recording that comment, i.e. there’s no way to see a list of all the comments I’ve left on other sites. Wanting to refer to an old comment on mine relies on me remembering which blog and post it was connected to. Finally, managing comments on your own blog can be hard work, even with the impressive – free – WordPress spam plugin.

What’s more, I see an increasing number of blog sites either just keep comments turned off (unless your very popular commenting is rare) or use an external commenting solution such as Discus.

I’d like to use Google+ as my comment system. And I don’t think this is currently possible.

I think Google+ would make an excellent platform for commenting (so would friendfeed, which it is almost identical to). Everyone can see a public post. All comments are listed together under the link to the post on Google+, and everyone can see every comment even if they don’t follow the other person (unlike twitter and, probably (it’s too hard to understand) Facebook). You can come back days later and easily see new comments. If you didn’t see the post you can glance at the comments to see if it is of interest. If you are not interested you can just skip past the post in your stream (the comments will be wrapped up so it won’t take much space). Facebook is too much centred around a closed set of people you follow. Twitter is very much for the here and now, miss it and it’s gone.

As much as I’m a fan of twitter, it does have flaws (by design not implementation). As noted above, it’s easy to miss things. I sometimes go back in the timeline and come across a really useful conversation that I could have missed. What’s more, I know that I may see person A’s original tweet, and person B and C – who I also follow – conversation with A about it. What I miss (and remember I’m lucky I bumped in to this) is Person D and E commenting on it with A, which I don’t see as I don’t follow them. Nor do I see person A and person B replying back, and hence I might miss the bulk of the conversation. What’s more I miss F, who follows C joining in which starts a whole new track with others! I miss all of this, in fact no one is guaranteed to see all of it. Meanwhile those who are totally uninterested are getting bored of seeing these tweets about a specific (and probably quite anal) topic.

So I would love for my blog to autopost to Google+ and then use the Google+ post as the place to comment, ideally showing it below the blog post. In a similar way to Techcrunch showing Facebook messages under its posts (but why a tech site uses Facebook, hated by much of the geek community, is beyond me… but then it is Techcrunch).

I still feel having a blog is useful. I’ve never attempted to update it regularly – nor have I ever understood the idea that there is pressure to post of a regular basis.

To an extent, I don’t see a difference between ‘maintaining a personal website’ (which was what we did before blogging) and keep a blog. Occasionally you have an idea to create a page about something, blog software just makes the process easier. Posts are just (the new) pages.

In my mind an online presence – a website and domain – are essential to those who spend much time on the web. Simply having a series of profiles on popular websites just doesn’t seem the same. And words on nostuff.org continues to be the main part of the nostuff.org content-free experience, living up to its name.

Update: Feel free to leave comments here :)

Pinboard.in suites me just just fine

About a month a go I wrote a quick rant about Delicious.com and why it could have been a sucessful web2.0 business (relatively low costs and lots of opportunity for advertising and pro/paid for features). At that time I said I was moving to pinboard.in, especially as delicious.com’s future was being questioned at the time.

This is how I use/used the two sites

  • When trying to find a site, page or link – often for a product/app/site with a name I don’t remember – I will use Pinboard’s (and used Delicious’) search feature with a keyword to try and find it, hoping that I either tagged it using the word, or title/description included it. This is my primary use case.
  • My second use case was picking a tag and browsing by it for the same reason.
  • Third use case was having no idea what I can search for, so just browsing through my entire bookmark list, perhaps picking roughly the time period I might have saved it.

I’m not looking back. I like:

  • It’s fast, clean and simple.
  • It has the features I use from Delicious and not those I was not interested in.
  • I never used the Delicious, nor can I think if a good reason to have them. Pinboard does not have them by design.
  • Automatically adding favourite tweets is a brilliant idea, I, like others, use the favourite tweet feature more as a ‘read later’ option for interesting links.
  • I use pinboard (and used delicious) as a cross browser, access anywhere, bookmarking system. No browser plugin or sync feature comes close.
  • When I searched delicious it would show three of my bookmarks and the the rest of the page would show bookmarks with the search term saved by others. This was useless to me, and just created an extra click for me to select ‘show me all bookmarks that match this search. I have one less click with pinboard which does not show me other people’s bookmarks by default.
  • I quite like the pay a little to use it concept. Even with freemium sites (which have a free option, normally the most popular, and a pro version) you are ultimately paying for both you and the cost of those using the free version. There are often anti-social users, who devalue the site and add to the cost of running it. Not so with pinboard, if you can’t be arsed to spend a few quid (or dollars) on the service then, no offense, go elsewhere. I like the fact that anyone using the site has shown a small monetary commitment to it. It makes it not another site where the whole world signs up and then forgets what it is (god knows I get enough emails a month from web2.0 services keeping me updated about their service which I have no idea what they do or why I signed up).
  • However I do find the concept of the signup cost going up with each new user somewhat strange. It might encourage early adoption but it will mean the site eventually becomes too expensive that many will choose not to sign up.
  • Likewise it’s a one off cost for a service which will have ongoing costs. So new signups will have to fund the service. Perhaps move to a $4/yr model (perhaps with multiyear discounts $10 for three years) to provide a consistent and ongoing income.

In summary pinboard keeps things simple, fast and is created by committed developers. Suites me just fine.

Personal URL shortener

Back in 2009 I wrote a post about creating my own url shortener. I didn’t get very far, partly due to the challenge of how to create the short url codes, and partly due to my development philosophy of having an idea, musing about it, and never getting anywhere with it. Though I did install some code Ben Charlton has written and set it up as u.nostuff.org.

Part of the drive to do this was a bizarre feeling of guilt when using ‘short urls’ from the main shortener services. Each short url I created would mean we – as a userbase – were one step closer to the URLs being one digit longer (i.e. when that service ran out of free letter/number combinations with the current number of digits). Short urls were a scarce good. Did I really need this short URL? Worse, useful services such as twitterfeed use a short url each time they add something to twitter, even if most of those links would never be followed.

However there should be no need for all of us to be using the same small set of url shorteners, if we used our own, or one for a particular group of people, or for a particular service, then we would be free to use them as we pleased. What we (internet users at large, and especially twitter users) needed was lots of URL shorteners, each able to produce short codes.

Back in April this year I came across YOURLS, an open source simple URL shortener you can install on to your site [main website | blog with new releases | Google code]. This fitted the bill exactly. Installing it was easy on my dreamhost account.

Now I just needed the short domain name. I came up with a few catchy/clever domain names, but quickly found that two digit domains were pricey or just not allowed for purchasing. especially those such as .im, ly etc.

It would have to be three digits, and if I couldn’t get or afford ‘catchy’ why not just go for something completely random? After all I just needed to remember it.

I also decided that I would buy from my existing domain name provider, rather than signing up with another organisation, especailly some of the dodgy looking ones providing sole access to unusual country top level domain names.. I also wanted to use a country that was stable and unlikely to be awkward with renewing the domain or changing the rules (sn.im didn’t work for a while while the owners argued with the Isle of Man registrar). Using 123reg, at the time the cheapest three digit domains were to be found  (amongst a couple of others) in Belgium, .be. The only concern being as the two halves of Belgium seem to drift further apart from each other, there is even talk of one day Belgium splitting up (and I bet they wouldn’t even think if my domain name during the split, well I really).

So I ended up with xd5.be. No good reason. I used a combination with an x as I figured fewer organisations will have an acronym with an x in it, the number in the name may help in that respect as well.

The solution works well, with the usual browser bookmarklet (I’ve always shortened urls before pasting them to a twitter client). One thing I did find was that I was reluctant to use it at first as I was aware I was creating the shortest urls available on this domain (i.e. one digit code) and felt the need to preserve them for stuff that was important. Now I am on to two digits I am more care free! YOURLS allows you to choose between just using lowercase or including uppercase digits as well, I went for the former while the latter will obviously provide far more combinations of characters. I could also install additional copies of the software on to subdomains, e.g. a.xd5.be b.xd5.be, these are still seven characters in total, four less than tinyurl.com. drop me a line if you would like one of these.

In all, I think it is worth doing, it keeps you in control of your links and the software you are using.

html5 and nostuff

It’s hard not to think of nostuff.org and not think of blazing web standards.

So I had a go at updating the template for this here blog to make it all html5. Turns out this is quite simple.

It seems you can probably just replace your doctype with

<!DOCTYPE html>

and you’ve got yourself a html5 webpage.

The W3C validator proves it so. From there I added some of the new section elements such as header, footer, nav, aside and article. It seems that these can apply to the page (i.e. the page’s footer) or a section (the footer of a blog post, where it shows tags and date published  etc). I used various sources on the web, via Google, including a few articles, and sample sites.

So nostuff mostly validates as html5 and makes use of some of the elements above, though this doesn’t affect anything visually at the moment (I think, I really don’t have much of a clue as to what I’m doing).

I’ve created a gzip file of the theme here. You’re welcome to download and use it, though it’s not really designed to be shared (includes my analytics/adsense codes etc).

Adverts that follow you

Now one of these days I will finally get my ‘moving flat’ epic published, in the mean time you can read my how to buy a property guide. It really is worth every penny.

Part of this process involves buying a sofa which doesn’t suck as much as my current sofa.

Of course, I’m doing this the proper way of procrastinating and constantly looking at websites and not deciding anything (look out for my exciting new book of the same name, the ultimate manager’s guide).

One of the sofa’s which was luckly enough to make the final rounds (i.e. got to perform in front of Simon Cowell and co), was this one, called – cutely – Oscar. Simple lines, modern look, sofa bed. From Furniture Village, which seems to be DFS’ more mature cousin, though this perhaps doesn’t say too much.

All fine and good.

Then the other day I visited Engadget.com, not a site I normally visit but a link had caught my eye on Twitter.



Engadget screenshot, with interesting ad

Notice that ad? A bit like travelling to furthest Siberia, walking in to the dodgyist bar and finding your nan there, distinctly out of place. Click on the image for a lager version.

At the top of an American website about gadgets is an advert for a UK middle-of-the-road furniture store, advertising the exact sofa I had been considering for some time.

This was no coincidence.

Nor had they been using Alien technology to read my mind. I had visited the furniture site using the same laptop (and presumably same browser), a cookie and advertising system was at play here.

In fact my mind was made up when this evening I saw this.

This was on Time Magazine’s website (again a US publication), on a Photo Gallery about Afghan Women (see this for background, wonderful world).

It’s that cheeky little sofa again, this time popping up next to a repressive regime. You Guys!

Finally, notice on the red border of the ad, bottom right there is a little bulge, clicking on it…

http://www.struq.com/consumer-opt-out/ “Totally personalised display ads”.

Does this freak me out. Probably should do, but at the moment it borders on fun, like most people my tastes and wants are diverse enough to create stupid juxtapositions (Serious News and Girls Aloud, Global Warming and fast cars). It becomes an issue when it goes beyond, ‘person x has looked at product y from company z so show advert to it’,and becomes one entity building a database of everything you view and do online.

What a scary vision. Think I’ll stick with what I know and just use Google and Facebook.

Mystery Solved

We recently (well, last summer) launched Aquabrowser as our main library catalogue. We provided a feedback link for people to comment on the new interface, as we were keen to pick up on functionality it lacked or issues we may not have thought off. You can see the feedback link on the green bar on the right, it asks the user to login, and then provides a feedback form to leave a message. (more…)

Twitter clients

From about an hour after signing up to Twitter until very recently I used Twirl on both PC and Mac as my Twitter client. I was happy with it, and still am, but had noticed people using other clients and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

I round up my findings here:

Picture 1.png

Three twitter clients

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