Category: web and blogs

JISC, Monitter and DIUS (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills)

Earlier this week the Jisc 2009 Conference went ahead. A one day summary of where things are going in Jisc-land.

Like last year, I got a good feel of the day via twitter. I used a web app called for real time updates from anyone on twitter who used the tag #jisc09. allows you to track a number (3 columns by default) of words/searches, this works well as these can be usernames, tags or just a phase. I used ‘jisc09’, ‘brighton OR sussex’ and ‘library’.

The keynote talks was also streamed live on the web, the quality was excellent. Check out the main Jisc blog for the event.

Linking to all the different sites, searches and resources on the web after the event wouldn’t do it justice. The usefulness was in the way these were all being published during the day itself, using things like twitter (and bespoke sites) as a discovery mechanism for all these different things being added around the web. I didn’t know who most of the people were, but I was finding their contributions. That’s good.

An email came out the next day about the conference and announcing a guest blog post by David Lammy, the Minister for Higher Education, on the Jisc Blog.

He finished by asking for the conversation to continue, specifically on which is described as ‘a place to open up lines of communication between Ministers and the HE Community’. is set up to allow users to ask ‘famous people questions’. Its homepage suggests that it is designed for any kind of ‘famous person’ though seems to be dominated by UK politicians. Looks interesting but can’t help wonder if there are other sites which could facilitate a ‘discussion’ just as well or better.

The dius section of the site seems quite new. In fact my (rather quickly composed) question was the second to be added to the site. I think the idea of practitioners (yuck, did I just use that word?) raising issues directly with Ministers is an interesting one, and hope it takes off, and at very least, he/they answer the questions!

DIUS do seem to be making an effort to use web2.0 tools. I recently came across this sandbox idea of collecting sites from delicious based on tags, in this example, the library2.0 tag. Interesting stuff, but not specific to HE, it will work for any tag and really just creates a nice view of the latest items bookmarked with the tag in question. The code for it is here.

In any case, it is good to see a government department trying out such tools and also releasing the code under the GPL (even 10 Downing street’s flickr stream is under crown copyright, and don’t get me started on OS maps and Royal Mail postcodes). I’m reminded of the team who, when they found out there was a ‘hack the government‘ day to mashup and improve government web services, decided to join in.

DIUS homepage with web2.0 tools

DIUS homepage with web2.0 tools

On the DIUS hompage, just below the fold, they have a smart looking selection of tools, nice to see this stuff here, and so prominent, though the Netvibes link to me just a holding page when I tried it.

Finally, they have set up a blog on the jiscinvolve (WordPress MU) site. At the time of writing it has a few blogs posts which are one line questions, and has a couple of (good) responses. But I can’t help feeling that these sites need something more if they are to work. At the moment they are just there floating in space. How can they integrate these more into the places that HE staff and students inhabit. Perhaps by adding personal touches to the sites would encourage people to take part, for example the blog – a set of questions – is a little dry, it needs an introduction, host, and photos.

To sum up, some good stuff going on here, but need to see if it takes off, it must be difficult for a government department to interact with HE and students, the two are very different but they are trying.  I hope it proves useful, if you’re involved in HE why not take a look and leave a comment?


March 25, 2009

short urls, perl and base64

One of my many many many faults is coming up with (in my blinkered eyes – good) ideas, thinking about them non-stop for 24hours, developing every little detail and aspect. Then spending a few hours doing some of the first things required. then getting bored and moving on to something else. Repeat ad nauseum.

Today’s brilliant plan (to take over the world)

Over the weekend it was ‘’ services and specifically creating my own one.

I had been using almost non-stop all week, various things at work had meant sending out URLs to other people both formally and on services like twitter. Due to laziness it was nearly always easier to just make another shortURL for the real URL in question than to find the one I made earlier. It seemed a waste. One more short code used up when it was not really needed. The more slap-dash we are in needlessly creating short URLs, the quicker they become not-so-short URLs.

Creating my own one seemed like a fairly easy thing to do. Short domain name, bit of php or perl and a mysql database, create a bookmarklet button etc.

Developing the idea

But why would anyone use mine and not someone elses?

My mind went along the route of doing more with the data collected (compared to and I noticed that when a popular news item / website / viral come out, many people will be creating the same short URL (especially on twitter).

What if the service said how many – and who – had already shortened that URL. What if it made the list of all shortened URLs public (like the twitter homepage). The stats and information that could be produced with data about the urls being shortened, number of click throughs, etc, maybe even tags. Almost by accident I’m creating a bookmarking social networking site.

This would require the user to log in (where as most do not), not so good, but this would give it a slightly different edge to others, and help fight spam, and not so much of a problem if users only have to log in once.

I like getting all wrapped up in an idea as it allows me to bump in to things i would not otherwise. Like? like…

  • This article runs through some of the current short URL services
  • The last one it mentions is, I had come across the name on Twitter, but had no idea it offers so much more, with click-thru stats and a record of the links you have shortened. It also has the domain name (.im being the isle of man). Looks excellent (but they stole some of my ideas!)

  • Even though domains like clearly exist, it seems – from the domain registrars I tried – that you can not buy two digit .gd domains. though three letter ones seem to start from $25 a year.
  • the .im domain looked like it could be good. But what to call any potential service??? Hang-on… what about! what a brilliant idea. fits. genius. Someone had, again, stolen my idea. besides, when I saw it could be several hundred pounds other top level domains started to look more attractive
  • mentioned above, is a little like looks good, though mainly designed to work with twitter. Includes lots of stats. Both have a nice UI. Damn these people who steal my ideas and implement them far better than I ever could. :)
  • Meanwhile…. Shortly is an app you can download yourself to run your own short url service.
  • Oh and in terms of user authentication php user class seemed worth playing with.
  • Writing the code seemed fairly easy, but how would I handle creating those short codes (the random digits after the domain name). They seem to increment while keeping as small as possible.
  • Meanwhile I remember an old friend and colleague from Canterbury had written something like this years a go, and look! he had put the source code up as well.
  • This was good simple perl, but I discovered that it just used hexadecimal numbers as the short codes, which themselves are just the hex version of the DB auto-increment id. nice and simple but would mean the codes become longer more quickly than other algorithms.
  • I downloaded the script above and quickly got it working.
  • I asked on twitter and got lots of help from bencc (who wrote the script above) and lescarr.
  • Basically the path to go down was base64 (i.e. 64 dgits in a number system, instead of the usual 10), which was explained to me with the help of a awk script in a tweet. I got confused for a while as the only obvious base64 perl lib actually converts text/binary for MIME email, and created longer, not shorter, codes than the original (decimal) id numbers as created by the database.
  • I did find a cpan perl module to convert decimal numbers to base64 called Math::BaseCnv. Which I was able to get working with ease.
  • It didn’t take long to edit the script from Ben’s site, and add the Base64 code so that it produced short codes using all lower case, upper case and numbers.
  • you can see it yourself – if I haven’t broken it again – at
  • You can even add a bookmarklet button using this code
  • Finally, something I should have done years a go, and setup mod_rewrite to make the links look nice, e.g.

So I haven’t built my (ahem, brilliant) idea. Of course the very things that would have made it different (openly showing what URLs have been bookmarked, by who, and how many click throughs, and tags) were the very thing that would make it time consuming. And sites like and had already done such a good job.

So while I’m not ruling out creating my own really simple service (and infact already exists) and I learned about mod_rewrite, base64 on cpan, and a bunch of other stuff, the world is spared yet-another short URL service for the time being.

webpad : a web based text editor

So I have WordPress (and in fact Drupal, Joomla, mediawiki, Moodle, damn those Dreamhost 1-click installs) as a way of running my website.

But there are still many pages which are outside of a content management system. Especially simple web app projects (such as ircount and stalisfield) and old html files.

It can be a pain to constantly ftp in to the server, or use ssh. Editing via ssh can be a pain, especially over a dodgy wireless connection, or when you want to close the lid to your macbook.

But trying to find something to fit this need didn’t come up with any results. Many hits were either tinyMCE clones which are WYSIWYG html editors that convert input in to html, do good for coding.

Webpad screenshot

Webpad screenshot

Until I came across Webpad. It not only suited my needs perfectly, but it is well designed and implemented.

After a quick install (more or less simply copying the files), you simply enter a specified username and password, and once authenticated you are presented with a line of icons at the top. Simple select the ‘open’ icon to browse to the file you wish to edit on your web server and you’re away!

It’s simple, yet well written and serves its purpose well. If there was one thing I would I suggest for future development it would be improved file management functionality. You can create directories and delete files from the file open dialog box. But I can’t see a way to delete directories, or move/copy files. Deleting directories is of use, as many web apps (wikis, blogs, cms) require you to upgrade the software, edit a config file, and then delete the install directory, or similar.

Oh, and it’s free!

Check out webpad by Beau Lebens on

Mashed Libraries

Exactly a week a go I was coming home from Mashed Libraries in London (Birkbeck).

I wont bore you with details of the day (or more to the point, I’m lazy and others have already done it better than i could (of course, I should have made each one of those words a link to a different blog but I’m laz… or never-mind)).

Thanks to Owen Stephens for organising, UKOLN for sponsoring and Dave Flanders (and Birkbeck) for the room.

During the afternoon we all got to hacking with various sites and services.

I had previously played around with the Talis Platform (see long winded commentary here, got it seems weird that at the time I really didn’t have a clue what I was playing with, and it was only a year a go!).

I built a basic catalogue search based on the ukbib store. I called it Stalisfield (which is a small village in Kent).

But one area I had never got working was the Holdings. So I decided to set to work on that. Progress was slow, but then Rob Styles sat down next to me and things started to move. Rob help create Talis Cenote (which I nicked most of the code from) and generally falls in to that (somewhat large) group of ‘people much smarter than me’.

We (well I) wanted to show which Libraries had the book in question, and plot them on a Google Map. So once we had a list of libraries we needed to connect to another service to get the location for each of these libraries. The service which fitted this need was the Talis Directory (Silkworm). This raised a point with me, it was a good job there was a Talis service which used the same underlying ID codes for the libraries i.e. the holdings service and the directory both used the same ID number. It could have been a problem if we needed to get the geo/location data from something like OCLC or, what would we have searched on? a Libraries name? hardly a reliable term to use (e.g. The University of Sussex Library is called ‘UNIV OF SUSSEX LIBR’ in OCLC!). Do Libraries need a code which can be used to cross reference them between different web services (a little like ISBNs for books)?

Using the Talis Silkworm Directory was a little more challenging than first thought, and the end result was a very long URL which used SPARQL (something which looks a steep learning curve to me!).

In the mean time, I signed up for Google Maps, and gave myself a crash course in setting it up (I’m quite slow to pick these things up). So we had the longitude and latitude co-ordinates for each library, and we had a Google Map on the page, we just needed to connect to the two.

Four people trying to debug the last little bit of code for my little project

Four people at Mashedlibrary trying to debug the last little bit of my code.

Time was running short, so I was glad to take a back seat and watch (and learn) while Rob went to in to speed-javascript mode. This last part proved to be elusive. The PHP code which was generating javascript code was just not quite working. In the end the (final) problem was related to the order I was outputting the code, but we were out of time, and this required more than five minutes.

Back home, I fixed this (though I never would have known I needed to do this without help).

You can see an example here, and here and here (click on the link at the top to go back to the bib record for the item, which, by the way, should show a Google Book cover at the bottom, though this only works for a few books).

You can click on a marker to see the name of library, and the balloon also has a link which should take you straight to item in question on the library’s catalogue.

It is a little slow, partly due to my bad code and partly due to what it is doing:

  1. Connecting to the Talis Platform to get a list of libraries which have the book in question (quick)
  2. For each library, connect to the Talis Silkworm Directory and perform a SPARQL query to get back some XML which includes the geo co-ordinates. (geo details not available for all libraries)
  3. Finally generate some javascript code to plot each library on to a Google map.
  4. As this last point needs to be done in the <head> of the page, it is only at this point that we can push the page out to the browser.

I added one last little feature.

It is all well and good to see which libraries have the item you are after, but you are probably iterested in libraries near you. So I used the Maxmind GeoLite City code-library to get the user’s rough location, and then centering the map on this (which is clearly not good for those trying to use it outside the UK!). This seems to work most of the time, but it depends on your ISP, some seem more friendly in their design towards this sort of thing. Does the map centre on your location?

ecto : first impressions

I’ve heard good things about PC/Mac clients for writing blog posts, so thought I would give it a go. I tried out ecto for OS X, to published to my WordPress based blog.

It did what was promised it acted as a WYSIWYG blog composition tool, and in that sense it was easy to use and worked without problems. However I few things:

  • I could only attach (as far as I could see) audio, pictures and movies. I wanted to attached a txt file, (and may want to upload PDF/doc files) but could see no way of doing this.
  • I couldn’t send it to the blog as an unpublished draft, so I couldn’t send it to WordPress and then upload/link-to the text file using the wordpress interface before publishing.
  • Ecto is a generic blog tool, not specific to WordPress. While in many ways a good thing, it does have it’s downside, there are some options on the WordPress composition screen that I rarely use but do find them useful occasionally, and felt it somewhat unsettling for them not to be there should I need them.
  • As a plus: the problem with the WordPress interface is that there is a lot of screen space used with the top of the screen menus and other misc stuff, and the edit space is somewhat small, and it is annoying to need to scroll both the screen and the text box. the ecto UI does not have this issue. But then WordPress 2.7 may address this problem.
  • One of the main plus points is being able to carry on editing offline, but with Google Gears you should be able to edit happily offline (I haven’t tried this yet).

So ecto is certainly worthy trying if you are after a OS X based blog client, and I chose it above others available based on reviews I had read, but for me, I think I will stick with the native web interface for the time being.

(posted using Ecto)

Playing with OAI-PMH with Simple DC

Setting up ircount has got me quite interested in OAI-PMH, so I thought I would have a little play. I was particularly interested in seeing if there was a way to count the number of full text items in a repository, as ROAR does not generally provide this information.

Perl script

I decided to use the http::oai perl module by Tim Brody (who not-so-coincidentally is also responsible for ROAR, which ircount gets its data from).

A couple of hours later I have a very basic script which will roughly report on the number of records and the number of full text items within a repository, you just need to pass it a URL for the OAI-PMH interface.

To show the outcome of my efforts, here is the verbose output of the script when pointed at the University of Sussex repository (Sussex Research Online).

Here is the output for a sample record (see here for the actual oai output for this record, you may want to ‘view source’ to see the XML): 2006-09-19
Retreat of chalk cliffs in the eastern English Channel during the last century
full text found for id, current total of items with fulltext 6
id is the 29 record we have seen

It first lists the identifier and date, the next line shows the title, it then shows a dc.relation field which contains a full text item on the eprints server, because it looks like a full text item and on the same server the next line shows it has found a line that MATCHed the criteria which means we add this item to the count of items with full text items attached.

The next line is another dc.identifier, again pointing to a fulltext URL for this item. However this time it is on a different server (i.e. the publishers), so this line is not treated as a fulltext item, and so it does not show a MATCH (i.e. had the first identifier line not existed, this record would not be considered one with a fulltext item).

Finally another dc.identifier is shown, then a summary generated by the script concluding that this item does have fulltext, is the sixth record seen with fulltext, and is the 29th record we have seen.

The script, as we will now see, has to use various ‘hacky’ methods to try and guess the number of fulltext items within a repository, as different systems populate simple Dublin Core in different ways.

Repositories and OAI-PMH/Simple Dublin Core.

It quickly became clear on experimenting with different repositories that the different repository software populate Simple Dublin Core in a different manner. Here are some examples:

Eprints2: As you can see above in the Sussex example, fulltext items are added as a dc.relation field, but so too are any publisher/official URLs, which we don’t want to count. The only way to differentiate between the two is to check the domain name within the dc.relation url and see if it matches that of the OAI interface we are working with. This is no means solid, quite possible for a system to have more than one hostname and what the user gives as the OAI URL may not match what the system gives as the URLs for fulltext items.

Eprints3: I’ll use the Warwick repository for this, see the HTML and OAI-PMH for the record used in this example.

<dc:identifier>Lafontaine, Francine and Slade, Margaret (2007) Vertical integration and firm boundaries: the evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol.45 (No.3). pp. 631-687. ISSN 0022-0515</dc:identifier>

Unlike Eprints2, the fulltext item is now in a dc.identifier field, the official/publisher URL is still a dc.relation field, which makes it easier to count the former without the latter. EP3 also seems to provide a citation of the item which is also in a dc.identifier as well. (as an aside: EPrints 3.0.3-rc-1, as used by Birkbeck and Royal Holloway, seems to act differently, missing out any reference to the fulltext).

Dspace: I’ll use Leicester’s repository, see the HTML and OAI-PMH for the record used. (I was going to use Bath’s but looks like they have just moved to Eprints!)

<dc:format>350229 bytes</dc:format>

This is very different to Eprints. DC.identifier is used for a link to the html page for this item (like eprints2 but unlike eprints3 which uses dc.relation for this). However it does not mention either the fulltext item or the official/publisher url at all (this record has both). The only clue that this has a full text item is the dc.format (‘application/pdf’), and so my hacked up little script looks out for this as well.

I looked at a few other Dspace based repositories (Brunel HTML / OAI ; MIT HTML / OAI) and they seemed to produce the same sort of output, though not being familiar with Dspace I don’t know if this is because they were all the same version or if the OAI-PMH interface has stayed consistent between versions.

I haven’t even checked out Fedora, bepress Digital Commons or DigiTool yet (all this is actually quite time consuming).


I’m reluctant to come up with any conclusions because I know the people who developed all this are so damn smart. When I read the articles and posts produced by those (who were) on the OAI-PMH working group, or were in some way involved, it is clear they have a vast understanding of standards, protocols, metadata, and more. Much of what I have read is clear and well written and yet I still struggle to understand it due to my own metal shortcomings!

Yet what I have found above seems to suggest we still have a way to go in getting this right.

Imagine a service which will use data from repositories: ‘Geography papers archive’, ‘UK Working papers online’, ‘Open Academic Books search’ (all fictional web sites/services which could be created which harvest data from repositories, based on a subject/type subset).

Repositories are all about open access to the full text of research, and it seems to me that harvesters need to be able to presume that the fulltext item, and other key elements, will be in a particular field. And perhaps it isn’t too wild to suggest that one field should be used for one purpose, for example, both Dspace and Eprints provide a full citation of the item in the DC metadata, which an external system may find useful in some way, however it is in the dc.identifier field, yet various other bits of information are also in the very same field, so anyone wishing to extract citations would need to run some sort of messy test to try and ascertain which identifier field, if any, contains the citation they wish to use.

To some extent things can be improved by getting repository developers, harvester developers and OAI/DC experts round a table to agree a common way of using the format. Hmm, but ring any bells? I’ve always thought that the existence of the Bath profile was probably a sign of underlying problems with Z39.50 (though am almost totally ignorant on z39.50). even this will only solve some problems, the issue of multiple ‘real world’ elements being put in to the same field (both identifier and relation are used for a multiple of purposes), as mentioned above, is still a problem.

I know nothing about metadata nor web protocols (left with me, we would all revert to tab delimited files!), so am reluctant to suggest or declare what should happen. But there must be a better fit for our needs than Simple DC. Qualified DC being a candidate (I think, again, I know nuffing). see this page highlighting some of the issues with simple dc.

I guess one problem is that it is easy to fall in to the trap of presuming repository item = article/paper. When of course if could be almost anything, the former would be easy to narrowly define, but the latter – which is the reality – is much harder to give a clear schema for. Perhaps we need ‘profiles’ for the common different item types (articles/theses/images). I think this is the point that people will point out that (a) this has been discussed a thousand times already (b) has probably already been done!. So I’ll shut up and move on (here’s one example of what has already been said).

Other notes:

  • I wish OAI-PMH had a machine readable way of telling clients if they can harvest items, reuse the data, or even access it at all (apologies if it does allow this already). The human text of an IR policy may forbid me sucking up the data and making it searchable elsewhere, but how will I know this?
  • Peter Millington of RSP/SHERPA recently floated the idea of a OAI-PMH verb/command to report the total number of items. His point is that it should be simple for OAI servers to report such a number with ease (probably a simple SQL COUNT(*)) but at the moment OAI-PMH clients – like mine – have to manually count each item, parsing thousands of lines of data, which can take minutes, creating processing requirements for both server and client, to answer a simple question of how many items are there? I echo and support Peter’s idea of creating a count verb to resolve this.
  • Would be very handy if OAI-PMH servers could give an application name and version number as part of the response to the ‘Identify’ verb. Would be very useful when trying to work around the differences between applications and software versions.

Back to the script

Finally. I’m trying to judge how good the little script is, does it report an accurate number of full text items. If you run an IR and would be happy for me to run the script against your repository (I don’t think it creates a high load on the server), then please reply to this post. Ideally with your OAI-PMH URL and how many full text items you think you have, though neither are essential. I’ll attach the results to a comment to this post.

Food for thought, I’m pondering the need to check the dc.type of an item, and only count items of certain types, e.g. should we include images? one image of a piece of research sounds fine, 10,000 images suddenly distorts the numbers. Should it include all items, or just those that are of certain types (article, thesis etc)?

Navel gazing

I was having a quick think about the categories I use here. I have tried to use categories which match people’s interests. e.g. someone from Brighton can choose to read (and subscribe to) ‘Brighton’, same for technology or libraries.

I’ve recently started to blog a bit more about things related to my work. Which is best summed up as where technology (& web) and libraries (& information management) meet. This includes searching, metadata, cataloguing, making data and information accessible, and scholarly publishing (and changing it to be less stupid). My rule of thumb is that if I feel something would only be of interest to those in the library (or HE) tech area, I stick it in ‘libraries and technology’, if it could be of interest to those who are generally interested in techy stuff then it is added to the technology category.

So if you are interested in reading my ill informed rants relating to libraries and technology (but don’t wish to have to suffer the rest of the crap i post) then you can subscribe to the following feed:

oh, but that’s a good point. I have started to talk about the Library world more, in a ‘I’m presuming you know what I’m talking about‘ type way. I’m hoping that hasn’t alienated my huge previous user base (if you were that reader can you let me know). Some keep a seperate blog for work and home. I’ve resisted this, my thoughts about the things I encounter due to work, and those I encounter due to outside interests are all basically me, if you like one or the other (but not both), just follow the rss feed for the appropriate category (maybe I need one called ‘not work’). By the way, you can subscribe to a feed for a category by going to the categories main page, and then added ‘/feed/’ to the end.

(would be great if you could create a feed which is a combination of several categories you are interested in). Oh and one weakness of the blogging model is that one person’s output is distributed and not easily connect-able. so all the comments i have made in other blogs are disconnected to this blog (of course the alternative is to reply via this blog and rely on ping/trackback) and this is one of the reasons why I don’t run multiple blogs, there’s no easy way to say ‘this blog should include any content i post to another specified blog’ or ‘include my comments in other blogs’ or ‘when posting this, also post it to blog X’. but i digress.

I occasionally chatter on about politics, but also talk about more general stuff happening in the world today, this can be anything from shops, to phones to education. I tend to stick all this under ‘politics and current affairs’, but it is a broad church and really need a better category for the ‘stuff around me today which takes my interest’, any ideas?

Peter Suber recently described me as ‘anonymous’ blogger in a post of his. Which turns out to be true, so I have updated my blog theme (see earlier post) to show a mini profile at the top of the page.

You can also find me at:

And randomly some embedded stuff:



Radio Pop

Radio Pop is an interesting experimental site from the fantastic BBC radio labs.

It is a sort of soical network site for radio listening. It only records your listening through the ‘radio pop’ live streams. I (like many) mainly listen to listen again and the radio iplayer, and they are working on intergrating with both. You can see my profile here.

Screenshot of radio pop

Screenshot of radio pop - click for a larger version

You can ‘pop’ what you are currently listening to (basically a ‘i like this’ button). I’ve added my ‘pop’ rss feed to my dipity timeline.

WordPress themes and plugins

Of interest to those who use WordPress (and those who have an opinion on web design).

Had a few hours off this afternoon so have been playing around with WordPress a bit.

New plugins:

  • Google sitemap XML : does what it says, and easy to use
  • Theme Test Drive : allows you to preview other themes (on your site) without having to make the switch first. Good plugin, seems to work well, config settings are under the theme menu of WP.
  • Twitter for WordPress‘ : you guessed it, shows one (or more) twitter feeds either as a widget or by calling a function. Works well as a widget (and all config is carried out in the widget area).
  • OpenID for WordPress : allows those leaving comments, and myself as blog author to sign in via OpenID. While it’s been noted that OpenID does have usability issues, it still seems like a good option to have. I’m leaving this active, it does work, though can’t see it being used. You don’t it near the ‘comment’ box on a post, though it is there on the signin page (which people probably would never go to), once signed in to openid (which, if you are like me, requires trying to remember what your URL is) you are actually taken to the WP admin dashboard (which scared me to start with, anyone can do this on my blog!), but the dashboard itself doesn’t reveal anything important and all other areas are locked down. In theory the user could then set up a profile, though comeone this is nostuff, why would you want a profile here? So kudos for a good plugin, though can’t see it being used on this backwater of a blog.
  • links to the above can be found here.


The first browser I used was Netscape 1, possibly 2. By default it would display black text on a grey background. This was good, far easier to read than black on white.

Since then I’ve always had a thing against plain white backgrounds, and have avoided using them for my personal sites: from the mid/late 90s (but then didn’t we all have coloured backgrounds back then!), to static web pages today, and also this very blog.

The theme is Greening, I like it as the shades of green is quite unusual, and yet – for me – quite nice to read.

However, the font is quite small [update: I’ve increased the default font size in the theme] and I couldn’t help thinking that other themes seem to be easier to read.

I mentioned above that one of the plugins allows you to try out themes without full swapping to a new one. This allows me to do cool things like show you this blog post in three different themes, try these links:

The latter two are those I’ve come across that I like the look of. The test is I can read a large post without it being a strain. By coincidence they are both by Chris Pearson.

As you can see above, some of the new plugins I’ve installed work best as widgets. Widgets are blocks in the left/right menu (categories, pages, links, etc) you can add, and order as you wish, independent of theme. This ability to easily configure and customise you’re blog’s sidebar is a powerful feature. So I was keen to move to a theme which supports widgets, there are surprisingly few. To my shame, it was only by accident that it was just now I realised that Greening has supported widgets all along.

For the time being, I’ve increased the font size on my current theme, I think it looks better. Meanwhile I’m pondering moving to one of the themes above. Ironically for all my raving about widgets above, the one which looks better to me is Pressrow, the only one of the three that does not support widgets.

Would be interested in any one’s preferences regarding the three themes above?

Update Oct 2008: Have also added the ‘Subscribe to Comments‘ extension, allows those who comment to tick a box and have any further comments emailed to them.

Very first thoughts of, and therefore not a proper review, and based on first impressions, not research. is interesting but so far for me has proved a little frustrating in understanding how to get the most out of it.

[For reasons not clear to me I have dumped my thoughts as bullet points (which would have worked just as well as sentences, but can sometimes make it more readable).]

  • doesn’t seem like a ‘set it going and leave it to play’ website. which I guess is what i’m most interested in.
  • it has been described as a cross between twitter and, which I agree with.
  • on signing up, it suggests you enter three bands you like, and then adds 30 people (DJs) to your feed.
  • You then see a realtime feed of what your favourite DJs have been listening to, you can then start listening to this list.
  • Though I want to discover new music, many of the songs in the list (from people in my automatically created favorites) were of no interest. However it is easy to skip songs (though, this is just one element of the ‘needs your attention’  I described above).
  • Now i would guess that for most people, creating a list of favorite DJs based on three artists will produce some matches with people who on the whole you don’t share music taste with, and one of the first things they will want to do is refine the list and their preferences…
  • So you’re listening to the music, and skipping the ones you’re not so keen on. How can you refine this list? Well you can remove a DJ you don’t like a song of. But this may be just one bad song from what is generally a good mix of music. So I’m reluctant to this. Plus, to remove a DJ you need to follow a link to their page to remove them…
  • Which leads me to an annoying quirk. Almost anything you do leads to navigating away from the current page and therefore the music stops. You have to constantly remember to right-click links to open a new tab. Very Annoying.
  • Another oddity, one time I tried it, it seems no one from my DJs were currently playing anything (I’m in the UK and I’m guessing most of my regular blippers are on the west coast US or similar). So the first page of ‘what my DJs have recently played’ stayed static (most recently played song first, just like twitter). It was dominated by two people and most of the songs were crap. lots of skipping meant i soon got to the end of the list. but instead of moving me to page 2, or something like that, it just took me to the top of the list again, to play the same crap as the first time round.
  • You have two options next to each track,: ‘add it to playlist’ and ‘give dj props’. The former, urm, adds it to your playlist. However this does not mean it will show up in the list of tracks played by me (i.e. if anyone is following me as a DJ, or on the homepage ‘all’ feed), it really does just get added to to a playlist page for me, and doesn’t do much. The second option will use one of my ‘props’ credits to this DJ, a basic way of saying ‘hey, i like your stuff’, though not total clear how this meter of popularity differs from the ‘number of followers’ metric which seems to promote more (ie in user’s pictures/aviators it shows roughly how many people follow that person’s playlist).
  • However, what i really want is a way to say ‘I like this’ or ‘not for me’ (props are one way of showing you like it, but they are in short supply). basically a thumbs up/ thumbs down. some way for me to tell blip what i like over time. based on this it could probably build up a much better list of DJs for me to follow.
  • This is what I don’t get, I’m guessing people will be hearing songs for a first time and want a way to record if they like it or not. For example, I mentioned earlier that removing DJs was difficult (or at least I am reluctant to do) because you are making the decision based on what that person has just played, rather than whether they have played good/bad stuff over time. Flagging songs good/bad would then allow the site to show the amount of good/bad points you have given each DJ over time, so you can either manually see those who you have on the whole given thumbs down to the songs they have played, or even it can suggest which DJs should be removed (based on thumbs down), and perhaps some who should be added (based on the artists you are giving a thumbs up, and those DJs with the best match).
  • Ok, so that’s the listening ‘read-only’ side, but what about the other side of the coin, your own stream of tracks which others can listen to?
  • At the top of the page is a text box to enter the answer ‘what are you listening to?’.
  • At first this seems like an odd question, duh, what ever is is playing for me!
  • However, if you ignore this and enter what you WANT to listen to, enter an artist say and then select the track. It will then prompt for a twitter-like short message which will be displayed with the track. If available it will then play the track.
  • This is cool, and a good way to hear a specific song you have in your head.
  • But it stops whatever you are listening to originally.
  • In fact I can’t see how a balance of listening to the songs of others while adding in some of your own could work, as each time you add your own it will stop the playlist (you can avoid this with a keyboard combination), it would be good if it just played it once the current song is finished.
  • Anyone who follows me will only see those i have manually typed in myself. This seems almost a waste, I may listen to several hours of music, and add to my playlist several songs i love which others have played on blip, but these will not show up in my stream, so while someone following me may well love the ones I have flagged, they will not hear them unless i then manually search for the very song I am listening to on blip fm and blip it myself (which will then play it again for me, which I don’t want as I’ve just listened to it). Cutting the current song/artist from one part of its display to post in to another, to answer the question (what am I listening to) which it itself knows because it is the very thing playing it to me seems odd. Though as I said at the beginning, I may yet to master how to use blip.

Coming back to what I said at the start, it requires your time, to skip crap tracks, to add your own (but only when a track is just finishing – unless it is an aforementioned crap one – to avoid it being cut off), to keep an eye on who is playing good stuff (so you don’t remove them) and who is playing rubbish (so you can remove them if they keep it up!), to move to the next page of music once you have played the first page in your list, etc. This need for constant attention wouldn’t be so bad if it lead to some long term good, i.e. it helped build up a preference profile of what I liked (eg I don’t mind spending time adding ratings to my itunes library because I can use those ratings in the future)

While removing DJs is possible once you have identified whose music tastes don’t match yours, adding DJs is not so simple, as you are basically starting from scratch. What songs you’ve played, the songs you have added to playlists, the DJs you having given props to, all mean nothing, you just type in two or more artists names and it will suggest some DJs from what appears to be just those which include those artists.

This seems simplistic, and wouldn’t be so bad if there was an easy way to gradually weed them out or perhaps rank DJs so their music took a lower priority. The latter suggestion would alter the whole model, at the moment it works like twitter, you either follow someone or not, by only half following someone, or by giving their music a lower priority, say for example, if their songs only show up in your feed if other DJs you prefer are not playing much, or perhaps only the songs they play which have a good match to the sort of music you like.

I’ve been quite negative hear, look it is a social music listening site, and is worth playing with, but what I wanted to get down was why it doesn’t seem to fully work for me. Maybe you need people you know on it, so you can follow them and stike up more banter?

[here is a gap in time]

Amazingly I played about six songs myself (and therefore they, and they only appeared in my stream that anyone else can follow), and I now have four followers. This instantly gave me a pathetic ego boost and suddenly I went from trying to make blio work as something to listen to, to full blown how many listeners can I get. This involves playing a lot of cool music and doing nothing else, and carefully timing it so the next one starts as the previous ends (otherwise annoyingly it plays the song before last again). Now this is a different use, but now I’m enjoying myself. I’m listening to no one else’s music (and so not discovering anything new) and not getting anything else done. but my god my music taste is damn good! current listening to the long version of I Am The Resurrection – The Stone Roses. poptastic.

UPDATE Feb 2009

The above was written just after I started using the service. I’m not a heavy user of blip, but do use it every few days. The ‘interactive’ (ie, it needs your attention) is still true. But this is very much like twitter. You get the most out of it when you are blipping music and listening and responding to other’s music.

You do get familiar faces and people you respond to, especially if you are a frequent user. However this ‘conversation’ element is not – for me – as great as Twitter, where you are following people you know or have similar interests, with blip you are following because you like their music, so conversation doesn’t extend much more than this (though blip comments such as ‘listening to this as it reminds me of Berlin’, for example, might get people discussion from those who have been there).

Blip works best when, like twitter, you are working away on your computer and are happy to switch back to blip every so often to play something new / slip a song your not keen on / reply to someone etc. I originally pondered on the idea of blipping a number of tracks at once so you can line tracks up to play in a row, rather than constantly going back as each song ends to find the next one. I’m now less sure on such an idea, the point of blip is its real-time qualities, people are playging these songs now, and the comments they leave with each blip are – like twitter – are current, not batched up when they first logged on.

Blip really is the Twitter of music playing, right down to no one really being sure of their business plan. It works. It is social music in a way that and similar can never be. Good stuff.