// Internet Duct Tape

Managing Spam Maintenance with Akismet Auntie Spam Version 2

WordPress Tips and Tricks

Akismet Auntie Spam is a maintenance script for WordPress administrators. One of the problems with the Akismet spam protection service is that sometimes it misidentifies a real comment as spam. WordPress has a spam recovery console that I like to call the spam inbox.

akismet auntie spam helper script for akismet administration

Have you ever stuck your hand as far back at you can into the crannies of your couch and pulled out what you found? That’s kind of what going into the default Akismet spam inbox is like. It’s a dark and evil place, filled with things that will make your eyes burn. You only wanted to find the quarter you lost, but before you know it your hand is stuck and something is touching you back.

Akismet Auntie Spam is a kind old lady who will come to your house and give it a thorough cleaning. She’s not afraid of the dark corners, particularly the spam inbox because she knows exactly how to handle the creepy crawlies hiding out of sight.

Akismet Auntie Spam is not a WordPress plugin. It is a script for the Firefox web browser that will work with any installation of WordPress or WordPress Multi-user — that means you can use it with WordPress.com, Edublogs.org, Blogsome.com and any site that is running WordPress with Akismet. Version 2 is a complete rewrite from scratch, and it is much less complicated now. There are no knobs and buttons for users to twiddle with — it works out of the box, the same way for everyone. Auntie Spam is here for one reason and that’s to save you time.

Akismet Auntie Spam is in no way affiliated with WordPress or Auttomatic — it’s a script I created to make it a hell of a lot easier to watch out for false spam.

How to Install

Slight gotcha: if you are an old time user of Akismet Auntie Spam (from before August 2007) then you’ll want to uninstall your old version before installing the new version of the script. Find out how to uninstall a Greasemonkey script.

What Does Akismet Auntie Spam Do?

Much less time is spent navigating your spam inbox. You can see it all on one page, and it doesn’t take nearly as long to scroll through as it would without Akismet Auntie Spam installed.

  • Fetches all of your spam comments and displays them on one page.
  • Sorts spammers by the amount of spam they’ve sent.
  • Shows only the first line of spam, so less time is spent scrolling.
  • Completely hide obvious spam.
  • Automatically checks for a new version of itself every two weeks.
  • Install it once into your Firefox browser and it will work with *ALL* your WordPress blogs.

Show Me How It Works

Go to your spam inbox on your WordPress dashboard console.

wordpress comments akismet dashboard

Auntie Spam will immediately kick in and download all of the spam at once — no navigating between 10s to 100s of individual pages of spam.

Akismet Auntie Spam will automatically download all of your spam

You can do something else like check your RSS feeds while she grabs all of your spammy comments and organizes them.

Auntie Spam has finished downloading

Spam is sorted from newest to oldest and categorized from most spammy to least spammy. She groups spam by identifying the computer it came from, so surprisingly enough the more spam you have the easier it is to look through it all. She even summarizes it all by only showing the first line.

Spam is compressed - only the first line

Auntie Spam hates those idiots who keep sending you spam again and again. They can be completely ignored.

obvious spam is completely hidden

As you read through all the comment summaries, you may come across one that looks like it isn’t spam. Click on the ‘# comments’ link and Auntie Spam will show you the full text of the comment and give you the option to mark it as not spam.

Click to see the full comment and to mark it as not spam

Once all the spam is loaded there no need to reload it all because you want to search for something specific — hit Ctrl+F and use Firefox’s built in page search.

Search from within your browser instead of using the website

When it comes to de-spamming marked comments, or deleting all comments, Auntie Spam gets out of the way and things work the same way they always have.

despaming or deleting all comments

all spam deleted -- no spam found

If Auntie Spam is doing something you don’t want here to, you can return to way things have always been with a single click on the Greasemonkey icon and reloading the page.

turn greasemonkey on and off

What Are You Waiting For?

If you’re running WordPress and you’ve ever had to go dumpster diving for a comment that was accidentally marked as spam then you need Akismet Auntie Spam.

Related Posts

WordPress.com Command Diagrams

Posted in Technology, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on August 30, 2007

WordPress Tips and Tricks

I’ve created two useful diagrams for WordPress.com bloggers, and more importantly, for people who offer support in the WordPress.com help forums.

WordPress.com Blue Bar

WordPress.com blue bar diagram

WordPress.com Dashboard

WordPress.com Dashboard

Canadian Marketing, Media, and Digital Blogs Tournament

Posted in Group Writing Projects, Internet Duct Tape News by engtech on August 27, 2007

Internet Duct Tape is proud to be a part of the 1% Army Canadian Blogging Tournament. I’m part of division A: Online/Digital/Tech/Web 2.0. The other divisions are B: Media/Social Media/PR/Culture, C: Marketing/Communications/Research/Design, and D: Quebec. Yes, they’re that distinct! You can read more about it on the 1% Army Facebook Group.

Photo by sookie

I have to submit three posts written in 2007 that will be judged on:

- overall impact (20%)
- clarity of thought (20%)
- did it make me want to think/act differently (20%)
- did it want me to comment/participate (20%)
- originality (20%)

What Do You Think?

I’m going to rip a page from Ben, co-founder of Standout Jobs — a Montreal-based job search start-up, and ask my readers what they think my three best posts were under the criteria of overall impact, clarity of thought, call to action and originality. Name your three favorites in the comments section, or write about them on your blog and leave a trackback. I have to submit my three best by September 8th.

Something New

One of the posts has to be written since August 11th.

Something Old

The other two posts can be from later in the year.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Tip: Send Amazon or iTunes Gift Certificates Anonymously

Have you ever wanted to send a gift certificate to someone anonymously? One of the problem with electronic transactions is that quite often they tell the recipient exactly who you are. This isn’t a problem when it comes to gifts for your family or friends, but it can be more tricky if you are running an online contest for your blog.


photo by lilit

Why Anonymously?

There are several non-creepy reasons why you might want to send an anonymous gift certificate. Perhaps you are blogging pseudoanonymously? Or it could be that your PayPal / Amazon account is registered to an email address that you don’t want to share/publicize? There are many reasons why you might want to keep your Amazon or iTunes account information private but still send someone a gift certificate.

Use a Proxy

If you wanted to surf the web anonymously you would use a proxy that would act as a intermediate between your web browser and the web sites you are visiting. The same technique works for buying gift certificates. There is an online service called Prezzle that will let you send “wrapped” gift certificates to other people. If you use Prezzle to send someone a gift certificate, the recipient will see the sender as Prezzle instead of your real identity.

There is a small service fee for using Prezzle.

Hot Tip: Make sure the gift certificate matches the country of the person receiving it! Often companies like Amazon and iTunes won’t let them transfer the gift certificate to the store for their country.

Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership

Posted in Building a Community, Technology by engtech on July 31, 2007

Connect with your readers

When I first started commenting over at okdork.com, Noah Kogan would personally reply to me by email. I thought this was a little strange, even after a year of blogging this was the first time it had happened to me. I thought it was just that he was bored and killing time. It’s only now that I understand the genius of his technique: by going out of his way to contact me he went from “nameless stranger on the interweb” to a person I had one to one conversation with.

I hadn’t thought about it, but there is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one conversation. The flame wars that are routine on some sites rarely exist in personal email. People stop being disembodied words and ideas and you remember that there is a person behind all of that typing.

There is another fringe benefit to directly emailing commenters on your blog. I’m absolutely horrible at coming back to re-read posts on other people’s sites where I’ve commented. I know there are tools to help me manage it, but I’m too lazy. I post a comment and forget about it. Direct emails bridge the gap of apathy and form a connection.

Phoning It Home

There are many WordPress plugins that will automatically send an email to all first time commenters. While it is a great low maintenance technique for reaching out to your readers, any automatic communication can be considered spam — always a bad first impression. Automatic plugins like Subscribe to Comments or Comment Relish run the risk of having your email address get caught by spam filters. Hand-crafted responses are the way to go. You want to establish a rapport and a connection, not be another reason to hit the Report Spam button.

If you are on self-hosted WordPress then I recommend the Comment Email Responder plugin (from being on the receiving side of it, I haven’t personally used it). It lets the blog owner easily respond to comments by personal email as well as on the blog. I think that direct emails in respond to comments is one of the best techniques I’ve ever heard of for standing out from the crowd. Here are five tips to help you do it better.

Tip #1: Use a separate email address for blogging only

I highly recommend using web-based Gmail. It is accessible anywhere, and has great search functions and spam filtering. You can even use Google Apps for your domain so that you’re using the Gmail interface, but your address is @domainname instead of @gmail. The best reason to have a separate email address for blogging is because it ensures some level of privacy, and it keeps your regular account from being swamped/interrupted by blogging related messages. Don’t feel like checking up on the blog? Don’t check that email account.

Tip #2: Mention your blog in your signature

Your signature should have your blog url and a direct link to subscribing to your blog by RSS or by email. This can help in all correspondence. Try not to go over a three line signature though, or to use something tacky and garish. HTML and images are most likely filtered by the recipients email software, so stick to plain text.

Quick Hacks for Signatures

Tip #3: Automatically add correspondents to your address book

If you’re using Gmail this will be done automatically, but it is possible in other mail programs as well. The goal is to build up an address book of your blog readers so that you can automatically friends them on social networking sites like Facebook and StumbleUpon. With any kind of networking, having a large address book filled with useful information can be your best asset.

WordPress Comment Ninja will do this for you.

Tip #4: Include their comment in the message

If they are a first time visitor they might not immediately know who you are without context. By quoting the comment in the message body you remind them of what is being said. There are tons of WordPress plugins for comments, like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of this article.

WordPress Comment Ninja will do this for you.

 

Tip #5: Have something to say

This is probably the most important tip. Don’t email your commenters unless you have something to say to them. No matter how much you want to email them that photo you just took of your cat being silly, put the keyboard down and just walk away.

This is something I struggle with daily.

Community Starts With Communication

I’ve realized that sometimes I can be pretty anti-social in what is essential a social medium. I think that emailing commenters can be a great way of encouraging discussion and building relationships with your readers, and it’s something I plan to start doing. What do you think?

 

Related Posts

Written as part of the Carnival of Circular Communication

Tim Ferriss’ Four Minute Blog Training – The 9 Rules You Need to Know

Posted in Marketing and Promotion, Technology by engtech on July 25, 2007

tim ferriss blog idiot stupidWhat can a man who routinely slams corporate office culture for building boredom and people who waste their workdays with internet addiction have to say about writing a blog? Darren Rowse at Problogger has the scoop and now you can too with this no money down, no holds barred, straight for the jugular look at blogging from a man who has reached the New York Times Bestseller list.

Tim on Strategy

1. Polarization is Key

No one is interested in the middle ground. To be remarkable threaten the “3Bs: behaviour, belief, or belongings.” “I want at least one person to call me a liar per post or I don’t feel I’m pushing the envelope enough.”

2. Go to the Source

The biggest source of traffic is links from popular blogs and writing guest posts for them. “Borrowing traffic is a lot faster than creating it, and the former often leads to the latter.”

3. Be Diverse

How does your niche subject relate to everything (and anything) else in the world? Explore.

Tim on Technique

4. Headlines are Everything

“If you have a great headline, you can get great pass-along. If you have a mediocre headline, even a world-class post will be ignored.” “The headline doesn’t even need to describe the article or post. It has just one purpose: to get them to read the next sentence.”

5. Formatting Matters

“Add at least one graphic to each post, bold/italicize more to make the posts easier to scan and digest, and I would also discuss more topics that nearly everyone feels they can comment on.”

6. Post Less Frequently

It allows discussion to happen. “People have a lot of crap information being forced upon them, so I only want to add [] when I have something worthy to say.”

Tim on Monetization

7. Use Tact to Make Money

People don’t care if you’re making money, they only care if it interferes with your message.

8. Ethics are Easy

Pick sponsors from other industries that you’d never write about.

The Most Important Tip

9. Create a Community

Build a community that you would want to belong to.


You can read the entire interview at ProBlogger. Tim is the author of The 4 Hour Work Week [Wikipedia] and writes is own blog. I haven’t read the book yet, but I do strongly agree with his advice on blogging.

Climbing Out of Category Hell

Posted in Technology, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on July 20, 2007

One of my first and longstanding complaints of WordPress is that it does not understand the fundamental difference between tagging and categorizing. Categorizing is like taking all of your socks and putting them into drawers based on colours. Tagging is like sewing a little label on your socks that says when you bought them, how to wash them, and “if lost please return to the dude with the fat cat.” Categories add organization and tags add semantic information. A category can be a tag, but if you use your tags as categories you’ll eventually have a right old mess.

lost socks tagged
(photo by striatic)

WordPress doesn’t (yet) let you easily differentiate between tags and categories without using extra plugins, which means those of us who are cohabiting in a WordPress Multi-user ghetto like WordPress.com are stuck with the plain vanilla categories and the ugly mess that most tag clouds turn into. I have more categories than posts on my blog because I use “WordPress categories” for both tagging and categories. And I’ve finally realized that makes it near to impossible for me to properly organize my posts and for other people to read my site and find things of interest.

I’ve spent several days designing a blog that looks nice; it’s time for me follow through with the rest and climb out of the technical debt I’ve been incurring from my horrible overuse of categories and tags.

Lorelle on Tags

Lorelle is the number one source of all things WordPress. She has written a *lot* about categories verses tags, and even went into detail about her experience in recategorizing everything. I find it absolutely amazing that she managed to re-categorize her WordPress.com blog in only a couple of hours.

“Tags, however, are more like your blog’s index words. They are micro-categories. Do you use them when you visit a blog? I’m not and I’m wondering why.”Lorelle

“I think of the two a little differently, which is why I offer both categories and tags on my main site: How can I best help a visitor navigate around my site.”Lorelle

“categories equal tags, used by Technorati and other tagging directories as keywords to categorize your posts in their directories. If you want your posts to be found, this has to be considered.”Lorelle

“With so much importance put on categories by WordPress, choosing your categories becomes a major decision. You can either use categories as tags and add a new category for every tag you need, creating a long list in your sidebar or elsewhere, or keep your category list short and add tags with another method.”Lorelle

Categories in Action — How Do The Pros Do It?

When in doubt find an expert and copy them mercilessly. Here’s the categories for some of the top blogs about blogging and my thoughts on them.

ProBlogger: 31 Days to Building a Better Blog, Adsense, Advertising, Affiliate Programs, Blog Design, Blog Networks, Blog News, Blog Promotion, Blogging for Dollars, Blogging Tools and Services, Business Blogging, Case Studies, Chitika eMiniMalls, General, Miscellaneous Blog Tips, Other Income Streams, Podcasting, Pro Blogging News, ProBlogger Site News, Professional Blogger Interviews, Random Blog Tips, Reader Questions, Reader Tips, RSS, Search Engine Optimization, Writing Content, Yahoo Publishing Network

My thoughts: Could be improved with hierarchy and grouping similar categories together. Blogging for Dollars, Adsense, Affiliate Programs, Chitika, Other Income Streams, Yahoo Publishing Network should all be under the same umbrella.

CopyBlogger: Administrivia, AdWords, Affiliate Marketing, Blog Psychology, Blogging, Copywriting, Grammar, Headlines, Internet Marketing, Landing Pages, Link Building, Links, List Building, Metrics, Personal Branding, Persuasion, Podcasts, Popular, Promotion, RSS Marketing, Selling, SEO Copywriting, Social Media Marketing, Traffic, Tutorials, Video, What’s Your Story?, White Papers

My thoughts: I’d reduce a quarter of them from the list. Adding the “popular” category to track what people like is genius.

John Chow: AGLOCO, Cars, Fine Dining, Investing, Make Money Online, Ramblings, Review My Blog, ReviewMe Reviews, Technology, The Net, Videos, WordPress

My thoughts: There isn’t a lot of incentive to click on any of those titles.

Lorelle on WordPress: Blog Babble, Blog Challenge, Blogging Tips, Web Design, Web Wise, Weekly Digest, WordPress News, WordPress Plugins, WordPress Themes, WordPress Tips, WordPressdotcom, Writing

My thoughts: Only uses the letters B and W. :) Well thought out and descriptive.

DailyBlogTips: Blog Design, Blog Projects, Bloggers Face-Off, Blogging Basics, Blogosphere, Blogroll, Domain Names, Firefox, General, Monetize, Promotion, Reader Tips, SEO, Software, Strategy, Web Tools, WordPress, Writing Content

My thoughts: Firefox could be a subcategory of software. Not sure what Blogosphere, Blogroll or Strategy is about. Other than that it’s well done.

Successful Blogger: Analysis, Audience, B.A.D. Blogger, Basics, Blog Review, Bloggy Questions, Branding, Business Book, Business Life, Checklists, Comments, Community, Connecting Dots, Content, Customer Think, Design, Great Finds, Guest Writer, Idea Bank, Inside-Out Thinking, Interviews, Links, Liz Also Writes, Marketing, Motivation , One Way to CC It, Outside the Box, Perfect Virtual Manager, Productivity, SEO, SOB Business, Songs of Life, Strategy, Successful Blog, Survival Kit, Tech/Stats, Technorati, The Big Idea, Tips, Tools, Trends, Writing, ZZZ-FUN

My thoughts: Too many categories, maybe trim out some of the ones with less than double digits? She has a really impressive number of blog posts.

DoshDosh: Adsense Tips and Hacks, Advertising Networks, Affiliate Marketing Tips, Affiliate Programs, Blog & Website Promotion, Blogging Tips, Doshy Link Attack!, Get-Paid-To Websites, Internet Marketing, Link building and SEO, Make Money Blogging, Make Money with Social Media, Monetization Strategies, Money Making Tips, Niche Blogging Tutorials, Online Entrepreneurship, Popular Articles on Dosh Dosh, Revenue Sharing Websites, Useful Web Tools, Web Traffic Building Tips, WordPress Themes & Plugins’

My thoughts: Good use of long category names. I’m not sure how some of the categories are different.

What Do The Pros Recommend?

Daily Blogging Tips gives this advice on categories: be descriptive, limit the number to one screenful, try to put posts in only one category, and display the number of posts in categories.

One of the best things I’ve seen about categories is the recommendation to go through your search terms and base your categories off of how people are looking for things on your blog. Identifying the blog posts with the most comments helps as well. Lorelle also includes the helpful advice to turn trackbacks off before you start reorganizing your categories or you’re going to spam the crap out of yourself as you resave all of your posts (whoops, forgot about that).

delicious tag cloud screenshot
(wes)

What Do I Recommend?

I’m a strong believer that the best way to learn something is to do it wrong. Repeatedly. My categories/tags are a mess, and this is what I’ve learned from it:

Content before categories: You can’t know how what your categories are until you know what you’re writing about. If you have a new blog don’t worry about them until later.

Categories are specific: Categories should tie together related content around a specific subject. The first time I reorganized my categories I tried to break everything down to “articles, opinions, blogging, links” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me.

Use long category names: Make sure the category adequately describes what it contains and has a title people WANT to click on.

Use category descriptions: WordPress lets you put in some meta information about specific topics. Use it. You can even put links in these descriptions.

Niche is king: It is much easier to organize categories on a niche blog. Niche blogs can have very specific categories because they are all related to the same main subject. If you write about a multitude of subjects, then you need to have general categories with more specific categories underneath them.

Less is more: The more options you give a reader the less likely they are to interact with any of them. Too many categories/tags means I’m not inclined to click on any of them. Don’t have a lot of categories and don’t assign posts to too many categories so that readers feel like they’re always seeing the same posts in different categories.

Think maintenance: Time spent managing categories and tagging is time spent not writing posts or *gasp* doing something else. Too many categories makes it hard to pick a category for a new post.

Plan it: write down your planned list of categories before you start reorganizing and do a walk through your archive to see if they match.

Categorize your flagship content: Blogs always end up with a lot of “meh” or “look at this” type of posts. What you want to do with your categories is focus on the articles that add value to the reader. If you have posts that should be swept under the rug, then don’t bother categorizing them, or put them under something like Misc, Asides or Links.

Rule of 10: If a category isn’t going to have at least 10 posts, then it shouldn’t be a category of its own.

Use excerpts: Your category/archive pages should show excerpts instead of the full content. The excerpts should be long enough to entice the reader.

Screw tagging: This took me forever to realize, but tagging isn’t usually worth the time and effort. Tagging only works well when more than one person is tagging content. If it’s just one person doing it then it turns into a mess every time… a big cloud of nothing. Tags are useless for helping people find things if each tag only has one post. Tagging with WordPress makes categories unmanageable and unorganized. A well directed Google Custom Search engine can replace the need for tags.

The solution I came up with tags is to have some direct sub-categories under my main categories.

How Did I Do It?

These are the steps I took to drastically reduce the number of categories I had on my blog.

  1. Delete all categories willy-nilly
  2. I had to write a script to do this because the WordPress delete category interface is too slow (I’ll release it next week)
  3. Turn off the visual text editor on my User Profile
  4. Use the WordPress Category Resizer to make the category editor in the edit post window bigger.
  5. Fix manual navigation links to category pages and CSS effects
  6. Regenerate my Tag Clouds
  7. TODO: Run a link checker against my blog and fix all broken links
  8. TODO: Regenerate CSS for category icons

There’s a reason why I only do this every nine months or so.

farside on tagging

What Does It Look Like?

Still too many categories, but much better than before. Obviously I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. There are still some categories that could get nuked, but I’m using them as tags.

The users will be presented with the following categories in the sidebar as a text widget.

All of the subcategories are used as tags.

Presenting: Black and Blue and Read All Over

Posted in CSS and Web Design, Request for Comments, Technology by engtech on July 18, 2007

I’ve been tweaking my blog theme furiously in preparation for the Sandbox CSS Design contest. Again I have to say that I have the utmost respect for web designers. Making a good blog design that looks nice is hard work. But I feel that I’ve gotten a lot better since I touched CSS for the first time, and the recent incarnation of IDT has many improvements over the existing style.

  • Top header bar uses a much better technique for the buttons
  • Global style reset so it should look the same between all browsers
  • Support for asides (not that I use them often)
  • Support for pretty-printing
  • Georgia headings and Verdana text (thanks to these tips)
  • Styling on the navigation links between posts
  • Still readable in 640 width and 800 width
  • General reduction in hacks

So please step out of your web browser and let me know about any pages that are looking wonky. Please cut-and-paste the link to whatever page looks wrong and mention the web browser you are using.

In general site news I’ve gone back to having a front welcome page, instead of having the latest post on the front page. I feel it gives people a better introduction to the site. I desperately need to weed my categories, but that’s a job for another week.

FeedBurner Tip: Create a private area for your RSS subscribers only

Posted in Building a Community, FeedBurner, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on July 16, 2007

Reader SurveyWhen it comes to blogging the most important people are the ones who take the time to read your RSS feed. They’re your long term readers who are in it for the long haul, much more so than the people who stop by your blog because they found it through a search engine or a social bookmarking site. They’re the ones who promote your articles, and the ones who’ll let you know when you’re falling off your blog game.

It’s important to build a rapport with them, and one of the ways to do that is by giving them special offers that aren’t available to regular readers of the website. This could be an electronic book, information on how to submit reader links, or beta invitations to other websites like Pownce and Joost.

But how do you send these links to your RSS readers without displaying them on your blog?

FeedBurner to the rescue

customer feedburner feedflarIf you aren’t using Google’s FeedBurner service for your blog then you should be. (It has built-in integration with Blogger, and the rumour mill says that it will be added to WordPress.com at some point.) FeedBurner has these things called FeedFlares that show up at the end of your RSS feed. They can do things like dynamically list the number of comments on that post, or how many times it has been dugg or saved to del.icio.us.

It’s really simple to build your own FeedFlare that links to anything you want. Dosh Dosh has a detailed guide explaining how to do it. I wrote a list a while back explaining why I think FeedBurner is so great.

How to create a Custom FeedBurner FeedFlare

  1. Login to FeedBurner
  2. Click on My Feeds
  3. Click on the feed you want to edit
  4. Click on the Optimize tab
  5. Click on FeedFlare from the sidebar
  6. Under “Personal FeedFlare” cut-and-paste your generic feedflare link and click add to FeedFlare
http://www.feedburner.com/fb/variableflareunits/GenericFeedFlare.jspx?

text=Some+text&link=http://www.somelink.com

I’ve created a Password-Protected Post on my blog for my RSS readers at http://internetducttape.com/easter-eggs/reader-appreciation/

So I would use the following custom FeedFlare:

http://www.feedburner.com/fb/variableflareunits/GenericFeedFlare.jspx?

text=Thank+you+for+reading+IDT+(click+and+enter+password+-----)

&link=http://internetducttape.com/easter-eggs/reader-appreciation/

That will give you something like this:

create a custom feedburner feedflare example

Thanks to Dosh Dosh for showing me how to do this. I had a previous hack in place where I had a del.icio.us account and I would use the FeedBurner splice with del.icio.us to share things with my RSS readers only. Using a FeedFlare is much more elegant.

My Favorite Posts from DailyBlogTip’s Project3

Posted in Group Writing Projects, Technology by engtech on July 13, 2007

As part of Project3, Daniel from Daily Blog Tips has asked us to read and rate each other’s entries. I went through the big list of 115 entries and here is my (much shortened) list of favorites. They are mostly about blog advice or health tips. You can read my entry for Project 3 here: 3 Surefire Ways to Advertise Your Blog on a Shoe String

This list was put together using my delicious2blog tool that I will be making freely available by September 1st. If you would like to receive an announcement when the program is available then please subscribe to a new blog I’ve created purely for announcements of new software/tools/themes I’ve created at IDT Labs. Not only does it post a list of links from del.icio.us based on specific tags, but it also sorts them by the number of times they’ve been saved on del.icio.us, dugg or linked by other blogs.

My Favorites

Legend

  • saves – number of people who bookmarked on http://del.icio.us
  • inbound links – number of blogs who linked to it (max 100)
  • diggs – number of people who dugg on http://digg.com

WordPress Tip: Create a Digest Post in 3 Seconds

Posted in Becoming a Better Blogger, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on July 13, 2007

It’s a good habit to post a summary of your recent posts once or twice a month, but like all blog maintenance it can be a pain in the butt if you don’t make it as easy as possible. Here’s a hack that’ll let you create a summary of all of your posts over X number of days using a handy-dandy Yahoo Pipe.

How to Create a Digest Post

  1. Click on this link to go to the Yahoo Pipe
  2. Change “Truncate feeds older than 7 days ago” to the number of days back you want to go
  3. Change “Enter RSS URL” to the feed address to match your blog
  4. Click on the Run Pipe button
  5. Cut and paste the output from the pipe into a new blog post using the WordPress rich text editor

Ta-da! Now you’ve made a digest post. You can edit the text and summaries as necessary, or adjust the date and re-run the pipe if the amount of time is not correct.

Advanced users can make a clone of that pipe and change it to have your feed url and the date range you want by default.

Sample Digest Post

This was cut and pasted from the pipe output with no modifications.

 

Advanced Users

It doesn’t look great when you cut-and-paste the code from the Yahoo Pipe to a WordPress blog post. You can fix that by using my Yahoo Pipe Cleaner script with Greasemonkey.

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

More Pipes

Here’s a list of more Yahoo Pipes I’ve created.

3 Surefire Ways to Advertise Your Blog on a Shoe String

People always talk about how to sell ads on your blog, but it seems that no one talks about how to buy ads for your blog.

time is money
(photo by riccardo)

Time is money.

Trite, but true. One of the handiest “life hacks” is to figure out how much money your time is worth (after taxes) and use that to as a basis for deciding if a time saving service is worth it’s cost (assuming you have disposable income). The classic example is to hire help for around the home or to go out for dinner. Compare the spent time doing it yourself to the money you’d spend paying someone to do it for you and find an acceptable ratio.

One of the greatest lies told in the blogosphere is “write better content to get more readers and more traffic.” Great content without promotion will always fail to reach wide audience. Some form of promotion is always necessarily, usually by getting links from a more popular site, or by having a reader base that promotes your content for you.

This is how I know that I’m not a writer: the best writing comes because you have something to say, not because you’re trying to achieve some level of popularity. I know I have thought “why write if no one is reading?” Obviously, I have some deep-seated issues involving being unpopular in elementary school and trying to find validation on the Internet instead of finding my own happiness inside me; consider this my cry for help.

time is money - playground nerd
(photo by peregrino)

Writing content takes time and so does marketing. I would estimate I spend more time promoting my site, networking and building relationships with other bloggers than I do writing content. My combined focusing on writing and promotion is the only reason why anyone has every read my site — not because my content attracts readers like bees to honey.

Writing and promoting leads to lost hours, but time is money. Is it possible to replace time spent on marketing with money spent on advertising?

My time is worth around $20/hour to me. Blogging is my hobby, not a money making venture. This would be purely to reduce time I already spend — not an attempt to “grow my business.” Can a small monetary investment replace my own time building links?

In an hour I can probably drive around a guaranteed minimum of 100-300 hits to a blog post by prepping it for search engines, submitting it to social networks, contacting other bloggers and plugging it in forums and blog comments.

The sums of money are small because 1) I’m not doing this as a business investment and because 2) it is harder to compare time to money with larger sums of money. I also feel that small sums are more realistic to what a blogger can afford. This is my first time trying to buy advertising so the results may be laughable — please give better advice in the comments.

Three Good Ways to Buy Blog Ads (and Two Bad Ways)

BAD: Strange Schemes – RentMyChest – $50/life

Everyone has heard of the Million Dollar Homepage due to the massive main stream media coverage it garnered. Lots (and lots) of similar ideas sprung up. Chris Pirillo came up with the oh-so-strange RentMyChest.com. Buy a linked word on his chest for $50 for life. Result: the traffic is low — less than three hits a day. Ratio has been less than 10 hits/dollar so far.

AVERAGE: Social Networks – StumbleUpon Advertising Campaign – $10/once

Any blogger who has had a post stumbled has seen the how they turn the referrer url into an ad for StumbleUpon (genius). They are the most straightforward with a direct cost per vistor of $0.05 a hit. $10 got me 200 hits, although my stats software only said 130 (my fault for having too long of a landing page). There were only three positive stumbles, which didn’t lead to any increased SU traffic once the campaign was over. Ratio is 13 hits/dollar. (It should have been 20 hits/dollar but I want to keep the metrics even with the rest.)

GOOD: Blog Advertising – Adbrite – $12/month

I chose to buy an ad on the popular blogger Violent Acres’ site because the cost was so low. I chose the “I support Violent Acres” text which made me the second most popular ad on the site with around 7-9 hits a day. When the author wrote a post directly about her advertisers that lead to an increase of around 100-180 hits for two days. Ratio was about 40 hits/dollar.

GOOD: Social Networks – StumbleUpon Sponsorship – $20/year

It is harder to measure the results of this. By becoming a sponsored StumbleUpon community member an account gets featured more often. But being a solid well-networked member of the StumbleUpon community seems to be a much bigger factor than whether or not you are a sponsor. I’ve seen StumbleUpon block users from submitting articles from certain blogs, but when contacted SU never responded.

GREAT: Group Writing Project with Prize / Contest – $15/contest

Group writing projects are a great way to get links and interactive community participation. The downside is that their success is largely a factor of how well they are promoted – Probloggers like Darren Rowse can get over 300 links in a group writing project. I got 23 links, 1000 hits and more importantly new readers because of my first contest. I consider it a resounding success. Ratio was 67 hits/dollar.

My second contest did 49 links and 1450 hits, and my third contest did 19 links and 860 hits.

Is it worth spending money to promote your blog?

I’m still divided on it. The results aren’t going to be any better than what you can build naturally through promotion, but it can be a good way to give support to other bloggers/sites you enjoy. Contests seem to be a great way to engage your readers and help build a community around your blog — but there isn’t any time savings compared to how you would normally promote a post. Running a contest is worth it for building up your community but it isn’t a short-cut (and too much self-promotion can drive away readers). Spending the same time and energy on something else other than a contest would likely get similar results.

buy and sell blog ads promotion links
(photo by greefus)

Ways to Advertise Your Blog (That I Didn’t Try)

Directory Listing

More info on SEOMoz: ” I think that this is a ton of bull. I think that you can blow a load of dough and a lot of time chasing these links – which are mostly going to be low quality – and bring you very little real traffic.”

Blog Advertising – Text Link Ads

The ads are served as part of the web content so they pass ad-blocking software and are counted by search engines. It’s like buying your way on to the blogroll. Text Link Ads would charge $69 to $83 per month for a single link on my blog — so it’s out of my “on a shoestring” price range. One thing I’ve noticed from being on many blog rolls is that they don’t usually lead to many hits. More info at SEOMoz.

Blog Advertising – Direct

Some blog owners who sell ads will allow you to negotiate direct prices. This is a better deal for both parties because there is no middle man. DailyBlogTips writes about direct sale from the seller’s point of view.

Blog Advertising – Networks

“Most blog networks allow users to purchase credits with money, and the price is really convenient. You should be able receive hundreds of visitors or to get thousands of banner impressions for less than 10 dollars. Some blog networks that sell credits include Blog Explosion, Blog Soldiers and Blog Advance.” More info at DailyBlogTips.

Blog Advertising – Sponsored Reviews

PayPerPost, ReviewMe and SponsoredReviews all let you find bloggers who are will to write about your site if you give them some cash. It could be a good way to target blogs that have the same niche, although there is no guarantee they’ll have anything nice to say about you. Blogging Tips talks about his experience buying reviews. Buying paid reviews can be a great way to promote a contest.

RSS Advertising – FeedBurner

FeedBurner has been selling ads in RSS feeds for a while, and that’s only going to increase now that they’ve been bought by Google. You are targeting people who read blogs and people who subscribe to RSS feeds. They have detailed demographics on the audiences. aVC talks about buying Feedburner ads, and how each subscriber makes him around $0.60/month on the ads he sells through FeedBurner.

Search Engines – Google AdWords

” Adwords is probably the most efficient method to generated raw traffic for your website. In order to get started you should create an account, add lots (by lots I mean hundreds if not thousands) of keywords that are related your site and set the maximum Pay-per-Click rate at $0.01. After that raise the rate by $0.01 every week or so until you start getting the desired amount of daily clicks.” More info at DailyBlogTips. You can also directly target a specific site using Google AdWords.

Social Networks – YouTube

This is like direct blog advertising, but instead you contact the creators of popular videos on YouTube and ask them to embed a watermark with your blog url for a small price. WebLogHits talks about their experience.

Social Networks – Facebook

Facebook lets you create flyers with 5000 impressions for $10. This sounds like a great ratio, except that so few of those impressions click on the ads.

Social Networks – Digg and User/Submitter

There are several underground sites that will “vote” for your site on social link sharing networks. This can lead to you getting banned from those networks, and isn’t like to be worth it in the long term. Digg seems to bring less hits and less links then it ever did before.

7 tips for buying advertising for your blog
(photo by thoth92)

7 Tips for Buying Advertising for Your Blog

  1. Niche
    • Buy ads from sites that would have a similar audience who would also appreciate your content.
  2. Deep Link
    • Instead of linking to the front page of your blog, link to a particular page that gives the reader value. Try to convert them into a regular reader.
  3. Other Blogs
    • By buying ads on other blogs not only do you support other bloggers but you are targeting an audience that already reads blogs.
  4. Choose Sites that Directly Mention Their Sponsors
    • A link in the sidebar only gets a fraction of the hits compared to a blog that directly thanks the people who have sponsored them.
  5. Mention the Site You Are Advertising On
    • Ads that mention the site they are advertising on cut through the blinders people have when reading websites.
  6. Avoid Pyramid Schemes and Pay Directories
    • They don’t work. When was the last time you clicked on a link on a million dollar homepage or on from a blog directory?
  7. Ad-blocking
    • If the ad would be blocked by ad blocking software then you might think twice about using it if you have an audience that uses ad-blocking software.

This was written as part of Daily Blog Tips “Project 3″ contest. Vote for it by linking to this article from your blog!

CSS Tip: Building 3D Buttons with CSS for the Sandbox Theme

Posted in CSS and Web Design, Technology by engtech on June 26, 2007

Yes, it’s another post on CSS design with Sandbox. Feel free to skip.

One of the nice/painful things about designing for the Sandbox WordPress theme is that it forces you to use CSS to do the things you want to do. There’s no sneaking in there to tweak the underlying structure to get more convenient selectors, it’s CSS or nothing.

An often requested tip is how to do 3d buttons for the menu bar at the top of the page. It’s done using the common “sliding door” technique where one image is the front plus middle, and another image forms the end. I’ll be using the images and technique from the Dark Liquidcard 2.0 theme by Jori Avlis in this example, along with the Sandboxed example blog.

Image Is Everything

The starting point is to create two graphics for your 3d buttons. One image will have the left-and-middle portion and the other will have only the right portion. If you want the button to look different when it is highlighted (or when that page is selected), then put the highlighted version in the same image file right underneath it! That way the entire image is downloaded once and there isn’t a delay the first time a user hovers over the button.

3d menu button for blog theme

3d menu button for blog theme

In these images the button is 46 pixels high.

Getting Started

Here is what the menu looks like without any CSS:

sandbox theme menu unstyled

We’ll start off by applying some basic styles: turn off the list style, remove any padding that might get in the way.

div#menu ul {
	list-style: none;
	margin: 0px;
	padding: 0px;
	width: 100%;
	height: 46px;
}

sandbox theme menu unstyled

Adding the 3d Buttons

Now we’ll add the 3d buttons as background images. We’ll start with the left-and-middle button first. It will attach to the list element (LI). You will have to adjust the padding so that the text is centered properly with respect to the image. Float left will change the orientation of the list. (Note: I changed the text color to white so that it would show up against the image)

div#menu ul li {
	float: left;
	background: url(http://i115.photobucket.com/albums/n296/engtechwp/website/left.png)
		no-repeat left top;
	padding: 10px 0px 12px 10px;
}

add 3d button to menu using css in wordpress theme

Now add the right button. It will attach to the link anchor within the list element (LI A). Again, take care with the padding so that the text is centered properly.

 div#menu ul li a {
	background: url(http://i115.photobucket.com/albums/n296/engtechwp/website/right.png)
		no-repeat top right;
	padding: 10px 25px 12px 10px;
}

add 3d button to menu using css in wordpress theme

Adding a Hover Effect

Now we want to show the hover effect. This is done by shifting the background image down 46 pixels. We’ll also disable the underline effect by turning off text-decoration.

div#menu li:hover {
  background-position: 0% -46px;
}

div#menu li a:hover {
	text-decoration: none;
}

div#menu li:hover a {
	background-position: 100% -46px;
}

add 3d button to menu with hover effect using css in wordpress theme

Download the CSS File

You can download the code for this CSS example

WordPress CSS Tip: Design for Sandbox Theme in a sandbox

Posted in CSS and Web Design, Technology, WordPress by engtech on June 22, 2007

In case you missed the last post, there is a CSS design contest using the Sandbox theme for WordPress. That post will explain what the heck it is all about.

I’ll be the first to admit that I only know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CSS design, but one ‘workhack’ that easily applies to any kind of programming activity is rapid development. The concept is simple: reduce the time between action and result to the shortest amount of time possible so you can get more done. My number one tip for doing a fast CSS design is to do it all on your own machine instead of doing it live on the Internet (or wordpress.com). It will save you lots of time and headaches.

I’ve taken the sample blog and example CSS template provided by Scott Wallick and made a very easy to use downloadable archive. It contains nothing but the HTML files, image files and CSS from the sample blog. It can get you redesigning Sandbox in less than a minute.

Getting Started

  1. Download the Sandboxed zip file
  2. Unzip it
  3. Open index.html in your web browser
  4. Edit style.css
  5. Refresh your web browser
  6. Repeat #4 to #5

I find it easier to work on HTML files saved on my computer than creating a dummy blog on a fresh WordPress installation. If you feel the same way then downloading this archive is right for you.

Pick The Right Tools

There are several requirements for any tool that makes designing CSS easier:

  1. editing with syntax highlighting plus auto-completion
  2. showing you what CSS selectors are available on the page you are editing
  3. inspecting why a design looks the way it does

I heartily recommend the combination of the Firefox web browser with the Firebug extension. The learning curve for Firebug is a bit steep, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run because it is chock full of goodies as can be seen on this page.

Testing in Multiple Browsers

One of the hardest things I find in web design is getting something to look the same in multiple browsers. Having multiple browsers on hand to check out your changes locally is a must if cross-browser compatibility is important to you. Here are the top browsers to consider. Market share numbers are from w3counter (thanks Daniel).

  1. Internet Explorer 6 – 50% market share
    • Click on that link to get the completely standalone version of IE6 that you can run side by side with IE7
  2. Internet Explorer 7 – 17% market share
  3. Firefox 2 – 15% market share (and 9% market share for FF 1.5)
  4. Safari 2 – 2% market share
    • Finally available for Windows users
  5. Opera 9 – less than 1% market share

The market share should give you an idea of which browsers to spend the most time designing in. I find Firefox the easiest to work with. Jalaj gives a few other suggestions.

One highly recommended technique is “reseting” CSS properties at the beginning of the file to remove slight differences between browsers.

Some people like doing a Global white space reset by zeroing both margin and padding for all elements at the top of their stylesheets. Eric Meyer’s Global Reset, Christian Montoya’s initial CSS file, Mike Rundle’s initial CSS file, Ping Mag’s initial CSS file. [Roger Johansson]

More explanation of Christian Montoya’s initial CSS

Know What Size to Design For

It is important to test your design in different screen resolutions. Market share numbers are from w3counter. Something else to keep in mind is that those big old CRT monitors and those funky new LCD monitors display colours differently.

  1. 1024×768 50.43%
  2. 1280×1024 17.03%
  3. 800×600 8.89%
  4. 1280×800 8.38%

I recommend the Window Resizer extension for Firefox for rapidly switching resolutions. Firebug may be able to do it as well, I am by no means an expert.

Advanced Design Considerations

There’s a lot out there to learn about CSS design, here are some highly recommended links with more information. If you have any other suggestions, drop them in the comments.

Win Cash Prizes for your CSS Design for Sandbox

Posted in Contests, CSS and Web Design, Technology, WordPress, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on June 20, 2007

Web pages (ie: what you are looking at right now) are composed of many things. If you think of web pages as a house, HTML is the foundation and structure while CSS is the aluminum siding, brickwork and paint. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. A passing knowledge of both of them is essential if you want to run your own website.

HTML Example

CSS Example

The whole idea behind HTML and CSS is that you use HTML to format your web page (or blog post) with things like headers, bold, lists and tables. Then you use CSS to style those elements so that they look the way you want them to. The whole idea behind it all is that you can build the structure with HTML once, and then change the look of it whenever you want to using CSS.

WordPress, Sandbox and CSS

If you want to change the way your WordPress blog looks there are two ways to do it. The first way is to change your theme. This changes the underlying HTML formating structure. The second way is to leave the theme alone and change your CSS. If you are running a blog hosted on WordPress.com, then the only way to customize your theme is to buy the CSS editing upgrade, choose a base theme, and then use CSS to redesign it. The preferred WordPress theme for CSS designing is Sandbox because it gives you so many things to play with.

Internet Duct Tape is hosted on WordPress.com using the Sandbox theme and a custom CSS design by yours truly. If I can find the time, I will be participating in the contest.

Win Prizes for Your Sandbox Theme

The creator of Sandbox is running a theme design competition with monetary prizes. The pot is getting pretty big right now, and the top six designs can win between $50 to $750 US. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at designing CSS before, this is the perfect time to give it a shot.

Scott has put together sample blog content for designing CSS for Sandbox and he also has a template file with all of the Sandbox CSS selectors.

Free Sandbox Designs

There are several free Sandbox designs available:

People Are Talking About It

More coverage about the competition can be found at

weblogs tools collection: “I thought it was a good time for a new theme competition—or rather a “designs” competition. It has been around two years since the last successful WordPress theme competition (participants of the competitions in 2006 will roll their eyes and would include me).”

wank: “I’m hoping this’ll be as successful as last year’s Style Contest, and that Automattic will be as generous with their support as Six Apart were with theirs. (Matt has already thrown in $500 prize money, which is a good start, but a little linkage wouldn’t hurt.) “

Adam: “Scott’s organizing a wordpress design competition, purely in CSS. which means it’s open to:
* wordpress.com users
* anyone who can use CSS, since PHP and javascript won’t be judged”

Small Potato: “Conveniently for Scott’s Sandbox theme and WordPress.com’s Custom CSS Upgrade service, WordPress.com users will not be left out of the competition because Sandbox will be added to WordPress.com’s collection of themes. By the way, you can enter as many designs as you want. Surely, that’s not because this competition wants to promote Sandbox even more, but because entering multiple designs will give you a better chance at winning.” (read the comments)

Binary Moon: “And what do you have to do for the money? All that’s required is for you to design a skin for the sandbox theme. You don’t need to do any php or html, it’s entirely css and image based.”

There’s more good discussion in a WordPress.com Support Forum thread

Create Buzz by Doing the Unexpected and Being Remarkable (Puzzle Quest Case Study)

Posted in Games, Marketing and Promotion, Technology by engtech on June 01, 2007

puzzle quest nintendo ds screenshotA game company called Infinite Interactive have a break-away hit on their hands with a new game called PuzzleQuest. Their success has come from two key differentiators:

  • Mashing the puzzle gem (IE: Bejeweled) genre with the old school Japanese RPG (IE: Final Fantasy) genre.
  • Releasing a demo for PCs over the Internet even though the game was only available for the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable handheld consoles
  • (and possibly) very limited available at game stores causing scarcity and a lot of buzz around how hard it is to find a copy

The Heath brothers [wikipedia] rate unexpectedness as one of the six rules of sticky, memorable, and interesting ideas. Seth Godin recommends that products be remarkable in his book the Purple Cow [wikipedia]. The qualities of being unexpected and being remarkable are most successful when they are intertwined.

Being Unexpected

puzzle quest nintendo ds pc game demo downloadInfinite Interactive has reached a new audience by offering a PC demo of the Puzzle Quest. Demos, or free limited-play sample versions of games, are a tradition in the PC gamer domain, but are relatively new to the console market. The Xbox 360 with its built-in internet connection and hard drive is a perfect marketplace for try-before-you-buy game demos. The Nintendo DS hand-held console has been experimenting with downloading game demos at supported stores, but their severely limited demos still don’t give you a good feel for the game.

PC video gaming is in a slump. Between World of Warcraft and the many choices on the console market, as well as an ever increasing number of HD-TV home theatre setups, console gaming has been taking an ever increasing marketshare away from PC gaming. There just aren’t as many quality computer video games being made anymore. Puzzle Quest recognizes that most console gamers are former PC gamers and that a PC connected to the internet is by far the easiest way to distribute a demo for a handheld console without a hard drive.

Most games are written to work on multiple platforms these days, so offering a PC demo for a console game isn’t as hard to do as you might think. I’m surprised it isn’t done more often.

Being Exceptional

PuzzleQuest is an excellent gem matching puzzle game AND an excellent RPG. They might not meet the depth of story of a Bioware roleplaying game, but they have solid game mechanics that are quite addictive.

The game has all the features of modern RPGs:

  • Branching storyline based on player actions
  • All combat is done by solving gem matching puzzles against an opponent AI
  • Matching gems builds up mana that lets you cast spells that affect the game board
  • Different skills affect how you gain mana, gold and experience during puzzle combat
  • Different classes gain skills at different rates and can cast different spells
  • Different items give you different modifiers for puzzle combat
  • Acquire different companions who help you during combat
  • Capture enemies to learn spells from them
  • Capture enemies to gain mounts
  • Capture runes to craft items
  • Capture cities to increase your income

I was really surprised at the depth of activity available, and more importantly how fun it is.

puzzle quest action screenshot

The Proof is in the Pudding

Since being released on the Nintendo DS and PSP, Puzzle Quest has found an ever increasing audience. The buzz that has grown around their game has led to announcements of future releases for Xbox Live Arcade and the PC. The biggest problem I had after playing the was trying to figure out where I could get a copy of the game.

  • Found out about it on Penny Arcade (Puzzle Quest comic 1, Puzzle Quest comic 2)
  • Hours spent playing PuzzleQuest PC demo (I replayed it three times)
  • Spent at least 30 minutes trying to find a torrent for the full PC game… before I realized it was for the Nintendo DS.
  • Tried to find it in no less than 8 local game stores (ended up using Amazon)
  • Picked up a copy of one of their PC games in the bargain bin (Battlecry 3)
  • Got my own Nintendo DS so I’d stop hogging my girlfriend’s

My own experience with Puzzle Quest shows how successful it has been. Infinite Interactive has done an amazing job jumping from the flagging PC game market to handheld games, and I look forward to a day soon when they overcome the distribution issues and the game can be found at your local store. But why wait until then? You can download it and give it a try now.

Opting Out of Technorati – The Break-up

Posted in Humor, Technology, Technorati by engtech on May 24, 2007

Dear Technorati,

I’m writing to say goodbye. With time I hope I’ll have more good things to say than bad, but this hasn’t been the case of late. I know you have plenty of other suitors paying attention to you, and I doubt you’ll even miss me. But I thought I’d write you a note to explain my absence and what went wrong between us.

I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of Jason Kottke (from 2005) and stop calling you. It was fun watching my rank improve until I was in the top percentile of your favorite people, but I’ll never be one of the top one hundred you lavish your attention on… so why am I bothering? One of the key principles of time management is to put your attention and focus on what gets the maximum return on investment, but you haven’t been giving me anything more than a number and a lot of frustration.

goodbye technorati rank

Technorati, I fully appreciate the magnitude of what you’re doing with only a 45 person team behind you. I think focusing on search makes sense because you’ve already wasted too much time courting bloggers for links. Bloggers truly are such a limited part of the all the people who could be using you. We’re also fair weather friends who are the first to turn on you and complain when things go wrong.

But I’m leaving you Technorati, and I have the following grievances that you don’t seem to care about. I’m glad you’ve shed some pounds, and your dressing better, but looks aren’t everything. It’s the way you treat me that matters in the end.

Problems I’ve had with Technorati

  1. You lost the last month of my blog posts even though they were pinged and indexed before your new cosmetic changes. Because I only show the very latest blog post on my front page you’ll never find them again, even though the last 40 entries are all nicely showing up with full text in my RSS feed. Why don’t your spiders use my RSS feed? This is not the first time we’ve had this problem.
  2. You are inflexible when it comes to my blog URL. My latest posts must appear on http://engtech.wordpress.com, and your spiders will become confused if I ever change it to something like engtech.wordpress.com/blog. I can go from …com/blog to …com but not the other way around.
  3. My Technorati favorites page does not show the latest posts from ALL my 500 favorites – only a small subset of them. It is much better for me to track them with Google Reader or to use a Google Custom Search engine then to use Technorati favorites.
  4. The Technorati API should be a great way to grab information about blogs, but if you are under high traffic you will often fail to return any data at all instead of a standard error.
  5. You ask for entirely too many links back. I’m supposed to tag my posts with links back to you and add big “favorite my blog on Technorati” links on every page of my site in the hopes I can climb the top 100 favorites list, which no one really uses anyways.
  6. You do nothing to fix the long standing ping bug where anyone can ping a permalink post on a blog and have it show up as a new blog. I have to log a support ticket whenever I want to fix this.
  7. You cannot handle domain changes. It is very common for bloggers to start out on *.blogspot.com or *.wordpress.com and then eventually buy their own domain name. Every other search engine understands the 301 redirect just fine, why can’t you? This is by far your biggest limitation.

This isn’t to say you don’t have good people working for you. I’ve seen you help out friends and send them free t-shirts. I fully appreciate how difficult bloggers are to deal with, and how big of an achievement indexing that many blogs is. I appreciate all of the times you’ve gone out of your way to contact people who are having problems.

But there’s no denying that I’m having a very bad user experience with Technorati. Instead of being able to use you how I want, I’m pigeon-holed into trying to get you to display my blog properly and track the other blogs who are linking to it. All for what… a few meaningless numbers?

Technorati Rank got a lot of attention before it was replaced with Technorati Authority, but it can easily be deep-sixed. Google has bought FeedBurner and can combine the data from FeedBurner subscription counts and Google Reader. While you were busy determining authority by blog links, authority by RSS readership is going to come along and wipe you out with a metric that makes so much more sense.

So I’ve had enough of our relationship, Technorati. I know I haven’t exactly been kind to you in return (it would be polite to call me overly critical), so I think it is time for us to put this mutually destructive relationship to end. I’ve often complained that the biggest mistake a blog can make it not to own it’s own name. I’m moving on to internetducttape.com, and I know you’ll never find me. Even though I’m redirecting my little heart out, you don’t care to follow.

Sincerely,

Formerly known as Honeycakes


Over the top, but I couldn’t help it.

http://engtech.wordpress.com is now http://internetducttape.com, which means my Technorati Authority has dropped to 0. I’ve freed myself from my ball and chain and now I will focus on content and readers instead of traffic and links.

And of course, cool hacks, tricks and mash-ups of existing web services thanks to a little bit of internet duct tape.

Using Comment Spam to Measure Blog Rank

Posted in Technology, The War on Spam by engtech on May 22, 2007

bambi baby adultUsing the Technorati Rank as a measure of blogging hierarchy is so 2005. Deciding if a blog is part of the top 100 purely by the number of other blogs linking to it is one way to measure popularity, but there must be other ways. In nature you can track the population increases of Bambi, Thumper and friends by the co-related increase the number of hunters going around killing their mothers. Could there be another way to measure blog worth other than Technorati?

If only there was some parasitic relationship that fed off the blogosphere the way predators feed off of prey?

Of course! Spam.


spicy hot blog comment spam

I’m joking about quantity of spam as a measure of blog worth. But what I’m not joking about is how much more spam I am getting now compared to a year ago. I’d like to think it’s because my blog is so much more popular now, but the sad truth is that spam is an epidemic that’s affecting bloggers from all walks of life. Even Robert Scoble.

penny arcade bob the door to door spam salesman

The War on Spam

Comments spam is an infection and it is spreading further and further. It attacks our blogs and stands out like a rash. There are several over the counter remedies to comment spam, but sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease.

  • Force users to login to a verified account
    • Which means no one will bother to comment unless the login is part of a larger network like a Google account or Typepad account
  • Captcha image response algorithms
    • Which means no one will bother to comment because they are impossible to read and a complete pain in the ass
    • (I’m talking about you, Typepad)
  • Simple captcha (math, unscrambled word)
    • Works except for the 90% of the time I forget to fill it out
  • Akismet filtering (what we use at wordpress.com)

Akismet says that 95% of all comments left on blogs are spam

Akismet – Building Spam into Haystacks

One of the limitations about being hosted at wordpress.com is that the only vaccine I have for fighting off comment spam is Akismet. Which is great when it works, but, uh, not so great when it doesn’t. Akismet does a very good job of identifying ham from spam, but the problem is that it doesn’t do anything to decrease the sheer volume of spam you get. Akismet will help you lead a normal day-to-day life, but it won’t keep you from having the occasional sore on your lip for all the world to see.

I get around 1500 spam a day now. Sometimes Akismet isn’t strong enough or isn’t vaccinated against a new strain and I’ll have between 5-15 spam sores to manually delete for that day. Other times Akismet gets overzealous starts attacking the valid comments as spam (which often happens on blog posts where I ask people to post links). It’s easy enough to correct the situation if I can find out it happened. But finding that one valid comment is like trying to find a beauty mark on a leper — it ain’t pretty no matter which way you look at it.

That’s why I created the Akismet Auntie Spam for Firefox extension to make the anti-spam (ham) stick out more from all the obvious spam. In an update I never officially announced, our little old Auntie will now mark all Akismet-marked comments that have common spam words in red so that we can completely skip over them while dumpster diving through the caught spam folder. Akismet Auntie Spam helps me heal the lepers.

Akismet Auntie Spam

How to Reduce the Volume of Spam

But that still doesn’t stop the fact that I’m getting 1500 spam a day. For someone who likes to write about productivity and making the most of your time I am wasting entirely too much time being a good netizen and monitoring spam. We often call it the War on Spam but it’s a war I’m not winning. The only intelligent decision is to stop wasting my time and energy and to pull out. Like any social disease the underlying problem is that I’m being way to promiscuous. Everything I’ve ever posted to my blog is tarted up in a short skirt on a dark alleyway, just waiting for trouble, with nothing but Akismet and hope to avoid the clap.

It’s not working.

So I’m following in the footsteps of many other members of the wordpress.community and I’ve turned comments off for all posts that are over 60 days old. It isn’t because Akismet doesn’t do the job, it’s because even with Akismet doing most of the work, that last little bit takes too much of my time. It’s time for me to take my blog posts off the street and into a private school and hope they start running with a better crowd.

If the spam rash clears up appreciably, I’ll create an automated program like my Tag Cloud Generator for disabling comments on older posts so that everyone can enjoy having one less thing to worry about.

5 Reasons Blogging Leads to the Unemployment Line (You’re Fired!)

Posted in Group Writing Projects, Technology by engtech on May 11, 2007

We wait with excitement for Trump to say “You’re Fired” on TV, but it isn’t nearly as entertaining in real life. Building a blog with a large audience is hard work. It can be like moonlighting with a second career. It takes attention away from other aspects of your life, like your primary career. It can have negative consequences.

Mainstream media has documented several cases of people being fired for blogging. Here are five of the reasons why.

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Are Bloggers Being Gamed? – Fixing the Technorati Favorites Feature

Posted in Technology, Technorati by engtech on May 01, 2007

Darren and Amit both recently wrote some criticisms about how bloggers have been doing Technorati Favorites exchange memes and how it is changing the landscape of the Top 100 Favorites list. (Darren comes in with further clarification as I type this.) Dosh Dosh wrote an insightful response that I feel covers all the issues, but I’ll throw in my $0.02, if only because I have a pocket full of loose change.

If you don’t blog, you probably want to skip this post as it is a hardcore geek out.

Technorati has two top 100 lists, the Top 100 Most Favorited list and the Top 100 Most Linked list. The Most Linked list where your Technorati rank comes from. It is reputable and hard to get on. The Most Favorited list is mostly a joke, and has been for a long time. You need around 3,000 blog links in a six month period to reach the Top 100 Most Linked list but only 200 favorites from all time to reach the Top 100 Most Favorited list.

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