Vox Love

From an interview with Jason Kottke:

When I first started putting my thoughts online in the mid-90s, there was little about my life that I wouldn’t put online, but now it’s almost the opposite situation.

What he said.

A year or two ago I realized I didn’t really feel like sharing everything going on with my life anymore. It’s got its upsides, but the drawbacks are many. Not to mention all the people that said too much about something or someone and later had it bite them in the ass.

After a few months of not blogging every little thing on my mind I realized I was missing something by no longer doing it — writing about your thoughts and life’s little triumphs and tragedies helped me work through my thoughts or understand the problems better. So I started blogging privately at LiveJournal and a dozen or so friends also did and I got a lot out of it. But LiveJournal has its limitations and all the little things I disliked about it eventually turned me off from frequent posting there. It’s a pain to login all the time. A pain to add friends. It used to be a pain finding the “write a new post” link anywhere on the site.

Vox came out and I’ve been playing with it for a couple months and enjoying it immensely. It’s still pretty streamlined and straightforward but it’s got the UI that never gets in my way (unlike LiveJournal’s UI). The friends and family blogging is the key feature and I’ve read a lot from people that don’t understand what all the hoopla is about.

It’s kind of like TiVo in that you have to try it out first, live with it a month or two before you realize it’s the greatest thing ever. Or think of it as an iceberg — it seems simple and not very useful at first but my god is that one little feature hiding a great deal of utility. I’m blogging at Vox now and a couple dozen people I see in real life and hang out with several times a year are also on it and on my friends list. If I want to ask them something or share an intensely personal tidbit, I can post it there for them and I don’t have to IM or call anyone and I don’t have to tell the same story 15 times as I see them throughout the year. And I don’t have to read about how I’m the biggest dumbass on earth on another blog as a result of the post. Don’t get me wrong — I have skin as thick as leather but after seven years of this, it gets old when someone that doesn’t understand you or your tone misinterprets something you’ve said. Blogging to friends means never having to explain the joke.

I kind of wish the functionality was built into my existing MT install I’m blogging with right now, but I’m ok with having a half public/private life on my vox site. I’m also a fan of the non-technical approach at Vox. If I never have to edit another blog template by hand again, I’ll die a happy man. Same goes for tweaking inline styles in a HTML view. Vox is great for writing and not having to worry about template tag attribute documentation or having to add a style=”text-align:center;” to an image ever again.

It’s funny how things come full circle — when I started out I hand coded blog entries, then I wrote my own CMS, then eventually I moved to a commercial CMS package and now I would prefer to never have to maintain a server or backups and I don’t really feel like designing my own blog templates anymore.

I just want to write and not have to worry about all that other junk. And I’d rather keep the personal stuff to a few close friends. Vox is perfect for both of those things.

Buzzplant: none more crass

Lately I’ve been getting a steady stream of unsolicited bad marketing and PR mail. People promoting products are stooping to new lows in order to try and get legitimate weblogs to promote their clients for them. It’s fake viral buzz hidden behind whatever legitimacy a participating website can offer. I’ve seen the quality and cluefullness of these PR pitches go way down, but tonight, one PR agency’s pitch trumps them all.

I give you the flight 93 PR blast.

Now if you haven’t heard, there’s a movie about the hijacked plane on 9/11 that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside, enroute to the Capitol. Personally, I have a hard time reliving that day and I can’t even watch the trailer. I don’t know how anyone can watch a film like that or how anyone can have any respect for a movie studio trying to make a buck off this nation’s tragedy five years ago.

So their PR agency is giving away free tickets if you plaster banner ads on your blog to promote a movie reliving our terror so Universal Studios can make more money from ticket sales. What kills me is the line about:

Due to the nature of the subject matter of the film, we request that the giveaways be done in a very respectful, thoughtful manner.

…sort of like how this unsolicited PR pitch was sent to me oh so respectfully (I can even unsubscribe from future pitches! thanks!).

Bloggers will also love their idea to exploit your readers into writing some of that highly prized User Generated Content about that emotional day:

One idea is to ask visitors to your site to share their own memories of 9/11

…again, so a movie studio can make more money from this exploitation flick.

I hope the folks at buzzplanet do a great job getting more tickets sold for flight 93 and I can’t wait to see flight 93 banners all over the blogosphere. I hope it makes Universal Studios a lot of money in the process, because there is no better way to come to terms with terror than to go watch a movie about it.

Lifehacking this week

I should have mentioned earlier that I’m helping edit Lifehacker this week, as a favor to Gina and Keith.

The last time I did it, I went a bit nuts writing a ton. For some reason I was motivated to get as many big posts in as possible. This time around, I’m busy with a thousand other things but I’m spending every available moment scouring the web for interesting things to mention and I’m also working on a long how-to about a web app I’m really excited about. So check it out this week, it’ll be me expending about double the effort I waste here on any given day.

Pave the Planet

I’m impressed with Google Earth. I hadn’t totally got what was cool about it until I built my first Google Earth app earlier today. The documentation is pretty slight (it’d be nice if they simply broke down which elements are required and which ones are optional) but they have a good demo file you can simply copy.

After about an hour of hacking and I had a nice kml file with nearly 4200 points on it, direct from the MetaFilter user database. It’s great that Google Earth launched the client with this robust API already in place.

The results are pretty cool. I’ve only offered lat/long values for a week or two, and already there are loads of people in far off places showing up. It’s a good feeling to give the old globe a spin and see points all around, and to hear stories of people getting to know each other offline as a result.

Most Improved, 2005

This is a long time coming, but I’ve really been enjoying Jalopnik the past few months. When Jalopnik and Autoblog and others like it launched, I was disappointed that these new car blogs were so boring. Cars are one of the most universal of hobbies, and you’d think it’s easy to find someone nuts about it that could write. And yet, the first year of car blogs was a blur of warmed over press releases from Detroit and Japan. Yaawwwwwn.

At some point this year, Nick Denton roped in a superfreak car geek that sounds like he wrote for magazines or covered cars for a newspaper or something. His enthusiasm is infectious and his knowledge deep — he loses me sometimes but for the most part it’s still accessible for the average fan of cars. Me, I’m mostly into new car design and custom tuner cars, and the site doesn’t disappoint these days. I’d go so far as to say it’s the most dramatic turnaround I’ve seen in a blog, as it went from boring to must-read almost overnight by simply getting a new writer.

Slightly related — the one thing I thought was annoying about the new author is the fixation on posting a silly car video of the day. They’re usually a 30 second shaky short of some mulleted dork (the author calls them “hoons”) trying to do a burnout. Sometimes they’re funny. More often they’re kind of boring. But sometimes they’re incredible. I’ve come around on the “hoon” posts there too.

And while this is the intellectual equivalent of “Man Getting Hit By Football (in the nuts)”, Redneck Surfing just might be the greatest hoon video ever uploaded. Watch it about twenty times like I did today to understand what I’m going on about. It’s an instant classic.

The zeitgeist

12/10/2005 – Saturday Night Live does a joke commercial on the complexity of the Medicare prescription drug plan, and the joke includes a bit about RSS feeds and podcasts.

12/12/2005 – Arrested Development episode has a joke where the twin brother Oscar is told he can’t update “but i’m oscar dot com” and he replies with something like “ok, I was thinking of trying a podcast.”

It still surprises me when I hear “blog” on TV without a definition attached. “Podcast” being used in jokes on mainstream shows kind of blows my mind.

The revolution will be ajaxified

I was delightfully surprised when I visited Blogger today without a cookie and saw a new ajaxy recently updated scroller on the front page. Here’s a 1.2Mb AVI file of it in action.

Just to reiterate a point I made early this year, there was a version of the blogger.com homepage that did exactly this, in early 2001, so I was extra pleased to finally see something like it in public today. I’ve replayed 2001 in my mind over and over again, wondering what the web developer world would be like today if KnowNow‘s stuff was unleashed on the blogosphere back then.

Putting the fun back in fundraiser

When you run a large community, you invariably get some members rising to the top in terms of participation and reaction from others. It’s a natural part of any community and as fast as you can dream up ways to temper their contributions or wait for them to leave out of boredom, someone quickly fills their place and the cycle starts again. Eventually their personalities grow large and everywhere they move in a community they are treated with equal parts love and hate from the rest of the group.

Over the past few months, a couple members have kind of been in the spotlight due to their strong viewpoints and strong ways of expressing it and today Jessamyn had a brilliant idea.

“You should do a fundraiser. ‘how much would you pay for a week without user x/user y‘”

Then it hit me that yeah, it would be pretty easy to do thanks to dropcash and the money could go to a non-profit charity, like Creative Commons. I emailed two members that seem to polarize the community and much to their credit they were both in. Not every member of a community — especially the strong personalities — has a sense of humor about themselves and their online persona so I commend the guys that participated in this.

A few keystrokes later and the fundraiser was launched. It’s essentially a charity dunk tank, with the people you love to hate raising $5 for every softball lobbed at their perch. What’s great is that after just a couple hours one side is over 30% towards the goal and the rest of the community is congratulating them for being good sports about the whole thing. With any luck, when this is all over both members will likely be seen in a different light for having gone through this.

Blogger on spamblogs

Blogger Buzz: On Spam describes Google/Blogger’s ongoing fight with spamblogs I wrote about a few days ago. They’ve even published a blacklist of spamblogs to help indexing services weed them out.

I forgot to mention it in my earlier post, but the big white elephant in the room is WordPress and the affinity spam bloggers have for the WP platform. This is no slag on Matt or the community he’s built, it’s just the tool they like to use after Blogger. Blogspot is an easy punching bag because it’s one giant source host and Google’s behind it and has the resources to stop it, but what can we do about the thousands and thousands of wordpress spam blogs republishing RSS feeds from others, loading them up with Adsense banners, and being hosted all over the web? WP is released under GPL and any spamblogging plugin, extension, or tweak of WP code can’t really be stopped (this isn’t an argument against GPL, but I’m just saying the problem can’t be stopped at the point of software being used for bad things).

Do you go after their webhosts? Is the act of gaming search engines with spam blog linkfarms and creating empty content (with others’ RSS feed excerpts) adsense sites the same as anti-spam rules in webhosting terms of service agreements?

In other words, when the (single-webhost) blogspot problem gets licked, how on earth do we combat the (many hundreds of webhosts) powered-by-Wordpress spamblog problem?

When it rains, it pours

(67spamblogs, originally uploaded by mathowie)

I have an ego feed I check every few days for my last name (fairly rare) from technorati. On a normal day there might be one or two mentions of my last name and it’s not always about me, but it’s useful for finding blogs that mentioned me or are talking about a post I made.

This morning, I had 67 matches for the term which is really unusual. Looking at the results painted quite a picture. It looks like one monster spam blogger has unleashed a boatload of new blogspot blogs, always in the form of keyword-(random number).blogspot.com (like lottery-123123.blogspot.com). They suck in RSS feeds from blogs like mine and boingboing and others, then insert random phrases into the copy, with a link to their own sites using phrases they want to game google with (screenshot of one).

This has been going on for a while, commonly known as “blog and ping” tools that automate google gaming by sucking down any RSS feed and reposting to a spammer’s blog. But I’ve never seen someone unleash possibly hundreds (at least 67, probably many more) of blogs in such a short time. I suppose there are scripts that work a level above tools that merely suck down a RSS feed and repost it to a spam blog, unleasing hundreds of rss feeds on hundreds of spam blogs. I don’t envy the work Google and Blogspot have to do to curb this kind of behavior but at the same time it’s lame to see weblogs become another tool in the search engine spam toolbelt.

update: oh bonus — looking at a few of them reveals that every spam blog seems to have been created by a different blogger user account. So not only is the sucking down of RSS feeds and reposting to a blog filled with spam links automated, not only is doing this reposting to hundreds of sites automated, but it appears publishing all these hundreds of posts to hundreds of blogs with different blogger login credentials is also automated, making it more difficult for Google/Blogger to weed out the single person behind it all. Search spammer/spam bloggers sure are resourceful little bastards.