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Web 2.0 Data Export

RecycleMobility of data is becoming an important issue these days. Many people’s data is stored on third-party Web sites, whose data formats are not specified. The data cannot be exported (e.g. for upgrades or migration) either, so there’s a lockin involved in many such Web services (think Web 2.0).

Possession of one’s data would be a selling point. So why are sites not providing this facility? Why is its implementation assigned such a low priority? Simply put, sites wish to elevate exit barriers and make it hard for customers to walk away. But there is a cost here. This leads to resentment. This leads to backlash, which DRM, for example, comes to show us.

Let’s just integrate facilities for import and export in all user-driven Web sites. Export at the least — one that relies on standard protocols for containing data — should be crucial. Without import facilities, quick flow of SPAM is not an issue, in the case of public-facing sites such as Digg.com. Just take del.icio.us for example.

It’s a Sock Puppet Show at Social Bookmarking Sites

WITH success in any Web site comes some spam, which needs to be combatted effectively. Herein I will deal with social bookmarking Web sites in particular. Spam is not always automated. There is brute-force spam that is scripted; but there’s also self-promotion that strikes in the form of mass submission. And people have begun trying to game Netscape, whose front page bears an admirable PageRank 9. This keeps the Anchors and Chief Editor on their toes.

The problem has become somewhat universal across this new wave of sites comprising contributer-driven content. Digg has had submission parasites, yet human moderation, as well as spam report widgets (community-driven), have it eradicated early on. I usually report any suspicious submission as spam, at least as soon I spot a distinct and objectionable pattern. When the same person always posts to the same domain, for instance, that’s a red flag. Sometimes you can align the username with the domain’s affiliation, but sometimes consistency in the URL is enough. And ‘sock puppets’ (same person with multiple identities that boost a bogus sense of consent) are another-yet-closely-related matter altogether.

When enough stories get intercepted, links the to the domain are banned by principle (for a month if not permanently), or particular Web addresses blocked for good. This sends the appropriate message: abuse, then get your domain blacklisted. This may be better than banning the users who could otherwise change their ways and contribute differently; in a positive way, that is. In fact, some people just haven’t grasped the concepts of social bookmarking, so they fail to see the wrongdoing.

When banning users, there is a need for caution. A pissed off innocent user is far worse than spam that successfully percolates because people talk. They have blogs, so a good rant with proof can get heavy exposure very quickly. And it affects reputation. Look at what has happened in Digg more recently.

An afterthought: One possible workaround to ‘sock puppets’ would be to demand that each newly-subscribed user supplies a unique E-mail address, as well as logs in with an IP address that wasn’t yet used in registration on that same day. This can’t stop instantiation of puppets or protect against proxies and dynamic IP’s. However, it definitely slows down the abuse and reduces incentive to game the system.

WordPress Domain Hosting

IT has been argued and nearly publicly announced that WordPress.com is headed towards a get-your-own-space program. I think this would be an excellent idea. Essentially, a blog that runs on WordPress.com can be accessed transparently from a personal domain rather than a subdomain on WordPress.com.

Interesting thoughts spring to mind. One can get a wordpress.org blog hosted by a third-party (through a manual installation or using a one-click-away script). Alternatively, anyone could just start things on a small scale with WordPress.com, then growing big(ger) with a personalised, top-level domain. While I’m not sure how search engines will deal with redirections or URL changes (this could get tricky), it could be done properly by sending HTTP header with status code 301. I heard success stories, as well as ‘Googlejuice’ disasters. But people’s bookmarks should not be an issue.

Chiroweb.com, for example, has been doing essentially the same thing, namely letting you have your own domain hosted as a subsite on a root site, which is at the same time accessible through your won domain. Page composition (CMS front end), on the other hand, is, as expected, restricted by the service, so there is limited freedom and scope for manoeuvre, development, and extension. This can nonetheless be circumvented by changing hosts and installing an alternative (temporary site mirror) manually. It should be possible with WordPress.org, but probably not with Chiroweb, whose templates are proprietary/licensed (example below).

Davie Chiropractic

That’s my relative in Florida!

The ‘New Netscape’? Anything Like the ‘New Digg’?

The Digg front page

DIGG is changing. It potentially transforms itself for the better, but there are residual side effects. There will no longer be a tiered set of users. Top Diggers, including myself as a former active Digger, largely resent the new move.

To those unaware of these recent sizzling developments I’m referring to, Digg’s algorithm is being modified to be less (or more) democratic, essentially by weighting user’s votes as though they are not necessarily equal. It could bring about improvements, but it also raises many questions, affects morale, and lowers aspirations among new and senior contributers alike.

More latterly, several Digg contributers have been trying to assassin the character of Netscape, suggesting that the idea of removing avatars in protest came from Netscape or some shills it had recruited. It didn’t (see quotes below).

There are some Digg contributers who seek to blame Netscape for all the in-house trouble. But the removal of avatars, whose progress I followed from early stages, appears to have begun from the top and gone downwards with folks like DigitalGopher, P9, and George W. I didn’t realise what it was all about the first time I spotted the pattern. I thought top users were being banned or stripped of their identity. There are intersting discussion about the impact of the change.

Here’s another thought I had: if top diggers lose power and are then perceived as ordinary, that will a considerable turn-off, which is sure to stop them from participating much, let alone ‘game the system’, as Kevin Ross called it (impulsive accusation perhaps).

So what should we now expect from top contributers? Just a submission here and there to keep up appearance and be part of the scene (presence), not ‘becoming the next Albert Pacino (top all-time contributer)’, who long ago decided to hang up the towel.

Lastly, here is are some bits from an interview with the top Digger, who quit abruptly.

The other users did not remove their avatars in support of me. It was in protest of Kevin’s message as well as the verbal filth that many Digg users were spewing at Digg’s top submitters.

The #33 Digg user, Curtiss Thompson, had many of the same things to say, in an email to Wired’s Michael Calore:

The blog post by Kevin Rose in response to the Digg community’s outcry about top diggers gaming the system has caused many top diggers to be singled out from the community and buried not on the merit of their content, but on their unfounded accusations that the top Diggers were manipulating or “gaming” Digg’s democratic system. Not only was the blog post misrepresented, but it was misinterpreted, by the Internet community to support one Digg user’s claim that The Digg System Is Being Gamed By Top Users.

Side notes:

  • A Digg friend was kind enough to have me mentioned and even credited. Thanks, buddy!
  • I had an interview about my recent move to Netscape/AOL. I will post a pointer to the text (or a copy thereof) in my blog as soon as it goes live.

Update: some comprehensive, link-rich coverage has just been posted on the topic.

Local-Yet-Web-based Feeds Aggregators

Feedlounge

Feedlounge Web-based reader (a third-party paid-for service)

A week ago I was trying to find an alternative Web-based feed-reading software. I was looking for merely anything, apart from desktop-bound solutions or offshorn Web-based services such as Feedlounge and Google Reader. While I am very happy with my current feeds reader, RSSOwl, it is bound to remain a native desktop application (albeit it’s fully cross-platform). I rarely bother to tunnel in and check the feeds while on vacation, so I quickly go ‘out of sync’. A Web-based aggregator could address this deficiency.

I had a quick browse through sourceforge.net, but could not find anything that was complete. Then, I took a glance at freshmeat.net where more complete projects reside. Here is a short report on what I could and could not locate.

None was too impressive (more akin to a complete miss). I was then reminded of an RSS feed reader (aggregator) which already integrates news on my Website although it is extremely rudimentary. In general, none of the applications that I shallowly reviewed (judging by lists and screenshots, without installing) was mature or complete in terms of the required features. The pursuit for a free, Free (as in “Freedom to change, redistribute and so forth”), Web-based, multi-functional software was probably too much. This came to prove that, in terms of functionality (let alone responsiveness that is another important matter), Web-based applications have a lot of catching up to do w.r.t. good ol’ desktop programs.

For completeness, I also found:

  • nntp2rss – A tool that provides a bridge to access newsgroups using an RSS reader. Quite interesting, I thought.
  • Flock – still in alpha stage and has not been updated for almost 4 years. It is not to be confused with the Web browser Flock (a Mozilla Firefox derivative with social networks slant).

Blocking Ads – An Example for Digg.com

I already addressed ad blocking controversies several times in the past, the context being slightly different each time, e.g.:

With blocking often comes some guilt, as it is resistance to the developer’s intent (much like modification of source code). But to me, the bottom line has always been that I am never (or rarely) interested in the content of the ads, all of which are promotional and often urge the visitor to expend money (if not merely get exposed to and absorb some brand name). Thus, any click that I am ever likely to make would probably verge the line of click fraud (assuming pay-per-click programs) and this revenue money goes towards many sides. It will most likely pay off authorities through taxation, the advertiser (or mediator, e.g. Google, Yahoo/Overture), and the Webmaster. So, everybody is essentially gaining at the expense of the client of these ads. If you are not genuinely interested in ads, never follow the link. It is probably as unethical (if not more) than the exclusion of ads altogether.

Digg.com is no exception to all of this. It recently seems to have adopted Google ads that are rather stubborn in the sense that most plug-ins or rules cannot hide them well away from sight. When Digg version 3 launched (only a few weeks ago) it took only minutes for me to get irritated by the waste of space at the top — that which is assigned purely for contextual ads from Google. None of my 3 blocking mechanisms in Mozilla Firefox was enough to wipe it off the page, much to my misfortune as I use Digg very heavily and my Web browser is small in terms of its height dimensions (due to kpager at the bottom of the screen). Either way, there was a simple way to suppress those ads, merely by excluding the div in question. This can be done using a simple selector in Firefox, which makes that top banner ad disappear, never to be thought of again.

Find your chrome directory under your main installation:

  • /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/chrome in Mac OS X
  • C:Program FilesMozilla Firefoxhrome in Windows
  • firefox/hrome in your Linux local installation directory

You might also find it convenient to do this on a per-user basis, by locating your chrome settings under individual profiles, e.g. ~/.mozilla/firefox/1ixj9tdk.default/chrome on my SuSE Linux box.

Edit (if already existent) or create a file named userContent.css and add the following selector:

*[src*="banner_ads"] , div[id="top_ad"] { display: none !important;}

This was inspired by Firefox AdBlock, which is far more comprehensive, but appears to be no longer available (it older URI is now broken). You can always append new rules by looking at the source code of pages and add selectors for exclusions, even using simple wildcards.

Stuff That Bothers Me

Here is an arbitrary list of items which contribute to hassle and even distress:

  • Monolithic content management systems such as PHP-Nuke (and its derivatives or siblings) still attract spam. My forum section has begun eating spam on a daily basis and it is very time consuming. I restore from backup every couple of days, merely reverting to an older database state.
  • The blog’s CAPTCHA filter has been cracked, so I must cope with over 100 spam per day.
  • Some people post incoherent comments which are not only characterised by poor grammar and typos. It makes one wonder if click-and-point sobriety tests should replace CAPTCHA-based filters.
  • With the increase in the number of Windows zombies on the Web, the amount of junk mail that I receive doubled within a few months. I am not alone in this, so I at least find some sympathy.

Speaking of which, the following showed up in the news last night:

Spam zombies give UK ISPs the fear

A massive 96 per cent of 50 ISP respondents cited the proliferation of botnets – networks of virus-infected PCs under the control of hackers – as a key business issue.

According to industry analyst firm Gartner, seven in 10 items of spam originate from infected PCs.

Let us take a moment to thank out friends at Microsoft. Owing to their so-easy-to-hijack operating system, we all choke on spam.

  • Lawsuit against Google over PageRank got bloggers humming. It was a mastery of incompetence. One such lawsuit was apparently successful, so algorithms that discriminate (not deliberately so) can lead their operator to paying fines.
  • Judging by one of the OSDL mailing lists, to which I have been subscribed for while, the OSDL mailing lists (much like xmms-dev) mainly attract spam, kooks, and posers.
  • Outlook Express or Outlook (same codebase; same rubbish; one word less) are a bit of a handful. I am tired of receiving E-mail where responses, are top-posted (‘jeopardy-style’ composition, i.e. answer comes first, then the question).
  • Making your software exclusively available for Windows is like selling and displaying your merchandise at a garbage site just because most prospective customers reside.
  • Digg version 3 does not discourage dupes as effectively as it used to. It makes it somewhat inferior to its predecessor. But I digress…

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Original styles created by Ian Main (all acknowledgements) • PHP scripts and styles later modified by Roy Schestowitz • Help yourself to a GPL'd copy
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