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Topic Exhaustion

There is this thing about blogging which almost everyone who blogs has experienced at one stage, especially after blogging a lot (in the past 5 years I wrote over 15,000 blog posts). There is an understandable reluctance to write about something which was covered before and can therefore be addressed by linkage, unless things have changed considerably since it was written (in most cases, linkage with a small corrective remark would do). When that phase is reached, one tends to observe the news and look for new material to ‘feed on’, so to speak (putting it crudely).

This blog had published about 1,000 posts before I started writing in another blog (the main blog I write for is still Techrights). My personal life and tricks for management of work are already thoroughly covered here (available through the archives) and other bloggers seem to have followed similar trajectories because other people care about events and ideas, not people. Once there is an exhaustion of subjects to write about regarding one’s life, a writer would naturally write about his/her surroundings. Making critical assessments of different things in the world does not take much effort, but it does take perseverance. There is usually little or no incentive in it. So what is it that motivates people to read the news and remark on it? Sheer boredom or media hype? Whatever it is, the more the issues are brought up, the more a person is likely to become emotionally attached to them and then seek a solution. At the moment my goal is to help abolish software patents. There is never a lack of work to be done in this area and progress is always made towards attaining this goal.

Have topics been exhausted then? Never.

Social Networks/Content Hosting Always Evolved

Back in the days, people created Geocities-hosted Web sites. Well, Yahoo! has axed it, shortly after getting abducted by Microsoft in fact, so Geocities is no more (although many sites similar to it still exist). I created my site there in 1997/1998 and a few years later I got interested in Open Diary, which in some sense resembles Live Journal. Further down the line there was the phenomenon of blogging, which started in particular sites like Blogspot and Blogger, among many more (some of them are not surviving well). Free software like B2 and WordPress soon filled a gap and enabled more and more people to take control of their blogging platform and also register their own sites for the purpose. Around the same time, sites like MySpace grew, but they soon perished mostly because of competition which included an extension to ‘people-indexing’ services (resembling classmates reunion sites). Facebook was prominent among those. For news and discussion people had Digg, Reddit, and several more large sites, Many experiments emulating the above failed miserably for reasons that would require a separate long post. Later on, in recent years, celebrities joined Twitter and helped it grow very quickly, along with Free software clones such as Identi.ca. What joins together many of those services and pieces of Free software one can download to substitute the hosted prison is that they provide people with a place to express themselves and also find out what others are thinking. The thoughts of others are sometimes expressed by citation (news) or multimedia. It all helps weaken the cetralisation of so-called ‘mass media’ and it empowers people. This is one of the better achievements of the Web — that alongside wikis such as Wikipedia, but that’s another category of sites and a subject for another day.

People’s blogs have become somewhat less active and more people choose to post material under other people’s platform (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on). Journalists too failed to evolve (for the most part) and their occupation dying, mostly to be replaced by PR. One has to transition constantly. The world today is inventing and progressing faster than ever before, especially on the Web which is relatively new.

Science Blogging

Back to nature… sort of…

Roy Schestowitz, London, 2010
London (2010)

Earlier today I watched with great patience this wonderful new interview with PZ Myers (thanks, Thunderf00t!), who spoke about his hugely popular science blog. I very much enjoy his site in which he started writing only 7 years ago. It was about 6 years ago that I started my own science blog (on computer vision) and later started another one about my particular area of focus (that was in 2005). They grew nicely and reached the niche whose narrow topic of interest they covered.

I have been thinking recently of the potential to inform people who are my peers through scientific blogs and decided that I will probably restore activity in those older two, as well as this one neglected personal blog where I hardly wrote anything for the past 3 years (it totals 1416 posts though, mostly from the olden days).

I found it gratifying back in the days around 2006 when people in my scientific field knew me in conferences because of my blogs and wanted to hang out with me because of these. The readership grew steadily as long as I kept writing. PZ Myers sees the same type of trend and Techrights, where I wrote over 11,000 posts, is the same. Perhaps I will resume posting in blog form about science later this month or next month. As always, I will separate my professional life, my personal life, and my hobbies (the 4 blogs I run will provide this separation).

On several occasions I was offered an opportunity to write a book, but frankly, I believe that books are seeing their end of days (when older generations are no longer with us, then pen and paper too may vanish). I was fortunate to get into blogging early on, thanks to Free software. It’s a rewarding experience even through there is no pay.

My Take on How Digg Works

An article about the way Digg works has just been published. I gave some input to it, which probably reflects on my view of Digg. Here it goes.

1. Can we start briefly with your background, especially with Digg? How long have you been a user, and when and how did you become an active user? About how many links a day do you submit? How many followers do you have? How often do you get stories to the front page?

I joined Digg back in 2006 when it was still a young Web site that attracted GNU/Linux users. I became an active user about a month after I had signed up and habitually submitted around 5-10 stories per day. I am not sure how many followers I have. Over 2000 people marked me as their friend and some of them regularly vote my stories up (digg them). My performance as a Digger probably peaked in mid-2006 when I made the front page about 3 times a day. These days, I rarely perform quite as well because things changed a lot while I was absent in 2007. The site grew.

2. Can you walk me through step by step of a recent instance where you submitted a link and promoted it to the front page? How did you come across the link, what made you think it was right for the Digg community? And once you submitted the link, how did you promote it? Through IM, shout outs, some other method? In other words, what drove it to the front page?

I read many RSS feeds and I stumble upon stories which I think are important to GNU/Linux users like myself (many of whom happen to follow my submissions by choice, so focus is important). My aim is to share these stories with people. Most of them pertain to adoption of Free software, which I care a lot about personally. I do not promote stories artificially. I let Digg just do its thing. The fact that some people keep track of my submissions out of genuine interest helps a lot, too. I would rarely promote a link because it is dishonest, it is a waste of time, and it is not necessary if the submitted story is an important one.

3. What about stories where you’re not the first to submit it — someone else found it first. How do you usually come across these? Do people send you shout outs? Do they IM you? Do you follow the “upcoming” page or the recommended page? Obviously, your answer might be ‘all of the above,’ but what methods do you use more than others?

I always concede submissions if I find that there is already something similar submitted. I do not communicate in order to coordinate anything. Long-time users are systematic only in their passion for the topic/s that they focus on. I personally disabled shout-outs because I perceive them as comprising lots of noise that’s designed to game the site.

4. What is your opinion of all the stories about “bury brigades,” secret groups of power editors and various other conspiracy theories about why certain stories make it to the front page while others don’t? Do you think the algorithms are sufficient enough so that Digg isn’t easily gamed by marketers?

No, and I would love to see Digg tightening the rules, although I fear it’s virtually impossible. I have come across bury brigades, abuses, stalking, and been a victim of them too. There is also plenty of libel being spread. To me, addressing this issue is equally important. I have left about 14,000 comments in Digg but I hardly comment these days due to rampant abuse that’s slanderous. Policing of behaviour in the site is generally disappointing.

5. If you had to give a person advice for how to consistently get stories to the front page, what would it be?

To be perfectly honest, the democracy in Digg is an illusion at best. Staff ‘elites’ enjoy a status that’s skin to editorial control, whereas some lesser-revered users have few eyes on their submissions, so they receive little attention. This is not to say that’ ‘sensior’ users cheat; however, user status by all means plays a significant role.

Blogging Notes and Random Thoughts

A funny church sign
An example output image from the simple text-to-sign generator

HERE are some arbitrary notes that I keep in mind while trawling the Web and managing Web sites.

High Traffic

If my Web sites make the front page of Digg, then that’s x0,000 of visits from Digg alone (more impact than Slashdot), plus the ‘aftershock’ (sites that write about what they read on Digg). It’s scary to watch at times. I’ve reached the front page of Digg and Slashdot quite a few times (as the source cited, not just a story submitter). The last time was half a day ago and it knocked down a site.

Netcraft

I always have Netcraft in sight. Be aware that Netcraft is very popular among *nix sysadmins, so it’s biased in favour of that audience.

Tracking Own Site

Not tracking use is a good idea. The habit is time consuming and distracting. Vanity is its only benefit. It has no real impact on content that you write anyway. On the other hand, be aware that by tracking backlinks you can find out if someone says something incorrect about you. Technorati is a decent tool for (almost) spam-free tracking of citations.

Spyware

NoScript (or equivalents) should always be enabled when browsing the Web, with exceptions. If only people knew the type of things that happen when they merely land on a page with JS enabled. Mouse being tracked, computer setup being probed and sent over the wire. Microsoft has some really nasty patents on it, so privacy was long ago forgotten.

Linking to Trolls

To clarify and put things in context, I don’t link to trolls myself. There are cases where inflammatory remarks are posted as a plea for attention. If someone does link to a troll, then I ensure people do not vote for it and promote it (social sites). rel="nofllow" has its merit as well.

Words to Avoid

I use the “Big Lie” argument quite a lot, but very cautiously because of what it’s associated with. It’s like a perfectly correct theory was poisoned by Godwin’s law. It is the same story when it comes to ‘patent terrorism’ (Sun exec and others), anti-Linux Jihad (Groklaw’s phrase), anti-Linux propaganda/brainwash.

Has Digg Just Deleted Popular FSF Submission?

DIGG had a long downtime last night (or so it seemed from here). More strangely, this morning, some content simply vanished. About 20 hours after I submitted a timely FSF-related item, the item is just gone. I don’t know if Digg had a massive error that led the Web site to restoring from backup. I checked their blog, I checked the front page, but there is nothing to indicate this.

I submitted a link to a video of Professor Moglen, which very quickly accumulated a lot of Diggs and at least one comment Why has it disappeared? Has Digg censored (as in “deleted”) this? If so, why did this happen after so many hours of the item being ‘live’? For the time being, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. I wish to see if more than just my own contributions was lost.

In any event, I have submitted the same story to Netscape, in case you are curious about the content which Digg had deleted (either deliberately or not)

Why Digg.com is Becoming a Waste of Time

Blogs and useless content aside, I think this screenshot I’ve just grabbed speaks for itself (click to enlarge).

Digg screenshot

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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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