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Category: Blogging

Comment Spam

Discovered in our comments queue, awaiting approval to be posted on the blog:

Brief History Of Linux (#13)
Wanted: Eunuchs programmers

Everything you know about the creation of the Unix operating system is wrong. We have uncovered the truth: Unix was a conspiracy hatched by Ritchie and Thompson to thwart the AT&T monopoly that they worked for. The system, code-named EUNUCHS (Electronic UNtrustworthy User-Condemning Horrible System), was horribly conceived, just as they had planned.

The OS, quickly renamed to a more respectable “Unix,” was adopted first by Ma Bell????????s Patent Department and then by the rest of the monopoly. AT&T saw an inexpensive, multi-user, portable operating system that it had all rights to; the authors, however, saw a horrible, multi-crashing system that the Evil Ma Bell Empire would become hopelessly dependent on. AT&T would go bankrupt trying to maintain the system and eventually collapse.

That didn????????t happen. Ritchie and Thompson were too talented to create a crappy operating system; no matter how hard they tried the system was too good. Their last ditch effort to sabotage the system by recoding it obfuscated C was unsuccessful. Before long Unix spread outside of Bell Labs and their conspiracy collapsed.

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People: Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Blogging technology is transforming journalism and extending freedom of speech, but the government and corporations want to clamp down free speech with freedom-of-information restrictions and copyright abuses.

See also: We the Media

12 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

On Blogging

The Dark Secret

Just so you know, blogs are probably not the future of journalism. I don’t know if anybody actually said that, where Hector Reed heard it, but if somebody did say it then he or she is probably wrong.

Here’s the dark secret of blogging: most of us are arrogant enough to think people ought to be told what we think and that people will actually care what we think. This is quite obvious, when you think about it—why else would we spend so much of our time blogging? Most of us certainly aren’t getting monetary compensation. We must do it because we want people to read about what we think.

Here’s the dark secret of humanity: most of us are arrogant enough to think people ought to be told what we think and that people will actually care what we think. I think that must be why we created sophisticated languages that allow us to communicate complex and abstract ideas. Chimpanzees are happy enough warning each other about the large snake that’s about to eat them, but early humans wanted to brag about what great Mastadon hunters they were, or to give each other fashion advice, so they invented language. The problem in the past was that most humans didn’t have access to mass media, so their ability to communicate ideas was limited to the people within shouting distance, or the people whose addresses and telephone numbers they knew. Luckily, the Internet changed that. Today we can publish our thoughts for a potential audience of millions.


Democracitization

One big barrier to getting a web site is cost. It costs a lot of money to register a domain name and rent a web server from a hosting company. (It would cost even more to purchase and run your own web server, of course.) Luckily, there are plenty of businesses willing to provide free web hosting in return for placing advertisements on their clients’ web sites. When people in the mid- to late 1990s decided pictures of their babies and cats were important enough to share with the rest of the world, they got a Geocities web site.

Another big barrier is the technology. The web is extremely easy to use, but people still can’t figure it out. HTML and CSS, the common languages of the web, are simple and easy to learn, but many people with web sites consider learning them too great a burden. This laziness led to the invention of WYSIWYG HTML editors, which in the mid- to late 1990s were mostly junk. The vast majority of personal web sites consisted of horribly mangled HTML which produced ugly and illegible pages. The growing dominance of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser hasn’t helped. Most web users use Internet Explorer, and many of them don’t care if their web site doesn’t work in other web browsers. Some of them don’t know that browsers other than Internet Explorer exist at all.

Luckily, the tools for helping nontechnical people get over the technical barrier to the web have improved in recent years, to the point that current blogging tools—Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress—are capable of generating basically functional and standards-compliant web sites that aren’t ugly. The legibility and aesthetic quality of personal web sites has improved dramatically since the days of Geocities web sites.

A final barrier is informing people that your web site exists. Putting your thoughts on a web site is fine, but how do you let people know your thoughts are available for their perusal? There are more than 40 million web sites on the Internet—the web has democratized mass communication so much that it’s easy for your own little web site to get lost in the crowd. This is certainly the largest barrier to running a successful and popular web site. Luckily, there are solutions. One is pinging. Pinging, in this context, means sending a small packet of information about your recently updated blog to a web server which adds your name to a public list of recently updated blogs. People who want to know what they should be reading look at the list, see your blog on it, and go to your web site. Whenever you update your blog, hundreds or even thousands of people may be notified. There are now dozens of pinging services for blogs. Peiratikos uses a metaservice called Ping-O-Matic, which notifies 14 pinging services every time we update.

The web hasn’t created a mass-communication democracy yet, but it’s getting there. Anybody with access to the Internet can create a Blogger account and start sharing his or her thoughts with everybody else (at least, everybody else who also has access to the Internet). A lot of people can’t convince anybody to pay attention to their thoughts, and a lot of people don’t have any thoughts worth paying attention to. (Unfortunately, too few in the latter group are also in the former group.) But it’s getting easier all the time to cultivate an audience of hundreds or even thousands for your own little personal web site.


In Conclusion

Hector Reeder, in his Reeder’s Digest 4 column, seems to find bloggers’ vehement reactions to dismissive critiques both amusing and inexplicable. I think it’s pretty straightforward, actually. When Heidi MacDonald said:

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately. And I have to say a lot of them are really dopey. (No names.) Give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters and eventually they????????ll write an issue of Night Nurse or create a blog. And, except for a very few sites, I realized they can pretty much be safely ignored. When you give everyone a voice, no one can hear everything. (Comics Buyer’s Guide #1591, p. 10)

she contradicted one of the basic philosophical points of the web. It’s supposed to be democratic, not elitist. Yes, we all know that there are a lot of dopey blogs that aren’t particularly worth reading. But the point Hector seems to miss is that criticisms of Heidi’s article were motivated not by a belief that “all writing is of equal interest to read,” but by a belief in creating equal opportunity for people to communicate with the rest of the world. (Whether this is actually a worthy political issue is another question entirely, of course, as is whether blogs are a good way of pursuing the issue.)

Hector is also amused by bloggers’ supposed insularity. Again, though, this is pretty straightforward. One of the dominant paradigms in blogging is one in which conversational social interaction is emphasized. This involves not only the comments systems commonly found on blogs, but also interblog discussions. Blogs are linked together into a loose conversation-based network using standard HTML hyperlinks as well as technologies designed to support conversational blogging, like TrackBack and Pingback. (Why bloggers choose to use blogs instead of other conversational technologies—chat rooms, message boards, telephones—is another question entirely.)

By the way, those interested in the origins of the term “blogosphere” may find the “Blogosphere” in Wikipedia enlightening.

Linkblogging and site updates

As you can see, our little linkblog has changed. No more sidebar, now the links are integrated into the blog itself, but formated differently. Links now also have their own permalinks and comments threads. The idea for setting up linkblogging this way comes from Matt Mullenweg. This is a neat way of doing it, I think, because it’s more compact and slicker than the sidebar and better integrated into the blog.

You can still see the old links at http://blog.peiratikos.net/archive/goto/.

We’ve also upgraded to WordPress 1.2, which has finally been released! As long as we’re upgrading, we figure we might as well play with the design a bit, so expect quickly changing looks over the next week or so. If you encounter any problems with the site, let us know!

Next project, beating the citations archive into shape. When will do that? Ah, who knows.

Channel 9 From Outer Space

Hey, look at this:

Channel 9 started as a personal story from one of us about fear of flying. Lenn realized after years of dealing with it, that it was actually a fear of the unknown. The fear was conquered through learning. The more transparency into what it took to fly a plane, the more the fear went away. Lenn got to know pilots who flew planes everyday, and every time he flew he turned on Channel 9 on the in-flight audio system to listen in to the cockpit.

We think developers need their own Channel 9, a way to listen in to the cockpit at Microsoft, an opportunity to learn how we fly, a chance to get to know our pilots. Five of us in Redmond are crazy enough to think we just might learn something from getting to know each other. Were we wrong? Time will tell.

Join in, and have a look inside our cockpit and help us fly the plane.

Welcome to Channel 9.

Ooh, now look at this:

This page is not Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional!

Errors: 359

It’s OK though, they know their HTML sucks!

At some point, I’ll go over the whole site and try to make it more palatable for the masses. Xhtml will be the goal, except that I’m not sure how friendly Asp.Net is going to be for that. Anyway, I know it sucks, I wish it didn’t, that’s what i get for pushing our functionality so quickly into both ASP.Net Forums 2.0 and FlexWiki. For now, leave your issues here and i’ll try to address them once this becomes a priority.

I’m having trouble here. I can’t decide what’s funnier… Is it

  1. Microsoft’s technical evangelism blog uses 8-year-old obsolete HTML and still can’t get it right
  2. ASP.NET isn’t “friendly” with XHTML

???

Referral Spam

I was looking through our referrers list here at Peiratikos just now, and I discovered three rather odd referers. I won’t link to two of them, because they’re real sites. I will give you the third URL: http://paris-hilton-sextape.blogspot.com/. That’s not a real URL—there is no Paris Hilton Sex Tape blog. So that’s clearly not a legit referral, but the other two are highly questionable: one is an Internet service provider and the other appears to be a Belgian company. I.e., not web sites that are likely to link to us.

Folks, the newest innovation in spam has arrived, and it is referral spam. Apparently a lot of bloggers are getting hit with referral spam for John Kerry’s blog, whihc is pretty pathetic—Paris Hilton spam is to be expected, but when Presidential campaigns start spamming… or maybe it’s some Republican script kiddie trying to turn tech-savvy people against Kerry.

At any rate… come on, referral spam? It’s wasted on our site, since Rose and I are the only ones who can look at our referrers list. It would certainly cause us a lot of difficulty if we start getting hit hard by this method—not least because of all the wasted bandwidth used up by serving bogus referrals—but nobody will actually see the spam ads except us, and it’s not like we’re going to buy something from a company that 1) spams us and 2) wastes our precious and expensive bandwidth. So whoever decided to spam our referral list made a poor marketing choice. For people who list their referrers on their web sites (I know several bloggers do), this could create a larger public annoyance.

But still, referral spam?

WordPress 1.0

WordPress is the best web-publishing platform I’ve encountered (certainly tons better than Blogger, although Blogger has the advantage of free hosting on blogspot.com). Full compliance with Web standards (so the developers claim, and I believe them), TrackBack, Pingback, no page rebuilds, pretty typography, smart text formatting, etc., etc. and so forth.

WordPress is open source freeware, but you do need your own web server to host it on. We’re paying $80 a year to use WordPress rather than Blogger or something, and it’s more than worth it.

TrackBack for all

You want to send TrackBack pings to other blogs, but your blogging tool doesn’t have TrackBack support. Right? You need SimpleTracks. It lets you send TrackBack pings even if your tool doesn’t support them (you still won’t be able to receive TrackBack pings, of course).