False alarm on that subscriber mass-exodus

As the ironic gods of synchronicity would have it, my recent inflammatory post didn’t actually trigger a mass-exodus of subscribers. What really happened was either FeedBurner under-reported my subscriber count or Google had some issues starting January 17th through January 22nd. The entry for “Google Feedfetcher” disappeared from the “Feed Readers and Aggregators” list, which accounted for a significant portion of my subscriber count–almost half of it.

FeedBurner’s description of Google Feedfetcher reads as follows:

Feedfetcher is how Google grabs RSS or Atom feeds when users subscribe to them in Google Reader or iGoogle. Subscriber counts include Google Reader and the iGoogle. Feedfetcher collects and periodically refreshes these user-initiated feeds, but does not index them in Blog Search or Google’s other search services.

So, I don’t know if Google’s Feedfetcher didn’t poll my feed for those days, or if FeedBurner simply failed to account for them. Either way, my subscriber count appears to be back to normal.

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Saying goodbye is hard to do

All it took was this unpopular post, and I lost half of my feed subscribers, going from around 180 down to 90 …

feed-subscribers-20090119.png

The irony is, it was probably the most active post on my blog for quite a long time, gathering a lot of interesting comments from several different people.

I guess the typical blogger would be devastated by losing half his audience in one day, but the sad truth of my blog is that most of my traffic comes from search engine referrals. While it makes me sad to see them go, if it was so easy to unsubscribe after one post, I wonder how much value they were getting out of my blog in the first place.

I guess this is one way to start off blogging in 2009 with a bang, huh?

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Let Regina show you the gems of Wikipedia

My friend Regina has started a new project, Things I’ve Learned from Wikipedia. She’s only just started, but she’s already uncovered some real gems.

Screenshot of http://thankswiki.blogspot.com/ on 2008-10-07

If you’re interested in learning more useless trivia and obscure facts but don’t have the time to surf around yourself, go and read her blog. As she says herself, “One day you’ll be on Jeopardy and remember something you read on this blog. And then you’ll thank me.”

Thanks for all the comments!

Last week, I upgraded from Movable Type to WordPress. Since then, I’ve received a bunch of comments on various entries, some old, some new. What’s surprising is the fact that in a week I probably received more comments (not even counting the spammy ones) than I have in the past three months! Wow!

I don’t get why, though. I did clean up the design a bit, but it’s fundamentally the same. I replaced my home-grown CAPTCHA implementation with reCAPTCHA. The comment form is pretty much the same. I can’t think of anything that I would attribute to this increase in activity.

Regardless of why, I’m thrilled that more folks are sharing their feedback with me. It’s one of the reasons I love blogging: being able to interact with people. Thanks, everyone.

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Goodbye, Movable Type. Hello, WordPress!

So, after years of hacking custom changes into Movable Type 2.6, I’ve finally had enough. I’ve switched to WordPress 2.6.

Part of the move included exporting my old posts and comments from MT and importing them into WP. For that, I wrote a small Tcl script that reads the MT database and writes it out in WXR format. I stored my MT data in a SQLite database, so the script expects its input from a SQLite DB–it would be a bit more work to read the data from a MySQL DB, but it’s definitely possible.

I’ve kept the essence of the previous blog design in my WP theme, but it’s cleaner markup and CSS and I’ve tried to make the ads less intrusive.

“Monsters are real. But the real ones are not bulletproof.”

I haven’t been actively reading my feeds, so when I fired up the reader today, I saw Bill Kocik’s pro-gun essay in his blog.

Personally, I:

  • Do not own my own firearm.
  • Do not like the idea of anyone using firearms.
  • Recognize that firearms exist and will never go away.
  • Believe that someone is less likely to perpetuate a violent crime if the odds that they will get shot in retaliation increases.
  • Believe that in a world where guns are readily available, a steady equilibrium of safety will eventually be reached–perhaps, unfortunately, after much death by guns. Those left remaining and still alive will learn to co-exist safely together.
  • Do not believe that fewer guns is the answer. As long as the balance of power leans in favor of criminals, no one can be safe.
  • Am thankful that there are people who responsibly own and carry firearms, so that I don’t have to.

Wishing that we could live in a world without firearms is just that: wishful thinking. The reality is that guns have been invented and that can never be undone. The only rational path to safety is reaching the point where enough people are carrying firearms so that using one inappropriately will be dealt with swiftly and abruptly: with deadly force.

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Why do you read this blog?

I’ve always wanted to blog about more personal things but always wondered who would bother to read it or even care. I’ve tried to stick to more technical subjects that might be useful and looking at my web traffic, this has definitely worked out. But, looking at the 160-odd subscribers to my blog makes it clear that there aren’t many people who care to read it regularly enough to subscribe to it.

But, there still are 160 or so out there, who have subscribed. I’d like to ask you: why? Do we know each other? Are you generally curious about me? Are you hoping I’ll post something useful for you and you don’t want to miss it?

I really want to know. Either leave a comment on this entry, or email me or catch me on IM and lets talk.

No, your kid is NOT the cutest …

Todd Jordan carries on the discussion of “why is it not cool to submit your own content to link sharing sites?” Here’s my answer that I left as a comment:

Submitting links to your own works is the “of course my kid is the cutest” problem. Let me explain …

Content sharing sites thrive because of the signal-to-noise ratio: high quality, low volume (compared to “the web at large”). As you point out, nobody has time to visit every page on the web. Social link sharing sites (Digg, Stumble, etc.) work because someone else’s effort (submitting a link) results in your being able to visit a subset of the web, presumably of hand-selected better-than-average quality.

So, of course you’d want to submit links to your own stuff, because, you know, it’s better-than-average, right?

WRONG. Of course your kid is the cutest. But, if other people also think your kid is cute, maybe you’re on to something.

If everyone starts submitting links to their own stuff–intsead of someone else who also thinks your stuff is worth sharing with others–then these social link sharing sites’ signal-to-noise ratio will plummet and finding the worthwhile links amongst the crap will make them less useful and usable.

If you can’t find at least one or two people who think your content is worth submitting somewhere, then maybe you have to just accept that maybe it is, indeed, crap.

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Kiek in de Kök, not what you might think

One of the many blogs I read belongs to Trading Goddess, who seems to find some of the best pictures to use with her blog entries, like this one:

Kiek in de Kok street sign

Being an American who only speaks English and has a juvenile sense of humor to boot, I got a good chuckle out of this picture. Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to find out what this actually meant (it couldn’t really mean what I thought it meant, could it?) and Wikipedia comes to the rescue. It turns out, “Kiek in de Kök” is “an old German language nickname for towers, mainly those which were parts of town fortifications.”

So, the next time you ask someone, “what’s cooking,” you might just be asking them for a Kiek in de Kök. Watch out. 🙂

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Just in time to make me go “d’oh!”

Yesterday, I griped about Mahalo not fitting my definition of social search. Today, the latest release of Mahalo Follow is announced on the Mahalo Blog. In my previous blog post, I asked:

Is there a product out there that combines all this data and uses it to enrich search results in realtime?

Wouldn’t you know it, but that’s exactly what the latest version of Mahalo Follow tries to deliver, in a way. It will now rewrite a Google search results page (SeRP), injecting links from Mahalo data. This is exactly the kind of search engine enhancement that the algorithmic search engines really need. Well done, guys!

Of course, there’s still a huge gap of opportunity for improvement, here. Mahalo still isn’t leveraging the Web 2.0 network effect that is possible through social software. You can recommend a particular page to your friends and possible inclusion in the Mahalo data set. But, the real victory is when I can vote/indicate when I believe any particular search result is relevant or not for the search query I just performed. Then, to complete the circle, when I perform searches, highlight and/or bury the results based on what my friends have voted on.

In a way, the Spock folks have already implemented this, but have limited it to just people (for now?) … on a SeRP for a person on Spock, there’s a section called “Other Results from the Web” which is populated with results from Google. Then, as a registered Spock user, I can vote on each result as being relevant to me or not. Other users can similarly vote and the premise is that “wisdom of crowds” will enable the most relevant results to rise to the top. Mahalo could do the same through Mahalo Follow, by enabling voting/recommendations directly off the Google SeRP, and using that collected information to improve future search results.

What about the problem of people trying to “game the system”? That’s where the “social” part of social software combined with the network effect come into play. As long as the software either only uses my friends’ recommendations–and perhaps second-degree friends, but definitely not third-degree friends or further away–I can avoid being affected by people gaming the system by being selective about who I make friends with. Some folks will friend everyone they can possibly find, some will friend no one at all, but those who fall in between will receive the most benefit and that class of users should be the majority.

This is also where reputation and trust come into play in social software: a person who has a reputation of recommending good links and is otherwise trustworthy will attract followers as they will want to benefit from that person’s activity in the system. A person who tries to game the system will eventually be self-selected out by losing friends in the system, until they receive no benefit from trying to game it at all.

Overall, the latest change to Mahalo Follow is a great first step in the right direction, and I’m sure the Mahalo team is busy working on the next set of changes already. I just hope they keep pushing in the direction of making Mahalo a real Web 2.0 social search service. It could be game-changing for the Internet and the way we search.

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