Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One more thing to make "next blog" suck less.

I forgot one very big thing in my previous post about un-suckifying the blog browsing option here at Blogspot/. It's so important I'm prepending it to my list: 0. Get rid of the damned browser-hijacking blogs! And if you refuse to get rid of them, at least exclude them from the "next blog" matches. This is a general problem that has been much discussed around the web already. In short, Blogger's liberal content policy - allowing any Javascript and HTML you like - allows asshat bloggers to hijack your browser. One manifestation is the removal of some or all of the "BloggerBar" - thus generally ending a session of blog browsing, thus frustrating the user and generating Angry Thoughts about this whole "next blog" concept. Another very common manifestation is popup ads (and so-called "popunders") - including the full range of dirty tricks to get around popup-blockers. Today I saw a devilishly clever variation on this: the popup-generating script left the BloggerBar intact but removed the "Flag?" button, making it effectively impossible to complain about the offending blog. For the record, I suspect that was one from the weasels at, but I can't prove it yet. Then we have the somewhat less common "shock and awe" variation: a complete effective takeover of your browser session using plenty of black-hat scripting magic. Ironically, those ones tend to be people showing off (to whom exactly?) and not spamming for dollars. With all these negatives, why allow scripts and embedded objects? I had occasion to think about this not too long ago, and I could only think of two reasons. First, this liberal content policy has presumably been here from the start, and Blogger/Google may be afraid of offending people by removing a "feature." Second, a lot of cool "" goodies like the Flickr photograph I have on this blog require Javascript and/or Flash. A possible third reason: it's hard to automatically tell the difference between "good" and "bad" script content. Hard but not impossible, and Google isn't exactly short on PhD's nor on code monkeys nor on cash, so I can't really count that one. (Hey Sergey: if you don't know how to do this, drop me a line and I'll explain it to you free of charge.) So, in essence, as best I can fathom it, we're stuck with these evil blogs on because Glogger can't figure out how to keep up with the Joneses on features without pissing off their core users. Unfortunate, but fair enough I suppose. However, I think they can do better in the here and now, at least for the rest of us. The solution is simple, as I noted above: exclude anything with scripts/embeds/etc. from the "next blog" browsing area. For people like me who just want to plug in our Flickr photos or somesuch, have approved, interpreted symbols you can drop in your template (and also have some clicky-type way to get them in there without touching the templates). Example: $FLICKR(user=frostman,size=M,stream=DEFAULT,count=1) Come on guys, was that hard? And you only need to do it for the Big Famous Sites. For all the rest, just publish a nice little API. You guys are good at the API thing! Something that updates live and actually needs scripting or Flash? Let them register it and be subject to a "don't piss off our customers" license: $EXTERNAL(id=some-registered-id,block=div,user=frostman,widgets=10) Something I threw together last night and put on my home server? No problem, just don't allow scripting there either: $EXTERNAL(src=,block=div,foo=bar) I could go on, but nobody's paying me to write their blogging software for them. If you read this far without your eyes glazing over, I'm sure you get the point. Introduce it slowly and get people excited about the possibilities. But in any case, start with the "next blog" exclusion for scripted and embedded content. If you don't do that much, "next blog" will remain broken, even if you follow all my other suggestions.

blood and guile (in ordinary places)

I'm not sure whether it's deep or pretentious, but when I have some more time I'm coming back to check: blood and guile (in ordinary places) We appear to have caught a Writer.

Ramen Messenger!

shows us our favorite noodle-like substance in various potentially compromising situations. Frinstance: That's from Big Time Ramensuality. Check it out.

Et tu, Blogger?

Argh! Just a few short hours after posting on the difficulty in reporting a bug, I find myself surfing around looking for a place to make a suggestion. is behind Blogspot and therefore "powers" this blog, as they say. Or I power them. Whatever. Google owns Blogger. So here's my suggestion, guys. If I ever find your "suggestions" form I'll drop you a link. Or maybe you'll just find it on this blog. Wouldn't that be cool? OK OK, the suggestion: Please make the "next blog" thingy not suck. Right now it's a great idea and a little bit fun to use, but mostly it sucks. Here are some ways you could un-suckify it:
  1. Get serious about the porn spam blogs. If I want porn, I know where to get it. The "next blog" button is not that place.
  2. Have a smarter algorithm, or better yet: let me choose my algorithms. In my case, I'd want "next blog" to mean something like "next most recently updated blog that is similar in subject to my own or to other blogs I've deep-clicked on." Others might want to tune it differently, but it shouldn't be too hard to have an ordered set of options for what "next" means.
  3. Um Gottes Willen, laßt mich meine Sprachen auswählen! That is to say, let me choose my languages, folks. I speak three, so I definitely want to see anything in those languages, but I can't do much with Esperanto or Morse Code. So why are you showing me those blogs?
  4. Have a "bookmark" (blogmark?) button in the BloggerBar, and a dropdown menu of my thusly marked blogs. (Bonus points for letting me automatically add them to a blogroll on my own blog if I want to, and decide on a case-by-case basis otherwise.) That one is so obvious, guys! This and the next suggestion are not specific to the "next blog" function, but it should be pretty clear how they fit together.
  5. Have an instant rating option in that same BloggerBar. Let me rate every blog, every blog post if I'm on a permalink, with, say, one to five stars. There are lots of fun things you can do with that data, and most of them make my blogsurfing experience better. Yes, of course I should be able to modify my rating at any time. Take a peek at iTunes for some examples.
  6. Stop letting me get lost! "Next blog" is nice, but to really enjoy bloggersurfing I need something like "Previous blog" and, of course, "My own friggin' blog, where I started." I don't think it's very wise to leave those options up to my normal browser controls. If I need to break out to those in order to get value from blogstumbling at Blogspot, why should I bother with your toolbar at all?
That's it for starters. Now I have to figure out how to send you these suggestions, right? Or do you use Technorati? (And before you get all depressed by your BloggerBar shortcomings, I should tell you I'm growing very fond of the post composer under Posting->Create.)

Hey Sergey! How do I report a Google bug?

I just ran into a very basic, very rookie bug at the Google Base. In short, it won't let me upload a picture, and returns a nonsensical error message (after actually uploading it to whatever passes for /tmp at Google). The error message tells me the image has an invalid format and must be of type .png, .gif, .some-other-stuff, or .jpg. The image is a JPEG with a nifty .jpg extension, and I'm positive there is no problem with it. (Yes, I double-checked, geek that I am.) The real problem, though, is that there's no obvious place at to report the bug. On the one hand, considering Google's high profile and whatnot, I can understand that they want to keep their support to a minimum. On the other hand, they're swimming in cash, and they call everything a "Beta" - so when something actually behaves like Beta Software (as in, a bit buggy) you'd think they would be eager to get bug reports. I'm well aware that Google is one of the most arrogant companies in the history of companies. As a friend put it, that's an understandable position after you've revolutionized online searches and made yourselves billionaires in the process. But no matter how great you think you are, and no matter how much the stock market agrees with you, I still think you should want to know when your software is broken. (For the record, this happened on OS X Tiger with Firefox 1.07, a reasonably common combination and one Google should definitely be testing for - they love Firefox, and here in Silicon Valley most people understand that Apple's users are much more influential than their pure market share indicates.) So now I have a choice. I can spend some time tracking down a contact option for a beta-software bug report; I can try again with a different browser or operating system; or I can just forget the whole thing for now. Tell me again, why was I supposed to care about the GoogleBase? NOTE: This would normally be a Frostopolis post, but Frostopolis is in involuntary Domain Purgatory right now thanks to a very shady UK domain reseller (more on that later).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

art muses: New Dimension: The Art Sailboat

A cool new Kabakov project launches: art muses: New Dimension: The Art Sailboat

Comment spam in 3... 2.... 1...

Amazing. After less than a day with this Blogger account, I just got a spam comment. On a post that was about a minute old. Insane. So, now I get to see what kind of anti-spam options Blogger has that aren't turned on by default. first impressions

Now that I've played around with Blogger/Blogspot some, here are my first impressions. This is based on about five hours with the system: two just playing around and three spent modifying the style to get the somewhat-better-than-average look you see here. Good Things
  1. The posting interface is pretty good, with a nice array of rich-text formatting options that are applied in real time to the edit box. It's very simple to post, which is probably at least half the point of a service like this.
  2. The default templates are attractive. I'm still amazed nobody has a good WYSIWYG blog template editor built into their publishing system, but in this Blogger isn't worse than others.
  3. Modifying the template (assuming you know HTML and CSS) is easy. They made a few CSS and semantic mistakes, but not any more than other blog systems I've seen.
  4. The "blogger bar" at the top is reasonably unobtrusive for a free service, and the "next blog" button is a nice way to explore other blogs.
  5. It's easy to plug in AdSense ads (also owned by Google). This is a non-issue for pros, but for amateurs (presumably a lot of the membership here) it's a nice way to have a revenue stream available in the unlikely case you get popular. Of course it's also incredibly self-serving on Google's part, because one ad click on each grandmother's blog makes them money in aggregate, while Granny probably doesn't get more than a couple cents total. In their defense, Google made the ads optional - it's easy to imagine them being required.
  6. The blog search in the blogger bar really does search "all blogs" (ie, all things Google currently considers blogs). It would have been easy for them to only search their own blogs, so kudos for making that feature actually useful.
Bad Things
  1. There are a lot of spamblogs hosted here. Some of them are pornographic, with "Not Safe For Work" images. That's probably a Very Bad Thing for kids and for people browsing at work.
  2. When exploring via the "next blog" button, there's no obvious way to get back to the blog you started from.
  3. Some blogs, both spamblogs and normal ones, hijack the browser: take you to another site, for example, or hide the blogger bar, or mess with your browsing zen with obtrusive ads.
  4. The HTML transformations for posts are amateur at best. On the one hand, the formatting you choose is preserved visually; on the other hand, much of it is lost semantically. It's not that hard to get this right (I've implemented it myself), so Blogger gets big fat demerits for that one.
  5. Single-entry pages have, by default, very different sidebar content than the main page does. This could easily mess with your linking and advertising strategies. I'll probably find a way to fix it soon, but it's bad to have it this way out of the box.
  6. The spell checker in the post editor uses a popup, which is of course blocked by modern browsers. That's another rookie move: there's no functional need for a popup of that sort. None whatsoever. Anyone who claims otherwise is a good couple years behind the curve on web development.
  7. The editor needs more semantic markup buttons. "Bold" is nice, but you should also have "Heading" as well, and have the heading level automatically determined.
Who needs a second (third,fourth) blog anyway? That's one I'm not sure I have an answer to yet. I may just use this as a testing ground, who knows. Since the readership of Frostopolis is mostly people who know me in real life, I don't have much of an "SEO" need for any greater blog presence. Also, if the forums are correct, Google actively penalizes you in search results if you cross-post content between your blogs. Still, it might be fun to try out more "blog this" features without necessarily worrying about them muddying any of my more real sites. Or maybe I'll think up some other reason to keep this going. (Or maybe I won't, and this is the last post I'll ever make.) Conculsion All in all, Blogger seems to have its act together. There are two important exceptions, though: the rookie moves and the porno-spam. (I think "normal" spam blogs are not really stoppable, because there are too many border cases.) When you stop and think how much money is backing these guys up, it's really odd that Google/Blogger can't do better. I do think they'll at least get it together with some reasonable anti-porn-spam system, but until then you may want to think twice about that Blogger account. When Next Blog can be Porn Blog, you need to be careful handing out that address. If that's not an issue for you, then Blogger gives you a free, mostly easy-to-use publishing platform that is very likely to stay accessible.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blogger made me start this blog in order to comment on another blog.

Blogger seems to have defined "anonymous" as "anyone not our customer." Interesting. The result is that the system required me to create an account in order to post a comment on a Blogger blog. (Groggy bloggy Blogger blog, slog hog in the fog!) That seemed almost reasonable, so I gave it a shot. And then Blogger told me I had to create a blog in order to register. In the end, no harm done; I'd been meaning to check out their service anyway. But still, it seems a little presumptuous. Google? Presumptuous? I am shocked! So I guess this post will be the first one in my new Blogger blog. Time to go practice my Smurfspeak...