Symbol Soup – using tags in the Mule Stable

Since the launch of the Mule Stable discussion forum three weeks ago, the number of users has been growing steadily. Some are active contributors, while others prefer just to be observers. New discussion groups are appearing, including one focusing on books, and one associated with the new Sydney-based Digital Citizens initiative. One of the more active groups at the moment is the markets group, where people have been discussing the goings on in the financial markets.  I am keen to see the Stable continue to grow, so do consider signing up yourself!

In the meantime, there have also been further developments at StatusNet, the company behind the open source software that powers the Stable. Earlier in the week, the public beta of their StatusNet hosting service was announced and shortly afterwards,  StatusNet’s CEO, Evan Prodromou, was interviewed by OStatic to explain the thinking behind StatusNet and open microblogging in general. The whole interview is worth a read, but it is really summed up by this remark:

We think microblogging is too big for any one site or company.

Evan also talked about an exciting new development known as OStatus. This is an umbrella term for a suite of technologies which will help make the open microblogging vision a reality: separate communities like the Mule Stable, which can nevertheless communicate between one another. This is in contrast to Facebook or Twitter which operate as “walled gardens”. Google Buzz, WordPress, LiveJournal and Tumblr already implement OStatus to varying degrees and, of course, so does StatusNet and hence the Mule Stable.

But back to the Mule Stable. Following on from the introductory video about getting started on the Stable, here is another video which aims to make sense of the symbol soup of microblogs. If you have been put off by seeing pages full of @, # and !, this video should help make things a little clearer. It lasts around four minutes and this time, for the benefit of speed readers and the visually impaired, I have included a transcript as well. If the video below is a bit hard to see, here is a larger format version.

Demo Video Transcript

Welcome to another Mule Stable demo video, this time it’s all about tagging.

The first time you visit the Mule Stable it can look a bit like a symbol soup, full of # symbols, @ symbols and exclamation marks. But these symbols are in fact a short-hand that can turn posting simple text messages into something a lot more powerful.

In this demo, I’ll run through all the different types of tag symbols you can use on the Mule Stable.

Even though it’s not really a tag, I’ll start with the @ symbol. Sticking an @ in front of another user’s name is a way to direct your post to that user’s attention. As a shortcut, if I click on the “reply” button next to any post, it will automatically start my post with an @, like this…

Now if I go to my Home page and click on my “replies” tab I’ll see all the posts that anyone has sent to me, in my case anything with @mule in it.

The last thing to notice about the @ replies is that they turn the username into a link. Clicking on the link takes you to that user’s profile.

Now on to hashtags. You can highlight the topic of a post by using a hash symbol, for example #music. Just as with @ replies, doing this will automatically turn your tag into a link. Clicking on the link will show you any other posts which used the same tag. Hashtags are a handy way to group discussions on a particular theme.

To get a sense of the tags other people are using, you can click on the Public timeline and the select the “Recent tags” tab. The bigger the tag, the more often it has been used.

Up next are “bang tags”, which allow you to send your post to a particular group. You can see all the Mule Stable groups by clicking the “Groups” tab on the public timeline. Now if you put an exclamation mark in front of the group’s name, it will send a post to all of the members of that group. Like hashtags, bang tags automatically create links, only this time the link takes you to the relevant group.

There is one important difference between bang tags and hashtags to be aware of. Anyone can use a hashtag at any time, but bang tags only work if you have already joined the group. If you are not a member of the group and try to use a bang tag, you’ll just have an odd-looking word, with no link and no posting to the group.

The last type of tag is a friend tag, and this one really starts looking messy! If you look at the people you subscribe to by clicking “Subscriptions” on your home page, you will see you can assign tags to other users as a way of grouping them into, say, friends, family and music buffs. Keep in mind that others will be able to see the tags you choose! Once you’ve tagged a few people you can send a message to all of them with a @ reply hashtag combo (@#). Again, this creates a link and will send the post into their “Replies” timeline.

So that’s it as far as tags are concerned….stay tuned for the next Mule Stable demo video!

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3 thoughts on “Symbol Soup – using tags in the Mule Stable

  1. michaelmichael

    “Some are active contributors, while others prefer just to be observers.”

    Bewdiful spin! I heard the Evan Williams (of twitter, not the Oz) on BBC, talking about the 60% drop-off rate for the service, but he should’ve been talking about the 60% “observer” rate!


  2. Pingback: Mule Stable update | Stubborn Mule

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