Category Archives: web 2.0

A spam attempt gem

I have been getting a few very enjoyable spam attempts on the blog of late. While the filter captures the usual Russian porn dross, from time to time comments slip through the filter and it falls to me to moderate them. This little gem appeared on a two year old post about wandering the streets of Newtown with my (then) five year-old son looking at the annual “Art on the Streets” displays in shop windows.

Gratitude for posting this posting. I’m decidedly frustrated with struggling to researching out pertinent and intelligent commentary on this issue. Everybody today goes to the very far extremes to either drive household their viewpoint that possibly: everyone else in the planet is wrong, or two that everyone but them does not really understand the situation. Many regards for your concise, pertinent insight.

Touched though I may be to have my insights described as concise (rarely) and pertinent (perhaps), this comment is going into the spam bucket. I will not be giving this particular spammer any free traffic to their website.

Mule Stable update

I have been working on some tweaks to the Mule Stable discussion forum for a few weeks and yesterday the new site went live. As well as upgrading to the lastest version of the StatusNet software, I moved the Stable to its very own domain name: The old name was a bit too long, particularly for anyone on other OStatus-enabled sites, but more on that later. Any links to the old site will automatically re-direct to the new site and, of course, all of the old posts have moved across too.

The move all appears to have gone smoothly, but anyone with links to Twitter or Facebook accounts will most likely have to reconnect them (just follow the Connect link). Some of the enhancements with the upgrade are:

  • A secure-version of the site (using TLS connections) so if you are surfing the Stable at a public wifi-hotspot and someone tries to intercept your traffic, they will find it is encrypted.
  • Automatic switch to secure connections for login pages, even if you don’t start on the secure site. This is likely to be all anyone needs. Since posts on the Stable are public, it’s really only your username and password that you want to protect.
  • Auto-completion of usernames*. When directing messages to other users, after you type @ and begin typing a user’s name, a dropdown list will appear with suggested usernames so you don’t have to type the full name.
  • Faster performance. For the technically minded, the site is now caching data in a memcached server to speed up generation of pages.
  • Some improvements to the Facebook interface.
  • Enhancements to the OStatus interface.

This last point probably needs some explaining. In an earlier post, I touched on the subject of OStatus, which is essentially a set of protocols allowing communciation between different sites in an attempt to subvert the “walled garden” approach of the likes of Facbook and Twitter. In practice, what this means for the Mule Stable is that it is easy to send messages to people on other OStatus-enabled sites and vice-versa.

For example, let’s say you felt like sending a message to Evan Prodromou (the man behind StatusNet) from the Stable and you happened to know that his username on is evan. Then, simply posting a message in the Stable to would deliver a message to him on It’s a bit of an ugly syntax, but it is easy to remember and it works.

If you have an account on the Stable, you can also subscribe to users of other OStatus-enabled services (including, and To do that, click on the “Remote” link next to your subscriptions link and enter a name like (no @ at the front this time) and you will see all of evan’s posts in your personal timeline on the Stable. Not only that, you can now post to Evan with a simple @evan. Easy!

So, if you have not yet had a look at the Mule Stable, this is a good time to pop in and sign up!

* This feature uses Javascript, so if you have scripting turned off (for example if you use the Firefox NoScript addon), it will not work.

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!

Mule Stable demo video

Last weekend, the Mule Stable* was launched as a forum for discussions that may tie in to topics here on the Stubborn Mule, and then again may not. A number of discussion groups have already been set up there, including groups on modern monetary theory (aka chartalism), economics, and politics.

For anyone already familiar with the twitter social network, finding your way around the Stable will be breeze. But for those less familiar with the conventions, here is an introductory video showing you how to get started on the Stable. Keep an eye out for more videos explaining more advance tips and tricks you can use at the Stable, and don’t forget to sign up and join in!

If you are finding this video a bit too small, there is a larger screen version.

* Thanks again to the StatusNet developers responsible for the software that powers the Stable.

The stable door is open

There have been a lot good discussions arising in the comments section of posts here on the Stubborn Mule. But in many ways, the “blog post and comments” format is a rather constraining framework for discussions. If someone has a thought that is only tangentially related to a post, they may be reluctant to add it as a comment. Likewise, a comment on an existing post does not always seem the best place to suggest ideas for future blog posts or just to suggest interesting links to other blogs or articles. I do publish my contact details, but when someone emails me directly, no-one else can see what they have to say unless I end up writing on the topic.

So, for some time now I have been thinking about setting up some kind of discussion forum to complement the Mule. Now, finally, I have done something about it can and hereby announce the launch of the Mule Stable.

The Stable is a place to share links, ideas, suggestions and anything else that interests you. Anyone who uses twitter will see a very familiar format: you can post brief notices (currently limited to 140 characters, but I plan to increase that in the future), follow what other users are saying and engage in conversation. In fact, if you have ever seen, it will look even more familiar, which is because the Mule Stable is built on the same platform. More than a year ago I wrote about the future of microblogging. The idea of open microblogging pioneered by was a key inspiration for that post and I have been toying with the idea of trying out their software ever since.

But am I re-inventing the wheel? After all, I already use twitter and there is plenty of discussion going on there. But, twitter is enormous and growing. This is its strength, but also its weakness: there is just too much going on to tie it back to one particular area of discussion. The idea of the Mule Stable is to create a smaller, more focused forum for discussion. Of course, I will continue to use twitter, but hope to get a lot out of the Mule Stable too.

So, please consider registering as a user at the Mule Stable and and listening in on the discussions. Better still, put your two-cents worth in too. The stable door is open, but the Mule won’t be bolting.

Mahalo 3.0: my new mechanical Turk

Almost a year ago I posted about using twitter as my very own mechanial Turk. Here’s part of what I wrote back then:

The original mechanical Turk was an 18th century machine that purported to be able to play chess. It was, however, a hoax as a human hidden inside the machine was actually doing the thinking. The term has had a new lease of life online to refer to the practice of crowdsourcing, which involves harnessing the power of large numbers of networked humans. Now that I have over 850 followers (a very modest count by twitter standards) I have begun to sense the crowdsourcing power of twitter. If I post a question to my followers (aka my “tweeps”), the responses are impressive.

Since I wrote that, twitter has evolved. An enormous range of applications have emerged that can be used to access twitter and twitter itself has been adding new features. One consequence is that many people use “lists” or “groups” to view only a subset of their twitter followers. So, even if you have a large number of followers, not as many people are likely to see your tweets anymore. As a result it is becoming harder to use twitter to answer arbitrary questions, unless you are something of a celebrity (whether in real life, or just on twitter).

Mahalo LogoThis is not a criticism of twitter: as it evolves, it is becoming a better, richer communication tool. It just means I have to look elsewhere for my mechanical Turk services and I may just have found the answer in the latest incarnation of Mahalo. The creation of iconoclastic, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, began life in May 2007 as a “human-powered search engine”. Aiming to offer an alternative to algorithmic search-engines such as Google, Mahalo used people to assemble information on a wide range of popular search topics.

Then in December 2008, Mahalo Answers was launched. This service closely resembles Yahoo Answers and the short-lived Google Answers and allows users to post questions online in the hope that other users will provide useful answers. With an eye to the power of financial incentives, Mahalo Answers allows you to pay a “tip” for the best answer to a question. All payments are made in “Mahalo dollars”, which can be bought via the online payments site PayPal for one US dollar and redeemed at an exchange rate of $0.75 (the $0.25 difference representing one avenue for Mahalo to monetise the business). Over time, posing and answering questions earns you points and martial arts-style “belts” which provide greater access to Mahalo features.

While I have tinkered with Mahalo in the past, the recent launch of the revamped “Mahalo 3.0” prompted me to come back for a closer look. Mahalo Answers now has top billing, prompting users to “ask any question, any time”. The emphasis on “human-powered search” has shifted. The content is still there, but under headings suchs as Mahalo “How Tos”.

To test Mahalo answers, I posed a question about gold prices. For some time now I have been meaning to follow up a comment on my property prices post, which suggested looking at house prices relative to the price of gold. To do this I need a decent amount of historical gold price data. I was very impressed to have a response within 24 hours pointing to the Deutsche Bundesbank which has monthly gold prices going back to the 1950s. Now I have no excuse not to do the house price analysis.

So while twitter remains my social networking tool of choice, Mahalo Answers is looking like a very promising source of information when Google searches draw a blank. I will continue to experiment with it and as I do you can keep track of the questions I answer.

Subscribing to the Stubborn Mule

rss-180Recently, a few people have asked me whether they can get automatic updates when new posts are published here on the Stubborn Mule. The short answer is “yes!” And of course it’s all free.

Those who are familiar with RSS feeds will already know all about this and need read no further (but should also feel free to subscribe). For everyone else, I’ll give a longer answer, explaining how it all works and describing some of the options available for subscribing to the blog.

You may have seen icons like the one here on various web-sites before. It is the RSS logo and indicates that content is available via subscription. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and over the last 10 years it has become a standard mechanism for distributing content online (for example, podcast subscriptions are built on RSS). True to its name, the way it works is quite simple. A specially formatted file* is created with a list of blog posts, podcasts, news headlines or whatever the subscription content is, along with a link to where the content is located. Whenever new content is added to the website, this file, called an RSS feed, is updated to reflect the new content. The feed can then be read by an “RSS reader” which will periodically check to see if new content is available and then download it, ready for you to read, watch or listen to.

The trick then is to find the best RSS reader and there are a lot of them, as is evident from this list of readers. Readers may themselves be on the web, like Google Reader (my RSS reader of choice), or can be stand alone applications like NetNewsWire. Some email applications can also be used as RSS readers. With an RSS reader, you can manage subscriptions to a wide range of feeds and always keep track of the latest content. Some readers, including Google Reader, also allow you to share you favourite content with friends.

If this all seems too complicated and you are not interested in a large number of subscriptions, you can also have updates to the Stubborn delivered to you directly via email. To do this, simply enter your email address in the box below and click on “subscribe”.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

I have the RSS feed for the Stubborn Mule managed by a service called “Feedburner”, which is now owned by Google. As well as providing extra features like the email subscription, this allows me to track how many people subscribe to the blog…so subscribe now, I am watching!

* Like so many web standards, the RSS format uses XML.

Posterous: the next big thing?

A few months ago, a new site arrived on the increasingly crowded web 2.0 scene. Posterous offers a medium that fits somewhere between a blog and a microblog (the canonical example of the microblog being, of course, the juggernaut that is Twitter). Maybe it should be called a “miniblog”.

Posterous is not the only site to target the miniblog niche. Tumblr has been been around for a few years and has been reasonably successful in building a base of users who like the ability it provides to easily share photos, links and assorted random scribblings. As an obsessive early-adopter of most things web 2.0, I have a tumblr account (the “Raw Prawn” identity pre-dates the “Stubborn Mule”), but  I have not been very active there of late.

Although Posterous launched only about six months ago, it has already seen healthy growth in traffic since then and has already reached the traffic rank that tumblr had six months ago.

Posterous Traffic Rank (September 2009)

Part of the reason for its success is that it is extraordinarily easy to use. There is no need to sign up or create an account, as you would on twitter, tumblr or any other web 2.0 site. Instead, simply send an email to Give it a try! Send a snippet of text or, better still, a photo, music file or a link to a youtube video and Posterous will work its magic to send back to you a link to a web page with your content that you can easily share with anyone and everyone. Here is one I prepared earlier. If you live in the US, you can also send posts via SMS from your phone.

Posterous has a raft of other features that put it on a level above tumblr. For a start, it tracks the number of times that a post has been viewed (the power user can even track traffic using Google Analytics). Also, like any good web 2.0 application, it supports tags which can easily be added, edited or deleted after creating your post. There is also an iPhone application that allows you to take a photo and immediately send it to Posterous (to be fair, tumblr has an iPhone application too).

To take full advantage of Posterous, you should “claim” your email address (ok, so at this point you are effectively signing up for the service, but you don’t have to take this step). One of the features this will allow you to access is the ability to “auto-post” to an increasing range of other sites, including Twitter, Identica, Facebook, Flickr and Delicious. Turning on these services is straightforward once you have claimed your address signed up.

What exactly auto-posting does varies with each service. In the case of Twitter, Posterous will send the title of each post with a shortened link to the post. If you auto-post to Flickr, any photos you sent to Posterous will be added to your Flickr account. If you have a blog, the chances are you can repost the entire content of your Posterous post.

Posterous also shares with tumblr and any good web 2.0 a social networking feature that allows you to subscribe to other people’s Posterous accounts. You can see posts you have subscribed to through the “My Subscriptions” link on Posterous as well as receiving regular email updates. Posterous also allows the creation of multiple miniblogs (up to three) within the one account.

Unlike Twitter, Posterous even has a business model in mind, with plans to offer premium services for a fee at some point in the future. This “freemium” service approach has already been adopted by the likes of Flickr, Dropbox and a number of other web 2.0 services. Even for users who never take up these premium services, any means of revenue generation should help the site to stick around for longer than some of the more fleeting web 2.0 sites.

I have only been experimenting with Posterous for the last couple of weeks, but with the combination of extreme ease of use, smooth handling of multiple media types and the auto-posting feature I expect that it has a bright future ahead. In the meantime, keep an eye on the Mule’s Posterous account for posts that do not quite warrant appearing here on the blog.

Posterous Tips

  • Add tags to your posts using this short-hand in your email  subject line: ((tag: food, photos)) – of course, you don’t have to use “food” or “photos”.
  • Email to if you only want to auto-post to Twitter. Similar email addresses work for other services.
  • Email to if you do not want to auto-post anywhere.
  • Email to if you want to create a private post.
  • Type #end in the email and no subsequent text (signatures, etc) will be included in the post.
  • If you use gmail, you can use gmail’s hyperlink creator to create links in your post (you will need to be using “Rich Formatting”). Wobbling?

Last year I wrote about the the music/social network combination That post was followed up with one on the demise of muxtape and mixwit in which I said “I hope that does not become the next victim of the RIAA”. While has survived to date, it may only last by significantly changing its laissez-faire approach to streaming music.

A post on their blog last week opens

In the past few weeks we’ve had to make a few difficult decisions that will change the way some things work on  For the majority of you the changes will be for the better, for others they might be less than ideal for the time being.

It goes on to note that music will “primarily” be sourced from the music service imeem rather than broad-based searches of the internet. Users will no longer be able to submit urls pointing to mp3s. Instead, a set of “approved” urls will be used.

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My Mechanical Turk

This week’s storm in the blogosphere focused on the question of “authority” on twitter and other social networks. It all began when welebrity Loïc Le Meur suggested that twitter searches should be filtered by a measure of authority. This immediately elicited critical responses from other high profile members of the online world, such as Robert Scoble and Dave Winer, only to have Mike Arrington leap to Loïc’s defence.

So what is the kerfuffle all about? I’ll start at the beginning, with twitter. I’ve written about twitter many times before, but there may be a few readers who still don’t know what it is. Twitter is a microblog. It is one of many, but currently the most popular. A microblog allows users to post very short messages and links to all of their “followers” (also known as “subscribers” or “friends”, depending on the site). While it is possible to make these messages private on twitter, most people keep their messages public. As with anything publically published online, this means that these messages are visible to anyone, not just followers. In particular, they are amenable to searching. A twitter search is a powerful tool. A good example is using twitter to keep track of rapidly unfolding current events. Over the last few days, many twitter users have been posting photos, news links and opinions about the bombings in Gaza, tagging them with label “#gaza” which makes them easy to find on twitter. In amongst the predictably partisan rhetoric from both sides, it is possible to stay a step ahead of reporting in the mainstream media and gain some genuine insight into the crisis. Not so long ago, a search for #mumbai provided a similar window onto the Mumbai terrorist attack.

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