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.
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: mulestable.net. The old name stable.stubbornmule.net 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:
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.
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 identi.ca is evan. Then, simply posting a message in the Stable to @email@example.com would deliver a message to him on identi.ca. 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 identi.ca, brainbird.net and army.twit.tv). To do that, click on the “Remote” link next to your subscriptions link and enter a name like firstname.lastname@example.org (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!
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!
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!
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 identi.ca, 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 indent.ca 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.
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.com 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 email@example.com. 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you only want to auto-post to Twitter. Similar email addresses work for other services.
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.
We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in [sic] a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.”
Reading between the lines, it looks as though they too have fallen at the hands of the RIAA. Under the cover of claims to be protecting artists, claims that do not bear close scrutiny, the RIAA is building an impressive track-record of stifling innovation. While it is possible to take comfort from the fact that attempts to stem the tide of progress always fail in the end, it is nevertheless frustrating to see the suffering of victims of this pernicious organisation in the meantime, whether those victims are single mothers sued for file-sharing or the creators of sites like muxtape and mixwit.
As is probably evident from past posts about twitter or identica, I am something of a Web 2.0 junkie. Over the last few years I have signed up for countless services and I am sure I have forgotten about far more of them than I actually use. And therein lies a problem. The rate of innovation online of late has been extraordinary, but the result is a proliferation of services that is not sustainable. With the Global FInancial Crisis progressing outside the financial sector to the broader economy, venture capitalists will be tightening their purse-strings and this will inevitably lead to a period of consolidation in the online landscape.
Early signs of this phenomenon appeared today with announcements that the social networking site Pownce, to-do list manager I Want Sandy and virtual Post-It note site Stikkit will all be closing down.
Twitter is a common theme behind these closures. Despite the backing of welebrity Kevin Rose and rich media sharing features, Pownce ultimately failed to grow at the same rate as twitter. When initially launched, the mystique generated by the invitation-only private beta version of the site attracted attention for a while, but interest seemed to wane after the site went public. Personally, I have been using twitter more and more and pownce less and less over the last year, but I will miss the friendly alien (pictured above) who appeared on pownce pages when something went awry. Somehow he is more endearing than twitter’s “fail whale”.