Why the gdgt+AOL union is a rallying cry for the WordPress community

AOL sign at AOL Music Showcase

In my latest article on WP Daily, I talk about why the recent acquisition of tech site gdgt by AOL’s tech publishing arm might be bad news for WordPress in the enterprise:

I’m suggesting that old, tired, and unfair “WordPress is for traditionally-formatted blogs” trope may still be a factor when online media properties choose their technology platforms.

If that misconception is a factor when enterprises choose platforms, it can be particularly troubling as media companies (such as AOL, Vox, and Buzzfeed before them) choose and promote in-house platforms.

If it’s true – that WordPress is passed over, at least in part, because of the outdated and incorrect notion that it’s too generic and not customizable enough for enterprise – what can we do as developers?

Read the whole thing, and share your take in the comments! Thank you to WP Daily for publishing the article – check them out for all kinds of great news and commentary on WordPress.

 

Why the Bangor Daily News “ad frame” is bad for you, and what to do about it

Links should be free- and users are worth more than a few cents each. Why “ad frames” are bad business for news.

My local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, has made some admirable improvements to its otherwise lackluster website over the past few months. To their credit, they’ve slowly integrated topic and people-based cross-links throughout their site, created “topic-centric” destination sections on health, sports, and politics, and appear to be slowly migrating their site from a vertical platform CMS to the world-class WordPress CMS.

An example of the ad frame used on the Bangor Daily News website (click image for full view)

 

Want an easy way to remove the BDN’s “ad frame” bar?

Firefox and Chrome users, install this Greasemonkey script I made. It will load the links to the sites as they intended, cutting out the BDN’s ad frame.

Install Zap BDN Frames

Firefox users need Greasemonkey first

All the goodwill engendered by those steps threatens to be undone with their most unethical and annoying update: A persistent top frame that sticks you with a BDN-hosted ad — even when you’ve clicked off their site to visit other links. (Here’s an example of the “ad frame” in action– what you’d see after clicking a link from the BDN website). Worse, the BDN ad frame give users no way to remove the frame- a feature that even the universally-derided “Diggbar” offered before being shut down due to overwhelming criticism.

Continue reading “Why the Bangor Daily News “ad frame” is bad for you, and what to do about it”

MaineOpenGov.org is a revolutionary new website which creates some amazing opportunities for enterprising journalists, bloggers, and citizens to ask questions in public and among friends about our state government and back them up with facts.

How and why? The how is simple: Sponsored by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the MaineOpenGov.org website provides a powerful, usable search engine which allows for thousands of public records to be searched on a variety of metrics. From state employee salaries to state payments to outside contractors, citizens can access a variety of information previously difficult to obtain, or unavailable altogether.

The why is equally simple: Transparency and accountability, two forces which are not only severely lacking in almost every government enterprise, but which can be powerful change agents for citizens to hold their elected (and non-elected) officials accountable.

Anybody with an internet connection (or access to a library) can search for patterns- or even single instances- of data, and use that information to tell their friends, publish it on a blog, or contact their representative(s).

This is big stuff, people of Maine- I hope to dive more into it in the coming weeks, and I encourage other Maine citizens to do the same. It’s at MaineOpenGov.org– give it a minute of your time today, even out of curiosity’s sake.

And on a side note, how have I not heard of the Maine Heritage Policy Center before? Judging by the MaineOpenGov site, as well as their organizational website, they are definitely an organization to watch, right in our own backyard.

Adholes and the lessons of corporate indifference

The laughably awful advertising industry website Adholes, which has declined steadily in terms of reach and influence over recent years, has taken another sad step on its way to irrelevancy by publicly calling me (and by extension other customers experiencing this issue) an “idiot” on their corporate website.

Not since CBS News hoisted fake documents on the American public in September of 2004 has a company’s lack of respect for its customers been so blatant.

Before some explanation, first take a look at their instructions for unsubscribing from their newsletter:

adholes.gif

Clicking their “this idiot” link actually takes you to my original post (one year ago today, as a matter of fact) where I wrote about my specific, re-producible problem with their email unsubscribe process. It all began when I attempted several times to unsubscribe from the company’s lame email missives:

I have now unsubscribed via their unsubscribe process twice, both to no avail.

Compare that statement– I attempted to unsubscribe twice, and both times their published unsubscribe process failed– to the Adholes rebuke, where they think the problem was that I “still [couldn’t] figure out” how to unsubscribe.

Notice how, in the process of insulting me, they don’t even fully understand what my problem is? You have to be pretty intent on not listening to your customers to not even be able to understand what they’re complaining about.

The situation declined from there. Three weeks later, I received yet another unsolicited email from Adholes after my previous attempts to unsubscribe. In that post, I detailed my further problems with their bug-ridden website:

I just spent a few minutes trying to follow their directions on ‘deleting’ my account with them- which, according to their instructions, involves logging in, changing my name to “delete”, removing my email, saving my account, and then logging out of my account.

That would be awesome, except…Their system won’t let me remove my email, nor is there an option to ‘logout’ of my account…so, wow. Just when you think incompetence can’t get much worse, it often surprises you.

With that, what began as a simple unsubscribe request had blossomed into full-on absurdity. As ridiculous as their “new” unsubscribe instructions were, I attempted to comply, only to discover that the instructions were completely wrong. So let’s recap:

1) Adholes did not have a reliable process in place for people to unsubscribe from their email lists. This brings them close to one of the the modern definitions of spammer: Company sending out commercial emails with no reliable unsubscribe mechanism.
2) Following three unsuccessful attempts to remove myself, Adholes then gave me incorrect directions on removing my email, providing instructions to “logout” of my account when no such option existed. This is either intention obfuscation, or quite poor website design and implementation. Either way, it’s an embarrassing way to treat customers.
3) To top it all off, rather than sending me an apology, or attempting to correct their complete lack of an unsubscribe process for other customers, they chose to brand me an “idiot” for not “figuring out” how to navigate their non-existent unsubscribe method. That also serves to insult any other customers who may experience the same issue.

Fortunately, in an age where corporate transparency and apology are gaining increasing traction, this type of outrageously poor behavior by companies is becoming more and more rare. That said, we as consumers need to remain vigilant in the pursuit of these companies who believe it is their right to insult us even as they provide abysmal service.

Copeland challenges Calacanis: $10k for blogosphere’s true money leader

Well-known and outspoken entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, founder of blog network Weblogs, Inc (now a part of AOL), has walked into a potential mea culpa by publicly challenging Blogads, one of the blog world’s earliest franchises.

On technology blog Valleywag, Mr. Calacanis was asked about rumors he was planning to compete against Blogads, arguably the largest blog advertising network. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. So, poor Henry Copeland [of Blogads]. You’re finally coming after him.

A. That’s like Michael Jordan going after a 12-year old in a game of 1-on-1.

Subtle, right? But instead of letting Mr. Calacanis’ snide (yet typically boastful) remark fade, as it initially appeared it would (“Jason…makes me smile”, went Mr. Copeland’s first post), today Mr. Copeland posed an interesting challenge on the Blogads weblog, proposing a $10,000 wager on which network– his Blogads, or Weblogs, Inc– earned more money for its bloggers last year:

“…Let’s talk about the key performance metric. Does Jason want to put his big money where his bigger mouth is? I’ll wager $10,000 that in 2006 Blogads earned more for bloggers than did WIN. After all, blogger earnings is the true measure of a blog business, right?

What kind of odds would Michael Jordan give a twelve-year-old in a game of 1-on-1? A million to 1? Maybe 10,000 to 1… with the MJ blindfolded and his shoes tied together?

Well, this twelve-year-old would be happy with 10 to 1 odds, Jason’s $100K to my $10K. If those odds make Jason queazy, I’d be happy to discuss something gentler.

Jason apparently got $25 million from AOL and is the Michael Jordan of blog businesses, so he’s got the cash to toss on the table. Does he have the guts?”

Blogads owns much well-deserved respect within the blogosphere, so I’m a bit surprised to see them coming out swinging like this, particularly considering Mr. Calancanis’ fairly well-known reputation as a person who enjoys self-promotion, stunts, and often uses braggadocio in his personal writings. Frankly, I don’t see what Blogads could gain from this wager– as Mr. Copeland writes in his post, his network is a clear winner in terms of customer feedback; and with AOL’s recent jettisoning of several of the lower-trafficked Weblogs, Inc titles, it seems a bit like a bit of an off comparison to pit Blogads distributed network of ad carriers against the now-streamlined Weblogs, Inc. network of blogs.

Considering all that– plus the fact that Blogads is likely to win the wager by a large margin– I expect Mr. Calacanis to either ingnore this come-on completely, or else shoot back with some variety of mis-direction, changing of the terms, or some other similar stunt.

As Paul Giamatti once said in an interview (and I’m paraphrasing), “It’s not the competition. It’s the challenge.”

UPDATE: In a comment on this post, Mr. Calacanis calls this a “silly bet”.

Looking back on my predictions for 2006

Just over one year ago, I posted “7 things to look for on the web in 2006“. Now that 2006 is over, let’s take a look at how I did!

Here’s my original post, and here’s a summary of my predictions, in order of what kind of impact I predicted them to have:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
6. Distributed advertising networks
5. Identity
4. Attention
3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
2. User-Organized Media and Content
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
Grade: B / I think I did pretty well with this one. While corporate-engineered hyperlocal sites faired well in terms of quality and quantity– and the space grew quite a bit in terms of players– it was probably the expansion of homegrown hyperlocal that made this prediction a moderate success.

6. Distributed advertising networks
Grade: D / Sorry, me. With this prediction, I hoped online advertising networks would expand, making the monetization of online content more democratized. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Despite the success of PajamasMedia and the Federated Media ad network, this space took more steps back than forward. For one, both Pajamas and FM are both closed networks, with high bars to entry. Secondly, Google Adwords faced no stiff competition from Microsoft or Yahoo!, and finally, the most well-known new addition to the space in 2006- PayPerPost– became known as an ethically-questionable company, enraging many of the most well-known bloggers for its approach to advertising (which, for the record, I am strongly opposed to).

5. Identity
Grade: C / As 2006 rolled on, this prediction became more and more important to me, yet I saw little or no indicators that it would ever take off, at least during the calendar year. With some moderate adoption of OpenID, I predict that I was one year off, and that 2007 will mark the year that identity really breaks through with early adopters, while in 2008 it will see adoption across major platforms in some form.

4. Attention
Grade: D / Sadly, attention didn’t break out big in 2006. Though some strides were made, I predicted it to become part of the online conversation much as RSS did in 2005, and I was sorely mistaken. Although there are some attention tools built into services such as YouTube, we as creators are still not benefiting from any sort of serious effort to capture and provide attention details to us. Let’s hope my prediction was one year ahead, and 2007 becomes the year for creators to earn more information about their productions.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
Grade: D / In my opinion, 2006 was a major down year for the promise of RSS, OPML, SSE, and related innovations. RSS continued to be beset and marginalized by the lame implementations of personal homepages, while Microsoft’s promising SSE gained zero traction, and OPML, which finished 2005 strongly, floundered and struggled without any major breakthroughs during the year. Although Google’s Reader product made a big splash, no other power tools emerged, and as far as innovative uses, I saw only one power-user product- 30Boxes‘ calendar- which truly showed me that RSS can continue to be grown.

2. User-Organized Media and Content
-AND-
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Grade: A / A I think it’s safe to say I scored big on both of these. It’s my belief that online video was the big story on the web in 2006. From Time magazine naming YOU its Person of the Year (because of your contributions online), to Google’s $1.6 billion dollar purchase of YouTube, to the breakout videoblogs Rocketboom and ZeFrank, to the success of big media video in the form of MSNBC’s record video stats, to the number of sordid celebrity stories told online and enhanced by video (Michael Richards’ meltdown, DeVito on the view, many more), to MSNBC and CNN’s record video streaming numbers, video was the single most explosive online sector last year. 2007 promises to be a huge year for video and user-organized content as well.

Overall grade: C And coming soon- my predictions for 2007!

2006 Citizen’s Media Sites of the Year

Last year, I named my “2005 Blogs of the Year“, and without even reaching it’s second anniversary, I’ve changed the format of this award. Instead of limiting its scope to blogs, I’m expanding this list to include all types of citizen’s media sites- from blogs to podcasts to video blogs to anything that might be similar to any of those. So here we go…

5. Bloggingheads.tv – Robert Wright, Mickey Kaus & Friends -AND- HotAir – Michelle Malkin / These two unique political video blogs are strange bedfellows for a tie on my list. While Bloggingheads is long, talky, and akin to eavesdropping on policy wonks in the hallways of a political conference, HotAir shines because it is short, sharp, and decidedly in the personality of its host, acerbic political blogger Michelle Malkin. Though they’re different, they’re both my picks for best political videoblogs out there.

4. Rocketboom – Andrew Barron, Joanne Colan (partial), Amanda Congdon (partial) / The intelligence quotient of NPR, the snark of The Daily Show- Rocketboom is an acquired taste that I find occasionally fascinating, occasionally annoying, but always interesting and, without a doubt, the gold standard for video blogs in terms of production value and an overall unique voice.

3. TV Squad – Contributors / From show episodes to industry news to rumors and innuendo, TV Squad is the only, essential, indispensable site for anybody who cares about the TV industry or loves to watch. Updated frequently, but never too much, they’re fun yet blissfully unsnarky.

2. Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds -AND- The Glenn and Helen Show – Glenn Reynolds & Dr. Helen Smith / Yet again, the most prolific, and bereft, thinker on the web is #2 on my list. The best blog of all time is now complimented nicely by the addition of an excellent podcast, The Glenn and Helen Show. Reynolds and his wife, Dr. Helen Smith, are a relaxed, witty duo behind the microphones, and their A-list guests and wide range of timely topics are some of my favorite

1. Maine Web Report – Lance Dutson / Yes, Lance is my friend and co-host on Maine Impact, our podcast on Maine issues. But those things have nothing to do with my decision to name Lance’s Maine Web Report my citizen’s media site of the year. Beginning with his pointed, relentless coverage of Maine’s Department of Tourism back in the early winter, through the travails of the lawsuit filed against him, and continuing on through his freedom of access requests and reports, as well as his coverage of a myriad of other issues affecting the people of Maine, Lance put the bite back into Maine media and showed by example truly how deeply the explosion of citizen’s media can effect the status quo.

2006 Best Tools of the Web

Following up on last year’s post, here are my picks for top 5 websites, tools, and/or services of 2006:

5. Dreamhost I switched to this highly regarded web host in February, and haven’t looked back since, despite a series of public troubles during the summer. But if the measure of a company is how it deals with customers during adversity, Dreamhost rose to the challenge and then some with is transparent and extremely honest chronicling of its own troubles via its status blog. Combine that with insane bandwidth, disk space, immensely handy one-click installs, and a set of power features that can’t be matched, Dreamhost is the ideal backbone for anybody working on the web.

4. Google Docs & Spreadsheets If I could find a suitable online PowerPoint solution, I would uninstall Microsoft Office in a heartbeat thanks primarily to Google’s excellent Docs & Spreadsheet solution. While the product needs to improve its import and formatting tools, you can’t beat the convenience and ease of a centralized, tag-based repository for your documents. A shout-out to Writely, the word processing tool purchased by Google and adapted into Docs & Spreadsheets.

3. Google Calendar -AND- 30Boxes – Yep, it’s another Google tool on the list. Although I started out a devout Yahoo! user this year, I had to break away after experiencing 30Boxes excellent, game-changing calendar solution. And while I loved 30Boxes and their commitment to RSS and an open web, I ultimately made the switch to Google Calendar. It’s not the product that 30Boxes cal is, but I expect the product to improve in some great ways in 2007.

2. YouTube What else can you say about YouTube, other than the fact that it helped to usher in the video evolution, made embedded video the standard, further encouraged the open, sharing nature of the web, and played nice with both corporate producers and independent voices? It’s a nostalgia factory, a citizen’s media platform, and a distribution model, and then some, and although many other video sharing sites are out there, YouTube’s cultural influence makes it the clear leader of the pack, and an easy #2.

1. Mozilla Firefox 2.0 #2 on my list last year has risen to #1 with the release of its version 2.0. Firefox 2 adds some excellent features- notably a spell check and tighter RSS integration- and with the advent of the Web 0S thanks to Google and others, maintains its significant role at the very center of the human side of the web.

Share your OPML…just not quite yet

Yesterday, many voices in the blogosphere reported that Dave Winer‘s new service Share Your OPML has launched. It’s a great first step towards tracking attention in the blogosphere, and I hope it leads more innovation in this space.

OPML logo The service is pretty straightforward. You simply export a list of RSS feeds from your RSS reader, then upload that file to your account on the Share Your OPML site. The service then tracks which users are subscribing to which feeds. Much more data can be gleaned from that- for starters, the service is ranking most prolific subscribers, most subscribed feeds, and so on. In the future, I’d love to see a powerful recommending engine based on a variety of metrics. I don’t imagine it would be too hard for them to implement, and I’m sure Dave and whoever else may be working on this have already thought of many great ideas.

Interesting side note: as far as I can tell, the user account system and pages are all being powered by WordPress. If that’s the case it’s a big win in the fight for WordPress to position itself as a more fully-featured content management application.

As important as I think attention is (as I predicted in January), I’m not quite ready to jump into the already growing community at Share Your OPML. For starters, I think it’s a complete no-go to have to manually upload my data file. That’s fine for the first time- but it’s not fair to expect me as a user to continue to manually upload files, especially as often as my RSS reading list changes. Part of this problem is with existing reader services such as Bloglines, which don’t provide easy, secure access to user OPML files.

Another big issue I see with Share Your OPML at this early stage is filtering. The site allows me to upload a file, but I’m not given the option of marking particular feeds private or public. Ideally, there’d be some kind of standardized “public/private” tag that could be read by all RSS and OPML readers, but until that happens, I simply don’t have the time to manually filter an XML file to remove the feeds I don’t want to make public.

Because it aims to inject transparency (and community) into the attention-less world of RSS, the success of Share Your OPML will depend heavily on something very simple: how many users actually use it. Unless they can make it more usable for a wider audience, I’m afraid its most tremendous values may not emerge.