Maine blogger sued by Maine Office of Tourism subcontractor

Lance Dutson, the blogger whose ‘Pay-per-gate‘ investigation has uncovered several instances of incompetence by the Maine Office of Tourism and its subcontractors, today announced he has been sued for over a million dollars by Warren Kremer Paino, the Office of Tourism’s advertising agency of record.

This is a devious, frivolous lawsuit, designed to intimidate Dutson into silence, and it should not- and will not- stand. Dutston has decided to stand and fight, and bloggers everywhere should support him by linking to him and publicizing this idiotic abuse of our legal system by the Warren Kremer Paino advertising agency.

Dutson is supported in his fight by an excellent legal team, including the support of Ron Coleman, council for Media Bloggers Association (disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors for the MBA). Coleman and the MBA are a perfect 8-0 in defending lawsuits against bloggers, and I have faith that Dutson’s case will prove to be another victory for bloggers’ rights.

One more thing: Nobody should forget that while the lawsuit has been filed by the Warren Kremer Paino advertising agency, they are involved in this mess as the advertising agency of record for the Maine state Office of Tourism. As a citizen of the state, I fully expect that the Office of Tourism would have something to say in this matter. So, how are they going to respond? Will they come down in favor of the ad agency that is suing one of their citizens for millions of dollars? Or will they stand up for somebody they are supposed to be working on behalf of?

Stay tuned…

Akismet will cure your comment spam blues

Yes, the time has come for me to publicly express my love for Akismet. It’s a relatively new plugin for WordPress that grabs comment spam and dumps it in a moderation queue.

Since I installed it, Akisment has blocked 100% of the droves of unprintable comment spam that streams into my site on a daily basis, effectively eliminating comment spam as a problem and hinderance to managing my blog.

Akisment is a production of Automattic labs, the newly-formed company behind WordPress. It’s a cinch to install and use on your WordPress blog- just grab the files, upload them to your /plugins/ folder inside your WordPress install, and then grab a free API key for the service by singing up for an account at WordPress.com (a free, hosted installation of the WordPress tool).

With Akismet activated on your blog, the service begins working right away. Each time a comment (or trackback) is submitted, the service reviews it according to a centralized list of spam parameters and then decides to pass it to you or hold it in your own queue. You can check your Akisment queue and remove false positives, or leave the service alone and let it delete the spam for you every 15 days.

I have a feeling that a big part of Akismet’s success rate is that it is powered by the collective experience of all its users. For example, when checking your particular blog for spam, it relies on an algorithm that is ehanced each time it is put into use. So the more people that use Akismet, the more it learns about blocking spam, and the more effective it becomes for all.

Akisment was built for WordPress, but the developers have released an API with the intent that anybody who accepts comments on their site- be it blog, news site, whatever- can take advantage of the service.

If comment spam has become an unmanageable task for you, I highly recommend you try Akismet today.

Maine wastes taxpayer money on inept web campaigns

Let’s see if that title earns some much-warranted attention to this story. See, something stinks here in my home state of Maine, and at least this time around it’s not the State’s abysmal DirigoChoice health are program.

Instead, I’m talking about some highly irregular, irresponsible, and completely unprofessional behavior on display by our state’s Office of Tourism. The story is getting long, but it’s quite familiar, as it involves potentially huge sums of taxpayer money wasted on inept programs by seemingly clueless consultants and buearocrats.

Pay-per-gate, as it’s being called, is an ongoing investigation by Lance Dutson of Maine Web Report, a fellow Maine-based blogger and web developer.

Back in October of last year, Dutson discovered that the Maine Office of Tourism was buying Google AdWords targeted to specific Maine businesses. As he noted at the time, that act itself is just plain wrong, for the reasons he lists, including the facts that the State is not only bidding against the businesses it is meant to promote, but further that it should be focusing on general Google-juice and not re-directing traffic better suited for other sites to its own web presence.

The plot thickened, as its apt to do, when Dutson then noted that the Office of Tourism is expressly forbidden from spending its budget within the State of Maine That fact is important because last month, Duston reported that the Office of Tourism was violating this rule by not filtering Maine out of its expensive AdWords campaigns.

(UPDATE: Lance wrote to tell me this point is not correct. While the Office of Tourism is not prohibited by law from spending within Maine, they would certainly appear to be wasting money doing so. Maine business spend, in aggregate, millions of dollars marketing themselves to Maine residents. An Office of Tourism, meanwhile, should exist to represent them outside of the state.)

Here is where a good PR strategy becomes extremely important. After some of the campaigns were pulled, then all of them, Lance waited while the PR firm and the State both failed to respond to his inquires. I have an inquiry myself: have any of these people ever heard of blogs?

After a series of go-rounds between the consulting firm, the state, and Dutson, in which the ads were pulled first within the state and then overall, the director of the Office of Tourism Dann Lewis again demonstrated that the Office has no business what-so-ever doing business on the web. Here’s an excerpt of Lewis’ letter to Dutson, according to the Maine Web Report:

I will devote sufficient time to this over the next several days in order to respond to you fully and factually by Monday afternoon, March 6. I will be in Washington on business for the next three days, hence the time frame for my full response, which I hope you will share with the readers of your site.

In the meantime, I would ask you to refrain from making any further comments on this matter.

Yep, you know what this last statement reeks of: It’s called “Do you know who I am?!” disease, and it appears to be prevalent among even the most mid-level of State governmental agencies.

Worse, Lewis’ promise to present the Office of Tourism’s side of the story hasn’t even come true: it’s now 11pm on March 6th and Maine Web Report has not posted any reply from the agency or Mr. Lewis.

Since Lewis’ request for Dutson to “keep quiet,” the blogger has done anything but. In the past week alone, he’s discovered perhaps the most sickening and relevant facts yet. According to a 2004 newspaper article, the Office of Tourism was spending up to $7,000 per month on Internet advertising. Keep in mind, that’s $7k per month- or $78,000 per year- to out-bid Maine businesses at their own game. And as Dutston notes, in 2006 it’s likely that the Office of Tourism’s budget is at least that, if not much higher.
All in all, this is a sordid, embarrassing affair that is quickly rising to the level of scandal thanks in part to the state’s bungling response to Duston’s many legitimate inquiries. As a web developer, I’m appalled at the level of incompetence on display here. As a taxpayer, I am on the verge of outrage.

Full-text RSS is mandatory around here

Now that my RSS reader has grown to include 139 feeds (I put an informal cap at 100 a few months ago), it’s time to do some pruning.

As much as it pains me, I’m starting by usubscribing from all my feeds that are not full-text. The biggest loss for me in that department is Dr. Helen, who is on Blogspot and therefore can easily flip her feeds to full-text with just a simple click. I hope she considers doing so!

Another one I’m going to miss is Paul Davidson, author of Lost Blogs and a funny blogger who provides a great diversion from my tech-heavy reading list.

I hope both bloggers recognize that providing full-text RSS feeds will actually bring them more fans, not less, and take a risk by offering full-text feeds.

UPDATE: jasonclarke.org gets results! Paul Davidson left a comment on this post saying he’s enabled full-text posts for the time being. Thanks, Paul! You’ve been re-subscribed!

Michael J. Totten, a freelance reporter, spent some time in the northern Iraq city of Erib and files an engrossing first-person report on his time there.

Michael’s braveity in venturing into Iraq virtually on his own is to be greatly admired. Perhaps even more so is his willingness to report back with candor, narrative, wit, and depth.

2005 Blogs of the Year

My picks for 2005 Blogs of the Year:

5. Scripting News – Dave Winer / He’s often infuriating, especially in a disagreement. But there’s no doubt that Dave Winer is the unofficial Chief Technical and Philisophical Officer of the living web. While some people find one or two interesting things to say every couple of years, delivering brilliant treatises- in text or audio- appear to come so easy to (and from) Dave via his blog. Better still, he’s one of the rare few who pontficiate, yet also spend an equal amount of time delivering with real tangible actions- or in Dave’s case, software, ideas, and movements.

4. Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds / Reynolds, my top pick for 2004, continues to outshine 99.999% of the blogosphere with his quality, frequency, variety, and intelligence. He’s always said he’ll blog as long as its fun. I only hope 2006 is his most fun year ever.

3. Micropersuasion – Steve Rubel / Steve Rubel blogs in a cheifly friendly, yet authorative voice, and manages to cover nearly every single emerging trend from RSS to online advertising to identity/attention to videoblogging. If I smell a trend on the web, I turn to Steve for updates and insight.

2. Lifehacker – Gina Trapani, et al / Lifehacker came out of the gate in early 2006, capitalizing on the mini-craze of ‘lifehacks’ popularized by Merlin Mann’s 43Folders site (and others). Lifehacker was great early and spent all year getting better thanks to Gina Trapani and later a stable of supporting bloggers. Keeping track of new software, tools, services, and trends can be mind-numbing, but Gina and Co. have made it fun while keeping coverage both deep and varied.

1. Scobelizer – Robert Scoble / Robert Scoble did the almost unthinkable this year. While Microsoft was busy making strides with RSS, open formats, and more, (yet not its browser) Scoble managed to put a human, friendly, aware, and intelligent face on the borg. Best of all, he emerged as an outstanding rolemodel for fairness and tranparency in blogging as he continually proved his will to discuss controversial issues again and again. Scoble’s fairness, honesty (he’s a geek, in case he hasn’t reminded you lately) and his sense of narrative (he’s just one of us, guiding us through Microsoft, and through the software industry) combine to make him the most enjoyable, revealing, and interesting blogger in 2005.

WordPress hosted blog service goes public

WordPress.com, the hosted blog service developed by the WordPress team (the gears running this site), is now out of private beta and is public.

I’ve been using the service for about two weeks now (but I’ve only posted to once so far, to my detriment). My reaction is split down the middle, as I stated in my lone post at jasonclarke.wordpress.com:

1. The blogging interface in hosted WordPress is vastly improved, while looking quite similar (and that’s outstanding from a usability standpoint). Especially appreciated are two key features: the “add category” functionality and the “upload/add images” function.

2. Alternately, two major drawbacks made the WordPress hosted service largely undesirable for me. One was the inability to edit your templates- even font faces and sizes were blocked. The other was the inability to map a domain to the service.

Unfortunately, neither of my major cons have been addressed with the WordPress public launch. But I know that offering customziable templates has to be on their horizon; it’s only a matter of time. One major advtange of the service that I failed to mention in my initial review: the comment spam blocking seems to be around 1 million times better than it is for me on my installed version of WordPress.

More on Measure Map: a useless, but fun, feature request

My review of Measure Map generated two comments. One was by Jeffrey Veen, a partner in Adaptive Path, the consulting firm that built and is launching Measure Map. Rather than reply to Jeff’s comment with my own comment (which would bury the conversation down a layer) or reply to him with an email (which would take the conversation of the public eye), I’m going to respond right here in this post.

Jeff writes:

ď[T]here is one feature notably absent from Measure Map that Iíve missed already: the ability to see a list of users browsing your site right now.Ē

Thanks for the great review, Jason. Iím curious about the feature you describe above, however. Could you say more about it? What would you want to see – a list of IP addresses? And what would that information help you do?

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeff! To answer the question, first let me throw a caveat: as I said in my review, I’m talking about a pretty non-essential feature here- a bit of fun is the key. But since Measure Map’s big advantage is that its interface is far superior, why not throw in some fun features to further elighten the user, right?

So my answer. If I were to add a “current visitors” metric to Measure Map as it is now, I’d probably place it directly above the four main graphic headers on the account overvie page. Without hogging too much of that important screen space, I’d suggest:

A smallish, wide but not too tall horizontal graphic indicating, in linear fashion, each current user according to how long they’ve been on the site. This graphic, taken from a stats program I’ve used before called LiveStats, shows what I mean:

Below that graphic, It would also be neat to see a list of the top 5-10 users currently browsing the site, with at the least, the user’s hostname and time spent on the site. Above both the graphic and this list would be a big Measure Map-esque heading: “24 users are browsing your site right now.” And then perhaps below that (instead of the standard “That’s x more than the average day.”), something like: “Current users have spent an average of 24 minutes on your site.”

That’s today’s Measure Map minute. Thanks again to Jeff Veen for responding to my initial review.

Some first impressions on Measure Map

Measure Map is a new blog stats (really, analytics) tool developed by usability consulting firm Adaptive Path and currently in private alpha mode for the time being. (Whoah- will alpha become the new beta?)

By entering you email address at the service’s homepage, measuremap.com, you’ll be added to the waiting list to receive an invitation to test out the service. I’ve been lucky enought to receive an invitation, and today I finally opened the email and signed up for the service to track this blog.

My first impressions, after using it for just a few hours, are that it is quite usable and very attractive. Unfortunately, this blog generates such little traffic that I don’t quite have the data set I’d like (or is really necessary) for a proper experimentation. Nonetheless, I can comment on the interface, as sparsely full of data as it is, and what I’ve seen so far I really like.

First, the signup process. Read More