Sunday 27 September 2009

Writing for the Web

Writing for the web is a subject I've had some interest in for a while. Indeed, I have been writing here, with varying regularity, for the best part of two and a half years. So I had mixed expectations about spending a full day being taught just how I should go about it. Of course blogging is slightly different from writing for a more "standard" website, but it does share most of the same principles.

Our course was run by Dan Fielder from StickyContent and was very interesting (yes, I was pleasantly surprised). I have just checked their website and have noticed their logo has some cool ants on it too. Mixing invertebrates and the internet is always of interest to me!

The course was a mix of exercises based on various ideas and concepts shown to be important by research or previous experience. There has been a large amount of research into how people read the web! We had some fun dismantling various sections of theNatural History Museum website (amongst others) and coming up with better alternative structures and phrases.

There was a whole host of tips, including the inverted pyramid approach (summarise at the beginning and ensure that wherever you stop reading a page you have the whole picture). Perhaps the most important lessons were brevity and clarity. It is possible to be comprehensive, clear and concise.

I intend to make a few changes to a number of sites over the coming months, so I will post anything vaguely interesting here!

Sunday 20 September 2009

DISQUS Commenting Enabled

DISQUS is a very tidy commenting system that I have just enabled on this blog, Invertebrate Diaries and In Defence of Reason. DISQUS has some very neat features, the main one being the ability to track all of those comments you have made to blogs all over the interweb from one place (as long as those blogs use DISQUS).

You can sign into DISQUS using your Facebook, Twitter or OpenID credentials, or make a new account. It also has some pretty good spam filtering and comment management options. So I'd ask you to have a go and see what happens!

Saturday 19 September 2009

The Great nofollow

Flickr and Wikipedia among others are sites that append the rel="nofollow" automatically to all external links. What does this mean and how does it relate to the free web?

First of all the rel="nofollow" attribute is added to hyperlinks to prevent search engines using the link between sites as part of their ranking process. In some search engine routines a link from page A to Page B is considered a "vote" for Page B by Page A. Google uses this method, although it has further routines for calculating the voting power of a link compared to others (a link or "vote" from a more important site has higher authority or "voting power" than one from a minor site).

In strict terms I guess the search engine should not follow the link to Page B, although some do and some don't. What is clear is that the big players in search technology (Google, Yahoo, Bing) do respect the notion that links with the rel="nofollow" attribute have no "voting power".

Why was such an idea considered necessary? In order to overcome the havoc to search engine results that could occur by people posting comments that include links to a large number of sites, e.g. blogs, photo-sharing websites, etc. In fact the attribute was the brainchild of a Google/Blogger sharing of minds before Blogger became part of the Google empire.

In an ideal world there would be no need for such a tag. Spamming would be removed by caring blog owners (or blog platform operators), or could be corrected for by the search engines (this comment is spam, I will ignore the link). Unfortunately neither of these is entirely possible, or entirely foolproof.

Blanket use of rel="nofollow" however seems a bit mean. For example I use Flickr regularly and I also blog regularly. Strangely enough sometimes I even post photos and blog about the same thing! When this happens I tend to link from my blog to my Flickr photographs, and from some of my Flickr photographs back to my blog.

When I link from my blog to Flickr my votes count. My blog actively increases the importance of my photographs (at least as far as search engines are involved). When I link from my photos to my blog however Flickr automatically adds a rel="nofollow" attribute to my links. The importance of my photograph cannot be shared with my blog. Flickr keep all of its voting power for internal site links (a great way to increase its importance at my expense). I should point out that this is for photograph, set and collection descriptions - not only comments.

In this way Flickr has become a PageRank super-sink - it pulls in importance from thousands and thousands of sites across the web, and gives nothing in return. It's the start of a uncontrollable PageRank monster. In fact I have started calling Flickr 'The Great Importance Attractor' - probably because I like physics and maths too much.

Is this fair? No, of course it isn't. I'm not too fussed if the links in comments on my photographs and blog posts get their votes removed. This is where the majority of spam comes from (besides forums I imagine). But my content? I think I should be able to link it together in a way that doesn't contribute to the making of PageRank monsters.

Friday 18 September 2009

Install Acrobat Reader (acroread) on Ubuntu Jaunty

The medibuntu repositorires only have the amd64 version of Acrobat Reader, however an i386 version is available from Adobe here:

Open a Terminal window and navigate to the folder where the file was downloaded to. Then enter:
sudo su
Enter your password followed by the enter key.
chmod +x AdbeRdr9.1.2-1_i486linux_enu.bin
Follow the instructions to install Adobe Acrobat Reader. Pressing enter at the installation directory choice will use the default [/opt].

Finally type
to exit su.

Hope that helps!

Thursday 10 September 2009

BodyWorlds and the Mirror of Time

Gunther von Hagens is, there is no doubt about it, a unique character. Suffering bullying due to his haemophilia during childhood he became interested in medicine and anatomy. Perhaps the most defining moment in his life was his imprisonment by the soviet authorities for trying to escape across the Czechoslovakian border ro Austria. Eventually West Germany purchased his freedom and he continued his studies at Lubeck. Since 1977 he has developed the technique of plastination - preserving animal (mainly human) tissue in polymers.

His exhibitions have not been without controversy - particularly in Germany, with some accusations of uing executed Chinese prisoners - however no legal challenge has prevented von Hagens from displaying his exhibitions.

The latest of these, BodyWorlds and the Mirror of Time, has recently closed in London, UK. The exhibition itself was truly excellent, showing the process of aging and how it affects your body from the inside and out. von Hagen's methods might not be to the taste of everybody but I have seen no better way of showing how bodies work to a lay audience. Yes, it would have been nice if it was less crowded, but we did go on the last weekend of the exhibition.

Unfortuantely no photos were permitted inside the exhibition - so I don't have any to show you here!