WordTwit

Posted on Jun 28 by ack.
Categories: ack, web 2.0.

WordTwit
Thanks to a suggestion by GLG, I am giving WordTwit a chance for the automatic Tweeting of posts.

Disqus Custom CSS Styling in 3 Easy Steps

Posted on Jun 24 by ack.
Categories: ack, online, usability, web 2.0.

DisqusSo I have been running Disqus on this blog for over a year now, and I am a huge fan of the service. [Ed note: I got a little fired up here, so feel free to jump right to the steps.] My prior experience with comments had me deleting at least a few comments daily, all being spam. Akismet has improved much since then, but with Disqus I now have only had to remove 1-2 spam comments this past year. That is fantastic results. I also recently checked a friends dormant blog and there were 112K spam comments missed by Akismet needing approval, yes, that’s thousands!

So this is a very cool tech company based in NYC with money from Fred Wilson’s Union Square Ventures (which is how I first heard of Disqus). But what I just don’t get is how they don’t give more support for changing the look and feel of the content they put on my blog.

I understand completely that they can’t actually help individuals with how to code their pages, but the best info they have is on this Disqus wiki page on Custom CSS? I would love to hear any non-html-developer try and make use of that page. It was either written by developers who have long forgotten what it is like to deal with non-developers, or the lawyers got involved (And I don’t consider myself enough of an expert on the topic to start editing their wiki page). By support, all that is needed is a good sample and walk-thru webpage.

Now Disque is a completely user-friendly service that requires only a bit of copy and paste of a line of code, it is perfectly targeted at the non-technical (blogging) audience, yet they really dropped the ball at the last possible moment. Their code and styling look great on untextured white background, and nothing else, and pretty much disappear on a black background based site like mine.

So I mentioned I have been using Disqus for a year, so how did I solve this problem? I didn’t. For the last year I have had black text comments on a black background. You see, when I set this up, I went to try and change the styling from the Disqus admin, where of course it is never even mentioned. From a Google search, all I got was the above page telling me to create something from scratch using whatever elements listed on the page I wanted to use, which frankly is so unhelpful and a waste of my time. So since I have have a very low commented site, I didn’t bother.

But now I actually know enough CSS to be dangerous, so I thought I would finally tackle the issue. As a bonus I assumed with a year passed there should be some better examples floating around, but I was wrong. So now I am providing what I did to solve this simple issue, that I have seen many many people still have.

So here is my own sample for anyone trying to create custom background and text colors for Disqus in three easy steps:

Step 1: Start with a Disqus CSS sample, here is mine: disqus-form.css and save it so that you can edit it.

Step 2: Edit it. HTML and CSS can look scary, but you only actually have to start with one small section to change the background and font text color for the entire Disqus section (which is all I’ve been trying to do). Then upload the file to your blog.

/* Everything Disqus on your page is contained within this. */
#disqus_thread {
background-color: #000000;
color: #ffffff;
border-style: solid;
border-color: #cccccc;
padding: 5px;
}

Now this looks intimidating, but all you need to know about colors is that “ffffff” is white and “000000″ is black (“cccccc” is gray). So my background color is black and my (font) color is white. If you want to get more tricky then those, look up your html color. Border-color is a gray line around the Disqus area, and the Padding gives a little space around the outside (5 pixels worth).

Step 3: You will need to add the following bit of code to your WordPress/blog header template file, inside the “head” tag. Change “yourblog.com” to your blog address and where you uploaded the file. Save the template header when done.

<script type="text/javascript">var disqus_iframe_css = "http://www.yourblog.com/disqus-form.css";</script>
<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="http://www.yourblog.com/disqus-form.css" media="screen" />

Guess what, you are done. Hope this helps.

I think it is ALWAYS better to provide a template that has good simple notations for people to make changes, so I grabbed the initial CSS file from this forum post. Most of the advice was to add only the first line to your template header and make half the changes to the CSS in your blog’s template CSS, and I find that too confusing, so I combined them into the same file.

I know I didn’t explain how to find your template files or what all the CSS options are, or even what CSS stands for (Cascading Style Sheets), but that’s what Google is for once you get the basics done. Good luck.

[Ed: added a link to the initial CSS file]

Twitter, Flickr backup with LifestreamBackup

Posted on Jun 23 by ack.
Categories: ack, online, web 2.0.

Lifestreambackup
One of the main risks when using cool cloud services is that you really do not own your data, and you can easily lose everything by having your account hijacked or removed by the service. This has happened in the past to others and can happen in the future.

I’ve never had an account deleted without my consent (knock on wood), but I have lost access to my Flickr photos for months at a time, TWO years in a row, since Flickr/Yahoo seems incapable of accepting money from customers without months of prodding. It actually took me MONTHS to get them to process my credit card payment (and yes I am still bitter). They are lucky I have a lot of built-up loyalty given my years and years of (paid) membership and thousands of full-rez photos on the site, and they have no decent competition given the social aspect of their site (and Google charges way too much for large storage). So for months I could not get to most of my photos since my account was downgraded to the free version… all the while they prompted me to pay up when I already had!

One way to mitigate this risk, is to be able to backup what is important, and this is where Lifestreambackup comes into it. They have managed to create a very easy to use service that currently can automatically backup Twiter, Flickr, Delicious, Google Docs, WordPress, and others. YouTube and Facebook are coming soon they say.

They are pretty cheap at $5/m ($4 on sale) or $30/year ($27 on sale). I actually opted for another option they have, which is to use your own S3 account, which I think it just brilliant. S3 is Amazon’s cloud storage service and is basically where many new websites are storing everything. It is not fail-proof, but I have worked at many web-based companies and I know how hard it is to maintain your own servers… and Amazon runs the best around. Using my own S3 account will cost me $9/year ($15 when not on sale) and Amazon will charge me .15 per GB per month, and .10 per GB for upload.

Since I’ve not run the numbers, let’s compare that to Google account shared storage which is $1.7/m ($20/year) for 10 GB, or $20/m ($250/year) for 150 GB. Google seems to only have storage for gmail and photos (picasa).

So if I have 50 or 150 GB of photos (50 is pretty close, I hope), my annual cost would be:
LSB+S3: 50 GB = $9 + (.1*50 + .15*50*12) = 9 + (5+90) = $104
LSB+S3: 150 GB = $9 + (.1*150 + .15*150*12) = 9 + (15+270) = $294
Google: 150 GB = $250

So I’m actually surprised that Google comes in as cheaper in the 150 GB scenario. But there are a few assumptions here. I don’t think I need 150 GB, and with S3 I only get charged what I use, not so with Google. I also get to pay Amazon monthly, instead of having to pay Google upfront each year, so that makes a big impact. And the biggest assumption is that Google only really stores photos, being able to store multiple chunks of data is important to me. So in the end, Google is not as expensive as the sticker-shock felt seeing $250/year, but S3 is a lot more flexible. As I’ve also followed in the tech news, web backup storage companies have all but failed, so even if LifestreamBackup doesn’t make it, my backup will be on Amazon, and if they fail, I will have other worries.

But as with the case with any backup, it has to be easy and automatic, or it won’t get done. I’m not one of those people that is good about doing manual backups, and some of the this stuff (like Facebook), I can’t even backup manually. So I’m going to give this a try for at least a year and see how the fees pile up. I also want to play around with S3 since I think it’s a great platform.

So this post is a bit longer than I was expecting, but 30 minutes after setup and config, my Twitter and Delicious were each took about 1 second each to backup, and I’m still waiting on Flickr and Google Docs.

Their WordPress plugin didn’t work for me, but I got an email back from co-founder Rob May, who is testing a new version of the plugin and said he would be in touch “in a few hours”.

Thanks to Mashable for the heads up.

Will post updates as I learn more.

Google’s Assault on Windows

Posted on Sep 2 by ack.
Categories: google, online, web 2.0.

Google Chrome
Google launched today its latest attack on the evil empire that is Microsoft. Google Chrome is a web browser up against IE, Firefox and Safari. Chrome is the much talked about Google Operating System, utilizing Google Gears.

The main idea for this browser is speed and offline integration with Google’s cloud, allowing offline access to Google Reader or Gmail. From a memory hog standpoint, Chrome seems to hold up better against Firefox 3. Memory issues and leaks are one of my biggest issues with FF. One of the best examples of Chrome/Google Gears is the Myspace power messaging using Gears, allowing for sorting and searching of your Myspace messages using your computer, instead of always requesting the server. The end result are response times that are more like a computer application instead of a webpage. From a web surfing perspective, Chrome is very very fast.

Some other features of Chrome (from CrunchBase):

  • Tabbed browsing where each tab gets its own process, leading to faster and more stable browsing. If one tab crashes, the whole browser doesn’t go down with it
  • A distinct user interface that places tabs on top of the browser window instead of right below the address bar
  • An “incognito” mode that lets you browse the web in complete privacy because it doesn’t record any of your activity
  • A new JavaScript engine built from the ground up for speed
  • Malware and phishing lists that automatically update themselves and warn you of bad websites
  • A default homepage that displays your most commonly used sites and other personalized information

I’m looking forward to testing it out, but will be hard pressed to give up Firefox with its ad blocking, mouse gestures and other handy add-ons.

Monitor110: A Post Mortem

Posted on Jul 21 by ack.
Categories: online, web 2.0.

Monitor110A very frank and detailed post mortem of the demise of a technology start-up, Monitor110 (or on SAI), from one of its leaders, Roger Ehrenberg.

He talks about the Seven Deadly Sins they had:

  1. The lack of a single, “the buck stops here” leader until too late in the game
  2. No separation between the technology organization and the product organization
  3. Too much PR, too early
  4. Too much money
  5. Not close enough to the customer
  6. Slow to adapt to market reality
  7. Disagreement on strategy both within the Company and with the Board

The second one caught my eye, and I find it personally relevant since a company I used to work for laid off the Product Department (which I worked for) and folded it into the overseas Development technology department. It was a misguided attempt to correct their own dysfunction, which they still have not solved.

Roger goes on to say:

Another problem: technology and product management were effectively bundled together, with the same decision-makers for both. This was another crucial error, #2 again. Instead of having product management as the advocate for the customer and the product evangelist, we had technology running the show in a vacuum. Huge mistake. This allowed us to perpetuate the science project for much, much longer than we should have. There were no checks-and-balances built into the system. This was a recipe for failure.

Thanks to Fred.

Disqus

Posted on May 18 by ack.
Categories: web 2.0.

DisqusI’m officially done with dealing with comment spam on this blog, and have moved comments to use Disqus. It helped that AVC once again mentioned the company right when I was thinking about what to do. Disqus was very easy to install on WordPress, it took all of two steps and 5 minutes.

BrandTags

Posted on May 13 by ack.
Categories: online, web 2.0.

A very cool site called BrandTags where people can input one word that they think of a brand. It’s a great way to see what people think of a brand, in a very innovative way. Starbucks is right on target.
BrandTag

Thanks to a Tumblr

WordPress for iPhone

Posted on Apr 1 by ack.
Categories: ack, apple, usability, web 2.0.

iWPhoneJust added the iWPhone Plugin for WordPress, that creates a really nice looking version of this blog if you are using an iPhone, like I am prone to do.

Totally easy to install and looks painless so far, took all of 2 minutes and didn’t require me to touch my current theme… beautiful.

Google Hosted App vs. Gmail

Posted on Feb 21 by ack.
Categories: google, web 2.0.

I switched over to Gmail from Yahoo Mail years ago and I moved to a Google Hosted App soon after. I have been using it for quite some time but I am thinking it may be time to switch back to Gmail.

  • Both are pretty much the same technology and interface
  • To use Google Reader I need to use my Gmail Google Account
  • I can’t import my contacts into any web service since most only offer Gmail/YMail/Hotmail options
  • Gmail gets new features before Hosted
  • Hosted is handy to create sub-accounts for my domain but I don’t tend to use this

Granted, I don’t know of any way to merge my two accounts and it’s always a pain to have archives floating in different places. Something to look into.

FriendFeed

Posted on Feb 20 by ack.
Categories: online, web 2.0.

FriendFeedOne of the reasons I have resisted going too crazy with Twitter et al is the time needed and the danger of “yet another place to update.” I’m actually trying to keep an open mind and see how each of these services can be helpful in their own way.

FriendFeed Services
Latest to the list is a service I have a lot of hopes for, FriendFeed. This is one of the most complete aggregation services that I have seen, and gives a great snapshot of what a person is doing. It’s a snap to add services and the display is pretty clean. Now to run it through its paces and see if it keeps being useful.

The site is in closed beta, but I signed up and got an invite later that day, so they can’t be that restrictive. :)