Updated: 24/9/05; 10:44:35

David Davies' Radio Weblog

 Friday, May 30, 2003

Although email has undoubtedly revolutionised personal communication, it has its downsides. Spam is the obvious negative but I'd term that impersonal communication since the spammer is unknown to you and you to them. In terms of personal communication, email allows us to sometimes chicken out of direct communication with the recipient. I expect we've all faced the difficult phone call or face to face that we'd rather not have. Sending an email gets you off the hook, albeit in some cases only temporarily. Other forms of instant or near instant messaging, such as computer-based instant messaging (e.g MSN messenger, AIM, iChat etc) and mobile phone SMS may be getting people off the hook in all kinds of situations.

Well one UK company has taken this to new extremes. Accident Group, the UK's largest personal injury claims firm has sacked 2,400 people, many of them via SMS to their employee's company mobile phones. Shame on you Accident Group, you chickened out big time.

Posted 5:49:28 PM - comment []

Interesting piece by the BBC on the social networks that form on the Internet and in particular how the Internet is bringing local communites together. The article mentions The Work Foundation, a thinktank I'd not heard of before.
Posted 1:52:18 AM - comment []
 Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Dave Winer's got a nice example of using Google's API to generate an enhanced weblog search. It works well for www.scripting.com. Knowing Dave this new feature will be available to all Userland webloggers soon and that will be very welcome.

However, I have a question about how this will work with weblogs without a top-level domain name. I'm guessing but I reckon Dave's using Google's site search feature to narrow search results to a particular weblog. For example:

"david davies site:scriptingnews.userland.com"

narrows Google's search result to only those hits on scriptingnews.userland.com. This is a neat feature in Google.

Unfortunately there's a gotcha. Site search doesn't work with weblogs (or any other Internet site) that don't have a top level domain. For example:

"dave winer site:radio.weblogs.com/0001161/"

site:radio.weblogs.com/0001161/ is not valid, only site:radio.weblogs.com is but that's no use as there are thousands of weblogs on that server.

Hmm, maybe the only solution is for webloggers to get themselves a top-level domain name? Or could Google be persuaded to extend their site search feature to URL fragments rather than just the domain name?

Posted 11:08:54 PM - comment []
 Sunday, May 18, 2003

Trackback allows me to see who's linked to my posts. At least it will as soon as it's released in Radio which I'm sure will be soon. But as useful as that might be it's not really what I want. I'd want to be able to keep track of all the comments I've left on other people's site and to keep track of comments others have left. Often it's the dialogue that follows a post that contains the really interesting information. There's no really easy way of doing that that I know of. So I end up losing track of conversations I've had.

Maybe there's a role for RSS and aggregators here. If each weblog post had an RSS feed of all the comments associated with it then we could use news readers to keep track of all our comments. I could subscribe to a post and its comments feed and I'd never lost track again. now that would be really useful.

Userland will probably release RSS support for Manila discussion groups in the next release of Manila due soon. As Manila hosts the comments of many Radio weblogs then maybe there's a way forward.

Posted 11:07:08 PM - comment []
 Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Google's Top 10 Gaining Queries
Week Ending May 6, 2003

     1. x-men 2

     2. kentucky derby

     3. cinco de mayo

     4. mike price

     5. jerry nadeau

     6. muttertag

     7. formula 1

     8. sarah kozer

     9. vappu

   10. miss elizabeth

There's something about the allegation that weblogs exploit their incestuous linking to gain an inflated prominence in Google search results that doesn't ring true with my own experience as a Google user. Perhaps it's just me or the search terms I use. So I thought I'd do some background research. Google very helpfully publishes a regular update on the most popular search terms. I used the list of the top 10 gaining queries for the week ending May 6th and looked at the top 10 search results for each looking for the occurrence of weblogs in the list. I defined a weblog as a reverse-chronological series of posts by a single or multiple authors. Basically, you know a weblog when you see one. By using Google's own list of popular search terms I knew I was searching using the kinds of popular terms used by large numbers of people.

Interestingly, with the exception of the 8th most popular term (sarah kozer) where a weblog came in at 10th place, not a single weblog was in the top 10 of any of the other terms. This can't be correct I thought. So I looked at a couple of other terms. I chose 'turtles' as Andrew Orlowski used it as an example in his piece for The Register. No weblogs. So I chose a few other current hot topics, 'SARS', 'human cloning', 'what's on TV tonight' and 'Britney Spears'. No weblogs, or at least none that I saw. I can't claim that I closely inspected all the search results though I did spend longer on the last search ;-)

If we can conclude anything from these informal tests of Google then perhaps it's that we get a little bit more realistic about the prominence of weblogs and the danger that they'll in some way diminish the quality of search results.

There is no doubt that depending upon what you search for you will of course get weblogs in your search results. A search for 'Dave Winer' shows little but weblog results but hey, Dave's a weblogger so what do you expect? Also, by searching for terms that are the attention of the communities of practice that I discussed in the preceding piece then here too I expect to find a prominence of weblogs in Google search results. But that's what I think the Internet is so good at, creating communities. And thank goodness we have Google to help uncover their richness.

Posted 12:44:24 AM - comment []
 Sunday, May 11, 2003

In one of those strange coincidences that only the Internet can throw up, shortly after publishing my piece on the credibility of writing for a weblog vs more traditional forms of writing including journalism, a New York Times reporter has been exposed for shaming his profession by lying, falsifying and plagiarising in his articles. Now I wonder if Google will come up with a way of removing falsified journalism from its main index.
Posted 11:57:27 PM - comment []

Why are you reading this piece? Maybe you're reading this because you've read other things I've written in the past and you like my style. Maybe you came across this piece because of a link from another site. Or maybe you ended up here following a Google search. These are three typical reasons why anyone reads anything on the Internet and recently all three have been the subject of speculation, in particular in relation to how we interact with weblogs.

The very fact that this piece was written for my weblog might change how you find future pieces by me or other weblog writers. Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive at Google has said that the Internet search company will soon be offering a service for searching weblogs. The Register has picked up on his comments and speculated that weblogs might get their own tab in the familiar search engine's home page and that it's even possible that weblog data may be removed from Google's main index. The trouble, or so it is claimed, is that webloggers are inadvertently exploiting Google's PageRank algorithm to gain extra credibility with the result that weblog posts tend to occupy the top slots for many Google searches while 'proper' information is relegated to the lesser ranks.

First, a quick observation. Google is a lot smarter than some people give it credit for. Sure, a lot of weblogs turn up in Google searches but not always and certainly not always for current news topics. Google uses its clever algorithms and relevance matching tricks to identify search terms as being of topical relevance. For example, a Google search for 'SARS epidemic' not only produced some Google recommended news site links (no weblogs) but also mostly credible articles from established media such as The Guardian. Certainly no 'amateur' journalists posting to their weblogs. I'm not going to get into the weblog as journalism debate, that's been discussed many times elsewhere.

Now a more fundamental observation. Implicit in some of the objections to weblogs as information sources is that just because weblogging software is used then what is written using this software must in some way be less credible than what is written via other means. Dave Winer was spot on some time ago when he wrote "When that journalist writes something on the weblog, therefore, it must not be journalism. Suppose the journalist writes exactly the same words on her weblog that she writes in a column in the newspaper she writes for. In one place it's journalism and in the other it's not?" and "It also goes without saying that if an idiot writes a weblog, then you get idiocy in a weblog". That weblogs are any more or less subject to the maxim bullshit in, bullshit out than any other form of writing is false.

So what about credibility and where does it come from? Well here's where I'd like to make another observation. Recently there's been some discussion in my professional area (educational technology) surrounding writing in public in weblogs as opposed to writing in scholarly journals. An individual who has a high profile in the academic community (a track record of publishing in scholarly literature) has recently started a weblog. Now the weblog community in this area is particularly active, but often amongst individuals without a track record publishing in academic journals. That's a simplification and there are many exceptions but as a generalization for the purposes of this piece it's a valid statement. So in this example, where does the credibility come from? The scholar or the webloggers?


And here's why. As a member of academic staff I write for peer reviewed scholarly journals. An article I write may take 6 months to appear in print but when it does you can be assured that it's been read by at least two of my peers and therefore is credible. That's how the academic community moves forward. Blatant lies, untruths and falsehoods are weeded out at peer review stage (at least they are in most cases) so that what appears in print has at least passed the most basic test for veracity.

I also have a weblog and so I can decide to write a piece today and by this evening it'll be available to a global audience. In this case how do you assess the credibility of what I write? Instant publishing is transforming the availability of information. So much so that academic journals are adapting to this new medium by offering pre-prints and other forms of rapid publication including fully electronic journals that cut the time to publication dramatically. But these rapid forms of publication still use peer-review and so are still credible. So can the weblogging world gain the kind of credibility that renders its community information worthy of being on the first page of a Google search result? I think it can and the method by which this credibility is derived is through communities of practice. To quote Etienne Wenger, the originator of the communities of practice idea; "The basic idea [of communities of practice] is that human knowing is fundamentally a social act". To revisit the earlier example of educational technology weblogs, a community of practice has emerged centred on a core of bloggers that gives the ideas and discussions that emerge from this community a credibility that's every bit as valid as the peer reviewed community publishing articles in scholarly journals.

The big difference between writing for a journal and writing on a weblog is that crap written in academia tends not to get published (with very few exceptions) whereas crap written in a weblog can appear in the results of a Google search. But here's where Google's PageRank can help us. A weblog or weblogger that's consistently crap is less likely to partake in a community of practice than one that routinely generates active debate. The latter is also more likely to reach the top 10 in a Google search than the former exactly because of another of the phenomena of weblogging communities of practice, web links or the ubiquitous blogroll.

I think it's going to take a little while for these weblogging communities of practice to establish themselves in many areas but when and where they do I think we can look forward to more informed information and debate than has yet to grace much of what is written on the web. And when they do emerge I for one will be proud to call myself a blogger.

So back to Google. If Google creates a tab specifically for weblogs then that will propel weblogs from a relatively small-scale specialist activity into something of global relevance, in your face every time you do a Google search. Whether or not this is a good thing only time will tell. If on the other hand Google devise a way of removing weblog posts from its main index then I really do thing that the Internet will be a poorer place for it.

Note to readers: This piece has not been peer reviewed but has instead been blogged.

Posted 8:40:29 PM - comment []
 Friday, May 9, 2003

Bingo! Brent fixed NetNewsWire to correctly work with RSS autodiscovery.

View this page in a web browser then subscribe to it with NetNewsWire 1.0.2b8 or later (or any other RSS reader to support RSS autodiscovery).

Now we've got a nice way of syndicating learning objects on web pages that use them in context.

Posted 11:22:00 PM - comment []

The Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre has set up a new project finder service.

"This database contains details of a variety of external nationally funded projects. It currently contains LTSN Subject Centre Miniprojects, FDTL 1-4, HEFCE Disability Strand 2, Action on Access regional projects, Innovations and TLTP projects."

So now there's no excuse for not knowing about prior art in any given area, for example e-learning.

Posted 4:55:57 PM - comment []
 Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Those fine fellows at Userland have tweaked the community server to allow the upstreaming of WAP WML files. Thanks Lawrence! This is good news for WAP fans who also use Radio Userland and the Userland community server (radio.weblogs.com).

As a consequence of this change my educational technology WAP RSS feeds are now where they belong, on my weblog:


I just need a couple of tweaks of my WAP RSS tool then I'll release it to anyone who wants it. If anyone has any particular feature requests then now's the time to speak up. I'll hope to release the first public version Tuesday evening.

Posted 12:50:53 AM - comment []
 Sunday, May 4, 2003

In a race to beat all the other David Davies' in the world I bought my own domain name today. The URL of this weblog is now:


You can register your own .name domain for as little as 12 euros/year. I use Gandi as they're about the cheapest and include web and email forwarding for free. Go on, get your name registered before someone else does, particularly if your name is John Smith.

Posted 10:24:30 PM - comment []

For the record, anyone wanting to configure their own Radio Community Server to upstream WML or any other kind of file not upstreamed by default simply has to add the filename extension to the list at radioCommunityServerData.prefs.legalExtensions. The default filename extensions that are allowed are: .xml, .html, .htm, .opml, .txt, .text, .rss, .ftsc, .fttb, .root, .gif, .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .ico, .doc, .xls, .pdf, .ppt, .css, .wav, .swf, .zip, .sit, .hqx, .gz, and .svg.
Posted 8:46:17 PM - comment []
 Friday, May 2, 2003

I've been on the road a lot recently and have relied heavily upon my mobile phone for sending and receiving email as well as m-blog posting. During moments of boredom on trains I even poked around my phone's WAP features. It occurred to me that WAP might be an ideal way of keeping up to date with my subscribed-to RSS feeds. So I created a WAP RSS viewer.

What it actually does is to use Radio's aggregator data from all my subscribed-to favourite RSS feeds and convert that to a set of WAP files. I can then browse these files with my WAP phone. This is really handy because I can now keep up to date when I'm away from my copy of Radio or NetNewsWire (I duplicate my NNW feeds in Radio for just this purpose).

A picture named menu.jpg A picture named service.jpg

Here are a couple of screen shots. Apologies for the poor quality but I just placed my phone on a scanner.

I've created this as a Radio tool so anyone can use it with their weblog. However, there's one gotcha. WAP WML files won't upstream to UserLand's Radio Community Server so if you have your weblog hosted by radio.weblogs.com I'm afraid you can't use this tool, yet. I've asked nicely if UserLand would allow WML files to upstream so who knows.

If anyone uses their own RCS or an RCS that allows the upstreaming of WML files then let me know and I'll send you a copy of the tool.

In the meantime, you're welcome to read my RSS feeds via WAP. I upstream them here:


So just point your WAP browser to that URL. Some older WAP browsers have a maximum file size limit so some feeds with a lot of entries might not be viewable. Most modern phones shouldn't have a problem. The feeds update every hour when my copy of Radio performs its aggregator scan.

Happy WAP-ing!

Posted 4:28:44 PM - comment []