Here’s a problem I ran into when migrating from b2evolution to WordPress: my old RSS feed, which was running through multiple aggregators across the web, suddenly didn’t work anymore. The obvious (and painful) solution was to manually inform every system and person who cares about my blog that I’m now on a new feed. I was already diving into that that task, and planning to let a few systems drop off the wayside in the process.

Thankfully, Jordan M.E. (one of my favorite programmers), sent me the easier answer. She told me to use an htaccess redirect, so the old feed becomes the new feed. Here’s the code that I added to my root level ( .htaccess file (it should all be on one line):

Redirect permanent /blog/xmlsrv/rss2.php

In this example, “/blog/xmlsrv/rss2.php” is the path of my old RSS feed, and “/blog/?feed=rss2&” is the path of my new RSS feed. You need the “Redirect permanent” at the beginning to make it work. See it in action. This is the link to my old feed:

Check the address bar after you click the link. You’re at my new feed. Voila!

If you’ve never edited your .htaccess file, it’s not as scary as it sounds. It’s just a text file with a funny file extension that controls some key things about your website. Some people have trouble opening the file because of its strange file name, so here’s a trick (note: you have to be comfortable with FTP to do this):

  1. Using your FTP client, find the .htaccess file on your webserver and rename it to htaccess.txt.
  2. Download the file.
  3. Open it in the code editor of your choice.
  4. Make the changes you want to make (see above) and save it.
  5. Upload it to your website.
  6. Change the filename back to .htaccess.
  7. Done.

So now, everybody who was reading my old blog can now see my new blog, as though nothing changed.  Well, they’re probably a little confused because I disappeared for awhile, and their aggregators may now be reloading new copies all my stuff, but hey.  Close enough.

Whew! Moving forward with the blog migration, I’m a little preturbed by the commenting options out there. Commenting, to me, is most valuable when it’s a door to two-way dialogue. The standard blog commenting model, however, is a more or less a list of dead-end mutterings. I don’t like it. I want more.

I was excited about Brian’s Threaded Comments plugin, which allows you to reply to specific comments rather than to a linear mess. I assumed that it came equipped with a “notify the person you’re replying to via email” feature (‘cuz really, that was my whole point for caring), but, sadly, I appeared to be wrong. He just provides the option to subscribe to all the comments in the post. So, in other words, if you subscribe to my comments, and I respond with a quick “thank you” to the guy who commented before you, you’re going to get that in your inbox. Gee, how useful…

Then there was Dodo’s Threaded Comments with Notification hack — which looked very promising indeed, but it lacked two very critical things:

  1. The ability to opt-out of notifications (absolutely necessary for an ethical website).
  2. The, um, code files. Thank you, outdated websites, for not maintaining your download links.

Really, what I want is Livejournal’s commenting system mashed up onto a WordPress blog with full customization options. But until I figure out how to do that (or someone magically does it for me… hint hint), I’m going to hold off on nested comments and stick to the opt-in all-post notification system… which isn’t the best solution, but it does foster a dinner-party-style conversation, and I believe that’s better than nothing.

And while we’re on the topic of WordPress usability issues, I think it’s worth pointing out that the system’s slick internal spellchecker is convinced that the word “blog” is a typo.   Heh.

Kathy Sierra, one of the keynote speakers at SXSWi this year, is hiding in her home with the doors locked right now, cancelling events and fearing for her life. She’s been receiving rape and death threats from anonymous trolls in the blogosphere.

She writes…

‘Do not put these people on a pedestal. Do not let them get away with calling this “social commentary”, “protected speech”, or simply “criticism”. I would never be for censoring speech–these people can say all the misogynistic, vile, tasteless things they like–but we must preserve that line where words and images become threats of violence. Freedom of speech–however distasteful and rude the speech may be, is crucial. But when those words contain threats of harm or death, they can destroy a life.’

Read her post and pass it on. As danah boyd points out, we need to stand up in social solidarity. This is our community. We have a responsibility to protect our space and send a message: this kind of behavior is NOT okay.

There’s a growing trend in the Web 2.0 world to develop tools that can “learn” with you.  The more you use them, the more they adjust and adapt to your style (or, in some cases, the more you adjust and adapt to theirs).  This is awesome.  It means we’re throwing out the idea that all people fit a mold, and we’re building things that actually customize to our audience’s unique snowflakes of lives.

However, I’ve also been seeing a trend of skimping on user research as a result of this.  The mentality is, “Oh, the tool morphs and grows to fit them, so we don’t really need to know what they want.”  But if the default settings on a tool don’t mostly fit what most users are looking for, most people will pick another tool.

The most successful tools out there do both:

  • They  morph and grow to fit their users.
  • They work like a dream solution right out of the box.

Customization is awesome, but if it’s required, people will surf on by.

Spammy Spammy Spam SpamNot to scare you away from WordPress, but… I got 13 spam comments in the last 12 hours after my install (moderated and hidden for now, but still clogging up my inbox with notifications). Looks like it’s already time to check out anti-spam hacks. That was quick.

Meanwhile, I want to direct you to danah boyd’s analysis of Twitter, the source of those “web pings” at the top of my blog. A related topic? Yes. Twitter, to some, equals opt-in spam, and there’s some debate among tech geeks over whether it will survive the test of real social communities after the novelty has worn off.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Let me back up. Twitter is a new publishing platform that merges blogs with IMs with text messages. Basically, you can post as much you want (supposedly about “what you’re doing”), but each post has to be less than 160 characters. Why 160 characters? Because that’s the limit on most cell phones’ SMS text messages. So yes, you can do this from your phone. And you can receive your friends posts as text messages on your phone. And if you get a lot of friends who like to post a lot, that’s a lot of text messages.

Cell phone companies love Twitter. And speaking of which, I’m over my max of 500 this month thanktwitterverymuch, and need to increase my plan to unlimited text messages.

Twitter got a lot of action at SXSW. It was really an ideal machine for solifying quick hallway connections and keeping in touch about which panels/parties/dinner joints were worth the time it took to get to them. But now, away from SXSW, it has a different purpose. It’s more like listening in on acquaintances with myspace or livejournal, but with a louder megaphone.

danah pointed out some key gripes with Twitter, and I want to respond with my wishlist for feature changes:

  • Multiple levels of filtering for outgoing tweets, a la livejournal (uses of this could include: topic of interest, geographic location, personal closeness).
  • Multiple levels of filtering for incoming tweets.
  • The ability to mark an outgoing tweet as important versus regular (with an exclamation point before the post, perhaps?), and the ability for tweet recipients to decide if they want those categories filtered differently.
  • An alternative to Twitterific that allow for full 160 character display and respects the “leave” command.

So far, I like Twitter, and my appreciation for it actually has less to do with the network than with the medium. I’m using it to augment this blog with more frequent, current, and pithy thoughts. And it makes me pretty happy that I can do it from my cell phone.

Apologies for the mess here. I’ve had it with b2evolution as a blog software, and am finally migrating to WordPress. Leave it to Murphy to set the rules around blog migration, though; this process is turning out to be anything but smooth. Here’s a quick list of reasons for why I’d like to punch a SQL database:

  • The migration tool managed to save my data but lose my formatting (scroll down. there are no paragraph breaks in any of my entries. This violates the cardinal rule of blogging — “give it to ’em in small chunks”. I’m really really sorry you have to see this…).
  • My RSS feed is changing, which means that anyone who’s following me via another platform is about to get very confused.
  • I have a lot of template hacking to do to get back up to speed.

But, there’s also a bright side to all of this…

  • I did manage to (mostly) recover all of my posts, comments, and categories. That’s worth a toast.
  • I’m celebrating the software migration with a new blog name. Goodbye, “Sarah Says…” Hello “Dopp Juice”!
  • WordPress has a heckuvalot more options and support. I’m grinning right now at the automatic “Saved at 8:24:06” text (auto draft saving!) which sits right beside the “Save and Continue Editing” button in the admin panel, and I already know I’ve made the right choice.

To WordPress!

Michelle (that’s all I know of her identity) just sent me a direct email responding to my recent post about the SXSW web awards. She writes:

Hi Sarah,I’m sorry that you were so disappointed with the Web Awards. I just wanted to clear some things up with you that you were confused about regarding the website, the judging, etc.I’m a SXSW veteran and know the process of this stuff. There are a TON of websites who voluntarily enter themselves to be judged. They are then judged by an array of geeks in the Interactive field. And thousands of people vote on the People’s Choice Award (obviously).Ze Frank is the host of “The Show” his sarcastic attitude is part of his personality on his extremely successful video blog. My advice would be to do your homework next time.Cheers!

Thank you, Michelle. That was a clear rebuttal and some useful clarification to a few of my points, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it. If Ze Frank has a reputation for being sarcastic, and the pre-hype involves participating in the People’s Choice voting online, then that explains some of the atmosphere of the night.

While the “do your homework next time” comment came across as condescending, I’m not going to argue the point: I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t read about the finalists two months in advance, and I didn’t vote online. I could have been a far more supportive community member, a successful networker, and a representative of our Web 2.0 values if I had invested time in the award’s ceremony in advance. No argument there.

Here’s my primary concern, though: was getting involved in advance intended to be a prerequisite for enjoying the award’s ceremony? Based on what you’ve said in your email, it seems to me that it was.And my secondary concern: how many other SXSW attendees didn’t get involved in advance? I want to reiterate that by the lack of applause and the fact that Ze, himself, seemed unfamiliar with the finalists, I can guess it wasn’t just me.

But most importantly, what I want to know is this: Did you enjoy the awards? Did you sense enthusiasm and camaraderie in the audience? Did you feel like it addressed and represented our community?

I’ve already told you that I didn’t.

But I’ve also told you that I do appreciate the purpose. And now that you’ve educated me somewhat on the process, I can appreciate that, too. What embarrassed me was the delivery of the awards. I believe it could have been dramatically improved simply by adding a two-line story about each finalist. What features set them apart from the other sites on the web? How did they triumph? Why do people care? We could have pulled the audience in and set them whispering to their neighbors, “Oh yeah! Did you see that one? That was awesome how they ____!” Or even just, “Wow, I wasn’t aware that that website managed to ______ so effectively. I need to tell ____ about that one…” Cheers! Applause!

Another thing that could have been improved: the presentation screen. We showed a screenshot of the homepage for each website. But our websites this year were a dynamic lot with plenty of interaction and animation. Why can’t we display a cool screen cam of each site performing its art? What does it do? Why is it cool? Why is it winning for its category?

We have stories to tell about our achievements, and we’re proud of them. Our awards ceremony is an opportunity to share our greatest stories and applaud them as a community. Why can’t we embrace our interactive narrative and create an experience that we can be proud of? What we did on Sunday was nothing but a collection of bulleted lists highlighted with superficial bells and whistles.

And that is so Web 1.0.

While taking some websurfing chilltime from the SXSW conference extravaganzas, I ran across the following picture taken of me by Magic Safire at the Web 2.2 Unconference

And really, I think it pretty much sums up my presence at these conferences, for better or worse.

Quick anecdote: Min Jung Kim was stepping out of the ladies’ room at the Web 2.2 when I jumped in front of her and tried to “Ooga booga!” accost her with the finger puppets. She looked at me like I had nine heads.

I did.

I was embarrassed for our industry last night. Maybe it was because I hadn’t dressed up pretty or researched Ze Frank, the emcee, in advance. I wasn’t pre-psyched-up when I walked into the room, and that, surely, had something to do with my attitude. So with that disclaimer in place, let me now announce my obnoxious opinion: The SXSW 10th Annual Web Awards sucked.

Here’s the thing. There were more new cool websites created in the last year than you, or me, or any self-respecting techie had a chance to check out. Moreover, we’re in such a super-saturated atmosphere of self-promoting competition that even if we did check them out, chances are we didn’t get too involved with them. They were made for the public, the teens, the families, the businessfolk, the non-techies. Not for us. Well, okay, a few were made for us. Twitter, for example. And we cheered for those. Sort of. More accurately, we laughed at them and at ourselves, because let’s face it, this industry is pretty absurd. And if nothing else, that was the point that was made last night.

Ze Frank was funny — I’ll give him that. But he was also sarcastic and negative, and he had to remind us to clap. Repeatedly. It was obvious that he didn’t know who most of the finalists were, and he found numerous ways to make fun of our geek culture… but the pathetic part was that he was right on. By the lack of applause and enthusiasm in the room, you knew that most of us didn’t know who most of the finalists were, either; we were providing great material for his industry-deprecating comments. A quick two-line mission statement of each finalist would have gotten us involved in the competitive aspect, but instead we were just given names (see my NameDropping 2.0 post… I’ve got lots more to say on this issue).

To top it off, the whole thing felt entirely arbitrary. We heard nothing about the qualifications of the judges (except that they purportedly “have no friends”) or what criteria the winners were chosen on. No one talked about the process, the purpose, or the point.

We’re not Hollywood. We don’t have a cohesive industry that viscerally experiences the breadth of our colleagues creations. We’re not glamourous; we’re geeks. We get excited about what’s been built for us, and we like to talk about how we’re changing the world. Panel discussions inspire us and parties connect us, but hollywoood-style awards just make us look lame.

I appreciate the gesture — we’re banning together as an industry and putting forth our standards for excellence by recognizing our successful members. This goal is important, and I’m not knocking it. But let’s embrace our culture and develop an awards ceremony that works for us. One in which we can be positive and excited — not one in which we realize how amazingly pathetic we look in direct comparison to the Oscars.

SXSWi 2007, Saturday, March 10, 10AM

Panelists: Lisa Stone (BlogHer), Betsy Aoki (Program Mgr, Microsoft), Jessica Hardwick (SwapThing), Jenna Woodul (Liveworld), Jory Des Jardins (BlogHer)

This was my favorite panel so far, and I took copious notes, so I want to share them with you. Lots of insight! These panelists are fabulous smart community-building hotshots… I have so much to learn from them.

Live-jotted notes…

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