Some thoughts on mobile viewing

Ben posts about some developments on this front:

Om Malik and Michael Arrington are pondering Dave Winer’s move towards mobile-enabling the blogosphere. Specifically, his product OPML Editor will allow users to view content they’ve subscribed to on their mobile phone. This is definitely a useful feature; I certainly spend a fair amount of time viewing my Gmail on my phone (in lieu of a Blackberry or similar device), and the ability to subscribe to content and take it with you is brilliant. Similarly, Winer’s Yomoblog.com service for posting to weblogs by phone looks like it could be great.

Take a look at Dave's portable river ('published by my desktop computer, every night at 1am' — OPML Editor support page).

As Om Malik says, 'there are a lot of tools out there' that enable (or attempt to enable) our mobile lives. On a list of things I've played with and found useful, I'd include Litefeeds and Delicious Mona. On the blogging front, TypePad has just announced TypePad Mobile for posting to your TypePad blog from a mobile device (though there's this route, too). And Gmail on the phone (link) is something I also use a lot.

Ben goes on to recommend Opera Mini, 'an excellent browser that goes through Opera’s proxy server which automatically provides content-squeezing functionality'. I agree: it's very good.

Google has its own functionality for mobile search and reading websites, of course, which currently comes, *I think*, in these forms:

  • Google Mobile Web Search (access your phone's mobile web browser, type http://www.google.com in the URL field, type your search query and select Mobile Web); for UK users, www.google.co.uk is another option.   
  • www.google.com/wml (see here: 'offers Web Search and Mobile search. Mobile search restricts your search to the mobile index which contains sites that are specifically written to fit your mobile screen').   
  • Google's own mobile proxy (where you enter any URL and get a stripped-down version of the page — with the option of having images or not).

I can't speak for the following, not having made much use of them yet, but here they are:

  • Google personalised homepage for your mobile: set it up on your PC — US link here, UK here.   
  • Google Local XHTML — US here, UK here.

And there's the Gmail-for-mobiles that I mentioned above.

Google seems to advertise (ha) its specifically mobile services very little and I may have missed some obvious ones or have got some of the above wrong (it's a bit of a rabbit warren to investigate). Please add/amend accordingly.

Concerning mobile access of websites, I take to heart Chris Heathcote's view that 'well-written sites win' (link — ppt: slide 27). We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed.  As The Man said, web pages ought to be designed to be read across platforms, across browsers and across devices: 

The Web is designed as a universal space. … The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or network used to access it, of the perceived quality or appropriateness of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and physical capabilities of those who access it. Hardware and network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth of the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely by the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great strength. … For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for such device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, many Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good on a very wide range of screen sizes. Tim Berners-Lee

That's from a document Sir Tim wrote about the .mobi TLD proposal. He concluded: 'Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or different classes of user, or different classes of information, breaks the Web in a fundamental way'. The road ahead in teaching, with staff and pupils using their own mobile devices and their own desktops/docking stations, depends upon the web keeping this integrity:

The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined by the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI. The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links, bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People look up URIs in all sorts of conditions. It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some information and then look up that URI in an entirely different context. ibid.

It's quite clear that teachers will need to be on top of the developing options for mobile viewing (and understand the arguments about web integrity). Is there a site (wiki) which collates and maintains links like these, preferably along with comments and reviews about user experience? If not, we ought to get together and create one.


Update (31 August). For the sake of something like Google-completeness, I should perhaps add here:

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TypePad, oh TypePad

Just back from a quick round trip to Liverpool. I knew something was wrong with TypePad early yesterday, but I didn't expect it to be an all day problem. If you were wondering where this week's posts had got to, well they're back now, having been caught up in a serious problem at the TypePad data centre:

During routine maintenance of our network and storage systems last night, we experienced an issue with our primary disk system where data from published blogs are stored. We are currently running diagnostics on the device, and working to restore your data as soon as possible. Verifying data can be a slow process and will take time.

In the meantime we are currently deploying backup copies of your weblogs from approximately 2 days ago. This is what will be displayed for your blog. The TypePad application is currently unavailable, which means that users will not be able to log in, and visitors to weblogs will not be able to post comments. We are working to bring TypePad back online as soon as possible. Michael Sippey

Most recently, customers of TypePad have had a message that 'The TypePad application is back up, and users can now log in. We've begun the process of republishing user's blogs. As we noted in our last post, if your blog is out of date and needs to be republished, you can do that yourself inside TypePad by visiting the Design tab for your weblog, and clicking the "Republish Weblog" button.' I've gone ahead and republished but, given the number of pages to this blog, publishing and republishing has never been a straightforward process (something TypePad was looking into for me, anyway), so if there are any oddities that you come across please let me know.

More importantly, what are we to make of TypePad's problems and outages, this last one being the most serious? Like Dave Taylor, I have a lot of time for Six Apart, but he goes on: 'I'm a businessman and I've also run startups and managed the hiring of executives post-funding, and I just don't get what's going on at Six Apart and why they're still experiencing the effect of a badly managed infrastructure'.

Dave Taylor points to Jeremy Pepper's take. Yes, this will create much bad publicity and SA will have to weather it. But the really interesting issue is the one that Om Malik raised a while back and raises again now (also pointed to by Dave): scale and scalability.

TypePad has been growing so rapidly that it is finding the hard way that scale & scalability matter. Are they the only ones? Not really. Over past few days Bloglines, Feedster and Wordpress.com have been behaving like a temperamental three-year-old with a flu. (GrabPref is a great site to keep tabs on the performance of these services.) Why even Photo Matt was off line.

The comments to Om Malik's posting are well worth reading. Jeff Nolan: 'the weak link in web 2.0 is in fact the hosting providers'. For Web 2.0 (or whatever) to win the confidence of all users it has to be reliably on.

Update: Steve Rubel has an excellent piece on yesterday, TypePad and history — the history being the 6 August, 1999 eBay outage. And Anil reminds us (as if we needed it!) of how emotional we can get about the social software we use. Like James in the comments to Anil's post, I rate the SA support team. The problems of scale and scalability are not peculiar to TypePad (above) and I'd put money on SA getting this licked. (And I like this from Seth Godin: 'This is the fastest idea-to-tool cycle in the history of the planet. Glitches are part of the deal'.)

Three things I'd like to see

'And another thing' — taxi-driver mode.

  • A thorough reform of 'categories' in TypePad. Adding tags to a posting à la Technorati method is not effortless and categories themselves are too broad to be very useful as tags. People have been commenting on all this ever since Technorati implemented their new service back in January (Dave Sifry: 'Technorati now supports Tag Search across leading Social software sites'): eg, Suw Charman ('Until we have a way to automatically tag or create tag suggestions that can be approved or disapproved by the user, we are going to have to rely on people bothering to tag their posts') and Mathibus.com:

There’s one thing that really bugs me about all this: a tag is much more precise than a category. There is no denying that. Take this richly tagged photo of the Star Wars cast, for example. It has a lot of tags, I’m not even counting them. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with applying that many tags to a photo. In fact, I can imagine people wanting to search for C3P0 on Flickr.

Now, imagine that photo was a blog post you made. Would you create all those new categories, just to apply them to this one post, so it could be spidered by Technorati? I think not!

We need automated, user-friendly tagging processes within TypePad and then the facility to search and exploit these tags. Just compare and contrast where Flickr is now with tags!  A major blogging service, a social software service, needs, by definition, to be affording its users rich opportunities to share, discover and explore, and tags currently have a key role to play here.

In announcing new features at Flickr last week, the most important thing (I think) that Stewart Butterfield had to say was: 'Both interestingness and clustering rely a lot on what people are doing, whether it's with the photos they like, or the tags they are using. You can think about it as people-powered searching' (Yahoo! Search Blog, my italics). Blogging services as we currently know them are very top-down. This may now come to be seen as a curious thing: I wonder how long before a tipping point is reached and people want more freedom to mash and mix and access their and other's data beyond the constraints currently set for them by their service-providers. (Jeff Weiner's got it right: FUSE — find, use, share, expand.)

  • Comments. Another area where blogging software needs to be re-thought. We read each other's stuff, we like certain things, but we're too busy to post a reply/comment — or we don't have anything worth adding beyond, 'I was here, I enjoyed this, thank you'. Jyri made this point (and more) here, providing a mock up of a possible UI here. Something along the lines of gestures is needed to supplement what we already have in comments.
  • Conferences/events. Both at Reboot and Open Tech, I realised only afterwards, reading on the web, that people had been present with whom I've exchanged ideas in emails, or via comments, or whose blogs are, in any case, important to me. Frustrating, as well as bizarre, then, to know you'd been in the same space as them but had had no way of recognising them beyond a name tag — or even, in some cases, of knowing they were even there! I see Thomas posted about just this a little while ago, focusing on the central problem of aggregating identities across digital communities: 'The gap between digital and physical must close'.

(Not the same thing, of course, but this might also be a useful place to remind myself, at least, about those software initiatives being made that are intended to help us discover people nearby who are interested in what we're interested in: Six Sense, Nokia's Sensor … Such programs could be a monumental distraction, but, then again, I think of those times when I've had serendipitous conversations with interesting people at plays, galleries, films. Ways in which I might enable these to happen a little more often would be good.)

    del.icio.us/TypePad: bookmark this

    Six Apart weblog:

    The del.icio.us team has just started a TypePad-powered blog talking about the popular service. One of the first tips, posted by Joshua Schachter, are some simple but powerful instructions for adding a "bookmark this" link to your post footers. This works on TypePad's advanced templates (available in the Pro level only) or in Movable Type.

    Implemented here.

    Online life and education

    It's been well over a year since I and my colleague, Ian, started dabbling with TypePad. We've learned a lot and made many connections — face to face and online — and learned, too, to join "small" bits together (TypePad, Basecamp, Flickr, del.icio.us, 43 Things, Backpack, Ta-da, Audioscrobbler/Last FM …). It's been a stimulating and creative time.

    The online magazine that is again waking up, Sed contra, is soon to be relaunched with its own Flickr and music feed, and with podcasting. I was very interested to see that Musselburgh Grammar School has already got to the podcasting stage. Indeed, its work in the blogging sphere (its geoBlog is a collaboration with a school in Silesia) has won it an award as Scotland's Best School Website for March 2005, and it has been nominated for a New Statesman New Media Award for education and innovation (news via Blogger Me, where Alistair Shrimpton, UK Business Development Manager for Six Apart, reports that via their weblog MGS 'received over 1400 letters and emails exchanged between pupils in 20 schools in seven countries with four languages'). Earlier this month, the TES had a very brief article on podcasting and schools, and I've just come across Adam Burt's mobile learning blog, m-learning.

    Reboot 7.0 lies ahead for Ian and me, and thereafter plans for further developments at Radley (online calendaring, student-camphone feeds, video blogging, internet-radio/podcasting, state-sector/private-sector collaboration — the last is a major project). It's a good time to be involved in the internet and web-based applications, and teachers have lots to learn and exploit.

    No "nofollow"

    Now, this is provocative and flies some kites which will come crashing to earth, but I can't not link to it given the identifiable importance of the issues at stake. For my "considered" thoughts, you can always go to Foolippic and read my comments there.


    We want you to not follow nofollow and support us. We give you some very good reasons against nofollow and show you, that there are a lot of people out there, thinking like we do.

    12 Reasons against nofollow

    1. nofollow does not prevent comment spam
    2. nofollow is semantically incorrect
    3. nofollow harms the connections between web sites
    4. nofollow is not useful for humans, just for search engines using PageRank or a similar technique
    5. nofollow could be used to shut web sites out
    6. nofollow discriminates legitimate users as spammers
    7. nofollow heists commentators' earned attention
    8. nofollow will not stop comment spam
    9. nofollow could be used to further discriminate weblogs
    10. nofollow prevents the Web from being a web
    11. nofollow eliminates the dissemination of free speech
    12. nofollow was developed in privacy with only search engine companies taking part in the discussion

    And this from John Hoke:

    I have been running Expression Engine for about 3 months now, and I must say that I can count the spam I receive on one hand opposed to when I used MT where I would average 200 per day. What is the difference? My traffic is the same, I am getting more real comments, and I am using captchas so that it is quite difficult for automated bots to spam me. Is it a perfect solution? No, but it is much better than this nofollow snowjob.

    "nofollow": Google's got it right

    TDavid had two good posts about rel="nofollow": No Google juice for nofollow... and Treating all commenters like spammers is a slippery slope. Now I see that Matt Cutts at Google has replied to these posts (and an e-mail), and tells TDavid:

    I couldn't agree with you more. I've been asking folks to move in that direction (untrusted people get nofollow, but anyone who is trusted or authenticated via something like a captcha gets full credit for their links). I think LiveJournal has already implemented this philosophy, and I'd expect many other software makers to do something like this.

    TDavid comments:

    I continue to feel that making this an option in the blog hosted and blog software arena (wake up Typepad, MSN Spaces) is an important move. Down with the bad guys, yes, but let's be sure not to punish the good guys in the process. It is nice to know that Google feels the same way.

    I asked TypePad's help service if there is any way I can turn "nofollow" off for commenters and TrackBack-ers I want to trust and so let their links get full search-engine credit. TypePad told me:

    There is currently no way to turn it off. At this point, it's automatic on all links. We decided to get it up and running as quickly as possible to short-circuit the ne'erdowells. I will pass the idea along of possibly making a Safe List, where this attribute isn't used, to our Development Team. Thank you for letting us know it's something you'd like to see.

    Characteristically helpful and prompt response from TypePad's helpline — and I hope TypePad users get the option as to whether or not to apply "nofollow" very soon.

    Is this a conversation?

    I'm not sure why there's so much consternation about the rel="nofollow" attribute, both in the comments on this blog and around the blogosphere. It's intuitively obvious to me that this is a good thing. Why? Because the choice of which URLs on this site that I think are worth linking to and worth indexing are now back under my control. That's a good thing. … I think in general if web results are going to be ranked on links among other factors, then they should be more "intentional." If this has the effect of pushing people back to their own blogs and out of my comments, I think that's great. And if it has the effect of wacking my page rank as well as others, so be it. I'd rather have a more purposefully ranked system, then watch it being gamed as it is now. Russell Beattie

    Except if you're on TypePad it's not apparently possible for you to turn on indexing. Over at Anil's, Lou comments, 'I expect blog software companies to provide a way to manage comments to remove the nofollow attribute from a given poster's comments', and Adam says, 'I think I'd feel at least a little bit better about the no-follow tag if the blogger authors and typepad folks (Hi Anil!) made it *easy* for the blog owners to confer page rank upon comments on an individual basis, or at least automatically conferred page rank on authenticated comments'.

    I'd always thought it a given that the power of the net lay in great part in our ability to build up a subtle web of cross-referencing and links — the kind of thing one does in talking and writing every day. Now, the clamp is down and conversation will be more difficult. I can't believe that most of us came into this in order to be driven back to our blogs and splendid isolation. Whatever this does for spam, it's certainly got me thinking that the web is heading towards greater separateness, a position reinforced when I read (thanks, Ian!) that 'in the not too distant future, more people will subscribe to topic/tag/remix feeds than feeds of actual people' (Read/Write Web). Well, I'd rather seek out the conversations, thank you, and leave the computer puttering away in the background, dribbling a modest number of topic/tag feeds whose purpose will be severely subordinated to the primary thing that matters to me in my life, the relationships I have with other people.

    A while back, I came across a great remark about the invention of the margin. We must all have enjoyed those graffiti-like scribblings that lit up our hours spent studying in libraries. Comments are not entirely dissimilar to margins, sharing something of the margin's capacity for opening up new lines of thought and suggesting new avenues for investigation. I want a world where we can connect to each other through comments/margins, linking (sometimes, yes) to our own posts if we think we have something worth adding to the debate and it's silly to try to repeat ourselves all over again in what should be the smaller space of a note, comment or jotting. I can't improve on how John Battelle has put this (see my previous post), and I believe he's right, the effect of the rel="nofollow" initiative will be to 'discourage active and intelligent dialog on a post'. In fact, I think this has already started — for psychological reasons: I am not so pushy or impressed by myself as to want to flog you my blog by ceaselessly (and meaninglessly) linking to it, but when I read some of the disparaging comments flying around now about bloggers who ever dare to link to their own postings in comments then I feel great reluctance to go down that road at all. And yet, this (linking) is what we do all the time in conversation ("Yeah, I had just that conversation the other day with X — she said … and I said …"), in academic life, in our work places … We're sociable and social animals and we need to retain the ability to function fully like this in comments on each other's sites. I'm entirely happy for the owner of the site to exercise control (we do, don't we? I excise comment spam the moment it appears and ban the source from further commenting), but if we take the route proposed then talking to the web will come to feel even more like talking to a wall than it does for most of us already.

    (How ironic to be in this position when those of us who joined the game relatively recently thought we were following good practice in developing the art of commenting — as advocated by, inter alia and for example, Robert Scoble and Brian Bailey.)

    I am also bothered that my own blogging company, as celebrated on Anil's blog, seems more impressed by its technical skills and performance than it has been concerned with consulting its customer base:

    I'm also incredibly impressed with our Six Apart team. We didn't just announce, we shipped, on multiple platforms in multiple countries, in an incredibly short period of time. That's just awesome to watch, because I think our strength as a blogging company is in having the resources to pull that off, while our strength in not being one of the behemoths like the search companies is that we can be nimble enough to just ship. Kick ass.

    Great to feel triumph (justified, too!) that you've handled the technical, executive and managerial issues so well, but what did your customers want? Did you ask them? And are you listening now? Six Apart's/TypePad's strength as a blogging company cannot be said to reside in having the resources to pull this off.

    Comment spam and "nofollow"

    "re Google’s rel="nofollow"  initiative, I am pleased to see that voices critical and/or doubtful are making themselves heard. With due acknowledgment of the anti-social nature of irresponsible self-promotion by linking to your own blog in comments, I share the anxieties of other small (and not so small) bloggers and left some thoughts on Anil Dash's post yesterday, The Social Impacts of Software Choices.

    Will the "cure" be worse than the disease? Ben Hammersley thinks so: 'forcing comment spammers to cast a wider net will cause them to target the long tail of people who have no idea what to do'. There's also the issue of whether or not companies are right to have imposed this initiative on their customers, about which TDavid makes good points. Various writers have raised the problem that webmasters now have an easy way to 'abuse the tag and control the PageRank of their pages' (eg, Slowplay).

    I was pleased to read John Battelle yesterday, questioning the rel="nofollow" development in a fair, calm and open-minded way. I would have hoped to have had more discussion within the blogosphere before this move had been forced on so many of us. John Battelle wrote:

    … what bothers me is that there may well be an ecology that evolves based on the link mojo in comments which we can't imagine, but that would be important and wonderful, and that will not develop if every comment has a tag telling search engines to ignore it. Like it or not, search engines are now processors of our collective reality, and fiddling with that requires some contemplation.

    In an update to this same posting, John Battelle adds (leading off from observations about Anil Dash's post and the discussion-in-comments it attracted):

    No Follow will discourage people from doing what I'll call "fully web-expressed writing" on other people's blogs - where they write in that rather post-modern way of linking as they write, which is what we all do in this bloggy world we live in. A deft web writer is like a spider pulling strands to support his or her central thesis - it's an emerging form of communication, and from what I can tell, it's going to be very important long term to our culture.

    If as a commentator on someone's blog, you know that you're spending ten, twenty, or more minutes crafting a response, and that response - because it lives in someone's comments field - will be ignored by the conferrers of future societal attention (ie - search indexes) - then I can imagine many folks will simply avoid writing thoughtful responses in comments altogether. Instead, they'll post on their own site. It seems that one of the things No Follow will do - subtly or not - is discourage active and intelligent dialog on a post. That is not, to my mind, a good thing.

    Ben Hammersley concluded:

    … as respecting rel="nofollow" will involve loosing an enormous amount of implicit metadata, any tools that are interested in that will be forced to ignore it. Technorati will have to choose if it’s a site that measures raw interconnectivity, or some curious High School metric of look-at-that-person-but-don’t-pay-her-any-attention that the selective use of the rel="nofollow" attribute will produce. For many purposes, this would mean the results are totally debased and close to useless.

    And TrackBacks? Like John Battelle, I've been led to believe that they are affected by rel="nofollow". Is this true?

    A raft of TypePad developments

    We’re pleased to announce that we’ve added two new features to TypePad: Rich text editing, aka “WYSIWYG” (What You See is What You Get); and an Integrated spell checker. One of our most important goals with TypePad is to make it easy and fun for you to add new content to your weblog. While some folks might enjoy writing "raw" HTML, we’ve been using rich text editing around the office for the last few weeks, and have found that it’s easier to write, review and edit posts before publishing them to our weblogs. Everything TypePad!

    There's more — details at the link above: rich text in QuickPost, enhanced TypePad File Manager … Loïc Le Meur adds: 'you can even drag and drop pictures from a browser into a post, resize them, without having to see any code or saving the picture to your hard drive'.