Search, neutrality and the like

In my perpetual state of catching up, here are some interesting (to me) items on webby topics.

On Content Matters, Barry Graubert has given the recently announced Google Spreadsheet a test run, so if you want to see how it compares with Excel, have a look. Barry has also looked at WikiCalc, a similar application. I’m supposed to be having a look at it via a colleague, Declan Butler, but have not had a minute all week. I like the idea of being able to share information (which is why I am sort of looking forward to Writely, the document "group edit" service that keeps being promised. Only sort of, though!). However, Declan and Barry both say that Google Spreadsheet isn’t a business replacement for Excel — apparently GS doesn’t let you analyse the data in the columns very much.

I don’t know if anyone has tried out a visualisation tool for their blog — I’ve seen a few of them about. The idea is that you get a map, in some attractive visual form, of your blog and all the other blogs that you link to or that link to you. I’ve had a try of a couple of applications and haven’t been able to get them to work. But if you are interested, have a look at Barry’s post comparing a couple of these "maps" explaining why they are useful (or not), with examples so you can see whether you want to go for a tree-like picture or a cluster of balloons (or neither if you’re like me and can’t get them to work).

John Battelle, guru of search, has a wry post about Google not returning searches for Amazon (Amazon recently switched from Google as its search engine). I’ve had similar experiences with MSN when trying to find Google (when first setting up my laptop). I’ve heard the same about Yahoo. None of these giants like to refer to each other — can’t imagine why. China syndrome is not limited to China, clearly. (Content Matters has a post about Sphere, a service that is claimed to "add relevancy to search".)

A very serious issue is Net Neutrality, the bill affecting which is actually making some headway in Congress. Melanie on John Battelle’s blog gives an update as to what’s (not) happening in the Senate(actually now about a week old owing to my tardiness) . And the greatest Internet guru of them all, inventor of the Web, Tim Berners Lee, posts on his own blog about why Net Neutrality is important for innovation, and why the Web should be preserved for the people. Go for it, Tim, you’re a hero and I hope they listen to you.

Liz (M. E.) Strauss at Successful Blog is keeping track of the Net Neutrality issue — but here she asks bloggers this question: "what is the single biggest roadblock that stands between you and the successful blog that you want?" Quite a few answers (and answers to answers) in the comments, as well as links to some related articles. Incidentally, for those on Blogspot (Blogger/Google) who want to customise their templates, Liz posts a link to where you can get free templates. Not tried by me though, so this isn’t a recommendation, just information.

When waxing lyrical about the transforming power of blogging, which I do at the drop of a hat, I always say that blogging goes hand-in-hand with rss. Nobody ever knows what rss is. You don’t have to know in order to use Bloglines or other readers, but it is a stumbling block to explaining blogging to the uninitiated as it is an extra, apparently complicated step. Steve Rubel on Micropersuasion has posted on 35 ways you can use rss today, with links to each. Maybe I’ll try that next time I’m on the stump.

Steve Rubel writes from a marketing perspective, and his blog is the or one of the most popular blogs tracked by Technorati. Here are two interesting thought-pieces by him: Borders are now harder to define, covering social networking, blogs v journalism, and PR v advertising; and Media-mass=journalism 2.0, essentially Steve’s reaction to a Washington Post article about the sweeping changes currently happening in journalism.

Incidentally, getting back to "successful" bloggers, Steve discusses a U. Mass study claiming to identify the traits of said bloggers. Here’s the bottom line: 1. Blogs Take Time and Commitment; 2. Blogs Must Be Part of A Plan; 3. A Blog is a Conversation ; 4. Transparency, Authenticity, and Focus are good. Bland is Bad. Seem reasonable points to me, if you want to have a blog that people come to read.


Scene: A dark room in the British Library. Books, ancient manuscripts, line the walls from pit to arched vaults high above. Oak tables are spaced around the floor. At one, sits a man with a beard, clutching his head in his hands. He looks up.

FRANK (for it is he): "What ho, omnipresent Wisconsin librarian!"

Another man with a beard is approaching.

DAVE (yes, "that" Dave): "What news from the Inquirer, Oh Editor?" (sits down)

FRANK: Well, funny you should mention that, we have just failed the Rupert Murdoch intellectual content test.

DAVE: You mean the same Rupert Murdoch who’s just bought your newspaper? Surely some mistake, ed?

FRANK: No, old friend, no mistake — we have scored 19.8 on the polysyllabic word to picture quotient, whereas the Murdoch standard is 8.2. And, to add injury to insult, the book review section is going to be replaced by a weekly cartoon strip because we can’t review enough books to fill the vacuum. Even that Petrona has let me down, she can’t read the books quickly enough to review them…..She’s locked herself away in a nunnery to try to catch up.

DAVE: And, indeed, what is going to happen to the libraries in all this MySpace Webspace? Tim Coates’s latest figures show that books are being sold off too quickly to scan them in for Web 2.0 —they will all disappear for ever. The vortex is approaching. We need help…… 

FRANK: My goodness, I thought you meant virtually, Dave, not literally…

….his voice is drowned out by loud sounds of crashing, singing and the wail of a banshee stage left. Enter a motley crew of people, CRIMEFIC READER carrying a tray of six goblets of strawberry flavour Angel Delight, MINX with purple hair and a large flagon of gin poking out of a voluminous handbag, SKINT with a cauldron of steaming cawl, PUNDY in kilt and bagpipes, MARIE wearing a long black cloak that is moving and heaving suspiciously in numerous places, DEBI with red hair and tunic streaming behind her, and SUSAN with a large yellow umbrella.

PUNDY: Is this it? Is this the Macmillan building? I’m going to force those bastards to read that book if it’s the last thing I do ….

CRIMEFIC: No, dear, we are just stopping here for a refill before making the final assault, remember? This is the building next door, so it’s a good place to plan our strategy.


SKINT: Marmite on toast anyone? Tastes great dipped into the cawl.

SUSAN: I think I’d prefer the Angel Delight, it’s — oh hello, kind sirs, are these seats taken?


MINX: Oooh lovely, just what I need to recover after that drive..

SKINT: You recover? I think we all need a few slices of nice toasted Hovis to calm down a bit after that 100 mph race you just treated us to, Minx..How am I going to recover my lost pembrokeshire news with your driving?

CRIMEFIC: Don’t forget the Angel Delight…

FRANK: Dear friends, welcome as you all are to join our humble repast, my learned friend and I would appreciate a little silence while we struggle with a looming catastrophe of immense proportions.

SUSAN: Oh you poor dears. Whatever is the matter?

DAVE: We need to rescue the Philly Inquirer’s book review section, and indeed the world’s libraries, from falling into the vortex of a Murdoch-induced MySpace evisceration.

FRANK: Yes, by my troth, we need a strategy to fill the gaping mouth of the ravening beast that is MySpace.

PUNDY: You should get deep and dirty down among the comments. That’s where the real sludge and slime are…

MARIE (hissing): Yesss indeed, the depths of the darkness….(teeth flash)

Loud clinking sound as MINX pours drinks for everyone

MINX: Never mind all that, let’s have a party… come on, Skint, un pas de deux sur la table, immediatement…

MINX and SKINT are on the table leaping about while PUNDY plays the bagpipes. FRANK and DAVE look bewildered. MARIE and DEBI seize large glasses of gin, a few little BATS falling out from under MARIE’S cloak while she is concentrating on not having her drink knocked over by MINX’s stilettos…CRIMEFIC clutches her Angel Delights, which are wobbling dangerously..

SUSAN: Look this just won’t do. We need to take some urgent action. Now what I always do when my template goes squiffy is to….. call in the DEBLOG!!!

ta da da music…

SUSAN opens and closes the umbrella a few times in quick succession. A piercing shriek emerges, closely followed by a blinding flash and smoke. When it clears, two women are standing there, with a young girl. The women are DEBRA and SIAN, the girl is REBECCA.

DEBRA: Well, this is a fine state of affairs, especially as I am very busy today with my puzzles and my BAFAB work….what is going on?

SIAN: Yes indeed, I am being distracted here by minor characters, I am in conversation with my Ichabot….and reprogramming my MacBook….what can be done to sort out this chaos?

REBECCA: And I need to do my homework, how can I with all this racket and with all these rather bizarre role models all over the place?

EVERYONE ELSE: We need to fill the void of MySpace! We need to save the Philly Inq! And the world’s libraries. What can we do?

DEBRA, SIAN and REBECCA, in unison: Well obviously, you lot all have your books with you, don’t you? Try them. Marie — you can help…

A flock of bats come flying out from under MARIE’s cloak. SUSAN rushes round pulling manuscripts out of PUNDY’s sporran, SKINT’s cauldron, MINX’s handbag, MARIE’s coffin-shaped suitcase, and she and DEBI hurl them at the black cloud whirling round the table. More and more books fly through the air, carried by the bats, to be sucked up by the darkness. More and more manuscript pages emerge — suddenly, a bang, the cloud is gone, MINX stands still on the table — her bag is ringing. She extracts a phone:

MINX: Hello? Oh, hello MD, what is it? (pause) Oh, oh really? That’s wonderful news…

At the same time, PUNDY’s sporran, SKINT’s cauldron and other sundry places start ringing. All answer phones and start shrieking..Frank shouts above the fray across to DAVE…

FRANK: Great news! The Philly and the world’s libraries are saved! Murdoch and Tim Coates have formed a new multinational conglomerate called THE NAVY OF PETRONAS and are going to publish Pundy’s, Minx’s, Skint’s, Marie’s and Debi’s complete works in their first business plan. And a few others of our blogging friends while they are about it. Susan is going to run the publishing arm of the company to keep all these loose types on the rails. You and I can go back to our intellectual pursuits leaving everything in Susan’s capable hands. The world’s libraries will stock 10 million copies each, and the Philly Inq. will serialise the lot. We are saved!

DAVE: Great news, old friend. But I tell you what, it is jolly rowdy in here. Any suggestions?

FRANK: Yes indeed, let us repair to a coffee house down the road where we will find some peace and quiet….and maybe a few books to read. You three look like welcome companions….

They depart, with SIAN, DEBRA and REBECCA, talking animatedly about the distraction of minor characters, leaving scenes of wild abandon behind them, over which I shall draw a veil.

(If you didn’t like the above, it is all Skint’s fault, with a dash of Pundy and no doubt egged on by that Minx. It was written while hiding round the corner during England v Portugal, currently in extra time.)

Polygon 1 July

Polygon puzzle
Using the given letters no more than once, make as many words as possible of three or more letters, always including the central letter. Capitalised words, plurals, conjugated verbs (past tense etc), adverbs ending in LY, comparatives and superlatives are disallowed.
How you rate: 15 words, average; 20, good; 25, very good; 30, excellent.
Source: The Times
Answers in the comments