Update from the FriendFeed crime fiction room

As well as the blogs that already feed into the FriendFeed crime & mystery fiction room, here are some links that have recently (yesterdayish) been featured:
Early review of The Likeness by Tara French (first novel: In the Woods).
Stieg again! More on that girl with that tattoo.
An odd prize decision.
Olen Steinhauer is the guest blogger next week.
via Dave Lull
Anyone is welcome to join the FriendFeed crime & mystery fiction room for regular updates from a selection of blogs; breaking news on the topic from everywhere else; and a very easy user interface for conversation about the highlighted articles. Once you've joined, you can import your own blog (and other online services such as Flickr, Twitter, etc), as well as post your own links and messages when you want to share and discuss ideas and articles. It is a pleasant conversation space.

Great presentations and meetings

Via Jen Dodd, one of those top ten lists that actually seems interesting is Best Presentations Ever , with links to the videos, on KnowHR blog. Highlights include Martin Luther's I Have a Dream speech, Steve Jobs introducing the Macintosh in 1984, Malcolm Gladwell, Larry Lessig and Seth Goldin. KnowHR's readers responded; their top 10 presentations list is here. They include J F Kennedy in Berlin, Al Gore on global warming, Steve Jobs again, in 1997 this time, and someone called Ze Frank on what makes a website popular (2004 vintage). Quite a gamut.

In a complete coincidence, Nature has just started an Essay series covering "six scientific meetings that had such a great impact, they can be said to have changed the world. Each piece is written by an expert who attended the conference in question. The authors recall what it was like to live through these momentous occasions, and reflect upon the events' broad and lasting legacies." The first Essay (Nature 455, 174–175; 11 September 2008), published to coincide with this week's attempt to circulate a beam through the world's most powerful particle accelerator, is "Paris 1951: The birth of CERN", in which François de Rose, who chaired the meeting that founded Europe's premier facility for experimental nuclear and particle research, relives the five days of drama that changed the world of physics.

Why I like some social networks

From a publishing industry information service:

"Many people of a certain age (ahem) enjoy playing around with Facebook – but come away unsatisfied. Not everyone they know is in the network, and not everyone they know in the network relies on it to any large extent for communications with friends. Their college-age and 20-something children and nieces and nephews don't have that problem, because participation is almost universal. For that younger generation, Facebook is a one-stop shop for communicating and keeping up with all their friends, because everyone's in the network."

I agree. Everyone who is at school or college seems to be on Facebook; they use it to coordinate their entire social lives (as well as do various recreational, jokey things from what I can hear). It is cheaper than organising events or staying in touch by mobile phone when you don't have any disposable income. It isn't particularly my cup of tea, though I do have an account there, export my blog posts to my profile, and enjoy it when I connect up with a friend or colleague. (But I really don't "get" all these fans and pokes, and what do the groups actually "do"?)

Social networks for people older than teens or 20s are more challenging because most of us are in the "e-mail generation". (Richard Akerman has made this point also.) In the main, we aren't used to hanging out in a communal internet space. Even those of us who have had blogs for a while are somewhat hung up on traffic, comments etc to our blogs. A social network is a dedicated conversation space for exchange and discussion of ideas in a more open-ended, participatory way than a conversation on a particular blog.

I very much enjoy two social networks (as you may have noticed), Nature Network and FriendFeed. The former is a social network for scientists and for the hangers-on of science (like me). There are blogs, forums and lots of interesting and/or funny conversations, often with a scientific theme, but often not. It is free and anyone can join. Similarly, Friend Feed (a Google application) is free. It allows you to share anything onto your page or into a "room" there: a link, a message, an rss feed, your blog posts, your Flickr photos, Twitter, Tumblr, Delicious, and goodness knows what else. What's more, you can comment and converse on these links with your friends (you are allowed longer comments than Twitter, thankfully). You can easily set up a "room" for people who share similar interests. The people and rooms I have found there so far are mainly scientist-types, but I have set up a crime&mystery fiction room (please join!) and found a rather quiet book group room (please join!). Friend Feed is an easy place to exchange ideas and comments in a quiet, non-"shouty" environment, simple and clean. I hope to see you there sometime. My account is here. 

If you haven't tried FriendFeed before, you can sign up and then connect with people, who can in turn connect with you. You can join "rooms" (groups) according to your interests. There are tabs along the top of your home page so you can choose to view your own page, a page with all your friends' links and conversations, or your "rooms". Worth a look. 

Correction via Richard Akerman: "FriendFeed is from former Google engineers, but I don't think it's owned by Google". Thanks, Richard.

Being technically nice to commenters

If you are a blogger, no doubt you've read plenty of those helpful articles on building online communities, how to attract comments to your blog, how to manage comment discussions, etc. The aspect I'd like to highlight here is very simple: make it technically easy for people to comment (if you want them to comment).

I've been blogging for some years, and because I like reading certain blog posts and because I like it when people comment here, I make an effort to comment on a post on someone else's blog if I have enjoyed reading a post. I know that other bloggers are like me and like people to comment on their blogs. So I think it is worth bloggers paying a bit of thought to their readers and making it easy for them to comment. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Do you really want people to have to log in to your blog in order to comment? If you don't have a good reason for this, don't do it. It is just one more barrier between the commenter and the comment they want to leave and it will have no effect on spam. (Sometimes people will not comment on a blog that requires a login as they don't want to provide personal data, whatever the disclaimer.)

  • You don't need to have log in AND a spam catcher. Anyone who can get through the log in is not a machine. If they are one of those "paid spammers" they will get through the captcha (or other spam catcher) anyway and plug their product.

  • Have a search box on your blog, high up enough for readers to find it without having to scroll down too much. Sometimes readers want to refer to one of your earlier posts on the same topic when they comment, and the best (sometimes only) way to find that post is via a search unique to your blog (not via the dreaded Technorati). There are lots of free Google search widgets out there (eg via Google itself or Widgetbox).

  • Check your settings in your blog dashboard so that it is easy for people to comment. Some blog platforms have defaults, eg only people with Google accounts can comment, anonymous comments are not allowed, only registered users can comment, etc. Check that these settings are as you want them, don't just leave settings at manufacturer's defaults.

  • Do a usability test every now and again: access your blog from a different computer from the one you usually use, and leave a test comment. Similarly, if you find it frustrating to comment on someone else's blog for a technical reason, or you think there may be a technical fault, the blogger will probably very much appreciate it if you drop them a line to tell them. People have done this favour for me before and I have been very grateful.

    Nowadays, a lot of people are reading blogs in RSS readers, rather than at the blog itself, and click through to the blog only if they want to comment on a post. Services like the excellent Friend Feed are simple to use and have really, really great user interfaces that provide no barrier to comments and conversation among your group. It is much easier, technically, to read a blog post in an RSS reader, "share" it to Friend Feed and comment there, than to go to the blog and wade through the various thorns and thistles in order to comment on the post itself. I will always make an effort to comment at the blog if I read a post that interests me, because I know the blogger is likely to prefer that than a discussion of their post at Friend Feed or elsewhere, but the growth of these lovely-to-use "conversation platforms" is something that bloggers need to bear in mind!

    There are some blogs on which I will not even attempt to comment, because I've had to provide a username and password, which the system doesn't remember from my previous visit and nor do I, also provide name/address details, and then go through spam filters. By which time I have forgotten what I was going to say, or it has stopped mattering. There are therefore strong incentives for bloggers to make their blogs as comment-friendly as is consistent with being spam free.

  • Don’t diss the Internet

    Susan Hill has not written a post for more than a month. Yesterday she wrote on her blog:

    "I was internet free, pretty much, for 5 weeks and as a consequence I am going internet-free for good. E-mails, yes, writing this blog, yes, using the scholarly sites for my dissertation, yes. Banking, yes. Otherwise, I`m abandoning the internet for good. Well so far as the eye can see. I have missed nothing.  Not one thing.  And I have wasted sooo much less time."

    But how do you know you haven't missed anything if you weren't looking? And how do you know that what you were doing while you weren't looking at the Internet was less "time wasting" than doing something on the Internet?

    Putting those points to one side, Susan Hill's definition of being "Internet free" made me smile. What she has decided is that she will practice good time-management by using the Internet for doing things that are useful to her (banking, blogging, etc) and not for things that she does not find useful. She is not "abandoning the Internet for good" (her phrase) any more than somebody can say she is "a little bit pregnant". Once you've experienced the sheer usefulness, let alone the heady joys, of the Internet, I think it would be pretty near impossible to go truly cold turkey.

    Worth of creative online work

    “Where does this idea come from that any creative work available online should be free?” This question is asked by librarian Meredith Farkas (who has been called Queen of the Wikis) in a post with the title Value in the online world. When people say or write that they do not want to pay a writer for PDF downloads of their work on the grounds that it isn’t a printed book, what do they consider to be the value of the work — the paper, the ink, the weight? She writes: “A book’s value comes from the creative work of the writer, and that should have value no matter what format it’s in.”

    She goes on to consider other online activities that have value. Academics and others argue that blog posts they write and their other online activities should be considered in tenure decisions, along with the formal journal article. Online conferences are another example: they require effort, organisation and money to put together just as is the case for physical conferences. Yet people do not value them in the same way: they don’t carve out their time for it as they would a physical conference (spending time on simultaneous other tasks) and they are more likely not to “turn up”. The article as a whole is thoughtful and sensible, as usual with this author; even if you are not a librarian, the piece has relevance for the thinking about the value of the online world, both our own activities on (in?) it and the way in which we think about other people’s creative efforts online.

    (Meredith links to an article by Walt Crawford on the worth of creative work, which I also enjoyed reading, discovering a few familiar names in the process.)

    Web of fate, a collective prediction network

    Via Deepak (FriendFeed), I’ve learnt about an amazing “social experiment”, Collective prediction network,  to visualize and uncover hidden relationships among future and historical events. Users are invited to leave predictions of future events, while an encompassing network-like visualizations allows the identification of patterns “by connecting the past, present and  future”.

    The beautiful and dynamic image of the network can be seen here (Web of fate). Predictions range from “I will go to the gym every day” to “oil at $200” to “Oprah will be Democratic VP”. There is an interactive calendar at the site, so you can see what was being predicted when.

    Service is now resumed

    The very nice Melanie from Typepad tells me that "starry night blue" theme has some technical problems, so has advised me to switch themes, which I have done (to "starry night purple", her choice). And Petrona is back!
    More posts later.

    Service notice

    If this blog looks very strange to you just now, please bear with it. In my browser, Petrona seems to have lost all her formatting. I've opened a help ticket with Type Pad so I trust normal service will be resumed shortly.

    Shakespeare in open digital form

    Via an industry press release, I discover that a group of "foundations, government, post-secondary institutions, and libraries is breaking ground in the presentation of Shakespeare for the masses. As open digital content, William Shakespeare's 32 pre-1641 quartos will soon be available for scholars, students and the general public." This project is apparently possible in principle because Shakespeare did not give permission for his works to be printed, so the quartos being digitized in this project are originally "foul" copies: working drafts written down from people's memories after performances and published as "paperbacks".
    The UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) is coordinating the Shakespeare initiative, with partners including the University of Maryland, which will provide the technology and platform for people to conduct research, including analysis and comparisons, of the quartos. Another partner is the Shakespeare Institute, whose teachers, students and scholars will provide feedback and guidance on the prototype. Also involved are the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, Oxford University, and high-school teachers in the Washington, DC area.
    Publishers do not appear to be part of this initiative, so it will be interesting to see what role they take, if any.