(Originally published at Ryze as part of a discussion about why have multiple blogs.)
First, I should note that I’ve always pronounced ‘blog’ as one syllable, and I’ve never heard it pronounce ‘B-log’. That is in part, I believe, because ‘blog’ is a shortening of ‘weblog’.
I currently have quite a few different blogs. Some of them, such as the ones I have on Blogger, LiveJournal and Xanga, I have primarily to test their software and the be able to authenticate into their systems.
Yesterday, I spent a couple hours surfing through BlogExplosioin and I hit an interesting wall.
You have visted all the active sites in rotation.
The rotation is set up so that you can only visit a site once per 24 hours. Please come back later to visit more pages.
This got my thinking. I have earned about 700 credits from surfing sites around 1400, and another 300 mystery credits. In return I’ve had about 1000 visits to my site. I still have a few credits left for people to come to my site, but when those credits are up, my site won’t be in the active rotation. Based on this, there are more credits being used up than are being created, so eventually, unless they make some changes, BlogExplosion will implode with no more sites available.
To a certain extent, I am already seeing this. The number of hits from BlogExplosion have been decreasing steadily over the past few days. Based on this decline, I expect that I’ll be getting traffic from BlogExplosion for about a week more, and then it will dry up altogether.
I am wondering what other people have observed.
Plink “has shut down. For now.”
Why? Julian Bond writes at Ecademy, “The interesting thing here is that there are approximately 15 Million structured data files out there on the web in XML of which FOAF is just one type. And the search engines currently do nothing with it. And when a programmer does try to do something, they get abuse from people who don't realize they didn't have any privacy anyway.”
Dom Ramsey writes at rdfweb-dev, “It was fun to do, but I'm now getting way too many complaints from people who have appeared without permission in other people's FOAF files and have found themselves via Google.
Trying to explain FOAF to these people generally doesn't work, and more often than not, they're too irate to care. So the easiest thing for me to do is just take the site down.“
I wrote about this on a CivicSpace developers mailing list, commenting that, “I suspect it may have something to do with the Dean campaign”
Data about Dean volunteers from Dean Commons was available via FOAF and much of it got imported into PLINK. I know that many people accused the Dean campaign of selling its mailing list and were angry and/or confused about the data getting out onto the internet as a whole. I spent a lot of time trying to explain this to people, as did several other people who understood the issue.
As an aside, the standard for the SHA1 hashsum in FOAF is to use the URI of the mailbox, so, as an example, my hashsum is ffe69246682d35f080b865433d08d274d9b19657 which is the sha1 hash of mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org However, in the Dean Commons, they left out the protocol section and assigned a hashsum of email@example.com Because of that, PLINK and the other FOAF crawlers never linked up my FOAF information from the Dean campaign with FOAF information from other sources.
As noted before, there is FOAF information about me at Ecademy, Tribe.net, and LiveJournal. Christian Crumlish points out that PeopleAggregrator and TypePad are also publishing FOAF information. Boris Mann observed that for tools being developed for CivicSpace, “James' FOAF module is opt-in -- the user goes to their account and allows export of the FOAF file. The lesson is to be very careful about privacy issues, and to give the user control.”
I suspect this may be the tip of the iceberg as more and more people discover the power of FOAF and want to take advantage of it, and at the same time want to protect their privacy.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been setting up a lot of websites for people based on Drupal. Drupal is an open source content management system written in PHP. The first Drupal based site I ever interacted with was Ecademy. While it is based on Drupal, it is highly customized, based on an early version of Drupal, and my interaction with the site was almost exclusively as a user.
In 2003, I became involved with a group of people working on DeanSpace. The idea of DeanSpace was to provide a powerful platform for volunteers to create great, interlinked, websites promoting Howard Dean’s campaign for President. When the campaign was over, DeanSpace evolved into CivicSpace. DeanSpace and CivicSpace is based on Drupal.
When it comes to computer systems, I’ve always talked about my ‘displaced complexity theory of computer systems’. Computer systems don’t become less complex. The complexity merely gets shifted around. If you are lucky, it gets shifted to places where it is less annoying to end users, but that means that someone else ends up picking up the complexity.
Within Drupal, many people feel that one of the more complex areas is the ‘theme’ system. End users should never have to think about themes. Site administrators need to know enough about themes to be able configure the site to look as close as possible to their goal, and the real complexity needs to be passed off to programmers and theme developers.
As Drupal evolves, and especially as projects like DeanSpace and CivicSpace add a lot to what is being done with Drupal, the theme system changes. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good easy to understand explanation of themes and how site administrators can get as good a site as possible without having to have special programming or theme development done. This article is intended to remedy, at least in part, this lack. It will, perhaps, over simply aspects of themes, but hopefully it will enable site administrators to have better sites. I will use Drupal vocabulary where I find it useful, but I will avoid it when it doesn’t help with the understanding of the concepts.
At the simplest level, a Drupal site is made up of a collection of entries stored in a database and displayed different ways, depending on the users needs. They are displayed on pages that have a common layout. This layout can be thought of as five key sections, the header, the footer, the right hand column, the left hand column and the body. A site administrator decides what each of these sections looks like, or even if they are displayed, by selecting and configuring themes.
A site administrator can go to Administer, Configuration, Themes to administer the themes of the site. On this page, the different themes that have been installed may be selected. One needs to be selected as the default theme, and some themes may have additional configuration options. It is possible to allow users to select a specific theme for their own use, but generally, this is a level of complication that many sites don’t need.
The configuration of a theme can be as simple as selecting an image to use as a banner in the header, selecting a CSS file to describe aspects of the page, selecting specialized links, or displaying header and footer information. These days, templates, and the ability to modify them online are being added to allow an even greater flexibility.
The other key area of configuring a Drupal website is in selecting the content that will be displayed in the right hand and left hand columns. These columns are made of sections called ‘blocks’. You can select, arrange, and even add new blocks by going to Administer, Configuration, Blocks.
There are many predefined blocks available, depending on how your system is configured. You can chose whether the block goes in the left hand column or right hand column, and the order is it displayed in. Like themes, many blocks have additional configuration options. However, the configuration options for the blocks are normally found as part of the configuration options of the module that creates the block. You can get to these by going to Administer, Configuration, Modules. Also, as you turn on different modules, new blocks may become available to add in the right and left hand columns.
By focusing on the Themes, the blocks, and where necessary, the underlying modules, there is a great amount of flexibility that will meet the needs of many site administrators.
Any additional feedback or questions about how to get Drupal to look the way you want is appreciated.
Over the past several months, I have been running a website, http://localpols.fordean.net which lists various progressive candidates. As the list has grown, I’ve been looking for ways to improve the navigation of the site. I set up a simple clickable map so you could click on a state to find specific candidates. I have expanded this to be able to click on the district level, for example, http://localpols.fordean.net/CTStateSenate
I wrote about my initial attempts at this here. As I mentioned then, people had suggested that I check out Mapserver. In theory, it is supposed to work with IIS. However, when I tried using it with IIS on my server, no matter what I did, I kept getting, “CGI Error
The specified CGI application misbehaved by not returning a complete set of HTTP headers. The headers it did return are:”