Automattic Acquires Gravatar!

In a surprising move, Automattic has acquired Gravatar, which was announced this morning in Gravatar’s new WordPress installation. This breathes life into a quality idea that had floundered due to fast popularity and (I can only assume) poor funding.

For those of you that don’t know what Gravatar is:

A gravatar, or globally recognized avatar, is quite simply an 80×80 pixel avatar image that follows you from weblog to weblog appearing beside your name when you comment on gravatar enabled sites. Avatars help identify your posts on web forums, so why not on weblogs?

I became a fan of Gravatar during my first launch of the SexyComments WordPress Plugin and was saddened at the instability and slowness of the avatar service after a few months of usage. My frustration grew so much that I looked to MyBlogLog as an avatar service despite its lack of features. As of release 1.4 of SexyComments, I had almost entirely wiped my hands of Gravatar.

Until now. Gravatar once again serves up avatars in the comments of this site and am excited at the changes that have already taken place:

  • They have transferred the Rails application and most of the avatar serving to their WordPress.com infrastructure and servers.
  • Avatar serving is now more than three times as fast, and works every time.
  • They have moved the Gravatar blog from Mephisto to WordPress. :D

Additionally, I look forward to the features that Automattic is planning for Gravatar’s future:

  • They’re going to make all of the Premium features free, and refund anyone who bought them in the last 60 days.
  • Move the gravatar serving to a Content Delivery Network so not only will they be fast, it’ll be low latency and not slow down a page load.
  • Take the million or so avatars that exist on WordPress.com and make them available through the Gravatar API, to compliment the 115k already hosted at Gravatar.
  • From Gravatar, integrate them into all WordPress.com templates and bring features like multiple avatars over.
  • From WordPress.com, bring the bigger sizes (128px) over and make that available for any Gravatar. Currently Gravatars are only available up to 80px.
  • Allow Gravatar profile pages with Microformat support for things like XFN rel="me" and hCard.
  • Develop a new API that has cleaner URLs and allows Gravatars to be addressed by things like URL in addition to (or instead of) email addresses.
  • Rewrite the application itself (site.gravatar.com) to fit directly into our WordPress.com grid, for internet-scale performance and reliability.

All in all, this made me pee my pants a little.

Off To WordCamp

I'm going to WordCamp I’m heading off to WordCamp – a WordPress blogging conference – with Zach tomorrow (Friday). This will be my first WordCamp conference as well as my first time flying with JetBlue so I’m pretty excited all the way around. Once in San Francisco, we’ll be hooking up with Casey, a veteran camper who has conveniently scoped out accommodations, transportation, and all that fun stuff.

To top it all off…I hope to be getting a free T-Shirt :)

51% of College Humor Sold for ~$20mil

College Humor
I’m not really a fan of College Humor…don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it, I’m just not an avid viewer. It seems that some people are…in fact, some 6 million unique visitors a month are. The Gawker reports that InterActiveCorp took notice of the sheer number (read: success) of hits going to the beer-drinking-boob-posting-frat-boy blog site and made an offer. The result: College Humor has sold 51% of the site’s ownership to IAC – and if you find it hard believe it, simply check IAC’s list of businesses on its site. This ~$20 million+ move gives IAC a say in the way the lude blog is run…For the site’s success, one can hope the influence would be minimal.

All things considered, the creators of College Humor (who are also the creators of BustedTees…where I got my cool shirt) are doing quite well, as Gawker states:

CollegeHumor founders Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen will continue to oversee the Connected Ventures operations. The Company recently released the book The CollegeHumor Guide to College and is developing a film for Paramount Pictures. Through Connected Ventures they also operate a number of other successful online content and retail brands including BustedTees.com, a retail business aimed at the CollegeHumor.com demographic.

This is definately a blogging success story if I’ve ever seen it.

Flock

Flock Flock is awesome. For now I’ve made the switch from Firefox to Flock’s Beta v0.7. What is Flock? Well, Flock is the expert on themselves so here’s their description:

The web, and the way people engage online, has evolved dramatically over the past decade. We still see a lot of room for the browser to keep pace with everything that’s going on on the web. Providing a fast, safe and simple browsing experience is very important, but at Flock we are also trying to look more broadly at how the web browser can enrich users’ online experience.

For this release, and for at least the next year or so, we are primarily focused on supporting the social dimension of the web, and on bringing information closer to the user. Right now this includes a heavy emphasis on the photo experience (from upload through discovery to notification), RSS support, dramatic improvements to the search box (including a new take on favorites), and blogging.

Casey over at MaisonBisson posted about Flock back in October when the Flock preview first came out (v0.1 or something). I saw Casey’s post and decided to give Flock a whirl. I was mildly impressed and saw that Flock had potential. Its big problems at the time were related to memory leaks and sluggishness. That seems to be resolved and they’ve done wonders to their ‘features.’

Social Bookmarks

Beautiful. Flock lets you use Del.icio.us or Shadows as your bookmarking tool. So anything you bookmark can be accessed from anywhere you go (whether through Flock or at the bookmarking site). Your bookmarks can be tagged right from the browser as well as marked as public or private.

Social Images

Flock integrates with Flickr and Photobucket and a sexy manner. The browser literally becomes an uploading/browsing agent for images. They’ve a nice drag and drop interface with a photo bar that you can place above your tabs. Check it out:

Flock Flickr

Its slick, intuitive and has many Flickr features (I can’t speak for Photobucket as I do not have an account there).

Text & Misc. Images

Another sexy aspect of Flock is the ability to highlight and drag text and images URLs from anywhere and store them for later. Once you’ve placed something in that Text and Image bar you can browse, drag and drop the data into the browser or external applications. In addition to the dragging and dropping of the data, you can simply right-click the data and select the blog option.

Flock Text

Blogging

Flock being a Web 2.0 browser (as its being toted), it cannot forget blogging. You can set your browser up to post to your blog (using a WYSIWYG editor). You can post to blogs hosted by: WordPress, TypePad, Moveable Type, LiveJournal, Drupal, and Blogger. The blogging tool supports any blog that uses Moveable Type, Blogger, MetaWebLog, and Atom APIs. Snazzy tool, but I’m happy with the web-based editing of my blogs for now.

News

There’s a nice news aggregator as part of Flock. Looks decent…but I’ll stick to my own home-grown aggregator.

Searching

If you use the browser search tool, Flock goes a step further and as you type it’ll grab items from your history, favorites, and the top five searches from Yahoo!. Pretty sexy stuff. Be sure to add Blingo to your search list!

Extensions

Because Flock is based off of Firefox, many of the extension run for it! So you can still have the must haves. I definately wouldn’t be using Flock otherwise.

Summary

I like Flock for now. It looks promising, the features are nice and it looks pretty sexy too. Get it at Flock.com.

School Punishes Student For Blogging From Home

School 8 Schools across the country are cracking down on student computer use; blocking social sites and proxy servers. Many schools are perfectly within their right to prevent teenagers from frequenting sites like MySpace, Facebook and Xanga while using school hardware. In all actuality, there is no real need for students to be on such social sites at school when it could impede on studying and perhaps pose a danger to the student (internet predators).

Do schools try to reach to far? This article seems to think so, as there is another school – Plainfield School District in Illinois – attempting to reach into the homes of its students and lay the smack down.

A 17-year-old student who posted on his blog site that he was being bullied and threatened by the Plainfield School District will face an expulsion hearing this week, a local attorney said.

Back in November, Pope John XXIII Regional Highschool decided to stretch their rights a little far and reach into the home of their students, threatening suspension to anyone that failed to delete their accounts on various social networking sites. My post – School Bans Social Websites – discusses this school’s attempt at control and has been met with a huge onslaught of student irritation.

Students are generally unhappy with this type of control – as well as the simple blocking of sites that many schools are doing – and are reacting in the only way they can…with their voice. They comment on my blog expressing their opinions (I’ve had 119 comments on that blog post as of this posting and they are still rolling in), they complain on their social sites, they blog. The 17 in this article blogged the following on May 2 (without mentioning the school the student wrote):

“I feel threatened by you, I cant even have a public Web page with out you bullying me and telling me what has to be removed. Where is this freedom of speech that this government is sworn to uphold? … Did you ever stop to think this will start a community backlash? The kids at Columbine did what the did because they were bullied. … In my opinion you are the real threat here. None of us ever put in our xanga’s that they were going to kill or bring harm to any one. We voiced our opinions. You are the real threat here. you are depriving us of our right to learn. now stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”

What are the school districts thinking? It is the parents job to police student’s internet usage at home, NOT the school’s. It doesn’t matter if the school doesn’t like the sites students visit or if a student says something bad about his school…they may be kids but don’t they get some level of free speech? The article states:

Superintendent John Harper, who cannot comment on student cases, said the district will take action if it believes there is a safety issue. Meanwhile a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said school districts must be careful not to discipline students on matters that occur outside school. The student’s attorney believes Plainfield School District is overstepping its boundaries.

“The district is going to take away the student’s education for exercising his freedom of speech,” said attorney Carl Buck. “I feel like they are trying to control his freedom of speech. … He is saying, ‘You can’t bully people and we have a right to object and you can’t throw people out of school for voicing their opinions.'”

Schools simply need to wake up and smell the coffee. Block social sites at school if its impeding on school work, but don’t threaten and punish the kids for doing things at home. Educate them on the dangers of the internet and educate the families on the need for some policing of internet usage at home. I want schools to teach my kids (when I have them), not parent them.

In closing, here’s a line from the article sums up my opinions:

“It is not a crime to write things on the Internet – though we find them offensive, troubling and disheartening, it is not a crime[.]”

Tags Done Right…the Technorati Way

My pal, Casey, posted an article about tagging. His topic is right, the implementation he is using for Technorati tagging is a bit off as it only accomplishes half of what is needed and may be misleading (luckily his implementation is in alpha testing). He states:

Flickr does tags better than any other, so far as I can tell.

[…]

Take “road trip” as an example. What one tagger thinks is two words might be just “roadtrip” to another. This is where Flickr’s tag indexing does it right: we still have to pick the right words (and spelling), but we don’t have to worry about spaces or punctuation.

So, when I tag a photo “Mt. Moosilauke,” Flickr stores the both text I enter as well as a version in all lower-case, without spaces or punctuation: “mtmoosilauke.” And when you search for “Mt. Moosilauke,” you get the same results as your neighbor searching for “mt moosilauke.”

Casey has modified his excellent WordPress stat tracking/tagging/everything else you could ever want plugin, bsuite, to place Technorati tags at the bottom of posts in that fashion. So, I could enter the following as tags in my post:

<tags>squirrel handed people, bologna, large elephants taste good with cheese</tags>

His plugin would display the tags (and thus, ping Technorati) as:

<tags>squirrelhandedpeople, bologna, largeelephantstastegoodwithcheese</tags>

Neat feature, but there is one issue. Technorati tags don’t work that way. If I wanted to search for WordPress, I would get a whole set of different results than if I had searched for Word press or even “Word Press”. Which is right? Well, the user community drives what is right so…all three. We can make the assumption that many users will enter their search terms in many different ways depending on where/how they learned about tagging.

I quote my tags. One of my friends doesn’t. Casey likes to omit spaces.

Casey is right in that Flickr did it correctly from the start. But when working with Technorati its a whole other ball game. Bsuite, in my opinion, should either leave tagging stories as the user enters them OR when displaying tags and pinging Technorati, all possibilities need to be accounted for. Luckily there are only the 3 main types:

  1. Tags with spaces
  2. Tagswithnospaces
  3. and “Tags in quotes”

I am pleased to say that option 3 – “Tags in quotes” – happily replaces all punctuation with a single space. So I could write the following and it’d all be the same:

“Tags in quotes”
“Tags+in+quotes”
“Tags-in_quotes!”
etc.

The moral of the story: There may be a correct way to implement a base feature…but when you are relying on a separate web service to manage that base feature, you need to adhere to their standards to optimize your results…and in the mean time beg them to change it. Tonight I will be meeting with Casey and hopefully bend his Bsuite Beta tag implementation to my will!

Google Blog Search

I just read about this at my friend Cliff’s blog! It seems Google now provides a Blog Search tool! Yup, a Google search geared towards blog sites. Very groovy. Google states (and yes, I’m ripping off my friend’s story…but who cares :D I reach a different audience.)

Blog Search is Google search technology focused on blogs. Google is a strong believer in the self-publishing phenomenon represented by blogging, and we hope Blog Search will help our users to explore the blogging universe more effectively, and perhaps inspire many to join the revolution themselves. Whether you’re looking for Harry Potter reviews, political commentary, summer salad recipes or anything else, Blog Search enables you to find out what people are saying on any subject of your choice.

Cliff does say:

After tinkering with Google Blog Search for a bit, I have to say that it seems pretty good. It’s never quite clear how Google gathers their info and ranks their sites, although they do seem to lend quite a bit of weight to tags.

I’ve played with it a bit and I definately think its the right plan. Just one more thing to add to Google’s large list of services I use!

Web Expressions – Blog Spotlights

I was reading over all of your blogs today and came accross one that I think has a very interesting topic that warrants some response and comments. Check out “Russo’s Blog” and her post about “School Life.” Read it, comment on it…get a discussion going. Perhaps use that to fuel a post on your blog as well.

If you are into Football and want some sweet info on the recent Pats game, check out these blogs:

The End Zone
mbegalle’s personal blog

As the semester moves on I will spotlight various people. There are a lot of good blog posts out there, but on occasion I’ll just handpick a couple that catch my eye or just to push people to read others’ blogs. (you see, reading blogs is just as important as posting them!) Try to find a couple that interest you and watch them. Post responses in their comment sections. Post responses in your blog that quote them! Lets get some social networking going :D

Web Expressions – More Blog Info

Yup, once again we will be discussing Blogs in class. I will be handing out and article on Weblog (Blog) History and we will be going over some of the points in class.

Here’s a sweet quote from the article:

Media is a corporate possession…You cannot participate in the media. Bringing that into the foreground is the first step. The second step is to define the difference between public and audience. An audience is passive; a public is participatory. We need a definition of media that is public in its orientation.

Something else to note:

The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays. Weblogs could only be created by people who already knew how to make a website. A weblog editor had either taught herself to code HTML for fun, or, after working all day creating commercial websites, spent several off-work hours every day surfing the web and posting to her site. These were web enthusiasts.

Also: :)

By highlighting articles that may easily be passed over by the typical web user too busy to do more than scan corporate news sites, by searching out articles from lesser-known sources, and by providing additional facts, alternative views, and thoughtful commentary, weblog editors participate in the dissemination and interpretation of the news that is fed to us every day. Their sarcasm and fearless commentary reminds us to question the vested interests of our sources of information and the expertise of individual reporters as they file news stories about subjects they may not fully understand.

And:

The blogger, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on his mind, will be confronted with his own thoughts and opinions. Blogging every day, he will become a more confident writer. A community of 100 or 20 or 3 people may spring up around the public record of his thoughts. Being met with friendly voices, he may gain more confidence in his view of the world; he may begin to experiment with longer forms of writing, to play with haiku, or to begin a creative project–one that he would have dismissed as being inconsequential or doubted he could complete only a few months before.

Another article that I would urge you to read (or simply skim) is: Educational Blogging

The quote I like from this is:

“The blogs give us a chance to communicate between us and motivate us to write more. When we publish on our blog, people from the entire world can respond by using the comments link. This way, they can ask questions or simply tell us what they like. We can then know if people like what we write and this indicate[s to] us what to do better. By reading these comments, we can know our weaknesses and our talents. Blogging is an opportunity to exchange our point of view with the rest of the world not just people in our immediate environment.”

And:

Many writers assert that blogs came into their own only after the events of September 11, 2001. As Charles Cooper writes, “If you were scouring the Internet for news and context during those first terrible hours, you could have done a lot worse than eavesdropping on the free-wheeling mini-universe of Web logs chockablock with first-hand info and spirited commentary about what was going on. . . . For my money, some of the best stuff was being served up in this most unlikely venue.”

And also:

Whether you’re a warblogger who works by day as a professional journalist or you’re a teenage high school student worried about your final exams, you do the same thing: you use your blog to link to your friends and rivals and comment on what they’re doing. Blog posts are short, informal, sometimes controversial, and sometimes deeply personal, no matter what topic they approach.

So what are blogs?
I want you to answer this more in depth on your blogs before next class. We’ll be looking them over on Monday. Dig deep. Don’t just tell me “its a place to post stuff on the web.” Put some thought and feeling into your answer. What are blogs? What do you think they mean to you? To other people? How are they changing the media? What kind of impact are they having on everyday life? That kind of thing.

So…assignments for the weekend:

  • Prepare for Monday’s Quiz!
  • Do the blog entry I mentioned above.
  • Start thinking about what you will be posting throughout the week.
  • Next week we will be talking about e-mail, mailing lists, search engines, encryption, online shopping, phishing, netiquette, spyware, cookies, etc. Head on over to http://www.learnthenet.com/english/animate/animate.htm and read bullets 1-9.