Sunday, 29 October 2006

Comments: sorry for the delay!






I know I'm very behind on replying to comments. I normally make a point of trying to do so but for various personal and work reasons I just haven't been able to. I've chosen to spend what time I can spare for this blog in writing new posts rather than responding to comments, and I know the backlog is just increasing.

It's just as well I don't get many comments on this blog, relatively speaking! I do sometimes wish I had more comments to get more of a dialogue going (they're interesting just to read too), but given that at the moment I wouldn't be able to do much in the way of keeping any conversation going myself, it's probably just as well... Others do a great job of keeping things going on certain posts though, like my most popular ever post (on connecting the LG KG800 Chocolate phone to a computer, if you're interested - it even beats my intro to Technorati tags!).

Things should hopefully return to normal come mid/late November or December.

So please do keep the comments coming (especially those which are comments, suggestions and thoughts - I and readers of this blog do want to know what people think). I will get to them eventually, I promise! But as for email requests to me for Blogger help, may I refer you to this post and to the excellent Blogger Forum as well as the Blogger Help Google Group.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 27 October 2006

England: tranquillity maps






What a lovely idea - the BBC reported recently that the Campaign to Protect Rural England has produced detailed national and regional "tranquillity maps" covering all parts of England.

The CPRE explained that the researchers they commissioned to help compile the maps "used a nationwide survey to test what tranquillity means to people and their perceptions of what factors were most likely to add to and to detract from their sense of experiencing tranquillity when they visited the countryside. Secondly, using a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) model, they associated the survey information with a range of national datasets and took account of topography to create a map showing how likely each locality was to make people feel tranquil."

What tranquillity is – the top 10 survey responses

  1. Seeing a natural landscape
  2. Hearing birdsong
  3. Hearing peace and quiet
  4. Seeing natural looking woodland
  5. Seeing the stars at night
  6. Seeing streams
  7. Seeing the sea
  8. Hearing natural sounds
  9. Hearing wildlife
  10. Hearing running water.

What tranquillity is not – the top 10 survey responses

  1. Hearing constant noise from cars, lorries and/or motorbikes
  2. Seeing lots of people
  3. Seeing urban development
  4. Seeing overhead light pollution
  5. Hearing lots of people
  6. Seeing low flying aircraft
  7. Hearing low flying aircraft
  8. Seeing power lines
  9. Seeing towns and cities
  10. Seeing roads.
You can see the maps, check your area's local tranquillity scores and read two reports on the mapping methodology and the campaign to save tranquil places. The CPRE are trying to promote the protection of tranquillity in the face of increasing urbanisation - more power to them, I say.

They're even selling a CD of tranquil sounds (MP3 samples are on their site, with recordings of birdsong, wind, waves etc to help soothe you - though I must say the sound of buzzing bees one is more likely to make me want to run and hide!), recorded with the help of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society.

It would be ironic if the tranquillity maps enabled people to rush to their nearby top tranquillity spots to enjoy the peace and quiet - thus increasing items 1, 2 and 5 of the "what tranquillity is not" list! Let's hope not...

Funny signs







There are more great photos, contributed by visitors to the site, of amusingly incomprehensible, confusing or senseless signs, like the one above, on the "Sign Spotters" page of the Legible London website. This official site "aims to make it easier to walk in and around the capital by developing a coordinated wayfinding system to serve Londoners and visitors alike." (They're running a Legible London exhibition till March 2007 too).

Do upload your own pics of similarly funny London signs if you've got any photos!

Blogger Beta bulk label management:Technorati tags gotcha






As Blogger Buzz announced (and Kirk spotted even before that, see his post with illustrative pics), Blogger Beta now includes bulk label management facilities so you can add or remove labels from several posts in one go.

The Buzz post even suggests you can label all your old posts easily. Sure you can, but I just wanted to sound a word of warning before you rush off and spend ages labelling all your old posts. Yes, I'm repeating myself, but I think the point merits repeating.

It's worth having a think about why you want labels, and how you want to use them. If the purpose is so that a visitor can click on a label to view all posts in your blog which have the same label, great, go ahead and batch label to your heart's content.

But - but - but - if you want your freshly-labelled old posts to show up as tags on blogosphere search engine Technorati's tag pages, then beware. Labelling old posts just ain't enough for that. Posts will only get picked up on Technorati's tag pages (if at all, given the bugs with indexing tags!) if they are in your blog's feed, i.e. are set to show up on the blog's main page - see this post.

Blogger Beta: Adsense step by step howto






I posted previously that you can now include Google Adsense ads on Blogger Beta blogs.

It's pretty straightforward, but Google's Adsense blog has a short basic step by step post on how to add Adsense ads to your Beta blog, with illustrative screenshots, which may be helpful to beginners. (Note that when you get to the Configure Adsense window, the Colors dropdown include Blend Template and Match Template options which are no-brainer choices if you're graphics-challenged like me and can't tinker round forever trying to figure out the perfect colour scheme for your ads!)

Monday, 23 October 2006

Technorati: how to get your posts indexed; www blogs bug fixed






Technorati have finally fixed a bug that was preventing some blogs from getting their posts properly indexed on Technorati.

I've posted before that it's best, if you want to get your posts fully indexed on Technorati, to set your blog to output a FULL feed, and noted that Technorati only picks up tags from posts that are on your main blog page (i.e. are displayed in your feed), not post pages or item pages which are no longer shown on your front page.

It seems from a recent post by Kevin Marks of Technorati that not only should the feed whose URL you provide to Technorati be a full feed, but ideally it should be an Atom feed (which Blogger does output). (See this post on how to set autodiscovery for your Blogger feed so search engines will detect the right URL.) UPDATE: plus, Technorati has problems with Feedburner feeds. Aargh.

Technorati's spider will cross check your feed against your main blog page so that if you only put out a summary feed, it will still get the full text from your front page - but unfortunately, until recently it had trouble with blogs whose URLs started with "www" for the feed but not for the main page (or presumably vice versa) (e.g. see this post). And it wasn't fully indexing posts from those kinds of blogs, as Kevin explained. Fortunately, he says they've now fixed that bug.

However, while new posts from such "dual URL" blogs should be indexed properly, "old" posts which never got indexed before still won't be as Technorati (unlike Google) won't index posts off the main page (the last I heard from them) - unless possibly you try getting all those posts onto your main page temporarily (see this post), but even so it may not work for tags if they suffer an indexing glitch during the attempt to crawl your page (see this post!).

Technorati, tagging and problems: update






As many of us know too well, the major blogosphere engine Technorati unfortunately has continuing problems in relation to displaying all tagged blog pages on their tag pages (the main things that could go wrong are summarised here; if you aren't familiar with Technorati tags see this intro).

Indexing glitches

You may recall I reported previously that:
It seems that sometimes Technorati have index glitches where they've picked up your tags from your post correctly, but then lost them. To compound the problem, their system treats the post as having been indexed before (because it has been - they've just dropped the tags afterwards on their system) - so they won't pick up the lost tags even when you update your blog, not even if the problem post is still on your main page (Technorati only indexes content that's in your feed i.e. on your main page). If you can't get them to find the lost tags or pick them up again before your problem post disappears off your main blog page, you're stuffed - the tags in that post will never ever appear on Technorati's tag pages.

The tag problems still persist - my detailed tutorial post on WidSets did not get picked up by Technorati at all; see the Widsets tag page on Technorati and that post isn't even there (though another related post is).

So it looks as if I've again been the victim of the infamous index glitch.

One possible solution to Technorati tag problems worth trying...

Now one thing puzzles me. Janice Myint of Technorati support told me of one possible fix, at least if the post has been indexed by Technorati but the tags haven't: edit your post body (just a minor edit) and republish the post. It seems that if there was a "brief tag index outage" when your post was being indexed, such that the post was picked up but the tags weren't, that should get their spider to see it as an update and pick up the missing tag. She said:
"Usually, if the post has been indexed before, but no tags picked up, then the tags should be picked up with a post edit."

Unfortunately, that still didn't work in my case "due to an[other?] indexing glitch". I think if I hear the phrase "index glitch" again I shall tear my hair out! Or someone else's...!

Still, if your post is indexed on Technorati (do a search for it, perhaps narrow it to your blog's URL for speed) but the tags aren't, you could try the edit/republish as a possible solution.

Remember though that you MUST do this while that post is still on your blog's main page and thus in your feed (see these notes on why, they need a bit of updating for this Technorati post but are broadly correct) - if it's fallen off the main page, it won't get indexed even as an update.

Editing tags bug - fix soon?

The good news is that Janice told me in relation to the bug where, if you edit your tags after you publish a post, the edited tags don't get picked up by Technorati even when the post is still on your main blog page, that the bug "has still not been fixed yet, but the solution is in progress that we hope to implement very soon".

Thoughts on tagging and KM

I have to say that while I'm a Technorati fan, I feel strongly that they should be focusing their resources efforts 200% on fixing these tag bugs and tag index glitches rather than, e.g., a "daily vlog". To me, tagging is what truly differentiates Technorati from the crowd - once Google's Blog Search introduces tag indexing, particularly if (as as I hope they do) Google manage to combine that with their standard Google index which includes the text of OLD posts, Technorati will really face stiff competition.

I think there is huge potential for the use of tags to spread, particularly in enterprise. Google is doing well selling its search technology to businesses, and I can foresee someone who perfects tag indexing/searching doing the same thing with tag technology, given the increasing need for knowledge management in organisations and the lack so far (in my view) of a simple yet effective system that provides what users need: taxonomies don't seem to be working too well, or at least not if they're too complex and rigid. Tagging I believe may well be the KM answer: and if Technorati don't get their act together on tagging and make use of their relative "first mover" advantage, someone else (like Google or Delicious) will.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Blogger Beta: how to post Google Video






Catching up on comments, Jiao had asked about posting Google Video videos to Blogger Beta.

Well, clicking the "Email - Blog - Post to MySpace" button on the right of the video you want does then offer a "Post to" selection including Blogger:


Jiao could post to Blogger but not Blogger Beta. When I tried it, clicking on the Blogger link gave me an error message (Cannot connect...), whether I tried to login with my Blogger or Beta account - not sure if that's the same problem Jiao encountered:


It could be Blogger or Google Video being temporarily up the spout.

Whatever the cause, I feel the eeasiest solution is to click the Embed HTML link (see the first pic above) to get the code:

Then copy and paste the code into your post (Blogger Beta or anything really) and it should work - see this Blogger Beta example post with video.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Blogger Beta: Adsense added, but...






It's good that the official Blogger Buzz blog reports that Blogger Beta is now Adsense-capable, so you can now add Google ads to your Beta blog if you want to, via your Template, Page Elements tab (click Add a Page Element for the bit of the page you want to add ads to, like the sidebar, and there's a new Adsense item where you can click "Add to Blog"; or for those not using the new layout-enabled templates there's an Adsense subtab under Template). There's a more detailed Blogger help page on Adsense for Beta too.

Then, if you haven't already got an Adsense account, you can create one:



If you do have an existing Adsense account you can just use the "Sign in" link, above. But if you try to sign in, instead of asking for your Adsense email and normal Adsense password, oddly enough they ask for your postcode or last 5 digits of the phone number you registered when you signed up for Adsense originally.

Unfortunately I've not been able to sign in at all, with either - they keep saying, against my email address: "An internal error occurred. Please try again". And when I tried to login to Adsense via a separate window, it said the website was temporarily unavailable. Just couldn't get in (I've blanked out my email address and postcode in the pic below):



I wonder if Google's servers are having trouble with hordes of people on Blogger Beta trying to add ads to their Adsense blogs (even on a Saturday night??! or so it is now here in London). There can't be that many people on Blogger Beta yet, can there? Or maybe Google didn't anticipate the level of demand?

Friday, 13 October 2006

Eggcorns 2: nerve-wrecking






Eggcorns are apt wrong phrases of a particular kind. I found an excellent one on the BBC website the other day in a story about Connie Fisher, the new Maria in Sound of Music - here.

The eggcorn is "nerve-wrecking" (instead of "nerve-wracking"):


I'm going to blame the BBC journalist responsible for the story, rather than Connie! (who I voted for, by the way, and who all along I've considered the clear choice for Maria - she's so professional, too).

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Ping Google Blog Search via Feedburner






I recently posted about Google's introduction of a ping service for their BlogSearch.

If you use the free Feedburner service for your blog feeds (which I do in order to give my readers a choice of full or shorter feeds, whether RSS or Atom), well they've now added some enhancements including the ability to ping Blog Search automatically via Feedburner's PingShot. This means that when your feed updates, Feedburner will automatically notify the chosen ping servers (which now includes Blog Search).

To activate PingShot, login to Feedburner, go to the Publicise tab for the relevant feed, choose PingShot on the left (see Feedburner's screenshot), tick the services to be automatically notified by Feedburner (as many as possible of course!), choose up to 5 extra services via the dropdown (select the name then click the Add button), and click Save (and Activate, if you haven't already):

As you'll see they've now added Blog Search to the dropdown list. I've added it to my own list, which will save me pinging Blog Search separately when I update my blog (yeah, even avoiding one extra click is worth it for me!). But remember you still have to ping Google Sitemaps independently to get your updated content re-indexed by Google's main (non-blog) search service, though they should pick up the changed feed eventually.

(Feedburner's blog post also outlines some other improvements they've made like more new FeedFlares).

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Consumers: protecting yourself online - overview






It's not new news but doesn't seem to have received as much attention as I think it should, so I want to mention the UK communications regulator Ofcom's report "Online protection - A survey of consumer, industry and regulatory mechanisms and systems", which was released back in June 2006.

Why do I think that paper's worth mentioning? Because:
  • it has a nice overview (in section 3) of the internet and its structure and how it works, with enough detail to provide a decent outline but in terms such that an intelligent non-geek can understand the key technical points (an approach I'm always keen on), with a helpful and clear glossary of technical terms to do with the Net (e.g. cookies, firewall, dictionary attack, even Ajax and blog!)
  • from a consumer protection viewpoint, it's a good summary of, as it says on the tin, the main issues relating to users safety, protection and security on the Net, in a broad sense (including the protection of children / minors, not just consumers in a "shopping" sense), and the technical, legal or regulatory and self-regulatory means used by the main players (like ISPs, content producers, Web service providers, aggregators, etc, all the way to the end users i.e. consumers) to enhance security and protect consumers in different states, not just in the UK but in other countries also.
For the intelligent lay person who wants to know more about online dangers and risks, and what could be done to protect themselves, the paper explains and outlines the main issues to do with:
  • personal data protection - collection of personal data and monitoring of online activities by others, identity theft, what are phishing and pharming, spam
  • internet shopping (e-commerce) - online shopping in relation to trading standards (protection if you receive duff goods or services), fraud
  • inappropriate or illegal content like child pornography, racist material, internet gambling, internet advertising
  • attacks on users' computers -by bad hackers, malware (viruses, worms, Trojans) and rogue internet diallers.

What antivirus, anti-spyware, firewall etc?

By the by, for anyone interested my list of essential (free for personal use, generally) protective software would include:
I download updates and run the anti-spyware etc like clockwork at least once every week, and check for and get Windows security updates too at least once a week. I never open email attachments I'm not expecting, not even from people I know, and certainly not if they're supposed to be exe files, screensavers or the like. (I used to run my anti-virus once a day, but decided I could survive with once a week). Touch wood and hope I'm not tempting fate, but I've only ever been caught out twice..


The approach focuses more on law and regulation in different countries than on technical methods of protection, so skip all the references to laws etc if you want to, but I think the general outline of key possible threats to Net users is pretty useful as an overview.

Subharmonics: violin an octave lower!






I heard from a recent(ish) New Scientist that a New York violinist, Mari Kimura, can get notes one octave lower than normal out of a violin's G string using a special technique she discovered (it's easier or better with older, more used strings), in other words she can get cello-like sounds out of a violin. She's called this "subharmonics".

I found Mari Kimura's webpage (new page, old page for historical interest) and had a listen to some MP3 excerpts from pieces she's composed to demonstrate subharmonics, where you can hear those interesting octave-below sounds, e.g. Caprice for Subharmonic 3rd (there are a few more extracts on that webpage), and she's even produced a CD of her subharmonic works. (UPDATED for Mari's note about the URL change, thanks Mari!)

Fascinating.

Restaurants: check their hygiene ratings






Restaurants may not be as clean behind the scenes as one would wish. The BBC and Which have reported plans, co-ordinated by the UK Food Standards Agency, to make restaurant hygiene ratings available online, with a 5 star rating system.

The scheme is provisionally called "Scores on the Doors" and if you live in certain parts of the UK (see the list of participating councils - currently Bath, Birmingham, Bourmemouth, Bristol, Lincoln, Liverpool, Hackney, Southwark, West Bridgford, Dunstable, Cambourne, Grantham and Gainsborough), you can now check the scores of your local restaurants and takeaways on the Web before you eat or buy any food from there. Or indeed check out places you already eat at! The list can only grow.

In a way it may be a relief that my local borough council isn't on the list yet, as I'd feel compelled to search for my favourite takeaways and restaurants, and who knows what I'd find...

It's an excellent initiative though, from a consumer viewpoint, and I might well use it to check out the rating of any new restaurant that I'm going to try out. I'm not sure if the cleanliness rating of a restaurant would count as much as say its Michelin star rating, but if it ranked bottom on the hygiene front that would certainly give me pause, however many Michelin stars it might have.

One oddity - they say that a particular restaurant may not be listed even where its council is participating in the scheme, if e.g. there was a prosecution case pending which meant that the council had decided to withhold the info. Surely, if a restaurant is so bad on the food safety or hygiene front that the local authority are prosecuting them, that's precisely the sort of info a consumer would want to be able to find out from the Scores on the Doors site, and that's precisely when they ought to list the restaurant and prosecution details on the site!

Blogger Beta hacks






Apart from merely noting the introduction of Edit HTML for Blogger Beta, which opened up all sorts of template hacking possibilities, I simply haven't had the time to get to grips with the new Blogger Beta way of doing things.

Come November/December, I hope to... maybe! But I probably don't need to, as fabulous Blogger Beta hacks now abound. I can do no better than to point to John of Freshblog's roundup of Blogger Beta hacks.

The "go to" blogs for Blogger Beta template hacks seem to be:
And of course, though I know he hasn't had much chance lately to get down to the full nitty gritty of it all, my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk's blog Phydeaux3.

I do want to understand how it all works (alas, the perils of having an enquiring mind, and always wanting to know!), but I just don't have the time, yet. One day...

Monday, 9 October 2006

Google security: an easy way Google can help, why don't they?






Google reiterated recently that they take security "very seriously" (ironically, just a couple of days before they reported that someone had exploited a Blogger bug to make a fake post on Google's official blog!).

They've even got a new page dedicated to security now, and will take security-related comments/feedback at security@google.com.

So, I ask, why don't they fix one simple thing to do with Google services that's been bugging me for a while now?

Whenever you login to a Google service, the "Remember me on this computer" box on the log in page is automatically TICKED by default. Just a couple of examples (Reader and Page Creator), you get the drift...:




The only exception seems to be Gmail - I've UNticked that "Remember me on this computer" box when logging into Gmail, and it seems to stay unticked after that (for the account I unticked it for, on every computer I've tried, so it seems to be related to the account rather than to cookies on that computer?). But for all Google services, I feel strongly that the box should not be ticked as standard, whether I choose to save cookies or not (and it won't surprise you that I clear out my cookies every session). Certainly, if you untick it it should stay unticked.

The reason is obvious. If a user forgets to untick that box before logging in, and forgets to logout of the service they were using, the next person who goes to (say) Gmail or other Google site using the same computer can read the previous person's mail, feed subscriptions etc, and even reply as them, with impunity. So much for security and privacy...

In these days of shared computers and the widespread use of public computers in libraries, internet cafes and the like, I personally think that it's irresponsible of any Web service provider to code their login page so that the "Remember me" box is checked in advance.

Changing the default position and UNchecking that box is such an easy and simple thing to do and I firmly believe would immeasurably help improve security and privacy no end. So why don't Google? Pretty please? (Though in general I'm a huge Google fan, as any reader of my blog will know.)

(Another thing that bugs me is how Skype tries to start up automatically with your computer AND login the first user automatically; and even if you try to disable those options, each time you manually start Skype they're ticked by default again, so you have to remember to UNcheck those boxes before logging in or you're stuck with it until you disable it manually. Again, with shared computers and public computers I think it's downright dangerous and stupid to do that, and taking control away from users, which is a big bugbear of mine, is also a usability no no - and in this case surely bad for security as well as PR for Skype, in terms of irritating its users.)

Friday, 6 October 2006

Ping Google Blog Search with one click






Googleblog have announced the introduction of a way for you to ping Google Blog Search (their search service dedicated to the blogosphere), in order to get Google to re-crawl and re-index your blog after you post new content, so that your brand new posts can be found by someone searching on Blog Search. (If you want to be able to ping Google to get their main search service, not just Blog Search, to re-index your updated blog, see this post).

They've provided a comprehensive ping FAQ (plus how to get software to automatically ping Blog Search programatically). Not only that, but if you're curious to see which blogs have pinged Blog Search recently and when they pinged it, Google have made that info public in an XML file http://blogsearch.google.com/changes.xml - I'm not sure how often they update that file, I'm guessing no more often than hourly but probably less often (last time I checked it hadn't been updated for at least 2 hours).

It seems that pinging Blog Search is still no substitute for pinging Google via Google Sitemaps, though - you should do both. (Incidentally, to whoever's doing that Blog Search Ping page, there's a typo in the anchor for the Sitemaps answer. I've just linked to the typo-fied version but clicking on FAQ 8 in the index list won't work as that links to the correct spelling..)

How to ping Google Blog Search with one click

I like shortcuts, so here's how to ping Blog Search manually with one click:
  • ping Blog Search by entering your blog URL (or feed URL) in the new Blog Search ping form and hitting "Submit Blog"
  • the resulting page will just say "Thanks for the ping." Bookmark that page or add it to your favorites (depending on your browser).
  • in future, whenever you do a new post, to ping BlogSearch just click that bookmark/favorite.
Alternatively, to save you clicking on that ping form link above (oooh aren't I kind), enter your blog name and URL in the form below, hit Submit, and again bookmark the resulting webpage, and then you can similarly click that bookmark/favorite to ping Blog Search in future (your feed URL if you're on "old" Blogger will be yourblogurl/atom.xml or rss.xml) -








Observations

There's a couple of things I wonder about in relation to the new pinging ability.

First, is there integration with Blogger? (I do from time to time bang on about joined up thinking within organisations, notably integrating their own products/services so they work seamlessly with each other - hey I don't just pick on Google, Yahoo gets it as well!). Have Google set up their own blogging service Blogger so that it automatically pings Blog Search whenever you publish a new post?

Certainly you can get your blog listed on Blog Search if you publish a feed (and all Blogger blogs should have the feed enabled) and your blog is set up to automatically ping Weblogs.com (again as Blogger blogs should) - or, now, if you use the manual Blog Search ping form (neither that Blogger help entry nor the Blogsearch help entry on that topic has been updated yet to link to that form, as I write).

But it would be great if Blogger have set things up so that it automatically pings Blog Seach as well as Weblogs.com when you update your Blogger blog. I'm hoping they have, but it's not clear. Does anyone know?

I'm also curious that the info on programmatic pinging says that you have to give them the name and URL of your blog and (in some cases only, it seems) your feed URL. Yet if you use their manual form, you only have to enter your blog URL or your feed URL. Why the difference? Will your blog get re-indexed faster or better if your blogging service programmatically pings Blog Search than if you ping them manually? (My form above in fact is based on one of the programmatic methods, so if that's better for any reason then maybe it's better to use that form/bookmark than the manual form?).

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Google Gadgets on your blog or website






Google have just announced that they're letting anyone add Google gadgets to their webpages, including blogs of course. Automatically updated weather forecasts, calendars, webcams, games, utilities/tools, searches etc (and of course Google Videos, yet another way to add them!) - there's a big range of ready-made gadgets for you to choose from.

Just browse or search the available gadgets, pick what you want, and get the code (just one line of Javascript) to paste into your blog template or HTML file. And if you fancy coding your own gadget, you can.

In terms of Google Gadgets, this is exactly the development I'd been waiting for. I think it's worth learning how to create gadgets, now! The possibilities seem endless...

Updated 6 October: well looks like I missed the Google Blog post about gadgets when I posted. This update is both a blatant attempt to get my post on the "Links to this post" list of the Google Blog post, and also to test the pinging of Blog Search which I'm about to blog about.

Inventions: judge em on TV this week






I see Sky One are offering free tickets to anyone who wants to be in the studio audience voting on new inventions on The Big Idea show (presented by Richard Bacon and Di Stewart with Ruth Badger and Lord Karan Bilimoria on the panel), plus "the chance for everyone who attends the show to win £5,000!".

I don't think I can make it myself which is a shame, it sounds like fun, I love seeing gadgets. They're filming on:

Wednesday 4th October @ 5.30pm
Thursday 5th October @ 12.30pm
Thursday 5th October @ 5.30pm
Friday 6th October @ 12.30pm
Friday 6th October @ 5.30pm
Saturday 7th October @ 12.30pm

Venue:
Christ Church Spitalfields Venue, Fournier Street, London E1 6QE
Nearest tubes: Liverpool Street (Central, Hammersmith and City, Circle and Metropolitan lines).

If you want FREE tickets to come along and form part of the audience on one of the biggest tipped shows this year, Please contact THE BIG IDEA TEAM now for availability: - thebigidea@ricochet.co.uk OR CALL: 01273 224818

(via Own-It)

Flurry for email, feeds on mobile phones?






Recently I blogged about WidSets for receiving feeds and Gmail etc on mobile phones (coincidentally WidSets has just been officially launched by Nokia).

There are other similar free services around, like Flurry.

Flurry is simple to set up and lets you not only receive feeds and email on your mobile, but also reply to your email via your cellphone (which you can't yet do with WidSets).

However, I tried Flurry only briefly, then stopped. Why?

Three main reasons.

Stops other POP downloads

First, testing Flurry (which accesses your Gmail via POP) mucked up my ability to access Gmail via POP on the Nokia 7710. The main way I access my Gmail on the move is via my 7710. But when I signed up for Flurry and installed it, my 7710 kept saying that I had no mail at all in my Gmail account even when there was. I tried it with another Gmail account, same thing.

So, somehow Flurry seems to prevent other methods of downloading your Gmail via POP. Or maybe when it downloads your Gmail it keeps resetting the time from which mail will be downloaded (so that only mail after that time will be available), which means that as far as other methods are concerned there's nothing to download. I haven't had time to test that aspect and frankly I don't want to take the time to, because of the other reasons why I don't want to use Flurry.

Privacy and trust

The second reason is privacy. Flurry will of course have full details of the email usernames and passwords of all the email accounts I enter in my Flurry account. Now when I use a WidSets Gmail widget to read my Gmail, I give WidSets my user/password details too. But you do have the ability to store those user/password details just on your phone, not on the WidSets site (though admittedly, on one account I tried, I could only get it to work by entering the info via the site - still, I've put that down to my inability to input via the 7710's keyboard properly!). And Flurry have my cell phone number as well as my email user/password.

The fact is, the WidSets widget still tries to give you that option of added privacy. When I use POP on my Nokia 7710, similarly I store my user/password info only on the 7710. I don't like the idea of Flurry having my email login details on their site, I know they say they encrypt it etc, but I just don't feel comfortable about it. (And Nokia are behind WidSets, whereas I'm not sure about who's behind Flurry. I know a big name doesn't necessarily mean much, look at AOL releasing zillions of user searches that could be traced to the individuals concerned. But still I feel happier with WidSets, personally. That's just me.)

Control

The final reason is control. The WidSets accounts page clearly has an option at the bottom of the page to delete your account. Flurry doesn't even give you the ability to delete your account, as far as I can see. You can't delete your email details either, you must always have one email address in your Flurry account (for which you've given them the password) - you can't e.g. have just one feed URL in your account which you want delivered to your phone, and delete all your email details. So if you want to use Flurry just for feeds, not email, they still demand at least one email login/password set from you. Again, I don't like that. I want to control how much info I give them, I don't like being forced to give them my email password.

So, I've stopped using Flurry (I'd delete my account if I could, but I can't). And, call me paranoid, but I've also changed the passwords for the email accounts I'd given them previously. I'll probably try to change the phone number in my Flurry account to some false one too, if I could, though I don't want my email going to some random person's phone.

Don't get me wrong, I know others use Flurry and are very happy with it. But I won't be using it, myself - I'll stick with my trusty Nokia 7710 and WidSets.

Monday, 2 October 2006

WidSets: Gmail, blog and other feeds on mobile phones






Want people to read your blog on their mobile phones? (cellphones to the Americans). "WidSets", short for "widget sets", is a free service enabling most newer Java cell phones to access RSS newsfeeds via small "widgets" loaded onto the phone (WidSets vs. widgets?). The WidSets service is free, but your network/carrier may charge for data downloads.

I'll cover how to use WidSets (including getting your Gmail via a widget), then how to create and publicise a widget for your own blog's newsfeed so that others can access your blog posts on their cellphones.

Feeds - made for mobile phones!

I've been very taken with WidSets because I think "push" newsfeeds are perfect for cellphones. Many mobiles have web browsers but unless you're on 3G it's painfully slow to "pull" info from the web especially if you're used to broadband. Broadband speeds on mobiles will come, but till then RSS feeds are ideal for delivering info to your phone in the background and updating it automatically, so that the latest info is already there for when you want to check it (e.g. weather, news, travel info) without your having to wait for it to download (if only London Underground could provide real time travel news via feeds... - do lobby them for feeds if you wish!).

WidSets is still in beta (release 0.95, September 2006 as I write), and at present mainly supports RSS reader widgets, but recently there have been widgets for email (including Gmail), and it can now display any images in feeds. Other feeds work too e.g. feeds for Technorati tags. As with standard newsfeed readers, the widgets keep info on the phone current automatically, and - very useful, this - you can even get audio alerts to play when new items appear on particular feeds (effectively push email for Gmail, with a notification sound when you get new mail!). But links in feeds aren't clickable yet, though that issue is addressed by bookmarking which I'll come to later.

I know that increasingly phones come with RSS readers e.g. Sony Ericsson's, or you can download free Java RSS readers for phones, but I like WidSets for its simplicity, tweaking possibilities for both widget creators and users, and the possible potential for other future uses. WidSets wouldn't win "easiest to pronounce name of the year" award, true, but you can't win 'em all...

What phones/networks/websites will WidSets work with?

There's a list of known compatible phones, which will hopefully be added to. The minimum requirements are:
  • Java MIDP 2.0 phone - the site says most phones sold since 2004 should be OK, but beware "low end" ones
  • data plan i.e your mobile network must enable your phone to connect to the Net
but they also point out that "Unfortunately, WidSets does not currently work with Nextel or T-Mobile USA."

It works fine on my Nokia 7710 (which I've reviewed generally before) with Vodafone in London and all phone screenshots in this post are from my 7710. But my LG Chocolate KG800 phone just throws a wobbly when I try to install the Java app, and I've tried several times now with the same result ("The Installer has encountered an unexpected error (Java.lang.OutOfMemoryError)" - anyone got any ideas please?).

[Updated - the FAQ I got this from was wrong and has been fixed] WidSets supports UTF-8 encoding, i.e. it will support sites/blogs using Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek etc.

How the WidSets service works: important point to note

To use WidSets you must sign up at WidSets.com for a free account. You manage your widgets mainly from that site, by logging in via your web browser (though there are some management options on the phone).

You then download the WidSets Java app to your phone. That app is unique to your WidSets account, and indeed to your phone number and the exact model of your phone - they're all linked to your WidSets logon.

So if you download it to your PC and try to transfer it to someone else's phone, they'll get whatever widgets you selected on your WidSets account - they won't get their own. The individual app is tied so closely to your WidSets account settings that when you start WidSets on the phone, you don't even have to logon to WidSets - that app is automatically linked to your WidSets account.

This personalisation really does mean you have to sign up individually for WidSets, you can't e.g. use a friend's account, as the widgets selected via your WidSets account will be loaded into the phone whose number you gave WidSets when you signed up, and the bookmarks shown on the Website (covered below) will be whatever you bookmarked while using WidSets on that particular phone. So it's best for others to get their own accounts and do their own downloads, so they can manage their own widgets.

And if you use your SIM card in another phone and re-download the WidSets app there, everything will switch to tailor itself for the other phone, including its screen size etc. Which can cause problems if you then move the SIM card back to the original phone. You have been warned! So if you have more than one phone, it's best to create a different WidSets account for each phone, for now.

How it works - overview

First you sign up at WidSets.com and install the WidSets Java app on your phone (you'll be sent an SMS text message with the download link, remember your network may charge you for the data download). You'll need to give them your mobile phone number and email address (use something like Spamgourmet if you wish). Check your email and click the verification link they email you before you do anything further, just in case.

They should send to your registered phone number an SMS text with a link to download the WidSets app - the URL will be unique to your account, as I mentioned. Mine arrived instantly. They say they won't charge you for texting you and certainly I haven't been so far, though my bill hasn't arrived yet!

Download, install and launch WidSets in whichever way works for Java apps on your phone. There's a helpful step by step from the WidSets forum of how to do that, with pictorial illustrations (scroll down for the pics).

Open WidSets on your phone (you may be able to save and open in one go).

Pick your individual chosen widgets from the WidSets website library while logged in, and load them into your phone. That's all - in future, just open WidSets on your phone to access your selected newsfeeds (assuming your phone can get a signal, of course!).

Launching WidSets

When you launch WidSets on your phone it'll load the app, then ask to go online ("Allow application to use network and send or receive data?"). OK that, also pick Yes and allow it to connect to the Net if it asks "Do you want to go online now?" and the like. See this WidSets forum post for an illustration of the steps you should see, again with pics.

Let it synchronise and do its stuff. At first you'll only see one widget labelled "WidSets", which is the WidSets "system" widget that everyone gets.
To Nokia 7710 users: the touchscreen does NOT work with WidSets. You have to move around, highlight and select things with the navigation hard key (top left), and also use the hard keys, mainly top right and bottom right, to choose the command shown onscreen next to the key (e.g. Yes, Option, Select). The Menu hard key does nothing but allow you to close WidSets (under Options) or, rather pointlessly in this context, display the onscreen keyboard.
You may be puzzled that the system widget doesn't seem to do much. Once you open it you get a list: New Widgets, Inbox, Traffic monitor and User info. "New widgets" shows the latest widgets published to the WidSets.com public library. You can see more info on each new widget by opening it, and you can select Pick while highlighting or viewing a new widget in order to add it to your phone. The Inbox only shows a short welcome message (though it will show general messages from the WidSets site in future e.g. replies to posts you make in the WidSets forum). I'll cover Traffic monitor below, User info is self-explanatory. There is some duplication - you can access your Inbox and Traffic monitor both on your phone and on the WidSets website when you're logged in.

In fact, as you'll have twigged, you can't actually do anything useful with the installed WidSets app until you load some specific widgets into your phone. So how do you do that?

Picking widgets and the Manager

Getting widgets is a 2-stage process requiring both a browser and your phone - it's straightforward but, unfortunately, to load or change widgets you have login to the WidSets.com site via a browser, you can't do it all from the phone. Who knows, maybe one day that'll come, but for now this is what you have to do:

First, login to WidSets.com via your browser, typically on your computer, though if your phone has a full browser you could try that (I've not managed to get beyond the login screen on my 7710 browser yet, myself).
Warning: with Internet Explorer 6, on my system at least, I kept getting error messages and problems when trying to pick widgets to add to my phone and also when trying to create a new widget. I had no problems with Firefox, so try that if you get problems with IE and clearing your cache doesn't work (if you want to support this blog and haven't got Fox yet, please consider doing so via the sidebar).

Next, go to the Library tab to check out the public widgets - there's a pretty decent collection of widgets available. You can view by category, or use the search box to find blogs, etc - it also searches widget tags (e.g. try searching Improbulus). View fuller descriptions by clicking a widget's pic or title before clicking Pick to select the individual ones you want. You can always delete widgets later so try e.g. the BBC one for now, or my blog feeds: full, excerpts.

When you click to Pick a widget (while you're logged in), it gets added to your "Manager" behind the scenes. Just pick a few widgets, go to your WidSet tab (which really ought to be labelled "Manager" or "My Widgets" or "Dashboard", not "WidSet") and you'll see your selected widgets in a row in what's called the Manager (under the Manager is a "shelf" which doesn't seem to be used now. You can park a widget on the shelf by dragging it down from Manager if you don't want to use it temporarily - that's easier than searching in the Library for it again. Move it to Manager by dragging it back up):


In the top row, the Manager, you can also drag widgets from side to side or up and down to arrange them as you prefer, and even have extra space between them if you prefer. They will be placed in the same arrangement on your mobile's screen. (For small screen phones you'll only have one row available and you can only arrange them side by side.)

To actually load your chosen widgets into your phone, if the WidSets app is not already open on your phone you should launch it and go online, and it'll synchronise with what's in your Manager when it connects. Or if the WidSets app is already open on your phone and connected to your network, to update your phone with newly-added widgets just click the Synchronise button at the left of the browser window (underneath your WidSets username - it says "WidSet Updated" in the pic above but it'll say "Synchronise" if there's anything to be updated).

And then on your phone you'll see your chosen widgets. Mine are shown at the top of this blog post.

From the WidSet tab you can also delete widgets - select one by clicking on it, then click the Trash button. You can also select a widget and set some of its options via the Options button, covered below.

Also notice on the left of the WidSet Manager page a menu of orange buttons: Bookmarks, Inbox, Published widgets, Traffic monitor, Settings, which will be explained later, and the self-explanatory Logout.

Using widgets: basics and bookmarks

To subscribe to a feed on your phone, just pick its widget from the WidSets library. If it's not already there, it's very easy to create one - I'll explain how later. (You can also pick a new widget from your Inbox on the phone.)

Once you've loaded your widgets onto your phone and are online, select a particular widget (on the 7710 a selected item is outlined in red) and open it to see the latest headlines from the relevant site feed e.g. BBC news headlines, weather or latest blog posts - or nothing, if nothing's been updated! A pic feed will display images (e.g. feed for a Flickr tag), an email feed your email - and so on. For a blog, the widget just shows the posts in your feed, which for Blogger blogs and most other blogs will be the posts visible on your main blog page. Here's what feed headlines might look like:


To view a particular item in the list, whether full blog post or full sized pic from a feed pic, again just select and open it:


The item only reflects the underlying feed, so if the feed is of excerpts only, you can't view the full post on your phone, only the excerpt. Plus, links in an item aren't clickable or selectable, even via your phone's built-in browser. So how do you read the full item (if it's headlines or excerpts only), or visit links in an item? The workaround: while an item in the list is open, choose Send, Bookmark to bookmark that item on the bookmarks page of your Web WidSets account.

So next time you login to WidSets.com via your browser, in your Bookmarks page (the link to Bookmarks is on the left) you'll see a list of the last 100 items you bookmarked on your phone; just click one to visit its full webpage. Here's one I prepared earlier...:


You'll notice, when you choose Send while viewing an item, that there's also the option to Email the item's link to a friend (but not send a link to their phone), as well as sending a bookmark to your WidSets account.

Note that you don't even have to open a widget to check if there's anything new, there should be a little indicator icon (white plus sign against a green background) on widget to tell you it's updated (you can also get audio alerts, see below):


In future, if you keep WidSets open on your phone, it should automatically keep the news headlines or blog post titles etc updated, so that when you switch to WidSets you'll be be able to see the latest headlines etc of the sites you've subscribed to (though again remember there may be data costs). Alternatively you could leave it open but go offline via Options, Client, Go offline, and then go online again occasionally to check for updates (Options, Client, Go online and then Yes or OK to the messages asking if it can go online and connect to the Net).
Remember to check the Internet settings on your phone. On my Nokia 7710, in Control Panel, Internet setup in the GPRS tab I've set "Disconnect when idle" to "Never disconnect" and GPRS connection to "When needed", otherwise it times out and loses my connection, which defeats the object of widgets updating in the background. For costs savings reasons of course, I could set "Disconnect when idle" to say 5 minutes. But I'd have to manually go online to check for updates then.

Using widgets: options and settings

While a widget is selected, the Options, Widget menu will let you send the widget's info to a friend's phone number (but not email, oddly):

You can also Reload or Remove a widget while WidSets is online (if a widget's contents are blank you might try reloading it for instance, again bearing in mind data costs).

Many (not all) widgets let you change certain settings, typically (in release 0.95 at least):
  • the URL of the feed received by the widget (e.g. the BBC widget provides a dropdown list of BBC feed URLs to pick up, from the news front page to tech news, etc)
  • whether it displays any pics in the feed including a blog feed ("No" saves data download costs)
  • whether to play an audio alert when a new item is added to the feed, and what sound and volume.
Depending on how a widget was set up, you may be able to access certain settings only on the phone (e.g. audio alerts), only on the Web (Gmail user info on the Gmail 1.1 widget), or maybe via both (the feed URL for some widgets). So check out both phone and WidSets site and see what options are available on which. Some settings are also only available while WidSets is online. Ideally I feel you should be able to access all settings on both phone and Website (except perhaps for user/password info which should be saved just on the mobile), and maybe that will come.

To access widget settings on the Web, login to WidSets, go to the WidSets tab. Click on the widget - whether it's in Manager row or the shelf below it doesn't matter, though unless it's on the top row you won't see the widget on your phone. Then click the Options button to view its settings.

To access settings via the phone, while WidSets is online highlight the widget (while it's closed, i.e. the phone displays available widgets not individual feed items for a widget), choose menu Options, Widget, Settings - or while the widget is open, just Options, Settings. Here's an example - for audio alerts there's a standard selection only (or vibrate), you can't use your own audio files - just navigate to the "No alert" box, select it to see the options available, and pick one e.g. Guiro; check what an alert sounds like with Test alert, top right. Similarly you can choose the alert volume, etc:


Note that you can only see these options if WidSets on your phone is online ie connected to your network. Go online if you need to, first.

General options

You'll notice that when you hit Options on the main WidSets screen there's also a Client option and Exit option (which is self-explanatory). These relate to the WidSets app on your phone generally. The Client options are:


You can Go offline (and later Online again - e.g. to force it to check for new items on all your subscribed feeds), or Mark all read, as you can see (you can also Mark all read when you open a particular widget). Generally if widgets are working don't mess with the Client Settings!

Example: your Gmail via WidSets

So far two main Gmail widgets have been published to allow you to read your Gmail via WidSets: Gmail 1.1, and Email feed.

I much prefer Email feed. It's more secure as you can input your Gmail username and password on the phone's settings accessed via Widget Options as mentioned above (though I have to say I couldn't get it to work until I input it via my Web WidSets account, that's probably me not using the 7710 keyboard properly though!). It shows you the full text of your Gmail whereas Gmail 1.1. only shows you the first few lines of the email. And you can rename the widget in its settings (the Widget name) so that the displayed widget on your phone shows the name of your email account (so you can tell which widget is for whichi account). There are also full instructions on the Email feed page on how to setup your Gmail and settings to receive Gmail via the Email feed widget.


Remember, you can have one widget per Gmail or other email account because you can pick the same widget several times, then customise the individual settings of each duplicate widget separately for each different email account that you have. But unlike a standard email app you can't reply to your Gmail via WidSets, you can only read it. Still, it's great to be able to get an audio alert on your phone whenever new mail arrives in your Gmail inbox! And it's a relief not to have your read email vanish from your Inbox the moment you try to check for new mail or open an unread email, as is the case with the Nokia 7710's built in email software (see the end of this post).

Example: Technorati tag feed via WidSets

Say you want to keep an eye on new blog posts which have been tagged on Technorati with a particular tag (what's tags?). You can use, yes, the Technorati tag widget. The Options for this widget on the WidSets site let you name the widget (the name will be displayed on it - see the pic at the top of this post, the widget at the bottom left with the "Phydeaux3 tag" label?), enter the tag to search for, and also name the feed (on the mobile, you can only change the tag to search for).






WidSets traffic monitor and costs control

Now your mobile phone network most likely will charge you data costs for downloading that info on your phone. Thoughtfully WidSets provides a Traffic monitor to track how much data you're downloading via it. You can view Traffic monitor on either the WidSets site or your mobile (via the WidSet system widget), as you prefer:


You can even set a figure for the total data limit (on the Website only) so that it warns you when you've exceeded your set limit and you can then close WidSets to save costs if you wish, and you can clear and reset that figure (on phone or Website).

Support, problems and troubleshooting

The FAQ and instructions on the WidSet site and forum are superb - comprehensive, clear and beginner-friendly, just the way help pages should be (well done to Antti and the WidSets team!). It's well worth checking them out and hanging out in the forum. (I've only seen one puzzle - there's supposed to be a Refresh option to ensure all widgets on your phone are up to date, but I haven't got one...)

Remember WidSets is still in beta. I've had problems when launching WidSets, where some widgets just won't load (error messages) or load in a weird colour.

If you set a lock code for your phone like the 7710, when it locks I've found WidSets loses the network connection and you'll have to OK the reconnection when you unlock. So if you rely on WidSets then don't set a lock code, or just set it offline and go online manually from time to time to collect updates. But having said that, sometimes it seems to work anyway as I hear alert tones even when it's locked. Odd that.

I've also had times when it seems to connect and says it's online, but nothing happens and feeds I know have changed don't get updated. I'm not sure if it depends on the network etc. If it says "Synchronising" for a short while after you've gone online, then you know it's probably working, and if it doesn't you'll know it probably hasn't!

Sometimes reloading a widget (select it, Options, Widget, Reload) helps, but the reload option isn't visible if it's offline (even when it's supposed to be online).

How to create a widget for your blog

To offer widsets to your readers is straightforward if, as all blogs now do, you have a news feed or RSS feed for your blog.

1. You should first note down your blog newsfeed's URL, which if you're on Blogger is http://yourblogurl.blogspot.com/rss.xml (e.g. mine is http://consumingexperience.blogspot.com/rss.xml), or something else if you use a service like Feedburner (e.g. to offer your readers a choice of full feed, excerpts or headlines only).

2. Log in to WidSets.com via your browser. If Internet Explorer doesn't work, try Firefox. Go to the Studio tab and pick (you have to be logged in to do this) Widget Templates.


There's a choice of, currently, only RSS Readers, with four options depending on how you want them to look on phones in terms of size and shape. I'll pick Landscape, so click on Landscape:


3. Click Next, and under Default setups select a Skin (colour scheme). I'll go for White rather than say blue because the WidSets background on the phone is dark blue and I want it to stand out. So click on White:


4. Click Next and you'll see this:


5. Now fill in the boxes. I've completed it for my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk's blog (remember you don't have to be a blog or site's owner to create a widget for it):
  • Name of widget - e.g. the name of your blog or something more descriptive of the feed you're associating with that widset e.g. "A Consuming Experience: full feed")
  • Show images - should still be set to Yes (if you have pics in your post)
  • RSS Feed URL - the feed URL you noted in step 1 (as mentioned Feedburner URLs work fine)
  • Change icon - you must pick an icon or logo from your hard drive to associate with this widget. It won't work, otherwise. It's a shame, to my mind, but there you go, just make sure you use something public domain or where there are no copyright problems. Even if the image on your computer is too big WidSets.com seems to be able to scale it down to the right size, or at least it does in my case:

6. Now go OK, and the widget will be created and added to your Manager, and you'll be taken to your Manager page. Unfortunately you'll have to scroll to the right to see it as it's added to the very end of your current row of widgets so here's what I get after scrolling to the end and clicking onto the new widget to select it (you'll see that if you hover over a widget its name is shown):


7. I'd recommend loading your new widget into your phone and testing it before you publish it to the world. As mentioned before, just hit Synchronise at the top left of your Manager screen to load your new widget to your phone, check it out, and have a play. You'll find that with the template provided, you can set the alert sound and volume, and whether to display images or not, but nothing else.

8. Now when you're surely it's all working on the phone, you can publish it to the public WidSets Library. (You don't in fact have to publish a widget to use it privately - you only need to take this next step if you want to make it publicly available.) With your newly created widget selected in Manager, click the Options button. You'll see at the bottom right there's a box headed "Publish your creation to library":



9. In that box, ensure New widget is selected and click OK:


10. The publishing options are pretty self-explanatory. I'd click "Protect widget configuration" simply from an abundance of caution. Fill in the short description and long description as you wish (short description seems to get cut off onscreen if it's too long, as a design issue the box for that should similarly cut off the text so you know what the limit is). Pick your country and language and category for the widget e.g. Blogs and forums - sadly you can only pick one category. Under Category there is a Tags box to enter tags, space separated (multiple word tags are NOT allowed). Tags are used for searching in the Library so enter a few appropriate to your blog. Under Terms you have to click "I agree.." before you can publish:


11. Then just click OK and it'll be published to the public library. You'll be taken back to the Options page for that widget, which will now have a Community box with some orange links at the bottom right of the page: Show in widget library takes you to the widget's page in the public library (oddly enough it doesn't show your uploaded icon on that page, only on the search results etc page), and so on (you can even have a forum discussing your new widget):


12. Click Promote this widget and you'll see this something like this:

That's the code to copy and paste into your blog template to provide others with the link to your new widget, so they can subscribe to your blog feed via WidSets on their mobile phone. Check out my sidebar for mine (I've changed the alt text to reflect full or excerpts feed).

Here's the Library pages for my own feeds: full, and excerpts (I didn't think "headlines only" was worth it but if anyone wants it let me know!). I suspect the full feed will be most useful to people wanting to read blogs on the move on their phones.

To edit your published widgets, in the WidSet tab (Manager page) just click Published widgets on the left and you'll see a list of your published widgets, click the Edit button to change its public settings. (If you haven't published a widget (or have!) you can still edit its settings in the Manager, just select it and click the Options button).

One usability issue for bloggers and publishers is that it's not easy to find the Promote widget button to get the promotion code from your Published widgets page or even the Edit page for a widget. You have to search for the widget in the public library, and then from its public page find the Promote widget box. I also think WidSets should allow publishers to create widgets without having to have a WidSets account, but maybe it's a policy decision...

You can also hack your own widget - there's a developer's kit but again you can only download it if you've got a WidSets account , and if you can fiddle with XML and images it seems pretty straightforward.

You can also "skin" your widset, see this guide. I haven't bothered to do mine although if I had the time and skill I'd like to make my widset look like my usual logo in full (as with the BBC widset) instead of it appearing in a tiny icon in the middle of a bigger icon. I'd also like to offer a dropdown in the Options, as with the BBC widget, for readers to choose full feed, excerpts only or headlines only in a single widget. Maybe in a few weeks...

Conclusions

As you can see, I really like WidSets. There's still room for improvement, of course, in terms of both functionality and usability, but it's early days yet. I hope they'll make it easy to deliver other Web info to phones on a "push" basis in future, not just newfeeds.

I'm not sure yet how they're going to make money from it - maybe establish themselves as the RSS reader of choice for mobiles and make deals with manufacturers to preload phones with WidSets (like Opera have done with web browsers for phones)? Ads on the login and other WidSets website pages? Deliver ads with feeds to users (who'd then have to pay the data costs of downloading ads, but they might be willing to for an otherwise free service, if the ads aren't too image heavy?) Charge users a monthly subscription? We shall see... But it's certainly a very useful service. I've come across a few would-be competitors, but WidSets seem to be the most user-friendly, professional and responsive to user feedback, and has the most number of widgets available (though there'd be more if they allowed non-account holders to create widgets).

Enjoy using WidSets. I'd be interested to know what people think of it, and to see how WidSets develops. I'm hoping they'll add the capability of replying to your Gmail via widgets soon.

Updated 4 October 2006: WidSets was officially launched yesterday by Nokia. Even though that's not mentioned on the WidSets site itself, I had thought Nokia was behind WidSets as that seemed to be the suggestion in the Nokia developer newsletter through which I first heard about WidSets (an edition which as I write still isn't on the Nokia newsletter page - smack, naughty Nokia for not immediately updating your Web archive of newsletters, it's nearly 6 months out of date at the moment!).