Sunday, 27 July 2008

Asus Eee PC 900: better battery for UK users - how to get one






If you bought an Asus Eee PC900 in the UK, you might have noticed that the battery life isn't too great. The Eee PC900 mini-notebook computer shipped to UK users with only a measly 4400mAh battery (and therefore poor battery life - I get about 2 hours out of mine) while buyers in the USA and HongKong got a bigger 5800mAh battery, so not surprisingly there was an outcry from customers, and Asus finally agreed to do a battery swap which to their credit is at least an attempt at customer service (see e.g. Wikipedia, and Mobile Computer's report).

Well, the battery life can now be improved in two ways:
  1. Upgrade the BIOS to 0601 (make sure the Eee is connected to the Net e.g. via a wireless network, make sure it's plugged into the mains, go to the Settings tab, Add/Remove Software, Settings tab, against BIOS Updates click Open, find the version 0601 which says "Updated all battery discharge tables to extend battery life" and click its Install button, it'll need to restart to do the update. Don't touch it while it's updating - and using it on the mains will ensure it doesn't switch off in the middle of the update which could kill your Eee).

  2. Get the higher capacity battery, which is now available. To get your hands on one:
    • buy a high capacity battery from an Asus reseller for under £30 plus postage, as a spare, or
    • return your original battery to Asus for a swap, which will cost you £10 for the battery plus the postage costs of sending your existing battery to them (or you could buy a spare and swap your original!).

1. Extra battery

Spare batteries at the £30 price point are currently quite hard to come by (most places were selling them at twice that price).

I managed to get one from Ebuyer at £28.65 plus shipping costs (delivery charges vary depending on the timing, from £2.58 for 5-day delivery to £7.23 for next day or Saturday delivery). So it's black, my Eee is white, never mind, I'll have a multi-coloured UMPC!

They might run out soon but at the moment there are still a few black Eee 5800 mAh batteries at Ebuyer. There are other UK Asus resellers but I don't know what their stock position is.

2. Battery swap

The process is a bit involved. To save you time hanging on the phone with Asus support (I spent at least 20 minutes on hold), here's what you can do (at the moment, anyway, unless Asus go and change the procedures again!):
  1. Go to the Asus EeePC 900 battery swap web page.
  2. Fill in your details and submit the form (you'll need the serial number of your EeePC900 from the bottom of the computer, see the screenshot above).
  3. Wait for them to send you an email with RMA number (return number) for your Eee, with packing instructions and address details for their agent A-novo; it may take you a few days before you get the email (chase them if you've not heard after a week), and I'd send it recorded delivery myself. If you need to call Asus to chase or check stuff, rather than donating still more of your hard-earned dosh to them by your being kept on hold for ages on an 0870 number, you can try their landline 01442 202700 (press 2 to get their support line) which unlike 0870 numbers are at least included in your inclusive minutes, if you call from a mobile phone and have that kind of package.
  4. After they get your battery A-novo will send you the replacement bigger battery; at the moment they'll meet the costs of delivering it to you but you'll be charged £10 for the replacement; again, it may take them some days or a week or two to do it.
If you haven't got an Asus Eee PC900, don't get one: get the PC901 instead, or just wait for the model after that, or get something else altogether - there's an exciting spate of mini-notebooks coming out this summer, both Windows and Linux. I know that in the tech world new models come out all the time that are better and cheaper, but normally it takes a year or so - and I'm extremely fed up that I got my PC900 just a couple of months ago, and yet the PC901 is now out - which is meant to be much better, with a 7 hour battery life. And at the same price or less than I paid for the PC900, too. Yes, this sort of thing is to be expected, but for it to happen in a space of just 2 months is ridiculous. I'm repeating myself, I know...

Sadly, I very much doubt that Asus will do for PC900 buyers what Apple did for those who bought the first generation iPhone, and refund buyers a proportion of what they paid because they dropped the price significantly just 2 months after it went on sale (yes, 2 months - same kind of time period as with the PC 901, what a coincidence).

I do like the Eee a lot, but the combination of the battery saga and the PC901 coming out "too soon" after the PC900 means that, as a consumer, I'm now not very inclined to trust Asus as a reliable manufacturer to buy from (because of what they've cost me in terms of my time as well as my wallet). As value (in all its senses) for money is important to me, it's not very likely that the next laptop or ultra-mobile PC I get will be an Asus. Not unless they let me swap the PC900 for a PC901!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Linux on your Windows desktop or laptop - Dell move; and refund for unused Windows?






It's an interesting indication of the growing popularity of the open source Linux operating system that Dell are now offering Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) pre-installed on several of their systems to consumers in the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, United Kingdom and many Latin American countries (like Mexico and Colombia) - initially on the XPS M1330N and Inspiron 1525N notebooks and the Inspiron 530N desktop computer, with XPS M1530n and Studio 15n to be added to the Linux lineup in August. (Via Heise Security.)

Heise noted that the Linux versions will be cheaper than the Windows version, if you compare like for like in terms of hardware spec.

But don't forget that even if you bought a computer, whether desktop or laptop, with Microsoft Windows preinstalled, if you installed Linux (of any flavour) and didn't use Windows, at least if you act quickly and return the Windows CDs you may be able to claim a refund from the retailer for the unused Windows software - at least, the courts in Italy and France have said so in relation to HP and Acer systems, and reportedly Dell in Germany had also agreed to give refunds. All, it seems, based on Microsoft's EULA (see my previous post). The same could be the case for other Microsoft software that's pre-provided.

I don't know if anyone has tried to get a refund in the UK, and whether they succeeded or not - it would be interesting to hear about it, if anyone knows? (This isn't legal advice etc, I've no idea if it would work in the UK, it just seems like it might be worth a try - obviously, take advice on your own position if you really need to!)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Online virtual piano keyboards: free way to learn notes!






A tip: virtual piano keyboards can be useful if you're a singer trying to learn a part from a score (whether for choir, opera, musical theatre, pop or rock) but you don't have access to a musical instrument. All you need is a computer with soundcard and speakers or headphones / earphones.

Here are some examples of free online piano keyboards available through your web browser via the Flash technology or a Java applet (which all modern web browsers can handle); two can record and play back a series of notes, one of them can even be downloaded to your computer (whether desktop, laptop or notebook) and then played offline without any internet connection! They're meant for educational games, teaching piano rather than choral or vocal lines, but are in fact very handy for vocalists too.

(For those who don't play the piano, there are lots of diagrams on the Net of which keys on the keyboard correspond to which notes on the music staff, see e.g. this pic or this more comprehensive one)

1. Ababasoft

Virtual keyboard and free downloadable Flash version (just rightclick that link to save it to your computer; in future, doubleclick the saved .swf file to access the keyboard).


You can click on several keys in a row (including rests if desired) and they'll show up in the stave below; the Play button then replays all of them - good for learning a sequence of notes, and Loop will repeat it over and over to really get the pitches into your head. Temp. is self-evident, you can set the speed so it plays back faster or slower. Sound's a bit too sustained for my taste, but that's just a quibble.

Ababasoft also have a "chord piano" (again downloadable) which lets you hear your part against other people's (in vertically stacked boxes) - click in a box, then click the keyboard to set the note for that box. Double left or right arrow buttons move you along horizontally one stack at a time, and what you hear is always what's in the middle stack at the time.


2. Flashmusicgames

No music stave but the Flashmusicgames piano (again downloadable) lets you set the duration of the notes played, in milliseconds (default is 100 ms), if you prefer less sustain per note than Ababasoft's piano.

3. Apronus

Bare bones Flash pianoforte, no way to record and replay a sequence so it's "live" only, but it gives you 2 octaves and a more realistic piano sound.

4. Pianoworld

Wai Man Wong's Java applet synthesiser keyboard (with piano sound), don't be surprised if it plays you a back a fast run while you're waiting for the page to come up!


2 octaves, hit Rec before you play it in order to record, Ply to play back what you recorded, Clr to clear the recording. (Not figured out Mem, it just plays a B - as does clicking anywhere on the synth picture above the keyboard other than Demo or Drum..)

Bonus fun bit: click "Drum" to hear a random drum sound; you can even intersperse your recording of notes with drum sounds, but sadly when you play back the recording you can't accompany yourself with the drum live!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Funny restaurant menu typo







The menu in the staff canteen of someone I know offered, in the soups selection:

Cullen Skunk

(instead of "Cullen Skink", a Scottish fish soup).

My friend chose not to have that particular soup. Just in case.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Blogger improvements: wishlist






Team Blogger have clearly been been working mighty hard on improving and upgrading our blogging experience using Blogger, yay to them!

Here is my personal wishlist of most wanted things which don't seem to be on their public to-do list. If you agree with any of my wishlist items please say so, maybe that'll up their chances of getting a precious place on that list. This post is meant to be constructive rather than critical, they've achieved so much already (e.g. import-export of blogs to allow backup etc, embedded comment form, Star ratings, Webmaster Tools Verification, spiffier Dashboard, hooray to all.)

1. Post editor changes (already blogged)

What I said. In particular, more hotkeys and a clearer indication that an attempted save has or has not worked.

2. Image posting and management

I've posted about some image posting issues in my comments on the new post editor.

It would also be good to have better Picasaweb integration. When you upload images to Blogger, they're stored behind the scenes at Picasa Web Albums in a single "album", and you can login there with your Google Account details to manage your Blogger pics. But, you have to login there to do that. I'd love it if there was an "Images" tab in Blogger, which would take you straight to a management page for your uploaded JPEGs, GIFs etc.

What I'd like to see there (or at least in Picasa, if it can't be integrated so fully yet), is the ability to:
  1. get a reverse chronological display of all your uploaded Blogger photos etc
  2. find all images associated with a particular post
  3. with one click, get a list of all the uploaded "orphan" pics which aren't actually linked to in any posts at all (I've done that, uploaded a pic, decided it wasn't good enough, uploaded another one, not got around to deleting the original pic from Picasa even though I deleted the link to it in the post; and it's still there, using up my precious limited space on Picasa, but some time later I can't figure out which is which)
  4. add pics from there to the new "floating window" for images, so I can use an already uploaded pic in a new post (I'm not the only one who wants to be able to reuse previously-uploaded images more easily)
  5. select a pic and get a list of links to all posts on my blog that display that pic?
  6. if I try to delete a pic from there, warn me which posts use that, if any, and make me confirm the deletion (and give me a link to those posts so I can delete them too if I wish).
Other wishlist items for image uploads - ability to upload and host .ico files for favicons and animated GIFs that work.

3. Comments and backlinks management and spam

Inline comments are a major advance for Blogger, people have been asking for it for years; and though it was a while ago that they released it, I think the ability to add your own comment form message is very helpful. But there are other areas which could also benefit from some attention.

Commenter's URL - if the blog owner has chosen to allow anyone to comment, they can choose "Name/URL" to identify themselves if they wish. Now though the URL box is optional, it only works properly if the commenter enters the URL with the initial "http://" e.g. http://www.consumingexperience.com/.

If they enter e.g. www.consumingexperience.com, the comment still publishes but with a non-working URL which, if you try to click on it from the post page, will produce an error message. So either the URL box should say "(optional - please enter http:// at the start)" or, better, it should be changed so that Blogger checks to see if the commenter has entered "http://" and, if they haven't, adds it for them.

Comment moderation and spam comments - if you allow the Name/URL combo for commenters (Settings, Comments, Anyone can comment) and choose to moderate comments, the comment moderation tab doesn't show the URL entered by the person commenting; here's a screenshot I took last year but it's still the same now:


If you choose to receive emails alerting you to new comments for moderation, those emails are slightly better in that they include the link to the Blogger profile of the commenter (if they chose to comment under that account); but if they've used Name/URL, there is no indication of the URL they entered in the email either:

Thing is, it would be very helpful to see the URL they've used before I decide to publish or reject the comment, because I can usually tell from the URL whether it's spam or not. So yes, I'd really like it if Blogger would include that URL in both the comment moderation tab and comment moderation emails.

Backlinks are another source of spam. I think I get more backlink spam than genuine backlinks. But, it's impossible to check the backlinks on my blog without going to each individual post and scrolling to the end to see what the backlinks to that post are. So I don't do it unless I happen to be looking at the post for another reason. Most of the spam backlinks are still there. If there was a centralised place where I could monitor all backlinks and which posts they were associated with (yet another a new tab?), or get notifications of new backlinks etc, it would be much easier to deal with. I'm seriously considering turning off backlinks altogether because of the difficulty of managing them from one place.

4. Stats

I won't say anything on this as I know integrated analytics for Blogger users via Measure Map is coming, hopefully soon, to a blog near you!

5. Dashboard

Previously I couldn't figure out how they display your list of blogs, if you've more than one Blogger blog.

It's great that in the dashing new Blogger in Draft dashboard your blogs are listed in reverse chronological with the ones you most recently posted to at the top.

Still, it would be nice to have an option to show the blogs in alphabetical order by displayed name, if the individual blogger wishes.

6. Template editing - meta tags

Sometimes you want to add code in the head section of your blog template e.g. a meta tag for verification purposes, or extra CSS. Those of us who are happy with HTML can do that, but it's daunting for beginners.

It would be great if there was an easy way for Blogger users to add code to their header section without having to delve into the template itself. Say a popup box into which the code could be pasted, and automatically be added to the head section?

Blogger: new Post Editor - issues






It's great that Team Blogger are continuing to work on improving and upgrading the Blogger Post Editor, in Blogger in Draft - and they've done an excellent job, with loads of new features like improved image handling.

There are just a few issues I've noticed which I hope they'll fix or address before they roll it out for all Blogger blogs.

A. Major post editor issues (Firefox 3.0.1)

  1. Greasemonkey is broken. Wail. (Any chance of a Blogger Greasemonkey API like the Gmail Greasemonkey API, pretty please?) This is a real biggie as far as I'm concerned. I've been loyal to Blogger since day 1, I like its ease of use combined with control and flexibility behind the scenes for power users, but I can't do without my Greasemonkey scripts for:
    1. making the display font more readable in the Blogger Edit HTML editor (my eyesight's not brilliant, every little thing like a better font really helps - I'm not talking about the font shown in the final published post, but the font used when I'm creating or editing a post)
    2. enlarging the Blogger post editor (ditto, plus saves scrolling, plus not having the post editor box fill the whole screen makes me feel very lopsided!) - I know you can set the size vertically and it'll save it per blog, but I really want it to expand to max out horizontally, and I'm not the only person wanting a bigger editing box!
    3. ensuring draft posts are published with the date/time of publishing, not when the draft was first created (keep current time script)
    4. creating tags, and
    5. enlarging the Blogger template editor.

  2. Ctrl-shift-a to add a link has stopped working, oh woe is me!

  3. Ctrl-shift-p needs fixing - currently, it publishes rather than previews a post, at least on my system (Firefox 3.0.1).

  4. Images - you have to upload multiple JPGs, GIFs etc one by one in sequence now if you have several picture or photo files; to me this is a very retrograde step:


    I much prefer the existing system where you can click to have up to 5 files to upload in one go; in fact personally I'd like the 5 boxes to "Add another image" always be there, open (or allow users to save their preference as to how many boxes be available). Not being able to upload multiple image files in one go is actually one of the few things that would push me to switch to WordPress.

    I do like the fact that you can more easily change the size of an uploaded image by clicking it to get a choice:


    - and it's excellent that you can position it right, left or center just by dragging it (I used to do it by editing the code). But I'd like to know if choosing "Remove" not only removes it from the post, but also from PicasaWeb behind the scenes (thus not unnecessarily using up your image storage space quota).

    Also while it's good that you can add a pic at the cursor position by clicking the pic and then Add Image, if you forget to add an image which is still in that window, and you save the post to go back to editing it later, you'll have to upload the pic all over again - the "floating window" with the pics in it just doesn't get saved. The good thing about the old system was that your pics were always there in the post, you couldn't fail to add or save them. Finally, of course, I'd like keyboard shortcuts for adding pics.

    Finally, to move an image I used to copy it (click on it and ctrl-c), place the cursor in the new position and then paste the image (ctrl-v) exactly where I wanted it, at the cursor. You now have to drag it, which is less accessible for keyboard users who have difficulty with the mouse - it really isn't that easy positioning it exactly with the mouse if you have trouble with fine muscle control, or even if you don't - I managed to position 2 pics 1 on the left one on the right on the same line, then dragged one away, but then couldn't get them back to one on the left one on the right again! (yes you could copy and paste the code in HTML view, but that's less user friendly). Yes, you can position the cursor then click Add Image to add an image from the floating window - I'm talking about re-positioning an image after it's been added to a post.

    I do hope Blogger will let users save as a preference the old system for image handling if they prefer, but I suspect not. (I'd like Autosave back too, but I know they're working on that.)

    Another suggestion again for better accessibility: when you upload an image, it would be fab if there was a box against each pic where you could enter the ALT text description for that pic. Yes, you can do it by editing the HTML after you upload it, but that extra hassle puts most people off, whereas if you can do it as you upload it, they'd be much more likely to do it.

  5. Confirmation of saving - I make a habit of regularly going ctrl-s to save a draft post to Blogspot when pausing for thought, as I often draft posts in stages, sometimes over months, before I finally publish the post, and I've nearly cried from losing updates to my draft through Firefox crashing. Unfortunately sometimes it's too busy or having a blip, and the attempted save doesn't work.


    Now it says so at the very end of the window, but if I'm in the middle of a post I don't always think to scroll down to check. Sometimes the message is at the top and bottom both:






    - but sometimes it isn't at the top at all, just the bottom, and I wish that the "Draft saved at.." or, more to the point "Saving and publishing may fail!" message would appear above the post editor too (e.g. above the Title box), or instead of at the bottom, so that you can't possibly miss the fact that it's not saved at the Blogger end and you ought to copy and paste the HTML locally to make sure you don't lose your hard work:


    I've even had instances where I got a "Draft saved at.." confirmation, then when I went back in to Blogger the next day to continue working on the post, it had not saved the latest version, but a previous one. Go figure...

  6. Draft posts should bear the date of publication, not the date the draft was created - this is the issue I've fixed with A.1.3 above, but I think it's a major issue for the many people who write draft posts without immediately publishing them, and I wish Blogger would build it in natively - especially if they're going to stop existing Greasemonkey scripts from working!

  7. Strange bug which wipes out saved content - this has only happened to me a few times, but enough to make me scream. I go to edit a previously saved draft post, the content displays for half a second, then the post editor window (though not the title) totally blanks out in both Edit Html and Compose view. The only solution is to quickly leave that screen fast, WITHOUT saving, before it auto-saves a blank that overwrites my previous text, and then I have to finish my post in Internet Explorer. Otherwise, a blank wipes out all my carefully-drafted previous text. I've also had this happen spontaneously while I was in the middle of drafting something and went back to the post editor tab, not just when trying to go back into a previously saved draft. It's only in Firefox. Is it just me, has anyone else experienced this?

  8. (Incidentally, about the same time as they rolled out the experimental post editor, the "live" post editor must have been updated too, a bit - the Blogger keyboard shortcuts for nested lists have stopped working! Though they work in the Draft post editor. Plus, ctrl i and ctrl b sometimes don't work, and sometimes they do - especially if I combine the two i.e. adding bold to italicised text. And the Save Now button sometimes works like ctrl-d, save & exit, rather than ctrl-s, save but leave the editing box open.)

B. Other post editor issues - wishlist

  1. Keyboard shortcuts - as I've previously blogged, being a keyboard shortcut fan (and I'm not the only one!) I'd love to have more hotkeys, especially:
    1. hotkey for toggling between Edit Html and Compose view (and for immediately interpreting any raw HTML you type or paste in Compose view without having to switch to Edit Html and back)
    2. ctrl-shift-l for a bulleted list (unordered list), and something else for numbered lists.

  2. The Post Editor's Post Options settings are useful and take up little space, I personally feel they should be shown by default, not hidden. Greasemonkey lets me keep that bit permanently open, but again I don't know if that'll last...

  3. HTML anchors - I'd like to be able to add "a name" anchors like <a name="1"&glt; in the body of my posts for reference/linking within the post, while I'm composing a post, as many of my posts are long. At the moment, if I try doing that, it doesn't work on publishing: a link to #anchorname doesn't automatically get converted to insert the post page's permalink but to "http:///#anchorname" or to the editing page. I have to edit the post after it's published in order to get that to work. Maybe there's another way I don't know...
I've other wishlist items for Blogger too, unrelated to the post editor, which I'll write about separately.

Online shopping: delivery problems cost UK economy >£1 billion a year






I've banged on before about the horlicks that is "delivery" of products bought through internet shopping in the UK, and how credit card companies could help but mostly don't. It's one of my major wishlist items given how much I buy stuff over the Web - I've been doing "home shopping" since the days of mere telephone ordering!

If proof were needed that home delivery isn't working properly, European web retailing price comparison service Kelkoo (now owned by Yahoo!) recently reported on their survey of 13,000 online shoppers which found that "The economy is losing a staggering £1.6 billion each year in lost time as workers take an average of 1.5 days off work to wait for deliveries" of their ordered goods. 45% of those surveyed had taken time off work to wait for a delivery. Yes, that's over a billion quid that delivery issues are costing the national economy, every year.

"Coupled with the frustrations (for both employees and employers) of time taken off work, non-delivery is another major concern with 81% of respondents buying something online only for it not to arrive. The next biggest frustrations were the total costs not being clear upfront (16%), deliveries not arriving in good condition (16%) and late deliveries (10%). Importantly for retailers, 94% of people said they would be unlikely to place further orders with a retailer that failed to deliver." (my emphasis)

Of course the point of Kelkoo's survey was to help plug their own shopping comparison site - "On Kelkoo we highlight IDIS retailers upfront and delivery costs are included in prices to avoid the frustrations of hidden costs" (they point out that the "IDIS (Internet Delivery is Safe)" badge means "that the retailer offers a good choice of delivery times and has good options in place in case of non-delivery").

But still, I'm delighted that someone has actually taken the trouble to get the hard numbers to prove what most of us consumers have known all along - service shouldn't just grind to a halt when the sale is clinched, e-tailers have to follow through with proper "order fulfilment" and, yes, post-sales customer service too.

C'mon, you web shopping e-commerce / e-shopping sites, for your own sake if not for the reputation and credibility of electronic commerce - if you want consumers to keep buying from you, sort out your delivery! I'd love it if the government were to pass a law where the retailer responsible had to automatically pay the shopper £X for every hour that a delivery was late, with interest and fines if that's not paid within 2 weeks. Heck, why not extend that requirement to utility companies that citizens (read juicy, juicy voters) have to wait in for, too? Well, I can dream...

(Via IMRG)

Make add-ons work after updating Firefox






Did a fave Firefox extension stop working after you upgraded to a newer version of Firefox (which I've just done to Firefox 3.0.1, because of the security issues with 3.0)?

For those who don't know it yet, here's a tip: you can often make Firefox add-ons compatible with upgraded versions of Firefox just by using the fab free MR Tech Toolkit extension from MR Tech (formerly known as MR Tech Local Install) - even if the writer of the extension hasn't provided an update for it yet.

How to make a Firefox extension compatible with a later version of Firefox

Be warned that this doesn't necessarily work, and if it doesn't you may need to uninstall the add-on in question or wait for the author to produce an update. Still, it's worth trying, and it's worked for almost every extension I've tried it with. Here's how:
  1. Install the MR Tech Toolkit addon (for beginners: how to install a Firefox add-on).
  2. Restart Firefox.
  3. Go to the menu Tools > Add-ons.
  4. Rightclick on the desired extension (which will have a big exclamation mark against it if it's not compatible with the updated Firefox), then choose "Make compatible"


  5. OK the next box (having first ticked "Don't ask me again" if you don't want the box to pop up again for other extensions):


  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each add-on you want to try to make compatible.
  7. That's it! Handy trick, eh?
  8. (If when you right click an addon you don't see a "Make compatible" menu option, then sorry, even MR Tech can't fix it and you'll have to wait for the author of the add on to update it.)
I've used the MRTech Toolkit to make the following addons work in Firefox 3.0.1, for instance:
  1. my fave extension TabMixPlus
  2. the Mippin sidebar
  3. CLEO and FEBE (to backup my Firefox settings and extensions)
  4. Spiderzilla (to backup my blog).
There are lots of other uses for the Toolkit, but this feature alone makes it worth the download.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Blogger: how to add email address to feed






How do you include your email address in your feed, if you're using Blogger? (See my intro to feeds for beginners if you're new to feeds.)

THE QUICKIE

To show your proper email address in your feed (as opposed to noreply@blogger.com), in your Blogger profile tick "Show my email address", save - and your feed will thereafter display the email address entered in your profile's Identity section.

THE LONG & SLOW

Your blog's feed can potentially list your email address. That can be useful for things like Feedburner's FeedFlare, which lets you add an "Email The Author" link to each post in your feed (as opposed to your blog webpage) so that a feed subscriber can click the link to, you guessed it, send you an email.

But previously, there was no point in Blogger authors activating "Email The Author" in FeedFlare, because any attempt to do so only sent subscribers' attempted emails to the black hole that is "noreply@blogger.com" (and it certainly won't reach you!):


However, a recent upgrade to Blogger ("Blog feeds optionally include your email address") means that you can now display your correct email details in your feed, and even add "Email The Author" links to your Feedburner feed if you want to (but there are downsides, as I'll come to).

It's optional. So, how do you take up the option to include your email address in your feed?

How to display your email address in your feed

  1. Sign in to the Blogger Dashboard.
  2. Click "Edit Profile" on the right.
  3. Under Privacy, tick "Show my email address" - this means whatever email address is entered in the following Identity section of your profile will be used:
  4. Scroll to the end and click "Save Profile".
This adds your email address to your feed behind the scenes:

How to activate Email The Author in FeedFlare

  1. Sign in to your Feedburner account.
  2. Click the name of the feed you want to add the links to,
  3. Click the Optimize tab.
  4. Click FeedFlare on the left.
  5. Against "Email The Author", tick the "Feed" column:


    (you can tick the box under the "Site" column too if you display FeedFlares on your blog webpage and want the email links to be visible there, but you may not need to if you're on Blogger as choosing to show your email address will display it in your Blogger profile, which can be reached through your sidebar if you've chosen to display your profile.)

  6. Scroll to the end, click Save or Activate.

Then, in your Feedburner feed you'll see a new "Email The Author" link:

- and subscribers can click it to email you:


What's the downside?

The way Blogger have currently set it up, it's all or nothing: if you tick the box to show your email address, then your email address also shows on your profile page (when you click View from the Dashboard, or the "View my complete profile" link from your blog sidebar), not in just your feed:



Now I do give my email address in my blog sidebar anyway, but I've done it in such a way that (hopefully!) spammers can't harvest it. The way the email address is displayed in your Blogger profile makes it much easier for spambots to grab your address. UPDATE: it's entirely my bad, Team Blogger are entitled to one free spanking (just one, mind!) - Blogger do obfuscate the email address with Javascript, adding extra stuff to the address to fool the spambots; a dedicated spammer could theoretically figure out exactly what they're doing and strip out the extra bits, but they would have to be targeting just Blogger profile addresses, which seems unlikely.

Personally I'd have preferred it if Blogger had provided a new section in the Edit Profile page where you could fill in an email address just for the purposes of displaying it in your feed, but could choose not have it displayed in your Blogger profile (if you wanted that).

Also, if you have more than one Blogger blog, there's no ability to display a different email address for each blog - you have to use the same email address for all of them.

So, I've not ticked that box in my Blogger profile, myself - but of course, it's up to you what you want to do for your own blog.

PS. of the other new Blogger features, I can say "Bagus, terima kasih Team Blogger!" but I've absolultely no idea what "spam interstitials" are. Can anyone please enlighten me?

Friday, 18 July 2008

6 Sayings for Search Engine Success (Top Tips to Boost Blog Ranking)






Here's 6 sayings for SEO (search engine optimisation) success that I made up earlier. Sayings first, details later:

Improbulus's Illuminating SEO Sayings

  1. Content is king, originality the crown, and text the crown jewels.

  2. Relatedness raises relevance.

  3. The early words get the spider, and headings make things tastier.

  4. Links in to your blog's web address (URL) are good, good links in are better, good link text is best.

  5. Link out liberally - cite sites for authority and authenticity.

  6. A blog post a day keeps bots from going away; a regular diet is just how they like it.

Background

Search engines like Google and Yahoo send out software critters called robots / bots, spiders or crawlers to crawl over or "spider" webpages, following links from page to page and fetching back what they find for indexing and storage in the search company's vast databases (they're even crawling web forms now!).

When someone uses a search engine, they're actually searching its databases, and the search engine decides what results to serve or return to the user (see Google 101: How Google crawls, indexes, and serves the web, which Google recently updated).

Different engines may do that search, and decide what results to show to the user and in what order, in different ways. But they all seem to apply the same broad principles.

You can use those principles to make your blog more likely to appear in search engine results for searches where your site is relevant, i.e. boost your blog's search engine ranking so that your blog posts are shown higher up on the search results pages of search engines, and thereby attract more visitors to your blog.

The higher up the results page the better, of course; many people don't go beyond the first page of search results.

So I thought up these "SEO sayings" to summarise the main SEO principles I've learned.1 I've tried to make them more memorable by delivering doggerel, mangling metaphors, paraphrasing proverbs and abusing alliteration - I hope that works!

Some of this post will be relevant to websites which aren't blogs, too. And I've written separately on the mechanics of submitting your blog or site and sitemap to the search engines to entice them to crawl your site properly in the first place - this post is on tips for getting a better showing for your blog in the search results, which is a different matter.

Now for the detail (mostly focused on Google searches, as it's the most popular search engine globally, but the same broad principles apply to all of them).

1. Content is king, originality the crown, and text the crown jewels

Search engine bots like lots of text, especially original, non-duplicative text. Sadly, they can't (yet) index audio or video properly, although recently Google have developed algorithms for indexing Flash content like animations, though previously using Flash wasn't so good for Google search engine purposes.

This principle has several corollaries:
  1. Produce original content - write your own stuff, in your own way - and certainly avoid copying or scraping other sites (not copying others is generally a good idea anyway!)

  2. As text is the best search engine fodder, if you have images (e.g. photos), videos or audio on your blog or elsewhere, try to include ALT text, and tag the media with meaningful text descriptions, etc also avoid horrid Javascript links and if you use Ajax follow the Ajax tips (accessible sites usually rank better)

  3. Eliminate duplicate content - try to minimise duplicate versions of your content on the Web, as that may confuse the bots, who, though they try their best, may not know which one is the "real" one to index, and it can dilute your link popularity (other duplicate content issues). So, monitor and stop people who illegally copy your content (I'll post separately about how to track that and how to stop them) as bots can pick up duplicate content due to scrapers. Also, consider cleaning up your feeds as of course duplicate content in your feeds could crowd out your main blog from search results; feeds now are seen less by Google users but could still confuse the Googlebot and other bots, but I know ACE recovered much faster from the rankings hit I took due to my domain name change last year after I took the step, on Kirk's advice, of turning off my per post comment feeds in Blogger (adding rel=nofollow to links to your labels pages may also help, if you're on Blogger).
An example of text being good - Jyri Engeström of Jaiku (which was bought by Google in 2007) has given several talks, with slides, on his 5 principles for successful Web 2.0 services, which have been videoed and recorded several times. I took the time to write up a report of one talk, i.e. a search engine friendly text version. And my post got indexed, and still gets linked to.

2. Relatedness raises relevance

Relevance is good. The more relevant your post is considered to be to the particular word or phrase searched by the user, the more likely it is that the search engine will show your post on its results pages.

How do you improve relevance in the eyes of the search engines? Again, it's the text that counts. Obviously if the user searches for a word that appears a lot in your post, it'll generally do better in the search results than another post that doesn't use that word at all.

But search engines don't just go by exact matches - other words, related to the same concept, will help with relevance too.

So consider what key words describe a particular post - what main concepts, subjects or topics is it about? What are the main words where, if someone searches for those words in a search engine, you'd want your post to appear in the results? (again Google say so too).

For relevance, specific is better than general when it comes to what words you use in your post. "I like hard drive PVRs because you can watch a previously-recorded programme while another programme is recording" will do better than "This is cool stuff, I love it!". (See Google's example of specific being better than general.)

Having figured out the most relevant specific key words for your post, use them judiciously in your post title and post body (i.e. use them in the right places, as often as possible - but only where appropriate, as if you repeat the same word too often the bots may think it's keyword stuffing spam). Also my personal view is you should include them in your tags, Blogger labels, or WordPress categories, though that's not as important as using them in the title, URL and main body.

Good writers will probably be using the "right" words in their posts naturally anyway, just in the course of writing the post: it wouldn't make sense to write about kittens without mentioning the word "kittens"!

But it's better if there are several different words in the post which are "related" to each other, i.e. to do with the same concept.

So, to increase the occurrences of different but related words in the same post or indeed same blog (and maximise chances of the post or blog appearing in appropriate searches), and thereby improve relevance generally, consider these ideas:
  1. Use specific rather than general words as much as possible.
  2. Spell the same word differently in different places - using British and American spellings both (most search engines automatically search for both if you type in one, but I do it anyway; I draw the line at accented characters though).
  3. Include singular and plural versions in different places e.g. mobile, mobiles (again search engines automatically handle those variations, but I do it anyway).
  4. Use synonyms too, e.g. "cellphone" in one place, "mobile" in another; or "cat", "kitten", even "pussycat".
  5. For double words use all variations in different places within the post e.g. "doubleclick", "double-click", "double click" (because single and double words seem to be considered different words by the search engines).
  6. Include the key words and their synonyms in tags, labels or categories (though using them in the title, URL and body is more important)
  7. Consider making your blog a specialised, narrowly themed, niche one - a blog which only ever has posts about movies will, when someone searches for info on movies, generally score better than a blog which has a few posts on movies, some posts on what the writer had for breakfast and more posts about different types of motorbikes, good posts though they may be (the professional bloggers tend to have different specialised blogs; and I have been thinking of splitting out ACE to put the non-technology related posts in a different blog, including the jokes! The funnies etc might help leaven the mix for regular subscribers, but visitors from search engines far outnumber feed subscribers, for this blog anyway).
Note: some people don't think much of using different spellings and singular/plural - I can't say for sure if it's helped me, but it certainly hasn't hurt, so I use them - it's' your choice. What's more important I think is the use of synonyms, different but related words, because I believe it helps with relevance of your post.

3. The early words get the spider, and headings make things tastier

Crawlers place importance on the formal structure of your post or webpage. So use your important key words early on in the post and in the more structurally significant parts of your post, i.e.:
  1. Key words in the webpage / blog post title (but don't make the title too long or it may be thought spammy) - blogs do well here because blogging software like Blogger will automatically take your post title and use it for your webpage title (in the post page or item page), and also uses the words used in your post title within the URL of the post's permalink, thus putting key words in the URL and breaking the key words up with dashes in a search-engine friendly way
  2. More important keywords earlier in the title - blogging software like Blogger usually includes words from the title in the URL of the post, which really helps for search engine relevance, but Blogger for one cuts the URL off after about 30 characters, so I sometimes experiment with what words and order to use (by posting the title only to a test Blogger blog) so as to get all the key words into the URL of the post
  3. Use the keywords in the first 50 words (maybe even first 25 words) and of course in the body of your post itself
  4. Key words in your side headings e.g. heading3, heading4 (in my Blogger template at least, heading2 is used for the post title), and
  5. Emphasise or embolden selected keywords - good not only for bots but also human readers, who tend to scan or skim Web page content rather than read it.
As the words in the title are very important, remember to ensure your title properly describes the subject of the post. Recall that specific words are more meaningful, and therefore better, than general words: "Cute kitten photos" is a much better title than "Awwww!" or "I love these!" for helping your post rank higher when someone searches for cat pictures. (Don't just take my word for all this, take Google's.)

4. Links in to your blog's web address (URL) are good, good links in are better, good link text is best

This is the most well known factor - generally the more links there are to your blog, the higher it will rank in search results; and links from higher-ranking sites or blogs (ie sites which themselves have lots of links to them) will count more than links from sites or blogs which aren't so well linked to themselves.

The link text (anchor text) used by the person linking to your blog, i.e. the blue underlined text that people click on to get to your blog, which contains the URL of your post behind the scenes, is crucial. Bots as well as people view that text as a description of your post, so that post will be considered more relevant and rank higher if someone later searches for the link text words, or related words.

Example: I'll refer to my post on how to use Blogger feeds URLs in useful ways. Then if people search for info on Blogger feed URLs hopefully they'll see my post (eventually)!

You can get a picture of how other sites link to yours, what words and phrases they use for their anchor text, if you have a free Google Webmaster Tools account - see the Statistics, Page Analysis tab.

The implications:
  1. Cultivate links to your blog by getting the positive attention of high ranking bloggers (without annoying them!) e.g. by commenting on their blogs (UPDATE: have removed Xavier's slides as he's made them private, he obviously didn't want them shared, sorry Xavier.)
    I don't have time to comment on other blogs much these days, but I did in the early days of ACE (e.g. ACE first got real attention through David Sifry linking to my introduction to Technorati tags).
  2. Do NOT post spam comments with irrelevant links to your blog, most blogging platforms will set it so that bots will ignore and not follow those links anyway! (Blogger still have a loophole which lets spammers post links to their own URLs which will be followed; deleting comments like that is the only way round it)
  3. It is acceptable to post links to your own blog in a comment or forum post etc where it's truly relevant or helpful
  4. Remember it's links to a particular URL that count, not links to the content, so if you change your blog's domain steel yourself for a huge drop in visitors for months... (see my account of my travails when changing from blogspot.com to www.consumingexperience.com)
  5. Therefore, if you change domain you might try to get those who linked to your old URL to update their links to point to your new domain (I confess I didn't do that, too many links to figure out, and I didn't want to trouble them - I can't expect other people to put in time changing their links just to help me)
  6. If you're just starting to blog or starting a new blog, frankly the best option is use your own domain name from the start or at least as early on as possible (eg Blogger custom domains) so that links in to your blog will be to that domain rather than to say blogspot.com or wordpress.com.2
  7. If you've already started blogging e.g. on Blogspot.com, get the pain over with early, bite the bullet and switch to your own domain ASAP so that you can start building up links to the new domain's URL sooner
  8. In your new posts, where it's relevant to mention your own previous posts, link to your previous posts using meaningful anchor text - yes, that counts!

5. Link out liberally - cite sites for authority and authenticity

I started doing this because I like to back up what I say. If I read something interesting I may want to look into it further, check out the original news article or government paper quoted from or mentioned, etc - and I thought my readers would want to do the same.

I don't expect readers to just trust me and take my word for something in a vacuum, so I cite (and link to) authoritative sources like Wikipedia, news sites, government sites, academic/university sites etc. If readers wish, they can follow the link to get it from the horse's mouth.

Also, those links are helpful to my readers - if I mention a technical term and link to its Wikipedia definition, they can look it up if they want to. Yes that makes it much more time-consuming for me to write my posts, but I think it's worth it.

And as it turns out, it seems search engines actually like links out which are useful to readers, and tend to favour posts with them.

Finally, of course links out to other bloggers is also good in terms of mutual back scratching!

6. A blog post a day keeps bots from going away; a regular diet is just how they like it.

Search engines rate freshness, so a blog which is regularly updated with new posts is likely to be ranked more highly than one which is only updated every 2 or 3 months. (I confess I'm not very good at frequent blogging myself, as most of my posts are long and very time-consuming to write. I'm sure my blog would do better if I posted more often rather than like buses, nothing for a while then 3 at once!)

Bots also seem to like regularity (an apple a day helps humans with that, of course!), so a predictable publishing schedule, e.g. a post every week on a Sunday, or a post every other day, etc, should help boost your rankings - again an area I personally need to improve on.

So this means:
  1. Try to publish posts often, ideally at regular intervals
  2. Consider scheduling your posts, i.e. writing several posts in advance (if you have the time) and then setting them to publish at regular intervals during the week. I've done this a few times myself, though not as often as I should.

More info

See Webmaster guidelines for the full lowdown from the horse's mouth:
Also look at specialist advice e.g. from blogs like Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch, and SEO Chicks where experts like Judith deCabbit Lewis post - see the Girlygeekdom post with video and MP3s of talks by Judith and Sheila Farrell on SEO at the March 2008 London Girl Geek Dinner.

So, what are your own personal top tips for increasing search engine rankings for blogs?

(With thanks to those at the London bloggers' meetup group on 24 June 2008 (particularly Ged), as always efficiently organised by Andy Bargery, for their helpful discussion on these issues. See e.g. epicurienne's writeup of the meetup.)

Notes

1. Who am I to talk? Well, while I'm no search engine optimization expert or Pro Blogger and ACE is certainly no Boing Boing, I must be doing something right - this blog reached 1 million unique visitors in April 2008 and it currently averages over 2000 visitors a day (over 90% of them through Google searches) [ update: at Feb 2009, now averaging 3000 unique visitors a day], and it's near the top for some Google searches e.g. Technorati tags or Gmail alias. I think when I blog I've always tried to make my posts useful to readers by having properly descriptive titles and headings, and relevant text at the start, and I thereby unconsciously hit the spot in relation to a number of factors that are important to the Googlebot and other bots / crawlers / spiders - so now I try to apply them consciously, most of the time anyway!

2. Domain names are relatively cheap these days especially .com names, so it's well worth getting one. Looks more professional too; you might not plan to go pro with your blog, but if it takes off, you never know...