Dear Zooomr

There seems to be absolutely no way to contact the people (/person) behind Zooomr to tell them about a bug in their Beta software, and I’m not about to leave a comment on some random post in their blog.

On the slight offchance this makes its way to them, the message is a simple bug report:

Hello,

Your ‘Add to Google’ link at the bottom of my user page is broken. The link points to :
http://fusion.google.com/add?feedurl=${root_url}bluenote/feeds:rss/people/${user_rs.unix_name}

Zooomr, First Impressions

Tried Zooomr tonight, a photo hosting and sharing website – here are my first impressions:

  • When I sign up I need an OpenID. Or something like that. I wanted a Zooomr login, not a login for some other place.
  • After signing up, whenever I go to Zooomr I get the home page. I’m spoilt by Flickr on this which’ll automatically redirect me to a place where I see my photos and contacts. If I want the same on Zooomr I need to go to the WelcomeMat apparently.
  • What’s a Zooomrtation? Apart from a really odd looking word. I click it. It shows a load of photos. I don’t know why, or what the relevance of these photos is since there’s absolutely no explanation.
  • I tried uploading some photos and they were slooooow. It needs a progress bar of some kind.
  • The ‘ultra convenient and fast’ jUploadr is a 4.4Mb ZIP that doesn’t tell me what to do with it. There’s a README file (if I delve into the folder structure of the ZIP), but it’s got something about double-clicking the BAT file which I really don’t fancy doing inside a ZIP. Why isn’t it in the Start Menu like everything else at this point? Where’s the friendly installer?
  • How many ‘o’s are in the name? I have to keep making a point of correcting myself from writing Zoomr when I do this (which happens to be a completely different photography website)
  • The Geotagging doesn’t appear to support the wheel mouse. I got used to this in the normal Google Maps and now it’s not working.
  • Ok, so I’ve added a photo which seems to work. I see somebody else’s photo so I click on that. Looks nice and all. Now I go to add my second photo and it doesn’t work — why not? (I look and apparently I need to click Start Geotagging again to continue – I thought I was already doing that!)
  • What are the three colours in Geotagging supposed to do? Red Green and Blue are meaningless.

Right, that’ll do for now. Despite sounding like an arsey git I do actually quite like Zooomr. I’ve read good things about it, and I was being particularly picky about the interface (I do know what OpenID is all about, for instance ;). But that’s the thing about Zooomr, while it has a ton of features and is undoubtedly very clever under the hood, the interface is not entirely intuitive and actually a little counter-productive in places. I’m sure it’s the sort of thing you can get used to but unless there’s something compelling and unique about the service it simply will be ignored in favour of a competing service.

On the plus side, I did have a few views on my photos within a few minutes of uploading. That never seems to happen on Flickr, for instance. Somebody even added a photo as a favourite within a minute of upload. Maybe this is what Zooomrtation is about? (I genuinely don’t know what that is about; somebody care to enlighten me?)

Google Reader – Interesting

Right, so Google Reader collects and presents feeds from all over the world, on a variety of subjects. It lets you read them. If you like them you can share them. Other people can then read your shared items. Of course, they could be reading them in Google Reader. The circle goes on.

Why’s this interesting? Think of it from an information perspective. Google have x million regular Reader users. Each of those readers is subscribed to y feeds. Simply from this alone you can work out things like the most popular feeds. Hey – that’s not new. Add a time factor and you can work out the most interesting new feeds, as well as the all-time favourite feeds.

Now, according to Bloglines, Slashdot is the most popular feed (other than Bloglines News…). That’s hardly a surprise considering how many readers Slashdot gets, who are tech savvy and probably want all their headlines in their favourite reader. Wired News, Dilbert, the BBC. All frequent stuff.

Let’s look at the BBC’s headlines. A bit about Syria; something about Bush and Iraq; Europe eases Algeria visa rules apparently; French rugby player receives knee injury. How could we tell which of these are interesting? Well we could use our favourite buzz aggregators which watch links from oodles of blogs. One problem with these is that they take time to update. 13 minutes is good, but not good enough (and that was Google). They rely on picking information from third parties (the blogger themselves). You have to accumulate the inbound blog links by visiting each and every newly posted blog (by the way, the pingmesh/pingosphere which is supposed to notify websites of post updates is absolutely crammed with spam).

Let’s come back to Google. With their sharing capability, you can immediately publicise blog posts you think are interesting. Because this is all internal to Google, the act of sharing is immediately known to Google. They could build up a list of top new posts basically in real time. With enough posts and user contributions, you’ve basically got yourselves a Digg. If you get enough of a user base sharing their ‘favourite’ posts, that’s a pretty good statistical sample to determine ‘what’s hot’ in the blogosphere (and wider web – let’s not forget feeds are not just synonymous with blogs…)

Then we have folders aka tags. These allow the reader to specify under which headings their feeds appear. Again, enough of a sample base and you’ve just obtained a huge human-editing categorisation tool – a folksonomy. These things fascinate me because humans are far better at categorising things than computers. If 2000 people all refer to Granny Buttons with the tag canals, for instance, it’s a pretty sure bet that Mr. Denny over at Granny Buttons probably has a word or two to say about canals.

As I said earlier, I think this shares a lot with OPML reading lists.

More interesting yet again is the abillity for users to subscribe to other users’ tags. This starts really delving into Voice of Authority territory, which as it happens was the focus of my final year dissertation at uni… My reckoning here is simple. If you have one person who tags canals; 500 other people subscribe to that, you can probably infer that that person has pretty much nailed the category of canals. The VoA stuff really starts kicking in (in my view) when the ‘authority’ has editorial control over what does and does not get added to their ‘output’. Mix that in with some of their own content (hey, Google have that covered too!) and you’ve got a content stream you can rely on. See also, similar filtering in Google Co-Op.

Now, here comes the crunch. You have an enormous number of people effectively ‘voting with their subscriptions’ for the best content on the Internet. You have a whole bunch of people who, in various ways, are adding some smart filters to this mass of content and tagging it as they go. You have a whole bunch of people also deciding whether these tags were any good or not. Net result: Google can tell what feeds are good sources for information in particular areas. Not just mechanically good (as in has lots of text and a high PageRank), but really good (as in people really want to read it). Google control the environment in which this occurs, and to some degree they control the input too. Somewhere in amongst all of this the engineers at Google are sitting on a goldmine of human-filtered information, and they probably know it!

Spam, by the way, is something I have even more on and I’ll tackle shortly. For now I need sleep!

Google Reader ‘folders’

There’s a new feature on Google Reader – at least I haven’t seen it before. It’s mildly confusing, but interesting in an ‘information geek’ way.

In the Subscriptions tab (of Settings) you now have the option to ‘Add to a folder…’. If you have no folders, you can create a new one. So i did; I called it test123.

You can now put feeds in folders
The blog then appears in the folder test123 in your main reader view.

Ok, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to get rid of this. You can’t drag the feed back out of the folder (very un-web 2.0 😉 ), so I flick back to settings. In the tags tab, you can see the new ‘folders’ are actually tags.

From here, feeds apparently belong to tags, not folders. This is a little confusing.

Finally, it appears (is this new?) that you can share tags (aka folders) as public feeds in themselves, much like you could with ‘Your shared items’. Click the little broadcast-icon and you get:

Your “test123” items have been made public. Now, anyone can read them in Google Reader or subscribe to their feed.

Neat, so it appears your can accumulate a selection of feeds based on tags/folders and share them with the world. Isn’t this one step from OPML reading lists?

An Acceptable Meal

I normally subscribe to Simply Recipes. It is there to inspire me to make good food – unfortunately my culinary skill extends to cheese on toast, and the budget to similar extents. Laziness is also a factor. This evening, I decided to have a go at something new and exciting. I’m determined that one day I’ll invent something that people will fall over themselves for – a new food that nobody has yet discovered, enough to have Nigella Lawson salivating at the mouth; enough to entice angry student protesters out of hunger strike; enough even to stop war and solve poverty & starvation worldwide.

I have yet to come near that goal. Tonight’s attempt was pretty close though – for all its mad beginnings it turned out to be quite nice. I call it the Acceptable Pancake. Here is the obligatory macro shot:

Crazy Pancake
And here’s the recipe (open to interpretation…):

  • Take about a handful of flour. Put it in a saucepan.
  • Take about the same amount of milk and mix it in.
  • Crack an egg (don’t pummel it into submission like I did) and add it to the mix.
  • Get a bit of margarine – roughly a tablespoon I guess – and add that.
  • Find some suger. About two tablespoons should do.
  • Put some salt in. When you wonder ‘ooh, have I put too much in’ stop there. You have put just enough in.

  • Get your hands in there and mix it all up. Eventually it’ll all mix together and smell vaguely nice. If it’s too liquidy put more flour in. If it’s too doughy put a bit more milk in. It’s just right when you lift your fingers up and it sticks but also drops a bit back into the saucepan.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Get a baking tray, pizza tray, or something similar. Put a bit of marge in it and mix it all around until the base is covered.
  • Pour/scoop/coax the mixture into the tray. Try and spread it out. If you have the mixture just right, it’ll spread out of its own accord.
  • Put it in an oven, 250oC for about 20 minutes. Spend this time gloating to your friends about how well you can cook.
  • Either when the 20 minutes is up, or the smell of burning kitchen is apparent, take the pancake out of the oven.
  • Sprinkle sugar liberally. You might also enjoy golden syrup, which is fine. Lemon is also acceptable.
  • Eat and enjoy.

Crazy Pancake #2

Photosynth Technology Preview

Photosynth, a new development from Microsoft is available as a technology preview. As far as I can tell this is a sort-of “proof that we’re really doing this” release, which lets you navigate around pre-built images. Unfortunately you can’t add your own: that’s going to need a lotof computer oomph apparently.

Also, unfortunately I can’t load it on my laptop; it doesn’t have a D3D-capable card. I’ll have to wait until I get home before I try this.

Still, this looks like a very interesting program and I’m looking forward to putting my billions of miscellaneous photos on it.

IE7 Menu Bar

Internet Explorer 7 is out, and one of the most noticeable changes is the absence of a menu bar. It still exists, but is hidden. Just press the Alt key and the good ol’ menu bar appears again.

For what it’s worth, I quite like the absence from a usability point-of-view. Office 2007 takes a while to get used to (most programs are missing a menubar, instead opting for a context-sensitive ‘ribbon’ of tools) but it’s definitely an interesting usability move. I have a feeling it’s definitely a love-hate thing though.

Tip: Opening New Windows

Chris is complaining in a round-a-bout way that I link to other websites in the same window. I do, because in turn I can’t stand websites that insist on opening links in new windows. I used to care more, but Firefox naturally lets you fiddle with the settings and force them to work the way you want to work.

Anyway, if you want to click a link on a website and have it open in a new window, simply hold down Shift while you’re clicking it. If you’re using a tabbed browser, like Firefox or IE7, hold down Ctrl and it’ll open in a new tab.

If you’re in IE, as far as I know there’s no way to do the reverse – ie. force links set to open blank to actually open in the same window but maybe somebody else knows of a way.

In any case, my links are (usually) set to open in the same window, so with the Shift and Ctrl keys you can control how you view the site and its outgoing links.

iTunes

I have no idea why I’d never noticed this before. You can listen to a preview of a song in the iTunes Store by selecting it then clicking the Play button.

Right now you’re either shouting ‘what? Everybody knows that you great lummox’, or ‘amazing. I never knew that. This makes iTunes Music Store* so much better’

Anyway, for me it’s new! Tonight saw the following albums wind their way to my compootah:

  • Vienna Teng – Waking Hour
  • Matson Belle – Goodbye Juggernaut
  • The Weepies – Say I Am You

All of which I’ve heard previously on Radio Paradise, and enjoyed enough to buy them. Previously, I’ve downloaded:

  •  the new Eels album Blinking Lights and other Revelations (funky, but getting a little tired of the same sound);
  • Zero 7 – The Garden,  a bit of a mixed bag but Throw It All Away is cracking.
  • Conjure One – Extraordinary Ways – brilliant album, from the people who brought you Delirium.
  • Various odd singles, including T-Rex – Jeepster; Nerina Pallot’s Everybody’s Gone To War; Johnny Cash with Ring of Fire; Scissor Sisters’ I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Bit of a mixed bag, then.

* The program is still awful. And DRM sucks.