Automattic Has Purchased Gravatar

I was just reading photomatt.net and realized that Automattic has acquired Gravatar. I stopped using the Gravatar service when Bork wrote “MyBlogLog” support into his Sexy Comments plugin because it was unreliable and only served up avatars about half the time.

I immediatly switched back to Gravatar upon realizing that Automattic had acquired it, and found that it not only works reliably not, but all the features that were previously paid are now free. Once again, the folks at Automattic have really come through for us! There is just something wonderful about using software that you can really feel good about, and I honestly feel that way about WordPress, Gravatar, Akismet, and all Automattic products. One gets the feeling that that these people are really trying to make the world a better place through their software.

Is Blogging Like Sex?

Bloggers tend to interact a lot with other bloggers. Particularly the use of features like trackbacks and pringbacks encourage sites to to link to blogs because the favor can be returned with a link exchange. The purpose of this technology, as well as the use of comments, is to facilitate topical discussion between blogs, which it does quite well… Just look at how many blogs have sprung up lately.

Rosevibe points out that this interactive behavior is very much like sex. She writes:

1) Sex – better when someone else is interacting with you, blogging – better when someone interacts with you.

2) Sex – there’s always someone claiming to be an ‘expert’ telling you that ‘this is how you do it, these are the tools you need.. There’s books, videos, you name it and someone’s writing about it.. Oh wait, was that sex or blogging I was talking about there..?

Certainly no argument here. Getting a comment or an incoming link is always much appreciated, and we’re constantly kicking around ideas to make our blogs better. Her point is mostly that blogging about blogging is similar to sex.

I mean C’mon! People are making money blogging about blogging – does this make them the porn stars of the blogosphere?

I don’t know if I totally buy into that, but the interactive discussions and link sharing certainly have some resemblance. It’s an interesting point anyhow.

Geo Dive Blogging 101

My recent posts and dive log entries about my trip to the Socorro Islands have gotten a lot of people asking about how I create the map with post excerpts on this website. I’ve been slow about writing it up because quite frankly the process has been changing over the past week or so. I started doing this as a way of logging my dives, which I have not done since I was a teenager. When people ask how many dives I have, I honestly have to answer that I don’t know because I stopped logging just after dive number 200. Since dive log book had no real value to me, I found no reason to continue using them. Lately, however, I began asking myself how I might log my dives in a way that could be valuable to both me, and others as well.

I had a few requirements.

  • First, I wanted to use this blog as my dive log book.
  • Secondly, I wanted to record and display the GPS coordinates of the dive site. I also wanted to leverage the Google Maps API to display these sites on a map.
  • Finally, I wanted to record and display the information that I believe is important about the dive. For instance, I don’t care to record the water temperature and whether or not I wore a hood, but I did want to record and display information about gas choice, max depth and bottom time. I also wanted to record and present information about deco schedule.

The first phase, and the only one that I have completed thus far is to record and present GPS information about the dive site. When I first implemented this, a total of three WordPress plugins were required. “Geo Mashup” was used to create the map page with the post excerpts, “Geo” was used to enter the GPS coordinates into the “wp_postmeta” table, and “bsuite-geocode” was used to search the post text for links to Google Maps, strip out the GPS coordinates and enter them into “wp_postmets” if they exist. It also created a “Location” link to the post excerpt on the map page.

This was all before the final release of Geo Mashup 1.0, however. This is now the ONLY plugin that is required to create the map with post excerpts. In fact, running either “Geo” or “bsuite-geocode” will prevent “Geo Mashup” from working correctly after version 1.0.

Version 1.0.1 of the Geo Mashup plugin creates a nice little Google Map in your “Edit Post” or “Write Post” window that can easily be used to enter GPS data about the post. The only downside is that there is no way to display a link to the map from your post without adding the following code to the loop in your theme:

< ?php GeoMashup::show_on_map_link('link_text') ?>

Sadly, the “bsuite” plugin I use to create the “Tags” and “Related” stories section at the end of my posts takes over the bottom of the post entirely, meaning that map link would need to go below that. Since I think the “Related” section ends the post nicely, I have not incorporated this code into my theme yet. I have brought this up with Casey, who says he will allow the user to control where the bsuite functions display in the next version, which is soon to come out.

Clearly I still have some work to do with respect to displaying dive information and deco graphs, but that should be coming soon. Hopefully I will be able to release a DiveLog WordPress plugin once I get it all hammered out. Stay tuned.

Flickr Has Always Sucked… Now it Sucks More!

A lot of the people I know and work with just can’t help doing a little dance whenever they think of Flickr. They’re constantly raving about how wonderful it is to join this silly little community of photo sharing web pedestrians. I, for my part have always been skeptical. Everyone who blogs needs a way to incorporate photos into their posts, and to be fair, Flickr does make this easy. I, however, have always liked the idea of controlling my own content, so decided to use Gallery2 and its WPG2 integration with WordPress.

This solution worked well for a long time, but suddenly the iPhoto uploader to Gallery2 broke, and I was faced with a decision. I reluctantly decided to try Flickr. After struggling for what seemed like hours, I finally managed to find a crappy Yahoo username that I could only half tolerate. I tried it, but quickly gave up because I could never remember the cryptic username I had selected.

Casey reminded me that he had invited me to Flickr before they had merged with Yahoo, and that I had created an oldskool, non-Yahoo Flickr account with my normal human readable username. I decided to give it another shot. I hated the restrictive terms of service, and the dozens of clicks it took to get a different sized image, but I tolerated it because images were easy to upload. I even went so far as to create a Pro account.

Well, that all came crashing down around me, and thousands of other Flickr users today when I received notification that Flickr was forcing all their users to merge with a Yahoo account! I was furious! I do not have a lot of images in Flickr, but many of them are linked and presented in this site, and I really don’t want to take the time to go back and change all those links. I would have to create a Yahoo account and merge it thanks to Flickr’s Nazish new policy.

I’m not the only one who is cheesed off either. ThomasHawk.com has been following the forums and has compiled a collection of peoples complaints.

One user had this to say:

What really pisses me off is Yahoo’s God-awful ID setup. It took me over an hour this morning to set up an ID, mostly because every name I tried was taken – including random letters I got by hitting the keyboard in frustration. So now I’m stuck with a username I didn’t want, can’t change, don’t like, and won’t remember.

Another user writs:

Is yahoo offering any sort of counselling for people who go into fits of rage after the 387th attempt to find an available user ID that doesn’t suck?

I could not agree more. It took me forever to find a username, and as before, it’s cryptic, and I will never remember it. Somehow I very much doubt that my Flickr Pro account will stand the test of this betrayal. I have never really liked Flickr, but tolerated it. This will most likely be the last straw for me. I’m just glad I left my Gallery2 integration up and running!

Ecto is Busted in WordPress 2.1

Last week I took this site to WordPress 2.1 and much to my dismay realized that Ecto, my favorite XMLRPC blogging client no longer worked. It would let me post, but it was never able to update the category information for posts… It just hung with no error. I looked into it, and found out that Ecto expects the category information to be returned as a string, not an int.

Adriaan, the developer of Ecto is blaming WordPress, while I’m sure the folks at Automattic would call it an Ecto problem… That’s just how these things tend to work. Anyhow, it’s pretty easy to fix if you make this quick change to xmlrpc.php.

Simply change this on line 180:

'categoryId' => $catid,

To this:

'categoryId' => (string) $catid,

Hopefully someone will go back to their code tree and make a permanent fix so we don’t have to constantly edit this file every time we upgrade.

CMS Martix Rocks For Meetings

It sucks when you go into a meeting and try to advocate for a piece of software, but people just keep on coming up with obscure questions about random features that may or may not exist. This happened a little while back when we were investigating a campus-wide blogging solution.CMS Matrix sure does make answering questions and comparing products a lot easier.

Picking a Multiuser Blogging System

I’m a blogger. I’m also a systems administrator at a University. Thus, when the University decided to charter a project to offer each member of the institution a blog, I was selected to sit on the committee. We boiled all of the software choices down to Drupal, Movable Type, and WordPress MU.

In my evaluation of these solutions, the software was ranked on a five-point scale against the following requirements, which we had decided were important to us. I’ve also included my personal rankings. In many cases the software received a lower ranking on a feature because it was not customizable by the individual user.

Intuitive
Drupal:2
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Skinnable
Drupal:2
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Pingbacks
Drupal:3
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Trackbacks
Drupal:2
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Supports XMLRPC
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Comment SPAM blocking
Drupal:2
Movable Type:4
Wrodpress MU:5
Image support
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
WYSIWYG
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
RSS feed Support
Drupal:3
Movable Type:4
Wrodpress MU:5
TAGS
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
URL Rewriting
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Hosted here
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Single installation
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Single Database
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Single Table structure
Drupal:5
Movable Type:4
Wrodpress MU:0
Mysql or Oracle
Drupal:5
Movable Type:5
Wrodpress MU:5
Integrate with IDM (ex. CAS)
Drupal:0
Movable Type:0
Wrodpress MU:0
Quota on file uploads
Drupal:5
Movable Type:0
Wrodpress MU:5
Prefer PHP:
Drupal:5
Movable Type:1
Wrodpress MU:5
Ease of Upgrade
Drupal:4
Movable Type:4
Wrodpress MU:5
Cost
Drupal:5
Movable Type:3
Wrodpress MU:5

Totals:
Drupal: 88
Movable Type: 90
Wordpress MU: 100

Drupal came in last not because it is unable to meet the requirements we had listed, but because it is not as intuitive as the other solutions, and there are many areas where the user can not be granted any granularity of control over the blog. There is, for example, no way to allow the individual user to manage comment spam settings. The administrator chooses the settings that are then applied globally to each user on the system.

Movable Type evaluated quite well. The user interface is very nice, and the entire software package is very feature rich from a user experience standpoint. It meets most of our pre-determined criteria, but there are no built in “file upload quotas”, and the application is written in Perl. Also of possible concern is the fact that, while content exists within the database, it is delivered via static pages. This means that a site (all static pages) must be rebuilt whenever significant changes are made, such as changing a theme. It is anyone’s guess how this static / dynamic model will scale to a very large number of users. Also of note is the fact the MT is a pay for product. Like any proprietary software solution, this can be both a benefit and a drawback.

WordPress MU mets or exceeds all of our pre-determined criteria with one major exception. The database does not have a unified table structure, meaning each blog requires its own set of database tables. It is largely unknown how this model will scale to a large number of users, however wordpress.com has this software successfully rolled out to a large and growing number of users. Should we decided on WPMU, it may be worth discussing the implementation with the WPMU team. The user interface is both elegant and intuitive, and the user retains maximum control over most of the unique blog settings. It is, however, worth mentioning that WPMU has adopted the Web 2.0 standard of not versioning their releases. Upgrades are downloaded via a nightly builds directory, which means that version releases may not be as well tested as with a more traditional release strategy.

For my part, even though I scored it slightly higher, I have no real preference for WordPress MU over Movable Type. Both are great blogging solutions, and I feel that we could find a way around MT’s lack of file upload quota. I do, however, prefer either of these two solutions over Drupal because of issues surrounding usability, and customization.

In the end, the committee agreed that WordPress MU was the winner. We will now go on to write the CAS authentication module, and see if we can get around the requirement that usernames have greater than three letters. We are also hoping to get in touch with the wordpress.com people to discuss how the non-unified table structure will scale to 30.000+ users.