Archive: MySpace

It is commonly said that blogging is dead. The refrain has increased in frequency over the past year or so, as Twitter extends its influence further and further.

I have been blogging since 2002, when I was just 16. Over the years, it has been my favourite means of communicating online — more than Facebook or Twitter. More than IM and perhaps even email.

But increasingly I find myself becoming tired of it. Partly, this is due to that pesky “real life” nonsense taking over. As I make the transition from school pupil to student bum to full time worker, I have less and less spare time to dedicate to blogging.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that I am trying to run three blogs at once (the others being Scottish Roundup and vee8). In addition, I have started to write for other websites and have begun to dabble with podcasting.

Blogging is not what it once was

There have been many changes in the nature of blogging since 2002 as well. The emergence of other tools like social networks, microblogs and tumblelogs has encroached on territory that blogging used to inhabit.

In 2002, blogs were the best (or only) way to interact with friends online. It was pre-MySpace, never mind Facebook. Back then, blogs were a good way to publish snippets of transient, inconsequential thoughts — to get stuff off your chest. Now, Twitter is ideal for that. For those who feel too constrained by the 140 character limit, you can always set up a tumblelog.

But now that these new tools exist, blogging has been forced to become a medium where you publish more in-depth thoughts. Without a doubt, I update this blog much less often than I used to. In 2004, I published 880 posts. This year I might just about get above 100. But five years ago many of my posts were extremely short. Now, to justify even touching my blog, I feel like I have to produce an essay.

There is also the fact that I posted a lot of nonsense when I was younger, whereas now I have to be more responsible with the way I update my blog. I need to come across well, which means I have to quite carefully consider everything I publish.

In short, blogging is now hard work, whereas beforehand it was just good fun. None of this is news. But today, a couple of things have again focused my attention on blogging.

Where are the new readers?

Firstly, Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting wrote a post announcing “the death of blogging“. He senses a general malaise in the blogosphere. According to him, there are few new readers. Moreover, some big Scottish blogging names have hung up their keyboards in the past few months.

In response to Jeff, I would say that I don’t think a year has gone by when a big name hasn’t given up blogging. But blogging life goes on. While I am not happy to have seen the likes of Scottish Unionist and Malc in the Burgh close down their blogs, and others dramatically decrease the frequency of their updates, blogging is not about who the big names are. It is about the conversation between bloggers.

Jeff may well be right that there are fewer new readers though. In terms of statistics, the best days of this blog are certainly long gone. Visitor numbers peaked in 2006 and 2007, and have steadily declined since. This is in stark contrast to the early years, when readership grew seemingly exponentially, as though it were viral. In fairness, you should expect this if you publish much less, as I do. I doubt the same applies to Jeff though.

Twitter increases in authority

Perhaps more ominous in terms of the value of this blog is not the fact that readers appear to be losing interest, but the revelation that Google appears to view my Twitter account as more authoritative.

It hadn’t occurred to me before to check what the PageRank of my Twitter account might be. I assumed it would be low. But having read, via Andrew Hayes, an article about PageRank and Twitter, I decided to check.

I was astonished to find that my Twitter account apparently has a PageRank of 5. In comparison, this blog today has a PageRank of 3 (a shadow of what it used to be).

Of course, it is probably wise not to focus much on the importance of PageRank. Google itself increasingly plays down the role of PageRank. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from using PageRank as a means of publicly “bitch-slapping” websites that it views as threatening its advertising revenues gaming its search engine.

PageRank is the one small window provided to webmasters who want to see what Google really thinks about their websites. For my Twitter account to be clearly rated higher in this way than my blog has come as a surprise. I am not even the most prolific of Twitter users.

So is the blogging era over? I couldn’t have articulated this in 140 characters or less. But if few people are going to read it anyway, and if even Google doesn’t care so much, it makes me wonder what the point is any more.

An hour or so of my evening has been poured into writing this post. Soon I will have even fewer spare hours to spend on blogging. I persevere with blogging because I think it is, in a way, important. But if Twitter is easier (which it undoubtedly is) and has more impact (which apparently now it does), is there much point in continuing?

One of the problems with social networking sites is that not everyone is on the same one. Thankfully I don’t find myself having to login to MySpace any more. But I would drop Bebo at a moment’s notice if I could get away with it. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends — particularly those from Fife, and perhaps those thatare younger in general than Facebookers — are on Bebo only. So I have to keep that account going.

I have a friend who refuses to join Facebook, partly because he is worried that it is just another website to sign up to, only to be replaced by the new flavour of the month as soon as he’s done it. I can sympathise with that. We’ve all been there with MySpace and now Bebo, and I probably have dozens of dormant web 2.0 accounts.

There is also the hassle involved with getting your head around a fancy new social network. So many people tell me they find Facebook too complicated. Meanwhile, Twitter is so disarmingly simple that it confuses and spooks many first-time users.

Another of my friend’s objections to Facebook involves the perception that it is too posh. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room, but when you think about it it’s difficult to avoid the fact that there is a class division in the way different types of people use different social networks. Danah Boyd wrote about the case of MySpace and Facebook in the USA two years ago. Today in the UK you could say a similar thing about Bebo and Facebook.

I guess that was inevitable given the exclusivity of Facebook in the early days. At first you had to be at Harvard to use it, then one of the Ivy League universities. Then you had to be at any University (this is when I joined). Then when it was a few years old it opened up to everyone — to howls of protest from many of the people who were already in the exclusive Facebook loop, as I recall. It’s probably fair to say that Facebookers think of themselves as being a cut above their chavvier Bebo-using counterparts — though functionally the sites are very similar.

When someone says to you, “you really should be on [social network x],” it is almost like being invited to a new (slightly posher) pub or restaurant. You’re used to eating out at Wetherspoons (well, that’s all they’ve got in Kirkcaldy — even Burger King upped sticks a few years ago). Now someone has invited you to Di Chez El Nom Nom, or something.

You wouldn’t have countenanced going in by yourself. But it would be rude to turn down the invitation. When you go in it’s a bit unfamiliar. What is the etiquette? What is the third spoon for? Why is my napkin folded into the vague shape of a cockerel? Am I allowed to poke you now, or is that just for special occasions? What is this exotic feature? What is that strange item on the menu and how do I pronounce it? It seems too complicated!

It feels awkward. You will make mistakes at first. But soon enough you will get a taste for it, and you won’t ever consider setting foot in Burger King again (I still like Wetherspoons though).

I got that experience when I signed up to LinkedIn, on the advice of Chris Applegate in the comments here. I’d passed LinkedIn on the street a number of times and peered in, but it didn’t look like the sort of place where I’d be welcome. It describes itself as being for “professionals”. Pah!

Well now Chris has given me the green light to enter, though I still don’t quite feel welcome. Anyone who thinks Facebook is complicated needs to check out LinkedIn. It took me quite a while to work out that really no-one there is interested in my favourite music or my drunken photos. It really is just a glorified (and inflexible) CV.

Even after I have filled in all my details and added a few connections, there is still a little power meter on my page telling me that my profile is only 70% complete! And moreover, I am less likely to appear in searches until I reach 100%. How rude!

But I can’t help thinking already that LinkedIn is the way to go. I mean, if I meet someone in a professional capacity, I might well want to connect with them online in some way. And with its complete candidness, with my personality presented warts and all, Facebook is probably not the way to do that.

So my friend is kind of right. If he signs up to Facebook, he will probably find it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself being asked by his peers to join LinkedIn. I myself wonder what even smarter social network I will end up having to sign up to next.

It seems like a pain at first. But I guess it’s just like dressing smartly for a job interview then lounging around in Pot Noodle-stained boxers in your house.

All of this is quite a long-winded way of saying that I have recently joined LinkedIn. If I know you, you are welcome to connect with me on it. I will probably go on my own adding spree soon. If you’re a veteran, please excuse my only 70% complete profile…

View Duncan Stephen's profile on LinkedIn

For the past few weeks I have been using Digsby, a smart Trillian-style multi-protocol IM client. I’ve tried such programs before — Trillian, Pidgin and Meebo — but for one reason or another they all annoyed me. For this reason, before Digsby I stuck to having MSN, Google Talk and Skype all open at once.

Digsby is quite cool because not only does it unite your IM accounts but it throws in your email and social networking accounts as well. So updates from Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace sit alongside your buddy list. Neat stuff. I believe support for more social networks is in the pipeline too.

Having said that, the Twitter features leave a lot to be desired. I have since started using Twhirl which I think is fantastic, save for the fact that it doesn’t open automatically when my computer starts up.

Beforehand I updated Twitter using Google Talk. But once I installed Twhirl I switched IM Twitter updates off because of course I was getting duplicate messages. But even then the problem of duplicate (or triplicate) messages did not go away. It got me thinking about the increasing trend for stuff people publish on one website to be automatically re-published elsewhere.

A lot of people I know use a Facebook application called TwitterSync. I am among them because I was screaming out for Facebook to allow this for a long time. The app automatically updates your Facebook status with your latest Twitter tweet.

This is cool because enlightened people know how great Twitter is, but there are so many more people on Facebook who do not use Twitter but could still benefit from the wise words you post on Twitter. The Facebook status is the ideal way to give your Twitter account a wider audience.

But what about those people who are friends with me on both Facebook and Twitter? They get the status updates twice. This was not so annoying beforehand. But because Digsby is hooked up to Facebook and Twitter, I get two little pop-ups telling me all about it — and this is in addition to Twhirl’s alerts.

This reminded me of a post written by Robin Hamman a couple of weeks ago. He asked, “is auto-feeding links to Twitter spammy?”

My Tweet Cloud Then I came across a website called Tweet Clouds. This site produces a word cloud or heatmap of the words you use on Twitter. Three words tower above all the others: New. Blog. Post. Those three words appear at the start of each automatically generated tweet advising followers that I have just published something on my blog.

I do quite like it when people alert their followers on Twitter to the fact that they have just published a blog post. I think other people like it as well. I have just checked and over the past year Twitter has been this blog’s fifth highest referrer, bringing 888 visits. That is above Google Search and Google Search UK (although below Google Image Search and Google Image Search UK).

If you take out search engines and blog aggregators, Twitter is the second-biggest referrer to this blog (the biggest being Times Online’s blog platform, which is concentrated on just a few posts). Remember that this does not even include those who are visiting from the Twitter stream in their IM client or another application.

I often also click through when a new blog post is mentioned on Twitter if it sounds interesting enough. But I cannot stand it when other feeds are injected into a Twitter stream — people’s tumblelogs, Delicious links and the like. That is just overload.

If I was interested in someone’s Delicious links, guess what — I’d be subscribed to their Delicious feed. If I cared in the slightest about somebody’s tumblelog, I’d visit their tumblelog. Equally, however, you could say that if somebody really cared about my blog posts then there is already an adequate way to be alerted to new posts: RSS.

This problem is going to increase in the coming year as lifestreams and social aggregators such as Profilactic, FriendFeed and Socialthing! gain in popularity. In fact, these sites themselves demonstrate the problem itself rather nicely.

If you look at, for instance, my Profilactic ‘mashup’, you will see my blog posts appearing and soon afterwards the Twitter tweet announcing it. Then you will see my Delicious links repeated in a blog post (for vee8 at least). Jaiku had to be taken out because it is itself a pseudo-lifestream that already incorporates Delicious, Last.fm, Twitter and what-have-you.

Plus, Facebook has just begun to implement its own social aggregator-style features. If you already have the Delicious application installed then import your Delicious posts into your Facebook news feed, you will be getting the duplication in the Facebook news feed alone. (I tried it hoping that it would sync with Facebook’s ‘Posted Items’ feature — no such luck.)

This whole problem is summed up quite succinctly by Jon Bounds in a comment at Cybersoc:

The Facebook status, pulled from a twitter auto-announcing a blog post generated from del.icio.us links is not what I want form these services. And I get the feed of it at each stage.

It is probably time to step back, decide on which social aggregator I want to use, stick with it and stop republishing stuff on other websites. Still, I can’t help thinking that it just feels right to merge my Twitter account with my Facebook status, and it just feels right to publicise my blog posts on my Twitter account.

At the same time, it’s just not cool to read the same messages over and over again on several different websites. The internet is starting to feel like a giant echo chamber.

So there I was on Monday night, lying in bed listening to Up All Night as I normally do. Then all of a sudden they began talking about me.

Once again it was the Pods and Blogs segment, and once again it was in the Britblog Roundup slot. The very same slot where I farted through my mouth precisely seven days earlier.

I was surprised by the attention that was attracted by my post about whether or not I should put my blogs on my CV. It was really intended as a warm-up post to the long list of skills that I have acquired as a blogger which was posted the following day. Compared to the “warm-up” post, the list bombed.

It just goes to show once again that I am terrible at working out which of my posts are better than others.

I have to admit, it was quite a strange experience lying in bed listening to Rhod Sharp mulling over my career prospects!

One thing though. I didn’t say that I was worried about my Facebook and MySpace accounts. My Facebook and MySpace accounts are impeccable (I hope)!

I don’t know if Matt Wardman will be providing the audio this week, but it is still available on the podcast — the relevant bit is around 27 minutes in.

Update: Matt Wardman has uploaded the audio here.

(Yes, every post I write about RSS must contain the hilarious “‘RSS’ sounds a little bit like ‘arse’” pun.)

I have a request for those people who publish RSS feeds. Make them full feeds!

I know there is a supposedly a debate about whether partial or full feeds work best. Well, that is not really the right way to put it. Everybody knows that full feeds work better than partial feeds. I mean, it is like saying that a sandwich is better than the crumbs. It’s just obvious.

But some website owners are, for some reason, sniffy about full feeds. Some people publish partial feeds for relatively superficial reasons, for instance because they can’t bear for any readers to be reading it in an environment other than their lovingly handcrafted web page design. Others have more serious suspicions: that full feeds rob them of page views and rob them of advertising revenue.

Earlier this year, the rather good Freakonomics blog moved to The New York Times website. At the same time, the full feeds were snatched away from the blog’s many readers. Apparently, it is NYTimes policy.

Immediately there was an angry reaction from readers. It (mostly) wasn’t from readers concerned about NYTimes itself or even due to the fact that the URLs had changed, that there was an entirely new navigation system to accustomise to, or anything like that. They were almost all from people who were angry that the full feed had overnight turned into a partial feed. Many readers even said they were unsubscribing.

The comments to the initial post were just the start of it. Several subsequent threads descended into similar “outraged of Bloglinesville” mobs, and it has become a recurring topic on the blog ever since. This is one plus side — at least the authors are open about the problems and the reasons why they can no longer offer a full feed.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to get angry, I would guess that I have read a lot less of the Freakonomics blog since the move. This is entirely down to the fact that it no longer offers a full feed.

I am aware that a lot of people simply cannot believe that (or understand why) full feeds generate as many clickthroughs as (or sometimes even more clickthroughs than) partial feeds do. It doesn’t seem to make sense, right? If people can read the entire content without leaving their RSS reader, why on earth would they visit the website?

But it doesn’t work like that. FeedBurner say so — and they would know. To me, it is just common sense. I have been reading RSS feeds for a few years now, so I think I have a pretty good idea of the reasons why partial feeds just do not work.

Think about why people use RSS feeds as opposed to visiting the different web sites all the time. It’s obvious: people who use RSS feeds do so because it makes it easier and quicker to read everything they want to read.

So immediately we have run into the problem with partial feeds — they do the precise opposite of what the reader wants. They make it more difficult and slower to read what you want to read. If you have begun reading and want to read the rest of the content, it involves clicking through and waiting for the (probably bloated) web page to load. It is a needless, unwanted, time wasting, inefficient hassle.

That explains why readers generally don’t like partial feeds. But what about the clickthrough rate? First of all, it is worth pointing out that page views are falling out of favour as a meaningful web metric thanks to the increasing use of Ajax and other kinds of magic. In a funny way, more page views usually means it’s a worse website. (Ask users of MySpace and Facebook about the navigation of those sites, and see which site has the happiest users.)

But let us say that page views (and certainly visits) are a good thing. So why should you use full feeds? Once again, for me it is down to convenience. I use RSS feeds because it allows me to squeeze more reading into a shorter space of time. Imagine sitting there in front Google Reader. You have a list of items waiting to be read. So you get on with it and start scrolling through, scanning for anything interesting.

By now, you may have realised why partial feeds do not automatically generate clickthroughs. It is because there is less of the content for me to scan-read and evaluate. Typically, a partial feed will contain the headline and the first couple of dozen words. This simply is not enough to give me as a reader an idea of how good the rest of the article is. Neither is it long enough for the author to sell the article.

There is one site that falls victim to this more than any other if you ask me. Tim Worstall, one of the most widely-respected British bloggers. His RSS feeds simply do not do his blog justice.

I will sit there with Google Reader and scroll through the many posts he has written that day, and all too often I find myself not being enticed by a single one of them. That is not because they are not interesting. It’s because his partial feeds simply do not give me any confidence that clicking through to read the rest of the post will be worth my time.

If Tim Worstall writes ten posts in a day (which is my conservative estimate of what he averages), he is asking me to read ten summaries, click ten times, wait for ten web pages to slowly load, then read ten full posts. What a waste of time!

This is especially annoying if the partial feed stops in the middle of a sentence, which is almost every time. When the partial feed stops at the end of a sentence, then there is the confusion over whether I had read the full post (just a really short one), or if it was just a fluke that the feed finished in a neat position.

If Tim Worstall provided full feeds in the first place, I could have just read them all there instead of going through all of that hassle. Who knows, I might even have clicked through and left a comment. I might have bookmarked one of his posts in Delicious, letting other people know how good the post is. I might even have blogged about it. I might even have clicked on an advert!

As it is, I just scroll through the summaries and ignore them all. I have, in the past, unsubscribed from his blog because of the frustration over this. I recently subscribed again, but can’t say I read a good deal more of his blog as a result.

Some other blogs provide “summaries” instead of partial feeds. This is where, instead of the first few words of the post, the author has instead specially written a summary designed for the feed. The problem with this is that sometimes it is made up of a random paragraph taken from the middle of the article. Even worse, it might give away the conclusion before I have even read what it was the conclusion for!

If I am enticed by such a summary, I will click through and find myself reading the post and thinking, “This isn’t what I thought I was reading.” Then I will come across that paragraph in the middle. Ah, and that introduction in the summary? I have found out that it was actually a conclusion. It is like forcing somebody to read the last page of the novel before reading the rest of it!

There is another more fundamental reason why people should offer full feeds. It is just plain rude not to. RSS subscribers are your most dedicated readers. They are people who have decided that your content is good enough to have it effectively delivered straight to them on a regular basis.

Yet, how are these dedicated readers paid back? By getting a mangled fraction of the content that they asked for. It is like subscribing to your favourite magazine only to find the publisher sending out cuttings rather than the whole magazine. What a way to treat your regular readers!

I can hear the howls already: “What about all of the beautiful adverts that I have lovingly placed on my blog / newspaper / whatever? If I offer full feeds, nobody will look at the adverts and I won’t make any money!” Again, there are several responses.

I have already explained why full feeds do not lead to a reduction in clickthroughs. So people will see your adverts just as much as they always did.

There is an even more obvious answer: what is stopping you putting adverts on your feed? Plenty of big websites already do this. It is perfectly possible. People who are refusing to offer full feeds because “they don’t contain my adverts” are simply shoving their heads in the sand.

Even if there was a legitimate concern about adverts, it has to be remembered that your regular readers (the sort who would subscribe to your RSS feed) are the very people who are the least likely to click on the adverts anyway.

Let us not forget also that a lot of adverts are not even designed for human eyes as much as they are designed for SEO. These kinds of adverts would not even mind not being seen (just as long as Googlebot sees it).

Maybe you are concerned about stats. Let’s face it, as bloggers we all are. We want to know how many people are reading. What would be the point if you had no way of knowing if people were reading or not. Gordon McLean (whose recent post on RSS is an interesting read) falls into this group.

Admittedly, this is one downside to RSS as it becomes impossible to find out precisely how many people are reading. Mind you, web stats are not generally the most reliable things anyway. Run four different stats counters and you are bound to get four different — sometimes wildly varying — figures. RSS further muddies the waters.

As it happens, I recently moved over to having this blog’s feeds provided by Feedburner (combined with the absolutely vital FeedSmith WordPress plugin), partly because it would give me some fairly accurate (but not precise) statistics. I was pleasantly surprised to find that around 140–150 people are subscribed to this blog. (Hello to you good people. I hope you are enjoying the full feed!)

Beforehand I had vague ideas of who was reading this blog’s webpages and why. But I had no idea of how many people were actually subscribed to this blog’s RSS feed. But now I do have some fairly interesting and meaningful stats about my RSS feed. So even the stats issue with RSS feeds is resolved to an extent.

All of this is not to say that partial feeds do not have their place. For instance, they are perfect for news websites. This is because of the way they work. We are used to just scanning through a front page containing only a headline and a (very) brief summary of each story. From here we choose which stories we want to read. This is how news websites work, and partial feeds can reflect this.

Blogs, however, do not work in this way. Very few blogs offer just a summary of each post on the front page. The blog format does not usually lend itself well to this approach. Rather, the vast majority of blogs’ front pages contain either the full content of the most recent posts, or at least a huge chunk of them.

As far as I can see, there is no reason why the vast majority of web sites should be forcing their most dedicated users to put up with shoddy, sub-standard partial feeds. For me, the fears that website owners have surrounding full feeds are mostly unfounded.

Here is something that I’ve been pondering about quite a bit recently. A few years ago it was all bad news for bloggers who have jobs. Getting sacked because of your blog stuck fear into so many that it the concept even spawned its own word: dooce.

People who have been dooced are not in short supply. There was Joe Gordon who wrote unflattering things about his employers. Rather more unfairly there was Petite Anglaise, who was seemingly sacked for merely existing. Or something. And of course there is Heather Armstrong.

Because of all this, there is a bit of a fear about employers discovering your blog. I guess that is a bit old-fashioned now. More salient is the issue of MySpace and Facebook accounts being discovered. Blogs must seem relatively benign compared to some MySpace profiles.

Nevertheless, there is still a bit of a dilemma. What do you do if you are a blogger who is hunting for a job? I am getting to the stage where I am starting to think seriously about this issue. By this time next year I am supposed to have graduated and be doing a proper job. I now have to contend with the fact that large swathes of my personal life and opinions are out there in the open.

I’m not upset or angry about that. I was always aware that it would be the case. But it’s an interesting problem to tackle. It is pretty much accepted that nowadays employers will Google job candidates as a basic check.

True, you could blog anonymously. But I let that cat out of the bag years ago. Anyone searching for my name will find my website, this blog and my accounts for Bebo, Jaiku and Twitter — all on the first page of results.

Thankfully, while the general advice to blogging workers a few years ago was to keep it under your hat, nowadays I am seeing more and more people saying that having a blog is actually a boost to your career prospects. I am still not entirely convinced. Sitting in a Web 2.0 bubble, it is easy to say that blogging is great. But in my day-to-day life I still feel as though blogging is something that many people scoff at.

I mean, it is probably fair to say that blogging is a hobby for me. And hobbies are generally spoddy, right? Trainspotting, stamp collecting, fishing. It’s okay to be a nerd if it’s a hobby. Yet I would probably still be more comfortable listing ‘philately’ as a hobby than ‘blogging’. If somebody asks me what I did last night I will usually say, “Oh, nothing really. Just relaxed a bit.” But in reality I probably spent three hours blogging.

That is not because I am ashamed of my blog. Far from it. But the fact is that if I was to say to somebody that one of my biggest achievements was my blog, people would think I was the most utterly lame person alive. “Oh, you’ve got a blog? I had one of them once. So, who reads your blog? Your mum?”

The unfortunate fact is that for most people out there, a blogger is at best a wannabe writer who is not talented enough to be a professional. At worst, a blogger is a rambling, incoherent, narcissistic teenager.

The crux of the matter is this. You and I know that blogging can be a pretty worthwhile activity. But what does the person reading my CV think?

It could go either way I guess. I am in a hairy situation because my CV is rather bare. And as excellent as my current workplace is, I am guessing that it will take a bit more than filling shelves to impress potential employers.

The truth is that blogging probably is one of my better achievements. It has certainly been my main extracurricular activity over the past few years. So I think I will throw caution to the wind and stick it on my CV. After all, chances are that they will find it via Google anyway. I am also convinced that my years of blogging has given me lots of skills. That is actual skills, not M4D 5K1LL5.

Rhys Wynne has blogged about the skills that he has gained from blogging. And, via Rhys Wynne, I have also found this list of useful skills that bloggers have.

I mostly agree with them. I will explain why tomorrow.

Update: I have now posted the list here.

Sorry about my absence over the weekend. I was here all along. In fact, I was here more than usual. It was one of the least busy weekends I’ve had in a while. But I somehow misplaced my blogging mojo and I was distracted by other things.

Other things like my latest internet addiction, Scrabulous! Jeremy Bentham thought that humans wanted to maximise pleasure rather than pain. Goodness knows what he would have thought if he saw me inviting Facebook friends to play Scrabble against me.

It has mostly been a demoralising affair. I hadn’t realised quite how rusty I was at Scrabble. I knew it was bad when I changed my target in my games to staying within 100 points of my opponent. Apologies to everyone who has had to put up with my awful Scrabble standards.

Still, I did win one game. I got off to a good start with ‘zealot’ early on, but I fell behind. Just when it was looking beyond hope, I redeemed myself with — of all words — ‘pies’. I always knew they were good for you really.

It’s incredible to think about the popularity of the Scrabulous Facebook application. I would never have heard of Scrabulous if it wasn’t for Facebook even though Scrabulous must have been in existence for a while.

This is part of the genius of Facebook Applications. They realised that there is added utility in combining other websites with Facebook. For instance, with the Last.fm Facebook apps I can see the music that all of my friends are listening to — people who I didn’t necessarily know had a Last.fm profile. With Scrabulous I can instantly play games of Scrabble with my friends without having to sign up or track down my friends.

All this has got me thinking about Facebook Applications again. When they were launched at the beginning of the summer, it felt as though there could be two or three really good uses for it, but that it could lead to the kind of overload that makes MySpace unbearable.

Now my profile has 14 apps on it (not including the ones made by Facebook themselves) and rising. Some are trivial. Others are distracting. The best are nigh-on revolutionary.

Perhaps with the latter group of applications in mind, Facebook themselves appear to have taken a bit of a step back. One annoying move they have recently made has been to call their excellent Courses feature an application and promptly remove it. I still don’t understand the justification for it.

For students like myself (who, after all, Facebook was originally designed for), the courses feature was not a mere add-on service. It was practically integral to the website as it allowed you to easily find your classmates.

Now it has been ripped out and replaced with at least two different applications (and probably more in the future). And because different people will be using different applications (or none at all), now you won’t be able to find your classmates so easily. Not the smartest move by Facebook if you ask me.

I wonder quite why Facebook felt the need to pull out. Maybe they are feeling the heat of the spotlight a bit too much. It’s not good to be the top dog. Ask McDonald’s, CocaCola, Microsoft or (now) Google. These companies all receive exponentially more flack than whoever is on the next rung down. Facebook is dangerously close to being among them.

By passing on responsibility for so much of its functionality to third parties, at least Facebook can now attempt to divert the attention elsewhere. If somebody launches into some kind of tirade about privacy and the courses feature, Facebook can now say, “Don’t look at us — it was [third party application developer].”

Perhaps there are less sinister reasons for Facebook’s change in tack though. A new application is causing a bit of a buzz and it is putting Facebook itself to shame (via Martin Stabe).

I have written in the past about how Facebook’s geographical networks are woefully inadequate. Basically, they have plucked some major cities from the atlas and decided that that will do. There are only 17 geographical networks for the UK, and they are almost all major cities.

If you are in Scotland you have to choose from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Tough luck if you live in the Western Isles or even Fife, a peninsula wedged in between two of the aforementioned cities.

The rather excellent looking Neighborhoods app cuts out all of this nonsense. It makes these geographical networks for you. I added the app and it created a Kirkcaldy network for me, just like that! It has its own network-style page.

Of course, the problem with this is that the network is extremely small compared to, for instance, the Edinburgh one. In fact, I am the only member. But perhaps the tight-knit nature of these networks will work to its advantage. If the Neighborhoods app takes off (as it apparently has in Seattle), it could prove to be just the ticket. A simple solution to an old problem that Facebook themselves didn’t have a solution for.

It feels like a good time for me to review some of my favourite Facebook apps. But that will come tomorrow.

Well a happy new year to you, now that we are actually in it. I notice that a few bloggers (like Will) have been posting their top five posts. I can assure you that the five most-viewed posts of the year will not have been my five best posts of the year. They will just be the ones that have attracted Googlers the most.

But no surprises as to what was number 1:

  1. Big Brother’s Big Saviour. This post about Russell Brand stormed to the top of all sorts of mucky Google searches after some person in the comments mentioned Imogen’s sex tape. Disgusting. This page accounted for over 10% of all visits to this blog this year!
  2. Richard Hammond. Descended into a debate about whether it’s disrespectful to dislike somebody (Steve Irwin) even though they’re dead.
  3. Weekend mornings are meaningless once again. Simon Amstell left Popworld, but most people were only interested in searching for pictures of Miquita Oliver.
  4. Another new Freeview channel. This post lays into smileTV, Freeview’s mankiest channel. People arrive at this page looking for information on Freeview channels. I imagine this post is a good advert.
  5. Countdown to PS2’s Formula One 06. I’m still a little bit peeved that the actual review I wrote for this game is nowhere near as popular. Gah.

A few posts from 2005 were actually more popular than some of these, but they don’t count right because we’re talking about 2006.

The ‘popularity contest’ plugin, which also takes into account things like comments and whatever else, comes up with a slightly different result:

  1. Big Brother’s Big Saviour
  2. Another new Freeview channel
  3. Weekend mornings are meaningless once again
  4. Time Trumpet. I can’t even remember what I wrote in this post.
  5. MySpace UK seems to have launched. Check out the comments full of emos who are shocked at the way I diss their Space.

So there you have it. My five (or seven) best posts of the year. I wouldn’t recommend it. Although I can deduce that April was a stupidly popular year. Hmm. I will try and get some kind of Reddit- / Digg-style voting plugin for this blog. That would probably be much better.

Okay, how else can I look at last year? What music I’ve listened to. I know I still haven’t posted my top ten albums of 2006 yet. I promise that is coming. But Last.fm offers a handy way to track what you listen to, and a glance at the rolling year chart on this day allows me to have a look at what I listened to over the past year. This will change tomorrow, so it’s worth taking a note of, if you’re interested in that kind of useless information.

  1. Boards of Canada (851)
  2. Radiohead (674)
  3. Pulp (624)
  4. Broadcast (615) — I don’t remember listening to this much Broadcast?!
  5. Autechre (607)
  6. Squarepusher (588)
  7. The Fiery Furnaces (579)
  8. Tortoise (472)
  9. Aphex Twin (384)
  10. Prefuse 73 (366)

Perhaps the most surprising thing (apart from how high Broadcast are) is how low Autechre are. For the most part though, this isn’t too different to my all-time top ten on Last.fm.

As for the tracks chart, apart from two tracks that appeared on two different releases (thus probably getting twice as many listens as they otherwise would have), all of my top ten is made up of tracks from Florida by Diplo and Everything Ecstatic by Four Tet. I got both of those albums for last Christmas. So that is probably proof that I don’t spend nearly as much time on the computer as I used to. The chart will probably look completely different at the end of the month.

Perhaps against my better judgement, I have signed up to Orkut. There are an awful lot of questions they ask you to answer. I’m not sure that I like it. The design is rank, although thankfully not as bad as MySpace. Oh well. Facebook is still my favourite social network.

Facebook / MySpace bumhole alert:

After [Jenny] Thompson created a MySpace page two years ago, she found herself sifting through dozens of requests daily from would-be acquaintances seeking to link to her page. By early this year, she’d amassed 4,000 such “friends,” most of them strangers. Many flooded her page with remarks like “omg” — shorthand for “oh my god” — “you’re so beautiful.” By June, Ms. Thompson, who resides in New London, Conn., was sick of the comments and posted a farewell ode before deleting her page:

“good bye myspace.

I’ve always hated you.

I just never had what it took

to leave”

Ms. Thompson belongs to a fringe of Internet users now renouncing MySpace and other social-networking sites — not in spite of their popularity, but because of it.

Did she not realise that the solution might have been to deny some friend requests instead of just writing a shitty attention-seeking poem? It’s a bit like those people who post dramatic “I’M LEAVING!!!” threads on forums. If you’re leaving, why the jizz are you still posting?

Via Digg.