Forward Into the Future

IMG_2243Having a smarter phone, and hence a more mobile web, is making me rethink multiple aspects of the web and how I use it. For example, I thought of streamlining my use of email. Right now, I have three main email accounts, and am on more than a few distribution lists. I don’t know how many lists I’m on, which strongly suggests that I’m on too many.

It might make sense to choose one email, autoforward the others to that mailbox, and get off most or all of the distribution lists. That would give me manageable mobile email.

But one of the emails is andrew dot watson at yahoo.com. To autoforward from that mailbox would cost me $20 a year, every year for the forseeable future. In Yahoo’s helpful words: Yahoo! Mail allows you to forward messages that come to your Yahoo! Mail Plus account to another email address. I emphasize Plus because Plus includes forwarding and POP access, whereas basic Yahoo mail does not include these features, basic though they seem to me.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Yahoo (especially since I own some shares). It’s not the only site that charges for forwarding. The site that hosts this blog has a similar policy in place if you want to redirect yourblogname.wordpress.com (as well as all of your permalinks) to your new domain name. The WordPress policy is similar to the Yahoo policy, but it’s not identical. It costs $10, rather than $20, a year.

That leads me to the following recommendations.

  1. For service providers, such as Automattic (owners of WordPress.com) and Yahoo: consider offering a “forward forever” deal. I’d suggest pricing it at twice the cost of one year’s forwarding. That way, the user gets to pay and forget, rather than being reminded every year that they need to keep paying for a service they don’t really us. That would be good for reputation, goodwill, etc. – and for cash flow, in that you’d get money now, rather than in future year.
  2. For web service users, especially content creators, think about leaving a service before you think about using that service. This echoes the advice given to firefighters: don’t go into a building without knowing your way out.
  3. For web service users again: own your own domain. I’ve taken my own advice here, by owning changingway.org. On the other hand, I don’t own flickr.com, which is where I keep most of my photos (including the one used in this post).

But that brings me back to Yahoo, which owns Flickr, and forward to consideration of getting photos out of Flickr and other photo services…. which deserves a separate post.

Short Link to Resume

WordPress.com now generates a shortlink for every post, as Matt announces and illustrates. It also generates a shortlink for every page. For example, this cute little URL will take you to my just-updated resume: http://wp.me/P36q6-ef.

This is good news, because the shortlinks will work as long as WordPress.com works: I think that’ll be a long time. I have less confidence in the longevity of small shortlink shops (such as tr.im, to which Matt refers in his post).

To conclude with a little buggy detail… The new feature shows up on the New Post page as a Get Shortlink button. When I clicked this button to get the URL, up popped a box with the shortlink nicely highlighted. So I used browser (Chrome) copy to paste it into a tweet, what actually got copied and pasted was the string “URL:”. I’ve dutifully reported this to wp.com support.

Lala Playlist Widget Revisited

Lala continues to be the music site I use the most. I haven’t used its playlist feature much, but I did create a playlist this week, and I did embed it in the previous post.

I couldn’t remember how to embed a Lala playlist in WordPress,com, did a Google search, and then found that I myself had posted an example months ago. I didn’t post step-by-step instructions on how to do so, and I didn’t get round to posting such instructions, even when a commenter asked for them. I’m glad to say that the commenter, Chris Martins, took the initiative and posted instructions once he worked it out.

WordPress 2.7 at WordPress.com

The 2.7 features are now here at WordPress.com (where this blog is hosted, despite it’s .org URI). My reaction is mainly positive:

  • The transition time was announced in advance. In the past, some WordPress.com bloggers have felt ambushed by new features, especially if they didn’t like the change.
  • I didn’t like some of the previous changes, particularly categories and tags being pushed “below the fold” so that I had to scroll down to them on the post screen. 2.7 restores them almost to their rightful place, near the top and alongside the post itself.
  • 2.7 also allows me to customize my admin interface by dragging boxes around. And yes, I have already dragged the categories and tags boxes even higher.

My main dislike so far is that WordPress.com seems very slow at the moment. I expect this to pass: there are probably a lot of people trying the new features, and there may be some back-end tuning that will speed up the new regime.

There are some other changes to which I am indifferent. In particular, corners seem rounder. (Hey, should I include a screenshot? It’s probably not necessary, since if you’ve read this far, you’re probably on WordPress.com yourself, or able to get a release candidate 2.7 for your self-hosted WordPress blog.)

So a thumb up from me on the WordPress 2.7 changes at WordPress.com. Rather, I should say at the “write new post” screen. One thing I would like is a small and simple Publish button (not in a box that includes things like post status, just a publish buttom).

Avatars, Blavatars, and Gravatars

Blavatars? Blog + avatars, explained Heather earlier today on the WordPress.com blog. I was confused, because a WordPress.com user can already have an avatar: an image that follows you from weblog to weblog appearing beside your name when you comment on avatar enabled sites.

There’s no explanation of the differences between an avatar (as already available at WordPress.com) and blavatar (as announced today). I think that there are two main differences. First, an avatar is associated with a user, while a blavatar is associated with a blog. A WordPress.com user can have many blogs.

Second, an avatar appears when you comment on a blog or when you post to the support forums. A blavatar provides the much-requested favicon, and also appears when you ping another blog.

If you’re wondering where gravatars fit in: a WordPress.com avatar is essentially a gravatar. The Gravatar web service was acquired by Automattic last year.

Goodreads Widget

WordPress.com, the host of this and millions of other blogs, does not allow Flash. That makes it impossible to use widgets such as the one that shows the books I’ve told Goodreads that I’m currently reading.

But is it really impossible? You never know until you try…

[clearspring_widget title=”Widget” wid=”491d034eec108fe6″ pid=”491d18bd94f24381″ width=”400″ height=”500″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Freemium the 13th

If “we” had to throw away “our” jargon – blogosphere, Web 2.0, social media, and so on – and could keep one term, I would vote to save freemium. I like portmanteau words: wijard = widget + card, freemium = free + premium, etc.

Dries of Drupal, Acquia, and Mollom fame posted earlier today about freemium as used in his projects. His remarks on Mollom are particularly interesting.

We currently have more than 3000 active users that use Mollom for free. Say each user spends on average 15 minutes a week moderating his site’s content and reporting classification errors to Mollom. Mollom learns from this feedback and automatically adjusts its spam filters so that all other Mollom users benefit from it. At a rate of $10 USD/hour, we get $390,000 USD worth of value from free users a year — 3000 users x 15 minutes/week x 52 weeks/year x 10 USD/hour = $390,000 USD/year. If these numbers hold up, the value of a free Mollom user could be estimated at $130 USD/year. And that doesn’t include the marketing value they add.

Meanwhile, Chris of the Long Tail identified four different freemium models. One of these is the “feature limited” model, of which WordPress.com is an example. I pay to make this blog changingway.org (as well as changingway.wordpress.com). By the way, WordPress.com is an example of multiple free business models, not “only” of freemium.

The first comment on Chris’s post is by Ben Watson (no relation). “New platforms are often hard to learn, and you can ease rapid adoption by not putting all the bells and whistles on the free version” is a strong argument in favor of the “feature limited” model.

If there is a black belt in the art of freemium, it is worn by 37signals. Looking at the options for my Backpack account, I see a combination of the “feature limited” and “seat limited” freemium models. For example: my free account allows me 2 users, 5 pages, and no storage; a solo account would cost $7/month and give me 100 pages, a shareable calendar, and some file storage; and so on.

Long live freemium. I like, not only the word, but also what it stands for and what it gives me: good software at no charge; more features, if I am willing to pay; and something interesting to write about.

Lala Playlist Widget

In a couple of separate recent posts about web music services, I noted that I like Lala, and that the Grooveshark widget uses the Clearspring platform to work on the widget-wary WordPress.com.

Well, it turns out that Lala has a widget that uses Clearspring, including the still-not-documented clearspring_widget shortcode. Here’s a playlist with the first few tracks I added to my Lala collection.

[clearspring_widget title=”Lala Playlist Widget” wid=”48f4e8b6f7fe2a43″ pid=”48fe97b591fdb6b7″ width=”300″ height=”254″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Clearspring Widgets at WordPress.com

The previous post provides an example of a Grooveshark music widget on this WordPress.com blog. It also notes that Clearspring’s widget platform is involved. How do I know that? Because the code generated by Grooveshark for WordPress.com includes the shortcode: clearspring_widget.

The existence of the clearspring_widget shortcode was news to me. It might also be news to whoever maintains the FAQ: What are the WordPress shortcodes?

If you’re interested enough in WordPress.com to have read this far, you’ll probably agree with me that this is news of the big and good variety. You might even forgive me for pointing out that Automattic seem to have taken the advice I offered Automattic 11 months ago: Make a wide variety of widgets available. Partnering with a trusted “widget broker” might be the best way to do this.

Having said that, I can’t claim to be breaking this news, given a post two months ago by Justin of Clearspring: when you post an ad-free Clearspring widget to a WordPress.com blog it will now show the entire widget inside of a blog post. But I didn’t see Justin’s post until I went looking for it this evening.

I certainly didn’t see the Clearspring shortcode mentioned over at WordPress.com, and I can’t find any reference to it in the official blog, in the FAQ, or in the forums. Guess I’ll mention it in the forums myself now.

By the way, other interesting Clearspring reading includes: their White Paper: What’s a Widget and Why is it Important? and the Wikipedia entry on Clearspring (which is where I found the logo at the top of this post).

Music on WordPress.com, via Grooveshark and Clearspring

Grooveshark is the easiest way to discover, share, and listen to music online. That’s according to… Grooveshark. If you’d prefer an opinion from a different source, you might go to Mashable, where Leslie Poston tells of her two-year relationship with Grooveshark, and of her favorable first impression of its new way to add customizable music widgets to your blog, Web page, or social networking site.

A music widget, you say? Will it work at WordPress.com, which strips out code from many external widgets (because they use Javascript or other code that might pose a security threat). Well, I tried it, and it did work. I posted from Grooveshark and then edited the resulting (draft) post; I didn’t see a way to get code for pasting in to WordPress.com. It turns out that the Grooveshark widget runs on the Clearspring widget platform and… but that deserves its own post.

Anyway, as an example of a Grooveshark music widget at WordPress.com, here’s Nick Drake, doing “Time Has Told Me,” with Richard Thompson on electric guitar. At least, I hope it is. There has been some widgety weirdness during the writing of this post.

[clearspring_widget title=”Grooveshark Widget: Chameleon” wid=”48f3ef6c29317865″ pid=”48f7e7584c65c13d” width=”400″ height=”300″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]