TrackBack’s Unique Content Potential

UPDATE FEB. 24: I’ve jotted down some thoughts on how news sites might use TrackBacks in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog and also here.

Those of you who read weblogs often have probably seen the term TrackBack – an automatic way for your Web site or blog to notify other sites or blogs whenever you link to them on your site. TrackBack is a built-in feature of many popular blogging tools, including Movable Type (the blog software that CONTENTIOUS uses).

TrackBack brings its own level of context to the world of blogs. In short, it enhances the ability for bloggers and their audiences to have (and to follow) something resembling a conversation that ranges across the pages of many blogs.

Recently, Phil Long published an excellent article in the online magazine Syllabus which explains what’s unique about the collective content created by TrackBacks. See “TrackBack: Where Blogs Learn Their Places.”

Here’s one thing about that article which really caught my attention…
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Another Way Around Site Registration: BugMeNot

(UPDATE FEB. 25: I’ve written a further exploration of the ethical pros and cons of BugMeNot.)

In an earlier entry, “Sick of Registering to Read the News?,” I covered the “freethepresses” strategy to gain access to some registration-required news sites. One CONTENTIOUS reader later tipped me off to an even better resource for getting around site registrations: the Australian site BugMeNot.

It’s a really interesting free service. I tried it out successfully for a leading news site for which the “freethepresses” strategy didn’t work: The Dallas Morning News.

Here’s more about BugMeNot and the controversy it’s stirring in the news industry…
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Creative Code Commentators

Here’s an often-overlooked medium for communication, creative expression and entertainment: software code comments. These are the non-executable text notes that programmers insert into their code – usually to explain technical or design points to other programmers, but often to communicate frustration, confusion, philosophical ponderings, jokes, and other human touches.

Code comments are an extremely important avenue of expression for programmers, and not just because code is the only thing that many of them know how to write. (OK, cheap shot, but I couldn’t resist!)

The recently leaked source code for Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system shows the versatile media potential of code comments…
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Today’s Blog-Hopping

When I catch up on my favorite weblogs, I tend to blog-hop – that is, I follow links from one blog entry to another, with related side-trips to various articles, sites, discussion forums, and more. Often, I find that the process of blog-hopping provides a rich context that’s ultimately more intriguing and rewarding than the individual entries I’m reading.

Blog-hopping is both an art and a skill. This May 2002 entry on blog-hopping from Amidst a Tangled Web explains more about how it can work.

Here’s how my blog-hopping went this morning, and ended up taking me around the world, to Iran…
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Sick of Registering to Read the News?

(UPDATE FEB. 25: For further discussion of this topic, read this entry and this entry.)

Many news Web sites now require visitors to register in order to see this content. It’s usually free, but still they request your e-mail as well as a username and password. Then you have to log in (or you’re automatically logged in by cookie) each time you visit the site.

I can understand why they do this – marketing, tracking, and all. But it annoys me. It’s an unnecessary, although minor, infringement on my privacy, I believe.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. Someone (I don’t know who), has gone around to many of these registration-required sites and created phony accounts that have a common userID and password. You can log into these sites using this account information, instead of creating your own account.

Here’s how it works….
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Putting Theory in Context

What does the word “theory” imply to you? That answer might vary depending on your familiarity with science. In other words, when you hear someone try to dismiss or denigrate an aspect of science by saying “it’s just a theory,” keep in mind that in the language of science a “theory” is actually a pretty solid proposition.

I was spurred to this line of thought by newly published book from the National Science Teachers Association, Evolution in Perspective, by Rodger Bybee. The book’s premise is that, “only those students whose schools teach them about the nature of science will truly understand evolution.”

Evolution is still derided by some critics as a “mere theory,” usually in order to have this subject presented in an uncertain fashion (or not at all) in classrooms. However, this is a classic case where a choice of word can seriously undermine an argument.

If you’re discussing a scientific theory, then the scientific definition of the word “theory” probably should take precedence over more common usages of the term. Here’s how one science dictionary defines theory:
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Involve Your Editor Right at the Start

Many of the worst content blunders I’ve witnessed, both online and in print, probably could have been avoided easily through some clear, up-front communication between the author and the editor – especially when the author is not primarily a writer by profession, training, or inclination.

Too often, the editor doesn’t get involved in the process until content has already been created – such as when there is a finished draft ready for review. By that time, the author has already invested considerable time and energy in the project, and thus typically feels very invested in what he or she has already created. That’s understandable. However, it’s usually difficult and stressful to make significant changes to a finished draft that misses the mark when the author already feels invested in that work.

Yes, emotions are a huge but generally unacknowledged issue in the editorial process – mainly because they determine the level of friction and stress in writing and editing work.

…Don’t worry, I’m not recommending couples counseling for author-editor pairs. (Well, at least in most cases!) However, I have found that some simple communication strategies can vastly improve cooperation between writers and editors. Ultimately, this yields better content quality, with much less work and stress.

Here’s where that communication should start: Generally, it’s best for the author and editor to start talking right at the beginning of a project – at the point the assignment is made or the decision to publish takes place, and before any research or writing occurs…
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Language Niches and Open-Source Software

What do you do if you run a company, need software, and your employees speak only Kinyirawanda? Or Greek? Or Vietnamese? Apparently, the best option might well be open source software such as the Open Office suite.

Today, a News.com article, “Se habla open source?” covers how companies that localize open-source software are eagerly pursuing these “language niches.”

According to this article, analysts say that these niche markets “…could present a significant long-term threat to Microsoft’s dominance on PC desktops. Regions and language groups that don’t have enough of a PC market now to justify development of proprietary commercial software will naturally turn to open-source alternatives, they say. And by the time those markets become big enough to draw the attention of Microsoft and other commercial software makers, open-source could be as entrenched as Microsoft is in developed countries now.”

Cool!…
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RSS Nickname Contest: I’ve Narrowed Down the List

After the first week of public voting on the CONTENTIOUS RSS Feed Nickname contest, it’s become very obvious that it’s not practical to ask people to choose one favorite out of the full list of 273 contest entries.

So I’ve decided to simplify the process. Today, I’ve narrowed the list of voting choices to 46 front-runners. You can VOTE NOW from this shorter list.

These front-runners include:

  • Every nickname that received at least one vote so far in the initial public voting process.
  • The top five choices from the full list selected by most of our panel of judges.

Although I don’t like changing the contest process mid-stream, I really believe this simplification is necessary in order to get meaningful results from this contest. Many people have commented that they were overwhelmed by having to select just one favorite from among 273 choices.

I realized that this decision to simplify will please many people, but not everyone. In particular, I expect that some people whose entries were eliminated in this simplification may object. I apologize in advance for that, but the voting process was simply too unwieldy. I do appreciate all entries made to this contest. We did receive nearly 100 votes in this first week – enough, I think, to have gotten a fair sampling of public opinion on the full list of entries.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet voted in this contest – or particularly if you wanted to vote but were overwhelmed by the long list of choices – I encourage you to VOTE NOW!