Blogger Hacks, Categories, Tips & Tricks

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Another neat blogger hack submitted by Mario, of Caso Pathologico. He's authored a script to estimate the reading time of your posts, so that your readers know whether they've got time to get through the whole thing before the boss comes back!!

The default reading speed is 25o wpm, but the script is open & so you can set a slower or faster reading speed depending on your opinion of your readers. There are 4 code inserts required to set this up... a script in the head, the code to display the time estimate, a special div to make the blogitembody stand out, and another script that sits just outside the closing blogger tag.

The post and the hack are in Spanish, but the function works great regardless of my inability to read it!! Great work, Mario!!

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Posted at 4:54 PM by John.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Are we one step closer to the killer blog-support app that does all the back-room reader / feeder / bookmarker / linktracker stuff authoritatively & in one spot? Check the Technorati Weblog for an intro to their latest feature, Favorites:
We've made it as easy as possible to add blogs to your Favorites. All over Technorati, just click the star icon (*) to add that blog to your favorites. Looking for good blogs on a certain topic? Check out Blog Finder and add blogs from there!

There's also a bookmarklet you can take with you, so you can add to your favorites wherever you browse (get it on the Favorites Help page). And if you use another subscription tool or service, you can export your subscriptions and import them using the Favorites Importer!

Once you've got some favorites, you'll see the most recent posts from them, newest to oldest, as they happen. If you prefer RSS, don't worry, it's available.

Got your own blog? Wanna make it easy for Technorati members to mark is as a favorite? Just use one of these handy buttons! You can even display recent posts from your Favorites on your own blog with the Favorites Widget.
Much of this looks suspiciously kinja-like to me. There are currently a number of A-list favorites available to browse.

My only question for comparative purposes at this point is... How much info is added to the favorites page when a blog updates? Is your favorites page really a reader? That's sure what it sounds like..... Let's experiment w/ a few of the tools & see how it all stacks up... (Goes off to do Kinja OPML export....)

Update: There's a max of 50 favorites, so the cut-off in the OPML was a bit arbitrary. I'll polish the list as I get time. You can see the initial 50 that were pulled in, though, on my T'rati favorites page. Alternatively, there's a consolidated RSS feed from all 50. Fun new tool to test. (Figures that it would get rolled out in a week when I'm really not supposed to be blogging / playing online that much!!) Let me know what you think of the new features, and while you're testing it, show Freshblog a little love and add it to your list w/ this handy "coming to a sidebar near you" button!!

Add to Technorati Favorites!

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Posted at 1:14 PM by John.
Friday, February 24, 2006
What do you get the blog that has everything? How about a garish, over-the-top and visually-unsettling font? Here's one that marshals the creative flair of photography enthusiasts from across the world. The result is a constantly-evolving typography with a capacity for surprise and novelty that is second only to its ability nauseate and confound. Read on for a demo, how-to and blow-by-blow account of my implementation of FlickrFont.

As you can probably guess, the idea is to take arbitrary text and convert it on-the-fly into a set of image "tiles", where each tile is a thumbnail image of a character lifted from the photo-sharing site Flickr. Why do this? Because it's a very geeky hack. (As an aside, I first saw this - done tastefully! - at Ideant blog, whose Ulises Ali Mejias' pithily described FreshTags blog navigation as 'real-time' interest-sensitive navigation for the readers of your blog. Nice!)

Yesterday, I was in serious danger of working on my PhD thesis so in desperation I looked into this whole Flickr web2.0 tag asynchronous feed business. Some googling on "Flickr Font" turned up a few sites, including some Perl scripts and the like, so I decided to proceed with a pure client-side implementation based on JSON feeds. No proxies, server-side code or XML involved.

Just to be absolutely clear: if you are at all interested in usability, are aesthetically-inclined, concerned with performance, enjoy technical elegance or even just possess a delicate sensibility then this is certainly not for you. Consider yourself warned.

To use FlickrFont at its most basic static level, simply enter the text you're interested in and it will convert it into a block of HTML img tags that you can cut and paste into any webpage or template. Ideal for headings where you want to give it that cut-from-magazines effect, like in a ransom note.

You can also use FlickrFont dynamically. This means that a new set of letters, digits and punctuation appears each time a reader loads the page. To do this, you must include some JavaScript in your page or template header. Then, you set class="FlickrFont" in any elements you wish to Flickrfy. For example:

<h2 class="FlickrFont">This is a Flickrfied Heading!</h2>

<p class="FlickrFont">Why would anyone want to do this?</p>

The text extraction is very naive, so it's probably best to stick to very basic HTML such as list and table elements. The third, and most clunky, method is to use a function call. You pass the string to get the Flickr treatment and the name of the variable to dump the resulting HTML into.

<script type="text/javascript">
FlickrFontString("How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.", "strPangram");
// code to wait on and handle strPangram
</script type="text/javascript">

The demo page provided also lets you set the size and style of the tiles, to breathe life into your very own monstrous FrankenFont.

Behind the scenes, the script works by grabbing all the strings with class="FlickrFont", concatenating them, knocking out the redundant and "too-hard" characters (see below) and building a font object. This is done by repeatedly (and asynchronously) hitting the Flickr servers for a list of suitable images. It then picks a random image from the ten it gets back and swaps the characters for the image tiles.

Here's a brief technical tip for other coders. The Flickr feed service will work with "&format=json", even though it's not documented. Also, the tag concatenation operator is "," and while it is described as returning a disjunction (find images with any of these tags) it's actually a conjunction (find images with all of these tags).

Scope: This implementation handles the entire Roman alphabet (all upper case), Arabic digits (0-9) and space. It also does punctuation marks that occur commonly enough to be found on the Flickr punctuation pool. At present, this is exclamation, at, dollar, percent, ampersand, hyphen, equals, slash, colon, semicolon, quote, apostrophe, comma, period and question marks. Adding others (such as tilda, asterix, underscore etc) is a simple matter of adding the symbol and its name to an array in your code. Easy peasy. The same method would work for other typographic variations, such as umlauten and other diacritical marks.

Performance: Since this is hitting up the Flickr servers (now part of Yahoo!), there is no loading on anyone else's machines or bandwidth. That said, please think about your poor readership who may be accessing your page on a hand-held mobile device. Yahoo! does advise of a rate-limiting policy, but I've not been affected by it despite vigorous testing ... including a few unfortunate incidents where I Flickerfied text that had already been Flickerfied ... yes, the whole HTML (<img src = blah) actually got turned into image tiles ... *shudder*.

Limitations: Damn thing won't work with Internet Explorer. Turns out the object literal handed back by Flickr (the JSON object) that's wrapped in the callback function won't get parsed by the IE browser. Specifically, it's fine with the heading info but chokes on the nested item list containing each result. Since I can't control the Flickr feed nor the IE parser, I've had to give up on that. If anyone's got ideas, I'd love to hear from you! Works fine with FireFox but I haven't tested it on other browsers - feedback appreciated.

For those that are game, feel free to link to use this on your pages. The code is released under a Creative Commons licence. Please put some attribution to Flickr somewhere though (and maybe FlickrFont too) for the use of their resources. Enjoy!

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Posted at 7:44 AM by Greg.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Have some family business this week. All good stuff, but (happily) time-consuming. Normal service will be resumed next week at some point. Thanks for your patience, & please don't go cancelling your subscriptions, or anything!!
Posted at 2:29 PM by John.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
After blogging about the service & getting some good buzz last week, I have had the chance to implement Labelr on Freshblog. The effects can't be fully explored today because the service is down for enhancement. Full road-tests will commence when Amit's improvements are complete. I'm not formatting the results page correctly at the moment, but I'm working on it. (All support welcome!)

Have tried to be smart with my categories.... Blogger Hacks for specific posts dealing with add-ons to your blogger template, Blogtech for more general / generic blog technology material, and Webtech for non-blog related interweb technology posts. I may add more labels, we'll see, but I vow to be neater than I have been w/ my tags....

Plan to continue w/ Technorati & combo tagging, and of course with Freshtags, but use Labelr for limited "internal" categories, with in-blog results display.

There are several features of Labelr that are v. powerful, imaginative and remarkably well integrated into blogger.
  • Labels are selected using an "admin console" that opens in the footer of each blogger post when a bookmarklet is selected.
  • Label search results are displayed in a "fake post" that looks identical to your blog's template.
  • Each label has an RSS feed. Readers can subscribe to just one of your labels.
As Athique comments, the only significant upgrade / modification would be to allow labelling / category selection prior to publication, instead of afterwards. The admin console, though, is a stroke of genius. It is on your page, in your blog, (rather than in a seperate window) and enables category selection w/ simple clicks.

Am very interested to explore the opportunities for tie-ins between Labelr and Freshtags.

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Posted at 3:06 PM by John.
Want to give your site a color-coordinated makeover? Not sure which shades go together? Check out Wellstyled's Color Scheme Generator 2. You can:
  • Pick a base color from the color wheel
  • View color families with mono, contrast, triad, tetrad and analogic relationships
  • View hex codes for selected and recommended alternate colors
  • Change one or all colors to view recommended colors (using the arrows at the far right)
  • Adjust the triad, tetrad and analogic views to sample a range of complementary colors
  • Limit to readily-rendered browser colors
  • View selected colors in default, pastel, dark pastel, light pastel, contrast and pale views.
  • Enter a hex code to select a base color
  • Approximate the symptoms of various vision impairments to see how your color scheme will appear
  • Save a "permalink" URL for a colorscheme that you like
Very cool. Instant makeover testing!!

via Ma.gnolia frontpage Hot Bookmarks

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Posted at 1:16 PM by John.
Aditya has written a hack to change the formatting of comments that you leave on your own blog, so that they stand out. This requires wrapping your comments in a distinctive formatting tag (a div, for example...) and then pulling out any comments authored by your profile for fancy formatting. You can see it in action in the comments on The Last Word. Looks great!! Helps your own words stand out in the comments... especially useful if you like to carry on discussions and add original material there. I wonder if it's extensible for multiple authors? (One color for me, one for Greg, etc!)

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Posted at 1:09 PM by John.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Another new blogger hacks resource: Athique from Me, Myself & This Other Stuff has set up a Blogger group on Ma.gnolia, for all of your blog-hacks bookmarks and resources. Good move, Athique! Thanks for the Freshblog link there too!!

Let's all go sign up w/ Ma.gnolia!!

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Posted at 9:44 AM by John.
Friday, February 17, 2006
You can never have too much social bookmarking. Going one step beyond my recent collection of 6 social bookmarking services for your post footer, 3spots lays out the code for 30 (yup, thirty!) different places for your readers to bookmark your posts. Now that's service!!

Incidentally, I see Blinklist being used over there for categories. Interesting.... (v. nice sidebar tag cloud!)

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Posted at 3:20 PM by John.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Two new blogs in the blogger hacks field.... Two new subscriptions and blogroll entries for John.
Check out:
Good to see new voices and ideas here!! Let's see what the next great hack / idea is!!

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Posted at 2:55 PM by John.
Another limitation of blogger cracked and hacked. By default you can erase a comment, and then "delete it forever" to remove the comment footer and such. You can't change the content to correct for a typo, or dodgy HTML, or whatever. Well, nothing stays in default mode for long, and as the following hacks demonstrate, comment editing for blogger users is go!!

Three options here. First, you could head over to Browservulsel and take advantage of Jasper's Greasemonkey script. This will add a new link to the edit posts menu in your blogger account, that will access the comments on a post. When you view the comments you'll see a pencil icon to edit the comments. This has been updated to be 0.6.4 compatible, and so if you're greasemonkeyed up, this is the way to go.

Second, if you're into MSIE or are otherwise Greasemonkey deprived, you can parse the code on your comments to generate an admin console edit link that will appear on your blog when you're logged in, comment trashcan / conditional post-edit style. Improbulus has the whole thing sewn up, as usual, with comprehensive instructions for icon manufacture. The tricky part is finding the required Admin and PID numbers, but there's clear instructions available.

Third, if there's just that one comment that needs editing & you don't feel the need to make a template mod to do it, you can generate an "edit post" page for that comment by inputting your blog ID and post ID in a form. Improbulus offers this service, with the sensible caution that all edits are undertaken at your own risk. Blogger Templates offers a similar form that can create an edit window out of a delete comment link.

Typos, yuor dyas are nmubred!!

via Mark Wilson

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Posted at 12:49 PM by John.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, there was a lil' lo-tech greasemonkey script that output tags that were valid in Technorati and Then Firefox and Greasemonkey got makeovers, the script broke, and that might well have been the end of it (esp. since Johan's spiffy script does the same thing with a number of additional features) but hey, Kevin McMahon has updated the script to work w/ 1.5 and 0.6.4. The old how-to is new again, and all is right with the world......
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Posted at 11:43 AM by John.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
I'm not the only person to notice that T'rati is having some digestive difficulties. It still seems to be picking up and showing new links, but the rankings haven't updated in three weeks.

Technorati Rank: 3,306 (843 links from 329 sites)

and ever-more shall be so, by the look of it, unless there's an un-gumming of the works in progress. Here's my thought... Why not keep tracking the links, but just rank the top 100,000 blogs (because after that, who really cares?) Would that keep things flowing a bit more smoothly?

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Posted at 4:53 PM by John.
Leveraging existing assets to provide support to users, Blogger now has a dedicated Google Group.
It's a new community on Google Groups that will let you talk to other Blogger users, ask questions, and share your blogging expertise. In the group, you'll be able to get all kinds of help with your blog - from template customization and HTML to publishing tips and troubleshooting advice. There's even an area to share your own, beautiful blog with other users!
There are currently 5 threads open, dealing with
Customizing Templates
Publishing Trouble
How Do I?
Something Is Broken
Share Your Blog

I have, of course, added an "Adding Categories" thread in the How-To section. Looks like a cool & interesting new resource for blogger users, with opportunities for users to add content. Thanks, blogger!!

via Blogger Buzz

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Posted at 4:30 PM by John.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Have taken a leaf out of Pete's book... Saw that he monitors a special tag on so that Grogmaster readers can send fun stuff his way. Well... both to extend my use of, and to make myself a little more accessible, I'll be monitoring For:jrfj44 on going forward. If you see good Freshbloggidy stuff that you think I should see too, slap it on for me!!

Update: Stephen points out that the for: ID has to be a username and not a site name. Duh! All fixed. Thanks for the heads-up.

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Posted at 6:36 PM by John.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Amit e-mailed to tip me off about Labelr, his solution to the absence of categories in blogger. Labelr is in private beta, has a google discussion group, and can be seen in action on Amit's blog, Nerdier than Thou. Looks pretty cool. Labelr has a pre-set list of categories in the sidebar, and a custom-built list of posts within your template when you select a tag, apparently without loading in a pre-dated blogger post. Looks good. I'd be interested to know, Amit, how you add your tags to your posts, and how easy it is to add an additional category? Interesting stuff.....

Of course, for added exposure of your material on tag search sites, state-of-the-art tag-passing and tag-grabbing interactivity, and a sweet "pops open in your sidebar" post title menu, you can't go wrong with the FreshTags.

Update: Have had an invite to the beta of Labelr, so let's check it out. First we have to register, (w/ craftily inserted advertisement!)

"On the top of my wishlist for Blogger was support for categories or labels to organize my posts. Came across this service,, that lets me do that seamlessly. Check it out."

and then, apparently, I have to get into my template a bit and fix a couple of div tags, so that Labelr knows what to label. Will do that tonight....

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Posted at 5:55 PM by John.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Webosphere has a very interesting "compare and contrast" intro to Mag.nolia, complete w/ screenshots.
As you can see, it’s more riche [sic], and pretty. Bookmarks tab shows you Your Most Recent Bookmarks, Most Recent Bookmarks from your Contacts, and Most Recent Bookmarks from your groups. RSS feeds are available for each three categories in full and lite versions ! Clicking (View all) link, allows you to show all bookmarks from the selected category....
Ever since Yahoo I have wondered whether / when will become more cosmetically appealing, and if that will be required to have a broader crossover (non-geek) appeal? Looks like some of the advantages are structural rather than cosmetic, though, w/ contacts, groups, and the ability to "send" bookmarks to those places. So much to test, so little time.... Clone me, please?

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Posted at 3:49 PM by John.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Psychologists say that shame is the most powerful human emotion. Well, I wouldn't be too quick to write off spite. During last month's upgrade, a valuable means of tapping into the hivemind of taggers was inexplicably turned off. I vowed revenge and today has seen the generic JSON feed return, with all the elegance, robustness and civic-mindedness of a dodgy third world electricity hookup.

First, the backstory. Perhaps the most important part of "social bookmarking" is the "social" bit. This means you can access the whole community's bookmarks, for example:

Note that no particular account is specified - here I'm asking for all pages tagged "blogger" by anyone. (Hence the term "generic".) Delicious, in their wisdom, allowed users to get at this information by publishing it as a JSON feed.

This feed format is a super-lightweight replacement for XML, like RSS without the trimmings. It's also what FreshTags uses to support in-blog navigation. This opened up a raft of novel and experimental uses of tag-driven content to enhance boring static pages. Freed from the restrictions of nominating a target delicious account or a pre-ordained set of tags, users could serve up a sidebar full of fresh links based on inbound search queries or free-form text entry by readers. We were just getting started and more exciting and disruptive possibilities were open.

But then Black Sunday fell. Delicious "upgraded" to Yahoo! machines, went up and down for days and eventually stabilised. From the wreckage, it was apparent that the generic JSON feeds had stopped working. Oh no! (Yet, strangely, they were still happily serving up generic queries as HTML and RSS.) A lone, plaintive voice spoke up in defence of JSON, but Joshua denied that it had ever worked at all. Inflamed, I stuck out my bottom lip, let it quiver, stamped my feet but to no avail: they were gone, weren't coming back and no one seemed to care. After sulking for a few weeks, I decided to take it back.

Step One. Locate a RSS2JSON conversion service. This is where I offer a thousand thanks to the pioneering work of John Resig - who, I might add, has a very powerful Javascript framework in jQuery. He offers a conversion service that (unsurprisingly) takes an RSS feed and converts it into its JSON equivalent. It looks like this:

Where URL is the required RSS feed (in my case,*) and CALLBACK is the name of your Javascript callback function.

Step Two. Write a suitable callback function. What's this? Well, it's a function that gets wrapped around your JSON object before being sent back to your page by ejohn's app. I called mine delify() since its job is to take the ejohn-style JSON object and convert it into the delicious-style JSON object. This just involved mangling things around and renaming. For example, "link" becomes "u", "title" becomes "d" etc.

Now that the resulting JSON object is indistinguishable from what delicious used to return, FreshTags can quite happily tear it apart, put it back together and render it nicely on your page. Check it out:

Or, tag-fixed to "blogger"

Or, to try tag-grabbing, select a tag from the left on this blog and then visit my homepage.

Astute readers will notice that you can enter whatever text you like in the field and FreshTags will process it (via delicious and ejohn) asynchronously. That's right, no more reloading the page each time you change tags! This is a sneak preview of what's coming up in the next release. NB: I probably haven't done it quite right, so advice from seasoned AJAXians would be appreciated (privately please; no need to publicly run me down :-)

Sadly, I have to point out that I won't be incorporating ejohn's hosted rss2json hack into the next release of FreshTags, owing to the unfair burden on his servers and link. So this one-off implementation remains on my homepage as a form of silent protest, as well as a proof-of-concept. If you'd like to see this generic mode return to FreshTags, please lobby delicious to turn feeds/json/tag/* back on, or persuade your favourite bookmarker to go JSON, or even offer to host ejohn's rss2json yourself!

That said, it is reassuring to know that such a service is in principle available (John Ressig's code is released under a Creative Commons licence). This is especially important given the rise of a range of social bookmarking services offering RSS feeds - but not JSON.

Perhaps this finally frees FreshTag users from the hegemony of delicious ...

Update: John "ejohn" Resig wrote to inform us that his service sometimes gets temporarily banned by delicious, for making too many hits. Also, it doesn't seem to handle tag intersections too well. So best use one tag at a time and if it's down, try again the next day.

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Posted at 11:19 PM by Greg.
BenBishop has posted a great article on making the most of
...which in its simplest guise is an online bookmark or favourite’s manager that allows you to access the bookmarks of sites you like from anywhere with an internet connection. At its most compelling level though, Delicious is an eclectic social mix of peoples browsing habits that could be considered the finest internet directory on the planet.
Part 1 is an elegant intro to basic functions. Part 2 promises a discussion of feeds, the inbox, refined tagging (see Greg's excellent post on retro-fitting tags) and the API. I'll keep an eye out for that one...

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Posted at 8:05 PM by John.
Have turned off the pop-up comments (even though I vastly prefer the way they look) so that Freshblog is CoComment friendly. I know that the Greasemonkey Script works, because one of my comments on the previous post was successfully harvested and reposted, w/ no input from me.

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Posted at 6:02 PM by John.
So you've been convinced of the benefits of tagging your blog posts and have your eye on increased visibility, navigation and integration. But now you've got to backfill dozens or even hundreds of posts with meaningful, traffic-driving tags. How do you craft a set of sensible tags that afford stability and growth? How do you stay sane while spending long hours weaving these tags into your posts? Read on for tips and tricks for retro-fitting tags to your blog.

Getting the right tags for your blog is important. For starters, it will affect how your blog appears to search engines and other services. Next, it will impact upon the way your readers navigate your blog to find other posts. The tags you choose - seen as a whole, say as a tagcloud - also tell the reader a lot about how the blog is positioned. With so much riding on it, getting a good set of tags is worth a moment's reflection. To tackle this problem, I've drawn upon my own experience with retro-fitting tags to two blogs, plus conversations with blog tagging luminaries like Johan, John and Singpolyma. I would love to hear from you (below) with your own stories and advice for getting on top of this.

Tags vs Categories

One of the common distinctions that comes up is whether you're using tags or categories ("tags-as-categories") for your posts. The distinction is that categories are fewer in number, generic, chosen beforehand, possibly hierarchical (sub-categories) and persist for a long time. Sometimes people will file a post under only one category. Tags are much more specific, made up on the spot, are "flat", may be single-use and each post may have half a dozen or more of them. Categories work well for navigation within your blog and integration between blogs (better chance of a match-up with a related blogger). But they can be a bit too generic for readers to get a sense of your blog. Also, if you want to pick up traffic from tag-searchers you may need to go beyond your generic "art" and "culture" and delve a little deeper.

In practice, the category/tag distinction is a question of degree and many authors use a hybrid strategy: tag their posts wildly but reserve ten or so to use as categories. This seems to be a best-of-both-worlds scenario, as your top tags (when sorted by frequency) function like categories while the long-tail of one-shot tags is useful for tag-searchers.

You can also create a traditional hierarchy by including the higher-level tags as well. For example, you could indicate that a post belongs in the "science/physics/theoretical" sub-category by using all of "science", "physics" and "theoretical" as the tags. That way, you can see all posts under science/physics using tag intersections.

Setting Up Your Tagspace

The first step is to recognise that you will want to use your tagging service account (at delicious, simpy or elsewhere) for more than just tagging your blog posts. For instance, you may wish to use it to store your bookmarks! Or for tagging posts in a second blog or guest blog. The easiest way to accommodate this is with an anchor tag for each blog. This means that you have to think up a simple one-word label for your blog and ensure that each and every post is tagged with this label. This will ensure that any subsequent blog hacks you employ will work on a cleanly separated list of tags/posts. It is very frustrating seeing random links or posts from other blogs appearing in your sidebar!

Next, you need to nail your list of "recurrent tags" (or categories, if you prefer). Doing this for a blog that doesn't yet exist is very difficult and amounts to little more than a blog's mission statement. (Sadly, all too often it has the same energising effect - and correspondence to reality - as a corporate mission statement.) This is where retro-fitting tags is a blessing: you already know what the blog is about, what topics are covered and where it's headed.

At this point, you might consider having "themed" tags. For example, You're It! blog uses "who, what, how, why". My letters-to-the-editor blog started out following traditional newspaper categories: politics, foreign affairs, education, media, IT, lifestyle etc. My footballer-scrutiny blog uses crimes: bashing, rape, drugs and so on. While this may be an okay starting point for brand new blogs, I'm a bit wary of using this approach for established ones. The temptation is to shoehorn your tags to fit the pre-conceived theme rather than putting the content first.

[A tip for those with very popular blogs: find out what tags your readers use to describe your blog. Not only will this give you insight into how the world sees your content, but will also provide ready-made "hooks" into the wider tagosphere.]

I recommend skimming your blog's titles if it's more than a few months old, then writing down a list of, say, six tags (as categories) plus a couple of "policies" for dealing with tags targeting the long-tail . For example, you may decide to tag all company names (or product names, or place names, or other bloggers etc) mentioned in each post. Beforehand, decide on a "format" for these tags. For company names, will you use the parent company name or the relevant division? Acronyms? Stock ticker names? You get the idea; consistency may be "the hobgoblin of small minds", but it also makes for a usable tagspace.

OK, once you've got your category-candidates and long-tail policies, trial it out on a few post. Just pick out a nice selection of posts - early/late, short/long, typical/unusual - and see how well it fits. While you won't get each tag being used an equal number of times, I'd suggest that you don't want more than a factor of ten difference between your most-common and least-common recurrent tag (excluding the anchor tag of course). You'll want to fine-tune your tags at this point, but keep in mind that fewer is better. This is because it is relatively easier to split tags than to merge them. Eg. All posts tagged "culture" become tagged with "art" + "media", and you can manually remove "art" (or "media") from relevant posts.

Another point: how do you form your specific tag? For example, should you use "math" (American English), "maths" (British English) or "mathematics"? What about using underscores or hyphens or CamelCase? Singular or plural? While some tagging guidelines are available, there are no standards. One solution is to use all variations at once. While this will ensure you will get the tag-searchers, it also clutters your tagspace, reducing usability and potentially turning off readers. Another approach is to look at which version is most popular on a range of tag sites. Personally, I recommend going local: look at your corner of the blogosphere (blogs you cite, shared readers, blogs that cite you) and see what conventions are followed. If, later on, you decide you backed the wrong version, you can readily rename it.

Tagging Your Posts

The actual mechanics of adding tags to your blog posts are straightforward. There is a range of bookmarklets, greasemonkey scripts and other add-ons to support this. In term of the process, should you have only a few posts, it's best to just go through them in chronological order. I'd suggest that each post will average about two minutes to process (one minute to skim and choose tags, another minute to add them).

If you're facing several hours of this, it's best to break it up into blocks. To that end, I recommend prioritising your tagging efforts. Through mechanisms like web traffic counters and backlinks, you should have a good idea which are your most popular posts. Put these at the head of the queue. Next, your blog may have changed its content or focus over time. Posts from an earlier, less relevant epoch should go to the end of the queue. In the middle, put your "recommended posts" ie those that are not necessarily seeing a lot of traffic but which are likely to be of interest to readers of the high-traffic posts. (Do these in reverse chronological order. More recent means more impact.)

After this experience, chances are you'll want to modify your tag selection again. On the second pass, allow one minute per post for, say, 25% of posts.

Tag Maintenance

From time to time, you will feel compelled to add new categories (recurrent tags). This is natural as you discover "better" tags for existing content (ie more popular or widely-understood versions of your tags) and your blog evolves its scope. However, there is the danger of a "tag explosion" rendering your tagspace unwieldy. To instill discipline, you could try promising to yourself to only add a new category if you're prepared to go back through your posts and reflect the changes throughout the blog history. To that end, ask yourself (in order of ease and frequency):

1) Is this renaming an existing tag?
2) Is this splitting an existing tag into two?
3) Is this a brand new tag that could apply anywhere?

The prospect of wading through all those posts again to see if the new tag applies should be sufficiently irksome to put the brakes on too much enthusiastic tag creation.

Finally, an important aspect of maintaining your tags is to monitor their usage. Most blog category/tag mechanisms (eg built-in, FreshTags, links to delicious and search engine approaches) will provide you with traffic stats about which tags your readers are using. It's worth considering whether or not your readership agrees with the tags/categories that you think are important. Do your readers use them like generic categories? Or do they prefer the really specific tags? What about tag-searchers and other inbound traffic?

Now, I'd like to hear from you. What experiences have you had with retro-tagging your posts? What tips would you offer newbies? What are some pitfalls to watch out for? What about automatic tools to help with this arduous task?

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Posted at 7:23 AM by Greg.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Thanks to Nick & Stephen for pointers to Brian Benzinger's Greasemonkey Script that will automate CoComment's functions and cut out the potentially clunky bookmarklet.
I’ve got it working for WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, MSN Spaces, and Xanga. Let me know if you run into any problems and I’ll try to fix it. But, as I browse to various blogs, it seems to be working.
As pointed out in the comments on the previous post, this has the added benefit of integrating the system with blogger blogs (such as this one) that have comments appear in a pop-up window. Maybe I should change the way the comments appear so that coComment integrates for non-GM users? But man, that blogger comments window is uhghuly!! Thoughts?

Update: Alright, after the discussion in the comments I played a little.... Looks like the Greasemonkey script doesn't work in either pop-up or default modes. I got an error msg with both formats. Bookmarklet it is, I guess? Will check out the comment thread on solution watch & see what's up.

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Posted at 8:42 AM by John.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Another comment tracking service, this one, coComment is still in private beta. Looks strong:
When you comment on a blog, coComment keeps a copy of your message on a special page - called "your conversations" - that allows you to quickly see your comment and where it was posted, with a link to the original site. Display all the comments you make accross the blogosphere on your own blog. In one easy step you can show your readers where you've been commenting recently. Don't lose the value you create on other's blogs, benefit from it! Whether you've commented on a blog or you're just following a blog-based conversation of interest to you, coComment can let you know what's been added to a particular discussion in real time.
Hey, coComment folks... any chance of an invite?

via RanchoDelNada, where Ken has a discussion of existing tools and solutions.

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Posted at 10:55 AM by John.
Stowe Boyd and Steve Rubel are discussing the problems of changing hosts / sitename etc. The discussion as it stands is a bit of an exercise in Technorati bashing:
The focus of Technorati and other services on the physical dimension -- files, links, trackbacks, etc. -- leaves them blind to the underlying social reality. Those posts are written by people, they don't just appear.

Technorati should explicitly create "technokarma" which is tied to individuals, not the physical location of blogs. So, when you start a new blog, or participate in a group blog, you do not start from zero.
This is a wider issue, though, and not just about T'rati. The system as it stands, at least for the 99% of bloggers who don't have name recognition, judges influence (and by extension, competence) based on the amount of inbound links that a blog receives. This is great until you want to change your URL, or start a second project. There is no transferrable "technokarma" unless you're an a-lister with name recognition.... And even then, as Stowe Boyd's impatience with the roll-out of /Message demonstrates, there's no way to compel the audience at Project A to check you out at Project B. When you move hosts, you break a whole lot of links, and so your pages lose traction in search engine rankings, as well as in blog search engines.

The blogosphere is a social system. We interact with people whose work we want to read & respond to. We don't know our readers personally, though, and we don't even know who they are in many cases. Our social interactions are limited and are without obligation, for the most part. I can ignore a comment if I want to, or delete it. I can delete a subscription whenever I want to. I can choose not to subscribe to a new blog. We choose what to read, and how seriously to take what we are reading, based on the perceived influence of the author, determined in large part by the interest expressed by other bloggers.

Possible alternatives or additional tools? How else might the blogosphere determine and represent influence? How could that influence be transferable between hosts, sites, or projects? Is a LinkedIn (or other compound) profile a good way to go? What if Feedburner had profiles for users, so that a blogger could see a list of readers? How does the Kinja model of recommended additional reading factor in? How could "technokarma" track, for regular bloggers as well as the A-listers?

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Posted at 10:40 AM by John.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Inbound links reveal this little gem at General Disarray:
I just skimmed Freshblog’s complicated three-part series on adding categories to Blogger blogs using a combination of and javascript. I’d like to add my own tutorial on adding categories to your Blogger blog:
  1. Switch to WordPress

That pretty much covers it. My one-step process will solve all of your problems.

Unfortunately, the comments are off over there so I can't leave a note of appreciation!!

Update 2/3: Alright... Clearly my attempt at dry & ironic didn't translate into prose, so a debate has developed and clarification is required. To be clear: This is a categories solution, but not one that I advocate. As some commenters have pointed out, Wordpress have categories pretty much nailed, but there are limited options for template editing, and for customising your blog... Obviously I believe the advantages of the system (custom & multiple tags, exposure on tag search engines, interactive output thanks to FreshTags) and the tools that have been developed to integrate tagging (most especially Johan's script and the BlogThis! extension that adds tags) make it worth the effort to stick with Blogger. If I could afford hosting I might consider WordPress, but blogger is the platform of choice for those of us who want to blog for free.

Which brings up Your URL is going to be a subdomain either way, so why not go w/ the platform that has the most custom options?

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Posted at 11:30 AM by John.
Another very interesting and extensive essay on the structure and function of tags & tagging, this one from Ideant. I was especially drawn to this section dealing with tags as markers for readers' attention:

Tags are very efficient ways of allocating attention in the face of informational overabundance. It takes very little time to bookmark and tag a resource. Because users are the first ones to benefit from classifying the resources that interest them, there is a very high motivation to tag. Thus, what people are doing in reviewing tags is capitalizing on attention allocated by others, specially on aggregated attention (what happens when large groups of people allocate attention to the same tag or resource, as seen in the 'Most Popular' tag or resource feeds in a DCS).
The FreshTags system that is under development here takes this "reviewing" of tags a stage further, of course, by allowing readers to carry (or pass) tags between sites, customising the presentation of content based on previously expressed interests.

If you're new to tagging, or want to explore the whole picture, visit Ideant & read the whole essay. Highly recommended!!

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Posted at 10:44 AM by John.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
There's a new beta tester forum at Performancing, so that members can download and road-test the newest (beta) version of PFF. The Performancing team are going to post "issues" in the forum, and invite their community of users to test the new version. I'll be interested to see which issues are selected for testing and development.

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Posted at 5:08 PM by John.

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