Monthly Archives: December 2007

Blogs: a simple explanation

I saw this video today (via Tom Raftery via Scobles Shared items) and I really like the style. Clean and simple animation with a straighforward explanation. I’ll be browsing the Commoncraft site to see more of their work.


You can find the original at http://commoncraft.com/blogs with some interesting comments

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Why you should use WordPress.com

Listening to the WordPress Podcast today (good to hear you’re back again Charles), Charles mentioned that he didn’t see why people would want to use wordress.com to host a blog when they could host it themselves. I can see that self hosting offers a wealth of options for creating a highly personalised place, but using wordpress.com means that you can just concentrate on the content without worrying about how it all works underneath.

You can use the analogy of the swan, looking like it glides gently around, when you don’t see the legs making all the real effort under the water. The estate is spread across multiple datacentres, with your data distributed and backed up in Amazon S3. You don’t have to worry about any system upgrades, monitoring, intrusion detection or hardware failures. That’s all taken care of by the WordPress team. OK, so many hosting companies provide some of these features for the hardware and backup your data, but if your installation breaks, it can take some time and effort to put it all back together. To me that’s pretty impressive for a free service.

As Charles points out, it’s also great that WordPress is open source and you can run it yourself. The self hosting option certainly offers greater flexibility, as you can decide on your advertising and content policies. It would also provide a lot more insight into how it all fits together. If you really feel adventurous and want to run a multi blog site or blog network then look at WordPress MU, but if you just want to talk to the world then having someone else carry the soapbox for you is easier.

This isn’t a WordPress advert, although reading it back it starts to sound like it 😉 I just know what it takes to run such an infrastructure and I think the WordPress team really deserve a note of praise.

Social networking evolution

The last part of this NY Times article about ancient oral tradition and the current social networking models put me in mind of a short story I remember reading back in the school days. It’s called The Machine Stops and was written by EM Forster in 1909. You can find it at http://brighton.ncsa.uiuc.edu/prajlich/forster.html.
The story has stuck with me for years, and still has relevance today.

The article describes how the online social networks have a similarity to more ancient forms of tribal networks. The last part also recognises the paradox that the online connections may dilute the real world connections. In The Machine Stops, the human race has gone underground, and each one lives in their own cell. Fully connected to the rest of the world and everything can be controlled at the touch of a button. Direct interaction with another human being is just not right. All communication goes through the machine. Sound familiar?

This isn’t an uncommon kind of concept in science fiction, but when you read this text, there are some really interesting comments about the effect this has on our culture and physical evolution.  A highly recommended read.

Article found via Bruno Giussani at LunchOverIP.

Windows Desktop Search slows down computer

Windows Desktop Search was installed when I tried out Windows Live Photo Gallery as Photo Gallery depends on Search for discovering images. Since then my system has slowed noticeably on start up and logon. I used to briefly see the warning balloon about Firewall and AV not started, but now it stays there for about 30 seconds or more. Even when the system has apparently settled, the disk continues to churn away as it walks through all the files to check for changes. My system is just about a year old, a Core 2 Duo 6600 with 2GB RAM, so it’s not as if it normally struggles to deal with Windows (XP) and is still in the mid range of systems sold now. So why put put a piece of software that makes such an impact on a system and the user experience? Why prioritise loading these functions above security functions? I have to consider whether this is the component that makes people complain so much about Vista being slow as Desktop Search is a core component. I can appreciate that the search tool can be really useful, and the idea of being able to get a short list of matches as you type is nice, but given the option, I’d prefer less impact on the system at start than the shortlist.

I was also concerned about the potential security risks with search. As you search for documents, you are given a preview of the content. Again, a useful feature, but by default it will index and present results from all users documents. What happens when the children are playing on the computer with their friends and come across sensitive documents (financial details, personal journals etc) or maybe your wife finding out about the birthday surprise you just ordered by stumbling across the confirmation email – what a spoiler. OK, so even with the old search you could find stuff like this, but it’s just easier now. You don’t even have to open the document.

I know there is the ability to declare your documents folder private, but this is not a default option. Most people just end up configuring all users as admin level, not just because it’s the default, but also because something usually breaks if you don’t – maybe a game or virus scanner update. Microsoft has been criticised for security issues in the past, and they continually have to walk the line between securing a system and making it usable, but I think they could improve this substantially. I thought they would have learnt from the early IIS search, where you may not have rights to view a document but you could see an excerpt in search results. This caused a few awkward situations in some companies. They fixed that in later releases.

I would suggest that they guide users through the configuration of the search, maybe adding a tool for setting the privacy options on the “My Documents” folder. Or even better, make the default behaviour to search only the current users documents and the shared documents, with an option to share contents with all other users if the owner specifically sets it. I would also suggest that they delay the startup of the search function until at least core security functions are active.