November 24, 2004

Warwick Blogs and Hot Topics

Lately I've noticed a number of people seem to be abusing the comments system on Warwick Blogs, posting large numbers of comments on their own and their friend's blog entries in order to propel those entries to the top of the Hot Topics list.

I guess it's difficult to stop people doing this on their own blogs if they wish to, but it would be nice if blogbuilder had the intelligence to filter out these entries based on certain criteria, so that only the entries which are genuinely generating a lot of interest are shown.

Currently the Hot Topics list appears to be created by ranking recent entries based on the number of comments received on them. So I got thinking about what kind of additional metrics could be used to perhaps make the system less open to abuse. What follows is an initial list of possible factors.

  • The number of people who have commented on the blog entry. Details of non-logged-in users can be faked, so it might be necessary to exclude these from the caluculation, or possibly give them a lower weighting.

  • The average number of people who comment in between successive comments by the same author. This will flag up instances where a user posts a large number of comments in succession or engages in a two-way banter with another user in order to increase the number of comments.

  • The number of links from other peoples' blogs which point to that entry. It'd be difficult to count links from externally-hosted blogs in this (unless you're Google, of course) but links from WB-hosted blogs (either in the body text or the "Writing about entry…" field) could be counted up to get a good measure of this.

  • The average number of words in comments to the entry. It seems fair to assume that entries with many one-worded comments should be considered to be generating less interest than those whose comments contain a few sentences of the author's reasoned thought on the matter.

  • The dictionary hit rate of the words in each comment. This would give a lower weighting to any comments containing random letters typed on the keyboard to boost the number of comments.

It seems a shame that so many uninteresting entries are making it to the top of the Hot Topics list at the moment through abuse of the system. This should be a place where the best of the Warwick Blogs output is shown off to the world, not a place where attention-seeking people who've worked out how the system works promote their dubious content to us all.


November 04, 2004

Four more years

That was the headline on the front page of the Independent today, I noticed as i sat down to drink my coffee in Viva this morning.

The Sun, by comparison, had obviously decided that the fact that the great Texan fool had been re-elected was less important that the fact the Will Young had been burgled. This was the top story on their front page – I kid you not.

I also noticed while coming in from Leamington that there were a large number of people stood along the length of Gibbet Hill Road and at the top of Stoneleigh Road, wearing yellow fluorescent jackets and carrying clipboards. They appeared to be watching the traffic go by, but for what purpose and why they needed so many of them, I don't know. It was all very surreal, anyway.


November 01, 2004

New construction work?

From my office at the top of the ITS building on central campus right now, I can see a JCB digging into the ground by the WBS building across on the other side of Gibbet Hill Road. They were on this side of the road earlier this morning, digging up holes next to the Ramphal building and taking photos of them, before filling them in again.

It looks suspiciously like they're taking a good ol' look at the soil structure on either side of the road. Could it be that the University are planning on building even more stuff?


October 27, 2004

Firefox and plugins

I've just spent a very long time trying to get EPICentre (which we use for managing the campus data network infrastructure) working as a Java applet in Firefox 1.0 PR on my laptop.

Basically, the EPICentre page requires a JRE 1.3.1 plugin installed in order to load the applet. I didn't know this, and Firefox kept on installing the latest JRE 1.5 plugin, which didn't work. So it kept on telling me that "Additional plugins are required to display all the media on this page".

In the end, thinking it was a problem with Firefox, I gave up and reverted to using IE, which also didn't work with the JRE 1.5 plugin installed. It did, however, prompt me to install JRE 1.3.1, after which the applet worked in both IE and Firefox (having told the JRE installation wizard that I wanted to use the plugin in Netscape 6, which I guess it thought Firefox was).

My second brush today with plugins in Firefox was with Quicktime, which also failed to work. It just keeps on telling me that I need to install the plugin, even though I already have done about ten times now. Each time I do so it tells me that it's installed the plugin successfully, but then it still can't display the content when it reloads the page.

The one plugin that did work straight away was the Flash player, which installed straight away into Firefox and displayed the movie straight away after reloading the page. However, this is the only Firefox plugin that I've so far managed to successfully install using the clever XPI stuff.

So it seems that Firefox still has a long way to go with it's plugin technology if it's to rival IE. As much of a fan of Firefox that I am, it really leaves you unable to rely upon it as your primary browser if you can't get the plugin working for a site that you need to use regularly.

I'll also add that all of this was done in Windows. I haven't even attempted installing plugins in my Linux installation yet, and I'm not looking forward to doing it at all.


October 20, 2004

Ten things that annoy me in blog posts

BlogBuilder is a great system, don't get me wrong. But perhaps because Warwick Blogs is so new, there seems to be a lack of any kind of standard etiquette that's used. And while most of the content is generally interesting, some posts just wind me up.

So, here's the top ten things on Warwick Blogs that make me want to scream :-)

  1. Test messages. If other people are managing to post entries without any problems, the chances are that you will be able to as well. If you really need to post a test message, please make the effort to put some snippet of interesting information in it.
  2. Entries written ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Don't you know it's rude to shout? :-)
  3. Entries written in the style of a txt msg, entirely lacking any capitalisation, puncation or indeed any trace of a well-formed sentence. When you have a 160 character limit you have to make compromises, but BlogBuilder doesn't have anything near that (at least, not any more ;-) )
  4. Entries with huge big blocks of text and no paragraphs. Big blocks of text are really difficult to read normally, let alone on-screen.
  5. Titles which give no indication of what the entry is about.
  6. Titles written entirely in lower case letters – it just doesn't look right.
  7. Entries which require me to log in before I can see them. Chances are I won't be logged in at the time, and my RSS reader certainly won't be.
  8. As pointed out by Chris Carter: Film or book reviews with little or no information in them.
  9. People who write lame, unintelligent or rude comments on someone else's blog.
  10. People who cross-post the same content into more than one Warwick blog, making it appear twice in the Latest Entries screen. Isn't it better to post it in the most appropriate place, and link to it from elsewhere if you need to?

Maybe I'm just being pedantic here (and I usually am about grammar in particular), but if you're writing a blog entry that you expect people to read then doesn't it make sense to (a) make it easy for people to read, and (b) follow the general conventions of the English language?

Although the points above are meant in (I hope) a fairly lighthearted tone, I do have a serious point here. I'm not suggesting that we send the police round when someone misses a comma, but I do think that a set of etiquette guidelines might be useful for new users, especially those who have never had a blog before.


October 19, 2004

…And then five come along at once

There I am, walking to the bus stop in Leam this morning, only to see an X12 pulling away in the distance. Thinking there'd be another one along soon, I carried on walking, only to see another one pull out of the parade in front of me and drive past the stop. Then, following the second X12 came a Travel Coventry bus, which also got to the bus stop before me.

At this point I'm starting to panic a bit – now that all those buses have gone, there won't be any more along for ages, surely? But then along came a third X12, a couple of minutes behind the Travel Cov bus.

So there I am, sat on an X12 at the back of a small convoy of buses, which slowly made their way towards campus. As we went up Gibbet Hill Road past the Arts Centre, I noticed another three Travel Cov buses that were already waiting at the bus stop there.

We swung around the Gatehouse roundabout to come onto campus, as a Coventry bus pulled in in front of us. So now, I'm now sat on an X12, coming onto campus in a convoy of five buses.

Now that's what I call a bus service :-)


October 14, 2004

LDAP directories and Thunderbird

Groupwise doesn't seem to want to load on my laptop at the moment, so I've reverted to using Thunderbird to read my email at work, instead.

The only thing I missed from Groupwise was having access to the Warwick address book, but I managed to set up an LDAP directory in Thunderbird using some really old instructions that Chris T wrote back in 1998 (curiously, Google was unaware of the existance of this page although Yahoo! found it fine). It only seems to recognise names you type in in the form Initial Surname (so W Abson for me – Will Abson or William Abson isn't recognised) but other than that it works pretty well :-)

For anyone interested, the LDAP configuration on the web page is ldap.warwick.ac.uk:389, with a base DN of "ou=People, o=University of Warwick, c=GB".


8.30 AM

Top things I love about not being a student any more:

1. No more allnighters. I did far too many of them in my time, and I really don't miss them at all. It's nice to feel some motivation to do my work now, other than the thought of a looming deadline.

2. Having an excuse (i.e. work) to get onto campus for 8.30 in the morning. Campus in the morning is a completely different place when there's so few people around, it reminds me of what it's like during vacations. Of course it's not always good – especially those mornings after Top B!

Not that I'm saying it's all good being a member of staff, but there are some definite advantages :-)


September 17, 2004

Internet security and Windows

Via Mozillazine, the Wall Street Journal have an interesting article How to Protect Yourself From Vandals, Viruses If You Use Windows. There's nothing particularly new in the article, but it's interesting to see the WSJ taking such a strong view.

No doubt we'd see far less cases of spyware, malware and virus infections on the residences network if more people were to switch to Firefox as their web browser instead of IE, but currently we don't support it. Maybe it's something to think about for the future…


September 08, 2004

Blog Number Three

And my second blogbuilder one. Yay!

Had some training on blogbuilder today from Karen. It got me thinking about something that's been bugging me for a while.

Most people's reactions when first being told about the concept about blogging seems to be some kind of shock at the prospect of anyone in the world being able to see their blog entries. Blogbuilder deals with this by allowing you to restrict the visibility of each blog entry.

I'm now quite used to being more open with my thoughts and my work, having been blogging for the last three years, but I can still remember back to when I started blogging, being slightly nervous about who might read the stuff I write and how I might need to censor myself because of that.

It seems to that this initial fear is one of the biggest challenges to be overcome – both on an individual level and on an organistional level – if blogs are to really take off. It requires a change of mindset in becoming generally more open with your thoughts, and perhaps a related change in organisational culture to encourage this.

Perhaps I'm just being a bit of a purist here, but it seems that a closed blog accessible to only yourself or a certain group of people kind of misses the point of blogging. And does allowing people to make private entries encourge them them to start blogging more openly over time or merely to carry on blogging in a closed environment?


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