Tag Tuesday

Last night, we hosted Tag Tuesday at the AOL offices in Mountain View.  It was a good get-together; Edwin Aoki talked about tag spam, and Kevin Burton talked about TailRank. Naturally, my laptop battery ran out, and when I got home, I discoveredthat my DSL had crapped out so I couldn't blog.  Oh, thehorror.  So, just some quick drive-by notes.

Do meta-tags (tags applied to tags or tag-url tuple instances) make anysense?  It's tags all the way down...  Kevin Marks commentedthat co-occurrences of tags are good enough for most purposes. Need to think about that one.

Kevin's TailRank beta is a "memefinder" as opposed to an aggregator.  It uses OPML subscriptionlists to help filter information based on what you and your friends areinterested in -- and he's working on getting some kind of automaticsync-up going.  Seems like this would benefit from Ray Ozzie's Really Simple Sharinginitiative.  There's a problem here, though -- the whole point ofthis is that you don't have to explicitly subscribe to feeds, but ifnobody explicitly subscribes to feeds, where will the interest datacome from?

Now, I really like the concept of mobile.tailrank.com. I really don't want to manage a set of subscriptions for my mobiledevice and it really can't handle the set of subscriptioins I have onmy desktop.  But something that automatically filters interestingnews, with input from my desktop subscriptions, seems like a naturalwin for a mobile service.

Oh, and we had a smooth and uneventful Journals update this morning.  Fortunately for Joseph the Intern.


Neat site statistics service

Clearly, John ate a bit too much turkey over the holiday and let his LinkRank slip a bit.  PubSub's Site Statsis a neat service that includes data from AOL Journals and many otherplaces, and presents the information in summary form so you can see howmany people link to your blog.  Just put your URL in the box andbookmark the page for later:



Stamping out brush fires, one by one

An update to Joe's update of  todayThe Patch:Problem identified; it was of course a typo; re-release should go outsoon.  Again, what you'll get is exactly what's onbeta.journals.aol.com/(screen name)/(journal name) right now, so thereshould be no more surprises.  Knock on wood.  Character Set: Problem identified (see below) and we think we have a full fix, whichwill need a bit of testing, so that should go out a bit after thepatch.  Archive Counts: Still working on it.  Ad Banners:We're listening to suggestions and doing some brainstorming; note thatwhatever we come up with has to pass muster with executives. I'm  hopeful, though.  Jason Calacanis has a great post about the situation on his blog.  I couldn't agree more, and I know that people at AOL are listening.

OK, so now for the geek update.  The character set encodingissue?  Well, basically, the major technical update  in thisrelease involved moving to a new web server and servlet engine(Tomcat).  Unfortunately, we discovered too late that Tomcat bydefault decides that HTML form data is encoded in ISO-8859-1. Also unfortunately, Journals uses UTF-8 throughout. For most commonEnglish characters, the two encodings give the same bytes; it's whenyou start speaking French (or talking about your re'sume') that you runinto differences.  So the problem here is we didn't test thisenough after the switchover and got caught by surprise.  Thesolution involves setting the encoding to UTF-8, but doing it in theright place is a bit of a problem -- if you set it AFTER the servletengine starts reading stuff, it ignores you.  Personally I thinkit should throw an exception if this happens since encodings are, well,kind of important, as we've demonstrated over the past couple ofweeks.  In any case, the solution we're looking involves a servlet filter similar to this one.More generally, we need to figure out how to add this as a general,automatic test so that it's just not possible to skip it -- and so thatwe'll be alerted within hours if some other configuration change breaksthings, hopefully weeks before we make that change to the liveproduction site.


106 Miles to Chicago

Jason Calacanis is on a mission:  To find or create an AOL executive blog.  Go, Jason, go!

Elwood:It's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses.
Jake:Hit it.

-- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080455/quotes


What's happening, and a preview of the new patch

Joe's done a good job of explaining whathappened this morning; in technical terms, we pushed out a change, itgave us a surprise, and we hit the metaphorical Undo button. We're trying to figure out what went wrong now.

The interesting thing (from our perspective) is that the change waspushed out first to beta.journals.aol.com, and it works fine there. Which means that if you want to see a preview of the change, you canview your blog on beta (use "beta.journals.aol.com" instead of"journals.aol.com" in the URL) and take a look.  My personalopinion?  Might help a little, but we need to do more.  (Therelease also includes a fix that will, hopefully, resolve the entrysaving problem for anyone who still has it.)

In other news, the Washington Post story "You've Got Ads" came out this morning.  Some reactions from the blogosphere are here. The press release from AOL got some facts wrong about ads on bloggingservices; I can't comment beyond that since that's an officialcommunication and this blog is highly unofficialBut,when AOL issues a press release that says the sky is green, I don'tthink it's against our communications policy to simply note that,looking out the window, the sky looks awfully blue to me.


Those Banner Ads

It's been a long two days stomping out the brush fires ignited by ourlast install.  And on top of that... the banner ads.  Oh, the ads.


I was never happier to be a part of this than I was last Friday, when Igot the chance to be guest editor.  In the span of a weekend, Iheard from a lot of people that I didn't know before, and discovered aton of creative journals that I did not know existed.  And then,just two days later, it all disappears, thanks to the inconceivable waythat the higher ups of this company thought they could just walk allover us.  Unbelievable.  I have never encountered such aswing, from high to low, in such a short time.  It's incrediblysad for EVERYONE.  And for the life of me, I cannot fathom how NOONE at AOL has the decency to at least address the situation. What are they waiting for?  The damage has already beendone-there are folks that won't be coming back even if the adsdisappear now. -- Jim

Personal opinion, as a blogger?  The ads suck.  The communication aboutthe ads?  Not so good.  And the release problems?  Alsonot our finest hour.  So, I'm feeling pretty down overall.

Now then... Given that the situation is what it is, what can we doabout it?  A dialog would be good.  People are commenting on Joe and John's blogs andgrouping and writing petitionsand emails, which is great.  I'd suggest oneadditional thing:  Post your opinion on your blog.  That'swhat they're for, right?  And when you do, one more technicalsuggestion that might possibly help with the dialog.  Tag yourpost by adding this snippet at the end:


What this will do:  When you click this link, you'll see a list of allblog entries and other stuff tagged the same way.  More to thepoint, anyone at AOL can do the same thing and see what people aresaying in one place.  Note that you don't have to use Journals tomake this work.

(If you choose Viewas [HTML], you should see this: <a rel="tag"href="http://technorati.com/tag/AntiJournalsAds">AntiJournalsAds</a>.)

I'm assuming here that the posts are actually anti-ads; if you want topost in favor of them, feel free to create a ProJournalsAds tag. I'm not holding my breath.

Aside from that, we are all working to get your feedback to the rightpeople.  We'll see what happens.  Personally, I'd love to dosome revenue sharing between content creators and us; I think this is acase where everybody could win by taking smaller pieces of the piewhile growing the pie.  That won't happen quickly, though, for technical reasons.