Thursday, May 29, 2008

MySpace is spammer's heaven

So I've been actively exploring MySpace for a week or two now and I'm sick and tired of the spam.

On Facebook there are a lot of complaints from people (mainly marketers) that it is too easy to fall foul of the (unstated) rules and get yourself warned or booted off. Frankly, I've done some fairly hard core friend chasing and group inviting and never had a problem. I also appreciate the flip side - I rarely get anything approaching spam.

On MySpace I get one or two unknown women a day with very sparse profiles who say they are from the US but have exceptionally poor English skills who want to be my friend and have me add their yahoo email address to my IM. Yes, Susan, I believe you are from Boston and just looking for friends - Not! Just go away.

Then there are the people called "Make Money Now" or "Internet Marketing Secrets" who want to be my friend since I'm researching internet marketing and join groups dedicated to it. You can go away, too.

Of course, among all this are some sincere and friendly people. Just that the spammers are having a field day on MySpace, not so Facebook.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Terminal Power

A friend recently asked me for some tips on using the command line on the Mac and so I put together some notes. I've expanded them and posted them to my Google Site.

I give some tips on using the Terminal application, a couple of good ways to improve your bash sessions, a couple of handy ways of opening a man page and point towards a bunch of useful commands to have a look at.

I will be having a lok at some of my own scripts and seeing what I use most and explaining a few of those commands in a followup soon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Imaging a Macintosh for dual boot

I've been spending a lot of time working on ways of imaging a Mac so it has both OS X and Windows XP installed and ready to boot. Yes, I know there are easy ways, but I wanted a good one that left all the hard work to other people and software.

Let me define the problem a little better. I have labs containing Macs that have to end up as dual boot. The Mac OS X image is no real problem, it installs using NetBoot and NetRestore.

On the Windows side I want to use exactly the same image as the Windows PCs in the labs. This is stored on an Altiris server and deployed to the Dell PCs using PXE. I also didn't want to have to do anything to that image every time it changed. I wanted it straight off the same server as the PCs.

I've written some notes on how I did it and shoved them in my new Google Site. Google Sites isn't as pretty as Blogger but is much more handy for long articles and a complex site architecture. I'll be putting more things on it soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Exploring MySpace

I'm just starting to explore the possibilities of MySpace but already I have come up with some info and thoughts that are worth sharing.

The first is that you have to be careful how you "pimp" your MySpace page. One of the most attractive things about Facebook is the clean interface and sparse look. It is much too easy to ruin a MySpaqce page so that it is hard to read and hard to find real information about the person so keep those flashing, sparkling objects and background pictures to a minimum.

The second is that MySpace is full of spam and bogus users so as much as I hate to recommend it, make sure you set comments, friend requests and the other options under spam to use CAPTCHA. This will weed out a lot of spam messages.

Finally, there are not as many good applications for MySpace as Facebook so keep the ones you install to an absolute minimum.

More news from my explorations soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leveraging Twitter

If you are using twitter to keep your friends in the know on what you are up to and keeping track of them then you might like to know what else you can do with twitter.

Since twitter is a stream of short text messages and it allows you to send directly to another account then it is fairly easy for software to monitor a twitter account and take an action according to the message and optionally send you some information as a reply.

Connecting web applications from Twitter

Since I'm a Google fan the first way I started using this was to update my Google Calendar. Twittercal allows me to send a direct message and have an appointment added to my calendar. It uses the same syntax as the "Quick Add" feature. "d gcal appointment with doctor at 6pm Thursday" would add the required appointment. The "d gcal" means "send a message directly t the account 'gcal' and not to my twitter feed."

I use a nice little to-do system called Remember The Milk. This to-do system ties well into Google Mail and Google Calendar as well as twitter. Not only can you add to-do items you can retrieve them based on the date due, which of your lists it is in or even according to tag, all from twitter.

If you're after an even more advanced reminder system then the one that I'm currently testing, IwantSandy, seems to be a winner. You can add reminders, appointments, to-dos and things you just want to remember right from twitter and then even ask a question. You can tag items and even specify how you want to be reminded, twitter, email or mobile. This may be the killer reminder system given that it ties in to your email system and twitter so well.

If, on the other hand, you want something simple then Twitternotes just stores notes in a simple database with optional tagging.

If you send and receive a lot of freight then you might like track this. Once you follow it you send it a direct message "d 123456978321 New camera" and every time it changes location you get a tweet.

If you have to track a large number of leads and want something to pick one at random and remind you then Salestwit can do that. Feed in your contact list and it feeds you one at random every day, week or a configurable delay.

If you are organising an event or a group going to an event then @eventrack uses a tagging system to collect information from a large number of places, including twitter. This is a great tool for collecting video, pictures, web posts and tweets about an event all in one spot.

These are my favourite online applications that connect to twitter. You can find more at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

Finding more followers

The best way to get more people to follow you on Twitter is to follow them. If you are putting useful information in your twitter feed and blog then find others who are interested in the same areas as you and follow them.

To find people talking about my areas of interest I use TwitterTroll - an excellent search engine. The advantage of this is that I also get great information from others as well as people I'd like to connect with.

Updating twitter

If you're going to be following a lot of people and making a lot of twitter updates yourself you're going to need a good Twitter client. On my Mac I use both Twitterific and a Dashboard widget, I suggest you spend some time going through the various options till you find one that suits you. Check them out at the Twitter downloads page and on the fan wiki.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Building A Useful Mini-Feed - FriendFeed

If you followed the advice in my previous article then your Mini-Feed might be looking a little empty, it appears not much is happening. Now we will start to get a good flow of information into the feed using another online tool - FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is a little like twitter, it allows people who want to know what you are doing to 'follow' your FriendFeed. The power it has over twitter is that it can be set up to automatically add items to your feed when you do things on other sites.

Like twitter FriendFeed has a Facebook application and this application adds items to your Mini-Feed. This is where the real power lies. Before you get a FriendFeed account let's make sure we have some things to easily add to the Feed.

If you check on FriendFeed you will discover that you can automatically import items if you add a photo to Flickr or Picasa, post a video to YouTube, add an item to your Amazon wishlist and even when you post to Tumblr, Blogger or another blog. I suggest you play around with all of these and see which suits you best.

Adding to your FriendFeed

The first thing we want is a way to easily add interesting stories we see online. I've found that the easiest way to do this is to read all my websites via RSS using Google Reader. Then underneath each item is a link "Share with note". Click on this and a dialog open allowing you to enter a personal note which will appear with the item you're sharing in Google Reader. Google Reader is a good online RSS reader. Once you have an account you can get a button for your bookmark bar (this is called a 'bookmarklet') that will allow you to go to your favourite blogs and quickly subscribe to them in Google Reader.

For more important things you see you might want to create a more detailed note talking about the webpage. For these I use Tumblr. Tumblr is another micro-blogging system that allows you to quickly add a post to your feed. You can get a bookmarklet for it, too. When you are on a web page you think your readers might like click on the Tumblr bookmarklet and a dialog open alowing you to write a description and tell your readers why they might want to see the item.

Adding links

To add links to web pages to our FriendFeed there are several methods. If you use an online bookmark manager such as then any bookmarks you add can go to your FriendFeed. You can also get a "Share.." bookmarklet for Google Reader that allows you to produce a note with the URL in your Google Reader shared items. I've found that using delicious is best for links as the description you add flows through to your FriendFeed while for Tumblr and Reader posts only the post title goes through. I have to admit to being an avid delicious user due to its tight integration with Firefox (it has an excellent plugin) and the ability to view my bookmarks from any computer.

For long articles the easiest thing to do is get yourself an account at Blogger and have a good quality, free hosted blog. It's quickly set up and you can run advertising, tailor the look and FriendFeed will easily pick up your new posts.

Once you have a good flow of information into your FriendFeed then add the FriendFeed application to your Facebook account and it will keep a steady flow of interesting things to your Mini-Feed. Once people recognise the value of the information in your Mini-Feed they are much more likely to watch your Mini-Feed, FriendFeed or (hopefully) your blog.

Monday, May 12, 2008

News Feeds - RSS and Atom

I was half way through a final edit on another article for the blog when I realised that some people might not understand exactly what was happening "under the hood." with all this information being passed between websites and from websites to a News Reader. The key to this are some formats known as RSS and Atom.

RSS is the earliest of these formats, now it stands for Really Simple Syndication. Atom is a replacement that was pushed to try and get over some confusion and splitting surrounding the RSS format. These formats are designed to allow a standard way to encapsulate and describe bits of information so that one piece of software can publish it and another piece of software can read it. An RSS feed contains not just the text of a blog post but the title and date that it was posted. Instead of the text it might be a video, picture or audio file. A podcast is just an RSS feed that contains audio instead of text.

Why is this important?

As you may be aware, it is easiest to write computer software when what you need to do is predictable and simple. Now go and visit a few web sites - go to the front page of your daily newspaper, two of your favourite web logs and one or two others. Notice how the layout can vary tremendously; different fronts, different places on the page for various information. Underneath the source code for the page can vary even more. This makes it almost impossible to write software that can find the information needed to check if a new story has appeared and extract it from the page. Essentially an RSS feed is another web page, with identical information to the site, just laid out in a predictable, standard way so that it can be easily read by software.

Subscribing to a feed

When you visit a web site, particularly a blog or news site you may see in the right end of the address box a small icon that looks like this :)) - or you may see the icon on a web page. This is the RSS icon that shows a site has a feed that can be used by a reader. Most web sites with a feed also describe it in a standard way in the headers of the web page that we can't see but can be read by reader software.

I use an online news reader from Google called "Google Reader" as I also use several other Google services and only need to log on once. I also find the ability to "share" an interesting item from Google Reader useful. Subscribing is easy, I added a "Subscribe..." bookmarklet to Firefox (Google provide it for you) and when I find a site full of good nformation I just click on the bookmarklet.


The first advantage of using a news reader and subscribing is that it enables you to quickly check a large number of websites, much faster than visiting each site, and you don't need to remember which sites you have visited and when - the feed reader remembers which information you have already read.

The other power of RSS

Finally, RSS is used by other websites to keep an eye on what's happening. There are sites that will gather together the information on what you are posting in various places and show it all in one spot. In my next post I'll be showing you one of these - FriendFeed - and how you can use it to improve your online presence.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Remembering those URLs and typing faster

While waiting for me to finish editing my next "big" post here's a quick tip for you.

Do you use a text shortcut utility? "What's that?" I hear some of you ask.

It's a utility that allows you to automatically enter short pieces of text, either by replacing something you type or with a hot key such as CTRL-ALT-d. On my Mac I use an excellent, inexpensive one called "Text Expander". (If you know of a good one for Windows users then please add a comment below or drop me a note.)

This means that instead of having to remember and type I just type '.b' and Text Expander replaces it with the text. Even better when I type '.g' it gets replaced by that even longer and more difficult which (as you all know [grin]) is the URL for my Facebook group "Facebook-Internet Synergy."

It gets even better. I also have text snippets I use for that "personal" message when asking someone to be your friend, when I make an introductory post to someone's wall and a number of other uses. They all have a couple of spots with "****" in them, this is my own way of marking parts of a text snippet I might want to replace with something personal.

On my Mac I don't even need to remember the abbreviations, Text Expander puts a menu in my menu bar.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Clean Your Facebook Mini-Feed and Make It Work

In my last post I told you how to use twitter to update your Facebook status. Twitter is an example of what has been called "micro-blogging" - weblogging with small pieces of information. In this post I'm going to show you how to control your Mini-Feed so that it contains only things your network will find useful, encouraging them to follow the "micro-blog" on your FB profile page.

We will need to do some clean-up. A lot of fairly boring or silly things get posted into our mini-feed and news feed if we're not careful. The mini-feed only shows ten items on your profile page so you want to tightly control what gets in there. First, on any Facebook page click on "Privacy" in the top right corner of the page and then click on "News Feed and Mini-Feed". This is where we control what Facebook itself places in our feeds. Since we only want significant. positive things in our feeds deselect "Remove Profile info", "Remove my Relationship Status", "Leave a Group" and "Leave a Network". Since we are all adding a lot of friends I'd also deselect "Add a Friend". Once you've deselected thse click on "Save Changes" at the bottom of the list.

Now all those fun and silly applications we all enjoy adding can also add things into our Mini-Feed. So on the right of the page you will see a paragraph that explains this with a link titled "Edit Applications". Click on this and you will have a list of your applications titled "Edit My Applications". You can remove applications here, but more importantly you can see and edit their "settings" which controls, among other things, if they post to your Mini-Feed. For all the "fun" applications click on "Edit Settings" next to their name and deselect "Publish stories about this in my News Feed" and "Publish stories about this in my Mini-Feed" then "Save Changes". Be ruthless, personally I only allow applications such as "Cities I've Visited" and "Books" to write to my Mini-Feed.

Once you've done this you're ready to start adding good information from elsewhere. I'll tell you how to do that using "FriendFeed" and some other sites in my next post.

Speaking of cleaning, if you are getting a number of friend requests and people confirming your friend requests (as all of us expanding our network should be) then your email box is getting flooded by Facebook. At the bottom of one of the emails you will see a line "Want to control which emails you receive from Facebook? Go to:" - click on it and it will take you to a page where you can turn off emails from Facebook under various circumstances and below that for the Facebook applications you have installed. Once again be ruthless - you will get Notifications from Facebook regardless of the setting here so if you visit your FB Home page regularly you don't need the emails.

My Facebook profile :
My twitter feed:

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How to twitter for Facebook networkers

A few people have shown some confusion about how to set everything up to get the best from twitter as a Facebook social networker. Since I am a self-confessed nerd I thought I'd explain.

First, you'll need a twitter account. Go to twitter and sign up for an account. Now you can find your friends and sign up to "follow" them. This means that when they send a twitter message, sometimes called a "tweet", you will see it on your twitter page. If they follow you they will get your tweets.

Next we need a way to update our Facebook status when we send a tweet. The twitter people have written an application to do this but every time it updates your FB status it puts "is twittering" before te tweet. The application twittersync does not do this so I prefer to use it instead. Add this application and give it some details and it will read your twitter feed and update your FB status within a minute or two.

Advanced Twitter Setup

Next we'll return to the twitter page and set up some advanced things. Go back to twitter and click on "Settings" in the top right of the window. You will be on the "Account" pane of Settings so fill in the information about where you live and your time zone etc.

Now click on the "Picture" tab and upload a small picture of yourself. The one you use on Facebook would be perfect. Next click on "Devices" where we will set up twitter via SMS. This pane has two sections, one about Instant Messaging which we can ignore and the other devoted to your mobile phone. You enter your mobile number and you will be asked to send an SMS with a code to twitter to confirm your number. Send off the SMS and quickly a reply will come back to say you're number is confirmed. Save the phone number in the address book of your phone - now when you send an SMS to this number it will send a tweet and automatically update your FB status.

Viewing Your Twitter Page

When you start following a number of people you will need an easy way to get the information. If you also follow a number of websites and read newspapers online you will be spending too much of your time going from site to site checking. The way to get over this is to use an RSS reader, sometimes called a feed reader or news reader. You can even read your twitter page via RSS, you will find the address to use in your RSS reader down the bottom of your twitter home page labelled "RSS". I'm going to recommend you use Google Reader - an online RSS reader from Google. Get yourself a Google Mail account and start using Google Reader - I'll explain the powerful benefits of using Google Reader in another post.

My Facebook profile :
My twitter feed: