Sorry folks, seems like I was wrong about how Jetpack generates the menu for the mobile theme. It doesn’t use the inbuilt WordPress menu. It does it by finding all of the public pages you have, whether they are linked into your site’s navigation system or not. This is a VERY BAD THING. Consequently I’m disabling the Jetpack mobile theme and goning back to WPtouch.
Some of you may have noticed the additional share buttons on this blog. That’s part of my experimenting with Jetpack, the official WordPress plugin that is seeking to supplant many commonly used independent plugins.
My initial experiences are fairly positive. Jetpack has replaced three existing plugins I was using. Automatic export to Twitter and Facebook now work, though Jetpack doesn’t do Google+ and is less good at Facebook than HootSuite so there’s room for improvement. It also has a better mobile interface than WPtouch, which is mainly because it takes advantage of the new menu system in WordPress (that won’t happen if you have an old theme that doesn’t support menus). There are other aspects to Jetpack that I still have to test and which look interesting.
Part of me worries that, once most of the independent plugin people have gone out of business, we’ll suddenly find we have to pay $50/month to carry on using Jetpack, but then plugin compatibility has been a nightmare for a while now so it is good to have it simplified.
As if by magic, Automattic, the people who own WordPress, have suddenly announced an upgrade to one of their plugins that includes export to Twitter. I shall give it a try and see if my site is suddenly OK again.
I should note in passing that the more people use WordPress, the more important it becomes that plugins be reliable and regularly upgraded. I’m not surprise that Automattic want to take over many of the more popular plugin features themselves. It will probably be good for their ecosystem in the long run. But if I were a successful plugin writer I’d be a bit peeved.
This is a follow-up to last week’s post about linking WordPress to twitter.
I tried the WordTwit plugin, which I had high hopes for because it was written by the same people who wrote wptouch, a very useful plugin for creating mobile device friendly front ends for WordPress. However, when I tried creating blog posts I got errors from Twitter. When you want to auto-post anything to Twitter you need the register the application that does it with Twitter. That’s a way in which they try to cut down on spam. The errors I was getting told me that my authorization to auto-post was out of date or invalid. I tried various ways to recreate it, but with no luck, so I have to assume that Twitter has blacklisted the IP address of this blog, and that no auto-Tweeting will be possible. It is quite likely that the same will be true of every other blog on which I used the Twitter Tools plugin.
I don’t think there will be much point in complaining to Twitter. Like Amazon and PayPal they have grown way to fast and simply don’t have the resources to care about individuals.
Someone on Twitter recommended that I try Twitterfeed, which is a service that claims to auto-tweet your blog posts for you. However, yesterday my friend Anne Lyle said that it had stopped working for her. I’m a bit concerned that this is more evidence of Twitter clamping down on anyone who auto-posts. Does anyone else have any experience of Twitterfeed? Is it still working for some people?
Meanwhile HootSuite continues to work fine. The only problem is that I have to post manually. I can live with that for now, especially because it has other advantages. It is better at creating Facebook posts (to the extent that I have disabled the Twitter app in Facebook and now use HootSuite to post to my presence there). Also it can post to Google+, so I have created a Google+ page for Wizard’s Tower. I may also create a page for myself, if I can figure out whether Google will permit that (the documentation for Google+ is amongst the worst I have ever seen for an online service).
We’ll see how all of this goes. And I’ll try to report back regularly in the expectation that my experience will be of use to other small businesses.
Just before BristolCon the plugin that I used to automatically tweet new blog posts from the various blogs that I manage stopped working. I’ve been on the road for much of the past two weeks and haven’t had a chance to find out what was going on. Finally I have taken a look, and I’m not happy. The plugin is called Twitter Tools, and I have recommended it to several people. A new version had been issued so I installed it. When I did so I discovered that it relied on a new plugin called Social that supposedly facilitates interaction with both Twitter and Facebook. In theory, that would be a good thing, but…
Firstly Social comes with a whole raft of new features that people might not want. In particular it claims to import comments on your blog posts that are left on Twitter and Facebook. In theory, that’s a very good thing, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of controls — it isn’t clear to me whether spam could be moderated. Also the plugin creates an account in WordPress for each person who comments on Twitter and Facebook, which I’m not comfortable about.
Worst of all, however, it simply doesn’t work. That is, I tried linking it to my Twitter account, logged in to Twitter successfully, and nothing happened. I tried it under both Firefox and Chrome. I’m not impressed.
This is a pain, because I’m now going to have to tweet manually whenever I post to a blog. I’ll probably end up using HootSuite, though I do wish that it would link to self-hosted WordPress blogs as well as those on WordPress.com. I’m also going to check out WordTwit, which is a new plugin that seems to be what I need.
Anyone else also struggling with this issue?
There have been quite a few strange stories about Amazon in the past week or so, and corresponding confusion and outrage online. Having had to deal with Amazon as a publisher, this sort of thing doesn’t surprise me much any more. I can’t claim to have any insight as to what they are actually doing, but I think I can make an educated guess.
My own troubles are a result of Wizard’s Tower being exactly the wrong type of company to be selling on Amazon. Most of the books that I sell are ebook reprints of books that were sold on paper by someone else. As a result, Amazon are always suspicious about my right to sell the books. This is really quite worrying. I’ve had rude emails from Amazon essentially accusing me of theft, and threatening to close down my account. Oddly they didn’t seem to want to talk to Ben or Juliet, or indeed look at any evidence that might prove my innocence. Nevertheless, I managed to satisfy them. I’ll explain how later.
In their defense, there are indeed still people who think that they can get away with stealing other people’s work, packaging it up as their own, and selling it. There’s this case, for example. Amazon seems to be acting on that now, so the link may go away. The story is that Ilona Andrews published an ebook of The Questing Beast for free on her website. Someone else downloaded that book and began selling it on Amazon for $5.99. As Andrews (a pen name for a husband & wife team) is a very well known writer, it sold well before the theft was noticed. See here for the author’s outraged response.
So Amazon do have a problem. As you may recall, they also have a problem with authors reviewing their own books using sock puppet accounts. That’s presumably why Steve Weddle had his reviews of a friend’s book taken down. Amazon obviously want to police fake reviews, but take a look at the text of the email received by Weddle:
We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines. We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.
I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
Now check out this story abut a Kindle customer from Norway whose entire book collection was wiped because of an alleged malfeasance. The Amazon email read:
While we are unable to provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, please know that we have reviewed your account on the basis of the information provided and regret to inform you that it will not be reopened.
In both cases Amazon staff have told a confused customer that they have done something wrong, but they won’t be told what they did, nor will they be given any chance to defend themselves. They will simply be punished.
Does this remind you of anything? Because it sounds to me very like my interactions with US Customs & Border Control. And that gets us to the point of the title of this post.
Amazon are very good at making their websites easy and convenient to use. That’s one of the main reasons why the company is so successful. However, their customer service often sucks. That’s because it is a job that is done by people rather than software. People are expensive, and occasionally incompetent. They company probably doesn’t have many of them, doesn’t train them very well, and expects them to make mistakes. So rather than being transparent and responsive, Amazon have taken the path followed by incompetent government bureaucracies down the centuries and are hiding behind regulations. Decisions are made, and no one gets to question them unless, like Linn from Norway, you can get the mighty Boing!Boing! to take up your cause.
In my case the solution to the problem was simply a case of thinking like a lawyer rather than thinking like a business. Amazon don’t actually care whether the books I publish are stolen or not. They certainly don’t want to waste time reviewing evidence. All they actually wanted was for me to send an email containing specific words that, should the issue ever come to court, would allow them to claim that they did everything that they could to ensure that they are behaving ethically. I do the same sort of thing. Before I published Colinthology, I insisted on getting contracts from all of the writers assuring me that they owned the rights to the stories that they submitted.
The difference is, of course, that if problems do arise I can afford the time to work with those involved to sort out the issue. Amazon can’t. The company is just too big, and too successful, to deal fairly with those legitimate errors that turn up in the probable flood of attempts to scam its systems. We, as individual customers, authors and small presses, are too small for them to care about. Eventually, one hopes, they will annoy sufficient numbers of customers that their position as market leader will be vulnerable, but until then I think we just have to treat them as a blind and foolish monster than is likely to blunder around crushing the innocent by mistake.
Kevin and I are at Heathrow. He’s due to fly back to San Francisco today, and while the route he’s taking goes far to the north of Hurricane Sandy, the knock-on effects of the extreme weather on the air travel industry are affecting anything going in and out of the USA. Currently we are expecting his flight to be leaving 2 hours late. The equipment is currently over Ireland so that schedule should be more or less OK. Meanwhile the MiFi is proving to be worth its weight in gold yet again. We are sat in a coffee shop, working. And because MiFi is a router, not a dongle. Kevin can get online with his laptop too.
I should be back home tonight. Normal service will be resumed here tomorrow.
Kevin and I are on vacation in South Devon. The primary purpose is to allow Kevin to ride lots of trains that he has not been on before. There may also be history and good food involved. It is a little damp, and our digestive systems are not in the peak of fitness, but other than that things are going fine.
I have two important things to mention. One is that last night I noticed a problem with my blogs not sending updates to Twitter. Friends in Australia using the same WordPress plugin reported similar problems. I don’t have time to troubleshoot right now so I’ll try to work around it manually. The other is as follows:
Game 7: GO GIANTS!!!
Via Roberto Mendes I have discovered Europa SF, the European SF Portal. This is a news site, in English, that is full of news from European fandom. Contributors include Roberto himself (Portugal), Ahrvid Engholm (Sweden), Antuza Genescu (Romania), Aleksandar Ziljak (Croatia), Cristian Tamas (Romania), George Sotirhos (Greece), Jan van’t Ent (Holland), Juhan Habicht (Estonia), Lina Kulikauskienė (Lithuania), Marian Truta (Romania), SFmag.hu (Hungary) and Sven Kloepping (Germany). Well worth a follow, I think.
I don’t pay much attention to LinkedIn. I’m sure it is very useful for people who have proper jobs, but for someone like me who does a whole lot of different things it doesn’t seem to work well. Anyway, they seem to have introduced some sort of new feature, because I’ve been getting a few emails telling me that people have endorsed me. I’m not sure what for, or what good it will do me, but it is very kind of you to think of me. If I’m supposed to be doing something in return, please let me know. I’m not ignoring you, I’m busy.
My Google Alerts (for Worldcon, I don’t have one for myself) have just delivered a link to this article from The Manitoban, “The Students’ Newspaper of the University of Manitoba”. It is about the Hugo Ceremony streaming fiasco, and it quotes one “organizer and Hugo-winning editor Cheryl Morgan” as its primary source. I’m guessing that author, Tom Ingram is a journalism student, as he has carefully taken things I presented as conjecture and turned them into statements of fact, just like a professional newspaper would. However, he’s got the message spot on. “Ultimately, this is the price of free services on the Internet.”. Well said Tom, and thank you.
UStream have issued an apology and explanation, which pretty much confirms what happened with the Hugos webcast. You can read it here. My thanks to the people who pointed me to it.
The facts of the matter are pretty much as most people had anticipated. The Hugo Ceremony was pulled by automatic software that the UStream staff on duty that night could do little about. That software is now under review. I suspect that it is so trigger happy at the moment because of the Olympics. Usain Bolt gets the job done in under 10 seconds, and that’s shorter than most movie clips anyone is likely to show. Highlights of other sporting events also come in very short, and people do try to make money off showing them. It is good to have this issue raised, because a lot of people are liable to fall foul of it in future. The solution for Worldcon, however, is different.
UStream points out that Chicon could have signed up for a professional account that would have been a) ad free and b) pre-approved so immune from the software bots. That’s certainly something that San Antonio should consider. However, there is a snag. The sign-up details for the professional account are here. As you will see, the cheapest option available costs $99/month. Worldcon does precisely two webcasts per year: the nominee announcement and the award ceremony. So that’s a total cost of $594 per webcast. It is better than setting up your own webcasting service, but it is not cheap.
Of course it could be sponsored. You would think that a few hundred dollars a year would be easier to get than a few thousand. Also it may be that UStream will negotiate and allow us to pay only for the two months that we need. I note that CoverItLive did that for Kevin. Our web hosts, Laughing Squid, have also been very understanding of the intermittent nature of our traffic. I shall leave Kevin and the newly appointed chair of the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, Dave McCarty, to sort it out.
In the meantime, do keep yelling. I don’t like the idea of the Internet being run by software bots any more than anyone else. At least not until those bots are as smart and benevolent as Culture Minds. However, you should also never forget the cardinal rule of social networks: If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product, and must expect to be treated as such.
While I’m here, a couple of other points. There will be no Emerald City Best Dressed Award this year. Only the Galactic Suburbia crew bothered to send me a photo, so there’s not really much point in my judging it. I’ll have to wait until the next time I can actually get to a Hugo Ceremony and take the photos myself.
Also, a small complaint. In 2004 when I was at the pre-Hugo party I was impressed to see the toastmaster, Neil Gaiman, going round checking that he knew how to pronounce everyone’s name. I was impressed, and have tried to ensure that happens at any award ceremony I’m involved in. At Chicon both Stan Schmidt and John Scalzi neglected this simple piece of courtesy. Please, Hugo Ceremony Directors, make sure that your presenters are better briefed in future.
As reported earlier, I was up at 1:30am this morning to help Kevin and Mur Lafferty host the live webcast of the Hugo Awards. As usual, we were doing text-based reporting via CoverItLive. In addition Chicon was streaming the video live through UStream.
I should note in starting that this is the first time I have actually been impressed with the video quality on UStream. It was watchable. If only it had lasted. But, as most of you probably know, UStream pulled the plug on us during Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for BDP: Short Form.
And no, that wasn’t because Neil said That Word again. Nor was it because of an unscheduled wardrobe malfunction by Amanda. The feed was pulled for copyright violation. Specifically Chicon had shown clips from the various BDP: Short Form nominees, and UStream deemed that to be in breach of copyright.
One immediate effect of that was that the audience Kevin & Mur had jumped from around 600 to more than double that, so thank you UStream for sending people our way. More on that later. The other immediate effect was a storm of protest on Twitter.
Lots of people were muttering about “fair use”. Actually, folks, that should have been irrelevant. When Kevin and I ran Events in Glasgow in 2005 I spent a lot of time emailing Hollywood studios to get permission to use the clips. (Many thanks to Craig Miller for his invaluable professional assistance with that.) Chicon should have done the same thing, and should have included information about the webcast. So unless something went badly wrong behind the scenes (I have asked Kevin to check, but whoever updated Wikipedia says permission had been granted) UStream pulled the feed because we showed clips that has been provided to us by the studios for the express purpose of being included in that feed.
How could this happen? Well, like all other social networks, UStream views its content providers as disposable. There are millions of them, after all. I’m pretty sure that the account Chicon had with them did not rate contact with an actual human being. A software system will have detected that we were showing material that was under copyright and pulled the plug automatically. It was late on Sunday night, the day before one of the biggest public holidays in the USA. The chances of reaching an actual human being who could reverse that were practically nil. It is, I’m afraid, a hazard of using services like UStream.
Back in 2005, before UStream existed, Kevin and I were very keen to webcast the ceremony. We talked to providers, got costings, and put a proposal before our management (Vincent Docherty and Colin Harris). Based on the costs, they said no, which we expected. I did try to get sponsorship, but none of the publishers were interested so the idea was dropped. I’m sure that the same technology still exists. It is probably cheaper now, and cheaper in the US than in the UK. I suspect that Chicon could have got it done for under $5k.
What’s more, I know that they had some sort of video link set up between Chicago and Atlanta so that Dragon*Con attendees could watch the Hugos too. So I suspect that a lot of the technology that they needed was already in place.
Future Worldcons will need to consider this problem. It may be that there is some sort of paid account you can get with UStream that will allow you to clear a webcast with them beforehand. If not there will be other services that do let you do that, you just have to pay them.
In the meantime we’ll probably continue doing the CoverItLive feeds, if only for the benefit of people who don’t have the bandwidth to watch streaming video or who, like the visitor we had from China, are unable to access Twitter in their country.
Even that, however, has problems. CiL now charges for shows that exceed a certain level of viewership. Kevin cleared the budget for the expected audience, but when the UStream feed went down the floor of new people blew us past our pre-paid limit and Kevin tells me that about 250 people were unable to log on. Our apologies for that. We’ll hopefully be better prepared next time.
Also I think next time we’ll drop the automatic inclusion of the Twitter hashtags. It overwhelmed our coverage last night. I would have done it myself except I’m still in bad odor with a lot of people in WSFS so I needed Kevin’s permission, and CiL’s private message system that allows webcast staff to communicate between themselves went down half way through the show.
All of this would, I suspect, be a lot easier if individual Worldcons were more willing to cooperate with the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee. However, most of them are deeply suspicious, even with no involvement from me, and that makes Kevin’s life very difficult.
Firstly Mark R. Kelly has created a new website interfacing to his database of SF&F awards. This is a significant update of his work for the Locus website. I will doubtless be using it regularly. And because of the convention he has adopted for pages it ought to be easy to integrate it to other sites such as the SF Encyclopedia. Thank you, Mark!
And secondly James Nicholl has been looking at data from the Philip K. Dick Award. And he’s asking why, if 42% of nominees have been women, only 21% of winner and 23% of special citations have been women. Could someone with a bit of time and statistical skill run correlations between the gender balance of the jury and the gender balance of the results?
Since this blog went live in September 2006 (when I moved from Blogger to WordPress) I have had just over 12,000 comments posted, for which I think you all.
Since I installed Akismet in September 2010 it has caught over 50,000 items of comment spam. It roared past the 50,000 mark overnight thanks to 207 spam comments that came in while I was asleep.
Goodness only knows what really popular blogs have to deal with.
Thanks to the good folks at The Outer Alliance I have found a new blog that promises to cover LGBT-themed fantasy novels. It just has an introductory post up now, but I’m sure more will come. And if you have a book to promote… (hello, Roz?)
Anyone who sells things online has to be constantly thinking about how to get the best out of social media. And, when you have a day job as well, maximizing return on your effort is important. Most of the “how to” articles you see online encourage you to be on social media 24/7 and to spam the hell out of everyone you can find. Even if I wanted to be that sort of person, I don’t have the time. So I struggle along as best I can.
I must admit that I don’t like Facebook very much, and I certainly don’t trust it. However, it is useful in a couple of ways. Firstly I can cross-post my blogs posts and Twitter comments automatically for the benefit of people who won’t read things any other way. Also there are various LGBT groups who prefer having a Facebook presence to having a real website. It is easier and gives an illusion of privacy. So I’m on Facebook, even though I hardly ever read what other people post there, and resolutely ignore all of the requests to play games, attend book launches in other countries, and connect with people who think Facebook is a place to do business. And I appear to have 1400 “friends”, which is ridiculous but there you go.
Google +, on the hand, is even more crazy. There’s no simple means of automatically cross-posting the way you can on Facebook. (Please don’t recommend Chrome plugins, I want something that will work from any platform.) The only time I ever post there is when I upload photos to Picasa (because that automatically generates a Google + post). And yet I have over 1000 people that I have never heard of who have added me to their circles. Despite all of Google’s much trumpeted efforts to only allow “real people” onto the network, I’m pretty sure that large numbers of these are spam accounts, and there’s no simple way to block them like you can on Twitter. As for the interface, well, the less said the better. I don’t waste my time there, except for the occasional hangout. That’s a fabulous feature, but not one that can really help my business.
The new kid on the block is Pinterest. Lots of people have been raving about it. It doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m a words person, not a pictures person. But the word online is that it is very popular, and very good at driving traffic to stores. So it might be worth a look. And while it might not have any auto-import features, it also looks like it doesn’t take a lot of time to use. Are other people out there using it? If so, what do you think of it. And does anyone have an invitation they can spare? [Update: And by the magic of teh intrawebs I now have an invitation. Thank you!]
Well the deadline for the imposition of the EU’s cookie law has come and gone, and I suspect that thousands of websites throughout Europe are still massively non-compliant. I checked my bank’s website last week and while they had something it clearly wasn’t compliant. The BBC doesn’t seen to have even tried.
In recognition of this, the authorities performed a massive climbdown at the weekend. As this Guardian article explains, the UK’s Information Commissioner changed its guidelines at the last minute. Initially they insisted that active consent was required: that is you had to actively ask the user if using cookies was OK before any cookie was deployed. The new guidelines (which my bank appears to have followed) say that implied consent is OK. So as long as information about cookie use is clearly displayed the site’s visitors can be assumed to have consented to that use. As The Guardian notes, this appears to be in direct contravention of the EU guidelines, so the UK may be in trouble over this in future, but until they are UK businesses should be safe following the local rules.
US readers may find this a bit confusing, but this is the way that “states’ rights” tend to be dealt with in the EU. If Brussels passes a daft law, everyone just ignores it. Well, almost everyone. The UK seems to delight in enforcing the daftest laws in draconian fashion so as to give the tabloid newspapers something to write scare stories about, but in this case we seem to have done the smart thing.
Most of the time I am fairly much in favor of the EU. I’m an internationalist, and anything that gets up the noises of the jingoists at places like the Daily Mail and Daily Express has to be doing something good. Like most governments, however, it is often woefully ignorant when it comes to IT issues, and that means that it is prone to doing things that are monumentally stupid. Here is a case in point.
Last year the EU decided that cookies on websites were an unacceptable intrusion into citizen’s lives, and that all websites would have to gain consent from users before creating any cookies. The IT industry complained that doing this would require time, so they were given until May 26th this year to get their act together. Nevertheless, a KPMG survey published in April estimated that only 5% of major UK companies were compliant. The level of compliance is likely to be much lower amongst small businesses. Indeed, I suspect that vast numbers of small businesses, and private individuals who own websites, don’t even know that the law exists, and wouldn’t have a clue how to comply if they did.
What’s a cookie? Well, it is a piece of software that allows a website to store information in your browser and pass that information on, either from page to page on that site, to another website you visit, or simply back to itself next time you visit. It is a very useful tool. Yes, it can be used to install malware, or to harvest personal data, but sharp knives can be used to kill people and that doesn’t stop cooks using them on a daily basis.
To give you some idea of the problem, here are the different ways in which cookies are used on this website.
1. Google Analytics — this is a very useful piece of software that very many websites install to get an idea of the where their visitors are coming from. Google is apparently negotiating with the EU, but as yet no statement has been issued.
2. Spam prevention — one of my main tools for preventing comment spam uses a cookie.
So now I have to give you the option as to whether any of these cookies will be created so that you can opt out if you wish. Ideally I should do that individually for each type of cookie, because you might approve of some and not of others. And I have to do that before you interact with the site, so that no cookies can possibly be generated without your consent. And I may have to do it each time you visit the site because the only way to remember from one visit to another whether you consent to cookie use or not is to create a cookie, and you might not want me to do that.
See the problem?
As is depressingly typical these days, the law is also very vague. It says that cookies are allowed if they are “essential” to the operation of the website, but what exactly does that mean? How essential does the cookie have to be? I can do without all of the above, it is just a total pain to have to do so.
Then there’s the scope. All of my websites are hosted in the US. The domains are registered in the US. But I’m a UK citizen living in the UK. Am I covered by the law? Probably, but I may not be. What about the bookstore? I don’t host that myself. It is part of the Shopify site. If it is covered by the law, then in all likelihood my LiveJournal account is too, and that has cookies all over it. What about my Twitter account? Or Facebook? The dividing line between a website that you own, and are responsible for, and one where you are simply a customer, is very blurred.
All of these things will doubtless be sorted out by test cases eventually, and hopefully common sense will prevail. However, I have no particular desire to be a test case (if you want to know why, see yesterday’s post on equality under the law). So I’m going to do my best to comply. This may result in various websites becoming rather annoying, for which I apologize in advance.
The amount of comment spam that my blog receives had dropped by about 80% over the past week. I can’t be certain why that is, but I rather suspect that someone in law enforcement somewhere in the world has done a good job. Whoever you are, thank you!