Channelling Spooner

Okay, so why did no-one point out the obvious mistake in the title of the post I made last month (and which has been visible on the front page here all that time)?


Doing gown


Going down

Any suggestions for what “doing gown” actually means? It certainly sounds like a euphemism…

Absorbing the “Second Best” blog

At the end of last year, I created a new blog called “The Second Best Swordsman In Caribastos”. The title is a reference to a quote from the book Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. I had intended to post techie content to that blog, and to keep my main blog here for more personal and irrelevant stuff. Anyone who was interested in the techie stuff could subscribe to the feed over there, and ignore everything else I post here.

The problem is that that’s a false distinction for me. I am fundamentally a techie geek, and my personal life is intricately interwoven with technology, coding, and the web. Having to figure out which of the two blogs a potential entry should go in has on several occasions frozen me into such complete indecision that I ended up not writing anything at all. That’s just not good.

So from now on, the other blog is dead, and its content (what little of it there was) has been absorbed here. There are redirects in place, so any links to the old pages won’t break. At some point in the future I might set up tag-specific feeds here to allow a more filtered view of my brain, but for the moment the you’re just going to have to live with whatever randomness I decide to spout. (Hey, at least I’m not posting cat pictures.)

Now running on Movable Type 3.3

Movable Type 3.3 badge-type thingBut just as with the upgrade to 3.2, this did not go smoothly. By following the parallel install method of upgrading I managed to get around the 500 server error problem, and was successfully able to run mt-upgrade under cgiwrap. This makes me think that my problem last year (and this year, too, initially) was something dodgy on my server rather than anything inherent in MT.

Once I got past the server errors, the actual upgrade script ran smoothly. However, I can’t say that I’m madly impressed by the new documentation (with a search option that doesn’t currently work), and the support forums were unavailable for all the time I was hitting problems. I like the new features in 3.3, but the overall upgrade experience has left me unsure as to whether a new release of MT is something to look forward to, or dread.

Update: I just noticed that Jay Allen posted a message to the Pronet mailing last saying that Six Apart was going to be doing some maintenance on its site over the weekend. This might be the cause of the forums outage. Maybe I just picked a bad time to do the upgrade…

“atmedia” tags on Flickr

A tagIn their write-ups of @Media 2006, Eric Meyer and Peter-Paul Koch have both spoken out to discourage the use of the “atmedia” tag for photos on Flickr which have no (apparent) relevance to the event itself. Personally, I’m with Russ Weakley in the opposite camp.

The whole point of tags on Flickr (and elsewhere) is that they are not rigid categories decided by the site owners. Everyone uses them differently, and most people pay no heed whatsoever to the global namespace. For example, when I tag pictures of my family, I use “family”, and the first names of whoever appears in the photo, e.g. “family martin fiona”. This is because I’m thinking about the relevance of these tags in the context of my personal space on Flickr. I’m tagging these photos for my benefit, and for my friends and family–not to provide the entire Flickr user base with a convenient way of reaching these photos via a global search.

Tags are descriptive rather than prescriptive metadata. With tags, you can throw as much or as little description as you like at an item. This allows for enormous flexibility, which encourages people to actually attach metadata in the first place. This is a good thing. However, the metadata is also likely to be incomplete, imprecise, and highly subjective. But this subjectivity is actually a strength when it comes to “social” tagging schemes.

The reason tags are gaining ground on traditional fixed classification schemes is that people like being able to create their own labels, with their own personal relevance. People like not having to ponder whether they should file a photo of Westminster Abbey under “Places:UK:London” or “Architecture:Churches:Gothic”. Would Flickr contain even a tenth of the metadata if it provided a set of categories instead, and asked people to classify their photos accordingly? I don’t think so. Aside from the cognitive overhead involved in making those decisions, there’s the usability aspect to consider, too: repeatedly navigating a categories is going to be more difficult than just throwing a bunch of tags into a textbox.

So although it may be frustrating for one person to search for the tag “atmedia” and be confronted with photos of Big Ben instead of Big Veen, someone else is sitting in front of their computer perfectly delighted with Flickr for allowing him to group all the pictures from his trip with a single convenient, and–for him–highly specific and descriptive tag.

It’s fine to suggest a canonical tag for use in classifying photos or other data (blog posts, links, etc.). But trying to specify exactly what that tag should and shouldn’t be used for, goes against the grain of the system. It’s a futile effort at best.

In fact, Flickr already has a mechanism for grouping photos with a narrow set of common criteria: groups. It takes a few more steps to submit a photo to a group than it does to tag it, but that’s the price you have pay for increased relevance in this case. There was a group for @Media 2005, but there doesn’t seem to be one for this year’s event yet. If anyone is interested, I’ll create one.

(As a final note, I have to say that I’m absolutely gagging for the new Tags feature in Movable Type 3.3. It’s about time…)