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Follow the rainbow

rainbowman.jpgI'm having a great time at the moment following the site stats for A Sensitivity to Things. Which is not to say that I am statistically inclined, not particularly any way, not like one of my webmaster friends, who writes articles on economics in his part and full time; rather, I am enjoying discovering the where and how in the world people are beating a path to my door. Near the very end of the visitor origin stats, and right at the bottom of the list of search key-phrases, were a handful of surfers who visited by following a rainbow, more literally than figuratively, their Google searches for the meaning of rainbows leading them to a recent posting of Sri Chinmoy’s beautiful explanation of their spiritual significance. I certainly hope they found their pot of gold. One search key-phrase however stood out from the rest, like a multi-hued rainbow across a sky of dull grey if you will:
“Seeing a rainbow in your living room means what?”
Er, what?! I think a rainbow just appeared in my mind... I told you I was having a great time—a seemingly simple phrase, a possible statistical anomaly and among all the visitors recorded a one in a thousand rarity had me more than intrigued. Rainbows are special, certainly, but a rainbow in your living room? Now that is something I would like to see! And find too. Long since through the rabbit hole, I am compelled to follow this rainbow further... A quick search of Google (0.22 seconds for the statistically minded) revealed 1,190,000 potential answers. Curious to see where an in-the-spirit-of-serendipity search would lead me, and mildly interested to know how high my only-several-weeks-old website was ranking, I followed a rainbow to the following sites, listed in rough order of search ranking and ability to catch my fickle eye:
Harmonic Concordance “Creation began with a tone, and so it shall end as all is about harmonics.”
Forgetting for a moment my just created philosophy of colour-dazed search, I stopped for a moment to read, reminded of a conversation overheard in childhood about how you could destroy the entire world with the right harmonic frequency (!), although ‘wrong frequency’ it seems to me would be a more apt description. Several paragraphs in though I draw back the reins of my eyes—it is time to press on and follow the hand of serendipity rather than the heels of distraction. Moving down the list and then to the next page, my eye is caught by the name of the following site, and upon further investigation, its writers’ disturbingly positive outlook:
A mommy going crazy “I see the rainbow! This afternoon I am feeling much better, I still have my wrist in a splint, but that is my only obstacle I am faced with today, YEAH!”
I have often wondered how to live with psychic gifts. The next site tells you how:
Living with your Psychic Gifts “As for your psychic abilities, it seems to me you are both a healer and an empath. Different abilities can combine like this, it isn't uncommon. The heat you feel is the movement of the healing force through you. Let it happen! Set an intention that you will heal them, see positive white or rainbow energy flowing from you into them. Read Hands of Light and other healing books. The world needs more healers!”
rainbow_storm.jpgHmm, I read that book once. Kind of made me feel bad for not being able to enter into other dimensions as easily as described by its author. Luckily I discovered in time, and not without bruising my forehead somewhat from repeated trying, that there is more than enough in the right here and now to fascinate and amaze, let alone any other plane of existence. It just requires a certain attention to detail, an open heart, and the ability to see the world as a child once again. But what about rainbows? Aren't we supposed to be following a rainbow? Back to the search...
Living the dream—A Rainbow Start “Saw this rainbow while I was preparing to bathe, really happy to see it on a New Year’s Day (: Not being auspcious or superstitous here but it just bores well for a New Year.”
A rainbow on New Year’s Day? A fellow fan of syncronicity it seems. Glad to have made their acquaintance. I suppose I’d better stop ignoring all of the ‘New Age’ search results. Yes, nobody has a monopoly on wisdom and insight (especially not myself), so I really shouldn't be so dismissive of crystal gazing, well-meaning wearers of rainbow coloured sweat-pants...
the meditation room, your window to the world of life after death “The Fifth Chakra: This is the throat chakra and deals with communication, expression and judgment. It has the color of blue, the crystal stone is blue lace agate and it has the musical note of "G". The blue lace agate crystal stone will help with expressing how you feel. In other words to help clear and clarify the way you wish to communicate. This chakra controls the vocal chords, the thyroid gland and the bronchial system. This chakra can sometimes be the most important of all the chakras. Because it controls the thyroid gland, and it is this particular gland that has complete jurisdiction over the entire body. If the gland is not operating properly then it can create all sorts of very bad sickness. When in an activating mode, this particular chakra, through your meditations, will then be dealing with the frustration’s within your communications that you will have to resolve. It is with this chakra that you will question the wisdom of your self expression when it is concerned with your judgment of others. When you meditate on this chakra, your throat chakra, you will find that your voice will become a lot clearer and more fuller in depth, with the sincerity of life itself..”
Interesting stuff. And there is more. Much, much more...

Really Simple Syndication stuff

screenshot_rss.jpgI may possibly be the last person in the world to have discovered RSS (Really Simple Syndication), but on the off-chance I am not, in a wild burst of child-with-a-new-toy enthusiasm I am going to share my marvellous new discovery. RSS has been around for a number of years now, and is really nothing more than a digital version of the old news wire services, excepted automated (i.e. really simple) for any website with the requisite technology. In effect, RSS provides a feed of headlines and updated content which can be subscribed to, allowing one to view, in an RSS compatible reader, an overview of new, ordered by date content from any website. Sound simple? It should, because it really (as advertised) is. I initially gave RSS pass a few years back because it required either a detailed knowledge of XML or a special RSS application, and quite frankly having yet another application to use for the internet seemed more trouble than it was worth. The process has been simplified considerably in recent times by the adoption of RSS technology in the major browsers; for example, in Firefox and Apple Safari every RSS enabled site or page you visit creates an RSS icon in your browser URL window—click on that icon and you can bookmark the feed, creating in effect a“live” bookmarks, continuously updated with content from the site or page you have bookmarked. On my browser I now have a bookmarks toolbar folder in which I file every frequently visited site’s syndication feed into (see image), so I only ever have to visit these sites when I see there is an update. Personally I only do this for sites that are occasionally updated, as other frequently visited sites like news sites are by definition updated daily, and RSS for such seems a little overboard—unless you are a news junkie or particularly interested in tapping the actual living pulse of the blogosphere. RSS may also be handy if you have MyBlogLog enabled, as it avoids creating the impression on sites with MBL that you might be a cyberstalker. Observant readers may have noticed that I have my own site’s RSS feed bookmaked. Why? Good question—it seems that I must“really” like RSS. Or really like myself... Another interesting use of RSS is for auto-generated content on websites. Some SEO experts (read spammers) claim it is now possible to build entire websites and still have them rank in search engines with content delivered solely via RSS. Online medication sales aside, an RSS feed can be used benignly to add a dynamic content portal to your website, displaying for example the most recent posts from a like-minded website anywhere on a page. I myself do this here at A Sensitivity to Things, displaying recent posts from a number of other sites in my“widget-enabled” WordPress sidebar. Genius!

Snapped back? Charles Arthur responds

Snap—a sensitive topic?I didn't know what I was letting myself in for when I installed snap.com's SPA (Snap Preview Anywhere, better known as just“Snap”) plugin just over a week ago. I had seen it elsewhere and thought it cool—perhaps naively—although I do make a living amongst other things as a front-end developer, and should know a little about such things. Thus it was one of the first things I configured after getting my hands dirty in the WordPress control panel. I didn't expect to be attracting the ire of the international blogging community (a slight exaggeration in my case, but Snap certainly has), and I certainly didn't expect a reply within the hour from Snap themselves when I reposted an article critical of their technology by Charles Arthur of the Guardian. Well, one does write in order to be read, so I'm not going to bemoan the fact that people have been reading A Sensitivity to Things—including a certain Charles Arthur, who left a comment and further contribution to the Snap debate a little earlier today. I'll let the Guardian Technology supplement editor (thanks Google) take it from here:
You can count me as disinterested - I just try to report what people are saying. Snap has come in for a lot of dislike among bloggers of late. Just to respond to Erik’s points first: “- Is your audience *exclusively* made up of experienced Internet users that read your blog using browsers that support tabbed browsing (essentially IE7, Firefox, Opera or Safari)?” Since IE7 is what Microsoft is making available to all XP owners, it would be surprising if your audience didn’t quickly consist of lots of IE7 users. Whether they’ll use tabbed browsing is debatable. But tabbing isn’t the key here. Lots of people read by following a link, and if they don’t like it, there’s the back button. Snap Preview doesn’t tell you enough to inform the decision, I’d suggest.
Sorry Charles—as this is my blog and I make the rules (cue evil laugh), let me jump in here for a moment... Personally, I hardly ever use the back button (I have memorised the browser keyboard shortcuts as most power users should), and almost always open links in new tabs just to avoid its use. Loading and reloading pages by going back and forth is painfully slow at times—even on today's broadband connections—and in tab-less Explorer 6 I would suggest it is common to have multiple, un-tabbed windows open simultaneously—the Windows dock works almost the same as tabs anyway.
“- Are you *not* interested in attracting and retaining readers that doesn’t fit this narrow user profile?” Unpacking this double negative, we get“do you want to have readers beyond those using tabbed browsers?” Of course you do - but do you need what is in effect a pop-up, which educated and uneducated users alike dislike, or are there effective tools already in browsers?
A bit harsh on poor old Snap? Even removing my Snap-besotted, rose-tinted“cool factor” glasses, I would still argue that it isn't quite a pop-up window; it goes away on mouse-off, and can be easily disabled—as many in this debate have pointed out.
- Are your hyperlinks blue and underlined? If they’re not, then you’re unlike millions or billions of sites, and you’re breaking a fundamental of usability, and you should change your stylesheet at once so that they are.
Cutting in again, personally I prefer css-defined, marker pen style background-colours on the sites I build these days (see an example here), but yes it seems the underline is here to stay, even when 1px thick and dotted.
- Do you consistently follow“proper” markup protocol, defining the target and title of the link within the opening and closing of the anchor tag? Most people don’t - but as they become more experienced at writing links, they learn to use descriptive phrases. Until recently, the Google search on“miserable failure” illustrated how.
Most web developers do use link titles, or at least should do if they're earning their money properly—they're a part of the W3C usability standards and have been for some time. Same with alt tags, and both are essential for search engine optimisation. It's a different story of course for your average Web 2.0 enabled CMS or out-of-a-box blog user. On the same topic, I notice a suspicious lack of link titles on the Guardian Unlimited technology site...
Overall, the case against Snap Preview is that it’s like a pop-up and it tells you little that you couldn’t learn by looking down at the status bar, where on most browsers the“go to” link’s URL will show up. It’s the pop-up part that people find trying. >> …In the UK the Guardian is not exactly top of the list in the readership polls anyway, but knowing what *is* at the top is not terribly comforting either… I don’t know what“polls” you’re referring to (there’s no such thing; there are sales, readership, and website visitors/pageviews). The website is the most-read of the UK newspapers.
Betamax was a superior video technology but lost badly in the popularity stakes. Popularity may not be everything when it comes to assessing the merits of a technology, but it is everything in regards to its uptake and success. I will concede the point however, whatever my own opinion, that it is popularity that will determine the success or otherwise of Snap's high-stakes technology investment. Thanks for adding to the debate Charles—I appreciate the fact that you took the time. Besides, as a free-lance writer available for hire, I do know which side my bread is buttered (hint). Postscript: if you haven't disabled it already, rolling over any of the links in this article will show you where they go—this is Snap in action, the subject the debate. Obviously I still have it installed—my final word on the matter.

Snap make the case for Snap Preview Anywhere

I wasn't expecting a response when I reposted Charles Arthur's review of SPA's Snap website add-on, and certainly not within the hour, but get a response I did, and directly from SPA themselves. A sign of sensitivity? Desperation? Or even astroturfing as one commenter suggested—the top down manufacturing of the appearance of a grassroots movement, just as artifically turfed sports fields are manufactured to appear like grass. There is some truth to these arguments; the Guardian story made the top 10 at reddit.com, equivalent to extraordinarily large exposure, and as a negative opinion piece therefore extremely bad press for SPA; with millions of dollars invested in their product, little wonder that they are responding in this manner, and promptly. As opposed to the practise of “astroturfing” however, they are making the case for their product in-person, responding to critiques or negative reviews one at a time (presumably ‘bot assisted), and as they appear. While I was surprised to attract their attention (here come the ‘bots!) on such a new website (one week and counting), I'm not against it, and it led me to consider the arguments for and against their product—as seen right here on A Sensitivity to Things—more closely. And as you can see, it's still installed... The comment posted by Snap follows:
Tech pundits such as Charles Arthur of the Guardian, who critique SPA on the basis of usefulness, either fail to think outside of their personal frame of reference or they are essentially expressing a lack of interest in the less tech savvy. Snap Preview Anywhere has never claimed to provide *all* the information needed, but rather to provide richer-than-what-is-currently-available cues to what lies ahead. As a publisher you have a responsibility to your audience. If I was to attempt boiling down the science of audience research I would say this comes down to a combination of knowing who they are, what they want and what they need. Ask yourself the following questions: - Is your audience *exclusively* made up of experienced Internet users that read your blog using browsers that support tabbed browsing (essentially IE7, Firefox, Opera or Safari)? - Are you *not* interested in attracting and retaining readers that doesn’t fit this narrow user profile? - Are your hyperlinks blue and underlined? - Do you consistently follow "proper" markup protocol, defining the target and title of the link within the opening and closing of the anchor tag? If so, your audience is likely to find the usefulness of SPA marginal. If so, your audience is trained to pick up on the subtle cues already provided by the browser framework — the browser status bar and anchor link title attribute provide these users with most of what they need to determine where links are pointing — and the cost of occasional erroneous clicks are often mitigated through the use of advanced browser functionality such as tabbed browsing... However, if the user profile or markup principles described above are too narrow for your taste or ambition, I believe that by implementing Snap Preview Anywhere you would in fact offer ALL your readers MORE information to base their decision on which links to click or not to click, REDUCING the number of unwanted outbound clicks mid-read and, in effect, IMPROVE their ability to focus on YOUR content, or the content you link to that they TRULY wanted to visit. For a more in-depth discussion of SPA — both its strengths and weaknesses — you might also visit our blog post The Snap Preview Anywhere Use Case. Cheers. -- Erik Wingren Snap UX Research
I think that about closes the topic of Snap for me at least. Normal posting will resume ASAP—or as soon as I finish creating a 54 row csv-table in ReStructured Text...

Snapped?

From the pages of the Guardian. I'm having second thoughts about Snap now...
Is Snap Preview the most hated Web 2.0 function ever? Charles Arthur Thursday February 22, 2007 We certainly haven't seen anything to match the outpourings of bile that have followed the wannabe search engine's little page previews, which appear on a number of wordpress.com sites and elsewhere.The Snap Preview Anywhere technology (also available as a Firefox plugin!) means that if you hover your mouse over a link, you'll see a little popup window showing the site being linked to, attached to the place where your mouse is. The first time, you think, "Cool!" The second time, you think, "Oh, that." The third time, most people think, "How the hell do I turn this thing off?" (Clue: click on the little "Options" text in the popup box and choose "Disable for ALL sites." Add "Damn you!" if you like.) Part of the revulsion over Snap Preview is in that dangerous word "popup": it's too like an unwanted ad. Plus, who needs to know what the site you might go to looks like? The preview's too small to tell you anything useful, but often obscures text on the page you're still on.Snap has been doing its best to fight off a veritable blog blizzard of disapproval: "Since launch some 700,000 websites and blogs have signed up for the service and some 180m previews have been served," wrote Erik Wingren, its senior researcher, on its blog (blog.snap.com). "The Snap Preview Anywhere service was designed to help users make more informed decisions about what links to click on and thereby help them navigate the internet with greater speed and accuracy." We still can't see it, to be honest. Isn't that what the URL tells you? Meanwhile, Snap's principal ambition - as a new search engine - may be fatally wounded. We'll wait and see ... without pop-ups.

The machine is using us

Imagine the internet as an enormous machine. Do we use the machine, or is the machine using us? This is the premise behind a brilliant video posted on YouTube recently, an imaginative exploration of the ideas behind “Web 2.0” by an associate professor of Digital Ethnology at Kansas State University. At the time of writing it has been viewed by well over a million people, speaking much of the power of internet to connect and inform us. Reading the comments left by viewers of video however speaks something of the opposite. I was fascinated by the idea of the internet once: the convergence of media and content which captivated almost everybody in the late 90's—time of boom before bust for what is now called Web 1.0, and birthplace for champions of an interconnected, permanently connected available-on-demand future is now—a Brave New World. How soon the imaginary becomes the ordinary... The idea behind the video is intriguing—that the internet is slowly evolving into a living, breathing, mindful entity through our use of it; the pathways we take, the content we create, the way we label things all teaching the“machine” to“think.” Is the machine serving us, or are we serving the machine?