Syndicate this site

One of the hats I wear is that of production geek for Online Journalism Review, which this week leads with an interesting piece by Staci Kramer on the evolution of RSS (aka Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) in the online news world. For those who don’t know what RSS is, put simply, it’s a way to quickly retrieve headlines from dozens of sites for easy perusal on your computer.

I take pride in being ahead of the curve on new communication technologies, but I hadn’t given RSS much thought until this week, as I was working on Staci’s story. So I downloaded NetNewsWire, an RSS newsreader for the Mac. (Thanks to Travis Smith for the suggestion.) It’s too early to say whether I’ll use this technology a whole lot, but I can definitely see its appeal.

Anyway, I have finally gotten in step with the times and added an RSS feed to my site. Yeah, I’m sure you are one of the thousands of people who have been waiting patiently for this crucial feature. 🙂

For those wondering how to make use of RSS, another OJR article gives some background and surveys popular newsreader software.

Funky search terms

Like most webmasters, I have a program that keeps track of who’s accessing this site. Of course, it doesn’t name names (lucky you!), but it does give me some interesting general information about where hits are coming from and how people are finding the site.

Anyway, I was just going over a list of the search terms that somehow led people here over the last few months, and I thought I’d share some of the more unusual ones with you:

  • mountains in louisiana – Guess that search didn’t pull in many results. It’s sort of like looking for rainforests in New Mexico.
  • are soccer fans more interested in the visiting team – If you phrase your search as a complete sentence, are you more likely to get a complete answer? No!
  • is there pizza in the musical mamma mia – No, but there’s plenty of cheese.
  • pretending to work – Attention, bosses: This search will not return a list of the “recreational” sites your employees are visiting when they’re supposed to be working on that 150-page budget proposal. Sorry.
  • what is a cutline – Cutline is journalese for caption. (I’m writing this here so the next poor schmoe asking that question will get an answer.)
  • what is a library – Here’s a question more and more young people will be asking as they turn to the Internet for all their research. But I won’t spoil their Googling fun by giving away the answer here.
  • naked people in roman baths – Ohhh-kay…

Google is life

The Washington Post has a great article on my favorite search engine (now everybody else’s, too, I guess):

There have been many fine Internet search engines over the years … but Google is the first to become a utility, a basic piece of societal infrastructure like the power grid, sewer lines and the Internet itself.

Yes! Google is the first place I go for answers to just about anything, and I’d say 95% of the time I find what I’m looking for. Plus, to keep abreast of the week’s hot topics, I’m particularly fond of Google’s Zeitgeist, which offers a not-quite-realtime snapshot of popular search terms. Yahoo!’s similar Buzz Index is also a fun resource.

Philips to make e-newspaper display

The Dutch consumer electronics giant Philips is set to mass-produce a flexible panel that can display printed material and rolls up into a pen-sized holder for portability. Obviously, potentially huge implications for the online news world here. Where can I get one?

Gates: I’ll can spam for good

Bill Gates says the Internet will be spam-free by 2006. “Two years from now, spam will be solved,” the Microsoft founder told participants in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But none of his solutions, detailed here, sounds all that compelling.

One idea is to give unrecognized senders a “puzzle” that only a human can figure out, but this seems like a waste of people’s time. An alternative is to create a challenge for the sending computer that would require hefty processing power to decipher — manageable for a few messages but impractical for mass e-mailings… Begging the question: What about legitimate mass e-mailings such as mailing lists?

The one solution that seems to have something going for it is a pay model in which a sender somehow attaches a small fee (say, 25 cents) to an outgoing e-mail. The recipient can then refund the charge if the message is legit. The fee doesn’t need to be very high to deter spammers: A million messages times 25 cents is $250,000. Suddenly direct mail looks like a bargain again!

Note to Paypal: There’s money to be made here, somehow or another.

Yahoo! users, be warned

I received this official-looking e-mail today, with the Yahoo! logo on top:

Dear Yahoo! User,

We encountered a billing error when attempting to renew your Yahoo! service. This type of error usually indicates that either the credit card you have on file has expired or that the billing address we have is