Posted:
I remember the first time I read Tony Pierce's blog because I'd only been working on Blogger for a short time, and the fact that I hadn't heard of him was pretty bad from a first impressions standpoint.

But my fellow Pyrate (Sutter) tipped me off, and the first post I read was about how the newspaper in Hell is so bad. When I realized that for several weeks Tony had been writing his whole blog from Hell after having been escorted there by the spectre of Kurt Cobain, I was floored. From a "getting what this whole blogging thing can really be" perspective, it was a big moment for me.

Tony's got a new book out called Stiff which collects all of his infernal posts into a choice of awesome covers. I just finished re-reading them this weekend and I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Posted:
As a good number of folks have noted, the cover story of next month's Forbes magazine features an article titled "Attack of the Blogs."

Seeing as how the article is already being picked apart by the web at large for saying things like "Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob," I thought I'd take the opportunity to say a couple nice things about the piece:
  • The article points out that all kinds of blogs are being created each day and in amazing numbers. Of course, this point is made in the very last paragraph, but still. Forbes readers now know, for example, that hundreds of thousands of new blogs are created each day across the web and that this service gets more visitors "than each of the Web sites of the New York Times, USAToday and the Washington Post." Neat!

  • A lot of folks have taken issue with a sidebar to the article that includes tips for how companies can Fight Back against the bloggers. But one of the tips is Start Your Own Blog. A fine idea, really. Lots of companies are already doing this as a way to have an authentic voice on the web and to better connect with their users. It'd be a shame if the thought only seemed appealing as a way of Getting Even ... but whatever it takes.

  • The publication of the article serves as an opporunity to remind everyone of the excellent work done by the fine people at the EFF in putting together their Legal Guide for Bloggers.
And with that I must return to clubbing baby seals so that I might use their skins to publish my slanders.

Posted:
We've pushed some additional changes this week to make it more difficult for spam to be created using our API and other tools (this includes Hello/Picasa, Flickr, w.bloggar, ecto and many others).

The downside to the API changes is that those users whose blogs have been improperly classified as spammy have been unable to post outside of the blogger.com interface. For these users, we've pushed a change so that posts will be set to draft if created through the API. This way no content will be lost and users can go to blogger.com to solve the CAPTCHA and post their content.

We've also introduced a way for users who have been improperly classified to let us know that their blog is in need of manual review. More information on that can be found in the Help.

Posted:
Sounds like cooking blog Chocolate & Zucchini just scored a book deal:
"Life changes? Yes, indeed: today seems like the perfect day to announce that I have just signed a book deal with a NYC publisher, that I have quit my dayjob and that I now live the happy life of a full-time writer, working on the book and a miscellany of other projects. Excited, thrilled, gleeful and proud is how I feel -- but most delightful of all, free. There is no price tag on that."
I wonder if she read Biz's essay?

[via Baking Fairy]

Posted:
Today we are posting a revised version of the word verification system we released yesterday. With this version we have resolved a number of the problems from the initial launch - the most important of which was the inability of some users to solve the CAPTCHAs presented.

There should also be fewer false positives. However, as I mentioned earlier, with any automatic classification of spam there will be some legitimate content that gets classified incorrectly.

It's important to know that if you are prompted to solve the CAPTCHA, it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with your blog. Because of the number of variables our classifier uses, there's no easy way for us to pinpoint why your blog may have tripped the word verification (publicizing this information also serves to defeat the classifier).

The number of false positives will affect only a small percentage of the overall Blogger community. However, I know that for those of you asked to answer the word verification that this is a true inconvenience and for that I apologize.

We will be continually improving the classifier to reduce the number of false positives. We're also working on ways so that once a blog with word verification has been established as legitimate, the blogger will no longer need to solve the CAPTCHA.

It's important that we find ways to put reasonable barriers in place to further prevent the automated creation of spam content. This is not just to prevent the contamination of search indexes with spammy search results, but to ensure the quality of Blogger's service for everyone.

Posted:
One of the ideas I mentioned yesterday was making it more difficult for would-be spammers to post. Earlier today we pushed out a change that will prompt some users to solve a CAPTCHA if our spam classifier identifies the blog as spammy.

We plan to quickly iterate on this approach a bit (as well as extend it to posts created via the API). So far, we have observed a slight decrease in the amount spam being created. There's clearly more to do.

Update: Some users are having trouble solving the new CAPTCHAs and are seeing CAPTCHAs when they shouldn't be. We'll be pushing out a fix for that shortly.

Update: This should now be resolved.

Posted:
Spam is a tricky problem. Or as Matt Haughey says "spam bloggers sure are resourceful little bastards."

For a while now, the Blogger team has been contending with spam on Blog*Spot through mechanisms like Flag as Objectionable and comment/blog creation CAPTCHAs. The spam classifier that Pal described has also dramatically reduced the amount of spam that folks experience when browsing NextBlog.

However, spam is still being created and, as was widely noted, Blogger was especially targeted this weekend.

One group of folks who are particularly affected by blog spam are those who use blog search services and those who subscribe to feeds of results from those services. When spam goes up, it directly affects the quality of those results. I'm exceedingly sympathetic with these folks because, well, we run one of those services ourselves.

So given that the problems is hard, what more are we doing? One thing we can do is improve the quality of the Recently Updated information we publish.

Recently Updated lists like the one Blogger publishes are used by search services to determine what to crawl and index. A big goal in deploying the filtered NextBlog and Flag as Objectionable was to improve our spam classifiers. As we improve these algorithms, we plan to pass the filtered information along automatically. Just as a first step, we're publishing a list of deleted subdomains that were created this weekend during the spamalanche.

Greg from Blogdigger (one of the folks who consumes blog data) points out that "ultimately the responsibility for providing a quality service rests on the shoulders of the individual services themselves, not Google and/or Blogger." However, we think by sharing what we've learned about spam on Blogger we can hopefully improve the situation for everyone.

We can also make it more difficult for suspected spammers to create content. This includes placing challenges in front of would-be spammers to deter automation.

Of course, false positives are an unavoidable risk with automatic classifiers. And it's important to remember that the majority of content being posted on Blog*Spot is not spam (we know this from the ongoing manual reviews used to train the spam classifier).

Some have suggested that we go a step farther and place CAPTCHA challenges in front of all users before posting. I don't believe this is an acceptable solution.

First off, CAPTCHAs represent a burden for all users (the majority of whom are legit), an impossible barrier for some, and are incompatible with API access to Blogger.

But, most importantly, wrong-doers are already breaking CAPTCHAs on a daily basis. And not through clever algorithmic means but via the old-fashioned human-powered way. We've actually been able to observe when human-powered CAPTCHA solvers come on-line by analyzing our logs. You can even use the timestamps to determine from whence this CAPTCHA-solving originates.

One thing we've learned from Blog Search, is that even if spam were completely solved on Blog*Spot, there would still be a problem. As others have concluded, we've realized that this is going to be an on-going challenge for Blogger, Google and all of us who are interested in making it easier for people to create and share content online.

Posted:
Jacob Nielsen has a new Alertbox column: Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes. He has some good tips and points worth considering, though issue #4 does conflict with my love of Suck-style linking.

(Also, I take offense to #10. My Geocities website, at TimesSquare #2334, was awesome. It kicked ass. It even got mentioned in an issue of The Duelist. Hell, yeah! The one with Xena on the cover. I bet Jakob Nielsen’s deck sucks, anyway. It probably uses four colors and has no land. Of course, my site isn’t there any more, so I guess Nielsen gets the last laugh. Meh. Don’t worry, though; We don’t get rid of Blogspot blogs, even if you do leave them languishing for years.)

If you want to play along on Blogger, here are some help articles to get you started: Profiles (#1, #2); Create a title for your post (#3); Do more with links (#4); Edit your link list (#5); Vote for feature requests (#6); Create a new blog (#8); What to do if your mom discovers your blog (#9, sorta); Using Blogger to FTP (#10, also known as Robb’s Law).

Posted:
Our friends at Photolightning just released their latest version, which incorporates some nifty Blogger functionality — it can post photos to blogs, which can then be purchased at ClubPhoto. Here's an example blog with some Photolightning posts.

Posted:
Indeed, blogging demonstrates the persistence of a key truth in the history of reading … that readers, in a culture of abundant reading material, regularly seek out other readers, either by becoming writers themselves or by sharing their records of reading with others.
There have been a ton of comparisons made between bloggers and pamphleteers like Thomas Paine, but an article from Common-Place.org argues that the better historical anology is to “journalizing,” a practice of journal writing and sharing that developed after the proliferation of newspapers in antebellum America.
Surrounded by ephemeral print, many began to make references in their journals to what they had been reading—the rough equivalent of what bloggers do by linking to a Web page. During the Revolution, for instance, Christopher Marshall, a Philadelphian radical and friend of Thomas Paine, peppered his journal with references to the papers, often with brief comments on the news.
In other words, we don’t all have the audience of a Thomas Paine or George Orwell, but we may still use our blogs to, like Christopher Marshall or reformer Henry Clarke Wright, “mix quotidian reflections about life together with records of [our] reading.”

[via PB]

Posted:
Interested in finding out who's linking to your posts? We've just introduced a new feature called Backlinks that makes it easy to find out.

By turning on Backlinks, we include a "Links to this post" section on your post pages. This section is populated by links to that post that have been made from other blogs across the web. For example, check out this post from Blogger Buzz a couple days ago.

Also, as the author of the blog, you have the ability to hide any links to your posts that you might not want to display. You can turn on Backlinks by going to the Settings | Comments tab for your blog. More information can be found in the help article.

Posted:
So we (Google) have launched a service called Reader as an experiment on Google Labs. Reader has been the fascination of a group of developers who were interested in building feed readers and I'm just happy to have been involved so please bear with the occasional confessional-letter cadence since "I never thought these letters were real until...'" can sound silly to anyone who isn't actually the surprised person in question.

Screenshots of Google Reader. You probably know the drill, click to enlarge.

The main window:





Your starred items:



A podcast showing the audio player:




With the drawer open and editing a feed:




With the drawer open, browsing subscriptions and labels.




The gist? It's clear that there's value in keeping up with web content by subscribing to feeds. But the promise of this technology seems greater than, say, the attention paid to its admittedly excellent ability to manage news updates and it's been clear that developers who have been working with RSS, Atom, and microformats have understood that syndication can perhaps be compared favorably, and superficially, to bricks-and-mortar efforts like bridge, dam or canal
building. (For additional metaphoric conflation I'd been considering mentioning the Yangtse River's Three Gorges Dam project to highlight engineering designs for managing floods. Aren't you glad I didn't?)

The web is always been poised to grow. (Duh.) And as a second order effect the amount of information available through feeds seems likely to overwhelm the casual onlooker despite its being potentially useful for them. A (currently) smallish cross-vendor community has been adept at making tools for managing this incredible volume of data available for everyone for years and at Google we're interested in helping out with the resources available to us.

More later. There's a little bit of digital soup being thrown at the newborn. So many people... so many people at the same time...

Posted:
It's October now, and all you closet novelists out there know what that means: It means it's almost November. And November means National Novel Writing Month. Signups are now open over at NaNoWriMo.org, so go toss your writer's block out the window and put your name down to become an author.

For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the basic idea is 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. It's not a competition -- anyone who participates can be a winner, and the reward is your very own novel. Nearly 6,000 people last year cleared the 50,000 word mark. Whether you're an experienced writer or a complete beginner, it's a creative trip like no other.

(From last year: Blog Your Novel I, Blog Your Novel II, NaNoBlogMo.)