What is Web 2.0 anyway? What’s next?

What’s next after Web 2.0? Cloud Computing? Maybe. The Semantic Web? Possibly. The problem with defining what’s next, is that Web 2.0 wasn’t a distinct new technology but is better described as a social movement. The technologies that sprung up to facilitate this new model of user interaction were a collection of re-purposed old technologies with some new, but I can’t think of any that were fundamentally paradigm shifts.

A few months ago I was hiring. I was looking for some engineers for a contract. One resume that crossed my desk listed as a skill, “Web 2.0”. I posted to facebook, what does this mean? The answer from one of my friends, “it means that they surf all day”. Given the ease one can lose hours to “facebooking”, there is a ring of truth in this. 1 in 8 couples married this year met through social media. Think about it.

My point though, is that Web 2.0 isn’t really a technical skill set. Perhaps the job applicant meant to say AJAX or Drupal. But there isn’t a technology one can put their finger on as *the* Web 2.0 technology.

The wikipedia entry for web 2.0 is a good read. The Criticism section points out that many of the ideas that Web 2.0 were already implemented. The article in general supports my contention that web 2.0 is a social revolution not a technological one. Content creation power was placed into everyone’s hands. Networking online got taken up to a new level.

So what’s next? One thing I think bears watching is the possible fragmentation of the web, at least from the search perspective. Google web search is only one way to find things. You can discover sites through social networking, youtube and twitter search. Communities that focus on niches are becoming more prevalent (although they have always been there).

Regardless, it will take us a while to digest Web 2.0 and the next really big thing could be some time in coming. Although I’m sure there is someone out there working to prove me wrong.

Social Media Revolution

Lots of thoughts provoking stats, set to music by Fatboy Slim.

When search engine traffic is not wanted

Everyone wants their site to be found by google, right? Who wouldn’t want more free traffic delivered to their site? The goal of getting onto page 1 of the SERPs (search engine result pages) is such a holy grail, that a whole service industry called search engine optimization has come into it’s own.

But traffic doesn’t always come from the search engines. And some online businesses are not at all interested in marketing to just anyone, but rather just to a targeted clientele that comes to them virally rather via search.

Meet invitation only sites such as Rue La La a luxury e-tailer that seeks to promote an air of exclusivity. To become a member, you have to be invited, and only then can you have access to its discounted designer goods.

Putting your site behind an authentication prompt, which Rue La La has done, is one way to hide your pages from the search engines. Another is through directives in a file, robots.txt, you place on your site. Sites such as Gilt Groupe, another invite only site have excluded many of their site’s directories from the spiders.

So if you are searching for a killer deal on that Gucci bag online, be aware there are certain sites that are completely hidden from you unless you are “in the know”.

wordpress theme frameworks, thematic

After poking around at both Hybrid and Thematic, wordpress frameworks, I went with Thematic. The reason? Better documentation. I followed Hybrid’s instructions on installing a child theme and and got a broken theme. I was more successful with Skelton, but felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I need to do in css land to get to a reasonable looking theme. So in the end I installed Thematic which has some basic layout css files prepackaged to get you started with your child theme. Of course my decision to go with Thematic may reflect some learning challenges on my part, but in the end, Thematic got me quicker to where I needed to be.

Note this project is for a separate blog, not this one. The cobbler’s children makes do with last year’s shoes.

A bit more on frameworks and why you should care. Using a WP framework gives you some separation between functionality and presentation, always a worthy goal. And it allows you to subclass (well kind or) distinct functional components while preserving the ability to upgrade the originals. What I mean by this, is that you can copy a php file (say header.php) from the parent theme to your child theme directory and alter the copy. WordPress, in it’s later versions, knows to look first for the php files in the child theme. The idea here is that when wordpress and the parent theme is upgraded, there is some insulation … I’ll let you know how that goes when I get there.

I mentioned that I went with Thematic because of the better documentation. It took a little digging, but this tutorial series of blog posts are really helpful to get you started. I particularly appreciated the pointer to a sample xml file you can import into your theme to help QA it and review all the little styles you might want to customize. That in itself was a nice find.

Twitter’s summer

Twitter is certainly having a momentous summer. There was the recent DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks, that rendered it inoperative. And the battle lines between it and facebook became more clearly drawn. Twitter is definitively morphing before our eyes, as I recently alluded to in my “lost its shine” post, but the question is into what?

The two trends to watch are use of twitter for branding, as Martha Stewart has, and the its search engine.

If you haven’t jumped yet onto the twitter bandwagon, check out this blog post I got from the Web 2.0 group on LinkedIn, an excellent group of links on using twitter.

WordPress child themes and frameworks

After my troubles in hacking this theme to look more colorful (and not being satisfied with the results – it’s not particularly clean looking) and also due to incompatibilities with upgrading – I have started looking into theme frameworks and child themes as a way forward for myself and my clients.

There are two I am looking at: “thematic” and “hybrid”

WordPress upgrades

Ok, I must have done this wrong.   Or maybe I was on too old of a version of wordpress.

I wanted to install sociable, a popular wordpress plugin that makes it easy for your visitors to digg, facebook, etc.. your blog posts.   However the most recent sociable version did not work with my current version of wordpress 2.3.3, which is quite old.  It was obviously time for me to upgrade wordpress.

Installing wordpress is a snap, but it seemed less clear how to upgrade.  The wordpress codex seemed indicate I should download the latest version .. but I was a little concerned about overwriting all my customizations, it also mentioned that my hosting provider might provide some point and click support for what I wanted to do.

Excellent!  I thought (I can be really lazy about this stuff)

I use bluehost.   Since I have installed wordpress they have started using simple scripts in place of fantastico (yes the install was a while ago).   I followed the prompts and then got the dreaded error about finding some incompatibilities and asking permission to overwrite.  I of course said no, but that stopped the process cold.  I apparently had no option but to say yes.

But before I said yes (yes please overwrite files you aren’t telling me anything about …) I used filezilla to pull down a backup of all my files.  Then, with some trepidation, I clicked yes to the overwrite prompt.

The first sign of trouble was that it gave me a new password for my admin account.  Umm, I don’t use “admin” for my admin account.  I then went to my blog and what was staring at me was the default wordpress theme with the single hello world post.  Insert your favorite expletive here.

The lost of the theme wasn’t hugely concerning, that was easy to fix.  And in fact I just went into the admin, switched themes to greyidea (the theme I’m using), with all my extensive customizations to it intact.

But none of the 100 or so blog posts.  That seemed like a major problem, I hadn’t thought to back up the database (wordpress keeps a lot of stuff in a mySQL database).   I would have rather rebuilt the theme.

But was all my posts gone?   phpadmin is a most handy tool.  And sure enough there were two databases.  A peek at my saved wpconfig file showed I was pointing a different database.   A quick fix (glad I saved the original config file so I had the username and password!) to wpconfig, upload, and I was back in business.  Everything, even my original admin account started working again.

Installing sociable was easy compared to the “upgrade”.

So the question is, is there a easier way to upgrade wordpress to the latest version?

Web 2.0 directory

For a guide to many of the web 2.0 sites out there, check out the go2web2.0 application and tools directory. It’s an overwhelming list but an interesting browse. Unfortunately there is no real indicator that separates out the relevant and “must know about” from the obscure. For example, in the social category: digg is lumped with a bunch of other sites I have never heard of.   The lesser known sites tend to be very niche focused (for example: steepster – tea drinkers unite)

If you click through the site icon, there is a short description and you can get a sense of the buzz about the site, as tweets, blogs and youtube videos that reference the web2.0 site are displayed.  If you are willing to spend a bit of time, you can discover all sorts of interesting sites.

Firefox and IE and tag conflicts

I have been doing some customization to the wordpress theme I have using for this blog.  The original theme was too mono-colored and the link color was hard to see.  And of course I wanted my own header.

Many blog themes put the title of your blog both as the page title tag and also as a H1 somewhere as text in your header.  This was fine with me but I wanted to have it display in a smaller font size to be more compatible with my custom header and not overrun my graphic.

So I went into the css of the blog theme and found the id tag (called “h1”) that specified the size in “em” and picked a smaller size.

It looked great on firefox, but on IE7 the size was unchanged.   Furthermore I had also changed the link color from a barely distinguishable grey to a dark red with a command to underline the link on hover.   Again worked great on Firefox 3, totally ignored on IE7.

With some help from my webdesigner friend from talksure, we figured out the problem.   For the blog title, the theme not only enclosed the text in a div tag specifying the id “h1”, but it also had additionally enclosed the text in h1 tags (confusing .. but they *are* different).   Of course the css had a larger size specified for the h1 tag. What was happenning was Firefox gave the div tags priority .. but IE7 gave the regular h1 tags priority.

A similiar problem explained the link color problem.

If you have conflicting tags, the behavior by IE and Firefox is likely to be different.

We think the reason that the title was enclosed in both a div tag and a h1 tag was to give the search engines a recognizable H1.  And it makes sense this would be the blog title.  However for now, the H1’s are removed so that my blog looks the same on all browsers.

Toolbars for SEO, alexa and Google PR

Alexa and Google PR ranks are a quick measure how strong a site is in traffic and from the search engine perspective.  They measure very different things but are both important.

An Alexa rank is a calculated measure of unique visitors and pageviews on a given web site.  This may be counter intuitive but the lower your Alex rank the better.  Now you will find all sorts of debate online on how accurate the rank is, but everyone agrees it is useful as a rough measure of a website’s traffic.  And if you are in the top 100,000, congratulations! If you haven’t already you should compare your Alexa rank to your competitor’s website. Is yours higher? Then you have some work to do.

A google PR (page rank) is a little harder  to explain as very few people know exactly it is calculated, but it is a measure of how popular and how much of an authority it is.  Google PRs range from 1-10, with 10 being the most coveted.

There are also a number of plugins you can install directly into your Firefox browser (if you needed a reason to switch from using Internet Explorer, these tools might just convince you). If you like simple and unobtrusive check out searchstatus. For a more full featured tool you’ll want to download the SEO toolbar from seobook.com.