Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘flickr’ tag

Yahoo’s axing of Delicious leaves a sour taste

with 3 comments

So Delicious is off to the land of defunct social networks. This annoys me as it’s the best pure bookmarking site on the web; frankly I find Stumble Upon too gimmicky – and curiously hard to use – while the likes of Reddit and Digg are just popularity contests these days.

On every computer I work from, there’s a Delicious applet that automatically populates my Delicious account with the meta data from whatever page I’m bookmarking. I add a couple of tags and I’m off again, safe in the knowledge that I can easily find the page again when I need it.

For reasons best known to itself – at a guess something like Delicious is pretty hard to monetise – parent company Yahoo! is set to wave off the bookmarking site into the sunset, according to a leaked screenshot detailing strategies for the company’s sprawling, fragmented, declining empire.

Yahoo! has form with simply trashing stuff it fails to make anything of, with its complete binning of Geocities, and I fear a similar fate for Delicious, rather than let it continue under someone else or release it to open source.

Frankly, I just don’t know what Yahoo! is for any more. Ten years ago, in the era of homepages and mail and search engines, when people like MSN and AOL built up massive online footprints – cars, celebrities, news services, videos – and started acquiring start-ups like Delicious and Flickr, Yahoo! at least made sense within that landscape.

But five years ago everyone realised that, no matter how many news channels you opened, people just weren’t using the web in the same way any more. Google put paid to the other search engines, then slowly took over email, and people began to realise that you might as well get your news from a newspaper than a portal.

Facebook has started its cannibalisation of the web and is well on its way to becoming a true portal – the only page anyone needs to visit on the interweb. Another death knell for the horrifyingly busy, crowded, redundant Yahoo! and MSN homepages.

In this context, satellite services like Flickr and Delicious seem to make even more sense to me. Data is valuable; everyone takes photos; professionals and geeks like to share information; niche services become important in their own right.

Most of the freshest bookmarks on Delicious are users discussing the site's impending demise

The real value of Delicious, to me, was in a massive peer-reviewed repository of the valuable stuff on the web. In amongst all the self-serving newsletters, Twitter feeds and artificially-inflated search-engne rankings – Delicious offered the best of the web filtered by people who worked within the same industries that you did and could be trusted to share the really good stuff. Those delicious web bites that can get lost on the cess pool that is the modern internet.

Whenever I need to research something in journalism, social media, marketing, PR or anything else in the technical realm I turn to Delicious. I dare say coders, techies and a variety of other professionals do too. In this way Delicious was almost an uber search engine; no-one tried to game it like they do Google, Digg or Reddit so only the really good stuff was in there.

I doubt many people used Delicious in the grand scheme of things, but that made it all the more valuable (and I can’t understand how it could possibly cost much to run); and Yahoo! should have been able to make something of that, particularly when they own so much other ancillary real estate.

I never saw, for example, a way to integrate Delicious with my Yahoo! email account. Sure, there’s probably a way to do it, but it was never offered to me. Similarly, why not cross-reference Flickr and Delicious? Or introduce a nominal annual fee and stick some bells and whistles on it?

That Yahoo! doesn’t see the value in retaining Delicious just says, to me, that the company doesn’t really understand what it’s there for any more, that it’s lost sight of how to leverage what it has and make sense of those who continue to use their services.

There’s an online campaign pinging around the other social networks at the moment to save delicious, which indicates the depth of feeling among users. Will it work? I hope so, because Delicious may just be one of the more valuable online repositories of peer-reviewed knowledge in existence. If no-one sees the value of that I despair.

Written by Robin Brown

December 17th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in The web

Tagged with , , ,

30 invaluable free web tools for online journalists

with 11 comments

The explosion of the web may have caught out newspapers and a lot of journalists, but early adopters have been able to thrive in an environment where one man’s threat is another’s opportunity.

Certainly the web has caused a lot of problems for media and journalists, but the tools to adapt to this changing market have been provided for us.

What’s more, the vast majority of the most important ones for bloggers, journalists, editors and even PRs and marketers are freely available, easy to use and – perhaps most importantly – free.

Some of these tools are suited to building traffic, some for measuring traffic, some for sharing or collecting information and others to add value to traditional content.

Some will suit you, others will not. A couple may even be irrelevant and I will make no claims for what they will do for your traffic, brand, revenues or social life.

Web journalism

But these are all tools that I use, in some cases vital tools, and if you accept the metaphor of modern journalist as media Swiss Army Knife you need to constantly develop your skills and make use of the largely free tools you have at your disposal.

There are, literally, thousands of them out there and it can be confusing as to which may be of help and which – in all likelihood – will not.

These are the tools and applications I find most useful and I’ve tried to keep the apps, and descriptions of them, fairly basic. There may be some obvious ones I miss out, which just means I haven’t got round to making use of them or I don’t consider them worth flagging up for starters.

There seems to be a lot of suspicion surrounding social media and Web 2.0 apps. All I have to say to that is this: They are tools. How, and whether, you use them is up to you.

The only criteria are that they’re predominantly free and they are basic, widely-available online tools or apps.

Anyway, without further ado here’s the selection. Dive in.

Twitter and related

Twitter is, to my mind, so important now for online media types that it’s got a category of its own.

Twitter

The Web 2.0 Telegraph is the most fitting description I’ve seen of Twitter. Twitter is simply the platform of choice for important communicators interacting with one another: promoting links, sharing information, asking for help or shooting the breeze.

If you’ve built up good contacts in relevant fields on Twitter it’s the most important tool you will use.

• See: Twitter
• See also: Robin on Twitter

Twitpic

One picture is worth a thousand words, or 140 characters. Show Twitter followers what’s got your attention by connecting up your phone to Twitpic.

You can set up Twitpic so it directly and instantly feeds to Twitter, even old mobiles can do it.

• See: Twitpic
• See also: Robin on Twitpic

Twitterfeed

If you have multiple blogs and multiple Twitter personas you need to make sure the correct blogs are feeding to the correct Twitters. Doing it manually can be pain in the backside, so automating a feed to post to Twitter is worth investigating.

There’s some debate as to whether automated posting goes against the grain a bit on Twitter. As with anything, moderation and common sense are key.

If you’re using Twitterfeed you don’t want more than a couple of automated posts a day. A deluge of links will get you unfollowed. And Twitterfeed is no substitute for proper engagement on Twitter.

• See: Twitterfeed
• See also: Twitterfeed on Twitter

Hootsuite

If you manage multiple accounts it’s simpler to manage them from the same place, rather than logging in and out and juggling usernames and passwords.

I initially used Tweetdeck but it’s awkward and buggy. Hootsuite is easier to use as it’s on a webpage; simpler; customisable; and has useful add-ons like stats, URL shortening and scheduled posting.

• See: Hootsuite

Bit.ly

Essentially anointed by Twitter as the link-shortener of choice, Bit.ly is probably the best too. It will take your long link and make it into a 20-char link that won’t eat up your 140 chars in a tweet.

A simple interface and some basic metric-tracking and sharing tools are the cherries on the cake.

• See: Bit.ly

Twitterholic

Looking a bit rough around the edges now but this is the tool I used to build a following on Twitter by finding people in similar places or with similar interests to me.

It’s always easier finding people who will reciprocate if you have something in common, an area where a lot of people trying to build a group of followers fall down.

• See: Twitterholic
• See also: Journalists on Twitterholic


Social bookmarking sites

Using social bookmarking sites simply to try and drive traffic can be fruitless and potentially damaging. All have unique communities and all are different, even if they don’t initially appear to be.

If you’re representing a brand you may want to think twice before submitting ill-fitting links to Digg, Reddit and Fark. If you’re not going to engage or observe how things work, don’t bother.

Also be aware that chasing traffic, as an end in itself, can be somewhat self-defeating. Choose your bookmarking carefully.

Digg

Using Digg to its maximum potential – in terms of traffic – takes time, effort and patience. As with Twitter, it’s about building a community and using that community to promote your links.

I think Digg has a fairly narrow band of opportunities for editors or journalists. Funny, techy or sporty stuff seems to do best as Digg users tend to use it to share distracting, fun stuff.

The obscene amounts of traffic The Onion and Cracked get from Digg seems to bear this out.

Occasionally I happen to write something I think will do well on Digg, and I make sure I write a header and description that will appeal to Diggers.

A well-placed story on Digg will send you hefty amounts of traffic, and it’s good for in-bound links too. Also bear in mind the reason it’s there – it’s fun.

• See: Digg

Delicious

Of very little use for generating traffic in the way Digg and Reddit are, Delicious has probably grown into the most pure social bookmarking application.

It’s beautifully simple and, because it’s searchable, is a great repository for valuable information.

It tends to be used by people working in media, PR, programming and marketing so it’s a gold mine of peer-approved guides and information in these areas.

• See: Delicious

Reddit

Not a million miles away from Digg, Reddit has an arguably broader focus and is easier to get into for newcomers.

Reddit’s community is not to be messed with however. Get a link submission wrong and you’ll know about it.

• See: Reddit

Fark

Digg on speed, or maybe acid. Fark consists of ‘not news’ chosen by a community and as such a very difficult tool to wield with any success.

In fairness Fark is not a tool at all, but can be used as such. Many international media have successfully harnessed Fark as a tool to drive vast amounts of traffic.

A story on the front page will deliver tens of thousands of hits over a very short space of time, which often leads to servers being ‘farked’ – brought down by the deluge of traffic.

A very good understanding of the community is required, and there’s a good opportunity to sharpen up your headline-writing skills. Only the very best stories and write-ups are greenlit, but the resulting traffic can be huge.

• See: Fark


RSS, alerts and readers

Tracking the websites that are important to you, and sharing your own content with readers is an important element of the online Swiss Army Knife.

Netvibes

I say Netvibes because it’s the one I use and I think it’s smart, but any reader or personalised home page will do – they’re essentially much of a muchness.

If you’re in media or PR you need to keep up with events on a daily basis. That means browsing potentially hundreds of feeds a day.

Grabbing an RSS feed and displaying it in your reader alongside 50 others is a lot easier than going to those individual sites.

Add-ons like widgets, increased sharing abilities and clever use of APIs from other apps like Facebook and Twitter means you can potentially browse, and interact with, all the relevant bits of the web from one page.

Most have a public setting too. As a result I have a public homepage on Netvibes that displays all my various online real estate around the web.

• See: Netvibes
• See also Robin’s public page on Netvibes

Tabbloid

Takes your feeds and displays them in a newspaper format. A bit clunky, and there are a few similar tools out there, but handy if you get square eyes looking at a normal reader.

Can also be used as a promotional tool to round up your output on a regular basis.

• See: Tabbloid
• See also Tabbloid sample

Feedburner

Allows you to track and edit your RSS feeds, share links and embed ads in your feed. No earth-shattering, but provides far more control over RSS feeds.

• See: Feedburner

Google Docs

Put e-documents online, quickly, easily and – er – freely.

• See: Google Docs

Google Alerts

Track a developing story, stay abreast of any news concerning particular companies or trends or steal a march over others on breaking news relating to your chosen keywords.

• See: Google Alerts

Twitterfeed

Again. See above for details


Multimedia

There are a hundred ways to tell a story these days. Use images, videos and music to bring yours to life.

Youtube

There are half a dozen good apps out there that will allow you to upload and share videos, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve gone with Youtube.

Youtube as a platform is only really as good as your videos, but as a tool it’s probably more versatile than you’d think.

Most obviously it provides some fantastic, free, embeddable multimedia content. If you can’t do something with that you’re probably in the wrong job.

Insight actually provides some useful metrics – the one measuring the attention span of watchers per video for one – while playlists, audio beds and annotations allow for some personalisation.

Add a customisable channel page and Youtube becomes a valuable tool in branding and hosting.

Live Stream and Vimeo may be more obvious, and going forward will come into their own, but for ‘quick and dirty’ Youtube is good enough for most.

• See: Youtube
• See also MotorTorque on Youtube

Flickr

Please be aware of what Flickr is not – a free image bank. If you’re going to use Flickr to source images you need to have a thorough understanding of Creative Commons licences, and some form of contact with individual authors.

Also, Flickr is not a link-building tool. Any links are nofollowed and business accounts are frowned on.

With that in mind Flickr can be invaluable for finding good quality images to accompany articles and is also a pleasantly simple image storage and presentation tool.

Image sets can be presented as embedded slide-shows, which can be a great visual dimension to a story alongside a static image.

Flickr can also be used to create links within photographer communities and can be used to promote photographic work.

Again, its largely self-policed by one of the more righteous online communities, so ensure you know what you’re doing.

• See: Flickr
• See also Robin on Flickr

Pixlr

Essentially an online Photoshop but cheaper (free actually), faster and simpler. Great tool that’s good enough for most photo manipulation.

• See: Pixlr

MPEG Streamclip

Good tool for video file conversion and some very basic editing features. Plays virtually anything. Can also be very good at capturing online videos if that’s your thing.

• See: MPEG Streamclip

Spotify

Weren’t expecting that one were you? But any new free app should be considered for the possibilities it provides.

A few brands have flirted with playlists, and I’ve done a couple of articles involving playlists to accompany articles.

There may not be a huge amount more scope than that, but Spotify is a free resource that offers free access to millions of tracks. Who saw that coming a couple of years ago?

• See: Spotify
• See also Crucial Three article on Liverpool Culture Blog

Morgue File

A good free image-bank site. The value of a good image to accompany an article can make all the difference. If you have access to a free image bank you’ve really no excuse. Remember to add a credit and check licenses though.

• See: Morgue File

Stock Xchng

Another great free image bank, with a premium level.

• See: Stock Xchng


Mash-up and added value apps

Add value to your content with embeddable mash-ups and media that complement your content.

Dipity

Great for building timelines for events that can be embedded. Connect up RSS feeds to feed a topic or add manually.

The added value it can bring to a running story is not to be underestimated – it’s shiny and it’s useful, especially if you’re using your own content to build timelines.

• See: Dipity
• See: Dipity US car industry timeline

Google Maps

Google Maps should be subtitled ‘not just maps’. Any amount of mash-ups can be created with the API, but it’s just as easy to create interactive co-operative maps using the site itself. Also works well with Google Earth.

As with Dipity, you can add value to content and tell another dimension to a story. A no-brainer for travel reports and write-ups.

• See: Google Maps
• See: Half Map Half Biscuit

Cover It Live

The ability to cover an event live on a self-hosted platform can be invaluable. Cover It Live allows administrators to host guests, guide discussions and moderate reader comments.

While Twitter may be a more obvious platform for micro-blogging, Cover It Live can be embedded into a web page, customised and managed in terms of who can contribute. Images and video can also be embedded in the stream.

Again, it can add another dimension to traditional coverage and bring live events to life.

• See: Cover It Live

Xtra Normal

A tool that allows you to convert to text spoken by an animated character may be gimmicky, but it can be fun.

Any blogger worth their salt should be able to think of something at least funny to do with it.

If Xtra Normal had been around 20 years ago we could have had animated reports of Gerry Adams speaking to the UK via an animated avatar.

• See: Xtra Normal
• See: Worried about acid erosion? on AdTurds

PollDaddy

Encourage user feedback and drive user-generated content with a poll – it can provide valuable insight or be used to drive original content itself.

Easy to configure and embed, you can stick it in the middle of an article one day and write a follow-up the next day based on the results.

• See: PollDaddy
• See also: Ten worst adverts of 2009 on AdTurds


Metrics, web editing and SEO

If you’re running a blog or website you want to be able to track its performance over a number of metrics. A basic understanding of SEO will benefit any journalist too.

Google Analytics

Or any decent analytics package that allows you to track, compare and dig down into various metrics.

Analytics will do all of that and more – you can’t seriously run a large website without something at least as powerful and detailed as Google’s statistics tool.

Analytics can be used at a very basic level for tracking your traffic and website performance, or can provide intricate details into what’s going on in the deepest reaches of your site if you drill down.

Makes a great pairing with Adsense.

• See: Google Analytics

Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools allow you to get your hands a little more dirty with the intricacies of web design and SEO.

If there are any obvious problems with the navigation and accessibility on your site, Webmaster Tools should flag them up, along with some SEO information on backlinks and keywords than may give you a different perspective on how your users – or search engines – view your site as opposed to how you view it.

• See: Webmaster Tools

Adsense

Making money from a blog or website can be something of a double-edged sword. I don’t have Adsense on any of my personal blogs, but do use it on other sites.

Simply put Adsense offers the ability to make money from your blog or site with a few clicks.

Style your ads, decide on what keywords you want to include on your ads, settle on placements and Adsense will generate code for you. Stick the code in your blog, verify your account and watch the cash roll in.

Don’t expect vast sums unless you’re doing thousands of impressions a day, and bear in mind the downside of changing your blog to a money-making device.

• See: Adsense

Google Trends

Stuck for blog topics or want to research a trend? Google Trends is a good way to track what’s popular, although Twitter Trends can be used in much the same way.

Comparing two or three different terms can be instructive if writing about brands, TV programmes or pop bands.

Trends also pairs up well with Insight, an advances search facility currently in Beta, which allows you to drill down into search data over different periods of time or by region and country.

Both are probably of more use to marketers, but keyword searches and tracking can also be useful for giving a fresh perspective on an article, creating unique content, driving Adwords campaigns or simply finding out who is currently winning out of Doctor Who and Star Trek.

• See: Trends
• See also: Who is winning out of Doctor Who and Star Trek?

Website Grader

A good all-in-one tool that will grade your site against others in terms of traffic, search engine placements, page rank and a dozen other metrics.

Can provide a good introduction to basic SEO and an insight into what you may be doing correctly or incorrectly.

• See Website Grader


Platforms

If you’ve not made the leap you’ll need a platform on which to host your blog or site. Make sure you pick a good one.

WordPress

So far in front of other blogging platforms it’s not even funny. WordPress hosted or self-hosted is easy to figure out, has an interface so intuitive it’s almost beautiful, good support and a peerless range of plug-ins.

If you’re a journalist you need a blog. If you need a blog, use WordPress. That is all.

• See: WordPress

Tumblr

Ultra-simple blogging platform that makes the easy-to-use WordPress look like quantum mechanics.

Tumblr’s simplicity and efficiency is its greatest strength, so if you need something that works out of the box and don’t need the extra bells and whistles, look no further.

• See: Tumblr
• See also: Robin on Tumblr


Promoting yourself

Much as it pains me to say it, you need to be a brand these days, and that means at least providing people with the means to browse your skills and experience.

I use this blog to do that, but there are a couple of other tools around the web worth a look.

LinkedIn

I’m not actively searching for freelance or seeking a new job, so I’ve not got much out of LinkedIn so far.

If and when I do I’ll no doubt investigate further as this is what everyone uses. I’m not clear how much business actually gets done on LinkedIn, but for now I’ve got a page on there with the basics on.

• See: LinkedIn
• See also: Robin on LinkedIn

ReTaggr

Unsure about ReTaggr at the moment, but it does what it says on the tin – essentially an online business card.

• See: ReTaggr
• See also: Robin on ReTaggr

• Image by Noodlepie on Flickr via Creative Commons

NB. There are 38

How do I use non-commercial licenses on Flickr?

with one comment

Creative Commons

I’ve had a recent set-to on Flickr over Creative Commons licenses, with particular regard to the non-commercial licenses that specifies that photos licensed for use, as long as you do not use it ‘for commercial purposes’.

This is a notoriously nebulous definition that seems designed to create confusion, and it’s currently slated to be replaced.

The main bone of contention concerns what constitutes a ‘commercial purpose’. Clearly selling prints of that photo does, or using the image in an advert.

As I understand it, users on Flickr have discovered their images being used in precisely these ways.

Where it becomes a little more ambiguous is where images are used on websites that also contain adverts. Clearly websites such as these are run for profit, so arguably using an image on one of these sites is using someone else’s work for a commercial purpose.

This is where I come in.

I’ve used several images CC images from Flickr on MotorTorque, always under a CC license. Some of these have been under non-commercial licenses, where I always sought the permission of the photographer.

In all of these cases I received replies from the photographers indicating that they were happy for me to use the image. They’re always used in context and in a way that complements the text.

It’s difficult, when editing a website, to receive approval for an image in a timely manner, so after a while, as no-one had ever indicated that they considered my specific use of the images a breach of the license, I stopped asking approval for such images and provided a link to the page where the image was used.

I’d make it clear that if they objected to the use I’d take it down, and the image was always properly attributed with a link to the relevant page on the photographer’s Flickr account and another link to the CC license.

Recently a third party objected to my use of someone else’s image, and before I knew it a three-way row erupted on the image page. Another guy took my side, but the accuser was so incensed by what I’d done that he basically accused me of copyright theft.

It was all rather overblown, especially considering the copyright holder didn’t get involved at any point, but it raises some difficult questions about the CC license.

No doubt that license is open to abuse, and unlike me anyone genuinely stealing images from Flickr is unlikely to provide a link to the site where they’re ripping off someone else’s work.

The license, as it stands, is an absolute minefield that probably does not meet the intent of the copyright holder or explain sufficiently to potential users whether they can use it or not.

So, how do you use a non-commercial license? Until a new license comes into effect later this year, the only way to play it down the line is to seek approval.

Even though I’ve not used CC licenses for any of my images on Flickr, because they’re such a shambles, I’ve allowed everyone who’s approached me to use them if they’ve asked.

As for copyright holders, the only sensible approach seems to be to make them unavailable for any use if you’re likely to object to someone accidentally using your work in a way that does not fit your idea of what the licence means.

• If you have the stamina there’s a discussion here on the new license.

• Image by Giuli-o via Creative Commons

Written by Robin Brown

May 6th, 2009 at 10:11 pm