Plugin Review: Yahoo! Shortcuts for WordPress (Beta)

Yahoo! announced a new WordPress plugin called Shortcuts. It promises to “boost your blog” by adding desirable content to your posts. My first impression was that it was one of those annoying things that pop up unwanted content all over a page. But I looked a little deeper into it and decided to try it out.

I normally hesitate to try out things in beta, but for the sake of testing this thing, I’m giving it a go.

The plugin menu in WordPressDownload the plugin here. It requires WordPress 2.2 or higher. When installed and activated, it adds a menu to your WordPress Write Post form. When the plugin finds something to add, it shows up in this Yahoo! Powered Shortcuts menu.

Even though there’s only 1 shortcut at this point in this article, I want to see what it is. To do that, I click the Review this Post button. A new page opens where I do the reviewing.

It turns out that the shortcut is an offer to search the web for the term “WordPress.” When you are working on the Review page, you can see what is suggested by the shortcut, and decide whether or not to remove that shortcut.

The options for a suggested shortcutI don’t think my readers need any help finding out how to locate WordPress on the web, so I choose to remove that shortcut.

In order to get more suggested shortcut offers from the plugin, I’m going to write a couple of paragraphs about SXSW Interactive.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference will take place in March 2008 in Austin, TX. The schedule for this year is gelling, with Henry Jenkins set to deliver the opening remarks. Other interesting looking program offerings include “Getting Unstuck II: From Desktop to Device (Liz Danzico)” and “Africa 2.0: Affecting Change Using Technology (G. Kofi Annan)”.

The Conference is held in the Austin Convention Center, downtown in Austin and close to the famous music scene on Sixth Street (and everywhere else) around this Live Music Capital of the World. Just across the river from the Convention Center you can see the statue of Austin bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan.

OK. Adding that content brought me up to four suggested shortcuts. I decide to keep one, a map of Austin that you see on mouse over, and another suggesting a web search for Kofi Annan. I probably won’t use that much, but I’m leaving it here as an example.

Why no offer to search for Henry Jenkins, Liz Danzico or Stevie Ray Vaughan? If I think you are going to be interested in a person, it seems like my responsibility as a writer to provide you with the relevant link (e.g., Liz Danzico) rather than making you go through the intermediate process of searching yourself.

There was an offer to search on Austin Convention Center, but no offer of a map to it. I removed that one.

The final option for added content from the shortcuts is images from Flickr. I found a SXSW Interactive Image and added it. Based on the words in this article, the shortcut to Flickr had preloaded images of the Austin Converntion Center, but it was easy to search for SXSWi instead.

One thing I didn’t see yet was an offer to create a “badge” from some of the content that the plugin flagged. So I’ll add some content with an address in it, hoping to trigger a shortcut to a map that can convert to a badge to add to this post.

My Tai Chi instructor is Sifu Dug from the Lotus Dragon Authentic Kung Fu and Tai Chi studio at 1805 San Pedro Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM.

Yep, that worked. When I go back to Review this Post, there’s an option for the address I entered. Now I can either choose to suggest a map as I did above to Austin, TX, or add the map to the page as a badge.

You, as reader, can see the results displayed as a dashed blue line under any term with a shortcut attached. If you hover over it, you can elect to follow the search, click the map link or badge, or find the owner of the photo from Flickr.

It was very easy to use. Some WordPress plugins take an extra step, but not this one. Just install and activate. And in spite of the fact that it’s still in beta, it worked great. There is a noticeable slowdown in Save time with shortcuts added to the post. Most of what I added shows up in code view as simply spans with classes. For example:

<span class="yshortcuts" id="lw_1197569011_6">1805 San
Pedro Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM</span>

The map used an embed tag. The Flickr image is a simple link with a clickable image.

But how helpful is it? I rejected a lot of what it suggested. Unwanted stuff is easy to remove. Some of what it offered, such as the map to the Tai Chi studio seem really helpful. But I’m not sure I like the things that pop up in your way on mouse over. Sometimes pop ups are plain irritating, not informative.

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Women and The Future of Web Design Conference

FOWD logo

The Future of Web Design (FOWD) Conference was held the week before Thanksgiving in New York City.
One of those in attendance was Kristin Vincent from Webgrrls.

Kristen came home from the conference and wrote a visionary post called The Web’s Future: Peering into the Crystal Ball. She summarized some of the highlights of the conference, but she also went beyond that and gave her own ideas on where things are headed in the web design world. Or as Kristen explained it,

I heard some smart, inspiring speakers, but overall I felt the conference played it a little safe and didn’t lean forward enough to look over the cutting edge. Presentations focused on topics such as:

* How sites are now utilizing AJAX to allow for more dynamic interactions without page refreshes
* How we can design better sites for mobile devices, which are sweeping the globe at a surprising rate
* How user-generated content like blogs, tags, and comments are taking over online spaces

I felt they were filling in the details of a landscape that had been growing on the horizon for a while. I went home that night dreaming of uncharted territory, of things that are still beyond the next hill.

Her first look into uncharted territory reveals her crystal ball for AJAX.

In the future, we will see modules on the page that are triggered to appear dynamically as a result of user actions. These modules will contain content from multiple sites. The number and arrangement of modules on the page will be rules based, and the possibilities will be infinite because designers can’t possibly predict or plan for the series of user actions that will kick off different combinations on the page.

Joshua Davis, the first speaker at the conference, talked about the idea of computational design in art, where he builds design rules and elements of randomness into a program and then runs the program to create artwork. But I’m speculating about a new implementation of computational design that was not influenced by programmatic randomness, but by actions performed by users. And instead of creating art, this would create new transactional e-commerce or learning spaces.

On the topic of mobile devices, Kristin polished her crystal ball to a real sheen. She says,

Now that the device is handheld, lightweight, and easily manipulated, people will want to use it to interact with their physical environment. We’ll be able to point it toward a building and pull up that company’s site or information. (This has already started happening in Asia.) We’ll be able to scan UPC barcodes to add items to an online wish list or to have the item automatically shipped to our homes.

As designers, we are currently limited in how we design for mobile devices because of the small screens. In the future, the screens will be able to stretch or unfold so we can view the full 17-inch monitor size. Or maybe they will become more like projectors and project a full-size screen on the wall or desktop. Keyboards will also need to scale. Mobile devices will beam holograms of keyboards so we can type on virtual keys on any flat surface.

That’s pretty exciting sounding stuff. Kristin also had some thoughts on a topic dear to the hearts of BlogHers: user generated content. She predicts,

User-generated content is going to spill outside the Internet arena. As you peruse the cable menu on tv, you’ll be able to see what other people thought of a show to help you decide whether to set your DVR to record it. As silicon chips make their way into paper, newspapers and books will have a place where customers can pull up the latest comments. For instance, I have a favorite recipe of chipoltle nachos with avocado cream dipping sauce that I like to make, and I’d like the option to see what people who like this recipe recommend I also try. I don’t want to pull it up online; I want it to appear in context in my cookbook and to be up to date each time I pull out the recipe.

Kristen didn’t comment on the gender of the speakers issue at FOWD. I took a look at the speakers list out of my own need to satisfy my inner accountant. The conference had the usual dismal ration of male to female speakers. There were three women on the panels.

One of the speakers was Cindy Li from The Adventures of Cindy Li. Cindy is an illustrator. At the conference she talked about using illustration for attraction and value on a web site. Her post about the conference is FOWD 07 New York: Beautifying the web with Illustration.

Another female conference speaker was Jina Bolton from She hasn’t blogged about her experience there, although she did make mention of her plans to be a speaker. Jina talked about the future of CSS. That sounds like the most interesting topic at the whole conference to me, and definitely creates a harmonic convergence in the geeky recesses of my psyche.

The third female speaker was Lea Alcantara. She spoke about branding on the web. Her post about the event, Future of Web Design Wrap-Up contains her impressions of the conference and a link to The Art of Self Branding, a website that she developed based on her presentation at the conference.

Everyone is either a creator or a user of web design these days. No matter what the future of web design turns out to be, it’s going to matter to us all.

Cross posted at BlogHer.

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A roundup of useful links

Jim Thatcher has revised and updated his tutorial on how to comply with Section 508. It’s a ten section course in accessibility.

Project Seven has a free tutorial on Q Tabs, or navigation tabs with scalable graphics. The tutorial includes downloadable files and graphics. PVII Q Tabs

The New York Times (NYT) has embraced the blogosphere with its Blogrunner section. The NYT cherry picks from blogs it considers accurate or authoritative and displays them collected by topic. One such topic is technology. NYT Blogrunner: Technology A personal favorite post from the Technology blogs is New Classroom War: Teachers vs. Technology.

An article by Milissa Tarquini at Boxes and Arrows takes on the myth of above the fold design and thoroughly blasts it into oblivion. Blasting the Myth of the Fold

A new and discounted deal on Mac software each day. You save money and you learn about the newest Mac apps. MacZOT

A look at SezWho

I heard from the folks at SezWho this week. They are trying to get people interested in their new rating and reputation service for blogs, forums, wikis and other social sites. I felt wary. I’d just been through an investigation into Rapleaf and Upscoop, reputation ratings sites that turned out to be less than wonderful.

When I started looking into SezWho, I discovered I’d already seen it in action on some of the social media sites I frequent. A number of sites adopted it while it was still in beta. It’s in full release now.

Here’s how it works. A individual sets up a profile and uses it when participating on blogs, wikis, forums or any other site with user generated content. Other users comment on the value of the individual’s comments. It’s rather like the way you rate sellers on eBay or Amazon by giving feedback on their service. In this way, the individual builds up a portable reputation that follows from site to site.

This is the official SezWho description of the benefits of SezWho:

The Red Carpet widget lets communities feature top-rated participants on a virtual red carpet. Each avatar links to individual profiles that provide a history of comments, associated articles or pages, and the overall ranking for each. The new SezWho badge lets contributors display their personal rating and expertise portfolio on their blogs or other sites to reinforce an earned reputation.

Beyond tracking conversations and the value of individual contributions, the latest SezWho release also provides statistics for both contributors and site owners. Contributor statistics show who and how many people are rating and viewing a contributor’s profile. Site statistics show how much additional traffic SezWho is driving and where that traffic is coming from.

All types of community participants benefit from SezWho. Readers use SezWho to find interesting content quickly and easily based on community ratings. Content contributors build credibility with SezWho, then carry reputations and aggregated knowledge to other sites. Site owners leverage contributor-based content discovery to drive traffic and encourage community participation. SezWho drives traffic through contributor profiles that link to additional content within the community.

It’s easy to implement. There are various browser platform plugins. Or you can get code to paste into your template similar to what you do with Feedburner or Digg to track posts.

Maybe you’ve seen SezWho in action, too, as I have. Sites such as Read/WriteWeb and VentureBeat have been using it. When SezWho is implemented on a site a small form at the end of a comment asks you to rate a comment as helpful or not. You also see a form that lets you filter comments by ratings, so you can read the highest rated comments first. If you have a profile and have developed a good reputation as a partcipant, you can put a badge showing your reputation on your own site. (I assume you wouldn’t want to advertise a bad reputation.)

The company PR above claims that SezWho has a way of seeing who is rating a profile. Does that mean SezWho has a method to prevent abuse, such as the kind of gaming Digg or SlashDot have had to deal with in reputation management? Or does that mean that there are some privacy issues that are getting glossed over? I can’t find anything on the site about privacy issues.

SezWho doesn’t make sense for a site like this one that has few comments. But for a site with dozens of commenters on almost every post, it would be good to have a way to filter the meaningful remarks from the chaff submitted by people who are just trying to get their URL out there because they were told that commenting on blogs was a good way to spread their URL around. I see potential for a good thing with SezWho, but I’d like to know more about how they track individuals and what they do with that information once they have it.

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eHow Articles for October


Here is a list of the how to articles I wrote for eHow in the month of October. Take a look.

What does any of that have to do with the image at the beginning of the post? Well, a cool tool I just heard about for Flickr didn’t make it into my Flickr how-to. It’s the Hockniyzer from BigHugeLabs. I used the Hockeniyzer to make the goofy image. That’s a bonus Flickr clue that you won’t find in the eHow article.

Five Recommendations for Blog Day 2007

Blog Day 2007

What is Blog Day?

BlogDay was created with the belief that bloggers should have one day dedicated to getting to know other bloggers from other countries and areas of interest. On that day Bloggers will recommend other blogs to their blog visitors.

With the goal in mind, on this day every blogger will post a recommendation of 5 new blogs. This way, all blog readers will find themselves leaping around and discovering new, previously unknown blogs.

These have to be blogs I discover outside my normal, everyday reading list, according to the way I read the description at BlogDay. I can’t simply recommend the blogs I’ve had in my list of recommended blogs since back in the day. Here are my new and wonderful finds.

Notes from the Trenches: I discovered this blog while following a thread about the Edwards family taking their children with them on the campaign trail. What I found was an articulate and funny mommy blog with engaging writing. Mommy blogs are definitely not my usual territory, but the writing is so good here it drew me in.

eLearning Queen: This is a blog about online and distributed training and education, from instructional design to e-learning and mobile solutions. A Susan Smith Nash blog, this is a treasure trove of educational ideas, videos, articles, and provocations.

Techsploitation: This tech, science, sex, and pop culture blog is the work of Annalee Newitz. If the topics covered sound like quite a combination, you know that you’re in for a geek thrill ride.

Curb Cut: An accessibility blog I never heard of before? Yes. And it’s a good one, written by Christopher Phillips. Topics include accessibility, disability, formats, and learning.

My Mom’s Blog: Stories, videos and lots of fancy stuff by 83 year old blogger Millie Garfield. Expand your horizons, children.

These BlogDay2007 recommendations are cross-posted at BlogHer.

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A blog can change your life

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock lately and haven’t heard of PostSecret get over there and take a look. This blog is hosted free on blogspot and has changed the life of the guy who dreamed up the idea for the blog. People are invited to send in a postcard with their secret on it. The site is wildly popular and the owner has put some of the postcards into a book which is selling well. The postcards have been shown in an art gallery with thousands of people attending. One inspired topic plus the internet can make a huge difference in someone’s life.