Questionmark enters the blogosphere

I spend most of my time at Questionmark writing code, managing projects, and performing all the other tasks that make sense for a software developer. That doesn’t stop me from thinking about how the company could take advantage of social media though! Ever since I started with the company, I’ve been looking forward to the launch of an official blog. On Tuesday, it finally happened! Introducing Getting Results – The Questionmark Blog:

Stay connected with us and with the wider testing and assessment community right here. Ask questions, post comments and take the opportunity to spark discussions.

Together, let’s explore how best to create, deliver and report on assessments that help individuals and organizations work more effectively. And let’s have some fun in the process!

I can’t take credit for getting the blog setup – our marketing team did a great job at that. I’d like to think that I helped get the idea going, however. And I’ve done my best in the last few weeks to act as an “in-house expert” of sorts, offering advice and suggestions on what to consider.

I look forward to watching the blog evolve. One of my local colleagues, Greg Pope, has already posted an entry on psychometrics! In it, he mentions the Questionmark Users Conference, coming up on April 5th in Memphis. I’m sure there will be a number of great posts that come out of that event.

I should also mention that our CEO, Eric Shepherd, has become quite a champion for blogging! He recently started his own blog, which I encourage you to check out as well.

And yes, I’m already pushing the next big thing…watch for that in the next few weeks!

Blog posts have staying power

Fascinating post over at TechCrunch today by Brian Solis. He talks about the declining authority of blogs and attributes the loss to the “statusphere” – essentially micromedia services like Twitter and FriendFeed. This is the key passage:

Links from blogs are no longer the only measurable game in town. Potentially valuable linkbacks are increasingly shared in micro communities and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed and they are detouring attention and time away from formal blog responses.

Ignoring the fact that he talks about Technorati a lot (I never use it anymore), I think Brian makes a good point. Even just looking at my own activities, I definitely respond less to other blog posts using my own blog than I used to. Instead, I tweet about them. Actually, I would say Twitter is affecting my social bookmarking activities too! I save things in Delicious far less frequently now, choosing instead to tweet them.

What does this mean for bloggers? Mainly that it’s more difficult to track the discussion about a blog post. Brian mentions a number of services in his post that you can use, but they’re not yet what I would call foolproof. They are getting better though.

This trend toward micro-responses doesn’t make blogs any less important, however. Probably the opposite, actually. I could tweet all day about a topic, but my tweets would be largely lost the next day. Blog posts have staying power. That’s probably why I still get more traffic from Google than from Twitter.

Anyway, give Brian’s post a read.

Blogging killed by Twitter? I don’t think so

I’ll give Paul Boutin credit for writing some seriously good link bait, but that’s all his recent essay for Wired is worth. Paul argues that we don’t need blogs anymore thanks to Twitter (and for good measure he mentions Facebook and Flickr too). He advises anyone thinking about starting a blog to think twice, and anyone who already writes one to pull the plug:

The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

I guess Paul is a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy.

Of course it’s difficult to get noticed in the blogosphere – there are so many blogs out there! Of course something you write is going to attract comment trolls – you can’t please everyone! Of course blogging takes more time and effort than Twitter – but that’s because you’re writing so much more!

But none of that is reason enough to give up on blogging.

Obviously I’m a big fan of Twitter, and I do spend quite a lot of time posting there, but I don’t think I could replace my blog with it. I find the two are complementary – quick comments and updates go on Twitter, longer thoughts go on my blog. That system seems to work well for me.

Same goes for the consumption side of things. Tweets are searchable instantly, true, but good luck following a thread. Short conversations between a couple of people are okay, but anything more and you’ve got problems. Blogs don’t have this problem of course, thanks to comments and trackbacks. And let’s be honest, Google indexes blogs fairly quickly anyway.

Paul says:

Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004.

I’d agree with that. Twitter has lots of buzz right now, that’s undeniable. Just as the election in 2004 helped blogs increase in popularity, the current election is giving a boost to Twitter. What I don’t agree with is the notion that Twitter’s success sounds the death knell for blogs.

I think blogs remain incredibly valuable and will be with us for a long time to come.

Hockey season returns: on the ice and in the blogs

nhl logo With variations depending on where you look, a few main categories tend to dominate the 130 million or so blogs available on the web. There are plenty of news and political blogs such as the Daily Kos, especially with the upcoming U.S. election. Some of the most highly-trafficked blogs focus on entertainment, such as TMZ. There are also lots of technology and business blogs, such as TechCrunch. And of course, there are millions of personal blogs written by people just like you. The Alberta blogosphere (blogs written by Albertans, taken collectively) has its fair share of blogs in each of these categories, as well as another popular category – hockey blogs.

Not only do Albertans love to watch hockey, they apparently love to write about it too! There are dozens of blogs about hockey in our province. At least 20 of them focus on the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, or both. Perhaps the most well known of all of these blogs is The Battle of Alberta. Written by Calgarian Matt Fenwick and Edmontonian Andy Grabia (with various contributors from time to time) the blog covers all things related to the Flames and Oilers, and frequently hosts passionate discussions in the comments section. The Battle of Alberta was created in September 2005 and averages 1500 page views per day.

Edmonton writer and National Post contributor Colby Cosh doesn’t write solely about hockey, but he does post quite often about the Oilers on his blog. Other popular blogs devoted to the Oilers include Covered in Oil, Lowetide, Hot Oil, and Irreverent Oiler Fans. Don’t worry if you get hooked reading these blogs – many of them frequently post in the off-season, and there are plenty of other Oiler blogs you can check out. In fact, there are so many blogs that write about the Oilers that they have given themselves a name – the Oilogosphere.

There are quite a few blogs for Flames fans also. Some of the more popular ones include Five Hole Fanatics, Completely Hammered, Hit The Post, Inside the Flames, and Igniting the Flame.

The great thing about these blogs is that they’re written by passionate fans. These bloggers generally aren’t interested in making money, and as a result tend to post things that you wouldn’t necessarily find in your local newspaper. For instance, The Battle of Alberta has done an excellent job of pointing out the rhetoric coming from all parties involved in the potential new hockey arena in Edmonton. Also unlike newspapers, Alberta’s hockey blogs are free of any restrictions on format or content. You’ll find team analysis, game recaps, statistics, news and rumors about trades and signings, discussion of articles in the mainstream media, and much more.

And from time to time you’ll even find some humor amongst the blog posts. The members of the Oilogosphere like to use their own terms to refer to players, plays, and other things such as the Colin Campbell Wheel of Justice – which refers to “the method by which the length of NHL suspensions is determined.” You can find an up-to-date glossary on The Battle of Alberta – they update it each season.

I’m quite excited for the return of hockey, and I’m sure Alberta’s hockey bloggers are too!

The Oilers begin their preseason tonight at home to the Canucks. You can find the game notes and a live stream here. The Flames get underway tomorrow night at home to the Panthers.

Contributing to Techvibes

techvibes I recently accepted an offer to contribute Edmonton-related content to the Techvibes blog. They’re trying to create a destination site with hyperlocal tech content from all of Canada’s major cities. The blog already has some great, unique stuff, such as the Start-up Index series, and I’m excited to be able to help it grow.

I did my first post Saturday, on the official opening of TEC Edmonton’s new TEC Centre. I’m hoping to post a mix of news, analysis, event notifications and reviews, and startup profiles.

If you’ve got an idea or story or event or tip or anything else related to technology in Edmonton, I’d love to hear about it! You can always leave a comment here, you can email me, or you can find me online (for instance, Twitter is a great way to get my attention!).

Joining along with me is Cam Linke, who was the driving force behind our recent DemoCamp event in Edmonton. Rob at Techvibes has written a great introduction post for us, which you can read here.

Two Thousand Posts Later

I don’t know exactly when I started blogging, but it was around the time of the oldest post I have saved. In the 1587 days since that time, I’ve made 2000 posts – yes, this one is #2000! I figure that’s a pretty decent milestone, so I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

I’ve always said that I blog for myself first, and everyone else second. That’s still the case, and it’s the main reason that I don’t have any ads on here (I also don’t think they’d provide much value to my readers). I’m always surprised when I read old posts because they offer a glimpse into how I’ve grown and changed over the years. Sometimes I think to myself, “did I really write that?”

Me on the tablet

Both my style of writing and the topics I write about have changed quite a bit. Here’s a sample comparison, March 2004 and March 2007:

Except for the little exercise above, I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to look at my posts from March 2004. I’ve referred to the ones from March 2007 many times though (as have others). I think it’s safe to say that I’m writing more interesting and useful content now than I used to.

Another really obvious change is that my posts are a lot longer than they used to be. The increase in quality is part of the reason for that, but the biggest reason is probably Twitter. When I started out, microblogging wasn’t even a thought let alone a word. Now it’s an increasingly popular activity, with dozens of sites (such as Tumblr) offering the ability to post short thoughts, links, or images. I used to post things like “Arrived in Calgary” to my blog, now I just use Twitter.

The tools and technologies I use to blog have changed as well. I started out on dasBlog, moved to .Text, then Community Server, and I’m now on WordPress. I’ve used a variety of posting tools, such as w.Blogger and Windows Live Writer (which I use almost exclusively now). I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself using completely different tools in another five years.

200 posts

The one thing that hasn’t changed is how much I enjoy blogging. I’ve learned so much about myself, met so many great people, and have hopefully been able to help others a little bit, all through my blog. Who knew that such an awful sounding word could turn out to be so great?

Here’s to another 2000 and beyond. Thanks for reading!

What's new around here?

mlogo I’m so happy that I’ve made the switch to WordPress! It’s a great platform with a great community. One of the best things about WordPress is the gigantic list of available plugins. If I wanted to add a feature to my blog in Community Server, it was always incredibly difficult to do. With WordPress however, the feature has likely already been written by someone else!

I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some of these features.

  1. Comments rock! One of the biggest complaints my readers had about the old blog was that it never remembered their details on the comment form. I hated that too. That’s no longer an issue with WordPress. But wait, it gets better! I installed the Subscribe to Comments plugin, which means you can check a box when you leave a comment and you’ll get email notifications of all follow-up comments!
  2. Twitter! I displayed my Twitter status on my old blog, but I wrote the code to do it myself. I probably re-wrote it half a dozen times too. Anyway, I installed the Twitter Widget, and it rocks. Nice and simple to use. And best of all, when Twitter goes down, I can just deactivate the plugin – no code changes required!
  3. Collapsible Archives! I’ve been blogging since November 2003, which makes for an incredibly long list of monthly archives. With the old design I had everything contracted by default, but I didn’t really like that. Now I have the Flexo Archives Widget, which shows just the years. Click on a year, and it expands to show the months. Very cool!
  4. Tag Cloud! I’m a big fan of tag clouds, and I’m really happy that WordPress 2.3 includes this functionality right outta the box.
  5. AddThis! On every post is a button that lets you save the link to your favorite service. On the sidebar is a button that enables you to subscribe at your favorite service. This kind of functionality should be included on all blogs I think! I’m using plugins from AddThis.

And some non-WordPress things:

  • A wider page layout! I also made the font size a bit bigger.
  • I am quite happy with the way my icon bar turned out! Click on the icons to access my profiles around the web.

If you’re reading this in an aggregator of some kind, I apologize for the multiple items you likely saw in my feed! Should only be a one-time thing. The feed address shouldn’t need to change, however.

Thanks for reading! If you have any feedback, please let me know!

Community Server to WordPress: Part 3

wordpressMy blog is now running on WordPress! It was quite a bit of work, but the migration from Community Server is now complete. Here is what I wrote last July when I decided I wanted to switch to WordPress. You can also read part 1 and part 2 of the migration process.

Here’s what I did since part 2:

  • Removed some spam comments and invalid data from the CS database.
  • Finished up customizing the theme.
  • Spent far too much time trying to get email notifications working. I’m definitely not a PHP expert, but the way mail is implemented just seems bizarre. I eventually got it working, and decided to use the wpPHPMailer plugin for WordPress.
  • Installed some more plugins that I wanted to use, such as the wonderful Subscribe to Comments.
  • Made some additional adjustments to the code.
  • Upgraded PHP to the latest version.

I also setup a second WordPress installation and changed my website over to that.

After I ran the migration tool I had written, I did some more testing, and discovered a big problem with the redirections! In the C# code I had simply written “datePosted.Month.ToString()” and “datePosted.Day.ToString()” to build the URLs. The problem is that if the month was January, that would return a “1”. Community Server likes to have “01” however! Long story short – I just had to add some regex code to the list of redirections to make it work.

As far as I can tell, it’s all working wonderfully! I’ll be doing more testing over the weekend, and please if you notice anything wonky, let me know.

Next up: my Dad’s blog and the blogs.

Community Server to WordPress: Part 2

WordPress Okay, time for another update on the blog migration. I stopped keeping track of hours, but I would guess I’ve spent about 9 hours or so on it thus far. Part of that time is for the theme though, and I tend to take quite a while working on those.

Here’s what I’ve accomplished since part 1:

  • Discovered that extracting the tags from existing posts was harder than I first thought! That’s because I’ve used three or four different styles for including tags over the years, so I had to update the code to take that into account.
  • Same problem affected the “Read” link at the bottom of a post.
  • Ran into a bunch of crap data problems in Community Server, mainly around trackbacks and and spam comments. For some reason they were appearing to me as posts. I solved the problem by deleting them in the source where appropriate, and accounting for them in the code otherwise.
  • Another crap data issue – one post had four entries!
  • Implemented and tested the redirection code necessary so that existing links will continue to work. I think this part is really interesting because I’ve basically got PHP and ASP.NET running in the same application.
  • Spent some time working on the theme, which you can see at the test blog. It looks more or less the same as this theme, but with some nice improvements.
  • Also spent some time looking into plugins and activated a few.

After some trial and error, I was finally able to import all the content from Community Server to WordPress successfully. Yay!

I didn’t start tagging posts until early 2005, so there’s around 400 or so that aren’t tagged, but even still I think the tag cloud on the test blog is really interesting. Looks like I blog about Microsoft quite a bit! Maybe even more interesting is the fact that I’ve used 1843 different tags.

So I guess I’m about ready to make the switch. Just a few more “clean up” things I need to do (like delete more spam comments). I think I’m going to replace my website with another WordPress installation too, but that shouldn’t take long. The current site is really old, based on ugly code, and it’s mostly out-of-date because updating the pages is so difficult. I think WP will work nicely (plus I can use the same theme).

I’d say the migration is going much more smoothly than I anticipated!

Community Server to WordPress: Part 1

Post Image Back in July I mentioned that I wanted to switch to WordPress. Obviously I haven’t completed that yet, but I have started on it! So far I’ve spent about three and a half hours on the project, and it’s going well. You can see my test blog here.

It’s a difficult migration, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am on Community Server 1.1 which has been pretty much abandoned. I have no desire to upgrade to a newer version – I’m trying to get rid of CS, after all. Secondly, I want to take advantage of the built-in tags that WordPress 2.3 has, among other things. In my current blog, the tags are actually part of the post content. Thirdly, I don’t want any links to break! So there’s a number of things to worry about.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Installed a test instance of WordPress 2.3.2.
  • Created a solution in Visual Studio 2008 with three projects: a WordPress data access layer (DAL), a Community Server DAL, and a command line app.
  • Configured SubSonic to automatically generate the two DALs.
  • Wrote some static functions to: extract the tags from my existing posts, remove the footer and reformat the link I sometimes have there, generate a slug for WordPress posts (the words in the link), and build the existing and new URLs for a post.
  • Started implementing the command line app to read a post from CS, apply all of the necessary transformations with the static functions, and then add it to WordPress.

For the most part it’s working well! I’m still tweaking the code a bit to deal with oddball posts, but it’s more or less ready to go. You can see on the test blog that I’ve started testing the code. I think the actual migration will take quite a while, considering I have almost 2000 posts and 5000 comments.

After the migration, I still need to work on a theme, and I need to ensure all the links are redirecting correctly. So there’s quite a bit of work to do, but I think the hardest stuff is out of the way. My goal is to have it all rockin and rollin by Northern Voice.