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July 25, 2010 / Rick Martin

An RSS hack for hacks

or

How to hack together an RSS feed of your freelance work

Occasionally I contribute to The Japan Times, and this is one of the few opportunities that I get to see my name in print with the exception of my electricity and water bills. Naturally, I’d like to be able to let friends (read ‘Mom’) subscribe to my latest articles — but to my knowledge there are no author-specific RSS feeds on the Times’ website*. So I thought I’d hack one up.

The process is pretty simple. Just bookmark your articles on Delicious.com with a memorable tag, like ‘rickjapantimes’ or something similar using your own name and publication(s). If you then visit the link for your tag…

http://www.Delicious.com/yourname/yourtag

…you can scroll to the bottom and grab the RSS feed for that individual tag:

http://feeds.delicious.com/v2/rss/yourname/yourtag?count=15

Of course this feed looks a little messy, so you can go a step further and run it through Feedburner.com and give it a specific title and URL (I made http://feeds.feedburner.com/RickMartinJapanTimes). If you contribute to a number of publications, you can easily display these feeds on your blog or samples page so that potential employers can easily find your work. It’ll be a little tedious trying to remember to bookmark your articles after you’ve published them. But it does work.

A somewhat crude but effective hack, perhaps useful to some old hacks out there.

* Note: The Times does have author pages for regular contributors, which might be good enough in the future given that some news readers these days can create an RSS feed where there is none (Google Reader, for example).

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July 18, 2010 / Rick Martin

On SEO & internet pool-pissers

I’m not sure why I’ve let SEO seep into my consciousness today, or on any day for that matter. I generally subscribe to the school of thought that any common web platform (like WordPress, Drupal, Blogger, Movable Type, etc) combined with a minimal amount of attention to SEO (h/t @takaaki) is good enough for most online publishers. But for some reason or another I was watching this presentation earlier today which explains (among other things) how to use Google’s keyword tools to gauge search demand for given terms, and then if the demand is high enough to create a website with content to feed that demand. Through affiliate links, ad programs, or ‘info-products’ you then create ‘passive income’ too.

Puff cigar, count bills, twirl moustache.

Despite my distaste for this model, I don’t dispute that it’s a valid means of earning some money. For some organizations like Demand Media it’s the driving force behind a content empire — or content farm, depending on who you talk to. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen says that Demand Media, and by extension others like them, “flood the system with the minimum quality needed to obtain the search ranking”. Consider Paul Kedrosky, who can’t find a dishwasher on Google. He asserts the quality of search results gets increasingly worse because of the garbage out there tailored to keyword demand rather than real people.

Are SEO-focused content producers pissing in the public swimming pool that is the internet? Yes, quite a few of them are.

But what worries me even more after watching this presentation was contemplating how the “I-can-SEO-and-so-can-you!” evangelists are breeding even more pool-pissers. If and when the content doesn’t pay off as much as you’d hoped, you can always make cash by teaching others how to make cash. Then you can head out into the world to push your own seminars or ‘infoproducts’ on how to SEO, and so on all the way down the pyramid, erm, line.

I noticed that the presentation mentioned very little (if anything) on using Twitter and Facebook to bring people to your website, which is a very telling point about this content strategy. While a robot (read Google) would pass on low-quality content to a reader without hesitation, humans would rarely be fooled into recommending something just because it’s been stuffed with keywords.

This hurts Google ‘trustability’, so you can be sure that the search giant is actively seeking remedies. The company already shows you search results from within your network when you’re logged in, and surely they’ve started counting how often a link has been shared via Reader or Buzz. Google could change the game at any moment by releasing information about real-time user interests (picture a far more extensive version of trending topics), giving traditional publishers the means to compete with those who game the system. (July 21 Update: Google connects Buzz to Social Search) Oh yeah. And there’s that whole semantic web movement. Google’s backing that too.

Google is getting smarter every day and it’s bound to bring in more social/human elements to search as time goes by.  So given that things are moving in this direction — and make no mistake, they are — just play it safe and write for humans.

That’s is, after all, what Google aspires to be.

July 17, 2010 / Patrick Sherriff

World Cup Coverage: 4-0 to Twitter

In Japan, Twitter blew the print media away at the the World Cup. Now, before you get your vuvuzelas in a twist, let me make one thing clear: This is not a comprehensive round-up of the pros and cons of new media vs old media and the World Cup. Frankly, I don’t have the time or patience for that. No, this is instead a highly partial account of how I experienced the World Cup. But I’m not alone.

Team sheets: Old Media v. The Twitterati

Old Media: The veteran professionals. We’re talking newspaper, television and radio journos. They may be long in the tooth, but they are, well, veteran pros – reliable, knowledgeable and skillful, right?

The Twitterati: The unpaid, frequently unwashed, hoi poloi. Some have got blogs, but most just stutter three-letter words, and little else. Amateurs.

On paper, this should be a whitewash for the pros, right? After all, they have just as much ability to get on Twitter and blog and do their iPhone apps and whatnot. And be oh-so-professional too. I mean, c’mon even The Daily Yomiuri’s reporter in South Africa was on Twitter. He had old media access and  new media tools. Game over before it began, right? Er, not exactly.

Eyes on the ball

I get two papers in my household – the Japan Times and the Yomiuri Shimbun If we accept the oft-quoted but ne’er substatiated figure of 10 million readers for the Yomiuri Shimbun, and add the loose change of the JT’s 30,000 circulation, that’s a formidable  audience. Just a minute. Twitter had 30,000 tweets a second at times. That’s the entire circulation of the JT in one second. Or the Yomiuri’s in 5 minutes, 33 seconds. Hmmm.

1-0 to Twitter.

Deadlines: Fatal in Japan

Pity the print boys and girls, they’d lost before a ball was kicked. Thanks to the iron law of time difference, the late games kicked off at 3.30am. Sure, a third of the early group games were on the TV at an ideal 8.30pm slot. But from the group stage on, games kicked off at 11pm or 3.30am. Way past the bedtime of the Japan Times. And even the world’s best-selling newspaper, The Yomiuri, could only just get the 11pm game result in. So what was the approach of the Japan Times? Run match reports two days later. Twitter? The results and comments were instant. Timeliness is close to godliness.

2-0 to Twitter.

Who do you trust?

Now this field has to favour the old media. I must admit even I, avid consumer of footy that I am, couldn’t manage to stay up for many 3.30am games. So, where did I go for a match report first thing in the morning? The Daily Telegraph iPhone app. Old media shoots… but doesn’t score. The shot is weak and bobbles off somewhere near the corner flag. Huh? How could old media scuff this one? Well, I only wanted the score. I tried reading the match reports on the app, but they were so hopelessly parochial, they were next to useless. If a team wasn’t playing England, the app wasn’t interested. But I was. So, off to Twitter I went where I have followers from Holland, New Zealand, Australia, America, you name it.

And I could talk to them and swap insults, jokes and insights. It was a New Zealand fan who turned me on to video streaming that enabled me to watch the Kiwis draw with Italy – a game that wasn’t being shown on TV. Did any newspaper, TV or radio station give me this info? No.

3-0 to Twitter.

Quality coverage

Oh, this has got to be with the pros. They are the experts and even if their coverage is parochial they know what’s what. OK, Paul the Octopus was a TV invention, but I never saw him on TV. I heard about him first on Twitter, three days before I read about it in the Japan Times. Oh, sorry, this bit is supposed to be about quality. You mean like AP reports on the British Army sergeant justifying his officious officiating of the final? Sepp Blatter hailing the World Cup as a great success? Boooooring. There’s a reason why these stories didn’t become viral hits.

Wait, what of the the old media showing the new media boys how to do it? Remember the Yomiuri reporter with a twitter feed? Surely he could beat the amateurs? Nope.I think the problem here is he was saving his best stuff for his (out of date) newspaper story, so sends his live (dull) observations to Twitter. Compare the last ten tweets from his “professional” feed (ie he got paid for this) which ended as soon as Japan was eliminated versus b) my “amateur” feed which covered the final. Question: Which does the better journalistic service of capturing the essence of the World Cup?:-

The Yomiuri’s Professional Feed

#DYSoccer retreats from #S.Africa today. Hope game tweets were somewhat entertaining. Keep following us @ http://bit.ly/156uZ5. Cheers
11:24 AM Jul 2nd via web

#Cardozo goes, #PAR wins 5-3
1:41 AM Jun 30th via web

Valdez 4-2 for #PAR. #Honda up
1:40 AM Jun 30th via web
Off bar, 3-2 #PAR!
1:39 AM Jun 30th via web

Riveros good, 3-2 #PAR. #Komano up
1:39 AM Jun 30th via web
Good! 2-2
1:38 AM Jun 30th via web

#Barrios good, 2-1. #Hasebe up
1:37 AM Jun 30th via web
Good! 1-0 #PAR. #Endo up for #JPN
1:36 AM Jun 30th via web

#Kawashima faces the moment of his career. #PAR wins cointoss, to shoot 1st. #Barreto steps up
1:35 AM Jun 30th via web
Pealties!!!
1:29 AM Jun 30th via web

#Riveros booked for handling w/3min left now
1:26 AM Jun 30th via web
#Endo booked for late tackle. He will also miss next match–if there is one
1:22 AM Jun 30th via web

1st 15 min up, changing sides. #Tamada last sub for #JPN, #Okubo out
1:13 AM Jun 30th via web

#PAR getting forward now, #JPN must be wary of counterattack
1:08 AM Jun 30th via web
#Honda lines up freekick from 25m, fires wide right
1:07 AM Jun 30th via web

#PAR w/3rd change, #Cardozo for #Santa Cruz
1:01 AM Jun 30th via web

The extra 30 min has begun
12:59 AM Jun 30th via web

Ourmani Nabiko’s Amateur Feed

Let’s be honest: The better psychic animal won.
6:03 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

Bloody hell, surprised I haven’t been yellow carded.
6:00 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

Sorry, not offside. Saved us all from pens.
5:57 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

Offside ref!!!!!!
5:55 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

Didn’t appreciate Spanish asking ref to card Dutch defender. Sportsmanship fail.
5:49 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

@crimeficreader Youve got it easy. At least this is in your time zone. I’ve been up since 3.30am.
5:48 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone in reply to crimeficreader

Start executing random players until someone scores.
5:43 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone

@crimeficreader Come to think of it, they are always like this. USA 94 was even more of a slog.
5:42 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone in reply to crimeficreader

@robertodevido
Iniesta is Spanish for “no left foot”
5:37 AM Jul 12th via TweetDeck
Retweeted by you and 1 other

@robertodevido Robben is Navaho for “Dances Round Pointlessly”
5:39 AM Jul 12th via Twitter for iPhone in reply to robertodevido

OK, the first feed told you the score, and my feed didn’t. But everyone was watching the game and tweeting at the same time. We all knew the score and who was stepping up to fluff a penalty or whatever. What I wanted to hear and provide was the banter you’d get of actually being there.

The amatuers of Twitter delivered this, the pros didn’t.

July 11, 2010 / Richard Smart

A work in progress

So, a few days ago I posted about ambitions to make an e-book. So far, it has been a confusing ride – and all from the tech side. What has happened is that we have been told the project is too ambitious, gone to a book fair, and then found a company that may be willing to publish for us on a commission only basis if we release.

Here is a list of the problems, presented to us by a programmer:

  • We would need a server.
  • The programming is complex and also on a relatively new platform.
  • Those who have already learned how to make apps would charge for services, those looking to learn would likely put up an app full of bugs.

However, during a trip to the Tokyo Book Fair we were able to find a possible short-term solution through a company called Founder. They seem to be offering full tech support in exchange for 40 percent of any revenue from sales of the e-book. They seem to realise this is part of a much longer-term project and look like an outfit that will bend over backwards to help us.

So it seems the book project is all systems go.

I’m still in the process of writing, and have set up an interview with one analyst for next week to get their perspective on the election. Hopefully, I’ll be reporting back in a couple of days with a lot more progress made.

July 9, 2010 / Richard Smart

There may be signal at Fuji Rock

Friends in the telecommunications industry have told me that at least one cell-phone company (Softbank) is currently scrambling to get more antennas up in time for this year’s Fuji Rock Festival – which would be great for journalists.

In recent years it has been almost impossible to get in touch with friends at the festival, with phone companies unable to handle the volume of calls made from the site. This year, with Twitter also more popular and the growth of sites such as U-Stream, having signal will be more important than ever before.

Here is what I have been told:

  • They are building a better infrastructure now, and hope to have it online in time for the festival.
  • There will be staff members at the festival testing to make sure the work has been completed successfully.
  • There are no guarantees that there will be signal, but the company has done its utmost to ensure attendees can use their phones.

This is good news for media companies, who can now at least plan to have mobile coverage from the event. And for those in Tokyo, perhaps there is a chance of signal at events such as hanami and the Thai food festival next year.

July 7, 2010 / Richard Smart

Experimenting with online publishing

In previewing Tokyo Digital on July 4, Ourmani Nabiko said “If the boys on the barricades can just figure out how to get paid for their efforts, the revolution will be unstoppable.” Well, we may not be unstoppable, but we are putting our efforts into figuring out how to monetize journalism online. So here is our first madcap scheme:

Within around a week of the Upper House election in Japan that takes place on July 11, we are trying to produce a repository of all you need to know about the event; call it, if you are old school, a (rather small) book.
The idea is the fruit of conversations between me (Richard Smart), Rick Martin, Donald Eubank and Akiko Hayashi. As there are few publishers we know of in Japan taking the idea of e-books seriously, so we thought we would give one a go.

Problem is that, given time constraints, a lack of programming knowledge and the challenge of presenting something that feels new to match the new technology, we need quite a bit of help.

Structure

At our most optimistic, the aim is to produce a fluid essay on the Upper House elections that will be updated as we create new content and as new events unfold. The final result, after a one-month run of coverage, will be a one-stop source for all you want to know about the elections and their repercussions, presented in a way that reveals a multitude voices of those that have expertise or opinions on these events. The form will ideally allow the reader to quickly access the topics that are most important to them, in essence assembling the article that they want to read on the subject. Topics covered will include:

  • The players: Those in the spot light and behind the scenes
  • The background: Japanese political history in the 20th and 21st centuries
  • The run-up: How things come together
  • The consequences: The results and what they mean for the future
  • The experts: Interviews with political scientists, reporters, businessmen and others who can provide insights to the events
  • The judgment: Our final take on the elections
  • The discussion: What you have to say

Our call for help

The last couple of weeks have been slightly chaotic and, after the posting of this, are about to get a lot busier. This is a project we are doing to test new waters – if you are interested in diving in with us, we are looking for:
Programmers: The big one. We need your help to be able to build a platform to publish this material. If you have any experience with iPhone apps or have played around with producing something for the iPad and want to try out what is possible, give us a shout. Even if you know of the simplest drag and drop template that we can use to get anything online, we are listening.

Illustrators and photographers: Politician are boring. If you can illustrate them in a way that will give us a consistent look and feel across the publication, we want to hear from you. And if you have any shots of Mr. Kan that you are hiding in the closet, dust them of and send them our way. We are desperate for any visual accompaniment that we can legally use.

Videographers: Convince us that it will be easy to capture footage and embed it in our product, and we’ll give it a go.

Contributors: This project will only work if people are willing to contribute. If you are a specialist who has something that they want to say, but haven’t found somewhere to put it yet or want to put it in more than one place, we are happy to make room in the infinite space of the Internet. If you can write or at the least make decent lists and are knowledgeable about the subjects we are tackling or want to learn more, come along too.

Editors: If you can help make the copy look nice and read better, please do. If you see things that don’t make sense, please tell us.

Designers: If you want to help to make things look pretty, then we would appreciate your help.

Business people: We would like to sell this for a couple of hundred yen through the Apple Store if possible, and we would like to know of any problems/tips people have for putting stuff up on there.

Why we are doing this

This is just a trial run. If we can sort out a template that can be developed into something that is well organized, looks good, provides intellectual value and encourages intelligent conversation about both complex and fun topics, then we will be looking to publishing similar products and full-length books that can take more time to craft and – just as importantly – can start to pay all of those who help in producing them.
To reach us via Twitter send comments to @tokyodigital.

July 7, 2010 / Rick Martin

Doing it better with plain text

I’ve never been a big fan of Microsoft Word, and I’ve found myself – believe it or not – using Textedit as a word processor recently. Primitive I know, but having just discovered this great Applescript that gives the program a word count function, it’s really all I need.

Plus now that GoogleCL is out, I can upload my files to Google Docs with relative ease from the command line. Simply set aside a folder whose contents you intend to launch into the clouds (i.e. to Google Docs), and then perform the following command in Terminal:

google docs upload /Users/rickmartin/Desktop/Dropbox/SendToGoogleDocs/*.*

Of course manually entering terminal commands is for suckers, so perhaps this Applescript will be a little speedier. Just open up your Apple Script Editor and save it to your scripts folder.

tell application "Terminal"
do script "google docs upload /Users/rickmartin/Desktop/Dropbox/SendToGoogleDocs/*.*
"
end tell

Much like the Flickr upload script I was playing with last week, there’s probably a better way to swing this through Folder Actions. But on the other hand I sort of like the control that comes with an Applescript trigger.

I’m always pleased when I see the people I work with making the shift onto Google Docs. Microsoft Word is wicked cumbersome and Open Office is even worse. I haven’t experimented with Microsoft’s online Docs.com yet, and I don’t intend to until they ditch the requirement to login with Facebook creds. Seriously Microsoft? Business and personal don’t mix.

I’m curious to hear what other writers use as their word processor of choice. Any other lightweight Word alternatives to recommend?