Grid Meets Road – World Travel in the Digital Age

On the 19th of September I will embark on an adventure that will almost certainly change my life. I am heading overseas to Europe to travel full time until February of next year.

Along my way I will use digital devices and social media tools to explore and find what to do in each respective city. I will document my experience on this blog, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, FourSquare, GowallaTumblr & and maybe even YouTube. I will attempt to find places to say either with friends from these services or using sites like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

The idea is to “crowd source” my adventure, asking for you, the reader, to supply me with input as to where to go, what to see etc.

My end goal will be not just to explore the world but to really test the limits of our global communications network, the so-called “global community”. Can we, “the internet”, actually supply what one person needs to know on such an adventure? How connected are we really through these services and how easy (or hard) is it to maintain the relationships with your loved ones while traveling full time?

I have also submit a panel to next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival and hope to be able to share the results of my trip with you there as well as eventually publish a book on the experience.

I will share more details about the trip as we get closer to leaving but for now I could use your help.

Please do me a favor and vote for my panel to be accepted to SXSW… the voting period ends tonight Friday the 2nd at midnight. You can do that here.

And if you’re so interested you can donate to my experiment as well here.

Anyone who donates me any money (doesn’t matter how much or little) will have their name on a slide at our SXSW presentation should it be accepted. Thanks!

Flash Free: The Way to Be

Not long ago I removed Adobe Flash Player from my iMac. Despite all the political things between Apple and Adobe I did this mostly for performance reasons. I am often working on photos in Aperture while having a browser window open and I find that Flash just running ads in Safari use a ton of resources. Since disabling it I see a noticeable gain in speed and responsiveness on my machine in general.

Now I’m not entirely without it, I have Google Chrome installed as my secondary browser which has Flash built in, so when I want to watch Hulu it’s still possible. However I’ve started to notice that most websites offer HTML5 video options and I got an excellent extension for Safari to make most sites default to it.

John Gruber wrote an excellent piece on how to do this and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

That said there are two things that annoy me right now.

  1. Google Analytics relies on Flash for it’s charts… which is unnecessary… it could all be done in HTML5
  2. Boing Boing….

I’ve mentioned before that Boing Boing uses a ton of Flash, when I called the hypocritical Cory Doctorow a hypocrite (well he is).

Well it turns out, this is what happens when you visit the main page in safari without Flash installed:

Forcing my computer to auto-download useless SWF files? Good job gentlemen. You suck again.

Noticeably this does not occur when you read their site through a RSS reader. Maybe they should just stop being hypocrites and stop running Flash ads?  Are you listening Cory? Probably not.

"nofollow"? …I Don’t Follow

Example of nofollow on flickr

When Google announced it would support the “nofollow” HTML attribute back in 2005 I was pleased. Blog spam was (and still is) a major problem. The invention of “nofollow” took a lot of bite out of the usefulness of comments for spammers. It really seemed like the right move at the time and looking at it now it still makes a lot of sense. I can’t image how bad things would be without it.

For the uninformed, “nofollow” is an attribute that can be assigned to links on websites. This is recognized by Google and then subsequently ignored in Google’s index, thus not allowing sites to raise their “PageRank” on Google. Therefore, in theory, leading to more relevant search results.

Here is my gripe, when Google announced this feature they did so under the stated guise of “Preventing Comment Spam” but it’s turned out to be abused. There are those who would argue that “nofollow” has become a tool that creates an unfair balance where higher trafficked sites don’t share traffic with lower ranked ones. Now I’m not saying that “nofollow” should go away but that it should be used less. Why am I complaining? Because three of the sites I use most often implement “nofollow” in places that, while well intentioned, work out as unfair. These sites?

TwitterFlickr and Facebook.

For starters, Facebook’s usage makes no sense. Facebook has several checks to prevent spammers from joining the service and multiple ways to report it when it happens. I am not saying they are perfect but they very much maintain a strong and effective walled garden. When you factor in that the site has pushed its users to make more of their content public and had major issues with privacy. It’s downright unfair that if they are going to push me to make my content public that they aren’t going to allow me to get a PageRank incentive for this.

At first glance however, the inclusion of “no follow” does seem logical for Flickr and Twitter. The ease of access to these sites makes them obvious targets for spammers. In the case of Twitter, it’s no secret that they have a large spam problem, so in the short term “nofollow” seems like a practical solution to de-incentivise spamming.

Despite this reasoning I still believe it to be the wrong solution.

Flickr is a publishing system and there are those who use their Flickr accounts as blogs with very long written posts to accompany their photography. Yet Flickr automatically attaches “nofollow” to any link posted anywhere on their site, even on the user’s own written content.

With every photograph I post on my Flickr account I include a link to a related blog entry whenever possible. These things directly relate and semantically should be linked. My analytics also clearly show this is an effective tool for increasing my readership and traffic as a significant portion of my traffic comes from these Flickr links. Yet, Google ignores them because of the “nofollow” attribute. The same with Twitter.

Doesn’t this go against the whole spirit of “nofollow”? If you ask me it’s lazy and unfair. Especially in Flickr’s case when you consider that many users are “Pro” users like myself who pay for a Flickr account. I’m paying for a service that is going out of its way to prevent me from getting PageRank from it. That’s a bunch of crap.

There is another way to look at this though. One could argue that PageRank is actually doing the opposite of it’s intention and hurting Google’s relevance. The three biggest traffic sources to this site are Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, in fact these account for almost 50% of my traffic, however Google’s mysterious PageRank algorithm ignores these sources, thus making it harder for my site to gain relevance in search results. Isn’t this leading to an inaccuracy in what’s “relevant?”

“nofollow” is used almost ubiquitously by any service that has an easy sign up system, therefore it is creating a tiered system on the web that takes away power from user generated content and gives more strength to those who have a greater technical knowhow. There are many out there who will never understand how to setup a blogging platform such as WordPress or MovableType but can easily get a Twitter, Flickr or Facebook account. Why should their voice matter less to PageRank? And on the flip-side, why should a major media outlet matter more? Isn’t this working against the democracy of the web?

How do we decide what is signal and what is noise? Surely just because something is easier to do doesn’t make it less relevant, does it? Can’t we come up with a better technological solution that empowers users not punishes them for their lack of tech savvy?


Just a quick update, as I plan to write a richer entry soon, but for those who haven’t seen: has received a much needed facelift. (Reload to check it out some more.)

Also I finally dove into my Paris photos on Tuesday night, bits and pieces are starting to show up on Flickr but I won’t post an entry about it until the set is complete which will likely be a few days, but now that Aperture 3 has finally been released I’ll likely be posting a LOT more photos soon.

Hope all is well, this year alright is amazing. I’m excited to step up my blogging game a bit.

Also something that’s been a long time coming, I’m finally getting a handle on my Google Reader account. I unsubscribed from a lot and I’m now more focused around reading people I care about and shared items from people I respect. You can find my shared feed here. (I promise it won’t all just be Signal vs Noise.) Let me know if you’re on there I’m always looking for new shared items to read!

Also, can someone please explain to me why I should care about Google Buzz?