Category: Technology

Internet and technology-related posts. Earning money on the internet, etc.

JapanSoc Revamped! New Features!

Note: I’m writing this at nearly 5am. It’s been a long night of upgrading the site and I know there are some loose ends. The FAQ and blog will be updated in due course, and any bugs you find (there are always some) will be eventually squashed. Oh, and I deleted all your profile bios by accident, sorry about that! πŸ˜›

For occasions such as this JapanSoc overhaul, Deas from Rocking in Hakata has created this fantastic video logo for our favorite social bookmarking site. Watch, gasp, then download the high definition version for your own JapanSoc-related videos.

Incidentally, Deas made a very cool JapanSoc OS X widget and some great social bookmarking icons, too. Thanks, Deas!

Who’s behind the new JapanSoc.com?

Before I give you a run-down of the new features, let me give a big, big thank you to Chris Gaunt of Nihongo Notes and J-Pop Japan. Chris just happens to be a multi-talented web developer, who completely rewrote the JapanSoc template. That’s no easy task when you consider a typical Social Web CMS template weighs in at over 60 files. I can’t thank Chris enough for the work he’s put into the site over the last month, and I’ll be using his services again in the near future. Chris does a lot of freelance work, particularly for WordPress and Ruby on Rails sites. He’s also a PHP wizard and can dazzle with CSS. Learn more about what Chris can do for your site on his LinkedIn profile.

The engine that powers JapanSoc is Social Web CMS, an open source project which I’ve become heavily involved this last year, developing over 20 modules and contributing to the SWCMS SVN. Together with Chris, we are quite a formidable team! πŸ˜€

16 All New Features!

1. The Design

This is what JapanSoc.com now looks like:

japansoc2009

2. The JapanSoc Community News bar

Click the bar at the top and it will drop down, showing you links to JapanSoc.org related sites and RSS feeds from the Community Blog and the Twitter #jsoc hashtag.

communitybox

3. Drop down categories and new ones, too!

I’ve split the categories into a few very generic groups, and using the drop-down “Suckerfish” menu makes it easy for us to add more categories, not to mention them being much more accessible than before.

categories

4. Easy Submit button

When you click on the new submit button, a little drop-down box opens where you can directly add the url you want to submit.

5. Enhanced sidebar comments

Not only is there a little avatar next to each comment, when you hover the mouse over the comments in the sidebar, a tooltip shows you the name of the commentator and the title of the post the comment was made on. Very handy!

sidebarcomments

6. Avatars have gone Gravatar

I ran a poll recently to find out whether you preferred to use Gravatar or upload your own avatar. The response was clearly in favor of Gravatar, so we’ve dropped the uploading feature altogether. That’s a good thing because it saves you from faffing around with avatars, it saves me from fixing bad uploads, and it gives the site more flexibility in how avatars are used.

7. Nice4Rice or an umeboshi?

I used to have a website called “Nice4Rice” which I customized to allow readers to get a free backlink by “giving rice” to my reviews. It was a lot of fun and I miss that site a bit. Fortunately, I kept hold of the original Nice4Rice rice bowls and have used them in comment ratings!

comment

If you like a comment or agree with it, give the author some rice! If it left a bad taste in your mouth, an umeboshi would be more appropriate. Of course, this is just cosmetic and three umeboshi will still bury a comment.

8. Filter comments to your friends

You’ll see in that image above a small link that reads “Show friends’ comments only”. If you click that, all comments from people not on your friends list will temporarily be hidden. You can view them individually by clicking the show/hide link, or just click the “Show all comments” link to view them all again.

9. Filter stories to your friends

Why limit it to comments? On the top menu bar, logged in users will see a new page called “Friends”. Clicking that will filter all the latest stories to show only those from your friends.

10. HTML in comments

BBCode has been an option for a while now on JapanSoc, but very few people used it. I’m not really surprised because we’re all so used to WordPress comments. With that in mind, we dropped BBCode (which has left a bit of mess) and now allow limited HTML tags in comments, just like WordPress. Smilies can still be used, and I’ve added a link to Ken’s Evoticon site which opens in a new tab so you can copy and paste so zany Japanese emoticons, too!

commentform

11. Subscribe to comments

This is one of my favorite new features. Instead of just allowing the story submitter to subscribe to replies, now anyone who comments has the choice of getting reply notifications sent to their email box.

12. The Social Bar

This is the big one! Far and away the most significant addition to JapanSoc is the social bar. When you log in, you’ll see the social bar glued to the foot of your window, showing your own user stats and links to your inbox, profile and settings.

socialbar

13. Send a Quick Message

In the Social Bar is a Quick Message icon which gives you an instant messaging form so you can send out to your friends. Whenever you send a message, your friend will be notified by email (unless they turn off email notification), and if you get a message, the inbox icon will light up to indicate you have mail. How very convenient!

quickmessage

14. View other users in the Social Bar

The best thing about the Social Bar is that when you click on somebody’s username or avatar, anywhere on the site, their user info will be loaded into your Social Bar with a spot of Ajax so you don’t even leave the page.

socialbar2

Clicking the avatar or name here will take you to their main profile, but you can also use this bar to add or remove the user from your friends list, send them a message, visit their homepage, their Twitter page, look at their JapanSoc favorites, see if they are currently online, or return to your own Social Bar stats.

15. New-look Profiles

We’ve decided to drop the MySpace style profile and keep things simpler, but more focused on getting you connected with the viewer.

profile

As you can see, your own sites and social network profiles get loads of attention, as do your friends and fans who will appear in your Social Bar with just one click! These are the icons Deas came up with, and there are others for Lang-8, LinkedIn and iKnow! too.

16. Oyakata

The Top Users box in the sidebar has been fun to watch over the last year, but what happens when everyone’s a Yokozuna? JapanSoc Sumo no longer ends at Yokozuna. When you get 15,000 points, you’ll be moved to the Oyakata box, a sumo stable of fame! Hat tip to Jordan for the suggestion.

oyakata

Wrap-up

That’s about all of the major changes, though there are many smaller ones, too! Remember, you have to be logged in to enjoy most of the new features, so if you haven’t registered yet, please do! Visit JapanSoc.com.


Winning Eleven 2009 PlayStation 3 Pack

I’m supposed to be too old for this kind of thing, but November 27th is when Sony launch a new PlayStation 3 bundle, complete with Winning Eleven 2009 and two controllers.

Winning Eleven is my greatest vice, and the only thing standing between me and a thousand hours lost to a new PlayStation is my wife. Will Mami give up her TV time to let me play games? Can I convince her that a new PlayStation will benefit Rikuto’s education? This is one item on my wishlist I might have to skip… unless I can sneak it into my office and plug it into my PC monitor…Β  hmmm….

Hat tip to Famitsu.com (Japanese) and Kotaku.com (English)

Pointer to my SWCMS Modules Page

I’ve been continuing to develop modules for the Social Web Content Management System, and have listed the ones I’ve made so far on a new page: My SWCMS Modules.

My latest creations are a sin bin for temporarily disabling users, a way to block repeat submissions of deleted stories, a module that builds an RSS feed for comments, and I’ve improved the original private messaging module with bulk message deletion, an outbox and email notification of new messages.

Recommendations: Remember the Milk & SimplePie

Two great, free resources I want to recommend this week are Remember the Milk, an online things-to-do list which you can share with other people,

…and SimplePie, a brilliant RSS and Atom feed parser written in PHP. I used this to write the RSS Basic module for SWCMS and also to pull in and parse the Japan Blog Big RSS Feed on JapanSoc.

All Ready to Change Servers

I’ve set up my websites on the new server, and I’ve requested the nameservers be changed on my current host. That means the changeover to Liquid Web is out of my hands now.

First of all, I have no idea when Bluehost will respond to my support ticket and change the nameservers. Normally you can do this yourself, but I need an “A” record set up for my own personal nameservers. Maybe they can do it within hours, maybe days. Second, it could take a further 72 hours before the domain names propagate across the internet, and then after that, I still have a lot of bug fixing to do which can’t be done until the domain names are pointing at the new IP address.

Other problems include database overlap, especially for JapanSoc. I really don’t want to shut the site down until the move is complete, but by leaving it running, it will become out of sync with the new database.

In other words, this whole changeover will be unpredictable and messy. Yay! πŸ˜›

I’m closing the comments on all my blogs, and will put a notice on JapanSoc, requesting members hold off on submissions, comments and votes until this is all completed. Thanks for your patience.

Sticking it to the CPU Exceeded Errors!

I’ve only been with Bluehost for about 7 months, and for the most part, I’ve been very happy with the speed and service they offer. However, recently, as many of you are aware, all my websites have been shut down for 5-10 minutes, multiple times a day for exceeding the CPU limits.

I’ve studied the error logs and it appears that these errors are caused by slow MySQL queries to the database. Since most of the queries come from core files in WordPress and SWCMS, the only reasonable explanation for these CPU exceeded errors is the volume of traffic my sites are getting. In September, that figure was 267,194 visits.

Time for an upgrade

Bluehost charge less than $7 a month to host all my websites on one of their shared servers, so I can’t really complain if their CPUs can’t handle the load. Instead, it’s time to pay for some real service, so I searched out the best hosting solution short of leasing an entire server: a Liquid Web Virtual Private Server.

I managed to find a discount coupon at Digital Point giving me $30/month off, and bringing the total cost down to $75/month after the initial $150 setup I chose to pay. That’s a fair whack over $7 a month at Bluehost, but I should be able to recoup the cost if I don’t have the downtime I’ve been getting.

As I type this, I’m waiting for the technicians to set it up for me, and then I’ll spend the next week or two moving my sites across. Until I’ve done that, I can’t say whether it will solve all the hosting problems I’ve had over the last year, but I’m quietly confident.

Stay tuned for updates. My sites will go offline for up to 72 hours when I point the domain names to the new server.

Top 10 Most Used Programs on my PC

There are a lot of programs filling up my hard drive, but only a few of them are useful enough for me to use everyday. Here’s a list of the top 10 most used programs on my PC, in reverse order:

10. Word 2007

Perhaps not as high up the list as you’d expect, I use Word for writing school curriculum, and that’s about it. Maybe if there was an English language pack available for it, I might use it more often, because I really do love the new 2007 design.

9. Paint Shop Pro 8

This has been my first choice of paint program for years. I’ve dabbled with later versions, but I always go back to PSP 8, which I think is from 2003. The latest version is here.

8. Wamp

This is a more recent addition to my PC. It’s a full Apache, MySQL and phpMyAdmin package for developing websites offline. In other words, it turns your computer into its own server. Wamp has been a pleasure to use after first trying the overly sensitive EasyPHP.

7. EditPad Pro

Can you believe I used Windows Notepad since I got my first PC in 1998 until August 2008. Imagine how much time and stress I could have saved if I’d got EditPad Pro earlier. The differences between the two text editors are enormous, but I particularly like the tabbed windows and the color-coded text in EditPad Pro. If you hand code your websites, I recommend EditPad which is free, but even more so the paid “Pro” version.

6. Ace Text

I bought AceText as part of a set with EditPad Pro above. It’s hard to describe, but is like an extended, permanent clipboard. It’s insanely useful for pasting quick memos, reminders and links into, and its neverending and searchable clipboard is just so handy!

5. Excel 2007

I’m not big on spreadsheets, but I find Excel 2007 to be perfect for a things-to-do list and as a general “whiteboard”. I also record my web earnings and expenses, and make fancy little graphs so I can mull over my income trends.

4. Skype

I don’t have a huge list of contacts, mostly close friends and family, and a few J-Web buddies for good measure. It’s always on, and I find text chat is incredibly convenient for sending quick messages. Skype also lets my parents watch their grandson every few days, and vice versa.

3. Smart FTP

I had to pay for this one after the trial expired, but it was worth every penny. Smart FTP is a program that lets you transfer files between your computer and a server on the internet. It’s so smart, I often find myself using it for simple file management on my computer, instead of using Windows Explorer!

2. Windows Mail

I don’t think I’ve ever had a web-based email account. I know that Hotmail and GMail are incredibly popular, but I’m a traditionalist when it come to email, and Windows Mail is perfect for my needs. WM is the sequel to Outlook Express. It comes packaged with Windows Vista and has two huge advantages over its predecessor: First, it’s got excellent spam filters, and second, emails are stored as individual files, making them easy to move, copy and back up. Windows Mail is always open and ready to serve my 12 email accounts!

1. Firefox

I love Internet Explorer, but a couple of weeks of unexpected crashes last December forced me to switch to my backup browser, Firefox. I’ve been meaning to return to IE7 now that it’s all patched up, but since Firefox doesn’t do a bad job, it’s still currently the most used program on my PC.

It’s not that Firefox itself is great, it’s just that a web browser is essential for connecting me to a whole other set of web-based applications which would require a list of their own!

And the rest…

Some other programs that are worth mentioning are Boilsoft MOV Converter, which lets me convert video from my cell phone to more common formats; Hypercam for recording directly from my monitor (great for making tutorials); Twhirl, a program that brings Twitter to your desktop; and my most recent purchase, Flash Slideshow Maker.

I can vouch for every program I’ve talked about here, but don’t part with your money before you try the trial versions which most of them offer. Make sure they are right for you!

What programs do you use the most on your PC?

My First SWCMS Modules Released

SWCMS stands for Social Web Content Management System, and it is the social news software that powers JapanSoc.com.

SWCMS is open source, meaning anybody can contribute to its development, and I’ve been busy doing just that. I’m not a professional developer by any means so I usually report bugs and suggest improvements. Recently, I’ve tried my hand at making modules (the equivalent of WordPress plugins) and I’ve come up with two so far:

Smilies Module

The Smilies Module converts smiley text into little faces like this: πŸ™‚ . Smilies are an excellent way to inject some emotion into comments and the occasional πŸ˜‰ is handy to show you’re being sarcastic and prevent any unintended arguments with other users.

RSS Basic Module

Although it started as a simple tool to display an RSS feed on a SWCMS site, the RSS Basic module has grown over successive versions into something quite powerful. The site’s administrator can import multiple feeds, manage them through a control panel and display them anywhere on a page. The best feature, however, is that users can embed an RSS feed into their SWCMS profiles, just as I have done on my JapanSoc profile.

The RSS Basic module really taught me a lot about SWCMS as I had to learn how to create an admin interface and work with the database. I’m hoping that I’ve mastered the basics of module making and will go on to make bigger and better things!

Let me add that I’m enjoying contributing to the open source project so other users can benefit from my modules rather than me selfishly developing for JapanSoc only.

Tempted by Commufa, a Cheap Alternative to NTT Flets

If you live in the Chubu region, you’ve probably seen the TV commercials for Commufa Hikari, a product of Chubu Telecommunications. They run a pretty aggressive marketing campaign with door-to-door and telephone sales reps, and since I was not opposed to saving 2,000 yen on my phone bill, I agreed to take them up on their offer.

A no-hassle changeover?

At least I did at first. The problem is, although they promise an easy transition from your current phone and internet setup, it’s really not that easy at all. They give you the impression that they will take care of everything for you, but they can’t. It’s still your responsibility to cancel your internet provider (in my case OCN) and your current internet setup (in my case NTT Flets Hikari). Plus, you have to deal with the sales rep, the engineer and the admin person, all of whom phone you at 30 minute intervals on numerous occasions – at least in my experience.

Twenty questions

They weren’t rude at all, but with so many questions about your current set up, including the direction of the room in which your second computer is based, it all gets a bit overwhelming, especially when they fire their list of technical questions at you in Japanese.

Since I also had to contact the phone line rental company in Osaka to confirm whether I could switch to Commufa or not, I found the the hassle was not worth the 1,000 yen monthly savings. Yes, that’s right, once you include the costs to continue using your current phone number and email address, you don’t save as much as you expect.

Enough already

In the end, after about eight phone conversations with Commufa, I decided not to follow through with the switch. If you find yourself tempted by monthly savings and promises of a hassle-free changeover, just remember that it might not be quite as easy as it first appears.

Update: The very next day, someone from Commufa drove all the way up from Nagoya (90 min. drive) and rang our doorbell. He said he knew nothing about my conversations with Commufa the previous day and he was “just in the area”. Anyway, I invited him in and after he looked at my current setup he talked me through everything I had doubts about – and even showed that I’d be saving closer to 4,000 yen a month. So, I’ve signed on the dotted line and now wait for a visit from the electrician.

Tony D. Puddlespuddle Reviews JapanSoc

I’m running a contest over on the JapanSoc Community Blog, with a grand prize of $50! All you have to do is make a promo video for JapanSoc, about 2 minutes long, post it to YouTube and send me the url via the JCB contact form

The first entry into the contest is this video by Mike from Japan Is Doomed. Here’s Tony D. Puddlespuddle, Internet Expert…

Mike is urging everyone in the world to go to YouTube, rate this video 5 stars and subscribe to his channel. C’mon, do it for Tony!

So Much for 99.9% Uptime

Originally, all my sites were hosted with Host A. For a couple of months at the start of this year, my sites suffered so much downtime I moved them all across to Host B.

Host A, for the most part, has been good, and I can forgive them for suspending my account every time I write a script with an accidental infinite loop. Anyway, for complicated reasons, I had to move one of those sites back to Host A, and it looks like things haven’t changed. This was the response I got to a query about today’s downtime:

Please accept our sincere apologies for the problems caused to you in this matter. This issue had been caused by the server’s urgent unscheduled maintenance that has taken place recently. We detected hardware problem on the web server, that serves your sites and replaced all misbehaved parts. We are working on the restoration now and it will take us about 24 hours for this process. We fully understand that such issues caused problem to you and we are more than concerned about this situation. We appreciate your patience and understanding in this situation as we doing our best to provide the highest level of web hosting services.

When you derive your income from the web, 24 hours is a long time, and it’s costly, too. What I find most annoying though is the over-the-top advertising that Host A uses to get you to sign up. Here are some quotes from Host A’s CEO:

“I Will Guarantee You With My Own Money That You Will Not Be Dissatisfied.”

I can proudly say that we successfully provide the service people are looking for 24/7, every day of the year.

I will prove the high quality of our product and service to you.

Host A is so confident you’ll be happy with their services, that they offer an “Uptime or Cash Guarantee”:

Host A guarantees that your website will be up and running at least 99.9% of the time during any 12-month period. This guarantee includes network uptime, server uptime, web server and service uptime.

…and an β€œAny-Time Money Back Guarantee”:

This β€œAny-Time Money Back Guarantee” can be requested at anytime that you are not satisfied with IX Web Hosting services.

The problem with these guarantees is that they allow you to claim back the paltry $7.95 that they charge you a month, instead of claiming compensation for earnings lost during the downtime.

And just for the record, 99.9% of 365 days is 364 days and 15 hours, so I want my $7.95 back! πŸ™„

Goodbye AVG, Hello Windows Live OneCare

I’ve always been frustrated with anti-virus software. Reducing your computer to a sloth as it scans for viruses, delaying your system’s start-up while it checks for updates, and then blocking you from opening various applications, email or websites because of potential risks. This pre-emptive “war on viruses”, is enough to drive you mad.

Third-party access to Vista

When Vista launched, I was hoping Microsoft had gotten their way and blocked third-party access to the core of their OS, effectively keeping viruses out. Unfortunately lawsuits from Symantec made sure Microsoft couldn’t kill off the anti-virus industry just yet.

Going without Anti-virus software

For a number of years, I went without anti-virus software altogether, opting to track and remove any viruses manually on the rare occasion my PC got infected. Eventually, I started using AVG because it was free and not as in-your-face as Norton and co.

AVG updated itself off my computer

AVG wasn’t without problems of its own, failing to complete updates, or recognizing that it had already updated itself and didn’t need to do so again.

Last week was the final straw as AVG pushed out another update which didn’t just fail to install, but it meant I was unable to access all my programs, including Word and Excel. Without any hesitation, I uninstalled it and started looking around for an alternative.

A Microsoft alternative

Funnily enough, my own mother had just bought herself a new Vista PC, and with it came a trial of Windows Live OneCare – a new anti-everything solution from Microsoft. Could this be what I was looking for? A program designed to protect Vista, actually written by Vista developers?

Needless to say, I downloaded and installed the trial for myself, and within a few hours was convinced that this was an application worth paying a subscription fee for. The only aggravation was that the payment page defaults to the language of the country you reside in (Japanese in my case), but once you’re over that hurdle, everything else works in English and it seems to do the business. It backs up your system on a schedule you choose, tunes up your PC (removing unnecessary files and defragmenting your hard drive) at times you decide, and of course, it scans for viruses, malware and all the rest of it.

Vista and OneCare – a lovely couple

Best of all, it integrates beautifully with Vista, so instead of third-party software which is always wrestling with your OS, Windows Live OneCare makes the perfect tag-team.

VTC Review – Online Software Tutorial Videos

A few days ago I found the Virtual Training Company, a website with 70,000 video tutorials on how to use different kinds of software.

How can you watch 70,000 videos?

I can’t, but you don’t need to. There are over 650 courses to choose from covering everything from C++ and MySQL to Adobe Photoshop and Windows Vista. Right now, I’m going through one of the PHP courses which has 9.5 hours of video tutorials split into 92 mini lessons of 2-10 minutes each.

Each video shows you the presenter’s screen so you can see the code he’s typing while he talks you through everything he’s doing. You can watch the videos in QuickTime or Flash, so the quality is good enough to clearly see the text on the screen.

Is VTC any good?

Yes, I’m really impressed by how effective this method of teaching is. Actually watching things work in front of you beats learning from a textbook hands down – at least for me anyway. However, it’s not so easy to look something up in a video as you would do in a book, but VTC lets you take notes online and store them as “course notes” for review later. Also, each lesson is short and focused enough to keep your attention, so after watching a five minute lesson, you can then spend the next five or ten minutes practicing what you’ve learned.

The first few lessons of each course are free demos, so if you’re interested, make sure you watch a couple of videos before you part with your money. The cost itself is really good value if you can motivate yourself to study regularly. It’s just US$30 a month for unlimited access to all the courses.

I’ve only gotten through the first 19 PHP lessons so far, but your “account” keeps track of what you’ve watched, and you can claim a certificate when you’ve finished everything (yay!).

Do you or would you like to study with VTC? What courses are you taking, or interested in taking? I’m taking PHP Programming, PHP Project Solutions, MySQL, JavaScript, Ajax, Introduction to XML and Paint Shop Pro 7. Do you think that’s enough? πŸ˜‰

EasyPHP “Apache cannot be runned…” Error

I’ve downloaded EasyPHP, a package containing PHP, MySQL and Apache, so that I can write and test PHP scripts without uploading my files to my web host all the time.

However, I was getting this errror:

Apache cannot be runned : another Web server use the Web port or port is blocked by firewall.

After a fair bit of head scratching, I discovered that Skype was using the same port. To have both Skype and Apache running, go to Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> Connection and uncheck the box marked “Use port 80 and 443 as alternatives for incoming connections”. Then quit and restart Skype. Now try running Apache.

Update: An alternative solution from Tony of Trackking.org:

I had been having that error, vista x64, no skype or yahoo, and no processes using port 80! After much head scratching I simply unchecked the Easyphp config option “Check servers TCP port before starting”. With that removed, it works a treat. So…maybe something in Vista x64 throws a “false positive” to EasyPHP when it checks for ports?

Put Code Snippets in a WordPress Blog

I’ve installed WP-Syntax, a great plugin for WordPress that lets you add code snippets to your blog posts without losing all the formatting.

You can use all manner of languages and even include line numbers if you want. Here’s a snippet from one of my math worksheet makers written in Perl:

5
use List::Util shuffle;    # Use the Shuffle module
166
167
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# define and populate the arrays
my @girlsnames = ('Erin','Anna','Joanne','Sally', 'Mary');    
my @boysnames = ('Adam','Ken','Tom','Paul','David', 'Sam'); 
 
@girlsnames = shuffle @girlsnames;    # shuffle the girls' array
@boysnames = shuffle @boysnames;    # shuffle the boys' array
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$name1 = pop(@boysnames);    # assign last name in array to $name1;
$name2 = pop(@girlsnames);    # assign last name in array to $name2;

Set Up A JapanBlogger Blogroll in WordPress

JapanBlogger is the perfect complement to JapanSoc. While the latter promotes individual articles and pages from the Japan-related web, JapanBlogger serves to promote entire sites. This is done by a blogger submitting his or her site, and watching people vote for it and leave feedback.

Harnessing the power of JapanBlogger

Since JapanBlogger sorts its database of blogs according to popularity (i.e. the number of votes each site receives), I thought it would be great to provide an rss feed which bloggers could import and use as a blogroll on their own sites.

This serves two purposes. First, it gives the blogger an instant, ready-made blogroll with the best Japan-related sites. Second, by clicking on each link in the blogroll, the visitor passes through JapanBlogger where he or she can vote the site in question up or down and leave a comment. That extra step is what encourages activity and keeps the blogroll fair.

JapanBlogger Feed One – the “best of the month” feed

Site owner, Billy West, had been thinking along the same lines and had already set up what I shall call JapanBlogger Feed One.

JapanBlogger Feed One can be found at http://japanblogger.net/feed/ and is a list of the highest ranked sites, followed by the most ranked sites. This list is maintained manually and updated each month, usually accompanied by an annoucenment to congratulate the “best blogs of the month”.

JapanBlogger Feed Two – the “current highest rated” feed

Unlike Feed One, this second feed is dynamic, meaning it updates automatically and multiple times a day, giving you the most up-to-date list of top ranked sites from JapanBlogger. You can find this feed at http://japanblogger.net/highest_rated.xml.

Both feeds can be subscribed to just like any feed, and can be read with most popular feed readers. However, this tutorial is about how to set up these rss feeds (or any feed for that matter) in a self-hosted WordPress installation, i.e. WordPress.org.

Note: If you have a Typepad, Movable Type, Blogger, Blogspot, WordPress.com, or any other site and are able to import these feeds, please share your knowledge!

Step One: Getting a JapanBlogger Feed

If you are running a browser without RSS support (such as IE6), please copy and paste the links above. Otherwise, you can get to the feeds from the RSS icon at the top of the browser when looking at JapanBlogger, as shown.

Step Two: Getting the url

Clicking on one of those choices brings up the feed in your broswer. From there, copy the url.

Step 3: Putting the feed into WordPress

From your WordPress Dashboard, navigate to “Design”->”Widgets”. If your version of WordPress is old, or your theme doesn’t support widgets, you’ll need to find an rss plugin instead.

Add an RSS widget to your sidebar and paste the url you copied into the first field, as shown in the picture below. Leave the other settings untouched (or change items from 10 to 20 as I did). Click “Change” then “Save Changes”.

Now visit your site and see your new blogroll!

Note: This doesn’t actually affect your current blogroll. This is just an addition to your existing sidebar.

These screenshots show the feed in action on this blog, LongCountdown.com…

… and also on the JapanSoc Community Blog:

Troubleshooting

If the feed shows in the sidebar, but the the links don’t go anywhere, try clicking one of the links (it worked for both me and Billy) or pressing CTRL + F5 to “hard refresh” the page.

If you are using the dynamic, “highest rated” feed but don’t see any changes to the rankings, click here. Congratulations, you’ve updated the feed! Just visiting any page on the JapanBlogger navigation bar forces the feed to update itself. Now refresh your page and you should see the latest changes.

Reviving the Japan Blog Matsuri

I’ve been working behind the scenes with other members of JapanSoc to revive the old Japan Blog Matsuri. This is a monthly blog “carnival” where given a theme to write about, bloggers everywhere are invited to share their stories with everyone else. It’s a great opportunity to find new blogs and attract new readers to your own.

Organization and Announcements

The Japan Blog Matsuri Newsroom is where things are being organized, and I can now tell you that the first matsuri of the revival will be hosted in August at The Tokyo Traveler.

Shane has published a Japan Blog Matsuri announcement naming the theme and submission details, so if you’re interested, swing by her blog to learn more!

Introducing the JapanSoc Community Blog

At universities across the UK, student clubs and societies are known as “socs”. Each of these socs is intended to bring together people with common interests, and nearly every campus has a Japan Soc.

With its Japan-related news and stories, the website of the same name has done a good job of focusing on the “Japan”. Now, though, I’d like to give as much attention to the “Soc”, by sharing with and learning more about the JapanSoc members themselves!

What is the JapanSoc Community Blog?

The JCB is an open blog that allows anybody to post a blurb about anything. It’s a blog, forum and Twitter hybrid, that can be used for Sharing, Promoting, Asking Questions, Updating and Organizing, or as I prefer to call it, SPAQUO!

Examples of SPAQUO

SharingShare

“Do you have any good photos from New Year? I’m writing a post about New Year in Japan, and would like to include other people’s experiences. Oh, and if you want any old Japanese textbooks, I’m giving mine away.”

PromotingPromote

“Just a normal day today, but I found time to post a video of my toaster oven on YouTube. It makes great cheese on toast! Tell your friends. The Japanese toaster oven phenomenon will take over the world!”

Asking QuestionsAsk a Question

“I’m thinking of getting that seishun 18 kippu summer train discount thingy, has anyone used it before? Is it worth it?”

UpdatingUpdate

“I’ve just got back from three days in Osaka and Kyoto. I’ll have the pictures up on my blog tomorrow. It’s goooood to be back!”

OrganizingOrganize

“I’ll be at the Aldgate in Shibuya on Sunday evening. Join me for a drink! If you’re not in Tokyo, I’ll buy you a virtual beer at the Japan Resort in Second Life tonight after 11pm.”

You can see in the examples above that you don’t have to say anything funny, intelligent or useful. It’s not a competition. No points, no genki karma, just good old community spirit.

The possibilities with JCB are earth moving!

The JapanSoc Community Blog enables tagging, which is incredibly useful for tracking a topic. For example, imagine a group of you are organizing a get-together next month. If you all use the same tag, e.g. “meetup”, you can track the latest developments by searching for “meetup”, or even subscribing to the RSS feed for the topic “meetup”.

Technical bits and pieces

Registration for JCB is separate from the main JapanSoc site, so you’ll need to register again. Of course, it’s a good idea to sign up with the same username and password you use on the main site so that you don’t confuse your JapanSoc login info.

After you’ve registered, you’ll see a form at the top of the main blog page where you can type your SPAQUO in. This saves the trouble of going into the WordPress Dashboard and writing a full post.

Avatars on the blog are also different to the avatars on JapanSoc. JCB uses Gravatar, a global avatar which is quickly becoming the standard across the blogosphere. If you have a gravatar, you’ll need to register with the same email address you used when you got your gravatar, otherwise it won’t show up.

RSS feeds are abundant on JCB. The main feed shows the user updates, but you can also subscribe to individual author feeds and topic/tag feeds. If you’d like to show off your JapanSoc updates on your own blog, just import your author feed.

HTML is allowed in the post form, and since all users have Author status, you can always correct any mistakes afterward.

Sensible Usage

Each “update” on JCB is technically a blog post. The only difference is that you don’t have to go into the Admin panel to write it. Bearing in mind that these are blog posts, please refrain from tiny updates such as “I’m bored”.

Also, please avoid the temptation to make too many updates. One or two a day at the most is more than sufficient. Of course, you can use the comments section as much as you like.

An experiment in group twittering

This kind of group blogging is quite revolutionary, and is made possible with the new WordPress Prologue theme. It will be interesting to see if JapanSoc’ers take to it and find it useful. What are you waiting for? Go to the JapanSoc Community Blog, sign up and post a SPAQUO!

JapanSoc Poll – 4 Socs to Hit Front Page?

In February, I asked whether 3 socs should be needed for an article on JapanSoc to be promoted from the “Upcoming” page to the “Top Stories” page. At that time, articles were averaging 2.9 votes each and users voted in favor of the 3-soc requirement.

As JapanSoc continues to grow, the average number of socs per article has risen to 4.6. So, the question is, should 4 socs be needed to hit the front page?

The case for a 4 soc promotion requirement

  • Four votes would make sure higher quality articles make the front page.
  • With fewer articles getting promoted, existing front page articles can get more exposure.
  • Currently, almost everything gets on the front page, which defeats the purpose of “Top” stories.

The case against a 4 soc promotion requirement

  • Breaking news stories might not be so new by the time they hit the front page.
  • Submissions might disappear down the Upcoming page before enough people see them.
  • Special interest topics might not get the exposure they deserve, e.g. ESL or anime.
  • Users might be discouraged from submitting articles if it is harder to make the front page.

I should point out that a submission must get enough socs within 7 days to be promoted to the font page.

Time to vote… Update: Voting has now closed. 4 socs it is!

[poll id=”8″]

Got Genki? A JapanSoc Karma Tweak

In addition to JapanSoc Sumo, I’ve tweaked a couple of other things on JapanSoc this week…

Have you got Genki?

If you don’t know, “genki” is the Japanese word for “active energetic happiness” or other less exciting definitions. As such, it’s the perfect replacement for JapanSoc’s Karma, a measure of a user’s activity over the last 7 days.

Although I should be asking “Are you genki?”, I find it much more amusing to use it as a noun…

  • Do you have Genki?
  • What’s your Genki?
  • I gotta get me some Genki!

But how much Genki can you have? The formula for Genki considers stories submitted to JapanSoc, votes and also comments. Previously, Karma didn’t use comments in its calculation, but now, with a dose of Genki, it does! The most Genki you can have is 100%, and you can check your current Genki on your profile page.

Note: Points, Sumo Rank and Genki are updated every 6 hours, not instantly.

Sidebar overhaul

You may have noticed I’ve revamped the JapanSoc sidebar. It was getting too busy for my liking, and I really wanted to keep it clean. This image shows how each sidebar box now has tabs to switch between its contents:

JapanSoc Sidebar and Genki

I hope you’ll agree that this layout is better. Incidentally, registered users and casual surfers see a different variation of the sidebar. If you haven’t registered, emphasis is given to “Monthly Picks”, whereas registered users see the “Upcoming” box more often.

Suggestions for future improvements

Without a professional developer to help, there are limitations on the kind of features I can implement into JapanSoc. That won’t stop me trying though, and my amateurish efforts behind the scenes are the reason for the “beta” label next to the JapanSoc title. My apologies if you’ve tried using the site during those frantic moments when I’m doing some live testing!

There are two things currently on the drawing board; 1) to allow you to add more than one “homepage” to your profile. Some of you write for more than one website and I think it would be nice if you could add those links to your profile (Update: Done!), and 2) follow up Deas’ suggestion for a “Who’s Online?” feature. I think it’s a great idea and certainly worth pursuing.

If you have any other ideas for improving JapanSoc, please leave a comment. In the meantime, I have to live up to my Makkuchi sumo rank and find some interesting articles to submit. Maybe I can boost my Genki! πŸ˜›