Websites, Mashups and more

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Very busy

It has been 5 days since my last posting. I am trying to post regularly but I am very very very busy. To add spice, I started working on a New York City Guide section for the Virtual NYC Tour. I am glad to announce that I have hired my first two part time employees or actually writers. They provide my NYC Guide section with weekly articles satisfying both travelers and the search engines appetite.

On the good side, I have been doing some thinking over my categorization technique and came up with some brilliant enhancements (at least to me). Soon enaugh I will post an article explaining the new updates. As far as the experiement goes it is still in my todos list. I though I would ehance my categorization technique before I start.

Categories: Main Blog_

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blogger Categories: Using CSS for categorizing with the Blogger Search Engine

I was going through the list of recent comments on my blog when I passed by one made by Paulo He is using my Blog Search method for categorizing posts. However, He includes some enhancements by using CSS. His posting is available under the following link . By using CSS the category name would become invisible in the title. For example

title --> <span class="hide">CATEGORY A:</span>Flowers are nice

The only problem is that the HTML markup will appear in the RSS feed. I wonder how the postings URL would look like too. I will take a closer look at his method and see if I can enhance it. I will also include it in my Grand Experiment which is supposed to Debut this weekend.

Blogger Categories: Experiment Update

Things are getting worse. I am getting involved in more projects. however, this weekend I will be able to start the experiment. stay tuned

Main Blog: New Website and code

For the past few weeks I have been working on a new mashup website. The website uses technologies from Google, Yahoo and some 3rd party application. I will be posting more info later. I am trying to keep the idea of the website secret until we release.

In the next few days I will be posting more code snippets regarding Google Maps and Geocoding. Geocoding enables the user to get GPS coordinates for a specific address. Online maps uses geocoding to pinpoint an address. Currently, Google Maps does not provide this feature in their public API. more to come. stay tuned

Virtual NYC Tour: New Features

I am working on a large and very interesting new feature (at least for me). I am currently adding a new section called "NYC Guide". It will basically feature articles, news, info on galleries and museums and other travel services. Building the section will take some time since it contains multiple sub sections and require the creation of many articles. I will probably end up spending all weekend working on it.

Yesterday, I have sent my first email letter to my members. The list included over 200 emails. I had problems sending a mass email from my host. I have been getting good feedback. At least nobody requested to be removed from the mailing list

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Blogger Categories: Postponing the Experiment

I have decided to postpone my Grand Experiment for few days. I am working 20 hours a day on my Virtual NYC Tour. Fuses in my brain are starting to pop.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Virtual NYC Tour: One Month Anniversary

Today is the one month anniversary for my Virtual NYC Tour website. I have went through hell during this month working almost none stop on the website and working 20 hours days. You have to remember that I also have a day job which takes a big chunck of my day.

During this month many things happened. The website had 30,000 visitors. Most of them occurred in the past week. The website has been featured on many popular blogs, websites and news. To mention a few

  • Blog Google: A CNET.com blog
  • Google Maps Mania
  • MSNBC
  • Digg.com (992): If you guys are kind please make it pass the 1000 mark
  • Cool Google Maps
  • Gothamist
  • inpactvirtuel.com (French)
  • pathfinder.gr (German)
  • ehrensenf.de (German or Dutch)
  • useloos.com (French)
  • illasaron.com (Spanish)
  • programmableweb.com
  • madville.com
  • dailywireless.org
  • zorgloob.com (French)
  • labs.cybozu.co.jp (Japan)
  • diggdot.us
  • blogywood.blogspot.com
  • skytg24.blogs.com
  • blog.programmableweb.com
  • and many other...
I have included many new sections and features during this month:
  • Directory section
  • Store section
  • A revamped menu system
  • Added Hints to the navigation panel
  • Improved many of the scripts for speed
  • Created a mailing list
  • Added user reviews
  • etc...
I would like to thank every person that visited the website. Thank you for the emails and feedback. Thank you for making this website possible

Blogger Categories: The beginning of the Grand Experiment

Today will mark the beginning of an exciting experiment. Few days ago I have made a posting on Categorizing Blogger entries using the blogger search engine (Categorizing Blogger Entries). I got a number of comments and emails in response. In the posting I have mentioned that I was not a fan of the delicious approach. That started a series of emails between me and Greg, the creator of FreshTags. FreshTags adopts the delicious approach.

I decided to be open minded and fair. As a result, I will start an experiment using both the search engine and the delicious approaches. The experiment will run for a month or a little more. During this period I will probably end up testing both approaches by making posts via the blogger administrator website, email, the Blog this option available in some websites, etc...

I will keep everybody posted on my day-to-day findings. I will also keep Greg informed. I will try to be as unbiased as possible.

I am not sure what to name the experiment. I was thinking of one of the following:
  • The Grand Experiment
  • The Category Experiment (Blogger Search vs. Delicious)
  • Blogger Categories (Blogger Search vs. Delicious)
  • The Categories Grand Experiment (Blogger Search vs. Delicious)
I will make up my mind sometime today. Please, Please, Please, send me suggestions for a name.

I will setup my blog either today or tomorrow to accept both types of categories. I am currently busy with my Virtual NYC Tour website

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Code Snippets: Why I did not like the delicious approach for creating categories

I have been getting emails about why I did not like the delicious approach to categorizing blogger posts. All the email were in response to my entry Categorizing Blogger Entries. The approach has a number of advantages but I did not like it for the following reasons:

1) Once you click on a category created through delicious, you will be moved outside the blogger domain.

2) If you want to add a posting from a computer other than yours you will have a harder time categorizing your post. Especially if you don't have access to the code that generates your delicious tags (such as bookmarklets). Even if you have good programming knowledge, the fact that you will be writing long HTML sentences for your delicious URLs makes you prone to spelling mistakes

3) This is of minimal importance: Categorizing a new entry takes three steps with delicious: creating a posting, creating a link in the category section and creating a tag in delicious. With my approach, it is only two steps: creating the posting and creating a link in the category section.

An advantage of the delicious approach is that it provides you with the ability to integrate with other cool applications and it enables people to search your blog entries through tags. I guess every approach has its advantages/disadvantages.

I have decided to divide my categories into two sections. One using the delicious approach and the other using the blogger search approach (my approach). I will run the experiment for two months. At the end of the period I will create a posting giving you the results. I will have a separate posting for this test sometime today or tomorrow to give more details

By the way, you might be interested in viewing postings made by Greg in his blog blogfresh. He has a number of nice hacks for blogs created through blogger.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Code Snippets: from categories categories categories in Blogger blogs

I ran into another blog today that has a solution for categories in blogger. The interesting thing is that the solution offered by this blog is almost similar to mine. The solution has one shortcoming though. In my solution I use the blogger search engine to look for keywords in the postings title. The solution offered by this blog looks for keywords in the whole postings text. This will cause problems. For example, if you have a posting under "category A" that has in its body the keyword for "category B" then the posting will be displayed under category A and B. Not good

However, what I really liked about this blog is that they construct the URL for you through an html form.

Link to the blog: .NET Compact Framework Tutorials: Blogging_: categories categories categories in Blogger blogs

This is a link to my posting: Categorizing Blogger entries

Virtual NYC Tour: User review counter

I just realized that the User Review link in the website does not display the total number of reviews available. The only way to figure that out is to click on the User Review link and check if there were any available reviews. This will be a future enhancement

AJAX, Google Maps: AJAX Powered IP Location Lookup

Find the geographic location of an IP address using geoip data and google maps.

Very nice

read more digg story

Main Blog: Placing Ads on the blog

I will start adding Ads to the blog. I am currently banned from using Google Adsense. I wonder if it will be a problem if I start using Yahoo Ads. I already use them on my virtual tour website. I also need to figure our where the Ads should be placed. I have a number of issues with Yahoo Ads provided through the Yahoo Publisher Network. However, their payout is much higher than Adsene. I have looked into a number of different Ads providers like Chikita. The Ads look messy and I am not a big fan

Code Snippets: Multiple categories for one posting

On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about my posting yesterday for categorizing entries in a blog. I realized that my technique is more flexible than what I have expected. If you want to add a specific entry to more than one category all you need to do is prefix your post's title with the categories that it falls in. You can separate the prefixed category names with comas, semi colons or anything you like. That's all. Now your posting will be displayed under each category name you specified whenever you click on your category links

Monday, January 16, 2006

Virtual NYC Tour: Visitors count

In the past couple of days I have been getting a lot of hits. This is great. It seems that the website is finally taking off. I would like to thank every person that visited the website, posted a comment or sent me an email. Your feedback was great. Thank you.

Code Snippets: Categorizing Blogger entries

Update 02/08/06: This posting explains how to create categories using the posting's title. If you don't like inserting the category name in the title you can read my other posting (Blogger Categories in 5 minutes)

---------

I was extremely disappointed when I found out that blogger.com does not have a way to categorize your posts. I started looking on the Blogger Addins section which recommended doing a search on Google. I am not sure why categorization for postings is not part of the blogger package. As a programmer I am almost positive that categorization does not require any special coding logic.

Anyway, I started looking for possible plugins. My initial search lead me to few interesting posts however, I was not satisfied with any of them. To mention a couple:

1) OldCola: His method is to create a blog for each category. The user would then create the posting in the desired category, which would send an email to some email account. The email account would then forward the message to the main blog. The problem with his approach is that you will be creating two entries for each posting. Plus you will have to manage multiple blogs rather than one.

2) There were also other methods that involved using delicious. I did not like this approach

As usual I decided to find my own solution through coding. It was actually very simple. The blogger.com provides a search engine for blogs. All I needed to do is use the search engine and pass it the query that I am interested in. I started by looking at the advanced search options for the search.blogger.com. I found out that you could perform a search for a specific phrase in the posting's title. You can also limit the search to a specific blog. That’s basically all I needed.

I started by using search.blogger.com to search for a specific title in my blog. The search.blogger.com generated the following URL in the address bar:

http://search.blogger.com/?Submit=Search+Blogs&as_lq=
ui=blg&hl=enas_q=&as_epq=as_oq=&as_eq=
bl_pt=%22Virtual+NYC+Tour%22&bl_auth=as_drrb=q
&as_qdr=as_mind=1&as_minm=3&as_miny=2005
&as_maxd=16&as_maxm=1&as_maxy=2006bl_bt=
&bl_url=websitesandmore.blogspot.comlang=all
&safe=active

The URL is very long but has a lot of unnecessary text. I trimmed the URL down to the essentials, which made it look like the following:

http://search.blogger.com/?ui=blg&bl_pt=Virtual+NYC+Tour
&bl_url=websitesandmore.blogspot.com&as_q=

I then created a javascript function that will be responsible for showing the category. Insert the following code in any part of your blog template after the <html> tag:


<script language="javascript">
var blogUrl = "YOUR BLOG ADDRESS";
function showCategory(category){
var encodedCategory = escape("\"" + category + "\"");

var url = "http://search.blogger.com/?ui=blg&as_q=";
url = url + "&bl_url=" + blogUrl + "&bl_pt=" +
encodedCategory + ":";
window.location.href = url;
}
</script>



Make sure to replace the above words [YOUR BLOG ADDRESS] with your blog's address. Don't include the www part of the address. inclose the blog's address in qutations

Categorizing your posts
Every time you create a new posting make sure to prefix the title of the posting with the name of the category. That’s all. For example, if your posting has the title "Nice Flowers" and you want to add it to the category "Garden" then your posting's title should look like this

Garden: Nice Flowers

Creating the Category URL in the sidebar
To create a category section for your blog. The URL for a category should look something like this


<a href="javascript:showCategory('THE CATEGORY');">THE CATEGORY</a>

Clicking on the link will display all the postings under that category in the blogger search page.

I did not intend this at the begining but I realized that you can even add your posting to more than one category. All you need to do is prefix all the categories to the posting's title. You can seperate categories with commas or semi cololns. For example: If you want to add the "Nice Flowers" posting to the categories "Garden" and "Environment" then the title should look something like this

Garden, Environment: Nice Flowers


The only problem with this solution is that if you insert a new posting it takes few minutes until the blogger search engine indexes your page. So, in the first few minutes clicking the category link won't display your latest posting. I have tested this and I found out it takes around 5 - 10 minutes for your result to be displayed in the category search page. Not bad

You can test the categories in my blog

Categories: Code Snippets_, Blogger Categories_

Virtual NYC Tour: service update 4

I have finally spoken to my web host bluehost.com. They said that everything is working fine and there was nothing wrong (what???). They confirmed that I had high traffic (duh). Anyways, it seems that they won't be able to accommodate my needs if I keep getting high volume of traffic. A temporary solution for now is to reduce the image sizes. That will help in reducing my bandwidth usage. On the good side, I am getting nice revenue from the Yahoo Ads. I will be displaying more posts in the future concerning the Yahoo Publisher Network and my experience with them. I am also considering expanding my Home page by adding a section for featured articles. This hopefully will generate more traffic

Now the question is whether I should move to dedicated or shared hosting. If anybody can help that would be great.

Virtual NYC Tour: Web host update

I have been contacting a number of web hosts. I have spoke to pair.com. It seems that they have good packages and deals. I will probably be moving to them sometime in the next day and a half.

Virtual NYC Tour: service update 3

This is the second day of my battles against my web server. I have modified some of the scripts in the application to become more efficient. Mainly, I have updated the scripts that generates hints on top of the pictures. The code used to issue two independent calls: one for retrieving descriptions of the current picture and another call for getting the hints. I have combined both codes into one call. The website seems to be more responsive.

I am still getting feedback from people. I have a list of good suggestions for a new hosting company. Thanks

Yahoo Publisher Network: bugs in YPN

I am currently a member of the Yahoo Publisher Network. The publisher network is Google's equivalent of Adsense. The YPN program is still in Beta and has a number of bugs. I have reported a number of those bugs already but I have noticed a new one recently.

It seems that slow websites and slow loading pages causes weird behavior for the Yahoo Ads. The Ads no longer function correctly. The Ad unit display half of the advertisement while the other half is hidden. I have reported this bug to Yahoo at least a couple of months ago. It seems that they have not fixed it yet.

I actually had another bug on the "Account Information" section on the YPN website. I could not save My tax information. Everytime I inserted the tax info and clicked the save button, I got a message stating that the information was saved. When I try to view the data by clicking the "Tax Information" link I get a page with no data. I have also reported this bug two months ago. I have even spoken with one of their tech guys for half an hour. However, the problem is still there

Virtual NYC Tour: Service Update 2

I have placed an alert frame on my virtual tour website displaying the current status. I will be removing the box soon. Things look better now because I am probably getting fewer hits.

Virtual NYC Tour: Service Update 1

I have contacted BlueHost.com which is my hosting company. Their support is not available on the weekend (Not cool). I should have known from the beggining. The too good to be true deals are bad. BlueHost offers 10GB of space, 250GB of bandwidth for only 7 dollars a month.

After a bit of consulting and reviewing a number of other web hosts I am considering www.pair.com. The company is recommended by a number of posts on the webmasterworld.com website. It will cost me more but at least they seem to be reliable. They also have good ecommerce package that I might eventually use in the near future.

Today seemed like a battle field. I was updating my website constantly while reading users feedback. It was interesting though. I guess having too much trafffic is never a bad thing.

Virtual NYC Tour: Hosting problems

I got screwed today with my web hosting company. A friend of mine has posted a link on the digg.com website about my virtual tour. The link was featured on the digg home page the following day. That generated excessive amount of traffic that crippled my website. The hosting company started displaying a message stating that the website is either:

1) Using 20% or more of CPU resources
2) Uses inefficient scripts

My answer to them is that their servers cannot handle extra bandwidth. The virtualNYCTour website uses AJAX and Javascript heavily. That leverages most of the processing on the user's (clients) computer rather than the server. The only server side intensive processing is picture fetching (Nothing special here) and description fetching from the database (Also nothing special here). The only thing left is the web host and their ability to handle extra bandwidth. Apparently they suck

Virtual NYC Tour: Introduction

Virtual NYC Tour is a website of mine that I have created recently. The website is a virtual tour of New York City. Using the website you can navigate the streets of New York while viewing thousands of pictures and reading hundreds of descriptions for stores and historical landmarks. The websites has the following trails:

- Park Avenue
- Soho
- Times Square
- Empire State Building
- Ground Zero
- Financial District
- Central Park
- UN
- Columbus and Lincln Center
- Madison and Fifth Avenue

I will start a series of postings including details on the various steps I have gone through to create the website

My 1st entry

As any programmer, I am starting with a Hello World posting