Automatic Tweeting – the newly introduced social aspect of FeedBurner

Socialize - FeedBurner to TwitterJust a couple of weeks back, FeedBurner, without much fanfare, stepped into the social arena. As it is with Google, the surprise came as an extremely useful feature: Automatic Tweeting based upon your feed.

Bloggers who use FeedBurner to publish their feeds can immensely benefit from this new addition. It does away with one whole extra step of using a third-party client (or the Twitter website) for publicizing your posts.

How does it work?

Upon publishing a new post…

  1. FeedBurner immediately grabs your post’s title
  2. Shortens the post’s URL using goo.gl (another recent introduction)
  3. Adds any custom messages and hashtags that you’ve set
  4. And posts it to your Twitter profile

… and the while making sure that the tweet doesn’t exceed 140 characters. Pretty cool ay? If required, it can set set to leave room for retweets too.

The tweeting feature can be setup via the Publicize tab of FeedBurner using this new sidebar item titled Socialize.

FeedBurner's Socialize  settings for  Twitter

If required, tweets can be sent to multiple Twitter accounts. For detailed explanation of individual settings, see here.

Is you ask me, this feature is certainly going to obsolete quite a few WordPress plugins offering similar functionality.

Feedburner: When you face a – Your Ping resulted in an Error “Ping is throttled. Please try again in a minute or so.”

Content TheftYesterday I came upon a couple of splogs ripping off my feeds and publishing the content as their own – lock, stock and barrel (if I may), including the ugly SHA1 hash that I was using as a digital fingerprint to detect content theft.

Digital fingerprints (a unique combination of random characters) happen to be a very good way of nabbing content rippers. 99.99% chances are that these people use automated programs (bots) that scrape content off third-party blogs  (primarily from feeds) and post as their own, which are then used in conjunction with various monetization programs (e.g. AdSense) to generate revenue for the splogger. The scraper bots make verbatim copies of your content and are unable to distinguish between actual content and the fingerprint – hence that too gets published in the splog. Catching such rip-offs can be as simple as doing a Google search for your fingerprint.

Problem lies with that fact that an ugly string of random characters is appended to each of your feed item, which gets displayed to your valid subscribers too. It short, it “destroys” the presentation, creating a nasty impression about your blog. Sploggers on the other hand aren’t bothered by this as all they care about is posting content and making money from it.

While the fingerprint helps you detect content theft, there isn’t much that you can do about it except for going through a lengthy process of serving a notice to the splogger and then informing the web-host (citing the DMCA) in case of non-action. Hence, I decided to get rid of the fingerprint and append a custom copyright message to my feed footers instead – with links back to my post and blog. At least this way it earns me some form of attribution – without making the feed look ugly.  Incidentally, the most suitable plugin I found for this job is Better Feed.

What’s all this got to do with FeedBurner?

Coming to that in a moment. That was a rant that I absolutely HAD TO get out of my system.

Once I was done with my new feed footer,  I tried using the FeedBurner Ping service to update my feed.  That’s when this error message got shoved into my face…

Your Ping resulted in an Error “Ping is throttled. Please try again in a minute or so.”

Googling for it didn’t fetch me any solution – just pages upon pages of complaints to the same effect. Most likely, it’s a problem that’s taken roots in recent times. Whatever, the cause was, it kept me at bay for hours! It simply wouldn’t let me see my updated feed (my blog feed is set to auto-redirect to FeedBurner).

The Solution

Feedburner "Resync now" buttonUse the Resync Now button that’s situated towards lower part of the Troubleshootize page of FeedBurner. When all else fails, hit the big red button 😀

The resync button…

  • Clears our cached version and refreshes its content from your Original Feed
  • Creates podcast enclosures for items that did not previously have them and contain links to podcast content
  • Reports any feed formatting problems encountered during the resync

… Voila! My updated feed appeared rightaway. So, if you’re facing a similar error message, my recommendation is to try the Resync button. It works.

Update: Finally came up with some information on the ping is throttled error message. Indeed, it is an issue that cropped up recently – but, at least now we have an explanation.

Introducing “Shunya”

I take great pleasure in introducing Shunya – a brand new blog of mine.

Shunya is my second blog and is primarily going to be a reflection of my experiences as a webmaster at the Stamford International University as well as some of the choicest picks on numerics & computing.

WordPress 2.6 released… a month ahead of schedule

WordPress Logo Peel Those guys at WordPress are really at it!! They’ve been churning out code like crazy 😀 As a result, the all new WordPress 2.6 has been officially released – a month ahead of schedule!

Here’s a quick rundown of the latest features…

  • Post revisions – WordPress 2.6 features Wiki-like tracking of edits, in effect acting like a version control system. This comes in real handy in case you want to nullify any mistakes and go back to a prior version of the post.
  • Press This! bookmarklet – Inspired by the quick-bookmarking buttons that are a part and parcel of almost all social media / network sites, this new bookmarklet lets you embed blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr images etc. into your blog post at the click of a button.
  • Google Gears Support – WordPress 2.6 now takes advantage of the Google Gears pack to give you that ounce of extra juice that really speeds up your copy of WordPress while using the admin interface (by caching all CSS and JavaScript files locally). More on this to come in future versions…
  • Live Theme Previews – Earlier on you were required to activate a theme before you could see it in action on your site. Not so anymore. You can preview the theme live, without activating it and letting the world see it concurrently.

Among the lesser (smaller) improvements are…

  • Word count! Never guess how many words are in your post anymore.
  • Image captions, so you can add sweet captions like Political Ticker does under your images.
  • Bulk management of plugins.
  • A completely revamped image control to allow for easier inserting, floating, and resizing. It’s now fully integrated with the WYSIWYG.
  • Drag-and-drop reordering of Galleries.
  • Plugin update notification bubble.
  • Customizable default avatars.
  • You can now upload media when in full-screen mode.
  • Remote publishing via XML-RPC and APP is now secure (off) by default, but you can turn it on easily through the options screen.
  • Full SSL support in the core, and the ability to force SSL for security.
  • You can now have many thousands of pages or categories with no interface issues.
  • Ability to move your wp-config file and wp-content directories to a custom location, for ‘clean’ SVN checkouts.
  • Select a range of checkboxes with ‘shift-click.’
  • You can toggle between the Flash uploader and the classic one.
  • A number of proactive security enhancements, including cookies and database interactions.
  • Stronger better faster versions of TinyMCE, jQuery, and jQuery UI.

Here’s a brief video on the same…

Whew! That’s quite a list. I’m headed for the download page rightaway. I need to try it out, NOW! How about you?

When Defensio fails…

Spam FloodFollowing my review of Defensio, Michael Hampton (of Bad Behavior fame) left a comment on the same post assuring that Bad Behavior would run just fine along side Defensio without causing any sort of hiccups for the latter. My thoughts exactly – since Defensio operates more or less on the same principles as that of  Akismet, whereas Bad Behavior’s modus operandi is a bit different.

Instead of filtering spam and diverting them to a hold (quarantine), Bad Behavior entirely denies access to your site to suspicious IPs (the ones from where there are an excessive number of requests within a short period of time). Logically, this shouldn’t hamper Defensio in any way. Michael’s comment had got me wondering if I should enable BB again and today’s incident gave me a hard shove in the same direction.

What happened today? Well… Defensio went for a toss, and that too for a good while (it’s till not back up as I’m writing this post). This is the second downtime I faced ever since I installed it, though I’m not certain of the cause. It may be because of lack of infrastructure to handle such high volumes of network activity or some other temporary server outage. Either ways, what I faced was a massive spam flood – the likes of which I never encountered while using the Akismet + Bad Behavior combination. Luckily, I had comment moderation turned on! End result? Here’s a snapshot of my inbox. See for yourself 😀

When Defensio Fails

Motivation enough to start using Bad Behavior again? I totally think so. Besides, as Michael pointed out earlier, it can’t hurt Defensio in any way other than denying their spam-harvester its share of spam.

Quick Tip: curreX version 0.9 released (with Flash Widget support)

Another quick announcement. I just released another version (0.9) of curreX – the Ajax based Currency Converter widget for WordPress.

Starting from this version, curreX also includes a Flash based widget and provides you with the option of selecting between the HTML/JavaScript version and it’s Flash counterpart from the widget configuration panel of WordPress.

A quick preview of the flash widget can be obtained from here. I’m pretty bad at creating snazzy graphics in flash – so it’s going to take a while to make the widget look nice. The current version is fully functional though.

As always, I’m open for any questions / comments / bug reports.

Quick Tip: curreX v0.8 released

Here’s a quick tip for those who have been plagued with problems while using curreX v0.7 (the Ajax based Currency Converter Widget for WordPress). I’ve released a new version v0.8 yesterday, fixing most of those issues.

Please grab a copy from here or the WordPress plug-in repository and update your installation to fix all the earlier problems.

If you run into any problems with this version, there’s always the official curreX support forum.

Decided to give Defensio Anti-Spam a shot… over Akismet

Fighting SpamRight since the beginning of my blogging career, I’ve been using Akismet in conjuction with Bad Behavior to weed out spam from my blog. Akismet is as a natural choice since it comes parcelled with WordPress installations. As for Bad Behavior, I decided to use it after reading plenty of articles on effective spam filtering.

Akismet has worked just fine for me so far. It has it’s occasional false positives (marking legit. comments as spam) – but I’m all right with it, since I don’t get much of spam everyday (at the most a 100). While Akismet may be very good at catching spam, there’s one quarter it needs to be revamped big time. The list of spams in Akismet is presented in a paginated manner while displaying the full body of each spam, making the list unnecessarily large and extremely tedious to go through. As I mentioned earlier – I don’t receive much of spam everyday. So, it’s relatively easy for me to wade through the list and pick-out any false positives. However, imagine what a pain it must be for the larger blogs receiving thousands of spam comments everyday. There are big chances of a good amount of legitimate comments going down the drain along with the spam flood. To make the situation worse, lately there have been a lot of complaints about Akismet producing more and more false positives.

Defensio LogoAfter going through a bunch of reviews – both positive and negative, I decided to go ahead and give Defensio a try. For those who didn’t know, Defensio is a community-based anti-spam service similar to Akismet – but with certain added enhancements. They offer anti-spam solutions for a wide range of blogging platforms. It’s free for personal use while for commercial usage a nominal charge is levied on a per month basis.

Defensio sorts your quarantined comments by their “spaminess” value. This means that finding the occasional legitimate comment buried in your spambox (aka false positive) becomes dead easy: with Defensio you simply need to monitor the top portion of your quarantine to be confident that there’s no ham amongst your spam.

After I installed this plug-in, the first few spams that were caught were arranged into two distinct groups – Somewhat Spammy and Moderately Spammy. I’m yet to see the Super Spams… but I get the general idea.

A really nice feature of Defensio is that only the first line of the spam comment is shown (along with a link to display the full content). This makes for much better readability and sifting through the list. If you recall, I was grumbling about the lack of this in Akismet towards the beginning of this post. Score 1 for Defensio.

Before I forget, I’d like to mention one more contrasting point. When I had first installed Akismet and got my API key from WordPress.com, it gave me an insane amount of trouble to validate the key. This has been the same for any new blog I’ve helped install. For some reason, the validation wouldn’t go through for at least an hour following the registration at WordPress.com. However, with Defensio it was just click-and-go. Score 2.

Another distinct advantage of Defensio is that apart from the community anti-spam fighting feature, it operates on a blog-to-blog level.

This means that no two bloggers will see Defensio react in precisely the same way, even for similar comments, which is a good thing – because one person’s ham might be another person’s spam. And our continuously evolving set of algorithmic tricks ensures that we’ll never let spammers gain the upper hand.

Also available are RSS feeds of your comments and spam – which makes the monitoring less painful by curtailing the need to login into the Admin Panel on a regular basis. The Defensio site keeps track of your spam statistics and presents nicely decked-up charts that summarizes the evolution of spam and performance on your blog – a cool eye-candy feature to while your time away and “satisfy your inner bean-counter“.

Keep in mind, this is NOT an Akismet bashing post. I really respect the work of Matt and his team. They are the pioneers in this and without them – more than 80% of the WordPress based blogs wouldn’t see through a single day of Spam Attack. However, Defensio does offer a wider range of tools and features and that makes it a more viable option.

Now all I got to see is how well it handles my spam. On the initial try, it did get two false negatives – i.e. spam comments which passed through as legitimate ones. But since this is its teething phase, I’m going to overlook that and give it a chance to evolve according to my comment preferences. Will report back in a couple of weeks time (or two) on how well it’s performing.

Hurry… Get a Free Membership at a Premium WordPress Themes Club

WPDesigner Premium WordPress Themes Club - Free Membership

BlogAdda – an Indian blog showcase (directory) is giving away 100 free memberships to the Premium WordPress Themes Club of WPDesigner.

Normally, a one year membership of the club costs you $5, for which you get access to 12 premium themes (1 every month). As long as the offer from BlogAdda stands, you can get this for free. No sign-ups with BlogAdda are required. Simply read this post at the BlogAdda Blog, and leave a comment there stating your name & email correctly and include a link to the most popular post on your own blog.

They’ll get back to you in a day or two with a promotional code which you can use at the WPDesigner site to alleviate the charges for the first year.

Alternatively, you can follow BlogAdda on Twitter to claim your free membership.

I had left a comment there yesterday and by today noon I had my promotional code delivered to me. Last I checked, they have around 48 comments on that post (including comments from those who’re following BlogAdda on Twitter). If you hurry, you may still be accommodate in the last 50….

Chaotica: New theme for Chaos Laboratory

Finally got around to doing something that has been pending for ages… i.e. give the site it’s own look & feel.

There are plenty of good WordPress themes around – but almost all are overused. I needed something fresh and unique (if possible). I had contacted a few designers but their starting prices ranged $300 to $400 – something that I would rather spend on getting better hosting (dedicated server maybe) or on advertising. In the end, what had to be done – had to be done. Got down on my hands and knees and started designing one on my own.

Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Fireworks helped me a long way in designing all the graphics for the theme. Thanks to Twitch for the logo (lab flasks) – that really brightened up the page.

Once the initial issues with the CSS were sorted out, it was time to port it to WordPress. That was the easier part though and you can see the result proudly on display here. Incidentally, I decided to name it “Chaotica”. Yeah, I know – it’s pretty cliche. But that’s the best I could come up keeping at par with my site name. Maybe you can suggest a better alternative for me!

There are plenty of “cool stuff” that I’m yet to implement – but whatever I’ve put up so far isn’t bad for a first-timer ! What do you say ?