Puttering around with SEB.

You may have noticed that I’ve removed the ability to edit comments for the moment. The Ajax based plugin I was using wasn’t working for everyone and it’s since gone commercial. I’ve yet to find an alternative solution that is both 1) updated relatively recently and 2) easy to install. The one prospect I did find requires adding code directly to the template files and this template is complex enough that doing that is no small undertaking. So, for the moment, make use of the Preview function before hitting submit.

Other things I’m toying around with is trying to work in some alternative methods of allowing sign-ins when commenting. There are plugins that allow you to validate via your Facebook/Twitter/OpenID/Google FriendConnect accounts. Alas, the ones that seem to support everything tend to be commercial options requiring me to sign up with an external service which I’m trying to avoid. The other option is to use several different plugins for each platform I’d like to support which also is unappealing. So I’m poking around a number of other sites to see what they’re using these days.

Which all brings me back to one of my issues with WordPress. There’s a ton of plugins out there most of which are so far behind the current version of WP that it’s questionable whether or not they’ll even work. Even if they are compatible with the current version they may or may not work properly with the theme you’re using. And even if they do work with the theme you’re using there’s no guarantee they won’t conflict with each other. Sometimes it’s possible to have too much choice.

Still, that’s what makes being a blogger a challenge I suppose. The hours spent reading through plugin descriptions. Testing them out. Google searches to see what others are using. Etc. I’ve found a pretty decent Facebook Connect plugin that I’ll probably try sometime soon. Not only will it allow you to login using your FB credentials, but it’ll put your FB avatar in the comment and allow you to post it back to your statues updates if you wish.

Oh, almost forgot to mention that the About tab actually has content in it now. I found that I had written an About SEB entry back in 2007 so I moved the content up there where it won’t be so lonely. It’s horribly out of date, but at least it’s more than one sentence now.

Testing out a new Comment Toolbar thingy.

Pic of the WordPress logo.After ***Dave asked me which plugin I was using for the HTML toolbar above the comments (it was Comment Form Quicktags) I was reminded that the WP Admin side of that plugin has never worked for me. So I checked to see if there was a newer version and it’s not been updated in a very long time.

Which brings up a sore point I have with WordPress in general: For as wildly popular as it is it seems there are an amazing number of plugins that are updated a handful of times and then abandoned forever. Having a little toolbar above the text area to make it easy for folks to add emphasis to their comments seems like one of those things that every blogging package shouldn’t be without. The folks behind ExpressionEngine considered it important enough that they put out their own plugin for their platform and made sure it was updated as necessary for each new release. There are alternatives available from other folks if you want them, but the basic functionality was made available by the folks putting out the software so you didn’t have to worry if it was going to work with the latest release.

The folks at WordPress don’t have an official plugin for this purpose so you’re left to search their plugin database to find one. This can be a lesson in futility as the search function built into WordPress is stunningly limited in what it searches compared to every other blogging package I’ve used. I tried half a dozen different search terms and got entirely different results each time most of which haven’t been updated in over a year and were several releases behind the current version of WordPress. I eventually gave up and resorted to doing a Google Search instead. Once you find a plugin that might fit the bill you have to see if it’ll work with your version of WordPress and whatever Theme you’re using on your site. SEB hasn’t had a Comment Preview function for a long time simply because none of the preview plugins I found worked with any of the themes I’ve used. Again, that’s a feature you’d expect would be part of the core package but it’s not.

Let me be clear that I understand a lot of these plugins are being written and maintained for free by people who probably have better things to do with their time which gives a certain advantage to platforms, like ExpressionEngine, where folks often charge for their plugins in exchange for them being continually updated. After all you get what you pay for, but that said both of the functions I mentioned should have been part of the core package eons ago in WP’s development along with things such as Subscribing to Comments. Given the large number of developers doing WP plugins you’d think there’d be at least one example of each of these that’s continually updated, but if there is I’ve been unable to find it.

All of which is a long-winded rant to say that I have managed to stumble across a plugin that handles both the comment toolbar and a comment preview function in one package that has actually been updated within the last year (back in May). It’s called jQuery Comment Preview and I’ve installed it on SEB where it appears to work just fine both on the front end and in the admin section. So test it out and let me know what you think or if it gives you any problems. With any luck this one will continue to be updated and once I’m back on my feet job-wise I’ll send off a donation to try and ensure it continues to be updated.

Mozilla to IE: You will be standards compliant whether you like it or not!

I literally laughed out loud when I read this ArsTechnica.com article:

Most browser implementors are quick to adopt emerging Internet technologies, but Microsoft can’t or won’t make Internet Explorer a modern web browser. Despite some positive steps in the right direction, Internet Explorer still lacks many important features. Its mediocrity has arguably hampered the evolution of the web and forced many site designers to depend on suboptimal proprietary solutions.

IE’s shortcomings won’t hold back the Internet for much longer, however, because Mozilla plans to drag IE into the next generation of open web technologies without Microsoft’s help. One of the first steps towards achieving this goal is a new experimental plugin that adapts Mozilla’s implementation of the HTML5 Canvas element so that it can be used in Internet Explorer.

That’s certainly one way to bring standards to IE, but it’s not perfect by a long stretch as Microsoft seems determined to make it as hard as possible:

Vukićević is confident that a lot of the holes can be filled without substantial effort, but his primary concern is with the challenges posed by deployment. The plugin is designed to snap into IE as a binary rendering behavior, but the browser’s defensive security mechanisms insist on prompting the user before every time it is used. This detracts from the seamlessness of the plugin and makes it difficult to use for conventional web applications.

“Currently, the experience is pretty crappy: you have to click through an infobar to allow installation of this component, then you have to click ‘Yes’ to say that you really want to run the native content, and then you have to click ‘Yes’ again to allow the component to interact with content on the page,” he wrote in a blog entry. “In theory, with the right signatures, the right security class implementations, some eye of newt, and a pinch of garlic, it’s possible to get things down to a one-time install which would make the component available everywhere.”

Let’s hope the Mozilla folks are composed of some skilled witches then. Having a few plugins to help make IE standards compliant would be a welcome development for anyone who codes in HTML.

Six Apart unveils TypePad AntiSpam.

The battle against comment spam on blogs is a never ending one. The cost to value ratio to the spammers is just too good to not take advantage of so they keep coming up with ways around the various tools we have to keep the crap comments out. Captchas help a bit, but the spammers have some programs that can crack them and others just pay people to sit down and type in captchas and legit-sounding comments to get around that obstacle. Add ons such as Bad Behavior and Akismet, the latter of which we use here at SEB, help quite a bit as well.

Now the folks at Six Apart, makers of the venerable MoveableType platform as well as TypePad and VOX, have joined in the fray with a new service called TypePad AntiSpam:

Calling all bloggers! We’d like to enlist your help in making TypePad AntiSpam the best, smartest, free antispam service available. We’ve launched this beta version in an effort to make the service smarter, and we’re counting on your feedback to provide vital information on how to defeat spam more effectively.

  • Use it for free. TypePad AntiSpam beta is free for any type of use, personal and commercial, regardless of how many comments you receive.  Plugins are available for Movable Type and WordPress.
  • Help make it better. Whenever you report unwanted comments, the TypePad AntiSpam engine learns from you, so that it can make even smarter and more effective decisions about spam in the future.
  • Get back to blogging. TypePad AntiSpam beta ensures that you see the legitimate comments you want and not the invasive comments you don’t.

It sounds like it’s somewhat similar to Akismet, it’s even 100% Akismet API compatible, and they’re making it available to everyone at no charge. They only offer plugins for MT3, 4 and WordPress at the moment, but they’re looking for folks to develop plugins for other platforms. Because of the compatibility with the Akismet API, though, any platform that has an Akismet plugin should already be able to make use of TypePad Antispam as well. In theory I should be able to sign up and switch the Akismet plugin I’m using now over to TypePad and have it work.

Also interesting is the fact that Six Apart has made the core part of the TypePad Antispam application Open Source and are offering to let other folks use it to run their own antispam services:

Interested in building your own antispam service? We’ve made the application framework behind TypePad AntiSpam available under an open source license (GPL v2, to be exact).

While we aren’t sharing all of the rules and logic that we run with our implementation of the TypePad AntiSpam engine (lest we arm spammers with too much information), we are open sourcing the core engine. This allows others to build and operate their own services—even competitive services—on top of our framework. We encourage developers who make use of the system to share what they learn with others who use the code.

Time will tell if this new service will help much in reducing the amount of comment spam that makes it onto blogs, but any additional weapons in the fight are always a welcome thing. Oh, and as always, they even have a blog to keep you up to date on new develops and plugins for other platforms.

Got an iPhone and a MovableType/TypePad blog? You’re gonna be happy.

The folks at SixApart have released a couple of new plugins, one for TypePad and one for MovableType, that allow you to blog from your iPhone and iPod touch:

Today we are happy to announce Movable Type for the iPhone and iPod Touch, made possible through a plugin developed by Brad Choate that makes use of the design developed by Walt Dickinson for TypePad. The plugin works by installing an alternate template set that is automatically used in place of the primary Movable Type user interface when the application is accessed via an iPhone or iPod Touch. The integration with Movable Type is totally seamless.

Not sure if this is any easier than blogging from any other mobile device, but it does give you one more thing you can use to try and justify the cost of an iPhone.

SEB members can now edit their comments after submission.

ExpressionEngine coder extraordinaire Paul Burdick has answered some long standing feature requests with a nifty new plugin that allows members to edit their comments after they’ve already submitted them. This plugin is called, oddly enough, Edit Comments and it does its magic using AJAX to keep things simple.

I’ve already added it to the templates here with a time limit of 60 minutes to make your changes in. This is to allow you to correct your “oh shit” mistakes that you noticed after hitting the submit button, but I don’t want comments to be editable forever. Right now the comment box it puts up is kinda small for my tastes so I’ll look into seeing if I can enlarge it, but it seems to work so try it out and let me know what you think.