Bitcoin Helper 0.11 – Error handling and caching

Warning iconThis is a quick post to announce the release of Bitcoin Helper 0.11. Bitcoin Helper 0.11 contains significantly better error handler than the initial release (0.1) and also makes the file-based caching of the JSON retrieved from bitcoincharts.com mandatory.

Error Handling

It can now handle internal issues with network communication to the data source and incorrect JSON formatting of retrieved data. Bitcoin Helper 0.11 also checks to ensure the requested ISO 4217 currency code, for conversion to Bitcoin, is supported.

Certain functions in Bitcoin Helper now return a negative integer in the case that an error occurs. Details regarding these error codes can be found in the source code comments of bitcoin_helper.php. The relevant section of commenting is quoted below for convenience.

/* Information about error codes

Certain functions within Bitcoin Helper (0.11 onwards) will return
numeric error codes in the case of unexpected error or failure.

You should make sure to check the returned value for error codes
(intergers less than zero) in your code. The following reference
shows the error numbers and an explanation.

* -1 = Network error retrieving data from bitcoincharts.com
* -2 = Error decoding JSON data retrieved from bitcoincharts.com
* -3 = Currency code not supported
* -4 = Could not write to cache file – check permissions!
*/

File-based Caching

Bitcoin Helper 0.1 would cache the JSON containing currency exchange rates to a file if possible. This caching is now a requirement as of Bitcoin Helper 0.11.

Bitcoin Helper will attempt to write a file named ‘bitcoin_weighted_prices.json’. If this file is not writeable, you will receive error code -4.

If you receive this error, you will need to alter the permissions of the directory to allow this file to be created. Once created, you can revert the directory permissions if you desire and make only the individual ‘bitcoin_weighted_prices.json’ file writeable.

Download Bitcoin Helper 0.11

To download Bitcoin Helper 0.11 with improved error handling, please go to the Bitcoin Helper project page.

How to View Saved Threads on reddit

reddit alien logoI’m a huge fan of reddit, the social bookmarking/community website found here. One of the features you have as a registered user is to save threads.

I feel like a completely moron but I’d never been able to find out where these saved threads were listed until today, when I looked it up. Apparently I am not the only one who has trouble finding it. Many people, including myself, went to my account/profile page on reddit and looked for a ‘saved’ tab of some sorts. It turns out this is not where the saved threads are listed at all.

The link to view saved threads is not stored in your user section, but is shown on the homepage (how did I miss it?) or on the individual subreddit pages. See my screenshot below.

Screenshot of 'saved' link on reddit

I hope this helps a few people like me, who were looking in completely the wrong place for this link. 🙂

All a Twitter about Microblogging and Social Media

Twitter LogoLike my little joke there? I know, hilarious.

Anyway – I’ve been talking quite a lot about Twitter recently and general social media.

I’ve said this before of course, but social media truly is great for both driving direct traffic to your website and for general search engine optimisation. Of course, different services meet different needs.

Take a look at some of the following social media related articles I’ve written recently.

Specifically, microblogging is fantastic for driving traffic to a website. The build up of following around a specific niche almost guarantees a visit from your followers, because they followed you, so they are very likely to be interested in what you have to say.

What have your experiences been using Twitter to drive traffic?

A complete success or slow progress so far? What problems have you faced when using Twitter or building up an online community following?

The Importance of Being Social for Website Promotion and Search Engine Optimisation

The Reddit Alien
The Reddit Alien - a great social bookmarking advantage

Some people think of search engine optimisation as being strictly building links and content, and that was very much the case before the advent of microblogging and social networking. Now being social is very important for search engine optimisation. Using social networking, social bookmarking and other such sites can really help boost your traffic, both via increased rankings and faster indexing in search engines as well as the potential for viral marketing and promotion of your content.

Let’s go over the main points. Using social methods of promotion for your website can help:

  1. To get your site indexed faster – Promoting your site via services such as Reddit, Digg, Twitter, StumbleUpon and blog pinging services can ensure your site is indexed in search engines as fast as possible.
  2. To increase search engine rankings – Although many social bookmarking and similar sites now use ‘nofollow’ rel tags on their links, there are still several services which do not. Reddit, a social news/bookmarking website that I have recently become addicted to, is a perfect example of a social website which does not use the ‘nofollow’ rel tag on any of its links.
  3. To virally promote your content – Social bookmarking and news websites are great for promoting websites and interesting or funny website content in a viral nature. This can have a cascading effect for content this people find really interesting. To virally promote content, always ensure you post links to the relevant categories and in a way that makes the content seem interesting, either be being funny, outstanding or highly controversial.

Overall, social networking and bookmarking websites are a fantastic tool for website and content promotion and for improving your search engine results page rankings. Most importantly, you should promote good quality and interesting content without looking incredibly spammy or promote spam like web content… there is enough of that on the Web already!

Google making a bit of a Buzz on the Internet

Google Buzz screenshot
"Hi! I'm Google Buzz" - Screenshot of the Google Buzz welcoming screen

Like my pun? I know, I know. It is ingenius.

What is Google Buzz?

Google Buzz is a new social networking venture from the almighty search engine. It is designed to integrate well with their webmail service Gmail. Google have dipped their toes in the social networking marketplace before with services like Orkut and Google Friend Connect. Orkut is a big hit in Brazil and India, but is not as large as many of the other social networking websites such as Twitter or Facebook. Google Friend Connect, on the other hand is a system designed for web developers to quickly and easily integrate Google-powered social elements into their websites via iframe’s, Javascript and AJAX.

From the point of large scale social networking, Google Buzz could really be a hit. It has a huge initial base of users, as all of Gmail’s existing consumer user base is automatically given Buzz as of a few days ago. Roll out of Google Buzz to consumers began on the 9th of February 2010 and has now finished being deployed for all standard public Gmail users.

Google Buzz for Google Apps?

You may be wondering if Google Apps users (Business, Schools, Enterprises or Personal) have the opportunity to use Google Buzz? Sadly not, it seems Google Buzz is not available for Google Apps users yet, but Google have promised this will be available within a few months times. The delay is apparently due to the additional complexities involved with restricted Buzz to an individual business or enterprise environment.

What about the Privacy Concerns?

There have been quite a few people heavily concerned about the privacy aspects of Google’s new social networking system. This focuses primarily across Google’s decision to make information about people users regularly contact public by default. This is done to ensure when you activate Google Buzz, you are immediately following your friends and family and they are following you. However, the people you are following is shared public. Twitter has been doing this since the start, allowing anyone to see who is following who. However, Google stores a lot more information about its users by default.

A lot of people are having doubts initially and there has been plenty of bad initial press related to the privacy of service. This is almost always the case and to be expected with all new social networking systems put online. However there are a few genuine horror stories, such as a story in which Google Buzz auto-followed a woman’s abusive ex. Is this a bad move by Google? What do you think?

vBulletin Fake User Plugin – Good or bad?

This article is pulled from a previous site of mine, and relates to the starting of a forum board and the negative cycle of not having enough users registered to entice new users to join. It primarily focuses around the idea of using a vBulletin plugin to artificially inflate the number of online users in a vBulletin powered forum board.

When starting a new forum board based on the vBulletin forum (or in fact an forum software), one of the most common problem is making the board popular and getting users to register. The problem most people face is that users will not register on a forum board that looks completely empty! I mean, who would?

So, how can you do this? People will not register if a board is empty – that much is obvious. I’ve recently had to artificially inflate the user count and online users for a vBulletin forum, by request of the forum board owner. Luckily, I found an excellent plugin which does just this. Not only does it increase the counts for online members and guests, but it also lists real usernames.

It is implemented by grabbing the existing member names from the database and appending them to user list at the bottom of the forum home. This plugin is very ingenius and pretty believable – good if you are starting up a new vBulletin powered forum board.

If you wish, you can read more about and download the vBulletin Fake User plugin. Note that you will need a vBulletin.org account and a valid vBulletin license to download this plugin.

Retrospectively, I do not believe this is necessarily the best manner in which to entice new users to any form of community for it provides little motivation to join beyond the active community. If the ‘active community’ (which in this case, would not exist) produces no content worthy of the potential member’s time, why would they feel the need to register or sign up?

I have and still do run a few online communities, including vBulletin forum boards. During this time, I have found new and interesting content to the specific niche (if one exists) is the key for all forms of online social activity and indeed, for drawing in new users. If the content is interesting enough, people will come either in surges for time sensitive content or as a new member registration trickle effect over time.

A Social Media Overview – How are you feeling?

How are you feeling?How are you feeling? View the day’s global mood swings with this fun, social media, Twitter-powered tool. Click here to choose a feeling and begin.

‘How are you feeling?’ is a quick social overview of the feelings that are appearing in the microblogging community. It pulls down hourly updates of today’s microblogs (or ‘Tweets’) based on specific emotional keywords, and presents these microblogs in an appealing and ever so slightly artistic manner.

Clicking an individual microblog will take you directly to the specific Tweet and allow you to see the otherwise hidden author of that Tweet. Take a look at some of the screenshots below and then try out ‘How are you feeling?’ for yourself.

How are you feeling? List of moods

How are you feeling? Specific mood - relaxed people

‘How are you feeling?’ is a social media tool/toy/experiment and dynamic web application, created by myself ever so quickly one lunchtime, using PHP running under the Apache web-server. I hope you enjoy playing with it.

New Indicator Applet & Messaging Menu for Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx

I previously discussed some of the new social networking aspects coming in Ubuntu 10.04. These mainly focus on the brand new Me Menu which is a personalised menu that holds and controls all your social networking and assists with broadcasting to microblogging services. Some related changes are the new changes to the indicator applet and attached messaging menu.

Currently, in the Ubuntu 9.10 (the latest stable version of Ubuntu), the indicator applet and messaging menu looks like the following screenshot taken from my computer.

Current Ubuntu Indicator Applet 0.1 and Messaging Menu

Looks relatively bland. It essentially list the current communication or social programs for instant messaging, microblogging, e-mailing and general social networking. It also list any recent communications, stating the user name of the contact you’ve spoken to recently (not shown in above screenshot). Many new improvements are planned for the next iteration of the messaging menu and indicator applet (currently at version 0.3). The following design mock up of the messaging menu emphasises the most important and visible changes for the end-user.

New Ubuntu Messaging Menu

As you can see, there is a lot more content in the new messaging menu. One of the important points is the ability to access certain programs actions directly. So, for example, if I wanted to send an e-mail to someone, I could just click the messaging menu and hit ‘Compose New Message’ which would very easily let me start writing and e-mail without the need to find my e-mail application, start it and locate the ‘compose new message’ button, which can easily vary in location and appearance between applications. By adding this action to the messaging menu, this has the effect of not only making the option easier to find, but also – potentially more importantly – it abstracts away the specifics of the application itself and draws the focus towards the user, their desire and their content.

In my opinion, application abstraction is very important. Most users do not wish to ‘use Evolution’ or ‘use Thunderbird’, they want to ‘check their e-mail’ or ‘compose a new e-mail’. Allowing them to do this regarding of the e-mail client they use reduces the learning curve significantly. The same principle applies to many other applications, including those outside of communications, such as productivity applications. Users tend to want to ‘create a new document’, ‘draw a picture’, and ‘check a budgeting spreadsheet’ rather than ‘open OpenOffice Write and create a blank OpenDocument Text file’, ‘open image editing software and create a new blank image’ and ‘open spreadsheet application and locate/open relevant file’. Even saying the specific non-abstracted alternatives takes a long time, but essentially the users content should be priority over the application itself in the vast majority of cases. One says that work is on a spreadsheet, an image or a document and not an Excel, GIMP or Writer file.

The new messaging menu brings on this concept of application abstraction with the instant messaging system. You can see in the second and third sections of the menu, instant messaging contacts and recent microblogging activity (mocked up as messages from ‘sabdfl’) are shown as independent of the application which controls them. In this case, it would be likely be Empathy (for instant messaging) and Gwibber (for microblogging) that controlled these sections, but note the application name itself in not even mentioned, as it is not relevant to the actual social actions, which again demonstrates abstraction away from the specific applications and a focus on user content.

The final two sections indicate e-mail notification from GMail and IRC conversations with XChat. In these cases, definitely so with the GMail e-mail notifications, it is relevant to display the application name as this is an important part of the relevant content itself (the e-mail account).

Hope this quite summary gives you a good idea of what changes are coming to the messaging menu and its attached indicator applet in Ubuntu 10.04. More information is available about the new messaging menu at its design specification while these is additional information about the new indicator applet available on the applet’s Lauchpad pages.

What are your opinions on the new messaging menu? Will it affect your social use of Ubuntu? Will it affect your work flow? If so, how?

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx’s Social Networking Features

Social media and social networking are huge now-a-days, with Twitter, Facebook and the like being hugely successful at keeping friends and family in touch. Now only that, but social networks are huge for charities, with many causes being supported and heavily promoted via social networking. Corporations and business use social networking too to promote their products and services to users in a manner which is so relevant that they tend not to annoy as is generally the case with more corporate advertising.

With the currently in development, Ubuntu 10.04, codenamed Lucid Lynx, the development road map is set to take huge advantage of the major social networks. Common social networking actions, such as updating your Facebook status, or sending a Tweet to your friends are set to be integrated directly into the operating system allowing users to keep their friends up-to-date and share information without the need to even open a web browser.

Take a look at the image below. This is a basic mock-up of the new social menu codenamed the ‘Me Menu’, which is aimed to become to a simple, centralised way to manage your social activities. It has options for a user avatar, multiple social networks, instant messaging and microblogging services and the setting and broadcast of custom and preset statuses and microblogs.

Ubuntu Me Menu Mockup

This clever menu will link into other social applications, like your instance messaging application. In others words, you set your status in the me menu, and the update is reflected automatically in all your social networks and configured social applications. Related to this, in the diagram above, ‘Chat Accounts…’ will refer to all forms of instant messaging and direct communications, while ‘Broadcast Accounts’ will refer to social networks which allow you to share a status update such as Twitter, Facebook and identi.ca.

The Ubuntu One service will also be integrated into the Me Menu and Ubuntu’s new social infrastructure. This will allow social network information to be synchronised and related to your Ubuntu One login, along with the existing file synchronisation, contact management and note synchronisation services already offered by Ubuntu One.

The Me Menu will be the overall representation of ‘you’ within Ubuntu. If you want more information regarding the Me Menu, which is to become the central social network integrations of Ubuntu, you can take a look at the design specification.

Twitter – Micro-blogging and the recent boost to Twitter traffic

Twitter is a a micro-blogging website. Micro-blogging, as described by Wikipedia is a form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates or micro-media such as photos or audio clips and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio or the web. What this actually means as a user experience is probably best explained by the video used an introduction to the Twitter service, ‘Twitter in Plain English’, which I have included below.

Twitter is closed, proprietary system. Of course, this does not matter to most of its users as it works fine as a fully integrated system. However, due to my advocacy of open-source software, I discovered and signed up to identi.ca, a very similar micro-blogging service to Twitter, but based upon the open-source micro-blogging solution laconi.ca. For several months now, I have actively been ‘tweeting’ on Twitter, and ‘Denting’ on identi.ca. You can follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my updates on identi.ca if you so wish. I frequently micro-blog my opinions on events and often use micro-blogging as a promotional tool for this blog and other websites I’m interested in.

From speaking with many existing users of micro-blogging services, and those who have never used such a service before, it has become very apparent to me that there are two huge extremes of opinion regarding micro-blogging. What do you think about micro-blogging and the recent influx of users coming to services such as Twitter? Do you see it is a valuable addition to regular blogs or as something completely different? Alternatively, does keeping people up to date with daily events via micro-blogging services seem pointless and utterly futile?