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The TiddlyWiki Report, Part II: Clint Checketts

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Second offering: an interview with Clint Checketts, an Information Systems major at BYU-Idaho, who walked me through some of the history and some of the basics:

Jeremy: i’m intrigued by tiddlywikis and wanted to recommend them to readers, but i realise there’s stuff i don’t quite understand, and i just worry i’m recommending something that’s maybe too fiddly for the casual user…
Clint: I would vouch for TiddlyWikis.
Jeremy: are there any in particular your favourite? i love the tag ones, tagglywiki and tiddlytagwiki, cos i love the idea of using tags in that way…
Clint: Its been maturing quickly, though the growth has always been conservative and rarely causes any breaks between upgrades.
Jeremy: they seem to burst out in april or may, as far as i can gather… but i can’t find an easy how to guide for these.
Clint: Actually, to get you caught up on a short bit of TiddlyHistory they burst out with the introduction of GTD tiddlywiki. THe Getting Things Done version
Clint: Thats how I was introduced.
Jeremy: ah right. that was beautifully done one.
Clint: In June, Jeremy came out with an update that allows for macros.  These macros are great because now the different adaptations like TiddlyTagWiki and TagglyWiki can be re-merged back into the main one.  So now, there is primarily THE TiddlyWiki.
Clint: Now Jeremy also added in the ability to add in a stylesheet in a tiddler.  (You know what a tiddler is right?)
Jeremy: yes…
Jeremy: so when you say merged, it means the extra features of those offshoots can be available in the tiddlywiki?
Clint: Okay, so with the macros it was simple (mostly) to bring the adaptations back into the mainstream tiddlywiki and with the stylesheet tiddlers now you can bring in other skins that look completely different.
Clint: Yes
Clint: Simon Baird merged the tagglywiki stuff back in. [He] created this plug-in
Clint: My contributions have been in the form of the styles.
Jeremy: how easy is it to do the macros and stylesheet things?
Clint: Do you mean create macros or use macros?
Jeremy: use…
Clint: Piece of cake to use.  Let’s take AlanH’s smiley macro for example. You can just cut and paste the insertSmiley code. Some developers are working on ways to simplify importing macros as we speak. After copying the tiddler you just mark it as ‘systemConfig’ then reload the page
Jeremy: ah cool. so how would i load a stylesheet?
Clint: Go to TiddlySinister (my latest creation). Open up the StyleSheet tiddler and copy the content then create your own tiddler called StyleSheet and paste it.  The new style will be applied as soon as you hit ‘Done’.
Clint: The macros are the new key.  Its great because you can pick and choose the functions that you like and incorporate those.
Jeremy: this is fascinating… you got time to show me a few more macros?
Clint: Sure.
Clint: My one and only macro (so far) turns TiddlyWiki into a blogging type system. It places your newest posts on the front page, simplifying your posting.  Thats all. Not anything super great (yet).

Clint: Other great macro (just released yesterday) is the WebView macro by AlanH it allows you to edit you TiddlyWiki on you own computer and upload it.  It can detect when you are viewing it over a web connection and it hides the wiki-features.  This is great for creating atotally self contained web page.
Clint: Using style sheets people don’t even realize that they are viewing a TiddlyWiki.
Jeremy: that does sound neat. does your macro allow one to edit a blog?
Clint: In a way.  The starting view of a blog is usually a chronological view of posts.  My macro just looks at the dates of the last edits and posts them on the default view automatically.
Jeremy: neat…
Clint: Usually you would have to select the tiddlers you want to display manually in the DefaultTiddlers tiddler
Jeremy: yes…

Jeremy: where do you see this kind of thing going?
Jeremy: do you see it becoming more mainstream? or do you think tiddlywikis have limited appeal?
Clint: I doubt it would become as mainstream as the term ‘blog’.  It is only a tool. Just like you don’t usually here people bragging up their new hammer.
Jeremy: true!
Clint: However, on the scale of tools, I can see it getting a WordPress level of attention
Clint: It could even surpass that as Ajax has really brought the JavaScripting back into attention
Jeremy: is there a really simple way that people can publish a TW? i see obstacles there…
Clint: True.  Its is important to note that TiddlyWikis are local files.  It publish via ftp. I edit it and upload.  Not the slickest.
Clint: However.  Take alook at ZiddlyWiki. This is a version that uses Zope for the backend and alllows simple downloading of the entire ‘web-site’ as a tiddlywiki
Jeremy: ok, i’ll check that out…
Jeremy: thanks for all this Clint, you’ve helped a lot…

The Punitive Pop-up

Following a posting here a few months back, here’s another one of those services that promise to bypass pop-up blockers to deliver pop-ups.

The company’s called Falk eSolutions AG, it’s based in the German town of Moers and says it’s “a leading and global provider of sophisticated ASP-solutions for online marketing” (I’m still waiting for a company that doesn’t describe itself as ‘leading’ and says something more modest, such as ‘middling’ or ‘somewhat to the back of the pack and wheezing a bit from the effort’.)

Its new technology, part of a new release of its AdSolution FX product, will “instantly convert pop-up and pop-under inventory to alternate formats for optimal delivery to those users.” It amuses me how these companies struggle to get round the awkward fact that they are designing technology that involves delivering something to a user who has actively tried not to receive it. Falk, to its credit, doesn’t soft-peddle it: “This dynamic serving technology.. is an option that will allow serving of standard pop-up or similar alternative rich media creative to all users, regardless of the use of pop-up blocking…”

Of course, not everyone blocking a pop-up knows they’re blocking it. Google, Yahoo and other major toolbars block pop-ups by default, and this is clearly hurting the marketing world, since pop-ups have a higher success rate than ordinary ads. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that the technology is specifically designed to circumvent something that a user has put in place, either by design or by installing something that has as one of its main features pop-up blocking. More discussion on this at Slashdot.

An eWeek story by Matt Hicks says the technology “will automatically replace a pop-up or pop-under ad with what are called “floating” ads, or ads that appear as transparent images over Web-site content”. These ads may be the same or different to the pop-up ads that are blocked (this seems to be part of the ‘Punitive Pop-up Approach’, used by folk like the FPBA Group’s Popstitial, where a user trying to block pop-ups is blasted with bigger, different or more ads).

Still, perhaps the most interesting point about all this is the economics. How does a company know whether the pop-up ads it is paying for are actually getting to the customer? As Falk says: “Currently, there is a large and growing discrepancy between the volume of pop-up advertising impressions booked by advertisers and that which is actually seen by online users.” I’m not quite clear on where exactly the problem is — are companies paying for ads getting overcharged because their pop-up ads are not popping up, or are they getting undercharged because the pop-up blockers confuse the ad-tracking pings?

Whatever, Falk reckon that publisher customers are “losing up to 50% of pop-up/under ad impression inventory, causing substantial accountability problems for publishers, who charge by ad display.” Falk seem to be suggesting that with their software this won’t be a problem because pop-up blockers won’t work: “With AdSolution FX these counting differences, in large part due to pop-up ad blockers, will return to a normal and calculable amount similar to usage on computers with no pop-up blocker running.” In other words: With us, your ads will get through.

Part of the silliness of all this, I think, is that publishers realise that pop-up blockers are not popular, yet they still insist on using them. Falk points out that “over the last year, many sites have established consumer-friendly frequency guidelines to limit the number of pop-up/under impressions per user, yet blocker use continues to grow.” That would tell me that people really don’t like pop-ups, but that’s not the conclusion that Falk reaches: “The proliferation of pop-up blocking software has made it harder for web publishers and marketers to do business and monetize the content that users desire,” the press release quotes Joe Apprendi, CEO of Falk North America, as saying.

“As a technology provider, it is our objective to deliver the tools to support the policies and ROI objectives of our customers, both publishers and marketers,” he says. “This customizable feature gives our customers the flexibility they require to best manage their advertising with their audience preferences in mind.” I would have to say I get the strong impression that audience preferences are for no pop-ups. Find another way, guys. If Google’s AdSense has taught us only one thing, it’s that sometimes unobtrusive is best.

Oh, and Falk’s website is a nightmare hotchpotch of badly designed graphics and, yes, meaningless pop-up windows, that are weirdly formatted and hard to read (bad luck if your default setting for links is to have them in blue). If that’s not enough to put you off pop-ups, I don’t know what is.