Web 0.1 head-to-head: 37Signals' Backpackit vs. Gmail in Lynx

Last night, I decided to not-so-carefully run a couple of Web 2.0 apps through the old-school Web 0.1 Lynx browser to see which would work best, or work at all. It occurred to me that in the Web 2.0 world, Lynx might be thrown onto the trash heap of history, made useless by whiz-bang AJAX development. That would be a shame (though the life of Lynx could very well be extended by folks using the lynx -source [URL] command to dump the source from cool AJAX apps)

All this aside, I really just wanted to see what would happen when a Web 2.0 AJAX app got run through the Lynx HTML meat grinder — kind of the same impulse that led me to put various things in the microwave in my youth. For this test, I chose Gmail and 37Signals’ Backpackit.

For these tests, I used this version of Lynx:

Lynx Version 2.8.5rel.1 (04 Feb 2004)
libwww-FM 2.14, SSL-MM 1.4.1, GNUTLS 1.0.16

Let the games begin! First, the Gmail login screen was a bit of a mess under Lynx (username label off to the right, login on the second screen), but ultimately useable.

After login, I jumped through a series of redirects before ending up on this page:

And the experience ended there — no more redirects, just that raw screen. Game over, Google. Yes, I could cut and paste the long URL from the screen into a browser, but then I wouldn’t be testing Lynx any more, would I? Gmail is definitely NOT Lynx-certified. Stay away, Lynx fans.

Next, 37Signals’ Backpackit. The login screen in Lynx is very nice and simple with elegant alignment, all on one page so I didn’t have to resort to the dreaded space bar to advance to the next page:

I navigated a bit and decided to add a note using Lynx.

It worked, as you can see when I checked in Firefox:

The winner by a landslide: 37Signals’ Backpackit. Nice job. Through adequate support of Lynx, Jason and team are clearly practicing the “less is more” that they preach.

Update: In my cheekiness about Lynx, I didn’t think about one aspect that Eugene Chan has pointed out in the comments: “As Lynx goes so does screenreaders for the blind. So it does mean that web designers who are not thinking about web 0.1 may leave an important segment of users behind.” Very good point.

After the ping: how long it takes for blog search engines to find you

I’m launching a new blog with a specific focus very soon (more on that in a day or two). Since you only launch a new blog once, I decided to check my logs to see how long it took for various blog-specific search engines to find me after a ping to Ping-o-matic (and there’s no reason why I pinged ping-o-matic instead of another ping server other than it was set up as a default in WordPress).

Here’s the chronology, for what it’s worth:

23:54:56: pinged Ping-o-matic
23:55:26: A2B Location-Based Search Engine (+http://www.a2b.cc/search-url.a2b?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.my-new-blog.com")
23:55:28: BlogSearch/1.0 +IceRocket
23:56:42: Technoratibot/0.7 (from Technorati, of course)

. . . and bringing up the rear after I called it a night:
00:10:27: Feedster Crawler/1.0; Feedster, Inc.

Bonus link: Jon Udell takes a deeper look at future of ping notification infrastructure. Jon starts out by quoting a post on the subject from Cameron Marlow, who recently joined us at at Yahoo! much to everyone’s delight.

Update: (for those of you who don’t read the comments) Scott Johnson of Feedster posted in the comments to note that they were working through a large backlog when I was checking. To be honest, a roughly 15-minute delay after midnight is within the realm of acceptability to me anyway, regardless of the cause. In any case, Feedster wins the award for having the most responsive humans in this case.

Warning Bloglines subscribers: some feed changes

Now that I’ve written about the wrong way to work with your feeds if you use FeedBurner and have Bloglines subscribers, I decided to make another go at doing it right today.

First, this only affects about 25 subscribers — those who are subscribed to my “orphan” (i.e. non-FeedBurner) feeds in Bloglines. The majority of my Bloglines subscribers are subscribed to the “right” feed (the FeedBurner one). Later on tonight, after I’ve confirmed that Bloglines has pulled this post into those orphan feeds, I’m going to do a permanent 301 redirect over to FeedBurner. According to Mark Fletcher’s post in the comments at Russell Beattie’s blog, “301 redirects should automatically redirect/remove feeds in the system.” Here’s hoping none of you get hit by the “remove” side of the equation.

Looking at my logs, these are the URLs that are being requested that will soon have permanent 301 redirects to my FeedBurner feed (for the novices out there, here’s a document with the http status codes for your reading enjoyment):

Or, you can just ignore all that needlessly technical stuff and subscribe to the proper feed in Bloglines by clicking on the button below. If everything works as it should, you won’t even have to do that.

I’ll report back in a few days on how well the 301 redirects handled things.

Update, 7:48pm PT: The Bloglines bot visited one last time, and now the 301 redirects have been put in place.

Hard lessons learned with Feedburner and Bloglines

For about a week, updates to the blog using my Feedburner feed were not available for reasons I feel compelled to explain in full, if only so similarly afflicted users don’t make the same dumb mistakes I did. In a nutshell, I unwittingly blew away my Bloglines readership for about a week through sloppy feed management. Hopefully this will keep someone from learning the same lessons I just did.

First, despite the basically self-inflicted problems I’m about to describe, I really like both Feedburner and Bloglines. I tested out Feedburner at InfoWorld and was impressed. I’ve been using Bloglines for a long time and despite occasional inopportune appearances by the plumber, I’m satisfied. I’ve met key folks at both companies and they’re nice people.

With that said, it’s time to describe how I screwed up my feed.

Mistake #1: I did a vanilla install of WordPress, set up my Feedburner feed, then installed the WordPress Feedburner plug-in to handle redirection of my feeds to Feedburner. I forgot one thing, though — I didn’t change the autodiscovery links in the header of my blog, so some RSS clients picked up the local feed not served by Feedburner. I went on vacation and by the time I returned and looked at my traffic more closely, I had a chunk of people subscribed to my Feedburner feed, and chunks of people subscribed to the local feeds. Feedburner tells you all the right things to do here. I changed my autodiscovery links to point to Feedburner. I just didn’t do it early enough, and my feed serving fragmented.
Lesson: make sure you have your autodiscovery links correct on Day 1 of your blog.

Mistake #2: I decided to try to force those subscribed to my local feeds over to the Feedburner feed, so I put in a couple of 301 (i.e. permanent!) redirects last Saturday afternoon to do just that — realizing, of course, that this was drastic and I was really putting my eggs in the Feedburner basket. (This particular impulse was probably of the same type that saw me under the house one Saturday swinging a sledgehammer somewhat randomly to remove an old cabinet in my crawlspace, knocking out the electrical service to the back of my house in the process.) I created a fancy mod_rewrite rule to do this (take that R for redirect, and tack a =301 on it, like so: R=301), ran a quick but hardly exhaustive test, and all looked good. I didn’t know that I had created an infinite redirect, forcing my Feedburner feed to return a 500 error (see Mistake #4 on how I should have known about this).
Lesson: test, test, test, and be careful with the 301 redirect sledgehammer, and mod_rewrite in general. I am reminded of Brian Behlendorf’s famous quote in the mod_rewrite documentation: The great thing about mod_rewrite is it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail. The downside to mod_rewrite is that it gives you all the configurability and flexibility of Sendmail.

Mistake #3: I didn’t post anything about this. A post would have served two purposes: 1) to let people know I was fooling with the guts of my feeds, thereby alerting a bunch of kind people that they should let me know if they see anything weird, and 2) I would have noticed that my post never showed up in Bloglines, where I subscribe to my own feed. Instead, I posted about something entirely unrelated on Wednesday, which is when I noticed I had screwed up. By then, Bloglines was reporting that it couldn’t retrieve my feed (which I checked a few times on my feed preview page). I rolled back to my earlier working state and explained my plight using the help form at Bloglines and posted over at the Feedburner Forums for good measure.
Lesson: Post when you’re changing things. (Duh.)

Mistake #4: For every feed, Feedburner offers FeedBulletin, which includes FeedMedic, a service that lets you know when you’ve blown up your feed (via RSS, of course). This is a great service, though it doesn’t seem well-promoted in the least (as Charlie Wood noted in his post about FeedMedic a while back). My suggestion to anyone using Feedburner: Go to My Account right now and subscribe to it.
Lesson: When you’re using a third-party service of any kind, make sure you investigate automated means of error reporting. (Aside to Dreamhost users: you can get Dreamhost problems reported to you automatically via the RSS feed on their status page.)

The folks at Bloglines got back to me this weekend, letting me know that they had reset my feed, so all is well again and my posts are once again flowing to Bloglines. While the Feedburner part was easy to fix (I just fixed my source feed and resynced), I do wish that there was some kind of ping service at Bloglines so you could let them know when your feed has been corrected after you’ve screwed something up. As I’ve proven, those things can happen. . . .