John T. Unger

Twitter Favorites Sent in by Readers

John T. Unger April 2, 2008

I'm just amazed at how popular my recent post about Twitter was… and even though I'm not planning to change the name of the blog from TypePad Hacks to Twitter hacks, I'm going to do a couple follow-up posts this week to cover some of the great new stuff I discovered.

First up, here's a list of all the Titter apps, mashups, and services suggested by readers in the comments.

  • Lisa Rokusek and Veetrag nominate: twitxr, a utility you can use to geotag photos and post them to Twitter, Flickr and Facebook profiles and has cool location guessing features.
  • Aaron nominates: his own perl plugin for Pidgin which syncs your Pidgin status to your last tweet.
  • Stephen nominates: Twitter Karma, a Flash application that fetches your friends and followers from Twitter when you click the "Whack!" button, then displays them for you, letting you quickly paginate through them.
  • slysir nominates: TwitKit, a Twitter Client that runs in the Firefox sidebar.
  • Ryan nominates: TwitterCard, a 125 x125 pixel business card widget for Twitter.
  • John nominates: The Awesome Highlighter, A URL shortener which also lets you highlight text and pass it to the web or Twitter.
  • Binny V A nominates: a Command line twitter client for Linux.
  • SnapTweet, a tool for posting your latest Flickr photo to your Twitter stream. Great for the iPhone when you want to take a picture of something and tweet about it.
  • Screenpunk nominates: Twitbin, a firefox extension that lets you send and receive messages in your firefox sidebar.
  • Deanna Stall nominates: OutTwit a Twitter plugin for MS Outlook.
  • Kirti nominates: lincr, a URL shortener. You can copy-paste the URL into the box or use the bookmarklet to shorten the URL and the shortened URL automatically gets copied to the clipboard and is ready to be shared. See also, LinkBunch, which lets you put multiple links into one shortened link.
  • mcpaige nominates:, a Twitter mashup where people can follow dating tweets or send tweets while on a date or out to a party.

Don't see your favorite? Add in the comments below and I'll move it to the list.


John T. Unger

Twitter Tools, Tweaks and Theories

John T. Unger March 27, 2008

Hugh_twitter_bird I have to preface this post with a confession: The first time I heard about blogging, my response was "That's the dumbest @$%#&%$ thing I've ever heard of. Why the hell would I want to do that?"

I said the exact same thing about Twitter when I first heard about it. The exact same words.

Of course, both times I was totally wrong… blogging and Twitter have become the two most important tools I use to make a living, socialize, and get things done.

I bring this up at the beginning because I know there's a lot of people who still respond to Twitter in the way I first did and I want to put it the proper context. I signed up at SXSWi 2007 during the first big Twitter boom… mostly as a way to track people (TwitterStalking). Once I got back home, my Twitter use dropped off pretty quickly and the account gathered dust. But as I started getting excited about SXSW 2008, I logged back in and began adding new people, writing more tweets and exploring what had become of this cute little service in the last year. Wow… it's rapidly become, I think, my favorite app on the web.

The thing about Twitter that makes it really powerful is it's simplicity… although it's often explained as a way of constantly updating people with what you're doing right this minute (having breakfast, yelling at the dog, stuck in traffic — yes, that's boring) it can be repurposed into so many other contexts. I never would have guessed how many things you could do with 140 characters. Twitter is especially useful when combined with other tools that have been built using their API.

This post covers two separate topics: some of my favorite ways I've seen Twitter used and then reviews of 26 powerful tools you can use to make Twitter do all kinds of groovy things. For those of you who just want to skip ahead to the reviews, use the convenient links below. The category links take you to the reviews in the post below and the links for tools take you straight to their website.

Twitter Clients: Twitter, Pocket Tweets, Twitterific, Twhirl
Twitter Search: Tweet Scan, Quotably, TwitterBuzz
URL Shortening: TinyURL, urlTea, Tweetburner
Twitter and RSS: Twitterfeed, LoudTwitter, TwitThis Feedflare
Twitter Badges: Twitter, Korelab Twitter Balloon, Morgan Aldridge
Twitter and Media Files: Jott, Tweetr, TwitPic, Twittergram, Power Twitter by 30 Boxes, Twiddeo
Twitter Stats: TweetStats, Twitter Quotient
Twitter Social Tools: Twitter Friend Adder, Twitter Pack:
Twitter Theories: strategies for getting the most out of Twitter.

If you find this post to be a useful resource, I'd like to ask you to use the social bookmarking buttons at the end of the post to submit it to Digg,, etc. Thanks! Now, on with the post.

Some of my favorite uses for Twitter:

  1. TwitterStalking: Still number one is knowing where people are and whether they're busy… some of my friends are hard to reach due to insane schedules. Twitter helps me figure out when I can call or email without interrupting their day.
  2. Microblogging: You don't see a lot of short posts at TypePad Hacks… I prefer to write longer think pieces or tutorials here. Which have been damn hard to fit into the schedule of late. Twitter to the rescue! The Twitter format is a different process with a different feel… so writing quick updates that are on-topic for the blog at @typepadhacks may help me send more good info your way. It's working for me in connection with other blogs I have. As much as I realize that short posts would work fine here on the blog I don't write them because I'm not wired to think of the blog that way.
  3. Note to Self: Twitter has become the quickest and easiest way to keep track of stray thoughts I want to hold on to.
  4. Breaking news: I'm finding it more difficult to stay on top of my RSS feeds these days. But a lot of the people I follow in Twitter drop links to the most interesting stories of the day. Also, some of the blogs that generate way to much content to allow into my RSS can be found on Twitter, allowing me to easily scan the headlines and choose whether to follow links (@BoingBoing for example).
  5. Communication: I've never liked IM or SMS and I don't think I ever will. But the @reply and DM (direct message) features in Twitter work really well for me. Because I've got a Twitter client open all day, I can send quick messages to most of my contacts without feeling as interrupted or getting dragged into a long back and forth over IM. A direct message on Twitter is WAY more likely to get my immediate attention than email or phone right now… especially because by nature, it's required to be short and to the point.
  6. Link Sharing: There are a million tools for sharing links on the web, and I've tried lot's of them. I set up a account specifically for this blog years ago but never found a good way to import the bookmarks into the blog (lots of ways that I didn't like). I've set up a TypePad Hacks Twitter page that I see being much more useful for sharing quick links and tips.
  7. GTD (Getting Things Done): Twitter can be used in all kinds of ways to help you organize (ratherthan disrupt) work flow. From to-do lists, to tracking how long you work on client projects, to saving notes or concepts or links. This also plays into my last point in this list:
  8. Advice, Support, Polling, Questions: More and more, I see people using Twitter as a way to fire off a quick question and get answers back from people in their network. This is way more useful than I would have expected at first. Everything from tech support, research questions, vetting new ideas, where to eat in a new town and so on. When I want a quick answer, sending out a twitter question is a great way to get one.

My favorite Twitter story right now is an example of number 8 that happened on the way to SXSW: I was driving to Austin and saw a tweet from Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) saying:

Anyone driving to Austin from Dallas tonight? Stranded at DFW with 2 friends,. Hotel and car rental situation not looking good here :(

I was still north of Memphis, but tweeted back that I'd be happy to give him and friends a ride if he hadn't found one by the time I got to Dallas. Five minutes later, I got a call from Brian Clark (@copyblogger) who called to tell me that the road conditions in Dallas were totally impassable and not to go to the airport under any circumstances. As it turned out, Hugh found a ride and I ended up getting a room for the night before I reached Dallas anyway.

But the interesting thing to me about the whole exchange was that it wouldn't have happened via any of the other communication tools I use… with email, chat or phone I wouldn't have known Hugh's situation unless he specifically reached out to me. Likewise, Brian wouldn't have seen my reply and called to warn me about the several hundred cars that had gone off the road in Dallas. Twitter becomes almost like a sixth sense in these situations, with extremely targeted, relevant information finding you when you need it… without having to even know that you should be searching for it (I was aware that there was snow in Dallas, and I guess I'd have expected that Texans don't drive well in snow, but I had no idea that most of the roads were blocked that night).

My favorite Twitter Apps:

There are tons of apps, hacks, mashups and tools built on Twitter's API. The Twitter Fan Wikihas a good collection of links. For the most part, the apps I really use and love have been found either in links from other Twitter users I follow or by searching for a particular function I want. Without some of these third party additions to the service, I doubt Twitter would ever have become as useful or compelling for me as it has.

Twitter Clients:

Twitter: You can post from the web at or set up posting from your phone via SMS or post via IM. Although I do sometimes log in on the web and post directly from Twitter's website, I find that posting (and reading) from a desktop app or my IPhone are much easier to integrate into my day.

Pocket Tweets: Definitely the best way to post to twitter from an IPhone… Not as good as Twitter's new mobile site for reading tweets however. I use Pocket Tweets quite a bit when I'm not at the desk.

Twitterific. Twitterific is still my favorite way to read tweets even though it isn't nearly as robust as Twhirl. I like the way it looks, I like how simple it is and I like the ease with which it allow direct messaging and replies (because it accepts keyboard commands for those). Now that I'm using multiple Twitter accounts for different blogs, though, I may really have to consider just using Twhirl so that I don't ping the Twitter servers too often.

Twhirl: Twhirl does a lot of things really nicely… The most important in my experience being that you can be logged in to multiple twitter accounts at once. I have separate Twitter accounts for John T Unger, TypePad Hacks and Emoodicon and this allows me to focus on different audiences without having to log in and out of Twitter.Other nice features include: runs on both Windows and Mac OSX, shortens long URLs, integration with TwitPic and TweetScan, crossposts to Pownce and Jaiku, plus way, way more. The only real drawback is that it can be a little difficult to figure out how to change settings at first… it would be nice if the preferences were available from the menu rather than having to click the Twhirl logo in the upper left corner (yeah, *not* intuitive that).

Twitter Search:

Tweet Scan is a Twitter search engine. Search public Twitter posts in real-time from the page or add Tweet Scan to Firefox's search box for instant access. Find replies, track keywords, and sign up for daily/weekly email alerts.

Quotably allows you to enter a Twitter user name to follow the comment threads of discussions that happen in Twitter. It can be kind of hard to follow conversations in Twitter itself, so pulling an entire conversation from multiple accounts on to one page is pretty useful.

TwitterBuzz shows you what people are linking to in Twitter. It's updated constantly. The default view shows the most popular links over the last day.

URL Shortening:

With only 140 characters to work with, a long URL doesn't leave you much room to describe what you're linking to. In fact, some URLs wouldn't even fit in a 140 character message.

TinyURL has been around forever. It's a good solid service that does one thing well: make URLs short. You can use it by pasting a link into their web page or by installing the TinyURL bookmarklet.

urlTea  adds the ability for users to describe a URL however they want (following a ? at the end of the shortened URL), as part of the actual URL text. You can add as much description as you want but if the URL gets clipped by Twitter, the link still functions properly, as long as everything before the question mark was intact.

Tweetburner shortens URLS and tracks what actually happens with them once they're posted. You can see how often a link has been clicked in tweets shared with you, by you, by your friends and every other twitterer. Kind of a cool way to see who's paying attention, but more importantly, it gives you a clear picture of what people are most interested in at this moment in time.

Twitter and RSS

Twitterfeed imports your blog entries into your Twitter account. You can specify how often it should check your feed, how often it should post to Twitter and how you would like to format the links.

LoudTwitter imports your Twitter entries into your blog.

TwitThis Feedflare If you use FeedBurner, add this feedflare to display in your blog or feed. It allows readers to post a link to your blog posts to their Twitter stream with a simple click.

Twitter Badges

There are lots and lots of place to get Twitter Badges for your sidebar… I like the following three.

Twitter: Twitter makes it just a little hard to find their badge/widget creation page (the link is at the bottom of your Twitter home page… I'd have put it in the settings menu. They provide both Flash and HTML widgets and if you're using basic templates, you can easily add them to TypePad with just a few clicks. You can style the colors of your badge to match your site and there are some options for how many tweets to display as well as whether to show only your tweets or also include the people you're following.

Korelab Twitter Balloon: This one has the potential for good or evil in my opinion… I love it. I used it to create the speaking mime in the sidebar at which totally cracks me up. It took almost no time to configure the widget the way I wanted it and install it in the sidebar.

Morgan Aldridge has a really pretty (though awfully large) badge that you can download and then install on your blog. Because it's provided as JavaScript and CSS, you can configure it pretty heavily. The widget displays your twitter icon (linked to your twitter page), one or more recent tweets, date-stamps linked to tweet permalinks. I haven't tried this one out, but I do really like the way it looks. Be sure to read the whole page, as it makes mention of some browser errors associated with the widget.

Update: Here's two more and a link to CSS styling info for your badges.

Chris Forbes created the styling for the widget I'm currently using in my sidebar (with the Twitter
logo, background and color scheme). It's a nice, simple, pretty looking widget. Get the code on his blog here.

Jarrod Trainque Has a very cool resizeable CSS-based Twitter Site Badge available for download on his blog. It displays each tweet within it's own speech balloon. His instructions in the download package include a quick installation guide, an example page of HTML and all the files and css you need.

Twitter and Media Files

Jott is one of my new best friends. I LOVE Jott. Sign up for an account and Jott converts your voice into emails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments. I have it on speed dial so that whenever I have an idea, I can quickly send it to my email, contacts, or, you guessed it, Twitter! On the way to SXSW, I spent the first day of the drive actually typing tweets on the IPhone while driving… Then I decided to see if I could make Jott send my voice as a text tweet. No problem. It's built right into the service.

The one thing that you might not like about Jott is that, like an voice > text transcription, it's not always perfect… some messages get a little garbled. On the one hand, that's no big deal because there's a link to the audio file in your tweet, so people can click through to hear what you said if they need to. On the other hand, some of my tweets came out much more fun based on what Jott thought I said. The sentence "C'mon people, nothing to see, no astronaut by the side of the road." became "Funky. Boom. Nothing to see, no astronaut by the side of the road." Personally, I enjoy the second sentence much more. I'm thinking of writing a whole cell phone novel that way to see if it comes out like Naked Lunch.

Tweetr could have gone under Twitter Clients, because it does all that they do… BUT, it does more. Basically, Tweetr is a mashup of Twitter and file sharing. Drag any file onto Tweetr to automatically upload your file; it will provide a short url to send to your friends. Tweetr can also access a webcam if you have one and take pictures to send to Twitter. File size is limited to 10MB (which means this may well become my favored way of sharing files at some point).

TwitPic allows you to upload images to their site and then posts a link to the photo in your Twitter stream. People can leave comments on the photo, which will be sent to their own Twitter page along with a link to the photo. This is a pretty cool way to share photos. You can also send pics from your phone.

Twittergram: Phone in 30-second audio messages to Twitter. Enter your phone number and Twitter username and password. Click Submit. Then call BlogTalkRadio at 646-716-6000 and follow the prompts.

Power Twitter by 30 Boxes is a Firefox extension that embeds the following media types into your tweets:

  • Photo sharing with embedded flickr photos
  • Video sharing with embedded youtube videos
  • Shared tinyurls are unwound so you know where they link to
  • All links are mapped to their web page titles
  • Additional user information is mapped to twitter users thanks to data conduits via 30 Boxes (e.g. flickr accounts, blog posts, links, and tons of other social media!)

In order to view the media, it appears that people also have to have the extension enabled in their browser.

Twiddeo lets you upload video files and send a link to Twitter. I wasn't able to get it to work last night, but it's pretty new and may work better in the near future.

Twitter Stats:

TweetStats: Enter a Twitter user name and TweetStats will create graphs showing you cool usage stats, such as how often you tweet since your account began, when you tweet the most, who has sent you the most direct messages, etc. My personal Twitter TweetStats are here.

Twitter Quotient: This page presents your Twitter stats in a fun, somewhat snarky way by comparing the numbers to arrive at the following usage measurments:
Babble index (number of updates for every follower),
Popularity index (number of followers for every friend),
Usefulness index (number of useful updates based on number of friends)

Twitter Social Tools:

Twitter Friend Adder: If you want to be read by people who don't know you, the best way to get their attention is to follow them. Enter your Twitter login details at Twitter Friend Adder and they add 20 random friends to your account. OK, so why would you want to do that? If you were using Twitter as more of a broadcast medium than as a two-way conversation. Think marketing. My advice though would be that it can be easy to upset people with this tool, so if you're going to use it to send messages out you should be prepared to A) respond to all replies and DMs and B) provide content that is actually likely to be enjoyed or useful.

Twitter Pack: A wiki where Twitter users are grouped by topic of interest, company or geographical area. If you're looking for people to read/follow within a certain area of interest, this could be a really useful tool.

Twitter Theories:

The following posts present a variety of strategies for getting the most out of Twitter. All of them are worthwhile reads, even if you're pretty familiar with using Twitter.

How to Handle Your Twitter Followers from Sarah Dopp at Dopp Juice

More Twitter Tips also from Sarah

The Beauty, Secrets and Utility of Twitter for Business from BL Ochman at

winning practices of top tweeters also from BL.

Three Ways to Maximize Your Twitter Time for Networking, Marketing and Fun From Nathania Johnson at Copyblogger

UPDATE: Steve sent me links via Twitter  to his posts about Twitter. They rock, so I've added them here.

Managing Information Streams: Twitter! from Steve Lawson

Managing Information Streams: General twitter tips also from Steve

John T. Unger

Using Firefox Bookmarklets Within the HTML of a Blog Post

John T. Unger February 28, 2008

I'm currently working on a stealth project… a new eCommerce blog where social media is a big part of the plan… and I had this crazy idea that actually works. It started when I wanted to customize the images for smartlinks from AdaptiveBlue and the AddThis button. (NB: I've been meaning to write posts about both these great services, which I pretty much use on every blog I build now. But I've been having a hard time fitting posts into the schedule lately. So just go try them both out. They rock. And I will at some point do detailed posts about why they rock). Although they have similarities, they both have strong points so I tend to use them both.

So anyway, what AdaptiveBlue does is create a variety of great widgets that automatically index and display related content for the things on a page… people, blogs, books, wine, etc. AddThis supplies a single button that allows people to submit a page to most social bookmarking sites with just a click (they also have a nice subscribe button with multiple RSS options).

What they don't do (either of them) is submit pages to social shopping sites like ThisNext or StyleHive. I'd love to see someone create a button that works like AddThis but submits products to social shopping networks. Which brings us to the cool new hack… a roll your own solution for making it easy for readers to recommend your stuff to social shopping networks.

I use bookmarklets (a browser bookmark that uses javascript to cause an action) to submit items to social shopping sites… almost all of them supply a bookmarklet to make it easy to submit new stuff. You just add the link to the menubar of your browser and it does all the heavy lifting for you. And so I wondered, if I paste the bookmarklet code into a link in an HTML page, will it work? Can I insert an image and turn it into a button that submits the page to a site?

YES! Nice!

This is really kind of sweet because there are bookmarklets that cause all kinds of actions… from  email this page to persistent sticky notes for your browser.

I'm kind surprised I never thought of this before, but I guess it's because these code snips are always presented with the instruction to use them to extend the browser rather than the web page. Funny really.

So here's the syntax: <a href="insert code snip here"><img src="http://imageURL.jpg" border="0"></a>

Pretty simple way to add new functions to your blog, eh?

Go play!

John T. Unger

Guest Post on Everything TypePad

John T. Unger December 13, 2007

I have a guest post today on Everything TypePad about the PayPal Storefront Widget. Mostly, it's based on the review I wrote here but I did add a few new details that occurred to me between the writing on the launch post and the review for ET.

I'm really honored that I was asked to contribute to the official TypePad blog! Thanks to Sarah Sosiak for the invitation (and the very kind intro).

John T. Unger

The Paypal Storefront Widget, The fastest, easiest eCommerce solution for blogs

John T. Unger December 4, 2007

The Paypal Storefront Widget which launched today is pretty darn close to the blog eCommerce solution of my dreams. There's a reason for that… which is that I worked closely with the development team that created it. Back in August, shortly after I had written a post on eCommerce for Blogs I got an exciting email:

Hi John –
I am a product manager at PayPal and Sarah Sosiak of TypePad provided me with your name. She described you as a wealth of information regarding the eCommerce/ blogging space.

I’d love to discuss some ideas with you regarding the eCommerce experience you would expect within a blog. Do you think we could set up a brief meeting next week? Let me know if you would be interested in sharing your insights! Thanks.

Judy Chang

My involvement in the project was advisory, with a bit of testing. I suggested a list of what I felt were the most important features as well as providing some thoughts on user interface from the perspective of both buyers and sellers. What should the store look like? What should it do? How easy does set-up need to be? What could be done with the widget that either hadn't been implemented elsewhere, or had room or improvement, or wasn't available outside of costly full service shopping carts?

The main thing I wanted to see was a store that could be embedded anywhere online which would be easy to set up for people who don't know how to code and like it that way. The PayPal team totally nailed it, I think, and although there are a few more things I'd like to see happen with the widget I'm told that many of these will happen in the next revision which should come out in about a month. The new store widget provides a free, fully featured storefront which is much easier to use than the PayPal "Buy Now" or shopping cart buttons. I gotta say, I just love the store-building interface.

The  Paypal Storefront Widget can be added to TypePad with a single click form TypePad's Widget Gallery if you're using basic templates, but importantly it can also be embedded by pasting a snip of code, making it available to users with advanced templates as well. Because the widget is created in Flash it can also be embedded on sites that don't allow JavaScript such as MySpace. If you're looking for an easy way to monetize your blog or to sell goods and services online, this is one of the best options I've seen yet.

Highlights: Some of the coolest features include:

  • Social Object/Sharing: Anyone who would like to embed your store to their own page can do so with a click, thus increasing your store's exposure. The sales still go to you, but if you build a store that excites people they can show it off on their own site. It would be nice to see support for affiliate programs in the future, but the easy sharing is a great promotional tool. The popularity of social shopping networks and widgets suggest to me that this is a feature people will use.
  • The default display of the widget shows a thumbnail gallery of all the products available for purchase. Each thumbnail loads a more detailed page with a larger image where the item can be purchased. The seller can change the default to feature the currently selected product or to rotate images as a slide show. If there are more than 12 items, a scroll bar appears to take shoppers to the next set of items. If you hover over an item with the mouse, an enlarged view of the item will display.
  • Unlike the old PayPal buttons which were not saved to your account, you can log in to make changes to your store without having to create the whole thing from scratch. This is a huge improvement over the old service.
  • The drop down menus used to create your storefront are much easier to use than the old form-based interface for buy now buttons. Everything is on one page and displays selections dynamically based on your choices. It used to drive me nuts that I had to load an additional page if I wanted to do custom configurations for a buy now button. The interface for building the store is not only beautiful, it's logical, simple, easy to use and understand.
  • You can create multiple PayPal storefronts… This is great for bloggers who would like to feature specific products within a blog post. I would love to see Etsy do this with their Etsy Mini widget. In a way, this could be one of the most powerful features for bloggers… Imagine embedding a store on every post that contains items relevant to what you're writing about and having total control of what's displayed! For instance, if your business is service based, you could embed a store that sells the service you're writing about as well as related services.
  • The widget supports inventory control and the ability to close your store if you are on vacation or away. Last time I went on vacation, I sold ten firebowls while I was away… It would have been great to be able to send an automated message telling buyers to expect a delay in shipping.
  • Store policies are contained in the widget, including contact information. Since the widget is generated with Flash, your email address is safe from spambots. That's worth something right there!
  • Each item you list has a "product notes" field in addition to the description of the product. This is a space where you can put important information that you want to be sure your customers see (for instance, when I send an item out via a freight carrier, they require a daytime phone number to arrange delivery).
  • Buyers can add and subtract items from the cart without leaving your site… All transactions happen within the cart on your site until the final step of payment, which happens on Paypal's secure servers as it did in previous products.
  • Although the widget only supports sales in US dollars, I believe that PayPal will automatically convert currencies for buyers outside the US, just as it does with it other products.

Who is the Paypal Storefront Widget for?

Paypal and TypePad view the Paypal Storefront Widget as a tool for "casual sellers," people who want an easy way to embed a basic store on a blog, website or social networking site without learning how to code. I think the widget is fully featured enough that it has potential to reach a far wider audience than that… The biggest advantage to the Storefront Widget is that it provides a ton of features at no cost (other than the PayPal fee for successful sales).

I see the Paypal Storefront Widget as a way for people to quickly test new business ideas online without having to risk much time or capital. When I first launched my own online business, I was reluctant to invest in paying for a merchant account, a shopping cart, extra hosting in addition to the blog, etc.… I wanted to know that my idea was going to make money before I poured too much money in. And so I used PayPal buttons, which allowed me to build the business at a low cost. Although the old style PayPal buttons were simple HTML, there was still quite a bit of hand-editing required to turn a blog into a store and to turn the store into a business. If I'd had a tool like this when I started, I could have put a lot more time into making art rather than adding it to the blog!

Last year I wrote a post called So Who Wants Blog Stores? which tells the story of Mary, a friend of mine who I think is the perfect candidate for this kind of product. She doesn't know anything about writing code, making websites or using computers… But she does have a 50 acre farm where she grows heirloom garlic and other specialty produce which could sell much more effectively online than at local farmers markets. By blogging about what makes her produce unique, I she could reach a wide audience of "foodies" who would be willing to premium prices for "the best garlic." The local market for what she has is, by default, much smaller. The economy in the area isn't strong enough to support gourmet items and, for the most part, people just want garlic… not extra super cool garlic.

Mary is just one example of many people who, I believe, have a specialty that could find a larger and more dedicated market by combining blogs with stores. She's an expert on garlic, not code, and her investment capital might be better used on more greenhouses and irrigation than on a site that may or may not take her business to a national or international level. But if she can use a basic blog and the Paypal Storefront Widget to establish her expertise and product globally, I think it provides the basic tool set for her to make a quantum jump that will eventually pay for a more sophisticated set-up when she's grown to need it.

So, in recap, who do I think this widget will benefit?

  • People who want to test new ideas in the market or grown existing businesses.
  • People who need an inexpensive eCommerce solution that delivers real features.
  • People who need a simple eCommerce solution with a low learning curve.
  • People who want a fast eCommerce solution they can set up in minutes.

At first, I thought that I might not actually use the widget myself now that I've built a pretty sophisticated shopping cart on my blogs… But then I realized that even for people who are comfortable with writing code, this widget still offers a great solution. I'll still use E-Junkie for the items that I always keep in stock, but I think the Paypal widget is a great way for me to add one-of-a-kind items that I don't really want to hand-code product pages for. I've been using Etsy to list the unique pieces this year (and I'll keep using Etsy, 'cause they're great) but the storefront widget is an even quicker way for me to add new pieces that are listed only once.

Creating Your Storefront:

Just log in at the  Paypal Storefront Widget beta site using your PayPal ID and dive in. The widget creation page provides you with a number of options grouped under drop down menu headings. These include: Themes and colors, Title and Logo, Store Policies (Shipping, Contact and Additional Info), A space to create/add new products and the ability to set the store as open or closed. You'll save some time by checking the size requirements of images and creating them in advance. I found that it was important to create the logo to the exact dimensions specified (or it may distort by trying to fill all the available space).

An Important note:

The widget requires you to be logged in as a PayPal user and may log you out if there's a period of inactivity. In order to save the work you've done setting up your widget, you must click the link at the bottom of the page which says "publish your storefront." You don't actually need to publish it right away, but that's the button that will save your work. After you've clicked that link the first time, the message will change to "Update your storefront." I suggest saving your work after each product is added.

One of the coolest things about adding products is that when you click the + icon to add a new product, it makes a copy of any existing product you have selected… This means that if you have a lot of similar products, you can save time by just editing the details rather than having to copy and paste them repeatedly. Each product has two tabs for you to enter info in: Details, and Inventory. Be sure to check that you have the correct info in each.

When you're ready to publish your storefront, just click the link at the bottom of the page and select "go to TypePad" if your blog uses basic templates, or "get the HTML" if you use advanced templates or wish to embed your store on other sites.

It's really easy, but if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line or ask them in the comments below.

Features coming in the next version will include:

  • Shipping configuration based on basket amount. (currently shipping must be added to the price)
  • Options support so that you can have 2 options (such as size and color) for each item and apply surcharges/ discounts to the options.

Features I would like to see added:

  • Hopefully we will also see the ability to create a larger size of store which can be embedded into posts or pages. The current store widget is designed to fit within most sidebars, but I'd love to also see an option that generates a full page store similar to the layout of Amazon's aStore.
  • A field where you can set mandatory information needed to complete the sale (such as a daytime phone number).
  • A place where you can provide a link to more information about the product.
  • Hosting for product images on PayPal's servers (or Amazon G3, or wherever). I think that some users would find it easier to add product images by uploading them rather than providing an URL for images they've uploaded elsewhere. Plus it would be quicker than bouncing between tabs when adding images.
  • A "Make an offer" button that allows buyers to negotiate price with the seller (this is a feature I from eSnips that I believe would be useful for a lot of people).

Read more about the widget at the PayPal Blog or TechCrunch.

John T. Unger

BlogWorld Expo

John T. Unger November 28, 2007

Blogworld expo Sunset
Bloggers heading off into the sunset on the last day of the conference…

As you can see from the photo above, there are great light shows to be seen in Vegas even before the sun goes down and the strip lights up! I shot the above picture as everyone was leaving the conference and heading home to put all their newly learned expertise into their blogs.

BlogWorld was a great chance to meet some of the other bloggers I've long wanted to catch up with in person. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff of The Blog Squad and Rich Brooks of Rich and I have worked together in the past on projects, but we've never met in person before so it was great to sock back a few brews and get to know each other better. I'm looking forward to working more with all three in the future.

The panel on Blog Design went pretty well and we got some very complimentary feedback. Edith Yeung wrote a very nice recap of her notes on the panel as 50 Habits of a Highly Effective Blogger. Thanks Edith! Denise has also posted a tip sheet you can download from her blog which reproduces most of the material from our handout at the panel. She also posted some quick interviews with me and Rich (among others). Zac Johnson has a nice collection of links to other videos from the event posted here.

Among the other bloggers I had a chance to chat with were Andy Wibbels, Dave Taylor, Liz Strauss, as well as many new bloggers just starting out, such as Carlos R. Hernandez who found the courage for his first post after attending the show and Tyler Ford.

The trade show portion of the show was, in some ways, the most interesting part for me. I got to meet a lot of developers and found some cool new products and services I'll be writing up soon. Some of the people I met were people I've interacted with over the web in the past, such as Matt Colebourne of coComment, who was really fun to talk to in person. I loved the idea of coComment when it first launched, but after a lot of problems with the Fire Fox plugin, I'd given up using the service. After talking with Matt, I think I'll give it another try as he assures me that the issues have since been fixed. That would make my day since I feel that a lot of the best content I've put online has been in comments on other people's blogs rather than my own posts.

I only got to chat briefly with Alex Iskold of Adaptive Blue because he had an early flight out, but Fraser Kelton and I had some really great conversation about advanced ideas for search and presentation on blogs. Alex and Fraser and I have been talking a lot over the web lately so it was nice to connect in person. Fraser introduced me to Leslie Osbourne at Lijit as a possible connection to pursue my ideas for "staged" or "tiered" search further. Both Adaptive Blue and Lijit are crafting some brilliant web tools that I'll be covering in more depth soon. Speaking of search, I was also pretty impressed with what I saw from LingoSpot.

I had a really great conversation with Dom and Josephine Vonarburg of AddThis. I was all set to give them a hard time about the drop down version of their bookmarking tool not being available from their main site (the only link was formerly on one of their blog posts). But they surprised me and had already corrected the omission. Sweet.

Another stand out company was BlogTalkRadio. I did a quick last minute interview with John C Havens and Jason Shellin. The interview was fun and because they were literally tearing down the trade show around us, it was also pretty funny. I really haven't explored podcasting in any depth previously, but I've been thinking a lot more about taking it up lately since I often find it much easier to talk about things than write them… And I could see how doing a call-in show on BlogTalkRadio could be a great way to provide a weekly TypePad  phone support group. There's an awful lot of quick fixes I could more easily explain over voice than I can by writing emails. Something to think about.

In the end, I feel like BlogWorld was a great opportunity and I definitely hope to attend again next year.
The best part for me was definitely all about connecting with people off line and getting a chance to put faces to names.

John T. Unger

Simple Rounded Corners for TypePad

John T. Unger October 22, 2007

I did a complete makeover for the Jambaz Blog recently. My buddy Jonas' layout required rounded corners for each content area, so I did a quick search for "rounded corners in CSS," and came up just shy of 2 million results in Google. I looked at about half a dozen and tried out a couple of them. By far the simplest was Adam Kalsey's Rounded Corners in CSS tutorial. If you have a need for rounded corners his code seems the simplest and quickest to use and modify (especially if you're creating the images yourself).

Another useful tool for achieving the same is RoundedCornr, a page which lets you spec the colors and radius for a box and then generates the HTML, CSS and even the images for you.

John T. Unger

Pagination Comes to TypePad!

John T. Unger October 22, 2007

I'd say that the most common feature request I've seen since starting TypePad Hacks has been for a way to paginate archive pages with next/previous links. There was really no good way to do that as a hack because of the way content is organized in TypePad's database structure. It required changes on the back end.

But last Friday, pagination for posts was added as a feature. It's being rolled out incrementally (I still don't have it enabled, for instance) but it's on the way. Comment pagination came first and I still haven't seen the code for that either, but I'm thinking it will actually be even more useful on some blogs than the post pagination.

This is going to make a lot of people very happy. And I'm kind of itching to see the code and get it installed since I'm curious about what else I might be able to do with the pagination code. It seems like it might be hackable to create some interesting navigation options, but I won't really know till I see it. I just have some ideas…

If this was on your wishlist, take a minute and send a thank you note from the help ticket page. It's always nice to say thank you, and I'm betting that the development team would love knowing that their hard work was appreciated

John T. Unger

I'm a Panelist on Blog Design at BlogWorld

John T. Unger October 17, 2007

Blogworld_speaker_160pixThanks to Dave Taylor, if you've ever felt like picking my brain for coding tips in person you'll have a good chance at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Vegas next month (Buy me a beer or two and I'll tell you all the secrets. Trust me, it's way more likely to get you a quick answer these days than email).

I'll be speaking on a panel about blog design with Denise Wakeman of The Blog Squad™, Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media, and Nate Whitehill of Unique Blog Designs.

I'm looking forward to it… Rich and I know each other over the web and phone (we've worked together on projects). I'm also hoping to spend some time with Brian Clark of Copyblogger, another old friend I've never actually met in person. The line-up of speakers includes a lot of pretty impressive names… definitely worth the trip, whether you're a blogging newbie or an old pro.

I'm hoping to get a chance to visit the Neon Boneyard while I'm there… Apparently tours are limited and require a minimum number of tourees. If you're going to be at Blogworld and want to take in a tour of the Boneyard, drop me line from the contact page.

John T. Unger

Custom Head Module Reference Page

John T. Unger October 14, 2007

I use a customized head-common module on most projects to set the autodiscovery feed to serve up a FeedBurner feed rather than default TypePad feeds and also for changing the default title structure of pages to be more search engine friendly.

There are at least three major benefits to creating a custom head-common module.

  1. If you want to make your FeedBurner feed the default feed for autodiscovery, you can find instructions in this article in the Knowledge Base: Advanced Templates: Setting Feeds for Auto-Discovery. (Caveat: the Knowledge Base article instructs you to paste the code for these modules directly into your page templates, which will work just fine, but makes later edits to the code a real pain. It's much better to set use the modules as separate elements as described in the extended post below. The only one you need to edit once they're set up is the head-common module.)
  2. You can edit the title tags for your pages and archives as discussed in this hack: Rank Better in Google by Adding Dynamic Title Tags to your TypePad Blog.
  3. If you need to include a piece of JavaScript on all your pages (for stats, ads or other hacks that require JS) pasting it into the end of this module is the best way to do so. In some cases, it's better to put the JS in a sidebar instead. The rule of thumb is this: for scripts that should load before the rest of the page, use the head-common module. For scripts which may significantly slow the page-load speed and are not needed to display elements of the page, use the sidebar. Example: a script for ads should go in the head-common module, where scripts for stats might better be added at the end of the right-most sidebar.

If you'd rather, you can skip the modules and paste the head information for your blog at the beginning of each of your page templates, but I find that the modules save a lot of time. By using the head-common module for code that need to be on every page, you can make later edits by modifying only one module rather than six or more templates.

Because the head-common module is included by the head-index, head-individual, head-category, and head-date-based modules, you will also need to create custom versions of the modules which include it before you can use it in your templates. Example code for all these modules are available in the Knowledge Base, but they're scattered across multiple articles and there isn't a single page that lists them all. I've been meaning to collect them all into one place for a while and you can now get them in the extended entry for this post along with instructions for how to use them.

Continue reading "Custom Head Module Reference Page" »

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