New look for my ranting

To confirm the obvious, Ross Randomly Rants has a new look. Blogger revised its systems a while back, and recently pushed all of us into their new format. Since they allowed us to preserve our existing templates and page designs, this change probably had little or no visible effect aside from requiring some people to have Google accounts.

Here at ranting central, I finally got around to finding out what new features were available if I flipped my blogs to the new layout system from the old template system. The key feature that pushed me over the edge is that new Blogger has post labels. Labels are a lot like what we call tags over at Flickr: an ad hoc mechanism for categorizing blog posts.

Once I went back and re-read all the old posts and dropped a few labels on them, I realized that the blog itself needed a way to tell visitors what labels I had used and as a result a way to find posts with particular labels attached. Although there might be tricks available to show the labels in an old Blogger template, it was much easier to bite the bullet and flip to the new layout system where a list of the labels in use in my blog is a stock widget.

Then I got greedy. At Flickr, we are used to tag clouds as the best way to display a collection of tags. A cloud lists all the tags, but uses font size and color variation to signal which are used more than others. This produces a more interesting display than a flat list with counts of posts. A little searching around produced a page at phydeaux3 that did exactly what I wanted. I don't know who phydeaux3 is, but their fine script deserves credit.

I hope the change to a cleaner overall look is for the better, and now all that remains is to remember to actually label my posts in the future.


MOOve over business cards

Long-time users of Flickr have probably already heard of MOO, but since the short-lived free promotion has long since expired I thought I would share my experience with them and one of their products. The executive summary is that I am very happy with their product and service.

Moo is a printing company in England that is providing a novel service. They make custom printed social cards and invitations using photography and text of your choice. But, that doesn't really sound all that novel, does it?

The difference is that they have optimized their print workflow to permit many different photographs to be used in a single print job, with printing on the reverse side that relates to both the user and the photograph itself.

They have also chosen two unusual formats for their products. Their oldest product is a kind of social card with a photo on the face and writing (up to six lines of text) and logos on the back. The text can be fixed (name, URL, phone number, email, address, or whatever else seems appropriate) or derived from the photo itself (title, date, and similar). The card is nominally 1:2.5 in aspect ratio, and my box measures 2.8cm by 6.9cm (which works out to 1:2.47). If you are keeping score, this is somewhat less than half the size of a standard US business card (5.1cm by 8.9cm, 2" by 3.5" or 1:1.75 aspect ratio). The paper used is a heavy matte-finish coated stock so the cards don't feel flimsy at all. Boxes of 100 run about US$25.

Their new product is larger, at 10cm square. It seems to be aimed at invitations and announcements, and is significantly more expensive than the classic MOO card.

They are particularly well integrated with Flickr. It was extremely easy to create a MOO account, connect it to my Flickr identity, and select an entire set of photos as the starting point for my order. Since I selected about 25 photos, the minimum order of 100 cards got 4 copies of each photo.

Their automated workflow emailed me to confirm the order within minutes, and again to confirm that it was in the hands of the Royal Mail about one week later. It arrived in my mailbox in California only five days after the email. For my US$25, I received a very nicely printed stack of cards. Since I didn't happen to include any text that was derived from the photo itself, I didn't test its ability to make the fronts match the backs but all the cards do have my info and none have anyone else's info on the back. They even included my Flickr avatar on the back!

I've given away a handful already, and expect to hand out more in the days to come.