Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Squidoo Beta Problems - December 2005

I've been testing Squidoo lenses as a supplement to the OakLeaf blog since the Web application entered the public beta stage in early December 2005. In the process, I created and/or edited three moderately large lenses with the Squidoo beta version(s) that were in effect from December 20 to December 27, 2005. Hopefully, other lens authors will find this account of my recent experiences useful. On December 28, I added some recommendations to increase Squidoo's usefulness. The suggestions appear at the end of this post. I added additional problems and suggestions in January 2006 after creating a very large lens.

Note: Web applications allow their developers to "go live" with updated beta versions at will. Thus, new features get added, some bugs get excised, and other regression bugs appear without notice. This means that the problems reported here might have been fixed by the time you read this or new bugs might have shown up. For the Squidoo team's view of their products status, check the SquidooStatus blog. Unless otherwise noted, the problems appear when editing or viewing with IE 6.0 or Firefox 1.5.

Squidoo Problems

Following are the more important issues that are currently affecting my three lenses, all of which have been reported to the Squidoo development team: 1. One of my off-topic lenses, No More U.S. Custom Surfboards?, lost about 75% of its content in the 12-hour+ period from 6:00 p.m. December 20, 2005 to 6:30 a.m. December 21, 2005. Two Linked List modules and a Text module disappeared from the lens, which was confirmed as successfully published. My recommendation is to keep local backups of your lenses as IE Web Archive - Single File (*.mht) files or Firefox Web Page Complete (*.htm) files. This problem was reported to be fixed by a code update on December 22, 2005. I haven't encountered a reoccurence of the problem, but I still recommend keeping up-to-date backups. 2. After December 20, 2005, I was unable to add this small *.jpg image file to a Text module of the custom surfboards page with IE 6 SP1 and the latest patches. There was no prior problem uploading and inserting the same image. Browsing for, inserting the file name in the text box, and clicking Upload Photo bypasses the Save operation and doesn't add the uploaded image to the module. Other sites also exhibit similar problems with images that previously appeared in text modules. The problem does not occur with Firefox 1.5. For software development purposes, I have IE 6 set as my default browser; other viewers and/or LensMasters might not have Firefox 1.5 installed. This problem appears to have been fixed as of 1/20/2006. (Updated 1/20/2006.)

3. The WYSIWYG HTML editor for the text of the Introduction module became inoperative on December 26, 2005. The HTML editor is frozen. For now, you must edit Introduction text with the pop-up HTML editing dialog. This problem appeared to be fixed as of about 13:00 on December 27, 2005. 4. Adding Technorati tag anchors—such as <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/surfboards" rel="tag">surfboards</a>—to the Introduction text doesn't work because Squidoo strips the rel="tag" attribute/value pair from the anchors. The reason for doing this is unknown. This problem appeared to be fixed as of about February 5, 2006.

5. Adding similar tag anchors to module or link Description text doesn't work, because Squidoo prepends http://www.squidoo.com/surfboards/%22 to the URL and strips the rel="tag" attribute to create the following unusable hybrid: http://www.squidoo.com/surfboards/%22http://technorati.com/tag/surfboards%22. The presence of the rel="tag" attribute appears to cause the erroneous URL problem. This problem appeared to be fixed as of about February 5, 2006.

6. Attempting to claim a Squidoo lens for a Technorati account results in this Quick Claim message: "Good news! We've detected that your blog platform, WordPress, supports Quick Claim, which is the easiest way to claim your blog." Obviously, a Squidoo lens isn't a WordPress blog. (Updated 2/5/2006.)

However, there's now a method for adding a lens to a Technorati account because both Squidoo and Technorati have fixed claim problems. Following is the workaround:

A. Start the Technorati blog claim process, proceed as if you were claiming a conventional Blogger or WordPress blog. The claim will fail.

B. Click Configure Blog, then click the Skip This Step link to bypass the WordPress Username and Password page, and click it again to bypass the Tehnorati Embed page.

C. On the Technorati Link page copy the link from the Step 3 text box to the Clipboard. The link will appear similar to <a href="http://technorati.com/claim/75fm94x63">Technorati" Profile</a>.

D. Open your lens and its Introduction module for editing, and click the HTML button to open the HTML editing window. Move to the bottom of the window, and paste the link into the text.

E. Click Update to close the window, Save the module, and click the Technorati Profile link to verify that it points to your Profile. Then click Publish.

F. Click Claim Blog Now to open the Configure Blog Claim page and complete the entries as you would for a conventional blog.

G. Clear the Show Technorati Embed on my Site check box, and then click Save changes.

Note: The preceding process failed for the OakLeaf databases lens, which was the first lens built in the Squidoo beta, but succeeded for all other lenses, as shown here:

7. I was unable to use I.E. 6.0 to add a Subtitle or Description element to a Linked List module after adding a link to the module and saving it. However, there was no problem doing this with Firefox 1.5. Firefox displays Add a Subtitle and Add a Description links if the Subtitle and Description element are empty; IE 6.0 doesn't. This problem appeared to be fixed at about 13:00 on December 27, 2005.

8. The Search Results page doesn't return consistent results for lens titles or tag names. For example, a search on oakleaf or database (but not databases) returns the OakLeaf Databases Lens and on microsoft or access returns the Microsoft Access Lens. Searching on hsqldb (a tag name) returns both lenses. The reason for the failure of databases is unknown. [This problem returned on 1/24/2006 and was fixed as of 1/26/2006] However, searching on custom or surfboard[s] doesn't return my more recent custom surfboards lens, nor does a search on any of the lens's assigned tags, such as blanks, epoxy, grubby clark, etc.. This failure indicates that a problem occurred with Squidoo's search system prior to publishing the surfboard lens. The result is that Squidoo users can't find my surfboards lens by ordinary search methods. As of 1/18/2006, searching on custom or surfboard[s] and most other tags now returns my custom surfboards lens, However, using custom as the search term places my lens (now rated #111) on the second results page, following several unclaimed lenses. It appears that tag-based searches still require some work. (Updated 1/19/2006.)

Note: On 1/12/2006, the Squidoo Status blog reported problems with corruption of the Squidoo search database. The itermittent nature of the search problem might be due to repeated corruption of the search database.

9. RSS modules don't update automatically to reflect changes to the specified blog. For example, I added an "First Look at Amazon Connect Author 'Blogs'" post. My update frequency for the Recent OakLeaf Blog Atom Links RSS module of the OakLeaf Databases Lens was set at once/day. Several days after adding the post, it didn't appear in the list. I had to manually edit and refresh the list to add the new post. The same problem applies to the RSS module of my Microsoft Access Lens. (Added January 11, 2006, reverified 1/19/2006.)

10. Star ratings (1-Poor through 5-Exceptional) appear to be arbitrary and there's no indication how users can assign ratings to a lens. Squidoo FAQ #15 states: "Your lens may be #406 overall, but still be the top ranked lens and the best rated lens (based on the user-rating star system) in your category." My No More U.S. Custom Surfboards? lens ranked #176 on 1/11/2006) but originally had a user rating of 1-Poor. C. S. Lewis - his life and writings ranked #217 but has a user rating of 4.5 stars. How did ordinary viewers assign these ratings and what prevents a "LensMaster" from logging out (to act as an ordinary viewer) and assigning five stars to his or her lenses? (Updated 1/11/2006.)

Note: Part of the answer to the the above appears to be that only users with Squidoo accounts can assign star ratings to lenses. I was able to assign 5-star ratings to all my lenses by logging on with another account that has no lenses, and clicking the 5-Excellent star repeatedly. (Unlike most polls, you can "vote" as often as you want in a single session.) You don't see the star rating until you log out and view the lens as an ordinary user. Check out my The Black Scholar lens as an example. (Updated 1/11/2006.) 11. Another recent problem is the disappearance of new added items to Link List modules. The empty added items text boxes appear momentarily in IE 6.0, and then disappear, as shown below in IE 6 SP1 with the latest patches:

You must save the Link List with the empty item and then edit the list to complete the entry. This problem began in IE 6 about 1/1/2006 but, like the problem with images in Text modules, does not occur when using Firefox 1.5. Squidoo is running LAMP, which usually implies Firefox as the default browser. However, there are many folks who have only IE 5+ installed. (Updated 1/11/2006.)

This problem appears to have been fixed as of 1/17/2005.

12. Squidoo's ranking method for lenses (LensRank) is unfathomable to be charitable. For example, my expansive The Black Scholar Lens ranked #297 on 1/19/2006, #317 on 1/17/2006 and #767 on 1/16/2006, which was a considerable improvement over #1,996 on 1/14/2006. The lens has been updated almost daily since January 1 and has more than 200 outbound links as of 1/16/2006. According to Squidoo FAQ #16:

"LensRank does a full sweep of all lenses in the Squidoo system and ranks them according to things like frequency of update, traffic, inbound and outbound links and more. We recalculate the rankings every day or so. So, if you just built a lens and are disheartened to see that it's at the bottom of the LensRank pile, or behind several unclaimed UFG lenses, don't worry. Give it a day or two and we bet you'll see the LensRank improve (ie: get smaller...remember, LensRank #1 is best). LensRank is built to reward human-made, updated, curated lenses.

Right now, as we are figuring out the proper LensRank and search ratings and fine-tuning the algorithms, you may find that our search function is not returning the lenses you would expect. In a perfect world, your handmade lens will have a higher LensRank--and therefore be a higher search result--than any unclaimed UFG lens. We are working to make this so. But you can do it too by making a great lens, including a lot of links, and updating often."

The original problem might have resulted from a hiatus in operation of the "ranking engine" during early January 2006. Minor daily changes to the lens, however, haven't resulted in substantial reductions to LensRank, which ranges randomly from about 280 to 320. Unlike my Surfboards lens, it appears impossible to affect the rating of The Black Scholar lens by making additions to or updating it. (Updated 2/5/2006.)

13. Module relocation in the Your Lens Layout frame doesn't work. Moving a module any distance in the main editing page is a PITA. This problem was fixed as of 2/5/2006; relocation now works like a champ.

I'll continue to update this post from time to time with additional problems I encounter or fixes/workarounds I find for the preceding issues. Suggestions for Squidoo Improvements

Following are suggestions that I believe would make Squidoo more useful to me and to readers of my lenses:

1. Permit lensmasters and, perhaps, ordinary Squidoo users to mark lenses as having no significant content, containing deliberately misleading information, or being spam (splenses). Presently, the Report This Lens link applies only to lenses that contain adult content and aren't flagged as adults-only lenses.

2. Add the capability to insert limited-size images into the Description element of Linked List items (similar to that for Text modules). Doing this could improve the page flavor of sites with a large number of links or links with longer descriptions (see the No More U.S. Custom Surfboards? lens's Linked List modules as examples.)

3. Add category sub-elements with domain-based tags to the RSS 2.0 <channel> element, such as <category domain="http://del.icio.us/tag" >surfboards</category> and <category domain="http://www.technorati.com/tag" >surfboards</category>, to support future tag-aware readers. Tag values could be extracted from the Squidoo Related Tags list, but it would be helpful to include an RSS editing feature similar to that for Squidoo tags. This suggestion is in addition to fixing the problems with Technorati tags in preceding problem items 4 and 5.

4. Consider adding RSS 2.0 <item> elements for all modules, preferably with domain-based <category> tags. Doing this might cause RSS readers to attempt to display individual modules instead of the entire Squidoo page.

5. Fix the alignment of the image added to the Introduction text for IE and Firefox browsers in View mode. (Alignment is OK in Edit mode with Firefox 1.5, but not IE 6.0 SP1). Text should be raised about 5px and the image dropped about 10px to correct the problem shown below in IE 6:

6. Fix the user-ranking (star) system and the LensRank algorithm, and explain (in some detail) the theory of ranking lenses. The current explanation appears not to be applicable to this Squidoo implementation. (Updated 1/14/2006.)

7. Correct problems with existing modules and current features before adding new modules, such as Indeed.

8. Increase the maximum number of characters of Text modules from 2,500 to at least 20K. The text limit is inappropriate for this module type and requires splitting text (includings lists) into multiple Text modules. This problem was fixed for lists as of 2/5/2006 by the addition of the Text List Module. (See The Black Scholar Issue List as an example that replaces three Text modules).

9. If possible, fix Firefox 1.5's SmartNavigation failure. When readers return from an outbound link, Firefox moves to the top of the lens page; IE 6.0 returns to the location from which the user clicked the link. This is a serious problem for readers of a large lens, such as The Black Scholar.

Let me know what you think about these suggestions and add your own as comments.