Year: 2010

URL Shorteners

Short URLS: You will have seen them. They’ve been around for ages, but do you know what they are and how you can make them?

URL shorteningis a technique on the World Wide Web in which a URL may be made substantially shorter in length. This involves using an HTTP Redirect on a domain name that is short to link to a Webpagewhich has a long URL. For example, the URL can be shortened to [Source:]

URL shorteners have had limited success during the social media boom. Companies like,, and tinyurl all offer pretty much the same service, but why would you use them over your own?

For starters, is no longer operational after it wasn’t able to monetise its operation, so who says the others will be around long enough to be meaningful for you?

Let’s start by looking at the benefits of a url shortening service.

1. Shorter url’s give you more characters in twitter e.g. as opposed to
2. Stats: you can track how many people click on these links and therefore quantify how useful your followers find the information you share. This is different to analytics as the link is tracked rather than the destination.
3. Location: where in the world are your readers (can also be obtained in analytics)
4. Traffic sources: where are your links being shared and clicked through.

If you publish anything on social networks, using a URL shortener is just good practice. Creating your own URL shortener is good business. Why? You’re not relying on a third party service that might not survive and you take control of stats. You’re also not competing with thousands of other users for custom links, and ultimately you will always have reasonably short links.
Combining google analytics, facebook insights etc with your URL shortener will enable you to see the bigger picture i.e. not just what people are reading on your site, but also what is driving them.

I’ve written a separate article on setting up your own URL shortening service, but if that’s not for you then definitely check out the services below.

There are many services to choose from, but stands out from the crowd as they offer a (free) Pro account which lets you use your own domain name.
Alternative solutions include,, and

What the main social networks use.
and YouTube:

So what are you waiting for? Go get your own URL Shortening service.

YOURLS: Your Own URL Shortener

[For an overview of what URL Shorteners are and why you should use them, please read my article: URL Shorteners]

YOURLS is a service that you install on your web host for a specific domain that will give you your own URL Shortening service.

I’m going to make some assumptions: You already have a domain name and a web hosting plan.
If you don’t have either try 1and1 (affiliate link) for domains and hosting. This blog is hosted with them.
1. Buy a domain name
2. Buy hosting
3. Configure host
4. Install YORLS
5. You’re done.

Ok, so that wasn’t much help! If you need domain name inspiration try which will show a multitude of domain extensions for your chosen name or phrase. Remember, you want a short domain e.g., so don’t be afraid to buy any top level domain name e.g. .im .es .ly .it .eu etc.
Once you find your perfect domain, don’t be afraid to shop around for the best price.

Your hosting plan will need PHP and MYSQL support – this need not be expensive but check before you buy!
Installing YOURLS is easy, but make sure you read all the instructions before starting.
Download YOURLS to your computer and follow these steps:

  1. Unzip the YOURLS archive
  2. Copy includes/config-sample.php to user/config.php
  3. Open user/config.php with a raw text editor (like Notepad) and fill in the required settings
  4. Upload the unzipped files to your domain public_html or www folder
  5. Create a new database (see Configuration – you can also use an existing one)
  6. Point your browser to
  7. Follow the onscreen instructions – there isn’t many.

Now that you are all up and running you can use your own domain name to track click throughs on links you share on twitter and facebook (or anywhere else).
I chose to use only as a URL shortener, so I’ve got a html redirect pointing to, but you could equally create your shortener at or

A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston

In Six Bad Things we saw Hank develop the characteristics required to be a hired gun and judging by the title of this the final part of the Hank Thompson trilogy, Hank really is “A Dangerous Man”.

As Hank says himself:

There are reasons why people do the things they do. You have to have a reason, otherwise you couldn’t do them

This is for you Mom and Dad. This is for you.

So what exactly is Hank doing?
He’s a hitman for a Russian mob boss, quietly going about his business in Las Vegas. His days revolve around a concoction of narcotics, scummy bars and generally making a mess of people. But like the previous novels, Hank gets a change of scenery and in ‘A Dangerous Man’ Hank is sent back to New York, where his troubles start to spiral out of control once more.

Is there a happy ending? Well only you can be judge of that, and to be frank, there can be no follow up books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and I’d recommend you read them back to back if possible.

A Dangerous Man is available to read (below) and download free on
Visit Charlie Huston’s website or follow him on twitter.

A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston

Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston

Hank’s back in this Charlie Huston’s second novel and it’s time for Hank to come home.

It turns out that the luck I described in my post about “Caught Stealing” was not luck after all. Hank has a talent and that is not just avoiding getting killed, but he has developed into a master manipulator of circumstance and enjoys that rare ability to survive while all those around him are getting themselves killed.

Hank has moved on with his life and is happy living the quiet life in Mexico but that all changes when a backpacker comes to town and befriends hank.

Huston has the uncanny knack of being able to tell stories within stories, which enables sub-plots to develop nicely. In Six Bad Things, Hank learns a valuable life lesson (or two or three!) and makes a life changing decision when he discovers that his love for his parents will change him forever.

Six Bad Things is available to read (below) and download free on
Visit Charlie Huston’s website or follow him on twitter.

Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston

Android 2.3 Announced

Google announced yesterday the release of the Android 2.3 SDK or Gingerbread as it has become known. The mobile operating system (OS) will be seen first on their new flagship mobile phone, the Nexus S manufactured by Samsung and soon after on the Nexus One.

So what features can we expect to see?

  • UI refinements for simplicity and speed
  • Faster, more intuitive text input
  • One-touch word selection and copy/paste
  • Improved power management
  • Control over applications
  • New ways of communicating, organizing

To name only a few. Full details can be found over on the Android Developer site.

Android 2.3 Keyboard
Android 2.3 Keyboard

One of the changes I’m hoping will make a big impact is the redesigned keyboard. Android devices have always lagged behind the iOS devices and google is promising big speed improvements for touch input and better copy and paste. I am currently using Swype on my HTC Desire which is a big improvement over the stock 2.2 keyboard and a massive improvement over HTC’s bundled sense keyboard.

[UPDATE: XDA have the 2.3 keyboard available for rooted 2.2 Android devices already.]

I’d keep an eye out on the XDA forums as there is sure to be a custom rom released for the Desire (and other devices) around the New Year.
Google Nexus S
As for the Nexus S, it is of typically bland design but boasts probably the best hardware of any mobile phone on the market today:

  • A 1 GHz Hummingbird processor paired with 16GB of internal memory makes Nexus S one of the fastest phones on the market.
  • 75% less glare than on other smartphone displays on its 4″ Contour Display
  • both rear and front facing cameras

See the full list of features at


Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston

This was the first Charlie Huston novel I read and I have since read seven more which should indicate how compelling (to me) his books are. Not for the faint hearted, Huston has a brash style that resembles a (good) Tarantino movie. Profanity and violence are frequent players in all of Huston’s work and ‘Caught Stealing’ drops the reader straight into the action and immediately leaves you wanting more.

The book is centred around the character Hank Thompson, who was a promising high school baseball player with a big future in the game, that was until he broke his leg. After that things took a turn for the worse, more from bad judgement and luck than anything else, all of which makes for better reading. Let’s face it, no one wants to read about the guy who almost made it, only to end up working the 9-5 and conforming to societies preset values.

So after Hank agrees to look after his neighbour’s cat, his life spirals into a series of extreme drama and the inevitable twists lead you to like a character that you will initially label as a loser. Without giving too much away, the story revolves around the cat, his ability to escape bad situations and how he ends up making it across the Mexican border with the cat and a bag load of money.

Caught Stealing is available to read (below) and download free on
Visit Charlie Huston’s website or follow him on twitter.
Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston

Mobile apps will not save journalism

Last week something happened to me. I felt so compelled by the content of an article on the Belfast Telegraph website that I registered so I could comment.

The articel in question is this one: “Can Mobile Apps Save Professional Journalism?

The short article explains the ‘appification’ of the Internet and the effect it is having on media companies. Users can now download music, read books and make purchases all through apps and on mobile devices.

However, at no point does the author suggest how apps themselves are going to “Save Professional Journalism”, which as you recall is the headline of the article.


Except it is not.
You see, media companies are so busy saving their industry that they fail to see that the professions that make their businesses are as strong as ever.
Is the quality of music worse now than what it was 20 years ago?
What about the quality of fiction? I read more books now than I did as a child, because I use the kindle app. Technology has made this possible and in particular the Internet.

The investiagtive quality of journalism is not in question, nor is the ability of a journalist to report the facts. Quite simply, journalism does not need to be saved.
A quick search reveals that professional journalism (we are told) is at death’s door, succombing to an unsustainable business model.
The internet opens many doors and the opportunities for a journalist to create and distribute content are almost endless. The trouble, of course, is how do they monetise this content.

Naturally publishers i.e. newspapers should change their business model and charge for access to their content. Except that is a massive risk and is surely doomed to failure.

We are a generation who consume masses of content with little regard to the content owner or the creative mind behind it. We are so disloyal that if we are offered a freebie, we grab it regardless of whether we need it or not. The chances we’ll come back (to the product) are even lower.
The only way you can compete is to offer truely interesting content and a service that users can rely on.

Back to apps.
I do not see apps saving anything, certainly not ‘news’. You see apps are little silos of data and when you are inside a silo you cannot see what’s going on around you. This is a problem for an internet user.
I accept that apps are a major force at the moment and I would suggest (on my own usage) that most iPhone or Android owners have 50 apps on their phone.
I only use about 5-10 regularly.
For apps to save ‘meda’ the consumer needs to be using their app regularly. The guardian app I reviewed in a previous post is a good example. However, if I was asked to continue to pay a subscription I would have to consider the potential benefits and the competition. Indeed on my Android device I have full access to the Guardian website and no longer have a need for an app.

So I’ve paid for the app, but on a different device (with a better browser) I no longer require the app. Do you see the potential problem in this business model?

The BBC have been given the go ahead to release mobile apps, so what wont they offer (for free) that other paid models will? Again, how do you compete with free?

To jump back to the article, I was shocked by this statement: “Apps present a business model with much greater revenue potential than a website.”

Really? How So? These questions are not answered.
I want to know what the author means by an app. Is it specifically iOS apps or mobile apps in general?
Is it also desktop applications or even web applications?
Why would a company move away from the web to make apps for so many different systems, when one website can serve them all?

If we accept that an app is different to a website (it’s not, they’re both content delivery systems) how can any business expect to make more money from their app than their website?
Presumably by errecting a pay wall or removing content.

You can place an ad in an app. Brilliant. You can sell more advertising space on a website than you can on an app.
There is nothing that you can do on an app that you cannot do better on a website.
Ah, but maybe I’m not getting the point. The author is suggesting that mobile use will become so widespread that overall usage of mobile browsing / apps will overtake desktop browsing. I agree, it most definitely will.
However, why do I need an app to view content? I can already view websites on my mobile browser.

Web apps can save the content business by making content available to the same user across multiple browsers and devices. This choice makes the service more compelling to the user (see the kindle app as an example) and ensures the content owner drives traffic to one single source.

This traffic should be enough to generate the revenue required to keep content owners happy. But if it’s not, they can always erect the wall and go the way of the Times. It’s not pretty.
Can there be anything worse for a journalist than not being read?

Journalism is free

Journalism is free

News International have embarked on an interesting project: From June they will charge users to access The Times and Sunday Times websites a small fee to view content.

“Readers will be offered a week’s subscription for £2, or a day’s access for £1, to two new sites, and

Rupert Murdoch has been saying for a long time that quality news and journalism should not be given away free. He’s right; journalist’s deserve to be paid for their work. What he’s wrong about is who should pay. Does he think that because people currently pay for newspapers that people should expect to pay for online news as well? It’s chalk and cheese. Two completely different products with differing user experiences and demands. When I view a story online I demand pictures, audio and / or video. I’m not interested in just a text article. This has the potential to be the premium offering the industry needs, but instead the industry thinks it needs to cover everything (in less detail) and reduce the amount of resources used on investigative journalism. The end product is neither premium nor what the user demands.

News has been undervalued for a long time; from hourly news on the radio to several dedicated 24 hour news channels consumers can access a variety of news sources for free and at their convenience. How many copies of Metro (a free paper) are handed out each morning? How many free online news sites already exist?

Print cannot compete with that.  It’s yesterday’s news, but news papers can compete online.  Here it’s a level playing field, except they have the advantage of old media behind them.  They have resources, they have experienced journalists, they have sources, they have followers and still they want to charge for access!  If I was in charge I would be supporting my news site through dedicated advertising (it can be done just look at internet TV).  I would look to consolidate the industry – how many digital editions of the same news do we really need? I’d ask these question:
What is it that my news paper offers that would get users to pay?
Why would I the pay to access old news online?

The question News International should be asking is how we can generate revenue from our existing users? What additional services can we provide that users will pay for?

This saga will continue to run and I’m sure News International will sacrifice some of it’s best known titles as it hunts for the holy grail.

What do you think, will you pay to access The Times?