Remembering The HMS Bounty

HMS BountyThe HMS Bounty was the first tall ship I ever toured. I was a kid, maybe 8 years old, and was thrilled at walking on the deck of a sailing ship. That sparked an interest in me and I’ve enjoyed seeing and touring many tall ships since then.

You never forget your first, and touring the Bounty is an experience that I often think of when working on my tall ship related lenses.

The HMS Bounty was lost at sea two days ago during Hurricane Sandy. 15 of her crew were rescued by the Coast Guard. One of them was unresponsive and later died. Her captain is still missing. I pray they find him soon and my condolences go to the family of the deceased crew member.

Let’s also remember the brave men and women of the US Coast Guard who risked their lives to rescue the Bounty‘s crew in treacherous conditions. (That link has video of the rescue. Amazing work.)

Image credit: Magic Madzik, used under Creative Commons.

Farewell to the Flickr Module

Last month Squidoo abruptly retired the Flickr module because Flickr appeared to be blocking most of their images from loading on Squidoo lenses. Squidoo HQ and several lensmasters tried to get Flickr’s technical assistance on this with no success.

I’ll miss the Flickr module. It had some shortcomings but was an easy way to add good photos to lenses. It was also helpful in generating click outs and getting traffic from image searches.

I understand and agree with Squidoo’s decision to retire the module, but the way they did it was horribly executed. The retirement decision was announced on June 15 with no date given for when it would go away. The module disappeared from public view 3 days later. That doesn’t count as good advance warning for lensmasters to prepare and make changes before the module went away.

In the announcement, HQ said that, “When the module goes away there’s nothing you have to do. It will simply disappear from your lenses.” They got that half right, it did simply disappear. But there’s lots that this sudden disappearance required lensmasters to do if they were using the Flickr module.

Depending on how you used it, a disappearing Flickr module could mean anything from losing a few non-essential images to your lens morphing into an empty site because the bulk of your content went missing. For anyone that wrote text in their Flickr modules, this module retirement was devastating because that text also disappeared from your viewable lens and the sight of the search engines.

I had some lenses in that latter category. Worst hit were my tour an aircraft carrier, tour a battleship and sail a tall ship lenses. All of them used a Flickr module for nearly every ship featured. Each module had images and all of my written info for that ship in it. When the Flickr module disappeared, so did the content for those lenses.

Fortunately, I saw the announcement that the module was gone from view and was able to add Text modules and copy the content into them within a day of the Flickr modules disappearing. The lenses didn’t have many images, but at least the written content and links to the ships’ websites were available. If I’d been on vacation, those lenses would’ve been sunk.

Most of my Squidoo time over the last month has been spent fixing up existing lenses with Flickr modules instead of working on new lenses. I’m still in the slow process of finding, selecting, downloading, recording and uploading images to those text modules and updating other lenses that used Flickr images. Since Flickr’s image blocking also impacts images linked to in HTML code, I’m updating lenses that used that, too. (I mostly did that in Text List and Link List modules so I sent a feature request to HQ asking for the image upload functionality be added to those modules. Please do the same, hopefully they’ll add it if enough of us ask.)

What should Squidoo have done instead?

  1. Communicated the date when the module would be retired and no longer publicly viewable. This is one of the original Squidoo modules, used nearly 400,000 times according to the Add Modules tool. How could HQ not give lensmasters a date and time to prepare for its retirement? Makes no sense to me.
  2. Modified the module so that the images and their links wouldn’t display but the module’s text would still display. That would’ve given lensmasters time to adjust without taking away our content overnight. The module already had the ability to not display a selected image if it didn’t have an appropriate Creative Commons license. This filter could have easily been modified to not display all images.

This is a good reminder of why it’s important to back up your lens content (something I don’t do but should start). The wording of the June 18th announcement sounded like HQ considered deleting all of the content in the Flickr modules before they realized how many people had written content into them. That would have been disastrous.

Farewell, Flickr module, you’re already missed.

How did the Flickr module retirement affect your lenses? Are you still making changes because of it?

Image credit: simminch, used under Creative Commons.

Celebrating Six Years On Squidoo

My Squidoo TrophiesYesterday was my 6th Squidiversary on Squidoo! Here’s a pic of the new 6 year trophy that appeared on my Squidoo bio page last night. I’m not sure if that’s a cake or a cupcake.

My Squidoo journey started as an experiment. I had no idea that I’d stick with it for six years. But I’ve had fun building lenses and learned a lot along the way. Making a little money helps, too. I wouldn’t have been able to invest this much of my time on Squidoo if not for the money.

Speaking of money, did you know that when Squidoo came out of beta, lenses made about 25 cents per month from the ad pool?

That was before the pay tiers were added. Now, a top tier lens gets over $50 from the ad pool payout. So Squidoo has grown at a strong rate. I’m looking forward to being part of Squidoo’s continued growth for (hopefully) many more years.

I was also reminded yesterday of how strong and helpful the Squidoo community is. That’s something that I’m glad has been a part of Squidoo since the early days.

To everyone who’s ever rated, liked, lens rolled, blessed, commented on, shared or just visited one of my lenses in the last six years…Thank You!

Deleting A WIP Lens For The First Time

In 5 years of being a lensmaster, I’ve always finished and published every lens I started. No longer. I’m deleting an unpublished WIP lens for the first time. There’s an important reason why…

Two years ago I wrote code to work around a missing feature in some office productivity software I use at work. Nothing grand, just some XSL to display the program’s XML output in HTML so that my coworkers could easily view it. It should’ve been a basic function of the program, IMO.

It wasn’t pretty (my XSL skills are basic) but it worked. I thought other users of the software might look for this type of solution so I started building a lens to share it. Even wrote a sample file and took before and after screenshots to include on the lens. All good helpful stuff.

But when I first wrote the XSL, I didn’t start from scratch. I searched the vendor’s support site for how to do what I wanted (assuming it was a standard feature hidden somewhere). There I found an XSL snippet they wrote to do something similar. I heavily modified it for my needs (their version wasn’t very useful) but I did start with their base code.

My plan was to link to their support article and give credit for the starting point along with my version of the code. Then I thought about possible copyright issues. It’s one thing to give away code I wrote on a lens. But the snippet I started with could be considered proprietary and not modifiable, even though it was posted on a support page. Plus the software vendor vigorously defends their intellectual property so there’s a potential legal risk.

That uncertainty about the copyright status combined with the risk prompted me to stop construction after halfway completing the lens. And it’s lingered in WIP status at the bottom of my dashboard ever since.

For a while, I’d occasionally think about the lens and reconsider my reasons for not publishing it…always reaching the same conclusion. Then I learned of 3rd party tools that provide the functionality I wanted in a much better way and I don’t even use my hack any more.

There’s two lessons here for lensmasters…

  1. Think about potential copyright issues when building a new lens. Whether it’s code snippets, photos, recipes, song lyrics, or anything else that wasn’t created by you, always stop and consider the item’s copyright status. When in doubt, don’t use it unless you can get permission from the owner.
  2. Consider alternative approaches to the topic. Once I decided not to publish the lens as originally planned, I could’ve taken a different tack. The lens could have done any (or all) of the following instead: discussed and linked to the 3rd party tools, linked to the support article and given readers tips on how to use the code themselves, or hosted a debate on the value of this feature to the product. You get the idea. I’m not interested enough in the topic to do any of those.

So this lens will never be published and it’s time to send it off to the breakers. I’m deleting it right…now. Poof.

Have you ever deleted a WIP lens? Why?