Twitter is NOT free on Three

Image representing Ping.fm as depicted in Crun...
Don't use Three - use Ping.fm!

Don’t believe the hype. After their trial back in February, Three are now offering “free” Twitter if you’re a customer. The only thing is, it’s not flipping free!

Once you register you can set it so you receive texts when certain people you follow post a tweet. This is free. However, you tweet by sending texts to a shortform number (86xxx – something like that) which costs 10p a pop. These texts can’t be part of your contract bundle so you will face this charge even if you have unlimited texts per month.

How they can advertise this as being “free” is beyond me.

If you have an unlimited texts plan, then I still recommend ping.fm – it is free. Sign up, tell it your mobile number and when you text them they forward your posts to Twitter. Or facebook. Or anywhere else they support. The phone number is a genuine UK mobile and I’ve been using them for months so I can promise you they’re included as part of a UK texts package (unlike the actual Twitter number, which is based in the Isle of Man so doesn’t count, resulting in surprise charges on your bill).

They’ll also forward photos you send on to Flickr or facebook, though I prefer to do that via email.

Either way, just make sure you always read small print on things like this. And then wonder how something that costs money can be advertised as being free. Advertising Standards Authority anyone? Mind you, they’re the muppets that let broadband companies advertise “unlimited” capped broadband.

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Twitter free on Three (but why bother?)

The Twitter fail whale error message.
Nice try, Three...

I got a text message from Three (my mobile carrier) telling me that Twitter is free on my phone until March 31st. It uses one of those short-code phone numbers and there’s no indication of the cost once the promotion ends.

However, given that I have unlimited (erm… 4000 I think, so not actually unlimited) texts per month, this is utterly pointless.

I may have mentioned ping.fm before. If not, then head over there, register and link it to your phone number. It’s completely free and the number you send a text message to is a genuine UK mobile number, and therefore free to send to with any inclusive package.

It does a lot more than just post to Twitter, and it’s all customisable. I’ve set mine to forward text messages to Twitter and photo attachments sent via email to ping.fm are passed on to flickr. All of this is free, and doesn’t expire on March 31st.

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Why the new facebook layout is crap

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Facebook - at least the logo's not changed

A large number of people received the new facebook layout yesterday. I gather this was facebook’s “6th birthday present” to its users. Some had had it since earlier in the year and others still haven’t got it – but will.

There are a lot of ways of looking at the design, but the single biggest flaw is that things have changed. It’s not so much what they have changed into, but the fact that things people have become used to have been moved or tweeked for no discernible reason.

This might not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but I know of one user who’s dyslexic. For him to get used to finding something that’s moved from one corner to another is a big deal – he uses interfaces by memorising the location of things, not by visually recognising them. He has to relearn the interface from scratch – and for what purpose? None that I can ascertain.

I don’t use facebook to any great depth, so what I’ve spotted is likely to be fairly superficial. However, none of it makes any sense to me. First up is shifting the bottom bar around. The chat area is still at the bottom of the screen while the rest of the bar has been removed. Notifications are now in the top left instead of the bottom right.

This does give an extra line of screen real estate. I think. Or is the top now a little larger? However, it’s this particular move that’s caused problems for my dyslexic friend (and I’m sure many like him).

My particular bugbear is that I can’t be bothered with the news feed. It’s a mess and I really couldn’t care two hoots who is giving stupid virtual gifts to who, or who’s just got a highscore on some crappy game. I just want status updates.

In the previous version, I went to the correct area and dragged “Status” to the top of the list. Henceforth when I visited my “Home” area, I received status updates. This is no longer possible. “Home” now takes me to News Feed. It won’t even default to “Most Recent” so I have a completely useless splatter of informational crap that is of no use whatsoever.

I now have to go into “Friends” in the leftmost column. This in itself is badly-designed as there’s no indication whatsoever that “Friends” opens up sub-menus. There is a reason we have design standards, such as little boxes with “+” in them, or arrows with move from right-pointing to down-pointing. It’s simple design practise which facebook have chosen to ignore.

Once there, I’m stuck in the default Friends page and I then click on the newly-appeared “Status Updates” menu item to get what I used to find by simply clicking “Home” in the past. As far as I can tell, there is no way to set this as my default view.

Given that the press release from facebook read as follows:

A simplified home page to provide easier access to what you’re looking for on Facebook. You can now quickly navigate to commonly-used areas of the site from the top and left hand menus. From the Top Menu, you can now easily find new messages, requests, and notifications using the icons in the top, left hand corner. The left hand menu is now where you can find all of your applications, previously located in the bottom dock.

I would take issue with the use of “easily find”. Something that’s easily found should be immediately apparent, not located by means of a random search. I would also be tempted to say that the left hand columns isn’t a menu – it’s a list. Until you click on it and realise it just looks like a list.

Sure, it’s functional. There’s no denying the new look is tidier and reduces redundancy (there were so many ways on one screen to do the same thing before). But it’s very poor design. For a brand new user it lacks indication of the functionality of certain areas and for experienced users it’s moved things too far from where they were before with no obvious indication of where to look to find them.

As an aside, I think it’s badly programmed as well. This may just be coincidence, but when I left my browser (Chrome) on the Status Update page for about 11 hours yesterday when I was out, I came home to find that it was using stupid amounts of memory and froze. I never had this issue with the old design.

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Posting multiple blogs to facebook

This icon, known as the "feed icon" ...
More feeds, please, vicar!

Yes, OK. I gave up and started using facebook because so many of you don’t bother to reply to emails or use Twitter. It’s all your fault. You all suck. Fine.

One (of several) annoying things I’ve found with facebook is that it will only let you publish feed from one blog on your wall. I have two that I want to put up there. I started off with one of them, which it popped up as “notes” well enough, putting the complete blog post up. But that wasn’t enough so I started digging.

I found a few feed “aggregators” which effectively take multiple RSS feeds and create one merged feed from that. Yes, I know that’s not the correct term for them, bit it does make sense. Unfortunately, none of them published the entire article. Instead they’d publish the first few hundred words followed by a “click here to see the rest” link to the original page.

In honesty, this did the job although I know personally that I often won’t bother. And I wanted people to read everything.

For the record, the aggregator I settled on was Feedoor which did the best job with the most ease. It’s also set at my favourite price point, i.e. it’s free. [NOTE: Mamod from Feedoor saw this blog post, replied and sorted out my feed from them so that the next step wasn’t needed! Please see the comments]

As luck would have it, I just found another website. What this one does is takes partial feeds from anywhere, locates the original posts and creates a complete feed from it. This web page is Five Filters.

Popping my feed from Feedoor into Five Filters generates a complete RSS feed containing posts from both this blog and my travel blog. I put the full URL given my by Five Filters into my “notes” page on facebook and *ta-da*, the whole shebang.

Yes, only a few lines show on my wall, but it now includes the images from the blog posts and it means people can stay within facebook if they don’t want to hop out to another page. Clicking on the article takes you to the entire blog post as a note within facebook.

A bit of a long way around, but finally the job is done.

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Speedyfox

Speedyfox
Speedyfox

Recently I’ve been having problems with Firefox taking an age to boot up. I’ve more or less fully migrated to Google Chrome, but still need Firefox for some pages that don’t quite work properly in Chrome. Thing is, it’s taking about a minute to load what used to be a quick browser.

After a dig, I found this little solution called Speedyfox. It is a tiny download (0.3Mb) and essentially all it does it optimise the Firefox database. It’s Windows-only at present but it’s knocked my load time down to nearer 10 seconds. Much more acceptable!

Oh, yeah. How much does it cost?

Nothing. My kind of price point.

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