Woo Yay – Zemanta! Automatic Links and Pictures For Your Blog Entry!

March 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Posted in Blogging, Semantic Web | 4 Comments
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Source: Wikipedia

This is great news! In February, I wrote for the first time about the Zemanta browser plug-in which was supposed to allow you to enhance your blog’s content by automatically suggesting links (e.g. to Wikipedia or news pages) and pictures (e.g. on Flickr), based on a semantic analysis of your text. Today Andraz from Zemanta notified me that they went live – and the working version is even cooler than the demo they had on their website in February: In February, you had to enter text and hit a button to ‘zemify’ the text – but the current Zemanta comes as a WordPress plug-in. Every 300 characters as you type the plug-in is going to suggest further links and tags which you can apply all at once or by clicking on them – and that is of course MUCH MUCH more convenient than going to a website, copying the URL, highlighting the word and hitting the link button in WP.

The next cool feature is that a side bar shows related content (articles and pictures) on the web – which you can simply add to your blog post by, again, simply clicking on them. Extremely cool!

But of course there are a number of glitches in this early version (and how wouldn’t there be any, as they need feedback to improve):

  • The amount of code that is added to your blog entry is a bit intimidating. Adding links runs smoothly, as those links are added to text you’ve already written – but it would be cool to be given the opportunity to decide whether one wants their ‘rich’ links (with title, relation and class attributes) or just plain ones.
  • A little footer, explaining that the text was enhanced with Zemanta, is automatically added. Might sound fair enough – but it would be nicer if that were a voluntary option and didn’t happen automatically. Of course you can still remove that footer – but having to opt out is not the same as voluntarily opting in.
  • Adding a picture also automatically adds more code (span tags with e.g. margin attributes) than seems necessary – I’d rather have a plain image link (where I can easily define the size of the image myself by specifying width and alignment) than those six (!) lines of code that are pasted into my editor at the moment. It just takes far too long to scan this huge amount of information to see how it can be altered.
  • The quality of link and tag suggestions can still be improved (of course); ‘URL’ or ‘the web’ and actually not even ‘Flickr’ (because everyone knows Flickr, right?) are not a tremendous enhancement in the link department. Maybe they’ll be able to track which suggestions are used and which aren’t, and are thus able to identify the empty ones (in the same way that Google disregards ‘a’ or ‘the’ in searches). What’s going to be more difficult is to automatically identify which PHRASES should be linked – as most people (I think? I do) tend to link phrases, and not just single words. Most links in this post, and all pictures, were automatically added by Zemanta.
  • Final suggestion: The image gallery is nearly to small to assess whether the suggested images are suitable or not – but I wouldn’t know how to make them much smaller really. What’s great though is that it automatically shows which pictures you have already used and which you haven’t – so that you can automatically remove the used ones by hitting ‘minus’ in the gallery preview. At the moment, the gallery suggestions only vaguely correspond to my content – it’d probably easier if I wrote about kitten and horseys though.

That much about my feedback. I’ll keep testing Zemanta for while, and am keen to see how it is going to improve over the next weeks!

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How to Write Rich Blog Entries Faster (In The Future)

February 3, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Blogging, Language | 11 Comments
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I came across* the nifty Zemanta WordPress plug-in which automatically enhances your text with semantic links, tags, pictures – and does quite a good job at it. Using their demo, I entered the plain text of the recent Carnival post:


And Zemanta returned it as follows:

Zemanta Output

The text highlighted in orange identifies the words that are automatically converted into links. In the full working version, you can add and delete words to the list.

The obvious downside, however, is that Zemanta is not available yet – and if it was, it could probably not be used by wordpress.com users like me, but only by those who have installed WordPress on their own server space. On their own blog and website, Zemanta are not exactly spilling the beans about their immediate plans to release or not to release this plug-in (I quite like Jochen’s notion of a blog being something like a personal tabloid).

It’s also too bad that one cannot just grab the source code of an enhanced page from their demo, as the way it is coded (lot’s of div’s and id’s instead of straight links) is not accepted by wordpress.com! Neither can one simply copy the tags as they use space separation whereas WP uses comma separation (I am all for comma separation, btw, as it allows for collocations). Yet I guess their server would soon be flooded with requests if they offered a demo that allowed you to enhance a page and take the code with you.

*I’ve subscribed to a couple of blogs from Barcamp presenters, and even though I didn’t go to the next one in Klagenfurt (and would not have had anything to contribute anyway), I still get the fresh news that gets circulated there. Nice:-) According to one of those blogs, Zemanta will go beta towards the end of March. By then I might have switched to wordpress.org – and then the decision will be pending whether it wouldn’t be wiser to switch to German, too – blogging in German, however, does oddly not feel natural to me.

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