Axentric A weblog powered by Tackboard. http://www.axentric.com/ en-us NYTimes.com - We didn't do too bad. http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/20 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/20 Mon, 3 Apr 2006 04:31:00 CDT Well, I haven’t blogged in awhile… but I’ll tell ya’ll ‘bout that in the next installment.

I’m writing to tell the world that, after kicking butt on the re-design of The Onion, we just launched a re-alignment of the 10-year old New York Times website! There’s alot that can (and will) be said about it (good AND bad). Most of all, it’s not quite what it could be. Nevertheless, considering the challenges of championing standards based “Web 2.0” development in a giant legacy company like the New York Times... I’m going to say we didn’t do half bad.

Yeah—I know… this is a completely random project for me. But—It’s the New York Times! So, I hope ya’ll enjoy—despite the ineffiencies.

At New York Times Digital they have alot of fantastic resources, so I know it will come along in short order.

Remember, this is one small step for the NYTimes, but one giant leap for the world of CSS and standards based development.

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People Helping People Travel http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/19 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/19 Thu, 23 Jun 2005 13:30:00 CDT Could Sixtyspots be that thing I alluded to way back in March? If it were, it sure has taken awhile… it must be the cheese and the macaroni!

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G-Money – Yo! http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/18 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/18 Mon, 20 Jun 2005 11:25:00 CDT Ignoring for a minute that Microsoft already did the “Wallet” thing with MSN, it should be noted that Google owns googlemoney.com, but not googlewallet.com (snapped up just 3 days ago) or gwallet.com.

Not that this necessarily means anything, they don’t own gmoney.com either. All I know for sure is that I can’t wait to plop down my G-Money Card at the local Targét! ;)

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Musical Baton http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/17 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/17 Tue, 17 May 2005 10:50:00 CDT Ok, so like, I’m a fairly hip guy. I’m usually on top of things. I’m often one of the first couple people to bookmark something on del.icio.us or Wists.

Apparently though, I’m not hip at all. I’m a tortoise. The latest meme, the “Musical Baton”, just fell on my head this morning.

Peter, Noah, Anatoly, and Jeremy passed the baton this-a-way last night and it flew right by me. Now I’m sitting here, a whole 10-20 hours later, trying desperately to find 5 people who haven’t already conquered this thing… thanks guys!

Oh well, here goes…

Total volume of music files on my computer

11.16 GB

The last CD I bought was

In Between Dreams - Jack Johnson

Song playing right now

Lean Back Remix - Terror Squad, Mase, Eminem, Lil' Jon

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me

  1. My Way - Frank Sinatra
  2. Banana Pancakes - Jack Johnson
  3. I Feel Fine - Riddlin' Kids
  4. Money Comes And Goes - Mase
  5. The Love - A Tribe Called Quest

(iTunes Library sorted by play count - whoa!)

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton

  1. Andre
  2. Dunstan
  3. Hanni
  4. Jeff
  5. Nick

(Sorry!)

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This is why I hate salad bars http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/16 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/16 Fri, 13 May 2005 16:25:00 CDT Mother Futon noticed I haven’t been posting so frequently. This is a sure sign that I’ve placed way too much on my plate. I do this at salad bars too. I always come back to the table with a mound of lettuce, fifty tomatoes, a dozen cucumbers, and a pile of croutons – do I really need that much salad before a meal? I think not.

I’ve so many ideas, and so many opportunities. Working on today’s “New Internet” is already starting to feel a lot like salad bar hacking. Apparently I’m not alone either.

What have I been over-indulging on lately? Well, first, there’s my job that I never seem to talk about. You see… I’m a full time consultant. I’ve come to realize that the whole 9 to 5 thing can take up way more time than should really be necessary. Thankfully it pays accordingly because it is by far my most time consuming obligation.

Then there are the big things. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with David working on Wists and some other things. I’m pretty excited about this because I see a ton of potential in Wists and, like I’ve mentioned before, David has some truly earth shattering ideas for the project.

Before I could really dig into Wists though, there was the Ajax Summit. I’ve been really nervous ever since I was invited to present at this event by Adaptive Path a couple weeks back. I scrambled to get something “cool” finished for the presentation, only to realize there simply wasn’t enough time in my days. I decided to just go with the flow.

I had nothing revolutionary to introduce. Let’s face it, this little Tackboard thing may have been cool a few months ago, but it’s been replicated a hundred times over now. How can a little guy like me really impress a room dotted with the biggest geeks on the Web? He can’t.

Nonetheless, I shared a few thoughts, examples, ideas, projects, and milestones. I don’t know if I served up any divine knowledge in my presentation, but at least a bunch of very cool people now have a face to put with my name.

I felt most at home during the second day’s round table discussion. I had a lot to say there, more than most it seemed. I was quite surprised to see how many stayed relatively quiet during what I expected to be the most productive phase of the summit. Derek Powazek fed us an eloquent analogy, “Ajax is to traditional Web, what instant messaging is to e-mail”. This is a perfect way to describe the technology to managers, clients, etc. It must have worked for him because he showed off an immensely ajaxified, and drop dead gorgeous, Technorati redesign.

After flying all night, I got back from San Francisco yesterday morning and headed straight back to the office. I’m exhausted, but it was worth it. I had a great time, met a bunch of great people, made some good business contacts, and I think I made a few new friends too.

So what now? As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to be spending more time on Wists. I’m not yet sure where I’m going to find this time, as I’ve already been spending the bulk of my free time on that “next big thing” I talked about when I got back from the Bahamas. I did buy a shiny new Vietnamese coffee press in San Francisco though; hopefully that can help power me through a few sleepless nights.

I’ve yet to even mention what’s going on with Higgle, and completely ignored the fact that I’ve yet to release this Tackboard. But since I’ve been going on about not having enough time, I’ll save those topics for another article. Noah says I should be writing at least daily anyway, so now you have something to look forward too. ;)

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Yakkity Yak! Let Me Talk Back! http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/15 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/15 Tue, 3 May 2005 13:02:00 CDT Blogs are all about communication. Like any great medium of communication, blogging should be full duplex.

Knowing that blatantly obvious fact, why is it that so many blogs do not let readers leave comments? It’s baffling.

Communication is about exchanging thoughts, information, and ideals. It’s about making connections. It’s about talking with people – not to people.

More grating than this blunder is the surprising amount of bloggers who leave topics open for discussion yet fail to participate in the dialogue they create. Being one of these types is a sure way to get dropped from my feed reader.

I can’t take your opinions seriously if you are unable or unwilling to discuss them in real-time with your fans or your foes.

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The Big Apple http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/14 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/14 Fri, 29 Apr 2005 14:00:00 CDT I can’t get anything done today. I’ve just been sitting here watching the clock spin.

This is bad news. In exactly one week I leave for San Francisco for five days to have a little chat about Ajax. It would be nice to get some things done before then, but at this rate, I’ve already failed.

You see, today is Tiger Day. At 6pm I will be heading over to the Apple Store and grabbing a pretty new Powerbook. I’ve never been this excited over a new piece of computing paraphernalia.

What’s worse? Keegan, Ryan, and The Noobs have decided to tease me with a peek at their new site, I Heart Widgets. This is the most fantastic looking “coming soon” page I have ever seen. I hate them for it. I signed up first thing this morning, and I’ve been refreshing ever since. I know it won’t be launched today… but I persevere.

David & I have come up with a few ideas for a little widget. To be honest, the widget isn’t as cool as the web app that will accompany it; I just want to make widgets… lot’s of them… but I can’t. Not until 6pm.

It’s 2pm now. Widgets, I heart you! We will be together soon.

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What do you think about “tag clouds”? http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/13 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/13 Tue, 19 Apr 2005 16:05:00 CDT Earlier today Zeldman compared the abundance of weighted tag lists to fads like “fanny packs, [and] mullets”. Since I don’t see anyone else opening the subject up for comments, I will.

While I agree that the recent popularity lends a bit towards faddishness, I think tag clouds (more broadly, info clouds) are a very useful way of presenting lots of information (and some information about that information) in a condensed, yet readable, format. Even he admits “tag clouds are not dumb”.

I’ve seen a bunch of people add some brief quips about Zeldman’s comments to their link blogs and del.icio.us, most a short statement of agreement. My question is, if so many agree, why are they so popular?

On several of my sites (including here) I use weighted lists of information (not just tags) to prioritize content. Am I just a trend whore?

Andy said: “I'm convinced there are better ways of displaying top tags than this”.

If tag clouds (ignoring info clouds for the rest of this post) are a poor way of displaying this type of information then what is a better alternative?

Wists, a tag based system for visual bookmark management, displays tags in a more traditional manner of classification by using “tag groups” or “meta-tags”. This is a very cool concept (the classification of classification) and I’m interested to see it evolve. However, I don’t think the format of display is necessarily an alternative to tag clouds since there is no indication of popularity or importance. Nevertheless, this is surely a different means of displaying, or at least organizing, lots of tags.

So what do you think…?

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Goodtime with Google Maps http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/12 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/12 Fri, 8 Apr 2005 03:32:45 CDT The other day Matt Haughey posted a Google Map of his city and added a bunch of notes. Plutor called it a “memorymap” and Johnny created a Photo Pool.

I got bored and decided to add three maps of Albany documenting just about my entire life. I’m going to add a forth shortly to cover the blank spots and catch up to where I am now. It was actually a lot of fun, and reminded me why I still love this place.

I also stitched together this full resolution image of “Circuit Gilles Villeneuve” in Montreal for all us Formula 1 lovers out there.

This was just too much fun to not post about!

(Any Google/DigitalGlobe/EarthSat employees out there have an idea why half of Albany is obfuscated?)

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Back to Reality http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/11 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/11 Thu, 31 Mar 2005 12:58:00 CST Ok, so I’m really back now. The past few weeks have been an odd mix of great and awful, only today do I finally feel like I’m settling back into reality.

My vacation to SandalsThe Royal Bahamian” could not have been any better! I had never been on an all-inclusive vacation before and it cost a bit more than otherwise upfront, so I was a bit anxious to see what it was all about… It was the best!

When Sandals says “all-inclusive” they mean ALL inclusive. On “inclusive” cruises and such, you still pay for your booze, you tip, etc. At Sandals, you pay for NOTHING. Food, alcohol, room service, activities, water sports, gratuity… it’s all included. The only time I had a wallet in my pocket was when we went into town, it felt extremely liberating.

It was just perfect. I took a few videos about 1500 photos, 150 of which I’ve put on my Flickr at low resolution. Check them out!

Just before I left, I saw that Ryan Sims of The Big Noob linked me up on Stylegala with some really nice comments. As a result of this, and the popularity of FAT, my still-an-infant blog received an insane amount of traffic over the past few weeks! Thanks to all of you for the love, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am. Thank you specifically to Ryan, finding I’d been heralded by one of the best designers in the world definitely contributed to an extremely relaxing vacation!

I returned from the Bahamas last Thursday (kicking and screaming the whole way!) to find I’d missed a whole lot, including Yahoo’s purchase of Flickr. I then spent Friday in Manhattan where I attended a party, hosted by Bruce Spector and Nick Denton, celebrating David Galbraith’s move to New York.

Meeting so many of my role models and “internet acquaintances” was a blast. Besides David, Nick, and Bruce, other big names in attendance included Jason Kottke, Matt Linderman, Joshua Schacter to name a few. I definitely found myself a bit star struck (so not cool!).

The biggest surprise of the night had to be how fucking cool Nick Denton is. I guess the grandeur of Gawker had given me an ill-formed view of Nick as another big rich successful executive of sorts. Well, he is all that I suppose, but he doesn’t bring along any of the baggage! Nick was the first in the room to introduce his self, and was extremely friendly and welcoming. We spent a good deal of time later in the night just bullshitting around with David, another extremely genuine guy. I hope that if I am ever half as successful and skilled as either of them, I can do as great a job keeping my feet on the ground.

Later in the weekend I found some time to go through my referrer logs and was thrilled to see that Erik Sagen linked me up as a “Friend”. Erik publishes Kartooner, which is in my opinion, one of the most uniquely designed, written, and illustrated weblogs on the web today. I’ll be sure to return the sentiment to Erik in the next round of Tackboard upgrades. Thanks buddy!

On Monday, I returned to the 9-5 gig where my post-vacation high started to dim. I absolutely hate the way big organizations work, it’s de-humanizing. Sufficiently bummed, I left that evening and decided to have a visit with my buddy Pat, who happened to be on vacation the same week as me. On the way to Pat’s office I was listening to radio-host Andrew Wilkow, who also happened to be on vacation the same week as me. He was telling a very interesting story about his travels that stuck with me.

I got to Pat’s office and we began chatting about our trips, sharing our stories, whatever, just kicking shit around really. We found that we shared a similar experience that happened to coincide with what Andrew was going on about (cryptic I know), when it hit us, The Next Big Thing (for us at least).

We started to have some sort of weird mutual brainstorm… it was cool. The whole concept we’ve come up with is pretty natural, and I think pretty neat. We’ve spent the rest of this week sketching things out, mocking things up, and I’m thrilled to say… I think we’ve got it!

This is cool enough, and natural enough that we’ve decided to pause Higgle for a moment. I hope this turns out to be a good move, we’ve invested plenty in Higgle so far, but this new thing is just neat and can really bolster our plans with Higgle in the long run.

So that’s where I’m at. I hoped my vacation would inspire and relax me, it did wonderfully. Reality had me bumming for a minute, but things have turned out for the better. It’s funny how life works.

I’ll be spending the next several weeks working on this new project pretty hard. But before I go full steam ahead, I’ll be finishing up FAT 1.0, and cleaning up the Tackboard. I’ll also try to blog more often here on out, it’s good for me.

Anyway, thank you for all the support you’ve been showing me. Go to Sandals, eat, drink, and be merry! ;)

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The Royal Bahamian http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/10 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/10 Fri, 18 Mar 2005 12:55:00 CST Tomorrow morning I leave for a week in the Bahamas to rest, drink, relax, drink, celebrate my birthday, and drink. ;)

I'm bringing along three cameras and 5.5GB of memory, so my Flickr will be more than flooded when I get back!

I'll try and get in a few more good posts before I go, but no promises… my mind is already on Bahamas time.

Thanks for all the love (353 del.icio.us bookmarks since Monday!) so many of you have given my blog these past few weeks, I'm happy to have ya'll!

Hopefully I'll be seeing some of you in Manhattan next Friday for Galbraith's party! If not, I'll catch you here on Saturday. Aloha! … or whatever the hell they say in the Bahamas… haha.

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Failsafe JavaScript: Part 1 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/9 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/9 Thu, 17 Mar 2005 17:00:00 CST You have to destroy before you rebuild. We destroyed the way web design was done; now, we've begun to rebuild.

In Phase 1 of this process we redefined the way we approached structure and presentation by building semantically rich, standards compliant, and fully accessible websites. Now, with the popularity of second generation web applications like Gmail, Flickr, and Tada we find ourselves deep into Phase 2 — redefining the way our websites work.

Designers and developers alike are once again embracing JavaScript and the DOM as a means to improve both functionality and usability. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to remember a basic principle of defensive design: “make mistakes well”.

Your JavaScript should degrade gracefully if a problem is encountered. Similarly, your accessible website should work with or without JavaScript enabled.

In this series of examples I'll discuss a few easy rules that can, in most instances, help your website make better mistakes.

Lose the Pounds, Bridge the Gap, and Clear the Void

All too often we find that the value of the href attribute in links with associated JavaScript actions is the lonely '#' — the pound. Worse, you'll occasionally find the pound supplemented with a null value, or a JavaScript void.

What does the browser do with an href of pound, null, or void? Nothing.

By using meaningless href values you make the mistake of assuming everything is going to be ok. You assume JavaScript is enabled, and you assume your script is going to execute successfully.

And well, we all know what they say about assumptions.

A Real World Exercise

This past Sunday, Neubix Studios launched The Big Noob — a beautifully designed and cleverly themed weblog about, you guessed it, themselves.

The Big Noob implements a nifty little feature that expands or collapses the main story on their home page between summary and full view.

This feature improves the readability and cleanliness of their home page. Unfortunately, if you do not have JavaScript enabled, nothing happens when you click “Continue Reading”.

For The Big Noob, this could be an easy fix…

<a href="javascript:void(0);" class="green" onclick="javascript:showLog();">
( CONTINUE READING )
</a>

…could be replaced with…

<a href="/link/to/permanent/post" class="green" onclick="javascript:showLog();">
( CONTINUE READING )
</a>

The associated JavaScript function would only need the following addition...

function showLog() {
// existing expand/collapse routine
return false;
}

By returning false within the showLog function, the browser will cancel navigation to the HREF when JavaScript is enabled.

Stepping back to Phase 1 of rebuilding the web, we could easily separate The Big Noob's behavior from their structure by replacing the “Continue Reading” link with…

<a href="/link/to/permanent/post" class="green" id="showLog">
( CONTINUE READING )
</a>

…and appending something like the following to their external JavaScript file…

window.onload = function() {
var o = document.getElementById("showLog");
if (o) o.onclick = showLog;
}

With these techniques in place, The Big Noob's non-JavaScript users would be casually directed to the existing full text version of their main story.

Next: Return True when False

Tomorrow, in Part 2 of Failsafe JavaScript, I'll explain how returning true when things are false can improve the accessibility of your application and I'll offer an example of how this technique can be applied specifically to Ajax-based websites.

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Ajax, it's nothing new. But so what? http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/8 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/8 Tue, 15 Mar 2005 18:15:00 CST In the past few months, there has been a flurry of posts by big names in the world of scripting screaming “Ajax is not new”.

Why?

I think it's obvious to most that Ajax technologies in and of themselves are nothing new. The ability to exchange data transparently within the browser has been available, and has been in use, since the mid 90's.

But so what?

One pioneer in the adoption of Ajax technologies stated this week that he believes Ajax is only now gaining in popularity because “There's not many good scripters about”. I don't think this is the case at all. There are millions of “good scripters” out there. Besides, Ajax is not that complex.

I don't attribute the popularity of Ajax to the technology or the “scripters” (myself included) who implement it.

It's designers that are making Ajax hot.

JavaScript is making a comeback because of the thoughtful design behind popular Ajax powered web applications such as Gmail, Flickr, and Ta-da Lists. These applications are beautiful because they were all designed to stay out of the user's way.

Take the Fade Anything Technique for example. There's nothing revolutionary about the code behind it. The ability to dynamically fade an element through JavaScript is as old as JavaScript itself. Nevertheless, this technique has garnered a large amount of interest in the past few days with over 250 bookmarks on del.icio.us alone.

FAT, like Ajax, is popular because it helps facilitate thoughtful design. 37signals introduced us to this concept with the Yellow Fade Technique. Their method, despite being offered without code or explanation, maintains a high level of interest because it showcases a brilliantly simple design for “[highlighting] changes without getting in someone's way”.

Ajax-like techniques have long been a part of the developer's tool belt. We know this. Ajax is making waves because designers have added it to their tool belts.

So why are some developers still yelling into megaphones?

I'm not sure. I don't know what changes by someone repeating over and over that they used something before it was popular. The fact is, they didn't use it effectively or they would have been the ones to make popular.

Maybe it's about the need for recognition? Jose Canseco syndrome perhaps? Whatever the case, you've made your point, we get it! Can we please move on now?

… And while I'm making pleas, can we please stop pumping out ever more complex Ajax-libraries? Just use what you need when you need it. Keep it simple, stupid!

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The Fade Anything Technique http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/7 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/7 Sat, 12 Mar 2005 11:00:00 CST Skip Ahead: Demo + Code

In the past few weeks, Jason Fried of 37signals' has reminded us that the “Yellow Fade Technique” (YFT), which they've implemented in such things as Basecamp and Ta-da Lists, is a friendly way to “highlight changes without getting in someone's way”. I very much agree.

The Original Yellow Fade Technique

Once convinced of the need for the YFT within my Tackboard, I took a peek at the code behind Basecamp to see how The Signals do it.

I found that their script looks for an element in the document with the ID of “fade” and then begins to loop through a pre-defined array of colors, changing the background color of the element on each pass. The script is activated by a bit of inline JavaScript.

Auditing their code gave me some good ideas for improving the technique further. I set out to solve some of the hurdles such as affixing a pre-defined ID on the element, embedding inline JavaScript, and manually specifying individual frame colors.

The Fade Anything Technique (FAT)

Skip Ahead: Demo + Code

Sufficiently inspired , I began to develop my own method. I call it the “Fade Anything Technique” (FAT) because that's just what it lets you do (plus I get a chuckle out of the acronym).

The code is a bit in-depth, so I'll save a complete rundown for another post. Here I will tell you what's improved from the YFT and explain how you can use it.

Key Features
  • Fade an infinite number of elements.
  • No inline JavaScript. Simply give an element a class of "fade", the script does the rest “automagically”.
  • Background color aware. FAT will do better than simply fade to white if the element (or it's parents) have a CSS background color, it will fade to that background color instead.
  • Fade from any color. For example, if you wanted a list of error messages to fade out from red you would simply give the list a class of "fade-FF0000".
  • Super smooth fading. By default, elements will fade at 30 frames per second (the same rate as a television) over 3 seconds. You can adjust this to any framerate and any duration. You could easily fade elements at 60 frames per second over 4, 5, 10 seconds!
How to use: Simple

Include the FAT script in your page like so:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.axentric.com/aside/fat/fat.js"></script>

Choose the element, such as a paragraph, you would like to spotlight and give it a class of "fade":

<p id="paragraph1" class="fade">Watch me fade</p>

Voila! You're done. The paragraph will fade from the default color of yellow (#FFFF33) to whatever it's native background color is.

How to use: Advanced

Change the default fade from color:

<p id="paragraph1" class="fade-0066FF">Watch me fade from Blue (#0066FF)</p>

Fade an element after the page load from a script (such as after an Ajax transaction):

Fat.fade_element("paragraph1")

The Fat.fade_element() function accepts several arguments: Target ID, Frames Per Second, Fade Duration, Fade Color, Final Color.

For example, if you wanted to fade paragraph1 from red to green at 60 frames per second for 10 seconds:

Fat.fade_element("paragraph1", 60, 10000, "#FF0000", "#00CC00")

Please note, the ID of the element is a required argument. As such all elements that you wish to fade (even by class) must have some unique ID. The ID can be anything.

Final Notes

Keep in mind this script is in an early beta stage. I've some cleaning up to do, in the meantime I'd like to hear your suggestions on new features, alterations, etc.

Nick Chapman has posted a similar twist on the YFT at his weblog. Thank you to 37signals for inspiring us all.

Watch the Demonstration


Creative Commons License

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The “Wistlet” Has Arrived http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/5 http://www.axentric.com/posts/default/5 Wed, 9 Mar 2005 00:24:00 CST For those of you who have yet to sync-up with Wists, the visually immersive social bookmarking tool from David Galbraith, now's your excuse. The new & improved “Wistlet” (developed by yours trully) is now available. Get it while it's hot!

New Features:

  • Remotely managed
  • Scrapes CSS background images
  • Prevents duplicate images
  • Detects unusable images
  • Grabs a “Thumbshot” of the page if no usable images are detected
  • Sports a more “loveable” interface

Drag The Wistlet to your browser toolbar and Wist my Tackboard to your list! :)

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