Dec 29, 2009

A Social Networking Toolbar for Your Blog

social bookmarking sitesThere are already many articles about how to put social bookmarking links on a blog. Why write another one? That's a justified question and I wouldn't have written this post without having an answer to it. Many ways to embed social bookmarks take long, slow down page loading, or lack some features. I will explain a way that is easy to install in any website or blog, is very fast in loading, and offers features for more than 230 social networks, and in about 50 languages. If this sounds useful keep on reading.

In a social bookmarking system or social network, users store lists of internet resources, which they find useful. Often, these lists are publicly accessible, and other people with similar interests can view the links by category, or tags. In order to get backlinks and incoming traffic, and pagerank, it is an imperative to make tagging and bookmarking easy. I wrote about this in my article on social networking features for blogs.

There are many posts on how to put social bookmarking features on a blog, however most posts I saw on social bookmarking features propose a method that uses several images. Sometimes you are required to upload these images, other posts propose that each time your blog is loaded, these images have to be loaded from different hosting services. If you want a fast loading blog, you'd better not do this.

In this post I show a way I haven't seen implemented in any blog yet (however on a few other websites). It uses CSS Sprites for fast loading, provides many features for customization, and is very easy to install.

Addthis is a social bookmarking service and it's one of addthis lesser-known feature I am going to present in this post. I accidentally found out its toolbox options when looking in the addthis javascript file.

You can specify the social networks you want to use and customize the look. In the following, starting from an example, I show how to put a social bookmarking toolbar on any website or blog. In the end I come to which social networks are most used.

Default Look

A typical social networking toolbar would look like this:

This is the HTML code which you would have to insert into your template to get exactly the toolbar above:

<div class="addthis_toolbox addthis_default_style">
<a class="addthis_button_email" title="Email"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_print" title="Print"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_twitter" title="Tweet This"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_facebook" title="Share to Facebook"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_myspace" title="Share to MySpace"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_stumbleupon" title="StumbleUpon"></a>
<a class="addthis_button_digg" title="Digg This"></a>
<span class="addthis_separator">|</span>
<a class="addthis_button_expanded" title="More Choices">More</a><script src='' type='text/javascript'></script>

To install this toolbar in a blogger template you would paste this code typically below this line:
<p class='post-footer-line post-footer-line-3'/>


You can put any social network there and completely customize the toolbar. This is the way to set the destination (social network) and the icon:
<a class="addthis_button_destination code"></a>

You can find about 230 more destination codes on the addthis services list.

Addthis offers an analytics feature which you can use if you register with addthis. Note that it is optional to register. The analytics feature shows most used services on your blog, bookmarked content, and where people came from who bookmarked. If you want to see this you should add your addthis username to the script call like this:
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>

By default, the language of the visitor's browser is recognized and your toolbox is adapted correspondingly. If you want to use always a particular language, you can also do it.

Most Popular Social Networks

Ok, now which social networks should you choose? As of now, according to addthis data from the last 180 days, internationally these social bookmarking sites were most used:
most popular social networking sites

On the same page you can also see the most popular social network sites for specific countries and also upcoming social bookmarking sites. As of December 2009 sites with most gains of usage are Sonico, meinVZ, Nujij, OKNOtizie, and orkut.

Now that you have a great toolbar, you are one step closer to success.

Success in social networks depends on many factors. You might want to read my summary of scientific studies about digg, called How Digg Works to get a better idea about these factors.

I hope this post was useful to you. Which social networks would you want to put in such a toolbar?

Dec 25, 2009

Caganers - Christmas Traditions in Catalonia (Spain)

Christmas cribs around the world are adapted to local characteristics to express the idea that Jesus was born just next door. In sub-Saharan Africa all crib figures are black, in Peru they wear ponchos, in Catalonia, Spain, they wear a hat, which is called barretina. There are other local features apart from landscape and clothes that express local identity. Spain advertises to tourists "Spain is different" and Christmas traditions in Catalonia, Spain, are in fact surprising to people who hear of it the first time: the nativity scene contains a guy who defecates.

The Catalan obsession with scatology is baffling to visitors from outside of Catalonia. It's a Catalan tradition to put a caganer (literally pooper) next to the crib, a guy who poops. Usually a bit hidden, the caganer can be a shepherd or some famous football players like Messi, Henry, a members of the Spanish royal family, or anybody who achieved some fame during the year.

Aquesta nit cagaràImage by SantiMB via Flickr
 caga tió
There is another Catalan tradition which is the caga tió, literally the "poop trunk." In Catalonia it is this log that poops out the presents.

Catalans find a tree trunk in the woods (it's also sold), the Christmas Log (Tió de Nadal). This trunk gets a face painted on and is wrapped in a blanket.

During the days before Christmas the tree is fed and looked after with care. Then the 24th, 25th, or 26th of December, after singing or praying, little children take a stick and say a rhyme, for example the following one:

Caga tió,
caga turró,
que si no, et donarem,
un cop de bastó.

This can be translated as Poop trunk, poop turron, because if you don't, we'll hit you with the stick.

After that they get the presents from below the blanket.

You might also want to read about German Christmas traditions. Happy Christmas and Bon Nadal to everyone. What do you think about Catalan Christmas traditions? Do you know about other curious traditions? Please vote this post up if you like it and leave a comment below for questions and suggestions. 

Dec 17, 2009

The Importance of Comments for a Blog

Comments are an important part of blogs. In this post I summarize several scientific studies on blogging and commenting. Two conclusions are that comments are important for feedback and self-expression and to build social links. Furthermore they are related to inbound links and and traffic, they contribute content and are useful for search engine optimization.

In one of my last posts I asked how to attract more comments on a blog and discussed some of the technical and motivational aspects. To find out more about commenting I was motivated to search for some literature about blogging and some studies on blog commenting.

Comments are one of the distinctive features of a weblog (blog) compared most other websites. According to the 2004 article Bridging the Gap: A Genre Analysis of Weblogs by Susan C. Herring, Lois Ann Scheidt, Sabrina Bonus, and Elijah Wright (the two other features that distinguish blogs from more traditional websites are that they are frequently updated and contain less multimedia). Comments allow a conversational exchange between readers and authors. Authors ultimately retain editorial control over the blog's content.

Many blog readers are themselves bloggers and many commentators therefore are bloggers. According to the article expressing social relationships on the blog through links and comments by Noor Ali-Hasan and Lada Adamic, commenting constitutes one form of link building to form social relationships between bloggers. The other two forms are blogrolls and citations (referring to a post on another blog in a post).

Blogging is a highly social activity. Bloggers within a community of blogs, a blogosphere, are more likely to link to each others and to leave comments. Within communities of blogs ties are often reciprocal. On-line relationships can often extend offline.

Noor Ali-Hasan and Lada Adamic surveyed bloggers from the United States, the United Emirates, and Kuwait, and found that the main motivation for starting a blog was to express oneself.

This was confirmed by Matt Sussman in the article The What and Why of Blogging, part of Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2009. The image below shows distribution of responses to the question "Why do you blog?"

As can be seen, sharing expertise and speaking one's mind is seen as a main motivation for blogging. This means that principal motivations of blogging are related to inter-communication.

Gilad Mishne and Natalie Glance made a statistical analysis of more than half a million blogs and more than half a million comments, which is published in the article, Leave a Reply - An Analysis of Weblog Comments (2006). Among other things, they analyzed commenting patterns in relation to blog popularity and comment content to blog access in search.

They found that while there are some blogs that have many, until 1000 comments per post, the average is much lower. More than 90 percent of blogs had commenting enabled, however only about 15 percent of posts or 28 percent of blogs had comments. There were on average 0.9 comments per post and comments were posted on average during 2.1 days after the post was published. Comments were on average 63 words long.

Some of the highly commented blogs were personal journals, where comments came from a group of the blogger's friends, and comments were not necessarily related to the post. For a given blog, a high number of comments to a post is often related to highly controversial topics (such as Iraq, Muslim, etc.) or to links from mainstream media.

Mishne and Glance estimated that comments amount to about 10 to 20 percent of the total text volume of the blogosphere. They found that comments contributed significantly to search results. This implies usefulness in search engine optimization, SEO. They noticed that comments often added additional descriptive keywords.

They found a relationship of blog popularity in terms of incoming links and page views on the one hand, and number of comments on the other hand. Blogs which have more comments have more incoming links and more pageviews (this also holds vice versa).
Number of commentspage viewsincoming links
1–10423.2 (-7%)130.4 (+95%)
11–50485.3 (+7%)158.5 (+137%)
51–100650.8 (+43%)261.2 (+291%)
101+1894.6 (+317%)600.3 (+800%)

This means that the number of comments in a blog is an indicator of the significance of a blog.

Krishnamurthy in his article The multidimensionality of blog conversations, writes this:
The number of comments per post is perhaps the truest and most diagnostic metric of the nature of communication on a weblog. The posts that are most insightful or controversial get the most comments. Those that are pedestrian do not get many comments”.

Enjoy. Feel yourself invited to leave a comment here.

Dec 12, 2009

Thanks to November's Top Visitors

My Outsourced Brain has made a great improvement in visitor statistics last month. Thanks to everybody who visits and comments here. Thanks especially to people from entrecard who drop here as often as possible. Hopefully we've been able to give you some interesting time with our content. If you like our posts, please consider getting updates via feed, e-mail, or twitter.

In this post I am listing top visitors and top commentators of November.

First, a bit late, but better than never, here come the top ten droppers of November:
  1. Robot Armageddon

    Robot Armageddon is dedicated to bringing you the newest developments in robotics, science and technology that prove robots will eventually take over the world.

  2. Nolitz hunting

    Watch hunting videos from all video sharing websites in one place and keep track of the best published video on the net.


    The view from my window.

  4. Perfect Shave Dispatch

    Wet-shaving has transformed a dreaded routine into a ritual I look forward to every day. Through my blog I would like to bring this experience to more classic shaving enthusiasts around the world.


    Personal blog.

  6. Free Free Free

    All about Freeware. Free antivirus, anti spyware, image editor, image viewer, browser, utilities, video tool, converter etc

  7. Videos 4 U

    The only online video list you will ever need.


    Popular blog about free video game, anime, manga, and cartoon related paper crafts. Includes links to hundreds of web sites on 3D paper models, origami, dioramas, paper automata, paper art, paper toys and pop-up cards.

  9. General Illarteracy

    What the Illarterate team -- which actually consists of just one person -- is getting up to.
    In reality, it's miscellaneous minor web projects.

  10. Entreblogger

    MMO blog

Thanks also to the top commentators. Here comes a top five list of commentators until today:

I plan to repeat these rankings for top droppers and commentators each month.

We would be happy to welcome you again this month. Enjoy.

Correction: Updated top commentators list from all past comments (last list included only the last 100 comments).

Dec 7, 2009

How Plant Science Can Help to Fight World Hunger

food from plantsAlong human history, more than 7000 plant species have been collected or cultivated by humans, but according to Food and Ariculture Organization from the U.N. (F.A.O.) about a 95% of human caloric needs is provided by only 30 crops plants, and four of them are responsible for more than the 60% of human ingested calories (wheat, rice, maize and potatoes). In order to increase food production, it is important to understand how plant productivity can be improved.

Now scientists can use plant genetics to increase plant productivity and have an opportunity to fight world hunger. Here I am going to explain how crop plants production can be increased and which projects are being developed for this purpose. The image shows food from plants (Credits for the image: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

This post is divided into different parts. In the first part I want to motivate why we need to improve food plant production and I also try to put the historical context of crop plant research. In a second part I explain the current state of the art of plant research. Scientists are exploring many techniques to improve crop plants, at the same time that they try to preserve biodiversity. Finally I explain an international program that not only applies the newest technologies and research to crop plant production, but also makes the crops available to disadvantaged farmers in the developing world.

World Population

World Population has been growing at high rates (between 1,1% and 2,20%) in the last 100 years, with a peak in growth population rate in the 1960's, as can be seen in the World Population Prospects: 2008 revision from the U.N. The graphic below, also from the U.N. World Population Prospects show the expected increase of population from 1950 to 2050. It can be observed that, in spite of the slowing rate of growth, human world population could be in excess of 8 billion people by 2050 (Image source: Population growth. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).
Population growth from 1950 to 2050

Green Revolution

David Hoisington, was the director of the Genetic Resources program at the CIMMYT (the Spanish acronym for the center of maize and wheat improvement). In his 1999 article, Plant genetic resources: What can they contribute toward increased crop productivity? published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science (PNAS), he stated that the increasing of food demand without an increase of natural resources base is a great challenge. The article explains the perspectives of how plant genetics can help to fight hunger and gives some positive examples. Particularly it explains how the great increase of Mexico's wheat production was performed in 1940's. This increasing of wheat productivity was conceived at the CIMMYT and is considered the beginning of the Green Revolution.

The green revolution was a first attempt to use new technologies to increase food production and produced an increase of world grain production of 250% between 1950 and 1984. In 1943 most of the world were hungry and the vision of a Malthusian catastrophe was very extended. This means that many people believed that world population would grow exponentially and the agriculture production would not be sufficient to feed the world, producing famine. In Mexico, the government thought that the solution was in the technology and they created the CIMMYT. Using fungicides, fertilizers and plant breeding with Japanese dwarf wheat varieties, the wheat production in Mexico was multiplied and Mexico became a self-sufficient country.

The same scheme was then translated to India and some other Asia Countries with success. Africa did not benefit much from the green revolution, particularly because of the lack of irrigation. The methods of the Green revolution were criticized later by environmentalists but the truth is that the Green revolution helped to reduce the world hunger and Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution won the Nobel Peace prize in 1970 due to his contribution to the fight against world famine. The story of Norman Bourlag and Green revolution can be read in the John Pollock 2008 article in Technology Review, Green Revolutionary.

Plant Research

As a consequence of the Green revolution some centers were founded to investigate crop plants, as the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research) research centers founded in 1970 to consolidate the achievements made in agriculture research. Main interests in the study of crop plants are genome sequencing, relation between genotype (the genetic constitution) and phenotype (the physical traits), and the preservation of biodiversity by means of plant gene banks.

Plant Genetics

The first crop plant genome completed was the rice genome. Two articles with the genome of two different varieties of rice, the indica and the Japanica, appeared in Science magazine in April 2002. The Indica variety was sequenced by Jun Yu of the Beijing Genomics Institute and the University of Washington Genome Center, with colleagues at 11 Chinese institution (A Draft Sequence of the Rice Genome (Oryza sativa L. ssp. indica) ). The Japanica variety was sequenced by a team led by Stephen Goff and colleagues at Syngenta (A Draft Sequence of the Rice Genome (Oryza sativa L. ssp. japonica) ). Other plant genomes are also being studied, the most important projects are the sequencing of wheat and barley.

Since man started to domesticate plants, they chose always the best adapted plants for their interests in order to increase productivity. Plant Breeding has been used since then to increase plant productivity. Of new techniques can be applied to plant breeding the best known is the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops, but the controversy about them made it expensive and difficult for public organisms to use this method.

In the article of Jorge Dubcovsky in Crop Science edition of November 2004, Marker-Assisted Selection in Public Breeding Programs: The Wheat Experience, he explains some applications of a new technique developed, the Marker assisted selection. It consists of the use of DNA tags to choose the variety with the traits of interest. The selection works not by choosing the trait directly, but by choosing the marker associated with it. An example of a marker, can be the morphological alteration of the interesting variety (colour, form, etc).

When traditional breeding is used to produce superior crops, many years may be needed in order to find the desired combination of genes, and the only way to know whether a plant has the desired gene or not is planting and waiting the plant to grow. The new techniques reduce the waiting time. But in order to use the marker assisted selection, the relationship between the phenotype, such as resistance to drought or resistance to some disease, and the genotype of crop plants must be well known. In the IPK, Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Research, some projects are focused on this relationship, especially with crops wheat and barley.

Gene Banks and Conservation Biodiversity

When the best variety of a crop plant is planted on many fields, the region becomes a mono-culture and the biological diversity decreases. What happens if a new disease appears and the selected variety is not resistant to it? Or what if the field becomes more dry and the plant wasn't prepared for it?

The most logical way to find more varieties is going where wild crop grow, at the center of origins of that plant. Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist and geneticist, established that there are only 8 centers of origin of the most important crop plants, as it can be seen in the figure below (source: Center of origin. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.)
Vavilov centers of origin.
Recognizing the risk of loss of genetic variability, Vavilov started to collect plants in 1920, producing the first bank of plant genetic material. His theories of crop origin, cultivation and evolution are the scientific basis for the collection exploration and conservation of crop plants diversity. Andreas Börner, who published a review article in 2006 in the Biotechnology Journal, Preservation of plant genomics in biotechnology era, where - apart from Vavilov's theories - he explained how the seeds are conserved in gene banks. This is usually at -15ºC in dry conditions or at ultra-low temperatures when dry conditions are not possible. The most important Genebank is located in Germany, the IPK genebank, with more than 26000 collected samples.

Challenge Generation Program

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, mentioned above, created a broad network of research centers and national agricultural research programs that work collectively in the Generation Challenge Program (GCP) not only to use research to obtain better crops, but also to made the improved crops available to disadvantaged farmers in tropic areas. The name of the program comes from Norman Bourlag, who at the launch of U.N. Millennium Development Goals in 2000 stated:
I challenge the next generation to use these new scientific tools and techniques to address the problems that plague the world’s poor.

The mission of the Generation Challenge program is to use genetic diversity to improve crops for greater food security in the developing world. The focus is on drought resistance, one of the main problems for farmers in the developing world. The program consists on five subprograms, where each one focuses on a different research. Currently the second subprogram is being developed, which puts the effort on the analysis and comparison of plant genomes in order to understand genes and non-coding regions function within the genome.

One of the most important funding agencies of the Generation Challenge Program is the European Comission who imposes as a condition for the funding not to use GMOs. Both, David Hoisington and Andreas Börner refer to genetic modification in their articles, coinciding in the opinion that GMOs are a faster way to produce better crops, not mentioning any safety problems. However there is a lot of public controversy about genetically modified food safety.

As we see in this post there are a lot of techniques to increase food production, to feed a growing population. Are they suficient? What is your opinion?
famine, genetics, plants, politics, research, science

Dec 3, 2009

Special Pages in Blogger

Remark: This post explains how to create special pages by making changes to the blogger template. As of January 2010, blogger provides a simpler way for the creation of special pages than the way explained here. This feature can be found in the blogger draft dashboard, under posting->edit pages.

Special pages are pages such as contact, feedback, or information for advertisers. The standard way to create such special pages on blogger is to create a new post. This means that readers will see date and time, labels, the post author, maybe even ads on your special page just like on a normal post. I found out recently how to create more professionally looking special pages in blogger and in this post I explain how to create them.

One of the articles I see again and again in variations on different blogs is the one about special pages in blogger. Usually the only thing it says it that you should create an article, where you omit comments and backlinks in the options. You would date back this article so it doesn't show up in the blog feed. To me this kind of special pages in blogger don't look professional enough.

The way to create special pages which allows most customization is to host them outside of blogger, however these pages would not be integrated with your blogger page layout. This week I learned about a different way to create special pages in blogger which are both professional in look and integrated into your site. I read about this first from an article in blogspot vision and I've since found similar suggestions on other blogs.

This second way to create professionally looking special pages in blogger involves linking to a page in "/search/label/" and putting a conditional in the template so that your text shows only up if the visitors go to that link. That's what the other article explained, however how to do it?

It cost me a lot of time to figure out the details to make it work but I created two special pages which you may want to see to know how these pages look like, one for advertisers and another one for feedback. In this post I explain the exact details on how to create them.

Start by thinking of a name for your special page, say, contact. The address would be then

Now edit the template. In the blogger dashboard go to layout->edit HTML and mark expand widget templates. Before you edit make sure you have a backup of your template (you can make one by clicking on download template).

We need to edit inside the blog widget. Search for <b:includable id='main' var='top'>. The code within this include and the </b:includable> is responsible for showing posts. We need to create the following structure:

<b:includable id='main' var='top'>
<b:if cond='data:blog.url == &quot;;'>

<!-- here you put the text you want to show up for your special page -->

<b:else/><!-- if not special page show post -->

<!-- don't change the code here which shows your posts -->


Your changes are the following:
  1. the conditional <b:if ...,
  2. directly followed by the text for your special page,
  3. <b:else/>,
  4. </b:if> before the closing </b:includable>.
  Leave the spaces in the conditional (" == "), otherwise it might not work.   Note that you leave the earlier code for the post untouched.   After these changes you should have your special page ready and once you save you should see it show up at your chosen location   As for styling, you could use the same style as for the posts. For the heading you can use <h1 class='post-title entry-title'><a href=''>Contact</a></h1> and include the rest in <div class='post-body entry-content'> and </div>.   With styling, the structure will be like this: <b:includable id='main' var='top'> <b:if cond='data:blog.url == &quot;;'> <h1 class='post-title entry-title'><a href=''>Contact</a></h1> <div class='post-body entry-content'> <!-- here you put the main text you want to show up for your special page --> </div> <b:else/> <!-- if not special page show post --> <!-- don't change the code here which shows your posts --> </b:if> </b:includable>   If you want to use javascript within your special page, you have to convert special characters. You can use the tool at to help you with that (choose convert special characters and <>).   Enjoy. Please tell me about your own special pages.