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How to link to an individual question in Google Moderator

The Obama administration’s just finished “Open for Questions“, where the President answered questions suggested and voted by the general public over the web. This is pretty cool – political openness, interaction, and democracy via the web. It’s also interesting to me because the site uses Google Moderator, a product we use at work all the time.

What’s not quite so cool is that Moderator apparently doesn’t play well with the rest of the web. I’m not sure why it was designed this way (and if I did know, I probably couldn’t tell you anyway). The design is the exact opposite of unobtrusive javascript. That’s fine for highly interactive web apps but it would be nice to see the mostly text content in Moderator made searchable just like any other collection of web pages.

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Use OpenId in your WordPress blog for comments and your identity

Worn old welcome mat The web has evolved into this amazing place filled with user-created content, blogs, wikis, photo sharing sites, and users can enter comments on just about all of them. But there’s a problem – commenting in Blogger, Flickr, and some random self-hosted WordPress blog requires you to create user accounts or type in tedious contact information separately in each one.

As a user, you probably want to spend your time commenting rather than remembering usernames and passwords.  As a blogger, you no doubt want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to comment on your posts.  What we need is some really powerful identity management system to make this all possible.

OpenID is an attempt at creating such a system that seems to be growing quickly.  Instead of hundreds of usernames and passwords you have a simple URL that you control.  I just added it to my WordPress blog to see if it’s helpful, and I’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to use it and allow your commenters to use it too.

How to use your blog as your OpenID

First off, you need to get an OpenID.  Luckily, you probably already have one.  Major sites like Blogger, LiveJournal, Flickr, and Yahoo are supporting OpenID so you can just go with what you have.  You can also go with a specific provider.  Which one should you use?  It doesn’t really matter, since you can use your site’s URL as your OpenID and switch providers whenever you want.

Now that you have a URL, you need to use delegation to allow your site’s URL to stand in.  In WordPress, this means opening up the header.php and adding a few lines to your <head> section.  If you’re using Google’s Blogger (like me), the links would look something like this:

<link rel=”openid.server” href=”http://draft.blogger.com/openid-server.g” />
<link rel=”openid.delegate” href=”http://blogname.blogspot.com/” />

One side note – if you view the source of this page, you won’t see these lines.  I’m using my root domain instead.

For more information, see this post by Sam Ruby.

How to use OpenID for comments in WordPress

This part is simple – like everything else you want to do with WordPress, there’s a plugin.  Just download and install the WP-OpenID plugin and activate it.

You should notice a little OpenID icon in the fields for the comments below this post.  Go a head and test it out.

Create a survey or poll for your blog with Google Docs and Spreadsheets

You may have noticed the snazzy poll I posted on my blog the other day.  There’s a number of different survey and poll plugins for WordPress but all the ones I’ve looked at have caveats and limitations.  You can also use a service like SurveyMonkey but it has some data limitations for free accounts.  Instead, I used Google Docs and Spreadsheets to create a survey quickly and easily.  Here’s how to do it.

1. Getting to Google Docs and starting your form

We’re going to assume you have a Gmail account or have signed up for some other Google service already.  Go to http://docs.google.com.  Click on New -> Form

2.  Creating your form

This is actually pretty easy, and the online help does a pretty good job explaining what to do.  You have a number of options when creating a question – you can make it multiple choice, full text, or even a numerical scale, and you can mark some questions as required.  If you’re looking for the “Add question” button, it’s up at the top of the page rather than below the last question.

3.  Publishing the survey on your site

After you’ve created your form, use the More Actions button to find the Embed option.  Just copy this iframe into your blog post – it’s that simple. You’ll get code that looks something like this:

<iframe src=”http://spreadsheets.google.com/embeddedform?key=ppevxmL24UqnRb77Xy3AOWg” width=”310″ height=”1044″ frameborder=”0″ marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″>Loading…</iframe>

You can change the height and weight to better fit your blog template.  Keep in mind that some blogging software will not let you post HTML code and others, like WordPress, require you to use the HTML view.

If you can edit your template or sidebar you can even include the poll on every page, instead of just putting it in a post.

4.  Getting data

Here’s where it gets really cool – the data is automatically collected into a spreadsheet that you can share, edit online, or export to Microsoft Excel.  It’s pretty easy to export CSV for a statistical package like SPSS too.

There’s an optional fifth step, creating a chart or graph to let your users see the results, that I’ll cover later.  If you can’t wait just jump back to my post about urban usability and read about how I created the time-series chart there.