Improving Your Website With Pictures

January 3, 2010
'NeXTstation Turbo Color 33MHz' by blakespot (via Flickr). CC BY licence.

'NeXTstation Turbo Color 33MHz' by blakespot (via Flickr). CC BY licence.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is improve my web design skills and keep my eyes open for sites that I like or that do things in an interesting way.

One observation I’ve made is that most of the blogs that I prefer always use some sort of stock image for each of their entries.

One of my concerns about doing this myself has been the licensing ramifications of using pictures from the Internet. I’m certainly not in a position to take pictures of a relevant item for each topic myself. This is where a site like is most useful. Sprixi is a relatively new search engine (they are still in beta) for images that generally have a simple-to-use license. The neat thing about it is that in addition to having links explaining the licenses in a very simple way. They can also add a credit to the bottom of the image, as you can see here.

I’ve decided to double credit the image just to stay on the safe side and as an experiment for how the image will look. They have a wide variety of images. There is a legal warning for a variety of types of images.The part that caught my eye though was:

We warn you to be careful using images of people and children, especially for commercial purposes. You will most likely need to get a “model release” from the people in the image otherwise you could be infringing on a right of privacy or publicity. Do not assume the subjects of photos have consented to have their image used for anything. The same goes for images of private property, events, landmarks, attractions, artworks and copyrighted material.

So this is not a cure-all for all the legal obligations that you could be put under, so be careful before using the site. However, this site is much better than using Google Images and stealing something from there without attribution.

I’m still a bit torn about how this picture looks with the current WordPress system I’m using, so I still haven’t decided if I’ll keep doing them. It is a nice experiment to try.

Do you have any favorite sites for images or other types of content? How about other cool design tips? Let me know in the comments.

If You’ve Got Unlimited Texts…Use Them

September 26, 2009

Followers of this blog know that I am not a fan of text messages or more specifically the crazy rates cell phone companies charge for them. These 160-character (and by the way, when’s the last time you got a 160-character message from someone) communiqu├ęs can cost 20 cents a message.

However, some people have avoided this problem by getting unlimited text messaging. One option to take advantage of this is to send and receive massive amounts of messages, but that doesn’t show much creativity. One way to really take advantage of unlimited texting is a new service called DotGo, which I heard about here from the good folks at

DotGo allows you to send the domain name of a website in a text message to them. The top-level domain (e.g. .com, .org. .edu) will determine the number that what number you use for the text message. The number is actually spelled out using the letter values on the number pad, (DOTCOM address go to the number 368266.) which makes it easy to remember.

You are then sent a text message with a description of how to interact with the website you’ve entered. When you use this website, you’ll get a list of the last ten blog posts (in 3 separate messages) and if you wanted to read any of them you would just reply with the number for that entry. Dotgo would then send you a series of text messages until the whole article is sent.

While this may not be the most efficient way to read a website, many other website are much more optimized to use this technology. If you use enter Google or Yahoo and a search term, DotGo will return some of the top hits. There is a simulator on their website, but it was not working for me when I tried it.

One very useful integration for me was with NJTransit. You simply send them the message NJTransit and the locations you want to go between, (for example “njtransit nypenn woodbridge”) and they will send you back a schedule of trains.

Some queries got returned faster than others and my tests were mostly done during off-hours, but the service was pretty speedy overall. While this certainly will not replace browsing on a web-enabled cell phone, if you don’t have an advanced phone and you need a way to get information, this may be exactly what you need.

The service is free, but some of the sites it has integrated with will have ads embedded at the end of messages about them. They promise and I haven’t gotten any spam or other unrequested messages from them. All of the tests I did, did not have any ads, but I’m sure that will change as the service matures.

Is this something that you might use? Let me know in the comments.

Political Blog Entry Alert

January 31, 2009

Not to fear, this is not turning into a blog about politics, but there are a number of interesting websites out there that explore this fascinating topic in a non-partisan way.

One of the most interesting item I’ve come across recently is the Obamameter. This website is tracking the ability of President Barack Obama to keep his campaign promises. The site is tracking over 500 of them and they range across almost every political issue. At the time of this writing, President Obama has, by their count, kept six of his promises, broken one and had to compromise on other.

The thing I like best about the site is the descriptions of the promises and links to news stories and the text of executive orders to update the status of his promises. I appreciate any website that tries to keep our leaders to account for the things that they say.

Another site that has the same goal is Run by the University of Pennsylvania, they are a nonpartisan group that posts entries with quality analysis of particular issues. While sadly, they haven’t been updating the site as frequently as they had prior to the election. The analysis of the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman for the Minnesota Senate seat was very insightful.

The last site I’ll mention is Public Agenda. There’s a lot of different content on the site, but I think its best element is the issue guides. For more than 15 different controversial issues, you can get an overview of the issue, multiple possible solutions to that issue and relevant political polling to see what attitudes on those issues are. The polling is sometimes a bit outdated, but it can sometimes serve as a barometer of general sentiments. They also have a very interesting article about questions to ask when consuming poll data. They say it is for journalists, but I think anyone can have a greater appreciation for the difficulty of polling by looking in this information. This is also a non-profit, nonpartisan site and you can see who funds this website here.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilence.” So I hope these website help make your vigilence a little easier.