25 April 2007

Do feeds make blog pages useless?

Around the time of this post, I saw an unusual rise in the number of visits to my home page. Now, being the home page, it usually gets the highest number of visits, but recently before I wrote that, number began to drop. When that post went up, it again rose significantly (more than a 200% increase to be exact) which surprised me. Further inspection revealed it as the work of a single link to the home page I had put there to show a demo of the TOC.

This little detail shows how many people actually visit the post ‘on the blog’, rather than read it in their feeds and let it go. The problem doesn’t lie with the blog, I’m sure. Just the convenience of having to see just the post content in a way you’ve become accustomed to, surely lies heavier than having to click over to a blog page to read the post. It’s understandable, but that does put a question mark on the result of the effort authors put into making their blogs look good and adding functionality, amongst other things.

There are many blogs out there which look absolutely amazing, have a reasonably high readership and viewership, and impressive subscriber counts. Then there are blogs which have great content, stunning subscriber counts, but look terrible and have moderate to low viewership. I believe TechCrunch might face this problemThis is absolute 100% speculation. If there are statistics that are against and which disprove what I think, please let me know., because its looks are nothing compared to its content, so people might prefer to stick to reading it in their feed readers rather than come to the page itself. This might also be the reason why TechCrunch posts’ number of comments are not even significant in comparison to the number of readers.

So, does it really make sense to sit and design your blog to perfection, only to be defeated by the one thing that you cannot afford to stop?

The point

The biggest reason I think people take time to work on the looks and functionality of their blogs is to attract more viewers and people to come, have a look, stay for a while, leave a comment or two, and then if they’re up to it, subscribe to the blog. A subscribers count is something that gives a much more accurate idea of how popular a blog actually is, and a high number usually impresses people more than the look. So how important really is the design of the blog?

Quite a bit I’ll say. The first impression of any page you visit is generally summed up in your brain within a 20th of a second of seeing itBBC news article, and that is a very small number. So, within that much time, you (very) obviously cannot gain anything of the content of the page. So the only logical deciding factor is the ‘look’! But we also know that looks don’t make a reader–base. It is the content which ultimately decides how many people keep coming back.

The verdict

Looks and functionality are important. Definitely. Without good looks and effective features, your pages have a handicap. And it probably won’t reach it’s full potential of readers. That’s why designers experiment so much with innovative ideas, and new layouts. Who knows what might clickThere was a brief period where the 3 column template was a rage, and everybody ran to get one. It’s on the outset I think, but I can still see a lot of blogs sticking to it.?

Very recently, Rick from FeedBurner wrote about the implications of partial–feeds on click–through’s to your blog. He said that it doesn’t make “any significant difference” to provide summaries. The number of page–views will remain the same. He speaks from factual statisticsFeedBurner handles more than 660,000 feeds! You can be sure he knows what he’s talking about., but I’d still like to know why that is the case. Why don’t people participate in discussions, or provide their views and outlooks on topics? Isn’t that why you subscribe to blogs in the first place? To get and give opinions?

As a blogger and designer, I’d like you to speak up and raise your points. Do you prefer a bad looking blog with good content to a good looking blog with decent content? Do looks even matter, or is it content all the way? I’m sure there’s a balance lying somewhere just out of sight…

24 April 2007

Pixel perfect!

Alright! If there are people going ‘What? Again?’, then it’s completely justified … but I was beginning to get a teensy–weensy bit sick of all the gold all over the place. I realised I can never settle for anything which doesn’t have my basic colours (the ones here) for too long. I anyway cannot settle with one look beyond a few months! :P

So, this is what I aiming at initially when I set out to make Golden Summer way back in December–January, but got severely sidetracked and went nuts with it. A simple, minimalistic template which really pushes attention to the post, while not making the whole place look too drab. I switched over to using simple and plain colours, ones which you’re probably used to seeing on pretty much every blog these days. The layout in itself breaks away from my previous two layouts, to go back to the header, post left and sidebar right normal that Blogger has gotten us so used to.

This is (as usual) not the final product, but a work in progress. I’ll be moving around widgets here and there to see which one fits the best where. I also might take this whole thing out because I have a couple of more templates in the bunk, so if I begin to like them, you might get to see them as well :P

Some of you might notice that this bears a lot of resemblance to basic Wordpress theme layouts. The truth is, I have begun to like the simplicity of those templates, and their ability to be simple, and yet strikingly concise. You can really throw anything at them, and they’ll hold up pretty well, while still looking nice and simple. I wanted to capture that essence in a Blogger blog. I had to hack my way into a couple of things to do that though, and you’ll see them turn up slowly in the next few weeks as I tinker around further.

A few things might still be ‘gold’ around here. That’s because I’ve reused them to keep things not looking out of sync. They’ll be fixed soon enough. Let me know what you think! :)

19 April 2007

Firefox: 3.0 and future plans #

It just so happens to be our favourite browser. With more and more vulnerabilities showing up in IE7, it’s pretty much a no brainer selection. Coders love it, designers love it even more! With such a strong past backing them up, Mozilla plans to make some serious headway with Firefox 3.0, and in a way, redefine browsing 'again'!

InforWorld reports that there are hosts of new features planned for Firefox 3.0. You can read the whole list on the article there, but I want to take up just two of the features which sound extremely promising, and as these things go, open up a whole new door of possibilities for geeks! :)

Databases and offline web app-ing

The article says that Fx 3.0 will likely contain a feature which makes working with web applications offline, possible. Scratching your head? Ok, I’ll take the example from the article, since it’s something people can relate to. Imagine having GMail functionality, offline. You can write a mail, and save it. When you next go online, Fx 3.0 and GMail will work together to automatically send that mail. Pretty much what your desktop e–mail client does at the moment. Now isn’t that cool!

What this effectively does is take away an active Internet connection as the restriction to a lot of things. Maybe Blogger will work with this as well, with you being able to store posts offline while on the move, and transfer them to your blog (published/drafts) the moment Firefox discovers an active connection. This feature is almost an answer from Firefox to features like the in–built e–mail client in Opera, the blogging and photo–uploading tools in Flock and any other feature which integrates a web service application natively into a browser. Personally, I think Mozilla has been freagin’ brilliant at coming up with this! It sure makes me want to add sexy to the browser’s name ;)

The next feature, will appeal mostly to people who know how to use it. That, for the record, does not include me for the most part. They plan to integrate SQL Lite into the browser, albeit in a rather small form. It is going to be used to query content from the browser’s content cache. The immediate use Mozilla sees for this is a vastly improved ‘history’ and bookmarking system. However, there is a good chance this might ‘not’ make it into 3.0. That is not really a problem. Just the fact that such a feature is being developed, is pretty much enough at this point. I can see a lot of load–from–cache and history–extend extensions coming up to use and beat this feature black and blue. This also moves Firefox closer to what Mozilla ultimately plans for the browser, to turn it into an information broker. Maybe they could change the way existing variables are handled in Firefox, allowing Greasemonkey scripts to become a little more robust and share data between scripts? (Hey! Just saying!)

Looking good indeed!

The next version is slated for a ‘07 second half release. Ideas and features such as this make the next release one of the bigger ones yet. I didn’t see anything about the much spoken about Places, and am guessing they are going to chuck that idea, and make everything searchable (the latest toy of the application world) using the embedded SQL database. It’ll surely much more user–friendly, since the first attempt at using Places didn’t go so well, and people still complain whenever they have to use it.

So the next thing to do is keep fiddling through their nightly builds and see which one of them show hints of these features. Or else, wait and watch how the news unfolds. Something tells me this is going to create a wave as big as the lull we see at the moment! :)

14 April 2007

C'mon people! Link to your sources!

I spoke of how backlinks are better than trackbacks, and somewhere in the discussion that followed (and from a link I posted), the topic turned towards how trackbacks are as good as dead today.

I won’t go as extreme as to say that trackbacks are dead. But I will say that they are surely being underutilised, which is why their existence seems to be fading away. This is because more and more bloggers are either becoming too competitive and not linking to the source of their stories, or they are just being plain ‘ol lazy. In either case, it is not good for the blogosphere, because links are what keep things rolling and moving. A non–linked topic is as good as a dead topic. And we don’t like that too much, do we?

How to kill a post

Trackbacks aside, a simple link to the post by putting a ‘Quote from so–so’ is enough. Linking provides a wider viewpoint on the topic you’re discussing. Different opinions lead to discussions, discussions lead to comments. It all forms a wonderful chain. CopyBlogger writes:

…the most relevant bloggers in your field will be your competition.

And that is the most correct thing anyone ever said. Also, by not linking to other posts, you’re practically isolating yourself and becoming an outcast in the blogosphere. What goes around, comes around, and you might end up with no blogs linking to you as well.

Even something as small as a blog roll can be enough to get in the good books of bloggersI’ve seen it happen! My blog, not listed on certain blogs for a long time, miraculously showing up a few days after I add them to my blogroll., and should be one taken as a ‘must–have’ for your sidebars. This is pretty much what folksonomy is about, to guide your viewers to relevant content. In the process, you’ll get them to like what you write and how you write since you give them complete info and more content to read and increase their knowledge on the topic you talk about.

It’s mine I say!

If you think that by denying links to other blogs, you’re keeping viewers to your posts, then you couldn’t be more wrong than the mouse in front of me who thinks it can take me on in a fist fight. What you are effectively doing is reducing interaction and keeping the viewer unsure of the ‘truth’ and ‘tangibility’ of what you just said. Links turn statements into facts, since something said by four people means more than the same thing said by one. If your blog is visited by many people who don’t say anything, then the purpose of sharing your opinion is defeated.

You don’t dictate the blogosphere, and if you don’t link, doesn’t mean someone else (most of the time more successful) won’t. You’ll just end up marooning yourself on some remote island in the blogosphere, and getting out of the rut will just become harder everyday.

09 April 2007

Digg doesn't impress me

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the concept, and the implementation as well. I am not one of those who is predicting the death of Digg as the behemoth that drives traffic throughout the Internet. I think for what it’s worth, Digg is doing a rather good job. But, it’s the people who need to realise and understand what ‘news’ actually is. Short of riddling this post with screenshots of the various Digg front pages at the time of writing this, all I can say is that the stories hitting those pages are not impressive.

I actually find a few articles to read from Google News, but none from Digg. None to hold my attention for more than the description atleast. Digg has repeatedly said that they “love their algorithm”. It is what drives Digg and keeps spam away. I guess they need human intervention now to make things work properly, a la Slashdot.

Quality, ‘and’ quantity

A site like Digg doesn’t have problem coming up with the numbers, and quantity of posts. They have goodness–knows how many hits in a day, out of which I’m sure 20% are new articles being submitted. I wonder how many people actually check the ‘upcoming’ section. I rarely do, relying on other people’s sense of judgement in pushing a story to the first three pages. However, seeing the stories hitting those pages, I’ve started going through the upcoming section as well, just to be sure than it’s not me and Digg is actually losing it.

People will Digg just about anything. The Digg darlings are stories about Apple and Linux. However, anything out of the ordinary will also begin to attract diggs. This results in rather strange stories showing, and hence, pushing out the ones which really deserve some attention. For example, this story, and this oneThis story actually spun me off to this story, so it wasn’t a complete waste! :P and finally this one. What a big waste of time those stories are, I cannot even begin to explain. And yet, they’ve all been front pagers. I’m not ‘not’ impressed for no reason...

Digg started off as a Technology news site. I believe they were the best thing at the time. The whole concept of democratizing the web to allow the people to decide where to drive traffic, was actually amazing. But, Digg deciding to open their doors to various other topics was asking for trouble. Thankfully, the voting system keeps maximum stories off the front page, but even then, the ones that make it surely don’t seem to live up to Digg’s reputation.

Conspiracy theory

In the very recent past, there have been many stories about how Digg’s credibility is more compromised than is immediately apparent, and article defending that. But at the heart of it, we all know how and which way things will turn unless some pro–active measures are taken to fix things. Digg removed their top digger’s list, but brought it back—although rather silently—because the motivation of making it into that list was the reason a lot of people would Digg quality stories. With the list gone, there wasn’t anymore reason to really digg articles. This was all amidst the story of companies paying the users in that list to digg their stories so that they’d make the front page.

Ofcourse, there have been premeditated and intentional steps taken by rival companies to dethrone Digg, which have forced Digg to take decisions and steps which haven’t really worked for their popularity. But at the end of the day, Digg still stands as the one source which drives traffic to news and new happenings around the Internet, even if weird stories don’t impress me. It won’t be easy to take them out of that spot, but just because they’re nice and snuggly, doesn’t mean that the quality of their news will go down.

I again call for human intervensionI’m sure a few out of the 10+ board members can put in jury duty, if the result is Digg again churning top quality stuff. I’m sure it’s worth the effort, because there is nothing like having a human decide what to show others. Any other means will also be welcome. But things surely have to change. It’ll be interesting to see the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ :)

05 April 2007

Programmer to designer

I think every person who has wanted to get their hands dirty in code, should rethink their strategy and what they want to ultimately end up as. I have said before that ideas will ultimately mean more for hacks than the implementation and the code itself. This, as I’ve experienced, is not just restricted to web application programming. The ultimate “design” is of more interest to a concerned person than the actual implementation itself.

Ideas are what make you creative. Learning to code isn’t so hard, as all it takes is a book and enough hours. It’s how you can apply that knowledge to complement your idea which forms a basis of how good your programming skills are. But before that, you need to have the idea, a clearly thought out plan to execute. Just knowing how to write code doesn’t cut it.

Anyone who has asked me how to get started with programming, has been replied with one question — “What are you planning to do?”, and later followed up with an algorithm, not the code. I want people to understand why something is being done. I want to teach them how to look at a problem, and break it down for them so that they can implement in their own way. From experience, I know that this works much better than handing out individual chunks of code for people to plug in and use.

Here in college I have a subject SDOOP which, very simply put, teaches us how to tackle software development, how to “design”, and not program, a software. Becoming a designer is the ultimate goal. Creating a diagram, a schematic for programmers to follow, and implement in their own way. We are taught to come up with the fastest way of connecting different parts of the software, so that no matter what the code, the algorithm pushes the program to be easy to implement.

Aim for the idea and the working, not the mumbo–jumbo.

04 April 2007

Plans, lazyness, delays and more galore

Hello there! Yes, as you would have guessed by now, the previous post was intended to be an April 1st joke, and some people (thankfully) fell for it. In turn, it showed the amount of support The Last Word and I have from you guys, so kudos! And Thanks a ton! :) Not beating around the bush however, the reasons for the lapse of posting in that post were real. College just became a little more hectic, all of a sudden, so I’ve barely had to time to get online. My Miranda has not been touched in a week, making some friends rather angry, and I’ve tried to stay on top of all my mails, replying to them sometimes at 3 in the morning just to let people know I’m still alive :P

But that will be coming to an end soon enough, and I should be back in full form after that. However, to get things a little more, let’s say, “electric” around here, I’m going to share a few things that I’ve been thinking on the past week in boring physics and chemistry lessons :) These are more like ideas for the coming weeks.

A new home

This is the more tentative of the ideas. I’m planning to take The Last Word out of Blogger hands, and put it somewhere more under my control. Translated, that means I want to get my own domain space, begin dawdling in web application programming, and get my own domain name. Now considering I’m not a working fella’, and I don’t have that kind of money, I’m planning on beginning a little side work. One which (I hope) will be helped by you guys (my readers) and anyone else who is interested. Stay tuned for more info on this.

In case you want to donate some money, you can do so from the button on the right. Donations will definitely speed up the process of moving out :)

A new frequency

No more wonton posting about stuff that doesn’t matter so much. But then again, I’m not moving to a Phydeux3 type schedule, definitely! But I’m going to slow down. Partly because of college, partly because of other commitments. Also, I want to post quality content … better than what I’ve been putting up till now. I promise a post a week minimum.

For smaller, more frequent updates however, you can subscribe to my Twitter, which I update almost once a day with latest news that I think is worth noting. I might throw in some random updates from time to time (“I am “so” not sleepy!”).

A new name?

This one is under heavy scrutiny from my overworked brain at the moment. I want to make the name of my blog sound more technical, yet abstract. “The Last Word” somehow doesn’t cut it anymore for me. I have a few names running around my grey cells, with some of them sounding really nice. However, a new name means a new location, which means existing links will all break. I could try and work up an Oldblog redirection for Blogger, but that will still take out my page and technorati ranks.

And, with the new name should come a big change. I’ve revealed in the past that I’ve wanted to move over to Wordpress … so if the name change happens, this might happen too. But those are both big “might”s. I’m a little torn on this one …

So! That’s where my heads been roaming around these past few days. Let’s see how they fall into place. I have a lot of work on the side as wellOne of them being a software called the ‘Bunk–o–meter’ which I plan to develop to keep track of lectures attended and bunked, exam marks required to keep expected GPA … basically the complete toolset for any college going kid!. The Bloggerosphere has been quite silent recently … seems like a haunted city if you ask me. Nothing from the other bleets as well. I hope all that subsides quickly :)

You can ofcourse, drop in your comments on those ideas, if you think they can be re–planned to work better! I’m always one for suggestions :) Cheers!

01 April 2007

Let's call it a day

There comes a time, when decisions have to be taken, things have to be said, and bags have to be packed. One realises that things are just not how you think they are, or should be. You have to hand in the keys …

You would have noticed the lapse of posts these past few days here. Plus, no post from me saying “I’m still here!”. The reason is workload just increased tons, and I’m finding it hard to balance work and blogging/coding (coding == play in my life), which is the reason you haven’t seen any new hacks after a sudden burst of userscripts. I have two exams coming up, which are taking up all my time, and after these, I have more assignments and college duties on the horizon. I guess the fun days are really over this time.

The decision

It's for this reason, that I’ve decided to take The Last Word down. It was a hard judgement call I had to make, because it was frustrating my as to how I couldn’t come up with new posts. Hitting a creative block is the worst thing that can happen to me, and now that I have, workload from college is keeping it blocked.

This is the second time I’ll be taking a hiatus, but unfortunately, it seems like it might be the last time. I am “again” anticipating a come–back, but it won’t be anytime soon. Unless something “huge” happens in the Blog(ger)osphere, ofcourse.

I plan to release the last few hacks along with a few posts that I had pending in my drafts, and by the end of this week, wrap things up. I want to apologise to all my readers for this, it was a really nice to be a part of the community for so long, and get all the support! Thank you!

Also, thanks to all the bleet who have helped me learn so much more about the ways of programming, the Internet and just generally working as a group and a team in getting things done. Finally, a hearty thanks to Avatar! I’ve probably said all I could say, without meaning even a tenth of what I’d want to. I wish him all the best with Bloggeratto—whenever it may surface—and in all future Internet and Blogger endeavours. As for you, my readers, I wish you all the best with your blogs and all the Internet–related–things that you might enter into the future. Maybe some of you would have gained enough insight from the Last Word and aim to become one of the bleet yourself? :)

The last (really) word!

So, I’m going to stop blabbering now, and leave you with a song … Take care, and cheers!

Alive (Pearl Jam)

“ … Son, she said, have I got a little story for you
What you thought was your daddy was nothin’ but a…
While you were sittin’ home alone at age thirteen
Your real daddy was dyin’, sorry you didn’t see him, but I’m glad we talked...
Oh I, oh, I’m still alive

Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man’s room
She said I’m ready…for you
I can’t remember anything to this very day
‘Cept the look, the look...
Oh, you know where, now I can’t see, I just stare...
I, I’m still alive
Ooh yeah…yeah yeah yeah...oh...oh...

Is something wrong, she said
Well of course there is
You’re still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be
Is that the question
And if so…if so…who answers…who answers...
I, oh, I’m still alive
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah ... ”