The blog experiment so far…

Around the end of November, I decided to relaunch my blog and see what would happen if I actually updated as close to daily as I could.

It’s been about a month so far, and I’m fairly pleased with the results.   Visits and page views are climbing, and at least one of my articles has had over 800 hits, due to search relevance.    My bandwidth usage is actually lower now since I removed some mp3 files from my site that aren’t even linked to these pages — apparently there are a lot of spiders finding all the mp3s out there, so some of my music has been linked from a number of mp3 sites.  Traffic has doubled over October, even considering the mp3 files that I removed, which were Christmas mashups that got 3000 hits each in the 2 days in December I had them up.

It’s taking a while to get a rhythm going.  It’s now been 2 weeks since my last update,  which is a bit disappointing but I have some excellent excuses, like updating my laptop to OS X Mountain Lion and finally getting all my devices synced properly through iCloud.  And then there were job interviews.   The fun thing is that all of these occurrences have inspired me with topics for future posts.    My last post, the announcement of WordPress 3.5, has opened a can of worms — my upgrade process is going to be non-trivial, so I should have a lot to share as it goes.

My first long-form article, the iTunes 11 review, took days to complete, while I’ve been able to get out a number of short useful articles in no time at all.   A lot of this has to do with the workflow behind collecting links and using screen grabs.  I have made some strides in collecting links, but am still having some issues with my workflow for media.   I am hoping the WordPress 3.5 authoring tools will improve this, soon as I do the update.

I’m not expecting to build an audience overnight, it’s going to take time, and more compelling content, but I’m optimistic that things will grow.

Some insights I’ve gotten so far:

  1. Regular updates are really important, both for getting return views and for maintaining creative momentum.
  2. For a blog like mine, it’s important to mix it up between bite-sized posts and longer-form articles.   Holding off for 5 days to finish a long story doesn’t help you be a daily resource for people.
  3. Longer form articles can take a lot of time to research, fact-check, and do screen captures.  You need to nail down a workflow that won’t get in your way, especially for your screen captures, which often will need annotations.
  4. Relevant post titles and content will get you good search engine placement.  The most popular article so far in December was ‘changing font size in itunes 11’, which was also the search term.  You just have to title and write your posts clearly to get this benefit.
  5. Analog seems like a more detailed web statistics package, but I’m not sure it’s more useful than Webalyzer.  I will probably switch back soon.  Whichever you use, seeing the needle move day to day based on your posts is a powerful motivator.
  6. It’s not cheating to blog about process.  Really.

Let’s see what Month 2 brings.

Blog Web development

WordPress 3.5 released.

WordPress 3.5 released yesterday. This looks like a big update, with better media handling capabilities.

I could have really used better media handling capabilities to do the iTunes 11 article — getting screenshots into my current WordPress version was tedious and error-prone.

I’m using version 2.8.2 of WordPress currently, so the update is long overdue.  However, since this is a big point release, it may make sense to wait on 3.5.1 for bug fixes.  This is the eternal dilemma with maintaining your own WordPress site — do I need to install the new version that just came out, or can I wait?    Clearly, I’ve waited too long to embrace 3.x, which has better tools and improved architecture, as well as better mobile support.

Not everyone has this issue — you automatically have the latest and greatest if you have a site,  and web hosts now are supporting it. My Web host has an option for auto-installing it (and other popular open-source packages like PhpBB) that keeps it up to date, for an additional $3 a month.  WordPress also has the feature to update from the admin panel, but that requires your hosting service to support it, and you to set up certain permissions that may be a security risk.   I wouldn’t depend on this feature for a major update like this anyway, the database migration is risky, but it would be great for updating a minor version change.

Look for some changes as I update the site.  It’s pretty likely I”ll need to re-think the site theme (skin), the plug-ins I use, and the content that I expose via widgets.   WordPress widgets have gotten much better since this version —, for example, supports several new widgets that can be put on your sidebars, such as Twitter feeds.

I’m hoping that the authoring workflow is better.  I like the WordPress post editor overall, but it does have room for improvement.  The 2.8 version is pretty clunky if your post is longer, and working with media is awkward.  I’ve been considering using BBEdit to do my writing and just pasting things in, but that isn’t nearly as convenient as just logging in from a web browser, writing a post and hitting Publish.

Blog user experience UX

A use for Safari’s “Reading List” feature

Duh, I can’t believe it took me this long to realize it, but Safari’s ‘Reading List’  is the perfect way to temporarily bookmark news stories for blog links.

This is going to dramatically decrease the time I spend making my mobile link posts.   Browse, open Reading List sidebar,  hit ‘Add Page’ for any article you want to read in more detail later or link to.   No more ‘where did I see that cool article about Samsung spending so much on advertising?’.   When done with the articles, remove them from the reading list.

It’s much more accessible than the usual browser bookmarking function, and ideal for bookmarks you only need for a short period.   Come to think of it, this may have inspired the ‘Up Next’ behavior in iTunes 11.     Here’s Apple’s instructions on how to use it.

Update:  Safari Reading List is stored on iCloud, so is accessible across all your devices, which is even better.  I can bookmark while curled up with my iPad, then collect the links on my desktop.


A quick WordPress tip…

…for folks that haven’t updated their blog in forever, like me. Be sure you categorize and tag your posts when you write them, going back afterwards is tedious and error-prone. Also, using the QuickPress interface from the WordPress dashboard isn’t such a good idea, as it defaults the category to ‘uncategorized’ and only lets you manually type in tags. When you do fix categories and tags on your posts, be sure that you don’t inadvertently change the publish date in the process, I managed to do that somehow as well.

This may be different in the new version of WordPress, I must admit. I also must find out soon, I’m long overdue for an update. WordPress is great, but it changes often and it’s easy to get behind. There are also generally new versions in the pipeline, too. WordPress 3.5 is now in release candidate status, so doing the recommended update to 3.4.2 is probably not the best idea, but updating to the newest version has its own risks of breaking themes and plug-ins.