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Category: webwork Page 2 of 6

An interesting WordPress theme

Khoi Vinh and Allan Cole recently released an interesting WordPress theme called Basic Maths. Like Vinh’s own blog, Subtraction (which the new theme somewhat resembles), Basic Maths aggressively foregrounds the underlying design grid. In fact, you can even hit a shortcut key combination to superimpose the grid over the blog as you’re working on it.

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Redesigning Craigslist

Recently Wired magazine asked a group of designerz to reenvision Craigslist. According to Wired, “Visitors arriving at craigslist are confronted by a confusing homepage cluttered with links most people will never click on. Overall, the user interface is in dire need of an organizing principle that guides you to the details you seek while filtering out extraneous information.”

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What screen resolution is your web canvas?

Seattle-based design/branding firm Methodologie (not sure why they use the French term) have created a useful guide to web canvas size. As you may be able to see from the above detail, they estimate that everyone on the web can see a 760 x 640 px screen without scrolling, that 92 percent can do the same for a screen 960 x 600 px, and 50 percent can read a 1210 x 640 px page without scrolling, while only 11 percent can do the same for a 1370 x 730 px screen.

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100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs; Or, Link-building Made Easy

The blog of the museum for which I do publications recently appeared on a list of “100 best curator and museum blogs.” The list was attributed to someone named Emily Thomas at onlineuniversities.com. That was nice, but there was no explanation who Emily Thomas is or how the list was arrived at, and a visit to the onlineuniversities site raised as many questions as it answered.

Some days later the museum received an e-mail from Emily Thomas suggesting that she guest blog for us and pointing to the list to establish her bona fides.

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Blind testing search engines

Which search engine gives the best results? Sure, Google’s by far the most popular and has the largest infrastructure. And there could be interface preferences to take into account. But just in terms of sheer relevance of results, which is best?

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Asian Art Museum blog goes live

I mentioned earlier that I was working on a blog for the Asian. I’m sure it will continue to evolve and get refined as we figure what works and what doesn’t, but we have now announced the blog, and there is more and more content going up, including:

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Making a WordPress index page

7 junipers index

I have been busy constructing an index to my 7 Junipers site, which is devoted to Asian Art and Culture. The index in process is accessed via one of the site’s navigation tabs. Tag clouds are often seen in sidebars, but I think they work better as pages. At 7J I made a brief post summarizing the steps involved creating an index page  via the tags function.

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The kindness of strangers

Here’s a cool thing. I received an e-mail yesterday from Dave Kellam, someone I didn’t know. An excerpt:

Just found your blog today, via India Amos. I’m an aspiring book designer, and it’s been fun poking through your site. One of the posts linked to another post (http://www.rightreading.com/blog/2008/09/03/wordpress-plugin-wanted/) about wanting a WP plugin. I’ve created a few WordPress plugins, and might be able help you out with you with a custom plugin.

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Driving traffic

heavy traffic

Today’s guest post at ForeWord Magazine is about how book publishers can increase traffic to their websites.

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Web woes

crying baby

Over the past several days at least four of my blogs have been producing “error establishing a database connection” messages. This has been caused by server-wide loss of the mysql database connection at my host, midphpase, who claims the problem is now fixed. For how long, who knows? (Html pages, like my top-level home, rightreading.com, have, of course, not been affected by this.)

To top off my web annoyances,

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WordPress plugin wanted

This is probably pretty easy if you know what you’re doing, but it’s not easy for me.

What I want is to call up today’s date in the format month+day, make that the anchor text for a link, and assign a particular link to each day of the year (perhaps calling the links from a table). In other words, “January 1” becomes a link that heads one place, “January 2” becomes a link heading someplace else, and so on through the days of the year.

If anybody created such a plugin it would certainly get my link!

UPDATE: Dave Kellam came through with the plugin!

Hotlinking reconsidered

It has long been accepted that hotlinking is an evil practice that steals the bandwidth of others. And indeed it is a free bandwidth ride, and one that hardly ever is accompanied by credit for the originator of the image. So there is a kind of malicious satisfaction in changing the hotlinked image to something like, oh … maybe naked David Haselhoff playing with puppies.

But a new analysis by Bill Slawski of a paper from Google and a patent application from Microsoft calls this point of view into doubt. Slawski attempts to determine why some images rank better than others in search engines, when conventional considerations seem not to fully account for variations in ranking.

Unsurprisingly, surrounding text and anchor text in inbound links are probably the biggest factors in determining image relevance. But image sizes, relationship to other images, frequency of use, image quality, and other factors can play a part.

The most intriguing consideration, however, might be “number of websites that contain an identical image.” If the same image occurs many times, especially in conjunction with certain keywords, it is a plausible surmise that it might be an important image to people searching for those keywords. As Slawski reports:

Images that appear on more than one web site might be more relevant for a query term than images that only show up on one web site, or they could be considered less relevant.

The reasoning behind this isn’t described, but maybe the text associated with each showing of the image is compared, and if it is similar from one to another it might be considered relevant for the text used. If that text differs with each display, it might be considered less relevant.

Finding whether images are identical might mean looking to see if the images shown on different pages are actually at the same address. For example, the same picture maybe show on ten different web pages, but the image itself is at one address, such as:

http://www.example.com/picture.jpg.

Identical pictures that aren’t at the same address might be compared by electronically reducing them to a computer readable hash value and comparing them to each other.

Bottom line: when you serve up some mischief to hotlinkers you could be reducing your rank in image search results.

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Some posts related to webwork
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A WordPress plugin, and how to find category ID numbers

This is post that will be of interest only to WordPress bloggers. Fernando Briano, a programmer based in Uruguay, has created a simple WordPress plugin that produces a list of posts by category. You can adjust the number of items shown, but the adjustment is global — it would be nice to be able to control the number of items in each instance that you use it. Also, the posts are listed in chronological order, and there is no option to change that.

To use the plugin you place some code in your post that calls up the category by ID number. Many plugins use ID numbers. But since version 2.5, WP doesn’t show ID numbers in the administration panel. What to do? The answer is to click on the category in the “manage categories” list — the ID number is shown in the url.

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Six classic wordle poets

Wordle is “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide.” Words that appear more often are presented more prominently. The site will make word clouds from text that you provide or from urls or even from a del.icio.us user’s tags. It’s so pointless it almost becomes interesting.

What if some well-known American writers had become wordle poets? I fed six poems into the machine and accepted the default output (except in one case where I rejected a black background).

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DoFollow scrapped

DoFollow: it was a noble experiment. But it brought me a lot of thin or spam comments that benefited no one. I spent a fair amount of time either deleting these or agonizing about whether they had a shred of content and should be spared.

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Tom’s Book of Days

A little self-promotion here, tinged with a bit of nostalgia for the early days of the web. Blog.rightreading.com readers might not have chanced upon my Book of Days, over at the html wing of this site. This site’s origins go back to December 1994 when we launched the website of Mercury House, the book publishing company I directed. (I think it was one of the first book publishing websites.) An intern, Joshua Grossnickle (who has since gone on to bigger things), was responsible for that first version.

I partitioned a little section off as my personal space. In those days my personal web space was sort of resumelike (boring). Then I broke out of that mode with the daybook, which was the first ambitious personal project on the site. The Book of Days is still around and I update it from time to time. (I should probably redo it in a more web 2.0 style — but life is short.) It’s a personal daybook — I include what interests me, making no attempt to be exhaustive.

You could check it out.

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How much of this page will you read?

According to Jacob Nielsen, in a post of nearly 500 words, such as this one, readers can be expected to spend an average of about 45 seconds on the page, an amount of time in which they might read some 187 words, or less than three-eighths of the content.

In a study called “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” researchers at the University of Hamburg tracked twenty-five web users’ behavior as they surfed the web as normal. From this data Jacob Nielsen analyzed 45,237 page views of pages with more than 20 words in which the visits lasted longer than 4 seconds and less than 10 minutes. Since users average an additional 4.4 seconds for each 100 words of copy on a page after the first hundred words — an amount of time in which they could be expected to read about 18 words on average — the results suggest that 18 percent of the copy subsequent to the first hundred words is being read.

Nielsen references a scatter chart in making his case:

The following chart shows the maximum amount of text users could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts:

percent of text read

This is a very rapidly declining curve. On an average visit, users read half the information only on those pages with 111 words or less.

In the full dataset, the average page view contained 593 words. So, on average, users will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading. More realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page.

I think this analysis is flawed, because it aggregates different types of page visits. Some readers are looking for just one piece of information, for example, while others want to follow the full argument of the text. In other words, one interpretation would be that regardless of the length of the copy, a lot of people are only looking for some particular thing. It just takes them slightly longer to find it as it gets surrounded by more verbiage.

I think the lesson to draw here is not that all your web writing should be 100 words or fewer. Rather, it is that if you have items on your website intended for a broad audience — a list of blog policies, for example, or a contact page — you probably want to keep them brief to maximize the amount that will be read by the largest number of visitors. But longer articles could well be the most effective in some ways. With these you are reaching a small group of more dedicated readers.

Short page: many casual readers; long page: few, but dedicated, readers. Some go for brevity, some go for length. For myself, I like a mix of different kinds of content.

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the whole brevity thing (audio clip)

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via SEOMoz

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Writers’ websites

authors on the web

A website called Books Written By is documenting authors’ sites on the web. It has assembled screenshots of many writers’ websites; the screenshots link to the sites themselves (although it takes a couple of clicks to get there from the main page).

It’s a good idea, nicely executed. While some of the authors represented are not particularly distinguished, several interesting folks do crop up — on the page shown above, for example, you can see the sites of Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami, among others.

Some of the sites are quite good. But I’m not sure the writers’ distinctive styles and personalities always come across in this medium as well as in the one for which they are known. This is probably in part because in many cases someone other than the author has designed the site or written code to realize the author’s vision.

Still, it’s interesting to see the variety and range of author sites, and there is a host of good ideas to be found in these pages. (If the site grows, it might need to add indexes by names, genres, nationalities, and so on. I imagine this would not be too difficult to implement.)

To visit the site, click the screenshot above.

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Easy conversion of Word documents to html

Say you need to do a quick web page from a Word document. I know Word claims to have a “save as html” function, but it produces hideous code. The easy way? Get a gmail account, attach the Word document to an e-mail, and send it to yourself.

Then just select “view as html” and save.

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Hotlinking and its discontents

al filreis's website

Hot Linking: Process by which one links to an image stored on one site yet it appears on one or more other sites. If done without permission, this is considered unethical since one is using bandwidth they [sic] are not paying for. — 2020 Systems Internet Glossary

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director, the Kelly Writers House, and Director, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Why did his page on Wallace Stevens, shown above, for a time feature a picture of naked David Haselhoff playing with puppies?

It’s not a bold new take on Stevens. Instead, it’s an illustration of the perils of hotlinking. If you link on your blog or website to an image hosted on someone else’s site you lay yourself open to the old switcheroo. Filreis — ignoring issues of copyright and net courtesy — thought he would take a free ride on someone else’s bandwidth. That made him no friends with the host of the copyrighted image of Wallace Stevens, who switched it to one of Hasselhoff.

That possibility alone should be reason enough not to hotlink; there are others as well. If you want to prevent hotlinking you can use set only certain sites to link to your images using cpanel, but I would rather just edit .htaccess, as described around the web in several places, such as the one shown below (click to go to the source). The second procedure shown below describes how you can serve up an alternate image to a particular site without having to rename your image and update your links.

how to prevent hotlinking using htaccess

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