Something that’s been annoying me over the last few weeks is that a couple of movies I had rented from the iTunes Store were not deleting from my iPad’s storage space. They were not showing up within the iPad’s ‘Sync Movies’ panel in iTunes, which is where you can transfer films from computer to iPad or vice versa. They were still showing up within the iPad’s Videos app, though. Attempting to play them produced an error, as you’d expect – but attempting to delete them via the usual method (hold down for a few seconds then tap the black cross, as works for apps) caused the Videos app to crash with the movies still there.
Just a quick note to say that I’ve added a new commenting & social media plugin, Social, to my blog.
It combines standard WordPress comments with mentions of a specific post on Twitter and Facebook. Other plugins can do the same thing, but Social also broadcasts notifications of new posts to the same social media site, and tracks replies & retweets of that original broadcast message.
It would be nice if the broadcast facility used my bit.ly Pro settings, so that it used my shortening domain, mtthw.mn – something that my previous auto-tweeting plugin was able to do. However, that plugin insisted on garbling apostrophes, quotation marks and other common punctuation, so if Social can cope with this I’m gaining as well as losing.
But this is a very new plugin which has backing from a commercial organisation, MailChimp, so there’s every possibility it will improve in future.
This morning, I received a direct message to my Twitter account. I was initially pleased, as it was from someone I first met through work but hadn’t spoke to in a long time.
Unfortunately, as soon as I saw the content of the message I realised that it wasn’t from him at all, but a computer-generated message.
You look different in this pic http://tinyurl.com/…
The link itself (which for obvious reasons I’m not about to repeat here) led to a web site that was a carbon copy of the twitter.com homepage, complete with login form.
And it’s that last part which is the crucial one. By impersonating a trusted website, it will trick enough people into entering their username and password. And from that, whoever collects that information can do anything they like with your account, from reading potentially sensitive private messages, to sending out DMs or tweets with malicious intent.They could even change your password so that you can’t access your own account. The key is, they will have total access to your account, and can do anything with it – and not only will they not have your own (impeccably high, I’m sure) moral and ethical standards, but it’ll be next to impossible to prove that anything they do wasn’t done by you.
Chrome is distracting. I’m not talking about Google’s browser, but the stuff that’s put around your application’s main working area.
A lot of web-based blog and other CMS editors (including apps I’ve written and/or managed) include huge amounts of chrome – from navigation menus, to fields for additional metadata. A lot of the time it doesn’t particularly matter, but if you’re writing large chunks of prose, an uncluttered user interface is essential.
WordPress can be one of the worst offenders when it comes to chrome. Its standard blog post entry screen is built up of many boxes, each with specific purposes. Users can reduce the impact by switching off boxes they don’t need in the Screen Options dropdown, and then drag and drop the remainder into some sensible order. But it still can mean that quite a small portion of the browser window is devoted to the main task of writing content.
In the recent update to version 3.2, WordPress introduced a full screen mode, which allows all the chrome to fade away, allowing for a predominantly blank screen. Basic WYSIWYG controls are accessible at the top of the page, but everything except your text fades away if your hands remain on the keyboard instead of moving the mouse (see illustrations on this post about the WordPress.com installation – the same illustrations apply to self-hosted WordPress.org blogs). Most of the toolbar functions can be activated with familiar shortcuts – ⌘-B for bold (HTML
<strong>), ⌘-I for italic (
<em>), etc., so for the most part you can just focus on the writing, applying formatting as needed as you go.
A new WordPress plugin, ArtsyEditor, tackles the same issue in a slightly different, more customisable way.
Twitter never lets accuracy and truth get in the way of passing on a line that is guaranteed a few retweets, followed by an irrelevant post on Mashable.
— Dave Lee rants (in a good way) about people taking Twitter as a serious source of news. It’s not – it’s more akin to pub conversation, the sort that allows old wive’s tales and silly lies to propagate.
In an attempt to try out post formats in WordPress 3, I flagged my last short post as an ‘aside’. It turns out that, in WordPress’s default “Twenty Eleven” template at least, there’s not too much difference between a ‘standard’ post and an ‘aside’ once you get to the individual page, although they are rendered differently on the site’s home page.
That’s a shortcoming in Twenty Eleven, to my mind. I’m in the process of constructing a WP 3.2-compatible template for work, and while we won’t be supporting all of WordPress’s post formats, we’ll need to format entry detail pages, and flag up entries on index pages, depending on which format we use.
For RSS feeds, Tweets, etc., I may want to indicate the type of post format so that readers know what to expect. For example, if an entry has been defined as a Gallery style post format, I may want the RSS reader to display:
Gallery: A selection of pictures
Modifying WordPress’s RSS feeds are slightly trickier than the web pages, as they’re not defined within the theme folder. However, WordPress’s
add_filter can come in very useful, as illustrated in this sample code:
Adding this function to my theme’s functions.php means that last week’s aside now shows up in my RSS feed as:
As far as I’m concerned, this is a temporary fix. It doesn’t do the same for automatically sent tweets going via the plugin I use for that purpose, and there are other places in a template where you’d want to use a similar technique. But it’s a start, and if you’re out there scratching your head and wondering how to tweak your RSS output, hopefully this may give you some clues.
When it comes to iPhone apps, one thing the world definitely does not need more of is Twitter clients. There are so many out there it’s unreal. And as a heavy Twitter user, I’ve tried most, if not all, of them at some point.
I was a loyal user of the paid-for app Tweetie 2 by Atebits, and when Twitter bought it and converted it into a free application, I continued to use it. It seemed to strike the right balance for me of allowing some access to more sophisticated functions, while keeping them unobtrusive when you didn’t need them.
One of the ways it achieved this was by hiding advanced features – picture uploads, autocompletion of @ usernames and #hashtags, location marking, etc. – behind the keyboard. If you clicked the button that displayed the number of characters remaining, the iPhone keyboard would slide down, revealing the additional options.
I suspect that some of these functions were so well hidden that some users didn’t realise they were there at all. Which is why, I’m guessing, that with the latest update, to Twitter for iPhone 3.3, the key ones are now visible as you compose your tweet (compare with this screenshot from GigaOM’s review of Tweetie 2):
Also previously hidden, the ‘shrink URLs’ option is now an automatic function, with Twitter using its t.co shortening service on the fly. When tweets are displayed, the t.co link is replaced by an abbreviated version of the destination URL, making it easier to spot where people would like to send you should you click on their links.
All this is great. They are gradual refinements that shows that great iPhone design eschews gimmicks in favour of straightforward, simple and practical application.
If only the rest of the app followed the same rules. I’m going to set aside the repeated crashing I had with version 3.3.0 – when it comes to apps that repeatedly crash on startup, I’ve been there, done that, and feel the developers’ pain – and concentrate on some of my bugbears.
Previously on Twespians: Luke gave a talk on blogging, Jason explored tips for SEO and Laura looked at a common-sense code for theatre bloggers.
The final talk was from Sian Meades, a freelance writer whose own venture, Domestic Sluttery, runs at a profit.
Paid blogging (@SianySianySiany)
- Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) has destroyed the image of the freelance ‘lifestyle’ writer, particularly women
- Other speakers extolled the virtues of self-hosted WordPress over other platforms, especially Blogger/Blogspot. However, Domestic Sluttery runs on Blogger and she would avoid WordPress at all costs (she prefers MovableType)
- It costs $10/year to run – and that’s for the domain name. It is possible on Blogger – but it does take a lot of time to get it working to satisfaction
- In terms of sharing buttons, DS had a Tweet button on all their pages, but Facebook was generating much more traffic without a share button. Adding a Facebook button saw huge traffic increase. Look at your traffic and see what works for you.
- If you’ve found a niche, be comfortable in it. Don’t feel that you have to branch out into other areas (e.g., using the keyword tips from Jason’s presentation) if you don’t want to
- Get into a routine that works. If you write best at midnight in bed with your laptop, write then.
- Bloggers are quite needy – strange beasts that stay away from the public, but at the same time to want grab attention
- There are two types of blog ‘success’: your readership size, and your reputation within your chosen sector. Going after the former won’t necessarily get you the latter
- Blogging can be a lot of fun, and open a lot of unexpected doors. Sian has had trips to the North Pole (in the Arctic Circle, rather than the pub in Greenwich) and an African safari as a direct result of her blogging
- If you build a loyal readership, they will want you to do well. Don’t feel apologetic about your success if/when it happens
- People buy into bloggers as people. If you write on lots of different, even controversial, themes, people will find your writing on those subjects. They might as well find them on your personal blog, where you can be in control of how you are perceived.
- If people have an issue with you as a writer, they won’t be the sort of people likely to work with you anyway
- Other bloggers will be better than you. Don’t worry. Don’t be threatened. Use it as an inspiration to improve.
- You make all the decisions about what you blog. If it’s not working for you, do something different, whether it’s branching out into new topics, etc.
- Domestic Sluttery makes money in a number of ways:
- If taking direct sales, working with small companies can be beneficial (but may need hand holding in terms of working with bloggers) [And, in my experience, in terms of the concept of web advertising in general]
- Affiliate links don’t make a living wage – display advertising does
And with that, we went off to the pub. I hope these four summaries have been useful for the people who weren’t able to make the event. The next Twespians meetup (a social event rather than a seminar evening) is currently scheduled for March 15 – keep an eye on the Twespians website for details, or follow @Twespians on Twitter.
And so to the third part of last night’s Twespians bloggers’ seminar, after Luke’s introductory talk and Jason’s tips on SEO. Third up was Twespians co-founder Laura Tosney, talking about a ‘blogger code of honour’. As ever, the sections in italics are my own thoughts, and the rest just my own (imperfect) summary of what was said.
Because the elements below are general rules of thumb, I found the individual points tend to overlap quite a bit. They are all branches of the single point: Don’t be a dick on the internet.
A blogger code of honour (@lauratosney)
- Recent conflicts and disagreements between journalists, critics, bloggers, etc., with regard to theatre bloggers are neither new nor unique to this sector. Friction between companies, traditional media and social media has existed in other sectors too (here, she cites issues in the fashion blogging world)
- What can help mend bridges, and build new ones, is an ongoing code of honour. This is not (self-)censorship, or a harsh ruleset, just a way to get along.
Be transparent. If you’re writing a blog post after having seen a preview, say as much (rather than citing it as a ‘review’).
I’d also suggest that if you have been given tickets, say who gave them to you. If you paid for your tickets, say so. Organisations that work with bloggers will appreciate the shout out, and your readers will have all the facts when deciding how much to trust your word – the less transparent you are, the harder it will be for them to trust you.
Offer a right of reply
When writing news stories, journalists will go to people involved in the stories for comment. For blogs, we often assume that leaving comments open will be enough – but not everybody wants to respond in a public forum like that. To offer a right to reply properly requires thought.
Make it easy for people to find a way to contact you privately, either via a contact form on your website or by publishing an email address.
I’d also add:
- Go for the contact form option if you can. If you include email addresses on your web pages, they’ll get ‘harvested’ by spammers.
- If you get things wrong, make your corrections as quickly as possible. If somebody points out an error in a comment, publicly thank them (and consider crediting them in the amended copy if appropriate)
Continuing my series of short notes from last night’s Twespians bloggers’ seminar, following on from part 1 posted last night. As I said in my previous post, the second session overlapped with the first in a lot of ways, but it’s all worth considering for bloggers, whether you’re writing about theatre or not. As before, the notes are generally from the speaker, with my own additions in italics.
Six tips for great SEO (@shadowdaddy)
SEO is about building readership, allowing new readers to find your content more easily by making your site show up higher in search engine results. It helps you avoid blogging into a vacuum.
The keys to SEO are:
- Quality content
- Inbound links
- A good site structure (which common blog platforms help with)
- Building a buzz – blogs are inherently social in nature, and about creating a conversation
Quality content is vital. There’s a reason why it’s top of the list above – all the semantic HTML in the world won’t help you if your content is rubbish. You’ll attract occasional visitors, but the only way they’ll stick around is if they enjoy reading your blog.
- Traffic for blogs is cyclical, especially if you’re talking about current issues or reviewing shows. You will need to keep creating content to build an audience
- Reviews of touring shows can retain interest longer term than shorter ones
Any incentive for bloggers to talk about regional and touring theatre is okay in my book. You’ll also find that long running West End shows can also generate traffic, but you’ll be competing against many, many other content sources.
- Conversion for commercial websites = revenue. Conversion for bloggers = more readers & comments + status in a wider context. Both can lead to money w/ advertising, etc. in the long run
Tip 1: Get the tech right
- This includes the right HTML metadata, from page title and descriptions, to well structured URLs and good links
- Most blogging platforms go a long way to doing the heavy lifting for you
- The words that are clickable in your links count for a lot. Making “Read my review of [title of show]” works far better than “click here”
- When displaying page titles in search results, Google truncates them after 67 characters. So keep them short and to the point (and, if possible, put your site name at the end of your title rathe than the beginning)
- Link back from your new blog posts to relevant old ones. Helps search engines traverse your blog and indicates that your older content is still relevant. Link out to other people as much as you can, too — they’ll be able to tell, and hopefully link back. And it builds out your network
- Be careful with tagging your posts. Can be very useful, but make sure that clickable tag links lead to archives of your content rather than aggregated content from other users of your hosted platform (e.g., WordPress.com)
- Some hosting platforms ‘fix’ problems that you need to be aware of if you’re self-hosting – e.g., if example.com, www.example.com and www.example.com/index.html display the same content under three URLs, search engines won’t know which to consider the real one
Tip 2: Get in early
- The most contentious area when it comes to blogging about theatre getting your review up early (especially before the main print publications) can get you high traffic levels, but there are ethical issues re. press nights, etc.
- People will disagree about whether the print critics should have gone en masse to review Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark even though its press night had been pushed back again
- One possibility which can provide a better traffic/ethical balance:
- Write a preview post with some information (e.g., casting news, etc)
- Once you’ve seen the show, write a quick review ASAP
- Update with a full, considered review
- Make sure that your older posts get updated with a link to your most up-to-date review
Tip 3: Create controversy
- Strong opinions get people talking (e.g., the West End Whingers)
This isn’t really SEO, although if people start linking to your coverage then those inbound links will help you. Writing deliberately provocative posts purely as ‘link bait’ can damage your personal brand, so be careful
Tip 4: Create longer-life topics based on reader research
- Think outside just reviewing
- Google’s AdWords keyword adviser and Search Insights tools can help show you what sort of phrases people are using to search for content in your field. These should inspire you to think about areas where you can provide useful information
Tip 5: Promote it
- Think about auto-posting to Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr, etc.
- Provide tools to help your readers promote your content to their friends, e.g., Tweet Button, Facebook Like button.
- FB’s Like button has just changed to give you greater control over how your posts appear on people’s walls. Greg Finn’s optimisation tips at SearchEngineLand can be useful here (expect to see blog Facebook button plugins updated to make this easier for non-techies)
Tip 6: Analyse your readers’ habits
- Hosted platforms offer some analytics, and/or you can use Google Analytics
- Can show you what keywords people are using to find you, what pages are providing the interest, etc.
- Google’s webmaster tools will also help – can show you how your site places in the searches people are using
All of this is important, but it should be your guide, not keep you on a leash. Write about what interests you, and worry less about your readers want to read — but keep an eye on which terminology you use that can make your content easier to find
Coming in Part 3, Laura Tosney’s common sense ‘code of honour’ for theatre bloggers, and in Part 4, blogging for profit…