A new beginning...
I am officially announcing that my blogging home is moving to colinwalker.me.uk
- the decision to set up there instead of at Randomelements has not been taken lightly. Unfortunately, however, in today’s climate the web is leaving SharePoint far behind as a blogging client and while it is possible to customise it (I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself - Han Solo
) the interactivity with various services across the web just isn’t there. WordPress will give me that connectivity.
The Randomelements :: Blog will not be taken down - there is far too much good stuff to just kill it but all new material will be posted here from now on. I may cross post and set up an optional page redirection as well. For anyone using the old RSS feed fear not, this will get automatically redirected to the new blog so you should not notice any break in service and start getting the new content automatically. I will re-post some of the best recent items over here to give it a solid base to build on so I apologise if you double up on items in your RSS reader - I hope you understand.
It is always going to be difficult to rebrand and relocate at the same time but I think I have already been moving that way (changing my name on was the first step) but I felt that it was required. I found it hard to develop a personal brand around the name randomelements - random doesn’t have good connotations.
As far as the content goes it will be pretty much business as usual; I have been trying to stick to my blogging strategy and hope that this has been reflected in the quality of posts that I have been writing since the start of the year.
Big changes coming...
SharePoint failing as a serious blogging solution.
I have been an advocate of using SharePoint as a blogging solution ever since I started Randomelements nearly four and a half years ago. I knew it wasn't perfect but with the move to WSS v3 things improved and I managed to work through most of the minor niggles with a bit of tinkering and "ugly" workarounds but I think that the time may be approaching where I have to admit defeat if I want to continue to expand what I want to achieve through blogging.
I first started thinking about this after being contacted by Ken Crawbuck at Microsoft asking for my opinions on SharePoint as a blogging solution but recent events have almost completely convinced me that a change is needed.
There has always seemed to be an issue with the way SharePoint creates RSS feeds - I originally had an issue with the feed not updating on Bloglines (they managed to resolve this) and more recently FriendFeed would not include posts from my feed in my stream.
Coming up to date fav.or.it reports that the data is not in the correct format so can't import it and AideRSS says it cannot process the feed.
Okay, I could use instead but I shouldn't be forced to and this doesn't solve another issue.
SharePoint has a strange duality when it comes to showing posts. If you take a link to an individual post from the main page it Points to Post.aspx with the post ID as you would expect. The feed, on the other hand, uses links to a redirection page ViewPost.aspx which sends you back to Post.aspx with but with the list ID in the URL as well, why?
They may both take you to the same place but are obviously two completely different things as highlighted by using AideRSS to check for the top posts from the feed. As the URL differs AideRSS doesn't find any Diggs to the posts or any direct links from Google blog search as it is looking for the wrong thing.
Such an issue is not the end of the world but when you consider that any new tools are going to operate in the same manner it seriously limits the potential functionality that can be achieved with the blog.
The recent discussion surrounding the decentralisation of our online identities highlights the problem perfectly. Tools which aim to pass the conversation back to the blog such as fav.or.it will only be able to do so if the blogging platform supports the relevant API - I can't imagine Microsoft building this type of support in to SharePoint, can you?
SharePoint is an ideal solution for blogging within an organisation or for an internet/extranet blog where you only need the basics - it can't, in my opinion, continue to stand as a serious platform in today's environment.
The options as I see them are as follows:
- stick with SharePoint in the hope that Microsoft pulls their finger out with WSS v4 (not going to happen) and miss out on a lot of opportunity
- go for a hosted solution such as WordPress or Blogger (both of which work with the fav.or.it API)
- host my own copy of WordPress
Hosting my own WordPress means that I will have to sort out PHP and MySQL in IIS on the server but I could have an option of placing a new blog on Sal's we hosting. Hosting it locally would save aggravation with DNS etc. but hosting a blog remotely means I will have to go for a new domain as I will still be hosting my own email and can't point the randomelements.me.uk domain elsewhere without causing problems. Moving to a new domain will also mean that I can keep the existing blog in place but will just no longer up date it.
The functionality I have been trying to introduce in to the current blog is more like WordPress plug-ins so maybe that would be a better option.
What would you do? Would you move your blog because of functionality/interactivity?
What's your solution of choice?
It's the wrong traffic.
Bloggers want traffic - there's no denying it. Either due to a sense of vanity or a need to increase clickthrough numbers to monetise the content we all want those hits. This is normally where SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) comes in to play.
There are numerous guides to SEO and companies willing to take your cash for applying SEO to your site but the key to SEO is getting as high a page rank for a given topic as you are able. Sites are usually looking to get top 3 on Google for any given search.
Let's have a look at a few search terms that crop up in my referrer stats on a regular basis. The following is my position in a search on Google:
- lexmark vista - #5
- windows media player 12 - #3
- mda touch plus review - #3
- vista sp1 problems - #2
- passed excel 2007 - #1
These are just some examples of quite high placements in respect of a number of searches; not bad you might think, that is until you look at the traffic reports for the blog. Take this month (March) so far according to Google Analytics:
As you can see, traffic for March has come mostly from search engines and nearly 93% of visitors have been first time visitors to the site. Only 7% of my visitors are returning readers - this is not a good conversion rate. Just because you feature highly in search results it does not guarantee any quality of traffic, only a quantity which - on the face of it - should be good for your site. The truth, however, is not always as simple as that.
Why do visitors land at your site?
For the past few months the traffic to this blog has been consistent and is the highest it's ever been which you would think is a good thing. It's nice to have the numbers (which are still small fry compared to most of the other blogs out there) but it's the wrong type of traffic.
Searches for Windows Media Player 12/wmp 12/ media player 12 dominate my traffic but not because those readers value my opinion on whether Microsoft should merge WMP and the Zune software rather than keeping two separate (and in my opinion conflicting) product streams. No, instead those readers are just out to get what they can't have: a beta of WMP 12 which doesn't exist. Once those visitors realise that they are not going to get what they came for they are off which is reflected in the Bounce Rate stats of nearly 85%.
The frustrating thing about it is that I have done no search engine optimisation for the blog but have obviously tapped in to a current theme in order for the blog to feature so highly in these search results. Irrespective of any effort on my part to promote posts on topics such as these you are never going to convert visitors to subscribers under these circumstances. Unless you are offering something that you shouldn't (fake downloads, information in breach of an NDA etc.) those people who want what they can't have are never going to stick.
So, this is where SEO becomes so important: creating a buzz about the things you actually want to show in search engines so that you can generate the right traffic. It is only when you are getting the right type of visitor that you will be able to persuade them that you have something worth reading and that they should stick around. If you can do this then you will be able to convert a good proportion from one-off visitor to a subscriber and - if you're lucky - an "unpaid evangelist" who will spread the word even further.
New social networking site - AlternativeSpace. Something a little different.
New social networking startup AlternativeSpace has launched for testing and is targeted toward those who want something or live a little different. Think MySpace with a twist.
From the "About us" page:
"AlternativeSpace was an idea conceived by two friends wanting to offer an alternative space for those leading an alternative lifestyle. And let's face it, who doesn't lead an alternative lifestyle these days?
Our aim is to provide a safe, online experience for anyone who would like to meet, chat, or just mingle online with others with similar interests, beliefs or paths. We offer groups, forums, chat rooms, blogs, messenger, classifieds, music, videos, photo galleries and much more, or just your own page to share with your friends.
We also aim to update and add new features, to keep us competitive and also inline with current trends."
Despite being geared for the alternative all are welcome so why not sign up, get networking and help iron out any lingering bugs while you're at it. Create new groups, upload your music and comment on your friends profiles, embed your favourite YouTube videos and customise your profile to suit your personality.
AlternativeSpace - I'm there, are you?
Week in review 13.
Having been off sick last week I've had a bit more time for blogging so here's the highlights:
- Quoting other sources is always a good idea but if you're going to do it make sure that you do it in the right context.
PicApp - free images for bloggers but not ready for prime time. Free access to quality images is a great idea but this ad supported service needs a few tweaks before I'd consider it ready.
AAPL v MSFT - lies, damn lies and marketing. My thoughts about marketing after a Twitter discussion.
- Twitter is becoming more popular by the day so how can you use it more effectively and let your followers know what you are reading?
- Adobe launched a new online image editing application with 2GB of storage space and online gallery service. What's it like? Have a look at the beta.
- In these days of social media we hear the term "personal branding" a lot. Is a favicon a valid part of this?
- There has been a lot of talk about our online presence being decentralised so I ask the question "is lifestreaming the answer or are we asking the wrong question?"
As always, you can also view all of last weeks posts.
Is lifestreaming the answer or are we asking the wrong question?
Back in January I asked if we were heading for a social media meltdown: are we becoming so swamped with social services that their usefulness is becoming diminished? There are so many "social sites" that we are spreading ourselves too thin and not devoting the attention to each that they deserve.
The question should therefore become: which services should we use? Which services would provide the most utility and stability?
In any market you reach saturation point where the demand will only support so many products so where is this limit for web services? Scoble asked "How many services do we need?" and suggested that, once the novelty has worn off and the market stabilised, that
"only five are going to survive long term. So, that means deadpools, buyouts, mergers, etc. ahead"
Now with lifestreaming, however, you would think that a lot of the issues surrounding the use of the different systems would be negated. Lifestreaming, if you are unaware, is the process of aggregating all of your actions from around the web in to one "stream" so that you or your friends/followers need only visit one location to see what you're up to. But, is it the right answer, or are we asking the wrong question?
How much value does lifestreaming really provide? Do we use different services for different purposes? Do our friends on those services follow us for specific reasons and therefore not benefit from viewing irrelevant conversations from another service? Do we really benefit from having everything in one place or we lose track of what we ourselves are doing once those items have been taken out of the context of the service they were created in?
Sarah Perez wrote over at ReadWriteWeb that, whilst lifestreaming centralises activity in one place, that place may not be the most appropriate - take comments for example. A blog post gets aggregated in your lifestream but rather than readers commenting in situ they instead do so in places such as FriendFeed forcing you to leave the original source location in order to follow the conversation - not ideal. Services such as fav.or.it are attempting to reverse this trend by enabling comments to be passed back to the blog itself via an API but this requires the blog platform to support it and for the blog owner to go to the trouble of integrating that support.
Loic Le Meur echoes these sentiments when he says that his "social map is totally decentralized" and wants it back on his blog. Our blog is our base and the one aspect we (essentially) have control over - especially if it is self-hosted. It is the root of our personal brand and the wider our social map spreads the harder it is to maintain that brand. We are creating the conversation and we would like to have a degree of control or ownership over it rather than having it spread beyond out sphere of influence.
Re-centralising the conversation brings its own challenges though and I can't see re-centralisation actually working unless we do shrink down to a finite, manageable set of services. With so many disparate systems offering essentially the same functionality they each need something to separate them from the competition but, if the aim is for these services to be able to stream conversations back to their source then we are looking for every system to be compatible with everything else. What then will be the point? We might as well just have one rather than dozens of clones spreading the conversation too thin.
Can we maintain the current rate of growth in social services or will a key set of systems gain enough inertia that the rest die off and the market implodes? Will providers get along or be stubborn ring-fencing their data? Is data portability really possible with so many looking after their own interests?
UPDATE: it looks like some of the most pressing questions are being answered as Nick Halstead has posted on the fav.or.it blog that the next incarnation of the service is "Giving the conversation back to the blog" - well worth checking out. Of course, this next step still relies on using a compatible blogging system.
Should a favicon be part of your online identity?
Without question, one of the most effective ways to market yourself or your site/blog on the web is to have a recognisable online brand. This comprises your site name, logo, design, even your voice via the content and, in these times of social media, your amorphous mass of personal profiles littered around the web.
One thing that is often overlooked, however, is the favicon - that little graphic that identifies your site in browser address bars, favourites lists and on tabs. Does your site really need one? No, but in order to stand out and not be lost amongst a whole list of standard icons it's a good idea to get one.
So, after 4 and a half years of overlooking this aspect of online branding I thought that time had come for me to stop being lazy and implement this simple step.
I have seen advice around the web that you should avoid using blue for a favicon even if your site theme itself is blue, the argument being that it will get lost among the standard blue e's used by Internet Explorer. Providing your icon is sufficiently distinct I don't see why blue can't be used - just so long as it stands out from the crowd.
Normally, the best plan is to utilise your site logo when creating your favicon as it will create an instant relationship back to the site itself, If it is not practical to do so in such a small space then - as I have done - the normal action is to take the first letter of your site name. Some advocate using a small graphic but if it bears no relation to the contents of your site I feel that this can backfire.
Tying it in
My online brand is somewhat fragmented and, in the absence of any logo, difficult to pin down. To further tie the favicon in to the site I have taken a couple of steps to link it to the page contents. Firstly, I have replaced the normal SharePoint Help icon in the top right hand corner with a version of the favicon graphic. I don't think I've ever recorded a click on the site help (which takes you to the standard SharePoint help files) so there is no danger of losing anything by doing so and it means that the new graphic is always displayed on any page. Secondly, the graphic has been placed next to date on the main posts list to again make it visible.
I still need to look at where else I can incorporate this graphic both on my own site and within my profiles across the web in order to create a comprehensive and instantly recognisable brand.
Is this a good place to use it? Should it be next to ech posts title instead? Let me know what you think.
UPDATE: I've moved things around a bit, what do you think?
After looking at the blog for the past few days I thought that it need a few touches to help tidy things up a bit. I have therefore made a few changes which, although only small, I feel have made quite a difference.
Let's run through the list:
- extra spacing between posts to create a greater feeling of space on the page
- extra spacing between post title and body - reduces the cramped feeling
- adding a 1 pixel border to the left of the right hand pane - assists with the page separation
- copied the post edit link to the main page
Change 4 is purely for my own benefit but it saves having to go to the individual post page in order to update any given entry. I think that it is further evidence that SharePoint is not yet a grown up blogging platform; it seems obvious to have edit links readily available and the page layout is not ideally suited to a blog - the blog template is too akin to a standard SharePoint site. Saying that I'll keep plugging away at it and keep making improvements.
I hope the changes make things a bit better on the eye.
Note: this will only show when IE is in IE8 standards mode and NOT when emulating IE7.
I came across another third party Twitter service this morning called "Twit This" which is an easy way to show your Twitter followers what you're reading or, conversely, a way to get your site/blog readers to tell their followers and hopefully drive a bit of traffic your way.
Twit This is used in a couple of ways:
- a bookmarklet on your browser toolbar to submit which ever page you are viewing
- a link (either by button or text) added by the site author
There is also a WordPress plugin for those of you using that platform.
As with the other social media links I have at the end of each post I have added a "Tweet This" link (let's face it Twitter messages are generally ) but have modified the code involved to dynamically include the post ID and title rather than that of the page itself (as happens with the original code) - you can therefore tweet individual blog posts from the main page.
Podcast novel author that he wishes more people would use Twit This on their sites as it is an "Easy way to empower readers to evangelize blog posts" and I agree but perhaps there should be just as much onus on us as readers to use the bookmarklet and share those sites we find interesting.
Once you have submitted your tweet it will show up in Twitter like this
Twit This is another prime example of the whole ecosystem that is developing around Twitter. Twitter itself succeeds because of its simplicity but these third party tools mean you can make it as useful and as complicated as you like - it's all about personal choice.