Introducing the new NevilleHobson.com

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Today, the new NevilleHobson.com makes its appearance – version 4.0 of this site I started writing in 2006.

Not wanting to make a huge deal out of what, essentially, is the installation of a new WordPress theme – like a new wardrobe – I’ve given the site a new look and and a better feel with the News theme from StudioPress running on the Genesis Framework.

If you’re reading this on the blog itself, the design is what you now see and is shown in the right-hand part of the screenshot above, with the left side the previous look of the Thesis theme that I’ve used for some years.

My goal is quite simple – enable a website that has a minimalist appearance, is quick to load, easy to navigate and lets you quickly find the content you want to read, watch or listen to. I felt the previous design was getting too blinged out with tweet streams and widgets here and there; it was slow loading and required a lot of maintenance.

The major obvious change to the previous design is how content is presented on the home page. Before, you’d find the full content of five posts, resulting in a lot of scrolling which tests your patience. Now, you see an excerpt from the first part of each post plus its accompanying image so you can read the ones that interest you while you only need a click or two to see what there is in total on the home page.

A big appeal of this News theme is that it’s been developed to be mobile responsive, meaning it will work equally well on a desktop computer screen as it will on a smartphone screen or a tablet screen without the need for a separate theme or – worse – no separate theme at all.

Unfortunately, it’s the one thing that I can’t get working properly; with some help from StudioPress, I hope to have it fixed soon. In the meantime, if you visit on a mobile device you should see the site fine via the WordPress Jetpack mobile theme.

The design is almost out of box as the theme comes, just some typographical tweaks here and there plus a little bit of personalization. The News theme is fully widgetized which offers interesting design and other possibilities. I’ve not used any of that – minimalism in overall presence is what I looked for. And it’s not yet final – call it a work in progress. But the key things are here: posts, pages and related content.

If you subscribe to this blog’s content via RSS or email, or read the content syndicated elsewhere, you won’t see the new design. That’s ok – please continue to enjoy the content! But why not pop over for a look?

Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Boost your WordPress blog with Jetpack

jetpacklogoIf you self-host a WordPress blog, one of the most useful plug-ins you can install is Jetpack, created by WordPress publisher Automattic originally for blogs built on the hosted WordPress.com service

The Jetpack plug-in has recently been updated to version 2, which now makes it an indispensible part of your blog presence on the social web.

Jetpack offers a huge range of features, services and functionality that enhances your WordPress experience – both yours as the content publisher and those who interact with your content.

With version 2, Jetpack currently brings nearly two dozen modules that you activate to use in your WordPress site.

jetpackdashboard

Once you install the plugin, it created a dashboard in your WordPress admin through which you manage all aspects of it.

You will need an account at WordPress.com even if you don’t have or plan to have a blog there, as the plugin connects with data and services in the WordPress cloud. Opening an account is free of charge.

You use the Jetpack modules you want, which may not be all of them. I have some activated, not all; the ones I find very useful are these:

  • Comments: enables your visitors to use WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook accounts when commenting on your site.
  • Subscriptions: Allow users to subscribe to your posts and comments to receive a notification via email.
  • Contact Form: Easily insert a contact form any where on your site.
  • Sharing: The most super duper sharing tool on the interwebs. Share content with Facebook, Twitter, and many more.
  • Shortcode Embeds: Easily embed videos and more from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
  • WP.me Shortlinks: Enable WP.me-powered shortlinks for all of your Posts and Pages for easier sharing.
  • Mobile Theme: Automatically optimize your site for mobile devices.
  • Enhanced Distribution: Share your public posts and comments to search engines and other services in real-time.
  • Custom CSS: Customize the appearance of your site using CSS but without modifying your theme.

I’ve dispensed with other plugins where Jetpack offers similar or better functionality. It’s definitely a core plugin that will give any self-hosted WordPress blog a boost.

Sponsor profile: Web Hosting Buzz

Since the beginning of 2012, NevilleHobson.com has been sponsored by WebHostingBuzz. The arrangement I made with its UK-based CEO Matt Russell – his company hosts my web presence at no financial cost to me; in return, I talk about them now and again – means that all the content served to you from this website is hosted at one of WHB’s data centres in the US.

The benefits for you, the reader, are twofold:

  1. You get content served to you quickly and reliably as this site is hosted on a dedicated server.
  2. The site has WHB’s VIP Management service behind it where people who know what they’re doing will look after the physical infrastructure that enables the content to appear on your screen.

WebHostingBuzz has data centres in the US, in Dallas, Atlanta, New York and Phoenix; in Europe, in Amsterdam; the company opened a new data centre in the UK last month, in Nottingham.

If you’re considering a new web hosting service, whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, it’s worth taking a look at WebHostingBuzz. And they’re offering some keenly-priced hosting deals at the moment.

More information:

Thanks, WHB, looking forward to building our relationship to the next level.

whatareyouwaitingfor

Moving on from Feedburner to Feedblitz

feedburner2feedblitz

After seven years, it’s time to say goodbye to Feedburner and say hello to Feedblitz.

A week ago, I wrote about my worries that RSS feeds delivered via Feedburner might not work after October 20, after a note on the Google Developers’ Feedburner website said that the Feedburner APIs would shut down on that date.

I noted at the time:

RSS is the “delivery backbone” for creating and delivering much of the content that people use the internet for. You would have thought that turning off the flow of content that’s used by so many people and businesses is a pretty big deal, one that would warrant some communication from Google. I can find none.

There’s been some big confusion over what Google actually intends, with many people simply wondering as I did if it meant no RSS feeds – or email subscriptions – any more. There’s been no clarity from Google, so I think it hardly surprising that Twitter has been awash with tweets from people wondering about their subscriptions that Feedburner delivers, both RSS and email.

While some knowledgeable voices have expressed doubt that the Feedburner API closure means no more RSS, it hasn’t diminished concerns.

So I reached out directly to Google to ask for clarification – and never had a reply.

It was after reading a post a few days ago on Jay Baer‘s website on why he moved from Feedburner to Feedblitz that I decided to make the same move.

So I followed Feedblitz’ excellent migration guide and I’m now set up to serve content to subscribers to this blog via RSS and email using Feedblitz’ services.

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I’m especially impressed with the seamless way in which Feedblitz carried out its migration, puling in all the RSS and email details it needed from Feedburner to replicate everything at Feedblitz in a way that’s transparent to current subscribers – you should not experience any interruption in your subscription.

The one thing in the migration process that did give me pause for thought was the need to disable Google’s 2-step verification process in order for Feedblitz’ migration wizard to work. But I did, let Feedblitz do its work and then re-enabled 2-step verification. The downside is that some of the apps on my smartphone and computers that access my Google accounts via APIs needed re-verification, something to be aware of if you use 2-step verification.

Feedblitz is a paid service compared to Feedburner which is free, and its pricing structure is based on how many email subscribers you have, not how many RSS subscribers. If, like me, you have many RSS and few email, it’s a low-cost and viable option. Vice-versa, be prepared to pay more.

Note, too, that Feedblitz isn’t the only game in town if you’re looking for an alternative to Feedburner. For instance, read what Jim Connolly chose to do as he migrated his email subscriptions away from Feedburner.

I haven’t yet learned all about the depth and breadth of what Feedblitz offers me as a web publisher compared to Feedburner. For now, I’m pleased that I have enabled a service in which I have much greater confidence will be around for a long time.

So why not take a look at Feedblitz, which offers a 30-day free trial.

Related post:

3,000 posts

I just noticed that I’ve reached a milestone in blog publishing, with 3,000 posts published at NevilleHobson.com since I started this blog in 2006.

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I published my first post here on February 22, 2006. That’s 2,392 days ago, so 3,000 posts works out at roughly a post-and-a-bit a day. Not sure what that actually means but I’m seeing the 3,000 number as a milestone to note.

It doesn’t include writing on what’s now my archive blog where I wrote between 2002 and 2006: I haven’t checked how many posts I wrote there. Nor does it includes more recent places like Posterous and of course micro-blogging on Twitter, whose 140-character missives are posts, just like this blog; I have over 55,000 of them at Twitter.

There’s often talk about is blogging dead or is it worth continuing (the latest of the latter coming today from Paul Sutton). In my view, it is worth doing for many reasons, whether you’re writing “long-form content” such as a on a blog like this, or just tweeting or Facebooking (those status updates are posts, too).

Here are just five reasons:

  1. You have something to say that you think others will find interesting.
  2. You have an itch that writing about it publicly will scratch.
  3. You want to engage in conversation through writing.
  4. You like thinking out loud.
  5. You want a means that helps you focus your thinking on topics that interest you.

All of the above apply to me. If you’re a blogger, I bet they apply to you as well.

Any other reasons come to mind? Why not blog about it…

Related post:

Giving you a choice about cookies

cookiemonsterA year ago a law – known as Directive 2009/136/EC – came into effect throughout the European Union on the use of cookies on websites, requiring a website owner to seek visitors’ consent to cookies being saved to their computers when they visit a website (more on cookies).

Implementing the law in the UK was delayed for a year to give businesses time to become compliant. The Information Commissioner’s Office – responsible for policing the implementation of the UK-specific version of the EU law – has detailed information about the so called ‘cookie law’ and related topics.

The year of grace in the UK expires today, May 26, from which moment websites in the UK are supposed to be telling visitors about how their sites are using cookies, and giving visitors a means to indicate their agreement or not.

While I do believe this law was set up with all the best intentions, its implementation seems to have lacked a clear plan of execution. So many EU members states, so many different needs.  In the UK, there’s fear, uncertainty and doubt out there about cookies generally and this law in particular. Indeed, some estimate that few UK websites have yet to even start thinking about the cookie law and becoming compliant, something the ICO say they’re addressing through communication and awareness-raising.

Add to this a last-minute change in the UK requirements made by the ICO just a few days ago, and its no wonder the FUD looms large for many people.

Here, concisely, is what you need to know about the UK cookie law:

  1. If you’re in the UK and have a website that sets a cookie on a visitor’s computer – which will include a mobile device like a smartphone – you must comply with the law to let people know about cookies. That means a method to communicate that when visitors arrive on your site.
  2. Given the ICO’s last-minute change where communicating information about your website’s cookie use no longer requires an explicit approval by a visitor – the ICO is happy with what it’s calling ‘implied consent’ – communicating your site’s cookie use is sufficient to comply with the law. However, the ICO qualifies its advice in the latest version of its guidance document in some detail, thus:
    • Implied consent is a valid form of consent and can be used in the context of compliance with the revised rules on cookies.
    • If you are relying on implied consent you need to be satisfied that your users understand that their actions will result in cookies being set. Without this understanding you do not have their informed consent.
    • You should not rely on the fact that users might have read a privacy policy that is perhaps hard to find or difficult to understand.
    • In some circumstances, for example where you are collecting sensitive personal data such as health information, you might feel that explicit consent is more appropriate.

So, in essence, the very least you must do is tell your visitors about your cookies, how they’re being used and what that means for the visitor.

Logical questions now for many people – I had them myself – is how do you do this? What would you say? Are there examples of wording you can use? What happens if someone objects to cookies on your website? And what about blogs – do they need to comply with the cookie law?

There are many good sources offering answers or help to most of these questions, especially:

As for blogs, think about it – blogs are websites. So if your blog sets cookies – and it’s almost certain that it will do, eg, if you use Google Analytics, if you enable visitors to log in to comment, or if you have buttons to tweet, like or +1 – then you, too, need to be compliant.

If you have a WordPress blog, as I do, there are a number of plugins that automates the process to present the visitor with a message about cookies on your blog.

One I discovered a few weeks ago is the EU Cookie Muncher plugin by Scott Evans that can help you make your blog compliant. Here’s how it works:

[...] First off we check the IP address of the visitor. If they appear to be outside of the EU then the plugin is not loaded. Next we scan your sites HTML for scripts and tools that do not comply with the directive, such as Google Analytics, twitter and Facebook social buttons. These scripts are removed from the page and a customisable notification is shown to the user inviting them to “accept cookies”. Once they accept cookies the preference is remembered for one year and your cookie setting scripts jump back to life.

I think it’s a nice solution, especially if it shows the popup only to those who need to see it, ie, people within the EU. So if you’re in the US, for instance, you shouldn’t see it at all. Unlike most WordPress plugin, it’s not free (you pay $12 for a single license). I plan to implement it on my blog as I believe it’s a good and simple way to be compliant with the cookie law. (I would have done that already except the version I have throws up a 500 server error every time I activate it. Hope to have that situation resolved before the end of the weekend.)

Given the last-minute changes in the law, as I mentioned earlier, developer Scott Evans says he’ll be updating the plugin this weekend to reflect those changes.

There are other such solutions, too, which are worth checking out.

My site uses few cookies as this screenshot via the View Cookies Firefox extension shows:

nhcomcookies26apr12

Here’s what those cookies are:

  • The ones with filenames starting with an underscore are Google Analytics cookies, relating to tech info about how many visitors, what they look at, etc.
  • Those with ‘wp’ in the filename are related to WordPress and, specifically in this case, my own use of my site related to my logging in as the administrator. You shouldn’t get those on your computer ;)
  • The one with ‘wptouch’ in the name is for the WP Touch plugin for WordPress that is set for visitors on mobile devices so they get a mobile version of the site on their device rather than a desktop version. (That’s a terrific example of a valuable cookie that helps you get the best experience here by ‘remembering’ your preference.)

I don’t have any paid advertising on my site so there are no ad tracking cookies whatsoever.

Does all this make you feel more confident about what happens with cookies when you visit this site? Please share your thoughts – I’d love to know. Also, tell me about your experiences in making your own site compliant. Thanks.

EU Cookie Law: The conundrum in numbers [Infographic]