Just a bit less minimalist

Strokes

About a month ago, I made a big change to this website when I redesigned it and combined the blog with my business website, with both on the same single domain.

At the time, I talked up my strong feeling about a minimalist approach to a presence on the social web, doing away with all the clutter that tends to populate so many websites with widgets, ads, popups galore, and more.

If you observed that change and have visited this site since then, you’ll notice another change if you’re reading this on the site itself rather than via the RSS feed or syndication elsewhere.

I’ve reverted to a website based on the Genesis Framework – in my view, the best foundation for self-hosted WordPress sites – with the eleven40 Pro child theme presenting the content you see and enabling you to interact with it on whatever device you use to come visiting. It’s HTML5 and mobile-responsive.

Why the change?

In short, Decode, the minimalist theme I switched to, presented a number of challenges that I couldn’t resolve without either getting to know more about PHP coding and CSS than I was able to commit time to, or hiring an expert.

There was a major issue surrounding how the site worked on mobile devices. I was hearing about odd experiences some people had reported where browsers on iPhones and iPads crashed when trying to load content from the site.

To fix that in the short term, I installed the WPtouch mobile theme, which did the trick. It’s a great addition to any WordPress site but not what I wanted as it needed more work that I was willing to give time to to make it behave consistently with the primary look-and-feel of the Decode theme.

I’d also experienced some weirdness with sudden changes in formatting to content after it had been published.

I’m highly confident that none of those issues will arise with the Genesis Framework-based foundation now in place.

In preparing this site today for relaunch, I was greatly aided by using a terrific tool called Design Palette Pro, a premium WordPress plugin designed to work with Genesis that lets you customize many appearance elements of a Genesis child theme without having to edit any code.

So here is version 6 of NevilleHobson.com! Hope it works for you – let me know if it does or not.

A minimalist approach

[Updated July 27: Today I reverted to the Genesis Framework and the eleven40 Pro child theme. Concise reasoning in today’s post about the change.]

Pink Floyd, minimalistsToday I re-booted this website. It has a new look and feel, quite a bit different to what went before it. And the domain on which the blog has run since 2006 is also now home to the separate business website I’ve had for some years.

So everything you want to know about me is housed under one roof instead of fragmented in a few places – all now at NevilleHobson.com.

The whole site uses the Decode theme for WordPress. It’s the most attractive and simplest theme to set up that I’ve come across since starting to look for “the right look” earlier this year. It’s a free theme, too – thank you, Scott Smith – described as “A minimal, modern theme, designed to be mobile first and fully responsive.”

Decode replaces the Genesis framework and the eleven40 child theme. Genesis is an outstanding platform upon which to build a dynamic WordPress-based presence on the web. And I’ve been pleased with the eleven40 theme since I set it up on the blog last year.

But I decided that I wanted a far simpler setup. Something that had the right minimalist look, that was inexpensive to acquire, didn’t need deep knowledge of coding, HTML5 or anything mildly technical, and worked very well indeed no matter the device on which it is was displayed.

The ultimate choice is undoubtedly a bit subjective – I’d be hard pressed to tell you what is it about Decode that I prefer compared to, say, Minimum Pro which I also have – and I may well discover something I wish Decode had that other minimalist themes do.

But Decode works for me. What I want is something that focuses on the content of a post or a page – especially the words – without the distraction and overhead of all the furniture, so to speak: widgets, sidebars, icons, ads, etc.

I’ve decided not to continue with any of that, at least for now. Instead what you see is simplicity, lots of white space, and readable text especially on a mobile device.

So here is version 5.0 of NevilleHobson.com. I hope you find it useful and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it (especially if you find anything that doesn’t work).

Thanks.

The mutual value of the conversation

2013 Annual Report

The stats helper monkeys have been busy, said WordPress in an overnight email telling me about “Your 2013 in blogging,” a concise analysis of this blog during the year as noted by the stats module in Jetpack, the uber-plugin utility for self-hosted WordPress sites.

It’s a concise portrayal of a range of metrics that are useful to know.

For instance:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 170,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2013, there were 260 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 2,598 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 9th with1,838 views. The most popular post that day was Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012.

I can get this information myself, of course, via analysis of the stats. But it was nice to see it expressed this way.

The Jetpack report also tells me which were the top five posts that got the most views in 2013.

attractionsin2013

  1. How to make your business card a smart card – June 2009
  2. How to secure your WordPress site against hacker attacks – April 2013
  3. Good example of a social media press release from ING – December 2012
  4. Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012 – September 2012
  5. Disney brings the second-screen experience to the movies – September 2013

As the report notes, some of these were written before 2013 but still got attention (views) from people, adding:

Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

A good tip, thanks!

The most-commented post in 2013, says Jetpack, was Don’t ignore social voices, Knight Frank #LostMyGiggle with nearly 130 comments including on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Of interest, too, is information on where visitors come from, ie, which sites refer them. According to Jetpack, the top three referring sites in 2013 were these:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. Google+

I knew this from other research, but it’s good to see it confirmed by another credible source.

And where in the world did these visitors come from? 193 countries, says Jetpack! Specifically:

Most visitors came from The United States. The United Kingdom & Germany were not far behind.

US visitors are, roughly, about 51% of all visitors according to other measures. But, as Jetpack says, it’s ‘most.’ I suspect part of the reason why US visitor numbers are high is that much of my content has been widely syndicated in the US for much of the past decade.

So a useful snapshot of some of the metrics about what’s published on this blog, what people came to read in 2013, and what they did when they read it.

It makes me think about the value of blogging, especially with a strong business focus that is the characteristic of this blog (not many posts or videos about cats here), a topic about which Euan  Semple had a very good post yesterday.

It makes me think about the exposure of my thinking to others as expressed in posts that stimulate them to refer those posts to their communities or directly add their own points of view, whether here or elsewhere across the social web: it’s all trackable and connectable.

That’s what I call a conversation. So I’ll keep going… :)

Connecting content and the social conversations

Blog comments

A topic Shel and I discuss in this week’s FIR podcast episode 715 is commenting on blogs.

More specifically, about the conversation that can happen in response to a post someone writes and publishes on a blog, and where the conversation actually takes place.

Increasingly, it’s not on the blog itself – it’s on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, anywhere across the social web except in the comments section of the blog post that prompted someone to add their two pence-worth.

Here’s an example: as the screenshot above illustrates – from a post I wrote last week about The Sun’s new paywall – there are no comments to the post directly, but ten comments across Twitter and Facebook that reference the post.

You might be wondering how those external comments appear on the blog. They do thanks to a nifty WordPress plugin called Social from Crowd Favorite that automagically finds and connects comments to a particular post where they appear on the major social networks

Actually, that’s not strictly true as conspicuous by its absence is Google+ and any comments about the post anyone makes on that social network. So conversation on Google+ is disconnected from content elsewhere, eg, on blogs.

But now there is one way in which you can connect Google+ to posts on WordPress blogs – albeit not in as integrated a manner as you might wish – via Google+Comments, a WordPress plugin developed by Alex Moss.

What this does is add a Google+ comments area below your post that’s additional to the blog comment area of what shows from a plugin like the Social one I have installed. So it’s a separate area. It’s similar to what you can do with Facebook commenting via plugins.

You can also manually add Google+ comments anywhere to a post, such as within it like this:

Google+ Comments

Powered by Google+ Comments

Try it – leave a Google+ comment!

From what I can understand in how it works, it doesn’t behave like Crowd Favorite’s Social plugin – that brings in links to comments made elsewhere – but is a full-blown comment system, as it were, in which you write and post your comments to Google+ and see related comments others have made on Google+.

I think it’s a good concept and could be a credible complement to third-party commenting platforms like Disqus, Livefyre, IntenseDebate and others, as well as to native blog commenting.

Although I do have the Google+Comments plugin installed and activated, I haven’t enabled it for all posts. Not yet: I want to see how it works in practice, what others do with it and how people feel about it. Plus it look like it has some display/CSS styling issues with how content is presented in this blog.

Until knitting together the online conversation stream becomes more seamless – in essence, joining up all the dots that form online conversations centred on a blog post – and simpler and easier, and doesn’t require workarounds like plugins and other tools and services that perform the necessary connectivity, this at least enables Google+ to be part of the overall conversation.

The nature of commenting has shifted, too, along with the proliferation of places where you can add a quick opinion and the growth of short-form posts that almost resist anything longer than a quick tweet or a Facebook like.

Still, whatever the length of a post and a comment, Google+Comments will likely connect more of the dots. On WordPress blogs, at least.

(Via Debi Davis)

Bloggade 2013: the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress

Timico data centre

Have you ever wondered what goes on at a data centre, perhaps one that hosts your website or blog?

If that’s a question you’ve asked before, then here’s your chance to get the answer.

A tour of a state-of-the-art UK data centre in Newark is a central part of an event taking place on August 21 that will focus on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs.

I’ve joined Matt Russell, CEO of WebHostingBuzz (the hosting service that sponsors and hosts my blogs) and Trefor Davies, co-founder and CTO of Timico (the owner of the data centre) to put together Bloggade 2013:

The focus of this first Bloggade is on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs. You’ll experience a tour of Timico’s £5m Midlands datacentre that opened in 2012, and see at first hand the technology that powers the web including many WordPress blogs hosted with WebHostingBuzz at the datacentre.

We have round table discussions planned on WordPress hosting, hardware, search engine optimization and more, all addressing the topics from a non-technical perspective, but in the true round table spirit – anything and everything to do with WordPress is up for discussion.

Bring your questions, comments and experiences!

You’ll also get ideas and insights from experiences and blogging best practices in a panel discussion with Andrew Grill and I  – Andrew’s blog is also hosted by WebHostingBuzz – as well as from others there, all designed to help you get the most from the WordPress content management system, especially the new version 3.6.

Thanks to Timico, the half-day event is free to attend: the only condition is that you must have your own blog, whether it runs on WordPress or any other platform.

Sign up for Bloggade 2013

Sign up for your free ticket and join us for an afternoon in Newark – an historic town within easy reach of major towns and cities in the Midlands, East Anglia and the Northeast (and less than 90 minutes by fast train from London).

It’s a great opportunity to talk about the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress, see inside a modern data centre, and conclude things in a local pub.

What a pleasant way to spend a Wednesday afternoon! Hope to see you there on August 21.

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WordPress 3.6 – blogging gets even easier

WordPress 3.6A new version of the WordPress blogging platform and content management system was released on August 1 that not only fixes some bugs and improves security, but also brings a raft of new and enhanced features and functionality.

WordPress version 3.6 includes a new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, with a contemporary look and feel that lets you focus on your content far more than before, in a design made for media-rich blogging.

As the theme is a responsive web design (just like its predecessor default theme Twenty Twelve), it will look good and work well on any device – from a large widescreen desktop monitor to the compact touch-screen of a smartphone – without a plugin or any other external add-on needed.

If you’re just getting started with WordPress, or you’re thinking about a new design for your blog, Twenty Thirteen will work for you right out of the box. It will also give you a great foundation for your own customizations through creating your own child theme.

Of all the improvements and new features in WordPress 3.6, perhaps of most appeal to me and my WordPress blogs is the significantly improved support for audio and video with a new HTML5 media player as part of the WordPress platform that does away with the need for a specialist external plugin just to play the media.

As the media player isn’t Flash-based, an advantage is that it will work on Apple devices like iPhones and iPads.

There’s enhanced audio embedding that lets you embed songs, albums and playlists from Spotify, Rdio and SoundCloud just by pasting a URL into a post on its own line.

Like this, from SoundCloud:

There’s no special pop-up to add it to or something on the editing menu you have to open – just paste it into your draft post. The actual code I pasted is this:

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/96585117" params=""
width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

(The song, “In My Demon’s Name,” is the latest track from my favourite rock noir band, Belladonna, who make their songs available on SoundCloud. Check them out.)

For editing your posts, there’s a much better autosave, the behind-the-scenes method that saves your draft posts automatically at regular intervals when you’re logged in to your blog and in editing mode.

There’s also better post locking when you have multiple people who might be editing posts – easy to see who’s editing what and what to do if they’ve left a draft open that you need to work on.

These are just a handful of the great features in WordPress 3.6 – see the release announcement or the WordPress Codex for a complete list of everything including the bug and security fixes.

Or, view this cool video that presents all the new stuff in an entertaining way.

([Later] If you read this post on an Apple or Android device, you won’t see the video – because it’s a Flash video, as Armin Grew notes in the comments below. Ironic, to say the least.)

If you’re already  running WordPress, you should upgrade. If you’re not too bothered about all the bells and whistles, still upgrade if only because of the bug fixes and security improvements. As WordPress now runs 19 percent of all web sites in the world, it’s a hot target for hackers, crooks and others who will cause damage if they get into your blog (and whatever you do, change the default login user ID from ‘admin’ to anything else!)

So do yourself a favour – upgrade to the latest version. The simplest way is to use the automatic update feature in your WordPress dashboard, making sure you back up your database first. Just in case. Then, hit the ‘Update Now’ button in your WordPress dashboard.

WordPress Updates

Happy blogging!

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