Thursday, January 8, 2009

Upgrades to ContentBlogger: Welcome Twitter Headlines - And More!

Well, along with launching a book, tweaking our Web site and keeping a business a going concern, why not redesign the blog? Hey, it's a living. ContentBlogger has had a couple of minor redesigns through the years, and more is slated for the future, but it seemed time to correct some key best practices no-nos and to add in the headlines that I've been broadcasting on Twitter.

Twitter was an especially key concern, as I had given up finally on doing headlines the hard way: looking at dozens of Web site bookmarks, compiling and categorizing the best of them in an HTML editor and then cutting and pasting them into a ContentBlogger post. Yuk. How did I do that for four years? Finally last year I started to pop out headlines with links and a touch of commentary in Twitter every now and then. It seemed to be promising and I got strong feedback from folks that they were really useful. The Twitter convention is to insert keywords preceded by a pound/hash mark ("#") into the 140-character messages to help people provide categorization, so I started adding some of the key categories in the content industry that Shore tracks and analyzes, with a few extra Shore-specific categories for promotional purposes. Best of all, Twitter's real-time orientation meant that I could pound out a few headlines, go back to other tasks, and then come back and do a few more. It made for a more newsworthy approach to content news.

OK, great, but how to integrate this into ContentBlogger? Pumping them into a consolidated blog post was one option, and I may yet do that at some point, but that would take away their timeliness. I also found that the headlines were a bit of a distraction to people visiting the blog: they concealed the meaty entries that were the real "bait" for visitors. So embedding a feed of headlines seemed to be the best solution. But how? Hash marks and little personal comments had to go to make the service more readable and professional, filtering of some sort was a must - and I knew already from experience that it's hard to beat Yahoo! Pipes for reliable and quickly developed feed filtering and processing. It took just a few minutes in Yahoo! Pipes to hack together a filter that translated the hash/tags in Twitter to meaningful phrases and to filter out messages that wouldn't fit on ContentBlogger. Fortunately, having built our newsletter filter using Pipes made this a cinch. Then the question was which service to use to embed the feed. I've looked at all sorts of services that do this, and most of them are kind of half-baked. Yahoo! Pipes' badged feed widget wasn't too much better than most, but it integrated nicely with our existing formatting styles so it seemed a small price to pay for unsolicited advertising. Sorry for the badge, I try to avoid them like the plague so that you can have an impartial service, but sometimes compromises are necessary. If there's something better for embedding feeds simply, let me know.

Finally, some style nits that have been bugging me for a long time. At long last I took a deep breath and switched the main text column to the left and the secondary column to the right. It's really the way to go for readability, and I regret having ever set it up the other way. Sometimes old code is just not fun to look at, especially when you have much better things to do. I added iGoogle and Google Reader to the feed bookmark list and replaced the old "XML" feed icon to the newer and more standard orange feed logo. The AddThis bookmarking graphic I changed to the "share" label from "bookmark," as this fits better all of the options availble on AddThis. Finally, a little sidebar promo for the Content Nation book was in order, and easily done.

I hope that you enjoy having headlines back on ContentBlogger, you'll get them in a more timely fashion if you subscribe directly to Twitter or the Yahoo! Pipes feed, but if you're not that type of person you can at least know that you can view the most recent headlines easily on the scrollable sidebar. In the meantime my Twitter friends can get the hottest commentary as quickly as possible while ContentBlogger afficionados still get the best of it. Next is getting them sorted into a weekly summary for ShoreLines. Doable, but still thinking about the value of this. Let me know your thoughts on these changes, not revolutionary, to be sure, but I think that it makes for a better reading experience.
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