Monday, December 17, 2007

Open ID makes commenting easy

Now you can comment on other Blogger blogs using Open ID. No longer will your visitors need to jump through a bunch of hoops to leave a comment on your site. This is a big step forward to making Blogger a more attractive platform for bloggers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Feed me, Blogger

I think Blogger could do a better job with feeds. There is no setting to turn on a familiar orange feed icon, and the site feed settings are confusing for most new bloggers. There is a page element widget for adding external feeds, but it also does not display a helpful icon.

Now I know most modern browsers automatically detect feeds, and many people use sophisticated feed readers, but this is all about turning visitors into regular readers. They expect to see a feed link or icon on the blog.

Ways Blogger could make it easier:

  • A radio or checkbox on the feed widget to select the feed of the blog
  • feed icons on the site feed page to choose from.
  • Giving the blog writer choices on displaying their blog feeds by label in site feeds
  • A real feed management area
Google did aquire Feedburner recently, so I expect a lot of things to change pretty soon. I'm hopeful anyway. Until then, it gives me a lot to cover in the Syndication chapter of the book.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Google gadgets for Blogger in Draft

Some of you may already know this. Adding Google gadgets to Blogger blogs is officially in test. Many of the gadgets will not be useful to most bloggers, but there are so many of the things we will have plenty to choose from.

To test them out, visit to login to the draft/test version of your blog. When you visit the layout area under the tempalte tab, you can add a new page element and will see any new page element widgets. Choose the Google Gadgets widget, and you will be taken to a more elaborate, web page like screen where you can search, scroll, or view gadgets by category. After choosing a widget, click the preview button to see it in action.

The widget you chose may not work properly. Remember, this is only a test. Take it for a spin and be sure to let the Blogger team know what you think.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Readers Rule

I have a confession. I love the Head First book series. I love it because when I read the books, they make me feel like it is all about me, the reader. I Rule!

Guess what? That is totally the goal of Bates and Sierra. They take conversational writing to a whole new level. They never forget that it is always about you, the reader. Not them, not a sacred principle of programming, the person reading the book.

It's easy to get caught in writing mode, to forget the book is a two way conversation. My role as a writer is to be your guide, to make suggestions, give hints, to say, "Hey look at that rockin' widget! Let's make it even better!". That's what it's really all about.

My goal for the Blogger book is to give you the tools and know how you need to make your blog a success. You can take or leave whole sections of the book. That's OK. I'm trying really hard to fill the book with stuff you'll want to try. It's not really a book about beefing up Blogger. It's about making your Blogger blog kick ass.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cars are for writing

My favorite place to write is in my car. Not while I'm driving of course. It is a quiet, comfy, different, and no pressure environment for planning a chapter or drafting from notes. I have a sprial bound notebook I carry with me to jot down ideas, make sketches, and do preliminary work. I can lean back in the car seat during my lunch break and work on my book without interuption.

Why do I prefer to sit in a car to write instead of at my desk, hands poised over a computer? It is a lot more relaxing and a more creative environment. The computer is great for writing things down quickly and formatting, but it can be a killer when trying to come up with ideas. There is something about putting pen to paper in a different enviroment that jump starts my brain and encourages more creative thought.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Planning a Blog (or any site really)

There are many features, widgets, and other elements of Blogger that can be adjusted to customize a blog. While it is possible to randomly add page elements without any real thought to how they affect the overall look or concept of the blog, a little planning will help mold the blog into a user friendly place.

There are several different techniques I use when planning a site:

  • The Post-It Note Method
  • The Photoshop Mockorama
  • Whiteboarding
  • Sketchbooking with pencil and paper
  • Powerpoint slides
  • Creating a default template in a CMS, Blogger, or Wordpress and manuevering the elements until something sticks

The post-it note method as shown on AListApart a few months ago is a very quick method and good for when widgets and other movable elements are involved. Cracking open Photoshop to create mock-ups is another popular method. It is more time consuming, and messing with the fonts so early on can be annoying. Whiteboarding is good for collaboration and when you don't want to get bogged down by visual elements. It should be more about the layout and structure.

Sketchbooking is a precursor to Post-It and Photoshop. A napkin or used copier paper works well too. The advantage of the sketchbook is it can be scanned, and there is a chance old designs will be stumbled upon later.

Powerpoint may sound like an unusual choice, but it is easy to draw boxes and position fonts. The actual sizing can be off, but an overall structure can be quickly worked up and easily shared with the powers that be.

The last method, creating a default template, is a good way to get a better feel for the tool and what the template can do already. It can be tested in multiple browsers before downloading it and using an html editing tool to customize the template. It gives the designer a base line or starting point.

Monday, October 1, 2007

How to write a chapter in 7 days

My first chapter is due October 7th. I know what you're thinking. At least she has the weekend in case she gets behind! I have pulled some late night sessions writing chapters before. Chapter 1 has got to be one of the hardest chapters to write. Ideally, this would be the last chapter I write. Then I could pull on all the information I already wrote and distill it down for Chapter 1.

Instead, I start with my outline and section titles and try to picture the general flow of the book in my head. It helps to think of an example reader, commonly known as a "persona" in the web design industry. A persona is a description of the type of audience you expect to have, detailed as an individual. It could also be called a "profile". Some even include pictures of people to help marketers and designers visualize who they are describing!

Here's a sample persona:
Margaret has used blogger for several months to post examples of her artwork and to display her entries for the Friday competitions on IllustrationFriday. She wants to add a custom header image to her template, add a twitter widget, and figure out how to add a picture gallery to her site. She also wants to learn about using feedburner, and how to add Amazon books to her sidebar.

When the audience is described in a more personal way, it is easier to create sites, books, or cars that serve the user. Ok so how will this help me write the first chapter in seven days? Well the hardest part is the actual writing. Commit to writing at least a page a day, even if it is stream of consciousness, and things will be easier. Editing whatever has been written tricks the brain, since it doesn't realize actual writing is taking place. It's just editing, right? No pressure.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Transforming your blog: Research

I'm currently in the preliminary stages of the Blogger book. The focus of the book will be on transforming a typical blog into a customized site that leverages Blogger and third party
tools. It will be an Internet Cinderella story. The difference is the blog should not turn into a pumpkin after midnight, unless that is the blogger's intention.

Right now I'm defining more precisely what the book IS, IS NOT, and MIGHT BE. It will not be a beginning book about Blogger or blogging. It is not a guide to every possible thing that can be done with Blogger. It's not going to be just a list of blogs that are cool at the moment.

It is going to be a book that discusses what tools and techniques outstanding blogs share, and then shows through a series of topical tutorials (say that 5 times fast) how to transform a typical blog into a more dynamic site.