A few WordPress sites you might not have seen…

I’ve had a few launches recently and a few of them are worth mentioning.

  • domainersavantageThe Afternic Domainer’s Advantage – this is a knowledge center for use by Domainers, which is fully integrated with the AfternicDLS.com site.  For those who aren’t aware, Afternic is the world’s largest premium domain marketplace with over three million domains available for sale. The Domainer’s Advantage site is a fairly standard WordPress installation that makes use of several fairly standard plugins.  Special features:
    • Integrated news feed of domain news
    • Slide Share integration
    • Homepage featured content block
    • Single sign on integration with Afternic
    • Full design integration with the parent site
    • Design by Mark Hentschel – a real design rock star.
  • blogPhotoNetBlog.Photo.Net – photo.net is a site for serious photographers to connect with other photographersexplore photo galleriesdiscuss photographyshare and critique photos, and learn about photography. The blog is maintained by Josh Root, the community director for the site, and is used to provide a taste of the vast content available around the site as well as to post industry news, events, etc.
    • Full design integration with the photo.net site
    • Standard WordPress installation
    • Twitter feed

Reel-Time.com Updated

rt_sshot1Over the past couple months, I’ve been working nights and weekends to get Reel-time.com updated and running on WordPress.  The project, while far from complete, reached critical mass this week and I was able to go live Tuesday night.

This site has been around since 1995, and frankly, if you knew where to look, it was showing it’s age.  The homepage was left justified, which is something designers haven’t been doing since around 2001.

There were a lot of challenges.  First off, a lot of the content was gnarly hand-coded html of varying quality, which for the most part has had to be moved by hand.  That task will no doubt continue for a while.  Secondly, I didn’t have call on a designer.  As such, what design work had to be done, was done by me…and if you could see how I dress, you’d understand humor in that. A few of the high points:

  • WordPress is my CMS – Yes, I’ve been running a number of sites on a version we’ve customized at Namemedia, Inc., but this is the first time I’ve gone with an out of the box installation.  All customization for the site is done by plugin or theme.  Absolutely no changes to WordPress code whatsoever.
  • Comments, Sharing, etc. – Reel-Time never had comments on articles before, so now it does.  A small change, but actually one that will help to extend the community from the forum out into the  site.
  • Syndicated News Feeds – In the past, we always avoided sharing the link love.  No longer – we’re running feeds of pertinent content on our landing pages which gives us more great content from around the globe and shares our link juice, being top in Saltwater Fly fishing rankings.
  • Landing Pages – We’ve started doing pages by article category, so now we can present a dense, targeted page on any topic in our vast arsenal of content.  Add to that feeds of content similarly tagged from our forum, and the syndicated feeds, and you’ve got tons of content on any particular subject.  I only have a handful of these pages up, but rest assured, if it swims in saltwater and fishermen like to catch it, it will eventually have its own page.
  • A Standard Theme – I went with a base theme from the WordPress Theme Gallery then customized.  It saved time, and honestly, without it, I doubt this project ever would have happened.
  • A Classified Ad System – I’ve thought this was one of the big missing functions on the site for a long time.  Now we have one.  The question is, are we late to the game?
  • Vimeo Videos presented in high definition – Everybody has small videos, so I went with really LARGE video presentation.  It looks great, although I need to get more ads on the page.
  • New Content – for the first time in a long time, we’ve got new articles coming in.  I have no budget for this stuff, so I asked our community.  They have responded.
  • More Social – I put in links to our Facebook Group, Facebook Fan Page and to the Reel_Time twitter account.  Again, there is a lot more to do here.

I still have a lot of stuff to do.  If you read this blog closely, you’ll know that I had a quandry about what to do with our fishing reports section.  I think I have a solution to that, which I’ll be working on next.  Also on my list:

  • Develop a Content Team – me working 30 hours a week won’t happen anymore.  The work must be spread around the community.
  • Import All the Content – about 50 stories remain to be imported.  From there I have old fishing reports with valueable intro sections by some of the best writers in our sport (many started out writing for us).
  • Get More Community Happening – I’ll hold this one close to the vest for new.  I’m well aware that this blog is read by some that participate in my niche, so no need to tip my hat here.

Remember, one of the salient points here is that this was a nights and weekends project, only a 2 days of actual “work” time went into it.  Also, the an important round of thanks to the moderators for the site, Bob Parsons, Sam Riley, Ray Avitable and Shaun Ruge who were of immense assistance in the planning and as always, in providing a firm sounding board for potential ideas.  Without them, the site, I fear, would crumble to dust.

Okay, there was one other MAJOR change and no one has commented on it.  Can you?

Major Site Update – Splitcoaststampers.com

Yesterday we updated the Splitcoaststampers.com site, the absolute best site on the net for Rubber Stamping and Card Making,  with to the latest version of vBulletin, added a left column and did a whole bunch of system integration throughout the site. The project took approximately 4 months to complete, with tremendous work by Scott Bigelow, a great backend engineer and hardware guy, and Daven Nolta, the site manager, who kept us on track and on target for the community needs.

In addition to the standard upgrade stuff, we’ve added more Social Media functionality.  Facebook Connect buttons, a Twitter Stream, a Facebook Page and a Facebook Group.  There are several other big Social Media features we’ll be unveiling over the coming weeks, but thos will be subjects for another day.  

The important point is that the site is no longer running on a horribly out of date vBulletin install, which I’d taken as my personal mission to resolve.  If you’re using systems like vBulletin, you really need to stay current.

The upgrade wasn’t without it’s problems. We did find we had several issues with formatting when we went live. In further researching them, I find they were almost universally IE6 and almost universally using 800 x 600 screen resolution. The screen shots from users were almost comical, as some had 5 or 6 malware toolbars installed in their browsers, making the vertical space in the browser window almost non-existent.

If you are using IE6, I strongly urge you to try downloading Firefox or Google Chrome, or even the latest IE version(IE8). Your current browser is close to 10 years old. Your internet experience is lacking because of your use of outdated technology.

Also, I suggest you right click on any area of the empty desktop screen and click properties. Then click settings and increase your screen resolution. It is becoming very hard for us to support people using very low screen resolutions, when we also have to be able to handle very high resolutions as we are seeing from laptops. If I cater to you, the laptop users are going to see my site at postage stamp size.  And again, you’re missing out on a lot as no one really designs for small screen resolution anymore.

Oh, one very funny thing, we began our upgrade at around 10:30 am.  At 10:45 vBulletin released an update to their system, so as I was upgrading I immediately got a message about it.  Timing, it’s all in the timing.

Google Social Toolbar

I’m ready to vent here.  Are we, as community builders, becoming so lazy that we don’t want to take the time to build in the social media features we want for our sites, the way we want them?  Do we really need to have Google package them up and provide them for us, the way they want them?

Two days ago, Google announced they were releasing the Google Social Toolbar, which is really a misnomer, as it isn’t really a toolbar at all, rather it’s a toolpack that site owners can embed in their sites.  From Techcrunch:

Basically, the social bar is a small strip that webmasters can layer on top of any web page, either at the top or at the bottom. That way, website visitors are provided with a bit of information, and the bar also lets them interact with any social feature the site incorporates through drop-down gadgets. As Software Engineer Christopher Wren explains in the announcement blog post, this is a good way to save on pixel space and keep putting the actual content of the site forward first.

The Google Social Web blog explains:

  • On the far left, visitors can join your site, see their identity, and edit their profiles and settings.
  • Your visitors can also delve into your site’s activity stream to see what’s happening throughout your site. It includes links to recent posts made anywhere on your site, helping other visitors quickly find where the hottest conversations are taking place.
  • The wall gadget can host a discussion for the whole site, a section of pages, or each individual page, letting your visitors easily read and leave comments.
  • Lastly, visitors can see the other members of your site, check out their profiles to see how like-minded they really are, and even become friends.

These are for the most part functions that you should have addressed on your site by proper design (have I not told you that social media is an important tool in your toolbox?).  Why would you want discussion about your site going on at another site, where the readers are seeing ads from which you do not profit?  If discussion is needed on your site, add it, but for God’s sake don’t hand that traffic and it’s revenue over to Google for free.

We are looking for good value adds for our sites, such as the ability to share content ala Facebook Connect.  What we don’t need is a convenient way to off load our revenue generating traffic.

If you’re going to build and manage a site, then do it.  If you want Google to do it for you, then don’t come running to me when you want to “monetize it”.

Boagworld: 5 Options When Website Budgets Get Slashed

If you’re a web designer or developer and you don’t know who Paul Boag is, you should.  In addition to running the Boagworld website, and of course his wonderful must listen podcast, entitled “Boagworld” he is the creative director at Headscape.

In an article he’s posted today, he gives us “5 Options When Website Budgets Get Slashed“; each of which we should all commit to memory here and now, as we’ll no doubt be using them a lot over the coming year.  A brief sample:

Too often we reinvent the wheel. When budgets are plentiful this can make sense. Although there is similar functionality out there, we might choose to develop it ourselves so we have more control or can customise it to our exact requirements. However as budgets begin to get squeezed these are luxuries we cannot afford.

In a world of widgets, APIs and open source it is becoming increasingly hard to argue the case for custom builds. Why build your own mapping application when there is Google Maps? Why build a forum when you could use an open source alternative like Vanilla?

Go read the whole thing now.  You’ll be glad you did.

A Few Interesting Links

webtoolsIn celebration of  “WordPress Thank a Plugin Developer Day” I’m posting a few interesting  links.

It’s the web, use the WWW

I’m noticing a lot of sites are now using their top level domain as their site address, such as mysite.com instead of www.mysite.com.  That can cause major issues for you later, so you might want to think twice about it.  

Domain names are rather useful things.  There’s a lot that can be done behind the covers, by manipulating subdomains and such.  This is one of the keys to most Content Delivery Networks, such as the Akamai DSA service that we use at Namemedia.  Basically, we create a subdomain and have a cname which points at our servers, and the main domain, www.mysite.com is then pointed via cname at the Akamai DSA servers.  It’s fairly easy from our standpoint, accept in the cases where we have sites that were optimized to use their top level domain for all traffic.  

So you’re thinking that you’re never going to use a CDN – your traffic will never warrant it.  The truth is that using www.sitename.com is still the best way to go.  All traffic that comes in to your top level domain can be routed to the www.sitename.com subdomain, and then you simply rewrite the url to include the www.  Eventually everyone will be coming in where you want them.   You’ll have much better control of how your domain name is used, and if anything comes up the future, you won’t be forced to go back and reroute all your readers away from the top level domain.  They’ll be right where you want them.

This also will make it easier for you to setup test domains for site rebuilds, such as beta.mysite.com, etc.

This line in your htaccess file will redirect everyone to the www subdomain (of course, change “domain” to your domain, and if you’re using WordPress, be sure to make the changes needed in the settings>general tab for both site url and site homepage.

Options +FollowSymlinks
RewriteEngine on
rewritecond %{http_host} ^domain.com [nc]
rewriterule ^(.*)$ http://www.domain.com/$1 [r=301,nc]

(You may notice that my post volume has dropped off of late – lots of work right now.  I’ll try to keep the posts coming, but I also want to keep food on the table for the family – Mark)

New wider format

Looking at my analytics package, I noticed that virtually no one is reading this at 800 x 600 screen resolution, so I devoted a whole lot more width to the content section of the page.  I’ll probably juggle things around a little more tomorrow and sort out some of the minor formatting in the right side columns and such.  It’s the age old story, the web developer’s site is the last site he pays attention to.

In making this change, I thought it kind of funny how few blogs have moved to a 1024 screen layout, while most websites have.  800 x 600 is dead…and if you’re using it, you’re damned used to seeing sites that are broken for you.  In my case, the right column will hang off the page, which is a suitable result for me, as I’m not a huge fan of fluid designs.  If you’re still on a 800 x 600 presentation, I suggest it’s time to change.  Especially since 800 wide design looks like a postage stamp when viewed on a wide screen laptop.

The funny thing is I am working on a site right now where we’ve still got a fair number of users coming in at the small screen resolution, and even using the AOL Browser.  If you want a real experience, try surfing the web at 800 x 600 via an AOL Browser.  Better, yet, do if via dialup for the full experience.

Coincidentally, I called Charter Cable this morning on a support issue and the nice account rep offered to “review my services” which is usually sales speak for “sell you something you don’t need for more than you need to pay”.  To my surprise, she offered to double the bandwidth of my internet connection for $10 more a month.

“Why yes, I would very much like to double the speed of my connection, thank you!”

So today, I am playing with power.  It’s not that my bandwidth was low before (5Mbps), but with the streaming video I do, it was starting to lag occasionally.  And at 10 Mbps I am noticing a big difference.  Hmmm…I wonder how much their 15 Mbps service would cost…

Geek.com Relaunched

For the past couple months I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to the re-release of http://www.geek.com – the online technology resource and community for technology enthusiasts and professionals.  We’ve added a lot of social networking tools, and also done a general wordpress/bbpress upgrade which will allow us to easily take the latest releases in the future.  

This is important on a couple of levels, first off, this is a site that has over 10 million unique users a month. That ought to put to rest the “WordPress doesn’t scale” talk I hear around the net.  Wordpress scales just fine for large sites if you set your server up properly:

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Building Blog Readership – An Evolving World

When I started this site in March, after I stopped working with Vario Creative, where I had previously been blogging, I expected that the same traffic building steps that had worked for me before would work here.  After 5 months, I can safely say, that’s not the case.

You see, when I started blogging at Vario, the important keys to getting readership were Technorati position and getting trackbacks from other sites.  In today’s world of sploggers and spammers, the trackback is dead, and Technorati is increasingly irrelevant.  In fact, now Google Blog Search is really the source for accurate linking information, so much so that WordPress has a feed of links from them in the blog dashboard.

My stats have been looking really good, upwards of 240 readers a day, but when you dive into them, you’d find that the majority of the traffic is coming from Google and is associated with an image of a shark eating someone.  It’s driveby traffic, they come into the site, and it’s one and done.  No long term readers, no comments, no added value.  Yesterday, Google realized the error of their ways and my image is no longer showing up in Image Search.  The Google well has run dry.

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