Everything I didn’t know about the Technorati do-over

“So I see as one of my incoming referrer links s.technorati.com – I hadn’t seen that before, but I know about technorati so I figured it was safe to visit. Here’s what I didn’t know …”

This past weekend, technorati went through a major facelift. Many of us who use WordPress know this because our incoming links on the administrator dashboard no longer works! Something for the rest of us to keep in mind when we redo things.

Anyway, after visiting their new search engine, I took a trip to their blog to find out what else I didn’t know. Here’s what I learned:

  • isn’t just about blogs anymore, but social media that also includes posts, photos, videos, podcasts, events, etc…
  • leverages the power of 80 million bloggers to help organize the displayed data;
  • tags provide insight the insight necessary to mirror the wisdom of the masses;
  • eliminated search silos of keyword vs. tag vs. and blog directory searches;
  • added a widget library (hat tip:Amit Agarwal‘s Digital Inspiration)
  • simpler, and more intuitive user interface tested over six months.

And of course as mentioned before, a speedy clean, steamlined (dare I say ‘Googlesque’) search interface that can be found at at search.technorati.com and/or s.technorati.com.

technorati's new search engine

Here’s a bit more from the technorati blog:

“Finally, there’s lots more to do. This is only scratching the surface, and we’re going to be rolling out lots more updates and innovations throughout the rest of the year. We’re going to continue to work on performance, making things faster and more stable. Every now and then searches still fail for our users or take too long to respond, and that’s a top priority for our backend team to fix. We’re going to keep listening to you, our users – It is an honor that you give us your time and attention – over 11.7 Million people last month visited Technorati. We’ve tripled in visitors and traffic in under 5 months …”

Anyway, been going nuts here as I’m about to travel to Kuala Lumpur on business, but figured this was a nice little diversion that may or may not help you in re-factoring your church web site – or finding one!

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Enough with the Bread and BReakfast markup already!

B and BReakfast markup’ is a handy mnemonic mechanism to memorize not to semantically collude your online sermons and studies with misused < b > and < br > taggery.

At some point, those of us fielding sermons, Bible studies and other topical texts online are going to have to stop with the crufty, deprecated and semantic hostile use of sectional markup.

Here’s what I mean – based on what Tantek Çelik meant way back on 2002 when this topic of B&BR markup was first broached:

Bed
Stop using that old < b >old tag to identify titles, headings and sections of your online documents. Instead, use the tags as God and nature intended.
BReakfast
Sermons are long-winded enough, no need to add to the tedium with an single html paragraph demarked with double line break tags < br > < br >. Instead … and hang in there with me folks … use the < p > aragraph tag to encapsulate paragraphs.

Why you ask? Quite simply so your underlying (x)HTML markup better represents
the intended meaning and structure of your online document. For example,
semantically, which markup better represents the intended meaning of the author:

<b><font size="4">John 11:35</font></b>
<br /><br />
<b>Jesus wept.</b><br /><br />
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Ut id felis. Fusce ut neque. Sed arcu arcu, iaculis sit amet, auctor posuere, blandit non, tellus. Suspendisse id urna. Curabitur sagittis.</p>

versus

<h2>John 11:35</h2>
<h3>Jesus wept.</h3>
<p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Ut id felis. Fusce ut neque. Sed arcu arcu, iaculis sit amet, auctor posuere, blandit non, tellus. Suspendisse id urna. Curabitur sagittis.</p></p>
 

I’d argue that the second example of markup better reflects what the meaning of the message. Then again, some of you ‘view source’ types might argue:

<dl>
<dt>John 11:35</dt>
<dd><h4>Jesus wept.</h4>
<p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Ut id felis. Fusce ut neque. Sed arcu arcu, iaculis sit amet, auctor posuere, blandit non, tellus. Suspendisse id urna. Curabitur sagittis.</p>
</dd>

</dl>

Point is – are you still using (x)HTML markup that leads various aggregators, readers and other mechanisms that would otherwise better and/or more correctly convey your messages?

Well then stop doing that!

There’s enough existing (x)HTML taggery out there to make your markup match the meaning of your message. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when you eventually publish a book and/or study guide based on your blogged sermons.

Meanwhile, for those of you missing the point of this post and going directly to ‘view source’ … I left you some nifty markup gifties to talk about intentionally !-)

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Users upset over Google Analytics outage

“The [Google Analytics] service suffered outages of more than 24 hours this week, prompting affected users to wonder if Google intends to improve its performance and outage response … Most affected users reported problems on Tuesday and Wednesday, although some still experienced problems on Friday. In seemingly all cases, users could access their accounts but found that the Analytics dashboard reported significantly reduced or even zero traffic to their sites.” – Juan Carlos Perez, InfoWorld, May 25, 2007

Tell me about it! In fact I blogged about this very topic Wednesay myself in my post entitled: ‘Google Analytics Down for May 23? Or does my blog have zero visitors today?

An article Mr. Perez cites in the previously cited InfoWorld article when he writes:

“Judging by the feedback from affected users, it seems Google hasn’t reached out to them so far regarding this issue. ‘It would have been nice for Google to inform us about this and to not have had to pull my hair out trying to figure out what was wrong, thinking the problem had been caused by me,‘ said Dean Peters.

Peters, a software company product manager in Cary, North Carolina, uses Analytics for sites he maintains on his own time as personal projects, including HealYourChurchWebSite.com, and suffered a 12-hour stats blackout on Tuesday.

His frustration is echoed in many of the blog and forum postings.”

Well, technically my job title is “Produt Management Director” but close enough … and when I said I thought ‘the problem was caused by me‘ … I meant that I thought some formatting change and/or breaking in a blog post and/or in my server’s delivery may have been the culprit. I imagine others thought similarly, wasting time checking code, worrying about lost data, contingencies, etc …

Either way – article is accurate – and just goes to prove that if you don’t plan for overwhelming online success, then you’re likely to get overwhelmed by page and service requests! Likewise, if you’re using a popular ‘free-as-a-new-puppy’ application, you might also want to have a backup plan.

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Holy Mystery Meat (Navigation)!

Holy Mystery Meat - the confusing Vatican Home Page?

I have no problem with icons, neither in churches nor on web pages, but of the latter: unless your navigational images are immediately and unquestionably recognizable by anyone and everyone in every context, then what you wind up cooking-up for your visitors is a heaping pile of MysteryMeat Navigation.

As a husband and father, I do alot of waiting. It’s my seven year old you see. Her schedule and sense of timing and priorities are so much – MUCH different than that of my wife or myself. So the other day, while my wife wrestled to get some socks on my wiggly kid, I grabbed a book off a shelf and did that mindless reading thing. Because of the room I was in, I grabbed a copy of THE BOOK … well not THAT BOOK … but the book that I helped write almost five and a half years ago..

Turning to chapter 8, page 165 next to, figure 8.16 and 8.17, Vincent Flanders warns us that “The Two Most Powerful Forces Known To God and Men Have Fallen Victim to Mystery Meat.” Remarking that “Nobody is safe” he describes one of the evils as “Holy Mystery Meat!” where he comments that the website for the Vatican, headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, uses Mystery meat as a navigational aid on parts of it sites.

What is Mystery Meat Navigation, or MMN for short? See that question mark in red to the left of this article? Before you move your mouse over it, guess what the button does? Can’t guess? Yup, that’s the problem with MMN. While it may look and feel slick, it confuses your users. Gets in the way of their purpose-driven browsing if you will.

Now mind you, I have no problem with icons in churches nor on web pages, BUT: unless the images you use for navigation are immediately and unquestionably recognizable by all viewers in all contexts, then you’re probably better off reserving MMN for an online game application.

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace – 1 Corinthians 14:33

Now go visit my othe project … blogs4God.com.

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CSS and round corners: Making accessible menu tabs

“One of the best websites out there, in terms of functionality, is, Amazon1. In terms of accessibility though, it’s not too great … Amazon’s menu tabs with their nice round corners, for example, look really nice but are rather inaccessible …” – Webcredible, August 2004

Yeah, okay, so I realize the quoted article is a bit dated – but their CSS for rendering rounded tab menus isn’t.

Short and sweet today kiddies – but don’t let my brevity fool’ya, this article is chock-full of simple code to take a simple unordered list and render as an Amazon.com like rounded menu tab …

… only that is more accessible, and works on just about every browser I’ve run it against … and we’re talking some oldy moldies such as IE 5.2 on the Mac and NetScrape 4.7 on Windows 2000!

Read the article, then realize the joy you too can enjoy with data-driven tab menus that instead of representing text with images that are less accessible and require fabrication, display text with text that both your favorite readers and your favorite search engines can both consume in their own yummy flavors of HTML.

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Google Analytics Down for May 23? Or does my blog have zero visitors today?

It appears that Google Analytics is down – either that or those posting comments and sending emails via an article this morning are virtually invisible.

This is a bit odd – I decided to check my mid-day numbers via my Google Analytics account and what a surprise that after a day of comments and emails from this morning’s post, the analytics reported zero visits. Same result when I checked my numbers for my othe project:blogs4God.com – a site I know enjoys frequent visitations of the virtual kind.
Clearly someone or something is lying, and I don’t think it’s moi!.

Nor do several others on the Analytics trouble shooting group whom all seem to be experiencing the same zero hits as I. One individual there summing it up concisely when they write:

“It is reassuring to know that everyone is in the same boat.

And it would definitely help if Google would simply inform us somewhere that they are having problems.

It would save some hair-pulling, trying to figure out what went wrong, trying to figure out if the problem is on our end.”

So remember, if you’re visiting my site today – it doesn’t count – at least not to Google.

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Photo album or scrolling pix – which leads to higher conversion rates?

Yesterday’s post raised this question in a comment “… our church is working on a redesign of our website. One of the features that we would like to have is some sort of scrolling display of pictures. We are looking at possibly using flash to achieve this. I know there are other ways such as animated gifs, but it seems to me that flash is a good choice for this type of application. What do others think?”

First thing I think is that “what will scrolling pictures do in terms of my church web site’s conversion goals?”

The WikiPedia defines marketing conversion as:

“… when a prospective customer takes the marketer’s intended action. If the prospect has visited a marketer’s web site, the conversion action might be making an online purchase, or submitting a form to request additional information.”

In the case of most church and/or lay ministry web sites, I’d think the conversion goal would be two fold:

  1. get people into the pews
  2. get people in the pews converted to Christianity

I’m not sure how scrolling pictures would help achieve this goal – especially if the scrolling pictures are without context and without provisions to provide the user control of their virtual destiny.

Second thought is “I wonder if instead of a scrolling display of pictures, a photo gallery isn’t in order?”

If the purpose of the scrolling pictures is to deliver impactful imagery of one’s people and personalities, then I say excellent, however …

… I also say, allow the user to peruse the pictures at their pace – not yours; and in the order that interests them – not you. Meaning, provide them with a more meaningful memory leveraging a common and comfortable media metaphor: the photo album.

There are in fact several free and almost free tools to accomplish this – most with a ‘scrolling’ or ‘slideshow-like’ mechanism. Here are but a few:

If you know of others, don’t be shy, leave us a love note with a link!

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How Flashinating – Creative Kids Ministry

It’s not that I hate Flash, I just hate how often it is misapplied to and/or incorrectly implemented on church, charity and lay ministry websites. Case in point, Aaron Reynods’ Creative Kids Ministry.

I am more than convinced that Flash is a useful tool for delivering compelling multimedia content and/or ‘fat client‘ like navigation and/or user interaction. Meaning, I have no beef with its use for multimedia, and in fact prefer it as it can be leveraged to provide “real-time-like poor-man’s pseudo-streaming” of audio and video, which can save a non-profit organization thousands in media delivery costs (more how-to on this latter topic in an upcoming post).

I am not yet convinced that Flash is wise choice for ‘rich-client-like‘ user interfaces in non-media, non-game like contexts. After all, while Adobe reports the average “Worldwide Ubiquity of the Flash Player” at around 85% … it doesn’t mean all users like it, want to use it, and/or desire it for navigation. At least that’s up until Adobe takes over the world with their browser based Apollo operating system (more on this latter topic somewhere in the future).

I am also not convinced that everyone whom employs Flash for navigation understands how it is viewed, rendered and perceived by their audience. Case in point, Aaron Reynods’ Creative Kids Ministry:

As you can see from the screen shot above, I’ve got Flash turned-off on my FireFox browser because I don’t like all the Flash-based advertisements that bother my reading when visiting various newspaper and/or ad-heavy blog web sites. This should convey back to the server running detection that Flash is not available – and should provide me an alternative path (perhaps more on this latter topic in the future).Using my Internet Explorer, I’m confronted with main menu options that aren’t all obvious in what they give me if I click upon them – for example, what is the difference between “Ministry Counseling,” “Mentoring” and/or “Workshops.”

Why not do what most larger service-oriented shops do and provide a single link that reads “Our Services” that provides a brief description of each – with additional navigation into individual services pages, service comparison charts and/or a pricing and packaging portfolio so potential clients can be easily converted into a service subscription/purchase decision.

Or even simpler – how about a link on the Book image that takes me to the Book page; or at least an Amazon link to again to encourage sales conversion.Finally, dark text on mid-to-dark backgrounds don’t work in terms of readability:

So how to heal this lay ministry’s web site? First, here is a good opportunity for a blog – where the author can talk about a variety of topics on an ongoing basis, updates on appearances, and other dynamically occurring stuff.Second, render whatever media presentations the author has using a Flash plug-in to provide “streaming-like” presentation – or just leverage YouTube and save yourself the hassle and bandwidth altogether.

Either way, I feel this site currently hides the light of its useful and relevant message under a bowl by it’s implementation of Flash for navigation.Your mileage will vary.

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A not so-definitive list of mostly free stock photo sites

Perhaps it is my Eastern Orthodox roots showing, but nothing turns me off faster to a church whose place of worship looks and feels cheap with the exception of a church web site whose web presence also fails to ‘break a vase‘ on behalf of the Lord of all. Hence, I enumerate some not-so-mediocre alternatives …

As I travel back home today, I figured I’d start your week off with a not-so-definitive list of mostly free, and in some cases royalty free, image sites that don’t make your organization look cheap.

Stock.XCHNG
Browse through the categories of their huge gallery containing over 250.000 quality stock photos by more than 25.000 photographers! Need a wallpaper for your desktop? Need a pic for your commercial website design? Looking for inspiration? Have a look around.
Yotophoto
Now indexing well over a quarter million Creative Commons, Public Domain, GNU FDL, and various other ‘copyleft’ images.
morgueFile
A place to keep post production materials for use of reference, an inactive job file. This morgue file contains free high resolution digital stock photography for either corporate or public use.
FreeStockPhotos
Free Photography for Personal or Commercial use.
FreePhotosBank
Any photos/pictures posted by the author “freephotosbank” are free to use as long as you are using them for a website, book, magazine, etc. You cannot download our photos to sell as is or modified from any source. To use our photos/pictures you must accredit us on the work that you used the photo/picture on/in for the use of them or we will consider it a copyright infringement.
iStockphoto
A collection of member-generated royalty-free images, at good prices. There are no subscription fees or extra costs. Just the best Stock Photography, Vector illustrations, and Flash files online, at prices for everyone.
U.S. Government Photos and Multimedia
Most of these images and graphics are available for use in the public domain, and they may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However, some images may be protected by license. The site strongly recommends you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use.
Wikipedia:Public domain image resources
Images that hopefully (be careful) ascribe to the WikiPedia’s policy on image use and etiquette. That and a long list of image resources.

My point is simple, mediocre imagery will lead many would-be visitors to assume mediocre worship, study, etc … Meaning, if you can’t create your own custom high-quality graphics, than at least use some of the offerings from the above list.

Know of another decent service? Leave a comment w/a link.

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When Jerks Take Over Your Online Community

Angry people looking for fights will inevitably try to poison successful Internet communities. Columnist Cory Doctorow looks at ways to remove the poison without killing the discussion too. – InformationWeek, May 14, 2007

Having been involved in running more than one online community, my only addendum to the above assertion made by the co-editor of the popular Boing Boing blog is that it’s not all who try to take over an online community come off like “Hostile Jerks.”

There is an even more more insidious breed of “pharisee” that are the manically manipulative if not outright spiritually abusive, usually couching the co-dependent dysfunction that drives them in comments and behind-the-scenes email campaigns whose subject line is “I’m concerned” or “I only want to help you.”
I’ve have on file more than one example of the ‘rough end of the pineapple‘ … more recent examples of such divisiveness recorded either while helping Chuck Holton help run the operational aspects of HomeSteadingToday.com and/or while running the first iteration of blogs4God.com.

And like the cited InformationWeek article, I can attest that any of you providing a church or lay-ministry oriented online community may also soon find yourself also saddled with the following symptoms of such tares among the wheat:

  • It can be distressing
  • Can occur w/out warning
  • It’s toxic, in extreme cases resulting in a notorious mess
  • Sometimes, you rebound. More often, you tumble
  • The consume huge amounts of your time and emontional energy

And like the aforementioned article, you will need to take action, which Cory Doctorow enumerates as follows:

  • divide and conquer – make the group smaller by separations by topic
  • load balance – distribute the moderation load across more bodies
  • provision indulgences – provide mechanisms for upset individuals to retract posts
  • rise above it – resist the temptation to roll in the gutter w/the troller
  • have fun with it – build tools to mangle their manifestations

I might also add these advisements as well:

  • keep focused on what God has called you to do with your online presence;
  • don’t measure success in earthly terms (e.g. hits, pageviews, etc …), we measure success in changed lives and encouraged individuals;
  • be aware of when the joy goes out of the process, it means something is amiss;
  • ignore the critics whom “only want to help you” – they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, tares among the wheat, a brood of vipers if you will.

Yes, I know I’m coming on a bit strong here – but if worldly communities are suffering this problem – just imagine what happens so those whose goal is already hated by the world.

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