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Topics relating to the technical side of my blogging

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Any questions?

Delinking the internet and relinking the brain

This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while:

Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to. But it’s not just online anymore.

To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia. (Source Link)

One of the reasons why I sometimes find it difficult to write is the neverending need to hunt down relevant links and add them to my post for reference, but that always seems to disrupt my thought process, and I notice I have the same issue with reading too.  I check out a news item on Feedly, start reading the article and as soon as I see a link, my brain goes, “OOOOH SHINY LINK!” *CLICKS*

Before you know it, I have 500 tabs open in my browser generated from links I’ve clicked on, and nope, I never did finish reading the original article.

I suspect I’m not the only one either, and it’s made me wonder whether I should try a little experiment on this blog by writing posts without ANY links in them.  Will more people be able to read my content distraction free?  Or more importantly, will my own blogging start to improve as I resist the urge to add links and just focus on writing?  I suspect it would.

Being linkbaited to death: How the desperation to get clicks destroyed the internet

In the competition to get traffic to our sites, a few rules evolved based on the understanding on what makes content go viral.  One of these rules emphasizes the use of numbered lists.  You’ve probably seen them before:

“19 things to see in Paris”

“5 different ways you can brush your teeth”

“11 ways to break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend”

“8 tricks to getting a successful colonoscopy “

And so on… to infinity.

Writing is now tailored for easy scanability, because the masses no longer read content so much as they power browse.  The more in-depth content is, the more likely people will click away to something else.  It’s why sites like Buzzfeed have become so popular, despite the utterly vacuous nature of its verbal content and over-emphasis on the use of animated gifs.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this site called Buzzfeed Minus GIFs, where the author quotes the site’s written content, minus the graphics.

So what DOES Buzzfeed look like without gifs?  Here’s one example:

The 19 Worst Things Ever

This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This.

Profound.

Writing on the internet is no longer about the expression of thought so much as it is about generating easy linkbait to boost traffic and ad revenues.  Some people blame corporate marketing for this, but in reality marketers are merely responding to the signals they receive, and those signals clearly indicate a preference for the quickest, shallowest and most meaningless forms of content.

Horse lying on a couch

A horse on a couch. This has nothing to do with anything I’m writing, but market research says that I’ll lose 50% of readers at this point if there isn’t a Funny Animal Picture interrupting the text. (Hat Tip: Nummification of America)

I fell into this “sinkhole of shallow” myself on my old blog, attempting to tailor my writing so it would conform to what the audience at large was demanding.  Sometimes I would blog a post, and the thoughts would keep flowing, and I would thus keep writing, until I’d remember with a violent jolt, “Oh wait, my post here is already 1,000 words too long.  I need to condense it to 350 words for optimal search engine ranking and then break it up into a few bullet points so people can scan the content better, plus add some vaguely relevant thumbnail images, or readers will think I’m utterly and stupendously boring, or be so disgusted with the verbose nature of my content that they’ll hire Israeli hackers to bring my site down and ensure I never show my disgusting presence online again.”

But my mind simply didn’t work that way.  Writing to me was eclectic in nature, an incongruous mixture of thought that could either be short or long, visual or verbal, reflective or reactive.  It spanned a wide spectrum of topics that simply can’t adhere to a rigid structure or schedule.  Until I came to terms with that, my blogging suffered enormously and deteriorated in quality.  It wasn’t until I created A Geek in the Wilderness that I started to find my groove again, deciding it was better to have a medium to express myself freely and appeal to a minority, than to conform to the expectations of society in an attempt to appeal to the majority.

Happy 2014 and Happy One Year Anniversary to my Blog!

Beautiful Highway with Sunset and MountainsI started A Geek in the Wilderness on New Year’s Day after an 8 month hiatus on my previous blog of 7 years, having burned out so badly that I honestly didn’t think I would ever blog again.  The itch to write did eventually return after so many months, but I still had no desire to blog on my old site.  I wanted to start out fresh, with a new name, a new blog, and a new purpose.  It was probably the best thing I could have ever done.

Before, I had initially started my blog with the belief that I would become a lawyer, and my theme would revolve around my experiences in the legal profession.  When that didn’t work out (thank GOD), my blog underwent an identity crisis for the better part of 2 years.  I just didn’t know what to write about, only that I wanted my site to somehow gain enough traffic that I could make a living just from blogging.  If I couldn’t be a lawyer, I reasoned, then I decided I wanted to be a self-made man instead, beholden to no one.  Thus I would spend endless hours crawling nearly every corner of the web trying to find that magic bullet that would turn my blog into a money making machine.  I enjoyed some success, going so far as to making over $600 a month at one point, but it wouldn’t last.  In the meantime, my posts seemed to be one big screed after another.  Honestly, it was embarrassing to read them.  The endless euphemisms in place of curse words, the excessive use of emoticons, the constant wailings.  It was so insufferable even I wanted to strangle me after reading a few posts.

The worm only began to turn sometime in 2009, when I paid off all my debts and started to travel more.  That’s when I had my next “brilliant” idea, which was to become a travel blogger/writer.  So I would travel, then write about my experiences, sometimes being given complimentary gear or free stays at hotels in exchange for doing a write-up on them.  And so I tried to keep that up.  Yet as much as I loved traveling and writing, writing ABOUT travel didn’t seem to suit me.  It felt forced, unnatural, and it was a chore to do.  There was a certain drudgeship to it that mirrored my regular job, and if this was how it was going to feel being a full-time writer, then what was the point?  Might as well stick to my boring soul-sucking job, with its awesome dental plan and work so meaningless nobody would notice if I came in two hours late.  It was kind of hard to beat a job where there was virtually no consequence to anything I did, right or wrong.  Writing for profit as it turned out, was not quite so liberating.

From law school to money making schemes to railing about my failed love life to travel writing, the only consistent thing through all that is that I hated nearly everything I wrote.  I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t burned out sooner.

So what made me take it up again?  During my hiatus I started using Facebook and Twitter more, and occasionally, words would come out that really didn’t seem suited for these networks.  My muse was slowly returning, yet whenever I felt inspired to write there seemed to be no proper medium for it.  Gee if only I had a blog from which I could post my thoughts—

Oh.

Start a new blog then?  Hmmmm, I’ve been down this road before, haven’t I?  But maybe now I could do things differently.  The right way.  Design a blog that more befitted who I was as a person rather than what I wanted to do with my life (which seemed to change more often than the weather).  With simplicity and emphasis on writing in mind, I started out using the Squarespace platform, albeit with less than agreeable results.  I had used WordPress for my old blog before, which had given me all sorts of grief over the years, but I finally understood running it successfully meant not forcing it to do more than it could handle, (whereas before I would load it up with a bazillion plugins that would constantly break things and bloat the site).  After dropping Squarespace I gave WordPress another chance, installed a professionally made theme with 24/7 support, and kept my plugin count to no more than 10.  The difference in performance and stability was night and day.  It was like my blogging had been given a new lease on life, and it all started to come together from there, carefully installing powerful but well coded plugins that automatically sent post notifications to all the social networks I was on, and easily publishing new photo posts from Instagrams I’d take from my iPhone as well.  I had finally (and successfully) created a hybrid tumblelog/blog that suited me.

I went from the dark and dreary theme of my old blog to a more light design, using images I’ve taken over the course of my travels as my background to give it color and a bit more flair.  The metamorphosis was complete, and now I can honestly say that I LOVE my blog.  It’s so me, no longer constrained to write a certain way or adhere to a certain theme.  I can be as eclectic as I want and write about whatever fancies me, whether it’s simply a verbal/visual stream of consciousness such as what we see on Tumblr, or more structured in tone.  Anything goes.  At last, true freedom.

After a year of blogging on A Geek in the Wilderness, I’ve already surpassed the average traffic count on my old site, even though I’m content to keep this blog more low-key.  On the whole, it’s been a successful year, and I hope 2014 will continue to see my muse grow as I embark on new journeys and adventures, maybe at last seeing the realizations of those hopes and dreams that have long since eluded me.

Happy New Year.

Get Clicky With It – A Web Analytics Review

Sign up for a Clicky account today!

If you’re looking for a tracking solution to monitor your blogging stats, you might want to take a look at Clicky (not to be confused with pMetrics, which licensed and rebranded Clicky for their own user base). Clicky sports a pleasant looking Web 2.0 interface and a myriad of features that rival even Google Analytics, yet it’s much more easier and fun to use. I’ve been so pleased with the service so far that I became one of their affiliates as well.

One of the great things about their dashboard is that you can customize it in a variety of ways so that it will only show the stats that matter most to you. In addition to the dashboard’s versatility, Clicky will also monitor:

  • Visitors – including a really fun Google Maps mashup that highlight the countries and cities your visitors are coming from. It also tracks the web browsers they use, as well as the operating systems and screen resolutions.
  • Actions – page views, searches, incoming links, what outgoing links visitors clicked on, and what files they downloaded as well.
  • Content – what pages on your site received the most attention, the entrance and exit pages, and the top referrals.
  • Searches – keywords and keyphrases that led visitors to your site, and the engines they used.
  • Spying – in addition, Clicky also offers a “Spy” feature that allows you to see who’s visiting your site in real time, and what pages they’re currently viewing.

Clicky Analytics Dashboard

These stats can be shown using either a bar graph or a tags cloud, and most of it is exportable in CSV, XML or JavaScript format. You can also drill down to a particular IP address and learn its complete surfing history, a very cool feature if you want to keep track of a particular individual. Clicky also offers you a way to rename IP addresses so they’re easier to track as well. It’s very handy when you want to track when and how often your friends, fans (or trolls) have been visiting your blog.

Clicky also provides several feeds you can use to track your stats in your feed reader, and if you add your Feedburner url, Clicky will also monitor your Feedburner stats as well, including subscriber counts, item views and item clickthroughs.

There are also widgets available that can give your readers a glimpse of your traffic stats (unless of course your traffic numbers are truly dismal, in which case you might want to wait until it reaches a respectable level before playing with Clicky’s widgets). :-D

As for reliability, Clicky’s servers have been pretty stable for me, only going down for maintenance or other minor issues, which have been pretty rare in my experience so far. The traffic numbers also tend to vary somewhat with other tracking services, but compared to Sitemeter they are usually about the same. Google Analytics however tend to report more traffic, which I attribute to the code being placed in the header rather than the footer of the page. That way even if a page doesn’t load completely, the Google code will still likely be executed, while the other tracking codes in the footer will instead fail to register a hit. It is possible though to place the Clicky code near the header as well to see if it results in a more accurate traffic count. As always, test and see what works best for you.

You can try out the premium version of Clicky completely free for 3 weeks. After your trial period expires, you’ll have the choice of using the basic version for free, or continue using a premium version for the price of a Starbucks coffee a month (I use the Blogger package for $2 a month).

Update: Clicky has now been upgraded with a host of new features, most notably new filtering abilities that allow you to analyze individual visitors and their surfing habits up to when they first visited your site, including stats on location, link referrals, IP addresses, hostnames and more. The new features are amazing and are worth checking out on their own.

Sign up for a Clicky account today!

Some quirks of using IFTTT with WordPress and Instagram

I’m just throwing this up here for any WordPress geeks that might be googling for answers on using the awesome IFTTT service to bridge their WordPress sites with photo/video networks like Instagram:

So apparently IFTTT strips certain HTML tags when you save a WordPress recipe, most notably the iframe tags, so if you’re looking to use the code snippet provided by Instagram, etc. to embed your content from there, it won’t work.  Even if it did, if you use a responsive layout the iframes will break the layout of the site, unless you have a hacky method in place to bypass that limitation.  I’ve also experimented with using bare links and relying on oembeds to pull in the content, but it doesn’t generate a thumbnail image that I can use when sharing my post to networks like Twitter and Facebook.  Bah.

So the best thing for now (at least where Instagram is concerned), is to use the source url of the photos and videos rather than relying on any degree of embedding automation to ensure I can display my images correctly (and WordPress can properly generate thumbnails for them).  For Instagram videos I use a thumbnail image that will link readers to the video on Instagram.  Best solution I can come up with for now.

I did a nerdy thing on my blog

Attention, attention…

Before I go out and brave the 90+ heat to walk to the gym, just wanted to let y’all know I’ve added a cool but subtle new feature for commenters: when you paste a link from certain popular video/image/audio sites into your comment, the link will automatically convert accordingly into either the image or video/audio player.  Just make sure the link is on its own line and not hyperlinked, and if it’s one of the supported embeds, it will convert once you publish the comment (you can see a list of supported embeds here).

I did this to provide an easy way to add images in comments without drawing on using my internal media library (which would have gotten too messy).  So if you have libraries of funsie photos at sites like Photobucket, Flickr, etc. you’d like to share every now and then, have at it.  This new feature won’t be that patently obvious, but then again that’s the point, as only my regular commenters will realize they have the ability to do this (a not so subtle hint that you should comment here more often, tee hee.)

This announcement has been brought to you by my awesomeness, and the 80s:

Devo Whipping It Good

Whipping this blog but good!

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