Tag: WordPress

Writing about writing on writing

I’m always one for the latest thing, particularly when it comes to social media. So when I heard the @Ev (the man behind Blogger and Twitter) had started up something new, I was quick to check it out.

His latest venture is called Medium. It’s an online writing space.

At least that’s part of what it is.

It’s a wonderful hybrid; an excellent online writing tool (which already makes writing this blog post in WordPress seem clunky), and a shared repository of posts and articles created using Medium.

It’s a lovely tool to use and speaks to the fact that, for many people, the act of writing needs a focus and space to be allowed to flourish. There are many applications that offer this, I use Byword heavily for this exact reason, but Medium is the best online writing tool I’ve come across yet.

It does leave me with a quandary. I write here, I am (heavily) invested in this blog, but I’ve also written something there – Writing on writing – which was a much nicer user experience. Can I merge the two?

Not yet, it seems, so I doubt I’ll use Medium much more until I can find a way to archive things here as well (there is an export option on Medium but I’d prefer it to be done automatically). I’d urge you to check it out though, it’s a lovely place to play.

Start here: What we’re trying to do with Medium.

On blog comments

I always get excited when I see an email in my inbox with a subject line that starts “WordPress:…” as it means someone has commented on one of my blogs. Such a simple delight I know but hey, you take pleasure in the little things I guess.

Sometimes that delight is instantly crushed when I realise it’s a spambot that is trying to add a comment containing a link to either some ‘enhancing’ pharamceutical, a flirty comment from a hot chick, or just complete nonsense accompanied by a phishing URL.

However there seems to be a rise in the number of “real” spam comments these days, and that is hugely disheartening. These comments are left by, it seems, real people who have taken a fraction of a second to search, for example, for “Olympics” found my blog post from a couple of years back and added in a perfectly unoffensive comment, with a link to their specialist Olympic Boxing in 2012 website.

And in a weird way that, to me, is worse than any automated spambot. The fact that there is (again, it certainly seems that there is) a real person that has left the comment makes the whole thing feel tainted and dirty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hugely precious about this blog but really, this new development in comment spam is just ugly. But then it’s always the few that spoil it for the many.

Best Post

For a while now I’ve been meaning to update the About page of this blog. Ideally I’d like to put a short list of the ‘best’ posts from this blog.

Trouble is, whilst I’m quite happy to choose the list myself, it’s sort of tricky to find them, I mean seriously, there is a LOT of crap in here.

I would use the number of comments as an indicator but, having only switched to WordPress a couple of years ago and deciding then (foolishly) that I wouldn’t bother migrating all the old comments over, I’m a bit stuck.

Dare I ask my readers to help out?

Would any of them be able to list one ‘best’ post, let alone three??

Only one way to find out I guess.

I’m away all of next week so don’t worry, you don’t have to rush, but if any of you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear what you, dear reader, consider to be the top posts on this here blog.

UA Conference Notes – Day 1

Notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the User Assistance Conference

Session 1 – Tony Self – Emerging Help Delivery Technologies
It’s been quite a while since I heard Tony speak but as ever he provided an entertaining, if somewhat limited, presentation. Covering the various types of help viewing technologies he nicely summarised some of the available choices including the features to look out for, including the ability to wrap up an online help system in its own application (using technology like Adobe AIR). It was interesting to hear some Web 2.0 features making their way into online help technologies, including voting and commenting facilities which would give you direct feedback from the people using your help system.

Session 2 – Joe Welinske – Write Mote, Write Less
Embracing the Value of Crafted Words and Images
Another regular speaker and Joe was certainly fired up, challenging us all from the outset of his presentation to consider how we work in far more detail than we currently do. First up he suggests that we should be writing fewer words whilst making sure those words are correct and so lessen the impact on the reader, providing just the information they need and nothing more.

And then he hit on something that I’ve previously mentioned here (although Joe nailed it much better than I did), namely allocating writing resource to the highest priority pieces of documentation work, rather than the traditional approach of documenting everything. It’s a simple approach that, when combined with better writing, leads the craft of technical communications to provide much higher value to the business which is good news for all of us.

Session 3 – Sonia Fuga – DITA & WordPress Solution for Flexible User Assistance
A showcase style presentation of a stunningly simple concept. With a little bit of coding work (building a DITA importer to get XML content into the WordPress database), the team at Northgate offer a web-based help system which allows users to add their own notes and to vote for useful information, and which is can receive updates with new content with each release.

How? By using WordPress features. Notes are left as comments, votes are left using a WordPress plugin, and the updateable content is controlled by only allowing the customer (who has access to the WordPress admin screen) to create Pages, leaving the Posts controlled by Northgate. I use WordPress for this website, and spoke to Sonia in the evening to confirm some of the finer details. It’s a very clever use of WordPress, and I hope Northgate release their DITA importer to the open source community!

Session 4 – Question and Rants
A short session with four speakers each giving a two minute ‘rant’ and then taking questions. Nothing particularly noteworthy came of this but it’s a good addition to the usual style of presentations and made for a little bit of light relief.

Session 5 – Dave Gash – True Separation of Content, Format, Structure and Behaviour
Another familiar name, Dave is always entertaining and a very dynamic speaker and in this session he even managed to make the somewhat mundane topics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript interesting!

Outlining some basic principles he showed how you could take an HTML file, full of embedded behaviours (javascript), style rules (CSS), and content and strip out all four parts into a more manageable set of files. This way, holding the style and behaviours in referenced files, you can make changes to either and have them ‘ripple’ through all of your deliverable.

Admittedly this was all done by hand but the basic principles are something that you should be following if you have that kind of output.

Session 6 – Matthew Ellison – User-centred Design of Context-sensitive Help
Interesting presentation by Matthew which started a little slowly, covering the history of context-sensitive help before taking us onto the idea of task support clusters. Originally presented by Michael Hughes at the WritersUA conference, the premise is to offer the user a smarter landing page, referred to as Keystone Concept topics here.

The key to a successful Keystone Concept topic is not to limit what is presented, and to consider that it should be different depending on the context from which it was launched, with the ultimate aim of getting the user back on task as quickly as possible. This includes any form of tips and hints, and crucially suggests NOT to include the obvious stuff (don’t answer questions that users will never have!). This mirrors part of the theme from Joe’s talk early in the day, and certainly seems to be a sensible goal given the business (time and resource) pressures we are all under.

After that, I had a few beers and a chat with some other delegates, and as ever it was great to hear that most of us have similar issues, problems and solutions.

I’ll post my notes from Day 2 of the conference tomorrow.

Fate?

What is it about these things, these events in life that all seem to collide. Days go by with only the merest ripple distorting the norm then … BLAMMO! …

For example, take tomorrow. I need to be in the office to deliver a presentation as part of our induction and the kitchen fitters are due to, finally, start work. I’ve also got an appointment with the nurse to get my blood pressure taken.

I’d figured out the timings, I’d wait until the kitchen fitters arrived and then head to work. The presentation is right after lunch, so I’d give that then head off to the local health centre, then home to see how the fitters are doing.

Except they won’t be here until midday apparently, which fucks up everything. I can’t NOT be in work tomorrow but can’t wait here until midday… so Louise is taking the day off.

It’s never simple, is it?

Mind you, fate sometimes helps. I’ve managed to bork the search page on my other blog, so when I heard WordPress 2.5 was out I figured I may as well grab it and get upgraded. So I have. Both blogs are now on 2.5 and the upgrade was super smooth and whilst I’ve not had much time to play with it, the new admin screens aren’t too bad.

Fate, sometimes it gives you a helping hand, sometimes it’s like a steel-toecapped boot to your knackers. Such is life.

In other news, isn’t the new R.E.M. album good! They’ve rediscovered loud rockin’ guitars, wheeeee.

No searching…

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to add a better (Google) search to this site. Alas because I have a hand-coded WordPress theme, and I last looked at it about a year ago, I’ve managed to bork the search results location.

So, for now, the search isn’t working. Nuts.

Thanks to Tom, it’s all working now, and it’s even better!

Web apps are not products

Matt Haughey is, amongst bloggers, pretty well known and respected. He recently wrote up his thoughts on weblog applications and, as they mirror some of my thinking, I thought I’d expand on this theme here.

The title of the post, Bottom line, all weblog apps suck in some way, was borne of frustration and outlines a few points which, reading between the lines, boil down to the same kind of thing.

Few web applications are at the point they could be considered a product.

Matt talks specifically about weblog applications, one of which I use to power this site (WordPress). I do a little web design in my spare time (there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one) and have a similar working pattern as Matt; create template then drop in the code required by the weblog application, then tweak, tweak, tweak. I share his bemusement at the way Movable Type is configured, and I definitely agree with him when he says:

My ideal blog engine company would hire some seasoned blogger and technical writer to be a documentation czar, keeping docs up to date when new versions are launched, produce screencasts for introductory users, and provide complete documentation at a stable URL that applies to every version of the product. If an outside site does a better job of collecting and offering templates, a documentation leader should recognize that and link to them in highly visible places. There doesn’t seem to be anyone internal at these companies fighting for the users to make sure they can keep being informed about how to best use the product.

All of my knowledge of WordPress, Blogger and Movable Type (three of the biggest weblog applications) comes from tinkering about in the code, trial and error, and random Google searches. Sometimes those searches will take me to the website of the application, but more often than not they take me elsewhere to someone who has solved my problem already, or has a good solution that could be adapted to meet my requirements.

The information is a far more important to me than the weblog application, particularly as most of those meet my requirements and, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this website, the supporting information becomes the differentiator which will sway me one way or the other.

Let me repeat what I said previously:

Quite simply, products include documentation, support and training, and tell a cohesive story to a potential user. A story that says, yes this product will do X, Y and Z, and if it breaks we’ll do our best to help fix it, and we’ll support you as you learn to use it throughout the lifetime of your relationship with the product (and, therefore, the company).

The really good thing about this situation is that there is an opening here, a wide gaping hole into which a willing technical writer could leap. Most of the weblog applications are open source and would welcome you with open arms. The role Matt outlines is a huge one, but is perfectly within the reach of most technical writers. You know, if I had any spare time I might just try to get involved…

And slowly, it became right

Decluttering continues, hampered only by a sudden lack of interest. I’m not surprised of course, that’s how it always is with me, all excited and raring to go at the start before… meh.. apathy and distractions.

One of which has been catching up with the latest travelogue from Michael Palin. It’s been fascinating to learn more about parts of Europe which I knew of, but knew nothing about. It is a very quick look at the culture, politics and beliefs of Eastern Europe, but well worth a look. I may also be watching series 2 of Heroes, but that would be naughty and illegally so can’t possibly be true (although the mexican girl is kinda cute, huh).

I’ve also managed to fix this site, after upgrading WordPress left me error strewn and kinda hacked off. Not a very good show that. However, having originally installed WordPress in a sub-directory all I did was install it at the root, shift some plugins and my theme, et voila! All is working and I can maybe get on with some of the tweaks I had in mind (that fecking Sidebar for one thing).

The other blog is still taking some time mind you, and I’m still slowly building an audience. In saying that, the audience here isn’t that big, and took 6 years, or so, to build so I guess I shouldn’t be in so much of a hurry.

I’m still ripping CDs, only another 100 or so to go. It’s quite good fun actually, ‘rediscovering’ some old favourites and ‘discovering’ some gems I’d completely forgotten I’d purchased.

Right, I’ve got physio exercises to do, a little work to finish off (the downside of now working close to Louise is that I’m not curtailed by her working hours, but the upside MORE than makes up for that), and possibly another stab at Portal. I don’t play many games on the computer, but it’s quite catchy. The opening levels are easy, all of 20 mins to get to level 15, but I hear the last level is what it’s all about, so I’ll get to that point tonight before, hopefully, getting a reasonably early night (now where have I heard that one before?).

Planning ahead

In my hangover fug I’ve been thinking about stuff wot needs to get done.

One of those things is to sort out my WordPress install as the recent upgrade has left it littered with errors. It seems to be working OK but… well.. it’s annoying.

Other than that, with the bulk of last week concentrated on Louise and her new job, there’s loads to do in the house. Nothing major, but a small pile of “stuff” has slowly grown and needs dealt with.

I’ve also got my presentation for the TICAD conference to hand in this week.

So, I’m going to dial back on my ‘online’ activities this week. Not disappearing but less conspicuous. Maybe. You know how it is…

WordPress 2.3

Upgrade complete – sidebar borked.

Apparently the introduction of the new tagging doo dah means a table is now no longer valid, the table that quite a few plugins were using, one of which was powering my miniblog posts.

Hence why they’ve all, suddenly, appeared here.

So, until I get some free time to get the code sorted out myself, this is how it’s gonna be… mind you, maybe a switch to single column…