Category: the site

dotjay feeds fixed

I’ve been aware of a problem with my feeds for a little while. The main feed has been working okay, but some of the others I used to offer went a bit screwy. It should all be fixed again now.

You can subscribe to just my blog entries or to entries with a particular tag. So if you only want to be fed my accessibility posts, you can just subscribe to my accessibility feed. I’ve also included a new lab updates feed. Lab updates will also appear in the main feed. I’ve tried to redirect all previous feed URLs so that they will continue to work. My apologies if they break.

Good blog URL structure

Welcome to dotjay.co.uk version 2.1! I’ve been playing with the site over the last couple of weeks. I’ve done some thinking about the structure of the site and I’ve tried to make better use of space on the home page, adding the last few comments posted. The CSS is a bit busted in Internet Explorer at the moment, but I’m sure you’ll learn to forgive me! For the moment, I want to concentrate on writing instead of playing with CSS!

Right then, URL structures

In the process of tweaking the design and structure of dotjay.co.uk over the past couple of weekends, I’ve modded textpattern to use what I believe to be the most usable and future-proof URL structure. We now have year, followed by month, followed by hyphenated entry title: /2007/apr/good-blog-url-structure

I’ve also ensured that textpattern will redirect (permanent 301) links formatted in my previous URL structure to the new locations. For those interested in how I did this, I’ll do a little write-up soon.

Having discussed information architecture with Jon T over recent months and then reading a few posts about good URL structure recently, I got thinking and began tweaking, so I thought I’d post up my thought process behind the changes.

Take time to think

In the interests of link rot, it’s advantageous to think about your URLs before you have too many of them. With a blog, you can quite easily rack up a bunch of posts and decide you want to restructure things, often leading to a furore into htaccess and a bunch of redirects. That is, unless you like to break people’s bookmarks or screw up your results in search engines.

Blogging systems commonly refer to the location of an entry as its permanent link, so it follows that we should avoid changing that link in the future. I have fallen short of that ideal on this blog a couple of times now as I’ve shifted content around. I guess it’s inevitable that we move things about as our websites evolve or as we learn.

If you’re just starting up a blog, or if you’re rehashing your website, my advice is to take a little time to think about the structure of your URLs. Think about the information that will identify the content of the entries you’ll be writing and is most helpful to readers without being verbose. Doing this early on will save you time in the future. Even if you think you may make changes down the line, you should be in a better position to do so having already thought this through.

Unique identifiers

My appreciation for good information architecture has grown over time, especially since my involvement with Grow. Now, I try to think of blog entry URLs as unique identifiers – permalinks, remember – which we should avoid changing in the future. I try to think about what information actually identifies the content of the entry and what does not.

Entry titles

A prime place for summarising the content of your entries is in their title. I try to think of these as one-liner headlines, as you tend to find in the sidebars of the BBC News website.

I try to take a little time to think about my entry titles before I publish, making sure it sums up the content and avoiding the need to make changes later on.

Entry IDs

The database ID of an entry isn’t terribly useful information to anything other than your content management system. It’s certainly unique to the entry, but I think it looks messy and is not valuable to readers.

Date entry published

The date that you publish an entry ages its content. Including that information in your URL structure means visitors can quickly see how old your entry is. As a reader, I find this useful. Also remember that the content of your entry may not necessitate archiving – old content may still be valid, especially if it has updates attached.

Site sections

The site section an entry belongs in is not unique to an entry and is more likely to change than you might think. For example, I started off just posting under a “blog” section, but I decided to expand, which entailed moving some of my entries out of the blog section. Now I see site sections as a means of navigating to and accessing entries.

I also notice when people post their entries to an archive section as soon as it’s published – does this mean the content is not up to date?

Entry tags

The tags an entry is given can tell you a lot about the content of that entry, but again, they are not unique to an entry. However, I think of such information as peripheral – meta data, I suppose – and as with site sections, a means to categorise and browse entries. Remember that many tags may be applied to any one item – especially so in a community environment like Flickr – making them unfeasible for URLs.

Deciding what to use

So, I like the idea of making the most of entry titles, ensuring that they describe the content. You could just use the title alone to identify an entry in the URL. There are two problems with this for me.

Firstly, all your post titles must be different, which I admit is not necessarily a problem. It may become a problem if you post a regular update, say once a month, with the same entry title.

Secondly, if you decide to change the title in the future, having a single reference doesn’t give your readers a contingency plan. You may well publish more than one entry in any one day or month, but offering a secondary reference in your URLs adds a level of redundancy. This allows your blogging system to look up possible entries when an incorrect or out-of-date URL is accessed.

I think knowing when an entry was published is useful information for readers. Adding the date to your URLs in some form is going to help identify entries and keep your URLs unique.

I decided to go with posting my entries under months and to use the three-letter, textual abbreviations. As mentioned in the comments to Chris Shiflett’s post on URL Vanity, using a numeric month can make URLs easier to skim-read. I’ve noted before that I think months are more useful as text than as numbers:

The argument is that, say, through using the name of a month in place of its numerical representation, a date becomes dependent on the language you are using. By that logic, numerical dates are better for internationalisation. Unfortunately, the simple difference between the typical English and American date formats throws a spanner in the works. Something to think about; surely, if your content is dependent on language, there should be no problem with your dates being dependent on language too, even in your URLs?

So, I’ve decided to try out using months as text rather than numbers. One advantage of making textpattern redirect sensibly is that I can change my URLs back to using numeric months without incurring a headache, so feel free to convince me I’m wrong about that!

Related reading

A few changes due to comment spam

Due to an increasing amount of spam comments on my site, I am trying out my own version of a plugin (mrw_spamkeywords_urlcount) that should fish out a large majority of the offending posts.

The plugin uses some new features in the latest textpattern (version 4.0.4) that allows for comments to be processed by plugins before being saved. As a result, my live comments preview has been disabled for now – the plugin that runs the previews (nhn_livecommentpreview) is not yet fully compatible with the new handling of comments submission.

This also means that comments have gone back to the defauilt textpattern process of having to preview your comment before finally submitting it to the site. This is a bit ugly and I don’t like making people have to step through a preview of their comment first, but until I tidy things up, it will hopefully help to curb the spam a little further!

Feeds Knackered

Some of my feeds are busted at the moment… something to do with the feed URLs not using the same year/month/day/title format as the rest of the site. I’ve now fixed the feeds (see below).

Thanks to Pat for the heads up.

Updates

14.09.2006 @ 16:15

All seems to be working again now. For some reason, textpattern 4.0.3 doesn’t report the correct “Permanent link mode” when building feeds for sections, while the main feed will work fine. I’ll try to delve into it more when I have some time.

Please post a comment if you are still having problems.

14.09.2006 @ 16:33

Note: The problem described here appears to be fixed in Textpattern 4.0.4.

If anyone having the same problem stumbles across this post, I worked around the problem by editing “/textpattern/publish/rss.php” and replacing the line that builds the permanent link URL:
$permlink = permlinkurl($a);
…with this:
list($dtj_y,$dtj_m,$dtj_d) = explode(”-”,date(“Y-m-d”,$a[‘posted’]));
$permlink = hu.”$dtj_y/$dtj_m/$dtj_d/$uTitle”;

…to make sure that the date format is used for the permanent link URL when building all feeds.

Rebooted: Version 2.0

So, my live redesign went down the pan… Now, it’s all gone stencilled!

Too long has my site sported my extremely minimalist interim design. Too long have I wriitten only half-finished posts and never got around to posting them! So, here’s my May 2006 Reboot effort, and a promise to write more… maybe.

I’ve had this new design in the works for quite a while, adding to it every now and then. I’m still not totally happy with it, but then, I never am!

So, here it is! You may well see little changes every now and then – the transition to the live server hasn’t been as smooth as expected. Anyway, enjoy! Constructive criticism welcomed.

You’ll also notice I’m in the process of rearranging some areas of the site. I made a few shifts after I installed the latest Textpattern release.

Early last year, I put up a very basic home page as minor content
additions that weren’t really part of the blog came about. Having installed Textpattern afresh, much of the site is now run by it, which has given me a chance to do something with the home page.

My hard-coded tweaks to Textpattern got scrapped with the fresh install in favour of installing or writing a few plugins (good plan Pennell!). I’m still working on some of the plugins (making sure they’re fairly solid), but will try to make more of them available very soon in the new lab section.

Home Sweet Home

After one week spent travelling the country, moving everything we own down to my hometown of Barnstaple in Devon, then a week of DIY, surviving on beer and pub-grub, and then a week of surviving on birthday cake alone, the powers that be have allowed me my Internet connection back. We finally got reconnected Tuesday lunchtime after a three-week wait, so now I’m starting to catch up with all my e-mails, projects, etc.

Unfortunately, the unexpected issues of moving home and the unreasonable wait for a proper Internet connection has meant things I wanted to get done have not been done. As a result, not only am I behind on work projects, I’ve not been able to do any of my personal projects, including this month’s reboot. The annoying thing is that I couldn’t even get online at the start of this month to post an apology. Anyway, a new design is in the works, and I’m liking how it’s looking so far, but as the workload is hefty right now, it looks like the live redesign may still be the best way forward for me, making changes as and when I find the time.

Of course, the thought has also crossed my mind to close down dotjay, or at least give it a good rest, but then I remembered what I said when I started the site. I never intended to write regularly, and I never really defined what I would write about. I wish I could find more time to write about Web design and development, and accessibility especially, but in recent months it’s been more important for me to just knuckle down and get on with the work. Maybe in a couple of months things will be different. For now, it’s back to knuckling down, but at least I have a new office to wear in with a much bigger desk to work at.

My new office

It’s nice being back home in Devon. Jo seems to be having some issues adjusting, which is not surprising, but I think she likes it down here. Things could have run smoother with the move, but such is the way with these things. Not only did we have the usual too much stuff to move, but (not so) Enterprise van hire let us down by failing to have any details of the reservation I made two weeks in advance. I was so very not impressed when I went to their office to pick up the van, our entire life waiting to be bundled into the back of it. Incidentally, I must say an enormous thanks to my mate Sam, who managed to arrange a massive van for us that same afternoon.

Anyway, I have plenty to be getting on with for now, but I got a new camera for my birthday, so keep an eye on my Flickr photostream over the coming weeks!

Long time, no dotjay: an update

I’ve not written a proper post in ages. I’ve not written anything for over a month. I have several posts in the works, some of which follow up on previous posts and promises I made quite a while back. Anyway, this is an attempt to make up excuses for being so quiet.

Excuses, Excuses

So, I’ve been particularly busy of late and have needed to prioritise a load of things. I’ve missed an entire month of blogging and my feed reader just hasn’t had a look-in recently.

I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve been trying to juggle several projects, many of which are just for fun and aren’t going to help me retire early:

  • General work projects (including various improvements to the business site).
  • A resource for website owners about what makes a good website. A long-term “educate the masses” project I’ve had in mind to start, but just not found the time to do much towards.
  • Developing a Web application that archives Google News Alerts (primarily for archiving “Web accessibility” items at the moment).
  • Redesigning this place. It’s coming along nicely actually (some of you may have noticed a few minor additions and changes), but not enough to warrant another blog post about it yet. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting up a temporarily redesign before the Autumn Reboot, but I really can’t be bothered.

Web

Things seem to have been brewing while I’ve been procrastinating busy. I see Oxton is back blogging several times a day (how do you do it, John?) and it’s good to have him back again. Meanwhile, Tommy has retired from blogging. I for one will miss his posts, but I understand his reasoning for closing the blog. I hope that one day he’ll come back in one form or another. At long last, Vigo has started a blog, which I’m sure will be a source of much entertainment. Over at Accessify Forum, I have been recruited to help out with moderating duties.

Work

Business is busy but has seemed quite unfruitful of late. I’ve had one client being messed about by Demon Internet (no surprises there) causing delays. Grrr. Another couple of projects have just been slow-going.

I’ve also been brainstorming and looking at how to develop the business and bring in a little more bread and butter. It’s seemed that no matter how much I do, money is tight and I feel unproductive. I have been considering making the jump and getting office space. I love working from home, but I think that an office would be a far more productive environment for me. Except, finding an office wouldn’t be so hard if it wasn’t for…

Going home

Some of you will already know that we’re now planning our move down to sunny ol’ Devon, where I was “drug up”. There are a couple of personal reasons for the move, which I won’t go into now, but it’s probably for the best. I’m just a little concerned about the impact it’s going to have on the business.

We’ve driven down to Devon twice in the last two weeks to visit family and make plans. Jo’s been trying to find jobs. It’s quite a long way to go (over five hours by car each way) so it’s been quite a stressful time. Hopefully things will be easier once things have been planned out.

Health

I’m not exactly the healthiest of beasts, but I’ve been feeling even less healthy lately. I’ve also found it difficult to concentrate on things. I really need to exercise more, but also need to tie myself to the desk to get on top of work. It’s a vicious circle really.

I remember a few months back several people around the blogosphere began a routine of blogging their activities in work/play/exercise. I promised myself I’d try harder to be more active and I began monitoring my exercise. I did quite well for a while, but other things have taken over lately and I’ve let it slip. Of course, it hasn’t helped that the local council have closed the nearest swimming pool and my bike is absolutely knackered.

Over the Summer I’ve been getting out to play football, rounders or Frisbee with mates, which has been good, but I’ve not been able to do that lately. Hopefully, when we’re settled in Devon, I’ll get more active again. I like running too, but York’s city streets doesn’t really compare to the Devon countryside.

Photos

I’ve started taking more photos, if for nothing else but to inspire me. Photography was always something I wanted to be good at, but has never been something I’ve really applied my mind to. I try to take photos wherever I go now, and try not to care too much if they’re a pile of crap. I actually wanted a new camera but purchasing said camera was foiled by my bank, who decided to close my credit card account without telling me.

Moan, moan, moan

Yeah, I know I must sound like a right old moaner, and I suppose I am. But hey, I can moan if I want to. Things will start getting easier once this move is out the way. It’s just been one of those slow periods.

Live Redesign, Step 2: Speeding things up

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to write about speeding up textpattern or some such rubbish here, but that’s not what this is about. Progress redesigning the site is slooooow. Maybe there’s a way to speed things up.

Ahem… mate, your site looks like crap!

Yeah, I know. I wasn’t happy with the way it looked before. In fact, I wasn’t happy with a whole lot of it, so I decided to deconstruct things, find out what I didn’t like and rebuild from what I’ve learnt, bearing in mind that this time I have some content here. So, the website currently looks very minimal while I’m gutting the place.

There are two problems with this redesign malarkey though.

Somewhere inside me there’s a designer wanting to let loose. I’m not a designer, I’m a developer. So why am I trying to be something I’m not? Well, that’s not really what it’s about – I at least want to try things out and see what I can do. The thing is, I think I’m going to be far too critical of what I’m doing when I get to some design work. Anyway, for the meantime I’m trying to restructure a few things around here and add new content before steaming ahead with some designing.

Steaming ahead

That’s the other problem. Work is very busy at the moment. I’m getting on top of the workload, but I’m at risk of getting behind again if I don’t concentrate on that. Alas, this means that a few side projects I’ve got on the boil have been put on hold. This is really annoying because I’m really into these side projects and I could easily get distracted.

I’m having real issues separating work from play at the moment. I’ve spent so much time working recently that I haven’t been working on content for this site or the redesign. Hopefully, this will become less of a problem once I get on track. To be honest though, certain aspects of work are getting me down meaning progress is slow there too. It might be a while before dotjay is back on its feet again.

Helping hand

I’ve been thinking about the process I’m going to go through with this redesign. I want the content to drive the design. With the last design, there was no content. But I also want to take this opportunity to change a few things and add a couple of things in. So, the idea was to deconstruct everything, add in some new bits, make a few tweaks and then build up a framework before coming up with a design. I’ve had a change of heart.

I never ask for help. I like to do things on my own. I like to feel like I’ve achieved something at the end of it all. Well, enough being selfish – I want to get a bit more interactive with this redesign. If I still have any readers left after such a quiet period, I want to know what you want to see on here. Also, as I go through this redesign, I’m going to suggest where I’m going to go with the next step. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to rely on readers to comment and tell me “that’s a really dumb idea, you idiot” or “you could do this, but it’s up to you”…

Where next?

Well, I’m figuring on trying to make a few of those changes I like to make to textpattern using plugins instead of hacking away at the PHP. I’m also going to take a look around for some cool textpattern plugins to try out. Any suggestions?

Live Redesign, Step 1: Moving to Textpattern 1.0RC3

Things are starting to look a bit ugly around here. I’ve begun the move over to the third release candidate for textpattern, but it looks like it’s going to be an interesting ride.

I had made quite a few tweaks to my last Textpattern install, so it’ll be interesting to see how the old posts make their way over to the new install.

I’ll update this post as things progress. Please bear with me. If you see broken stuff, please don’t tell me yet.

Update, 08.07.2005

OK, after a few teething problems, textpattern has started to behave a bit better. Things have now gone a little bland – I’ve removed all the wonderful blue-ness this blog had. I’ve decided to ware down the design bit-by-bit, so that I can keep some form of layout for now to keep things readable.

I’ve also re-instated a few of the tweaks I made to RC1 (I’ll be keeping a better log of changes this time, to make future upgrades easier):

  • Added a bit of flexibility to the comments.
  • Cleaned up comment numbering so they follow logical numbering within each article instead of using the comment ID.
  • Made a mild tweak to the comments invite link. I’m pedantic and like to use ”#comments” instead of ”#comment”. It makes more sense to me!
  • Set up my personal comment style.
  • I’ve removed the alternating comment boxes though – I don’t think I’ll be using them this time around.
  • Content negotiation is back, but I’ll probably remove this soon and just serve pages as good ol’ HTML 4.01. This site won’t validate in the meantime – there are still changes to be made.

Anyway, I think this redesign is going to be a slow process. I’m hoping to experiement a little and involve readers in the design process, what with general design being one of my weak points. Feel free to contribute.

This Burdensome Blog

I've been trying to figure out why my textpattern run time has been so slow. I'm trying to get to the bottom of it, but in the meantime, my apologies to readers.

I've probably buggered something up while adding in some of my tweaks or installing a plugin somewhere. I'm taking off a couple of features that I think might be causing problems while I'm working on them.

Also, I'd just like to quickly thank vigo, who helped me find one problem that was slowing things down a bit: textpattern's logging script does a DNS lookup so that it can log host names rather than just the IP address of referrers. Moving this lookup into the back-end slows things down for me rather than you lot.