A month without Facebook: what I missed most

Today I reinstated my Facebook account after disabling it four weeks ago. I took a break because I was caught in an endless loop of reading status updates and playing games. For me, Facebook was a huge waste of time.

This week, I noticed what I missed the most: a decent way to keep up with the news without being totally overwhelmed with content. (And here’s a really good post about how the news feed works.)

Despite its inevitable flaws (how can it possibly work perfectly when you consider the staggering number of people using Facebook?) the News Feed is an invaluable method for keeping up with busy sites via Facebook pages. Twitter lists, or subscribing to big sites via a reader such as Feedly, move too quickly for me. This is because they pull in every post in the feed.

The risk of missing something is always there. But you’ll never be able to read everything. The News Feed is a pretty solid way to read content from the sites you enjoy.

If your News Feed is clogged up, why not clean it up by unfollowing any friends or pages that are flooding your feed?

Internet Explorer worldwide usage: the state of play

With Windows 10 released today, along with the new Edge browser (that we should assume will ultimately kill off IE – it should already have happened!) it’s a good opportunity for a quick rundown of the status of IE on the web.

Stats

Netmarketshare.com has a good browser market share chart. The IE bits:

  • IE6: 0.52%
  • IE7: 0.26%
  • IE8: 13.58%
  • IE9: 6.76%
  • IE10: 5.55%
  • IE11: 27.22%

Automatic updates

The lack automatic updates in IE doesn’t help to get people onto the latest version. However, that all changes with Windows 10, as the Edge browser will support automatic updates.

However, it’s not a perfect scenario as this article shows.

A Change of Scenery: getting my music back online

Over the last few years, I’ve probably spent more time reorganising my personal site than actually working on new material to put on the site. I was in a bit of a creative drought, and just wasn’t 100% happy with the various personal sites I’ve tried to put together over the last few years.

I’m hoping today’s efforts will be a foundation to build on, rather than something to tear down and rebuild later in the year. Check it out: Music by Ben Barden

That was the easy part. Here’s the fun part: A Change of Scenery

The music player uses the brilliant jPlayer, which I’ve added to the sidebar and used to make a playlist of all 20 tracks from that album.

An added bonus is that if you click one of the track names in the text on the left of the page, it’ll start playing that track. Also, if you grab the URL, it should have the track number in it – so if you come back to the page later, it’ll autoplay that track. Otherwise, it won’t play anything until you choose a track (or click Play to start track 1).

Hope you enjoy some of the tracks.

Write better posts – let your blogging ideas stew

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post suggesting you should write ideas when you think of them. An idea is just an idea – you should get it into a published post as soon as you can.

However, I’ve recently had a few ideas that I haven’t written up immediately, and the resulting posts have come out really well. Why is this?

Losing interest in ideas: good or bad?

I have several lists of topic ideas for my blog. When I think of an idea, I add it to a list. It can take a while before it becomes a post – if it ever does.

Taking too long to act on a post idea can mean you lose interest in it, and it gets shelved. But if you lose interest, maybe it wasn’t that great to begin with.

Why let an idea stew?

Writing down a post idea and coming back to it later gives a sort of sanity check. It allows you to get over the excitement of the idea and review it with a clear head.

The luxury of time also gives you a chance to form a more complete opinion of a topic. Posting an idea straight away can result in a relatively raw post, which might be what you’re aiming for. If you’re looking for something fully-formed, let the idea stew for a bit longer.

Of course, this logic doesn’t apply if you’re publishing breaking news or other time-sensitive content.

UX 101: put the cursor in the first field

When loading a page where a form is the focal point of the page, always put the cursor in the first field. This allows the user to start typing immediately.

A good example is when you go to create a new blog post at WordPress.com. Have you noticed how it works?

  1. When the New Post page loads, the cursor goes right into the Title field.
  2. After typing your title, hit the Tab key. Now you’re right in the Body field.

The little details make all the difference.

There’s an exception though. If there’s a search box on a page where the main function isn’t search, don’t put the cursor in the field. If the user scrolls down when the page is still loading, the cursor can make the page jump back up to the top so the search box is visible.

Putting the cursor into the first field is really useful for speeding things up for the user. You’ll notice it the most if you have a lot of repetitive data entry to do. Anything you can do to reduce a mouse click and get the user started much faster will help to make your screens a joy to use.

Posting links on Facebook: choose visibility or higher stats

Stats are a form of social proof. If you see a post with zero likes or tweets, it looks like nobody liked it enough to recommend it to their social followers.

In reality, it may be because the post is too new, hasn’t been found yet, or the site is quite small and all of its posts have relatively few stats. But when a post has very low social stats, it can give off a bad signal.

Do posts containing links get seen less?

There’s a tip going around on Facebook. If you include a link in a status update, it may get seen by fewer people. However, if you write the Facebook post and post the link in a comment, this should not occur.

In “Here’s How Facebook’s News Feed Actually Works” (TIME) it’s suggested that users who click one type of content a lot will see more of that content. Here’s the relevant quote:

The post-type is also a big factor, as Facebook hopes to show more links to people who click lots of links, more videos to people who watch lots of videos and so forth.

There are a couple of reactions to this. One is “how dare they try to show me more of what I might like – just show me everything”. Another is, if you do this as a publisher, you’re screwing with the algorithm.

One slight issue is if you don’t often click links but you do want to click links from a particular person. However, if you genuinely don’t want to click links, publishers who try to get around the alleged decrease in showing of some links may become unpopular with readers.

The real impact of putting links in comments

If I post a link on Facebook and people like the Facebook post, add comments or share the post, it clocks up Facebook stats for that URL. So if I have a Facebook button on that post on my blog, I’ll see the numbers going up.

Conversely, if I post on Facebook saying “link to follow” and then post a comment, the numbers on my blog will not accumulate.

Which would you rather have: potentially increased visibility from readers who might not want to click links? Or potentially higher numbers recorded against your posts, thereby improving your social proof and hopefully getting more people to interact with the posts in the first place?

Change in Technology

I like change.

Actually – I love it. I get bored when nothing changes.

It’s partly why I do what I do. I’ve been coding for years, as I can be in control of what gets done – and how it gets done. More recently, I’ve been managing a team of developers, giving help and direction with what needs to be done.

I enjoy making changes. I feel immense satisfaction from getting things done (it’s also the tagline on my homepage).

I dislike the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – as it’s sometimes used as blanket opposition to any change at all. I understand that other people don’t always like change. And there’s a line of thinking that if nobody asks for a change, nobody would want it.

Sometimes, you’ve got to take the lead and deliver new and exciting things without waiting for people to ask. It’s not great if a change is unpopular – but sometimes it’s good to take risks.

The best changes are when you get positive feedback. There’s a saying that no news is good news, and that no feedback probably means that people don’t hate your product. Or that nobody’s using it…

But when someone goes out of their way to say they really like a change – it makes all the difference. It doesn’t have to be a big change: I’ve seen incredibly happy users from some of the smallest changes imaginable. The devil’s in the detail. Definitely do sweat the small stuff.

10 quick tips for building an outstanding blog

I’ve been blogging on and off for nearly 8 years. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that are essential if you want to build a blog that’s outstanding in its field. Here’s my list:

  1. Be yourself. Why be anyone else? Putting yourself into your writing allows your posts to ooze personality. It also helps you to stand out. There’s nobody quite like you.
  2. Find a topic you enjoy. Why waste time on something you heard can be a good blog topic if it bores you to tears? Choose a topic you want to write about.
  3. Choose your target audience. Who are you writing for? Once you know that, it’s a lot easier to target your posts to that group of people. Get to know your audience.
  4. Find your unique angle. It’s all very well to find a great topic, but what’s different about your blog? What do you have to offer that others do not?
  5. Forge your own path. Don’t copy what others are doing. Experiment – find what works for you (and what doesn’t). Then do a lot of it.
  6. Cut the fluff. Do you take forever to make your point? Don’t do that. Get on with it!
  7. Aim for a clean layout. Don’t stuff your sidebar or footer with every widget imaginable. Keep your layout clean and only include “stuff” if it adds value. Along with keeping things tidy, it’ll help to keep your blog loading quickly.
  8. Don’t promote immediately. Get the basics figured out – and get some posts online – before you promote your blog. I like to have half a dozen posts online first.
  9. Keep things fresh. From time to time you’ll want to shake things up a bit. Whether it’s a series of posts, a guest post or a new design, changing things up can help to avoid blogger burnout. You should also take breaks from time to time.
  10. Interlink your content. Don’t leave your old posts wallowing in the archives. Tag your old posts – on WordPress.com or Tumblr this can breathe new life into old posts. Link to old posts from newer posts. And set up topic landing pages to help new readers find your best posts on a given topic.

Follow these tips and you should be well on your way to building an outstanding blog.

Blogging 101: Write about what you love

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore. If you dislike a topic and don’t enjoy writing, your posts will be lifeless.

If you write about the topics that you enjoy, a few things may happen:

  • You’ll enjoy blogging more
  • You’ll write better posts
  • You’ll write with enthusiasm, which readers will enjoy

Why force it? If it’s not working out, find a topic you love and write about that!