Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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Stop counting Pageviews

Last week in class we talked about the way Web site popularity and growth is measured. Advertising agencies want to know how many people visit your site before they pay you for advertising space. Thus, pageviews, a way to measure how many people click over to a page on your site.

With technologies such as ajax becoming very popular among Web sites, pageviews become an obsolete measurement. Instead of loading a new page, new content is loaded dynamically.

So how do we measure growth and popularity?

In class, we said: time.

And so does Nielsen.

The two major firms that track Internet traffic are playing down the significance of ranking Web sites by “page views,” the number of pages viewed on a given Web property each month. Instead, they are offering other metrics, such as time spent or visits.

But there are problems with that, too. I can open up a tab in Firefox (or, now, IE7) and totally forget about it. It’s still counting how much time I’m spending on that site. I get most of my news and daily reading via RSS. No time measuring there.

So, in the movement from “static web” to “dynamic web” what metric system can we rely on?

P.S. These metrics aren’t just used by advertisers. I check my site and RSS stats regularly to see how you all respond to me and to test changes to the site.

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I fail at Google Trends

I took a look at Google Trends today, a feature of Google Reader that tracks how many feeds you read, what time of day you read them, active and inactive subscriptions, and what you read most, star most, and share most.

Unfortunately, my reading technique skews the results so that only the inactive/active trend is of any use to me.

You see, with 101 subscriptions (down from 115 due to inactive) I usually read my feeds in list view. I scroll through this list by hitting the spacebar, which opens and then marks as read the item in question. This means that EVERYTHING is technically “read.”

Now, there are a few ways I could alter my reading behavior so that it wouldn’t skew my trends. (uncheck mark as read and mark each item I actually read as read individually, for one) But they also slow me down.

The problem becomes speed vs accuracy. And my lack of time management skills trumps my curiosity, in this case.

So long, Google Trends, and thanks for all the…

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New feature on NYT Web site?

My co-workers at the Help Desk like to get their news online. We were talking about an article on the New York Times Web site, when someone highlighted a paragraph and inadvertently double-clicked.

Apparently, when you double-click on a word in an article, it opens a pop-up window with the definition of the word.

A neat feature, no doubt, but it isn’t made obvious that this will happen. A lot of people highlight as they read to keep track of where they are, and clicking inadvertently could be confusing and irritating.

So, please NYT, give me the option of turning that nonsense off.

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Easy Breezy Blogging?

The Setup:

Much of what I’ve read since I started blogging (and thereby reading more online journalism blogs) says that journalists and students of journalism should blog. But according to a survey conducted by my editing teacher, out of 60 or so students (three sections) only about 5 blog.

The Problem:

My cash costs for this blog are almost nil, but the time cost is heavy. I try to post at least once a day, and that means coming up with a post idea (usually through my RSS feeds or classes), how to approach it, searching for references and relevant information, writing the post, coming up with a title (headlines are my weakness), and editing. I’m also constantly looking for ways to improve the site as a whole, via design or information.

The Solution?

Tumblr

A “Tumblelog” is The Flash compared to traditional blogging. Each post will have a different format based on what information you’re posting: a longer blog post, a photograph or graphic, a quotation, a link, a conversation, or a video. You don’t have to write commentary, there are no comments to check. Just post and go.

Even better, the Tumblr bookmarklet automatically detects what kind of site you’re on and will format the post accordingly. I’m assuming this auto-detect isn’t perfect, so you can change the type easily as well.

You can also set Tumblr up to directly publish posts from an RSS feed or your cellphone.

Maybe not:

Here’s the drawback: no comments = no community. If you follow the theory that journalism needs to get ueber-local, and journalists need to learn how to participate in their communities, maybe Tumblr isn’t the solution for the time-bound. Maybe you should just take a few extra seconds to post to a blog that does allow comments. Maybe the time investment is worth the possibility of mind-opening and engaging conversation; building your own community.

Something Different:

Perhaps the challenge lies in the format. How long is a story, anyway?

P.S. This post took me about two hours. I had help on the details on Tumblr from Lifehacker.

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Bivings and Blogs: a how to

TheBivingsReport has a great list of how newspapers can (SHOULD) integrate blogs. They also include links to examples.

The short version:

(1) Ask you audience what they think you should be covering.

(2) Ask your audience for input on something new.

(3) Host public blogs

(4) Continue coverage of an ongoing story that has left the limelight.

(5) Help journalists jump off the high horse and join their audiences in discussions.

(6) Write (and host) niche blogs.

(7) Ask your audience for help with a story. Get opinions (check facts!)

(8) Ask experts in your community to host a debate.

(9) Ask people from your audience to write about their areas of expertise.

(10) Provide sneak peaks of upcoming stories.

(11) Allow journalists to share their interests and passions.

(12) Share internal memos and briefings with the public.

(13) Let your audience into the newsroom: write about editorial decisions, story coverage and internal debate.

(14) How can a news organization provide a case study about an issue that it covers? By using a blog.

(15) What are newsroom staffers reading? Perhaps the public would like to read these items as well.

(16) If your organization gathered and prepared content that wasn’t released, why not post it to a blog if it is otherwise fine?

I realize that in paraphrasing some of these ideas, I used the word audience a lot. Journalists need to get closer to (take your pick: the masses, the audience, the readers, the consumers, the people, the community) but there is a pervasive “us vs. them” philosophy. I’m not sure what the correct (politically or otherwise) term might be. Any wordsmiths out there?

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Blog Niche Exploration (part the first)

I jumped out of my niche for a few minutes the other day to participate in a roundup of blogging tips. Here are the results:

  1. Daniel: A simple tip that will probably boost your page views: install a translator plugin. I decided to use a paid plugin for this, but if I am not wrong there are some free ones as well. The translation is not very good, as you can imagine, but it helps to attract readers that are not fluent in English.
  2. Brian Auer: According to my Google Analytics, about 35% of my traffic comes from other people’s blogs and 25% comes from the forums I’m active with, while search engines provide about 15%. I post comments on other blogs that are related to mine, and I post my site link in my signature at the forums.
  3. Kat: I’ve recently gotten involved with several “MySpace-like” community sites that focus on my target audience. I share my thoughts in their forums, post intros to my real blog on their system blog and I’ve even created a group for my specific niche. It’s been very, very successful for me.
  4. Tillerman : Be the first to write a post about the ‘Top Ten Blogs’ in your niche. The post will rank highly in any general search for blogs in your niche and other bloggers in your niche write about the post and link to it.
  5. Eric Atkins: Create a new design for your website. Not only will it be more attractive to your regular readers, but you can submit it to some CSS gallery showcase sites that feature great designs. This will give you exposure on those sites while generating a lot of traffic and backlinks from those types of sites.
  6. Sridhar Katakam: Keep track of blogs and leave comments on them. How do you know which blogs to keep track of in the first place? Add the MyBlogLog widget/code to your blog. When you notice a MyBlogLog user visiting your blog, visit that person’s in turn.
  7. Dennis Coughlin: Find the best blogs on your niche and contact the authors. Introduce yourself and send a link of your blog. This might help them to discover your blog, read it and possibly link to it.
  8. Guido: Comment on blogs, write useful content and make good friends on forums.
  9. Grant Gerver: Try to be polemic. I write obsessively about all-things political from the left-wing perspective in the form of humorous, sarcastic one-liners.
  10. Megan Taylor: Participate in conversations on related blogs. Start conversations on your own blog. Don’t just post about a story and leave it at that, engage your audience.
  11. Ramen Junkie: Newsgroups. I always see a spike when I post a review to a newsgroup.
  12. Ian Delaney: Nothing creates long-term traffic more than value. Making a post along the lines of ‘Evaluated resources for XYZ’ is useful. Useful things get linked to and they get onto del.icio.us, which is far better long-term than a digg front page.
  13. KWiz: Write something controversial. I don’t think it’s good to write something controversial just for the purpose of getting traffic necessarily (especially if it’s only for that purpose and you’re being disingenuous), but it works.
  14. Splork: I’ve had good success writing articles and submitting them to EzineArticles. Articles that have been written from well-researched keyword phrases and accepted by EzineArticles tend to rank very high in Google for that search term. Placing anchor text in the footer of those articles so the reader can visit my relevant website has always increased my site traffic.
  15. Alan Thomas: Don’t forget your archives. I just posted a roundup of all interviews I did over the past seven months. One of them generated a new link and a big traffic spike from a group of users that look like they will be loyal readers now.
  16. Brandon Wood: A simple trick I’ve used to increase traffic to my blog is participate in group writing projects. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now.
  17. Engtech: Community. It’s one word but it is the most important one when it comes to blogging. The only “blog metric” that makes sense is the vibrant community of readers it has. Building a community around your blog will bring you increased traffic, but how do you start? The boilerplate response to building traffic is always “SEO, social networking sites, and commenting on blogs” but it can be simplified to “be part of a community”. The easiest way to seed your blog is with an already existing community. But the only way to do that is to be part of the community yourself.
  18. Goerge Manty: Post 3-5 times a day. Use ping services like pingomatic or setting up wordpress to ping some of the ping services. Engage your readers. Put up polls, ask them questions, give them quizes, free tools, etc. Make them want to come back and tell their friends about you.
  19. Mark Alves: Participate in Yahoo Answers and LinkedIn Answers where you can demonstrate your expertise, get associated with relevant keywords and put your URL out there.
  20. Andrew Timberlake: A great tip for generating traffic is off-line by including your url in all your off-line liturature from business cards, letterheads, pamphlets, adverts through in-store signage if applicable. I even have our website on my vehicle.
  21. Inspirationbit: Well, obviously everyone knows that social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us, etc. bring lots of traffic. But I’m now submitting some of my articles to blogg-buzz.com (a digg like site for bloggers), and I always get not a bad traffic from there.
  22. Scott Townsend: Inform search engines and aggregators like Technorati (using the ping functionality) when your blog is updated, this should ensure maximum traffic coming from those sources.
  23. Jen Gordon: I came upon some unexpected traffic when my blog popped up on some css design portals like www.cssmania.com and www.webcreme.com. If you can put some time into the concept behind and design for your blog, I’d recommend submitting your site to a design portal not only for additional traffic but to build an additional community around your site.
  24. Chris: Squidoo Lenses are a good way to generate traffic. By using a lense, you can generate your own custom “community” of webpages, including some of the more popular pages in your “neighborhood.” Including your own webpage in such a list is a good way of generating traffic.
  25. Kyle: Simplify. Pay attention to complex issues in your field of work. It may be a big long publication that is hard to wade through or a concept that is hard to grasp. Reference it and make a shorter “for dummies” version with your own lessons learned and relevant tips. When doing this, I have been surprised to find that the simplified post will appear before the more complex version in search results. Perhaps this is why it results in increased traffic; people looking for more help or clarification on the subject will land on your blog.
  26. Nick: Participating in forums is a great way to get loyal readers. Either link baiting people in your signature or posting great advice and tips will give you high quality traffic, which will result in return visitors.
  27. Jester: Leave comments on other blogs. If you’re already reading them, it takes just a couple of seconds to leave a message agreeing or disagreeing with the author, you get to leave a link to your site, and you will almost ALWAYS get traffic from your comments.
  28. Cory OBrien: Read lots of other blogs. Leave trackbacks. Make sure your blog is optimized for search engines. Leverage social bookmarking sites like digg (both for new ideas and for traffic).
  29. Shankar Ganesh: Just browse around MyBlogLog.com and you will surely get visitors to your blog.
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A few more things about RSS: Week in Review, Google Reader

Last week’s New York Times “Week in Review” feed was unimpressive, but not disappointing. It included some select articles from throughout the week, plus corrections to previous articles.

901am lists some great advice to Google on how to improve their reader. From the 5 recommended features, my favorite is same story consolidation. I can absorb so much more if related items are grouped together. Go check out the list and let me know what your favorite feature would be.

In contrast to RSS faves, here is my pet peeve: summary/excerpt feeds. Whether you forgot to check the “full feed” box or are stuck on page views, I really, really hate having to click through to the Web site to finish reading. Argh.

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“I don’t want to…”

Recent conversation among journalism students:

  • “I don’t want to do the online thing.”
  • “I don’t need to learn to edit, I just want to write.”
  • “As an online journalist, I can just write, right?”

Wrong. Sorry kids, but you can’t relive the days of portable typewriters, smoky newsrooms, digging through piles of paper records, midnight deadlines.

To avoid journalistic “siberia,” you’d better be able to think and work online, in various media, and edit your own work. You also have to be able to do it all fast.

In short, you’re more likely to end up like Adam Penenberg than Hunter Thompson.

It never fails to frustrate me to see students stuck on a life that can no longer exist. YOU spend more time on Facebook than reading the newspaper, what makes you think your audience is much different?

Teachers: Yes, it is important that students learn how to write, edit and present stories. That is the basis of all this, after all. But students also need to learn to think of their stories in 3-D. Their work will no longer be “just” a print article, but a multi-faceted package. And we need to learn to think that way.

Check out similar conversations at Innovation in College Media and Teaching Online Journalism.

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Typography in Web Design

Mindy McAdams gave a lecture on typography in her Advanced Online Media class.

The highlights:

  • text is expressive
  • choose text for legibility and readability — you must both entice readers and make it easy for them to continue reading.
  • using all caps, italics, or small text reduces readability
  • coordinate text size with line length – smaller text for short lines of text, larger text for longer lines
  • use CSS to control line and letter spacing
  • be careful with the fonts you specify in your CSS. Choose fonts that can be viewed on all computers and don’t specify different font-families for one piece of text.

McAdams also recommended this chapter from the Web Style Guide as a typography resource.