During the last 6 months, ARBU has been engaged in one of the most complex installations of WPMU we have ever had the pleasure of working on. With a standing 40 websites already in place on the original Argyll Communities website and requirements for newsletters, community toolkits, external search engines, a portal-wide announcements engine and sundry other items, we had our work cut out for us. But throughout it has been an utter pleasure — not only because the AVA team are feedback positive and precise about what they require, but because the work has involved working with many of the individual communities which run sites through the Argyll Communities site. To gather more insight on the process, and how we have developed the project since November last year, visit the Development blog, here.
Out of our work on the Argyll Communities website for AVA, came the Argyll and the Islands Leader website. Ideally suited for WordPress, this project utilises post thumbnails, gallery slideshows, custom fields, some php applets within the theme itself, as well as some fairly thorough-going optimisation techniques for search engines and speed (a lot of which we have learned on ForArgyll.com). The main challenge however was to create a sufficiently capable template to cater for the hundreds of projects Leader has funded while making them search engine friendly, both to Google et al. and using the internal WP search. The result we think is an excellent and accessible WordPress implementation which with ‘Thelonius’s’ fab auto-upgrade will stand the test of time.
… is sometimes enough to get you quoted in the most prestigious circles. I was just skimming through the stats on Forargyll.com and found to my delight 4 hits today from the WPMU Developers site wpmudev.org — had a look, and there’s my profile pic from Facebook (sheesh) alongside a short testimonial from me. Top!
Hilary Robertson has the beginnings of an excellent blog at PerfectPresenting.com, more so now that Arbu have had a chance to work their magic on the site’s backend. Hilary had made a good fist of implementing the Emerald Stretch theme, but was struggling to find the best e-commerce solution for her purposes. As veteran WordPress users we knew there was a choice between Jason Briggs’ YAK plugin and Instinct.co.nz‘s WP-ecommerce. The latter won in this contest because they have an easily implemented membership module which is superbly easy to use. We’ve used both — Jason’s highly customisable (and easily translatable) plugin on Weeride.fr and PureTherapy.biz, and Instinct’s more corporate offering on Bumble, CowalBagpipes.com and Scottishlaird.com.
We then looked at forums: to ensure Hilary’s offering on this website was entirely integrated we decided that a bbpress integration wasn’t going to cut it, and took the option of a forum-by-plugin, the best of which is Simple:Press Forum. Though the backend menu is a bit clunky, this is an actively developed plugin, and one which plays well with admins of all abilities.
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Thoroughly sick of MPs like Hazel Blears attempting to control the message and spin their way out of trouble, intrigued by John Naughton’s article extrapolating C. P. Snow’s theory on our divided society into the networked world and reminded of cyberpunk icon R. U. Sirius‘s Open Source Political Party (ars technica) for the American duopoly, it seems to me that there may be space in the political landscape of the UK for a new kind of open source party, one whose manifesto is a wiki, whose policy discussions are a forum, whose membership is a social network and whose progress is monitored on a blog. In other words a networked construct which is the antithesis of the present political system, based upon lack of control, lack of political ambition, lack of personal prejudice on the part of that party’s representatives who could only reflect the opinions and policies of their networked contributors and lack of any need or impulse to spin, or control the message because everything, even the warts and all policy discussion is already published.
Although all political parties pay lip service to the idea of transparency, there seems to be very little actual connection with the voting public in any meaningful policy-forming way. And this is a mark of the distance that the present political classes maintain or allow to be maintained by the media and their party political machines. Here in Scotland there is a slightly different modus operandi being attempted, most particularly by ministers like Jim Mather who has held a series of consultative seminars on a variety of subjects across the country. While the result is to be collated by Mr Mather’s department, these seminars are as open as the present political system allows, in that anyone in that industry or interest group can attend. But it is so time-consuming, especially for a topographically challenged area like the West Coast, isn’t it far better to render distance immaterial and do the whole thing via the network?
…. and do the whole thing via the network. For internerds like myself, bells ring here: reminding me of that halycon ideal where we all sit down at 8pm precisely and vote on the policy of the day as a nation – a proper, inclusive democracy, enabled by existing technologies (the TV, the remote and the red button) and which precisely because we’re lazy, indifferent or have better things to do, wouldn’t work. No, retreat from that slightly, offer an open membership site with all of the elements mentioned above, make sure there is some way of aggregating views, perhaps using some form of rolling polling system and ask people to contribute ideas for issues which need to be addressed and their thoughts on those ideas. See how it goes.
Maybe an organisation like mysociety.org should be attempting an OS political party rather than engaging with the present system – afterall there’ll need to be a moderator with excellent open source credentials.
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Rule number one is make it relevant: to someone, preferably to somepeople, and, if you can, to everyone. Evidently, blogging is as much about doing it as consuming it, and there are a great many people blogging, so this post fulfills that criteria.
Second, the title shouldn’t be too long, too obscure or too short. Give it seven or eight words that will ensure the potential reader knows (more or less) what it is about. My title here isn’t imaginative (not like some on this blog, eg. The Google Discrepancy) but it says what it does between the H2s.
Rule the third, is to keep your post short enough to remain on point and entertaining, and long enough to be informative. This is a judgement call of course, but it has to be said there are a lot of non-posts out there tagging along in the wake of meme-leaders.
And this brings me to the fourth: don’t follow the zeitgeist, be the zeitgeist. What will make your post readable is you, not the subject (although the subject has to interest you). The bloggers who boast innumerable subscribers are the true originals, the guys and gals who write about their obsessions and do it well.
So to the fifth element in a truly outstanding post, get the subject right for you: now this might be in conflict with Rule One – making it relevant – but if it is relevant to you its going to be relevant to someone else. Having said that, if I find something interesting enough to write several hundred words about, and I don’t actually end up writing it then and there, someone else will. Get in there first.
That’s the sixth rule, get in there first. Don’t haver, hesitate or procrastinate – just write it. You get something wrong, someone out there will correct you in the comments, and that’s to the good, it’s traffic and traffic art our internet god.
Seventh rule: tell your truth in your voice. Getting in there first will mean you will post from the hip, and that sort of rapidfire engagement will mean you won’t get time to dissemble, nor will you be able to work the material up into some highly wrought treatise. You don’t need to, blogging is about moment – let the rest of the internet worry about posterity.
Eight is about the wider technical context: give your post wings. For example, Twitter it, load your rss feed into Facebook, use a service like Zemanta to reference ideas (like zeitgeist), if you have several blogs, create a metablog to aggregate all your work, use photos from your Flickr account and videos from YouTube.com, and ensure you enable social bookmarking as well –services like Digg can really help find your readership.
Lastly, SEO. Forget it. Just post every day according to rules 1 through 8 and you shall find blogging Nirvana.
That’s not lastly. Of course it’s not. I forgot to mention the power of ten: If all else fails write a top ten.
PS. Humour is good too
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… or Arbu designs the most visited websites in Argyll!
So you’re about to commission a website, you’ve got a competitive tender going and you need some sort of objective criteria to measure the expertise of the companies and individuals quoting. Difficult for SMEs who are focussed on business and products, near impossible for associations and organisations without in-house web expertise. There is an answer though.
Alexa.com ranks websites worldwide on how much traffic they get and how long they retain visitors for. The stats look like gobbledegook at first, but once you see the rankings it becomes much easier. I now have the Alexa Firefox plugin which allows me to see the rank of sites as I visit them. The ongoing battle for number one spot is fascinating, but what’s more useful is seeing how successful Arbu’s site designs are in terms of the traffic they pull in.
As you’ll have gathered from this blog, we work on ForArgyll.com, the region’s premier news service, and top website, and it is this site which has really made us pay attention to Alexa’s very useful stats. Here’s how things looked the week beginning March 2009 with a random selection of other websites from across Cowal and Argyll (Arbu’s websites are marked in bold):
- forargyll.com‘s rank this week is 346,703
- Lochfyne.com has a traffic rank of: 357,874
- Argyll-bute.gov.uk has a traffic rank of: 546,984
- Arbu.biz‘s rank this week is 596,532
- Dunans.org‘s rank this week is 1,101,285
- Colglen.org‘s rank this week is 2,204,430
- Watermill-glendaruel.com has a traffic rank of: 3,545,293
- TheWalkingTheatreCompany.com‘s rank is 4,469,314
- Cowal-dunoon.com has a traffic rank of: 5,008,692
- Bumbleargyll.com has a traffic rank of: 5,571,596
- Philippaelliott.com has a traffic rank of: 5,694,181
- Katesbigchair.com has a traffic rank of: 6,149,160
- Dunoon-observer.co.uk has a traffic rank of: 7,737,864
- Argyllpublishing.com has a traffic rank of: 10,479,940
- Cowalopenstudios.co.uk has a traffic rank of: 17,706,517
- Aboutargyll.co.uk has a traffic rank of: 18,078,371
- Glendaruelcaravanpark.com has a traffic rank of: 22,858,198
- Cowalfest.org does not register
This is NOT a definitive list of websites across Argyll, but it does show how the hierarchy of business turnover or local visibility is completely undermined by the traffic visiting these webpages. For example, there is no way in a sensible world that the ColGlen website should be over three million ranks higher than the main site for the Dunoon and Cowal Marketing Group, but it is. Similarly, and probably more incredibly, a small (but luxurious) B&B run by Michael and Sandra Webster is 15 million places higher than their local friendly-neighbourhood Caravan park.
How do these things happen? Well, aside from saying that Arbu knows what it is doing in terms of attracting traffic, it is probably sufficient to say that a lovely design isn’t as important as knowing how the web works.
So, if you are thinking of commissioning a website in the near future and you want a directly comparable way of measuring how your tenderers’ previous commissions stack up, or if you would like to check these ranking out for yourself, click here
A final thought: if you have a web designer, and you’re wanting a quick thumbnail of how they’re doing in terms of traffic, put their website into Alexa.com – you may be surprised!
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We have just restructured and redesigned the wonderful TWTC website. The original was looking a little dated, and was not particularly search engine optimised. The vertical righthand menu, while useful needed to be streamlined, and the client wished to have a horizontal replacement. We decided to utilise the company‘s round stamp logo, as this is the one most used on publicity material by both the company and clients, and this allowed us to create space for the menu which is designed on a twin hierarchy. We’ll be changing the order of menu items and encouraging the company to blog more. In the meantime, here’s a grab:
We’re working with leading Scottish hypnotherapist Kate McEwen at the moment on her new hypnotherapy blog, Kate’s Big Chair. It is an interesting project as the idea is to get Kate blogging, which she is on a daily basis, and then as she explores the paradigm, to add layers of complexity to the project.
We’ve set up the site with the default theme, no SEO extras, no stats package, just a name and version 2.6.5 of WP. What the project is doing at the moment is highlighting the necessity of good quality writing which Kate really can do. There’s a great post on drinking water and habits, as well as the beauty of exercise.