Tag Archives: Blogging

Ghost 0.4 Drops, Plugin API Slated for 0.5 Release

Ghost LogoVersion 0.4 of Ghost, the lightweight Node.js blogging platform, went live this month. Some of the more interesting features include support for static pages, a new way to quickly edit posts by appending /edit to the URL, support for date-based permalinks (e.g. /2014/01/25/example-post instead of /example-post), support for uploading SVG images, and the ability to put Ghost in a subdirectory.

With this update out of the way, we’re one closer to seeing the plugin API. That’s currently scheduled for version 0.5 (to be released sometime this spring).

The ability to extend Ghost is, in my opinion, what will make it a truly excellent platform. I really like the editor—which is reason enough to start using Ghost—but I can’t switch any of my sites over (not even my personal blog) until it’s possible for me to add in some features Ghost is missing. I do a bit of linkblogging on my personal blog (Daring Fireball style, with headlines that link to external sites), and Ghost doesn’t offer the ability to do that out of the box. I also have a couple posts on the blog that feature image galleries, originally with WordPress and later through my Jekyll plugin.

Ghost: The New Blogging Platform, and Why it Matters

Ghost LogoGhost is a new blogging platform that aims to do one thing and do it well: blogging. Its developers want to recapture the spirit of blogging that was present in the earlier days, when it was all about writing and publishing long-form content. A return to the blog’s roots. Ghost has no complex content management features that add bloat, and no Tumblr-like microblogging tools that encourage the reposted image echo-chamber that Tumblr has become. Just a minimalist, distraction-free writing environment, where you write in Markdown, with a live preview. (It also features a slick dashboard that resembles a classier version of Windows 8’s Metro UI.)

Ghost is simultaneously an attempt to mesh blogging’s roots with the state of the art. Eschewing PHP, Ghost is a Node.js app built upon the Express framework. All of the blogs I’ve visited thus far that are running Ghost have been very speedy, a feat that is difficult to pull off with WordPress, in my experience.

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Full Circle: The Return of Static Blog Generators

WordPress is the most popular blogging software today, powering a majority of the top one hundred blogs. Like many of the systems that are popular nowadays, it’s dynamic. The server pieces together pages on the fly when they are requested, pulling content from the database, processing it, and wrapping a template around it before sending to the user’s browser.

Back in the earlier days of blogging, things were different. Most of the popular content management systems that blogs ran on were static page generators, like Movable Type, the package that previously held WordPress’s throne, before a price increase caused a mass exodus in 2004. Movable Type stores your content in a database, like WordPress, and it has an administration panel where you manage your content and adjust settings. But that’s where the similarities end. Instead of assembling pages dynamically, the blog engine compiles them into static HTML pages ahead of time, so the web server can just throw them back to users instantly. It’s a lot easier on the server that way, which can result in a snappier web site and less chance of your site going down from a social media bump.

This is, of course, something of a simplification. Many WordPress users, especially those with larger sites, use caching plugins like W3 Total Cache to have the best of both. The dynamic model is used, but frequently-accessed pages are statically cached for performance.

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Disabling Comments on Old Posts, or How to Kill Discussion

With spam comments on the rise, it’s becoming more common of a practice for bloggers to disable commenting on older posts. (WordPress even provides an option to disable comments on posts older than x days.) This drastically cuts down on the spam, as spammers tend to target pages that have an established search ranking. Unfortunately, it also kills the discussion.

Guess which posts on this site receive the most new comments every week. Older ones. Not the latest posts, but the ones that have stood the test of time and still have people looking.

The terms sometimes used to refer to posts that remain relevant, and bring in traffic, for years are “evergreen content” and “pillar content.” I have posts that are a few years old, are still the most popular in terms of traffic, and gain a couple new comments every month. Occasionally a spam comment will appear on those posts, but they’re outnumbered by legitimate comments, continuing a discussion that has been going on for a long time. Does it really make sense to put an end that, and frustrate readers who arrived a little late but still have questions to ask or opinions to voice, just to avoid a few spam comments Akismet happened to miss?

That seems like a wasted opportunity. Instead, you could update your evergreen posts to remain relevant, and add some links to more recent posts on the same subject. Build user engagement and keep the discussion going.

Smaller blogs, especially, can’t count on timely social media-driven traffic. They tend to succeed more with long-tail traffic from search engines. Obviously you won’t get very many comments at all if the form gets disabled just when a post is becoming popular…

Fortunately, there is a nice middle ground. Some posts, especially ones that have attractive keywords in them but become less relevant later down the line, rarely see legitimate comments but are magnets for spam. I have a couple that seem to get a handful of spam messages that sneak past Akismet every week, but never have real comments anymore. With those kinds of posts, you could probably toggle the discussion off without inconveniencing anybody but spammers.

Learning Curve: It isn’t What You Think it is

How many times have you heard the phrase “it has a steep learning curve” in reference to something that is supposed to be difficult? This commonly-used phrase sounds good, but isn’t really logical. Because it’s wrong.

A “learning curve” is a visual device used to illustrate the average rate of learning for a skill or tool. Essentially, it is a line chart that shows the learner’s level of proficiency and how it changes over time.

Take a look at the two following charts. The first one illustrates a steep learning curve, while the second shows a more gradual slope. If you take a look at the labels on the axes, you’ll note that the steep curve shows the “knowledge” unit is increasing at a faster rate. That means something with a steep learning curve is easier than something with a gradual slope. Make sense?

I know I’ve been guilty of misusing this term in the past, but have been making an effort to avoid it more recently. It’s a good thing to word around when you’re writing, as using it in the correct context is likely to do nothing but cause confusion at this point. (At least, for general audiences. Depending on your niche, your readers might understand.)

WPCandy Releases iPhone App With Interesting “Reverse Launch” Deal

WPCandy, the prolific WordPress blog, has just released a new iPhone app for easy mobile access to their content. The interesting part isn’t the app so much as their “reverse launch” deal.

The app costs $0.99 normally, but they are charging $5.99 instead for the first few weeks. They’re sort of doing what Apple did with the original iPhone: dropping the price after the early adopters made them enough money to pay for the R&D.

Why would we do this? We want to give you, the awesome WPCandy readers and community members, the chance to support what we’re doing here. We run an ad-free site, with regular, high quality content containing zero affiliate links. We publish things that are of community interest (tutorials, comprehensive WordPress news, editorials) and we do it every single day. Many have called us crazy for not allowing advertising. They say we can’t make any money without ads. They say a community-driven site just doesn’t work.

We want to prove them wrong.

I still think they are a bit crazy for their no-advertising policy. (There’s nothing wrong with some minimal advertising, and companies like Fusion Ads help publishers make some good money by selling less ads.) Not so much that they don’t run ads, but their subscription to the pervasive attitude that ads are bad. However, I do like the reverse-launch idea. I don’t know if just any developer could get away with it, though. It takes a certain critical mass of users.

Introducing the WPCandy iPhone app, and our reverse-launch deal [WPCandy]

Blogging Tip: Keep a File of Post Ideas

What am I going to write today?

I have asked myself that question countless times. You too have probably spent hours trying to think up a concept for a post on your blog. Inspiration comes and goes. It’s the curse of the writer.

Even worse: you think of a great idea while you’re raking leaves or waiting in line somewhere, only to forget it by the time you are able to sit down in front of a computer.

I have a solution for both problems, and it’s incredibly simple. Keep a file of post ideas. It could be one of those nifty Moleskine notebooks, a text file on your desktop, a shoebox full of scrap paper you scribbled notes on or—my personal favorite—the wonderful cross-platform Evernote software.

Whenever you have an idea, make a note of it. When you need an idea, withdraw one from your stash.

Easy, right? As I said before, I like Evernote. I have a notebook for post ideas on each of my blogs. If I find a web page worth writing about, I can clip it into Evernote using the “Site Memory” bookmarklet. If I think of something interesting while I’m away from a computer, I can punch it into the iPhone app. I can even take photos and save them into the notebook.

Scrivener for Mac and Windows: Special NaNoWriMo Deal

Scrivener is a neat Mac application (soon to be available for Windows) for writing long-form content. It’s designed with novels, screenplays and nonfiction works in mind. It helps you organize your notes (templates are included for things like character profiles) and assemble your manuscript.

The developer of Scrivener has a great deal for NaNoWriMo participants. You can download a fully-functioning trial of Scrivener 2.0 for Mac or a beta of the Windows version, and use it throughout NaNoWriMo. If you complete the full 50,000 word quota, you get a coupon for 50% off a Scrivener license. If you don’t manage to meet the goal, you can still get a 20% discount if you use a coupon code. It even comes preloaded with a NaNoWriMo novel template with the word count goal set to 50,000 words (and a tool to export a scrambled version of your novel for NaNoWriMo’s word count tool).

Scrivener NaNoWriMo 2010 Offer [Literature and Latte]

NaNoWriMo 2010 is Almost Here

It’s almost November, which means this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. Participants have 30 days to write 50,000 words. Sound like fun?

Seeing as many of you are bloggers, it’s not too great a leap to assume that some of you might be interested in trying your hand at fiction. What better motivation than a deadline and Internet Fame and Glory™?

Have an idea for a novel? Register at NaNoWriMo.org and try to clear your November calendar of time-consuming distractions. If you set aside some time each day to write at least 1666 words, and don’t slack off during your writing time, the project shouldn’t keep you from doing other things.

I’m probably going to give NaNoWriMo a try this year, finally. What about you?

Blog Tip: Solve a Common Problem

Here’s an easy way to write a blog post that will rank well in search engines and net you some quality traffic: solve a common problem. Find the answer to an issue that plagues many people interested in your niche. Supply a solution in a to-the-point post. Providing you picked a title that contains the sort of keywords frustrated searchers would be entering, it shouldn’t take too long for you to start ranking.

You may get lucky and have a major increase in traffic, or you could just make a smaller group of people very happy. (Which might lead to repeat visits…) If you do this a few times, the traffic will add up. Having ten posts that bring in 200 visitors every month is better than one post that brings in 1,000.

As an example, observe this recent post. As soon as Apple released iTunes 10, Twitter was abuzz with complaints about a minor design “improvement” that was made. Luckily, there were a couple of Terminal commands that would revert the change, for Mac users at least. I ended up writing a quick blog post with the solution and a small rant about how Apple was blatantly disregarding their own design guidelines. In a few hours I was on the Google result page for “itunes 10 vertical buttons,” and at the top of it within a day or two. I’ve done this plenty of times, and it has incrementally boosted my numbers.