This evening I rolled out a new design for Keystone Politics. I never seem to be satisfied with the design, but this represents an improvement over the past color scheme and a professionalized look for the site. I’ll roll out specific new features over the next few days. Here are a few notes on key areas where I’m either testing a new feature or looking for ideas.
- Subscriptions: For the past few years, I’ve focused on RSS subscriptions. With this design, I’m testing whether we’ll see a better response rate from a daily headlines e-mail. Knowing the political audience, I think it will be a hit.
- Discussions: One of the biggest challenges on Keystone Politics is convincing our readers to participate in discussions on the site. I don’t think we made a big improvement in this area, but I’m going to be actively seeking out ideas.
- Revenue Opportunities: I finally caved and installed a leaderboard advertisement banner at the top of the page. I’ve resisted it for four years, but increased server costs mean that we’ve got to bring in more money.
- Cleaner Sidebar: We fit a lot of information into our sidebars; I think this look is cleaner than the last one.
Overall I’m happy with the new design, but I’ll be watching our analytics and metrics packages carefully over the next few days and weeks and making changes based on those measurements.
I’ve had two tabs open all morning because I know they deserve to be written about, but I can’t figure out what I want to say. So here goes.
Matt at 37 signals cherry picks some great tips from a more comprehensive list of Amazon.com’s strategies for scaling and managing a web business. I’ll distill it even more into a few of my very favorites:
Work from the customer backward. Focus on value you want to deliver for the customer.
Force developers to focus on value delivered to the customer instead of building technology first and then figuring how to use it.
Use measurement and objective debate to separate the good from the bad. Iâ€™ve been to several presentations by ex-Amazoners and this is the aspect of Amazon that strikes me as uniquely different and interesting from other companies. Their deep seated ethic is to expose real customers to a choice and see which one works best and to make decisions based on those tests. (favorite!!)
In any case, check out Matt’s favorites and the original list itself, which contains more details about Amazon’s specific architecture and implementation.
I finally found a few hours this weekend to play with YUI’s CSS component, and boy does it rock. Like a lot of folks in this business, I hesitated to “outsource” some of what I consider to be my work to an external entity, but I finally realized I don’t have the time or energy to neglect any tools that are already out there.
If you haven’t tried YUI already, you must. It handles the basics of CSS reset, layout, and positioning and lets you jump right into the project itself. YUI means less frustration and more time focusing on what’s important about your site, not perfecting the basics. It took a bit of time to get used to, but once I got it down it saved me oodles of time and frustration.
That said, I’ll be using YUI *a lot* more in future projects and as I move forward with some ongoing work. I’m also going to evaluate using it on the official website, but that might take a bit more time and work than I’ve got right now. I’m also going to consider using other YUI components, but I’m a big fan of jQuery.
(Hadn’t had my morning coffee yet and called jQuery Prototype…I like them both, but jQuery’s what I use most often.)
Amid the requisite Web 2.0 backslapping, there are rumblings around the internets that folks are pissed about Google acquiring Feedburner. Well, not so much pissed at the acquisition as at the prospect of Google owning yet around piece of the puzzle. For some of my sites, Google handles the ads, the statistics, and now the RSS feeds; that *is* a lot of the puzzle.
The folks at AU Interactive say, quite simply, that you should “own as much as you can of what belongs to you.” They’re right.
What’s needed here is Feedburner-like software for webservers, much like OpenAds. Weird comparison you might say, but hear me out. OpenAds does a nice job of taking data from disparate sources and bringing it together to give site owners an additional layer of control. It works nicely with ad networks like Adsense and other big ad publishers, but gives site owners local ad serving and data on ad/network performance.
This is exactly the sort of software that’s needed for RSS feeds. It would install on webservers as easily as WordPress and operate in a subdirectory or subdomain of a website. The site owner could feed it RSS URLs from the site’s content management software in whatever native format that software wanted. The “open-source Feedburner” would untangle those formats and serve up a feed at a custom-generated URL. By directing users to that URL, the site owner would give the software the data it needed to generate statistics, serve ads, and perform the other more complex tasks that formerly attracted them to Feedburner.
This certainly isn’t the direction the web is going when it comes to serving small-to-midsize websites; most companies are, like Feedburner, choosing to offer “services” rather than products. But this would be a big step forward for site owners to take back their data from The Google.
Coda, the new all-in-one web development application from Panic, promises a lot. So much, in fact, that I doubted it could deliver. Combining my text editor, file browser/organizer, terminal, SFTP, and reference all into one is a tall order.
To their credit, Panic doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t claim to have the best of every individual function, only that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve combined these functions into a unified, elegant interface. And theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re right. Coda is a masterpiece.
As a recent Ã¢â‚¬Å“switcherÃ¢â‚¬? to Mac, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve yet to find a coding/development style that suits me. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t (yet) run a local webserver, so my process was fraught with code, upload, test, repeat. I used a combination of Fetch and Textmate to accomplish the bulk of my work.
Coda greatly simplifies the Ã¢â‚¬Å“code, upload, test, repeatÃ¢â‚¬? process by combining the upload process into the file organizer and text editor. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s quite a simple idea Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when you edit a file in Coda, it gets marked as edited and ready for upload. Clicking on an icon next to that file sends it up to your testing server.
There is one workflow process that I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen anyone master either on Mac or PC. When youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re running a small or medium-size website (1-5 people involved), youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re often at the point where you are working with a testing server, but working fast enough that you want to push changes to the live server quickly after testing. Here, Coda doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily shine, but does perform better than traditional methods. I created two sites with nearly identical properties, save for the remote address and host. This works decently, but I have to manually mark files for upload to get them to the live site.
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needed in this marketplace is a way to move files from Ã¢â‚¬Å“testingÃ¢â‚¬? to Ã¢â‚¬Å“live.Ã¢â‚¬? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure there are better ways to do this using versioning systems and some server voodoo, but for small, growing sites with limited IT expertise (read: me and a few other DIYers.), it would be nice to be able to do this locally.
But I digress. The bottom line is this Ã¢â‚¬â€œ IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve used Coda for a few days and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m completely hooked. There wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a single moment where I wanted to be back in Textmate (though I love it!). Kudos to Panic for seeing a hole in the marketplace and changing the game a bit. Bravo.