What is displayed
There are many times when I see something good on Instapundit. Now, if it were most other blogs I would have no compunction about giving it a mention on the In Brief bar. But this is Instapundit. He hardly needs the publicity and, anyway, my guess is that most Croziervision readers take in Instapundit on a daily basis, so I am hardly providing a service. Indeed, there would almost seem to be something rather oleaginous about linking to him. Even worse, if I did, I feel (given the amount of good stuff he puts up) that I’d never link to anything else.
I get the impression that this is not an unusual feeling which would go a long way to explaining why his posts are so rarely linked to.
OK, so if Instapundit is off limits what about other, big blogs like Samizdata, Tim Blair, Norm Geras, Harry’s Place and Tim Worstall? Here, things start to get a bit more complicated. Again, I am pretty sure that most of my readers will take in Samizdata once a day. Hey, a large proportion write for it. But the others I am not so sure about.
Update Some interesting feedback there. Obviously, this stuff does matter so perhaps I will start linking to the behemoths of the British Blogosphere. Still not sure about Instapundit though.
After a certain amount of fiddling about I got the column that you can see on the right working. It’s actually quite a business adding a third column. You have to decide how you are going to decide which posts appear there and which don’t. You have to be particularly careful to make sure that it can be read on monitors with 800x600 resoluctions - these still account for some 30% of all PCs. And you have to make sure that it also works for all the subsidiary pages. Right now it works for the Archives but not the Categories. In fact, the Categories don’t work at all. Whoops.
One little rule I’ve decided to give myself. If the item I’m linking to allows comments then my In Brief entry doesn’t and vice versa. Point being that we don’t want feedback in more than one place.
Update - Categories are no longer quite so catastrophic. However, In Brief items which are not specifically part of the specific category do appear on the page which is a shame. I also think the third column does look rather anaemic. But it’ll do for now.
On Transport Blog I had a third column in which I placed short postings usually linking to something interesting I had seen. I called this column “In Brief”. It was something I liked having and more than one reader thought it was really good.
So, should I have one here?
I don’t have to. Instapundit doesn’t and he does one-line links to all sorts of things. And I’ve got away with it so far. But, but, but… The thing is that I feel that if I had the third column I would be flagging up a lot more things than I do at the moment. Just today there were a couple of articles that would have been ideal for an In Brief section but didn’t seem right in the main column. Why, I do not know. But it’s a good enough reason in and of itself to go and do it.
I find writing difficult.
It's fine when I know what I think. That has been one of the delights of doing this blog: I have some very definite ideas about how blogs should be - so, for once, it's reasonably easy for me to sit down and say what I think.
But when it comes to politics I often don't know what I think. Or more to the point I know what I think but I find it difficult to explain why I think it. This matters. I spend a lot of time writing to my 16 or 17-year old self. He's not going to accept assertions. He needs reasons. Supplying them is hard work. But blogging isn't supposed to be hard work. The great thing about blogging is that you can just spout away.
I also find that when I set finger to keyboard I often come up with lots of ideas all at once. That part's not too bad. It's when you order them. That gets tricky. And then you have to polish the English (I have to do a lot of that). That's hard. Often you find that one idea rests uncomfortably with another. It's not so much that they contradict one another, more often that they are too similar or that if Idea A is true it is difficult to get it to fall into a logical sequence with Ideas B, C and D.
But the explaining yourself - that's the hardest part.
The strategy I came up with at Transport Blog was to fire off a “shoot first, ask questions later” post as quickly as I could in which I stated what I thought but explained absolutely nothing. Explanations, reasons and definitions would come later. Maybe in footnotes, maybe in follow-up posts and (it has to be said) maybe not at all. Some of the time it worked and some of the time it didn’t. Some of the time it was great because in the follow-ups you would create posts that could be used time and again. ”Safety is not the only thing”, ”Safety is dangerous” were two of my standards. But on other occasions the follow-ups were much more esoteric. One offs. The effort didn’t seem so worthwhile.
So, I don’t know.
Should I have pics? I know I’ve jumped the gun here a bit what with the pic from Andy Wood’s blog only a few postings down but if we imagine that never happened then do I still have them? The answer is, of course, "yes". A picture can speak a thousand words. And they look nice. What more is to be said?
How to do them? The null option is to simply bung them up. The danger is that they may be too wide for the column in which they appear. So that means either cropping or re-sizing to make them fit.
The next danger is that they will be so big that (for some readers) the page will take an age to load. Now, for some bloggers like Brian this isn’t a problem (he effectively says: "I don’t care if it takes an age to load, this blog is going to have lots of images. If you don’t like it don’t read it."), but I don’t think I can. In other words I have to reduce images in size even further.
This is precisely the same situation I found myself in with Transport Blog. The solution was to thumbnail images (setting the smallest dimension to 120 pixels) while hyperlinking them to the original image. Most packages will allow you to do this. To my mind it worked pretty well with Transport Blog and I see no particular reason to change it.
Next question. Where to put the image? I love it when text flows round images. It looks wonderfully professional. Again, I have a pretty good way of doing this. It’s a refinement of what I (though not Brian) was doing with Transport Blog. It also allows me to add in captions which I like a lot. The only drawback is when there isn’t much text. I use tables (I’m not aware of another way of doing this) which leads to the image from one post encroaching upon the text of another. Not good. The only solution I can think of is to strip out the tables which is a bit fiddly. That will give me an image but (as you can see below) a slightly odd one - it’s too near the left-hand side and too close to the text above. If I want to solve these problems I am going to have to rootle around in my style sheet and create a new style. A bit of a pain but I can’t think of an alternative.
Incidentally, yet another plus point for Expression Engine is that it allows you to set it up so that it automatically surrounds the image with all the tags and parameters it needs to display correctly.
Update. New style for pics with little text now done (see below)
Update II. We’ve got the flowing working. Only problem is that it seems to indent the first line of the accompanying paragraph. But we can live with that.
I don’t have to. Brian, for instance, doesn’t. He reckons that it would just get him all obsessed by the hit rate rather than the more important business of writing stuff.
As it happens I do have a server-side counter as part of my package with Hosting Matters. So, debate over? Not quite. I find that server-side counters (as opposed to their on-the-page equivalents) tend to measure funny things, like, for instance, control panel log-ins. It also seems remarkably difficult to get them to tell you things like where people surfed in from.
The other advantage of on-the-page counters is that they are comparable. If, as I did, you make your stats public then you can see that while you get 200 hits a day, Instapundit gets nearer 200,000. Of course, the key thing here is that you have the same counter - counters have a sneaky habit of counting different things which can lead to different counters coming up with wildly differing results.
I suppose, in summary, it is just about worth having one. And if you are going to have one it had better be the same one as everyone else. And that means Sitemeter.
I know everyone has one but, as is the spirit of this blog, that is no reason why I should.
The null option is to do nothing ie not have a blogroll at all. It is not as if I don’t mention all sorts of people as it is. And I think recommending an individual post is a much better way of giving someone a plug than a mention on a blogroll. However, there are also blogs I read every day which I tend not to link to - on the grounds that they don’t need a little imp like me promoting them ie Instapundit and Samizdata. I ought to at least give them a nod.
The only other real argument that I can think of is to have a handy list of links for my own benefit. But I already have that at Bloglines. You can see my list here. The drawback is that there is a hard core of RSS refuseniks who I can’t read that way. No, I have to log onto their sites on the off chance that they’ve published an update. It is so 2003. But still, I need the list. But I feel that if I mention them then form demands that I mention everyone else. Now, there is a potential solution here and it relies on a clever piece of code from those nice people at Bloglines. What it allows me to do is to automatically list all those thoughtful people who have provided a feed and then, at the end, the recusants.
But where should I put this list? Most people put their blogroll up on the sidebar. But I think at this rate it is going to get a bit clogged. What I think I am going to do is to create a separate page - possibly even post and then link to it from the sidebar.
That only leaves one outstanding gripe. I don’t like bald lists - especially long, bald lists. They give you very little idea what to read. My idea was to create a new post for every new blog with a little description and then, by the magic of categorisation, create a blogroll automatically. Sadly, what with all my existing Bloglines listings this isn’t really feasible - we’d be here until Christmas. Pity. Who knows, maybe Bloglines will set that up. After all, they’ve set up pretty much everything else.
Thought I’d experiment with a few guest titles, just in case "Patrick Crozier" ever gets boring - well, you never know …
Update It occurs to me that this post isn’t going to make much sense in a month’s time. So, just for the record, today’s guest title is “The Blog’s Dollocks”
Seems I can switch titles on and off (see below). Yippee!
Titles. Some rather successful blogs eg Instapundit and Natalie Solent don’t give their posts titles. So, they’re by no means essential so long as your blog postings are short. They are also useful for archiving purposes so long as they are descriptive. I have always reacted against the tendency to write for the day. I want my postings to be read in the future too. So, that tends to imply titles. Having said that I have found that on many an occasion titles have a tendency to get in the way.
I suppose what I am angling at is titles that can be switched on and off. I think I can do that in EE.
Things I want to write about. I do (at some point) intend to start some actual, proper blogging as opposed to all this meta-blogging. So, perhaps it would be a good idea to think about what I want to blog about. Well, over the last 24 hours I have wanted to write about the Saville enquiry, the Euro-referendum and a few other things that I have spotted on the Blogosphere. I have also wanted to flag up good posts with which I agree. I have also wanted to initiate a discussion on the contents of the most recent edition of Modern Railways. And, as ever, I’ve wanted to have a go at the BBC.
Ordinary blogging is simple enough, if not actually all that easy. Flagging up good posts another question all together. And then comes Modern Railways, more difficult yet and then the BBC which really is tricky.
Right, I’ve added in the dates. I’ve used the “header” function which most blogging packages now have which gives you the new date only the once.
Once I added the dates the problem then was that the title of the blog and the dates had the same prominence. So, using the magic of style sheets I reversed out the banner, toned down the background and added in a bit more jiggery-pokery to get it looking OK.
Posts should have dates. That seems fairly obvious. Not quite sure why, mind. But I always like to know when something was written so I guess other people do too. So, let’s do it.
The name. At the time of writing it reads "Patrick Crozier" but should it? Having my own name up there means there ain’t going to be anyone else writing here. At least, not on a permanent basis. I could have a guest blogger (assuming I am big enough, of course) but that would be on those occasions I am unavailable so maybe keeping the name wouldn’t be so bad.
It also means I can’t specialise like I can with Transport Blog. But, then again, I’ve given up (for the time being) with Transport Blog because of the inflexibility the title implies.
So, it’s swings and roundabouts. On the one hand I can say what I want (so long as I am happy to let it go out under my own name) but on the other I lose the advantage of niche. Right now that is an advantage I am quite happy to lose.
Another option is to go anonymous. A bit late for this blog but an option nevertheless. Big problem is the danger that one will confuse one’s real and anonymous identities. And my view is that if you go anonymous you’ve got to completely anonymous. So, no going along to all the right parties.
Another option is to call it something fun like: "We shall fight them on the beaches". Hmm&8230; but it’s really got to be something personal and inspiring. Right now, the nearest I can get is: "They say bombing has never won a war&8230;" but we’re not quite there yet.
A few observations about my blog:
- There’s no name. Or rather, there is a name but it’s not displayed anywhere
- There is no information on who is writing this blog
- Posts do not have dates
- There is no way for readers to contact me
- Posts do not have titles
- The text stretches right the way across the page (or at least it does in IE6). this makes it hard to read