Is there a right way to use Twitter? | March 5, 2011

There are a handful of people who follow me on Twitter who continually moan about the way I use the service. Some complain when I tweet about what Iíve eaten, who Iíve met or what Iíve done that day. Others complain when I use Gowalla or Foursquare to announce my location or post a stream of consciousness on a topic that is currently bugging me.

An obvious reaction is to remind those people that nobody is forcing them to follow me and they can easily unfollow if they donít like what Iím saying. In fact, I have done just that on several occasions.

However Twitter is an unusual hybrid of public discussion and private conversation. In fact itís not unlike being at a cocktail party with friends.

At a good cocktail party there is sufficient background buzz for people can feel they are having a semi-private conversation. However the volume is low enough that people can shift easily from one conversation to another. If one person or group is being too loud or courting too much publicity, it can be seen as being rude.

The difference between Twitter and a cocktail party is that a typical party will have a single host. With Twitter everybody is simultaneously both guest and host. As such many people can’t feeling that they have some right to dictate terms or influence the behaviour of others.

As a content creator I sometimes view Twitter as a microblogging tool. On other occasions itís a discussion board, a link sharing tool or location broadcast mechanism. Itís Wordpress, delicious, Foursquare and a raft of other services all rolled into one. In fact I think the very strength of Twitter is its flexibility. So it is defined by its users and its usage, not by its functionality or a strict set of rules and behaviours.

Twitter is also beautifully emergent. So the way I used Twitter 3 years ago is different to the way I use it now. Was my usage right 3 years ago and wrong now? Obviously this is a stupid and reductionist question and one that doesnít deserve an answer.

I think things get more complicated when you view Twitter from the perspective of a follower. By choosing to follow a person you are giving them some kind of patronage. In a time of dwindling attention, this is very flattering and something that shouldít be abused or squandered. I think this is the crux of peoples frustrations with my Twitter usage style.

There are some things I talk about which are of interest to certain people. There are other things which are not. There is an understanding that users will continue to patronise you if the quality of signal is in balance with the level of noise. A high frequency signal and youíre considered a good citizen. Too much noise and people start to get annoyed. Some will leave immediately and thatís fine. However others will become frustrated, thinkingÖ ďI really like some of what this person has to say but the rest is uninteresting or irrelevant to me.Ē

The difficulty is, with several thousand followers itís very difficult to provide value to everybody. Some people follow me because they have read my book, heard me talk or are familiar with my work. Others follow me because weíve met in person and are interested in my personal life.

When Iím conscious of the people following me I tend to split my tweets evenly between people I know and people I donít know. This may feel like a raw deal for each group, but thatís the nature of the beast.

The problem is that most of the time Iím not tweeting for a particular audience. Instead, much like my blogging, Iím tweeting for myself. So a lot of the time I donít mind if 15 or 15,000 people see what Iím saying. Itís personal, itís selfish and Iím fine with that.

As I described earlier, there is an interesting sense of entitlement that comes through following somebody on Twitter. With that comes a level of annoyance if that person is wasting your time with personal, irrelevant nonsense. Howeverówith my early caveats about being a good citizen asideó that really is more your problem than mine.

So dear Twitter followers, I will try to respect your patronage and provide you with useful information and tidbits when I can. However my Twitter account is largely personal and I will use it in the way I see fit. Not to any one person’s timetable, agenda or individual sense of etiquette. I’ll aim to protect the commons without pandering to the gallery.

Similarly I will respect the way that you choose to communicate on Twitter and wonít criticise you publicly or privatly. Iíll reserve to right to unfollow you on occasion. However please donít take that as a personal judgement. I will still love you and will almost certainly refollow you at some later date. What I wonít do is judge you on your use of the medium. After all itís the Internet and its greatest strength is as a mechanism for self expression.

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Things are going to get a little weird | February 27, 2011

This blog launched in August 2003 and was one of the very first standards based websites in the UK. Back then Flash was king and the latest design trend was the pixel font. We viewed the web though a 800×600 lens and few people even knew about accessibility, let along cared. How times have changed.

The rest of the web has moved on, but my little backwater has remained frozen in time. What seemed like cutting edge back in 2003 is now embarrassingly out of date. As such, my blog has been a source of shame for at least 5 years (and possibly more). I’ve wanted to update the site for a long old time, and even posted up a few design concepts a couple of years back. However a changing relationship status, a hectic speaking schedule and the setting up of my own agency all seemed to get in the way.

For several years I could justify the excuses, but as time has gone by I’ve become more and more ashamed of this site. As such my posts have dropped from a dozen a month to just one. Similarly what was once one of the highest trafficked blogs in the UK has turned into a parochial backwater.

Things got to a breaking point this weekend and I just couldn’t look at the site any longer. So I’m going to start ripping the guts out of MovableType (yes, it’s THAT old) and start from afresh. This isn’t going to be a redesign as I don’t have the time and energy in me. So instead it’s a pairing down. More of an un-design than a redesign.

I’m going to be making these changes live, as doing it in public will give the the motivation to fix things that are broken. However broken no doubt things will be. So please bear with me faithful visitors. It may take a few weeks, or even a few months, but scheduled viewing will return soon. Hopefully cleaner, hopefully a little more modern, and above all, with some form of regularity.

Until then, you have been warned.

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My blog is dying, long live my blog | December 22, 2008

You may have noticed that things have gone a little quiet round here of late. In fact, if you’ve been reading my blog through your feed reader you probably haven’t noticed anything as I average about one post every six week at the moment which is pretty poor. Especially when you consider that at the height of my output I was blogging several times a week and occasionally several times a day. So what’s the reason for this lack of activity? I think it’s several things really.

Too darned busy

The last few years have been pretty hectic and an increasing amount of my time is being taken up by Clearleft and other related activities. There was a time when I’d spend my days reading blogs posts and hacking on web sites, then head home to work on personal projects and blog about my discoveries. These days I spend my working life in business meetings or with my head in my email client. When I get home I’ll simply end up writing that report or catching up the emails I failed to do during the day. Rather than my work being an extension of my life, it seems that my life has become an extension of my work, and without me realising it.

A lack of attention

No, I don’t mean that I lack focus and er, what was I saying again? Oh yes, that’s right. When I first started blogging there were around 10 websites I’d follow on a regular basis and another 10 I’d dip into every now and again. That quickly expanded to 50, then 100 and then, well, you can see where I’m going here. I hit saturation point around 2 years ago and just couldn’t keep up with all the blogs I felt I was supposed to be reading. My attention became spread too thin. I tried to prune my feed reader, but every time I did I ended up discovering more interesting feeds than I’d kill. So I basically stopped reading my news reader two years ago as the number of unread posts was too depressing.

Signal to noise

The ever increasing noise to single ratio combined with a reduction in actual hands on work resulted in less stuff to talk about. Well less techie stuff anyway. I’d fought the good web standards fight and was more interested in UX related stuff or the nuances of running a business. Furthermore, with so many more broadcasters to choose from, the relevance of what I had to say was diminishing as was my reach. That’s assuming I could find time to blog.

New ways of expression

One of the key reasons for blogging is to express yourself and your feelings. I used to get back from a hard days work and want to discuss my discoveries with other people. Blogging allowed me to do this. However with the inception of Clearleft I’d inadvertently surrounded myself with super smart people I could discuss my ideas with and who would usually either tell me that my ideas were stupid or that somebody else had said the same thing more eloquently six months ago.

This is also when services like Twitter and Facebook entered the scene. Now I’m not going to say that micro publishing tools killed the blogging star, but I think they’ve certainly made a dent. Rather than publishing fully formed ideas on your own website, you could post snippets of an idea with much more ease and to a more targeted audience. So I started to find that my desire to express myself was sated by a stream of nano thought published to Twitter rather than a few bigger ideas published to my blog. The format my be different, but the psychological result was the same.

So what’s next

Well I know that I don’t want to stop blogging as it’s an integral part of who I’ve become, if not who I am at the moment. However I do realise that some serious changes need to take place. First up I need to decide if I want to be multi-chanel or single channel. Do I open up my Twitter account to everybody (it’s currently private) and see it more as a micro publishing tool than a way of staying in touch with friends, then keep my blog for longer and less frequent articles. Or do I try and bake some of that instant gratification into this blog and make it more of a tumble log, supplementing the long posts with links, quotes, flickr images and YouTube videos?

I’m sure a log of you guys have been going through the same thing recently, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of blogging and your own blog in particular. Are blogs being supplemented by short form alternatives? Is this the death of narrative cinema. Er, I mean narrative online article writing. How has your blog and your approach to blogging changed over the past few years and what should I do to combat this change, if combating it is indeed the right approach.

Your thoughts, as always, on the electronic version of “the back of a postcard” that is my comments form.

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Lies, Damn Lies and More Server Statistics | December 31, 2005

I almost never look at my server stats, so despite some great services such as Mint and Measure Map, I doubt I would get much use out of them. However when Google bought Urchin ‚Äď effectively removing my hosting companies stats package ‚Äď I decided to sign up for a free account and give it a whirl.

Google Analytics is a bit of a beast of a package, with far more information that I’d ever need. I have issues with the IA and usability of the package as well as it’s limited support for Safari, which makes Mint and Measure Map seem a lot more attractive. However as a FREE stats package, you can’t really complain.

I was looking at some the stats for this site the other day and thought I’d share some of the information with you.

For the month of December this site attracted a total of 63,716 visitors, working out at an average of 2,123 visitors per day. My highest spike was on the 9th where the site attracted 3,820 visitors while the lowest was on the 24th where the site had 1,142 visitors.

Site visitors for Dec 05

The readership of this site mostly comes from the US (35.49%) and the UK (15.62%), with a smaller proportion from Canada (5.06%) and Germany (5.05%). However the long tail is well in effect on this site, with the remaining countries making up 26.06% of the readership.

Country statistics for Dec 05

The majority of people visiting this site use Firefox (42.32%). However Internet Explorer usage is still surprisingly large at 37.85%. Safari comes in at a fairly respectable 14.39% with Opera coming in fourth at 2.98%.

Browser version statistics for Dec 05

55.74% of Firefox users are using version 1.5 while another 34.49% are using either 1.0.6 or 1.0.7, leaving 9.77% of people using Firefox 1.0.5 and older.

Statistics for Internet Explorer are very interesting, with a whopping 95.78% of visitors using IE6.0. Only 1.07% of people are using IE5.5 and 1.37% using IE5.0. That still amounts to 626 visitors over the course of the month, but is good news if and when I decide to redesign.

The majority of Opera users (90.58%) are using Opera 8.0 or greater, but that still means 191 Opera users are below that threshold. I had expected the majority of Safari users to have been on the latest version, but surprisingly version numbers were all over the place, one of the problems with having so many updates combined with versions being tied into OS versions.

browser/platforms statistics for Dec 05

Lastly I’m going to mention screen resolutions. It is evident that the readers of this site like their larger screen resolutions, with only 5.57% of visitors viewing this site on 800×600. Such a low percentage could make me tempted to optimise any redesign for 1024×768, but 5.57% amounts to a lot of people; 3,790 to be exact.

The most popular configuration is still 1024×768 at 39.77%, with 1280×1024 the second most common at 24.83%. However it was interesting to see that 29.83% of visitors view this site on one of 126 different resolutions. I honestly never knew there were so many resolutions available. The highest screen resolution recorded in December was a whopping 3840×1200. That’s over 4.6 million pixels of viewing pleasure!

Screen resolution statistics for Dec 05

If you’ve got a blog, why not post up your stats?

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More Blogging in Government | December 8, 2005

A few months ago I had the pleasure of being invited to talk to a group of civil servants on the subject of blogging in government. The talk was part of a larger event that also covered web accessibility, so myself and Tom were only really able to scratch the surface. The day was really fun, and I was surprised how interested people were in the subject. So much so, I was invited back to give an expanded talk, which I gave yesterday.

I do a lot of talking to tech savvy audiences who have already bought into the ideas I’m talking about. So it is a really nice change to talk to a group of people about an idea or concept they know little or nothing about. Most of yesterdays audience fell into that category. Everybody had heard the term “blog” and about 10 percent of the audience visited blogs on a regular basis. A few people even owned up to having a personal blog. However I believe very few people in the audience had considered using blogs as either internal or external communication tools. Demonstrated by the fact that I couldn’t find a single central government blog when researching my talk (if you know of one, please let me know).

The talk began with a bit of an overview of blogging. What blogging was, how blogging evolved and the features of a typical weblog. I then discussed the ascendance of blogging from a minority geek pursuit to an important part of the countries media culture.

I talked about how events such as 9/11, the US elections and the war on Iraq had effected the popularity of blogging in the US, and how the recent UK elections and the London tube bombings had done the same in the UK. I mentioned how people were becoming jaded with the mainstream media and increasingly turning to blogs for news, debate and the ability to hear different perspectives and opinions.

I also talked about the motivations behind blogging, and conversely why people read blogs and participate in the blogging community. I even, rather embarrassingly, had a slide titled “the ‘blogsphere’” where I discussed the size and shape of the community. Later I was asked if I knew of any research done on the number of blogs and bloggers. I didn’t, but if anybody knows of some reliable papers, please let me know.

Next, I discussed how government could use internal weblogs. I talked about how weblogs were essentially free (or very cheap), lightweight and disposable content management systems. They were easy to install, and provided search and RSS out of the box.

Many government institutions get fixated on content management systems, both internally and externally. They will run lengthy feasibility studies to work out their requirements then commission a huge, all singing all dancing system that costs a fortune and doesn’t solve the core problem of needing somebody with the necessary skills to manage the content in the first place. I honestly think some organisations think that a CMS will just sit there and manage content on its own. If only that was the case.

Instead of this, I suggested that weblogs were perfect as small, ad-hoc CMS systems. Rather than running a lengthy consultation on the viability of a new Intranet application, you could simply install some blog software and see if your idea was feasible by actually doing it. If your concept failed, you wouldn’t have wasted lots of time and money on expensive software and studies.

I talked about how weblogs were great for internal communication and a way of cutting down the huge weight of email most large companies are drowning in. I suggested that department heads could set up weblogs to communicate with staff members, or committees could use weblogs to post minutes, to-do items and the status of projects.

I also talked about how blogs could be used for internal knowledge management, by encouraging key staff to blog their collective knowledge rather than keeping it locked up. After the presentation one individual told me that his job was basically to monitor newspapers and the media and let people know what was going on via email. This was such a perfect example of how an internal weblog could be used. Rather than emailing the information, you could blog about it, and anybody who was interested could subscribe to the feed. What’s more, all this information would now be searchable.

Next, I talked about the benefits of blogging to management, and how staff blogs could help managers know what was going on in their organisation. Conversely, it would also let staff know what their manager was doing. After the talk another person said that it would be fantastic if their manager had a blog because their staff never knew where they were or what they were doing.

However the thing I was most interested in was how governments could use external blogs to connect with the people they served. An external blog could really help demystify the workings of government, while at the same time creating a sense of empathy and trust. For the ministers and departments themselves, a blog would be a great way of getting important information out to the public, unfettered by the media. If blogging became popular, editors and journalists would subscribe to government blogs so it would be a great way of getting information out to the media as well.

I can’t see it happening any time soon, but how cool would it be if the Prime Minister had a blog? You could subscribe to his RSS feed and it would really give you a window into his life. I even joked that other country leaders could subscribe to each others feeds to know what the other person was doing. How great would that be for international d√©tente?

I finished up by discussing how government institutions should handle staff that blogged. I said that their staff would blog whether they liked it or not, and being draconian about things would just send bloggers underground. As such, I said the best option was to create a fair weblog policy that let staff know where they stood.

After I’d finished, I had quite a few people come up to talk to me about how their departments could use blogs, both internally and externally. It seemed that their was definite interest in blogging amongst the audience and it would be great if the UK government became the first to really make use of social software such as blogs. And it would be even better if the UK had the first blogging Prime Minister. I’d add that to my RSS feed. Wouldn’t you?

Anyway, if you are interested in my presentation, you can download my presentation notes as a PDF.

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Blogging in Government | September 7, 2005

Today I had the pleasure of giving a talk to members of the governments e-communications network, part of the larger Government Communication Network. In the first of a series of events, the group invited a number of people from the web design community to discuss the subjects of accessibility and blogging. Along with Joe Clark, Alastair Campbell, Patrick Lauke and Tom Coates, I was given the honour of being asked to speak.

I headed up to London this morning and met up with Tom in Starbucks to go through our slides. Joe, Patrick and Alastair were talking about web accessibility, while myself and Tom were discussing how blogging could be used in government. We had divided our subjects evenly, with me talking about the history and culture of weblogging, as well as possible internal application, and Tom discussing external applications and how to handle staff with blogs.

After running though our notes and realising we had far too much material, we wandered through Westminster and met up with the other speakers. First up were Joe, Alastair and Patrick on the accessibility panel. Joe gave an excellent introduction to the topic of web accessibility, focussing heavily on the use of standards complaint code. Alastair then talked about the WCAG and touched on content management systems. Lastly Patrick discussed how organisations needed to see accessibility in terms of people as opposed to simply another series of checkpoint and guidelines to meet.

There was some lively discussion afterward, particularly on the subject of accessible content management systems. One of the audience members was currently trying to procure an off the shelf CMS and none of the vendors were able to provide one that met the double-A standard. Tom quite rightly pointed out that there is a huge market for good, accessible and standards based CMS systems out there.

We broke for a brief buffet lunch and a chance to chat with some of the attendees. After a suitable break we reconvened with mine and Toms’ part of the presentation. Our topic was on blogging and how it could be used in government. I started off by canvassing the audience about their knowledge and experience of blogs. Most people knew what a blog was and about half said that they read blogs on a regular basis. Unlike most conferences I attend, only three people in the audience actually had a personal blog and none used a blog for work. When asked if anybody knew of any governmental blogs, only one person did, and apparently that blog got abandoned after only a couple of weeks due to lack of time and commitment from the author.

I began by discussing what blogs were, how they came about and how they were currently being used and perceived by people and organisations. I then discussed how blogs could be used internally as a communication tool, a way of knowledge sharing and a project management platform. I ended on some of the institutional issues that large organisations face when trying to use blogs such as relaxing the inherent control culture. If you are interested, my note are available online.

Tom then picked up where I left off, discussing how blogging culture was impacting the world and how you were either part of the conversation on not. Tom discussed how blogs could be used just for their technical abilities such as using RSS for press releases or for more B2B style communications. However the main benefit of governmental weblogging was the ability to communicate directly with the community, bypassing both internal and news based editorial control. Tom talked about how governmental weblogs could give a human face to often monolithic organisations and mentioned how Robert Scoble had helped change the public perception of Microsoft. Tom wrapped up by discussing how large organisations should treat the personal weblogs of staff. Tom suggested that rather than taking a draconian standpoint, organisations should have clear usage policies in place and treat staff weblogs like any other public conversation.

Tom Coates presenting at the Home Office

The post talk discussion was very interesting and ranged from questions about possible internal applications through to comments about the cultural barriers within government that could possibly inhibit the use of external weblogs, such as editorial control or legal accountability. I think people were genuinely interested and enthused by the idea of governmental weblogs, especially for internal communication management. I personally don’t expect to see a rush of publicly facing weblogs in the near future for organisational culture reasons. However I do think the seed has been planted and as the internal culture starts to change over the next few years I see the potential for some very interesting and useful weblogs to develop.

[Updated] I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about blogging in government? Do you think it is a good idea and if so, how would you utilise it? What do you think the benefits are and also what are the pitfalls? Is your government beginning to utilise blogs, and if so, are they doing a good job?

Comments (27)

MovableType Comment Vulnerability | January 26, 2005

Apparently a large vulnerability in the way Movable-Type handles comments has just been found. This vulnerability allows spammers to use your MT comment script to send unsolicited email, and servers all over the world are feeling the brunt. To stem the flow many hosts (including my own) have shut down commenting for the time being. There is a patch available in the form of an MT Plugin, so I advise all you MT owners out there to grab it now.

Unfortunately most people are slow to upgrade and I’m guessing my hosts won’t be turning comments back on in a hurry. As such, I’m wondering if this could be the tipping point that causes a mass defection to other systems such as Textpattern, Wordpress or Expression Engine. I know I’ve been thinking of changing systems for a while so this may be the push I need.

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Top 5 Weblogs of 2004 | January 5, 2005

So apparently nominations have opened for the Fifth Annual Weblog Awards, or Bloggies to their friends. I know this because my RSS feed was inundated today by posts from people asking to be nominated. I did think about doing the same for a second, but if my site couldn’t even get into the shortlist of best blogs in Brighton the chance of being shortlisted for best British or Irish weblog seems slim to non-existent. I have to admit that I don’t actually read the site, but from the hype it’s created (and a forthcoming book no less) I’d be prepared to lay money on Belle de Jour winning that award.

Lots of great new web development blogs have arrived this year, while many old favourites seem to have faded away. Here are my favourite weblogs of 2004. What were yours?

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Links RSS Feed | August 28, 2004

There has been a feed for my daily links floating around for a while. However I never made it public so those of you using it probably did a little sleuthing in the source code or put two and two together with your knowledge of Movable Type. I’ve finally got round to making this feed public, so you can grab it using the typical bloggers steal these buttons buttons at the bottom of my side bar. You can also grab them from the new feeds page that I’ve added.


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Standards Compliant CMS's and Blogging Tools | July 7, 2004

Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite like MovableType. Unlike some, I’ve not been that bothered by the recent fuss over licensing. However I’ve really always wanted to use a a blogging tool written in PHP rather than perl. It’s not like I’ll ever actually get round to writing a plug-in, but at least with a PHP system I may have a chance at hacking something nasty together. With perl I’m just lots for the start.

I do admit that I get a little bored having to rebuild the whole site when I make a small change to a template. It gets even more frustrating when you’re making lots of changes. I can see why MT does this. By making the pages static it takes the strain off the server. Not such a big deal if you’re using MySQL, but I guess it would be very difficult to do using text files.

I’m also looking for a standards compliant cms that I can use on small client sites. I know that you can hack MT into shape, but I’d really like to find something that uses a page/section based architecture as well as the date/post model used by most blogs. I had a play with Drupal but didn’t find it that intuitive. Looked at a few others but none have really done anything for me.

Anyway I’ve been noticing quite a few people migrating away from MT of late, most notably towards Textpatttern or Wordpress. If you’re one of these switchers I’d be interested to know

I guess it’s the last one that I’m most concerned with. No so much the content, because I think that’s quite easy. It’s more to do with being able to replicate the same site structure and functionality. I recently changed all the URL’s on this site and don’t want to have to do all that again. Too much hassle for me and disruption for you guys. Also I use quite a few MT plug-ins to do various things and want to make sure I can actually keep the site functionally similar.

Comments (54)

Pirates Ahoy! | July 1, 2004

I quite like Pirated Sites and have always wanted to submit something to it. Both this blog and my ill fated Zen Garden design have been copied to death, yet I've always resisted the urge to submit them. Most of the time a polite email to the offender will suffice and In the end, they are just little personal sites.


A few days ago, the incredibly talented Johan pointed me to this blatant rip of his excellent WSA design. Repeated emails to both the site owner and (cough) designer have been to no avail, so I asked Johan if he minded me submitting it to Pirated Sites. A couple of days later and we're in.

No doubt this blatant piracy will make you furious, so please feel free to stamp your feet, bang the table and grind your teeth in anger. If you wanted you could even let them know how you feel by the magic of email.

You do have to be careful when submitting a site though. For instance, I really like the Wildly Sophisticated site, which is why I gave it one of the first Web Standards Awards bronze stars. However I do think it's pushing the bounds of reality just a little to suggest this site is anything other than a poor relation. Possibly inspired, but doubtfully pirated.

I'm beginning to think that one very accurate barometer for success is the number of times you appear in Pirated Sites (obviously as the copied, not the copier). 37signals are in there 4 times, k10k are in there 5 times and Netymology a stunning 8 times. I guess they must be doing something right.

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Image Thieves | June 3, 2004

I noticed several weeks ago that were deep linking to my images. This meant that not only were they using my images without permission, but they were piggy backing on my bandwidth as well. My host is currently charging me a small fortune for extra bandwidth so you can imagine that I was a little bit pissed off.

I wrote a short, sharp email asking them to stop, but unsurprisingly heard nothing back. I thought about using .htaccess to redirect them to some alternative content. In the past I've done this when people deep linked to the games on the message site. In that case, you got served with a swiff explaining that people were stealing the games, a link to the games section on our site and a request that people dobbed in the thieves.

Another option was to post up some rude or offensive image. As the site owners probably already had the images in their cache, they would see the old image, while new visitors would get to see something nasty. I entertained this notion for about 5 minutes, but decided it was a little juvenile.

In the end I've just added a .htaccess file to my image directory that denies access to any images called from outside the site. It won't stop people from lifting the images, but at least it stops them stealing my bandwidth. I believe that this method may cause problems for a few legit visitors who are accessing the site content through a server cache, so sorry if I've caused you any inconvenience.

If you are at all interested in the contents of my .htaccess file, here it is. Don't ask me to explain it because I'm no server guru and pretty much lifted it off another site.

SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1
<FilesMatch "\.(gif|png|jpe?g)$">
  Order Allow,Deny
  Allow from env=locally_linked

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Domain Name Problems | April 21, 2004

As a few of you may have noticed, my site has been unavailable for the last 3-4 days. Here’s why.

A couple of weeks ago my hosting company sent me an email saying that they were changing domain name servers, and as my domain name was managed by a third party, I’d need to update my DNS records. This was nice as a few months earlier, they changed some IP addresses without telling me, and my site became unavailable for around 72hrs.

The email sat in my inbox for a while gathering dust, but as the switch off day loomed, I decided It was time I made the change. After work on Friday evening, I went to the control panel for my domain name and entered the new DNS details. Half an hour later, my website dropped off the face of the planet.

I sent a number of frantic emails to my hosting companies tech support, but the response was very slow, and when it did come, it was less than helpful. The first response (around 18hrs later) was simply a copy of a whois, showing the old DNS details. No explanation. No helpful suggestions. I did a quick whois and could see the new DNS details were set, so emailed them this information back. 48hrs later I got another email which essentially passed the buck, saying that it was the fault of the company that managed my domain. Again, I sent more emails asking for a bit more info/help. Another 24hrs later a get a final email saying that the site looks like it’s back up now.

Unfortunately the change has taken a while to propagate. Most ISP’s seem fine, but I still can’t access my site from home using NTL. I’m not sure if the problem was down to the hosting company or the people managing the domain name. However, as this is the second time something like this has happened in the space of a couple of months, I’m more inclined to believe fault lies with the hosting company. Whoever was to blame, I know that, had my hosting company been a little more responsive, a little more helpful, and possibly even a little proactive, the length of time my site was unavailable for could have been greatly minimised.

I am the first to admit that I know very little about hosting matters. This is why I pay a company to look after these things for me. However in my experience, I’ve come across very few good hosting companies in my time. Most seem to treat you like an idiot if you don’t know your A records from your MX records. Rather than being helped, contacting a hosting company usually leaves me more confused, frustrated and antagonised than when I started. The people manning these help desks treat you like idiots because you don’t understand the mechanisms of their business. However, if you did, you wouldn’t be calling them in the first place, and they would probably be out of business.

Many of these help lines work on a system whereby the operators have to answer a certain number of calls an hour. Whenever I’m on the phone to any hosting company for more than a couple of seconds, I can hear in the operators voice that all they want to do is get me off the phone and answer the next call to keep their stats high. So rather than spend 20 min actually trying to help, I end up having to phone them back 6 times and spend 5 min each time getting the run around and leaving knowing no more than when I started. Surely it would be much better just to answer the question first off, than add to your already heavy workload by forcing the caller to ring multiple times until they finally get a satisfactory answer.

Anyway, I digress. For most of you, my site appears to be back online. Until my hosting company decide to change some other setting (probably sometime next month I’d imagine) my site should be fine.

Comments (17)

Web Design Book Page Updated | April 5, 2004

I've just updated my web design books page to allow visitors to choose if the links point to or

The links on the previous version used to point to, but considering the number of American readers this site gets, I decided it was time for a change. Spurned on by Dunstan's selector I knocked up my own.

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Blog Updates Part 2 | March 31, 2004

This site started out as a place to show off the travel pics in my gallery. I installed Movabletype and created my blog design just for a bit of fun. Never thinking people would actually visit my blog, I hid it away in it's own directory, with no way of accessing it from the main site.

As the popularity of my blog increased, I realised I needed to move it to the root of the site, and make the URL's more meaningful at the same time. However, I realised loads of people were linking to pages on this site, so wanted to do it as smoothly as possible. The weekend before last I decided to bite the bullet and make the transfer.

The first step was to change the config so that the siteURL, archiveURL (and their respective paths) pointed to the new locations.

I wanted the date based archives to be of the format

To do this I changed the Monthly archive template to

<$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m"$>/index.php

I wanted the individual entries to be in the correct monthly directories and follow the format

There seemed to be a few ways of doing this, but the simplest way involved making each post an index page in it's own directory.

<$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m"$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>/index.php

The category pages were quite simple. They would follow the format

and this was accomplished by changing the category archive template to:

<MTCategoryLabel dirify="1">/index.php

This allowed all the pages to be accessed using

However, they still appeared as the_name_of_the_post/index.php

on the pages. To rectify this, I used a bit of PHP which I found on Stopdesign.

<a href="<?php echo preg_replace("#index.php$#","","<$MTEntryPermalink$>"); ?>"><$MTArchiveTitle$></a>

Which removes the index.php bit using a regular expression.

I had originally been storing post related images in the old archives folder. However, this didn't seem like a good idea. Instead, I created an images folder in the new archives folder and then I copied all the images to this new folder.

Obviously my posts were still referencing the old images. This was fine for now, as the images were still there. However, I'd want to get rid of them at some stage and clean out my old blog folder, so decided to do a quick url rewrite using a .htaccess file in the old archives folder.

RewriteEngine on RewriteRule (.*)\.gif$ /archives/images/$1\.gif [R=301,L] RewriteRule (.*)\.jpg$ /archives/images/$1\.jpg [R=301,L]

Which simply redirects any image files the corresponding images in the new image directory.

People would still be linking to old posts, so I needed to redirect them to their new locations. As the names had changed as well as the locations, there weren't any clever rewrites I could use. I'd have to list each old file out and then the corresponding new file, as a redirect. Having quite a few posts, writing all the redirects would have taken ages. Luckily I found a few sites that suggested using MT to create the .htaccess file. To do this, I created a new template named htaccess, containing the following code.

<MTEntries sort_order="ascend"> Redirect permanent /blog/archives/<$MTEntryID pad="1"$>.html<$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m"$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>/ </MTEntries>

Rebuilding this template created a .htaccess file that looked something like this

Redirect permanent /blog/archives/000006.html Redirect permanent /blog/archives/000005.html Redirect permanent /blog/archives/000014.html ...

With all the individual entries now being redirected, I had a few more pages, such as my blog index, archive page, links page etc to redirect, and the move was almost complete.

Mostly done now, I just wanted to tie up a quick loose end. With meaningful URL's, people often try to navigate them by "Hacking" the URL. For instance If I see this URL

I may try and backtrack to see where this

or this

takes me. The first one works fine, as it take you to the monthly archive index page. However, the latter one just takes you to a directory listing. To avoid this I created a new .htaccess file in the archives directory with the following contents.

RewriteEngine on RewriteRule 200./$ /archives/ [R=301,L]

Which basically redirects any of my yearly folders back to the main archive page, keeping things nice and neat and hackable.

If you were browsing this site the weekend before last, you may have noticed things jumping around a bit. If You've bookmarked any pages on this site, it may be worth updating your bookmarks. I'm pretty sure that all the old pages are redirecting to the new pages, but you can never be 100% sure. If you spot any bugs, or have any suggestions , please let me know.

Comments (8)

Blog Updates Part 1 | March 26, 2004

Since setting up this site, there have been a number of things about it that have bugged me. I kept adding them to my todo list, but never quite got round to doing them. By themselves, they were all quite small things. but together, they amounted to quite a lot of work. They were also things that could potentially mess up the site, so for a while I thought, "if it aint broke, don't fix it". However, last week I finally decided to bite the bullet and fix some of these annoyances.

The first annoyance was the way my templates were structured in MT. When I set this site up I was very much an MT newbie, so built it on the back of the default templates. Since then, I've pretty much overhauled the individual templates, but the structure was pretty much the same.

One of the things that annoyed me was the amount of duplication. When I build a PHP site, I'm used to having header and footer files as well as various other includes like nav bars, side bars etc. However, in this site, everything was duplicated. This meant, if I wanted to change the name of a file say, I'd have to change the link in the nav bar of every page.

So first off, I created a new template module called "Nav" which looked something like this.

<div id="nav"><a href="<MTBlogRelativeURL>index.php"><img src="<MTBlogRelativeURL>images/home.gif" alt="Home" width="26" height="19" border="0" title="Home" /></a> ...

And then called this module from every template page.

Next I created a generic Header and Footer template module. I realised the header would be a problem, as it obviously contained some meta data like the title of each page. Using Brad Choate's MTIfEmpty I tried to do something like this:

<title><$MTBlogName$><MTIfNotEmpty var="ArchiveTitle">: <MTArchiveTitle></MTIfNotEmpty></title>

Thinking that if the page was an archive page, the title would get displayed, but it if wasn't, you'd just get shown the blog name. Unfortunately when I tried to rebuild the index page, I'd get an error message saying that <MTArchiveTitle> was being used in a place that it shouldn't be used. There is probably some simple way of doing this, but in the end I gave up and created two Header template modules. One for the archive pages and one for all the other pages.

Next thing to do was to create a generic side bar. Before, I only had a side bar on my home page. However I wanted to have a side bar on every page. Again I created a new template module and called it in from every template page. This worked fine on my homepage and archive index pages, but the links went all screwy on the monthly and category pages. My "Last 6 posts" started displaying the last six posts from that category, rather than the last 6 posts from the whole blog. Again, I'm sure there was a simple way of getting it too work in MT, but as a stop gap, I created another side bar template module, without the "Last 6 posts" to use on the sub pages. What I'll probably do is create an index template instead and then use a php include to attach it to each page. I'd have preferred to find an elegant MT only solution, but couldn't figure one out.

I've been using MTW3CValidate on my index page to validate the code when I rebuild it. If the code is valid, a W3C button gets displayed, whereas nothing gets displayed if it doesn't validate. I added the <MTW3CValidate> tags to my header and footer, but noticed that Safari was timing out on the rebuild pages. I tried adding the tags to the individual templates, but rebuilds were still timing out for the individual pages. It would work intermittently on other browsers with longer time out times, but ended up being far to patchy to be able to use.

So I ran into a few problems, and things aren't working quite as I'd like them to. However the template structure makes much more sense now that I've created header, footer, nav and sidebar template modules. This was all in preparation for my next step, updating the archiving format so that my posts had meaningful url's, and moving the whole blog up a directory. However I'll leave that till Blog Updates Part 1.

Comments (2)

The Incredible Dancing Google Ads | March 26, 2004

If your viewing this page using FireFox (also Moz 1.6) on Windows, you may notice a rather strange problem. If you roll over a link in the main content area on my blog (but not the nav or the side bar), the Google ads appear to jump up the page for a split second, and then jump down again. This also happens when you roll off a link.

I have absolutely no idea what's going on, but would love to get to the bottom of the problem. If you've got any idea, please let me know. In the meantime, I'd just like thank all the people who've emailed me to let me know. There have been quite a few so sorry that I've not been able to thank you in person, but I really appreciate the heads up.

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Minor Additions | March 5, 2004

Over the last few weekends, I've been moving all of my links from a static HTML page, into a new MT links blog. Now that's done, I've added a new "Latest Links" header to my side bar. So now, rather than having to write lists of links in my main blog, I'll be posting all the well designed CSS sites I find, straight to my links blog.

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Bloggers Weekend | March 2, 2004

As you may already be aware, myself, Jeremy, Richard, Jon and Stuart had a bloggers weekend in Dorset at the invitation of Dunstan Orchard. The weekend was loads of fun, and decidedly less geekey than expected.

In between all the eating, drinking and tech talk, there was a whole bunch of photography going on. Spurned on by some amazing pics Dunstan took the night before we arrived, we went out in the middle of the night armed with a bunch of torches and Dunstan's EOS10D. After much jumping around we ended up with a load of crazy pics, one of which you can see below.


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Slight Interruption in Service | February 26, 2004

A few of you may have noticed my site was down much of Tuesday and Wednesday. This was due to my host changing their ip address without informing me. Because my domain is managed by a separate company, my DNS setting got out of whack, hence the temporary blip in service.

I was a little annoyed about the lack of notification. I was lucky as I check my site regularly and a few people contacted me to let me know it was down. However many site owners rarely check their sites and could have found themselves unavailable for some time before the problem was spotted.

Apart from this last blip, I've been pretty happy with my hosts. Their prices are reasonable (for the UK) and their support pretty good. However I'd be interested to find out what people think of their hosts. Do you have a host that is super cheap and super reliable, or maybe you've got a hosting scare story to tell?

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Google NonSense | February 20, 2004

Like many bloggers, I was interested when Google launched their AdSense program. For those of you unaware of this program, a content provider such as myself, will agree to serve ads on their site, and Google will pay the site owners on a per click basis. Lots of bloggers signed up to this program as a means of covering their hosting costs, and from the people I’ve spoken to, this seems to be working out quite well.

One of the nice things about the AdSense ads, is the fact they they are text based rather than images based. This makes them much less intrusive than regular ads and fits more with the content based approach of blogging. Another nice touch is the relevancy of the ads. Google spiders your site to get an idea of it’s content and attempts to serve ads your visitors will find useful. This makes sense an a number of levels. Obviously both Google and the site owner want more click through, so relevancy helps this. Relevancy is also very important to bloggers who don’t want to be seen as selling out and would definitely not endorse the irrelevant advertising you get on most sites.

Considering my monthly bandwidth charges are pretty big, when the program launched, I decided to sign up. Unfortunately at the time I was told that my blog went against their inclusion policy as it sat in a sub folder and not at the root of my domain. I had a quick look at said policy, but couldn’t find any mention of this. Still, Google are seen as pretty trustworthy, so I took this on face value.

However over the last few months I’ve noticed a score of bloggers carrying AdSense ads on their blogs, but not on their main domain (which is often their business site). I tried to register with AdSense again, but because I’d tried and had been rejected once before, they wouldn’t let me try again. I decided to email them to see if they would reconsider and this was what I was told.

“Google’s targeting technology is not optimised to serve ads on pages with dynamic content such as flash movies. As contains predominantly dynamic content, we have found that it is not a good fit for the AdSense programme at this time.”

I’ve tried to explain a number of times that there is only one Flash page on my site and that all the other pages are static pages produced by Movabletype. I explained that I had no desire to serve ads on the flash page and it was my blog I was planning to server ads on. However each email elicited the same response about dynamic content, not complying with their policies and reserving the right not to decline sites from the program.

I have to say that after this cycle of emails, I’m feeling distinctly less impressed with Google and their AdSense program. I had thought my blog would have been exactly the kind of site they’d have wanted to include, but they seem to have dug there heals in. I’ve though about moving everything up a level, so my blog resides on the root of my domain. That way the site may seem less “flash based”. However, that would be a monumental pain in the arse, mostly to do with setting up htaccess to rewrite all the changed links. I still may do this, but to be honest, Google’s less than helpful attitude in this whole matter has put me right off the idea.

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Referrer Logs Are a Wonderful Thing | February 7, 2004

I love looking through my referrer logs. You always end up finding the most interesting things. Just don't blink, as you may not realise you've left this site.

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Blog Changes | February 4, 2004

Unlike most bloggers who are constantly tweaking their blogs, my site has remained largely unchanged since it started. As such, I decided it was about time to do some tweaking.

Firstly, I though my old Hicksesque flower icon had started to look a little plain, so replaced it with a slightly more candy like version. This has also been reflected in my favicon, although if you’re on Safari you’ll have to delete your icon cache to see any difference.

Quite liking this new icon, I created a little arrow icon as well. I’m using this in the archive section on the right hand side of my homepage. I thought all the links were starting to blend in too much, so am using these icons to distinguish the archive sub nav from the other links.

Also on the right hand side, I’ve slightly tightened up some of the spacing between links, and have moved some of the items around to better reflect their importance. I’d quite like to delete some of them as there is far too much happening in this area. However I can’t really decide which bits to remove.

My images were also looking a little flat and lifeless, so have added a Dunstanesque image style to pretty them up a bit.

Next I started reorganising my files/MT templates. Everything was a bit of a mess as essentially I grafted my blog on-top of the default MT templates and never got round to changing them. Most of the changes won’t be noticeable, although I have changed my archive page so it’s broken down by month or by category. Originally it was a full list of posts, which was fast becoming unusably long.

I then added a few MT plugins including MT-textile and SmartyPants. I also added an MT plugin called Amputator in order to control those pesky unencoded &’s.

Lastly I installed the extremely useful MTW3CValidator plug-in. This little fella automatically validates my homepage when I make new posts, and if the page is valid, displays a button. Now I no longer have to worry about people moaning about having a validation button on a page with improperly encoded &’s.

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New, Improved RSS Feed | January 15, 2004

After looking at my stats, it became apparent that the majority of people read this site using a news aggregator. As such I've finally got round to changing my MT RSS template. Now you should be able to read full posts, with paragraphs, images and even links. I'm just too kind.

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Lies, Damn Lise and Server Statistics | January 14, 2004

Every now and again I have a cursory look at my server stats. I quite like seeing who's been linking to me, a pastime often referred to as log surfing. It's interesting to know that sent me the most requests in Dec (2,995). What's more interesting is that a service I've never heard of, called Stumbled Upon, was my second biggest referrer that month (1,599).

It's also quite fun to see what search terms have been bringing people to my site. For instance the most popular search engine query seemed to be 145 requests for "os x p2p". I got quite a few request for "Andy Budd" (58), "Macro Photography" (48) and "css sites" (35). More strangely were the 49 search queries for "fighting techniques". Hmm maybe I do know Kung Fu?

I also find OS stats quite interesting. For instance one in four visitors to my site are using a Mac. Now I do occasionally post articles about OS X, but I wouldn't say this site had a heavy Mac focus, so it's surprising that it gets such a high percentage of Mac users. As my blog is quite web standards focused, I wonder if there is a correlation between standards and Mac use? I have to admit that most of the web standards people I know are Mac users.

The thing that most people are interested in when they talk site stats are visitor figures. However ironically these are some of the hardest stats to accurately check. I've never seen any blogs talking about visitor stat's, so I hope I'm not treading on any unwritten rules here.

In Dec my bandwidth usage was 3.68GB. This seems quite a lot for a small site, but I imagine a large proportion of this comes from my photo gallery, which is obviously quite KB heavy. This is backed up by the fact that calls to my photo gallery image directory accounted for around 45.96% of my bandwidth last month.

As far as pages go, it seems that quite a few people are subscribed to my rss feed. My rdf page got 61,971 requests last month accounting for 9.56% of my total bandwidth. My blog index page had 17,933 requests whereas my photo gallery page came in at 2,314.

In total, my server dealt with 680,200 successful requests in Dec, serving up 35,117 pages to 16,664 distinct hosts. However in all truth I have no idea what all of this means. Without some kind of yard stick, it's really difficult to put server stats in perspective.

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A Mysterious Invitation | January 13, 2004

I received a curious invitation this morning via electronic mail. A mysterious host has invited myself along with several UK bloggers to an old Dorset Farmhouse for a chilly winters weekend. The purpose of this visit has not been made clear, but the host assures me that the reasons will become apparent.

Should a number of UK bloggers disappear this February, sent word to Scotland Yard. A clue to the identity of the mystery host can be found within this message.

Comments (4)

Send a Blogger a Christmas Card | December 11, 2003

Do you have a favourite Blog? One that you read on almost a daily basis? If so, why not send them a Christmas Card by way of Thanks.

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Favicontastic! | November 24, 2003

Dan Rubin of Superfluous Banter contacted me last night to let me know he'd made me a favicon. Apparently my site was the only site in his regular reads not to have one so he very kindly knocked one up.

How nice is that!

[TIP: If you're a Safari user you'll need to shut it down and then go to ~/Library/Safari/Icons and delete the contents to be able to see the new favicon.]

Comments (10)

Spam Fighting Techniques to Protect Your Blog | November 7, 2003

You've noticed the rise of Comment spam and feel strongly enough to do something about it. You set up a website outlining how to protect sites from this nuisance. But how do you let people know about this site?

Well if your David from you Comment Spam people about it.

I mean, how clueless can you be?

So a big thanks to David for your recent spam attack. You've now been added to my blacklist.

Comments (2)

Comment Spam | November 3, 2003

As some of you may know, while I was away I got mildly hit by comment spam. A few of you were kind enough to email me suggestions on how to combat this, and after some playing around, I decided to settle on MT-Blacklist.

I chose the MT-Blacklist option because it seemed like the easiest solution to install. It didn't require any other MT plug-ins or template hacks which was great..

I did need have to get my host to install a perl module ( but was impressed that they did so with little or no fuss. And so my little comment spam filter is now merrily working away in the background and has already picked up it's first bit of comment spam. Horah!

So thanks to oli for pointing me in the direction of MT-Blacklist and thanks to Jay Allen for taking the time to put it together for the good of the blogging community.

Comments (2)

Displaying cover art in iChat | September 4, 2003

I recently downloaded iChatStatus, and have been playing with the various scripts that came with it. Wanting to see what other scripts were availible, I came across this iChat Script Collection which includes a cool script for displaying iTunes artwork in iChat. Unfortunately I didn't have any artwork, but luckily came across Fetch Art, a nifty little app for downloading artwork from Amazon.

On opening up Fetch Art, it scans though your iTunes tracks and then goes off to Amazon to get the cover art. It couldn't find cover art for around 20% of my collection, and got another 20% wrong. Also because it's getting the art work from and not, some of the art work is different. However now around 60% of my iTunes collection has art work, so if you happen to be one of my buddies, you now not only can see what I'm listening too, but you can see the cover art as well.

Comments (1)

Spell checking MT posts | September 3, 2003

As I mentioned in my Blogging from the SEO SkillSwap intro my spelling is pretty sloppy. Up until this point I've taken to writing my posts out in a text editor, spell checking them and then pasting them into MT. It works but is not very productive. However in the comments to my SkillSwap post, Oli mentioned an OSX application called Kung-Log which includes an spell checker. I've just downloaded a copy to try it out and on first impressions it looks really nice.

Kung-Log looks really handy for posting from home, but it isn't much use for posting on the go. What i really wanted was a spell checker for MT. I did some Google searching and came up with a possible suggestion. However it involves installing a couple of scripts and a perl module, all of which is probably a doodle, but still a bit of a pain. Further more however it involves changing the MT templates which I'm not really sure I can be bothered to do. So if anybody knows of another, simple MT spell check add on, please let me know.

In the mean time here are a couple of other MT posting application I found but haven't tried.

Comments (7)

Naughty, Naughty | September 1, 2003

What would you do if you wanted a nice loooking blog but was afraid you wouldn't make it to the beach this weekend?

Well, if you're anything like Eric Ness, you'd simply download this sites stylesheet, leaving youself plenty of time to grab your bucket and spade and head for the beach.

Tut tut Eric. Go to the back of the class.

Comments (4)

Nice Blogs! | August 29, 2003

For all you folks that haven't come across hicksdesign it's well worth a visit. The site is a beautiful example of CSS based design and should provide inspiration to us all.

Poking around in my comments I also came across this little gem from Jeff Croft. It's still under construction (aren't most blogs though?) but is already high on my reccomendations list.

Both these blogs have a few things in common. First off they both make use of overflow: auto to create a scrolling "frame like" area for the content. Normally frames and their ilk bug me but in both these instances I feel they work really well.

Both blogs also make really nice use of colour. They both use a combination of orange and green. Hicks Design going for the fresh, natural look which Jeff Croft uses solid blocks of saturated colour to good effect. I find most blogs (including this one) tend to be a little on the plain side so it's good to see bloggers making more use of colour.

Lastly they typography on both sites is really nice. The titles are clear, the text is well spaced and generally the posts are very easy to read. It's a small thing, but so few bloggers seem to think about how to display their posts. Good clear typography can make a huge amount of difference.

I'm always on the lookout for nicely designed blogs and CSS based sites, so if you know any good ones that aren't already on my links page, please let me know in the comments below.

Comments (9)

Finally got round to it! | August 3, 2003

I installed Movabletype at the beginning of summer in order to check it out and possibly start a blog. However the default styles were pretty shocking so I realized (being the design tart that I am) that I'd only use the thing if it looked nice. I did a search on Google for MT templates but just couldn't find anything even halfway descent so realised I'd have to make one myself. However I've been really busy with my photography portfolio so it's taken me till this weekend to sort something out. The design is very rough. It literally took me 2hrs to put together in Photoshop and then around 6hrs to build the stylesheets and tweak the templates. The blog is sufficiently complete that I can start posting to it. However there is a bunch of stuff I still need to do. If anybody notices any bugs on the site, please let me know by adding a comment below. Cheers

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