Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-08


A few suggestions for FeedBurner

FeedBurnerI’m a very happy user of FeedBurner, the wonderful feed management service from Google. I’ve been using it since early 2006, and I log on multiple times every day to keep track of my feeds. I’d like to talk about some features and options that I’d love to see on the site.

Ability to splice multiple feeds without having to add them to a network or put them in FAN. I’d love to be able to have a single feed that combines all of my content, without having to go through what I’m going now, which is to create a feed network, add my own feeds to it, and burn that feed to a feed… I know there are other services on the web that do this, but I’d rather be able to do it through FeedBurner.

Ability to splice external feeds (ones not burned at FeedBurner), into a single FeedBurner feed. This would work sort of the way that Jaiku or TwitterFeed work, in the sense that I’d take my feeds with very few subscribers, like my Twitter feed or my Vimeo feed, and add them to my single feed without needing to “burn” them as separate feeds at FeedBurner, and having them show up under My Feeds. I’m not really interested in managing those feeds at this point — I just want to add them to my single feed.

Better revenue reporting from FAN (FeedBurner Ad Network). I never know how much I’m getting, because the figures are just approximations, and the pay is somehow always less than what’s indicated in the control panel. AdSense always reports my revenues correctly, Amazon does it too, but FeedBurner always leaves me wondering how much money I’m going to get. Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but believe me, I’ve looked all over the place. There’s only one place where revenues are reported centrally, and then there are ad revenues for each individual feed in FAN, and still I don’t know how much money I’m making with my feed ads.

Ability to “refresh” feed flares. Old feed flares display with old preferences, so I have a ton of flares showing up for older posts. I understand that they’re cached, and they have to stay cached, because it would be murder on a database if the flares would be constructed dynamically for every feed item, including the older ones… But I’d like to have a manual “refresh” function for the flares, that would let all of the old posts and old feed flares inherit the most recent settings for my feed flares.

Ability to separate feed flares from the ads. I’d like to display the feed flares at the top of my posts, for example, and the ads at the bottom. Right now they’re together and there’s no way to display them but right next to each other.

The SmartCast feature is a bit confusing. Either I’m the one that doesn’t get it, or it doesn’t quite work as advertised. Here’s what it says on the site:

“Makes podcasting easy in feeds that normally cannot support it. Link to MP3s, videos, images, and other digital media in your site content and SmartCast creates enclosures for them automatically. Optionally adds elements required for a richer, more detailed listing in iTunes Podcast Directory and sites using Yahoo Media RSS.”

When I took my podcast feed, which is a simple category feed from my blog, and turned on the SmartCast option, enclosures for the media files linked from each post weren’t turned into enclosures. The iTunes elements were added to the feed, but it still didn’t become a feed that I could subscribe to from iTunes, so I gave up on it.

Now, a little more than a month since my last podcast, I see that I can subscribe to that feed in iTunes, and the podcast downloads just fine. But only the last item shows up instead of every single episode, or at least the last 10 feed items, which is the standard. Why? And why didn’t it work when I first turned on SmartCast for this feed? I can’t help but be confused by this. SmartCast can be a very elegant and easy way to turn a normal feed into a podcast feed, but it looks like it still needs some work.

Photo Splicer only works with the Flickr ID. The Photo Splicer option says I can put in either my Flickr user ID or my screen name, but it really only works with the User ID, which is annoyingly hard to find on Flickr. It would be nice if the User ID would be automatically looked up if I entered my screen name.

I know the FeedBurner folks will read this. They’re very conscientious and follow up on these things. I don’t want special treatment, but it would be very nice if they could consider my feature requests and see what can be done. FeedBurner has my thanks for a wonderful service!


Photography, take two, part three

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series of posts that outlines the work I do behind the scenes to improve my blog’s content. You can read Parts 1 and 2 as well.

I continued my work of replacing photos hosting with third party services with self-hosted ones. Here are the posts I modified:

This last post doesn’t use any photos, but I did re-edit it to make it easier to read:

As a matter of fact, all of the posts included here were either re-edited or re-written. I said it plenty of times in the past, and I’ll say it again: I want to have top notch content on my blog. I only wish I had more time to go through all of my older posts and delete, combine or re-write as needed. When I look back at some of my earlier posts (from early 2006), I cringe. They’re very short, mostly linking to other things or quoting extensively. That’s not the kind of writing that represents me. I’ll do my best to edit them as time goes on.


Better video

I’ve wanted to be able to post the videos I upload to Vimeo on my blog for some time, but the WP video plugins just hadn’t caught up. I’m glad to say that I found one tonight. It’s called, appropriately enough, WordPress Video Plugin. It’ll work just great for most people, so I encourage you to try it out.

I wanted to take advantage of the full width of my blog’s content column, so I modified the Vimeo code to make sure that my videos get sized to a width of 550 pixels and also stay centered.

I’m happy to say that I really like the results. You can see the modified plugin in action on these three posts:

Since I record my videos at a resolution of 640×480 pixels, it’s only natural that I display them at the maximum width possible on my site, right?


Something happened to ComeAcross

Something really good, that is. Over the weekend, I worked on improving the site functionality and on presenting a unified front, so to speak. I eliminated some sections, created some new ones, deleted tons of categories, and introduced some new feeds. The best way to explain it is to show you a screenshot of the sidebar. Have a look at it, then scroll past it to read the details.

The new ComeAcross sidebar

First, let me explain why. The gist of this effort is simple, at least to me. I’m trying to build an online brand, and it’s no good to have my online properties looking scattered and isolated, even when they’re part of the same brand. Second, I needed to value my work a little better, and to present it in ways that are easier to digest. I have a ton of content, but it’s not easy to find. I write on many subjects, but most people aren’t necessarily interested in all that I write. Add to that my constant lament about having too many categories, the release of WP 2.3 which allowed for native tagging, and finding John Godley’s awesome Redirection and Headspace plugins for WP, and it all adds up to some serious blog work that I’d been aching to do for some time.

You may remember I had other site sections just a little while ago, sections such as Blog, Photos, Videos, Podcasts and Faves. Those were located on individual sub-domains. ComeAcross resided under Blog, my photos posted to Flickr or Zooomr resided under Photos, and my videos posted to Vimeo or YouTube resided under Videos. The ComeAcross Podcasts resided under Podcasts, and I was using a podcasting platform called Loudblog to publish them. The Faves section displayed my Shared Items from Google Reader. But the problem was that all of these sections were separate. They were part of the same brand, but to search engines, they were different properties. I needed to bring all of my online content under one fold. I decided to do away with all of the subdomains and integrate everything into my blog, and that’s just what I did. I thought long and hard about this, and realized it was best to have everything under one roof, even though that meant my podcasts wouldn’t have a dedicated podcasting platform.

You’ll notice I’m advertising multiple feeds in the Meta section. I’d been sitting on some really good feed URIs from FeedBurner and not really putting them to good use. After re-categorizing my posts, I was able to re-dedicate those feeds to the my various categories, in order to allow you to subscribe to whatever interests you. I’ve got the main site feed, the comments feed, the articles feed, the photography feed, and the podcasts feed. It adds up to more choice for the reader. Incidentally, mouse over the articles and photography feeds, and look at the URIs. Isn’t that awesome? Can you believe I actually have those URIs? 🙂

Related to the feed changes mentioned above: my apologies to anyone currently subscribed to the following feed: I’ve been using it for my podcasts, but changed my mind and decided to use it for my articles instead. I know there were some diehard subscribers who stayed with that feed even though I put out no new podcasts in over a year (!), and they’re probably pretty confused right now. If you’re one of those, many thanks for sticking with me, and I’m sorry for switching content on you like this. The new feed for my podcasts is: And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m working on a new podcast which I’ll put out soon (this month). 🙂

This brings me to the Categories. At some point, I had over 60 categories for my posts. What I was really doing is using categories as tags, and I shouldn’t have done it. After upgrading to WP 2.3, I decided to use categories as categories and tags as tags. I deleted almost all of my categories, and ended up with only five: articles, photography, podcasts, ideas and announcements. Now each one of my posts goes into only one category. Since I’m using tags as well, you can explore ComeAcross via categories, then click on the tags that interest you to get only the posts that you want. (I haven’t tagged all of my posts yet, that’s an ongoing process. I’m also displaying a tag cloud at the bottom of the sidebar, but I’ve got to work on the formatting of that text. I’m not quite happy with how it’s getting displayed. )

Finally, have a look at the Archives section. This is a small change, but it makes a big difference to the reader. I’m only displaying the years for my posts. This allows you to get a better idea right away of the spread of my content, and to explore the time period that you’d like to see. I still need to do some work on Archive and Category browsing, and on the Search results page.

I’m constantly working to improve ComeAcross, because I really want it to grow into a useful, well-read source of information. Here are just a few of the posts that talk about other changes and progress I’ve made: