Ch- ch- changes

Those of you with an eagle eye (and who are not reading this in some kind of feed-reading gizmo) will have noticed some changes to the appearance of this blog.  Regular visitors to Fighting Monsters will find the layout very familiar (and if you’re not a regular visitor then why not?  It’s a brilliant blog, and you should head over there right now.  It’s ok, I’ll be here waiting for you when you get back…).

There’s really only one major reason for the changes (although the ‘it’s been a year – maybe I should shift stuff around’ factor shouldn’t be entirely discounted).  I’ve come to the conclusion that the old way I was organising my blogroll (as a separate page, with a paragraph or so of description for each entry) wasn’t really sustainable any longer.  Partly that was just a function of the fact that the number of blogs I read and want to recommend has increased massively over the course of my first year of blogging – my old-style page would have become so long no-one would have ever scrolled to the end, which would have been unfair on the blogs that come last alphabetically.  But another problem was that it was becoming increasingly clear that I was simply too lazy to update my page on a regular basis.  There are blogs I’ve been reading avidly for months that I hadn’t got round to writing up, and it was becoming increasingly clear I was never going to get round to it.

I have to be honest, I’m really rather sad to have said goodbye to the old way of doing things.  I liked the personal edge that writing about the blogs I like gave, and judging by the comments that were left by some of the people I had got round to writing-up, those other bloggers tended to like it too.  (I hope none of them are too upset that the things I’ve said about them have disappeared – it’s not because I don’t think they’re true anymore.)  I also regret that I’ve lost the ability to draw attention to things that I want to draw attention to – like which of the blogs I link to reflect particular interests of mine, like the intersection between mental health and sexuality.  Although I’ve deleted it from here, I’ve kept a copy of all the things I wrote about the blogs I wrote up, and I’m currently thinking I might introduce something like briefish reviews of blogs I like, and linking to them from the front page of the blog, as a way of replicating the idea.

Anyway, one very positive thing about the new approach is that my blogroll now appears on the front of the site, which should hopefully increase the amount of traffic I ‘push out’ to other blogs.

The division of my blogroll into four sections (MH Blogs, Other Blogs, Professional Media, Vlogs) isn’t intended to be hierarchical, in that being in one category as opposed to another means that a blog is better or worse.  It’s also fairly arbitrary.  Bad Science, for example, is under the professional category because Ben Goldacre has a regular column printed in the Guardian, but his blog tends to include a lot of ‘content’ (hateful word) that doesn’t go out in the paper, and also the whole point (or at least one of the points) of the project is that he’s not a professional journalist, and is in fact trying to encourage the pros covering science stories to raise their game.  There are also bloggers included in the ‘Other Blogs’ section, even though they do sometimes write about MH issues, because they don’t seem to make it the major focus of their blog.  Deciding where to put blogs can be really quite tricky – I mean, for example, I’d have no idea whether to count my own blog as a MH blog or not.  Anyway, it is, as I’ve said, pretty arbitrary, and the major reason for dividing things up, to be honest, is that it means the lists are shorter than one long list would be, and I think (hope) that makes them more user-friendly.  If you find your blog in one particular category and you’d rather it was in another then just drop me an email or leave a comment and I’ll gladly shift it across.  Oh, and I think I’ve made sure everybody I used to link to is still linked to (amongst all the new entries), but if you do find that you’ve disappeared then let me know and I’ll reinstate the link with all due speed and apologies.

For those of you of a slightly more geeky/ detail-obsessed persuasion, I’ve written a little bit about the various decisions I’ve made and difficulties I’ve encountered in re-designing the blog, and you can carry on reading if you’re interested in that sort of thing.  But, be warned, it veers into navel-gazing territory in a fairly major way…

Ok, so the major change I’ve made is to replace my existing ‘Theme’ (as WordPress likes to call its CSS stylesheets) – ‘Kubrick’ – with another – ‘Digg 3 Column’.  I was quite disappointed when I realised that my range of options for redesigning the appearance was basically reduced to one.  I guess I did have a fairly long list of requirements though:

I wanted a three column layout, because of the amount of information I wanted to include in the sidebars – with just a two column layout (i.e. one sidebar, and the main text), the sidebar would have been unfeasibly long;

I wanted the main body of the page (the actual blog entries) to be in the centre – there are several layouts that have the blog entries on the far left, and then two sidebars running down the right hand side, but they just look very confusing to me;

I wanted the whole thing to be ‘fixed width’, rather than ‘flexible width’.  With a fixed width layout, the ‘page’ itself remains the same size whatever screen resolution people visiting the site use (people with low resolution see a horizontal scroll bar, people with high resolution see blank space to either side of the screen – the theme I’ve gone for seems to be optimised for 1024 x 768 resolution, so if that’s the resolution you use, you’re seeing the page as it was ‘intended’ to be seen).  A ‘flexible width’ page on the other hand is re-drawn to fit the available screen size, and this is a problem because people visiting the site at 800 x 600 resolution (the screen resolution I and my tiny monitor use, btw) find that the blog posts are squeezed into a column only a couple of inches wide;

I wanted a ‘Custom Header’ – i.e. I wanted to be able to use my familiar ‘storm clouds gathering’ image (which is, btw, a photo taken by my brother outside our mum’s house one Christmas Day – it really did look that threatening and dramatic in real life).

There were other things I wanted, too, not least the ability to change the colours used in the theme – the  mushy-pea green doesn’t go especially well with the reds and oranges of the storm photo – but I considered that was less important, and I had in any case already reduced the number of available themes to one.  If I had wanted ‘Custom Colors’ too, that would have reduced my available options to zero.  It is possible to hack pre-existing themes by editing the stylesheet, but that’s a paid upgrade as far as WordPress is concerned.  As a freebie-user, I have to use the stylesheets they provide, some of which allow for changing colours, but most of which don’t.

Something else I wanted to do in the redesign of my blog was to include the title of the latest post under each entry in my blogroll.  This obviously involves accessing the RSS feeds, and seems to be something that other blog-hosting companies offer by default.  WordPress do offer various ‘plugins’ that enable you to do this, but only if you’re running the stand-alone version of WordPress on your own server (or a server that you’re renting from a third-party).  If you’re using the web version that runs on WordPress’ own servers (which I am) it’s quite difficult.

Not impossible, because one of the sidebar ‘widgets’ they offer allows you to use plain text, and this means that HTML and JavaScript can be inserted into the sidebar (this is the method I used to put the creative commons logo and information onto the front page of my blog, for example).  But it would be a lot of work to do this for all of the blogs I want to link to.  Also, although one of my myriad former employers did once pay for me to receive 4 hours training in JavaScript, that was several years ago, and I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned.  These days, my scripting abilities could be politely described as ‘rudimentary’, and impolitely (but accurately) as ‘shit-to-nonexistent’.  The most likely option would be to use one of the free JavaScript generators on the web, and then hack the resulting code to remove the inevitable advertising links, but that still seems like a lot of work to replicate something that other blog providers seem to offer by default.

Anyway, the redesign is probably best thought of as a work in progress, as I’m likely to tweak and alter things as I have new ideas, and get familiar with what looks good and what doesn’t.  Comments, suggestions and criticisms are welcome, as always. 

Coming Soon: actual content…

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8 Responses to Ch- ch- changes

  1. Danni says:

    I clicked through from my feed reader to look at your new blog design. Very nice :) I’m also a fan of the three column with main content in the centre look :)

  2. Katherine says:

    I’m so flattered to be on your blog roll: thank you!

  3. cb says:

    Lovely design! Thanks for the kind words by the way, they are much appreciated. I pretty much followed exactly the same logic as you. I wanted three columns and I wanted a custom header which basically narrows it down to one. My next task is to try and work out a way to split up the blogroll a bit more because I want to make a ‘completely unrelated to anything but blogs I just like reading’ section but I might actually go back to making that a different page.

    Anyway, I think this template offers much more in terms of making adjustments as and when. But it’s looking good!

  4. beetrootsoup says:

    I’m not most marvellously observant when it comes to stuff like the blog design. Like to think this is a reflection of my passionate interest in what you have to say! to be honest I might well not have noticed if you hadn’t drawn our attention to it, but one thing I do agree with is that it’s good to have the blogroll on the same page. Glad you’re still in business A, after a more than promising first year! Love, Zoe

  5. Alex says:

    One idea that sprang to mind about your blogroll. If you still wanted to add a personal touch to each link, you could use a title=”Whatever description you wanted” HTML attribute for each link, so a (relatively-truncated) bit of text would appear when you moused-over the link. An imperfect solution, to be sure, but better than nothing.
    I’d actually been considering shifting my blog to WordPress, but the having to pay for style upgrades kind of put me off. Similarly, you could always try moving to Blogger (I don’t know if they support importing old, er… content, though) or even shelling out for your own domain and hosting and such.
    Anyway, I’m rambling again. I like the new look, but then I liked the old one as well, so I’m perhaps not the best critic.

  6. cellar_door says:

    You’ve inspired me to have a spring clean :o)

    I like the format of this one, but think I preferred the colours of the old one…I think having the grey round the edge makes it feel a tad claustrophobic, if that makes sense? Of course it doesn’t, how can a blog be claustrophobic…? Ignore me!

  7. J. Wibble says:

    Quite like the new design, though I agree that the old colour scheme was nice. Maybe the grey could be a brighter colour, like a nice blue or purple…but then I’m a big fan of blue or purple – most of my web pages end up that way, or green because for some reason green looks nicer on screen than on paper.

    Maybe I’m just odd.

  8. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for all the comments. (Just spotted something else i’m not thrilled by in the new layout – the comments box is tiny, or at least it is when you look at in this screen resolution.)

    Well, i’m pleased that the feedback on the redesign seems to be positive, on the whole. I’m still in the process of getting used to it, i think, but hopefully, like athlete’s foot, it’ll grow on me… ;o)

    Danni – thanks!

    Katherine – well, i was equally flattered to find i was on your blogroll. :o)

    cb – thank you for not just demanding your blog design back… :o) And i hope that, eventually, i might have tweaked my layout to look as good as yours does (i promise i won’t just copy you though!)

    beetrootsoup – thank you, you say some lovely things. :o)

    Alex – that’s a good idea about the rollover text, thanks. Now, i wonder which will win out – my natural laziness, or my desire to add the extra info to my blog links… ;o)

    cellar_door – i preferred the colours of the old one, too. If i could have the same colour scheme here i would. I know what you mean about the grey too, although i don’t usually see it, because of running my screen at a lower resolution. Good luck with the spring cleaning!

    J Wibble – thanks for saying nice things! I’d like to change the colour of the grey [though perhaps not to purple… ;o) ], but i could only do that by editing the stylesheet, and doing that is a paid upgrade that would cost me $15 a year. That seems like a LOT for a change of colour somehow…

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