Performancing Metrics

Archive for May, 2008

How Much Would You Pay for Blog Design?

Recently, Franky asked how much you think a WordPress installation is worth to you, and if you would be willing to pay for it if you had to. For most WordPress users, WP runs as a personal publishing platform. For some of us, though, we run sites on WordPress for a living. This means WP is used as a tool of the trade.

Now I ask, how much would you pay for blog design? How much do you think your blog’s look and feel is worth to you? For most who run personal blogs, free themes would suffice, just as running on a hosted blogging platform under a subdomain (or subdirectory) would be okay. For those who are picky enough to have to run a self-hosted software (such as WordPress) under one’s own domain, perhaps a custom design would be next in your to-do list.

A couple of years back, Chris Pearson wrote that he can design basic–and he means basic–blog themes for $1,500. And he says that’s less expensive compared to other designers he has benchmarked against. That was two years ago. Now considering inflation, the dollar’s decline and other factors, I reckon the starting price point for themes is higher.

On Splashpress Media, we usually run sites on their own custom designs whenever possible. For new sites, we try to set them up with custom themes prior to launch. For acquired sites, we try to redesign within a couple of months of taking over. Still, some sites have retained their old designs, because either the audience is not that big yet, or that the original design is part of the brand. This is especially so, if the cost of design has been incorporated in the valuation of a blog.

The preference in the network is for custom design because we feel we can better establish a blog’s identity with a unique look and feel. Also, we take into consideration the other aspects of design aside from aesthetics, which I think is actually more important than just how a blog looks. The user interface, the flow of information, and the underlying code are also very important, and can make or break a blog.

But to an individual blogger, does it matter at all? How about to corporate bloggers or business bloggers?

I can understand if an individual blogger would have qualms about paying $2,000 for a theme, unless one earns big from a blog (or set of blogs) and can recover the costs quickly enough. A big company who wants to blog can perhaps afford this, and even more. But a startup with a small budget might want to try out free designs first.

So I ask you, how much would you be willing to pay for blog design? Should you stick with free? Would you go cheap? Or would you pay top dollar for top designers?

And as a disclosure, I manage bLogics, a blog logistics consultancy under Splashpress Media. We do have a set starting price for blog design, but knowing your opinion (hopefully from both designers’ and users’ points of view) would help me determine whether this price is fair.

Categories: Blog Design

Use aideRSS To Monitor Your Blogs

aideRSS LogoMany among us manage, or write on, several blogs. Sometimes it isn’t easy to monitor your blogs or your entries. There are many awesome statistic plugins such as Google Analytics or the Splashpress owned PMetrics.
Lately I have discovered a new tool to monitor my blogs or the blogs I write on: aideRSS. Much has been written about aideRSS already, mainly about it’s usage as a feed filter, but I have discovered that the free tool can be used for another purpose as well.

aideRSS uses the PostRankTM algorithm to rank entries. What is PostRankTM?

I look at the number of comments, number of bookmarks the visitors made, and the number of trackbacks. I collect this information from the internet and then normalize each post against the average for the blog in question – if you always get 15 comments, then you getting 17 comments doesn‚’t affect the ranking as much as, say getting 15 comments when you usually get 2.

Some months ago we discussed the Blog Metrics plugin for WordPress. This little aid will show you how often posts by every author are viewed, but unless you’re the newest Nick Denton around the block, you might want to assess your authors on more than just pageviews: number of comments, votes on social bookmarking sites and backlinks in Google. This exactly is where aideRSS comes into the game. Have a look at the following screenshot and you’ll immediately understand what I mean [Click for enlarged view].

AideRSS Stream

For this screenshot I built a stream of some of Splashpress’s major blogs: The Blog Herald, Performancing, Wisdump, 901am and your own BloggingPro. As can be seen, aideRSS displays all the information concerning number of comments, backlinks and conversations in twitter/bookmarks in del.icio.us. But things get even better when you want to analyze a single feed [Click to view enlarged display].

AideRSS Single Blog

In this screenshot I have restricted the aideRSS analysis to the last 7 entries here at BloggingPro. It now is easy to asses both the importance and popularity of every single entry. Which one has the most comments, which ones has been bookmarked most, etc.

Remarks: As can be seen in both screenshots, there still seem to be some errors with the aideRSS algorithm:

  • After some days the number of comments isn’t updated anymore, although the number of social bookmarks and Google backlinks are;
  • When using a 3rd party Twitter client, aideRSS might not recognize the link (I twat twice about my entries, using Twhirl and Snurl);
  • Subsequently the PostRankTM isn’t updated correctly.

Still, aideRSS has become part of my daily workflow, more even than pageview statistic programs have.


Franky writes in his free time at iFranky and can be followed on twitter.

Categories: Blogger Tools

Would You Pay For WordPress and How Much?

Ryan Spoon’s 15 Websites/Services I’d Pay For raises an interesting issue: would you pay for your WordPress installation?

The benefit of blogging with WP is so significant (SEO, functionality, flexibility) that it’s well worth paying for. I’d probably pay a $200 for an installation… which makes me realize how much I rely on the product.

Add to the WordPress benefits listed by Ryan, the excellent WordPress.com stats and Akismet, the spam blocker.

There is no doubt that WordPress’s popularity is largely due to its price: it’s free.
Many bloggers make a nice bonus with their blog, WordPress installation. But would they also use WordPress is it weren’t GPL/GNU based, free?

Personally I do love the double license of Akismet. Pay if you make more than $500/month.

You run a personal blog and you’ve found the secret to making your passion pay. The lines of commercial and non-commercial personal blogs are hard to draw, so we’re saying if you’re making more than $500/mo from your blog we ask that you use a $5/mo pro-blogger Akismet API key.

I wonder how many people actually respect this double license, but I would love to see this model implemented for WordPress as well. Whether you pay a monthly, minimal, fee when using WordPress as your platform of choice, or you pay a one-off fee for a commercial blog/license.

What about you, would you pay for your WordPress installation and how much?


Franky writes in his free time at iFranky and can be followed on twitter.

Categories: Interesting

7 Different Ways To Use WordPress

Since the 2.x release of WordPress, the blogging platform has more and more been praised because of its versatility. Obviously, WordPress is mostly known as a blog platform, but depending on your creativity, you can do much more with the very flexible platform.

No limits are set and over the next weeks we will dig a little deeper into some of the ways WordPress can be used, helping you with the (coding) basics to use WP as more than a blogging platform. For now I will list the different options WP can be used for. This list is not limited.

Blogging Platform

Blogging obviously is the main usage of WordPress.

Photoblog

Monotone Photolog Theme for WordPressBecause it is very simple to upload images with WordPress soon users started to regularly post photos, using WordPress as a photoblog. Until the release of WP2.5 photobloggers had to use the custom fields to upload thumbnails for the archive or to create a filmstrip in the footer. With the new media uploader in WP2.5 this is not longer needed. WP now automatically generates a medium sized and a small thumbnail. Thumbnail sizes can be specified in the settings and used for the archives display or a filmstrip.

There aren’t many photolog themes for Wp and even less generate the photolog feeling with only one picture on the mainpage and a click on the picture goes to the previous entry. With the arrival of the Monotone Photolog Theme for WordPress theming in this area soon make become more popular. AFAIK Monotone officially is only released for WordPress.com, but can be retrieved from the SVN Directory.

Tumblelog

T1 Tumbletheme for WordPressTumblr is a popular platform, perfect for quick blogging items people stumble upon. I mentioned in my previous entry that Chyrp a great self-hosted platform is for your own tumblog (?!), but also WordPress can be used as tumble-engine.

Using WordPress as a tumblelog is not difficult: there are several themes to make your Wp blog more tumblr-alike and there’s even a Quick Post plugin for WordPress, providing the blogger with bookmarklets to easily submit content to their WordPress powered tumblelog.

Start tumbling with WP in the true self-hosted spirit!

Magazine

Magazine Look for WordPressSince several months there has been a rise in the number of premium themes for WordPress, many of them focusing on providing a newspaper, magazine alike look for WordPress

Revolution by Brian Gardner was one of the first really popular ones, together with Mimbo, which initially was released under the GPL and later evolved into a second, Pro version, with custom image uploader.

Magazine themes for WordPress rely heavily on the usage of Custom Fields and Conditional Tags.
Most magazine themes have featured posts, use many thumbnail images on the main page and display recent entries from different categories. The success of a magazine theme IMHO heavily relies on the quality of the top navigation bar.

Online Shop

Wp-eCommerce exampleThe real success of WordPress isn’t just the blog platform software, but the whole community around. And the great plugins. WP-eCommerce is one of the more extensive plugins, powering a complete online store front-end, based on WordPress. The competition in the eCommerce area is heavy with options such as the hosted Shopify platform or the well-known open-source osCommerce software., but when it comes to ease of use and features the WP-eCommerce plugin can compete with all of them and according to the plugin homepage even powers more shops than osCommerce does.

Contact Manager and Customer Relation Management

WP CRM PluginBoth Design Intelliction’s WP-Contact Manager and Slipfire’s WP-CRM plugins prove that there really aren’t any limits to WordPress’s versatility.

WP-Contact Manager is a theme for WordPress using several plugins, Wp-CRM is a full-blown plugin, inspired by WP-Contact Contact Manager and 37Signals’s Highrise.

With both options it is easy to maintain, publish your contact list online.

Twitter Platform

WP Prologue ThemeThe excellent Prologue theme for WP offer every blogger a Twitter alike platform:… without the 140 characters limitation.

Use it for your company, with your friends or just for fun!
The theme is slick, fast loading and depending on what you tweet… fun! Prologue even allows comments. I reckon FriendFeed Comments is the perfect addition to this theme.

Other Usage Options

As shown so far, there really are no limits set to the way Wp can be used. I use this blogging platform as a personal wiki, tumbling interesting topics. Other bloggers, developers use WordPress as a CMS, although it isn’t entirely clear to me what Content Management System really means in this matter. Smarter navigaition? *Nuke alike left sidebar or is every blog per se a CMS?

I am sure with time more and more ways to use WordPress will appear.

Update: As Andreas notes in the comments, WordPress can also be used as job board with the help of the RecruitPress plugin.


Franky writes in his free time at iFranky and can be followed on twitter. Be warned, his twitter account is heavily G&T powered!

Categories: Blogging Resources, WordPress Tips

To Cache or Not to Cache?

If you’re running your blog from a hosted platform, such as wordpress.com, Typepad or Blogger, you probably don’t have to worry about database (and/or PHP) servers choking and bandwidth running out. For folks who run blogs on their own hosting accounts or servers, this is a possibility. Yet then again, for the average blogger bandwidth and server resources shouldn’t be an issue. Even the most inexpensive hosting account on most providers these days can give enough for most folks (some hosting providers I can point to are our very own Colorteck and one of our sponsors, Cirtex).

This only becomes a big concern when you become really popular or when you get rare DIGG or Slashdot-effect traffic spikes. Or perhaps your server is a bit low on resources, and is serving up your site slowly. To address these, you can use caching plugins. We have been using several caching plugins on some of our bigger blogs like the Blog Herald and Forever Geek. Not only are traffic levels there consistently high, sometimes we also get frontpaged on DIGG, Slashdot, Stumbleupon and other social bookmarkers.

WP-Cache is one good plugin. Another one is WP-Super Cache, which is actually built upon WP-Cache.

We’ve recently switched to the latter, and so far we’re satisfied.

How caching plugins work

Basically, caching works by generating static files on your server, such that database requests are no longer required. This lightens the load on your database server, and makes loading faster, too.

According to the WP-Cache profile:

It works by caching Worpress pages and storing them in a static file for serving future requests directly from the file rather than loading and compiling the whole PHP code and then building the page from the database. WP-Cache allows to serve hundred of times more pages per second, and to reduce the response time from several tenths of seconds to less than a millisecond.

And WP-Super Cache improves on this:

[WP-Cache 2 still uses] the PHP engine to serve the cached files.

WP Super Cache gets around that. When it is installed, html files are generated and they are served without ever invoking a single line of PHP. How fast can your site serve graphic files? That’s (almost) as fast it will be able to serve these cached files. If your site is struggling to cope with the daily number of visitors, or if your site appears on Digg.com, Slashdot or any other popular site then this plugin is for you.

Pros and Cons

Great! So caching plugins help make my site load faster AND it takes the heavy load off the server by minimizing PHP execution and database queries. However, one big disadvantage of caching is that essentially your site will be static, and any dynamic elements might not work.

Sure, everytime you publish a new post, the cache is refreshed. And everytime someone posts a comment, the cache for that particular post is refreshed. At least it’s supposed to be that way. But how about those instances when you need rotating content or images. For instance, some themes use rotating headers. And sometimes, like with several blogs in the Splashpress Network, we use rotating ads (links or images that share the same spot, supposedly alternating). Another issue is when you pull feeds from external sites, like we do. See those three boxes at the rightmost sidebar? Those are feeds pulled from some of our blogging resources.

I’m not sure if caching plugins support this, but I’m assuming they don’t, since the premise with caching is that static files are served until (1) they expire; (2) they are refreshed with new posts or comments or (3) they are manually reset.

For most folks, this is not an issue. And perhaps we can resort to measures that can help resolve these. But what I’m looking for is a plugin wherein you can define which areas of your blog to cache and which not to. Hopefully that won’t be too complicated.

Categories: Blogger Tools, WordPress Plugins

Self-hosted Blog Options

Although WordPress.com and many other bloghosting platforms offer many advantages, as outlined in a previous entry by David Peralty many people prefer to host, more even own their content. One can think of many reasons to host their own content, other than the most heard customization limits wordpress.com usually faces:

  • Freedom to switch services or hosting company;
  • SEO advantages;
  • Easy to correctly forward when switching domains and keep traffic;
  • Upload space only limited by hosting plan;
  • Complete backup freedom;
  • Freedom to criticize the platform you use, without having the fear to be shutdown;

Once you have decided to host your blog yourself and settled on a hosting plan, there are many freely available blog software options. I this entry I will list the most known platforms with their pros and cons and examples of blogs on using those platforms.

WordPress

WordPress.orgWordPress is without any doubt the most popular blog platform today. Since its creation in 2003, as a b2 fork, Wp has been 100% open-source, although highly controlled by Automattic.

The community around WordPress is very active, both in theme and in plugin development. There are millions of blogs running on WordPress and thousands bloggers write about WordPress topics. Over the last months WordPress, especially older installations, have regularly been hacked, mainly by link spammers.
The actual version of WordPress is version 2.5.1, a bugfix and security fix released on April 25, 2008.

Pros

  • Active, supporting community;
  • Thousands of plugins and themes available;
  • Regular updates and known update cycle;
  • Easy installation and upgrades (via Fantastico if offered by webhoster);
  • Low learning curve to start using the platform;
  • Search friendly permalinks and tag system;
  • Supports both PHP4 and PHP5.

Cons

  • Security QA: WordPress has been the subject of many security vulnerabilities over the last 12 months. Hacks have both been public and unpublished;
  • Only supports MySQL database;
  • Active grayzone community releasing themes with hidden spam/ads;
  • WordPress has no built-in caching system;
  • Upgrades usually require (automated) database changes;
  • No multiple blogs option (WordPressMU comes to aid);
  • Arguably, Automattic’s strangehold on WordPress.

Movable Type

Movable TypeSince December 2007, Movable Type again is available as a free (open source) platform, released under the GNU/GPL license. Movable Type is written in Perl and offered by Six Apart. Once the most used platform, MT lost its popularity in May 2005 when founder Mena Trott announced a new licensing and pricing structure. Many MT users switched to WordPress. More than 3 years later Six Apart released MTOS.
The actual version of MT is 4.1.

Pros

  • Multiple weblogs support;
  • Static page generation (dynamic page generation available in the settings);
  • Easy template tags structure;
  • Support for severable databases (MYSQL, BerkeleyDB, PostgreSQL, SQLite);
  • Standard OpenID and Typekey integration;
  • Active community;
  • Known to be secure.

Cons

  • Written in Perl. Not every (small) webhoster might have an update Perl configuration;
  • Installation has to be simplified;
  • Many MT users have often cursed MT after upgrades broke their site;
  • Less themes and plugins available than for WP;
  • The administration panel requires a rather high learning curve to get used to. And find everything.

Featured Blogs Running MT

ExpressionEngine Core

Expression EngineThe excellent ExpressionEngine platform probably is one of my favourite platforms. EE comes in different flavours: the free ExpressionEngine Core, a lite version or the full blown, purchasable, ExpressionEngine CMS (pricing details here). ExpressionEngine Core is a great and fast blogging platform, easily customizable. Although the Core version rather limited is in its functionality, with some investigation one will immediately discover the possibilities.

ExpressionEngine Core is offered by EllisLab and the most actual version of ExpressionEngine is 1.6.3. A preview of ExpressionEngine 2.0 can be seen at Gearlive.

Pros

  • Easy installation;
  • Active community;
  • Written in PHP, supports both PHP4 and PHP5;
  • Fast page rendering;
  • Easy template tag structure;
  • Excellent and easy to understand documentation;
  • Extensive statistics module;
  • Powerful admin utilities, such as SQL Manager and Search and Replace.

Cons

  • No multiple blogs support in the Core version;
  • Complex administration panel with high learning curve;
  • Limited license (commercial use not allowed);
  • Less plugins and templates available than for WordPress;
  • Although the template tag structure very easy is, it might take a while before one really knows how to make EE theming easy;
  • Only supports MySQL;
  • Not all the features from the full version can be replaced with existing add-ons.

Featured Sites Running ExpressionEngine Core

Habari

HabariHabari was already in the news here at BloggingPro and certainly is one of the blog platform to watch. Started by some of the core members of the k2 theme for WordPress the idea behind Habari is simple: a blog platform with the most cutting edge technology.

The current release of Habari is 0.4.1 and nothing describes Habari better than the words of Anil Dash, Vice President at Six Apart in a Metafilter thread:

I work with the team that makes another blogging app, and at least from the standpoint of the quality of the code and application design, Habari is inarguably better. As Sean notes, though, it’s not very mature, so the user experience for a non-technical user would likely be worse. Where you’d make the tradeoff of whether it’s worth it depends on where you reside on the continuum from programmer to non-programmer. Some of the technical things I love about Movable Type (which I use) include support for database abstraction, support for multiple blogs, and a well-designed infrastructure for things like templating — Habari does all of those things very well for a young application as well.

Pros

  • Cutting edge technology, PHP5.2 required;
  • Support for both MySQL and SQLite (PostgreSQL support is planned);
  • Apache 2.0 license, following the meritocracy principles;
  • Support for Apache, Lighttp and Nginx server;
  • Respected and blog experienced core developers.

Cons

  • Cutting edge technology, PHP5.2 required;
  • Very young community and software, only few themes and plugins available;
  • Apache2.0 license: sometimes discussion, decision can take ages.

Featured Blogs Running Habari

Surprisingly Michael Heilemann and Khaled Abou Alfa are still running WordPress.

Chyrp

ChyrpChyrp is the last addition to this list and probably the most unknown platform. Chyrp is a lightweight and fast blogging engine, perfect if you want to run your own tumblelog. Chyrp is an awesome platform if you mainly blog about new discoveries, repost videos and links. It offers everything you need when all you want to do is blogging.
Other than listing all the pros and cons of Chyrp, I’ll rather tell you to try out the very unique Chyrp Demo platform.

Categories: Blogging Resources

AdServer Options

So I help run this new media network with about 60 or so sites (ranging from the small, niche ones to the bigger sites with a more general coverage). One big task that usually eats up my daily todo list is managing ad placements. Well, at least I can say I would rather have a problem managing sponsors and advertisers rather than not having ad revenue at all.

Still, I believe in working smart and I’m almost hitting myself in the head for not implementing an efficient ad-serving solution since the start. Now I’m considering a few options:

  • Of course the first option here is to serve the ads directly. For most of our sites, the ads are hard-coded into the themes. I do have the ad expiries on Google Calendar, so we get alerted when we need to follow up for renewals. And I get to track clickthroughs and page impressions via pMetrics (crude, yes, but it does work for me). The advantage here is that it’s pretty straightforward. I can say I have full control over what gets displayed on the sites. But the downside is that it gets cumbersome to manage things this way with a big network.
  • I could have someone create an adserver from scratch. Actually for some sites that need rotating ads (e.g., two or more ads or banners sharing the same space at random or alternating) I use a simple PHP script, and it does the job well. We’re welcoming some developers into the team soon, and we might as well ask them to help out with this concern.
  • However, with readily available adserver options like OpenX, I can just have this installed somewhere and tweaked to our liking.
  • But since running my own adserver would require some resources (in terms of servers/hosting and maintenance/management) I might as well have dedicated adserver-providers take care of this for me. Our very own colleagues at Performancing has launched their Performancing Ads. Even Google has launched its (closed) beta of Google Ad Manager.

Whatever happens, I’m sure of one thing: that serving ads manually become really tedious and cumbersome at some point. And this has its inherent disadvantages. For instance, ad-serving software usually let you track and analyze statistics like page impressions, clickthroughs and perhaps even conversion rates. Directly served ads might be more difficult to track.

So in the aim of working smarter, we’re moving toward a more efficient way of doing things. The question is which?

Categories: Advertising, Blogging Tools

WordPress Plugin: Clean Notifications

While searching for a solution with an comment notification issue problem, I stumbled upon Clean Notifications by Mike Davidson, of Newsvine fame.

What does Clean Notifactions do?

Since WP sends out plain text emails, all of the links get spelled out as raw, unstyled URLs and the emails end up containing probably twice the amount of visible characters than they need to. This is especially frustrating when you’re trying to read notifications from a mobile device like the Jesusphone.

Enter “Clean Notifications“. A plug-in that took only 30 minutes to write but is capable of providing digital pleasure to people all around the world.

If you receive many comment notifications from your WordPress blog and have no problems with HTML mail, this small plugin will make your WordPress trip more enjoyable.
Visit the plugin blog entry to view the difference before and after at Mike’s blog.

Categories: WordPress Plugins

Taking Over From David Peralty

Hello folks. J. Angelo Racoma here signing in. I’m not sure if you remember me, but a couple of years back, I was blogging here alongside David Peralty, when Blogging Pro was still owned by the Bloggy Network. Sometime late 2007, Blogging Pro was acquired by Splashpress Media (a new media company which I eventually rose from the ranks to serve as editor in chief). Along with this acquisition, David became part of our team as head of Marketing.

Fast forward to a few months after, Blogging Pro is sitting proudly as one of the more high profile blogs in the network. Sadly, David has had to leave the network to pursue other endeavors (a startup, I hear?). So he is passing along the reins to me.

With me to help spice up things would be Andrew G. Rosen of Jobacle fame. Drew is a mainstay at the Blog Herald and other technology-related Splashpress sites, as well as the snarky (and smart) Jack of All Blogs.

Moving along, when I started contributing here at Blogging Pro, the topic was wide and varied. We usually discussed blogging news, and various tech-related matters like blogging apps and software, plugins, and themes. We weren’t very much platform-specific, but for some reason we tended to lean toward the platform we used on the blog itself, which was WordPress.

Thing is, with Splashpress Media running a handful of blogs about blogging and new media in our network, it gets difficult to determine which gets posted where. Sometimes lines are crossed and toes are stepped on. In short, there tends to be an overlap of the topics that each blog handles.

And Blogging Pro sits smack in the middle of this issue!

So I ask you dear readers, what do you think is best for us to talk about here on Blogging Pro, given that we have other sites to talk about blogging, such as:

And the list goes on.

So how about we focus on what we’re best at: the technical side of things. Whether it’s WordPress, blogger, or other blogging software, we will focus on plugins, installing, tweaking, upgrading, and the like. We might still have some overlap with the other blogs, but we can get more in-depth here.

Any other bright ideas?

Categories: BloggingPro News