Archive: WordPress

I usually forget the anniversary of this blog. I think this is for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, at this time of year we usually have other festivities on our minds. Also this blog has two major anniversaries in my mind. Moving to doctorvee.co.uk was a watershed, and I am sometimes reluctant to even acknowledge what I did before. Yet my first blog post, back in the days when I used Blogger, was posted five years ago, on the 30th of December 2002. What a thought.

Less than two years later I upped sticks, and the first post on this WordPress blog came on the 8th of December 2004. Crazy stuff.

Even before I started posting on Blogger, I had a web presence (some rubbishy Geocities pages). The move to the blog was gradual, which is probably another reason why I often forget the bloggiversary. It’s amazing to see how the blog has evolved over the years from several pithy posts a day a few years ago to today’s much longer and more infrequent posts.

Happy New Year

By the time you read this the clock will have struck midnight and you might well be nursing a bad hangover. So Happy New Year to you. Have some coal.

A lump of coal for your new year

I have a strange relationship with Hogmanay. I often think I prefer it to Christmas, although when it comes it is often a damp squib.

I think I grew up with different expectations to most people of what the new year was supposed to be like. I saw it as a time for family moreso than Christmas. You know, when I was younger Christmas was about the Sega MegaDrive and Hogmanay was when I got to stay up late with the family and drink some Irn Bru.

A few years ago I discovered that this attitude made me a heretic and that Hogmanay is for getting rat arsed with your friends. Friends I can live with. I like friends.

But the drink? I like a drink, but I never see the point in getting totally rat arsed, even at new year. A bad hangover isn’t any better just because it happens to fall on the 1st of January. In fact, it might be worse to have a hangover on this day because I want to enjoy the big dinner my parents will be cooking!

I was working today which meant that I didn’t get any real input into the plans my friends were hatching. Needless to say — as I am sitting here writing this post with T minus 45 minutes until the bells — I baulked at the plans, which sound to me like an utter recipe for disaster. I am fragile and I like to sleep. I can make do without a bed, but preferably somewhere with people that I actually know, and failing that somewhere in the town where I actually live.

So I am now having a quiet night in, which is quite odd, but I’ve been getting stuff done which is good. Christmas Day itself was excellent, but the rest of the holidays have been such a massive disappointment — mostly because I have so much studying to do.

I have essays and a dissertation to write. They have been hanging over me the whole time and it’s been quite a bleak month — and it will be a bleak couple of months ahead as the big deadline looms. But I have allowed myself to take the 31st and the 1st off, which at least gets rid of the guilt I feel when I inevitably begin procrastinating.

Usually I don’t do new year’s resolutions. By my reckoning, if you were really that bothered about whatever vice you’re worried about, you would try to stop it regardless of whether it was the new year or not. That’s why new year’s resolutions are bound to fail.

Nevertheless, over the Christmas holiday I have become even more worried than normal about my sleeping patterns. It’s quite bad when you are routinely spending 13, 14 hours in bed — the first few trying to get to sleep, then around ten hours actually being asleep, dead to the world. At this time of the year, I miss entire days.

It’s okay to be like this when you are a student bum like me, but given that I am in my final year at university I won’t be able to get away with it for much longer. So now is the time to sort it out and to dedicate some real energy to finding a proper solution to my sleep problems.

I will also try to publish one blog post per day, although I have been trying to do that anyway!

Yes, I’ve decided to give the blog a new look again. I couldn’t wait to get this up, but it’s not quite finished. I still need to do a few tweaks here and there. (Surprise surprise, it looks a bit guff in Internet Exploder.) But it’s quite late now and I can’t bring myself to switch it back to the old theme, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and leaving it up.

I’ll update this post later some time in the afternoon explaining the thinking behind it all. In the meantime, if you spot any problems or if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Update: Okay, so now I have the time to post a bit about what I’ve done here.

Perhaps the first thing I should point out is the fact that, regrettably, some URLs have changed. Permalinks to posts and the like should still work perfectly. But you’ll notice that I’ve moved the pages in the navigation panel around a bit. I’ve also reorganised the categories (in fact, I haven’t quite finished that yet).

Speaking of categories, I have finally created a ‘media’ category. It never quite made sense for media posts to be listed under ‘entertainment’, particularly if I was writing about some kind of media coverage of a serious story. So I’ve gone ahead and separated them, and now television, radio and newspapers are listed under media. As such, some category URLs have also changed, so sorry about that if you had them bookmarked or something.

So why the change? Well, I am still very fond of the old design. It will probably make a reappearance somewhere — possibly on another blog. But perhaps I will release it as a WordPress theme for others to use — if I can find the time to make the appropriate tweaks to it.

Despite my pride though, I was always aware that a lot of people were not very keen on the previous design. And it has been there for almost a year. (Maybe this change will become an annual occurrence, a doctorvee Christmas tradition.)

Common complaints were about the dark background (apparently an acquired taste) and the bright links. So I’ve decided to swing back to a white background and rather more muted colours, if you can call green muted.

This is also the equivalent of growing a moustache to try and signify that you are growing up (not that many people grow moustaches these days, but you know what I mean). The previous design was deliberately jazzy and distinctive. But since then I have become a can’t-get-away-from-it adult. And in the next few months I will hopefully be finished with university.

So that means ditching the childish neon colours and adopting a serif font. I have spoken before about my devotion to Verdana, but I am afraid I have become rather tired of it. It is suffering from Times New Roman syndrome.

You know. It’s become a ubiquitous, default font. As such, it is used in so many pieces of ugly design. We have all stumbled upon badly thrown-together websites written in Verdana, just as we see too many passive aggressive notes written in Times New Roman.

I had become very keen on the recently redesigned websites for Times Online and Guardian Unlimited. Both use plenty of Georgia, so I was going to use that. Besides Times New Roman, it’s the only core serif font anyway.

But while I was designing I visited Modern Life which uses Cambria. It is basically the Vista version of Times New Roman, but lovely. I fell in love and decided to use the font on my blog. But as far as I know Cambria is only available on Vista, so for everyone else it is still Georgia.

A funny thing about Cambria is that it appears to be extraordinarily small, so the font size is rather large. But there’s nothing wrong with that I suppose.

Headings and some other bits and pieces are in Helvetica where possible, although Windows users (including me!) will have to make do with Arial. I know it’s a bit clichéd, and rather too ubiquitous, but you never grow tired of it. I do love Helvetica so I was keen to use it when I decided to give the blog a cleaner design.

I suppose now is a good time to talk about the general inspiration for the redesign. I was tempted to go back to a clinical, Helvetica-led design when I first saw screenshots for the new beta version of Delicious. Delicious is a very apt word. Mind you, the end result on this blog has ended up looking very little like the Delicious screenshots.

A more direct inspiration has been the beautifully-designed Lokesh Dhakar website. In fact, parts of this blog’s design have turned out to be embarrassingly similar. I first came across his blog when I read this guide to different kinds of coffee and it instantly struck me as an excellent design.

Layout-wise, I very much went for the ‘less is more’ approach. This has meant compromises in places, but I’ll go on to that. The main change is that I’ve moved away from a three column layout to two columns. I had read somewhere that multiple columns just confuse people, which makes sense. So it’s back to one sidebar.

I was keen to get everything lined up nicely with each other. This does make it look quite neat, but one problem is that the main column is quite close to the sidebar. The solution was to have a neat line running along the left of the sidebar, although I’m still not sure if it is enough. I toyed with using full justification, but decided in the end that the cons outweighed the pros.

Despite the intimate position of the main column and the sidebar, the page is wider than before. Making good use of the space available and all that. As such, the design only really works if your screen is at least 1024 pixels wide. But the same was true of the previous design. And people with smaller screens make up around 3% of this blog’s visitors. Sorry to those 3%, but the rest of us just get masses of white space.

On to the content. One thing you’ll notice is that categories are now taking pride of place above every single post. They used to be hidden away, only appearing in the sidebar of single post pages.

The reason I’ve made them more prominent is because over the years I have become more and more guilty about the fact that this blog is a bit of a ragbag of different topics. And the Formula 1 posts in particular are beginning to overshadow everything else. So having the category as the first thing of every post is just a heads-up for everyone, so that you know what the post is about and you can easily skip the posts you aren’t interested in.

Another new addition is subtitles. I saw this on a few other blogs and really liked the idea, so I’m going to give it a go. Inspired by this article, I did it using custom fields, a feature of WordPress that I have never really explored before.

Gone from the top of the post, however, are the date and the comments link. The date still appears there on single posts, but I am thinking of including them everywhere again. I already feel a bit lost without them (although I didn’t use dates much on any of the designs I used before the previous one).

I am also open to putting the comments link back up there, although the link still appears at the bottom of the post as expected. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

I have also taken the plunge and decided to add a ShareThis button, despite what I wrote about it a few months ago. I’m still experimenting with the position of this, so any ideas would be welcome.

Over to the sidebar. I’ve reduced the amount of stuff that’s there to a bare minimum. The latest comment is still there as I like to highlight the great discussions that go on in the comments, which is really what blogging is all about.

Twitter is still there, although I’ve reduced it to just the latest update rather than the last three. Delicious too has been reduced to just the five most recent links. I normally post to Delicious more often than five times a day, so this might be a bit odd. But there is method to my madness.

I made a decision a short while ago that this blog should concentrate mainly on original content. That’s just the way the blog has evolved, and I don’t really like to fob people off with YouTube clips all the time.

But it’s good to highlight interesting websites and videos. After all, that was the original meaning of the word ‘weblog’, celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. So I will create another home for them. Probably a tumblelog, but I will get round to that later.

The other prominent feature on the main page (and, indeed, every page, the big whore that I am) is adverts. An early version of this design had the adverts appearing in a garish green colour scheme, but I screwed my head on enough to revert to a more sane grey version. I am ridiculously proud of having the idea of paying homage to Associated-Rediffusion, which wouldn’t really have worked with the green scheme.

The part of the design I am most worried about is the comments. For some reason, I always find the comments section the most difficult to design, and this time was no different.

I decided to move the comment author information to the left of the comment rather than above. Part of this was to get the full size of the Gravatar displayed, which would take up too much room if you have it above. It is also a layout familiar to message board users, so no real issue there.

There is a problem, however, if somebody has quite a long word in their name. In a recent example, Bellgrovebelle is cut off, although there are worse examples. Thankfully, these are quite rare and hopefully not too distracting.

As has already been noted by Ollie in the comments to this post, there is an inconsistency between the sizes of the Gravatars and the Identicons. I’ve not worked too hard on this yet, although my attempts so far have only produced pixellated-looking Identicons. I am working on it though.

Other features I’m thinking about adding to the comments section are favicons and OpenID.

In the pages (about, archives, etc.) I have also removed a lot of stuff that I didn’t really consider important any more. I’m thinking of completely uninstalling the post popularity plugin as this blog now has a post ratings system which I prefer. As for the other stuff, see if you can work out what’s gone. I doubt anyone will be too upset.

One last thing. I am using some icons from the Silk set by Fam Fam Fam. I’ve still not quite finished this aspect of the design, as I’m not sure which bits should have icons and which shouldn’t.

I think that just about covers it. Sorry this post went on for so long. I would be grateful to hear any comments or ideas. And of course, if something seems broken then please let me know about it!

This is the latest in my continuing series of posts reviewing the 2007 Formula 1 season. You can check out the other posts in the nifty new table of contents on the right (thanks to the In-Series WP plugin). This post will look at my top five constructors of the season.

5 — Ferrari

As always, Ferrari proved themselves to be among the very best on the track. They took a bit of a risk with their long wheelbase which clearly disadvantaged them at several circuits — most notably Monaco, Hungaroring and Monza. Maybe there should be a rethink on that front, but they won the Constructors’ Championship which shows something.

There were some really uncharacteristic mistakes in the pit lane as well. You could tell they were missing Ross Brawn. When they started the Japanese Grand Prix on intermediates instead of full wet tyres, it was not only going against an order from Charlie Whiting, but it was also completely barking mad. Even behind the safety car the Ferraris were struggling to keep it on the island (if you could call a circuit that wet an island) and could have completely ruined their race.

Then there was that time in Hungary when they sent Felipe Massa out to qualify without any fuel in his car. I don’t know how they managed that. Quite shocking for what is supposed to be the best outfit in the pit lane.

However, the big story of Ferrari’s year was — surprise, surprise — not on the track. Yet again Ferrari’s distasteful actions off the track left a sour taste in the mouth. When a rogue employee of theirs, Nigel Stepney, started to cause them bother, Ferrari managed to leverage it so that it was all somehow Ron Dennis’s fault.

Knowing full well that the FIA would take their side, Ferrari got McLaren thrown out of the Constructors Championship. This was even though it was a Ferrari employee who instigated the entire sorry episode.

Throughout the season Luca di Montezemolo and Jean Todt (the personification of wee man syndrome) made a series of ridiculous remarks that made Ferrari come across as desperate and underhand. Di Montezemolo’s constant claims that McLaren cars had “a lot of Ferrari” in them were especially childish because there has never been a shred of evidence that this was the case.

Ferrari even contradicted themselves with their nonsensical claims. It wasn’t a surprise when they said that they would be happy to win the title in court because this is the normal way for Ferrari to go about things.

Of course, when the boot is on the other foot it’s all a different story and winning the title in court is “grubby manoeuvring”. If this is true (which it is), then Ferrari is a pig that loves to swim in its own shit.

Putting aside the honking court cases, Ferrari also appear to be embroiled in a period of nasty internal politics. The management restructuring has obviously disillusioned a lot of people. It is widely seen as one of the reasons that led Nigel Stepney to say “psst!” to Mike Coughlan. It has also led to the permanent departure of Ross Brawn. Even Jean Todt seems quite indifferent these days. What a mess.

And why have they extended Felipe Massa’s contract until 2010? Especially with the traction control ban coming into force, this has ‘disaster’ written all over it (not to mention ‘nepotism’).

4 — Red Bull–Renault

2007 must have been disappointing for the Red Bull team and they will be looking to treat it as a transition year. The Adrian Newey-designed chassis was reasonably quick, but one may have expected more to come from such a highly-regarded designer.

More worrying will be the fact that the reliability of the Red Bull car was so awful. Given the reliability problems McLaren suffered when Adrian Newey was working for them, this is beginning to look a bit like Newey’s Achilles’ heel.

However, I doubt the problems with the seamless shift gearbox — Red Bull’s biggest problem — can be blamed on Newey’s tight, uncompromising chassis designs, as some do. Whatever, there were an unacceptable number of mechanical failures this year for Red Bull. In this era of super-reliability, it’s not enough. Red Bull went away from an astonishing 11 races pointless.

Overall, 2007 was more successful than 2006, but they must have been expecting better results by now. Mark Webber in particular has been let down time and again by the car’s poor reliability. But they also lack the speed to regularly compete with the front runners.

They have hired ex-Honda designer Geoff Willis which bodes well for the future. If they had a bit more speed, Red Bull’s only weakness would be reliability. If this is ironed out, it surely won’t be long before they win a race.

3 — McLaren–Mercedes

I am normally quite sympathetic to McLaren (admittedly this is mostly because I can’t stand Ferrari, but hey). But it was difficult to defend some of the things that happened in the McLaren team this season.

It is difficult to know where to begin, as so many things went wrong for McLaren this year. So I’ll start with the good points.

First of all, they built the best car. And no, Mr. di Montezemolo, it was not because of Ferrari documents. In fact, I struggle to remember a time when two front-running teams had such obviously divergent designs to the point where McLaren could have a 1.5s advantage on one circuit and a 1.5s deficit on the next.

The height of their season — (just) before any hint of internal strife became apparent — came at Monaco. It was such a dominant performance from McLaren. I was utterly in awe. They lapped everyone bar Felipe Massa who was 69s behind. It was probably the most dominant outing for a team since Australia 1998.

Before I go onto post-Monaco shenanigans, there is one other thing that went well for McLaren. They had the best driver line-up imaginable. This caused its own problems which we all now know about, but you have to say it. Fernando Alonso’s skill — as a double World Champion and the most successful rival of Michael Schumacher ever — is not in doubt.

What was in doubt was Lewis Hamilton. We knew he had pace from GP2, but no-one could have expected him to achieve what he did. He still has a few rough edges, but you can’t expect anything else. Hamilton was astonishingly quick. So full credit to McLaren for investing in that talent for all those years.

Now the downsides. And since I’ve just alluded to it, I might as well dive straight into the trouble between Alonso and Hamilton. McLaren’s equality stance has always been admirable. But in this post-Schumacher era it is probably now, sadly, a relic. Michael Schumacher has set the bar on this so when a driver has a Schumacher-sized ego he will demand Schumacher-style treatment. After all, seven World Championships don’t lie.

Ron Dennis’s complete inability to manage the tensions that Alonso was feeling has probably delivered the final nail in the coffin of the ‘equality’ policy in every F1 team’s book. It would have been so much easier if Lewis Hamilton began the season as a number 2 to Fernando Alonso. Then, without a shadow of a doubt, we would be sitting here talking about three times World Champion Alonso and sure-fire champion of tomorrow Lewis Hamilton. Instead, we are sitting here today talking about a McLaren team reeling from the year’s events, finding itself having to sack the best driver on the grid, and Ron Dennis licking his wounds.

Of course, Alonso’s behaviour was not the only reason why McLaren find themselves on the back foot. There is the small matter of Stepneygate (I still refuse to call it “spygate” because no spying was involved).

Sure, the whole thing was Max Mosley making an example of Ron Dennis. But ultimately, there is no getting away from the fact that a McLaren employee was caught red-handed with Ferrari documents. Either you believe that Ron Dennis knew about it all along, in which case he is a liar, or Ron Dennis is telling the truth and it exposes flaws in the management of the team.

On top of all that, the season was just generally a PR disaster for McLaren. You could see this in just about everything that happened to them this year. It started off with a row that somehow built up out of nothing after the Monaco Grand Prix. McLaren were unable to explain Lewis Hamilton’s comments about not being allowed to pass Fernando Alonso, and a row in the press about team orders duly ensued.

Stepneygate and the Alonso problem were also both horrifically badly handled. Even after the season was over they made a complete hash of appealing the Brazilian Grand Prix result. McLaren tied themselves in knots on all of these issues. For all of Ron Dennis’s supposed honesty and integrity, I was often left with the impression that he was not telling the whole truth at points during this season. I have been disillusioned by McLaren this year.

This PR problem is a downside of having Lewis Hamilton in their team. Being a Brit, and the British press being what it is, the magnifying glass is on McLaren like never before. This is going to happen on a regular basis from now on. It’s no wonder they’ve hired Matt Bishop to try and keep them on the right track PR-wise from now on.

What a horrible irony though. At last, after too many years to bear thinking about, McLaren had produced a car capable of winning the World Championship. But their season fell apart in every single other respect.

2 — Williams–Toyota

Believe me. I never thought I would rank Williams so highly. I am not usually a fan of Williams, and I don’t really understand the appeal. But now, with this customer car issue, I think I finally get it.

Williams is a proudly independent grand prix team. It is clinging onto the traditional way of doing things — entering Formula 1 out of a love for motor racing, and not as a platform to advertise your business. All of the other teams are either heavily tied to manufacturers or outright owned by manufacturers, soft drinks companies or Vijay Mallya and Michel Mol (who, in fairness, both at least seem to have a real interest in the sport).

It is a tough environment for a team like Williams nowadays. It is difficult to envisage a team like Williams achieving domination in the way they did in the mid-1990s.

Their subsequent history has been patchy at best. A brief flirtation with BMW ended in tears. Williams tumbled down the timing sheets and — just to rub salt into the wound — BMW climbed up them. After coming close to winning the Championship in 2003, they produced a mediocre car in 2004, a dog in 2005 and a shitbox in 2006. It looked like Williams had completely lost the knack of winning or even regularly scoring points.

This year saw Williams in the ascendancy for a change and I would say they look strong for the future. There are also signs that Williams are learning from old mistakes.

Williams’s usual approach to drivers is to unceremoniously dump them. But they obviously see something completely different in Nico Rosberg, whom they seem determined to hang on to. It was perhaps a mistake to give Alexander Wurz that race drive, as he was a little bit rusty (although delivered in Canada with an astonishing drive to the podium from plum last). There is a big question mark over their decision to hire Kazuki Nakajima… but that’s for next year’s list.

Second place might seem a bit high. In terms of out-and-out on-the-track performance, Williams shouldn’t be this high. But given the woes that have faced McLaren and Ferrari, Renault’s fall from grace, Red Bull’s chronic unreliability and the mediocrity of the lower-down teams, Williams is just about the only team that can look on the 2007 season and be proud of what it has achieved. But there is one team that can perhaps feel prouder…

1 — BMW-Sauber

Dr. Mario Theissen I think that what BMW achieved this year was astonishing. When BMW bought the Sauber team, they were hoping to win races within three years. And it looks like they might just manage that.

Under the expert leadership of Super Dr. Mario Theissen (pictured), BMW are going from strength to strength. They might have only had the third-best car this year, but they also comprehensively outperformed last year’s World Champions. With the turmoil that both Ferrari and McLaren have been facing, who’s to say BMW won’t improve further next season?

BMW are also helped by the fact that their championship position was tied up easily. Second place was theirs, so they concentrated on their 2008 car.

I say second place, but BMW still maintain that they were actually third. This is true, because McLaren were only thrown out of the championship on rather dubious grounds. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the fact that BMW are not going around beating their chest about this dubious second place speaks volumes about their grounded attitude. They had the third-best car and they know it.

The car was great. Not the fastest, but comfortably the ‘best of the rest’. The other teams know it, because BMW personnel have been lured away. I doubt this will deter BMW though. Mario Theissen seems to know exactly what he’s doing.

Theissen also has a good eye for great drivers as well. Robert Kubica, Sebastian Vettel and Timo Glock have all been given a helping hand by BMW in the past couple of years, so it’s well worth looking at whatever drivers BMW brings on board as test drivers.

All-in-all, I was thoroughly impressed with BMW. Notice to Toyota: this is how a manufacturer should run a Formula 1 team. The team has been pulled out of the terminal mediocrity of the Sauber days and looks set to begin winning races any time now. I’ll be celebrating when they do.

This is something that I mention over and over again, but it is a fact that one of the most common things people say about my blog is along the lines of, “Of course, I skip past all of the F1 posts.”

Those people would be doing a lot of skipping this weekend. The F1 season reaches its climax tomorrow, and the repercussions are sure to continue into the weeks ahead.

Just in time for the end of the season though (!) I have finally set up an RSS feed that contains none of the F1 posts! I created it using Yahoo! Pipes. Unfortunately, I can’t work out a way to make it a full feed. No matter what I try, it always comes out as a partial feed. This goes against my principle of being in favour of full feeds, but it’s better than nothing.

So if you like this blog but can’t stand F1, grab the doctorvee F1-free feed here.

I’ve been pondering this issue for at least a year now. There is still a bit of me that is tempted to completely remove the F1 content and create a separate F1 blog. I’m not too keen on the idea on the one hand. The F1 posts have become part of the character of the blog, and most importantly it would be a bit odd for my personal blog not to contain anything about one of my main interests.

I’m not sure a separate blog would be able to punch its weight either. It would be a bit difficult to justify setting up a separate blog if I am only going to post intermittently to it (my plan would be to post little, if any, more than what I already do).

Also, maintaining yet another blog would be rather time consuming. Imagine that — whenever a new version of WordPress came out, I would have to upgrade it for three blogs! Just the one is hassle enough.

However, come the start of next season I should hopefully have a bit more time on my hands. And I am still too proud of the ‘vee8′ name to let it go unused!

I couple of months back I added a feature on this blog that lets you rate posts. I said at the time that I would have preferred a Reddit-style “thumbs up” / “thumbs down” system, but I had to make do with a 5 stars system.

Well, the plugin that I use now has a thumbs up / thumbs down feature, and I have decided to implement it. Unfortunately, this means that all of the old ratings data has gone. (I tried to convert the old ratings into +1 / -1 scores, but it proved too difficult.)

I would have stuck with the 5 stars system, but it had one major problem. If somebody gave an obscure post 5 stars, it would rush straight to the top of the “most popular posts” chart because it had the highest average score. This +1 / -1 system will help prevent this, as the score relies heavily on the number of votes cast, not just on the average.

Also, I should apologise because this blog is a little bit rough around the edges following the upgrade to WordPress 2.3. I still haven’t ironed out all of the problems. Just typical because today is a particularly busy day after the post below was linked to by the Telegraph twice.

(That first Telegraph article comes close to blaming me for the Hamilton investigation… Steady on! Errr, it was their fault, yeah!)

(Yes, every post I write about RSS must contain the hilarious “‘RSS’ sounds a little bit like ‘arse'” pun.)

I have a request for those people who publish RSS feeds. Make them full feeds!

I know there is a supposedly a debate about whether partial or full feeds work best. Well, that is not really the right way to put it. Everybody knows that full feeds work better than partial feeds. I mean, it is like saying that a sandwich is better than the crumbs. It’s just obvious.

But some website owners are, for some reason, sniffy about full feeds. Some people publish partial feeds for relatively superficial reasons, for instance because they can’t bear for any readers to be reading it in an environment other than their lovingly handcrafted web page design. Others have more serious suspicions: that full feeds rob them of page views and rob them of advertising revenue.

Earlier this year, the rather good Freakonomics blog moved to The New York Times website. At the same time, the full feeds were snatched away from the blog’s many readers. Apparently, it is NYTimes policy.

Immediately there was an angry reaction from readers. It (mostly) wasn’t from readers concerned about NYTimes itself or even due to the fact that the URLs had changed, that there was an entirely new navigation system to accustomise to, or anything like that. They were almost all from people who were angry that the full feed had overnight turned into a partial feed. Many readers even said they were unsubscribing.

The comments to the initial post were just the start of it. Several subsequent threads descended into similar “outraged of Bloglinesville” mobs, and it has become a recurring topic on the blog ever since. This is one plus side — at least the authors are open about the problems and the reasons why they can no longer offer a full feed.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to get angry, I would guess that I have read a lot less of the Freakonomics blog since the move. This is entirely down to the fact that it no longer offers a full feed.

I am aware that a lot of people simply cannot believe that (or understand why) full feeds generate as many clickthroughs as (or sometimes even more clickthroughs than) partial feeds do. It doesn’t seem to make sense, right? If people can read the entire content without leaving their RSS reader, why on earth would they visit the website?

But it doesn’t work like that. FeedBurner say so — and they would know. To me, it is just common sense. I have been reading RSS feeds for a few years now, so I think I have a pretty good idea of the reasons why partial feeds just do not work.

Think about why people use RSS feeds as opposed to visiting the different web sites all the time. It’s obvious: people who use RSS feeds do so because it makes it easier and quicker to read everything they want to read.

So immediately we have run into the problem with partial feeds — they do the precise opposite of what the reader wants. They make it more difficult and slower to read what you want to read. If you have begun reading and want to read the rest of the content, it involves clicking through and waiting for the (probably bloated) web page to load. It is a needless, unwanted, time wasting, inefficient hassle.

That explains why readers generally don’t like partial feeds. But what about the clickthrough rate? First of all, it is worth pointing out that page views are falling out of favour as a meaningful web metric thanks to the increasing use of Ajax and other kinds of magic. In a funny way, more page views usually means it’s a worse website. (Ask users of MySpace and Facebook about the navigation of those sites, and see which site has the happiest users.)

But let us say that page views (and certainly visits) are a good thing. So why should you use full feeds? Once again, for me it is down to convenience. I use RSS feeds because it allows me to squeeze more reading into a shorter space of time. Imagine sitting there in front Google Reader. You have a list of items waiting to be read. So you get on with it and start scrolling through, scanning for anything interesting.

By now, you may have realised why partial feeds do not automatically generate clickthroughs. It is because there is less of the content for me to scan-read and evaluate. Typically, a partial feed will contain the headline and the first couple of dozen words. This simply is not enough to give me as a reader an idea of how good the rest of the article is. Neither is it long enough for the author to sell the article.

There is one site that falls victim to this more than any other if you ask me. Tim Worstall, one of the most widely-respected British bloggers. His RSS feeds simply do not do his blog justice.

I will sit there with Google Reader and scroll through the many posts he has written that day, and all too often I find myself not being enticed by a single one of them. That is not because they are not interesting. It’s because his partial feeds simply do not give me any confidence that clicking through to read the rest of the post will be worth my time.

If Tim Worstall writes ten posts in a day (which is my conservative estimate of what he averages), he is asking me to read ten summaries, click ten times, wait for ten web pages to slowly load, then read ten full posts. What a waste of time!

This is especially annoying if the partial feed stops in the middle of a sentence, which is almost every time. When the partial feed stops at the end of a sentence, then there is the confusion over whether I had read the full post (just a really short one), or if it was just a fluke that the feed finished in a neat position.

If Tim Worstall provided full feeds in the first place, I could have just read them all there instead of going through all of that hassle. Who knows, I might even have clicked through and left a comment. I might have bookmarked one of his posts in Delicious, letting other people know how good the post is. I might even have blogged about it. I might even have clicked on an advert!

As it is, I just scroll through the summaries and ignore them all. I have, in the past, unsubscribed from his blog because of the frustration over this. I recently subscribed again, but can’t say I read a good deal more of his blog as a result.

Some other blogs provide “summaries” instead of partial feeds. This is where, instead of the first few words of the post, the author has instead specially written a summary designed for the feed. The problem with this is that sometimes it is made up of a random paragraph taken from the middle of the article. Even worse, it might give away the conclusion before I have even read what it was the conclusion for!

If I am enticed by such a summary, I will click through and find myself reading the post and thinking, “This isn’t what I thought I was reading.” Then I will come across that paragraph in the middle. Ah, and that introduction in the summary? I have found out that it was actually a conclusion. It is like forcing somebody to read the last page of the novel before reading the rest of it!

There is another more fundamental reason why people should offer full feeds. It is just plain rude not to. RSS subscribers are your most dedicated readers. They are people who have decided that your content is good enough to have it effectively delivered straight to them on a regular basis.

Yet, how are these dedicated readers paid back? By getting a mangled fraction of the content that they asked for. It is like subscribing to your favourite magazine only to find the publisher sending out cuttings rather than the whole magazine. What a way to treat your regular readers!

I can hear the howls already: “What about all of the beautiful adverts that I have lovingly placed on my blog / newspaper / whatever? If I offer full feeds, nobody will look at the adverts and I won’t make any money!” Again, there are several responses.

I have already explained why full feeds do not lead to a reduction in clickthroughs. So people will see your adverts just as much as they always did.

There is an even more obvious answer: what is stopping you putting adverts on your feed? Plenty of big websites already do this. It is perfectly possible. People who are refusing to offer full feeds because “they don’t contain my adverts” are simply shoving their heads in the sand.

Even if there was a legitimate concern about adverts, it has to be remembered that your regular readers (the sort who would subscribe to your RSS feed) are the very people who are the least likely to click on the adverts anyway.

Let us not forget also that a lot of adverts are not even designed for human eyes as much as they are designed for SEO. These kinds of adverts would not even mind not being seen (just as long as Googlebot sees it).

Maybe you are concerned about stats. Let’s face it, as bloggers we all are. We want to know how many people are reading. What would be the point if you had no way of knowing if people were reading or not. Gordon McLean (whose recent post on RSS is an interesting read) falls into this group.

Admittedly, this is one downside to RSS as it becomes impossible to find out precisely how many people are reading. Mind you, web stats are not generally the most reliable things anyway. Run four different stats counters and you are bound to get four different — sometimes wildly varying — figures. RSS further muddies the waters.

As it happens, I recently moved over to having this blog’s feeds provided by Feedburner (combined with the absolutely vital FeedSmith WordPress plugin), partly because it would give me some fairly accurate (but not precise) statistics. I was pleasantly surprised to find that around 140–150 people are subscribed to this blog. (Hello to you good people. I hope you are enjoying the full feed!)

Beforehand I had vague ideas of who was reading this blog’s webpages and why. But I had no idea of how many people were actually subscribed to this blog’s RSS feed. But now I do have some fairly interesting and meaningful stats about my RSS feed. So even the stats issue with RSS feeds is resolved to an extent.

All of this is not to say that partial feeds do not have their place. For instance, they are perfect for news websites. This is because of the way they work. We are used to just scanning through a front page containing only a headline and a (very) brief summary of each story. From here we choose which stories we want to read. This is how news websites work, and partial feeds can reflect this.

Blogs, however, do not work in this way. Very few blogs offer just a summary of each post on the front page. The blog format does not usually lend itself well to this approach. Rather, the vast majority of blogs’ front pages contain either the full content of the most recent posts, or at least a huge chunk of them.

As far as I can see, there is no reason why the vast majority of web sites should be forcing their most dedicated users to put up with shoddy, sub-standard partial feeds. For me, the fears that website owners have surrounding full feeds are mostly unfounded.

There is a fixture of the modern web that I really don’t understand. And in terms of annoyance it is probably second only to Snap Preview.

Millions of links to social bookmarking websites littering the bottom of every news article and blog post written. You know the ones. “Digg this!” “Send to del.icio.us!” “Pimp-me-do to Reddit!”

A particularly bad example comes from one certain WordPress plugin which appends this awful mess onto every post:

Far too many icons to make sense of

I mean, just what the hell are you supposed to do with that?

It is not just blogs that do this sort of thing. Many major newspaper websites also now incorporate such links pretty much as a matter of course. Thankfully, they tend to show a bit more restraint than that WordPress plugin.

BBC News social bookmarks BBC News has become the latest website to add such buttons to its news stories. Thankfully, they too have kept it relatively restrained, with simple links to five of the most popular social bookmarking services.

Ryan Morrison thinks that the inclusion of the buttons is a good move from the BBC (by the way, sorry, Ryan, for nicking your screengrab! I’m not leeching off your bandwidth though, honest). But I just don’t understand why they go to that bother.

I have steadfastly refused to include such buttons on this blog. For one, the advantages of being submitted to Digg are dubious (something like having hundreds of drunk arseholes coming into your living room to violently vomit on your carpet before going away without paying the cleaning bill, never to be seen again).

But this is what I really don’t understand about these social bookmarking links. As Inquisitor points out, surely if you wanted to submit a story to del.icio.us, Digg or whatever, you would already know how to do it. If you make a habit out of Digging a site, you will surely have the relevant plugins / browser buttons installed in your browser. Why rely on the disparate approaches taken by the near-infinite number of websites on the internet when you have that trusty button in your browser?

I am a heavy user of del.icio.us. Yet I have never used one of the buttons placed on a website itself. I always use the buttons that I have installed on my browser. I am familiar with these plugins. I know exactly where to find them and what to expect when I click them.

Browser buttons for del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon

Most major social bookmarking websites have Firefox extensions or little bookmarks that you can drag into your toolbar. The above image is a screenshot of the navigation toolbar bar in Firefox. Next to the address field are two different buttons for del.icio.us (one for my main account, the other for Scottish Roundup). Then, if I should feel like Digging a story there is a Digg button. Next to that is one for StumbleUpon. Facebook has an entire toolbar if you really want to use it.

You might say, “Okay, maybe that is how you submit stories to social bookmarking websites. But you are an awful geek. What about the rest of us?” Maybe so, but how many normal, non-geek, web users are users of social bookmarking websites? If you took the geeks off the internet, social bookmarking websites would probably not exist at all.

I would be interested to know how often the buttons used on websites like BBC News and blogs are really used. I can’t imagine they are used that much. Why would you, when you can use browser buttons that are so much more efficient?

Still, I guess the links placed on websites must work, otherwise nobody would bother with them. I have pondered installing Alex King’s “Share This” plugin. At least it quite sensibly hides the ugly smorgasbord of links before you actively ask to be shown them. But still, why would you do that when you — presumably — already have your own trusted methods of posting an item to your social bookmarking website of choice?

It is an April Fool you see. Ho ho. Mind you, I’m not sure how many people are getting in on the action this, since most normal people don’t get up until after midday on a Sunday. (Not me unfortunately; I’m not normal enough.)

Anyway, this post is to say that, far from passing the roundup baton to someone else, I have moved it away from WordPress.com and to its very own website — Scottish Roundup.co.uk. How swish!

When I was writing this week’s roundup I started going into a bit of a rant about the fact that MPs have given themselves an allowance of £10,000 per year to operate a website (via Osama Saeed).

Although I allow myself to have opinions on the roundup, I thought the diatribe — although apt, given the site move and all — was a bit too much. So I’ve decided to just post it here instead:

Well, the roundup has just moved away from WordPress.com (free) but it still uses WordPress (free, as long as you have the webspace). I’ll let you into a secret — I’ve tacked Scottish Roundup on to the webspace I already owned for my other websites, so all the move cost was just over £6 for the domain name. Last month I paid just over £4.50 for the hosting account for the month (spread across three websites). So you can see, it isn’t expensive stuff.

Maybe an MP would claim that they need to do more complicated things than just a simple blog. But they don’t. A good few MPs have good blogs that work well and communicate their message to constituents. In short, blogs are great. And in a way, they are perfect for politicians. And sure, they might need to have somebody updating the website, but it is hardly a full time occupation.

Head over to WordPress.com or Blogger and set up a perfectly good website for free, rather than claiming £10,000 of taxpayers’ money to build a shoddy out-of-date website (because that’s what most MPs’ websites are).

I just did a slightly scary thing and upgraded WordPress. I’ve had to upgrade a good few plugins at the same time, so I’m not 100% sure everything went okay. So if there’s something up please let me know in the comments or something! Thanks.

Update: Well I’ve already found one pretty big problem. Tag archives have gone! Fixed

Some new clothes! They still need to be ironed a bit though. I’ll sort out all the little niggles over the coming days. What do you think?

Update: Finally getting round to updating this post, which I meant to do yesterday. It’s crazy. It’s Christmas and I’m still running all over the place with no spare time. I’ll have to do something about that…

Anyway, the original plan for this new look was to use pink, green and yellow because I think those colours all work really well with each other. But I had also decided to have a dark background, because I fall in love with just about every website with a dark background. So that meant that the colours had to be a bit pale in order for the text to be readable.

At first I thought the green looked really rubbish, so I took it out. Then I thought, we’ll I’ve taken the green out so now the yellow looks out of place. So then the whole thing ended up being pink. Reactions (as you can see in the comments to this post) were a bit mixed. But anyway. I’ve taken away the pink header because it was probably a little bit too in-your-face.

Regular readers might remember that this isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to use black / dark grey and pink. The previous times I gave up and reverted back to the same old blue. I am totally fed up of the blue now, so I’m determined to keep this dark design now. I thought quite hard about it, and I think (hope) it works. Now I’m pretty happy with the design and I just have some sweeping up to do. When I can be bothered.

BTW, I decided to call the theme Razzmatazz, because that’s the song I was listening to when it came to deciding a name, and I thought it fitted quite well.