Testing a new plugin suite – Shortcake Bakery

Shortcake Bakery uses the Shortcake plugin and extends use of WordPress shortcodes. Makes embedding content in my blog pretty easy.


[facebook url=”https://www.facebook.com/RHCPChad/videos/904042432993659/”]

The above video link from Facebook via the Shortcake Bakery.

Last week, Daniel Bachhuber and the engineering team at Fusion releasedShortcake Bakery, a plugin that extends the Shortcake project to supply a suite of handy shortcodes for publishers. The plugin currently includes the following:

  • Image Comparison (powered by JuxtaposeJS)
  • Facebook embeds
  • iFrames (require whitelisted hostnames)
  • Infogram embeds
  • PDF’s (powered by PDF.js)
  • Playbuzz embeds
  • Rap Genius annotations
  • Scribd embeds
  • Scripts (require whitelisted hostnames)

Plugin writeup and detail found here.

WordPress blogging on an iPad just got easier

Earlier today, WordPress released version 2.7 of their iOS blogging client. And I’m happy to say it works well so far, though I’ve only given it a very simple workout.

Previously I’d tried the WordPress app but had a number of problems publishing from it, random crashing etc. So I nuked it from orbit — the only way to be sure.

And then I replaced it with BlogPress, a paid app.

BlogPress is clean, works well, and has some nice features such as HTML shortcuts and TextExpander integration (a must for any iOS writing platform). But BlogPress is really designed to connect to more than just WordPress blogs, including:

– Blogger / BlogSpot
– MSN Live Spaces
– WordPress
– Movable Type
– TypePad
– LiveJournal
– Drupal
– Joomla
– Tumblr
– Squarespace
– My Opera

WordPress for iOS is pretty single-minded — it’s designed to talk to WordPress blogs (both hosted and self-hosted). And the blogging functionality is still pretty basic, but the one feature I really appreciate in the WordPress app (that’s missing from BlogPress) is the ability moderate comments.

As well, developers say they’ve killed over 100 bugs and reduced crash conditions, and cleaned up the user interface to make it easier to manage blogs.

So, actually now, I’m using both apps to manage my WordPress blogging — the free universal WordPress app, and the paid BlogPress app, mostly for writing and HTML work.

Here’s hoping that the WordPress app continues to grow up 🙂

Full details at the developers blog.

Brown paper packages tied up with string…

If you follow my Twitter stream you know that I’m helping some friends out with a very cool Social Media project called Empire Avenue.  We’ve gotten a little bit of press about it lately, most notably this article on Mashable. I’ve not talked about Empire Avenue a lot on my blog as I wasn’t really prepared — lots of other stuff going on, etc. But now is the time..

In the last few months, I’ve noticed a few things about the Empire Avenue world that have really impressed me. Allow me a few moments to wax poetic on a few of those things.

In the latest development release, codnamed ‘Cork’, Empire Avenue gained Communities — places where you can hang your hat and focus your influence development.
For me the key word is Focus. Unlike Facebook or other sites where community participation has few consequences, an Empire Avenue Community forces you to focus, because;

  • You are limited in the number of Communities you join – which should provide more real value to all members, unlike other communities where you just join-up to express support. An Empire Avenue Community with an active group of members can be an exciting place with relevant discussion and content.
  • Your Influencer activity and value benefits the Community
  • Additional dividends are generated for the Community based on your activity

I love the new design. The tabbed interfaces, page zones, and overall look and feel not only appeal to my designy-side, they are also hugely functional for me. I can’t wait to see what the designers come up with for mobile devices 😉

Blogger Posts
Now this is really neat. Over the evolution of the beta, many participating Influencers have created their own blogs to support their activity. Not simply a blog post, they’ve started up new blogs dedicated to Empire Avenue. Here’s an incomplete list of what I’ve seen so far.

In the near future, if you’ve got an Empire Avenue focused blog, you’ll be able to register it with Empire Avenue, and we’ll keep a master list. It’s not live yet, but we’re workin’ on it.

Development Team

Sure, it’s easy to say ‘These are the best guys I’ve ever worked with’. It’s also easy to say that this whole team is the best team I’ve worked with. Because it’s true. They’re challenging, entertaining, enjoy what they’re doing, and are hoopy froods that really know where their towel is. Engage them on Twitter, buy them a beer, and maybe they’ll tell you stories…

The Market Makers
We’ve got a team of Market Makers — software entities with personalities that work in the background — that analyze Influencer online activity and a number of other *secret factors* to arrive at an Influence Value. These Market Makers all have distinct personalities and characteristics that come into play at various times, yet all seem to be doing quite well in helping to establish Influence Value; which is also determined by market trading activity.

So there you have it. Five of my  ‘Favourite Things’ about Empire Avenue. As I’ve said, we’re still in beta, and we do have many more things to finish before we open it up to the world.

If you’re not in the Beta and are interested in joining it, ping me on Twitter, I’ll see what I can do 🙂

If you’re in the beta and have some thoughts on your Favourite Things, then please, by all means, leave them in the comments below.

Saving the Internet, one plugin at a time

Well, a few posts ago I mentioned that I’d taken steps to speed up this blog.

Here’s a Pingdom response time graph showing how fast slow this blog was, before I pulled a few plugins.

And here’s what it looks like today.

So, according to these results, the blog is faster.

And what I’d done wasn’t all that extreme either; just removed a few plugins that were requesting data from external sources — such as the 3rd party font I used to use to layout this blog.

Now, the increased speed hasn’t changed my page position in the search engines, nor caused hair to start filling in my bald spot.

But it is nice to know that by making this minor change, I’m improving the user experience for anyone visiting my blog, and maybe helping to save the Internet by cutting down on the bandwidth usage, just a bit.

Your thoughts? Did you notice the snappy speed at which this blog loads?

Are faster blogs more Google friendly?

Perhaps. And if you’re looking to be found by Google, you want to do everything you can to make sure you’re not doing things to make the process harder.

A month or so ago, Google announced that they’re ranking system would take page-load speed into consideration when determining how to present search results to visitors.

Eventually I’d read enough about this, and had installed a cool free performance monitoring system (powered by Pingdom) that allowed me to review my website’s display speed. But of course, life gets in the way and I’d been a bit lax in reviewing it, so this past weekend I took a look. I found this:

This is a response-time graph, the shorter the green line, the better. Which meant that I now had to spend some time figuring out what I’d done that caused my system to slow so significantly.

It appears that the culprit was a mis-configured caching plugin. So, I spent a bit of time playing with the settings on the cache plugin, removed a couple of fancy ‘type’ related plugins that were calling external javascript (external content calls can really slow things down, especially large content objects), and tweaked how the cache works.

And in initial runs, I seem to have reduced the page-load speed by about  40%. Not as good as it was initially, but better than it was quite recently.Yes, I’ll be monitoring results a bit more closely now, and tweaking things as I go. And of course, I’m always open to suggestions too — in the comments please 🙂

Hopefully, Google will look more favourably on my blog, as this site isn’t quite the slug on the Internet anymore.

Time will tell.

Everyone’s a winner

It’s been a bit longer than I’d wanted, but I’ve finally gotten to wrapping up my first blog contest.

The premise was simple; tell me a backup horror story and you could win a Clickfree Transformer SE backup system. And some of you did tell me some pretty good stories.

Here’s some excerpts:

On Versioning:

Being an artist, dur­ing one of the more heated pro­gram­mer debates I took a closer look at the SVN logs and dis­covered that indeed this guy had stealth­ily checked in some­thing between our changes. Luck­ily for us, when you use a ver­sion repos­it­ory sys­tem (soft­ware or hard­ware) you can roll back your changes to a pre­vi­ously uploaded state that’s stored on the device (since all the data gets saved for each change that is made). I gave this a try loc­ally and quickly dis­covered what the prob­lem was and relayed it to the rest of the team.

On server backups:

I had a stack of flop­pies (and my brother and mother had stacks of flop­pies at their houses) that could only be read by an Osborne com­puter and that I was the only per­son I knew who still used an Osborne com­puter.… so I went out and bought a backup Osborne. And sure enough, my com­puter died a month or so later. But I thought, no prob­lem, I have my back up, and it sur­vived long enough for me to upload everything to the UofA’s MTS sys­tem. There! Backuped on a main­frame, what could be more secure than that?

On offsite tape storage:

I put in a help ticket to request the tape. Unfor­tu­nately, it’ll take three weeks for the tapes to be retrieved. Ah well, that’s ok. My reports are not a 911 and I’m just happy my data is safe. Six (6) weeks later the tapes arrive and reveal my web logs can­not be restored from the backups. Data gone.

On luck:

Next, we real­ized that no one had ever attemp­ted to do a res­tor­a­tion of the data. Upon fur­ther invest­ig­a­tion we dis­covered that it wasn’t just a mat­ter of people not hav­ing attemp­ted it but that we couldn’t actu­ally do a test restore on the old sys­tems without affect­ing the pro­duc­tion sys­tems. Had we wasted hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in tapes in a vault that could be worthless?

Well, thanks to some great work by Larysa at Clickfree, we’ve got prizes for all the contest entrants. If you ‘ve not read the full entries then check out the comments on the entry post here.

Congratulations! I’ll be pinging the winners shortly 🙂

Getting a handle on influence and online content creation

As you may be aware, especially if you’ve been blasted by my twitter stream recently, I’m helping some friends out with the Empire Avenue beta. I’ve written before about Social Media and the Power of Influence, but today I’m going to talk about a few things I’ve learned over the last few weeks.

A few things about Empire Avenue:

  • Empire Avenue is about your online Value and your online Influence
  • Empire Avenue’s The People’s Market is a fantasy stock market where the commodity being traded is your Influence.
  • You can buy, sell, trade virtual shares in anyone on the site and rate the value of their personal online brand.

Why I’m into it
For me, it’s about understanding my value to you, my loyal minions friends and readers. There are many models out there for ranking reach, breadth, popularity and power of your blog, or Twitter stream. But there’s really nothing that takes the next step and helps you understand your online value to your readers, no matter the medium be it Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Value in Empire Avenue is determined a number of ways, and that’ll likely be cause for speculation as we move through the beta periods and into full launch later this summer. I believe the details of Empire Avenue algorithms will remain secret, much the same way that Google keeps their search algorithms under tight wraps.

How it helps me
Empire Avenue, as I’m beginning to understand through use, is showing me through activity on my ‘stock’ what members of the Beta think of my content, and of me as a content generator.

Sure, many be speculating or guessing. They’re not really reading my posts and understanding my value, tailriding on the activity of others. That’s fine too, especially since we’re in such a small-sample beta right now.

But, when we start opening the beta up, allowing friends to bring their friends into the mix, these tailriders may be in for a surprise as ‘popularity’ may not be as admirable trait in the marketplace.

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to see how things shake out.