Muschamp Rd

Anatomy of a Sidebar

September 15th, 2010
WordPress Logo

So I’ve continued to tweak the sidebar.php file that controls the rightmost column on this blog. I still have a bug in my WordPress install where conditionals are not returning the correct, documented, expected results. However I’ve worked around that, I hope it will go away completely. In the mean time there is a handful of debugging code in my sidebar.php file, I can live with that, I’m not trying to win any design competitions.

Author Photo

First up in my sidebar you’ll notice my smiling face. It is a bit of an older picture from my time in Japan, but I don’t look stupid or like a criminal so I’m leaving it as is. It isn’t vanity, apparently it makes my writing more trustworthy and it keeps Jakob Neilsen happy.

Social Media Accounts

Below that are several social media icons, these replace the little LinkedIn button. I still think LinkedIn is the most important social network to invest time into, however I do use a couple other ones, from Facebook which is popular with some of my friends and relatives to Last.fm which I’m working on integrating into my music listening habits. Also at the end is a simple mailto.

Search Box

After that is the search box. I intend for the picture, the social media, and the search box to appear on every blog page regardless of type or content. The default WordPress internal search isn’t the greatest, but it is better than nothing and like an author’s photo it is one of the things people look for in a blog theme.

Calendar Based Navigation

Next up is my calendar based navigation. This is considered old fashioned and sub-optimal in most circles. I however spent a lot of time styling that calendar and am reluctant to just chuck it, but I eventually did. I personally used that calendar to see how much I’ve blogged in a given month. This is also information of interested in prior months. During the Olympics I blogged most everyday, other times I’ve deliberately let a long time pass between updates. Weekly updates is more than adequate for Muskblog.

Tag Cloud

Tags was a feature introduced to WordPress relatively recently. Some people love them and use them everywhere. They are popular on Flickr and other sites. I had literally hundreds of posts before WordPress introduced tags. Going back and tagging all that content was an epic amount of work. I also turned some of my categories into tags. The tag cloud you see, which now appears above the Categories list is created by Simple Tags. This plugin lets you do even more with tags and can do mass tagging.

Categories

Next up we have my list of Categories I blog about, which has been optimized over time. This was quite a long and varied list and what I blog about has changed over time as certain topics become interesting, others less so. I’ve always had hierarchical categories, now I have the proper WordPress function call to show that. I also got rid of the little skull icons.

Links

The next three section are all link categories. I use wp_list_bookmarks rather than a widget or plugin. I call it three times once for each category of links I have, each function call is slightly different. I still have the same three categories but I’ve reordered and retitled them. Muskblog: Greatest Hits are posts I’ve written long ago that I think warrant re-reading or have proven popular. They are usually amusing anecdotes, but not always. Occasionally I write something professional or profound.

Blogroll

Blogrolls have gotten out of control. Supposedly sidebar links and site-wide links to other domains are not worth much in search engine ranking algorithms, plus the size of a Blogroll can quickly get out of hand. I only add blogs I not only read, but subscribe to the RSS feed for. I also remove blogs if they don’t update regularly. Only one blog is listed, it is randomly chosen from among the most recently updated. This way whatever is in my Blogroll is recently updated and I don’t get accused of playing favourites or not linking to someone. Random is just that, random.

Last.fm

Musk Music is the last nine songs I’ve listened to on Last.fm. Actually not through Last.fm, likely just in iTunes at home on my G4. I use the Last.fm Records plugin to display this information and I scrobble the music I play through my home stereo which is connected to my original PowerMac.

Goodreads

Current Goodreads are the books I’m currently reading as registered on the website Goodreads. I was originally invited to use the Visual Bookshelf app on Facebook and that is where I originally entered all this data. However LivingSocial isn’t about letting users share and work with their data so after reading repeated recommendations for Goodreads I moved my data, deleted LivingSocial’s Facebook app. There of course was a WordPress plugin that easily displayed this information in my sidebar.

Flickr

I’ve started to use Flickr more and more. It is very popular in Vancouver. I wish it was more popular in online miniature painting circles. I use it to share pictures of my finished miniatures, but I’ve also uploaded some of the better photos I’ve taken in the last 8 years. I now only have an iPhone to take pictures with, but it actually works quite well. When I get a job and am out of debt maybe I’ll look at buying a nice digital camera. In the mean time you can enjoy the photos I’ve taken with far from elite equipment and skipped using Photoshop to retouch or digitally manipulate. To display the photos I just used the Flickr badge with a little tweaking of the CSS. I display three random photos from those I put in the Best of Musk set.

More Plugins

Networked Blogs is not a personal favourite. I actually hacked on their default HTML and CSS so their widget takes up less space. This is one of the ways to get your self-hosted WordPress blog postings to appear in your Facebook stream, so your friends will read it as they repeatedly refuse to use RSS though it is simple and anonymous. I think you need 7 followers before Networked Blogs will index your site. I have to say having used it for over a year, it doesn’t always work.

Beyond the Sidebar

Beyond my sidebar, I still us DISQUS for my comments, it works well. Simple Tags actually recommends similar posts which is another new feature I’ve added recently. And if you read one you’ll see that. I even got the Facebook “Like” button and Twitter’s “Tweet” button to work. I was going to use SexyBookmarks it installed easy enough but then when I tried to test it by Tweeting one of my posts it didn’t work as advertised and although I filed a help request I also searched around for replacements and am currently following these relatively simple instructions.

We’ll see if all these changes result in increased visits, comments, or Pingbacks, Trackbacks, Tweets or Likes.

WordPress Upgrade

I finally upgraded to WordPress 5 and in the process made a lot of changes to my blog including the sidebar to make it run faster especially inside the Great Firewall where I currently dwell. This meant lots of plugins were removed including all the social media integration. I think a leaner, meaner, and faster loading blog puts more emphasis on content which still may be King. You can still embed social media into individual posts which is in itself problematic.

Improving old posts is a necessity to rank well in search engines and provide accurate information to your readers. As I’m once again looking for a new job I’m committed to improving this blog making it more professional and less of an albatross. If you have any advice or questions on blogging better leave them below.

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5 Comments

  • Muskie says:

    I’ve upgraded my sidebar plenty of times, tiny tweaks, but right now it is busted or one of the plugins/widgets is busted.  Even worse the whole website but especially my blog seems to be running slug slow.  It has not been a good 24 hours on my MacBook or my life.  Going to go bike somewhere and get out of the house.  I’ve spent all morning blogging and seeing if Excel spreadsheets still work.  Gotta tackle these PHP problems.  Also a bunch of software vendors want money to upgrade there apps.  Money I don’t have due to being chronically unemployable…

  • Muskie says:

    Upgraded WordPress again, still conditionals on sidebar are busted are not returning the anticipated values.  No Yet Another Recommend Post Plugin either, Disqus and it still don’t get along.  Added more little icons under posts as Digg Digg got updated.  Delicious support, and Google added, not sure of if I need that many…  I’m not a big enough self promoter it has hurt me in my job search despite building and writing tonnes of crap, I don’t promote it enough…  I thought the Top 10 posts would help, but they haven’t proven that popular.  However Facebook can drive traffic…

  • Muskie says:

    Updating to WordPress 3.0.5 has fixed the conditionals, they now work as advertise, however SEO Pager Plugin no longer works so the navigation on my blog is still partly busted.

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