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 just kinda worked around that and when it fixes itself or I install the next WordPress update, I hope it will go away. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Plus I personally use 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.

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 from before WordPress introduced the tag feature. Going back and tagging all that content was an epic amount of work. I did it for some categories though. Others are not very important. 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.

Next up we have my list of Categories I blog about. This is 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.

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.

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.

External links are few, currently only one. It is stuff I find interesting or contribute to outside of Muschamp.ca and popular social media networks.

Musk Music is the last nine songs I’ve listened to on Last.fm. Well likely 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.

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 and have thrown my lot in with them. There of course was a WordPress plugin that easily displayed this information in my sidebar.

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 used no Photoshop retouches or other digital manipulation. 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.

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 which 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 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. I did have to register for yet another website, but I don’t plan on really using it.

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

Update October 3rd 2012

After my last WordPress update my conditional statements in my sidebar started functioning like I intended and more importantly like the documentation said they would function. I’ve changed my sidebar and WordPress theme more than once, but I’ve come to realize that the amount of plugins I have running especially behind the scenes ones may be slowing my page load times. I have three plugins that do recommendations now and that seems excessive. I might be downsizing to one, the easiest one to downsize to may be DISQUS which added a recommendation engine in 2012.

 


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  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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…

  • 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…

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