rssHugger A Way To Get New RSS Subscribers?

Hey

While surfing the intertubes I came across a site that helps you get RSS subscribers. RSS subscribers as you know help out a lot to your site visitor numbers and are very important. For example I wrote about it in part of of my mini series "The Importance of RSS". I was interested when I came across rssHugger.

Basically, its a service where you offer up your rss feed for people to subscribe to. In return you either have to pay $20 or write a post about it. I'm a cheap skate so i'm writing a blog post (vicious circle I know). It seems a good idea so i'm going to give it a go.

The basic idea is simple you give your RSS feed they put it on your site and you get new subscribers from there website. Its a simple idea and I would wonder if it will work. I'll give an update later on. It's free (if you take the blog post option), so I had nothing to lose.

I'm not that sure that it will ever work or catch on, particularly for my site. For example it does give links of your latest postings but i'm not to sure that many people will subscribe, there seems to be no reason why people would. Other wise it is a slick site. The graphics are good and I like the feel of it. If rssHugger do a lot of prompting it might go far, but I wont hold my breath.

If you have a site I suggest you check it out. Leave a comment with what you think. I'm interested in your opinions.


Post Lenghts and Pictures In Posts (Mini Series Part 5)

Hey

As the final part of the mini series into websites and optimization your site I am going to talk about blog post length and pictures within the post.

Post Lengths

Post length is very important. You need to find an optimum length for you, your website and your readers. For example if your website is very thin you don't want a very long post, people will be scrolling for ages.

Post lengths should tailored ideally for what you are writing. Try and put a lot of detail in. It helps your post and helps inform the reader. On the other hand don't post a blog post with only two are three lines. It seems like a waste.

Pictures In Posts

Pictures are very useful. Have you ever seen a whole page of text and went argh! to many words. Imagine how your readers must feel when they see a whole block of text. You need to bring pictures into the equation.

Pictures are worth a thousands words. A very popular saying. It goes the same with blog posts. If you add in a picture every couple of paragraphs it breaks up the page and adds a light relief. As well as this pictures are also enable people to scan through the text and take the snippets of information they build up from the images.

Pictures also serve another purpose. For example if you had a short post you may want to length it. Adding in a picture or two will length it.

These are just small tips that can help.


The Importance of RSS (Mini Series Part 4)

Hey

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a way for visitors to easily catch up on your latest blog postings. Using a .xml format people subscribe using an RSS reader. RSS readers are special programs that read the .xml file. RSS readers are numerous, searching for RSS readers brings up lots of results if you want to try them for yourself.

The Importance

The real importance of RSS feeds is that it gives visitors a chance to easily read your content. Before RSS was on the scene people had to visit the site, scroll through the pages and read it like normal. RSS is a way to automatically give visitors the latest information. By setting one up people will receive, in their reader, a link and a description saying that you have made a new post.
The Types

RSS feeds generally come in two formats, Long and short. There are different types of RSS (RSS 1.0/2.0 but thats more technical). The difference between long and short is the amount of information you give a reader.

A long RSS displays all of the content of your post. My RSS feed for example is set to long. This will display all of the post. Meaning that readers will not have to visit my site to read the whole post.

A short RSS feed is a feed that, as the name suggests, is short. They only display a small portion of the post length. The best example of this is Engadget. There feed is displayed as small and usually only shows a small portion of the full post.
Choosing Which One?

There is two distinct choices which you can make. Having a long feed results in people not visiting your site but reading your content. Or having a short feed where you give them a short snippet and hope they visit. Personally I prefer having the long version as the visitor can then read the post and chose for themselves to participate by visiting and placing a comment. Using the short feed seems like forcing the user to visit if they want to read more.

How Is The Magic Done?

The magic is done very simply. If you use any content management system such as wordpress, or any blog the feeds are created automatically. If you have a site that you made from scratch and you don't have any php or other type of programming language that you can use to create the feed the actual RSS feed is very simple. If you do a search in Google there will be hundreds of sites that list how to make your own RSS feed.

To put is simply and to draw up a conclusion. RSS feeds are good because they bring in lots of returning visitors. The more returning loyal visitors you have the more chances your website will spread and the more visitors you should hopefully get. Its like a vicious circle, except nothing is vicious.

If you want to subscribe to my RSS feed you can find it here.


Top 10 CSS Resources For Beginners (Mini Series Part 3)

Hey

Cascading Style Sheets (more commonly known as CSS) is one of the most commonly used ways to design and produce websites. Originally they were used as a way to clean up HTML code, they removed the need to explicitly describe every background style, font, colour size alignment etc. The result was (hopefully) a lot cleaner and simpler code. The result is some of the amazing designs which grace our very internet.

I becoming more and more interested in how CSS works and how websites are built. As a novice "coder" i've built up a small resource of the best internet sites that help me with CSS. For any expert reader these may cut your mustard, but every one has to learn from some where.

If you want to suggest any of your own CSS resources I will try to add them in as soon as possible. This list is in no particular order, just numbered in the order I did them. You can click any of the images for the full sized versions.

1) CSS Box templates

One of the "features" of CSS is the use of styles to design and make elements of the page. For example this blog has an outer wrapper, and then two inner wrappers is to make up the sidebar and main content of the page. As a new person to CSS finding out how to do this was difficult. Therefore in at number one is the box templates. Many sites have a variation on the theme. You can visit MyCelly (shown above, my favourite out of the sites) intensivstation, CSSeasy and Little boxes. There is a fi

2) W3Schools

Probably one of my favourite resource for finding basic CSS tips tricks. Mostly filled with basics on how to use each of the properties in a basic way. I find it very useful. You could alternatively visit the world wide web consortium or W3C, for the basics on CSS.

3) Templates


There are hundreds of template sites on the internet. A quick search on Google will turn up millions. Sites, obviously, vary in quality but there are some that provide some good templates for a novice user to start out with. People with experience will of course find these sites pointless and badly designed.
Some of may favorites include, Template World, FreeCSSTemplates and CSSHeaven.

Extra Time? Zen Garden is worth a look. Its not the traditional here is a thumbnail here is the files, but is offers the results (with the same base text) for use by anybody. It takes a bit of working out but the results are really interesting and very will presented and all are valid CSS.

4) CSS Validation


One of the major problems that seems to be apparent on the internet today is the problem of valid CSS, although I don't particularly understand the problem in great detail there seems to be a problem about the CSS being valid and as a result rendering properly on the screen. As a result, if any one does create CSS it is always a good idea to check it. The best tool for doing this is the W3c CSS Validation Service. Offered by the W3c (who are in charge of how the code is defined etc) the tool checks through a website to see of any CSS errors. You can if you chose to change these errors to help make your code valid and hopefully run perfectly in any browser.

Extras Time? If you do have a bit of extra time and you want to look into more detail into how the CSS words and responds on different page checking Quirksmode is a good idea. It offers lots of colourful tables showing you which bits of CSS work and which bits don't. Internet Explorer seems to be lacking on a lot of fronts.


5) Cheat Sheets

Even as an advance user not every one will no every single CSS function (unless your are some kind of robot). Usually the answer to this it to go searching through the internet guessing what function you need or how to use it. Cheat sheets here come to your rescue. Listing all of the CSS functions you can easily read off how to use each one and as a result save some time. The best one I have found is from ILoveJackDaniels, well presented they offer a great help. There is even a widget for anyone running on Mac (i've got mine installed).

6) Tutorials


Leaning a new programming language is hard, no matter how easy the language might be. This is where CSS tutorials step in. Doing a simple search on the internet brings up millions of results. My personal favorites are HTMLDog (show in the image above), a very simple but effective CSS and Photoshop tutorial (image shown below). Other good websites include HTML.net and HTMLGoodies.


7) Menus

A website menu is the core navigation of any site. They offer the major links all parts of a site. A menu should be fully functional and as a result a lot of time should be used when designing them. The best resources i've found include DynamicDrive, Listamatic and 13Styles. They like all these sites give the basics, you can then easily change and modify any parts of them to suit your own needs.


8) CSS Compression

Usually when I code CSS or in any other language there are small snippets or code that have either become redundant or are not needed anymore. As a result you get extra code which takes up extra bandwidth, which over time is a waste of money (assuming you are paying). To counter this there are special sites that analyse your code, looping through and changing snippets to either be more efficient or removed all together. These sites vary in quality and the results they output but the ones I have found the best include CleanCSS and CSSCompressor. But as a tool for beginners they are great for cutting down unneeded code.


9) CSS Creator

Another tool which you could use is the online CSSCreator. You input values press the button, it fizzes whizzes and bangs and hopfully at the end of it you have a useful CSS sheet which you can use. The results vary but it is useful when you are starting out.


10) Type Testing

A major part of CSS is the font and type you use. You can, with CSS, change all of these values. But as a new designer (and experience) it is a lot easier to see CSS changes on the fly. As a result there is a couple of tools that specialize in working with fonts and there styles. These tools have hundreds of options (shown below) which you can change to get the perfect look for you website. My favorites are Typetester and Fonttester.


Notable Extras

These websites included are the extra ones that I use occasionally and I think they are worth a mention. I've not included them because they either don't fit into a section or they just have one amazing tutorial with CSS. Most of these sites move on from the basic CSS and go a bit more complex. But they are still cool.

KatGals tutorial is worth a mention. She offers a very easy to read tutorial on how to use both javascript and CSS together to get a time sensitive page style. It is a really awesome effect. I'm going to be using it on one of my new sites later in the future.

Another site that is worth a mention is N.Design Studio. He has two great tutorials on creating a CSS dock and a CSS menu. I think the results are really good and are simply worth a mention.

A the final website that is very interesting is BluePrintCSS. Its a different way of creating CSS. I'm not 100% what it does as I have never used it. But there was a lot of buzz about it. I would suggest checking it out if you have a spare 5 minutes.

This list is by no means complete. Please leave a comment with links to the websites which you think show off the best resources for CSS. I enjoy using the ones here and I hope you do to.


The Importance of Page Rank (Mini Series Part 2)


Continuing on our mini series, I am going to talk about the importance of page rank, how to get a good page rank. Page rank if you didn't already know is the "value" that a search engine gives to your site. I'm going to focus in on Google since it is the biggest and in most people mind the most important. But the principle applies every where else.

Importance

Page rank is important to a site because it is a way to increase your sites importance in the search engines listings. A site that ranks well means that you are more likely to appear at the top of the rankings for a search query. Appearing at the top means that you are more likely to be visited. Page ranks on Google are rated from 1 to 10. Every site and page on your site starts out at 0. The higher the rank, the more important the page is to visitors as perceived by Google.

How

Gaining a page rank can be easy but it takes a lot of effort to get a high rank. Googles page rank algorithm works out a sites ranking by the rank of sites linking to that page. Each rank "passes" a bit of the ranking to the site it is linking to. As a side note pages with "nofollow" in the link tags mean that site will not get any ranking, but it will still be indexed. The links which link to your site are also called backlinks.

The procedure works a bit like this. A high importance site of say 7 will link to your site. Google will come along follow the link relationship. Over time the 7 rank will be passed down to your site. You will get a bit of the page rank value as a result. If you have many links with a high page rank, the higher your sites value will become. It is better to have higher ranked pages linking to you rather than lower rank ones. Lower rank ones still count, just not as much.

To get a page rank all you have to do is get sites linking to you. The best way to do this is to right good quality content. When you right good content people will starting linking to your site. The better you write the further the links will go and the higher your rank. One good tip is to start linking to other sites. People after a while will start linking to you. Share the page rank juice around.

One tip not to remember is to buy links to your site. The problem with this it that Google doesn't like it. You may for a while get a good rank, but this will change if Google finds out you are trying to influence the rank. Don't do it.

Checking

You have a site and you think you have a rank. Baring in mind you wont get a rank immediately. What are the best sites to use to find out what your rank is?

One of the best tools on the internet is iWebtools, among its many tools is a page rank checker that works out the rank of your site. It looks at the number of back links and then makes a prediction about what rank you will get.


Remember this. Get good quality backlinks, a lot of them but don't pay, its a waste.


Blog Readabilty Test (Mini-Series Part 1)

Hey There

As part of a new mini series, i'm going to look into different websites that can help you improve, maintain and find useful information about your website. This mini series which should last about 5 parts will cover major and minor aspects about your site. If you want a specific section to be included please leave a comment. This first one is all about how well your website reads.

Readability tests are designed to test your website by matching and analyzing the words that are present. All though the data which they create (as shown below) is not immediately useful it can be used to gauge how well your website can respond to your readers. Ideally you want a website that every one can read (assuming you want one that can be read by anyone). So if you get a response saying that you need a graduate degree to read it you know something isn't 100% right, although the checker could be wrong.

The two websites that I have found that provide good information is "The Blog Readability Test" and "Readability Test"


The blog readability test over at Criticsrant is easy on the eye and tells you your website score straight and true (you will see the difference in a moment between the two). When putting in The Powell Blog I got a result of Junior High.


The second readability test which I find particularly good is Juicy Studio's readability test. It doesn't offer a simple "This is your score" but it does offer more detailed information and the ability to look up your results in a table. Its useful because it offers information about the length of words, syllables, average sentence length. Heres my results of The Powell Blog.

As a result looking up the "Gunning Fog Index" (you have to do a bit more of your own work) i've ended up with a result of Time/ Wall Street Journal, which I think is a bit higher.

Finally these test are by no means the be all and end all about how your website reads. Each test uses a different algorithm to find your results. These are useful for basic facts and can be good to tweak your website for best impact and ease of reading. Remember this, unless your website is for scientific proof many people do not want to read long sentences. They want. Short. Snappy. Sentences to easily divulge.


A Polaroid Collage In Photoshop

Hey

This is going to be a simple but sweet tutorial, that will show you how to make a Polaroid collage from scratch, using some holiday snaps. It doesn't take long, and the results look very interesting. You can click any of the images to enlarge. The image to the right is what we want to be aiming for. It is designed too look like the Polaroids are layered on top of a table.

For this tutorial you will need, Photoshop, a wood background, and some of your own pictures. If you have any problems please leave a comment.

Step 1The first step is to prepare the background. I've chosen a wood finish. You can find the original image here. If you don't like the wood style then you can use any image you want. Pick something that is plain and flat.
Either open up the saved file or go File > Place, and place the image into a new document.


Step 2The first major step is to place in your first image. Pick the focal point of the image and try not to include much background. Crop and resize the image in Photoshop so it is roughly square. Place this on new layer.



Step 3Since the image part of the polaroid is on a new layer it is very easy to add the white part. Use the rectangle tool (U) to draw a white square on a new layer on the canvas. Use the transform tool (V), to free transform the layer (Cmd/Ctrl + T) and align it with the photo.

This could be done in many ways, a quick way is to use the layer properties and add a stroke, but this results in curved corners.


Step 4The next step is to add a bit of detail. Select the image layer and double click to bring up the layer properties (Layer > Layer Properties). Add a small 2-3px black stroke and reduce the opacity. This is only a small feature but it sets the white background away from the image.


Step 5Using the layer properties again, apply a drop shadow to the white layer. Change the direction so there is a drop shadow on two sides. Make the shadow subtle by increasing the size and reducing the opacity. You can optionally here merge the two layers together by selecting both the layers and selecting Layers > Merge Visible.



Step 6Repeat the process with the rest of your images . Some tips, try to keep all of the images the same size, and fill up the area. Play around with the shadows to get that layered effect.



Step 7As a final touch I have added some text. I've used the Bleeding Cowboys font from daFont. I've set the layer blending option to Soft Light after colouring the text black.


You can click the image below for the full version.

This is a really simple technique to do and can be applied to any photos, background or trip. One thing I would do differently, if I was to repeat this effect and that would be to make sure that the images are all the same size and the backgrounds line up. I'm very picky and a couple don't line up as much as I wanted them to.

Please leave a comment with links to your creations.


Copying A Cartoon To Illustrator

Hey

I was busy playing about in Illustrator this afternoon, and I wanted to share a technique on how to transfer a cartoon or drawing into Illustrator to make it into a vector illustration. Its pretty simple to do and can produce amazing results. You will only need the basic tools and a draw (you can use mine). It doesn't take long to complete. This can be done in Photoshop or similar if you are so inclined. All the images can be clicked to see the full versions.

Step 1The first step is usually the easiest. Create your canvas. Chose a size that is in proportion with what you are copying. If you have a massive art piece make a large canvas and vice versa. I've chosen 100px x 1000px.



Step 2The next step is to scan you art work into you computer. Use a high resolution setting and on greyscale. You want to capture a lot of quality. It helps later on when you are tracing the image.



Step 3 The next step is to add you art work to the canvas. Go File > Place. Find you file and press ok. Move you image (V) and scale as necessary. When you are done in the layers pallet (Window > Layers) lock the layer. This it to stop the layer being altered. You can if you want rename the layer to something more suitable.


Step 4You can now begin drawing the outline. On a new layer set the pen stroke to black and the thickness to about 5. Make sure you have no fill. Go around the main outline



Step 5You should have something that looks like this. If you want to make the spikes on the hair spikes, click the pen point that you create. This stops a curve being made when you next click. Use the direct selection tool (A) to refine the points and curves. The more time you spend the better the image.

Step 6Do the inside lines using a pen stoke of 3px. It doesn't matter it you don't complete the paths.



Step 7At this point you have to option to colour in your work. You can use the pen tool or the pencil tool. I am going to do the pencil tool. The pencil tool involves outline shapes, it is a lot easier to do the curves. The pen tool is best for the stright edges but is a bit harder to do the curves.

If you want to use the pencil tool set the Fidelity and the smoothness to about halfway. You can at a later stage change these options it they don't produce the options you want.


Step 8You can now begin to colour. Pick a nice vibrant colour it use. Create a new layer under the outline and lock the outline layer. Using the pen or pencil create a path underneath the outline. If you have the pencil tool (which I reccommend) set the stroke to nothing and the fill to your colour. Apply the same options if you have the pen tool.
Outline the first shape.


Step 9You now have to option into the level of detail. You can either pick 3 or 5 colour shadow/highlights. The more colours you use the better the image will look but the longer it will take. I've chosen 3 because I was short on time. Use the pencil or pen tool to draw over the layer in a darker colour. If you go to badly out of the lines use the eraser (Shift + E) to erase the paths to modify the shape. Create a nice smooth shadow as shown below.

Step 10Apply the same effect for the highlight. You don't have to be too precise with the edges.




Step 11Complete for the rest of the colours. Add each one on a new layer so you can easily keep track of them.
Click for fullsize.



I think the colours are great and vibrant. The only problem is I don't like the eyes. Everything seems fine. Please leave a comment with what you think and your creations.