Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock. To think about getting rid of some of the clutter that we allow to build up.
You may recall that I was thinking about shifting my blog to a new server and running a self hosted WordPress blog. Well, I had intended to think about it a little before I did anything drastic (I think that’s called procrastination), but once you get started on these things it all begins to snowball so you may as well just get on with it. So here we are… the new online home for Betchablog.
If you’re reading this in an RSS reader then you probably won’t even notice a change (at least I hope not! Moving the old RSS feeds across to a new server was something that always put me off making the move, but I think I worked it out). I used Google Forms to ask for some feedback about the old blog and 41 people took the time to respond with some really useful comments. (That Google Forms is just so darn useful!) It’s good to occasionally stop and take stock of some of the things we do – and although I’ve never really been one for focus groups or being led by the popular vote, it was good to get some feedback from others and see things from their perspective.
The results of the survey were interesting and essentially confirmed some of what I had been thinking myself… the previous site was ok, but it was a bit bland, the sidebars were a bit cluttered and it was confusing to find stuff. Regarding the look of the last site, survey respondents used words like “ugly”, “unneccesary”, “visual clutter”, “text-book-look”, “convoluted”, “a bit loud” and so on, but the best one of all was “the sidebars represent Web 2.0 gone crazy!”
Somewhat more encouraging were the number of people who remarked that they enjoyed the quality of the writing and the content and confirmed this as the real reason they were interested in the blog in the first place. One commenter said “I come for the content, not all the bells and whistles”, and I thought to myself “Good point! I should be blogging for the content and not all the bells and whistles!”
It’s funny how we can often do things, not because we particularly need them, but just because we can. Most of the widgets and visual clutter on the old blog was there because… well, because they could be! The great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe probably said it best with his famous phrase “Less is More”. In the same way that music needs rests and pages need whitespace, sometimes the things we do can be more effective by what we don’t include. From my own web browsing experience, I know how annoying it can be when you arrive on a site and it takes several minutes just to work out were the actual content is. So that was the first goal for the new site; to simplify it a bit and get rid of some of the stuff that really didn’t need to be there.
The second thing that mattered to me was improving the site functionality. The last site had just grown organically, and although it helped me learn a lot about blogs and feeds and user interface issues and writing and layout and so on, I wanted to take some of those lessons and use them in the new blog. I wanted the new blog to provide better functionality for anyone who came to it, with a simple navigation and easy access to features like better search tools, improved RSS feeds, a mobile version of the site, and clearer ways to actually find what’s worth reading here.
And thirdly, there is a whole lot of interesting stuff that can be done with WordPress when you have control over the server. Actually, it becomes an exercise in restraint… there are thousands of plugins and widgets and themes and things that can be added to WordPress, but I think the trick is to find those things that focus on improving the user experience and to resist the temptation to add them simply “because I can”. I can definitely do more cool stuff on the new server than I could on the old server, but ironically, I’ve tried to exercise more restraint about what gets included. When I was thinking about moving to my own site I had all these ideas about what I might include, addition features, funky graphics and so on… but really, I think it’s better if it’s kept simple. It’s just so easy to get carried away!
And although it’s just a blog, it’s actually been a bit of a life lesson.
Anyway, I hope you like the new site. If you have any thoughts on it just drop them in the comments. If you’re more of an RSS type and rarely ever visit the actual site, I’d love to know that the feeds are working for you. I plan to write another post soon with a bit of technical info about the sorts of plugins and options I have used, just in case you’re interested in that sort of thing.