SilverPen Goes Mobile With WPTouch

As you may or may not know, I’ve been going ’round about mobile browsing on the web for some time. I was almost convinced once that I had found a mobile solution for my WordPress sites, but it just didn’t work that well. The main problem was caching: WordPress, for those unfamiliar with it, can become bloated pretty easily, which makes loading a site very slow. Using a plugin to cache your pages helps compress them to speed up load time. Unfortunately, sometimes the regular version would be cached and served up to mobile devices, and sometimes the mobile version would be displayed on the desktop. Admittedly, this was more an issue with the caching plugin I use, but if it’s got to be one or the other, caching is necessary and a mobile view is not.

And then I stumbled upon WPTouch. This WordPress plugin came completely out of left field for me. I had been looking, trying out, beta testing, and giving feedback on different mobile solutions for a while before I gave up, but I had never even heard about WPTouch. All of a sudden it was there, I installed it, and it worked. No real configuration needed, no tweaking, no fiddling with cached pages or having the mobile view show up in desktop browsers. Everything Just Worked.

So I’ve been using it for several months now. It’s on both my site and on our work site, and I am confident enough in it to recommend it to you. If you self-host WordPress, there is absolutely no reason your site shouldn’t have a mobile view, and WPTouch provides that free of charge and very simply. Now that I’m finally comfortable with it and settled, I’ll be making a donation to the fine folks at Brave New Code for their great work. Give WPTouch a try, and if it works for you, I encourage you to do the same.

A Bit More About WPTouch

SilverPen Publishing on an iPhone in Mobile Safari

Mobile plugins for WordPress have one primary function: serve up a different theme to cell phones than to regular web browsers. This means that if you visit my site in Firefox on your computer, you see one thing, but if you visit on your iPhone or other smart phone, you’ll see the mobile version. The mobile version is much simpler than the regular one, which makes it much smaller. This means it loads faster, which is important on mobile connections like Edge. Even on 3G, you’ll have significantly faster load times with a mobile version of a site. In addition, text and such is reformatted to fit better on a smaller screen.

The previous plugin I tried, WordPress Mobile Edition, is built on the Carrington framework. Though very shiny, I found it to be too much. It was bigger than necessary, which slowed load times. In addition, it slowed down my site overall. I’m not a programmer and can’t claim to know how, but WordPress Mobile Edition contributed .5-.7 seconds to my site’s load time by itself. Half a second might not seem like much, but it can make a lot of difference in perception of a site’s functionality and reliability.

WPTouch doesn’t negatively impact my site overall, and it’s very quick to load on mobile browsers. It also has a very polished menu system that can be customized through the WordPress Admin Panel. It should be said that the developers are very responsive as well–there was a problem with the menu a month or two ago where it wasn’t loading right, and they had it fixed pretty quickly even though this problem wasn’t happening on all sites. They seem very committed to this product and doing a good job, hence the donation.

Check it out. It’s free and available at BraveNewCode.com.

What happened at Smashing Magazine?

Twitter was aflutter earlier about a sudden change at Smashing Magazine. They had redirected every page on their site to point to an ebook promo coupled with a plea for aid. “We need money,” they said, “and we’re turning to you, the community, for help.”

Smashing being what it is, supporters turned out in droves. They primarily write how-tos and helpful articles about web development and design, from which myself and probably hundreds of thousands of others have benefited. They post all of their content online for free, serving up advertisements and selling ebooks to keep everything humming, but this stunt was entirely new.

“We’re trying to prove a point,” the announcement said, but they didn’t list what point they were trying to make. As I was lying in bed, the pieces fell together for me.

One of the staffers at Smashing posted in the comments on the ebook promo page that they had recently moved into a new office and hired more staff. This happened to occur just before ad revenue went down, as everything else has in the last two years.

My guess is that Smashing Magazine went to their investors and said, “Hey, we’ve got a popular site visited by hundreds of thousands of people, and we normally have solid revenue through both advertisement and ebook sales. We’ve just moved into a larger office and hired additional staff so we can turn out even more great content, thereby leading to more ad and ebook revenue, but we need some time. We’d like you to invest in Smashing Magazine, and we guarantee you’ll see a good return on your investment.”

But the investors didn’t buy it. “You give all your content away for free?” they may have asked confusedly. “How do you make any money? How will my investment pay off? Advertisements alone can’t account for this much cash, and return would be too slow.

“Tell you what–prove it to us. Show us you can make this money. I don’t know, sell something, and if the response is good, we’ll see.”

So Smashing threw the dice. They redirected every page, asked their community for support, and they got it. Their store crashed, in fact, under a crushing wave of goodwill. Once they got the site back up, they updated the post to say they had removed the redirect because their point had been made.

The investors were satisfied.

That update has been removed, as have a few other edits to the original post (you can still find the comments in the associated blog post), but I’m reasonably confident in my hypothesis. Though the crisis appears to have passed, you can still pick up Smashing Magazine’s ebook for $9.90. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

Kampyle Reviewed

Kampyle

A few months ago, I came across a blog that had this neat little button at the upper right-hand corner, lurking unobtrusively and offering to take my feedback on their site. Rather than comments on content, Kampyle offers users the ability to comment on the site itself: its layout, overall content (rather than a specific article), its colours, etc. I thought this would offer a unique and helpful way to garner feedback from readers about what they liked and disliked on the site, which would help me make things better.

For the purposes of this review, I was going to link to the article where I first saw the Kampyle button and was a bit surprised that it wasn’t there anymore. Then I smirked a bit, wondering if they had removed it for the same reasons I am.

I’m removing Kampyle from my site, not because it’s a bad service, but because I haven’t found my users to use it in a manner that’s helpful to me. Rather, its presence has been potentially detrimental to my blog.

First, I want to say that the Kampyle service is free and easy to integrate into your blog. You need to put a short snippet of javascript into your header (code provided by Kampyle) and you’re done. It’s attractive, easy, and gives one a warm fuzzy feeling of providing another means of contact for users.

However, I found that only a few users commented on my site, and those comments were largely positive. For those of you who work in customer service or have to receive surveys, this is a bit of a surprise. Generally, the only people who fill out feedback forms are people who are dissatisfied with something, so having all positive feedback is odd. But via a medium like the Internet, it makes sense. Why waste time complaining when you can just surf away?

The positive comments told me things were great, but what I found more frustrating, they were often comments on specific articles. Notes to tell me that some instructions worked well for them, or that they liked a particular blog entry. While I appreciated the praise, I wished people had put their comments in the comments section on the blog article. Communication through Kampyle doesn’t allow for dialogue because it’s usually anonymous, and even if the individual did put contact information in, only I would see it. No discussion between readers can occur.

Of course, I don’t blame the commenters for this. They used a really nice communication tool to communicate with me, but its presence has had unintended consequences for my site. As such, I’ll be removing the code to better encourage people to use the commenting features built into WordPress.

Kampyle really is great, and I like it in theory, but I don’t know that it has a good place on a blog. If I was running a business website that had less commenting opportunities or means for discussion, I’d definitely put Kampyle on there. I might look into putting it on some of our sites at the University soon. But for a blog that’s ostensibly trying to encourage discussion within the articles itself, I don’t think Kampyle’s a good fit.