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.

How To Publicize your FeedBurner Feed

I’ve told you that FeedBurner is awesome, and I’ve given you some tips about how to optimize your FeedBurner Feed. Now let’s take a look at using FeedBurner to get the word out about your site, bringing more traffic to both your website and your feed.

Not Your Mother’s Marquis

Headline Animator

Remember the spinning .gifs and scrolling marquis bars across our wonderful Angelfire and Geocities web pages of the mid- to late-nineties? When I first read the words Headline Animator, my mind went to those wonderful examples of web design stupidity, but I clicked on the link anyways to see what it was. I’m glad I did.

FeedBurner’s Headline Animator is actually a way to get your article titles into places you wouldn’t normally see them. For my purposes, I created an email signature using FeedBurner’s tool, and I’ve found it to be a really good way to subtly get the word out about my website in a fresh way that people might actually use.

Under the Publicize tab inside of FeedBurner, you’ll find Headline Animator right at the top of the left column. Click on the drop down menu to see the different themes and you’ll notice that more than just email signatures are available; this tool allows you to get your headlines to a variety of different places and formats, and as you move through the wizard, you’ll get a good idea of how powerful the Headline Animator really is.

Play around with it a bit, and I’m sure you’ll find a good use for this. I will forewarn you, though, that using the email signature can sometimes be a pain. Mozilla Thunderbird can use it pretty decently, but Mac Mail certainly does not :-

Some People Like it Old-Fashioned

Email Subscriptions

For a variety of reasons (I can think of three off the top of my head), some people prefer email and web pages to RSS and readers. This being the case, it’s your job to give readers alternatives to keep them engaged with your site, and subscription by email is a good way to do this. Thankfully, FeedBurner offers a simple tool under the Publicize tab to handle this.

This will add a link to your Browser Friendly feed page, but FeedBurner’s Email Subscriptions also gives you a static link you can use anywhere to spread the emaily goodness. Let people subscribe to your content in the way that best suits them and I guarantee you’ll have more and happier subscribers than you would otherwise.

Shout it From a Mountaintop

PingShot

When you’ve written a great post, you want to let people know about it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit obnoxious to call or email everyone you know everytime you’ve written something, and besides, that’s a relatively small audience. FeedBurner invites you to spread your horizon a bit with PingShot, which notifies different web search engines so that people can find what you’ve written more quickly and easily.

While search engines might find your content eventually, you can use this to let them know right now. In addition to those pictured above, there are a couple more static options and then you can select from 5 other search engines (I also notify NewsGator, Google, Ping-o-Matic, IceRocket, Weblogs.Com, Blogdigger, Alexa, and Snap).

If you’re using WordPress, you can do roughly the same thing with Google XML Sitemaps, but not to as many different services. Using FeedBurner’s PingShot in conjunction with Google XML Sitemaps gets you the widest exposure and biggest bang-for-your-buck, so to speak, and since it’s free there’s no reason not to.

Make Sure Your RSS is Yours

Creative Commons Feed

The last option I’m going to talk about in the Publicize tab is the Creative Commons tool. Since all of my work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States license, it is free for anyone to use provided they follow the rules of that license. Though you may have copyright information on your site, it’s probably not in your feed.

As far as I’m aware, copyright over content in RSS feeds has been upheld, but I still like to put this symbol and link into my feed. I have to deal with people stealing my content on a fairly regular basis, so I always want to have something clear I can point at regarding the licensing of my work.

So Many More Options!

As you can see from the Publicize tab in FeedBurner, there are a ton more things you can do. FeedCount is one of the cooler ones, which allows you to display a little badge with how many people are subscribed to your feed, but I didn’t write about it because I just don’t use it.

Play around some with FeedBurner and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the services it provides. Happy burning!

Safeguarding your content: Digital Fingerprint vs. Pingbacks

If you’re a regular here at SilverPen Publishing, you’re probably already aware that I license everything under Creative Commons, so I’m not necessarily against other people using my work. There are, of course, some restrictions, namely that they can’t make money off it, they can’t change my writing, and they have to attribute the work to me. If a person wants to take an entire article and put it on their blog, so long as they aren’t running advertising, have my name on there, and link back to this site, I don’t really care.

However, I have a deep and abiding hatred for spam blogs, or splogs as they are called, that scrape my content automagically and repost it on their site. Usually, these splogs are running advertising, but what’s worse to me is that there’s no real person behind the posting. Of course, someone had to set the blog up and put the scripts into motion, but after that it’s just an automatic scanning of the blogosphere to find content, copy it, and post it on the splog as if the owner had something to do with the process. What I work hard to create and maintain, they steal with no effort at all.

Usually, splogs have a wide variety of content, though when mine gets stolen it’s often about a specific topic. If I write about World of Warcraft, my content might end up on a WoW splog that aggregates a ton of the WoW-related news on the web. Technology stuff often ends up on splogs as well. What’s nice is that they copy everything out to put on their site, and that makes it easy to track.

A tool I have used extensively is called Digital Fingerprint, which allows you to put some unique text into your RSS feed which you can then search for via Google, et. al. and see if people are reposting your feed elsewhere. I like the concept of this plugin, and I continue to use it because I feel like it’s a decent deterrent, but the truth is that it offers false security. Every time I use Digital Fingerprint to see if my content is appearing anywhere other than where it should, it turns up nothing. If DF is to be believed, my content has never been stolen.

The plugin that does inform me that my blog has been scraped is the one not directly made for this purpose, and that is Akismet. Really, though, Akismet is just how I view the notification, because what really alerts me are pingbacks. A pingback is recorded by WordPress anytime someone links to one of your blog posts or pages, provided you leave pingbacks on when you publish something (they are on by default). Since Akismet maintains a vast database of spammers, when it picks up a pingback and keeps it from being posted on my site (usually pingbacks, or trackbacks, are posted below comments on a blog entry), I know that a splog has probably scraped my content. And my content, specifically the title of every blog entry, just happens to link back to my site.

By using Akismet, I can go out to the site to verify that it’s really a splog, and at the same time I click on the IP recorded by Akismet, which runs a quick whois check. If it’s a splog, I contact their web host asking that the account be terminated because the owner is stealing content and violating copyright. In my experience, the site is usually shut down within a couple of hours.

I’ve only had about half a dozen articles stolen so far, but it’s enough to keep me on my toes and checking Akismet regularly. Thankfully, it’s not hard to tell when your content has been stolen by using this method, but I would never have known if I just relied on Digital Fingerprint. The moral of the story is to always have more than one tool in your toolbox; if you rely on just a single method, chances are that someone will find a way around that method and you’ll be left in the dark.