Saturday, June 7, 2008

Changes To SAM (Feedback Welcome!)

Astute readers of SAM will note that I have been moving stuff around over the last several weeks on the blog. I have added a couple of new features and shifted stuff around based on my perceptions of your (the reader's) interests. I would welcome any feedback you might have...

All the posts will remain on the left-hand side of the page. I added the Madkast feature a while back to make it easier for readers to share the posts. For example, about 18 people used Madkast to share the post about Dan Mulligan returning from Iraq. It also gives some useful statistics on the top three stories on any given day so it seems like a good tool for the both of us.

I know I use a tons of tags and the tag list has gotten pretty long. Blogger won't let me edit the list in a useful way. I am pretty sure, however, that this is the way some of the search engine spiders find the site, so I probably will continue to use tags even though they don't seem to be of too much use to individual readers.

The right hand column of the blog is where things have changed most, though. The biggest problem I have is deciding what to put at the top of that column. I am well aware that many people don't scroll down so the space "above the fold" (to use an old newspaper term), or above the bottom of the screen, is prime real estate. I really want the most useful stuff up at the top and the admin or lesser stuff at the bottom.

Right now I have two features that I like but am considering moving down the list. The first is "Save Page As PDF". This is a "nice to have" feature in my estimation. It does nothing for me but I have seen where other bloggers recommend it as a useful tool for readers. On any given day a number of you use it but it does not seem to be too terribly popular. Not sure it belongs at the top of the column but I am pretty sure that if I move it below the fold, then no one will use it all.

I also have a capability to subscribe to the blog via email using RSSFwd. This allows people to get the posts sent straight to their email accounts. I am assuming that this is a useful feature for some people. The service gives me no feedback so I have no way of knowing.

I have added a feature by AideRSS that I really like that keeps a running tab of the top five stories in a given week. It calculates what is a "top" post through a complicated algorithm that includes the number of comments on, links to and bookmarks of a certain post. Since I try to post every day and sometimes two or three times a day, things come and go pretty fast. For those people who only check the blog once a week or so, this seems to be a good way to check out what has been posted -- well, what has been posted and popular at any rate. I like AideRSS because it is really simple to use and provides me with detailed feedback on which posts people are reading. That lets me craft future posts. Again, a tool that seems to be working for me and for you.

My favorite new feature is SAM's Shared Items which is function of Google Reader. I began using Google Reader recently as my RSS feed reader. I had been using the live bookmarks feature of Firefox but once I got to 60 daily RSS feeds, I knew it was time to migrate to a reader. I wish I had done it sooner. Google provides a whole host of tools for making feed reading faster and more useful. One of the neatest tools is the ability to share certain articles with other people. Google does this by letting you designate the article and then it creates a shared items website for your stuff. Since it is a website, it also puts off its own RSS feed, which makes it trivially easy to add a widget to a blog to get the feed to dump anywhere you want.

The net effect is that I go through 60 feeds a day (300-400 items), cull the ones that I think are the best or most interesting and then share them through the SAM's Shared Items box on the blog. I see much more good stuff than I can write posts about and this makes it easy to get this good stuff on the site. All this, hopefully, makes for one stop shopping for you. It is a new feature but I am already starting to see some activity with it.

I really like Top Posts This Week and SAM's Shared Items because they are dynamic. One will change more slowly than the blog itself (Top Posts This Week) and one will change more quickly than the blog (SAM's Shared Items). I like the symmetry...

The next thing is the Mercyhurst Student Projects. These are impressive projects that I have talked about on the blog. I would like to get these even higher up the page but they don't change very often.

The Intelligence News feature is another section I have considered deleting. It is just a Google News feed based on the word "intelligence". It is dynamic and I like that but the results (particularly, as I am told, in foreign countries) are not always very relevant.

Links of Interest is my blogroll and it is not going anywhere. These are almost all people who have supported me or helped as I got this blog set up. Cheers to you all!

The rest of the left hand column is stuff about me and admin stuff (like the archive and the tag list). Personally, my instincts are too be much more private but I understand the issue of credibility in the blogosphere. If I am not willing to share some details about myself (particularly when I am pretty easy to find anyway), why should anyone put any stock in what I have to say? As a result of this logic and a strong belief in online publishing for academics, I am putting as many of my papers on Scribd as possible and intend to try to make much more of my content freely available on this site. I hope, for example, in the next 6 months or so, to come out with a revised edition of The Warning Solution and make it freely available here for download.

All this is probably a bit more detail than you needed but that's why I saved it for Saturday! I, of course, will be interested in any feedback.


Pat said...

I like the tags but wish they were in alpha order. If I find something I want to share with you, I often look for an article that relates and add it as a comment. I use Live Bookmarks and check SAM listings in Firefox usually about four times a week. You send me email and Facebook alerts as well, so it's doubtful I'll miss anything. I never use pdf and wouldn't miss it. The Google feed sounds interesting -- I'll watch it. I have RSS feeds on intelligence topics so it wouldn't bother me if you ditched the Google alert on SAM. I hope you get to post something on Chinese organized crime and film piracy sometime. I hear that topic is pretty interesting.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Thanks for the feedback. We do have some amazing stuff on Chinese Organized Crime and Film Piracy (how did you know?). I, too, hope I get to share it...


Rachel said...

I actually use the pdf function all the time. Articles don't print properly unless you pdf them. As such, I wouldn't move that link too far away.

One more suggestion. I don't know how tech-saavy blogger is in terms of handling code, but you could use a script that allows you to click on a link that takes you to different points on the page. This would allow you to list your major topics 'above the fold'. It is usually a pretty effective way of navigating. I think we had used it in one of the wiki projects, although I don't remember which one. Anyways, just a suggestion!

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Thanks for the insight on the PDFs. I am not that HTML savvy but the template seems fully editable. I will take a look at the feasibility of your suggestion.

Thanks again,


Melanie Baker said...

Hi Kristan,

Thanks for making us part of your re-design! I've been hearing a lot that folks are getting value out of being able to see/share their "greatest hits". Very cool.

Also, if those RSS feeds start getting out of control, we have a Google Reader extension that can help. :)