After a week and a lot of tweaking by the FriendFeed team, I’m finding that the new FriendFeed beta is pretty great. Its landmark front-and-center feature is its default real-time stream. At first, it was entirely too fast and made me reach for my filters (which, by the way, have been ridiculously enhanced in this new FF) and the Pause button, which stops the real-time stream. However, the FF team made some changes to how the real-time system works and now my stream is a bit easier to keep up with. I subscribe to 283 folks, which makes for a fairly active stream at times (but certainly nothing like Robert Scoble’s 14,000+).
It’s taken some time, but the new FF’s really grown on me. I’m getting more and more comfortable in it, and have just scratched the surface of the filtering functionality, which really cements FF’s reputation as a power-user social media tool. I see a lot of concern that FF can’t break into the mainstream and all that because it’s “too hard.” You know, I’m okay with it not doing that. Perhaps there are some additional things that FriendFeed can do to make it a bit more accessible, but it absolutely should not compromise its power user features for the sake of gaining more folks. FriendFeed does beautifully at what it does and astounds me at how it adds features to cut through the noise to the signal. Plus, its basic features are simple enough — you already use them on Facebook, after all. I encourage you to give the beta a shot and subscribe to my feed if you dare.
So the conventional wisdom is not to talk about a medium using the medium that is being discussed; i.e. you’re not supposed to tweet about Twitter, you’re not supposed to blog about blogging…whatever. These people who tell you this are the same people who tell you that auto DMs on Twitter are a good thing. Thus, I categorically reject this conventional wisdom, because we don’t break any ground with conventional wisdom ANYWAY.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over the last couple months, I’ve more narrowly focused the blog on social media topics. There’s a lot about Facebook. There’s a cubic crapton about Twitter, all intermingled with some Brightkite, FriendFeed, and identi.ca. Sure, I’ve written about the Super Bowl, but I’ve kept the topics pretty narrowly focused. This is a side effect of my using Twitter; items that I might have posted as “asides” here often end up there because of its sheer convenience. Another thing I’ve discovered: FriendFeed is a stellar way to micro-blog, especially if I need more than 140 characters. It can offer instant feedback and viral promotion via “likes,” and the conversation there is tough to top right now. It’s not just using different services, either. Two of my big topics here of late have been Serious Business show notes and weather, and I’ve shifted both these items off to their own sites in order to let them flourish.
So where does that leave the ol’ homestead? Scrambling to adjust, and reacquire its voice. Continue reading →
A long, long time ago, my dad once said that Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. Being young and not yet refined, of course, my brother and I were befuddled. Thanksgiving was just dinner and passing out with football in the background, and of course, a couple days off. But there was no real buildup, no excitement, not like Christmas which was coming around the corner. That was the exciting holiday. So, you know, we just didn’t get it, being young and foolish.
But as time goes on, I’ve come to really realize that Thanksgiving really does kick Christmas’s butt all over the place, and I’ve thus come into total agreement with my dad. There’s no pressure, no buildup, no politics — just turkey, football, tryptophan-induced comas and thanks, lots and lots of thanks — for health, for friends and family, for stable work, and for the gift of life. And, this year, a special treat from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
It’s going to be a gorgeous day in Charleston. I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with the family, tossing a football with my brother — the little things.
Take care of yourselves and each other, and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
Somehow I found the energy, the sheer will, and a requisite dose of insanity to release a major redesign of jaredwsmith.com this weekend. I call it Photographica, after the fun rotating photos that you’ll come to see as you browse through the new look.
A lot’s changed on the site, because a lot’s changed in my life. In 2005, when the orange/gray look took shape, it was a very edgy, turbulent time in my life. I was taking a great deal of chances, and it still held a hint of that youthful carelessness as I went about foraging a new identity. That identity’s since been foraged, and has been polished and evolved over the last three years. I’m now about to embark on yet another chapter in life; one that is certain to bring a whole new level of challenges along with it; but it’s also one that I feel I’m heading into on firm, stable ground. That’s what this look says to me; it’s got elements of that stormy side of life (as evidenced by the clouds that extend well beyond the frame of the main content area of the site), but it also brings a calm cleanliness as only Helvetica Neue and the less-loud blues and greens provide. I also think it captures an important element that I’ve tried to reinforce in my life: Stopping to smell the roses and take the world around me in — thus, the rotating photos of the world around me. This is a small set to start with; fear not, as there will be many more down the road. Photos are only a part of drawing a more complete picture of “the world according to me”; thanks to the FriendFeed sidebar widget, I’m able to show you a wider spectrum of my thoughts, likes, and dislikes, as well as what people think of those thoughts, likes, and dislikes.
Photographica evolved from a process that’s taken basically most of the summer. I pumped out at least ten mockups of what the site could look like before one night I was struck with a little stroke of genius. I began to template this out in static HTML; this process lasted several weeks and really enabled me to get it into WordPress quickly over this past weekend. It’s by far my most CSS-heavy design, and really shines on recent versions of Safari and Firefox. I take heavy advantage of WebKit and Mozilla’s pre-release implementations of the border-radius property, so if you’re on those browsers, you will see that rounded corners are pervasive throughout. If you’re not on them, not to worry — this effect degrades perfectly and there is no effect on performance at all. And if you’re still using Internet Explorer 6 for some reason, at least upgrade to IE 7 if you can’t switch to Firefox; you’re going to miss out on the image rotation and a few other items because IE 6 is just incredibly behind the times.
As always, Photographica is a living look and is a work in progress, as all Web sites are. There may be some bugs and some areas to iron out; I’ll fix them. For now, though, enjoy. I think you guys will like it.
Something I’ve always struggled with is my blog’s focus. I tend to zero in on topics for a little while and then drift to something else. It quite fits my semi-neurotic personality — I’m definitely a “phase” kind of guy — but I realize that for the few folks who do read me from time to time that my lack of focus can throw you off. Some people come here for my weather updates; that’s cool and all, but what if I go on a binge of technology posts about FriendFeed and Facebook and leave the weather alone for a while? What if people showed up for me to talk about the Padres when I haven’t mentioned them on here since April? Writing such a blog can be tough on the readers because that noise makes what one might perceive as “the good stuff” that much harder to find.
I’m trying to mitigate some of this issue in the next design by reinforcing a topic-based scheme that should more easily direct folks to what they’re looking for. I’m doing a little of that with my weather section right now, but I’m planning on doing the entire blog in a topic-based navigational scheme come redesign time. The goal is for folks to be able to see on the homepage a quick overview of my posts by topic, versus one giant aggregation that could be all over the place. I’ll still retain the all-over-the-placeness on the blog homepage (equivalent to jaredwsmith.com/blog now), but the homepage should at least help people be directed to what they’re interested in that I might write about.
This will help me be able to produce more content in more topics and give each topic pretty close to equal time. If I go on a binge of personal posts — I’m in something resembling a quarter-life crisis at times, so this is entirely possible — the noise generated from those won’t drown out my weather posts, so those who don’t give two rips about me ;) can still find out what kind of damaging winds will inevitably not materialize because I blogged about them. I’m really hoping that this works out the way I intend. There are some avenues I want to explore via the blog that I haven’t really felt like exploring yet because the necessary organizational balance has not been in place. I’m looking forward to those controls coming into play, and I’ll be interested to see how it affects readership down the road.
I’ve been taking a closer look at my last.fm statistics, and it’s been interesting watching the trends evolve. Most notably, there is definitely evidence of my trending away from a smooth jazz/newage/Weather Channel phase back to a more mainstream hard rock selection of music again. Continue reading →
Yesterday’s Wednesday Why at Lowcountry Blogs asks “Why do you have a blog?”
For me, it simply starts with the ability to have some sort of voice. I feel as if I can get whatever message I want out much more effectively through this medium than, say, if I stood at a street corner shouting my lungs out. I’ll sound less hoarse and blogging is generally far less obnoxious (unless I started tYpInG lyKe tHiS OmG FoR ShiZZle! [which I won’t]). Blogging lets me engage in a conversation about whatever I want with whoever is willing to listen, and that’s cool too. I can’t go around to random people and start throwing out baseball stories or talking at length about BlackBerries without being slapped at least once. It’s certainly a great outlet for my eclectic interests that I would not have otherwise. (I know I won’t meet anyone within a 100-mile radius who will willingly [and seriously] discuss Weather Channel local forecast computers with me.)
More importantly, though, I feel blogging gives me a great historical record to look upon. I’ve been doing this for quite a while (as my oldsite and archives attest to). Every once in a while I get a serious kick and a great laugh about some of the ridiculous stuff I wrote in high school. It’s helped me to measure my progress not just as a writer or Web designer, but also as a human being, still finding his way in the world. Having a reasonably complete record from late age 15 to age 23 (and going!) really gives me a kick (though I am incredibly pissed that my Realm 4 database, covering 2002-2005 appears to have been lost forever — but that was a dark period, so maybe it’s not so bad). It’s wild; I’ve never kept a private journal. I don’t like writing things that nobody else is going to read; I don’t see the fun in that, or much of a release in that. I feel I get much more out of my writing and my experiences when I can share them with others — and ultimately, that’s why I take to the blogosphere, because in the blogosphere, you’re never alone.
I completed a dump of my old jwswebenterprises.com domain to my drive today in preparation for some serious archival (and dumping a hosting account that’s burning a $100 hole in my pocket every year that I don’t really use anymore). jwswebenterprises.com was where I did a lot of my work in my senior year of high school. While I certainly have come a long way in terms of design, I still think that some of the graphical pieces I did for my sites (mainly The Realm, my former personal site) were some of the most artistically aggressive work that I have ever done, especially as it relates to the typography I employed.
Putting aside the fact that it fully embraced the Internet Explorer monopoly and incorporated so many IE extensions that it made Mozilla 1.0 vomit when it was released in mid-2002, the fourth incarnation of my old Realm site is still my favorite — yes, of all time — in terms of sheer expression. It utilized a rich palette of deep blues, striking greens, and vivid oranges. The typography ran the gamut from futuristic lettering in OCR A Extended, to a grungy typewriter font in Batik (Harting) Regular, to dabbling in the classy with Vladimir Script. All three come into play in this rare graphic displayed in the early going of February 2002, when the news script was operating but the rest of the site was still being put together:
The juxtaposition of the fonts was just out there and worked really, really well — it wasn’t something I would have expected myself to do. These themes were weaved in throughout the entire design and just lent a class to it — a pity I never finished the content of that site before moving onto another design.
As I’ve gotten older and allegedly grown up, I definitely have become more conservative with my design. My work is definitely more calculated; much more matters now on the Internet than it did then, when there was only one viable browser and platform, and search engine optimization was sticking “content” and “description” META tags in the top of all the pages. CSS for layout was an ideal that was seemingly impossible, and Netscape 4.7 would probably crash if you used CSS in your page anyway.
I took The Spotlight off the front page of the site today. It was not updated, and it was not going to be updated in the near (or far, for that matter) future. It’s embarrassing as hell to have something like that go without an update for eight months. It had to go. I knew when I was adding that in that I would never update it. Proved myself right again…