On Site Design, Author/Reader Interaction, and the Information Imperative

on May 16, 2011 in MU Blog

Okay, so… first thing is that I have made some fairly small but I feel noticeable changes to the main page feed today (the thing you see if you click on the title at the very top of the page and go back to the “front”). One of the things that I did are to change the generic WordPress loop code to mesh better with how I use it… so now instead of getting the subtitle of the story and then a “Read On” link, the subtitle is the link. It’s a little cleaner looking, in my opinion.

It does cause some weirdness on older posts where I put some info above the “Read On” link, because WordPress is going to try to render that as a subtitle now. I’ll be fixing those in old posts bit by bit and not doing it any more in new posts. The only thing that will be posted above the “jump” from here on out is the subtitle or a similar short blurb for Other Tales.

Why in the past have I sometimes put notes or information up there? To try to get it noticed. See, I have a dickens of a time conveying a message to the readers outside the story. I can put it in the sidebar, on my Twitter, above the jump, at the end of the story… but a lot of people will just miss it completely. I don’t blame anyone. You come here for the story, after all. But sometimes I have information that I think will be interesting to people who like my stories, or sometimes I have information that’s important if I want to keep enjoying writing for you and you want to keep reading. And the bottom line is that there’s no magic place I can put it and no magic way I can make it stand out. Even if I made it in big text in the middle of the story… well, the average modern internet user ignores that kind of thing many times per day.

All in all, I’ve found the best way to convey something to people is to make its own separate post. But I don’t like doing that. I feel it interrupts the flow of the story. So I’ve been researching WordPress to try to figure out how, in the back end, to make this into a sort of bifurcated blog… so I can make a post like this one that shows up in the feed but is still separate somehow from the other ones. You can see the beginning of that on the main story page… the things labeled blog post have a big prominent “BLOG POST” in front of them so you can’t miss them, but they take up less space and are distinct from the story entries. I’ll be using these to keep you better apprised of what I’m doing.

(Question for RSS-feed users – would you rather have these blogs show up in the RSS feed or not? Should I consider setting up a story-only feed? I feel like in particular the people who are getting this through Amazon Kindle-for-blogs might benefit from only having the actual story, but on the other hand, maybe you’d feel like you’re being deprived of crucial information that website-based-readers are getting? Please let me know.)

On the subject of letting you know what’s going on… I’ve again started the week with no backlog and again not managed to swing a writing day on Monday, so again we’re looking at Tuesday for the first update of the week. Last week it was due to heat exhaustion. This week? Nothing more than me being hot under the collar. On my personal blog, which is still the go-to place if you want to know what’s going on with me in general rather than MU in particular, I made a post about what’s going on internally, because I am not actually a fan of getting spitting mad when I have 100+ positive comments and a few negative ones. Since I’m not physically impaired this week I should be able to bounce back and finish the week ahead, and then stay ahead, but today it was more productive for me to work on the site tweaks than to try to make the words flow.

Without a backlog, Monday’s the weak spot in my schedule. There are five days during the week that I could write a chapter to go up on Friday. Monday? I’ve got to write it Monday. In retrospect, that was probably kind of a mistake. Tuesday and Friday makes more sense as a schedule, given that I don’t write on weekends. I’ll switch it back to Monday and Friday when I have my backlog built up… until then, every Monday I “miss” is just going to make me feel worse, which will make it harder to get back to where I’m ahead of the game.

So, to make a long story short, this chapter will be up Tuesday. The first chapter of next week will also be up Tuesday. In the meantime, look for more little site improvements.

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24 Responses to “On Site Design, Author/Reader Interaction, and the Information Imperative”

  1. JiBB says:

    I’m all for having the blog posts in the RSS feed, otherwise I probably wouldn’t see them.

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  2. Nina says:

    I was wondering if there would be any changes to the mobile version, seeing as that’s the way I most view your stories, which, by the way, I find fabulous. Just curious, no biggie either way.

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    • Well, I might look at some things to improve navigation buuuut overall my feeling is to not mess with simplicity there.

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      • Miz*G says:

        I also use the mobile site almost exclusively, since reading at work turns out to be the most productive thing I can find to do with my time, more often than not. (I’ve restarted and caught up again 3 times over the last couple years…)
        I was hoping that if you do wind up trying to improve mobile navigation, you might be able to make the comments nest properly. It would help put certain comments in context, since comments get confusing when I can’t figure out to whom they’re replying.

        Either way, the story reads great on my phone.

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  3. Tigger says:

    I don’t know what’s going on, but everything on the front page is all running together or on top of each other. It almost looks like a code is broken somewhere. 🙁

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    • Please tell me your browser when you say things like that. It doesn’t do that on my screen (though the search box is a little glitchy, I’ll probably remove it for now), and I can’t fix what I can’t see.

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      • Tigger says:

        Sorry, thought about that later and I should know better. Husband is a tech and I used to be. 🙂 I am using FF 4.0.1 – and in reading more of the comments, it appears that it might not be broken after all. The blog posts interrupt the flow of story sections and they’re really close together on my screen…but I’m thinking that’s what most people see anyways.

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  4. Lyssa says:

    I’d prefer not to read the blog posts on my kindle, but that’s only because I also read at my computer.

    The blog post you linked makes me wanna hug you. Like I said on the last chapter’s comments, there is no way I would be able to handle being criticized every time I finished writing a section.

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    • Thank you for saying that. I have to admit that in the moment I was pretty steamed about your earlier comment, as balanced as it was.

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  5. Tamina says:

    One thing I notice about the design tweaks is that it makes it really hard to find your other stories and things, or find the bonus stories. If it’s not a hassle it’d be good to have some kind of sidebar like the ones that used to link to MoarMU and Star Habour Nights and stuff.

    Also, whatever writing schedule helps you the most is awesome. You have at least one reader who’s going to keep on checking no matter what 🙂

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    • The Iron Muffin says:

      I agree completely. Links to your other writings (including the other serials, which you have laid down) would be a wonderful thing. It would help in those moments when, as you recall happened a few months ago, someone needs to find a piece you have done in order to turn someone else on to it (it was your microhorror about the imp and the credulous child in that case). It would also be great for people who haven’t read your other works. And who knows? It might lead to a renewal of interest in your other serials (bring back SHN please please please! <3).

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  6. Peter says:

    I think the blog posts are an important part of your whole process of writing, people tune in to see what your brain is doing, either in your story, or in your life. Its never bothered me to see blog posts mixed in the story posts.

    With email alerts, if you have skip a day, it doesn’t kill me. I’d prefer reading, but… life happens

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  7. Cos says:

    Hmm, I don’t know if you saw my comment on the other recent post where you were talking about site redesign, because that post seems to have disappeared.

    What I said was that the main trouble I have with this site is that there’s no table of contents where I can browse a chronological list of all chapters with their dates and titles. Or at least, I haven’t found one.

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    • Yeah, that’s what I consider a “known issue”. It’s something that I’m working on but it requires tweaking the WordPress code.

      And I did see the comment, thank you… I just “hid” that post to get it out of the main story feed. Now that I’ve got the feed effectively split it’s back visible again.

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  8. Chips says:

    In order to help you keep your sanity and self-image, can I vote for Tuesday – Friday updates instead of Monday – Friday updates?

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    • You can. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m going to do.

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      • Chips says:

        Oh, and to make something more noticed? Make it Bold, red font. Even back in the 1800s, “Yellow Kid Weil” (a con artist) proved that anything in red creates a sense of urgency in the reader.

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  9. Pamela says:

    I don’t generally comment, but I thought I’d let you know that I follow this through the RSS feed, and I like getting update posts like this- I’m not going to complain if a chapter is a day late, but it’s nice to know. I don’t always read all the updates from all the blogs in my RSS readers- I imagine if someone didn’t want to read blog updates, a well-labelled update would be sufficient.

    Also, the site currently looks good on my (obnoxiously wide) 1920×1080 resolution (unlike so many other sites…).

    Keep up the great writing!

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  10. Darbus Dumbledore says:

    I’m an RSS user, and I definitely vote for having the blog posts in the feed.

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  11. Sapphite says:

    I’m sure I’ll find it with a little digging, but as of right now, I don’t know where to go to get to the story now. I don’t think the split blog/posts works well (for me at least).

    I never minded the notes-as-posts. I usually read them, or skipped them if I was heavy in story mode. Low distraction, since I’m always already “in-between” story sections when I see them.

    Edit: Oh hey – there’s the link right below this. Chapter 14, coming up.

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  12. Dean says:

    I would say setting up two RSS feeds is a great way to go, so people can choose. FWIW, I don’t mind the blog posts showing up in the RSS. I know how to ignore them if I’m not interested.

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  13. Nina says:

    Talking more about the mobile version, since I started reading almost exclusively on the mobile version, I don’t think that any of the side stories have been updated (meaning jamie’s story and as the underworld turns and so on) so I don’t know but I’m asking anyway, sorry if I sound stupid. Will those side story updates show up in the mobile version? I can’t seem to find anything about them and I don’t want to miss anything! I love your stories, have been reading for three years…anyway, just curious

    Current score: 0
    • At the present, no, since they’re on their own site, but I’m working on incorporating them all into a single site.

      Current score: 0