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Blogger in 2008 and Beyond…

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2008 could easily be seen as the year in which Google’s influence became truly apparent for the Blogger platform. In these past twelve months we have seen Google features become well integrated into this free blogging platform, making it a true “Google” product and incorporating features which both new and seasoned bloggers alike have found both useful and functional for their daily posting needs.

In this post, I’ll offer an overview of this year’s most prolific features and changes to the Blogger platform, and offer some insight into the developments anticipated in 2009.

Blogger in Draft came to life

Blogger’s “sandbox” for experimental bloggers was introduced back in June of 2007 as a means of testing new features before they are rolled out into the “main” Blogger interface. In 2008 we really began to feel the benefit of Blogger in Draft as many useful and creative features were introduced in beta and finally published.

The Blogger team began to encourage Blogger users to offer their feedback of developing features by leaving comments on the appropriate posts on the Blogger in Draft blog, and also to report bugs: features we have not experienced before. Furthermore, the Blogger team seem to respond to encouragement and demand for new features and the further development of old ones.

Scheduled posts

scheduled_postsFor many years, WordPress users have benefitted from the ability to schedule posts to be published at a future time or date. Blogger seemed to lag behind in this functionality until February 2008 when this feature was introduced to those logging in through Blogger in Draft. Now we are able to choose our publishing date weeks (or even months) in advance, making it easy to update our blogs while on holiday or otherwise engaged, and enabling time sensitive posts to be published at the exact time we choose.

Although there were a few bug reports soon after the beta release, this feature was quickly rolled out into the main Blogger interface on May the 1st.

Blog List Widget

reader-importThis new feature was among the first features in which integration with Google’s other features became apparant. On the most basic level, the Blog List widget displays a list of links to your favorite blogs. However, with the integration of Google Reader, we can transform the Blog List widget into a fully functional RSS reader to display recent posts and even snippets of posts from our favorite blogs in the sidebar of our blogs.

Reading List in Blogger Dashboard

Google Reader has also been integrated into the Blogger dashboard, allowing you to keep up with your favorite blogs all in one place. We can import subscriptions from Google Reader to save time or add these manually through the Blogger dashboard itself.

New Posts Editor

new-editorBack in June, Blogger introduced a new improved version of the post editor which offers increased functionality for uploading images, handling HTML tags and previewing posts before they are published.

While buggy at first, this new system for editing posts has become the favored choice for many seasoned bloggers due to the increased functions available when creating and editing articles.

There are still a few missing features which I suspect the Blogger team will complete in early 2009 (such as the missing Video Upload button), though overall this proves a more reliable system than that which is currently in use for mainstream Blogger.

Complete “Gadget” Directory

widgetdirectoryWhile it has been possible to add Google Gadgets via an HTML/JavaScript widget to our Blogger layouts since these gadgets were introduced, many sought a simpler, more integrated method. In April, Blogger introduced a unified Gadget directory for Blogger users through Blogger in Draft which – in addition to the regular Blogger widgets – offered Blogger users the opportunity to add Google Gadgets in just a few clicks.

This took the Widget installation page from a handful of regular widgets to a comprehensive directory of thousands with new gadgets being added almost daily.

Take a look at the official Google Gadget page to learn more about how gadgets work and for information on creating your own.

Embedded Comment Form

One of the most requested features for Blogger was the inclusion of an embedded comment form (rather than a pop-up dialog or new page). This was realized back in June when Blogger added support for this comment form to Blogger in Draft. Now we are able to leave comments on Blogger posts without having to leave the page, and more recently the option to subscribe to post comments has been added with a “Subscribe” link below the comment form.

Import/Export Blogger Blogs

The ability to export and import Blogger blogs was a welcome addition to Blogger’s arsenal of new features. By “exporting” our blogs, we are able to save a “back-up” of our entire blog (including comments, layout and all posts) which can then be imported to a new Blogger blog or domain. This also allows us to integrate two or more blogs into one larger blog which is useful for those who have different blogs scattered across various accounts.

At present, it is not possible to import a WordPress or other blog into Blogger using Blogger’s import feature, though we hope this may become possible in the future .

Blogger is becoming a social platform…

Several features have been added to Blogger this year which contribute towards the social aspect of blogging, and assist networking across different platforms and media outlets. These include:

  • Followers: we can now choose to visibly “follow” Blogger powered blogs, and also display a “Followers” widget to display profile icons of those who follow our blogs. Learn more about Blogger’s followers features on this page.
  • Reactions: this feature adds a widget beneath blog posts where readers can choose their reaction to your articles. Learn how to add this feature to your blog.
  • Star ratings: Another feature added to Blogger posts which enables readers to give their rating to your articles on a scale of 1-5. At the time of writing this feature is still only available for Blogger in Draft (possibly awaiting further development before being rolled out to the main Blogger interface).
  • Profile URLs added to Atom feeds: now a link to your Blogger profile is automatically added to the Atom feed of your Blogger blogs. This adds a greater degree of ownership and may well be enhanced in future months by the integration of all blogs and social profiles with Google Friend Connect…

Predictions for Blogger in 2009?

Although it is difficult to acquire any hints of Blogger developments before they are announced on one of the Blogger blogs, I would like to guess at some features which I anticipate will be added over the next year:

Google Friend Connect widgets for Blogger

After the success of Google Friend Connect since it’s release earlier this month, it seems very likely that the Blogger team would implement this into Blogger blogs as a one click widget/installation from the Blogger dashboard making Blogger a truly sociable platform.

Google Analytics integration

I am personally surprised that this feature has not already been drafted in to Blogger since we heard hints about the integration back in May…

analytics-for-bloggerAnalytics for Blogger has been in private beta since April 2008 and should eventually be released as an optimal reporting interface for mainstream Blogger users. For many this will be a hugely welcomed addition to the array of features available using Blogger. Let’s hope that enough of the bugs have been ironed out to release this in draft early in 2009…

A popular posts widget…?

When Blogger introduced the “Star Ratings” widget, my first thought was that this would eventually lead to a popular posts widget for the sidebar where we could list our most popular posts based on reader reactions.

As yet this feature has not been realized (or even hinted at), though as Star Ratings is still in draft, I expect we will see at least improvements before this feature is rolled out to the main Blogger interface.

Where do you think Blogger will lead us next?

Do you have any ideas of Blogger developments for 2009? If so, please feel free to leave your comments and opinions below.

Amanda is a freelance blogger and web/blog designer. She writes about Blogger at www.BloggerBuster.com and maintains several other blogs on various subjects.

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7 Habits That Can Make You a More Efficient Blogger

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Starting a blog is exciting, whether you’re using it as an extension to promote your current business or you’re just trying to maintain the blog as a personal endeavor. In any case, part of your success will depend on your ability to write new blog posts at an efficient rate; if you aren’t producing new blog posts fast enough, your audience could lose interest in your content. Similarly, if it takes you too long to write a new blog post, your profitability is going to decrease.

The solution is to focus on improving your efficiency as a blogger, so you can accomplish more in less time and end up with more raw content as a result.  

The Best Habits to Improve Your Efficiency

These are some of the best habits to improve your efficiency as a blogger:

  1. Dress professionally. If you’re working from home or blogging in your free time, you’ll be tempted to wear the most comfortable clothes and lounge in the living room while writing. But if you want to be successful and work efficiently, it’s much better to dress professionally and establish a professional work area. The idea is to treat your blog work like it’s your job. You’ll take your work more seriously, and you’ll be less inclined to follow distractions. It may also change how you think about your work and how you approach problem-solving.
  2. Practice good hygiene. While you’re at it, make sure to practice good hygiene—especially if blogging is your full-time job. The most obvious habit here is to shower regularly, but you’ll also want to keep your clothes clean, take good care of your environment, or as 14K Gold Teeth suggests, clean accessories like custom gold grillz. You’ll feel more professional in your environment and will have less clutter to distract you.
  3. Stick to a routine. Routines are vital for improving your efficiency. They help you establish consistent processes, which you can follow to save time and refine your habits. They give you something predictable to work with, so you aren’t scrambling to figure out what to work on next. They also reinforce your most productive habits, so you can continue working without thinking too much about it—in other words, they’re procrastination-busters.
  4. Set a strict schedule. While you’re developing your routine, try to create and stick to a strict schedule. For example, you might set a timer for one hour to read the latest news, a half hour designated to preparing an outline, and another hour to finish your full first draft. These temporal limitations help you avoid Parkinson’s law, which states that the amount of time it takes to do a task will swell to fill whatever amount of time is allotted to it; in other words, the tighter you set your timetables, the more efficiently you’ll be motivated to work.
  5. Keep an editorial calendar. Create a high-level editorial calendar as early as possible, and stick to it the best you can. This will help you ensure your high-level goals and priorities never fall out of your sight, and make sure you never run out of work. Set target dates for drafting and publication, so you’re always working toward something, and jot down your new topic ideas whenever you get them.
  6. Stay organized. This should go without saying, but the vast majority of new bloggers suffer from not being organized. They read new material that could serve as inspiration for a new post, but lose the original article. They set goals for themselves, but forget them or change them too frequently for them to take effect. Create a system for taking notes and keeping track of your high-level priorities, and stick to it.
  7. Keep reading on a regular basis. Reading is one of the best ways to consistently and reliably improve your writing, so make time for it in your schedule. Reading work like yours can help you generate new ideas, improve your vocabulary, and increase your fluency, so you can write faster.

Learning and Improving

It’s a good idea to track your time while working on blog-related tasks. It will allow you to gather data on your productivity habits, and ideally, see how they improve over time. If there’s a particular task that takes up a disproportionate amount of your time, you can drop it or focus specifically on improving it. If you notice a strategy is making you more efficient in one or more areas, you can use it more frequently or apply it to different areas.

In any case, the real secret to becoming a more efficient blogger is committing to improve over time. Pay attention to how your habits develop, and continually refine your approach.

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Oh, Now I Get It! How to Explain Complex Topics to Your Audience

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Technical writers have a great number of skills, but perhaps the most important is the ability to adapt your language to the level of comprehension your audience has. A highly technical and complex article can overwhelm readers or even bore them.

“But it’s impossible to delight my readers and keep them engaged when I’m talking about the

IEEE 802.11ac principle of broadband technology,” We hear you cry. And, we get it. Turning a technical article into a sexy piece of content can feel like a daunting task, but it’s not mission impossible.

Here are a few content creation tips that will help you explain complex topics to your audience in a delightful manner.

Imagine That You Are Explaining the Subject to a Non-Tech-Savvy Friend

One of the most important things when creating technical content for a more broad audience is consistency. So, as much as possible try to use the same tone, level of knowledge, complexity of vocabulary, and so on. The easiest way to calibrate your writing style is to imagine that you are writing for a friend or a relative that has nothing to do with your area of expertise.

Imagine you are trying to explain a particularly complex topic to them, in a friendly and light discussion. How would you approach the subject? What elements you think would bore or frustrate them?

What helps you in the real world is adapting your style and vocabulary to the other person’s knowledge. You know that you don’t have to explain what an Internet browser does, but you might have to tell them more about the coding behind it when discussing responsive web design, for instance. Use common words and keep them engaged with a lighter, friendly style.

Adapt Your Vocabulary and Structure

Let’s take a look at how you can flip your technical writing to be more approachable. First of all: use concepts that your audience is familiar with or at least has a general idea about them.

A good start is to check what search words visitors use when browsing your website. You will identify commonly used terms that are related to the technology that interests them. Use those keywords yourself to keep visitors on your page.

Also, be careful about the structure of the text when writing online, especially when you are trying to explain something complex. Make sure to split your text into readable chunks. You can also help the reader understand the subject better by using titles and subtitles to separate the main ideas of your article.

Build up the Knowledge of Your Audience, from General to Detailed

Once you have established a common language and vocabulary between you and your target audience, start methodically presenting your topic, from general level information to more detailed aspects. Applying this rule will help you readers understand the topic better without wasting too much time. Online readers tend to ignore content that is, irrelevant or hard to understand.

While it is important to get the basics straight before getting deeper into your subject, make sure to summarize the purpose of your article at the very beginning, as it will let your audience know what they will learn about after going through it.

Use Style Tools That Help Your Audience Relate to the Topic

The fun part of writing about technical topics for a general audience is getting creative with it. Because you can’t use the “boring,” “stiff” technical jargon, you must come up with expressive comparisons, examples, and analogies. You can even evoke anecdotal evidence to support the facts since they are highly relevant for many of the users.

Helping them relate to the topic you are writing about is the key to grabbing their attention. Use day to day examples for the systems and processes you are describing, or mention the best-known similar thing. Give them examples of possible situations when they can come across the topic you are writing about and enable them to talk about it themselves.

Ultimately, is all about correctly identifying the level of knowledge your audience has. Encourage them to comment and ask any questions and keep the conversations alive.

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IT Management Solutions: What is the Key to Improving Employee Efficiency?

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There are many ways you can improve your employees’ efficiency. From decluttering the workspace to encouraging a stress-free environment, there is a whole range of things you can do to make your work life run smoother. One such technique you need to adopt for your company is an IT management solution.

What Does It Do?

An IT management solution such as SysAid takes all of the day-to-day programs that a business will use and consolidates them into one easy-to-use package. Every employee should be able to log on and complete all their work without having to leave the initial program.

It can contain such subsections as project management, customer relationship management, billing and invoicing, and a whole host of other features.

Why Should Employers Implement Such a Solution?

A system such as this allows managers to have better visibility over the company as a whole. They will be able to tell if an employee is completing their daily tasks to the best of their ability and will also allow them to see where they are lacking.

The data from the completion of these daily tasks can easily be tracked and analyzed to see where employees are struggling with efficiency. With some adjustments, efficiency can then be improved in these areas.

Project Management

One of the key reasons to install an IT management solution is for the project management aspects. A good project management program lets all employees know where they are with their projects at all times. Whether you are just working on the project or a project manager, you will be able to see the stage that the project is at and all the steps and processes that still need to be completed.

This collaborative nature helps improve speed and efficiency and stops the project becoming grounded in a lack of communication. If you are not yet using a project management system, you will notice that many small but important problems like misuse of resources will be greatly reduced.

Customer Relationship Management

By having your customer service staff use one portal for all their needs, you will see a great improvement in efficiency when it comes to handling customer enquiries. An IT management solution can contain a database with all your customer’s information. This means that if a case needs to be passed from one team member to another, there is little to no chance of any relevant information being lost in the transfer. Everything should be in place in the one database.

Invoicing and Billing

Keeping your various accounts and invoices in different places can lead to items being forgotten or double-charged. By using an IT management software, your managers and accountants will be able to successfully keep track of all costs and reduce unnecessary spending. This will improve efficiency as multiple enquires are not being made to complete invoices and other reports.

There are just some of the ways an IT management solution can improve your business. If you feel you need to improve your company’s efficiency, consider implementing one today.

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