Last week, I explained Blogger’s new API for Gadgets which enables us to draw upon Blogger feeds in order to create useful and interactive gadgets.
In this post, I’ll explain how to create a very simple Gadget which draws upon Blogger feeds to create a simple “subscription” gadget which you can install in your Blogger blog. Unlike regular “widget installers”, anyone who installs this gadget in their blog will not need to input their blog’s URL in order to retrieve the blog feeds: instead, the blog feed will be generated automatically by the gadget.
The basic structure of a Blogger gadget
To create a gadget for Blogger, we first need to understand the basic structure we will be working with.
Gadgets for Blogger (and Google) are constructed of XML files. Don’t worry if you have no experience with XML – provided you can use a bit of HTML you can easily create a gadget using this tutorial!
This is how a really basic gadget is coded:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <Module> <ModulePrefs title="A Sample Gadget"> // More Module Preferences go here </ModulePrefs> <Content type="html"> <![CDATA[ HTML content goes here ]]> </Content> </Module>
We’re going to use this structure to build a simple gadget which wil retrieve the posts feed of the Blogger blog it is installed on to create a “subscription” link.
Module Preferences for creating our simple subscription gadget
When we create our gadget, we can add a number of “module preferences” to our gadget which create interactive functions.
In the example above, you can see I added a title to the gadget (title=”A Sample Gadget”). We could also add the name and URL of the author, like this:
<ModulePrefs title="A Sample Gadget" author="Amanda Fazani" description="Testing a sample gadget" author_email="firstname.lastname@example.org" height="200">
Beneath this section in the example gadget above, you will notice a section where we can add more Module Preferences.
Here we can add some “required features” which enable us to parse and display aspects of the blog feed in which the gadget is installed.
To create our simple subscription gadget, we need to use the google.blog feature. This feature relies on the opensocial-0.7 feature (a current bug in the system, which should be resolved soon) so we need to include this feature too.
Here’s how to include these required features in our sample gadget:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <Module> <ModulePrefs title="A Sample Gadget"> <Require feature="opensocial-0.7"/> <Require feature="google.blog"/> </ModulePrefs> <Content type="html"> <![CDATA[ HTML content goes here ]]> </Content> </Module>
The google.blog function enables us to retrieve elements of the blog feed. Using this feature, we can call:
- The main posts feed URL
- The main posts feed as JSON
- The main comments feed URL
- The main comments feed as JSON
- Post and comment feeds for individual post pages, as both the feed URL and JSON
These elements (and the code required to call them) are documented fully in the Blogger Gadgets documentation. For the purpose of this tutorial, we’ll concentrate only on retrieving the URL of the main posts feed.
Retrieving the URL of the Blog Post Feed
In order to retrieve the URL of the post feed, we need to tell the google.blog function to retrieve the URL for us, which we can then display in the gadget.
Here’s where it gets a little complicated 😉
In order to retrieve the blog feed from google.blog, we need to pass a pair of arguments. This is because google.blog loads the feeds asynchronously, so it doesn’t stop the browser from “hanging” (freezing the page).
The pair of arguments consists of:
- A function to call after the blog is loaded: this will tell the gadget to retrieve the feed URL and what we want to do with this URL
- a call to google.blog and window.name (which prevents the browser from hanging).
is the function we use to collect the URL of the posts feed.
When we add this script to our sample gadget, this should output something like this:
Here is the complete XML code for our simple subscription widget:
To test this gadget, copy the code above into a simple text editor (my favourite is Notepad ++) and save the file as sample.xml.
You can then upload your XML file to your web host, and note down the URL of your gadget which will enable you to add this gadget to your blog. Alternatively you can download/use the URL for this sample gadget: download sample gadget (XML file).
Adding Blogger Gadgets to your Blog
To add (or test) Blogger gadgets in your blog, go to Layout>Page Elements in your Blogger dashboard. Choose the section where you would like to add your gadget and click on the “Add a gadget” link.
On the pop-up page, you need to click the link which says: “Add your own”.
Then paste the URL of your gadget in the space provided:
When you click “Add by URL” you should be presented with a preview of how the gadget will appear in your blog. You can then click “Save” to place the gadget in your Blogger layout, and move the position as with any regular widgets/gadgets that you add.
What else can we do with this gadget?
In the second part of this mini-series, I’ll explain how to utilise “User preferences” to create interactive elements for your gadget. This tutorial will enable you to write a more complex gadget where users can change the “Subscribe to Posts” link to whatever text is preferred, and also to add an optional feed icon to the widget.
You may have also noticed that the Gadget uses default styles for the background, text and link color. Blogger’s new API for gadgets enables us to parse the colour scheme of the blog and style our gadgets so they blend with the overall layout. So in part three of this series, I’ll explain how to utilize the “skins” feature to create gadgets which blend with the layout of the blog in which they are produced.
I hope this tutorial has provided enough information to use the updated API to create gadgets for Blogger which use the google.blog function to retrieve the URL of the posts feed.
Please feel free to build upon this basic gadget for your own purposes and let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.
7 Habits That Can Make You a More Efficient Blogger
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Oh, Now I Get It! How to Explain Complex Topics to Your Audience
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.
IT Management Solutions: What is the Key to Improving Employee Efficiency?
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.
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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