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How to create Blogger widgets for others to install on their blogs

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Widgets offer interesting and functional ways of adding content to the layout of a Blogger blog. Using the Blogger widget API, many third party providers offer widgets for Blogger users to install in only a few clicks. Such widgets can be used to add content (eg: banners, slideshows, JavaScript functions) to the end-users blog, and also to help promote the sites from which they originated.

Feedburner, for example, offers users the ability to easily add a BuzzBoost widget (a list of recent RSS items) to their Blogger blog using the one-click widget installer. Similarly, Widgetbox allows members to install any of their widgets to a Blogger blog with ease.

In this tutorial, I’ll explain how you can create a simple widget which Blogger users may install in their Blogger layout with just a few clicks of the mouse. This in turn could offer your readers a valuable resource and help promote your site to other potential readers.

How installable Blogger widgets are formed

To create an installable Blogger widget, you first need to design the content which is to be displayed in the end-user’s blog. This content consists of HTML or JavaScript code so that it can be displayed (or perform it’s function) when displayed in the active blog pages.

Once you have designed the content of the widget, you will need to include this as part of a web form which includes a “submit” button. This enables people to submit the form (which contains your widget’s content) to Blogger; in turn, the Blogger API processes the widget content and adds this as the content for an HTML/JavaScript widget to the user’s blog.

Creating your widget content

The content of your Blogger widget can include anything you want, so long as this is valid (working!) HTML or JavaScript code.

To show you how to make a simple widget, I’ll demonstrate how to make a Blogging Tips banner which can be installed as a widget in a Blogger powered blog.

Here is the code which will be inserted as the widget’s content:

<a href="http://bloggingtips.com"><img src="https://bloggingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/blogging-tips-banner.gif" alt="Blogging Tips" width="250px" height="36px" border="0" /></a>

As you can see, this is simple HTML code which produces a clickable widget: a banner link for Blogging tips 😉

In order for this HTML code to be parsed properly by Blogger’s widget API, we need to replace all special characters with their HTML equivilents:

  • All < should be replaced with <
  • All > should be replaced with >
  • All & should be changed to &
  • All ” should be replaced with ‘ instead (as Blogger always changes double quotes to single ones when used in the template code or widget contents)

Once we have “escaped” all of these special characters, the modified code will appear like this instead:

<a href='http://bloggingtips.com'><img src='https://bloggingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/blogging-tips-banner.gif' alt='Blogging Tips' width='250px' height='36px' border='0' /></a>

Now we have our widget content and ensured all special characters have been modified, we need to add this content to a form which will be sent to Blogger.com for processing.

Building the Blogger “add widget” form

For the purpose of this tutorial, I won’t go into much detail about building web forms (this subject alone would provide enough content for a whole series of posts!). Instead, I will only explain about the form elements required to make an installable widget for Blogger.

Here is an overview of the most basic form code required to make an installable Blogger widget:
<form method="POST" action="http://www.blogger.com/add-widget">
<input type="hidden" name="widget.title" value="Visit Blogging Tips!"/>
<input type="hidden" name="widget.content" value="&lt;a href='http://bloggingtips.com'&gt;&lt;img src='https://bloggingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/blogging-tips-banner.gif' alt='Blogging Tips' width='250px' height='36px' border='0' /&gt;&lt;/a&gt;"/>
<input type="hidden" name="widget.template" value="&lt;data:content/&gt;" />
<input type="hidden" name="infoUrl" value="http://bloggingtips.com"/>
<input type="hidden" name="logoUrl" value="http://bloggingtips.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/bt-icon.gif"/>
<input type="submit" name="go" value="Add Blogger Blogging Tips Banner"/>
</form>

Please note: I have added extra spaces between each line to help you see the content more clearly. When using this as a template for your own widget installer, be sure not to include any such spaces!

The first line includes the most basic information about this form, ie: where to send the contents to for processing.

The second line includes the title we would like to use for the widget. This title will be displayed in the blog layout, and can be changed by the end-user after installation. Do not include this line if you want the title of this widget to be blank by default.

The third line(s) include the modified widget code which will produce the linked banner image in the widget. I have highlighted this in bold so you can easily distinguish this from other content in our form. When making your own installable widgets, this is the line in which you will place your widget content. Be sure to include all of your widget content between straight quotes as in the example above. Any line breaks will be interpreted as such when your widget content is parsed, so be sure not to add line breaks unless they are required to make your content function correctly.

Note: in the example above, I have allowed the code to “wrap” within the post container. No line breaks have been deliberately inserted 🙂

The fourth line includes the template for the widget. This is actually an optional line as (at present) we can only use the template data:content. In the future it may be possible to use a different widget template (for example, to add a modified Labels or Archives widget) but at present there is no documentation to support this, and my own efforts to manipulate the template for widget installers have not produced results. If anyone does know how this can be achieved, please do let me know by leaving a comment!

The fifth line (optional) provides a URL which the user can visit for information about the widget. This URL will be accessible on the widget installation page:

Similarly, in the sixth line of our example, you can optionally add the url to a small logo to provide your widget with your website’s “brand” identity.

The seventh line adds a simple “submit” button to the form using the title you specify, while the final line closes the form.

Take a look at this page to see an example of this form in action. This is a very basic version of the form and only the submit button is displayed. When clicking on this button, you will be prompted to add the Blogging Tips banner widget to your Blogger blog.

You can also download the code used for this installable Blogger widget below to use as a template for your own widget installers:

Source Code for installable Blogger widget

I hope this tutorial has provided you with the basic knowledge required to begin building installable widgets for Blogger! Using the code from this tutorial as a basic template, you can build your own Blogger widgets to promote your own blog, add useful tools for other bloggers, or even just as a fun excercise to help you learn more about this free blogging service.

Feel free to let us know if you have created your own Blogger widgets or would like to expand on the information provided here by leaving your comments 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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