Saturday Jun 30, 2007

More about a user-friendly blog

It seems that making a blog more user friendly is an endless quest: maybe, probably not, could be though. Also, I consider a corporate blog, which this obviously is, to have its own set of challenges when it comes to user-friendliness and other things.

Let me ask you a question: Can you tell what this blog is about?

I would consider the following to be a tremendous compliment:

Yes, John, though I find the content so boring it's nauseating, I absolutely know what this blog is about.

As I'm sure you agree, that's quite a compliment. Anyway, I'm going to continue to work on making this blog easy to understand while I also try to make it easy to find information about Sun Java System Access Manager Policy Agent, which kind of includes the Access Manager software, too.

Okay, for now, I just want to explain what's often referred to as the "blog roll." It's a list of links to other people's blogs. I have such a list in the right column of this blog. You'll notice that most of these links have an asterisk, \*, next to them. The asterisk is related to the image that's in the right column of this blog as well as on the right side of this paragraph. That's my low-tech way of saying that you can move the pointer over a link that has an asterisk next to it and after a half second or so an explanation will appear about where that link goes.

I see some of those high tech solutions for this problem, such as showing a mini version of the page the link goes to, but those never seem to help me understand where the link goes. That could be my problem. The theory is that my little solution will help you decide if you want to actually visit that blog or site.

So, tell me, does that do anything for you at all?

Anyway, that explains my journey. Well, not really, but I'm pretty sure it explains something another.

Wednesday Jun 06, 2007

Making a more user-friendly blog

Back in my entry Various Bloggers, Various Views: Sun Software, I mentioned that I was working in my group, the Information Products Group (IPG), to make blogging easier and better. Some of that involves working on an internal blog.

Contributing to that internal blog has made it more clear that this external blog could use some improving. I've been working on the improving-this-blog thing for a while. Have you ever noticed that the busiest people in the world can always find the time to tell you about how busy they are? Therefore, I'm not saying I'm busy. I'm just saying that I'm not exactly idle, which means I have NOT improved this blog as quickly as I would have hoped. Anyway, slowly and surely I'm making progress.

The story that I've been trying to get to here is that while working on that internal blog, I came across, again, a blog entry by Jakob Nielsen as follows:

Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes

That blog entry was written October 17, 2005. That's almost two human years ago, which is equivalent to 14 blog years. That was a long time ago. Also, I'm not sure it applies exactly to corporate blogs. That's my way of saying that I don't think that everything that Jakob wrote in that entry applies 100% to this corporate blog in 2007. By the way, some people don't like the idea of companies "encouraging" their employees to blog (I've put the word encouraging in parentheses for reasons I'm not really sure of). About the corporate blog controversy, I like to see every side of an argument, however, in this case, I've decided to make an exception.

Back to Jakob. I first read Jakob's "top ten mistakes" about eight months ago, which was before I started this blog. It convinced me that I wasn't crazy since before that I was looking at blogs saying, "I have no idea what this blog is about. This is ridiculous!" Thusly, after first reading Jakob's "top ten mistakes," I decided to make this blog a little more clear. Which is why I immediately started with an "About This Blog" category. But still, I realize now, that I could have done more. So, now I've added a quick Blog Description at the top. Do you see that up there where it says the following?:

Blog Description: A technical writer of Sun Java SystemTM Access Manager Policy Agent documentation is pretty much blogging about the same thing.

You see, that's suppose to make things more clear. I mean, both quick and clear. Do you feel that? I've also got the photo thing going on now. Here, I'll just add the photo again below, so you don't have to scroll or anything:

I'm not convinced that a picture is as important in a corporate blog as it might be in a non-corporate blog. I've added one, but, somehow pictures can be embarrassing. Anyway, I couldn't get myself to add a regular picture, so I added this one that was taken with a camera phone, and set to some special-effect-thingy option. It either looks like an extremely poor quality picture or like I was in a horrible accident of some sort. All the same, that's better than just having a regular picture of me. A cartoony photo like this one just isn't embarrassing. Or maybe it is, but not to me for some quirky reason.

How about them tags at the bottom of every entry? You know what I'm saying? Tags! Like the ones displayed at the bottom of this entry. You see those, like "daytemplate" and "ipg" and such? Isn't that cool? I like it. Okay, I haven't really made good use of them in this blog yet, but it seems I will some day. I'm still toying with the idea of using a tag cloud in this blog somehow.

In Roller, which is the software we use for blogs here at Sun Microsystems (it's used in lots of other places, too), there's a template called the _day template. One would select Preferences>Templates to get to the _day template and that would only work if one had already customized one's theme. Goodness it seems so complicated now. It seemed so simple when I was doing it.

Like I was saying, if one wants to display tags at the bottom of every entry, one could add the following code in the _day template (this would come after the code used for the comments):

<U>Tags used in this entry</U>: #showEntryTags($entry)

Okay, I think I've explained enough about how I've made this blog better. If I explain any more, at this time, I won't be able to stand it, and probably neither will you.

Wednesday Feb 21, 2007

Blog Look, Blog Feel

I want to talk about the look and feel of this blog and, therefore, to some degree any blog using Apache Roller blog software. And come to think of it, any blog design in any way, anywhere. Sun bloggers use Roller as do thousands and thousands of other people. And it seems the number of bloggers using Roller will increase dramatically in the future.

In my February 18, 2007 blog entry, Getting Even More Identity, I implied that I'd like to discuss some of the items that I've added to this blog. For this entry, I want to talk about the three following links, which you should also be able to see somewhere in the right column of this blog (Again, if it's something like 2046 don't expect those links to be in the right column in exactly the same fashion, if at all, as shown below):

Cool Sun Blogs:

I'm not sure “Cool” is the correct adjective here or not. They're cool to me in that they help me decide what I want my blog to look like and they help me understand the possibilities. Each is important to me for different reasons. Each blog is a result of some sort of customizing of templates:

Dave Johnson:

He keeps his blog looking simple. Though he's a Sun employee, his blog is not on blogs.sun.com. Dave created Roller blog software. Yes, he created it (at least, that's what I read). Therefore, if his own blog appears simple, it's no mistake (of course, what do I know). His blog has a tag cloud. Other than that there aren't too many buttons, widgets, or gadgets about his blog. The truth is that his blog is more complicated than it looks. I'll discuss the look-of-simplicity below.

An Entry:

A blog entry of Dave Johnson's that helped me tremendously in understanding the look and feel of blogs in general is as follows:
http://rollerweblogger.org/roller/entry/approaches_to_blog_customization

I really loved that entry. I truly felt less intimidated about blogging after reading it.

Tag Cloud:

A tag cloud is a list of tags. For Dave Johnson's blog it includes words, such as Roller and Sun. Usually tag clouds have words of different sizes: the bigger the word, the greater the number of times the blogger has tagged an entry with that word. For his blog, I'm not sure if he's listing all tags there or just the more recent ones.

I don't get the tag thing completely myself. I use tag tags in conjunction with Technorati:

Technorati Button

If you click the words “View my profile,” just above the Technorati button in the right right column (no, your other right), you'll get a list of some of my tags. Here's the link to the Technorati page that's all about my blog:

http://www.technorati.com/blogs/http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.sun.com%2FJohnD

Eventually, I'll add a tag cloud, but one step at a time. One thing I do know about tags is that you can search all the entries that I've tagged with a particular tag or all the entries that anyone at Sun has tagged with a particular tag. I demonstrate that with the following links to the tag “accessmanager” (if you visit one of the links below, click the back button to return. I'd hate to lose you now.):

That way you can view blog entries that have the “accessmanager” tag in my blog or all of Sun. I think it's one of those things that's more useful as lots of people use the feature.

Key Point:

To me, a key point about Dave Johnson's blog is that it's not as simple as it looks. For example, if you move your mouse over the links near the top of the page (rollerweblogger.org Weblog About Archives Links Login) you'll notice that the addresses (which you can see in the status bar. That's at the bottom of the browser window) aren't of categories, but pages. For example, you'll see that the “Links” link goes to http://rollerweblogger.org/roller/page/links. The word page in that URL means it's a separate page. I created a separate page for my blog Policy Agent 2.2 Page, but I provide a link to it in the right column of my blog. Only his Weblog link shows the tag cloud; the other pages don't. So what's my point? I think that's my point. I'm not sure what it all means, but I think it means something.

If you experiment by looking around the Archives and Links pages you'll see that you can find stuff that's he's blogged about or linked to in the past. Then there's the Del.icio.us thing, which is social bookmarking. They've got there own tags. Yeah, I'm going to get around to figuring that out one of these days.

Dave Levy:

I came across Dave Levy's blog early after starting my blog. I liked it because he always seems to be experimenting with how to present as much information as possible without overwhelming the visitor. He'll even add an entry saying that he's changed this or added that.

An Entry:

I thought the following blog entry was cool:
http://blogs.sun.com/DaveLevy/entry/changing_my_version_of_the

To save room, he moved the tag cloud right onto the header image. He's changed the image since then to try to make the words and the image play nice. I think the image/text match is still not perfect, but he's given himself more real estate without making things feel crowded.

Powered by Snap:

Dave Levy's blog has a lot of features to slightly boggle the mind. There are plenty of bloggers out there doing the same things, so it's not that mind boggling, but it's still impressive. One of them is that you can move your pointer over an icon, such as this Technorati icon:

Technorati Icon

Then, you will see a medium-sized image appear for a Technorati web page, such as the following image:



Technorati page shown by Snap

In a frame at the bottom of the page (but not shown in the image above), you'll see the words “Powered by Snap.” You can click that medium-sized image to get brought to the actual Technorati page. This feature, “ Snap Preview,” is available to the likes of you and me, I guess. I visited the link in the sentence above just long enough to copy the link and read five seconds worth of info. It's another one-of-these-days things.

Key Point:

To me, a key point about Dave Levy's blog is that you can find anything you want in about 19 different ways. The links Yesterday's Words & More Tags & Links (Beta) provide lots and lots of links. You'll notice that there are more tags available on the Yesterday's Words page than in the cloud tag on the main page. I think I read somewhere that you can show tags for a recent period of time, maybe six months, which might be what he's done for the main page. I'm not sure of any of this.

Like Dave Johnson's blog, Dave Levy's blog has an archive with all the months listed one by one. Actually, Dave Levy's blog has that in the right column in a slightly different way than he has it on the Yesterday's Words page. I like having access to the listings by month, but I'm not sure if all the availability is too much. Truth is it's probably fine. I can just ignore the extra pages unless I'm really looking for some information that I just can't find. I don't think I need to understand how all the info overlaps or whatever. If I think about it, my head hurts. It seems I'm taking this too seriously.

Gregory Reimer:

Somebody knows a thing or two about web design. Gregory didn't exactly use one of the themes provided by Sun for bloggers (well, sort of in a break it down, build it back up kind of way), he didn't use one available out on the web either; mostly, he just pieced one together (at least, that's how I read it).

Three Entries:

I couldn't do just one entry for this blog. It just wasn't possible. While I don't fully understand these three entries, they are very, very exciting (like watching Pulp Fiction only completely different).

  1. http://blogs.sun.com/greimer/entry/blog_redesign

  2. http://blogs.sun.com/greimer/entry/how_this_blog_design_was

  3. http://blogs.sun.com/greimer/entry/where_s_the_calendar

Can anyone read those three entries and tell me they aren't cool? I mean, is such a thing humanly possible?

The Calendar:

There is no calendar! Get it? That's the interesting feature or lack thereof. You'd have to read entry 3 above to understand why he doesn't use a calendar. I didn't agree with his theory the first time I read it. Now, I feel like I'm not worthy. It might just work out fine not having a calendar. In fact, it might just be brilliant.

Key Point:

To me, a key point about Gregory's blog is what he calls the “four-layer approach.” Again, he explains this in the entry numbered 3 above. For this approach, it seems that the following page of his is pretty important:

http://blogs.sun.com/greimer/page/Archives

I'm not sure if such an approach will hold up if there are hundreds of entries. But, like I implied before, I'm not worthy of critiquing such a well crafted blog at this point.

Conclusion:

Basically, these bloggers and I are in different leagues; different games perhaps. Still, there are things I can pick up here and there by looking at/reading their blogs. My main conclusion is that it's too early to conclude anything. Some things about blog design are probably a matter of personal style. Some things are probably hard-wired facts about how humans best interpret information. When will I be ready to make some conclusions? For lack of any idea whatsoever, I'll say 2046. That seems to be as good a year as any.

If anybody reads something in this blog entry that is absolutely ridiculous, or brilliant, please let me know. I'd like it better if you said it nicely, but whatever works for you is fine.



The opinions expressed in this blog entry were stolen from various people, but are not necessarily opinions shared by my employer.


Sunday Feb 18, 2007

Getting Even More Identity

By now, my blog has definitely acquired more of an identity.

Look around this blog and you'll more or less see a real blog. I come across pretty much like a blogger.

Considering that I didn't understand a thing about blogging just four months ago, I'd say that's good. The truth is that at this point I don't really understand all the widgets on my own blog, but I do know that it somehow seems appropriate to use the word “widgets” in this context, so there's that. I might not actually be using the word correctly, but one thing at a time.

I think I'll focus a few blog entries here and there over the next few weeks on things I've added to my blog, but as of yet, have not explained. For example:

  • I've recently added a few links in the right column to other people's blogs.

  • I've also added the following:

    • A Technorati button:


    • A ZapTXT button:


    • A StatCounter counter (at the bottom of this blog):

The identity-management-ness of all this new stuff is not obvious, but the connection is often there behind the scenes. For example, the way I've been experimenting with the Technorati and ZapTXT stuff has a pretty strong relationship to identity management.

I'll transparentize all of that stuff soon enough. Right now, I'm just coining words and otherwise abusing the language for no transparent reason.


Tuesday Dec 12, 2006

Getting Some More Identity

I've done more to give this blog some Identity. 

In the process, I've learned more about who blogs about identity Management at Sun and I've learned more about how to customize Roller blog software.

Right now, I'm using the editor that comes with Roller . In my search for more blog identity, I learned that this blog editor (it's called Xinha) is new and improved over prior the prior editor. We'll see, I tried it before it was improved and I can confidently say it needed improving. I couldn't get the fonts to do what they said they were going to do. If you follow me. We'll see how this all looks.

I also started playing with tags and with the search. That's how I came across other Sun bloggers who mentioned Identity Management in some way. That's a big topic actually. I also found some entries about Policy Agent.

For example, though I don't  understand Japanese, I know these entries discuss things like policy and Policy Agent:

http://blogs.sun.com/tkudo/entry/opensso_policy_configuration

http://blogs.sun.com/tkudo/entry/opensso_agent_install

Call me a visual learner. 

 About my blog, I've a section in the column on the right: My Recent Blog Entries. I've looked at the documentation: Roller 3.0 User's Guide and Roller 3.0 Template Guide quite a bit, but still. For this I did a search and found a Sun blogger who explained how to do it.

 I went to http://blogs.sun.com and searched for the following:

blog customization recent entries

That search led to this entry:

http://blogs.sun.com/johnbrady/entry/blog_page_customisation

I knew enough to know that I was going to have to do things a little differently for my blog in terms of customizing the templates. But it gave me the info I needed. I added the 15 most recent entries. Actually, I only had 15 entries, so that made sense.

 Keep in mind my Nov 17 entry, which explains tha t what I'm describing about my blog might not apply by the time you read this since it my be 2046 when you're reading this. A lot could change from 2006 to 2046.

 I've learned so much more recently, but that's all I have time for. Blogging, it's not bad.

...
...

Darn it! Just before submitting this entry, I did a full preview and the fonts are all messed up. Do you see how the first line is all small? That's not the way it looks in the editor. As Pat Patterson told me today, editors tend to be WYSIMOLWYG (what you see is more or less what you get). Well it's back to other methods, either doing HTML by hand or typing it in a program like Star Office (with HTML) and cutting and pasting it into my blog. By the way, Star Office has a blog editor extension. I haven't been able to use it yet. That's another story.



 

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