This Christmas, give the gift of Corrente! (2)
[You will see massive improvements at the new site. And I paid it forward by doing the work -- you will see how much -- first, so if you think that you will benefit, or others will benefit, or the world will benefit, the PayPal button is to your right! And to learn about your own PayPal button, read on.... --lambert]
Yesterday, I said I'd expand on the site relaunch:
[M]y goal is to make Corrente the best place on the web for serious independent writers to create.
Of course, I like to think of myself as a serious independent writer, so one of my goals is to make Corrente a platform where I can write what I want to write for another eight or ten years! So let's talk about me...
Pinboard and maps
At a minimum, I need to be able to find what I've written in the past, but I want better ways to view Corrente's massive and ever-growing back catalog as well: Something more powerful than the "stack o' posts" on the front page now, though that won't go away. One new view is the pinboard, which I think will work well for 'Dotes of all sorts, and even as a product catalog (see below); a second and to me more important new view is the incident reporting map. Right now, I have incident reports only on fracking, so let's look at that.
Campaign Countdown was already a uniquely massive compilation of fracking information, with approximately 140 stories curated, but putting each story on a map makes the scale of the anti-fracking movement visible to itself; all fracking activists can now look at the map and know where other fracking action is happening. And yes, there are other mapping tools on the web, and Google offers some, but only here can people not only view the map, but discuss the incidents within the community -- because each incident report is a post like any other, and can be commented on, linked to, shared, etc.
And being able to filter the incident report map by date, category, and proximity turns Corrente from a blog into a research tool that many others can use (and will share and link to). So I hope there's way for others besides me to step up -- if it's fun! -- and start curating material for mapping; all you have to do is post! The site automagically puts the report on the right map!** Having this incident reporting tool would have been for mapping the Arab Spring, the Capitol Occupations, and Occupy. And of course, since an incident report locates an event in space and time and lets it be categorized, there's lot of possibility: Bird watching. Musical concerts. Permaculture installations. Natural disasters. Campaign stops. Walmart strikes. Anything!* And will be great during... Well, we don't know yet, do we?
I also tried to make the site much more usable for newbies or people who aren't technical; the current site can be a little intimidating, because there are so many options. And I tried to make the site a more attractive destination, especially to those who want to reach out to others.
I started by adding Help links at the top left of most pages; they say "HELP," and give tips on the page or brief explanations of the content type. For example, the Incident Reporting help link starts out:
To rapidly zoom in, hold down the shift key, drag a selection box, and let go. The smaller the box, the greater the zoom.
And the help link on the blog page starts out:
A blog (from "web blog") is a discussion or informational site consisting of discrete entries ("posts") typically displayed newest first.
Suggesions for revision welcome! In addition, the Edit page for every post has an entire Help section that explains all, or at least most, of the many options available to writers.
So I hope decreasing the intimidation factor induces more people to stay and contribute!
Usability: WYSIWG editors
Face it, there are people who just aren't comfortable writing unless their workspace has a tool bar with cute little icons on it, and when they click an on icon, something happens to the text that they can see. Grizzled veterans like me and many other Correntians now that typing in the HTML -- if you don't know what HTML is, you will be happy with the new editor -- is probably the fastest, most productive way to enter content ever devised, and that option will still be available after the relaunch.***
And to be fair, the new development work is happening in the WYSIWG space, with interesting developments in media browsers, linking tools, tables, etc.
So I hope making the editing tools less intimidating induces more people to stay and contribute as well!
Attraction: Social media links
FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, yadda yadda yadda... Everything is "social" these days, and how can that be bad? All the cool kids are doing it! Also, pictures of the kids! W-e-e-e-l-l .... For one thing, all these platforms are "walled gardens." You are able to post in the way that you post only on sufferance. If these vendors want to take your material down because you said Fuck then they can. Further, all these platforms have terrible archives; tweets disappear after a few months, and just try to find anything you wrote on FaceBook even two weeks ago. Even worse, because they are walled gardens, your content is isolated. Facebook posts don't even show up in Google, and people without a Facebook account -- who, on this blog at least, may be exactly the kind of people you would like reading your work -- can't read your work. Even worse that that, Facebook sucks away readers from places like Corrente MR SUBLIMINAL OK, OK, that's your real beef! LAMBERT And what's wrong with that? and gives very little in return. If you are posting on Facebook, be aware that only about 15% of your friends will see what you post, and FaceBook will charge you for more!
So, for the site-relaunch, I have made it much easier to tweet and post to Facebook or Pinterest or email or print or whatever from within Corrente. My hope is to make Corrente a central hub where you can write once, and then repost many times. More efficient, better for you, better for Corrente!
Corrente also provides a suite of communications tools. We provide a public chat system that works a lot like twitter, except twitter doesn't own the content and it doesn't disappear after two months. And we provide a nifty little internal mailing systems where Correntians can mail each each other on the site; both these tools are upgraded on the new site to look and work a bit better.
Now, we should assume that the NSA is data mining everything, including obscure little blogs way off on the margins, but at least your communications at Corrente won't be datamined by twitter, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or anybody else.
Attraction: Personal Economy
Corrente has always been a little unfair in that I'm the only one for whom the "Buy me a beer!" link works, and I'm the only one with a big PayPal button in the sidebar. I don't regret the latter, since contributions from readers do keep Corrente running, but I do regret the former, and it was never the plan! It's just that a really humongous bug in the Drupal "theme" I used prevented anybody else's "Buy me a beer" link from working.
But I can't be the only downwardly mobile middle class person who could use a little extra! So in the site relaunch I have done two things:
1. Now everybody has a "Buy me a beer!" button (though you can change the wording if you don't like beer). In other words, if you have a PayPal (or WePay (or you tell me...)) account, you can set up a tip jar for your posts that collects real tips! (To the extent that money is real, but that's a thread for another time.)
2. Now everybody can create "products," which will appear on the pinboard. Products can be given, traded, or sold. So, if you want to give away that that old signed photograph of Johnny Carson, you can do it! Or if you want to trade Inside Baseball cards, you can do that! Or if you want to sell, say, your own book, you can do that! And it's free! (I tried a similar project with Shop Left, but I don't have time to run two separate sites... So I'd like to try this. This is a new thing, and it's an experiment, so we will need to be prepared to adjust, and I'll do whatever I can to make it work for you.)
NOTE * For myself, I'd like to get back to doing a somewhat less brutally time-consuming Campaign Countdown, so I could keep adding incident reports to the map.
NOTE ** An early incarnation of the map put tweets on the map; there are issues with that, which I'll be happy to discuss in comments. I'm all for it, really, but there are some details to work out.
NOTE *** Also, for danps, and actually for me too, I added automagically formatted footnotes.
* * *
More to come, as they used to say on the old Johnny Carson show!
NOTE Hat tip to CD for the headline. I mean "Christmas" in a totally secularist way, of course.