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Friday, August 23, 2002

Moreover spikes its feed appears to have shut down the keyword filtering capability I was using to include general web services news on Loosely Coupled's news aggregator page. Fortunately, I'd already been considering an overhaul of the feeds on that page. The only useful content in the moreover feed was coming from ZDNet, and eWEEK, and it didn't include other titles that also have good web services coverage, such as InfoWorld and Network World. So it makes a lot of sense to try and aggregate those sources directly rather than via morever.

After a bit of digging, I discovered that InfoWorld has a dedicated web services RSS feed, so I've added that to the aggregator on a trial basis. InfoWorld's terms of service permit linking for non-commercial purposes, so I'm in the clear until Loosely Coupled introduces its commercial operations. Meanwhile, I've emailed a proposal to formally license the feed from then on.

It'll be interesting to see how they respond. My view is that publishing their feed here will increase their traffic of target readers, because of the type of readers who will click through from Loosely Coupled. But publishers (still) have a lot of trouble understanding how the Web works (InfoWorld's copyright terms inexplicably forbid 'deep linking' without written permission, for instance, even though they allow it under the terms of service). I know the InfoWorld editorial team are very switched on about linking and weblogs, but editors don't usually get to make the big decisions in the publishing world. So we'll see what happens.

I haven't tracked down a suitable feed for the CNet titles or Network World Fusion, so that may take some direct approaches. I could use NewsIsFree's Network World feeds, but as I've mentioned previously, if you're a commercial site, that just means going to the back of the line and waiting for their salesperson to call you. Neither NewsIsFree's commercial partner nor's London sales office have yet followed up on the enquiries I placed in early June, so you can see how much use that is.

As for the feed, I presume the company has decided to stop providing filtered news feeds for free, and that's fair enough — no reason why it should. I had a look around its website but couldn't find any mention or warning of the change (though I have to admit I didn't look very hard). I did notice that it has had a redesign, and now quotes a starting price for commercial services of $6,000. Well, if that's the league they want to operate in, they certainly will have to work hard to sell their service to me. I wonder when their salesperson will call?

posted by Phil 2:32 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Homepage usability

Weblogs don't work well as home pages, because they contain too much information, laid out inefficiently. That's why I decided to introduce a home page for Loosely Coupled this week, instead of having the weblog act as the entry page for the site. The new design achieves my two primary objectives handsomely:

  • Faster page loading — It's not a good idea to keep visitors waiting for your home page — they won't bother. Unfortunately, weblog visitors have different expectations. They want to be able to scroll down through a week or more of postings, as well as a 'blogroll' of other recommended sites. That adds up to far too much information to load fast. Even though I've opted not to include a blogroll (I put my favored sites on a separate news page instead), my weblog still weighs in at more than 40k of HTML, plus another 24k of images and javascript files. The result is a download time of more than 21 seconds on a 56k modem, as measured by NetMechanic's excellent HTML Toolbox service.
    The new home page slashes that to 12 seconds, and I can shave that still further by rearranging some of Javascript elements on the page. The speed improvements come from two main changes:
    1. Replacing the full weblog with brief summaries has cut the size of the HTML by more than two thirds, to just over 12k.
    2. Reducing the number of servers contributing elements to the page from six to three — since each extra server adds two seconds of DNS lookup time, cutting them out has a significant effect. The servers I removed were supplying information as Javascript files, which I've now replaced with pre-coded HTML. That leaves just the main Loosely Coupled server itself, along with two HitBox traffic analysis servers, which are set up so they don't delay loading the rest of the page contents anyway.

    There's a very readable series of WebMonkey articles on site optimization with lots more tips on reducing page download times. For the ultimate guide, see Extreme HTML Optimization, the conclusion to an eye-opening series of articles at
  • Better usability — Usability guru Jakob Neilsen recently published his Top Ten Guidelines for Homepage Usability. I'm pleased to say the new design fixes all the points where my weblog page was breaking his rules. It gives a succinct overview of what kind of content the site contains, shows excerpts of recent content, and improves access to recent material by highlighting archive links.
Nielsen would probably still find something to quibble with, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and since introducing the new home page, there's been a big rise in the number of visitors exploring beyond the first page they see. In particular, the percentage of pageviews other than the home page and main weblog page has doubled. That means visitors are finding it easier and more tempting to explore other areas of the site.

posted by Phil 8:14 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Building a website using plug-in online services: the Loosely Coupled experience

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