Lunacy Unleashed

Notes from the field in the War on Spam

Give your blog design a spring cleaning

There’s too much stuff on your blog.

Seriously.

It’s okay, though. I’m not mad at you.

In fact, not only is there too much stuff on your blog, it’s poorly organized, difficult to see, and a real pain in the ass just to look at. And it’s not doing me any good when I visit your blog.

This rant came about as I was viewing one of my blogs on my new Palm T|X handheld, and trying to cut its download time down. This threw me into a whole new world: that of mobile computing. You see, on a mobile device, there’s very limited screen space, and anything more than minimal user input is a real pain in the ass. So the more stuff that appears on your blog, the worse off you are. And sidebars are the kiss of death.

But even without the constraints of the mobile devices, blog clutter and bad design are serious problems. Let’s take an example:

Below the Beltway Screenshot Below the Beltway Screenshot Below the Beltway Screenshot

Now this blog has excellent content. Unfortunately, the blog’s design has several problems, all of which compound the others to make it very difficult to deal with.

First off, it has a color scheme with poor contrast. It uses a dark blue background, light blue links, and black borders. The effect of the color choices leads people to look not at the content, but at the borders! It takes an amazing amount of will to actually focus on the content, and to focus on links takes even more concentration. So the choice of colors does not naturally lead a reader to where the blogger presumably wants the reader.

Second, it uses a three-column layout. A three-column layout can be done well, but it rarely is. Instead, people usually use three-column layouts so that they can get many more links to many more places onto every page. That’s what this blog does.

What the hell is this crap? — Butt-head

What’s so wrong with lots of links to lots of places? Too much clutter. This blog contains no fewer than six blogrolls with literally hundreds of links to other blogs in its two sidebars, and in the format and colors used, they are all but indistinguishable. Who is really going to wade through all of those links in all of those blogrolls? It’s certainly important to promote one’s blog, and to help promote others, but at a certain point it becomes excessive, and nobody pays attention to it.

Or they do what I did the first several times I saw this blog, and others with similar problems: they leave without reading anything.

And then there are the ads. In the right-hand sidebar, one can see ads from Amazon and Google, but the ads are very poorly integrated into the site. So they are almost certainly getting much less attention than they otherwise would. This has a direct negative impact on the income this blogger makes from his blog.

Oh, and I have one more bone to pick, and that’s with those chicklets. You know, the little buttons inviting you to subscribe to every feed aggregator service you’ve ever heard of, and a few dozen you’ve never heard of. It’s been my experience that almost nobody ever clicks on them. As you can see, this person doesn’t seem to have had much luck getting people to subscribe to his RSS feed, despite being very well linked to. (You don’t get to be a Large Mammal in TTLB unless you’re fairly decent sized.) (And they could also be subscribed to his Atom feed, and not showing in that count, a side effect of using Blogger.) But the buttons, when all thrown together, are just plain ugly. I’ve theorized that one would get better results with just one or two buttons, and that seems to be playing out fairly well for me. Even if it doesn’t, my site looks a lot better for not having the chicklets.

After studying real users in the real world, I’ve found that they have a much better time with simpler, cleaner looking sites. So I’ve tried to keep the clutter and extra features to a minimum. Of course, with a blog, you have extensive navigational controls which are going to take up quite a bit of space. But all the rest can go, as I discovered. Or almost all.

Now pick up your PDA or smartphone and use its built-in Web browser to visit http://www.ioerror.us/ . Hopefully you do this after viewing it in your Web browser. If all goes well, you’ll see a radically different site; it’s been stripped of almost everything, is about five times smaller, downloads much faster, and dare I say it, I think I like it stripped down.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exuper

What’s cluttering up your blog theme? Is it easy to read? What can you get rid of to improve your blog’s appearance and usability?

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March 28, 2006 Posted by | Blogging, Design, WordPress, WordPress.com | 11 Comments

Bad Behavior 2 Update

I had originally intended to have a second alpha release of Bad Behavior 2, the next generation of the Web’s only non-content-based link spam killer, ready by now. Actually by last week. So I wanted to give you all an update on why it’s delayed and when you can expect to see some code.

As I posted back in February, I wanted to have the next alpha release out by mid-March. That didn’t happen, and it’s starting to look like early April before I’ll have something out. The reasons for this are as follows:

First off, you all should understand that I don’t work a regular 9-to-5 job like most people. In fact, I haven’t since last summer. I live solely on the income that I make blogging and from performing WordPress and other programming work for various clients. And while Bad Behavior has many generous donors, one of whom helped me obtain a computer when I needed it most, it isn’t enough to live on. Because of this, the work which generates the income that I live on must always come first. Unless Bad Behavior becomes a lot more popular than it already is, it will likely always take a back seat to the other work I must do in order to pay the rent and buy the groceries.

This means blogging and slinging code for anyone willing to pay for it. Almost. I did tell a splogger to go to hell the other day, and probably lost a couple hundred bucks. But some things just aren’t worth it. I’m trying to eliminate these guys, not help them.

Anyway, enough of that. For the past few weeks, I’ve had several clients engage me for various things, and actually been able to pick up a halfway decent desktop computer as well. And I’ll be working for at least the next week on a couple of other projects. And then there’s whoever else comes along.

Once I’ve gotten all this paid work off my plate, and have enough money to live on for a couple of months, then I’ll return to Bad Behavior with a vengeance. I’ve seen the spammers who have managed to evade Bad Behavior. They’ve hit me as well. And they’ve hit hard. For the first time I can remember, Bad Behavior is less than 80% effective, and that just won’t stand. I’ll be back on the case shortly, just as soon as I’m reasonably sure that I can stop taking paid clients for a short while and still have enough money to live on.

If you have suggestions for Bad Behavior 2, please leave a comment.

(By the way, if Bad Behavior 1 has blocked you, your friends, or a robot you want to crawl your site, read this.)

March 21, 2006 Posted by | Bad Behavior, Blog Spam, Personal, Spam, WordPress | 15 Comments

Bad Behavior and DIRECWAY satellite Internet

If you use a DIRECWAY® satellite Internet connection, you may find yourself intermittently blocked by blogs, wikis, forums and guestbooks using Bad Behavior. Fortunately there is a fairly simple solution to restore your access to these sites.

First, the problem. The Hughes DW6000 and DW7000 series of satellite modems include a built-in Web proxy server called Turbo Page. Unfortunately, Turbo Page has a bug which causes it to trigger Bad Behavior’s built-in spam protection when sending HTTP POST requests. You will be able to browse normally, but if you attempt to login, post a comment, make an edit, etc., that is when you will find yourself blocked.

It’s not clear to me at this time whether the bug exists within the satellite modems themselves or at the NOC, but until Hughes fixes the problem, a workaround exists which allows you to disable the Turbo Page proxy server so that you can access sites protected by Bad Behavior.

I would recommend that if you need to disable Turbo Page, that you do so only as long as necessary to access specific sites. Once you are done logging in, making your edits, or posting, you can re-enable Turbo Page simply by restarting the satellite modem.

To the best of my knowledge, the DW4000 series of satellite modems are not affected by this problem.

If you have one of these satellite Internet connections, please let me know when a software update comes out which fixes this problem. Thanks!

March 7, 2006 Posted by | Bad Behavior | 2 Comments