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Interviews

Jonathan Snook

Today we are joined by Jonathan Snook, of Snook.ca, Withcake, Haylia, and the Sidebar Creative.

Jonathan Snook Snapshot

DL: I assume a good portion of my audience knows who you are, but care to introduce yourself and share some facts about yourself with us?

Jonathan Snook: My name is Jonathan Snook and I’m a web designer/developer based out of Ottawa, Canada. I’ve been running my blog at Snook.ca since 2003 although I’ve had posts from 2001 before I really called my site a blog. I’ve been tinkering on the web since 1995. These days, I freelance full time all the while just trying to be an active member of the online community.

DL: You’ve thrown a lot of your support behind the CakePHP framework, and not to long ago, your personal site was also updated to use Cake as the backend rather than Movabletype. What do you like best about Cake that convinced you to switch and play around with it?

Snook.ca Powered by CakePHP

JS: The best part about Cake has to be the automation of mundane tasks. It takes the convention over configuration concept from Rails and does it in PHP. It’s been a pleasure to develop with and has given me the flexibility to customize my site in a way that wasn’t very easy to do in Movable Type or WordPress.

DL: On the topic of Cake, you also created your own CakePHP developer job board, called Withcake. With all the job boards already out there, how has Withcake been doing? Do you think it helps focusing on just one job field, in this case, Cake developing, as opposed to a bunch of different fields? (Personally, this would be my kind of job board – anything with Cake is usually good)

JS: By this point in time, I was hoping to see Withcake.com really see a surge but instead, it’s been in a maintenance pattern. Not enough people yet to have it complete at the level of other job boards but its specialization in a specific framework means it doesn’t have to either. There are companies and developers alike who’ve chosen CakePHP as the core to whatever they happen to be building. It’s great that they have a central place to go to and find like-minded people to work on projects together.

DL: The newest project just launched from Sidebar Creative is My Mile Marker. From what I understand, you were responsible for the UI. How long was this project planned for, and what was the inspiration behind it?

MyMileMarker

I’d have to look back but I believe the original idea behind this was Steve Smith’s. We often discuss various project ideas and this is one we had settled on as being the first as it would be fairly quick to put together and launch. There was no specific development plan; we just worked on it when we could with each of us providing insight or development along the way.

DL: Being part of Sidebar Creative, where each of you have your own obligations to other companies / sites / etc, how easy it is to find time for everyone to sit down and put work in on a project like this? Do you wait for everyone to have a free block in their schedules, or is everyone allowed to work at their own pace?

It’s worked out extremely well with each of us being able to pitch in at different times in different ways. None (or at least, very little) of the development was done simultaneously. We’d simply chat when we needed to, exchanging files until it was all done. It’s an oddly seamless process, that speaks to the power of the web and to the fantastic group of people I’m extremely happy to be associated with.

DL: Last project question, I swear. What do you hope your Haylia project accomplishes, and when can we expect to see it go live? For those that have not heard / seen it yet, Haylia is hosted blog solution for sharing adoption stories, inspired by your own adoption story. I think it is an excellent idea, and a great way to take the traditional hosted blog platform to a different, much more personal and focused level.

Haylia

JS: I’d like Haylia to become a success, of course. Success means a few different things in this context, though. Sure, there’s the financial success one hopes for but more importantly, it’s enabling people to share their stories. My wife and I believe that adoption can be a great experience and one that should be shared with many people.

Launching the site for the masses, however, has taken longer than hoped. Working on it has taken a back seat while I work on client projects but I do intend to have it see a soft launch before the end of August. The majority of the functionality is already in place and ready to go. There’s just some polish and some templates that need to be added.

That’s been my biggest problem as a freelancer: I don’t spend as much time on my own projects as I should.

“It’s an oddly seamless process, that speaks to the power of the web and to the fantastic group of people I’m extremely happy to be associated with.” – Snook on working with Sidebar Creative

DL: If you could name five must have apps you use everyday (web and/or desktop based), what would they be?

JS: Very utilitarian, I’m afraid: Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Firefox, Mint (I’m a stats junkie), and UltraEdit (currently my text editor of choice).

DL: Alright, last question. Here comes your free plugging opportunity. Could you please share some sites you visit / read daily? They can be on whatever topics imaginable – they don’t have to be design / development related.

JS: With the advent of RSS, Google Reader has become essential. There’s no sites that I specifically jump to on a daily basis to check if there’s new stuff. The sad consequence of that is that there has been the occasional RSS feed that gets changed up and I’ll lose track of a site for a couple months until I suddenly realize I’ve been missing some good content. Now, there are certain sites that are consistently good like Roger Johansson’s 456 Berea Street, Andy Rutledge’s Design View, and Simon Willison’s site, especially his daily links. Natalie Jost also has really good, insightful posts. There’s so much talent in the industry it’s hard to keep up with everybody!

DL: Thanks for answering a few questions for me. Good luck with the many projects you currently have on your plate, and of course, we will all be awaiting to see what else is next.

JS: You’re welcome and thank you very much!

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Homepage News

Back to normal

I am happy to report everything is back to normal. You can now also read Jonathan Snook’s interview without any problems. Enjoy the weekend everyone. Sorry about todays earlier mess.

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Homepage News

Off tonight

We’re having major database issues it seems right now with WordPress. Unfortunately, you are going to have to wait to read our interview with Jonathan Snook. (It is currently still on our rss feed, but I’m not sure if it will remain there or not because I have deleted the post). Ever since the new design, certain posts seemed to have problems, which I was able to fix by reposting. Then, some interviews would only show photos and not the interview itself. The latest case was the Snook interview. When I posted it, it was fine. Moments later, it wasn’t working. I’m going to be doing some major backups tonight and installing a fresh copy of WordPress. Sorry for the inconvenience. This is a pain in the ass for me as well.

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Design Focus

Friday Focus #34

It’s good to be back. After taking a few weeks off to finish up the new design and deal with end of the year school stuff, such as exams, Friday Focus is now back with issue number 34. Lets get going…

Sites of the Week

Starting it off this week is the portfolio of Drew Wilson, a dark and simple portfolio / blog design. You’ll also see that it is powered by Firebolt, his own cms system, which I’m very excited to learn more about.

Drew Wilson

Next up is Erratic Wisdom. Earthly tones give way to a super clean site, with a layout that I’m really enjoying. There is some excellent content to go along with this great design, so be sure to check it out.

Erratic Wisdom

Wrapping up this week is a similar resource to Devlounge, called Youtilize. Ran by Dimitry, Youtilize is a collection of fresh publications on many of the same topics talked about around here, such as design, entrepreneurship, etc.

Youtilize

Digg Weekly

Personal favorites from the most dug this past week…

Design: The History of Photoshop
Yes, Photoshop has come a very long way since its early beginnings. This brief articles talks about some of them, and I also came across a link that features screenshots of Photoshop 1.0!

Programming: If Architects had to work like Developers
A hilarious post poking fun at the type of clients many of us have had to deal with – ones that paint such a vague picture of what they are looking for, yet complain when they see what we have come up with.

Reminder: Get back to us about our design!

What are your thoughts on the new design? What still needs work, what do you like and hate? We need your feedback for fine tuning that will be taking place throughout the summer. Please let us know what you think in the comments. Also, we are looking for your suggestions for Actionscript articles, because the category is soon to begin taking off. Feel free to throw your ideas out as us!

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New Author and Category: Actionscript

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to the newest member to join our staff team: Alex Jillard. Alex is an experienced flash and actionscript developer, who approached me about bringing flash related articles and tutorials to Devlounge. We are always looking to expand our reach, and we think by catering to flash developers in just another step in doing just that. Tomorrow, a new category will be added to the articles page called “Flash and Actionscript”. Watch for it to begin to be populated very soon. We are very excited to have Alex on board, and we hope many of you will find his posts informative and useful.

To get an idea of what to expect from Alex, here are some of his favorite articles he has written:

Also, here is a teaser to an extensive XML / Actionscript article he is currently working on:

Using Actionscript to get XML content where you want it
I find that there are many tutorials out there showing how to make a simple xml driven project, like a photo gallery or menu, which is great, but if you want to use xml elsewhere, you’d be a bit stuck.

The goal of this tutorial is to teach you how to use xml and Actionscript together to get dynamic xml driven content exactly where you want it. I will be showing you some logic for using and creating xml, a good technique for getting that xml into Flash and breaking it down so it is easy to access as you need it, and how to that data onto your website or application where you need it.

To give some visuals and examples to the tutorial, I’ll step you through making a website using everything you’ll learn. In the end you should have gathered enough knowledge to use xml when and where you need it.

Looking for your input

One thing Alex has asked if for me to ask you, the readers, for article suggestions. What kind of tutorials do you want to see involving Actionscript and Flash, and what do you want to know in general? Please leave your suggestions in the comments; we’d really love to hear them!

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Features page returns

The feature page is back up, and Devlounge 2 (the WordPress theme) will be available either tomorrow or the following day. I’ve been weeding through various errors today, and I have noticed one thing. It seems some posts and pages have been effected by the database restoration we underwent a few weeks back. It has caused the page design to break, when it shouldn’t have. I’ve spotted many of these and fixed them by reposting the article and / or page (only way to fix it is to delete the old so it’s out of the database). Of course, it is impossible to look through every single post and page, so if you notice any problems, please just let me know. I’m pretty sure I’ve got most of them, but you never know when something will slip through the cracks. That takes care of today’s updates. Tomorrow new feed options will be introduced, and hopefully I’ll be able to stop with these updates, because I’m sure it’s annoyed some most of you. ;)

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Strategy

SEO and Personal Blogs, What to Do?

Running a personal blog can be great. You have total free reign on the topics, you can build relationships with readers and you can express yourself in any way you like.

Running a well read, well visited personal blog is even better. It’s no secret that the best traffic is organic traffic, from search engines.

The reason why SE traffic converts so well and is held on such a high pedestal is the SE user is essentially looking for your site. They might not know it, and you certainly don’t but once they do find your site they’re happy. They’ll look at some other pages, maybe subscribe or buy something.

But a personal blog doesn’t have anything to sell, except for your self, of course. The thing with personal blogs and search engines are that you’ll be getting mostly long tail terms or your name popping up in Mint, or your favourite analytics app.

There are exceptions like everything else, where people may target certain terms that are mildly relevant, but the main purpose is for that oh-so-golden traffic.

What Should you do With Your Personal Blog?

There are tons of things you can do to better optimize your blog for search engines. After all, if you’re not getting that one juicy term, then you’re going to be relying on the inevitable long tail.

First, let me explain long tail search terms to those no savvy at the moment. The term simply refers to search terms, usually three or more words, that can seem random but the user finds a post or page from your blog that has the aforementioned words scattered on the page. Basically you’re getting refined terms. A searcher looking for “design blog” might refine their search by looking for “web design and development tips blog”.

So, lets get down to it, shall we? You want to optimize your blog to increase SE traffic which will in turn raise your overall traffic, readership and earnings if you’ve monetized. Sounds like a good idea to me.

The Definitive Guide to Semantic Web Markup is exactly what it says it is. Tell search engines what parts are important and in what order is very important, and will help your site in terms of SEO. Post titles are back links, and when they’re served in <H1>’s they really increase the long tail possibilities.

When you’re writing your headlines, you also have to think about search terms. I’ve personally written a couple of posts with titles laser targeted at range of long tail terms. While these posts are stale to my current readers, they bring in SE hits every day. Blog post titles can come from a couple categories, you just need to choose clever, concise or made for Google.

Another great article made to set you on your way to SEO heaven is “Search Engine Optimization for Blogs“. SEO is something most personal bloggers don’t know about, but it’s something that is really simple at the basic levels. After you start developing, meaning more posts, better posts, more backlinks, more link exchanges and relationships, you’ll notice your traffic increase.

Connor Wilson is a freelance web designer living in Toronto, Ontario writing his own personal blog.

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Bug Hunting

There is just a few things here and there to still be done and fixed. The only major issue I’m aware of right now is with Ronald’s WordPress series, which, as a result of the in-series plugin, seems to be messing with the page layout, leading to ugly looking posts. We’ll be getting in fixed by tomorrow, don’t you worry about it. :)

Edit: The problem has now been fixed. I had to go back and repost some old posts that must of been published when were having database problems, because there was some kind of code injected into certain “How to” WordPress posts that, even when cleared, was not being deleted. All the posts were replaced and given their original post publish dates, but comments were lost on these posts. Also, because I had to repost some of these posts, it messed up the order of the In Series plugin. Therefore, the “How to Write a WordPress Plugin” series now has its own page with the correct chronological order for the posts in this series.

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Strategy

Making a Big (Return) Splash

When your site has been half asleep for an extended period of time, it can be a struggle returning to the bustling community you once were. Thankfully, there are a few suggestions and ideas which might just help your site return back to the good ‘ol days.

Making a Big (Return) Splash

We have all faced it – and extremely bad case of bed head…

Opps, wrong article.

But that is what it can feel like when you try to put your own site back on its feet after being off for an extended period of time. It is not something you can just shake off, and even loading on the gel (such as useless content) will only temporarily fix the problem (especially if it is not super hold strength). Everyone from the casual blogger, to large resource like this faces downtime at some point in their online history, and it can come from a vast array of reasons – from personal issues, to having a craptastic host that simply “misplaces” all of your files – whatever the case, chances are you lost at least some readers, and even more are at least slightly annoyed with a large lapse of new content, even if you gave them fair warning about the situation at hand.

After not writing for a while, it can seem very awkward trying to come up with topics that your visitors will find interesting. While if you run a personal blog, you could probably just talk about what your cat did over the past two and half months and all your visitors would come running back to you (yes, they seem to love that), but it is not always that simple.

Site Relapses

You find yourself with questions running through your head that, when you were frequently posting, you never even consider. And the larger the resource, the more on edge you are with what you plan on writing. You don’t want to come out with an extremely pointless post that will only drive people further away, but you want something interesting that will catch their eye in those long list of feeds and bring them back. How exactly should you do this? Here are some posting suggestions for that first “I’m back” post.

  1. Be comical – Avoid a flat out serious tone in your first welcome back post, because readers don’t want that. Instead, add some comedic flair to your post to get people laughing. Whether that means throwing in figures of speech you may never use in an actual post, or over-exaggerating the story about why your site / blog / etc may have been closed for so long. Whatever you have to do, make it funny.
  2. Hit a Controversial Topic – Don’t be scared to jump the gun and bring up discussion on a hot-topic issue. Chances are, it will spark responses from your visitors, especially depending on the topic being discussed. This is always good, because it drives readers back, and if they comment, chances are they are going to return to read others responses and possible respond again. If you’re going to say, “Hey, I just got dressed today”, don’t expect a bubbling of activity.
  3. Give Something Back – Another smart way of getting your traffic back up to the top of the mountain is to give something back to your readers. Of course, if you are a designer or developer, now is your perfect opportunity to release that new icon pack, script, blog theme, etc, and etc. Or, give something away in the form of a contest. Even if it’s something inexpensive and rather weak, it lets your readers know that they mean something to you, and their viewership is worth a little bit more than just your time, but also your coin.
  4. Avoid Getting Stale – I hate chips like this too, but more importantly, as soon as press publish on your first “welcome back” post, your readers are going to be expecting the return on consistency. Don’t pound your head over what topic to write about and spend three weeks between posts because you want to be perfect. Chances are, you will not be able to win back your entire lost reader base in one swell swoop. It is going to take some time, so worry about getting fresh posts out as frequently as possible (still, put some thought into them, no one wants to read complete bs), but don’t worry about getting dugg on your second post in a very long time.

The most important step: just get back out there and have fun. You may have had the unfortunate luck of falling off your horse for a few days / weeks / months / whatever, but it is still right there waiting for you to get back on.

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Interviews

Fernando Lins

Devlounge: Welcome Fernando! It’s a pleasure to be chatting with you today; I’ve been a fan for a long time. For our casual reader, mind introducing yourself?

Fernando Lins

Fernando Lins: Sure, my name is Fernando Lins, I’m 20 years old and I live in São Paulo, Brazil. Currently I study Graphic Design at the Belas Artes university during night time, and work as a freelance illustrator, graphic and interface designer during the day. My website is fernandolins.com .

DL: Now on to the obvious and most repetitive question I’ve ever had to ask: How did you get started in design? (And how long have you been doing it for, etc)

FL: I’ve always been a great fan of technology, grew up watching Transformers and Macross reruns, playing video-games, listening to dance(!) music. And since I’m the youngest of 3, with 10 and 12 years of difference between my siblings and I, I had to find ways to have fun alone. So besides my MTNT toys and Lego, I used to draw all day long. I would watch Disney movies, pause them, and draw the characters on paper, then color them and make an exhibition in my room, or make collages with them on backgrounds I’d paint myself with gouache.

My illustrations are mostly a way to express myself without rules, so I like it very much, and I’m trying to incorporate that into my “real” designs more

When my sister went to college to study Industrial Design, and had to work on websites (that back in 1995) to make a living, that got me interested. I liked to watch her “create” images on Photoshop and make them interactive. I had no idea what Photoshop was, but from watching her I learned the basics, just enough to open an image and paint over it, play with brushes and so on. I also decided to learn how to make a website a few years later (1997) and learned HTML and Javascript.

The Internet evolved, and from looking for cool sites I got in touch with the work of amazing graphic designers like Mike Cina and Mike Young from WeWorkForThem, DesignGraphik and TrueIsTrue, Jemma Gura from Prate, Joshua Davis of Praystation, and studios like Me Company, The Designers Republic, Attik, Tomato, etc. That combined with my interest in electronic music grew on me the need to use that new, incredible language to express myself.

My first professional piece of work was for a canadian DJ, whom I e-mailed asking if I could re-design his site, and he was really happy about the offer. A few years later we worked together on a huge project called Progressive Vibe, but it was cancelled due to financial problems. That was in 2001 so I can say I do some sort of design work for almost 7 years now.

Fernando Lins Logotype Examples

DL: Illustration is one of your strong points, but you’ve also done some great looking logo and icon work. If you had to pick a specific type of work as a favorite, what would it be?

FL: That’s quite hard for me to choose, I think each of them has a different pleasure, if I can put it that way, attached to it. My illustrations are mostly a way to express myself without rules, so I like it very much, and I’m trying to incorporate that into my “real” designs more. Branding is my favorite part of graphic design, I love to create an identity for a company or a person, think of an strategy and then smell that amazing scent of paper when you print business cards and brochures. On the interface side, I like working with icons because they are all about metaphors, and they’re universal. Making a symbol that people from around the globe must understand is tough. I guess that if one day I have my own studio with lots of employees, I’ll keep the branding services for myself, it’s probably the one I like the most.

DL: For the latest Devlounge design, you played a major role in the constructing of the layout of the site by creating fresh, original illustrations to replace our outdated collection we had used for the past 3 versions. If you could give a brief overview of your three main pieces you’ve contributed so far (at the time of writing this interview) and the inspiration behind them…

FL: Starting by the red one, which I recently named “Dragon Battle”, I wanted something that incorporated the red inside the Devlounge logo. It is not the same color, but that’s from where I began. You probably won’t be able to see it, but there is an outline of an open hand in the middle of the piece, and that was the first object. I then made a liquid, gradient outline for it and that naturally evolved into a full piece. I can’t quite explain how it happens, I just grab my stylus and start to create these lava, swirly, liquid shapes. I dunno, I guess I like molten things.

Dragon Battle (C) Fernando Lins

“High Voltage Love” was inspired by an issue of the Vogue magazine saying something about the 80′s look being back for the Brazilian summer (*audible gasp*), so I thought it’d be fun to work with some kitsch elements, like the sad woman face, the rounded “pacman” font – which I designed myself – and the vibrant colors.

High Voltage Love - (C) Fernando Lins

“On” is a great piece, and lots of people have been asking me about it. It’s just a bunch of brushes under a levels adjustments layer, there, I said it. It was inspired by a picture I saw on Flickr of the power button of an iBook. I then got a very similar picture on a stock pictures site and started working on top of it. I think it’s the one that most says “motion”, and I really like the mix of blue and green on black.

On -  Fernando Lins

DL: Since we’re on the topic of illustration work, do you use any special techniques and/or tools, such as a tablet, or is it mainly the mouse doing all the work?

FL: I have many, many illustrations done solely with the mouse. Actually all my work prior to 2006 is all “mouse-made”. I bought my tablet on the beginning of 2006 and it’s all I use today. The liquid aspect of my illustrations exists because I do it with the tablet, as well as the light beams on illustrations like “On”, mentioned above. For some of the illustrations I’ll draw elements on paper with ink and scan them, making a virtual pastiche in Photoshop.

DL: What do you like to do in your free time when you’re away from the desk?

FL: “Free time” is something I haven’t had for a while now, but when I get a chance to escape I like to walk around the city with my camera, and sometimes without it. I’m a big walker, so I’ll take the day to visit places, eat in new restaurants, listen to good music live, and take as many pictures as I can. It’s a great exercise, not only for the body but for the mind, as a designer you can’t know enough things, so I’m always looking for new things. During the week, which is when I’m busier, it all comes down to being near my loved one and reading some books.

DL: Out of all your clients and all your various types of work, what project do you think you’ve had the most fun working on?

FL: I’ve had a lot of fun working on all of my projects, but what you see in my portfolio is just the start. I’ve been working on some really great projects lately that mix all of my abilities, so I guess they are the most fun so far, but unfortunately I can’t name them. They’ll be on my *cough*new*cough* site soon. Working on the Devlounge illustrations set was really exciting, it’s not often that I get to do illustration work with such freedom, and it really helped me instigate my artistic vein.

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Blog Networks and What Could Have Been

It was a crisp May day when I first submitted an infant Devlounge into the mass pile of applications that was the 9rules Round 4 submission period. 24 hours of craziness, which, when it was all said and done, led to somewhere around 700 submissions of applicants just like myself hoping to nudge their way into that select sector of blog supremacy known as the 9rules Network.

You see, at the time, 9rules was known for who was it in, not who wasn’t. The Network consisted of some of the most well known, top rate bloggers, that we freelance writers could only dream about being compared to. As a freshly launched designer and developer resource, it would seem like an honor to make it into a group containing the Roger Johansson’s of the web. It was in June 2006 that this dream – this instant fame and glory – seemed to have cemented itself for both myself and the site. I was now part of the ultimate blog network.

Unfortunately, I was not alone.

Round 4 was the first round 9rules began receiving some heat about the amount of people they accepted. Still, it would not even come close to the amount of people they would accept a few months later in Round 5. With Round 5 came a promise of a new design, named “Ali”, which would help 9rules deal with the massive amount of new members they now had.

Unlike the real Ali, 9rules failed.

Blog Network, or Next Myspace?

Ali did bring a lot of changes to 9rules, but not the ones the network should have been making. Prior to the release of Ali, 9rules had introduced 9rules Notes, which was essentially a small forum for the public 9rules community. Meanwhile, the network continued to operate the 9rules Clubhouse, as an exclusive community for network members. While all this was fun and exciting, what was beginning to be lost was the original purpose (and focus) of the network – content. For a network that preached for high quality and high output content, they were doing less and less with each redesign to showcase it.

Since the initial launch of the 9r notes, the feature has literally taking off – drawing in more people to discuss their pets than the amount of people the site has probably sent over to Devlounge in a whole year (alright, maybe not).

And now, and possibly by the time this article goes live in the next few weeks following the Devlounge launch, 9rules is getting ready to launch Ali 2, which promises even more nice additions. What they’ve shown so far is a new feature called stream, which can already be viewed by going to some ones profile page (which even includes top friends) and adding stream to the end of their url (Ex: Scrivs 9rules Stream). And what exactly does stream do? It shows of all your recent note activity, pulls photos from flickr, shows a short bio about yourself, and then includes a life stream.

What a nice collection, eh?

But wait, it seems like we’re missing something…

Oh yes, that quality content.

You see, 9rules Ali (the first) did very little to address the issue at hand – having an extremely large network base that doubled in a very, very short amount of time. Ali did have one feature that seemed to spread the content joy, and that was 9rules Live. It gave you a quick view of the last 40 entries throughout the network. The problem with this, was what if one site posted a bunch of times in a row? At the time of writing, I saw Ads of the World with nearly 20 entries in a row showing up on the first page of 9rules Live. So nearly half of the recent 40 belonged all to one site! And even worse, although maybe you missed it, there was another little annoyance. 9rules Live was not the first page, but rather the third link in the network’s site navigation. The homepage, meanwhile, showed the 11 most recent posts from throughout the network, a good portion of notes, and links to many of the hot topics being talked about throughout the network.

11 featured posts on the homepage was pretty good coverage, right? Yes, if your member base consisted of 30 sites, but with a member base well over 1k, not even close.

The Lost Platform

9rules once sat in the incredibly high position of showcasing some incredibly great authors and sites, and being able to associate quality resources together as one. As the network grew and grew, it began to lose touch with its ideals, and the founding reason the network was born to being with.

While some of the power members remain, many have left. Most recently, fellow 9ruler Jonathan Snook bowed out of the network, along with Steve Smith and Bryan Veloso (although the later was removed from the network when Avalonstar was off for a bit). And, thanks to comments in Jonathan Snook’s “Why I left” post, it appears many more people are feeling the same way about 9rules these days.

The network had a good thing going for a while, but it was their own quest to be something else that lost it for them (That is not to say that the hard-working members mean nothing. There are great authors there, don’t get me wrong). As the days goes on and on, 9rules draws closer and closer to becoming a social network site with a dash of links / content on the side, and nothing more.

It is not just 9rules who lost out. All around the web, blog networks seem to be losing their appeal. They are no longer a status symbol that everyone wants, but rather, a few extra links here and there. And eventually you reach a point where those few links may not even be as important to you as they might have been when you were just getting started.

I once dreamed about joining a network like 9rules, dreamed about seeing my visitor logs do triple doubles in front of my eyes, and dreamed about the extra exposure I believed a network would bring to me. Now, as I write this, I dream about the potential any blog network could have had if it was executed right and down to last, content showcasing and connecting detail.

With this, Devlounge is also dropping out of 9rules network and moving on to better things. Remember, you don’t need a label to write quality content. Just do it.

Update: In Response to, and What 9rules did do for me

Scrivs recently posted an analogy comparing Weightwatchers and this post, in terms of me expecting to do “nothing” and get everything back in return. I’ll get on to my thoughts on this later.

But first, 9rules did do plenty for me in the year I was there. I want to make it clear that this was not a “let me bash this place because I’m no longer there” type of post, it was just pointing out the flaws (in my opinion, which is why this is commentary) which I believe brought the network to a different place. Whether you like where the network is at and where it is going completely depends on who you are, and how much time you’ve put into the network. As Scrivs has said in his comments below, you have to put something into the network to get something back in return.

And that is where the Weightwatchers analogy comes into play. Jonathan Snook actually supports my thoughts (in the comments of the Weightwatchers post) that the analogy makes little sense, because it is comparing two things that can not really be compared. Weightwatchers doesn’t care whether you weigh 100 pounds or 700 pounds, if you are willing to pay, you can join. Meanwhile, 9rules screens applicants and decides whether or not to accept them. Already we are talking about two totally different things. Next, in order to lose weight, you do have to put effort into it. If you plan is to sit on the couch, don’t expect to lose weight. On the other hand, when you join the 9rules network, nothing says you have to participate in the community in order to receive the benefits of the network (You are hard at working writing as it is). Of course, you do receive some, but the more active you are, the more the network will benefit you. If you simply don’t have time for it between managing your own site, work, school, etc, you become just another member, and not one the “community” can put a face to.

Is my ego too big?

Absolutely not. Do I hate 9rules? Absolutely not. A comment left at the bottom of the 9rules post said: “People who bother you with their criticism do it for 3 reasons: egotism, arrogance and impatience. Don’t let them get on your nerves” In short, whenever someone leaves and explains why, many other members simply agree and say these are the three main factors that must be behind it. I’m 17 years old, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone (except of course my friends, who don’t have a handle on this design thing ;)). But seriously, please don’t have this assumption that this is why people leave, because it is most certainly not. Am I link greedy? Of course not. Despite how much you may think I am, because I used a lot of traffic analogies in this post, I am not. When I joined 9rules, I expected it to yield some amazing results – visitors, readership, community relations, etc. I got all that, at least to a certain extent, despite my limited “participation” in network activities. It also helped me improve my writing greatly, because I felt like I was under the microscope a lot more. But when you work hard to improve and publish more content, and all you get is a link in return, you do feel like you are owed a little bit more, because links are not everything.

Suggestions for Improvements

Here is what I think the network should be doing to help spread the wealth and hard work of the many talented authors they have in the circle.

  • Weekly and or Monthly Spotlights – Much like our “Friday Focus”, 9rules admins and or community leaders should each week or month (or whatever timetable really) go through and select their personal favorite’s from throughout the network, and talk about them. A brief summary, why they liked it, etc. You don’t even have to link to the site necessarily, because if you mention it, the members will find their way to it anyways. This is content highlighting at its best, because every time the admins and / or community leaders pick a few favorites each week, they could be coming from all different range of sites, really getting exposure on all sites and highlighting some of the better content from different members’ sites.
  • Mini-Interviews / Behind the Author – Last summer, 9rules did this for a short period of time, but than it stopped. I personally loved these posts, because it gave you the chance to learn more about the person behind the words. Many of these member-to-member interviews were held by the Community Leaders of each different topic / category. To me, this was the best way to promote community among the member base. It didn’t require notes, it didn’t require you to lurk in the private community form. You got to meet people and hear their honest replies to a vast array of questions. This type of feature deserves to be rescued.
  • Links do not matter – I may mention links a lot in this post, but at any given time I probably would have let the network post 75% of any one of my articles if they ever felt it was good enough to be shown to their much larger, broader audience. I am sure a lot of people actually feel the same way, because they would much rather have their hard work exposed to more people first and then receive readers after it. 9rules could list the latest 50,000 posts from across the network if they really wanted to, but all that would be providing is links. You can not tell enough from a title how good something is going to be. You need excerpts, like the 9rules Topics area, but they have to be longer than 25 words. In order to turn people on to something they like, they need to have a brief of what it is about before they go there. I think many network members would be up for less featured posts per page, but longer excerpts, so that visitors are targeted, because when someone reads an article that they expected to be about something from a 25 word excerpt, and then it ends up being about something totally different, it actually probably drives the reader away instead of reeling them in. If you read a lot, many people don’t want to be bothered reading something that might or might not be what they are looking for.

Note: Much respect remains for the 9rules team and network members. I’ve interviewed Scrivs before, and I know and visit many members’ sites, and the respect remains for all of them. I wish them the best of luck with Ali2 and beyond. This was simply my personal view on the situation at hand. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Bits and Pieces / Updates

The new design is finally live. There are some pages that still have to be completed early tomorrow, and various other bits and pieces here and there that’d I’d like to update and change. Please let us know if you find anything out of sorts, or things you like or don’t like, so changes can be made as soon as possible. There are currently a few IE6 bugs that I am also aware of that will be squared away tomorrow morning as well. Within the next 24 hours, everything will finally come together.