Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Sidebar

Sharp-eyed people will probably have noticed that I've made some changes to this blog's sidebar recently. I don't expect to change the background design and basic layout of this blog anytime soon, seeing that it tends to distract people from the horrible quality of my writing, but the sidebar is a different consideration altogether.

Now, I have a tendency to write long entries. They don't seem very long in Blogger's Preview window, but they always seem to turn out longer than usual nonetheless. Couple that with the fact that I've set Blogger to display entries from the last eight posted days, however, and you get a long blog.

That is, you get a really, physically, indubitably long blog.

As it stands, this site is probably the Chile of blogs, and that's even considering that I post very few images on it to begin with. This is why I worry about the sidebar every now and then: It peters out near the lower half of the page, unable to catch up with the content over the last couple of weeks.

As a result, I've recently added two new features that should help populate the area. The first is a listing of Fiction entries that I've posted so far, and while it's only a small subsection at the moment, I expect to fill it out with idle spare-time writings every now and then. If anything, its presence in the Sidebar might at least push me to write more independent short stories.

The second new feature is a listing of Recent Comments, and I'm rather proud of that one. I originally found the same feature on a Friendster blog or two, spent some weeks assessing their usefulness, and eventually decided to implement it over here. While Blogger does have a set of customized codes that you can insert into your web template for the Recent Comments to appear, they didn't give me very good results the first time I tried them. Therefore, the current code I'm using comes from BloggerHacks, a very useful journal that helps people customize their own sites. (It required a little programming knowledge, though.)

The strangest part about the whole thing was the revelation that, while it's possible to retrieve and collate the most recent comments posted for a certain blog, the Blogger system has a habit of outputting this list in earliest-to-latest order. That is to say, if you wanted to check what the most recent comment was, you had to scroll down to the end of the list just to find out. The BloggerHacks code literally has to break this behavior apart and reconstruct the list in latest-to-earliest format, and that's why it's actually much more complex than usual. (That's just a critical note, really, in case you want to try out the feature yourself.)

I considered a few other possibilities, but ended up shelving them because of various issues. Time was a significant factor when I made these recent changes to the sidebar, particularly because Dean Alfar's Speculative Fiction deadline was on at the time. I don't see much of a use for a Tagboard at the moment, I don't think I'm sensitive enough to require the services of an IP Tracker right now, and I have certain ethical issues with regards to the possibility of an online blogroll. These seem to be staples in a lot of weblogs, however, so I'm not completely closed to these options just yet. There's probably a good reason for why people use them on their sites, although those reasons continue to escape me right now.

Finally, before I regained my period of lucidity, I considered giving the sidebar a weird feature of some sort. I catch glimpses of these every now and then in other peoples' blogs, everything from "Word of the Day" feeds to little Temperature Icons and Thermographs. I didn't like the idea of having to connect to external sources for these, however, so I spent a solid thirty minutes dreaming up the sickest, most perverse imaginings available. When I finally concluded that nobody was likely to be interested in what song was playing in my head at any specific time, however, that single rejection finally allowed me to kill the idea completely.

It's altogether possible that I'll be making more changes to the sidebar as time goes on, of course. I write new posts at a rate of about two or three each week, and every new article that comes in shrinks the sidebar's role to an even smaller length of space. I suppose that it's about time it started making the most of what it had, and giving me a bit of diversion in doing so.


clair said...

Why not just post the latest entry then have something like only the summaries of the somewhat recent posts show up? I suppose there's a hack for that? :) Dom's blog seems neatly hacked. Maybe ask for tips?

Btw, do you have time to help out in maintaining the spec fic blog? :)

Sean said...

Clair: Yes, Dominique does that. I didn't consider the possibility of "shortening" my posts, though, because I like the convenience of being able to read them without having to click on anything. It's sort of like a "what you see is what you get" sort of arrangement.

What's this thing about a spec fic blog, anyway?

clair said...

I'd email you the details of the thing with the spec fic blog.

About shortening posts: I have been thinking about layout changes on my pinoyweb blog recently and how I have been thinking about having mainly just one entry on the front page and having a short list of recent 5 entries at the bottom of it. Lately I have been wanting to do less scrolling hahaha. Wishing I could learn AJAX-y stuff too so things might be a bit easier for readers. Dunno. It's all a matter of preference :)

Sean said...

Clair: I think I've seen something like that somewhere, although I don't remember where, exactly. I'd like to see a blog that fits entirely on one screen, but I suspect that that would be more akin to a design-based site if that were the case.

With that said, all that I usually look for in a blog is readbility. I'm currently involved in a quest to figure out exactly what "readability" entails, but most blogs are usually fine in this way.