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New 9rules: Design Thoughts

Written by Mike Rundle on April 30, 2008

Over at Quofda the question today is “Do you like 9rules Volume 3?” and I thought it appropriate to answer it here. Feel free to answer this question over at your blogs and the trackbacks will show up over at Quofda.com.

What It Looks Like

If you’re not used to seeing this type of look out of me, don’t worry, other people feel the same way. I always find this interesting — the idea that it doesn’t “look like a design I’d put out.” I’m pretty sure I have a particular style, but it’s not rooted in tangible things you can point to in a screenshot. I’m a stickler for the right padding between elements, keeping things uniform. I like producing a design analogy and using it throughout the site, not doing one-off design elements that never get used again. Beyond that, I like to do something new for each site I design, something that I’ll put in the toolbox and pull out at a future date. Here are some new things I did on the new 9rules:

  • Using CSS text-shadow to produce a glowing effect instead of a drop shadow effect. If you have Safari (or WebKit nightly) you’ll see this on the hover effect for the 4 links up in the header. It’s simple to code (search for “text-shadow” within the CSS file) so it was fun to use.
  • Deeper transparency effects. If you resize the window you’ll see the elements in the top blue header area are sliding around on top of the blue line background. The “Browse By Community” element looks especially cool with this effect.

Now apart from specific techniques that I used to execute the design, the layout and design itself was important in this iteration because it was a clean break from the past site. The old 9rules was complex and had many moving parts, and since the new 9rules is just member content, it was like starting fresh as far as the information that needed to be displayed. I wanted this new design to reflect the cleanliness and simplified content options presented, so a clean and tight visual design was the goal. Big white content area, wide columns, ample padding between layout pieces, big typography. The visual touches to separate each area are sparse, but noticeable. I especially like the layout of the member grid listing in the left column.

How It Works

The new 9rules is refreshing to me as a 9rules reader because it makes the content more accessible and is right up front. I don’t have to click from the homepage over to the “member entries listing” to find what I want, it’s right there. It sounds obvious, but straight-up usability was the goal from the onset because — dare I say — 9rules.com had been on a usability decline for over a year. Adding new features adds complexity, and we tried to please all types of users who visited 9rules — people who wanted member entries, people who wanted Clips, Notes, profiles, whatever — so the site wasn’t optimized for any particular use case. That would be impossible, because so many different types of users frequented our site. Now, we know what people want when they come to the new 9rules: they want to see blog entries from our members. And we give it to them.

It’s The Best

In my opinion, and in the opinions of a half dozen or so beta testers, this is the best version of 9rules yet. I think this opinion spawns from the visual design being cleaner, but it also comes from the minds of many visitors who never used the new features (Notes, Clips, to name a few) and yearned for a return of the old, singular functionality we used to offer. We’ve brought back the old concept, added some great new features, and dropped it into a cleaner and more usable layout, so I think those aspects combine to make it “the best” we’ve done… so far.

If you’ve got any design thoughts or technical questions, be sure to hit me up in the comments.

Login Issues

Written by Scrivs on April 30, 2008

There seemed to be some login issues earlier and of course they occurred when I stepped away. I believe I have fixed them up now so everyone should be good to go and if you aren’t give us a holla.

9rules: Vol. 3, Edition 1

Written by Scrivs on April 30, 2008

In February I announced that the old 9rules was coming back. That was a lie. The old 9rules was never coming back, just some of the philosophy behind it. We are constantly trying to improve and move forward and saying the old version of anything is coming back seemed like a step backwards for us. So today we are happy to show you what we like to refer to as the 3rd Volume of 9rules, a new beginning with some old time goodness mixed in.

Members, Members, Members

There is really only one thing you need to keep in mind with Volume 3 and that is it features nothing but 9rules Member content. Every piece of content that you come across in every community is from one of our Members. The goal of 9rules is to present some of the best content from around the independent web to people who enjoy that kind of thing.

Customization

With so much wonderful content appearing before your screen we understand that not everything might pique your interests so we have allowed a bit of customization with regards to what content you see. With your my.9rules or Chawlk account you can now select your favorite communities and Members and your homepage will display content only from those communities while your favorites page displays just the content from your favorite members. We hope that this allows you to experience 9rules the way you want to experience it.

Round 6

Obviously 9rules wouldn’t be anything without our Members and we are always on the look out for more wonderful sites to share with the world. On May 7th we will be holding Round 6 for submissions into 9rules and we hope that you take the time to apply if you feel you have something to offer our audience. The round is only 24 hours and make sure to keep an eye on the blog for updates on when and where to submit your site.

New Members

We have never been ones to judge our members on the size of their readership because quality of content has no regards for how many people are reading it. With this in mind I thought it would be nice to extend an invitation to a couple of sites that I respected and who’s content I have been following for a while to see if they would want to join 9rules. Here are some of the new members, you might have heard of a couple if not all of them. We welcome them all.

We have more coming up, but these made it in time for our launch.

Chawlk

We started to build Chawlk immediately when we realized the changes we were going to make with 9rules. It incorporates all of the my.9r functionality that so many people have enjoyed and repackages it into a shiny new box. However, we aren’t done with it yet. Our goal was never to break out into just two sites because that doesn’t solve all the problems that we have encountered so keep an eye out as we have more surprises coming in the next 2-4 weeks. For now though don’t hesitate to join in on the great discussions that can be found at Chawlk AlphaBetaGammaZeta.

Thanks

9rules launched 3 years ago this week. We have had many ups and downs and have made more connections with wonderful people than we could ever imagine. We would not be here without the help of many people and for that we wish to thank them.

  • To every member that has passed through us (not in a bowel movement kind of way) we thank you. It doesn’t matter if you are still with us because each of you have given us an experience that we have learned from and we can only hope for many more experiences from you in the future. You guys always have our backs and know how to pick us up when things aren’t looking too great. We would have no problem crashing at your place when our landlords kick us out for not making huge barrels of money off of you.
  • Our audience. I have no clue what to refer to you people, but you are more than fans. It is amazing the interest you show in 9rules and when we start to think that nobody cares about us, you come along and ask when the new stuff is going to hit. You say crazy shit like “GIVE ME A PREVIEW OR I WILL JUMP OFF MY BOTTOM STEP” and we love you for it. Thank you.
  • To the haters. As much as we love our Members and Audience I have to give out a thanks to all the haters, doubters and people who just for some reason or another wish for our downfall. You probably provide us with the most inspiration to push on and try new things. Without you telling us that we matter to nobody, that we should give up or that our glory days have passed us by we wouldn’t do things the way with do with such a killer attitude. Bless you.

We hope you enjoy Volume 3.

Let’s take an objective look at your blog

Written by Tyme White on April 28, 2008

This is the last update before launch. I left this entry for the end because the message is more important than the others…but often overlooked. As I mentioned earlier this is the age of socializing. As wonderful as that is, unfortunately there is a lot of “noise” online, content being generated with no real purpose, goal, etc. It’s just “there”. If you’ve had a blog for awhile (let’s say over 6 months), you have no traffic or commenters, yet you’ve submitted your site to Digg, Reddit, etc. and comment on other people’s blogs, why don’t you have a growing audience? It’s time to take an objective look at your blog.

Do you suck?

A lot of people ask themselves this question and respond no simply because he or she felt they worked “hard”.

Wrong answer.

There is a limited amount of time in a day, meaning there is a limited amount of time people can spend online. Some have more than others but in the end the user/reader has to make a choice on what satisfied them the most (where he or she will spend their time). Obviously, it is not your site. When you submit your site to Digg, Reddit, put a link up on Twitter, slice it in Facebook, etc. and no one is reading – the writing is on the wall. Face it because that is the only way you can improve.

Focus, focus, focus….

I read blogs off and on all day. A good percentage of them ramble. They start off with one point, end up at another, hit others in between and none of the points go together. The only time that will work is when a person is talking about what happened during the day on their personal blog and unless the delivery is good, the entry ends up being incredibly boring.

Think about what you are writing, jot some notes down, but most important make sure you are focused on your topic. Rambling entries tend to be longer than necessary and the reader will not make it to the end of the article.

Speaking of focus…

Many people want to write about whatever they want to write about and trust me, I’ve been in the same position. Let’s look at an example: in World of Warcraft there are toons that have specific purposes (Rogue and Mage for damage, Warrior for tanking, etc.) and there are toons that have the option to play dual roles (Priests can heal as holy or damage as shadow or a Druid can heal, tank or be like a rogue). Matter of fact, this is what Blizzard says on the Druid page:

Strength: Can transform into various animal forms which provide unique abilities
Weakness: Animal forms are not as powerful as their counterpart classes

That is one of the reasons why I couldn’t excel in the game, I wanted to do it all and in the end, ended up not doing very well until I changed my mode of thinking. If you want to write about food, cars, the stars and shoes by all means you have that choice but unless a reader becomes interested in your opinions on those topics, you are competing with sites that are focused on food, cars, the stars and shoes. You can’t possibly compete and that’s why your blog remains dormant. I know, you aren’t trying to compete but as I said above, there is limited time in a day and people are making choices about how they spend their time online.

And some common sense things….

Let’s say you’re talking about sports and the blog has a bunch of flowers on it. Well, unless the person reading your blog likes flowers the flowers would be a deterrent. If you write about design and your design looks like you’re warped back to 1999, then the user will be left with the impression you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you write opinions yet never backup or prove your points it becomes chatter and food for trolls. If your site advertises daily content make it quality daily content or get rid of the daily. Have you titled yourself a diva, king, or heaven help us all, an expert? Those titles mean nothing until your peers bestow them on you.

Is your content management system upgraded with all the security fixes? No? Why? A feature was add you don’t like? Let me get this straight – a new feature is more important than keeping your content safe? Your host can’t keep your site safe if you aren’t willing to cooperate. That’s how serious you’re taking your site/content and you expect anyone to take you seriously as a writer? When you drive you have to take care of the car, when you have a house you have to maintain it – same with your blog. Of course if your site is hacked, don’t whine, moan or complain. You had it coming.

So um…good luck?

Well, that’s it for now. Launch is on Wed, and you have some tools to whip your blog into shape (if necessary) for the next week. For many of these you won’t be able to fix them by May 7th but you should be in good shape for the round in August.

As always, if you have any questions – don’t hesitate to ask them.

Good luck!

Hosting is more important than you think

Written by Tyme White on April 25, 2008

If your site is a hobby I understand completely if you cut corners (to save money?) on hosting. However, if you are serious about your site (to the point you want to aggregate your content), hosting is important.

Uptime is important.

If you are with a host that has a reputation of having bad uptime, why would you host with them? There are free alternatives (or almost free as in extremely inexpensive) that provide excellent uptime. The excuse of not being able to afford hosting isn’t as strong as it once was. A person has a choice and often when taking short cuts, we get exactly what we deserve.

Back to hosting, we need the RSS feeds to be available 99.9% of the time, which is the standard for hosting. Of course there will be times when a host doesn’t make the 99.9% guarantee because things happen.

But they shouldn’t miss it every month or every other month…see what I’m saying?

What do you look for when looking for a host?

  • Features (bandwidth, email, control panel, etc.) are important but take a moment to see what you need in regards to hosting and find a hosting plan that matches your needs.
  • Support is very important. If you encounter a problem, how long does it take to be resolved? Of course, this is contingent on getting all the information from the customer on their first request otherwise the result can be email tag. If phone support is important to you, consider that as well.
  • How often do they update their software? If you want to use scripts that require php5 and your host is still using php4 that can cause a problem.
  • Software settings (and installed modules) are important as well. Do not assume that a host has the software settings or modules you need.

There are many different aspects to finding a host but I hear a lot that uptime isn’t important. Your site needs to be up and accessible for people to read your content.