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Design Dilemmas: CSS versus Tables

Sometimes CSS issues aren’t worth fixing. Over at our webcomic site Onezumi.com we had a new requirement that had us displaying 2 different comics on the index page at once. We also wanted to have the news posts associated with each comic also appear on the index (each comic has it’s own category), but side by side, not in a single loop.

The actual code to get separate loops working is a bit tricky, but not too hard once you understand the process. The major issue arose in getting both posts to appear and not overlap or conflict when appearing side by side.

The typical way to do this in a theme is to make both loops into separate HTML div’s, then do a float on them to get them to appear next to each other. The problem comes in when you need to retrofit this into a theme and CSS setup that wasn’t initially set up with this expectation.

The cascading nature of CSS is normally a good thing–the evil comes in due to different web browser compatibility levels, as well as weird “by design” issues with CSS itself. One of the most frustrating things with CSS is that due to the cascade, you may not actually easily know why something isn’t appearing correctly. While the element level can clearly have a specific CSS entry that tells it to do something, there are times when an overarching CSS entry (like a div level img setting behavior) can override your local entry. It involves which CSS entry the browser decides to do first, then second. You would assume that the local entry would trump the div level one, but that’s not always the case.

Anyway, back to my specific problem: The floats for the 2 news entries weren’t working properly. The CSS caused elements from both div’s to overlap, or get pushed under the other div. Or the background wasn’t being extended correctly behind both divs. It was turning into a mess.

Then the answer hit me: screw CSS for placement. While I’m sure many people will choke on this statement: Tables almost always work properly for placement, so use them sometimes where appropriate. In my case all I needed to do was make a simply 2 row table and place each loop inside each td.

Boom, works great and no issues for any browsers. And yes, I did use CSS to make the look of the table correct. A bonus is the mobile version of the site looks perfect since tables are easy things to get correct in even the crappiest mobile browser.

So, my lesson is sometimes it’s not worth ripping things apart when the simple solution is available.

AWSOM Pixgallery performance tuning

WordPress is a very powerful content management system. The cost of this power can sometimes be at your server’s CPU and memory resources. One tip for anyone using AWSOM Pixgallery, and NOT using it’s built in lightbox effects, is to simply turn off it’s usage of the built in effects library. This setting is in the Pixgallery admin settings/options page and is listed as “If you want to use a 3rd party javascript plugin and turn off the built in system, set the following setting to “custom” and input the custom rel code needed to add the effect to your images in the following box.”

What you are doing is turning off the loading of pixgallery.js.php, which can easily cut down on your file transfer amounts as well as overall server cpu/memory resources.

I’ll post more tuning tips over time for my plugins, as well as general ideas for overall speed/resource tuning for WordPress.

How to Compel Your Readers to Support You

Moving traffic is an extremely important component to marketing your work online. If you can’t move traffic, you can’t compel people to buy your products, come out to your live events, or otherwise support you. In addition to this, you won’t be able to share traffic with your professional friends to shore up your networking goodwill.

The bottom line is that it is extremely important to get your readers to click the links that you post., buy your stuff, and to come out and see you if you tour.

A surprising thing that I have observed in my organizing of webcomic programming is that it does not appear that website traffic has as much of a relation between your ability to influence your readers as you might think.

I have met people with very large estimated monthly readership who are absolutely unable to compel their readers to do anything, and I have met people with tiny readerships who can command a small but powerful army.

Size does matter, but the degree that it matters depends on how good you are in speaking to your existing readers.

Your blog posts matter just as much if not more than your work. It is all part of the packaging.

Here is a handy translation guide for some common poorly-chosen themes and what they are really telling their readers:

– “Here’s a comic.”

You might be busy, but it it happens more than a couple of times, you are saying that you don’t care. If you don’t care, why should your readers? Repetition and consistency are the things that train your readers to watch your blog for important things. You are teaching them not to find anything you say to be important.

The way I’d do it: “Hey guys, I am super busy right now. I have (x and y and z) just about ready for you guys. I’m really excited about it. Here’s a photo of (something I’m working on or something random from online that is amusing). Talk to you guys again on Tuesday! :D”

– “My art sucks.. But whatever, here’s some art.”

You’ve just communicated to people that you hope will buy your work that you aren’t worth it. Yeah, I guess your art does suck. I believe you.

The way I’d do it: “Hey what’s goin’ on? I have some new kikass concept art up in here. Clicky the link and check it!”

I find that a rule of thumb is to imagine how the people reading you think. It is just like being friends with someone. If you want them to get to know you and care about what you do, you have to let them in a little bit, but try and remain as positive as you can. Negative talk really irks a lot of people.

Above all, be honest and be yourself The rest will fall into place over many years. Your readers are coming to see you to be entertained. Your job is to fulfill that. If you hope to make money off of it, you need to also keep them listening to you.

The Creative Comfort Zone

The success of free sites like Deviant Art shows how many artists don’t want to be bothered with making their own site. Sure, some of them do have their own site in addition to Deviant Art, but most don’t and many of the ones that do rarely update their own sites.

I am not saying that Deviant Art “sucks”. Deviant Art is awesome. For no investment, anyone of any skill level can experiment with online publishing. This is a great way for someone new to the field to figure out if this is something that they would like to do. Probably every artist should have some sort of presence there – just like MySpace and Facebook – simply because you can. More exposure is always better.

However, Deviant Art should NOT be your main website.

I say this because:

1. Their interface is quite confusing for the end user. You cannot customize it to make your work easier to view by someone who is not familiar with the Deviant Art culture. The first 20 times someone linked me to their Deviant Art page I left without seeing their art because I couldn’t figure out where the gallery was. It can be very annoying.

2. When Deviant Art is down…it’s down. You can’t fix it. If your work is unavailable for weeks you have no recourse because you don’t control it.

3. Your URL is YourName.deviantart.com. This might be good for networking with others on the site, but it is not so professional for people who aren’t.

4. Passive ad revenue is one of the the largest and easiest source of income – and you can’t do that on Deviant Art. You actually are making them rich – not yourself. Of course since the cost to host your stuff is free, it’s a balance–but still, eventually you’ll want to make money (I assume) off your work.

You might say, “Hey, Oni! I get a lot of people buying commissions from me on Deviant Art. Why do I need ad revenue?”

There are two ways of thinking about it:

1. Working yourself to carpal tunnel cranking out as many commissions as you can for a small amount of dollars. Generally you will probably find that this leaves you too busy to augment your brand. Oompa loompa doopity doo…

2. Do commissions for x amount of dollars when you feel like it and collect far more than x dollars for doing nothing but getting people looking at your work. Have tine to build your brand and a social life.

For my purposes, I choose 2.

If jumping right into working with something like WordPress is daunting, a good thing to do is to at least buy your own URL/domain name that redirects to your Deviant Art. This way, when you finally take the plunge you won’t lose your hard-earned fans out of confusion. They’ll go to where you direct them.

I am a big advocate of controlling where and how my work is presented on the web because it is just that important. Nobody else cares if your work is represented well. You need to care.

They say that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. This is very true. It is also very true for how you “dress” your work.

I urge you to try out free sites like Deviant Art and to even maintain a presence there. Just remember that the end game is about making money for you by developing a healthy career. If you hope to achieve that, you need to take control of your work. Too many artists are concerned about the immediate future and don’t invest in a holistic approach to career development that will give them strength 30 years from now. A balance needs to be understood if one hopes to thrive.

Display A Random Sidebar Image From Your Gallery

I’ve been asked a few times if Pixgallery will eventually get some sidebar widgets to display images on your index page from your galleries. The answer is yes, but I’m not sure exactly when. However, for the moment, I’ve discovered a sidebar widget Plugin which might help out for some cases. The Display Random Images plugin here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/random-image-widget/ seems pretty straight forward and only requires that you give the folder path for the selection of images you want it to pick from. I may even ask the developer about a specific Pixgallery mod for it to make it even easier to use. If anyone tries this out please let me know how you like it.

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