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Fundamental Website Setup Links

“Hidden” AWSOM Plugin features: Custom Sub Gallery Images

I’ve come to realize that as a piece of software grows so does it’s complexity. As a result many features can easily be overlooked, especially if they are designed to be used in only specific circumstances. So I’ll post a spotlight on certain features or capabilities of AWSOM WordPress plugins from time to time that I think people might find useful, but may have overlooked.

The first such feature is the ability in AWSOM Pixgallery to select and display a custom image for a sub gallery in the thumbnail view. Normally Pixgallery uses your sort option setting to determine what image it uses to represent sub galleries in the thumbnail view–so it will typically show either the last added image or alphabetical image as the folder image. This means that in many cases the image displayed by the folder will change over time if you add new images to the folder. This can be good to alert visitors that new images have been added to a folder. However, in some cases you may not want this to happen and would prefer to have a set image for a particular sub gallery.

With Pixgallery it’s very easy to accomplish this. All you need to do is place an image file within any sub gallery folder and call it “pxggalleryimage” with any standard image format type (gif, jpg, png–so pxggalleryimage.gif is an example), and Pixgallery will use that image for the folder. This image will NOT appear as a member of the sub gallery, so you can use an image that you don’t even want to have actually appear in the gallery itself if you want. Every sub gallery can have it’s own individual custom image file, and you can even mix and match with some being automatic and some being preset. It’s yet another way that Pixgallery speeds up your workflow but allows you flexibility when you need it.

First AWSOM Pixgallery Video Tutorial Now Available

The first AWSOM plugin video tutorial, titled ‘Create Your First AWSOM Pixgallery Image Gallery Page‘, is now available at the AWSOM.org website. This first tutorial is for the AWSOM Pixgallery plugin for WordPress and is designed to show you how to set up your first image gallery in just a few minutes.

I plan on adding new tutorials over time to detail out all of the different capabilities of this plugin as well as others in the AWSOM series. Upcoming tutorials will feature how to use the FastFlow method of setting up your AWSOM Pixgallery image/gallery captions as well as details on how the different settings in Pixgallery affect your gallery look and feel.

Please feel free to contact me or leave comments if you have specific ideas for tutorials you’d like to see. I’m also considering creating regular WordPress video tutorials which would go through the core areas of WordPress set up and usage.

Tutorial: How to Display Custom Content on the WordPress Index Page

With the release of my most recent updates to the AWSOM Archive and AWSOM News Announcement plugins I decided it might be nice to discuss exactly how I place the output of these plugins on the index page. This is a bit more on the advanced side, so the tutorial is now in a new section on the tutorials page for advanced topics. It turns out that there are quite a few pitfalls to my technique, so maybe other plugin developers might benefit from knowing what I’ve done and can avoid the issues I encountered.

Web Navigation and How Not To Piss Off Visitors

So, you’ve probably decided on using WordPress to host your site, but now you need to really think about what you’re trying to put up on the web, and how you want people to interact with it. Since we’re all somewhat experienced with the basics of how the internet works, we have all seen many different webpage designs and implementations. As time has gone on, things have somewhat distilled down to a few basic rules about how a webpage should work. We all expect some kind of navigation area, with buttons or links to connect us to the different parts of the website. We expect that the main page of a site (usually index.html or index.php) will be it’s intro or news page where you will find the nav area) Beyond this, things can get a bit fluid depending on what the site is designed for. This is where life for a website designer gets to be difficult.

There is one big dilemma that most new website creators encounter: Different or the Same. Do I want my site to be different and unique, or look the same and consistent with people’s expectations. To some degree this is dependant on the goals of the site. It is my opinion that in 90% of all cases you should choose to look similar to expectations. In a small amount of cases, looking and acting totally different from other sites can work….these cases usually revolve around “artistic” sites that are specifically designed to show off something unique about the web creator, but they are NOT meant to be information sites or to allow the user to really get in touch with the artist or their work (think all show, no real depth). They act like a picture in a museum–nice to look at, but of no real informational value other than a pretty picture. Even in these cases I would suggest you consider otherwise. I know there will be many people screaming at this, but there is a bigger issue here.

Consider this: In studies done on average websurfers, if the person is unable to discern what they are supposed to do on your site within 7 seconds of arriving at your site, they tend to leave. As a design function, it is best to make it very obvious what is on your site, and how to get to this information. While this might seem boring or inartistic from a design perspective, it’s important for your overall main goal:having people come back and use your site, not just look once and leave.

Many website designers fall prey to the “designers dilemma”. This is where you as the designer come to believe that everyone who goes to your site automatically knows as much about the site as you do. Imagine you are going to a meeting somewhere you’ve never been, to a building you’ve never been inside. You walk inside the building–what do you want to know first? Well, it’d be good to have a panel or sign saying where all of the offices are. It would also be good to have this sign give all of the company names and what floors they are on, and maybe in the case of a big multi-floor company, exactly which floor houses each department of that company. Many website designers forget this experience. Grouping of information on pages should be as obvious as possible. You aren’t in the business of hiding information. Just because YOU know that the company Bio or About info is listed on the financial page doesn’t mean everyone else will consider that the “correct” place to put that information.

In addition, keep in mind that symbols and pictures are not universal in understanding. Anyone who has seen Japanese symbols for things knows that in many cases pictures have hugely different meanings to different people. A picture of a house could mean homepage, or for a financial company it could be their their rental/house sales page. I personally think that words are better than symbols, but a word AND symbol combo can help people remember things easier in some cases. (also, remember to use alt tags for all navigation images…on handheld devices and some work computers images off is the regular setup)

A top or left side nav bar is the norm these days. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s what people expect. Putting your nav bar on the bottom of the page might make you different, but remember, some people might have a different screen dimension setup from you (like 800X600 instead of 1024X768) and it might not even be visible once the page loads….therefore 7 seconds later the person is gone. Also, you might want to take a look at a book about color interactions. Some color combinations react poorly together and can make it hard for people to read or use the site, especially if they have altered their browsers basic settings. White text on a black background might be nice to you, but it could be unreadable to someone else. Most people have white or light colored background on their computers.

The most important things to imagine in setting up the content of your page is to assume that your visitors are from mars and have no idea what to do. Imagine they are so new to things that they need their hands held. The important element of your page is the information it carries. While with style sheets and tables it’s somewhat possible to dictate how your page will look…it’s not a total lock. Different browsers and personal settings (including leaving images off and different screen resolutions) will always make your pages somewhat out of your control in how they look….but you have control over the content. By keeping the focus on the information, and not the trendy look, you can make sure that visitors to your site get the information they need…which is the main function of your site.

One last area needs to be discussed: The pull of your needs versus the viewer’s needs. Many sites make one huge navigation design faux pas….they disregard the time it takes a visitor to do certain functions. Imagine you are a store….What do you want most from a visitor? Well, I’d say it would be a purchase and getting their money. Why then do many sites force a potential customer to fill out a form or create a login id first? In these cases, the site has decided it’s needs (which they mistakenly decided was getting your email or info above getting a sale) are more important than your desire to quickly and easily buy something. It’s silly really, as a result of going through the checkout you always add this information anyway. Why not get the sale, then afterward have an option to create an id or account…or fill out a survey. You get both and the person feels like they’ve accomplished THEIR goal.

It’s the same with many non-store sites also. Watch our flash intro, or fill out this form to be able to download our demo. Yeah, I know that information is worth money to these companies….but it isn’t worth anything to ME. It’s actually a negative. Keep this in mind.

If you can get someone else to test your site before it goes live, someone who has no idea of it’s content, this can give you a good idea of what the average person will encounter. You might be surprised.

The Mindset of a Web Developer

In many cases companies or individuals decide “I have to have a website NOW!” and run off and create something, or more likely, have someone else create something, with no idea of what they want or how they’ll keep it going, or even a defined business purpose. One of the worst things you can do in creating a website is improper planning for it’s continued development and maintenance. How often will it be updated? Will it be checked for continued validity of content? What if it gets very popular, what then? What if I’m not getting viewers, what do I do? All of these questions need to be considered in advance.

If you don’t go into a project knowing the “dangers” then you will have to react very quickly when things happen, or lose all of your hard work. One example of this is the rocket to stardom problem. Say you have a funny Flash Movie, and somehow this gets picked up upon by a major portal site like SlashDot, Digg, Reddit, etc. It is very possible to go way over your bandwidth in less than a day. What do you do? Do you have a plan for this? Do you just take the site down and lose any chance of gaining from this exposure? Do you have a plan worked out to buy extra bandwidth if this occurs? (and more especially, do you have the $$$ to cover this) Losing your site at a time when it could benefit the most is terrible. People who could become fans will see a blank or 404 error page, and assume your site is unprofessional. Knowing your hosting companies costs and knowing how to contact them quickly is necessary. In addition, a backup site design, that requires very low bandwidth, is also a good idea to have in these cases.

Something else to consider is consistency of updating. Keep in mind that viewers go to your site for information or entertainment. If they go a few times, and nothing has changed, then they might decide to not come back. Letting the viewer know when new content will arrive, and sticking to the schedule is important. (Or at least stating why you didn’t keep to the schedule) It is said that if a viewer doesn’t get the info they want in 7 seconds or less, they will move on. Keep that in mind, make the information front and center. You want to provide reasons for people to return to your site on a frequent basis.

In addition, don’t leave old stuff up on your site. If you have something stating how people need to check their system to make sure it’s Y2K compliant, remove it please. Always check your site to make sure it’s up to date in regard to any dates or notifications. People will think you are crappy if you leave old stuff up. Professional is the name of the game. At least once a month re-read your site to see if it’s still valid.

It is frustrating to have a “brilliant” site, but no visitors. Did you make sure to submit your site to Google, Yahoo, etc? You can go to those services and submit your site with a description. It usually takes a while for them to catalog your site, so a small advance submission should be on target for them to reach you when you are up. setting up advertising at other similar sites in advance, so that it corresponds with your launch date will be helpful. Just DON’T SPAM. It will kill your buzz. No one likes spammers. It’s okay to place statements on forums where they encourage placement of links…but only if it’s appropriate for your websites content. Imagine a pestering salesman, that will be you if you’re not careful.

Lastly, Make sure you have time in your schedule for backing your site up. At first this will be easy for a small site. As time goes on though, it can get to be a huge task. No one wants to find out that their host had a crash that wiped out their hard drives….and you never backed your site up. Poof, all gone. You can be up and running again in a short time with timely backups. At least once a week is necessary for a forum or very updated site. better to do it twice a week. People can get cranky if their forum posts get wiped, especially if it’s a very important issue they are trying to resolve. Plus our friendly hackers exist. So leave time in your mental schedule to backup your site. The one time you say “ah, I’ll wait till later” it’ll kick your ass.

Doing a successful website is a time consuming and repetitive task. You need to be able to do things in a timely fashion and a regular basis. Nothing turns people off more than an irregular mess. Going in with a strong mindset will help you make things work right the first time through.

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