Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Building a Better Blog

Lately I have been posting on tools for tracking and submitting your blog or website. Today, my subject is Building a Better Blog. Do you remember being a new blogger? I do, I remember wondering a few things like what do I write about? Do I have something to say that others even want to read? What should the blog look like? etc etc.

Lord Matt, one of the people I met on MyBlogLog.com has posted 9 tips for a well liked blog that includes the following: Your blog must be easy to navigate, your text must be easy to read, your text must be formatted for easy reading, your words must be understood, your content must be interesting enough to continue reading, make them smile from time to time, make them think, talk about your readers, and compliment and even flatter specific readers. I am glossing over his topic here a bit and suggest you read the article to get more information for building a better blog.

So, in keeping on topic with his article, I have a few questions for you. How is the navigation on my blog? Is it easy to navigate? Is there something you think would be better? Part of the reason I ask these questions is because I do not navigate my blog much. In fact, I do not normally visit my own blog much at all, I am busy reading other things. I do understand the concept of good navigation and try to make sure things are easy to find and easily identifiable but it is hard to gauge how well I am doing. Since what I find easy and understandable you may find frustrating and totally useless, I would like to know your thoughts about the navigation on my blog.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Tracking Your Website Visitors

Like I mentioned last week, I have an XNA website I put together and submitted it to the search engines. Since then I have also spread the news about the site in other ways as well but the details of those adventures shall remain unknown for now. So now the question is how can I tell if anyone is finding my site? Well the answer to that question is site tracking of course. But, which site tracking service or script do you use? I have tried quite a few of them over the years, both services and scripts, and right now I am using two services and happily recommend them. Why two? Well, read on and I will fill you in.

The first service I chose is MyBlogLog.com. The reasons are twofold. The first is MyBlogLog.com tracks where users came from, how many users there were, what they viewed on my site, and what they clicked on while on my site. The other reason I chose MyBlogLog.com is because of the social side of it. MyBlogLog.com is a community as well. With this community you get to list your blogs or sites, chat, share photos, and you get to network. There are other things the service offers as well such as widgets for your site showing who your latest readers were and tracking your most clicked links.

Networking, for me, is one of the main reason to use any social site. I have friends already, I am looking for contacts (Who I hope to become friends with eventually) who share in the same interests and will help to spread the word about my site. Most social sites have an immature feel to them, just look at MySpace.com. MyBlogLog.com is a community of peers rather than immature friends looking to get "hooked up". It is more about site owners and bloggers who are into growing their site and getting to know their visitors rather than growing their friends list. It is an interesting tool and it has great potential.

The other service I use is Google Analytics. This is a heavy weight tool. There is so much to this service it would take many pages to tell you all of it. That being said, it has it's quirks too. Google Analytics tracks a lot of information about visitors including browser type, OS type, screen size, country, state, city, how long they were on the site, if they are a returning visitor or a new one, etc. The Google Analytics interface is interesting as well giving you a world map marked with where your visitors are from, pie charts showing incoming links and page views, and so many different reports you can read for a day and not be done.

Knowing all these different stats I can tweak my site, for example: Knowing from the stats that most of my users are using a screen size of 1024x768 and have javascript turned on by default I can customize my site for a better experience for users by implementing advanced javascript and AJAX functions to help in page loading, advertising, and other things such as the widgets mentioned above. Of course this does not mean everyone will see these things since some pop-up blockers block script based advertisements as do some browser plugins but it does mean that the majority of my visitors can see or use these things if they want. I will also make sure my site design looks best in 1024x768 since it is the preferred desktop size used meaning a streamlined user interface made for that size.

Google Analytics is missing a few basic things for this type of site. Off the top of my head the most glaring to me is not having referring links in a hyperlinked list. I like to check out what links lead a visitor to my site, I want to know what people think or know what ideas they may have about the same subject, etc and use referrer links to go check these things. I know of no one service that gives you everything I mention here so I ended up using them both. Oh, did I mention, they are both free?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Search Engine Webmaster Services

Recently I have been working on a new website. You know what that means? That's right, search engine submission. I went to Google and found their Webmaster Tools fairly easy. Then I went to Yahoo and found Site Explorer easily as well. Both services allow you to see the information each search has on your site, though how much information you actually see and what you can do with that information is limited.

Google has Google Webmaster Tools which allows you to link to a sitemap, check out robots.txt information, see web crawl information, get page rank information, and other things of this nature. I have learned a few things from the service such as how to set up a sitemap to help Google index my site better and how to set up a robots.txt to screen what info search spiders are allowed to see. The service is ok and I can see it being useful but I think the service needs some work before I would call it great, though they do let you vote on the tools which is good for feedback I suppose. These kinds of services could be helpful if they actually did something useful. Knowing your page rank on Google is great but there is no way to change your listing or correct mistakes that I can find. For example, one of my sites has several errors listing missing links. It has been quite awhile since those pages existed and even making sure the sitemap was up to date did not get rid of all the errors, though nothing in my current website links to these pages.

Yahoo has Yahoo! Site Explorer which allows you to associate an xml feed with your site and verify that the site is yours. A sitemap is an XML file so you can link it with your site here just like a RSS feed. The explorer function does nothing noteworthy other than allows you to see very limited info about what listing Yahoo has on file and verification of your site does not give you access to more information that I can find.

I was curious so I went over and checked out Live.com, Microsoft's search engine site. After looking around and not seeing anything, a search turned up a submission form to submit a website to Live.com. No other usability that I could find involving sitemaps, xml feeds, or anything else.

Overall I would say using these services is worth the effort just to be able to see what information a search engine has on file for your site. Without a way to correct that information or a way to have the site re-spidered in a timely manner, these services will continue to be limited to information and not much real help in improving your site for search or improving the search for your site. I would like to see suggestions foremost, suggestions from each search provider on how to get better listings in their search engine is good information everyone could use. I would also like to see a better error system in the least that would let you know which page in your site has generated the error not just which page is missing. So, I hope we see some real growth in these services this year with new ways to help track and interact with what information the search engines index about our sites.

**UPDATE (1/14/2007 - 11:20pm) It seems Google Webmaster Tools is a fast service. I included XNA Portal in the service on Friday, submitted a sitemap on Saturday and I am now receiving hits from Google Search on Sunday. So, about a 2-3 day turnaround from listing it to getting hits, some within the top ten on certain searches, not to bad in my book. I definitely recommend this service to anyone promoting a website.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Let's Play Tag!

Well, it seems Lord Matt has tagged me. I am supposed to tell you five lesser known facts about myself. So let's see:
  1. I am married to a wonderful woman and have three children and one on the way. I have been married for 12 happy years.
  2. I work for myself and most times I am over scheduled, tis why I don't blog as much as I would like. I do data entry type work from home creating ortho-rectified images from aerial photos.
  3. I have 2 online identities tijir and rijit. I interpose them a quite a bit and it can get confusing. I used tijir for years then changed due to a conflict on a couple of websites so I used rijit. Both identities are the initials in my name T (initial) J (initial) R. and I pronounce it tee-jer.
  4. I run an online game called a MUD. My mud is called Primal Darkness and I am the admin Stormbringer there. I have been with this mud since 1998 and took it over in 2001. Though I am not near active enough, it has an active player base of around 50 people which is not bad for a MUD.
  5. I am a Jack-of-All-Trades. I have worn many hats in my thirty plus years on this earth from short order cook to office manager to construction worker and many things in between. My work ethic can be summed up in this simple statement: "Do what you have to do but do it well." That quote is something my grandfather told me about the time I started working and it has served me well since.
According to the tag ritual I am supposed to tag five other people and here they are:

parislemon - The newest member of the grand gravey MyBlogLog community.
Destructiod - Because I like the name and the games.
jigglepie - To see what she has to say about gaming.
publicrelations - Because everyone needs to know a little something about public relations.
l0ckegn0me - His comics are funny and I want to know more.

Microsoft Confirms IPTV for the Xbox 360


Microsoft confirmed IPTV for the Xbox 360 at this years CES. Quote from the Microsoft Presspass website:

"Xbox 360 and Microsoft TV: Together Expanding the World of Games and Entertainment

In a move that will combine the power of Xbox 360 with Microsoft TV IPTV Edition, Bach provided an early look at a new service, IPTV on Xbox 360. The offering is expected to deliver world-class TV experiences such as digital video recording capabilities, with gaming, movie viewing, and even voice and video communications. Tapping into an expanded set of entertainment experiences, users will be able to watch their favorite sporting event live while chatting with their friends, for example, or participate in a match on Xbox Live® while they record a TV program in the background. IPTV on Xbox 360 is expected to be available to consumers by holiday season 2007 and will be offered by providers that are deploying TV services based on the Microsoft TV IPTV Edition software platform.

“Our goal is to make entertainment more personal, more interactive and more social,” Bach said. “IPTV on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live are powerful examples of ways we are bringing together the worlds of gaming, TV viewing and community to make it easy for people to access and discover their favorite content and share their personal experiences with the communities they are part of.”

Microsoft TV IPTV Edition continues to strengthen its position in the market with deployments under way with five of the world’s largest service providers and trials with 11 additional companies, representing a footprint across 14 countries on four continents.

Bach also showcased the strong momentum behind Xbox 360 and highlighted the company’s success in delivering high-definition viewing experiences with HD DVD. Exceeding expectations by hitting the 10.4 million-console-sold mark this holiday season, Xbox 360 is the leading next-generation games and entertainment platform. It is also the largest social network in the living room, with 5 million Xbox Live members.

In addition, strong sales of the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player and strong demand for downloadable movies and television programs are a clear indication that increasing numbers of consumers see Xbox 360 as an ideal device for connecting to a broad range of entertainment experiences. In just over a year, people have downloaded more than 100 million pieces of content to their Xbox 360 consoles, which include game content, television shows and movies."

I hope this goes over well and they take the time to make this into a quality service. If the offering is in HD, has good programming and is recordable, this service should go far. I also hope they will step up their bandwidth and servers before opening this up. No need for another bug plagued start like the video content service had when it went live. Hopefully Microsoft will figure out I can't record much IPTV on my 20 gig hard drive. For IPTV, gaming, movie and music downloads, and other Live content I am going to need a lot more space, something in the triple digits, maybe somewhere around 120-180 gig at minimum. I would love to see a 250-300 gig drive. They also announced Windows Home Server. Quote from the release:

"Connecting Digital Devices and Experiences at Home and on the Road

During his keynote address, Gates announced Windows Home Server, a new software product for families with multiple PCs that want to connect their home computers, digital devices and printers to help easily store, protect and share their rapidly expanding collections of digital content and entertainment. Later this year, HP plans to deliver the HP MediaSmart Server, powered by Windows Home Server.

Windows Home Server was created to help consumers deal with the explosion in digital content. For example, 273 billion digital images were captured worldwide in 2006.1 Today, more than 40 million homes in the U.S. have more than one PC2 and one in three homes in the U.S. has an MP3 player.3 Windows Home Server automatically backs up home PCs and provides a central location for storing a family’s photographs, music, videos and documents. Using a personalized Windows Live™ Internet address, people will be able to remotely access digital content on Windows Home Server when they are away from home. At CES, companies such as AMD, Inventec Corp. and Quanta Computer Inc. will demonstrate hardware reference designs for Windows Home Server. Windows Home Server will also serve as a platform for independent software vendors to build innovative products for the digital home."

So what kind of functionality will it have with the Xbox 360? I am hoping something like this will allow you to transfer things from the 360 hard drive onto the family server. All kinds of possibilities come to mind. 2007 is starting to look a lot more interesting. Oh, they also talked about Vista, Xbox Live gaming on Vista, using 360 accessories on Vista as well. It looks as if Microsoft might actually have a clue, at least so far. We will just have to wait and see how things go. Oh, if you are reading this and your from Microsoft, I would be willing to beta the IPTV, the bigger HDD, and the HP Media Server if you send it my way since I seem to have missed the Vista laptop...

Anyhow, head over to Microsoft Presspass to read the other goodies Microsoft has in store for us this year.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My XNA Community Site

For anyone interested in Microsoft's XNA and keeping up with the XNA community, I have put together a portal site that tracks RSS Feeds from the main XNA websites, has a custom Google search engine, and has a growing links section linking to XNA resources, projects, and games. You can even enter your own custom RSS Feeds on the tracking pages. So, if you are looking for an easy way to keep up with the XNA Community head on over to http://xnaportal.com/, check it out, and let me know what you think.

Interested in XNA? Check out 15 Great XNA Tutorial Sites.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Xbox 360 HDMI Rumors and IPTV Leaks


Quite a bit of talk going into the weekend about Microsoft's Xbox 360. Engadget ran with a scoop about the 2nd or is it 3rd generation of the 360. In the article it says the coming Xbox will have a smaller chip, larger hard drive (120 gig!!), and HDMI out. I would have went past this and kept on believing it to be a rumor, then I saw the picture. Engadget has a pic of the HDMI output on the back of the console, kind of dark and blury though.

mercurynews.com ran with a scoop about Microsoft's CES announcement. They announced Bill Gates and Robbie Bach will announce they sold over 10 million units and that the Xbox 360 will be able to be used as a set-top box for IPTV (Internet protocol television) and that every Xbox worldwide would be able to partake in some form. I would have went right on through life believing this to be false but mercurynews.com pulled the article, guess that spokes person leaked the info a bit too soon (via: Xbox-Scene.com).

So, it looks like maybe Microsoft has wizened up and started listening to the community in terms of what is offered and what is needed. I posted on the Xbox Live Forum about a year ago asking about larger hard drive, had a few hundred replies to the post about how it was not needed at that time. It is definitely needed now. With Live offering HD movies and TV programs, music videos, game demos, trailers, etc we need more room to store some of this stuff. I personally think HDMI is a great addition to the console as well but it means I will have to replace my TV when it comes time to upgrade to the newer 360. For now, let's chalk it up to rumor and speculation until we get official word from Microsoft. Though, the thought of the Xbox in 1080p and a larger drive will keep me hoping these are more than rumors.

**UPDATE (1/06/2007 - 10:48am) - Xbox-Scene.com has more pictures of the Xbox 360 with HDMI including internal shots. In the new article talking about the unit, XanTium claims the 'Zephyr' 360 is a dev unit/prototype and that Microsoft has also redesigned the scaler chip ANA and called it HANA, speculating that the current console can't output digital without the redesign and that Microsoft would not take the time or money to do the scaler redesign unless they planned to release it. The article also has a link to a video of the unit running.

Microsoft has not denied or confirmed the rumors, the response from them is "We have seen all types of claimed leaked photos like this show up online and as a standard policy we don't comment on speculative items." Hopefully we will get some official word soon, at CES maybe?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Inquiring Minds

The Good Old Days

Most parents should find this funny and truthful! ;)

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Xbox 360 hack/mod on the way?


Xbox-Scene News reported that an anonymous person may have hacked and modded the Xbox 360. Presented at the 23C3 Hacker Congress, the masked "hacker" had a short presentation where they showed a screen with the Xbox 360 logo, a Mac logo, and Tux (Linux Penguin) and the words coming soon....
Quote from the article "In a very short presentation a masked 'hacker' showed an Xbox 360 booting up King Kong (the game, by ubisoft). After loading the game a screen pops up showing an Xbox 360 logo, a Mac logo and Tux (the Linux Penguin) and the words "coming soon...". I also noticed a small PCB is hanging out of his Xbox360 and he's using a laptop, but it's not really clear what he's doing with it."
My question here is: Why is a mod for the 360 needed? With Microsoft rolling out the XNA program to allow almost anyone to create and run games on the 360 and Windows MCE allowing programs to be run on the PC and used through the MCE extension, the Xbox 360 already has great potential. Most available mods on the 360 right now are to do with backing up games and tricking the DVD drive into playing unsigned game back-ups, cooling, and data transfer. If Microsoft added a few more features to the Xbox 360 such as game back-up, a sandbox for running unsigned code, and a more open network allowing for better file transfer the Xbox 360 would not need a mod/hack.

Anyhow, in the article are links to video of the presentation and a YouTube clip, go on over and check out the article here.