Category: the site

dotjay feeds fixed

I’ve been aware of a problem with my feeds for a little while. The main feed has been working okay, but some of the others I used to offer went a bit screwy. It should all be fixed again now.

You can subscribe to just my blog entries or to entries with a particular tag. So if you only want to be fed my accessibility posts, you can just subscribe to my accessibility feed. I’ve also included a new lab updates feed. Lab updates will also appear in the main feed. I’ve tried to redirect all previous feed URLs so that they will continue to work. My apologies if they break.

Good blog URL structure

Welcome to version 2.1! I’ve been playing with the site over the last couple of weeks. I’ve done some thinking about the structure of the site and I’ve tried to make better use of space on the home page, adding the last few comments posted. The CSS is a bit busted in Internet Explorer at the moment, but I’m sure you’ll learn to forgive me! For the moment, I want to concentrate on writing instead of playing with CSS!

Right then, URL structures

In the process of tweaking the design and structure of over the past couple of weekends, I’ve modded textpattern to use what I believe to be the most usable and future-proof URL structure. We now have year, followed by month, followed by hyphenated entry title: /2007/apr/good-blog-url-structure

I’ve also ensured that textpattern will redirect (permanent 301) links formatted in my previous URL structure to the new locations. For those interested in how I did this, I’ll do a little write-up soon.

Having discussed information architecture with Jon T over recent months and then reading a few posts about good URL structure recently, I got thinking and began tweaking, so I thought I’d post up my thought process behind the changes.

Take time to think

In the interests of link rot, it’s advantageous to think about your URLs before you have too many of them. With a blog, you can quite easily rack up a bunch of posts and decide you want to restructure things, often leading to a furore into htaccess and a bunch of redirects. That is, unless you like to break people’s bookmarks or screw up your results in search engines.

Blogging systems commonly refer to the location of an entry as its permanent link, so it follows that we should avoid changing that link in the future. I have fallen short of that ideal on this blog a couple of times now as I’ve shifted content around. I guess it’s inevitable that we move things about as our websites evolve or as we learn.

If you’re just starting up a blog, or if you’re rehashing your website, my advice is to take a little time to think about the structure of your URLs. Think about the information that will identify the content of the entries you’ll be writing and is most helpful to readers without being verbose. Doing this early on will save you time in the future. Even if you think you may make changes down the line, you should be in a better position to do so having already thought this through.

Unique identifiers

My appreciation for good information architecture has grown over time, especially since my involvement with Grow. Now, I try to think of blog entry URLs as unique identifiers – permalinks, remember – which we should avoid changing in the future. I try to think about what information actually identifies the content of the entry and what does not.

Entry titles

A prime place for summarising the content of your entries is in their title. I try to think of these as one-liner headlines, as you tend to find in the sidebars of the BBC News website.

I try to take a little time to think about my entry titles before I publish, making sure it sums up the content and avoiding the need to make changes later on.

Entry IDs

The database ID of an entry isn’t terribly useful information to anything other than your content management system. It’s certainly unique to the entry, but I think it looks messy and is not valuable to readers.

Date entry published

The date that you publish an entry ages its content. Including that information in your URL structure means visitors can quickly see how old your entry is. As a reader, I find this useful. Also remember that the content of your entry may not necessitate archiving – old content may still be valid, especially if it has updates attached.

Site sections

The site section an entry belongs in is not unique to an entry and is more likely to change than you might think. For example, I started off just posting under a “blog” section, but I decided to expand, which entailed moving some of my entries out of the blog section. Now I see site sections as a means of navigating to and accessing entries.

I also notice when people post their entries to an archive section as soon as it’s published – does this mean the content is not up to date?

Entry tags

The tags an entry is given can tell you a lot about the content of that entry, but again, they are not unique to an entry. However, I think of such information as peripheral – meta data, I suppose – and as with site sections, a means to categorise and browse entries. Remember that many tags may be applied to any one item – especially so in a community environment like Flickr – making them unfeasible for URLs.

Deciding what to use

So, I like the idea of making the most of entry titles, ensuring that they describe the content. You could just use the title alone to identify an entry in the URL. There are two problems with this for me.

Firstly, all your post titles must be different, which I admit is not necessarily a problem. It may become a problem if you post a regular update, say once a month, with the same entry title.

Secondly, if you decide to change the title in the future, having a single reference doesn’t give your readers a contingency plan. You may well publish more than one entry in any one day or month, but offering a secondary reference in your URLs adds a level of redundancy. This allows your blogging system to look up possible entries when an incorrect or out-of-date URL is accessed.

I think knowing when an entry was published is useful information for readers. Adding the date to your URLs in some form is going to help identify entries and keep your URLs unique.

I decided to go with posting my entries under months and to use the three-letter, textual abbreviations. As mentioned in the comments to Chris Shiflett’s post on URL Vanity, using a numeric month can make URLs easier to skim-read. I’ve noted before that I think months are more useful as text than as numbers:

The argument is that, say, through using the name of a month in place of its numerical representation, a date becomes dependent on the language you are using. By that logic, numerical dates are better for internationalisation. Unfortunately, the simple difference between the typical English and American date formats throws a spanner in the works. Something to think about; surely, if your content is dependent on language, there should be no problem with your dates being dependent on language too, even in your URLs?

So, I’ve decided to try out using months as text rather than numbers. One advantage of making textpattern redirect sensibly is that I can change my URLs back to using numeric months without incurring a headache, so feel free to convince me I’m wrong about that!

Related reading

Just Playing

In a fantastic bit of work avoidance last night, I decided to have a bit of a play with the dotjay design.

I had recently tried out Patrick's hex colour calculator, so thought I'd give it a whirl using a hue from the header graphic as a base. This gave the sandy complementary colour used in the navigation, although I used a few tints rather than the shades that the colour calculator gave.

The navigation is better now with easier keyboard navigation and added skips. I also tidied the feeds, gave the site a shortcut icon, made the comments more intuitive to reference and added a little funkiness to my own comments.

I'm not entirely happy with how it has turned out, but I think it's better than it was before. Having finished off the navigation, I realised that the sandy coloured navigation with the borders makes it look a bit like Tommy's Autistic Cuckoo navigation. I suspect I will have another play with the design before Christmas. Any comments, suggestions or bug reports welcomed.


I've got rid of the sandy colour now and it looks so much nicer… but still unimaginative. Consider the design “work in progress”… I want to get this blog lookin' nice.

What’s all this then?

Well, I thought it was about time I let my brain float out onto the open Web, so I've started my own blog. Over recent months, I have been subjected to several ideas and projects that have spurred my own (often tangential) thoughts and theories.

So, this blog contains ramblings from Jon Gibbins – and that's about it! But who is this guy? Well, I guess I'd better explain!

The name “dotjay” is derived from a nickname I had while at university. I helped run the university band society, often finding myself on the society's newsgroup. I signed a post as “.j.o.n.” one time and it stuck. That got shortened to “.j” which then got expanded again to “dotjay”. Clear? No? Tough!

Since then, dotjay has been my handle on forums I frequent, such as Accessify Forum where I seem to spend quite a lot of time.

Anyway, last week I decided to put together a blog and began playing around with Textpattern. I had looked at MovableType, but something didn't quite click with me. Maybe I'll give it another go at some point. Having read Jon Hicks' notes on how he shaped Textpattern to suit his needs, I thought it was worth a shot.

I don't think I'm going to go into as much detail as Jon about my own tweaks to Textpattern, but if anyone asks, I might write something up. I got Textpattern up and running quite quickly. The only real changes I made were to switch to a strict doctype and add a couple of accessibility features. I just know that it's going to make Textpattern updates more of a pain in the arse though!

I had to make a few more tweaks here and there today though, as I had missed a few issues while I was tinkering with the Textpattern scripts over the last week – the layout didn't resize very happily and I had overlooked a couple of accessibility checkpoints. I expect that more issues will crop up along the way, but I'll deal with them as they come.

Anyway, I think that's all for now. Welcome to my blog! Post some comments – I feel lonely!

And so it begins… again…

OK, so this is my second attempt at a blog, the first being an overall failure because I just didn't have the time to keep posting to it. I think it was down to my own expectations of being able to post at least every other day.

So this blog starts with a disclaimer: This is not a journal where I write something every day. I may get to that stage at some point, but for the moment, this is only an occasional blog.

On another thought, this is neither a personal blog nor a business blog – it's a bit of both – a dumping ground for my thoughts on stuff. So, it's probably a good job that I can categorise my posts!

The design (if you can call it a design – Ed.) I knocked up in a couple of days, so it's really not that awe-inspiring! As is usual with my sites, there's quite a lot of white space! I will probably get around to doing something a little more interesting at some point.

Anyway, welcome and enjoy!