Before I get discuss the newest iteration of Irrational Exuberance,
let me start by asking, nay, begging, for any suggestions! Ok,
with that out of the way. What has just happened here?
Did I really just replace my custom blog implementation with
another custom blog implementation?
Yup. And I’m calling it Sisyphus… for self emplanatory reasons.
Two reasons: first, my old blog was such a bloated and horrifying disaster of
engineering that I simply couldn’t bear extending it any further (it
needed to be extended to deal with an influx of comment spam, which
got sufficiently bad that I ended up just turning off comments…
which took three tries to do successfully); second, I’ve been collecting
some interesting ideas from my last three years of professional development
and wanted a testbed for experimenting with them. (Not all of those ideas
are present in Irrational Exuberance 3.0, but some of them are. After investing
close to a week’s free-time into the new version, I decided I needed to actually
launch the damn thing instead of getting too greedy in the first version.)
Discussing the catastrophy that is LifeFlow isn’t
super exciting (and it’s like criticing the third season of The O.C.,
it writes itself), so instead I present an discussion on the ideas I am
attempting to experiment with, will be attempting to experiment with,
and why the blog has changed in the ways it has.
This rambling discussion will flit over:
(There isn’t enough room to discuss implementation notes,
so I’ll need to get around to that in a separate post.)
Into the breach we go.
Design Changes from v2 & Other Arbitrary Decisions
The first version of Irrational Exuberance was a WordPress blog hosted
on a shared host. The second version was a custom Django application
which suffered every symptom it deserved as a second system.
Hopefully this third version will last a bit longer (as opposed, to say, my last bike
which only lasted six months before being crushed by a meter-maid car, which in turn
crushed me with crippling shame).
In thinking through the new design I had two major influences:
the old version, and Digg. For those who
don’t work at Digg, the influence may not be obvious, but
both the approach to right-rail modules as well as the
concept of Popular content (discussed in more detail below)
are entirely derivative.
The focus of a blog should always be on its content.
That is one thing that I’ve felt V2 did very well,
in part because of its single column design which
gave the entire page over to content (except for
the admittedly fat header and footer which turned
the articles in a rather bizarre rainbow sandwich).
Here is a screenshot from the Money or Meaning: Spending Our Wealth of Time
on the old site:
Here is the same section on the new site (the bottom border on the title in the screenshot
looks really bizarre next to the border of the image in the post, but scroll up or
down to get a better look at how they look in practice):
The paragraphs have been intentionally constrained to make reading
easier (wow, it’s… challenging to find a reputable source
which points to research on if or why the width of paragraphs
should be constrained to improve readability. Is this
really the best I can find? *No, it isn’t. Thanks to @cduruk for pointing out this much more credible study), images have been bordered, and vertical
padding has been reduced. The available width for the article
has shrunk from 700px to 550px.
All in all, not that much changed in presentation.
On the other hand, the header has evolved quite a bit.
The V2 header was a bit tall, but despite that it
did a good job of creating a visual hierarchy of
the navigation elements.
I’ll also miss the uniqueness of it. I don’t think anyone ever mistook
Irrational Exuberance for another blog.
The new header tries to be as compact as possible
while splitting navigation duties with the right-rail
modules, and to allow readers to get immediately on to
doing what they came to do: read the damn article.
Search is a major addition, and I’m curious to see
if it gets any usage. In theory, search is the universal
navigation element which can overcome any other
navigation flaws, and it also scales up to solving
users' unique navigation quests
(which articles did I mention Asheville in?
what about Twitter?).
Visual uniqueness has gone away, but the new header is much simpler and brings search.
That’s probably a win.
The V2 footer tried to do a lot and tried to do it with articles whose
titles are usually quite long, which is an akward constraint. (That constraint
still exists, but visually is handled a bit better in modules than in the
full-width footer. That said, could have added modules into the footer–which
is a pretty standard blog footer thing to do–which would have made the fat
footer much easier to visually parse.)
V3 does away with the thick footer and moves all of its content into right-rail
modules. The modules scale out well, with even the shortest article visually
accomodating five-plus modules.
The hope is that the right-rail modules will make navigation easier
(you are presented with navigation options immediately on reaching
the page, rather than needing to scroll to the very bottom to
discover content), as well as provide a platform for future
The previous version supported sharing to various news communities and social networks,
but went about it using text links:
The new version is experimenting with using Digg, Twitter
and Facebook share buttons which include the number of Diggs, tweets and shares.
I’m curious to see how this works out. In theory, including the counts
directly in the button should probably discourage the first shares
(people often prefer to associate themselves with something already
successful), but for technical content like tutorials it’s probably
not much of an issue. Either the tutorial is relevant or it isnt,
and either your friends are interested or they aren’t: whether
you are first or last may be irrelevant.
Well, the data will decide that better than my internal monologue.
Let’s wait and see.
Most of the modules are pretty straightforward. The Recent module
shows the latest entries, the Previous and Next modules show
preceeding and following articles respectively. The Tags module
(currently, only visible on storylists pages) lists the most popular
tags (I removed top-level tag navigation, as it appears that almost
ever actually uses tags, but I’ll need to do some log analysis for
V2 to figure out just how true that statement is).
The Popular and Similar modules are slightly novel,
and merit their own discussion in the next post which will
discuss implementation details of Sisyphus.
URL Structure and Backwards Compatability
The old URL structure for articles included the year, month
and day it was published in addition to a slug.
This kind-of-sort-of made sense if you believed you’d ever had a slug
conflict, but for a one person blog that’s pretty unrealistics,
and I hated that they had become so machine-friendly and
human-inhumane. The new ones are simpler:
I’m much happier with these. (I’ve updated all the old URLs
to 302 to the new ones so that the old links still work.
It’s a pretty simple rewrite, just strip out everything
except the slug.)
Most of the other URL structures have remained the same,
and any which have changed have rewrites in Nginx to ensure
unexpected 404s don’t start cropping up.
Again, I’d love to hear any feedback, suggestions or complaints about
improving this latest iteration of Irrational Exuberance.
With that, I suppose it’s time for me to get back to writing about
something more interesting after such a long break!