What was supposed to be a proper switch-off holiday turned into Office-by-Sea. One of the results is the new blog / web site which we have been promising ourselves for some time, one of the few so-called “Summer projects” which actually got done (albeit in the Autumn).
Stuck up in our hall at home is a fading cartoon. The first three frames show a businessman on holiday, sitting on a rock on a beach, apparently revelling in his freedom from the office. The last frame, however, has him gratefully saying “Only two days to go”. My wife cut it out 20 years or so ago, when I first started working for myself. It is not at all right to imply that I do not like being on holiday, but the reality of being a one-man business in a busy market is that pushing off for two weeks is not a practical proposition.
Our present holiday was planned months ago, its centrepiece a family wedding, as I have recorded elsewhere. As we booked a Cornish sea-side house large enough for everyone who might show up, my wife muttered something about her probably rattling around in it alone for two weeks with her mother and the dog, reflecting her assumption that “something will turn up” for the other two self-employed one-man-bands and the post-graduate student who comprise our immediate family. I took the hint and duly declined four conference invitations, clearing time on each side to make sure not only that I would make it to Cornwall, but that I could clear the decks before we left and catch up afterwards, leaving the holiday itself completely free for the only real break I was going to get this year.
As I recorded in this post, it did not quite happen like that and, although my wife’s prediction did not come to pass, Hong Kong and US events each side of the holiday, to say nothing of a webinar in the middle, effectively destroyed the possibility of just switching off. It is all good, interesting stuff but the relaxing break – well, maybe next year.
Second-best, if you cannot get out of work mode, is to do those projects which require that you stand back from the daily flow of writing. The long list of such projects included a new website, and that is what my son William and I have been doing in lieu of relaxation, sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table in our rented house until far into the nights. I described what I wanted, William usually came up with a better idea, and then he got on and did it.
The result is at chrisdaleoxford.co.uk, a domain name which I have owned for a long time, sharing its name with my email address, my Skype name and my Twitter handle. The ambition was to create a resource which filled the gap between my long-standing subject-led blog chrisdale.wordpress.com (where you are now, with 1,290 posts and 200 page views per day) and the output on Twitter (nearly 20,000 tweets and 2,000+ followers).
Between the blog posts, some of which take two or three days to write, and the ephemeral tweets, lies an intermediate class of output, comprising shorter posts about the eDiscovery / eDisclosure industry – the products, the people, the webinars and other such things.
I have experimented with various vehicles for the short posts. I tried using Google+ for a year or so and found it (as someone else neatly described it) “like finding yourself in the wrong boardroom at an airport hotel”. It may have improved since I abandoned it, but I found it unsatisfactory save in one respect – it’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) was fantastic, as one would hope from a product owned by Google, and its posts still turn up in search results.
My primary blog (this one) has good SEO, partly because it has been there a long time and is constantly refreshed with new material, both prerequisites for being found. When I abandoned Google+, I created a new WordPress blog chrisdale2.wordpress.com which proved very much better than Google+ as a vehicle; its SEO was not great, however, and some aspects of the display were unpleasing to the eye (yes, I know the old blog looks old-fashioned, but it works, gets audiences and turns up in Google searches).
The new site is built in Adobe Business Catalyst, a new set of tools which ought to complement the other Adobe applications in our toolbag (Dreamweaver, Photoshop, LightRoom, Premiere Pro, Audition and the rest). It ought also to give good SEO if used properly. Whilst its format is blog based, that matters only because it means that we can edit its form, functions and content without running Dreamweaver for every change. We can use as much raw HTML as we like within posts (one of our display preferences actually requires this) and have much more control over this site than we got from its WordPress predecessor.
The main component in bulk terms is blog posts which may range from a couple of lines pointing readers towards some other resource to full-length stories, and whose opening lines (my choice of line-count, not an arbitrary length as the WordPress blog gave) appear on the Home page. There is space in the middle column for short news items, probably derived from Twitter and themselves often no longer than a tweet, which I may or may not expand into full posts in due course. That column also contains a set of categories (topics like “eDiscovery” or “mobile forensics”) and Tags which I am using generally for proper names – companies, products and individuals. Categories and Tags help search engines and users to know what a post is about.
The top menu gives access to other resources – the continuing subject-led blog, the web site (for stuff which rarely changes, such as my biography) and my Twitter feed.
The real potential of the new site comes from the ability to add tabs for other classes of media. We have started a Video tab in which we will collect the growing number of video interviews which we have started doing to widen both material and audiences. Other possibilities for new tabs include a reading list, more information about sponsors, more details on conferences and a list of suggested third-party resources.
There is room for more learning resources – PowerPoint, videos and other media types aimed at enlightenment about, for example, the Civil Procedure Rules. The challenge here is not so much the assembly of the raw material, most of which I have for lectures anyway, but in finding interesting ways to make it available.
There is a tiresome interim stage to get through, and not everything works as well as it might. Google disapproves of (that is, penalises) duplicated content and we wanted all the posts in one place. The import of old WordPress posts with their associated pictures, categories and tags does not work or, if it does, requires as much work as moving them manually – so we are doing it by hand, replacing content with a cross-link. The plan was to put the videos on the Adobe site, but that proved inflexible and, besides, Vimeo has good SEO of its own, so we are putting them there. There will be other knock-on effects, lots of cross-linking and decisions about what goes where.
The intention is more and more useful content reaching wider audiences without spending more time than necessary to produce each item. Now to start booking next September’s holiday.