I have taken what some might consider a retrograde step: I added code to insert my blogroll directly below the widgets section of my left-hand sidebar. The reason for this is reuse of the same ID; it causes my Firefox HTML Validation add-on to issue warnings and so can hardly be standards compliant. Ironically, in its native state, the blogroll functions take panes to ensure that each category has its own ID, only for the widgets functions to go and disregard all of this and assign the same ID for each category. To change this in the widgets code involves ploughing through loads of arrays (and functions) and is not something for which I have time when an easier solution is very much possible.
This whole Web 2.0 thing is producing an embarrassment of riches for those wanting to share their thoughts on the web without having to go to the effort of developing their own websites from scratch. A decade ago, Geocities was pioneering the idea of web communities but, without the infrastructure and tools that we enjoy today, it and its kind were ahead of their time.
In these blogging days, life is a lot simpler but that means that temptations exist. Temptations like those caused by garish animated GIF’s in the late nineties, a lame attempt to spice up otherwise dull websites. Returning to the present, it is plug-ins and widgets that could convey the excess.
With WordPress, the plug-ins are more “behind-the-scenes” sorts of affairs but it is so easy accumulate several for stopping comment spam and keeping an eye on web traffic, to name just two applications, and so on that you need to be careful that a bag of nails does not result. In fact, I am now considering the rationalisation of what I have got while the number remains in single figures.
WordPress 2.2 adds widgets to the list of temptations; WordPress.com already has these but the number is small and you can be sure that that will explode now that self-hosted WordPress blogs get the functionality. The trouble with these widgets is that you need to be adept with CSS so as not to end up with an eyesore akin to those seen a decade ago, though theme authors can help with this. I am not activating the widgets capability for my hillwalking blog because I have many other (better?) things to be doing.
Another thought on widgets: the tag cloud widget previously held in captivity at WordPress.com surely must now find itself in the wild, a worrying prospect given how rubbish they can appear. However, Jakob Nielsen et al. shouldn’t get too concerned as trends that go too far scar the memory and preclude their return. Just consider those animated GIF’s…
The theme that I am using for this blog, Andreas09, allows me to add widgets to the sidebars. And most of these are customisable to varying extents. I have selected a few for mention here but there are others like Tag Clouds (very Web 2.0 and, I think, very inelegant) available too.
Next up in usefulness, at least from the content point of view, are RSS feeds (just look for the headings with the orange logos beside them). The ability to show shared items from you Google Reader is a nice piece of convergence. Speaking of convergence, I also added the feed from my hillwalking blog too. Taking things further again, I have added ones for InternetNews, A List Apart and The Blog Herald and I wonder if RSS feeds will not replace email newsletters now that we have tools like Google Reader.
Moving to the navigation side of things, the Categories widget can be collapsed to a drop down menu like I have for the Archives one. I prefer things to be the way that I have them because I want people to see what’s here. The Calender widget makes up for visitors not spotting what the drop down represents; that’s why the Archives widget can be a drop down menu rather than a list.
I don’t know if it’s me or not but I seem to remember there being a Register link on the Meta widget that you see here. Anyway, its absence prompted me to go doing a spot of fiddling to (re)introduce it. My motivation for doing this is my preference for allowing only registered users to post comments so that I don’t encounter too much comment spam.
Speaking of widget functionality, it did take me longer than it should for me to work out how to configure widgets; the button in the widget with lines in it does the trick. Once this twigged, I built a register widget from a text one so that you can get an account with the WordPress.com empire and use it for blogging or commenting as you choose. Registering here allows comment posting on any WordPress.com blog.
Speaking of widgets, latest WordPress.com allows bloggers like me to use tag clouds and even convert archive and category lists to drop down menus. I am not sure about tag clouds but making a drop down menu of the monthly archives certainly took my fancy, as you can see here.