404 pages can be fun

The value of a good 404 page is often underrated and with so much competition on the web, it’s important to ensure that your 404 page stands out from the rest.

Many users are unsure of the purpose or role of a 404 page and are likely, when coming across one, to leave the site. In order to protect yourself there are some steps you can take against this.

What are 404 pages

A 404 page is what a user sees when a page on a website it not available because the requested page could not be found on the server of the website they are looking at. This could be because the page they are looking at has been removed, or because they typed the URL wrong.

Be helpful

Rather than assuming the your visitor understands the issue and knows how to resolve the problem, give them plenty of options to use to help navigate to the page they need. Ideas include a search bar, home page link and links to other popular articles on the website, they will have plenty of options for continuing across your website.

Be funny

Many websites choose to add a bit of humour to their 404 pages. This can help to manage a situation that could otherwise be annoying for visitors. Jokes in reference to the error will usually be successful as it shows that the website acknowledges the hassle and is attempting to compensate for it.

Stay on-brand

It’s too easy to create a generic 404 page, but they can be used as a fantastic opportunity to re-establish your brand and voice. Using the colours and fonts most closely associated with the company will reassure those customers are confused, while also keeping them on track with the company message.

Here are some examples of interesting 404 pages.

BBC 404 page

The BBC’s 404 page

The BBC offer an iconic image and some useful suggestions.

Virgin's 404 page

Virgin Travel‘s 404 page

Virgin doesn’t let 404’s get in the way of businesses, its 404 pages let customers search for cruise holidays!

Technology Bloggers 404 page shows a HTML hole (it’s just an image!) and gives some helpful suggestions.

How Much Freedom Does the Internet Bring You?

On the surface Internet living seems to bring a great deal of freedom to many different parties. Last month for example I posted from the USA, Italy and the UK, we can work from home, buy direct and have access to all kinds of information.

This might make us feel that the web itself creates freedom, or that it is free to operate as we wish. I am not so sure that this is the whole story however, and others agree.

How much freedom of speech really exists?

How much freedom of speech really exists?

Last week Security technologist Bruce Schneier gave a talk as part of the TEDx Cambridge series. Schneider is very interested in security and perceptions of security as this previous TED video shows, but last week’s talk was different.

He took the problem of Internet freedom as his topic, and raised some very interesting arguments. The following quotes are taken from his speech as reported on our local Boston.com website:

“Which type of power dominates the coming decades? Right now it looks like traditional power. It’s much easier for the NSA to spy on everyone than it is for anyone to maintain privacy. China has an easier time blocking content than its citizens have getting around those blocks.”

We can see that there is some evidence to support this case, if we look at this article that appeared in the Huffington Post a couple of years ago. It recounts the tale of Google pulling out of China because they no longer wanted to censor their searches. Google chose to redirect users to their non censored search engine based in Hong Kong. The Chinese government managed to block the results anyway, so users were left in the same position as before, no access to the information.

If we take a broader look though we find that it is not just China but other countries that are making repeated requests for Google to censor their content. CNN report the revelations of the recent Google Transparency report, where Canada, France, the UK and the USA feature strongly in the league of requested censorship. The report is here, easy to follow and a 5 minute thumb through might change your ideas regarding freedom and regulation on the web.

Just yesterday Linkedin announced that they challenging the US government over data requests. US organizations are allowed to publish the total number of data requests, but cannot break the figure down to reveal the number made by security services. Linkedin say this legal situation makes no sense, and many other companies agree. Read about it here.

“Cyber criminals can rob more people more quickly than real-world criminals, digital pirates can make more copies of more movies more quickly than their analog ancestors. And we’ll see it in the future. 3D printers mean control debates are soon going to involve guns and not movies.”

Just this week The Independent ran a story about Europe’s criminal intelligence agency that is fighting unprecedented levels of crime across several fronts as gangs capitalise on new technology. We are not talking about a few individuals hacking into the odd bank account here and there, we are looking at the new form of organized crime. A multi billion dollar industry in Europe alone.

The gun reference is of course to the distribution of plans for a 3D printer manufactured gun. Read about it here.

Caution in cases of political dissent

Caution in cases of political dissent

Much has been written about how Facebook and other interfaces have the power to democratize society, and their potential to promote revolution. The so-called Arab Spring is often given as an example, but as well as dissidents using Facebook to organize protests, the Syrian and other governments also used Facebook to identify and arrest dissidents.

There are plenty of examples. Here is an article about 3 Moroccan activists who were arrested for their comments criticizing governments at that time. One used a Wikileaks type platform, another Facebook and the third Youtube. They were all arrested and charged with various and sometimes unrelated crimes.

I wonder where they are now?

Goodbye CommentLuv

“…blogging has changed, and the blog itself is no-longer where many people read and interact. Read in the feed and comment on social media. Blogging is still there, but I think comments are slowly dying…

A feed and social profile were luxuries years ago, however now it seems they are part of blogging itself – if you don’t have them do you have a blog at all?”

That is a quote from a comment I left in June this year.

Digital media explorer Ari Herzog has noted how blog comments are evolving, and he now offers his readers the ability to leave a comment via the standard (vanilla) WordPress commenting system, as well as via Facebook and Google Plus.

Blogging is still very much alive, however as my opening quote suggests, the way authors go about publishing content and how readers then go abut digesting and debating this, has changed significantly in recent times.

CommentLuv

Just over two years ago I wrote a post detailing why you should use the CommentLuv plugin. Today very few 0f the reasons I state still hold true.

I have now deactivated CommentLuv on Technology Bloggers for these simple reasons:

Two comments with CommentLuv links

Two great comments with irrelevant CommentLuv links.

  • CommentLuv looks messy – take a look at the two comments to the right. They are both great comments, but they are followed by an untidy, irrelevant link. If someone is interesting in your site, they will check it out anyway.
  • CommentLuv promotes spam – having looked through our comments, very few of our genuine visitors actually take advantage of CommentLuv, yet almost all the spam comments we get include a CommentLuv link.
  • CommentLuv increases load time – you know how obsessed I am with speed, so much so, any plugin which significantly impacts load time is now under scrutiny. CommentLuv is quite a heavy plugin which I have found has a big impact on page load time, and that extra lag isn’t justifiable for what it offers.
  • CommentLuv is bad for SEO – one of the key things Google has been clamping down on of late is irrelevant links. If you run a site about lawnmowers, and you have a large number of links coming from a technology website, it probably doesn’t do you any favours. Similarly, if I have written an article on something tech related, comments with random links introducing irrelevant keywords, dilute the content and probably don’t do my article any favours.
Google SEO chart

CommentLuv is arguable bad for SEO.

CommentLuv was once a great plugin, but its time has passed. The web is changing, blogging more so than ever, so it is time to say goodbye to CommentLuv.

Don’t underestimate Jetpack

Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that lets you access many of the features which come inbuilt with a WordPress.com site, on a WordPress.org installation. Historically plugins have just one function, however Jetpack is a combination of plugins which can perform a huge range of actions.

Plugins on Steroids

Jetpack by WordPress.comOne way of describing Jetpack is plugins on steroids. Jetpack makes it really easy to access loads of the great features available through WordPress, all in one simple package.

Jetpack creates its own area in WordPress Admin (wp-admin) where you can learn about, configure and activate/deactivate different elements of the plugin.

You don’t have to activate all of Jetpacks elements, you can use as many or few elements as you choose. Like with every plugin, every extra function of Jetpack you activate will have a small affect on your blog’s speed, so only use the ones that work for you.

The Future of Plugins

The way Jetpack sets out all the different plugins and makes it so easy for users to configure them is a great leap forward for WordPress. Currently the wp-admin plugins page is quite boring, and it can be hard to find the plugin you want fast. I feel that a Jetpack style interface could significantly improve usability, and generally make plugins more fun.

A screenshot of Jetpack's plugins

A screenshot of the different plugins and settings Jetpack includes.

Could a future version of the CMS use a Jetpack like style to display plugins? Maybe.

Features

Here are some of the many features that Jetpack includes:

  • WordPress.com Stats – On-site analytics for your site. Personally I feel server side analytics and more detailed external statistic managers (like Google Analytics) are better than Jetpack’s version, however nonetheless many people find it is an easier, free alternative.
  • Publicise – This enables you to post your articles to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tubmlr. The great thing about Publicise is that it only publishes when your articles go live – so it works on scheduled posts too 🙂
  • Spelling and Grammar – Simple yet advanced spell checking for content. I use Firefox’s default spell checking software, and Jetpacks version is slightly annoying, so this is disabled on Technology Bloggers!
  • WP.me Shortlinks – An easy inbuilt URL shortener. Using the WP.me URL shortener helps to keep short URLs tidy, as having too many from too many different sites can look messy.
  • Infinite Scroll – This is a feature that I personally dislike – a lot! It enables you to have a bottomless page, so once uses get to the bottom, it loads more articles. This can effectively put your entire blog on one page. I don’t like bottomless pages, they drive me mad, so if you want me to visit your site, keep this option off 😉
  • Sharing – Technology Bloggers uses the Sharing feature to power the share buttons at the bottom of each article. I have removed the standard buttons and replaced them with more minimal, stylish buttons. The sharing feature is truly great, and is a lightweight way of combining many network sharing plugins.
  • Omnisearch – A fantastic and really simple way to search wp-admin.
Technology Bloggers share buttons

Technology Bloggers new share buttons – found at the bottom of every article.

Give It A Go

I didn’t think I would like Jetpack, and at first I didn’t. After reading a bit about its features and how good it can be, I thought I would give it a go. I now love it!

I love the flexibility that it offers, in that you can have as many or few elements active as you choose. Technology Bloggers only uses 4 of the 27 functions, and that works fine for us. On my personal philosophy blog, I also use Jetpack and have 8 of the 27 elements active; it is a different blog which benefits from different plugins.

Do you use Jetpack?

Your thoughts are welcome as always 🙂