Precision Linking

People sometimes ask me, “How do I link to this part of a page, or this paragraph?”  This is useful when you want to direct people to a certain part of a web page or you want to cite from a particular passage of a long post.

The NYTimes has created a sophisticated tool called Emphasis to solve this problem.  If you go to a NYTimes news post and hit the Shift key twice, you’ll expose small paragraph links at the head of each paragraph.  You can fine-tune these links by selecting individual sentences within each paragraph.  The url will change to link directly to that sentence or paragraph:

Amazingly, the NYTimes has open-sourced the code for Emphasis.  I’d be happy to fit this code to our blogs if our editors feel it’ll be useful.  My only hesitation is that adding another js library to our sites would need a thorough round of testing to make sure that it is not conflicting with any of our other libraries.

In the meantime, the easiest way to link to a particular spot in one of our posts, is to edit that post and put an anchor tag at the place where you want to link to, such as this one:

<a name="plink"></a>

Then you can link to that spot on the page like this: http://url.to.page#plink.

Here’s an example of linking directly to the image of this post.  The text “plink” is arbitrary and can be set to anything.

Inspired by Bike Share

The Bike Share site we launched on Wednesday has been a huge success in being a showcase for the enthusiasm for the upcoming Bike Share program in NYC.  Already we’re up to 4505 bike share locations suggested.  This has been helped along by people sharing their bike share suggestions on twitter and facebook.  It also benefitted from blog posts and tweets from some particularly influential people.

It has also inspired several derivative works.  This is what makes the Internet fun!

Here’s a tumblog showing humorous and noteworthy bike share suggestions.  Feel free to post one on the site:

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NYC Bike Share Launch

It’s a big day for NYC Bike Share as the Department of Transportation has announced today the details of the program which will launch next summer. As part of that push, Frank, Andy and I worked on a promotional site for the DOT. Here it is:

Go and check it out.  Suggest a location of a bike share station or vote for already suggested stations.

At this point, we’re not sure how this data will be used by the DOT.  Perhaps it will just be a way of harnessing enthusiasm for the project, which does have its critics.  Right now we have already amassed 738 suggested locations in just three hours.  It’s good to see that, judging by the comments, people are putting some thought into where they suggest locations.  Some are also quite funny.

We built this site in WordPress using the Google Maps API and Janrain Engage for social login functionality.

Our Facebook and Twitter Usage

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed our social media integration on our blogs.  Since then I’ve started to implement improved share buttons across the Streetsblogs and GothamSchools and also new Follow widgets such as the one below:

These changes should help people share our content and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

In this post I’ve done a review of how our various sites use Facebook and Twitter to disseminate content and promote their brand.  By reviewing this we can learn from each other and work towards a set of best practices. (more…)

Social Media Review

Is sharing content across social media sites the “new search” as people are saying?  I’m not sure, but it definitely is becoming more and more important.  I’d like to review the way we leverage social media on our sites to come up with a set of best practices.  We want to make sure we are getting the most from our content.  We want to make sure we are enabling it to have the largest reach.

Roughly speaking, we can divide up our social media strategy into two parts:

  • mechanisms allowing a user to consume our content
  • mechanisms that enable a user to share our content with others.

Mechanisms for Content Consumption

Here is our sidebar widget on Streetsblog.net:

If people click on the Twitter icon, they’ll go to the Streetsblog Network Twitter page and will be able to follow it.  This Twitter account currently has 8875 followers.  Each blog post on Streetsblog.net is tweeted on this account.

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Problem Solved

For the past couple of weeks, Evan and I have been trying to figure out why StreetsblogSF sometimes takes a long time to load.  I wrote up a post about our work here.  I’m pleased to announce that we have found the solution to this.

First we activated the slow query log on our Mysql database.  It showed us the queries that were taking a long time to run.  Here was the worst of them:

SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts  LEFT JOIN wp_ec3_schedule ec3_sch ON ec3_sch.post_id=id  WHERE 1=1  AND wp_posts.post_type = ‘post’ AND (wp_posts.post_status
= ‘publish’) AND ec3_sch.post_id IS NULL  GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 3030, 10;

This took 12 seconds to run on average.  When it was being run, any other database query would be stalled.

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Unsolvable Problems

Occasionally I come across problems which can’t seem to be fixed.  Often there’s a way to workaround the problem so that it doesn’t have to be solved.  Sometimes, though, I just have to leave it unsolved and put up with the imperfection.  Here is a great example.

StreetsblogSF runs using the same software (WordPress/lighttpd) and on the same hardware as Streetsblog NYC, DC, and LA.  Unlike the others, however, it occasionally takes a long time, up to a minute, to load in the browser.  Go to it now and see if this happens for you.  There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to when these long loads occur.  Most of the time the site loads in just a few seconds.

I’m not sure why StreetsblogSF behaves like this.  It is setup and configured the same as the other sites, has the same webserver settings, installed plugins etc.  I checked the server logs and there are no reports of anything unusual.  I watched the site load in firebug but got no additional information. (more…)

How People Consume our Content

How do people consume the content we create on our blogs?  That is the question I’d like to examine in this post.

In the charts below, I compare the various ways that people consume our content for each of our blogs during the past month. People can come directly to our sites on their desktop browsers.  They can come on their mobile devices, by hitting our mobile themes.  They can subscribe to our RSS feeds using Google Reader or a similar RSS reader.  And they can also subscribe to our email feeds which delivers a daily digest email to their inboxes.

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Universal Subtitles comes to Streetfilms

Over the last years, Streetfilms has become a resource for people all over the world who are interested in improving the street life of their cities. People have also started to translate the films and create new videos with subtitles for their native audience. Here’s an example of a Streetfilms video translated for Streets of Iran. This is all very exciting for the Streetfilms team!

Today, in an effort to facilitate this process, we’ve released an update to Streetfilms.org which incorporates Universal Subtitles into the site. Universal Subtitles is a system in which any film can have subtitles added to it and displayed in any language. People can play the film with subtitles by choosing any of the available translations, or even with English subtitles which is helpful for the hearing impaired.

The real genius of Universal Subtitles is that translations are crowd-sourced, that is, anyone can add a translation. Once it is added, it is available immediately on the site for anyone to use. Hopefully, over time, Streetfilms will grow a large repository of subtitles for many of our films. (more…)

The Growth of Mobile

Earlier this year I acknowledged the growing trend of mobile browsers and soon after rolled out an improved mobile theme to GothamSchools.  This week I deployed the same mobile platform to Streetsblog.org and the other city Streetsblogs.  See the new theme below:

As with GothamSchools, this new theme has many advanced features such as reformatting images on the fly to fit a particular display and integrated Share buttons. (more…)