Improvements and updates to Dirt: AKA tilling the soil.

Little by little, as I’ve been meeting a goal of at least five blog posts a month, I’ve been making steady upgrades and improvements to this site.  And they’ll keep rolling in over the months ahead, as I work to ensure American Dirt remains a chronicle of landscapes and the built environment, as internally consistent as possible, yet always with a finger on the pulse of the broader considerations and influences that swirl around it (and me).

All the improvements are subtle, but they’re all permanent and far-reaching:

Upgrading the oldest posts: Like many online writers who first cut our teeth in the late 2000s, I started on Blogger, Google’s marginally maintained, free hosting platform.  It’s still available, but I abandoned it in 2014, having learned that Google decided it wasn’t a lucrative venture and that the opportunities to change a site’s physical layout and navigability were going to remain limited.  Google didn’t invest in it, so anyone who still uses Blogger retains an appearance to their site that now appears very old-fashioned.  This is obvious in my original homepage for American Dirt.  Looks like the mid 2000s.  When I switched to WordPress (a hosting platform that does invest in improvements through numerous plug-ins), I took all the articles prior to August 2014 with me to the new domain—but the formatting didn’t always translate well.  It’s slow going (I was very prolific for the first year), but I am slowly making certain these old posts use the same formatting as something written last month.  This includes the following changes:

  • I’ve been fixing all broken internal links by replacing them from Google Blogger to the dirtamericana (WordPress) domain.  Sorry, but I can’t fix external links—if they’re expired there’s nothing I can do about them, and I didn’t know how to use Archive.Today back then.
  • I’ve corrected spacing issues that often appear between paragraphs or even between two words (especially keywords).
  • I’m including a featured photo that appears in the promoting of every distinct article, which will show as a thumbnail when searching for this article in the blog.
  • I’m upgrading Yoast SEO, the WordPress plug-in that allows search optimization—a feature I first installed in late 2015 that ties every article to a (mostly) unique keyword. 

So far I’ve only completed up to the end of September 2009 with these upgrades, but eventually I plan to get this to the point when I made the WordPress shift.  It’s very time consuming, so bear with me if it takes a few more months.

Expanding the opportunity for WordClouds: The “Clouds” feature on my menu bar has featured “Topics” as a word-cloud for well over a year.  This organizes all topics by the prevalence of use, visually distinguished by size.  The biggest words are the ones I use the most: neighborhoods, retail, revitalization, signage, site selection, suburbs, and taste culture.  In the last two months, my fearless webmaster has made the improvement to add word-clouds for cities, states, and foreign.  I see it as a less wonky way of giving quantities and basic analytics to the visitor.

Quantifying the results from a search: But, for those of us who do still like basic stats, the opportunity still exists.  For the last month, my webmaster has improved the “search” feature on my menu bar so that all dropdown items (for example, going from “State” to “Alabama”) will now show the quantity: “The search ‘Alabama’ yielded 6 results.”)  This was trickier to implement than you might think.

Improved capacity for sound and video clips: I have made sparing use of this feature (and that will continue to be the case), but I do expect on occasion to include sound or even all-out video clips where they are relevant.

Beyond those improvements, the others are more intellectual or even ideological.  I aim to keep learning from what I do, and, most importantly, from the feedback I receive and what others teach me.  As anyone who frequents this site should know, I take a very strong anti-moderation stance.  The only real reasons I will remove a comment are the following: it unequivocally tries to self-promote or sell something (spam), or it’s abusive to one of my other commenters.  That’s it.  Abuse me all you want; I have thick skin.

So, without further ado, please keep reading and keep the comments coming!  Even the criticism makes me happy in the long run, because it helps me get better at this.

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8 thoughts on “Improvements and updates to Dirt: AKA tilling the soil.

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Thanks Chris. It’s been particularly challenging for the last two months because of my 9-to-5 (of which the former number is usually smaller and the latter number is a lot lot larger). But I hope things to settle down again in early November so I can get back to a more regular pace. Your perspectives are always greatly welcomed!

      Reply
  1. Jeffrey Jakucyk

    Kudos to your commitment to the blog while so many others have decided to just let theirs rot on the vine. The latest upgrade from a couple months ago is also much faster, which is a big bonus.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Thanks Jeffrey. My webmaster recommended that I stick to the “medium” size for most photos. She believes that people who saturate their blogs with large photos, where the upload speed tends to drag everything down, actually end up alienating themselves from their prospective audiences, no matter how nice the photos themselves are. I’ve taken that to heart, since my photos are rarely primo quality (they’re mostly supporting evidence) and I do sometimes include a bunch of them. The analysis is the real meat of the blog.

      Reply
      1. Jeffrey Jakucyk

        It didn’t seem to be an issue of total loading time, but establishing the initial connection. The browser would just sit and wait while nothing happened, then eventually the page would load fine. Either way it’s all good now.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Thanks for these additional details. I wasn’t aware that anything was done to fix this problem, but I also wasn’t well attuned to the problem. I’ll check with my webmaster to see if it was something she noticed and resolved.

          Reply

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