An addendum few people will care about

Sort of related to the previous post, I realized recently that I’ve been using a seriously flawed metric for this blog’s RSS traffic. In a post a few months ago about the selfish benefits of using Twitter I wrote:

I no longer count on a blog post to get traffic on its own. My number of subscribers on Google Reader has languished around 160 for months while in a little over a year I’ve picked up more than 550 followers on Twitter. Today if I want a post to get attention I link to it on Twitter and Facebook.

The morning links feature and the prominent placement of the RSS icon at the upper right of the page are both intended to encourage RSS subscriptions, so the total failure to increase the number of subscribers in Google Reader was disappointing.

It turns out I just wasn’t looking in the right place. When I redesigned the site last year, I kept the RSS feed at the same URL so that it would keep working. However I did change the name of it from this blog’s old title, “Eternal Recurrence,” to simply my name. This apparently caused Google Reader to treat it as a new RSS feed and so none of the new subscribers showed up in the version of the feed I check in Reader. I thought I had lost 10 or so subscribers over the past year; in fact, I’ve gained about 120. That’s not a huge number, but taken as a percentage of where this blog started before the redesign it’s a major increase. Twitter still showed faster growth, however RSS for this site was not as dead as I’d led myself to believe.

If you’re a blogger keeping track of your RSS subscribers, make sure you’re accounting for all of your feeds. (I now have three, including one from my MovableType days that has only seven subscribers in Google Reader.)

Toward a supply-side theory of assorted links

Tyler Cowen posted recently about the apparent increasing popularity of bloggers posting daily lists of assorted links. He asks questions of his readers: Do they click? Should he care if they do? The comments are interesting.

That’s the demand-side of assorted links. What about the supply-side? Why do bloggers write these posts? I started providing daily morning links in January, 2008. I based the idea on the twice-daily lists of links provided by The Morning News, my expectation being that they would be a useful way of getting people to visit my site or subscribe to my RSS feed. The links are basically a loss leader: They take a bit of work each day and aren’t directly rewarding in terms of links back, but by attracting readers to the site they make it more likely that people will read my longer posts too. Or as Jason at 37signals put it in a post about why the Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the Web, “The more you send people away the more they’ll come back.” (The other main reason for the feature is to give myself a convenient way of linking to things I find interesting but about which I have little to say.)

My rough impression is that this has worked, based on positive feedback from readers and a near doubling in daily traffic in the year or so following the implementation of morning links. But there are confounding variables: In the same period I wrote more normal blog posts, published elsewhere more frequently, redesigned the site, and did a guest stint blogging at Radley Balko’s popular weblog.

Unfortunately the stat programs I’m currently running don’t tell me much about how many readers click on the links, especially those of you who read via RSS. So consider this an open forum on the morning links feature. Do you read them? Would you rather have more numerous, shorter posts, and fewer links each morning? Should they go off the sidebar and onto the main page? Anything else I could improve? Let me know what you think.

(In case you were wondering, I use Kates Gasis’ excellent Sideblog WordPress plugin to make the feature work. It’s a very simple way to shunt selected posts over to a sidebar.)

New comment features

I’ve added a few new comment features to go with the new design. The first is the use of gravatars, short for Globally Recognized Avatars. If you link one of these images to your email address it will show up next to your comments here and at thousands of other sites that use them. The service is free and available at gravatar.com.

The comment form now gives you the option to verify your identity with an OpenID. Information on creating an OpenID is available here, along with reasons why you may want to have one (you already do if you’re on Blogger, WordPress.com, Flickr, or a variety of other services). The OpenID logo will appear next to verified comments and behind commenters’ name in the sidebar.

Comments now also have a reply-to feature. If you’re replying to a specific comment in a thread, just click on the arrow beneath it to automatically link to that comment and the author’s name. For example, if you want to reply to Bob, clicking on the arrow will start the comment form with “@Bob:” and a link to his comment. This is totally optional, but it can make longer threads easier to follow.

Finally, I’ve added a “Share/Save” button to the bottom of every post. Clicking on this will open a menu for emailing posts or sharing them on services like Facebook, Digg, and Twitter. When you read a post you like, I appreciate your help sharing it with a larger audience.

New design, new name, same blog

Things look a bit different now if you’re visiting this site directly. If you’re reading in an RSS reader, click over to see the new design. I’ve given the site a long overdue WordPress update and created a new layout with the popular Thesis theme. My goal was to keep what was good about the old site while fixing a few bugs and making it a little less cluttered. There’s no getting around this being a text-heavy blog, but it should be a little more user-friendly now.

I’ve also eliminated the eponymous title, renaming the site “Liquidity Preference.” Those of you who paid attention in your macroeconomics classes will recognize the term from Keynes’ explanation of interest rates. Here it’s also a fitting pun on my own preference for liquid enjoyments.

I still have a few things to add to the site, such as an updated blogroll and navigation menu, but it’s basically finished. Let me know what you think.

Just for fun, here’s a look back at the three previous iterations of the blog. It started out in 2003 before I even knew what a blog was, manually updated in Microsoft FrontPage. Then my friend Adam saved me a whole lot of time by installing MovableType, bringing on the dreaded yellow banner years. A couple years later I switched to WordPress and the relative of the current design.

The one thing hasn’t changed is this site’s Guide to Good Blogging, which I’ll continue doing my best to adhere to:

Rule #1: Be meaningful.

Rule #2: If meaning is elusive, be amusing.

Rule #3: If meaning and amusement are both out of reach, be brief.

Shaker simplicity

Lame shaker

“If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity.” The quote is one of the guiding principles of the Shaker philosophy of design. I don’t think religious Shakers approve of alcohol consumption, but it’s a good principle for designing cocktail shakers too. Simple is superior.

Unfortunately, as I learned last week, simple doesn’t always sell. It was my younger sister’s 21st birthday and, being a good bartender brother, I decided to set her up with all the equipment she’ll need to mix up good drinks at home. I thought this would be easy, and most of it was, but finding a cocktail shaker was surprisingly difficult. I went to 6-7 stores looking for a basic shaker and pint glass (a Boston shaker), but only Williams-Sonoma had one, and it was fifty bucks. It was pretty, but it’s just a stainless steel cylinder. If your shaker costs more than your bourbon, you’re either using the wrong shaker or the wrong bourbon.

The shaker every other store had is like the one pictured above. It’s got a lid with strainer, a smaller cap, recipes etched into the side, and an outside cylinder that rotates around the outside to display the ingredients in each drink. This is the kind of thing that might seem like a good idea in concept, but in practice the design is just terrible. How dost it suck? Let me count the ways.

First, the lid and the cap. There’s a reason most bartenders don’t use these. They’re extra parts, and if the steel has contracted from the cold and your hands are wet, they can be hard to separate. All you need is the cylinder and a pint glass. Build the drink in the glass, shake it up, snap off the glass and strain. Easy.

That’s fine for a pro, but maybe you want a shaker with a lid, and maybe you like the idea of having recipes on the side of it. Fine. You’ll change your mind when you actually try these drinks. With room for just 14 of them, the designers should have covered the essentials. Instead they chose drinks like the Dreamsicle and the Bahama Mama. In all my time working as a bartender, no one has asked for a Bahama Mama. Ever. Unless your home is a tiki bar in the tropics, odds are your guests won’t order one either.

Selection aside, you’d hope that they at least got the recipes right. But anyone who tries these recipes is going to get not only a poorly balanced cocktail, but also a weak one — like the Cosmopolitan that calls for just 1 oz of vodka and an entire ounce of cranberry juice. The average person buying this product probably cares more about getting getting buzzed than becoming a stellar bartender, but with just 1 oz of vodka they’re not even going to accomplish that. They will, however, get plenty of vitamin C.

Finally, there’s the way the recipes are laid out. Each ingredient is set one column apart and one row down from previous one, so you need to dial a drink in and look through the gaps in the outer cylinder to see what goes into it. This isn’t just inconvenient, it’s risky. Wet fingers plus a diagonal row of holes cut into steel is a blood-stained cocktail waiting to happen. And it’s so stupidly unnecessary. If they just arranged the ingredients in vertical rows, the shaker wouldn’t even need the outside cylinder because you could just read down the column to see what goes in each recipe. The whole two-cylinder dial-a-recipe thing is a cave-in to some stupid designer who couldn’t tell a Manhattan from a Martini. There is no functional reason for this at all.

And what did I do? I bought it. Didn’t have a choice. Luckily the outer cylinder snaps off and can be discarded, which I advised my sister to do. I also got her a book of good recipes so she won’t be tempted to try the mixological disasters listed on the side. She’s on her way to successful home bartending, no thanks to Target and other various housewares stores.