Monday, October 10, 2011

Switching to Blogger Dynamic Views

I switched two of my blogs to Blogger's new HTML5.0-based "Dynamic Views" template over the weekend. You can see the results on The Best of Youtube and Gay Movie Blog. Overall I'm quite pleased, but there are several issues you should know about before you switch.

First, Dynamic Views is a work in progress, so you'll have to check in frequently as Google updates the system.

Second, a lot of formatting and functionality you may have built into your blog disappears. Things like a sidebar of widgets are probably history unless Blogger figures out a clever way to make those fly around the screen. Here's a list of things that I miss (my requests for enhancement):

  1. Post formatting. While it looks like some of this is changing quickly, all the special formatting control over the words that show up in a given Post have gone away.
    1. No ability, for instance, to suppress author or post time, or change the words used to preface those fields.
    2. The social network links under a post are fixed as: Google plus one, Twitter tweet, and Facebook like. There is no way to add a Facebook share or a StumbledUpon button.
  2. No Google Analytics support. I can't find a place to insert my Analytics code, so Analytics is not picking up site activity. Both Adsensee and Blogger continue to generate statistics.
  3. JavaScript suport in Posts or Pages? It also looks like this is changing, but all the nice widgets from Facebook, Twitter, etc were not supported as I was converting over the weekend.
  4. Little control over formatting.
    1. Background colors and font colors & styles are not configurable for Blog Titles, Page Link, Post Titles, and Page Titles. There are some beautiful backgrounds to choose from (and you can upload your own background image), but most of the backgrounds obscure the Blog Title and Page links, and there is no way to configure the color of these to work with a dark background.
    2. Page links on the top bar are not in the order they appear in Blogger's Page editing tab. It took me a while to figure out they appear in the order of most recently edited. So, if you edit a Page, you have to open and save other Pages to make them show up in the order you want. Also, Page links to a URL only (as opposed to Page links to a page) do not appear.
    3. The dark Page link bar across the top disappears as you scroll down a page. I thought you had to scroll back up to the top to access the Page link bar, but the Page link bar reappears when you hover over it. It's a nice, but obscure feature. Probably better if the Page link bar worked the same as the top bar on Google Plus, where it's always visibile and, if you click on it, the page scrolls up to the top.
    4. Users can change the Dynamic Views style from, say, "Magazine" mode to any other mode. It would be nice to be able to suppress that option. I believe (but haven't confirmed this) the style reverts to the style the blogger has specified (or preferred?) when a new page is rendered. That might be confusing to a user who has reset the style.
  5. Default Image & Text. In most of the Dynamic Views modes, Blogger makes choices for you about what image and text will appear. For instance, in Flipcard mode, hovering over a graphic will reveal the title and date of your blog post. I would prefer the title and as many opening words of the blog post as possible because the date is not important to my readers. There is no way for bloggers to set that now. Luckily, the default choices are reasonable. Just not the best choices.
  6. Mobile support. In Dynamic Views, when the blog is opened on a browser that doesn't support HTML5.0, an option comes up to try Dynamic Views at your own risk or go to classic non-HTML5.0 view. For a mobile device, it would make more sense not to offer this option if the browser doesn't support Dynamic Views. Instead, the blog should default to the mobile format specified in the blog settings.
  7. Ad placement. Bad news: to the best of my knowledge, no control over where ads appear. Good news: they do appear!
  8. Favicons. Favicon support disappears, which means that if you set the small icon that appears in the browser tab to a custom graphic, it will now appear as the Blogger favicon. This feature looks dead for the time being.
  9. Default Label. It would be great to be able to specify a default label that is displayed when a reader goes to a blog's home URL. Right now, all labels are displayed. But I can imagine blogs for event producers, for instance, where it would be valuable to have only the events (with a label like "2011 Events") show up when a user goes to Other labels would be discoverable later on. Likewise, it might be useful to be able to specify given posts that appear when the reader first lands on the home URL.
  10. Authors. Since my blogs (and I suspect most blogs) only have one author, it would be useful to be able to suppress the option for users to sort posts by author.
  11. XML Feed. Users who subscribe to a blog feed via the atom link may lose some information in their feeds. Specifically, it appears that images no longer appear in feeds.
From the list above, you might think that I don't like the new Blogger Dynamic Views. To the contrary, I love Dynamic Views.

If you've done a good job with your labels, Dynamic Views provides an engaging way for your readers to filter your posts visually. I'm already seeing an increase in page views. Part of that is because now reader have to click on a post to view it entirely. Since ad impressions don't increase (there are no ads on the opening page), it's not a meaningful increase in page views from a revenue standpoint. But I hypothesize that viewers will click on more posts on each visit because it's much, much faster to scoot around and sample the content.

You can use the Blogger template editing tab to see how Dynamic Views work with your blog without updating your blog template. Then you can decide whether Dynamic Views work for your content.

It looks like Blogger has made it possible to roll back to your current blog template configuration after you change to Dynamic Views, but be safe and put a copy of your entire blog template somewhere safe before you switch.

Please leave comments with your Dynamic Views experiences!

UPDATE October 26, 2011:

I continue to be quite happy with the move to Dynamic Views on the blogs that are using it. Many more things working now.

2. Google Analytics support is working. Here's the how-to.
4. & 5. Blogger has started to make certain formatting possible.
8. Favicons working again.
11. Images appear in feeds, but Youtube embedded videos are no longer converted to images.


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