10 May, 2008

UAE community blog design change

I'm thinking about moving this blog to a more modern blogger platform (this does not mean away from www.blogger.com); we currently use a prehistoric plain HTML design with blogrolls that are located on an external server (blogrolling.com)--this alone increases load times dramatically.

At the moment the design is looking quite stale and isn't up to date with regards to video on the internet, and web 2.0 etc, I would like to make this blog into a more modern website.

The list on blogrolling is also difficult to manage, and due to the fact we have something like 200 links on this page showing at once, we must constantly rid the list of outdated links.

Unforunately, the current design would disappear because it is impossible to move it onto draft.blogger.com, and 3-column designs are impossible using the newer blogger designs; this could make space quite cramped.

I've made a small example of what this blog could easily look like (http://testuae.blogspot.com/; the list on the right titled "My blog list" is what could be done with the blogrolls. It is possible to list the 25 most recently updated blogs using this list, among other things this would...
  • decrease loading times

  • attract more attention to bloggers who regularly update (as opposed to listing a few hundred blogs)

  • actually provide users with an accurate method to determine which blogs have been updated, blogrolling is notoriously inaccurate at reading when the blog has last been updated

Using the newer blogger platform we can also create image/video streams (this would enable sharing of photographs/video taken by people who post them to appropriate channels/lists).

Please share your opinions/ideas about this in the commenting section.


Dubai Entrepreneur said...

Well, for starters, Google kept giving me a 403. I had to use a VPN to get it to show me the blog.

1. I am a huge fan of simplicity, but the design that comes up is just too plain.

2. The idea behind most recently updated blogs, i like

3. I think those video links will contribute to slow download rates

4. I'm not sure why a 3-column design is impossible using newer blogger designs. Do we not have a web designer amongst us who can whip something out? Seems like a reasonable thing to ask. Competition?

samuraisam said...

dubai entrepreneur:
1. That's a preset design, we can change the design to fit our needs as we want/need to.

3. They only load a thumbnail (small image) unless the user decides to click on a video.

4. correction: a 3-column design used to be impossible, I just had another look at it and it appears it is now possible.

samuraisam said...

oh yeah, the 403 error (as far as I understand it) is related to all of us going through Etisalat/du's proxies.

samuraisam said...

I emailed google, no response, but the 403 error seems to be gone now.

I may try and attempt in the near future to put forward a petition to them with Etisalat's proxy IP addresses so they can make them immune to bannings.

Dubai Entrepreneur said...


I know the video links only load the thumbnails (there was a time in my career when I developed web applications) :)

What I am saying is, it would probably be a good idea to put it out for those contributors who have a graphic design background to put something forward. Anyone?

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Sam, the test page loads much faster, and the idea if updated blogs is quite cool as well (specially the headline, which makes the page kinda rich in content).
As for the design bit, I know a blogger friend who happens to be a wicked graphic and web designer, I'll drop him a line a see if he's interested.

Thanks for initiative, it's high time we do this.

Dubai Entrepreneur said...

Also, how does the blogroll thing work with non-blogger blogs? I emailed you about my blog moving to wordpress, but it is still not updated :(

Dubai Entrepreneur said...

Okay, some additional notes:

1. Whoever designs the blog should at the very least make the middle content relative-width, while the 1st and 3rd column fixed-width. This is easily done with CSS (just make sure there is a minimum width for the 2nd column). This is if we're going with a 3-column design. There's nothing wrong with a 2-column design. Let's just see what designers can come up with.

2. It is probably better to merge the UAE blogs/General blogs -- it really makes little sense to split them, especially after seeing just how many are actively blogging. Though you will be avoiding loading from blogroll.com, you will instead be getting feeds from 25 different blogs. This will affect load time. Maybe 15 is enough?

samuraisam said...

I dont know how it works with non-blogger blogs, but it works because on the test blog there are some wordpress and yahoo 360 blogs listed.

As for the blogrolls; I'm 99% sure that google actually checks/syndicates when blogs are updated last and forwards it to users however it does that.

In my opinion its better to keep general blogs seperate from UAE-related blogs because they both concern very different topics; it's nice to have a part of the internets that is oriented towards one topic and not a spam of random stuff. The design is nowhere near final, I'm still trying to compile ideas for it, we can change the number of blogs listed whenever we want.

Sorry for not updating your URL, have been busy.

Editor said...

I am against moving the blog or dramatically changing the design. Maybe a revision of all the links and a simple face lift will do...
The number of columns is not a problem in Beta, neither the videos etc.

The blog may load a bit slowly because the front page is too long and because it's already too heavy with all the 3000+ posts including drafts & comments.
I suggest to reduce the number of the posts on the front page to 5 or split the posts on two pages with "Read more..." link.
My other idea for speeding the blog is deleting all the drafts.

In all cases, it will be enormous amount of work to change the design, while saving all the content in place. The other disadvantage is that it will take a long time for the Google robots to index all the posts with the new design.

Of coarse you can always move to private hosting for few $ monthly and insert some AdSense to cover the cost, but I am not sure if you will enjoy the precise Google indexing in such case....you know Blogger and Google :)

Editor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
samuraisam said...

editor What do you mean a 'revision of all the links'? Do you mean someone sitting here loading every single blog and checking whether they are dead or not?
There was an automated system in place previously, but it still required manually editing the list to remove dead links which was a complete pain.
Moving to a new design would make managing the blogrolls far, far, far easier and as pointed out would also bring more attention to bloggers who post regularly; the problem is that now there are 200 links in front of people's faces with no actual content, it's just links to people's blogs, there's not much incentive to click on a link if you don't even know what content it has and when the last time it was updated.

"Of coarse you can always move to private hosting for few $ monthly and insert some AdSense to cover the cost"
No I cannot. Google sends a cheque every so often when the amount you've made equals 100 USD; this costs a lot to cash in Dubai and would defy the whole purpose. I intend to keep this website non-commercial in any case. Advertisements are annoying and I don't think many people would want them.

"The blog may load a bit slowly because the front page is too long and because it's already too heavy with all the 3000+ posts including drafts & comments."
I don't think that this is the problem; I've been trying to time what takes longest to load, and google seems to load quite quickly as opposed to content hosted on other websites.

I suggest to reduce the number of the posts on the front page to 5 or split the posts on two pages with "Read more..." link.
This would be difficult to work; it's like trying to update a commodore 64, IMHO we are better off going with google's widget system because it is far more efficient, easier to work with and cleaner.

"In all cases, it will be enormous amount of work to change the design, while saving all the content in place. The other disadvantage is that it will take a long time for the Google robots to index all the posts with the new design."
It will not be an enormous amount of work; I can simply change the template, snap my fingers and 2000+ pages instantly change. Google might take a week or two at most to update, regardless the text content of the posts would be identical so it shouldn't make any difference.

Another reason this blog loads slowly is stuff like [td id="header"][h1][ItemPage][a href="[$BlogURL$]"][/ItemPage][$BlogTitle$][ItemPage][/a][/ItemPage][h1][/td]"[/code]

samuraisam said...

Another great thing about this is this
I can put a small message for people to read when they comment; this might deter morons from commenting.

samuraisam said...

Oh yes, something to point out... I haven't added all of the blogs from the blogrolls to the test blog yet, only about 30 from each blogroll because I'm still testing it.

Editor said...

Ok, you got all the answers.... Go ahead and wish your creativity achieves best results :)

Kyle said...

Another great thing about this is this I can put a small message for people to read when they comment; this might deter morons from commenting.


Good idea about loading a comment preview to deter morons & twerps. Most blogs have this facility.

It's about time, a blogroll clean up is put into effect. Delete those that haven't updated their pages in the past 3 months. There are one or two blogs listed more than once under different names.

Most importantly, and in line with the migration, come up with a new set of house rules for posters & label commentators.

Good job with this new look :)

A big thank you to all you guys that are actively involved with this new look :)

Have a great day :)

Dubai Entrepreneur said...


general/uae blogs -- not really a big deal to me. I'm just not sure I really understand the difference between them anymore. Some general blogs feel like they're uae related.. some uae-related feel general. They're mostly personal. Perhaps the categorization itself needs re-thinking? ie. personal vs. topical?

alexander said...


I see what you mean & think it's generally a move for the better. The current format uses the whole screen width, though, which is nice. The typography on the test page isn't terribly clear.

I'm not sure about everyone else, but I do find quite a lot of people are using the UAECB as a 'jump page' to the plastic souk, so the blogroll's definitely getting used!!!

D said...

I like the regular updated blogs design on the sides of the page... makes it waaay easier to keep an eye on new posts.
Although, I think the tester design is too plain ... hopefully it'll be a lil different!

Dubai Entrepreneur said...


would you be willing to maintain the blogroll list? The primary problem here it seems, is that no one has the time to maintain such a list. Perhaps a separate 'page' with the blogroll can be maintained?

Anonymous said...

I know this may sound like a stupid comment, but how about using wordpress as a platform?

Anonymous said...

I don't like the new one.

samuraisam said...

"I don't like the new one."
In case it wasn't clear enough, the testuae blog is merely a sample of the blogrolls and me just playing around with what we could add to the blog; I haven't touched the fonts/colours/design otherwise, so it shouldn't be taken as what the blog is going to look like.
Let me repeat that: it isn't a visual representation of what I'm thinking about, at the moment I'm thinking about the blogrolls, so try and ignore how the design looks (spacing, fonts, colours etc) and just look at how the blog rolls are on that compared to the present design of this blog.

"I know this may sound like a stupid comment, but how about using wordpress as a platform?"
Not a stupid comment, it has been suggested before though. It is not a feasible idea for several reasons.

"Perhaps a separate 'page' with the blogroll can be maintained?"
That would remove a lot of interaction this blog has with bloggers.
The problem with the blogroll is the number of blogs on it; I've tried using the 3-month rule to truncate it many times but it's still a huge list and is quite unrealistic from a navigation point of view, cropping it to the posters who've actually posted recently would bring far more attention to bloggers.

Arianna said...

1) The list of blogs (UAE and general) and the updated entries: Font size is waaaaay too big. I think the best thing would be to just metion the names of the blogs and not the entries.
2) Hate the white background! Too plain

the real nick said...

Ok Geeks listen up.

1. Don't fix anything that ain't broken. What's wrong with the current layout?

2. I couldn't care less about two, three or seven columns. What counts is the contentious content, not the format.

hemlock said...

i kinda like having a list (of all blogs) on the side... i know which ones i read, and it doesnt take longer than a minute to chk them for updates (or go thru the google reader)...

Seabee said...

I've always thought the best feature on the blog was the heads-up for a new posting. With the speed we have (thanks, Etisalat) to click on every blog listed takes forever - only to find that 90% haven't had a new post for months. Anything that can improve on the erratic asterisk alert will be welcome.

As for the other stuff, design is a very personal thing so we'll never all agree on that. If it's simple, easy to read and navigate, as fast to load as you can make it, I'll be very happy.

Alexander, I agree with you, I get referrals from here too so it obviously works well.

samuraisam said...

arianna: read the comment above yours.

the real nick: "Don't fix anything that ain't broken. What's wrong with the current layout?"
I generally use that motto; but in my opinion the design has been broken ever since blogger beta came out. The design is bloated, loads slowly, and has thirty trillion links. There are also a number of technical problems with the design right now. For instance, previously there used to be a list of the 10 most recent posts, so we could display just 5 or so on the front page and a visitor could be like "oh, what about that topic from just a few days back?" and click away at that list... because blogger upgraded that list is impossible to make using the current design we have.
Once a post disappears off the front page, that's it, it's toast, no more discussing it; as if people are going to go "Gee, remember that post from back in septemeber '06?" and click away at the archive? No, they won't.

Or what about tags? Using a new blogger desing with tags we could put a tag cloud in so people can determine popular topics instantly and with one click get rid of a whole bunch of other crap they're not interested in reading.

hemlock: Yes, I like it too, but don't you think we've all become used to the piece of crap that are our current blog rolls?
Imagine you've never been to this blog before; and you go through the UAE blog rolls-- who the hell on that list has
a.) actually updated their blog in the past 3 decades
b.) writing something I care about?

Do you think the average person is going to sit there clicking on each link? I don't. In fact I know they don't because I don't.
Have a look at what my browser looks like... No damn lists at all because they're classified as advertisements, I haven't gone out of my way to remove them from my adblocker for over an entire year.
I 'could' go and add them to the ignore list, I just did in fact, it took 5 seconds, but now I'm going to remove them again because those damn rolls are too long and take 3 years to load.

Even when you hover your mouse over blogs on the blogroll the dates are still notoriously inaccurate.

I think it works, but well isn't fair; I've discovered a few blogs that I think should have far more viewers comments than they currently do; but even though they're listed on the blogrolls its not much use. If people can actually see someone has just written a new post, and they can see the title of that post, then I'd say they're far, far more likely to visit that blog than just clicking one of 300+ links on this page

Dubai Entrepreneur said...

sam, I always thought you were a Mac user.. do disappointing :)

Back to topic, I still don't see anyone coming up with a brilliant design. A design I really love is www.startuparabia.com I don't know how hard/easy it is to implement something like that with blogger, but I would imagine it's possible though.

Anyone? Anyone at ALL?

samuraisam said...

dubai entrepreneur:
I use both mac and PC, depends what I want to do; however for general use/email/web browsing I use PC.

I found a few good templates to base the design off; will work on trying some out tomorrow hopefully.

Seabee said...

Sam I agree 100% with any improvement to the posting alerts and I think: "If people can actually see someone has just written a new post, and they can see the title of that post" is a great improvement.

Keefieboy said...

Good work Sam - go for it. BTW - this 403 Google thing was a real problem yesterday (the home page on IE is my Spanish blog, and on FF it's my Dxb blog, so both of them were hijacked a 403'd by Google because of the UAE Community blog links). Something serious needs to be done about this to make Google permanently aware that it's not a spam site.

secretdubai said...

The blogrolls are currently managed from a paid account (I paid - it was about $10, no big deal) on blogrolling.com. To "update" them sam and I originally had to visit every single blog on the roll and see what wasn't there any more and what hadn't been updated for ages. Then we manually deleted them one by one.

I like the idea of having a recent blog posts. However I wonder if we can do both to keep everyone happy: have the recent posts at the top, and keep the old blogrolls down the bottom?

I agree that a lot of people get good referrals from them, and that was a big part of the original purpose of this blog, to help other UAE bloggers promote themselves and get readers.

I agree about two fixed columns and a relative middle, this one was supposed to be that way but I can't remember who finally made it. My CSS has never been that strong.

What I would say is that we should stick to Blogger if we can. There are countless advantages with going to Wordpress, but Blogger will always give us optimal Google ranking, and it is the least complicated option for all the existing Blogger bloggers (who are the vast majority). In terms of comments systems like LiveJournal are way better, and Wordpress is way more customisable and powerful, but Blogger is simple and I think it suits our widest needs.

Dubai Entrepreneur said...


In terms of technical capabilities, blogger sucks beyond recognition. However, as I have previously said, google ranking is enough of a reason to tough it out here. As far as I understand, the topic of migration to a different platform is not even on the table at this point.

Is it possible for blogger to have a 'page' in the same sense that wordpress does? Is it possible to have the blogroll appear on a separate page? I say this because, referrals are great. You update your blog, you get referrals. It seems to me like a further incentive to write.. it actually means that people are less likely to cross-post. I for one, love the idea of the new site's title inclusion. It makes perfect sense.

I would love to help with the CSS and whatnot, but I am no designer (I used to do the backend stuff to make things actually work and let the fancy people dress it up) :)

Sam, what designs are you looking at that you want to base it on?

nzm said...

I like the blogrolls in the side columns - I use them to click onto blogs that have been updated that aren't listed on my blog.

I've volunteered to maintain the blogrolls in the past and would still be happy to take on this task.

It looks like the new Blogger in Draft has a cool blogroll feature built into it now.

I'd also be happy to help transfer the blogrolls over to this if it's decided that this is the best way to go.


Keefieboy said...

Can I just propose a vote of thanks here to Sam & SD for making this thing happen in the first place? I was invited to help, but way too busy to get involved. And I wish I had time to help out with this redesign. Sticking with Blogger makes a ton of sense: the Google ownership was why I opted for them in the first place - any post I write on my Blogger blogs appears on Google the next day, and that really is a fantastic advantage.

Oh yeah, there's nothing like this in Spain, that I'm aware of. I wish there was, but strangely the English-language blogging scene in Spain is tiny (about 20 active blogs). But then the English-speaking population in Madrid is only about 100,000.

Anonymous said...

Keefieboy, I agree with you that we should acknowledge and thank Secretdubai and Sam, for starting and maintaining this blog. In spite of the different views, sometimes, this is for sure a great work that has to be recognized by us all.

manimalcruelty said...

here's a nice theme:

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