Telegraph publishes first WordPress plugin

The Telegraph Media Group began embracing WordPress two and a half years ago: first its blogs were migrated over, then its My Telegraph community. They then began embracing WordPress people, hiring BuddyPress core developer Paul Gibbs, and hosting London WordPress meetups.

Now they’ve gone a stage further: releasing a WordPress plugin in the company name. Expire User Passwords has obvious applications in a more corporate environment: it’s a zero-configuration plugin which you simply install and forget about. Until you reach the 30-day expiry point, when you’re prompted to renew your password.

It’s available from the WordPress repository, where it’s owned by Paul and a new Telegraph user account. Or alternatively, they’ve just started making use of a Telegraph Github account which they seem to have registered two years ago.

Well done, Team Tele. Great to see a large corporate giving back to the WordPress community. I’d love to know how they got over the inevitable concerns about plugin support, liability and so on.

Another national newspaper goes WordPress

Just to note that the Independent has switched its blogs from Livejournal to WordPress. Why? According to online editor Martin King, there was a simple reason for the move: ‘to make them better.’ Clearly a man after my own heart.

He writes: ‘We are demonstrating that globally standard programs can free mainstream journalism from the complex bespoke set-ups of the past.’ And his colleague Jack Riley tells Journalism.co.uk: ‘WordPress is infinitely more customisable, which means that we can adapt it all as we go along. By bringing it all in-house it also means our development and editorial teams can work closely on getting the features that readers and bloggers want live as quickly as possible.’

I must admit, I always had my suspicions that the Independent’s former arrangement with LiveJournal was driven primarily by the personalities involved, former Downing St colleagues Ben Wegg Prosser and Jimmy Leach (now back in Whitehall, of course).

Worth mentioning too that the Telegraph has gone deeper into WordPress just recently, with the migration of its My Telegraph user community. Its blogs.telegraph.co.uk site, for journalists and commentators, moved over to WP about a year ago.

Telegraph calls No10 site ‘a technical mess’

Last night, the Telegraph published a piece by their head of audience development, Julian Sambles accusing the Downing Street website of being ‘a technical mess’. This damning conclusion was based on the following criticisms:

  • It wasn’t in the top search results for a few randomly-selected Budget-related search terms.
  • It doesn’t have a ‘link canonical’ tag in its code header.
  • It has a pretty curious set of ‘meta keywords’ – including ‘piercings’, ‘tattoos’ and ‘polish armed forces’. (Update: apparently not random at all – see comment below.)
  • The page templates aren’t especially well structured for SEO purposes.
  • It has inconsistent names on various external sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

None of which, in my mind, constitute a ‘technical mess’. So it’s interesting to see, this morning, that the headline has been watered down, to mock the keyword selection.

Some of the criticisms are valid. The site could do a few simple things to improve its SEO standing, probably taking barely a few minutes. And yes, I have trouble remembering which specific configuration of ‘downing’ and ‘st(reet)’ it uses to make up its various usernames. But some of the accusations are way over the top, and some don’t stand up at all.

The ‘meta keywords’ criticism, for example. In the old days, search engines respected the keywords you entered in your page header as a guide to the page’s substance. But then people, possibly working in the field of ‘audience development’, began abusing them. So what does Google, with 90% of the UK search market, think about meta keywords?

Let’s ask Google’s Matt Cutts, shall we?

His answer: they don’t use it. ‘Basically not at all… Even in the least little bit.’ Not worth spending much time on then, I’d say.

And then there’s the failure to rank highly for certain budget-related search terms. But would you want or expect Number10 to be a high-ranking result, when it has very little material on the subject – and isn’t the ‘lead site’ on the subject, from either a policy (HM Treasury) or a citizen-facing (Directgov) perspective?

If you search Google right now for ‘budget’, you’ll get both HMT and DG in the top few results. That’s the appropriate outcome.

I’m not saying there aren’t improvements I’d want to make to the Number10 site. As regular readers may know, I contributed some advice in the early days of their migration to WordPress – but I didn’t have any hands-on involvement in the build itself. If I had, for the record, certain things would have been done differently.

PS: Thankfully, someone at the Telegraph saw sense, and dropped the ‘technical mess’ line. Otherwise I’d be forced to point out that their article page scores 88 HTML validation errors in the W3C checker, compared to the Number10 homepage’s zero.

Telegraph moves its blogs to WordPress

It’s a sign of how far WordPress has come, that I find myself noting the Telegraph’s transfer of its blogging platform to WordPress purely because I feel I should… and not because it’s especially exciting. I mean, if you were going to set up a large-scale public blogging community, why on earth wouldn’t you use the world-leading, zero-price tag product?

The newspaper media group’s new blogs editor, Damian Thompson is buzzing with excitement at the potential which this move opens up. Among the ‘immediate benefits’ he highlights: faster operation, easier commenting, better integration with the wider site, even a Twitter element. (I’d add a few others myself, all available instantly with a bit of URL hacking.) But he’s right to recognise that the switch won’t be immediately popular – and guess what, the majority of the 200+ comments on his introduction post aren’t positive. Yeah, we’ve all been there.

Most of the work, I understand, was done by the Telegraph’s in-house team, with some assistance from my fellow WordCampers (and technically, I suppose, competitors) InterconnectIT. The firm’s director, Dave Coveney says they’re already working with another newspaper group and a magazine publisher. He’s clearly seeing the same momentum I am; there’s certainly no shortage of interest in WordPress just now.

Telegraph blogger quits for Tory blog

I’m not sure I’d call it a ‘stunning coup’, as some have done – but it’s certainly interesting to note that the Telegraph’s Jonathan Isaby has quit his ‘proper journalism’ job to become the new co-editor of Tory grassroots blog ConservativeHome… presumably ‘co’ with Tim Montgomerie. He fills the gap left by 22-year-old Sam Coates, who is David Cameron’s new speechwriter (an interesting move in itself).

I share the analysis of Guido Fawkes, who calls it ‘an example of how the news market will become fragmented in the future’ – although I’d probably have phrased it in the present tense. We’ve already seen similar moves in other spheres, such as the oft-quoted example of football journalist Rick Waghorn who took voluntary redundancy from the Norwich Evening News to set up his own network of niche football sites.

It’s better news for Isaby than this time last year, when he got into hot water for a possible breach of electoral law.

And it’s a reminder that the blogosphere isn’t the amateur free-for-all it once was. ConservativeHome has a publisher, Stephan Shakespeare: co-founder of YouGov, a man with a position in the Guardian’s ‘Media Top 100’, and clearly a few spare quid to bankroll professional writing on a website which doesn’t even carry advertising.

An idea whose time has come

Crime mapping is front-page news today (in the Telegraph anyway). Most of the stories follow a predictable pattern: Ministers say it will inform the public, and make the police more accountable, but it’ll lead to house price chaos. Etcetera.

But I’m finding myself infuriated by the Telegraph leader column which proclaims:

The Conservative Party has appeared a little paranoid over the past year or two with its reluctance to set out detailed policies for fear of them being plagiarised by Labour. […] The latest was yesterday’s commitment from Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, to publish crime maps for England and Wales by the end of this year. This is based on the Conservative Party policy document Giving the Public a Crime Map (PDF), which was published in April and which formed a key plank of Boris Johnson’s successful campaign for the mayoralty of London.

So.. did Boris Johnson cook up the idea, all by himself? Hardly.

The project which first brought the idea to prominence was pioneering geek-journalist Adrian Holovaty’s ChicagoCrime.org, launched back in May 2005. It received global media coverage, on the web and in print; and was specifically mentioned as a case study in this government’s Power Of Information review, published in April 2007. (The project has since evolved into Everyblock.)

Further, two UK pilot studies are being quoted in news coverage today. DNS records show that MyNeighbourhood.Info, run by West Midlands Police, was conceived as far back as 10 May 2006; the site itself was launched in September 2007. The West Yorkshire site, beatcrime.info, traces back as far as April 2004, with a launch in February 2005. (Incidentally… do those dates provide a clue as to the lead time needed to produce these sites?)

So by all means, we can have pointless arguments about which UK political party first stole the idea from Adrian Holovaty if you like. It won’t get us anywhere. The point is, this is an idea whose time has come.

The luxury of opposition is that you can throw ideas around, without having to actually implementing them. The burden of government is that you have to overcome the technical, legal and procedural hurdles to get the things out the door. And we’ve got ample evidence that this is happening already.

Mirror and Telegraph redesigns

The new Mirror website is a dramatic improvement. But then again, all previous Mirror websites have been terrible – particularly the last one, launched just 18 months ago.

As Martin Stabe notes, the site’s homepage takes an unfamiliar building-blocks approach… which, in this case, I really find myself warming to. It suits the kind of picture-heavy, celebrity-led material within. Dig a little deeper, and frankly it’s fairly average – but for the Mirror, as I say, that’s a big step forward.

Meanwhile, I can’t quite make my mind up about the Telegraph’s new design, being rolled out gradually this week, section by section. It’s very nice – structurally and visually; and fixes some of the things I didn’t like before. But it feels very – can’t think of a better word – conservative. There’s no hint of a ‘2.0’ feel to it whatsoever: no rounded corners, no colour gradients, no Javascript effects, no glossy icons. No homepage space for the ‘community’ or multimedia stuff. There are ‘sharing’ links, and links to related blog content, but it’s all downplayed.

You could argue that this is all good. It’s in keeping with the more conservative brand demographic. It’s classic rather than fashionable. But it’s, well, a bit retro. And with everyone rushing to be more ‘2.0’ than their rivals, that feels just a bit odd.

Here is the news

Some very interesting numbers from Robin Goad at Hitwise, showing just how dominant (or not, he concludes) the BBC News website is in the UK news market.

What I find most interesting is the mix of news providers in this ranking. You’ve got broadcasters, newspapers, portals and aggregators (both social and automated), with no one grouping particularly dominant over any other. The Daily Mail has gone from nowhere to being the national #2; meanwhile, the Independent’s radical redesign has yet to really pay off. And look at the Guardian: below the Telegraph, below Sky News even.

‘The market share of BBC News in the category has increased slightly over the last 3 years,’ Robin observes; ‘but at the same time overall visits to the News and Media category have increased at a much faster rate, and most of this increased traffic has gone to non-BBC sites.’ This, he suggests, ‘points to a healthy and competitive online market in the UK, not one dominated by one player.’

Personally, I’m looking at a market being led by one provider whose share (based on the table above, anyway) adds up to significantly more than its 14 nearest competitors put together. How dominant do you want?

Telegraph style guide: 2m forward, 1′ back

Thanks to Shane at the Telegraph for highlighting the new Daily Telegraph style guide. Written (or more accurately, drafted?) by Simon Heffer, it’s online now for consultation, prior to hard-copy publication in a few months.

As you might expect it’s a curious mix of the web-friendly and the conservative (with a small, and probably also a large C). So you get rulings like these:

Increasingly, as the distinction between publishing the newspaper and producing the website fades, we will stop using such words as “yesterday” and “today” in copy except when necessary to avoid confusion or to promote exclusive stories.

On the internet the priority for any headline is to inform search engines (and therefore readers) what the article is about. Its language should therefore be concrete, not abstract, and contain full names.

We use imperial measures except where for accuracy’s sake – as in some scientific or foreign story, or one detailing the calibre of armaments – metric is appropriate.

Bah. Just as you think the Telegraph is reinventing itself and its journalism for the imminent future, it drags you crashing back to pre-decimalisation days.

The death of ‘today’ is well judged, though. I’m seeing too many (government) press releases with eager press officers falling back on the old rule of getting the word ‘today’ in the first sentence, to make it seem more urgent. I’m not sure it ever worked; now it’s positively counter-productive.