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Socialized Software — a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

This week we’ll be looking at Socialized Software, a blog by technology executive and entrepreneur Mark Hinkle.

If you’re new to the project, it’s recommended that you read the launch post. This week there’ll be yet another chance to score an iPod Shuffle and a link to your blog under the winner’s name in the summary post.

Past prize winners have stood out from the pack by providing thorough and original feedback. Do that in your comment, and you’re in with a good chance!

The blog’s owner, Mark, describes his blog as follows:

Socialized Software is technology blog that focuses primarily on technology trends, especially open source software development and social media (with the more than occasional personal rant). While not exactly topical the blog touches on those things that are likely to interest those who work in technology, blog, or are interested in other topics related to collaboration on the Internet.

Socialized Software.

Mark is particularly interested in feedback and advice on the following:

  • Design — usability, visual appeal, readability, navigation.
  • Content — got an idea for a great viral post the blogger could write?
  • Promotion — how would you suggest the blogger promote the blog?
  • SEO — can you see areas for improvement?
  • Monetization — could this be done more effectively? Do you see any missed opportunities?

We’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible. I’ve got no doubt that Mark is eager to hear what you have to say!

You can send an application to Darren if you’d like your blog featured and reviewed at ProBlogger for $250. Click to get more information on our community blog consulting services.

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Comments

  1. Blogroll is a page?

  2. I see this on tons of web sites and blogs and it is aesthetically unappealing. I still use IE 6 and the far right sidebar on Socialized Software rests below the left sidebar. I just check my stats to see that 43% of visitors are still using IE 6. Gotta get that fixed, it will chase off visitors.

  3. esvl says:

    One thing I am a big fan of is a FEATURED frontpage section. That always lets you promote your best content that you recently wrote.

  4. Dan Cole says:

    Your 4 colors are nice… blue, black, white, and gray. I would keep using these same colors, but use more of the blue and black. I could make the text color black, so it stands out more. I could also add more blue to the sidebar. As for the horizontal navigational bar, I would make the background color of that black. The problem with your website right now is that it looks dull. I see a lot of text and not much color. Your sidebar could use less words.

    One thing that you HAVE to change in the location to your feed images, they only work on the home page!

    Your content looks good, hopefully you submit your good posts to LinuxToday to get visitors. I did that once and got over 1,200 in the first 12 hours.

    Hopefully this gives you some ideas. I like your blog topic by the way… Linux! Open Source!

    I think you should make the text size larger on more important items, such as related posts. You have too many related posts and there in just a bad format that it doesn’t attract visitors. Another thing that could have a larger text size is your moto, it blends in with the sidebar.

  5. Dan Cole says:

    blogging beat,

    yeah, you can have a Blogroll page. Some blogging experts have recommended it, because it makes the sidebar cleaner. Although he should add better and more descriptions behind each link.

  6. Luke says:

    The first few things I notice are: that there is a whole lot of text; my eyes just get tired looking at it. Maybe by separating everything into different boxes (or noticeably separate sidebars), it might be a little easier on the eyes (if he didn’t want to cut down on the text all together). Also, a bigger header would be more appealing. The second thing I noticed is that it should be easier for people to subscribe to the RSS feed. more subscribers is definitely important to his long-term success. It would also be nice to see a “most popular” section at the top (which is a good way to keep readers at your blog) rather than just a list of the topics he’s covered (I for one care less about this than the actual articles). Lastly, he’s worried about Monetization but I don’t see any at all (yet). There are no ads, and no place to put ads; nor is there an advertising page for companies to go to if they were interested in placing an ad. Maybe with the addition of more noticeable sidebars (and/or a larger header), he would be able to incorporate some unobtrusive advert space.

  7. 993C4S says:

    Is it just me, or does the blockquote section above, describing what his blog is about, sound like it was never proofed? When I read it out loud, it’s missing something(s).

  8. Hazel says:

    I enjoyed reading through the content on this site and as such you’ve now found yourself a new subscriber, bringing me to my first point:
    1. The text for subscriptions should be a link – making it as easy as possible for people to subscribe. Also, you have a very clean design, but the RSS images are horrible and pixelated. It would be nice if they could be cleaned up. Perhaps an email subscription would also be appropriate to add.

    2. Overall, the site looks sterile – it’s all white. I think you could improve this by changing the background colour to pale blue or grey, leaving only background of each post as white, drawing people’s attention to them.

    3. The sharp corners at the top of you page really stick out. Maybe making the banner a little taller with rounded top corners would help.

    4. The stripes on the background are kind of busy, either a bold, solid color or paler, less obvious stripes stick out less.

    5. You don’t have many comments. In one post you say “I would love to hear from anyone who tries out OpenProj and to get their feedback.” but in most posts you don’t try to encourage reader interaction at all. Perhaps asking specific questions to your readers, or asking for advice would help people share their thoughts.

    6. Navigation – to be honest I found it a little confusing. You have hundreds to both tags and categories, and they’re almost doing the same task from what I can tell. I think it might be easier for new readers to delve into your content if you restricted yourself to a few key categories, but continued to use lots of tags so people can still find specific content. It’s good that your search bar is visible at the top of the page though.

    7. As I said before, I enjoy reading your content, and I think pictures are used well within it. It might help more readers if you wrote in shorter sentences, but that might not be appropriate for this blog. I wasn’t sure about the post on headphones though – it didn’t really seem relevant to the rest of your content.

    8. The sidebar does seem kind of cluttered overall, but I think if you changed the site colours so readers focus on the actual content, it wouldn’t be to big a deal.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing your site to my attention, and best of luck.

  9. Veerasundar says:

    Mu suggestions on Design of Social Software:

    1. Have a larger font size, which enables the user to easily read through your posts.
    2. Differentiate links from the normal content
    3. Can improve the post borders to some other formatting like shadows.

  10. I notice a lot of text also, but I believe it is broken up well with paragraphs and pictures. The colors are nice and relaxing. Text could maybe be a little darker. Might be hard for some people to read the gray shade. If you go with it as is, I’d say you have a real winner.

  11. I liked the simplicity and grid-like nature of the design. However, I must agree with previous comments that it seemed a bit dull and it all seems to kind of flow together.

    I would agree with earlier commenters to increase the header graphic so it pops just a bit more. I like the gray font text, but perhaps you could make the title text in that bright blue from the header image. You could also bold the links so it’s more noticeable or bold and make them blue.

    Your content seems solid, but you want people to take the time to actually read it. By adding images and other color, it’ll attract a reader’s eye to your post. Good luck!

  12. Bud says:

    I think more color would help. Its a nice looking site but to much white and black.

  13. Patrick Burt says:

    Design
    —————
    Usability
    —————
    The site as a whole is very usable. I had no problems finding what is was that I was looking for, and quickly. Here are some ideas for improvements:
    -Links. Links in your right nav appear the same as text in your right nav. I’d change link color to something blue, similar to your bullets.
    -Website Width. Your website causes monitors with a resolution of 1024×768 to have a side scrollbar, it’s not huge, but it is bothersome.
    -Search Bar. I would either indicate that you should type in your keywords and press Enter, or to have a button labelled search.

    Readabilty
    —————
    The site has a great line-length, but I am a little worried about the typeface and line spacing. Here are some ideas for improvements:
    -Line Height. I would bump up the line height if you prefer the small font as your body text. It allows for the text to have more room to breathe.
    -Font size. To make reading a little easier, I’d bump up the typeface up by one point/pixel.
    -Headers. Your H5 tag is smaller then your body text. I’d suggest modifying the CSS. This happens on your about page.

    Visual Appeal
    —————
    The theme/design has a very clean technical look about it. It’s strong, but there is room for improvements:
    -Colors. Consider adding an extra color to the mix. The Technorati green brought forth under your About description adds a nice flavor. What if you used a similar green for links in your articles or headers?
    -Logo. Your logo is unique, but it appears dated. I’d simply the logo graphic and possibly jump onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon.
    -Theme. The theme itself is strong. If you’re a connaisseur of CSS, I’d suggest doing the tweaks yourself. If not, I’d suggest a similar, yet more complicated, theme.
    -Favorites Icon. The favorites icon has a white background. Consider a transparent icon.
    -Image. You have a good use of images, I’d suggest bumping up the hspace and vspace around the image.

    Navigation
    —————
    Your topics is a great way of orienting the user, great idea stripping the archives section. Here are some thoughts:
    -Cut Down In Numbers. I suggest combining some of the topics to clean up some space. The ones that I thought would make sense is combining Miscellania and Uncategorized, the 3 Linux topics and Mac and iPhone into Apple.
    -Tags. I’d suggest halving the tags currently on your page. They appear text-heavy. And most people always click on the big ones anyway. ;)

    Content
    ————–
    The content is strong. I showed the blog to a few friends interested in some of your topics, here’s what they thought.
    -They thought some of your articles didn’t feel like they’d attract a huge audience. The article they pointed out as an example was the one detailing the morning section. They were interested in topics about companies and product and what you had to think of some of your outgoing links.
    -A viral article should appeal to large demographics.
    I’d suggest tackling huge issues like Open Source and its affect on employment and small businesses.
    Or getting inside looks on Linux products and reviewing them.
    -They also mentioned that the content felt like it was going all around the map. Topics they felt weren’t mentioned in your headline felt out of place in your blog.
    -Online Identity. This is a very useful section. I’m a big fan of looking at LinkedIn profiles. I think these would be better on your About page or these icons should be smallers and places under your about blurb in the right navigation.

    SEO
    ————–
    -Duplicate Content. Your permalinks, topics page and most articles on your main page are displayed in their entirety. I fear there may be repercussions in terms of duplicate content from Google. I suggest putting on some gloves and getting your hands dirty with some of WordPress’s PHP Code to only display excerpts on your topics pages.
    -Keyword Rich Titles. Overall, I didn’t feel as though your headlines were keyword rich. I’d suggest rewriting a few of the ambigious titles. I’d suggest compressing some of the longer ones.
    -Related Post. Small correction on your permalinked pages. Correct to Related Posts. ;)
    -Blogroll. Your blogroll page is really heavy in outgoing links. I’d suggest adding rel=”nofollow” to the more-popular, well-known websites.

    Traffic
    ————–
    -Commenting. I believe your niche places a heavy importance on community. I had a look at your backlinks and think you should actively comment on other blogs or forums in your niche.

    Monetization
    ————–
    -Amazon Referrals. Is it possible to replace your Shelfari with Amazon referrals and retain the current look and feel of this navigation item?
    -Text Links. Text-Link-Ads offers the opportunity to sell ads for 5$. I’d suggest this to start. Keep an active eye on your PageRank so you can slowly raise your price.
    -Linux Book. This should be predominantly displayed. I’d suggest putting this under your Subscribe item in the navgiation and changing the title to: “My Book on Linux” or something similar that points out immediately that you are the author.

  14. Phani Kumar says:

    Hello Mark
    Being a techie I enjoyed reading your content in detail. Few things I have noticed are:

    1) Feed Subscription:
    My initial thought was to think you forgot to link the text to RSS feeds. Please link the text to the feeds.

    2) Too many topics:
    I feel there are far too many topics and it took a lot of time to read all the topics. I feel many topics can be clubbed into a main topic. Topics like Book, geek-chic, iphone, reviews can be clubbed to one single reviews topic. You also have duplicate categories like Miscellania and Uncategorized. Topics like Linux Desktop, LinuxToday ,LinuxWorld and Opensource can be clubbed to one topic called Opensource.

    3) Move Online Identity section from Home Page:
    Personally I like to connect to a blogger only after reading about the blogger on the blog. When I saw the links to your profiles on various websites I went to the about section first and came back to Online Identity section. So ideally for me online identity section should be in the about page. By moving it you will also free some real estate on your home page.

    4) Look and Feel of individual sections:
    Please ensure that all sections look alike across all the pages. Currently the subscribe section images are only displayed on the home page while text is displayed on other pages like categories or about.

    5) Browser Compatibility & Too much text:
    Rightmost side bar is messed up in internet explorer 6.0 which is still a popular browser. Home page of the blog is cluttered a bit. I feels no of tags displayed should be reduced.

    6) Monetization:
    There is not much monetization apart from the link to your book on Amazon. You can promote firefox and write paid reviews. I feel google adsense will be the perfect way to start monetization.

  15. I think my objections are already covered – especially by Hazel.

    I’ll just stress again that the type is too small (and too light!). You have some color to liven this up.. but it still seems “dead” somehow – maybe too slick? I’m not sure; there is good content here but I don’t want to read it. Somebody said “sterile” – I agree.

    Maybe the graphics could use a little more white space around them..

    I like the “What I’m doing” and “What I’m reading”. Not sure I care about your “Upcoming Trips” unless you are speaking or doing book signings.. you probably are, but I can’t tell that..

    Shouldn’t it be “Related Posts” (plural)?

    Either Tags or Topics is redundant.. and some are incomplete: your “Search” shows me several Mac related posts but only one is tagged “Mac”. I wouldn’t bother to show a tag with only one post to its name..

    That “Contact” page makes it very plain that you are not approachable – as does the low response to comments mentioned by others. Doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies..

    Pages don’t W3C validate – inexcusable for a geek, I think.

    Hint: Blogrolls are very yesterday.. this isn’t 2001, we all know where the good sites are.

    I don’t hate the three column layout, but I don’t like it either. IMNSHO, two is enough..

    Navigation links: I don’t want to have to go back to the home page to read your next/previous post. Again, you have good content: why don’t you want me to read it?

    Subscribe links: as you have no text decoration indicating what to click on, shouldn’t I be able to click on “Site-wide Feed” as well as “Full Site Feed”? See http://aplawrence.com/Blog/B993.html

    But I did add you to my RSS reader..

    Feeds: I have no idea what to expect from a “Marketing Feed”. You need to ‘splain that to me before I’m going to click on it..

    Meta tags: Way too many keywords on the home page.. you are about Technology and Open Source – you may touch on all those other things now and then, but they are not what you are about.. actually your visible page says it better: “Linux, Open Source, Free Culture, and Social Media”

    Technorati: sheesh, you ask me to fave you, but you don’t put any Technorati tags on your posts? Again, you are a fellow geek so I expect more from you.

    What’s with the “LinkedIn”? Do you really mean you want me to link up with you? I don’t know you, and you don’t know me: if you really want promiscuous linking, I don’t think much of you, and if you don’t, why is this there??

    Re: the book. I’d rather you took me to a page where YOU tell me more about it before sending me off to Amazon.. it’d feel more personal and less “go buy my book”.

  16. Kirk Warren says:

    There is a lot of white space. I open the page and I’m hit by a wall of white with a blur of blackish grey text. I think some images might help a little just based on this initial viewing. Not talking anything fancy, but something, possibly in the middle column, that breaks up the page and lets me focus on specific areas. Even a solid black bar or maybe make the columns on the left have solid backgrounds and white text.

    I like the banner at the top. Minimalistic, recognizable branding with the icon and nice, distinctive lettering. Only problem is the sub-text, which has been shunted to the far right all by its lonesome. I think there’s lots of room to just shift the site name up and have the sub-text below it. Might have to increase the size of your icon slightly to compensate, but there’s lots of room in the space you have at the top.

    I hate the non-black text. That grey colour is faded and hard to see. I can read it, obviously, but that doesn’t mean I should have to focus to read every word and it really makes me want to skip everything until I come to a new heading or bolded word that I can pick up quicker.

    The grey text colour also makes the entire page look muddy and bleeds together, making it difficult for anything to stick out and grab me unless it’s an image or something colourful.

    Also, is the text size set smaller than default or is it just the colours that are making it appear that way? It certainly looks smaller than usual, but I can never really tell when the colours are off like this. Bring it back to normal font size.

    Why do you have so many links dedicated to proving who you are? Why do I have to go somewhere else? I’m willing to take your word for it if the content is good, so why not just put that in an about page or shunt it off to its own page on the site? Is there something I’m missing in the prominent placement of these links? Something sensitive about the site that I should be checking up on you? If it’s for people to see your credentials, an about page would accomplish this and not tell people to leave your site to find out about you.

    I think you should bring the link to your book up higher so people can see it. Knowing you wrote a book on Linux tells me you are some kind of authority on these computer related topics and it immediately made me take a closer look at your postings when I finally got to the bottom of your page and saw the little widget in the middle side bar. Even if selling the book isn’t a big concern, the very fact I saw the book and you wrote it changed my perception of your site and I think above the fold placement would be a smart choice, maybe over by the About widget on the right side bar.

    For the love of god, change the dotted line for your links. I didn’t even know they were links for the first few posts. When it comes to links, people are stupid. We want familiarity. Do not change how links are displayed unless you are absolutely sure it’s a good idea. Greyish dots are not a good idea. You might not like default colours, but at least keep a solit underline. Make it the same colour blue as the banner font. (I’m using Firefox, but the image on this article shows distinct blue underlines, maybe it’s an IE or Opera print screen image?)

    Multiple feeds? Why? What do I get out of each one? Where is the description telling me what content each will give me? Is site-wide going to give me marketing and comments or just the posts you make? What is the marketing feed? Comments are every comment in order they are posted? This just confused me when it should be a simple matter to click the feed and be done with it. (The marketing one is the only one that really confuses me, but the average viewer will probably be perplexed at the number of feed options on their first visit to the site).

    There’s too much clutter in the sidebars.

    Tags or Topics. Take a pick. No need for a tag cloud and a topic widget right next to each other. The topics are just your tags I assume, so just have it display the number of posts in each topic if you want people to pick out which are popular or make it order them by which tag has the most posts.

    Consider moving the About to a separate page and expand on it. You could combine several of the sidebar widgets in this new About page. You could link to the new About page at the top in the banner if you move the sub-text to the left and put the About link in the right side of the banner. Or, probably the best spot to place it would be next to the Contact in menu bar.

    With new found sidebar space, make a popular posts widget and display posts you think are the best or that springboard to other posts, driving readers deeper into the site. Posts to fill this out would be most viewed or most commented or what you just feel are the best posts.

    It might look like a lot of negativity, but the site does look pretty good as is. The font colour is the biggest problem I have with it. Writing seems to be fine based on what I’ve read. The content is outside my typical field of study (I do network related comp work), so I can’t really judge it.

    I do like the site and you might just need to work on promotion, such as through other blog commenting, forum postings, social media.

  17. Martin S. says:

    Mark, I’ll get straight in.

    Design-wise the blog is fairly functional and does the job. I was about to chastise you on not having an about page, but then I noticed it on the sidebar– why not in the main menu as well?

    Your resume is impressive– show yourself off some more and put your avatar in the about section– personalising your blog is no bad thing!

    My only other design gripe is that the type is maybe a wee bit small and the logo maybe a little dull.

    For viral post brainwaves I would reccommend taking a peek at http://digg.com/technology– it’s full of open source and soc. media stories– and for an published author on Linux it shouldn’t be hard to get the jist of what stories people want to Digg.

    For promo, the oldies are always the goodies: get active on forums and local communities related to your niche– a hit to your blog need only be a click away from your forum signature! Apply to join a blog network in your niche, and make friends on sites like Stumble Upon and start stumbling their pages. It never harms to write and receieve guest posts either.

    You are selling a book which could be marketed a whole lot more agressively– why so far down the page? A digestable ebook version at a few dollars could really boost earnings, and having amazon affiliate links for your bookshelf is a must!

    There’s always the chance to include an affiliate ad related to your niche, like hosting or domain sales. And if you want a straight-up text ad, there’s no harm in signing up for adsense or a similar service.

    I’m no SEO expert so can’t say much on the subject, but from my experience I think your site rather good; once you get promoted a bit and some links start coming in you should be sorted.

    Overall– great blog. Good luck.

  18. Mark Hinkle says:

    I really appreciated all the comments and critiques. Rather than trying to address everyone’s comments here I am keeping updates and to-do lists on my site.

    http://socializedsoftware.com/2008/01/14/problogger-community-review-day-1/

    This has given me real insight into how others are viewing my site. Keep it coming this is really what I was looking for.

  19. Pete says:

    As far as SEO goes, download: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/ and install it… that should clean-up your duplicate content issues and since you’re using WordPress 2.3.1, it should work straight-out-of-the-box.

    If you duplicate content (such as news articles from other sites) you would be best to apply “noindex, nofollow” tags to these posts. It’s entirely up to you, but I also tend to cite the source of such articles when I post them.

    What I’ve found works a lot better than just copying articles, is to use those articles as inspiration and then add your own opinions and point-of-view… this will also build more trust amongst the social media communities as well (because they are not likely to promote/vote for your content when they know it comes from another source).

    One final note (and this is just something odd I noticed) was the whois data about your domain name states that it was registered in September 2007, yet your archives have posts going back to Feb 2006… if these have been 301′d from a previous domain, that’s fine – but if not, I’d avoid back-dating posts.

    Hope this helps and all the best with reaching your goals.

  20. Mark Hinkle says:

    Pete,

    Thanks for the thoughts I am using All-in-One SEO pack but I think the redundancy comes from having my content syndicated to sites like LinuxWorld and LinuxToday. That happens automatically because they are pulling my feed via RSS.

    On the older content, that’s due to content that I have been slowly migrating from my old domain (www.encoreopus.com) which is a 301 redirect.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  21. Pete says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the clarification – in that case, all is good and I’m all out of feedback :)

    A few weeks ago I had my blog reviewed by the community and I couldn’t be happier with the whole process. When I first read-through some of the feedback, I was a little defensive, but then when re-reading it with a purely objective view, I found it to be incredibly helpful.

    I hope you find it to be just as beneficial for your blog.