New popular page & better image handling!

It’s been quite a couple weeks for HalfEagle. Between Twitter’s DoS attack crippling @halfeaglebot (and parts of the site itself) and the temporary outage of PostRank’s service over the weekend, I’ve really felt like I was running around putting out fires almost constantly.

This afternoon, I got another email confirming my impression that image handling on HalfEagle was pretty lame. When Scouting bloggers include a relevant image in their RSS feed, I was trying to show that image… but randomly all HalfEagle would show was a broken image icon. :'(

But, as all error reports are an opportunity to improve the site, I’m proud to announce some changes!

First, the old popular page (powered by PostRank) is now powered by… HalfEagle! Turns out I can do a half-decent job of algorithmically detecting the most popular posts. Over time I plan to refine how this page works and do an even better job of sharing what HalfEagle’s audience considers most important.

Second, images are now cached using my own custom code, instead of relying on SimplePie’s built-in image caching. Honestly I’m surprised that my code seems to be working better than an RSS parsing library that’s been tested by thousands of users. But, I love the look of this:

HalfEagle Post Image Thumbnails

The truth is that a cool & relevant image alongside a post increases the likelihood that the reader will click through and read the whole post. You can see this for yourself by visiting the new popular page. Most of the popular posts have good images.

What people don’t want to see is all the little tracking images, “tweet this” images, etc. So I’ve put in place some rules for images:

  1. It has to have one dimension that’s at least 50 px and one dimension that’s at least 100 px.
  2. That’s it! Go add good relevant images. 🙂

Third, I have been tweaking how HalfEagle.com interacts with Twitter. Basically, Twitter’s been hurting and I’ve been trying to get HalfEagle to play as nicely as possible. Because the Twitter API has been up and down, some of my changes are hard to test — I have to be confident Twitter is up before I know if my code is actually failing. For a brief time, @halfeaglebot went crazy and I had to remove those tweets so the folks who follow it didn’t think it was a spam bot. Everything is, as far as I can tell, 100% at this point.

Fourth, I haven’t mentioned in awhile just how amazing the Scouting bloggers are who truly power HalfEagle! This really is a labor of love for me as it gives me a way to enjoy inspirational Scouting writing and to share that writing with a larger audience. Thank you to those who are helping to spread the good word of Scouting online! 🙂

6 responses

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for adding my blog to half eagle. also, if i have more than one image in a post will it show the first image?

  2. Right now, it will show a random image on each page load. To mix things up a bit. 🙂

    Happy to have you on board! 😀

    By the way Kevin, if you notice a spike in visits during the last couple hours it’s because I has having a problem with that one image in your “The New Boy Scout Handbook Review” post. I finally identified the bug in my code, but I had to reload your feed a few times until I got it all sorted.

    I just don’t want you to think it’s normal for HalfEagle to visit so much. I try to do my best to *reduce* bandwidth. 🙂

  3. Even if it left the image it wouldn’t preserve the link. However, you must have been reading my mind, because right after I commented I decided to go integrate Addthis into the home page.

    Now each and every item has it’s own little retweet button (and a facebook share button, and an email button, and pretty much every other button in the world if you click “more”).

    Check out and let me know what you think. 🙂 It still needs some tweaking, but I’m pretty happy with adding some per-post social actions to the home page. 🙂

  4. Gregg –

    Thanks for fixing the images. I was afraid the problem was going to end up being on my end, which was going to take a while for me to be able to fix given my current situation.

    I am thoroughly impressed with your coding skills. I’m too rusty right now to finish any project I want to start…

    Great job and great site!

    Dan

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