Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday January 02 2013

At exactly the time when I started getting un-ill yesterday afternoon, but moments before I realised it, Michael Jennings rang to ask my opinion, about photos on Samizdata.  Still believing myself to be ill, as perhaps I still was at that precise moment, I cut him short.  Now, here is an answer.

My opinion is that photos, lightly sprinkled on a blog, send an important message to readers beyond the obvious one that here is a medal, or a strange toy airplane, or a funny media mistake, or whatever.  That message is: this blog is something the people who do it care about.  Shoving up text is the easiest thing in the world, but adding a photo requires a bit of pausing and considering.  These people want their blog to catch your eye as well as your mind.  They are putting themselves about a bit.  Not only is this blog regularly updated, it looks regularly updated.  Even if you don’t read this, others will.

But as those three links illustrate, there have been rather a lot of photos on Samizdata lately, and there is a danger that it will look like photos are being used as a substitute for thought rather than being a mere signifier of blogging seriousness.  Besides which, the mystery of sticking up photos is hardly much of a mystery any more, is it?  Most people know that sticking up photos is now as easy as sticking up words.

What Michael was asking about, before I told him I was ill and to postpone it, was, in particular, or so I surmise, photos like the one this sign, and like these ones of Samizdata jollification over Christmas.  What do I think of those?

Well, they are clever.  Notice how, if you narrow your window, to the point where the text rearranges itself to fit in a narrower column, the photo also narrows itself.  Cute.  Well, I’m impressed.  I’m guessing that’s especially good for Samizdata accommodating itself onto smaller media like tablets and smart phones, which (commenters say) the new set-up does very well.  These big new photos are also the result of Samizdata having become more tablet- and phone-friendly, because a tablet is where Michael has been doing them from?

The trouble is, however, that by making photos expand to fit the space available for their display, you risk (I think) making photos look like the point of the whole exercise.  They cease to be mere seasoning, and become the meal.  So, much as I like the expanding and contracting thing, I think that these potentially very big photos would be better if smaller, with the option to expand but not the routine habit of doing this.

Samizdata is all about concepts.  It is about, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying, the metacontext.  For that you need words.  Even if many of those words don’t get read or are only skimmed over, it needs to be clear that, at Samizdata, it is in the words that the real message is to be found.

Does that answer what was going to be your question, Michael?

At least the whispered question of a few months back, about whether Samizdata is dying, is now well and truly answered.  No.  (The comments on that posting now make even more interesting reading than they did when posted.) Perry de Havilland may not have written that much lately, but as a leader he remains very much in place and swinging.  The makeover proves this.

Here, it doesn’t matter what I do about pictures.  This is a kitten blog.

I don’t think what has been going on over the Christmas period should be seen as too firm an indicator as to what will go on going forward. We are testing new tools, Alec is still tweaking the blog, we are in a strange state of mind, and there is a sense that we can be frivolous in a way that we can’t at other times. (I sometimes post cat pictures to Samizdata on the final Friday of the year, but I didn’t this year).

I am also a big fan of putting photographs in post, and I also prefer the little thumbnail style photographs that you can click on to get bigger photographs. I deliberately asked Alec to provide me with a template for uploading photographs to the blog in exactly the same thumbnail format that I used on the old blog. (Major dimension of photograph 350 pixels). They are much easier to upload than they were on the old blog, so this may or may not lead to more photos being uploaded per article on average. There are other formats that photos can be uploaded in (including the big scalable one) from the web interface, but I doubt I shall use these much.

However, the big scalable photographs are the default way of uploading from the Wordpress iPad app right now. I haven’t figured out yet how to do little thumbnails. I like being able to blog a photo from my iPad 20 seconds after taking it (and if I am ever going to be blogging events live, this will be incredibly useful). I think above all we want consistency regardless of where we are blogging from, but we don’t have this yet.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 05 January 2013
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