Matt Gemmell

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Site enhancements 2015

Blog 4 min read

I’ve made a few enhancements to the site, which will hopefully be useful to you. This brief piece details what’s new.

Article topics

I’ve always categorised the articles I write here by topic. I try very hard to use only one category per piece, but naturally there are some exceptions. Since my 2014 redesign, categories haven’t been visible anywhere. They’re now once again available for your use.

Below the title of each article, there are three pieces of information: its original publication date, a list of the categories (or topics) it falls into, and the estimated reading time. Notable features include:

  • You can click any category to visit that topic’s index page, which I’ll talk about more in a moment.

  • You can hover over the reading time to see a word-count for the article. The time estimate is based on reading 250 words per minute, which is apparently the average.

This provides a quick, at-a-glance sense of what an article is about before you read it. For example, this article itself falls in to the “blog” category, where I talk about the design of the site, and the technologies I use to author, build and host it.

The meta-information about a post is now shown throughout the site: on article pages themselves, on index pages, on topic indexes (which I’ll talk about below), and on the global archive page.

Topic indexes

Clicking any topic link will take you to the index page for that topic. For example, here’s the Writing index page.

On each topic’s index page, you’ll see a list of all articles I’ve filed under that topic. There are two interesting points here:

  • You can subscribe to a topic-specific RSS feed, if you like.

  • The articles are listed with my own brief summary of their topic, which isn’t displayed in the articles themselves (it’s often shown in RSS readers or web search results, though). Some older articles won’t have such a summary, but when present, it shows my general impression of a piece just after I’d written it.

The topic index pages allow you to explore all of my writing on a given subject.

Sensitive topics

My position is that a writer is a person, not a set of topics. If I enjoy a piece of writing, I’m interested in reading more from that author, regardless of topic - that’s how we broaden our experience, and wear down some of the rough edges of our opinions and beliefs.

In human discourse, though, there are a handful of areas that are sometimes best avoided in polite conversation, the most universal of which are religion and politics.

This site isn’t polite conversation, of course; it’s my own personal soapbox. It’s unfiltered, and I’ve tackled both of those tricky subjects on several occasions. I will not censor myself, and I think that a reader gets a better measure of any piece of writing by better knowing the actual person behind it.

I have a right to say these things, but you don’t have to listen - and it would be a great shame if your decision had to be all or nothing. The newly-added visibility of each article’s topic should help you make choices about what you’d like to read here, and it seemed a natural extension of that to add a courtesy “flag” to potentially sensitive topics.

Accordingly, the topics of religion and politics are displayed more prominently in the article headings, to give an immediately-noticeable heads-up about content you may find objectionable.

Sensitive topic flag photo

The index pages for these topics also include a courtesy note about their sensitive nature.

It’s my hope that this will actually encourage you to read more consciously, rather than simply filter out subjects you don’t think you want to be exposed to. It’s up to you.

For the record, I’m staunchly atheist on the matter of religion, and a rationalist. I can sometimes be disdainful in that context. Politically, I’m (increasingly) liberal, and I’d currently categorise myself as a Scottish nationalist, and socialist-leaning. If those views are vexing to you, you can now at least make an informed choice about my writing here.

Regarding the question of what, exactly, qualifies as political discussion, that’s a large question. I can only use my best judgement when flagging articles. I’m not in the habit of either including or omitting that category antagonistically.

I plan to periodically review this idea of flagging sensitive topics here on the site. We’ll see how it goes. If you have any feedback, feel free to contact me. You can also read a conversation I had on Twitter about this earlier today.

Keyboard navigation between articles

There are now access keys to move between articles when you’re viewing a specific piece, or to move between pages of articles when you’re viewing the main index, as follows.

The keys are j and k. The way you trigger them depends on your web browser and operating system; in the Mac versions of Safari, Chrome and Firefox, for example, you can press:

  • ⌃⌥J to go to the previous (older) article, or page of articles.

  • ⌃⌥K to go to the next (newer) article, or page of articles.

Furthermore, on index pages of articles, you can use the access keys 1-9 and 0 (zero) to load any of the ten displayed articles.

You can return to the home page with h, and you can trigger the links in the navigation bar (below the site’s heading) with a, b, c, and d.

As before, you can also access the site-wide search function via the / (forward-slash) access key.

On Windows, the way you trigger access keys differs between browsers. In Chrome, you use just the Alt key with the given letter or number. In Internet Explorer, you do the same, but then you press the key afterwards. In Firefox, you use Alt+⇧ instead.

Miscellaneous tweaks

Just two quick additional points:

  • Text size on iPads should now be more comfortable for reading.

  • I’ve introduced a new magazine-style “cover” design, for certain long-form articles. My hope is that it’ll provide a more immersive reading experience. You can see an example in my article about chasing the Northern Lights. There’s also a browser test gallery of the new presentation style.

A full archive of all articles, regardless of topic, remains available via the link in the footer. There’s an additional search field on that page too, using the same access key. You can subscribe to this site, including all topics, via RSS or via email.

As ever, my goal is to provide thought-provoking content, in a way that respects the reader.

Thanks so much for reading.