She posted Clickbait. What happened next exploded her world!

Call to Action is really Clickbait

– or –

Five Shocking Reasons a web page “Call to Action” is really Clickbait
(Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough to read #4)

  1. Irresponsible use of emotional triggers.
  2. Lack of humanity.
  3. Lack of honesty.
  4. Your doctor called and requested I redact #4.
  5. False promises.

So, is every web page Call to Action also Clickbait? Of course not. But plenty are, and plenty more blur the line, and the rest run the spectrum from emotionally needy to annoying to obnoxious.

If I want to sign up for your newsletter (I don’t), I’ll sign up (no, I won’t). “Enter a free drawing for free stuff just by signing up for my Newsletter!” is just going to encourage me to visit a website with better manners. Even “Sign up for my Newsletter” seems to be questioning my ability to see and understand your Newsletter link.

I realize that Clickbait, in the form of a Call to Action or otherwise, works. It must, or you would not be reading this post. Also it would not be ubiquitous on the interwebs. I still hate it.

Every web page SEO guide I have ever seen emphasizes using a compelling Call to Action. What do I want the reader to do? Well, I genuinely want the reader to enjoy my content. So I try (I did say try – I realize I am not always successful) to create good content. If my content is key, then to try to compel, trick, or bully users into doing something other than enjoying my content would be counterproductive and impolite.

I did break my rule and indulge in Clickbait just this once though. Mostly for fun, but also – hopefully – to make a point.

Arrg! Me Pirate Form plugin be walkin the plank.

Shiver me timbers! Me favorite contact form plugin – Free and Simple Contact Form by Pirate Forms – be abandoning ship. Pirate Forms was acquired by WPForms, who are retiring my favorite contact form in favor of a migration path to their signature WPForms Lite. Either by remarkable coincidence or due to a wry sense of humor,  the scallywags at WPForms made the announcement on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

When a favorite plugin is lost at sea.

I find full-featured form plugins like the deservedly popular Contact Form 7 to be overly complex for my meager needs. I need just a simple contact form with no ‘advanced’ features to get in my way. Pirate Forms was perfect. To be fair, WPForms is also awesome. The final version of Pirate Forms includes a migration tool to make conversion to WPForms as painless as practical. And WPForms provides a very nice balance between powerful features and ease of use – kinda halfway in between Pirate Forms and Contact Form 7. But WPForms includes one mildly annoying characteristic that I just could not get past – a hideously ugly lime green background on the confirmation message.

OK, “hideously ugly” is overstating it, but it does not fit well with the look of my sites. It should be a relatively straightforward matter to change the look of the confirmation message with a bit of custom CSS. But no matter what I tried, I could not get it to work. In desperation I finally edited the plugin CSS directly – an obviously bad practice that I will likely have to re-do every time the plugin is updated. But, like I said, I could not live with the lime green.

Ah, much better.

WP is not ready for CSP

A Content Security Policy (CSP) relies on code headers to help prevent cross site scripting and other malware, providing a great addition to a layered security approach. I think of it as a reverse firewall. It tells browsers exactly what content should be accepted from my site. All other content – malware for example – should be rejected. So, it doesn’t protect my site. But if my site gets infected, it can prevent the infection from spreading.

WP is not ready for CSP

A correct CSP is a really good thing, adding to interweb safety. So, why do almost no websites – something incredibly small like 1% of 1% – have a CSP? Partly because it is not very well known yet, but also because it is really complicated to create a correct one. It is much more likely that I will screw up my WP site and deliver false errors to my visitors than it is that my CSP will work properly.

If I create a flat HTML website, and code it myself, so I know the code really well, inside and out, I have a good chance of being able to create a correct CSP. But WP, like any content management system, intentionally obfuscates the code details. Themes and plugins – unless I spend many hours to really study and understand the code – are black boxes by design.

The WP Content Security Policy plugin is an ambitious attempt to solve the challenges of implementing CSP on WP. It is really cool. I tried it out and wanted very much to love it. It resolves the problem of code obfuscation by letting me create a bare-bones CSP then add to it over time. It logs CSP errors so that I can examine them and tweak my CSP to eliminate the false errors.

The problem? The plugin relies on the WP REST API to log CSP errors. I use the excellent Disable WP REST API plugin by Jeff Starr of Perishable Press to substantially reduce hacker attack vectors that the REST API opens. I have to choose between no-CSP security risks vs. REST API security risks. I choose to leave REST API disabled, and forgo – for now – the benefits of CSP.

 

Facebook Post Optimization

Once in a while I get lucky and someone will ‘like’ or ‘share’ my site on Facebook. By default, the FB post can look crappy, unlikely to drive much if any traffic my way. FB makes guesses about the title and description, and crops an image from my post or page to fit the space allocated on the post – not exactly the best Facebook post optimization.

A crappy-looking Facebook post

But, I can use Open Graph meta tags to tell FB exactly how to display the post. The Yoast SEO plugin makes it easy. I edit the applicable page or post, scroll down the page to the Yoast SEO section, and click the Social Media icon.

Facebook SEO

I immediately get a pop-up nag: “Do you want to preview what it will look like if people share this post on Facebook? You can, with Yoast SEO Premium.” It turns out I can save $80 by using the free Facebook Sharing Debugger instead. I ignore the nag.

Now I can type in the exact Title and Description I want, and upload my preferred Image. The recommended image size is 1200 x 630 pixels, but a similar ratio will also work, 600 x 315 or larger. Next, I visit the Facebook Sharing Debugger, enter the url and click Debug, then – a little further down the page – Scrape Again. I get a preview of the post that will appear on FB when my page is liked or shared. I also get another nag: “The following required properties are missing: fb:app_id”. This means that FB would like me to register my site and get a Facebook ‘application id’ – which is completely unnecessary for my purposes. I ignore that nag too.

I can repeat the whole process as needed until my post looks just the way I want.

That’s all there is to it.  A much more attractive post to improve my click rate.

The greatest keyboard of all time

Having worked in IT since the mid-1980s, I have seen tremendous advances in technology. Everything has progressed consistently for the better by leaps and bounds. CPUs, monitors, networks, pointing devices, on and on. Year-by-year, decade-by-decade, everything is faster, cheaper, brighter, more capacity, more bandwidth, better everything in every way.

With one exception. The greatest keyboard ever made was the IBM Model M, introduced in 1984. By ‘greatest’ I mean the best keyboard ever mass-produced for the common people, even included standard with off-the-shelf PCs. There are expensive gaming keyboards, hand-crafted artsy perfumed keyboards, keyboards specially made to excel at a certain something, that no doubt have their merits. But for a run-of-the-mill everyday office keyboard for regular people, the M rules and it ain’t even close. Since the M, keyboards have gotten progressively worse – flimsier and mushier – over time.

the greatest keyboard of all time

The greatest keyboard ever made

The M featured serious heft with a strong plastic frame and heavy steel backplate. As a colleague put it, “You could kill somebody with one of those”. The labels were virtually fade-proof – baked into the keys, not just applied to the surface. The M was so over-engineered and well-made it would literally outlast decades of constant use – many are still in use among fellow enthusiasts.

But the best feature – the defining feature – of the Model M was the buckling spring keyswitch. The M provided unique tactical and auditory feedback – I would unmistakably hear and feel every single key press. It was an absolute joy to type on. Like the rest of the keyboard, the keyswitches were designed to never wear out.

Over the years the M was offered in various flavors. My favorite was the M-122, a massive barge of a keyboard with a whopping 122 keys.

,

A massive barge of a keyboard

IBM eventually bowed out of the PC business, and stopped making the Model M in 1991. Fortunately Lexmark, followed by Unicomp, produced clones of the iconic keyboard. Still today I can buy a Unicomp clone of the Model M – and I did, when I finally could no longer stand the flimsy mushy keyboards provided on today’s PCs. I got the 122, even though no one even remembers what some of the keys were for. My M clone does not have the heft or cosmetic manufacturing care of the original. I would be hard pressed to kill someone with it, but that was not in my plans anyway. The case has a blemish and rough spot or two. But the awesome keyswitch technology is identical to the original. Finally, after many years, keyboard typing is a joy again.

My Unicomp Model-M Clone

Just a warning though – by today’s standards the Unicomp is loud. We didn’t really notice back in the 1980s because we weren’t far removed from ubiquitous office typewriter noise – the M was actually an improvement. Today – if you are in a library or quiet cubicle environment – you will be noticed – click-click-click-click …

Is Gutenberg the beginning of the end of WP?

Is Gutenberg the WP Waterloo? An editor too far? The doomed charge of the CMS brigade?

Is Gutenberg the beginning of the end of WP
The Battle of Waterloo by Clément-Auguste Andrieux

Ah, no. At least I don’t think so, although there is a lot of speculation about it. Moving Gutenberg into WP core is an inexplicable misstep by the WP People in Charge (PIC), an arrogant act of incompetence, an imposition of the unwanted on the unwilling by the unaccountable. But it’s not like WP PIC haven’t stepped on their dicks before and recovered from it.

As I relate in another post, I have test driven Gutenberg and – despite its still-persistent bugs – I don’t hate it. It works about as well for me as the classic TinyMCE. What I do hate is the arrogant, despotic tyranny of forcing it on a community of loyal users who overwhelmingly do not want it. But will this kill WP?

Again, I don’t think so. The PIC – reluctantly, I imagine – provided a reasonably easy way to stick with TinyMCE and evade Gutenberg, at least for the time being. Also, WP is way too popular, way too excellent in very many ways, and generally well-maintained and supported by the usually-awesome PIC, to slip into permanent decline over this kerfuffle.

What would I do – switch to Joomla? I would have to change the name of this blog to JoomlaPOV, and that’s not even alliterative.

My Creative Commons Quibble

I have no major beef with Creative Commons. To the best of my knowledge those that make their works available through CC are good, well-meaning people. I have used a few CC images and I am grateful for them. I do have a Creative Commons quibble though …

My Creative Commons Quibble‘Correct’ attribution: Copyright vs. Creative Commons by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

From the official CC FAQ:

What is Creative Commons and what do you do?
Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. Our legal tools help those who want to encourage reuse of their works by offering them for use under generous, standardized terms; those who want to make creative uses of works; and those who want to benefit from this symbiosis. Our vision is to help others realize the full potential of the internet.

It sounds very altruistic. But wait – there has long existed a legal tool to enable “sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge”. It’s called public domain, and it works really well. If I legitimately want to share my creative works, I can simply release them into the public domain, and CC is pointless. So, there has got to be more to it than that. And there is. I sincerely believe that CC is partly about sharing, but also very much about control, restrictions, and placing in legal jeopardy anyone who takes CC at their noble, misleading words without very carefully reading and following every aspect of the fine print.

‘Incorrect’ attribution, that places me in legal jeopardy: Image by Bryan Mathers, CC by ND

For a time, for a mere $50, I could even get a “I Love to Share” CC t-shirt. Apparently CC loves to share too, but only after I donate $50. Make no mistake, CC does some good stuff, and I am better off with them than without them. It’s just … I have never been a fan of arrogance and hypocrisy.

Pop-Ups are Depraved

There is a very special place in hell reserved for those who subject their website visitors to pop-ups. It is below the level of serial killers and just slightly above the level reserved for Hillary Clinton. Pop-ups are so viciously, fundamentally evil it would not surprise me to learn that Hillary herself invented them, perhaps with assistance from Internet-inventor and billionaire climate alarmist Al Gore.

 

This includes pop-overs, pop-unders, pop-sideways, pop-anything, and most especially the ubiquitous crutch of the incompetent, the ultra-evil exit intent pop-up.

Why in the world would anyone torture their visitors with this sort of obnoxious nonsense?

Update: This condemnation most definitely includes the newly-pervasive cookie consent pop-ups that now swamp the Interwebs.

Curse you GDPR tyrants!

Images, Copyrights, and the Pixabay Plugin

Choosing images to use in my pages and posts can be a minefield. How do I steer clear of unintentional copyright infringement? I could pay for commercial images from a reputable supplier, but that would violate my guiding principal of not paying for web stuff when at all practical. My preference is to always use images that are verifiably public domain. When I can’t find or create an applicable public domain image I resort reluctantly to Creative Commons, though I cringe at the hypocritical requirements and restrictions.

When it comes to public domain, the ‘verfiably’ part can be tricky. Google can tell me that an image is “Labeled for reuse with modification”, but is it labeled correctly, and by whom? Tracing a specific image back to its source can be difficult to impossible. So, I don’t trust a blanket Google search.

I decided to trust Wikimedia – they seem to do their homework pretty thoroughly. I also sometimes search Gutenberg to find images published before 1923 – the current cutoff date for copyright protection in the United States. And I use a lot of public domain font characters (e.g. webdings) that I enlarge to image size.

Recently I stumbled onto the Pixabay Images plugin. The plugin has been around for awhile, and Pixabay has been around much longer, so not sure why it took me so long. As best I can tell, the people at Pixabay do their homework thoroughly too. The plugin takes most of the drudgery out of finding and using public domain images. It is a huge time-saver, and is my new first choice when I need an image.

WP Accessibility

WP AccessibilityAn interest of mine, in addition to WP, is document accessibility. Over the years I’ve learned quite a bit about it, in particular relating to PDF files. My website on the topic is TaggedPDF.com. I know much less about web accessibility, just have never made it a focus of study since from an income perspective (another interest of mine) it seems to be well-covered by others. So, I got to wondering, how are my sites when it comes to WP accessibility?

It turns out WP does a pretty good job on accessibility. The WP core team has published an Accessibility Handbook that provides great information – if a bit more focused on generic html than specifically on WP issues. WP core is accessibility-ready, and the WP Themes directory includes an abundance of themes tagged as accessibility-ready, although my theme – Responsive Mobile – is not among them. There is even a WP Accessibility plugin, by Joe Dolson. I used the plugin for a while. It offers great features and I really wanted to love it, but my sites were glitchy with it installed. I don’t blame Joe, I think my theme or other plugins have some conflicts with it.

So, it should certainly be practical to make a reasonably accessible WP site. But how accessible are mine? After testing, I think not quite perfect but pretty good. Keyboard navigation seems to work fine. This site passes the WAVE accessibility checker from WebAIM with no errors – though the checker does offer some suggestions for improvements, i.e. ‘Alerts’. My results are not too much worse than those of WebAIM’s site, or Joe Dolson’s.

All that being said, if I were making a site that had to be fully compliant with WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines, I would use flat html, not WP or another CMS. I would probably use a text editor like NotePad++. It would be a visually hum-drum site, because I’m not very good at html, but I could control every aspect of the design.