Filed under: blogging

The Anomaly Report (non-crime post)

Okay, so the other day I wrote this and published it on my tumblelog, Random Lunatic News: “An idea.” In that post I said the following:

My idea is for a Tumblelog with a design similar to I am Neurotic, with an e-mail address and form for submissions from readers, but ask instead for stories of the strange. Not regurgitated urban legends, but family stories of the strange and unexplained: your granny’s tale of the lady in the hoopskirt; your grandpa’s encounter with the orange flying thing. Most families have these. Sometimes they are b.s. — but some families treasure these tales.

Well, dammit, I went ahead and did it: The Anomaly Report.

I won’t be writing the entries for that site — you will. I will be the site editor. The Anomaly Report will be a repository, a compendium of peoples’ spooky campfire stories, sleepover tales, family ghost stories, family mysteries. Like posts found on PostSecret or I am Neurotic, the contributions will be anonymous. A legal disclaimer will be placed on the site just to make that is clear.

Check out and spread it around, if you find it interesting. Use either the submission form or the e-mail I’ve set aside to use there; be assured if you use the latter your name and e-mail address will remain confidential.

Make your story as brief as possible, but make it fun. If it is truly spooky, make readers feel that.

I won’t pretend that every single submission will make it — especially if it gets popular (who knows if that will happen or not), but most will, especially at first. I’ll also vet submissions to see if they’re just variations on urban legends or cut & paste jobs from another site.

Readers of this blog need to know that this isn’t an alternative to anything else I write, and certainly not a replacement. It’s really not like blogging at all, especially since I will be more editor than writer. You can disregard it completely and stick to what you’re used to, if you like.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of spooky things may haunt you all. It should be fun.

TECH NOTE: Comments — BUMPED, REVISED, 12/17/07

NOTE, 12/17/07:

This has been bumped to the top of the blog’s index page because I discovered a reason to revert to the Haloscan system.

First, I know I risk sounding argumentative to some when I say that I had no problem with the functionality of Disqus comments. As a user I immediately grasped how they worked, found them easy to follow, and I loved several key features: threading replies to various comments; pagination; making a profile by which you could follow your own path commenting on this or any blog using the same system. As a user of the comments, I didn’t have a single problem, and here’s the argumentative part — I still don’t understand the commentators (a vocal minority) who seemed to lose their minds over the change. I kinda understood the complaints about points, but frankly not the intensity of the complaints.

As a blogger, as the person responsible for keeping this blog up-to-date and making it usable, I discovered today some key problems that did bother me — mainly, I went through three different templates, following the Disqus directions precisely on how to integrate the comments with the template, and Disqus didn’t show up, once. Why it integrated once with no problem and then wouldn’t integrate again, I don’t know — but Haloscan not only integrated fine, it re-attached all the previous Haloscan comments to their respective entries. I don’t like picking through code. I like things that have push-button functionality. When it comes to integrating a third-party commenting system with your blog, Haloscan appears to still have Disqus beat.

That said, I’m still using Disqus on my personal weblog, StevenHuff.net. Disqus integrates more readily with the WordPress publishing system than it does with Blogger — I was able to keep all my existing comments at Random Lunatic News, but all new comments on new posts there will be Disqus comments.

For a blog that seems to attract as active a community of commentators as this one does, I truly like the idea of making the comments resemble something like a message board or forum discussion. That means avatars, if people like them. It means threaded discussions. It makes visual sense to me, personally. “Flat” comments — one message stacked on top of another, the oldest at the top — are a little confusing to me when it comes to tracking responses between various posters. Confusing, and when you have threads 2155 comments long, incredibly hard to pick through — that’s why paginated comments are awesome.

Those of you who campaigned (in some cases, I feel, childishly) for the Disqus system to go may be pleased, but be advised — the moment it’s out of Beta, I’m checking it out again with this blog in mind.

I can only think of a few suggestions for Disqus at the moment, though I may add more:

— Allow the blogger to turn off the point system for their blog, if possible. In WordPress I once tried a point system for comments, and discovered that some people use them for their own nasty little purposes. A point system can be abused, and I guess I’ve got some readers or lurkers who aren’t above abusing it. Bloggers using Disqus should be allowed the option to have no points system at all. I understand why Disqus has it, after reviewing other sites, but it just won’t mesh well with some blog audiences. Didn’t with the folks who read this one, that’s for sure.

— Simplify the timestamp. Let it go ahead and just stamp the post time.

— I’d go all the way with the profiles. Allow more customization for that. It’s a clever idea that makes a ton of sense, and so far you all have done it better than Typekey. Let people really personalize those profiles.

— Make the photo upload and editing system for avatars easier. At the moment it isn’t as intuitive as some other Disqus features.

— I could be wrong, but commentators would love, love, love you if you found a way to put in a little WYSIWYG type control panel for posts, with format control buttons (b, i, blockquote, etc). I am certain that a lot of blog readers and commentators would really like the chance to format their posts with the click of a button. There are WordPress plugins for that, but as far as I know you can’t do it in Blogger, and if there’s anything Blogger weblogs need, it’s user-friendly comments. Disqus might get a leg up over Haloscan’s reliability if this were a feature.

Sorry if that’s all been asked & answered.

For the reader’s reference, here is the Disqus True Crime Weblog link:

http://truecrimeweblog.disqus.com/

Since it is formatted like a type of message board, you may wish to continue discussing certain cases there. If you don’t want your discussion to be fragmented, and prefer it to stay attached to the blog entry that sparked it, you may want to return to whatever thread you left.

I’ve already said this in a note on another entry, but my little “hiatus” will actually begin tomorrow.

Those of you who were patient with the change in comments, even liked it — thank you. If you really liked it, you can use it at my personal weblog, should you ever read it (I get 10% the readership there that I do here). And it may be back here, once some of the administrator functions are improved.

*****

When I was a kid, a truism around my house was that if it was the weekend, then my mother was rearranging furniture. My mom’s restlessness or boredom came out that way — moving stuff around. It never bothered me, because on some level, I understood.

If you’ve followed any of my blogs for any length of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve had a bad habit in the past of playing with my blogs when I felt restless, or simply felt a need for some sort of change. I’ve also done it at many turns to make the blogs more reader-friendly. Blogging I did prior to using my real name was often anything but reader-friendly; I was the king of the super-ugly, almost unreadable template there for a while. Then I learned the joys of minimalism in blogging, and never looked back.

I did make a pact with myself when I settled on this domain and this blog — that I’d stop farting around so much with blog features, and establish a site that looked and acted the same way each time you visited. I’ve been doing pretty well on that score.

I’ve discovered a commenting system that integrates with Blogger (though it is a standalone URL, this is indeed a BlogSpot blog) that active commentators may find strongly appealing. However, before I decide to integrate the system with this blog, I need to point out a few things and get some input:

  • Comments you’ve made under the blogger/haloscan system currently in use would still exist; however, they’d no longer be linked to blog posts here. I’d have to provide you with direct links to the old comments. I’d be glad to do that for the most popular entries (Madeleine McCann discussions, the Michigan “thrill-kill” murder, etc.).
  • This system would be much, much more akin to a forum, or message board, even though it integrates into the blog. If you’ve ever left comments on a blog like DailyKos, you are familiar with threaded blog comments — they can make for a much more readable experience than the current system I use.
  • Input from readers: would you be amenable to a commenting system that resembles a forum, and allows for paged comments as well as threads marking out responses to other commentary?
  • The new comments would load faster, from what I’ve seen — an additional advantage, as it appears that haloscan sometimes slows the blog as a whole.

That’s all I can think of, but it should be enough to generate some discussion. Your feedback below is greatly appreciated.

Carnival of the True Crime Blogs #97

Let’s begin the 97th edition of the Carnival of the True Crime Blogs with the pros, and a fascinating post made October 8 at In Cold Blog, by author Ron Franscell. Ron asks a question in his post that surely has occurred to a good number of true crime writers, from beginning crime bloggers to pros with books on the bestsellers lists: “Natural or Nurtured? Are Sociopaths Born?

Next up are the guys at Crime Rant, commenting on the tragic mass-murder in tiny Crandon, WI: “Tyler Peterson: Wasted (Lives) in Wisconsin.

Here at the True Crime Weblog, I’ve done a follow-up on the shocking case of Missouri pedophile Michael Devlin and the young people he abused: “According to Michael Devlin, Michael Devlin is Guilty.

Crime, Interrupted has an unsettling story about an alleged female pedophile who sometimes calls herself “Pixiedust” (ew!): “Four Corners Creep of the Week: Michelle Tufts.

At CLEWS, The Historic True Crime Blog, leading true crime historian Laura James interviews a British true crime author who has written a book about one of the most fascinating serial killers of the 20th Century, Austrian-born Jack Unterweger: “CLEWS Interviews True Crime Author John Leake.

Finally, the ever-eclectic and interesting 1947 Project tells us about “Those Monkeys in City Hall” and the hapless owner of a simian who partied in the palm trees one day in downtown L.A. in 1927.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival of the True Crime Blogs — click away, and follow links from the other weblogs. You’ll find that True Crime online can become a scarily addictive pursuit, and the links above are just gateway “drugs.”

Here’s What I’m Gonna Do…

A while back I asked for opinions as to what to do with Huff’s Crime Blog and CrimeBlog.US. I’ve absorbed all the suggestions and made my decisions.

Huff’s Crime Blog will now be a crime blog devoted to historic true crime tales. That means there will be new entries. They won’t be daily, but hopefully weekly. The archived entries, which are extensive, will remain as is. New entries will be about famous crimes from the past. I have the inimitable Laura James of CLEWS to thank in part for inspiring my fascination with crime stories that might be lost in the folds of history. Larry Harnisch, Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak, who run the always-fascinating 1947 Project, also deserve a nod for their own fascinating take on historic crime stories.

CrimeBlog.US — I had a cadre of contributors. I’d like to continue in that vein. I am going to alter the template for CrimeBlog.US to make posting simpler. I love the template currently in use there, but in order for it to be aesthetically pleasing, I have to monkey with each entry, inserting a break where appropriate. I will change the blog to a template that doesn’t require me doing that. I am now soliciting two groups of people: the folks I already had on board; and new people who are interested in crime blogging but don’t necessarily want to make the commitment to building their own weblog. E-mail me (link on the right) to let me know if you’re interested. You may use a screen name, a pseudonym to post, but I need a brief bio and your real name if you wish to gain posting privileges. I will give you more details if you e-mail me.

With CrimeBlog.US I would like to have at least a core group of crime bloggers willing to post daily. Once I have this, I will submit that site again to Google News to be indexed, as they will index multi-author blogs. I will remain the editor of the site, and may post as the spirit moves me, but I am looking to shift the posting duties to others, for the most part. As an editor, I will also expect others to police themselves more closely than in the past, especially nuts and bolts issues like spelling, grammar, and the appropriate format for a hyperlink. (Many people know I have an obsessive compulsive’s irritation with long URLs that blow the margins of a blog template.) Please remember that I do get enough traffic still that if you are a new blogger and want to drive new readers to your own work, posting at CrimeBlog.US may be a way to encourage that. I fully expect you to cross-post and promote your own blog, if you have one. A few group-authored weblogs have prohibitions on cross-posting or self-promotion, but I’ve never felt that way.

This weblog will be my current true crime blog, updated daily, much of the time. Here is where I will blog about breaking news on a crime story, anything that’s happening now. All the folks who have written me to express how much they like the format of this blog, it’s cleanliness and simplicity, have only confirmed feelings I already had. I know that Blogger has problems from time to time, but the fact is, I can handle any large influx of traffic on this weblog, and my other blogs often cannot handle huge traffic spikes. Frankly, I can get things done faster here, if the timing of a post is important — I do like to try and be the first online with some things. A lot of people think it is counter-intuitive to have standalone blogs with their own URLs and make your most active weblog be a blog*spot address — I simply disagree. That’s blogger snobbery. The traffic to this blog has been consistently higher on a day-to-day basis than any other weblog I’ve run, and that tells me a lot.

My decisions have taken some burdens off me, in spite of what it may look like. If I can have enough bloggers posting to CrimeBlog.US, that will not be a huge time-crunch. Historic true crime is not the sort of thing a lot of people are trying to find on the web, still, so I have the luxury of being able to take days off from posting at Huff’s Crime Blog. The only blogs I will view as daily duties (for lack of a better word) will be this one and my personal weblog, Huff’s Blog.

I made a conscious decision about my personal weblog, too — while it will still basically be about whatever I want it to be about, I’ve decided to steer it in a more “newsy” direction. By that I mean any stories in the news that catch my interest outside of crime. That can be politics, entertainment, you name it.

Thank you for all your thoughts and suggestions, and as always, I thank you for reading, no matter what site you like best.