Yuli Ziv is the founder & CEO of Style Coalition, a network of independent online publishers in the fashion and lifestyle vertical, based in NYC. She blogs on social media, entrepreneurship and tech at YuliZiv.com. Follow her on Twitter @yuliz.
No matter how much we open up on the web, creating new connections online can be intimidating. Just as not everyone can start a conversation with a stranger at the bar, not everyone can comfortably start conversations in social media. Luckily, there are hundreds of online services and apps popping up, trying to solve our social awkwardness and help us discover new connections in new ways. These tools allow even the introverts among us to communicate, find friends, business partners and, yes, dates.
One thing is most definite, online networks will continue to help us connect in more effective ways, collaborating with and inspiring each other. It can be as simple as connecting two “Mad Men” fans via Miso, or as large as organizing a global movement through CauseCast. The more we get used to the idea of creating new online connections and willing to try new ways to do so, the more chances we have in finding those that will turn to be meaningful.
Below, we’ve taken a look at at the five ways we connect using social media. From tags on Twitter, to locations on Foursquare, to algorithmic systems; each of these trends is helping us build meaningful relationships.
1. Connecting Via Tagging
Tags existed for many years on blogs and websites. Twitter and its hashtags redefined the way we think of “tags.” No longer add-ons to posted content, tags could actually organize and build communities. For example, during New York Fashion Week I met most of my business and personal contacts by using the hashtag, #NYFW. Although all of us attended Fashion Week before, none of us ever connected, simply because there was no easy way to connect us. Hashtags have changed that.
New York-based Hot Potato, dubbed by the Business Insider as the next Twitter, took tagging to a new level, categorizing them by interests. The app helps people connect based on categories like music, books, food, or simply what’s on their mind. The neat part about the tool is that you can not only share the activities, but create meaningful, real-time conversations around them. While the trend hasn’t spread beyond the early adopters’ crowd yet, recent rumors about Facebook acquiring Hot Potato might help bring it to the masses by integrating some of the features into the existing Facebook platform.
2. Connecting Via Niche Content Sharing
Just like with tagging, sharing actual content attracts people that are interested in what you have to say and share. These connections become especially valuable when they revolve around specific niches where communities and connections can flourish.
Foodspotting is a content sharing site for foodies where users can post photos of their favorite dishes. In the fashion space, GoTryItOn helps users connect to a global community of people willing to asses your outfit. Try on an outfit, post a picture, and the crowd will respond with (hopefully) helpful, honest advice. Another niche community, Dribbble, is great for designers looking to share and give feedback on new projects. Users can post snippets and previews of their work, comment on other projects, or even follow specific users with designs they like.
3. Connecting Via Activities
People have been using the Internet to organize offline activities since its first days, but some sites – old and new – make the experience so much easier and less intimidating, especially when you are looking for new connections.
The oldest among them, Meetup.com, has been facilitating local connections among people who share the same interests for almost a decade now. With its 250,000 meetup events happening across the globe every month, it connects more than 7 million members based on mutual interests. While it’s not the only site to offer these services, they have a friendly and effective user interface that makes the process easier.
Another New York startup that focuses on activities rather than on people doing them is the newly launchedHowAboutWe, which completely redefines Dating 3.0 etiquette. People are matched based on the activities they propose for a date, rather than on their self-indulgent dating profiles. Its success only 3 months after launch is proof that there are lots of opportunities for innovative business models to be found in connecting people in new ways.
Plancast is a site that allows its users to share plans in advance. It’s been getting a great buzz among the early adopters and has some potential to change the real-time check-ins trend: Users intentionally broadcast their plans, meaning meetups are more scheduled and less happenstance. Here again, new connections can be created in advance, around events and activities, making an in-person meeting much less intimidating.
4. Connecting Via Locations
Location-based social networks have had some real buzz over the past 18 months. One reason for this trend is that our phones are finally powerful and fast enough to recognize and analyze local data. As with activities, it’s much easier to create connections when there is a common point of interest, like a neighborhood bar or favorite store. While location leaders like Foursquare don’t explicitly encourage new connections (yet), there are plenty of services that fill the void.
Yelp has been following this trend for years by creating a social network around places (mostly restaurants). With 33 million monthly unique visitors in June 2010 and more than 12 million local reviews, it’s the largest social network connecting people specifically around locations. Although the site’s major focus is user reviews, some of the “elite” members have developed a strong following of fans, and conversations are encouraged.
CitySense brings an interesting development to location networks by answering the question, “Where is everybody going right now?” The app, billed as a real-time night-life discovery and social navigation tool, is still in the process of adding more personalized options aimed at better creating those hard-to-find meaningful online relationships.
In the location dating space, one of the newest examples is meetMoi, a dating app that updates your location in real-time as you move around. At any moment, meetMoi searches for compatible matches near your actual location and sends you an alert when it finds a match. From there you have few options – wink, instant message or, if you are brave enough, meet instantly.
5. Connecting Via Algorithms
This trend combines the real potential of “Web 3.0″ by using semantic web and sophisticated algorithms to connect like-minded individuals. Hunch is the most buzzed about site, using collective decision trees to make choices based on users’ interests. Although the site has proven effective for some users, personal testing returned many incorrect assumptions on my personal taste.
Another, similarly titled, service is Lunch. It is based around recommendations and reviews by like-minded people. They even include shopping suggestions, which range from spot-on niche finds to super-obvious stereotypes like the suggestion that I might like a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes.
These automatic services still seem to be in their early stages and therefore not yet totally effective at creating real connections. As their algorithms become more sophisticated, however, they might yet redefine online discovery and help users create new meaningful connections with like-minded people.
When you’re not prepared for lots of traffic, it’s common for a web host to suspend your account temporarily, and that’s something you don’t want. If your writing is decent and you’ve been doing some minimal promotion, then it could happen to you. Think positively and prepare your blog as though it’s going to be a huge success. To do that, here is a tutorial on how to speed up your WordPress site.
Note: As always, with everything, you should backup your WordPress installation before making any code changes.
Utilize WordPress Object Cache
By inserting this simple code into your wp-config.php file, you can set WordPress to begin caching database queries rather than initiating new server requests on each load. You don’t have to understand why this works, it just will.
1. // Enable the WordPress Object Cache:
2. define(ENABLE_CACHE, true);
Read more on this topic:
By reducing the number of queries, you’ll both increase the speed of your site, and reduce the server resources that are consumed each time you receive a visitor. As a result, you’ll find that it will make your web host much happier in the event of a huge traffic spike.
Utilize a caching plugin
The main plugin that meets this need is the WP Super Cache, which does exactly what it says. It caches posts and stores them as files on the server so that repeated requests are dealt with faster and with fewer resources. The plugin will automatically update as comments are added so the dynamic nature of the blog isn’t lost.
Another option, which is used right here on Mashable, is W3 Total Cache. It’s a plugin that promises 10 times the speed of your site without it.
2. Choose the Right Host
There are several web hosts that are optimized to run WordPress. And while WordPress is not that picky, it does have a set of ideal server settings. Most web hosts meet the basic requirements, but you can find more information about what’s necessary here.
Choosing the right host means more that just buying storage space. Many discount hosts will try to fool you with promises of massive server space at a cheap price because they know you will likely never use the promised enormous allotment. You should really be aware of:
- Processor speed/type
- Databases allowed
- Domains allowed
- Which versions of PHP, MySQL, etc. are installed
Look for hosts that have more of a commitment to WordPress as a CMS and blogging platform and not just a mention at the bottom of their features list. Another solid resource is the WordPress hosting page.
Also, though most shared hosts will likely be running Apache, keep in mind that WordPress can also run onNGINX, which can increase your server’s speed by changing the structure of the server requests. NGINX powers massive websites like Hulu, SourceForge and WordPress itself.
If these big boys choose NGINX, you know it delivers.
3. Prune Your Plugins
Take a look at your plugin list and remove the inactive ones. Then remove the any actives ones that you don’t actually use; they are likely to place a strain on your serve resources because WordPress loads all plugins when a page loads.
Make sure you’re always running the latest stable release of both WordPress and your plugins. Many older WordPress plugins are not efficient and will weigh your blog down.
WordPress 3.0 comes with a revamped plugin update feature, allowing you to update plugins faster, smoother and easier. It also offers a bulk update feature that is completely new to WordPress, so there’s no excuse for letting your plugin versions expire.
4. Choose the Right Theme
Themes can make or break a WordPress installation. Go for something stylish but simple. It’s important to understand that fewer images will equals less loading time, which means a speedier site. Choose themes with the fewest possible images and a CSS-based design. Themes with tables, frames and static HTML will be slower than those based on the latest technologies. You might want to choose a minimalist theme and modify it to suit your needs.
There are many resources for minimalist themes, including this one Six Revisions and this one at Tripwire Magazine. Don’t just take the theme’s simplicity as a sign of load speed, though; check the actual speed using something like YSlow or Pingdom’s Page Test.
5. Compress Images
While a clean page means speed, you have to balance that with the fact that strong supporting images are key to a successful blog. But there is no reason to sacrifice speed for quality. By ensuring your images are appropriately formatted and compressed, you can help increase your blog’s speed.
The easiest way to remember formatting is like this:
Images that use only a few colors should be saved as .GIF or .PNG files, and images that use a full spectrum of colors (like true photographs) should be saved as .JPG files. If you use photo editing software, like Photoshop, you can “save for the web,” which will find the best format to save, while still maintaining quality.
Next you should resize images to the smallest possible size to get the job done. When doing so, the color format should be RGB, as indexed images don’t scale well.
When saving, set the total color amount to the smallest value possible without sacrificing quality. A combination of these steps will greatly decrease your image size and therefore your server response time. You should play around a bit to find the right format and experiment when uploading to determine which settings produce the smallest, high-quality image.
6. Compress Your Code
Stylesheets are easy to compress, just use your favorite text editor to delete comments and unnecessary spaces and line breaks. Although you won’t see a drastic difference unless your style sheets involve tens of thousands of lines.
Use CSS Sprites
7. Keep It Local
Don’t rely on other people’s servers to be fast, so minimize any widgets, badges or applications that run off other locations. If possible, try to self-host all images and code, such as your analytics. That said, if you’re posting videos use a service that is built for such a load, like YouTube or Vimeo.
But if you are expecting (or receiving) lots of traffic, you may want to look at paying for a dedicated server and not trying to host all your projects in that one place alone. A lot of people don’t realize that the geographical distance from a server actually matters. If the vast majority of your traffic comes from a specific country or region, consider locating your hosting close by.
8. Reduce PHP and HTTP Calls
Websites were once built statically, meaning that each page was hand-coded and built from the bottom up. Now, most websites are generated dynamically each time a visitor loads the page, which allows for each experience to be custom designed for each person, making for a richer browsing experience.
In order to accomplish this, many websites use PHP, a scripting language that allows you to reference remote content based on criteria set by the developer. For example, a site might use PHP to determine that this is a first-time visit, and the site may then use this information to generate a welcome message.
Each time one of these PHP “calls” is made, a request is made to the server hosting the website, which takes time (usually milliseconds). This time is called “latency,” and some websites have thousands of calls each time the site is loaded, which can translate to millions per day depending on traffic.
Wherever possible, scan your site for PHP requests and replace with static HTML. By doing this, the browser will simply read the HTML as opposed to asking the server what it should display. Here is an example of a slow and fast way to produce the same result:
<?php bloginfo(name); ?><?php bloginfo(description); ?>
<title>Mashable - The Social Media Guide</title>
There’s more you can do to minimize PHP calls. This tutorial will help you cut down the PHP calls that occur in the typical WordPress header. You can also reduce PHP calls by eliminating any logging that might be happening; some advanced plugins offer an option to track plugin activity with a log, which can significantly slow down your WordPress site.
9. Keep Your Code Clean
You can validate your code using the W3C Validator. It might seem snobby to have “standards” on the web, but the truth is, there are standards for a reason. If everyone met the standards, browsers would always know how to display the information they’re given. Use the tool at W3C to validate your code and fix any errors. This can be a painstakingly long process but it’s well worth the end result.
Coding errors will slow your load time, especially if images that are referenced but don’t exist. Use a bug tool like Firebug to identify coding errors and fix them.
10. Database optimization
Using a database administration interface like phpMyAdmin, you can select all tables and click “Repair” and “Optimize,” and scan for outdated tables that weren’t deleted when you removed old plugins.
This plugin will take care of the database optimization while letting you stay out of the database itself. While this other plugin offers automatic optimization which may be better for the hands-off blog author.
11. Adjust Your WordPress Settings
Go easy on the front page
There’s no reason to show 100 posts on the front page, and really, you don’t even need to display the full post content on the front page. You can adjust this setting in the WordPress Dashboard under the Settings > Reading panel.
Turn off inter-blog communication
By default, WordPress interacts with other blogs that are equipped with pingbacks and trackbacks. Every time another blog mentions you, it notifies your site, which in turn updates data on the post. Turning this off will not destroy links to your site, just the setting that generates a lot of work for your site. For more detail, read this explanation of WordPress Pingbacks, Trackbacks and Linkbacks.