July was a month of big changes and new milestones at The New Leaf Journal. I made several significant changes behind the scenes to improve the site’s security and speed. In the foreground, Victor and I published a number of new articles and the site saw more significantly more visitors than in any previous month other than March – which had a spike driven by Hacker News. In this article, I will go over some of our notable content from July 2021, our changes to the site, and what you can look forward to in August.
This is our 22nd and final article of July 2021. I recommend reading all of our July 2021 content, but for this survey, I will select five pieces from the month that was that deserve special attention.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 2, 2021.
I published several Independence Day-themed articles in the lead-up to July 4, 2021. The highlight of the bunch was my piece on then-President Calvin Coolidge’s July 4, 1926 address commemorating the 150th Independence Day.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 12, 2021.
The most taxing project I completed in July was my survey of the poetic works of Charlotte Becker. Becker was a poet and writer from Buffalo who lived from 1873-1946. Most of her poetry was published in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Through careful research, I found and reprinted 34 of Becker’s more-than 300 poems in a long article.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 16, 2021.
I do not always know where my search for new material will take me. In June we examined old Kodak cameras. In the case of this article, an ad in an 1895 children’s magazine led me to research the late nineteenth century Fairy Tricycle. I was able to learn a bit about it, and I reported my findings in this article.
Victor V. Gurbo. July 19, 2021.
Our resident Bob Dylan historian, Victor V. Gurbo, published his detailed thoughts on Bob Dylan’s first-ever streamed concert event, Shadow Kingdom. Inspired by the success that his review found online, Victor soon followed this article with an argument in favor of Bob Dylan’s singing ability.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 20, 2021.
Our fictional dialogue duo, Justin and Justina, returned for their second dialogue of the month (see their first). In this article, Justin explains to Justina that all hope is lost for someone who uses the phrase “pie chart” in ordinary conversation. In order to make his point, he uses the example of a “pizza chart” and encourages Justina to think outside the box.
We debuted the concept of the “Month in Review” article in August 2020. Thus, July 2020 was the last month to not receive a Month in Review post. That seems a bit unfair to July 2020, so I will correct the oversight here.
We spent July recovering from some homepage caching issues that we had in June 2020. Finally clear, we were able to focus on publishing content and improving the site. The most notable site-related change in July 2020 was my replacing Google Analytics with the privacy-friendly Koko Analytics, the view-tracking solution that we still use today. We also started our official newsletter, The Newsletter Leaf Journal, in mid-July 2020.
Victor and I found time to publish 20 articles in July 2020. While I encourage you to see our entire collection of posts, I will select five to list here that warrant special mention.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 2, 2020.
Two days before the 2020 Independence Day, I published an article on how Benjamin Harrison spent his Independence Day in 1888. His day began when representatives of the Republican National Convention visited him at his home in Indianapolis to notify him in ceremonial fashion that he had been selected as the party’s nominee for president. It concluded with Harrison welcoming the Tippecanoe Club, a group of veterans who had served under his grandfather in the military and supported his grandfather’s successful presidential run in 1840, before lending their aid to Benjamin Harrison himself. As we now know, Harrison would be elected as the 23rd president of the United States four months later.
Victor V. Gurbo. July 6, 2020.
Victor V. Gurbo teamed with fellow Brooklyn musician Mark Caserta to record Lead Belly’s classic song, Goodnight, Irene. In addition to including the recording, Victor offered a brief history of the fascinating life of Lead Belly.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 14, 2020.
In the aftermath of the Turkish government’s nominally converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, I published an article about an account of the Hagia Sophia’s final day as an Orthodox Cathedral in Constantinople, wherein Emperor Constantine XI visited the church for the last time before dying with his men the following day in the defense of the Eastern Roman capital.
Observant Misanthrope. July 17, 2020.
Our only contributor piece to date, an article on Matt Damon’s showy move into Brooklyn Heights, a pretty and ordinarily quiet Brooklyn neighborhood.
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 25, 2020.
If I can learn from my video game errors, why can’t you? What is the best way to learn? Do it yourself! Or so I argued in my specious case for deliberately misleading video game strategy guides.
Below, you will find our ten most-read articles from July 2021, along with information about their change in ranking from the previous month (where applicable) and other basic information about each piece.
- “Reviewing Bob Dylan’s ‘Shadow Kingdom’ Stream” (NEW)
Victor V. Gurbo. July 19, 2021.
- “The Mystery of Sōseki and Tsuki ga Kirei” (Change -1)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. March 14, 2021.
- “Persona 4 Golden Digital Artbook Review (Steam)” (Change -1)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. November 15, 2020.
- “Stop Saying Bob Dylan Can’t Sing” (NEW)
Victor V. Gurbo. July 23, 2021.
- “Reviewing the HALOmask and är Mask” (Change +3)
Victor V. Gurbo. December 2, 2020.
- “Installing Ubuntu Touch on an Asus Nexus 7 (2013)” (NEW)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. July 5, 2021.
- “A 2021 List of Alternative Search Engines and Search Resources” (Change -4)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. June 12, 2021.
- “A Follow-Up Post on the Meaning of ‘Blob Dylan’” (Change -2)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. April 12, 2021.
- “An Early Review of Pixelfed – Instagram Alternative” (Change -5)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. November 13, 2020.
- “The Last Stand of Constantine XI” (Change -5)
Nicholas A. Ferrell. May 30, 2020.
Our top seven articles from June all returned to the top ten in July. They were joined by three newcomers. Victor’s Shadow Kingdom review took the top spot after being shared on a well-known Bob Dylan fan-site, and his essay on Bob Dylan’s singing ability surged into the top five after inciting much debate from Bob Dylan fans on Facebook. The final newcomer was my essay about installing Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus 7 from early July.
Although every returning article from June save for Victor’s mask review dropped slightly in the July rankings, all seven posts achieved more views than they did in June.
The competition tightens.
I made a number of significant changes to The New Leaf Journal in July 2021. Some of these changes are visible while others are happening behind the scenes. Most of the changes are for the better, although I am in the process of a partial re-design in the aftermath of an issue that we ran into with our series implementation. Below, I will detail the changes.
I changed how The New Leaf Journal optimizes scripts in a plugin swap. In so doing, I am now preventing scripts from loading on pages where they are not needed. That, combined with some changes to our server should improve how the site performs. My site speed tests have been positive. At this stage, we are still limited by our hosting plan, but I am confident that we are doing everything that we can to ensure a fast-loading site with those constraints in mind.
I changed how we implement HTTPS and HSTS headers and submitted The New Leaf Journal to the HSTS preload list. Beyond these moves, I am looking at a few additional options for improving site security.
Finally, I implemented very basic IndieWeb functionality for the site. My profile, as well as Victor’s, includes more links connecting our various online presences. For the time being, you can see all of these links by checking the page source of our author pages.
I changed how we handle our on-site Contact Form. Before, we were using a form solution that was a bit excessive for our very limited needs. I replaced it with a very simple and easy-to-use contact form.
I added several sub-categories to the site to better organize our content. If our daily view counts from July are any indication, it seems that people are having an easier time navigating The New Leaf Journal.
In the interest of streamlining the site, I eliminated the plugin that we had been using to show estimated reading time. There is actually a way to find estimated reading time in our page source information. I will highlight that in an early August article.
I also added social share buttons to the site. However, you will find that all of the buttons are for privacy-friendly services and bookmarking. We are nothing if not on brand.
Finally, I eliminated our Microposts feature. I enjoyed the microposts and will look for a long-term replacement for them, but we were using a very old and out-of-date plugin for the micropost experiment. I decided in restructuring the site that we should eliminate site features and functions that could run into issues with WordPress updates.
Yesterday (July 30, 2021), I noticed an issue with our series functionality. Individual series archive pages were not displaying correctly on our site. I thought that the issue might be an out-of-date plugin, but I ran into the same problem with a more-recently-updated series plugin.
This suggests that our series implementation-by-plugin was conflicting in some way with our theme (recently updated), WordPress core (also recently updated), or some combination of the two.
While I would have loved to get to the bottom of what was happening with our series archive pages, I simply do not have the time to go into granular detail to figure out why a specific plugin is disagreeing with our theme and/or WordPress core. Even if I was more knowledgeable about WordPress, that would be a project – and a long project on account of a plugin that may not be maintained indefinitely.
But series are important. They make it easy for readers to flow from one article in a series to a related article. That is, I do not want to abandon the series concept entirely.
So, what is the solution?
Tags are built into WordPress. We have no functionality issues with tags themselves or tag archive pages. The series plugins functionally used the tag system to implement article series. Instead of using a plugin which may conflict with one part of my site or another, I will implement series the old-fashioned way – with regular tags.
However, the tag structure was a mess. I had created many tags over time that were unnecessary or superfluous. Furthermore, many useful tags that I created recently were not attached to older articles to which they should have been.
My editing style tends to err on the side of “burn it down.” Since I am now going to use tags as a series plugin replacement, I figured that it is as good a time as any to start over. As of the writing of this article, I deleted all of our site’s tags and will go through our article and recreate tags, along with new series tags, expeditiously. After I complete the series, I will add relevant series links to all series members.
Finally, I will take the opportunity to finish my category re-organization project, specifically adding sub-categories to break up our excessively broad Musings category.
After I complete this project, I do not anticipate making any significant changes to how we use tags and categories for the duration of 2021.
While I am glad that I took care of (and will finish taking care of) some important site maintenance issues in 2021, I plan to spend more time focusing on content and a couple of additional projects in August. For that reason, I do not plan on making significant changes to the site beyond publishing the new tag structure and finalizing our categories.
Regarding content, I have a few pieces on the pipeline. Firstly, I will publish multiple entries in my Insani visual novel review project, which was entirely neglected in our busy July. I also have a few summer book and animation pieces to write – which I should prioritize before summer ends. I am sure that Victor will have some interesting guitar and Dylan content to follow up his busy July.
July was a big month at The New Leaf Journal in terms of new content, site improvements, and welcoming many new visitors. We hope to spend August building on the foundation and success of July as we move further into the latter half of 2021.
If you enjoy our content and have not done so already, consider signing up for our official newsletter, The Newsletter Leaf Journal. You can sign up via email or RSS feed. We send newsletters every Saturday. Each newsletter includes links articles from the previous week along with one article from our archive, interesting articles from around the web, and some newsletter-specific content.