Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Animation prototype

Animation is probably the single thing we have been asked for most in this toolset. As it required making changes to the server it has taken time to accomplish.

Two basic prototypes are now available, which generate animated banner images for a single book or an author banner featuring several titles.

Animated banner generator

Any feedback would be welcome.

Monday, 7 May 2012

April Figures and an update

We are looking at migrating this blog to the SmashingReads website and allowing users to sign up for email updates when there is a new post.

Meanwhile here are the figures so far:

Jan 2012551803,146
Feb 20124607566,394
Mar 20125,3859,23162,702
Apr 20126,69610,59660,148

Uniques: Unique visitors not returning in 30 days.
Visits: All visitors.
Widgets: Widgets served.
These figures exclude bots.

The bandwidth cost has also gone up significantly. Back in January it was 12MBs, but not only are more widgets being served, but complex ones like the e-reader and store (which are becoming more popular) use more bandwidth. For the moment, we are covering the extra by adding Project Wonderful ads to the site.

In terms of widget progress, we now have animation support installed. It will take time to develop widgets that use it, but animated banners and buttons are in the works. If there is something you would like to see let us know.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Widget migration and (over)use

Most of the widgets are now migrated. We've still had over 1,000 hits on the old widgets, but most traffic went to smashingreads:

62,000 widgets served in March
12,000 in April
200 unique entries currently active (hit once or more within 24 hours) in the cache.

And not a small amount of bandwidth consumed.

This is going to be a problem. The widgets were built by a group of volunteers before christmas as a nice-to-have (and because with Amazon Select available, we thought Smashwords authors like us should get something). We're not honestly sure where to go from here.

The referral links are providing about $1 per month and the bandwidth cost is at least five times that at current levels. If we expanded the widget set to include the animation options which people ask for frequently, it would involve a server upgrade and push up costs further.

Suggestions or ideas would be welcome, since we seem to be in a bit of a corner.

We actually expected a couple of hundred a month, if that - not 62,000...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Minisite update

The Minisite books page now has working lookup links to Diesel and Amazon.

There are also links for print and audiobook, which currently go back to the Smashwords page (as print and audio books can belinked from the book page there). These are still in early stages but it does expand visitors' purchase options slightly.

The author search for Diesel is harder to implement due to the way they format author names, so Diesel links on the author and all books pages will take longer to be added.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Javascript Widget and a general update

The first reminders to migrate widgets went out last week. This is a quick reminder that the old widgets will be turned off at the end of March, so please make sure you have switched by then.

In other news, we may have a way around the problem of the speed of the Java plugin, which is currently being worked on by the Java coder. The reader may be possible after all, but it's in early stages yet.

The Single Book Javascript Widget is also back. We were going to discontinue this, as confusion between Javascript and iframes by some users caused problems. However several more technical users were integrating it with their sites effectively and producing fully tailored versions. Hopefully with the labels "Advanced" and "HTML knowledge required", this will prevent the issues.

Finally, we are running out of ideas now. Animation is still not possible given the technical restrictions, but other than that if you have any ideas or widgets you'd like please let us know.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Maintenance work, and a deadline.

Most of the work this week has been under the hood.

After discovering that some search engines were linking directly to widgets, we have added a holding page that automatically embeds a widget when a widget is hit directly and not through the site it was embedded in.

Robots.txt has also been improved on the new site, to improve search results.

Finally there are now 301 redirects (effectively permanent redirects to the equivalent new page) on many of the old site's pages. We can't redirect the whole site yet since it would break all the old widgets.

And as a deadline, at the end of March the old widgets will be turned off, so please make sure you have switched to the new ones before then. Any widget with http://www.raggedangel.net/smashwords-tools in it is an old version, the new ones all have http://www.smashingreads.com.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Tools in Development

With the move complete, there are a few more tools we are working on:

The Minisite
- Add the inPrint, AudioBook and Amazon links.
- create a publisher's version

The Java reader
- this is very nearly complete. The major problem is the speed of the Java plugin itself.

The Banner Suite
- creates a set of static image banners for a book, in the standard sizes from Skyscraper to Button.

We may have ways round the animation issue, but those are going to take work, and may be a month or so in development.

We are also looking at ways to expand the singlebook feed to include things like the ebook formats it is available in.

It is possible to provide a fully Atom-formatted feed of books for authors/publishers, but this does mean omitting a lot of data in the current feed. If anyone wants one of these, let me know.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Migration part two

The old site is now set up to redirect casual traffic to the new website. It is still accessable on request, so email us if there is something you need from it.

We are trying to make sure that everyone knows about the move, because there are surprising numbers of users still on the old widgets.

Announcements have gone out on Kindleboards, Smashwords and AbsoluteWrite. There was a small problem with AbsoluteWrite: the message was redirected to an old message that gave the address of the widgets which are being discontinued and didn't mention the site move. I've updated the older message as far as I can, and apologise for any confusion.

We are giving it one more week and then sending emails to sites we find using the old widgets. Four weeks after that, the old widgets will be turned off. Because of the functional changes made for the new engine, redirecting the widgets themselves is not possible - the data is not the same and errors would occur.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Migrating your widgets

As the new website is live and stable, I am currently running through this blog correcting links to Smashingreads, rather than leaving them pointing to the old server.

If you are using the old widgets, please start replacing them with the new ones. The new versions have better character encoding handling, server side caching so they are more robust, and are faster. In a few cases there is also additional functionality.

We will be dropping notes to everyone we know about who is using the widgets, as well as announcements on the boards where we mentioned them.

One change I will mention: if you have not used the widget before, if Smashwords is down or can't provide the feed you may see an "Under Maintenance" message, instead of the previous blank feed.

This only occurs the first time because there is no cache for the system to fall back on. The system will continue trying to create the feed in the background, so try again in a few minutes. Once the widget is set up, if Smashwords goes down it will serve the cached version, meaning that images will still display and the widgets with third party links can still make sales on other sites.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Usage Figures

It is about a month since I pulled the last figures and the site move makes it a good day to get the figures from 01 Feb to yesterday (20th Feb). These figures are pulled from the server stats.

Author RSS20,147
Single Book16,203

Top Tools
ToolsViewsClickouts*Clickout %
Multibook Rotator15,5863,86824.8%
Book Button (light)9,686
Single Book widget (Javascript)2,55687234%
Advanced single book widget1,29726620%
Book Spotlight1,163
Fan Button 1929

*We can't track clickouts for images (or any widget that doesn't pass visitors through the server), so there are gaps.

We upgraded the store twice during the period, making it difficult to work out the rates, but combined across all versions we had 800 hits and 111 clickouts in that period, giving a 13.8% clickout rate.

What we can't tell is whether the users who click through it then eventually buy or download the book. However they do seem to be good at drawing readers' interest.

Stand alone Mini-site

Status: Prototype
Method: Stand Alone website
Type: Author Website
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/int_minisite.php

The first widget solely on the new site, the minisite is a standalone website for Smashwords authors. It is designed for authors who need a quick website or URL to hand out.

  • Purchase Links to third parties like Barnes and Noble.
  • Social Networking integration
  • Author and individual book pages

Because our host only permits family-friendly content, we may block any adult or explicit content. This also means this URL may be useful for people writing children's books, or non-fiction, as a way around the problem mentioned here and here.

With third party buylinks, the widget directs buyers to sites where they already have accounts, making it easier to purchase the books. These minisites will work for publishers, but are optimised for authors so third party links may have odd effects.

What is still being worked on?
  • Adding Apple and Diesel links to the page. Both use a different API, making integration harder.
  • Amazon and alternate format links. With Amazon adding more countries to Kindle their region-seperation makes things difficult.

To create or view a minisite, enter
in the address bar of your browser.

You can see one running here:

Friday, 17 February 2012

Server-side caching

The current engines are now running with a temporary cache to smooth out any server outages or bandwidth slowdown.

On the new site, we're moving the engine to a full server-side cache. This provides a few advantages - it is faster, it means the widgets stay up if Smashwords can't be accessed or is running slowly, and it reduces processing power and bandwidth use. The downside? It will take at least ten minutes for changes to reflect in the widgets.

The new versions of the first few widgets are being tested on the site, but are not linked up for public availability yet. We aren't just copying them - we are also optimising the code, adding the cache etc, which all needs testing.

Once all the tools are tested, the SR site gets updated, we take the divert page down, and the Apache guru gets to work on redirecting the original widgets. Hopefully, this should be completed next week.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Caching the feeds

The RSS feeds may be somewhat flaky until the weekend. This is for two reasons. First, we keep losing connectivity to Smashwords, possibly as a fail over from yesterday.

Second, we're working on the second part of the engine improvement. The "Under Maintenance" message was the first part, and rolled as a prototype. The second is a server-side cache for the RSS that means that short-term outages will be smoothed out, and widgets will continue working through them.

This is more complex as we need to balance a user's desire for up-to-date data against the need to keep data available, make sure it cannot cache the maintenance page, and ensure changes to data get pushed through quickly if the publisher or author makes a change.

We're also moving servers at the same time, and our Apache whizz has a day job as well. Please bear with us.

ETA: An update - basic server caching has been turned on (remote access is very useful). The code is in testing against the live tools. Please let us know about any issues.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

New engine and website

The prototype engine has been live since yesterday and is running now.

Yesterday the prototype got something of a trial by fire: the Smashwords site was down due to an issue at their host. At one point it was returning random packets rather than a true error message, the DNS was broken and eventually the IP address changed. The random packet issue is why I put the test engine up, just in case of security issues, since any website using the widgets could be slowed considerably as the system tried to assemble the data.

Instead of switching back when Smashwords came back up, I knew Smashwords was back up when all the widgets started working again - before the IP change had rolled over to my own location and I could see their website.

We haven't had any reports of problems, so the new engine is staying live. If Smashwords goes down, or the feeds break, you should now get a message saying "Under Maintenance."

Regarding the website, there is a beta version of the new website. We're breaking the current content down to one widget per page where possible. The widgets themselves will also be migrating, although we won't be turning the old ones off yet. URL redirection should make this seamless for people with the older widgets, and users can simply switch when they update theirs.

Beta Website: http://www.smashingreads.com/index.php

Engine Update

This morning I worked on improving the error handling and failover of the feed engine, expecting to test it in prototype on the background when Smashwords did its routine maintenance.

Unfortunately Smashwords have a reported problem at their data center, and have been down for several hours. As a result we have been able to test the feed when it is down, but not when it is up.

The reason I was working on it was a delay in processing in some widgets if Smashwords goes down, which was being passed on to third party sites. As a result, I have put the prototype engine live, and will be switching it back into testing when Smashwords comes back up.

The problem now is some of the early, simpler, tools which don't use the engine. Fortunately most cache, reducing the impact, but under a prolonged outage that could be a problem. We will be looking into ways to fix it.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Website in Progress

Since the tools appear to be becoming standardised, I'm putting together a new website that should make it easier to find the type of widget you are looking for.

We have a domain name that will be free shortly, and the tools will migrate there. The existing ones will be available for at least a month on the old servers, but moving them should improve performance slightly, and giving them their own domain name will make them easier to find.

Seperating the tools from other content on the box is necessary since our current host does not support the tools we need for animation, probably the most widely requested feature.

Keep an eye out for the new site. The old one will redirect to it once it is up.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Store colours now available

The embeddable store now has colour options. There are only two alternate palettes available now, the ones most requested by users.

Although we considered allowing people to create their own, the risk of someone overwriting a palette if we linked it to an author or username was considerable, and using unique IDs would rapidly fill the server with user's test files.

As a result, if you want a custom palette, ask and we can built one to match your site. This way we should build up a selection of palettes for users to choose from for the stores.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Encoding issues

I am slowly working my way through the encoding issues for non-english characters. We're trying to standardise to utf8 for everything. The problem is that not all users are using the same encoding.

The sample on the advanced reader should now be correct. The store encoding issues are now fixed as far as we can tell, and the css worked on a test so we will probably roll out a choice of three style sheets for users to begin with. (A CSS generator presents a few issues, not least making sure that other users don't overwrite an existing style.)

I've also produced an alpha version of a new book badge with squared corners, which should get round the problem of white corners on the current image. Making it transparent failed during tests: 16.7 Million colours to choose from, and it seems that no matter which one I use, someone has used it on their book cover, making transparency create some random and strange effects.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Java E-Reader

I am creating the Java version of the e-reader to allow anyone with the java plugin to run it as an applet, which should allow it to be faster and have more functionality than the online version.

Currently it can access and display an ebook in epub format, but it requires work on the formatting. The current version splits the pages down by paragraph which can lead to some short pages with a lot of white space. However, it does show all the sample in the correct format giving a number of pages instead of a percentage read. Moving through the pages is simple enough with the existing buttons and an about page shows details of the reader itself

The next step will be to address the formatting so it displays it full pages each time and still keeps the formatting, which will lead to a smaller page count but a better reading experience. After that, we are looking to add a search function, text options to increase or decrease the text size, possibly change fonts, and to add details of the book and author in a selectable window.

Store update

There is now a working prototype with the ability to accept custom CSS. This isn't being rolled out yet, as I haven't yet created a generator to allow people to make their own CSS. It may be offered initially with a choice of three or four colours, or the default.

The other reason to hold back for now is because we are working on improving the quality of third party links, for publishers particularly. As this is keyword driven, wiring into APIs from other companies, these are never going to be perfect but there are a few tweaks that could improve them.

The other component we are looking at adding is a link to Diesel. As their system works differently to others, this has proved tricky but we may have a work around to add them.

ETA: Fixes are now live for a character encoding bug, and for publisher's search results. There are some further speed improvements - if you don't see it run faster that's because it now does a lot more. The css functionality is present, but we're going to do a limited test before showing how to enable it for individual stores.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Wordpress, store and reader

Although this blog is useful for visitors and easily updatable information, we already have access to blogger to test widgets. We have been considering creating an integrated Wordpress blog for the website which would contain the data from this blog and any updates. It also gives us a chance to test plug-in programming.

We won't be using Wordpress for the website itself - Wordpress may support the widgets, but it isn't compatible with the generators. It would add a significant overhead to maintaining the site, reduce our coding time and also use up more processing power which we are trying to save for the widgets.

The main problem we currently have is bandwidth and backlinks. If you are using these widgets - particularly the ones that don't have referral links - please add a button or link to our page from yours. We aren't integrating them with the widgets to give you a choice of positioning, but to continue offering the widgets we do need the backlinks.

Work for me this week is continuing to look at the embeddable store, focusing on improving performance and user-defined styles, as well as checking the accuracy of search results for books for publisher accounts.

Meanwhile, work on the java reader continues. The main concern is the speed of the Java Runtime plugin itself - which is slow. The other issue is that development could also produce a desktop reader version (full application) which could run epubs that a user has on their PC.

We are looking at whether it is possible to also open and display some of the other Smashwords formats in it (e.g. PDF and .RTF) but that's under discussion as there are already readers available for those formats.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Temporary Engine Work

Smashwords have tweaked their website, as you might have noticed. It looks good, and is more lightweight and faster.

However the engine feeds for the widgets rely on the site format, so they promptly broke. We're fixing them now. The author feed has already been corrected. We're working on the single book feed today, and all the widgets should be back up soon.

It's also a chance to consolidate the widget sources and make a few improvements to the RSS feeds while we recode them, so it isn't all bad.

(In technical terms, I'm so glad I switched from arrays to brute force string hacking last time this happened. It's slightly slower, but makes updating much easier).

Update at 08:34 - all widgets are now running on the new feed. If you find problems with it, please let me know here or through the feedback form.

There's also a new addition to the RSS feeds page: the single book feed, which puts a book's data into XML format for use on third party sites is now available.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Two major widget updates

The Store widget just went into beta. This is a revised version designed to improve speed, and also to combine the publishers' and authors' versions. It has gained the ability to launch into a stand alone window, along with some dedicated buttons, so it should work for OpenDiary, Wordpress and Squidoo users.

We will continue supporting the alpha versions (particularly the custom builds) until we have migrated these across so don't worry, the old stores won't suddenly break. All future stores should be created using the new store engine.

The other change is the Reader. After initial tests and feedback that just went from prototype into alpha and is now available from the website.

Not bad for a Saturday.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Into Production

It seems the open beta has been successful. We've gained a lot of feedback and the tools, despite being in beta, appear to be becoming rather popular. This means they will be sticking around for the long term, and going into Production status.

In practice this means improving the website to better organise the widgets, fix the bug list where we can, and add tutorials, help etc. We may also end up migrating this blog into the widget site, so everything is in one place. It isn't a small job.

We're still working on the java reader at the same time, so please be patient. Until better organisation is in place, new widgets may be slow in appearing since it is harder for users to find them on the site.

The other issue is that the redone store flies by comparison with the previous versions, but works on a different principle. Transitioning the alpha store users to the new beta is also something we are discussing for next week.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A New Widget in Testing

Status: Prototype
Method: Iframe&Div/Graphic Link/Link/New Window (depends on user's browser)
Type: E-book Sample Reader
Link: Not yet (restricted access)

Read a sample

This is the major widget we have been working on. It reads the free sample of a user's book in, displays it and has a few extra facilities. This is eventually going to be the fallback for the full Java reader, but as that will take an estimated 4 weeks to complete the prototype PHP reader is on display here.

Using it requires a simple text link, or to give your users the popup option, two lines of code. As always, the only user customisation is the book number. It can also be embedded in a page using an iframe.

The sample it shows is the .epub sample available from Smashwords. If you don't offer an epub file it won't work for your book. This won't work for free books at present, as they have no samples. (It is technically capable of reading them, but we'd only turn it on for one on a case-br-case basis).

The search is a single word search and breaks keywords up by spaces. It doesn't take anything advanced, like + or -, and is case sensitive.

Server caching is in use, so while the first run may be slightly slow, the second should improve.

Affiliate links: permanently embedded with our affiliate link due to the sheer amount of bandwidth and processing power it consumes. Given what it does, it still runs rather fast.

Known Issues:
Plugins may show through the div pop-up if you use that approach. If you change the size of the sample, the server cache may make the system slow to pick it up.

Why are we announcing a prototype? Because we are looking for testers.

It can be seen live at VHF's blog

If you spot a bug, or would like to volunteer to test it, please drop a note below or through the feedback form on the website.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Work Underway

I spent yesterday going round checking the widgets in the wild and seeing how they perform. I now have a bug list with three items on it, which is a lot better than I thought it would be.

However, I would suggest that people using the widgets check back to the site to see if they have been upgraded: in a few cases the widgets used may no longer be the best for that purpose (e.g. the narrow multibook widget is now available.)

The problem I can see being tricky is where someone has used a javascript widget on a page with non-standard encoding. Enforcing UTF8 in such a situation can be difficult.

With another (major) widget approaching completion, it will be a busy week.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Backlinks for the tools

One thing we have just added is a small set of buttons and text links. If you use the tools, please add one somewhere on the page - it doesn't have to be annoying or intrusive, it is just about getting more traffic to the site and adding a credit for the widgets.

While we could add "About this widget" to all the buttons, that would be annoying and intrusive, so instead we're asking. The code is on the page - all you need to do is cut and paste.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Single book widget (iframe)

Status: Beta
Method: Iframe
Type: Single Book Widget
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/widget_singlebook.php

The Single Book Widget is also available in javascript, but this will focus on the iframe version. It is designed to display a single book with a limited amount of interactivity.

Top Bar:
I shows the cover
II shows the title and author
III shows a short description and "More" link. The link opens the book's Smashwords page in a new window.
The Smashwords logo takes you to the Smashwords homepage.
On Mouse over, the orange cross launches an addthis display for social bookmarking - the bookmarks created lead to the book's Smashwords page, rather than the widget.

The blue arrow launches the book's HTML sample (in a new window).
The Magnifying glass goes to the book's Smashwords page (in a new window).
The Cart goes to the Smashwords shopping cart (in a new window).

This widget does contain a referral link, to help offset the bandwidth costs.

The iframe version preserves the widget's formatting on pages like blogspot, where the website's own layout may interfere with javascript.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Widget Stats - January 2012 part 1

We've just got the first stats for the widgets, covering a couple of weeks after the beta started. We don't track them in detail, so these rates are taken from the server stats. Here's the breakdown of the top performers so far, and their clickthru rates:

Rotator - 3,953 views 1209 clickouts - 30.6%
Fan Button 1* - 1602 views 1061 clickouts - 66%
Book Spotlight - 1188 views 639 clickouts - 53.7%

The next highest are the book badges and single book widget, both of which seem to be around ten percent.
(*Fan Button 2 is a lot less popular with fewer visitors, although the clickout rate is still pretty high.) The store - not installed in many locations - has a 13.8% clickthru rate.

We're surprised. Even allowing for testing (our clickouts are excluded, by the way), the fact they are new, and the fact people on the sites are looking for books, that rate is very high. According to Wikipedia, for clickthru rates anything over 2% is considered good.

What we can't tell is how many of those clickouts turn into sales. Once the user leaves the widget, they also leave our server stats, and we can't track third-party activity.

After seeing those stats, a new task on the list is creating a banner or badge to link back to the site for the tools - they may still be in beta, but they are getting more interest than we expected.

I will be very interested to see what happens next month, once we have a longer period of stats in and the widgets have hopefully become more established.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Stand Alone Store Widget

Status: Alpha (re-version)
Method: Text Link
Type: Ebook Store

A version of the embeddable store that can be launched from a text-link. A surprising number of users requested this: although they can link directly to their Smashwords profile, the third party links are apparently useful.

It is available in author and publisher versions, and as a link can be easily customised.

Example Links:
My Author Store
My Publisher Store

Book Button Widget

Status: Beta
Method: Image
Type: Book Button Static Display
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/buttons_bookbutton.php

A button generated for your books, showing the cover and, if it has a 4 or 5 star rating, that number of stars. It is available in dark blue or light-blue versions. It is generated on the fly so changes in the book's cover or rank should show up quickly.

View this book on Smashwords
View this book on Smashwords

As a dynamic image, the book button may be blocked on some sites (like invision). It can be saved locally and uploaded if you need to (right click on the image and choose "Save Image" or "Save As"). Obviously, this version of the image won't update. An example of an uploaded static image can be seen on the lensimage here.

There is now also a generator that allows you to add a link and your affiliate code around the image, giving you simple HTML to paste onto your site or webspage.

It is marked as in beta due to the white edging which shows up on some websites, and which we want to make transparent to preserve the curved edges. We are also working on improving its loading speed.

Work underway

This week should be busy. First, thank you very much for the feedback, we're working on things on the back end. We've switched much of the string manipulation to UTF8, which reduces or solves the heiroglyphic problem some czech and german users were encountering. The engine has received a small improvement, which should make it slightly faster.

Projects this week include a few improvements to the Embeddable store:
Text and Image links to open it in a new window for use by users on Wordpress, Squidoo and other sites that don't allow iframes. The store itself will get a new version, including fixed width, to enable this.
Other planned additions include a generator to work with the store, allowing selection of third party retailers (e.g. if you are never on Amazon, the link won't show). Selectable colours and a stylesheet is something we are being cautious on - users may get a pre-set choice of 5 stylesheets, instead of free selection due to security implications.

There is a major widget development going on, but in case it doesn't work I don't want to raise hopes by going into detail.

Other things underway include a planned book banner generator with static and some animated banners. Useful for people with access to Paint, limited designs skills or no animation software. Unfortunately we are limited to Gif Animations and (again due to security concerns - and our bandwidth!) we can't currently serve animated images dynamically. Users would need to save them locally and upload - OK for Project Wonderful but not so good for websites. We're looking for a solution.

And aside from these there are the general tweaks, improvements and refinements that have been requested.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Embeddable store Update - Publisher version

Status: Alpha (re-version)
Method: Iframe
Type: Embeddable Store (Publisher)
Link: http://www.raggedangel.net/smashwords-tools/booksite/index.phpRemoved 21/02/2012. Please view current version

There is a now a second version of the Embeddable Store on the alpha page. While many of the features are still in development, this is now a tweaked version suitable for publishers.

The changes are purely cosmetic - exchanging "Author" for "Publisher" and rewording certains sections and links to hit a publisher's page not an author's - but it should work better than the existing one for publishers with multi-author accounts.

It still uses the author= parameter for the account name, even though it's actually accepting a publisher's account. This is to speed development, and let us implement revisions and fixes between the two versions more easily.

Fan button widget

Status: Production
Method: Image
Type: Fan Button Static Display
Link: http://www.raggedangel.net/smashwords-tools/fanbuttons.phpRemoved 21/02/2012. See current site

The fan button simply displays how many Smashwords users have favourited that account. If you look in the sidebar on the page, under the author or publisher image, you can see the pictures of users who have favourited you.

There are two looks, to suit the user's website:
  1. Smashwords Favourites button
  2. Smashwords Favourites button

The generator on the page creates code that includes a link that goes to the account page, as well as a chance to embed a seperate affiliate link.

It also creates BBCode for forums and forum signatures. The only problem with BBCode is that some forums disable dynamic images. If this is the case, then you can save the image locally and serve it from there. Unfortunately as we do not save data, there is not much we can do to help.

There is one issue that affects publishers. It only shows users who have favourited that specific account, not those who have favourited authors it published.
While Ragged Angel (there, now you know the link between our webspace provider and Smashwords) publishes authors who have been favourited, they themselves have not, so the fan button shows none:
Smashwords Favourites button

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Book Spotlight Widget

Status: Production
Method: Image
Type: Single Book static display
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/buttons_bookspotlight.php

This creates a flat image with the book cover, rating, description, title and author, linked to the book's page on Smashwords.

The best thing about this widget is that all the user has to embed is basic HTML - and image and a link, it should work on most sites. The image is dynamically updated at our end. As it is an image with link, users can also embed their own referral links in the code - we've even included a generator to make that easier for you.

The only real downside is that, because it is an image, the text won't resize for users. The background is fixed as white, and not transparent.

Originally designed for Squidoo, it works on most sites which only allow basic html e.g. Free Wordpress blogs, Wizzley, Hubpages etc. The generator even creates BBCode for forum posts or, on sites where large signatures are allowed, including in your sig.

View this book on Smashwords

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New Widget - Advanced Single Book Widget

Status: In Alpha
Method: Iframe
Type: Single Book detailed display
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/widget_advsinglebook.php

A more complex single book widget, meant for premium distribution users, which includes:
  • A short description of the book
  • A sample of the book (If the user offers more than 5 pages as a sample on Smashwords - if not a buy link shows)
  • Buy links to various premium distribution locations
    as well as the standard cover, title, and author.
Price and Rating are not mentioned, as they may vary across retailers.

While there may be undiscovered bugs with this, it works for the books we've tested it on. It is in alpha because it can currently appear odd if the user resizes text in some browsers.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

New Sidebar Multibook Widget

Status: In Alpha
Method: Iframe
Type: Multi-book display
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/widget_multibooknar.php

Currently in Alpha, because it hasn't been around and stable long enough for us to put it into beta, this is simply a tweaked version of the multi-book widget designed to fit in sidebars.

It is set to 160px x 300px (the standard ad size "half-skyscraper"), and embeds in an iframe like the original widget. There is an expanded blue background to it to resolve the IE8 white border issue that was occurring.

This is made available by request as a number of sites found the original too wide for their sidebars.

Currently it has our affiliate link embedded, as a more complex widget.

Generators and Affiliate links

There are now generators added for the fan buttons and book badges that generate complete code for the image with a hotlink and allow users to add their affiliate links to the code.

The more complex widgets will be harder. While we could echo the user's ID out as the affiliate this does not help book reviewers or bloggers whose affiliate links will be different to the books and authors they promote.

Monday, 9 January 2012

New multibook widget up and running

The new rotator (multibook widget) engine has been up and running for half an hour now. We've checked it everywhere we know it is live, and it seems to be running properly. If you have any problems please let us know. While there is one remaining piece of additional functionality to add, the new engine provides enough improvements that we thought it would be useful to roll it out now.

This contains fixes for
- The "two books or less" bug
- Special characters, which were removing spaces from some titles resulting in one long, single, word.
- Control characters in descriptions.

Two very specific bugs reported by a user whose custom-built site was entirely javascript generated:
- The flicker bug, where the system would occassionally load on the second book and then jump to the first when a button was pressed.
- An overwrite bug where javascript on some pages made the iframe reload the Smashwords page instead of it appearing in a new window.

System Improvements
- Uses the new RSS feed
- A slight performance boost
- More robust

The additional functionality we want to add is to do with Ratings, which should display stars instead of a number. This is being worked on today, together with a few cosmetic tweaks.

My apologies if anyone who viewed widgets during the switch saw the default feed (for less than a second according to the server). This is a failsafe feature if the engine breaks or the feed goes down to make sure the widget still loads without breaking or causing security issues on the site displaying it. It would have shown while the engine switched over and re-cached.

And thanks to the users who gave feedback. We can't fix these issues if we don't know about them.

About this widget

Engine Update

Today we completed an update on the engine behind the widgets. The new engine will run in parallel with the old for two weeks.

In practice, the only widget now using the old engine is the multi-book rotator.

Tomorrow, a new version of this widget will be undergoing final testing with the new feed (following a recode to improve speed and performance). At some point tomorrow the widget engine will be upgraded to the new version. The look and feel will be identical, although a few bugs may vanish.

You don't need to do anything - this is all at the back end.

That's the ironic thing about fixes during beta testing - if you do it right, then no one notices.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Search Box Widget

Status: In Beta
Method: Javascript
Type: Search box
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/widget_searchbox.php
Designed as a small widget for blogs or websites, to allow searches through an author's books, or general smashwords searches. Available in a basic Unskinned version, and a Skinned version.

Constraints: Only works where javascript is enabled. Special characters are stripped to prevent aggresive code reaching Smashwords, so search strings with hyphens or quotes in them may produce less accurate results.

Concerns: Future-proofing as Smashwords are updating their search in 2012.

Known issues:
Unskinned version: none.
Skinned version only - cosmetic issues: In areas where styles already exist the Javascript can appear odd as the styles are overwritten (See an example in this blog's sidebar). In the Blogger sidebar on firefox and opera, a 2px extra bit of background appears below the widget. This is cosmetic only and does not affect function.

Possible development: Add user's choice of referral link so that readers and reviewers as well as authors find it useful. Create iframe embeddable version.


Embeddable Bookstore

Status: In Alpha
Method: Iframes
Type: Pseudo bookstore
Link: http://www.smashingreads.com/int_embedstore.php

  • Meant to be an embeddable "bookstore" (actually a link to external bookstores where the book can be found) for use with blogs and other user created sites.
  • Designed to be expandable between 350 and 600 pixels, it can go beyond these limits but won't look so good.
  • The third party links are currently "best guess" using the book data from Smashwords. As we cannot store data, this needs refining.

Our target was to lead the user from the featured books to the booklist to the author (and their social presence) to the bookstores. Each mention of a book brings up a page with the third party links to purchase that book.

Concerns: Special characters in user data, or tags, which may break the data feed.
Authors with over twenty books in the feed, where the system may slow (a cap is under consideration).

We can't store data, so this needs to be stand alone. This places a strict limit on how much customisation we can offer.
This is also why no referral links are embedded - there are too many third party merchants to handle them all.

As always any volunteers to test it, or general feedback, is useful.


Currently Live at:

Welcome to the Blog!

This blog is to record progress and give updates on the beta testing for the unofficial Smashwords widgets that are in development. This is a place where we can leave our updates, and you can leave your views.

As a group of Smashwords authors in the UK, we felt there was a lack of widgets and promotional tools for Smashwords authors, and began building our own. We are an all-volunteer team, so progress and what is possible does depend on time and our skillsets.

The widgets in beta at the moment can be found at:

As well as the widgets here, there is a further selection in alpha, for users who are technical enough to resolve any problems they encounter.

This is an unofficial project, but Smashwords are aware of it and we have swapped a few emails.