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

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

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: 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: 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

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

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

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
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

  • 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.