Friday, 14 October 2011

Review: Dynamic Views in Blogger

Last month Google’s Blogger (Blogspot) platform released a revamped template portfolio for blogs hosted on their platform. Called 'Dynamic Views' the idea is a set of easy-to-apply web 2.0 templates to keep the vast number of blogs from becoming stale.

There are many hundred thousands of blogs; huge numbers look the same or very similar, since they use the same free templates (Bloggers' own or common third-party designs). Dynamic Views aims to provide an instant make-over with some snappy effects thrown in. But do they work?


The Dynamic Views for Blogger are built in AJAX, HTML 5 and custom-CSS. The highly visually-tuned and minimalist layouts are supposed to inspire users to read your blog or website 'in a unique way that makes it more interesting and more engaging.' The development team also indicated on the official blog that the sites should load 40% faster than traditional templates.

I gave the seven new templates an instant road-test by suffixing my own blog URL with the Dynamic Views sub-domain, for example /view/sidebar
(catlingmindswipe.blogspot.com/view/sidebar). This enables Dynamic Views without having to change template from the Layout Designer. Which is just as well.

All seven Views offer clean, minimalist layouts with a twist. Some of the Dynamic Views offer the reader a different way of interacting with the content. HOWEVER...

If you've gone to the trouble of working up a widget-rich layout, this is likely to give you a coronary. Views such as Flipcard just throws every post on screen as a postage-stamp sized thumbnail without any room for titles, captions or straplines. This may be fine for a photo blog but anything else just looks like a broken-down video-wall in a CCTV control-room.

Snapshot is a slight improvement with captions. Mosaic is similar but with bigger thumbnails and mouse-over invoked title text.

Timeslide has summary text sliding up and down on mouse-over all over the place, but like,  nearly all of them removes vital date-time stamp and author information from the main page.

Common to all is that individual post pages pop-up, slide out, down and around, yet the layout when you get there is minimalist but fairly abysmal. The Magazine view  is a little more conventional, but so stripped down, it's a shock to the eyballs.

The net effect, then, is an horrific car crash, a triumph, to use my most common cliché, of style over substance. Dynamic Views are very glossy, very slick and almost unusable by any serious long-term blogger in my opinion:
  • The Dynamic Views templates remove all control over the appearances of your widgets and post body.
  • Most widgets get replaced or deleted. Any remaining widgets stop working or are misaligned. Your sidebars and columns are effectively wiped out, because technically you don’t have a sidebar column any more. Links, banners, blog-rolls, profiles - all gone.
  • The sponsor area and subscription area disappears.
  • Your ads will also disappear
  • Also, you are not able to specify the order of posts displayed.
  • Customization is minimal at present and only achievable if you are capable of diving into the open elements of your template and changing code. Most of this is over-ridden by the Dynamic View templates. You can for example, just about change the color background is you can poke the CSS code in the right place.
  • Code lag: the Google team promote the Dynamic Views templates as loading around 40% faster than traditional templates but I don’t see it. I'm staring at the 'spinning gears' logo far too often; clicking on a individual post which loads the lightbox frame presents a noticeable lag.
  • No preview mode. If you switch to Dynamic Views, there is no preview available in the post editor. The Preview button is greyed out and disabled.
  • The dynamic views reportedly have no SEO value and do not support Adsense at the moment.
Verdict
An interesting first release of a technically challenging product. I just don't think it's finished - not nearly enough for the majority on Blogger to consider using it.

If you are running a personal diary or non-commercial blog then give it a try for a bit of extra impact. Professional bloggers should avoid it like the plague right now. RC