New Google Blogger templates

Transparency! Three-column grids! An absence of lighthouse imagery!

Please join me in welcoming Google Blogger to the modern web. As you can see from the look of my site today, Blogger has rolled out a new beta feature called the Template Designer which allows users to assemble several thousand more combinations of layout, color, and graphics than with their previous selection of templates. Those spartan and occasionally cheesy designs were the main reasons why the service has been losing ground to the likes of Tumblr and Posterous amongst those setting up blogs for the first time, and also the reason why most people skin their blogspot blogs with horrendous amateur themes they find on sites with URLs like free-colorful-blogger-templates.com.

We all know ‘most people’ have no taste, so the Template Designer aims to save them from themselves by having a fixed library of background images from iStockPhoto (you can’t upload your own). I have chosen the least distracting and colorful one, a silhouette of the Parisian skyline, but look forward to experimenting with crazier options now and then. Why not? It used to take a deep dive into the HTML code and some tedious asset uploading to change the look of my site – those who’ve been here before will know that I hardly bothered anymore, and reverted to the most minimal of themes over a year ago – but now it’s all just a matter of clicking around and moving sliders.

Some of these features, like the dynamic width resizing and comprehensive inspectors for changing text/background colors, fonts, etc. replicate the best innovations of blog hosting company Squarespace. That service does a little more but costs money, and incidentally so does Six Apart’s Typepad, which now stands as the only hosted blogging platform remaining whose templates look so hopelessly mired in the early 2000s. Assuming that Blogger doesn’t just push out this one update and leave it untouched for another six years, they’ve got a fair chance of soundly beating the competition. A few weeks ago they added the ability to create standalone Pages, the kind you can use for an About Us page or FAQ. With a few more templates, perhaps some built for microblogging, some for magazine-style sites, they’ll be able to do everything Tumblr can. They’ve got post-by-email functionality that isn’t too far off from what Posterous does, and WordPress.com can’t compete with the freedom Blogger gives you to add third-party scripts, widgets, and ads.

One interesting point: Microsoft IE6 is not supported by the editor or the templates themselves.

Intro video:

Photos from Japan

Late last year, I wrote about returning from my trip to Japan and sorting through the 2000 photos I’d taken. I finished the job of uploading them to Flickr quite a few weeks back, but neglected to post the links here.

This is the entire set on Flickr, but you will see less as an anonymous member of the public, and a few more if you’re listed as one of my friends.

This is a ‘Best of’ set that I put together, with 150 photos in all (again, depending on your friendship status), which is much easier to get through.

This is a 94-photo subset of the main album focused on Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world.

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Shibuya

Ryoanji zen garden

Pocket Plastic

The last post (a review of Nevercenter’s Camerabag Desktop application for Mac/PC) was also posted on my new site project: Pocket Plastic. I take a great deal of my photos these days with my iPhone, as I have done with all the cameraphones I’ve owned before – Sony-Ericsson made some great ones under their Cybershot brand – but the iPhone is unique. People are now in the habit of actually processing their photos and doing all their ‘darkroom’ work on the device itself, so the shots are ready to go up online before they’ve even rubbed their feet on their doormats.

There are some sites out there dedicated to helping others with this hobby, reviewing new photo apps and sharing tips, but I often find myself in some sort of disagreement with them. You know what they say: If you want something done right, you’re incredibly anal and have an inflated view of your own importance. Well that’s me, so I’m starting my own. It’s also going to be a place for me to send the photos I like best to, and fish for ever more compliments.

I’m using Posterous to do the whole thing, and if you’d like a site/blog that you can update simply by sending an email, I highly recommend it. You can send a post from your home computer or your mobile phone, attach photos, audio, or video, and Posterous will automatically put the thing together in the best possible looking way and you’ll look like a star. You don’t even need to sign up beforehand. Just send an email to post@posterous.com from your personal email address, and that will be your first entry. They’ll send you an email back with the location of your new site, which you are free to change at any time. This was not a paid advertisement, I just really like them.