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Be My Guest-New Guestbook

05-02-11-Blog-420x200

I’ll be taking a temporary break from my blog series A Few of My Favorite Things to announce I am using a new Guestbook service for this site. It should be much more reliable than the method I was using prior to this. I will briefly discuss some of the reasons the old Guestbook could be finicky and the changes I have made. This is probably of interest mainly to fellow iWeb users, or perhaps if you’ve had problems with the old Guestbook. If you are a regular visitor to this site and have tried to sign my Guestbook, please try again with my apologies and thanks.

When iWeb 1.0 came out it was a revolutionary program that allowed mere mortals, like me, to create a visually appealing website with ZERO knowledge of HTML. This was the good news. The bad news was there was no page template or any provisions for a Guestbook. There was a page template for Blogs, but in Version 1.0 of iWeb there was no built in capability for having comments added to your blogs. For around a year I used a third party add-on to iWeb that allowed you to tie in to a third party hosting service for blog comments. Version 2.0 of iWeb added a built-in capability for handling blog comments. In addition to hosting blog comments internally, it also gave me a new option for a Guestbook. That new option was a disguised blog.

This new “Guestbook” I created was a special single entry blog. The comments for that one blog entry would serve as the Guestbook entries. I had to delete or disguise some of the other typical blog page elements, but I had a working system in place. Sadly, it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. You couldn’t just go to a Guestbook landing page and click on an “Add Guestbook Entry” button. I had to land you on the disguised blog’s main page. Then I had to have you click a link to add the blog entry. This jumped you to the single blog entry page where the “Guestbook” entries were really blog comments. When you landed on this page to add your Guestbook entry (comment) I had to add an explanation to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the “Add Comment” button. Needless to say it wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

Now if this was the worst of the problems, it would have been acceptable. Sadly to say one unexpected problem reared it’s head immediately-it seems blog comments in iWeb are very finicky. Immediately after I added the Guestbook, I had several folks say they weren’t able to post a comment. When it came time to type in the image verification code, the code would not be accepted. The image verification code is a series of random letters in an image file where the numbers used to thwart unwanted posts by spam bots. It actually happened to me too. I quickly discovered that if you took too long to type out your comments, the image verification code simply stopped working. you could type in the correct code as many times as you wished and it simply stopped working. The only solution was to copy the guestbook entry into the computer’s clip board, delete the first guestbook entry and create a new second entry and paste the comment in. This was totally unacceptable, but there was little I could do except try to add an explanation to the page. Sadly it gets worse: iWeb is supposed to notify you of blog comments by putting a badge on iWeb’s program icon. In English you were supposed to see a red circle with an inset white number indicating the number of comments. This should happen as soon as the comment was added, but often would be delayed by days, weeks... if at all. these guestbook entries are really not intended for posting questions, but many folks do post questions and I would be totally unaware of it. But wait there is more: I also found the hard way that certain third party add ons for iWeb had a side effect of killing blog comments. Once these comments were lost, they were gone. When it happened to me I had a local version of the site on my hard drive and I was able to recover the entire Guestbook and about 75% of the blog comments.

Fast forward to this year. As had happened several times in the past, new blog comments stopped working. Old comments were not lost, but new comments could not be posted since the “Add Comments” buttons had disappeared. After working with Apple support, I was able to get the “Add Comments” buttons back. Because my Guestbook was a disguised blog, people couldn’t add comments to my Guestbook either. Enough was enough. I decided to go to the iWeb discussion boards to see if there were any new solutions to having a Guestbook with iWeb. It turns out that a feature added in iWeb 3.0, called HTML snippets, offered a new way of creating a Guestbook. An HTML snippet is a box you can create on a page that you can put any kind of HTML in to create an area on your page that links to a remote web page or service. In this case the remote web page I link to is a Guestbook hosting service. A great website for iWeb users called iWeb FAQ had a step by step tutorial on creating a Guestbook in this manner. I will post a link for that tutorial below, since I get many visitors who also use iWeb. Additionally I can highly recommend the eBook about iWeb offered on the iWebFAQ website.

The iWeb FAQ tutorial on Guestbooks also mentioned the service they liked for hosting a Guestbook. The host was called UltraGuest and their service was free. I looked on their website and found the look of the Guestbook was customizable to some extent in terms of colors and fonts. This allowed me to get the look of the UltraGuest Guestbook page so it was in the ballpark of the look of the rest of my site. When I first started looking into the UltraGuest Guestbook, I was dismayed that you could only track the country someone was posting from. Countries are big, and I’d really like to see what city and state or province someone was posting from. It turns out that you can add up to three custom fields so that quickly became a non-issue. As the site owner, I get an email the moment a new comment is posted. The comments can be moderated or not. If you select moderated, you must approve every post before they become public. You also have a choice where the poster can specify their comments remain private, visible only to the site owner and not the public. I elected to keep everything public. There is also a nifty feature where the commenters approximate location get plotted out on a map of the world. The UltraGuest support seems very responsive and they often add new features requested by their users. There was only one little hiccup: When I signed up for the service I found out that while the service is free, the free version is ad supported. For a small amount of money per year you can have it be ad free. I certainly respect UltraGuest’s need to pay their way and using ads is an acceptable solution. I just wish they mentioned this before I signed up with the service. I signed up for the ad free version for two years.

So as of May 1, I have the new Guestbook up and running. It should be a simple one-click away from being used and should work every time. My apologies if you had problems with the old version. Please feel free to try out the Guestbook and if you have any problems with or feedback on the process, please post a comment here.

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Here are some links for items discussed in this blog. The iWeb FAQ website is a great source of information on iWeb. There is also a link to the Guestbook How To. The last link is for the UltraGuest Guestbook hosting service.

SOME RELATED LINKS:

  iWebFAQ (Web Link)
  iWebFAQ - Creating a Guestbook (Web Link)
  UltraGuest (Web Link)

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