Matt Gemmell

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We hates blogs

General 6 min read

I loved reading Robert's "<a href="http://www.celsius1414.com/blog/index.php?entry=/meta/ihateblogs.txt">I Hate Blogs</a>" 
post yesterday. Here are few thoughts in response.
He said:
There is a conceptual disconnect going on in my head right now, and it surrounds static vs. dynamic content, especially as it relates to this blog and the whole 1414 site and, in more general terms, to PHPosxom (maybe). I'm going to think 'out loud' in this entry (use text-to-speech if you want the full effect), so bear with me.
(Incidentally, Steve Ivy <a href="http://www.redmonk.net/monkinetic/2003/03/14#item1907">recorded an MP3</a> of the 
"Victoria" text-to-speech voice reading Robert's post.)
First, some assumptions.
  1. So basically I'm really good at creation and organization, not so good with maintenance; the less I have to do, the better (of course). It is much easier to post what amount to journal entries using software designed to make that process easy than it is to create a new webpage every time I want to update something on my site.
I think we're agreed that blogging is a good thing; indeed, blogging software is the epitome of the Laziness virtue. 
People who create blogging software should be revered (ahem).
  1. Some content is better suited to journal-entry-like updates than other content. Some content a) doesn't change that often and b) would suffer from the Hammer Truism.
  2. Having my dynamic content separate from my static content is bad.
  3. I don't want to turn my entire site into a blog (see Assumption 2.b).
Ooh good - a chance to really talk about this issue! I've wanted to post something on this for a <em>long</em> time; thanks for 
finally spurring me on to do it. Here goes.



My first point here would be to question whether we're working with any stable definition of static versus dynamic content in 
this case. After all, a blog could be said to be merely a dynamically-updated list of mostly static content anyway. The pages 
may change, but only because at any one time they only display a certain number of the most recent pieces of (static) content. 
The truly dynamic content could be said to be limited to things like feeds, category-lists, comments, and such like. 
This is <em>particularly</em> true of the *osxoms, where the new content comes from separate <strong>static</strong> files.



No argument regarding point 3, but I'm going to turn point 4 around: I <strong>want</strong> my entire site to be a <em>new kind</em> 
of blog. Blogging has exploded, and we've all long since realised its huge advantages over "old-fashioned" incremental web publishing. 
However, we also realise that blogs as they are today cannot completely replace the traditional web site. "All dynamic, all the time" 
sacrifices a lot.



For example, if your entire site is a blog, how do you have a Software section? Do you add a post to that category every time you 
create a new piece of software? That's reasonable, I suppose. But what about when you release a new version of an existing program - 
do you edit the original post? And if so, does your blogging software allow you to "bump" that post to the top of the list? The 
unpleasant downside of the blog-as-site concept ironically comes from one of blogging's greatest strengths: infinite pages from limited templates. Great for 
your diary, but shackled by a terrible lack of flexibility for a web site.



Accordingly, I propose an evolution of the concept of what a "blog" is: blogs should allow for the kind of flexibility and special-cases 
required for "real" web sites. That way, the entire spectrum of web publishing can benefit from the convenience and elegance of the blogging 
metaphor, without having to go to the extremes of using a full-blown CMS. And it's not that difficult. How about:
  • Static includes. Allow the inclusion of static content atop each dynamically-compiled page (and I mean "compiled" in the blogging sense; aggregated from various chunks of content; rather than in the programming sense). Thistle has this already, via its "category info" files - they can contain anything from a sentence of text to a full HTML page, or more.
  • Per-category flavor overrides. Allow a category to specify a flavor which it prefers; its own "default" flavor. Substitute "template" for "flavor" and this applies to any blogging software out there. This instantly solves the "where do I put my Contact form?" problem - you just make a separate category for it, and make that category override the default flavor (template).
  • Sticky posts. Allow a post to insist on being included in the list of most recent posts. This is not at all complicated to implement; you just add a check for some appropriate flag or marker when constructing your list of posts to display. It could readily be another metafile, or even specified in the post's content.
With the above three features, I'm fairly confident I could move Scotland Software completely over to a blog format, and not lose any 
of the categorisation or overall architecture and experience of the current site. Makes you think.
  1. I do not want to be Boing Boing. It is a good thing that Boing Boing exists. Boing Boing is cool. Since Boing Boing already exists and is already cool, I do not need to link to all the cool crap out there. (Substitute your favorite linking site for Boing Boing in this assumption.)
I've been known to browse Boing Boing semi-regularly, but I'm damned if I would ever create or maintain a blog in 
that sort of format. Such sites provide a valid service, but I'd feel smothered if I was to simply link and report 
external news and writings. The reason I created Irate Scotsman was to put <em>myself</em> out there, and to invite people 
with similar interests to follow along with my current projects, and maybe even listen to my opinions and beliefs 
once in a while.



Similarly, I keep my <a href="http://mattgemmell.com/index.php/meta/blogroll.html">blogroll</a> 
(which mirrors my NetNewsWire subscriptions list) relatively short, and I check them maybe four times 
a day. I think hard before creating a new category, or posting a knee-jerk "look at this cool thing" entry. My own feeling 
is that such posts are largely noise. If you're here, then you're probably interested in one or more of: UI critique, 
*osxom blogging software development, Mac OS X, and just maybe in my own brand of ranting on tech-related topics. You're not 
here for a pick-n-mix of today's internet fluff.
  1. I like the Tao of *osxom. The Tao of *osxom is an Awesome Tao. I will continue to follow this Tao.
Rael's beautiful triad of "<em>simplicity, usability and interoperability</em>" (or, as I think of it, 
the qualities of being <strong>intuitive</strong>, 
<strong>extensible</strong> and <strong>symbiotic</strong>), are also the cornerstones of the design of 
<a href="http://www.apple.com/macosx/">my chosen operating system</a>, and I care a great deal about them.



The design philosophy of <a href="http://www.raelity.org/apps/blosxom/">Blosxom</a> continues to be the guiding 
set of principles for the development of <a href="http://mattgemmell.com/index.php/dev/thistle">Thistle</a>, 
and indeed probably any code I write.
OK, so given all that, here are some conclusions. ...
  1. Allowing interested parties to track sets of content via RSS is a Good Thing. (Particularly for software projects, but other stuff as well.)
RSS would definitely rank in my top 3 favourite things about blogging, and especially for tracking the 
progress of software projects. I love the fact that anyone can subscribe to the 
<a href="http://mattgemmell.com/index.php/dev/thistle/rss">Thistle feed</a>, for example, 
to keep abreast of development.



It's easy to see the value of expanding RSS support to other "levels" of a blog; for example, providing a feed 
for each post's comments and trackbacks, and indeed a feed for each post itself if it's one which will be updated 
periodically (perhaps one of those special-case posts mentioned previously).



Another thing I've wanted to try for a while is giving the <strong>visitor</strong> control over the feed they receive: you could 
offer a form for the visitor to type in a word or phrase, and then provide them with an URL which would provide a feed of only posts 
which contained that term. That way, you give incredibly fine-grained feed control to the visitor, without the organisational overhead 
of first creating explicit categories on your blog. For dynamically-generated feeds such as those provided by the *osxoms, this is a 
very, very simple thing to implement. In fact, Thistle can already do it!
  1. Trackbacks are cool, comments are not.
This is the one part of Robert's post I'm unsure as to the meaning of. If he means that trackbacks are great in that they allow 
contributions which you can absorb in your own time, whereas comments perhaps create a burden of response, then fair enough - I 
can see that. In any case, I'd love to hear a clarification.




Whew. I enjoyed that, I must say. Let me take this opportunity to say that practically everything I've "suggested" or "proposed" 
above has very much already been done by various people; I'd just like to see a <em>general</em> evolution of the blogging metaphor to 
bring at least rudimentary content-management to the rest of us. I plan to do my bit toward that goal with Thistle.