Why blogging engines don't sit quite right with me in subtle ways.

Oct 08, 2007

On my way to the office this morning I was sitting in the car thinking about nothing in particular, and in my pre-caffeinated state my thoughts wandered in the direction of why blogging engines like Pivot and Wordpress make me uneasy in weird, peripheral ways, and why I find them so difficult to use, insofar as writing text is concerned. The reason is that they imply a sense of immediacy upon the user writing where sometimes there shouldn't be one.

Let me start off by saying that I'm not trying to bash blogging in general or any one blogging engine in particular.

Most but not all blogging engines require the author of content to have a network connection while writing - you go to a back-end page of the blog, log in, and type text and some formatting code into an HTML form of some kind. You can dodge this by writing offline in a text editor and then cut-and-paste the text into the engine when you next have net.access, however. There are also blogging clients that let you do the same thing, with varying degrees of success. Personally, I'm a big fan of the "write it in a text file and post it later" school of doing this. Long plane flights are good for long articles, though not necessarily so much for run-of-the-mill daily updates.

Secondly, the nature of blogs and RSS feeds is that going back and editing posts can be a dodgy proposition because, if you write a post and save it to finish later, it doesn't necessarily get published (in Pivot, posts can be Published (i.e., made public), Timed Published (whereupon the user specifies a particular date and time to make a post available), or Held for later). If you finish a post later and make it public, it may not go into the RSS feed, and so might not be picked up by readers. This is, depending upon your point of view, a limitation in $blogging_engine. Edits to posts may not be reflected in an updated RSS feed either, nor may the edits be visible at first glance to someone sprint-scanning a blog to see what's up lately. Edits to older posts (for example, say I had to correct some stuff in that Linux-with-soft-RAID post may go unnoticed unless someone specifically goes back and reads that post again. Blog admins can, of course, put 'edited' tags on the appropriate posts, or edit the titles of reflected posts.

Thinking about it, it should be possible to write plugins for blogging engines that change the coloration of edits in posts to make them stand out, much as wikis can do.

This is what I liked about a flat HTML weblog: For every day, text accumulated from the top down. To read the latest entries for a particular calendar day the reader had to scroll through the earlier entries for the day, and thus run into all of the new text, including edits and additions to the earlier ones. Maybe it's the narcissist that lives between my cerebral cortext and fingertips talking, but there is also the fact that getting eyes onto one's text is the only way that information will flow from point A to point B.

Now, where am I going with this? Am I saying that I'm a lazy so-and-so who doesn't go back to see if posts on sites I read have changed and that I want everyone to cater to my desires?

No, I'm not. I'm pondering, which is a far cry from "Cater to me because I'm lazy and won't take responsibility for keeping up to date." Maybe I've put an idea in someone's head that will turn into something great. Or maybe I'll learn enough PHP to write a couple of plug-ins that'll be of use to someone one of these days.