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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

Blog conversion, some lessons learned, part 1

posted: May 6, 2003 8:02:14 PM

blojsom is blog server software written in Java, and modeled after bloxsom, the blog server software written in Perl. Today is the first day I am up and running with my blog in blojsom, and I want to note a few things about the conversion from Radio Userland. For more on why I decided to do this and what it has to do with the iCite net, see my earlier posts on blog software conversion and on tinkering with blog software.

blojsom (and bloxsom) works by reading files in a directory--so new posts to this blog are created by my creating a file with simple HTML or just a text file and saving it to a directory that blojsom reads. This works better for me than the browser based interfaces to blogs that I have used, because I like to work on posts in text and often save part way through, only later finally posting.

There are a couple cases where I can see this will not work as well as a browser based interface: 1) when I am on the road and don't have convenient access to file creation and/or transfer, and 2) if I want to do posts more as "news/diary items" than as essays.

For #1, a simple solution for me might be a browser based interface that saves a file--this being not much different than other blog engines that save files or to a database anyway. I could also support file uploads--where I can upload a file using the browser, though this won't work on public computers that only allow for web browsing. In any case, not using the browser for "content management" of my blog, and just doing a little file management, seems simpler for now.

For #2, I think there is a blurry boundary between posts that are more news or diary like, and ones that are more essay like. Some people never post anything like essays directly in their blog--they instead only blog comments that might refer to their writings elsewhere. I think Dave Winer's Scripting News, one of the blog and blogging pioneers exemplifies this style. And, since Dave was a major figure in the creation of both Radio Userland and RSS, I think the design of Radio and the common usage of RSS reflects this style.

So, other people like myself tend to use the blog like an editorial column where we publish essays. Unlike news and diaries that are more time-based (like, "today . . ."), editorials might be said to be more category based. Again, I don't think there is an absolute boundary between news/diary and editorial/essay styles, or that blogs need to be only one or the other.

One thing about blojsom, along these lines is that it uses directories as categories and files as posts. So, its design encourages a category / document (essay?) mindset. I am using the directories / categories of my blojsom blog to indicate times for archving--so, for example, I am saving this entry in a file in a 200305 (May 2003) directory.

Years and months are a kind of categorization for many blogs. I don't remember many blogs having great interfaces for accessing historical posts (those that don't appear on the blog home page), though I notice that some Moveable Type blogs have a "previous" / "next" navigation that I like (this entry from JOHO the blog is an example).

Again, I think the style of using a calendar to navigate through archived posts reflects the news/diary style. If blogs developed more out of the editorial/essay style, I think a more category-oriented navigation would be commonly seen as the primary interface to archived posts. I think Tim Bray's ongoing which is both a blog and the software Tim wrote to run the blog, has an interesting approach to providing navigation according to both the "when" of a post and the "what" of a post. (Note: he refers to his posts as "essays", which they most often are.)

Anyway, the point of all of this is that the blog, as a type of software, has some features that may or may not translate from one blog engine / tool to another, and may or may not reflect what one feels should be a feature of their blog. In going through the conversion from Radio Userland to blojsom, I had to consider features and how they are implemented very carefully in terms of how they would affect the intended purpose and presentation of my blog.

In the next parts, I will talk more about some of the technical / technology lessons I learned. And, I hope to roll this all up into a summary list of things to take into account in the iCite spec / prototype.

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