Next Generation Blogging Tool

Last week the fearless leader of the Berkman Blogger’s,
Dave Winer, wanted to collect some starting point design criteria for
the next generation of Blogging software. Since Dave believes (and we
concur) that software should be designed from user needs translated into
engineering reality rather than visa versa, he asked a select group of
Blogger’s whose opinion he respects as deep thinkers and super-users
to formulate their thoughts and functional fantasies into words.

Needless to say, the Dowbrigade was not among those hoary sages asked
for their opinions, adding to his richly deserved reputation as the Rodney
Dangerfield of the Blogosphere.  The disadvantage of being identified
as a humor blogger is that nobody takes you seriously even when you are
trying to be.  Of course, the advantage is that you can dismiss
all of your critics as lacking a sense of humor.

At any rate, never having been shy and at one point in our career practically
supporting ourselves by crashing parties, we will leap in with our two
bits. For starters, let us say that we agree with almost everything written
by Jim
Moore
in response to Dave’s query. Summing up, Jim wrote that users
need completely transparent, drag and drop simplicity in composing and
posting.

We would like to expand on and modulate those comments, however. The
dream of a composing environment where we non-coders can drop pictures,
text blocks, links and media gems, move them around and arrange them
just the way we want them is admirable and may someday be achievable.
However, Macromedia and Adobe have been trying to achieve the same thing
in their general purpose web site design programs, and they are still
far from the ideal Jim imagines.

As Dave himself noted browser based composition is clearly the way to
go. It allows designers to allow users to do common composition and uploading
tasks in 2 or 3 steps instead of 10 or 12.  Yet even the most advanced
WYSIWYG html editors like Dreamweaver, in which the Dowbrigade News
is composed, are far from this kind of super-simple drag and drop capability, so it
may take awhile to reach this holy grail

It is instructive to consider the evolution of html editors, for as
we have repeatedly established a weblog is really just a web page with
some build-in functionality. Web page design options range from coders
who compose straight-out in html, tags and strings of code flying from
their fingertips to complete non-techies who simply type text into a
template and have no idea of how it gets onto the web. Many people,
like the Dowbrigade, take a middle path.

This offering of a variety of modes and composition options is essential.
As an educator we know that different people have different learning
styles, and different composers have different composition styles. Some
may say aim for the lowest common denominator and let those who want
to mess with the code use a different application.  However, since
what goes on in the background is pretty much the same, it shouldn’t
be too difficult to let different kinds of users access the functionality
in different ways.

The key to offering the capability to arrange and position elements
within postings seems to be tables.  As a web page designer and
blogger we find tables indispensable in placing specific content in specific
places on the page. Although our initial understanding of cascading style
sheets was that they were designed to do pretty much the same thing,
we could never get them to do more than preserve formatting styles across
a site of disparate pages, and we still use tables for placement in just about all the pages we design. However,
we have yet to find a really easy and flexible table tool.

Without knowing whether it would be technically possible, we can imagine
self-adjusting table cells such that when a user drops an image or other
object into a page an invisible table cell is automatically generated
which instantly adjusts as the user moves the object around the page.
This ability to spatially arrange elements, combine with the common
skills of using a basic formatting pallet, would give even complete non-coders
a high degree of intuitive control over the appearance and functionality
of their content.

In general, we think the principles of simplicity and modifiability,
both of the creation and viewing environments, should be the touchstones
of the next generation of blogging tools. And of course, it must be
integrated with the next generation of aggregators. We would suggest
that the aggregator be a central feature of the new blogging tools, both
as content collector and as a feature for readers.  As Jim suggests,
finding, subscribing and unsubscribe from streams should be made as
simple and intuitive as possible.The aggregator should be enabled to
handle as wide a variety of embedded enclosures as possible; audio, video,
text, etc., and should be completely configurable in that the user can
select, for each feed, how much to display of headlines, body and graphics,
and what to do with enclosures.

In fact, users should have the option of using the aggregator by itself
and ignoring the blogging part of the equation altogether. In fact, the
Dowbrigade already has two Manila blogs set up expressly for that purpose.
If a user wants, their aggregator could BE their blog, simply a controlled
information flow reflecting the interests and character of the owner.

If a product could do all that, the Dowbrigade would be severely tempted
to actually break down and PAY for it. Unless we can finagle a copy as
a beta tester….

 

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