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The best thing about blogs


I have been thinking a lot about weblogs, blogs to their friends. There are a lot of ways to start an argument on this topic, so I will confine myself to one way. The best thing about blogs.

In most cases, blogging software has introduced a very clear separation between the document and the way it served on the web as part of a weblog, or via an update-notification feed like RSS or Atom. This is the much sought-after separation between content and presentation in use by millions of people. The biggest achievement has been in getting users used to typing words into something and then letting the weblog software work out how to display the thing. The something they type into can be a form field, or a simple client, or an in-browser editor, or Microsoft Outlook, or a text editor. Bloggers typically get to see their writing on a page with other writings, in an archive, and in a feed that notifies readers of new material. That is they see it in a few different guises from one input. There is usually some kind of template system that makes all the posts look the same automatically.

Why is this important?

Because it has broken the one-to-one relationship between text and presentation.

I think this has prepared the way to extend write-once-publish-to-multiple-contexts beyond somewhat-one-track-minded weblogs to a more general publishing system. I have written about this before in Don't just blog this; a plea for more general purpose publishing services that go beyond the weblog genre.

Personally I want this kind of separation between content and presentation to be broader, to deal with intranets, general web sites, courseware, every kind of document I deal with, including birthday party invitations and treasure maps. And we need print as well. At work I have been involved in building a system that does just this (and yes a staff member has configured it to run a blog, and no you can't go and have a look, it's for his family).

I predict that as the weblog community grows, more community members will demand that their word processor can feed a content store that drives internal and external websites, and they will still be able to print their document in a reasonably presentable way, and drop in bits of spreadsheets and so on. The main component to enable this is a server engine that can accept content, help you classify it so it goes to the right places with the right notifications. The content will be able to come from a full word processor, in addition to all the weblog editor options listed above.

This post was inspired by piece by someone I know from uni days, Justine Larbalestier, who is an actual author:

This is not a blog.

The blog is a form that doesn't suit me. I'm not interested in having to have special software to write my musings. And I'm allergic to diaries.

Justine writes her musings (grudgingly) in Word, and then pastes them into DreamWeaver to add to her site. She is a potential user for a system that lets her work in Word, or something even better, and would be able to handle the business of making good HTML for her words and putting them on her site, updating the index page and feeding notifications to readers. But guess what? It can't be just a blogging tool, because Justine wisely does not self-identify as a blogger, even if technically her site is similar to a blog (I sympathise with her stance, I have to make the same kinds of declarations myself. I'm not a geek, ok?). Justine already has the separation between the authoring environment and the web site, and does some manual labour (yuck) to bridge the gap. But software to do the labour for her should no longer be considered 'special'.

Lets build it!