In my last post, I talked about the forces that prevent me from writing blog posts- factors I collectively call friction. One of the things that I cited was a desire to get things done first- for example, to make some headway on a new project before discussing it. Another version of the same problem is the desire to work out an idea completely before trying to explain it. In this entry I’m going to try and throw caution to the wind, and write about some ideas which aren’t fully formed, but which have been rattling around in my skull for a while.
Another of my examples of friction was categorizing posts. When I first started this site, I wrote my posts in the browser, using the Blosxom plugin wikieditish. Due to the way wikieditish works, I had to come up with the URI of a post before writing a post. Because my URIs reflect my post category tree, that meant that I had to categorize my post and name it before the first word was written. This is a little extra friction at the beginning of the process, when I’m still trying to figure out how to an idea into words.
Today I use Blapp to write my posts, which lets me name and categorize my post after it is written. This has reduced the friction of starting a post, but I still encounter friction when I need to categroize my posts. My category system, which you can see in the “More” boxlet on the side of this page, is a hierarchical system that evolved mostly in the first few months of the site’s life. As time has gone on, I’ve regretted some of the decisions I’ve made, and I’ve been reluctant to add new categories, because they don’t fit into the existing structure as well as I’d like.
Blosxom supports both date-type URIs and category URIs; this post is available both ways:
(Edit: the date-style link seems to be busted at the moment, I’ll ty to track that down tommorow. But it should work). I decided to use the category model for all of my internal links, trackbacks, etc., because they are nicely hackable along the category axis. On the other hand, the date URIs are nicely hackable along the time axis.
The friction is really tied up in the category tree. Besides the issues with the hierarchy, sometimes a post seems to qualify for multiple categories. There are ways to hack this into Blosxom, but none of them are very elegant, and have the side effect of further polluting your URIspace with additional permalinks, one for each category a post is placed in.
A solution I’ve been mulling would address a couple of these points at once, and that is to move to a tag-based categorization scheme, a lá del.icio.us, flickr, et al. Using a tagging system, a post can be tagged with as many tags as needed. Category style URIs would give way to tag-based URIs, which are actually index URIs rather than permalinks. For example, to see all of the pages I’ve bookmarked via del.icio.us and tagged as webdev (web development), you can visit http://del.icio.us/jason/webdev. In this case, I think the best candidate for a permalink becomes the date-style URI.
Tagging has been a hot topic for a while, but I’m going to sidestep the entire debate over taxonomy vs. folksonomy and simply talk about ways such a system would be useful. The ability to cross-tag a post I’ve already mentioned. Another benefit is the ability to automatically provide links to related material in other places. For example, a post about web development could automatically include a list of recent articles from this site with the same tag, and a link to that tag’s index on del.icio.us.
For another example, look at Technorati tags. This system allows you to tag posts in a way that lets Technorati aggregate your post with others that share that tag. A blogging system using tags could generate the Technorati tagging markup automatically, and could even show links to Technorati’s page for that tag (See Tantek’s site for an example of this in action.)
But why stop there? Another form of blogging friction I suffer is the need to link. I find it slowing and distracting when I’m writing a post to go hunt down URIs to things I want to link to- even related posts on my own site. Tags could help here as well, by adding tag lookup to authoring tools. If you haven’t used it lately, go check out the standard del.icio.us posting bookmarklet. If you have a del.icio.us account, click here to trigger it now for this page; your back button will bring you back. It has some cool new features, like a list of tag suggestions based on the content of the page being bookmarked (sometimes- if you don’t see suggestions, try it on some other pages). Now picture a blogging tool that analyzes as you type, suggests tags, and then suggests links to like-tagged content via services such as Technorati tags and del.icio.us, as well as posts from your own site. Instead of hunting down links, your authoring tool hunts them down for you. And with the groovy new Ajax stuff all the cool kids are playing with lately, you could even do this in a browser-based authoring tool.
I’ll wrap up for now with a teaser/segue to a future post- I’ve been toying with this idea for a while; and I’m of the opinion that as much as I like Blosxom, it’s not the right tool for this job. So, like scores of other wheel-reinventing programmers before me, I’m considering writing my own blogging software. But that’s another post.
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