A serious request

I need a bit of advice. I’d like to make my blog more accessible, easier to read, simpler to play with. There are a number of things I’m thinking about right now in this context, roughly listed below, in no particular order:

  • Getting rid of the Categories bit on the sidebar, replacing it with a shorter list of tags
  • Ensuring that those tags are the same as on my Technorati profile
  • Reclassifying all my posts according to those tags
  • Reclassifying my blogroll into some sort of grouped list
  • Adding a CoComment-style feature, maybe CoComment itself
  • Bringing LibraryThing back
  • Adding a Where am I bit
  • Making sure I have a Contact Me clearly visible
  • Providing an excerpt for each post, and only making that excerpt visible
  • Finding a way for people to be able to listen to my posts
  • Finding a way for people to read my posts in other languages

Then I thought to myself, why am I trying to do this on my own? Why can’t I just ask you? What would you have me do in order to make this blog more useful to you? [And yes, “shut up and just go away is a perfectly valid answer”…]

There are also some things I have felt uneasy about doing, like adding a Digg facility. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I’m wary of it, as wary of it as I am with putting advertising on the blog. Something inside me doesn’t like something about it, and I have to figure out why. Again, comments welcome.

So please talk to me. Let me know what I can do to make things better, easier, simpler. What I should stop doing. What I should start doing. I’m still experimenting, it’s barely six months since I started blogging externally. And I’d like to get better at it.

If you use the Comment route then others can see what you say, and that may trigger other thoughts and suggestions. But if you feel uncomfortable with that route, then by all means write to me. I can be found at [email protected]

Thanks a lot.

12 thoughts on “A serious request”

  1. What you did the other day in providing a link back to the original “Because Of rather than With” post was a good thing.

    You use a number of concepts repeatedly in your posts, and a canonical “this is what I mean” article for each is worth keeping as a Page rather than a Post. That way, as your thinking matures on a particular concept we (your public) have a go-to page for the latest version of your exegesis.

    That way the blog stays provisional, but the more developed concepts begin to gain a “published” status.

  2. Thanks Dom. That sounds challenging, but worth a try. First off I need to work out just how many “pages” I have; my gut feel is that I will land up with one page per tag, on the basis of a sharply reduced number of tags. My tags/categories not anyone else’s.

    The “page” then becomes a “story so far” summary with links to the more detailed posts.

    So I could have one for social software (including four pillars), one for identity/authentication/permissioning, one for IPR and DRM, one for opensource, one for expertise/governance/wisdom of crowds/gatekeepers, one for education, one for etc etc. Maybe ten pages. Each summarising the state of the conversation, providing both internal as well as external links.

    Like the idea, needs serious working on. Did I interpret your suggestion correctly?

    And if that works, I need to find a way of letting people subscribe to a particular page/conversation rather than the blog itself. So the blog disaggregates.

    If I could find a way of displaying the readers who comment on a particular strand of conversation, so that the blogroll also disaggregates and reaggregates, that could be interesting.

    Keep the suggestions coming.

  3. A summary of each post rather than an excerpt would be more useful to the reader. If we like the summary, we can visit the blog post.

    Might be hard to achieve automatically in WordPress though.

  4. It will be interesting to see what WordPress can do. After all, it is run like an opensource community. So let’s see what happens. All I need is a facility for adding a summary that I write, rather than an excerpt created by the “system”. And some simple way of letting readers connect to the bigger post.

  5. I read your blog via feedreader, and only click through when I want to bookmark you in del.icio.us, or read/leave comments –and that is working great just the way it is. I’d hate to see your feed change from full-text to excerpts. Summaries would be okay, but really I want the whole thing in the feedreader.

    I like Dominic’s canonical “this is what I mean” Pages suggestion. And of course feeds for those would be great, too.

  6. The best I can do is respond on the basis of my own experiences; since I seem to have had quite a few of them, I hope this will be of some value!

    First of all, I worked at a laboratory that did an early user test of a knowledge-sharing product called Intraspect. The basic philsophy behind this product was that search trumps structure, which interested me a lot, since the primary technical minds behind the product had past track records in areas like knowledge representation and ontological engineering. So the main thing the product did was automatically keep a record of everything you touched and index each record. Did this work? Our own results were inconclusive, so the only result was that our organization decided not to adopt the product.

    In this respect it is worth recalling that the original philosophy behind Yahoo! (not to mention its name) involved an ontological network (not strictly tree structured) that seemed to reflect the design philosophy of physical libraries: While a card category can take you directly to a book, once you get there you are interested in what is in the proximity of your destination. Yahoo! Directory still exists, at:


    However, I had to do a fair amount of goal-directed digging to get to it from my own My Yahoo! page. The Search window has pride of place there with six preferred search categories: Web, Images, Video, Local, News, and Shopping. Directory is not one of those categories.

    There are two places where I use tags: Yahoo! My Web 2.0 and Flickr. My Flickr tags are strictly for my own convenience (as is my collection). I have never been interested in any content that is not my own. For the most part I consult my tag list (and appreciate the information in the font size) and use search on rare occasions (meaning I am not sure if I have used it more than once).

    My use of Yahoo! My Web 2.0 is also pretty much personal, although I occasionally accept “community advice” in the tags I assign. I tried once checking out tag content across the entire community, but there was just too much stuff there. I HAVE used the search tool on Yahoo! My Web 2.0 and found it quite useful.

    My blog, which I maintain on Yahoo! 360, involves a variety of threads, not unlike Confused of Calcutta. While I used to enjoy the way in which Usenet would automatically organize discussion threads, I install hyperlinks in my blog entries manually. Stravinsky used to say that he only REALLY began to understand his music when he copied out the parts himself (did I invoke that quote once before?); and I feel the same way about my own blog. Manual hyperlinking obliges me to reflect on what I have written in the past and on how it relates to what I am trying to write in the present. As far as I am concerned a blog is not merely a diary. For my purposes, at least, it seems to be filling in the gap created when Usenet succumbed to Gresham’s Law: It has restored to me an opportunity to “rehearse” material that will subsequently go into papers I submit for publication. If Yahoo! 360 had a search tool as good as the one for Yahoo! My Web 2.0, I would probably use it very heavily; but my own hyperlinking has helped me to get beyond this disadvantage. For the most part the Confused of Calcutta search tool has not helped very much. When I am looking for stuff, the main thing I do is browse the chronological archive index.

    Was all that of any use?

  7. yes, all this is very useful. I get to understand little bits of how people use the blog, and can therefore take care not to break anything.

    i like the search-trumps-structure approach, it is intrinsic to my Four Pillars model.

    i have completely bought the “page” concept that dom suggested.

    as far as the rest is concerned, re-tagging things may be the best way. then my categories become tags and usable as a result.

  8. WordPress can do excerpts but I’m finding that the more you want to do, the more constraining WP becomes. If you’ve got the technical smarts (and are prepared to put up with the pain) Drupal can take you a lot further. It provides a ‘story’ and ‘book’ feature for posts of the kind where you’re talking about refining thinking over time.

    The BIG problem with Drupal is that while it is incredibly powerful (and free), it is a monumental climb. Stuff you think should ‘juest be there’ isn’t, the communitry is a bit stuck up, not a lot of time for newbies, and to get the best from it, you really need to put in time learning its quirks.

    Joomla could be an alternative and does provide add-ons for magazine style presentation but while I like its control panel, I’m concerned about its SE friendliness. Has a lot that Drupal has but much simpler to understand and control.

    Both provide very sophisticated tagged taxonomy systems and very fine access control.

    the reason I say this is because you’re moving into CMS territory with your requests and WP is NOT a CMS.

  9. Not sure about disaggregating the blog into channels, it would discourage you from making random walk posts that touch on a number of the bees in your bonnet.

    I just meant a set of slightly more static pages that are a guide to your current thinking on a particular topic. Your list of tags/page titles is pretty much what I was thinking of. The example page titles in my mind were “Because Of rather than With”, “Moore/Metcalfe/Gilder”, “Four Pillars”, “Social software”. Phrases you use often with a particular meaning in mind that are not totally transparent to the casual reader.

    Like a glossary perhaps.

  10. My two cents:

    – I’d add coComment integration (disclaimer: I work for them); I’m going to put a post up on the coComment blog with links to up-to-date plugins to do that easily with WP.

    – I wouldn’t recommend showing only excerpts of your posts. For example, I’ve discovered your blog today. If you’re not using excerpts, I can scroll through your archives and read your posts without having to click around. If you use excerpts and I want to read all the posts you made in August, I might have to click 20 times to read 20 posts, and maybe I’m not actually going to read them all. With full text on one page, I get to skim what I want and read what I want. Remember: in doubt, users don’t click.

  11. Some ideas for making your posts more accessible/usable, based on the way visually impaired users might access your space:

    – Allow users to switch to a linearised accessible layout. This is very easy since you are using CSS
    – Provide a hidden link to let assistive technology users jump repetitive links – you can do this easily with transparent gifs.
    – Lay your content out so that with formatting removed you provide the search option up top, and possibly a jump to categories link that saves users scrolling
    – Alt tag your images sensibly – note that content currently rendered on images like the music and location of visitors cannot rendered accessibly unless you replace them with a text output.
    – Remove the fixed width formatting on the page so that the width resizes with the browser window.
    – Replace the font with a sans serif one like Arial – these are easier to read
    – Output comment titles as heading 4
    – Provide return to top, or jump to categories links
    – Use a form just like this for the contact option
    – Create a Blogs page link for users to return to your blogs page from the about me section etc. Currently difficult to work out how to do this as there is no ‘home’ option.

    If you aren’t sure how your site will render to users concerned with accessibility, a very simple way of doing this is to download and run the Opera Browser (http://www.opera.com/download/). Go to the View menu and select Style, then User mode, and ‘Show Structural Elements’. It will give you a visual insight of how your website is rendered to any assistive technology.

    Hope that helps. Feel free to drop me an email if you would like more detail.

  12. Great stuff Rizwan, thanks a lot. And thank you to everyone else as well, I now have a reasonable list of things to get done.

Let me know what you think

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