Monday, July 18, 2005

Deeper Into Blogs with Dave Winer

I have been deconstructing blogs by various means.

I've analyzed their components, purposes, and attributes.

I've stripped one down to almost unrecognizable format, calling it an "unblog" in the genuine sense.

And I've closely inspected definitions of different blog functionalities and features.

One of the most effective ways to deconstruct an object is to penetrate its depths by analyzing, or systematically commenting upon, a colleagues' analysis: resulting in a double analysis.

Let's closely examine some excerpts from one of Dave Winer's essays.

"What makes a weblog a weblog?"
Dave Winer
Weblogs at Harvard Law
May 23, 2003

[QUOTE...with running Commentary]

Key point: On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with.

Sometimes you submit right at the copy-edit deadline. Or you write exactly the required number of words so nothing can be cut. But in the end, the words that appear are an amalgam of what your organization thought should be said on the subject you're addressing.

Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference.

[STREIGHT: Not entirely correct. Not "only a weblog...", because a webzine, discussion list, online forum, chat room, web site, personal home page, and other digital media also enable you to publish content free from editorial control.]

It gives the public writer a kind of relaxation not available in other forms.

That might mean that in some sense the "quality" of the writing is different, but I would not say lower, assuming the purpose of writing is to inform, not to impress.

I would choose a few spelling or grammatical errors over factual errors.


Technically, what is a weblog?


A weblog is a hierarchy of text, images, media objects, and data, arranged chronologically, that can be viewed in an HTML browser.

[STREIGHT: This is looking at a weblog as a done deal, as you stare at it. But this does not address how it differs from a conventional web site or other online content platform.

It leaves out the speed and ease with which non-technical users can create, maintain, and utilize a blog. It omits the distinctly interactive advantage of user comments and blogger replies to the comments. It glides over the unique atomic unit of the blogosphere being the permalinked post, rather than the web page.]

There's a little more to say.

[STREIGHT: I beg to differ.]

The center of the hierarchy, in some sense, is a sequence of weblog "posts" -- explained below -- that forms the index of the weblog, that link to all the content in sequence.

What is a weblog post?

A weblog post has three basic attributes: title, link, and description.

All are optional. Some weblogs only have descriptions. Others always have all three. On my own weblog, Scripting News, all items have descriptions, a few have titles, and most have links, some have several links. Generally, a title cannot contain markup, but the description can.

Most weblog tools require titles. Manila is fairly unique in not requiring them. The tradeoff is simplicity vs flexibility. It's simpler from a user interface standpoint to require the presence of all three basic attributes, but writers can find this limiting.

[STREIGHT: Ah, but limits are the mother of invention. Why any writer would not want to put a title on a post is beyond me. Unless the post is really not an essay, but rather just a brief text containing a link. Then the blog is more of a link log.]

If one of the basic attributes is optional it's the link. In that case, the title of the post is often linked to a permalink for the item (see below).

Most weblog posts are short, a paragraph or two.

Some weblog tools provide for longer articles or stories, often by including a place for a summary in the form for a weblog post. If available, there should also be an option for only including the summary in the RSS feed for the weblog.

Archives and permalinks.

The home page of the weblog displays the current items, as configured by the editor. The posts scroll through the home page.

Some weblogs show you the last 15 posts or the last 7 days; no matter what, eventually the item will scroll off the home page, but it will be permanently stored on an archive page.

When people point to a specific post, they link to the archived version, the permanent one, using a permalink. The permalink is often displayed as a pound sign (#); sometimes it's the link from the time of a post.

It tells others how to point to the item. It's a good idea to include a permalink if you want others to be able to point to your posts.

[STREIGHT: In other words, a permalink acts as a direct, or "deep" link to a specific post. If you are quoting or discussing a blog post, you should also provide a hypertext link to it. Always link to the specific post itself, and never just the blog's main index page, which practice requires users to search the blog's archives to find the specific post being referenced.]



A post might link to a popup window containing reader comments and responses from the author. Three bits of information are generally requested from each commenter, and are optionally retained in a cookie sent back to the reader, but not generally retained by the weblog software: name, email address, and website url (usually a weblog).

[STREIGHT: This barren commentary on comments deserves a comment. The ability of users to quickly and easily publish remarks, questions, recommended links, and other textual content to a blog is one of the main things that make blogs revolutionary.]


The home page and each archive page of the weblog usually displays a calendar, in the familiar format, that allows the reader to easily locate the archive pages by time.

All dates but the one currently being viewed are linked; the current page is displayed in bold, or a different color, basically with some visual attribute that makes it stand out. Movable Type has a way of displaying a calendar in full-screen mode where you can see the titles of the individual posts on each day.

[STREIGHT: Actually, this post page calendar is not all that common in blogs. They represent "blind navigation". The date of a post tells you nothing about the content, topic, title. Not sure what the point is.]


A post can be categorized or placed in a department. There's a way to view all the posts in a given category, and the RSS rendering indicates what categories a post is in using the category element.

[STREIGHT: Listen up bloggers. We need to do more of this post categorization. It's very refreshing to see a blog with good post archive categories.

For example, I'm generally going to be interested only in posts that deal with blogs. So I'll look for the "blog" or "blogging" archive category, then scan the list of post titles on that topic.

I hate it when I go to a blog, and I know the author has written many essays on blogs, but I can't find them. Site search engines are often non-existent, or not helpful.]

Edit This Page button.

When you're looking at a bit of text that needs to be changed, assuming you have editorial permission to edit it, how many steps do you have to take to edit it, and how much memorization is required?

Some weblog software makes this trivially simple, every bit of editable text has a button nearby that allows the author to modify it in three steps, click the button, make the changes, save the changes.


The posts are rendered through a set of templates where the designer (often the same person as the writer) decides how the standard item elements are to be rendered on the page.

There may be a post-level template, a day-level template, an overall template for the page, a template for the home page, or other templates.

The rendering features, the separation of content from presentation, are the core of what makes a weblog system a content management system.

[STREIGHT: And this ease of simplified content management is another aspect that makes the blog revolutionary.]



An RSS feed is available for the weblog, so people who use news aggregators can subscribe to the weblog. If the weblog has categories or departments each has its own RSS feed.


When the weblog updates, the weblog system automatically pings Weblogs.Com, subject to a preference. Some weblog software can be configured to ping other change-aggregators such as


When a post links to a post on another weblog that supports Trackback it can ping the other weblog to notify it that it has been referred to. In this way each post can serve as a collection point for posts on a given topic.

[STREIGHT: My personal inclination is to skip trackbacks. I never check what blogs have written a post about the post I'm reading at another blog. Often, the trackback post is not very substantial.]

Notification via email or IM.

Some weblog software can automatically notify editors [i.e., the blogger, blog author] or community members [e.g., in a group or team blog] if new posts, pictures, media objects, articles, or comments have been posted.

To date, no software can do this over instant messaging, although it would be relatively easy to implement.

Plug-in architecture.

Some weblog tools define a way for developers to add plug-ins. Movable Type allows plug-ins written in Perl, Manila allows plug-ins written in UserTalk; Radio allows "tools" written in UserTalk.

API Support.

Many weblog tools implement some kind of programming interface, making it possible for external tools written in any programming or scripting language to automate repetitive operations, or to integrate the weblog tool with other software, or to provide rich editing tools for creating and editing weblog posts. Most of these APIs are available in XML-RPC, some are also available in SOAP 1.1.


It's possible to send an email message to to the author of a post without knowing the email address of the user.

[STREIGHT: This is a reference to what is called "web mail" or "hidden email" or a "contact form". You fill out a comment-like form and your message is sent to the blog author. This is done to eliminate spam email.]


Referrer tracking.

Some weblog software automatically tracks the client browser's referer attribute so that authors can easily see where the hits are coming from.



Consider a weblog that includes longer articles (like this one) linked into the home page.



The Web can display text and pictures, so good weblog software not only can store and display pictures for you, but has convenient facilities for combining them into sequences and to display them for readers of the site.

Media objects include various Microsoft file formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Macromedia and Apple movies, PDF, downloadable applications -- basically any type of data that might be included with a weblog post, or as an RSS enclosure.



Weblogs often have a blogroll, linking to sites that the author thinks are interesting, informative, or useful. The blogroll is where you can see the political relationships between this weblog and other elements of the weblog community. Blogrolls are often stored and shared in OPML, and edited with an outliner.

Hierarchy browser.

Using OPML as the format for describing hierarchies, Manila and compatible tools make it possible to author Yahoo-like directories with a compatible outliner.

Slide shows.

Similar to the Hierarchy browser feature, but for displaying PowerPoint-like presentations.


{signed} Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate

+ = -


Ed Deevy said...

"[STREIGHT: This is looking at a weblog as a done deal, as you stare at it. But this does not address how it differs from a conventional web site or other online content platform.

It leaves out the speed and ease with which non-technical users can create, maintain, and utilize a blog. It omits the distinctly interactive advantage of user comments and blogger replies to the comments. It glides over the unique atomic unit of the blogosphere being the permalinked post, rather than the web page.]"

This statement really goes to the heart of what is unique about blogs. As somebody with absolutely no background in IT I appreciate your comment about "ease of use." I also appreciate your comment regarding the INTERACTIVE nature of blogs. I could not be posting this response without the blogging platform.

steven edward streight said...

We need to get better at cultivating blog audiences.

I treat this in "Comment Generation" post.

Replying quickly, thoroughly, to user content, to comments posted at the post, almost, at times, starting a sub-thread, or a reposting, a multiple posting, one in the post proper, others in the comment thread of the initiating post.

A post as commonly refered to is actually not "post" as in a singularity, but an "initial, initiating post".

carrie said...

it seems like no one uses trackbacks

steven edward streight said...

You see Trackback in business, marketing, and web design blogs a lot.

What does that tell you?

I'll be Dr. Deevy knows what I'm hinting at here. He shares some of, but by no means all, my cynicism.

Anyone want to a shot at it?

What does it mean when certain types of blogs have Trackbacks displayed, usually above the Comments and Email This To A Friend functions.

Come on. A little self-motivated deconstruction please.