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What makes blogging cool, and what is the ultimate expression of that concept? In short, what defines "blogging heaven"? This blog post is the first in a series aimed at that question. Along the way, the idea is to rope in concepts of "knowledge sharing" and "collaboration" and see how they interplay with blogging.
In this inaugural edition of the "Cool Tools and Technologies for Developers" blog, we'll start start off with a meta-blog?a blog about blogging.
Blogging definitely qualifies as a cool tool. It's a way to get thoughts and ideas out to the web quickly, but that's not it's major advantage. After all, I can send thoughts out to a mailing list, too.
The first step to "blogging heaven", then, is the ability to produce content at near stream-of-consciousness speeds, but produce easily readable, well-formatted HTML pages in the process.
While I can write quickly in mail, the result is something less than easily readable, nicely formatted output (mostly because spammers make it necessary to filter out all but plain text messages).
[Note to self: Write about spammers in a future blog. Try not to foam. Death threats are illegal.]
However, online blogs have a couple of disadvantages, as well:
While web pages are great, people have to go looking for them. And vice versa. I have to go looking for other people's pages when I want to find something. (Unless they have an "RSS" feed.)
That's great when I'm looking for something new. But it's a pain when I'm trying to stay up on some topic that's covered on 25 different web sites. The day is too short to spend it clicking around to see what's new.
On the other hand, my inbox could be flooded with "page added" messages, if I got them one a time. (Or if I added myself to the RSS feed for every blog I come across that held an interesting thought.)
Artima solves the problem nicely, by sending a weekly announcement summarizing the posts?and that's the primary reason I'm blogging here.
The other major drawback to online blogging is that the authoring process typically involves filling in a form on a web page. That's a pretty awful interface, for two major reasons:
These failings were brought vividly to my attention the other day, while attempting to respond to a blog. At the very tail end of a long post (and a very elequoent one, if I do say so) I managed to hit some combination of keystrokes that eradicated the entire message. No saved copy. No way to bring it back. Tragedy. That particular set of thoughts is still waiting for the convergence of time, topic, and creative energy, that will cause them to resurface.
The solution, oddly enough, is in the other half of the browser -- the email client.
Together, web pages and email make a great combination. After all, email editors have save and undo, and many support HTML authoring is well. And, as we've already noted, with email notifications, the topics essentially come to you.
Some email systems also let you specify which domains should get HTML, and which should get plain text. That's cool. On the other hand, some (like mine) store the sent-folder copy in plain text, too, which is exceedingly dumb. So the system isn't perfect, yet. But I expect it will evolve.
So a quick outline of a system for "blogging heaven", begins to look like this:
There is a bit more to "blogging heaven" than that. But the next steps, which are geared towards using the blog as a vehicle for collaboration and knowledge sharing, are also somewhat more difficult to implement. So we'll leave that for future blogs.
For now, it's enough to recognize that the combination of email client and browser are both necessary and sufficient for a vital, robust blogging system that lets you author at close to the speed of thought (assuming you have quick fingers!), and lets you read with all the comfort of formatted and linked text.
|Eric Armstrong has been programming and writing professionally since before there were personal computers. His production experience includes artificial intelligence (AI) programs, system libraries, real-time programs, and business applications in a variety of languages. He works as a writer and software consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. He wrote The JBuilder2 Bible and authored the Java/XML programming tutorial available at http://java.sun.com. Eric is also involved in efforts to design knowledge-based collaboration systems.|