Structured Blogging Test

Rating: 2 out of 5
I just installed a plugin for wordpress that allows me to write blog posts in a structured way and ensures that such posts comply with all sorts of microformats. The main benefit of this is that it facilitates automatic processing by sites such as technorati.com and many others, which understand these formats.

The installation procedure is basically dump files all over the place in the wordpress directory and then activate the plugin in the wordpress UI. Easy but it would have been nicer if the plugin would just have its own directory in the wordpress plugins directory.

The user interface of the plugin integrates with the wordpress administator UI. Under the write menu I now have a whole bunch of new options for creating reviews, events, lists, etc. The text editor for the review plugin which I am using to write this review appears to be just a textarea instead of the rich text editor that comes default with wordpress. This is of course annoying, especially if I want to use links or bullet lists. Writing all the tags manually sort of sucks. The rest of the user interface sort of is intuitive but too elaborate. It would have been nicer to have this more integrated with the write post UI. That is probably more difficult to implement but it is much more user friendly.

So I’m giving this 3 2 stars out of 5. It’s a nice plugin to have but there’s the integration issues and the issue with putting files where they don’t belong on my server. Lets see what happens if I click publish.

Update: it looks like it worked. It looks quite nice and the edit link below, which you don’t see since you don’t have write access to this site, works as expected: it brings up the review editor rather than the default wordpress edit UI.

Tags: microformats wordpress
Update 2: I just removed it for the following reason: it doesn’t seem to use the ping facilities in wordpress. Instead it forces you to create an account on a site called outputthis.org. The site is very brief on what it is all about and I don’t feel like creating an account there when I have a perfectly fine working pingomatic already. As explained in this lengthy rant, these structured blogging guys have their own agenda. I don’t feel like endorsing their services (at least until I know what they are) and without pingomatic being pinged I have no use for their plugin. So I’m removing it.

Update 3: I also removed the semantic formatting since it was screwing up my page layout.

more on opera mini

The reason my previous blog post was rather short was that I was running into the maximum amount of character limit imposed by opera mini. I think it’s a bit odd to have this limit for a textarea but I suppose there’s a reason for it.

Anyway, I really like this browser. It’s good enough that you can actually load the wordpress userinterface in it. It’s even usable! Though navigating it is a bit hard because opera mini basically transforms the page into a one column layout intended for small screens. So that means that all the controls are on a separate row. This works best for pages that are accessible and have the important content before the navigation. Of course the content of the wordpress userinterface is the various controls and there are a lot of those (30+)!

Other sites I tried were the new york times, slashdot, geenstijl.nl, nieuwnieuws.nl, nu.nl, osnews.com, tweakers.net (some of these sites are dutch). They all rendered fine and very fast compared to the native browser of my phone (renders the full page). Whatever opera is doing is working really well. Of course some sites have poor accessibility. For example, the nyt frontpage is a mess of advertisements, links and two line page introductions. When you squeeze that into opera mobile the result is not pretty and it is pretty hard to find your way through this mess.

The message is simple: if you want your websites to be usable on the soon to explode mobile internet market (and why wouldn’t you want that?) you will have to adopt xhtml  non table based layouts and conform to accessibility guidelines. Incidentally, this will also boost your google ranking. Basically google can be compared to a screenreader. Compared to a blind person using a screenreader it is actually pretty stupid. You need to point out what is important by using semantic html rather than font tags. If everything is a div or plain text in table cells decorated with css or font tags then you have no semantic information in the page. This will make it hard for google to separate the relevant information (like the title header of your page, important keywords in the text that you bothered to highlight) from the irrelevant stuff (navigation, footer, etc.). It will also make it hard for screenreaders to transform it into something readable and it will be totally unusable on hundreds of millions of mobile phones.
Of the sites listed above opera mini did a reasonable job. It did as much as can reasonably expected of it. I’ve used opera’s full mobile browser as well, it does a slightly better job. Opera mini does most of the processing serverside however. This has two important advantages: less content is sent to the phone and the phone spends less time rendering. Both these things save a lot of time. Using opera mini was the first time I had an acceptable browsing experience on a mobile phone. Pages download in seconds instead of minutes. The back button actually works pretty well. So does the cache (so you can go back and forth between the frontpage and articles linked on the frontpage) in a reasonable timeframe.

The user interface is pretty good (though clearly not designed for the nokia 9300 which has a widescreen (half vga) with the navigation buttons on the side instead of the usual narrow screen on most phones. The formfactor is actually really good for browsing and reading websites. A particular problem was that the menu button on the phone was not integrated with the browser menu. So there are two different application menus one activated with one of the navigation keys and one activated with the menu key. Also some of the keys have an unexpected result. The full keyboard features an escape button which usually can be used as cancel button. Using it when entering a url it actually behaves like an OK button.

Despite these minor annoyances, I intend to keep this browser. I like it.

WordPress upgrade

I’ve been a pretty happy wordpress user for the past few months. Though I had some issues with blogspammers, the current settings seem to have restored the peace.

This morning I saw that there was a new version of wordpress (2.0) and of course I just had to upgrade :-).

The main purpose of this new releases seems to have been to upgrade the backend userinterface. The (default) theme for the blog itself is mostly unchanged. I’m not sure if I like the new design. There seem to be a few glitches. For example the tabs look awful and there’s this vertical line which is just a few pixels to long. And you’d better like blue because it is all over the place. The previous version had a really clean user interface and this looks slightly more messy.

Furthermore the content editor is now a wysiwyg thingy. It seems to work except that it keeps inserting spaces in front of the first letter of a new paragraph. I’m not sure I like it. I’ll probably disable it.

In search of the One True Layout

A few weeks back when I re-launched my blog in wordpress, I made a few comments about not being interested in working around the many specification and implementation bugs of CSS and make a really nice, spiffy layout for my blog. That’s why you are looking at the (pretty) default template of wordpress.

This article captures my point perfectly:
Introduction – In search of the One True Layout

It describes a solution to a very common layout problem: how to position blocks on the page next to each other. The solution outlined works around several IE bugs. Then when it works they point out to make it do what you really want (like put the whole thing in a containing block), you will need to work around even more bugs, including a few mozilla bugs that surface when you use these workarounds. Oh and the whole thing does not work in Mozilla anyway due to a recently introduced bug that (on trunk) has just been fixed (today!).

That’s why I don’t want to do CSS/HTML based web design anymore. Any reasonably complicated design requires you to either compromise on what you want to achieve or to use a whole series of bug workarounds, stretching the css implementation well beyond its specified/intended behaviour and hoping that next months browser updates won’t break things.

Unacceptable.

CSS is a hopelessly complicated and IMHO deeply flawed standard. Sadly, no alternatives are available.

WordPress review

After a few days of use, I think a wordpress review would be appropriate on this newly created wordpress blog.

Installation

Wow that was easy (with help from the excellent install howto):
1) create mysql database, remember user, password + servername
2) download wordpress
3) unzip, edit the config file and insert data noted under 1
4) upload everything to the server and visit the install wizard to complete the 1 step installation (creates tables in the database and sets the permissions right on some directories)

TADA! Done.

Migrating pivot.

I had been using pivot for about half a year and had collected about 30 or so posts that I wanted to migrate to wordpress.

Sadly import of pivot posts is not supported directly (well there is an unsupported migration script some guy wrote once) but the good news is that pivot has excellent RSS support and that wordpress can import RSS.

So
1) set up pivot to spit out everything in its RSS feed (instead of the latest 10 posts)
2) download the rss feed
3) edit the import_rss.php file to point to the rss file
4) open the php script on the server, it will import the rss

Done! Categories, authors, posts, titles, dates etc all migrated.
5) well, it’s probably best to restore the import script to its default state of not being configured with any rss feed so it can’t be executed accidentally.

TADA! All my posts of the past year are now in wordpress.

Using wordpress

Using and configuring wordpress is quite easy. It takes a few moments to understand how user rights, options and features relate. These concepts are quite well worked out in wordpress. By default there is one user (admin) who can do anything. Other users may register through the website and get a level of trust from the admin (or a qualified user). 0 means no rights at all. By promoting users, they get the right to add their comments, moderate/edit/create posts, manage users, etc. Nice. But I’m unlikely to register much other users.

Visitors can leave comments on the site. The behaviour can be configured such that comment spamming is unlikely to happen. An important feature for me because I had to disable commenting on pivot because of spam. I’m still experimenting with the settings to find out the best mix of freedom of speech and spam protection.

The user interface is quite clean and functional. Oddly, the wordpress developers prefer the use of serif fonts. This gives wordpress a rather pleasing, unconventional & conservative (contradiction, I know :-)), newspaper like look and feel. The letters are big (1 em) and readability is excellent. When you think about it, this is kind of important for a tool intended to process text. The font communicates an important design philosophy: this tool is about getting content out for people to read and nothing else. It is not about feature creep, complexity or in your face flash & javascript enabled GUIs.

Aside from the look and feel, this tool has all the features you’d expect from a blog tool. The functionality is organized in a number of self explanatory tabs like ‘write’ and ‘users’. The default settings are probably ok for a novice user and a more advanced user can easily change the behaviour of posting, comments, templates, etc.

migrated to wordpress

I’ve been playing around with wordpress for about an hour. Easy to use, feature rich and I managed to migrate my old pivot posts by importing the RSS.

Why migrate away from pivot? Well, I wanted to try something new. Referrer and comment spam has caused me to cripple pivot and frankly, I never really liked the plain text files, the messy templates and the lack of updates during the half year I used it.

WordPress seems to be popular amongst the ‘hard core’ bloggers and I like the look and feel. Also the default template is much nicer IMHO.

As for that, I am unlikely to change it much due to a lack of time and interest. That may sound a little unlike me but I am sort of bored with trying to make html+css+javascript do things it is clearly not very well suited for.

I simply no longer believe in this technology: it is primitive, awfully limited and hopelessly flawed by design. Most nice page layouts consist of elaborate workarounds for browser limitations, browser incompatibilities, ambiguous standards interpretations and plain parser bugs. The implementation of the more relevant CSS features are almost without exception problematic.

I have no wish to learn much more than I already know about yesterdays mistakes at Netscape and Microsoft. Every attempt at building something nice over the past few years has ended with me discovering it wouldn’t work in IE (position:fixed) or it wasn’t possible at all (vertical spacing, css columns with a row beneath) or it would sort of half work in version x and break down in version y of Firefox (never bothered to find out which version was behaving ‘incorrectly’).