Structured Blogging – Magic or Just Another Wizard?

Reading D’Arcy Norman’s ‘5 out of 5’ post on structured blogging the other day it seemed like it was probably worth revisiting the WP & MT plugin, especially in the light of how it might be used in a multi-user blogging environment and the ever-deafening march of word-processing / cms on the web about to be given another serious boost by the release of WordPress 2.0.

structed blogging logo

I mean, the concept is great, especially if you want students / probloggers / business people or just plain old you to be able to write material that is instantly semantically organised, structured and meta tagged to high heaven. No more behind the scenes coding, no more tricky headings / subheadings etc. and it’ll even automatically post at multiple locations through Outputthis.org and add in your Amazon Affiliate details. What more could you want?

However, in reality I’m not sure if it’s that simple and something bugs me about form filling and the impact that might have on content & creativity. Naturally this is going to help all of you SEO folks no end but does it work for your everyday blogger? I’m tempted to say ‘no’.

First up it harks back to pre WSYWIG days (these are a distant and painful memory for any WPMU site owners “um, it’s called a ‘quicktag’ etc. etc. :) just allowing users text into particular forms and a single image upload. Secondly these forms are, as you would expect, pretty overdone in terms of detail, great for a data entry clerk (or a computer… if you like your blogging that way, some smart bunny could get this to strip every book off Amazon and then just write the ‘reviews’ and watch the adsense /affiliate stuff come on it) but not for you or me, really.

But most importantly, perhaps, it reminds me far too much of MS Word Wizards back in the day. The principle is essentially the same and we know that they were invariably painful, unpleasant and unnecessary problems… solved by (in the case of most publishers – which is what we are after al) the uses of different *styles & formatting*.

And perhaps that’s where we ought to be heading… in our ultimately wonderfully subvertable blogging world… towards ‘styled blogging’ where we can semantically create our documents on the fly and in the way we want rather than through a pile of forms. We’re already on our way there with enclosures and tags, a push in the WSYWIG direction towards AV icons with relevant fields could make a lot more sense and be a lot more usable.

  • Posted on: December 16th, 2005
  • Category: Money
  1. Rowland GallopNo Gravatar said on December 17th, 2005 at 1:38 am

    I must say that I totally agree with you. I can see the advantages of having lots of tags from the point of view of classifying the data but the last thing I want to do is to fill in a lot of forms before I can post to my blog. I think that the categories are quite enough.

  2. D'Arcy NormanNo Gravatar said on December 17th, 2005 at 5:46 am

    The point of the forms is to make the metadata machine readable – so it can start to feed into some of the semantic web stuff. If you don’t want to fill in the forms, just use the stock “blog entry” form. If you want to provide additional info to make the post usable in other systems, then other enhanced forms are provided. Totally optional, and not much of a barrier.

  3. Terry AndersonNo Gravatar said on December 17th, 2005 at 7:57 am

    I agree James, that creative composition in any format (including Blogs) shouldn’t be limited to form filling. On the other hand we shouldn’t assume that all contributions to the ‘read/write’ web are (or should be) creative compositions. In other words, we don’t want to force square content into round holes, but there is nothing wrong with providing round holes for round content.
    Much of the participatory content we need (like structured or semi-structured reviews, surveys, evaluations etc) benefits from explicit format constraints and the auto tagging that accompanies ‘structured blogging’ does make the content assessible (through enhanced capacity to locate) as D’Arcy notes above.

  4. JamesNo Gravatar said on December 19th, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Good points guys, and yes, there is definitely a kind of benefit here, especially if you’re involved in repositories etc. In fact there are some very very interesting possibilities in regards to that, something I guess I should have noted.

    ‘Owever (there’s always an ‘owever πŸ˜‰ I think that while valid, what you’re saying (D’Arcy & Terry), is dangerously close to ‘learning object land’ and the fascination / concern with it’s related environmental tweaks which, in my book at least, have done very few favours for online leaning in the past 5 years or so.

  5. D'Arcy NormanNo Gravatar said on December 20th, 2005 at 1:08 am

    James, the beauty of structured blogging is that it is the exact OPPOSITE approach that Learning Object Land took. You don’t have to do anything different – just keep blogging – and if you add a few extra fields worth of info, BOOM your stuff is machine readable and reusable. The downfall of Learning Objects was the repository-centric design, forcing people to adopt a new tool (or suite of tools) to publish, share, discover and use learning objects. Structured Blogging (and. more generally, microcontent formats) just fits into whatever workflow a person is already using. And, alternately, they can opt not to use it, and create plain-vanilla blog posts. That ain’t bad, either.

  6. JamesNo Gravatar said on December 20th, 2005 at 10:46 am

    Just because you’re the most beautiful πŸ˜‰

    Surely “add a few extra fields worth of info” is what metadata has always been about isn’t it…

    Actually though, I’d like to turn this into a plaque:

    “The downfall of Learning Objects was the repository-centric design, forcing people to adopt a new tool (or suite of tools) to publish, share, discover and use learning objects.”

    And nail it to various vice-chancellors desks.

    You do have an extremely good point that as long as we’re using these tools as our web-based publication applications then adding another form to these distributed tools is much better than adding another centralised tool. But there are still two things that bother me:

    1. Am not sure if we take a flying jump and assume that blogging is going to be the forerunner of web based publications just yet, I think we can theoretically go there but to me a more pressing issue of figuring out how we do successfully apply these tools to the creation of content / communication institutionally. What role does structuring have to play / not have to play in this?

    2. Forms, forms, forms… are you *sure* that styles aren’t a better idea?

    Sorry to harp on about this but now I’ve got ya in a corner πŸ˜‰

  7. D'Arcy NormanNo Gravatar said on December 20th, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Heya, james! Congrats on the innovative award thingy, you ass-talker πŸ˜‰

    1. It’s not a blog-only solution. Structured Blogging is just an implementation of Microformats (http://www.microformats.org) – any software (or even plain humans) can implement these standardized formats to describe a wide variety of things. I could imagine blogs “speaking” these microformats, as well as online apps like Flickr, or next-generation “learning object repository” systems as well.

    The beauty of these standardized formats is that it doesn’t matter what you use to create/author/publish them – anything that understands the microformats can make use of them.

    2. Well, you kinda need to use forms for the data entry side of things, but once it’s in, you can totally use styles to make it look however you like – to prevent the every-microformats-website-looks-the-same-way syndrome. Again, it’s just text content, so you’re free to apply any styles you like to it.

  8. JamesNo Gravatar said on December 21st, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Interesting, is there much in the way of organic microformat development, like technorati tags for example… or blended category / format stuff (more thinking out loud here, you don’t *have* to give me a lecture on this… especially this close to xmas πŸ˜‰

  9. Tom CareyNo Gravatar said on January 5th, 2006 at 10:07 am

    Hmm, before we create a plaque about β€œThe downfall of Learning Objects was the repository-centric design”, we might want to place stand-alone repositories in their historical context – a necessary phase to convince the world that there were enough objects and interest in re-use to justify integration into other tools. That’s happening now as LMS vendors integrate repository access … and as the repositories incorporate more learning design expertise they may move LMS products from course management to learning support.

  10. JamesNo Gravatar said on January 10th, 2006 at 9:59 am

    Can’t we just add it to the plaque :)

  11. genevieve tuckerNo Gravatar said on February 4th, 2006 at 3:14 am

    James’ notion of styled blogging has something, however badly everyone else wants to pull back the stylists and stick in some markup. As Clay Shirky has already noted, there is no shelf on the Internet – stop treating it like a library, like a physical space.

    On the other hand, there are people out there – academics I think – already asking when they will be able to search across blogs for dated content on a subject (for example ‘Hurricane Katrina’ + ’31 August 2005′. if one was researching the relief effort the day after). Dates are not even tagged yet, are they. I’ve posted a question on the Microformats blog about this, but no reply as yet.

  12. […] This is part of a larger, ongoing series which examines how – in 2005 / 2006 – you can give people blogs. Visit the contents page to see the lot (or suggest more content!) or grab the feed to keep up with new stuff! […]

  13. the weblog repository » another pixel in the wall said on February 4th, 2006 at 3:27 am

    […] Over at Blogsavvy, James Farmer has engaged a few Structured Blogging buffs in an interesting discussion. I’ve chimed in with a remark on a question I found on someone’s blog somewhere about searching blog posts by date using regular search engines. So far no-one tags blog post dates, do they? […]