Wikifying Our Blogging

Con­tin­u­ing my recent post in reimag­in­ing blogs, I’m going to go into some con­tex­tu­al details lift­ed from the Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions with which I’m either direct­ly asso­ci­at­ed or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quak­er Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new home­page for my two year old “Non­vi­o­lence Web” project. The new fea­ture was updat­ed week­ly with excerpt­ed mate­r­i­al from mem­ber projects on Non​vi​o​lence​.org and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions that already had inde­pen­dent web­sites. We didn’t have RSS or Twit­ter then but I would man­u­al­ly send out emails to a list; we didn’t have com­ments but I would pub­lish inter­est­ing respons­es that came by email. The work was relaunched with blog­ging soft­ware in 2003 and the voice became more indi­vid­ual and my focus became more Quak­er and tech.

The arti­cles then were like they are now: reverse­ly chrono­log­i­cal, with cat­e­gories, tag­ging, and site search­ing that allow old­er mate­r­i­al to be accessed. The most impor­tant source of archive vis­i­bil­i­ty is exter­nal: Google. Peo­ple can eas­i­ly find mate­r­i­al that is direct­ly rel­e­vant to a ques­tion they’re address­ing right now. In many instances, they’ll nev­er even click through to the site home­page, much less cat­e­gories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time vis­i­tors are often try­ing to under­stand some­thing new; the great major­i­ty bounce off the page and fol­low anoth­er search result on a mat­ter of a few sec­onds, but some small but impor­tant per­cent­age will be ripe for new ideas and con­nec­tions and might be will­ing to try new associations.

But it’s ran­dom. I’m a bit of a nerd in my cho­sen inter­ests and have been blog­ging long enough that I gen­er­al­ly have at least a few inter­est­ing posts on any par­tic­u­lar sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by col­leagues, friends, my wife, and ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most mean­ing­ful blog posts – those with legs – have involved me inte­grat­ing some new thinker or idea into my world­view. The process will have start­ed months or some­times years before when anoth­er spir­i­tu­al nerd rec­om­mend­ed a book or arti­cle. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to new­com­ers but essen­tial for those try­ing to go deep­er into their faith. You’ll be in a deep con­ver­sa­tions with some­one and they’ll ask (often with a twin­kle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This cul­ture if shar­ing is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for Friends, who tra­di­tion­al­ly have no cler­gy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions into a pub­lic realm – one that can be Googled and fol­lowed. The inter­net has helped us scale-up this process and make it more avail­able to those who can’t con­stant­ly travel.

When I have real-world con­ver­sa­tions now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m shar­ing the “have you read” con­ver­sa­tion in a way that can be eaves­dropped by hundreds.

But how are peo­ple who stum­ble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just lim­it­ed to an obscure faith blog. Yes­ter­day I learned about a cool (to me) blog writ­ten by a dad who research­es and trav­els to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Sat­ur­day after­noon and I find myself in a cer­tain locale, how can I know if he’s been any­where near­by unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s cat­e­go­riza­tion tax­on­o­my is complete?

What I’m think­ing is that we could try to cre­ate meta index­es to our blogs in a wiki mod­el. Have a whole col­lec­tion of intro­duc­to­ry pages where we list and sum­ma­rize rel­e­vant arti­cles with links.

In the hey­day of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of auto­mat­ed ver­sion of this, but again, this it was chrono­log­i­cal. And it was work. Even remem­ber­ing to tag is work. I would spend a cou­ple of days ignor­ing clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months lat­er with even more meta­da­ta com­plex­i­ty. Writ­ing a whole shad­ow meta blog index­ing the blog would be a major (and unend­ing task). It wouldn’t gar­ner the rush of imme­di­ate Face­book likes. But it would be supreme­ly use­ful for some­one want­i­ng to explore an issue of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to them at that moment.

And one more Quak­er aside that I think will nev­er­the­less be of inter­est to the more techie read­ers. I’ve described Quak­erism as a wiki spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Exhib­it one is the reli­gious movement’s ini­tial lack of creeds or writ­ten instruc­tion. Even our paci­fism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncod­i­fied tes­ti­mo­ny in the ear­li­est years.

As Friends gained more expe­ri­ence liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, they would pub­lish advices – short snip­pets of wis­dom that were collectively-approved using con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing. They were based on expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, they might find that mem­bers who abused alco­hol, say, or repeat­ed­ly test­ed the dress code might cause oth­er sorts of prob­lems for the com­mu­ni­ty and they’d minute a warn­ing against these practices.

These advices were writ­ten over time; as more were approved it became bur­den­some to find rel­e­vant advices when some issue start­ed tear­ing up a con­gre­ga­tion. So they were col­lect­ed into books – unof­fi­cial at first, lit­er­al­ly hand-copied from per­son to per­son. These even­tu­al­ly became offi­cial – pub­lished “books of dis­ci­plines,” col­lec­tions of the col­lec­tive wis­dom orga­nized by top­ic. Their pur­pose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensu­ing cen­turies but their impulse and ear­ly orga­ni­za­tion is one that I find use­ful when think­ing about how we could rethink the cat­e­go­riza­tion issues of our twen­ty first cen­tu­ry blogs and com­ment­ing systems.

Should We Torch Our Meetinghouses?

Burn­ing down the meet­ing­house is a metaphor for the true free­dom that we find when we renounce all the things that we put before God. What would it look like for younger Friends to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for lead­er­ship with­in our Year­ly Meet­ings, not wait­ing for per­mis­sion or validation?

Resurrection with the Cross and Rabbi

Of course, that is not the part of the sto­ry that moti­vates me. I am not seek­ing to be abused and betrayed, let down by my best friends and hunt­ed by those in pow­er. I may rec­og­nize the neces­si­ty of suf­fer­ing, but by no means do I seek it out. I think most of us grav­i­tate towards the tri­umphant vic­to­ry and joy of Jesus\’ resurrection

 <p><strong>Tags:</strong> <a href=\"http://www.diigo.com/user/martinkelley/Quaker\" rel=\"tag\">Quaker</a> <a href=\"http://www.diigo.com/user/martinkelley/blog\" rel=\"tag\">blog</a> 

More coming in from this weekend’s workshop

Both of my work­shop co-leaders Wess and Robin have now checked in with pre­lim­i­nary reports. More mate­r­i­al is being col­lect­ed on the Quak­erQuak­er event page.

Wess and I have both been upload­ing lots of pho­tos to Flickr using the “quakerreclaiming2009″ tag. I’ve been upload­ing my video inter­views both on Youtube and Quak­erQuak­er. You can see them at the reclaiming2009 tag (I have the feel­ing we’ve just dou­bled the Quak­er con­tent on Youtube but it’s not that extreme). Any­one present with more pho­tos can either upload them to Flickr with the “quakerreclaiming2009” tag or send them direct­ly up to Quak­erQuak­er. Same with videos.

Working with Pipes #2: A DIY personalized community with Del​.icio​.us, Flickr and Google Blog Search

It’s
not nec­es­sary to devel­op your own Web 2.0 soft­ware infra­struc­ture to
cre­ate an inde­pen­dent Web 2.0-powered com­mu­ni­ty online. It’s far
sim­pler to set a stan­dard for your com­mu­ni­ty to use on exisiting
net­works and then to use Yahoo Pipes to pull it together.

I decid­ed on about a dozen cat­e­gories to use with my DIY blog aggre­ga­tor (Quak­erQuak­er).
I only want to pull in posts that are being gen­er­at­ed for my site by
com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers so we use a com­mu­ni­ty iden­ti­fi­er, a unique prefix
that isn’t like­ly to be used by others. 

This post will show you how to pull in tagged feeds from three sources: the Del​.icio​.us social book­mark­ing sys­tem, the Flickr pho­to shar­ing site and Google Blog Search.

Step 1: Pick a community designator

I’ve been using the com­mu­ni­ty name fol­lowed by a dot. The prefix
goes in front of cat­e­go­ry descrip­tion to make a set of unique tags for
the aggre­ga­tor. When some­one wants to add some­thing for the site they
tag it with this “community.category” tag. In my exam­ple, when someone
wants to list a new Quak­er blog they use “quaker.blog”, “quak­er” being
the com­mu­ni­ty name, “blog” being the cat­e­go­ry name for the “New Blogs”
page.

Step 2: Collect the community prefix and category name in Pipes


You begin by going into Pipes and pulling over two text inputs: one for
the com­mu­ni­ty pre­fix, the oth­er for the spe­cif­ic category.

Step 3: Construct these into tags


Now use the “String Con­cate­na­tion” mod­ule to turn this into the
“community.category” mod­el. The com­mu­ni­ty input goes into the top slot,
a dot is the sec­ond slot and the cat­e­go­ry input goes into the last slot.

Now, when you have a tag in Flickr with a dot in it, Flickr auto­mat­i­cal­ly removes it in the resul­tant RSS feed.
So with Flickr you want your tag to be “com­mu­ni­ty­cat­e­go­ry” with­out a
dot. Sim­ple enough: just pull anoth­er “String Con­cate­na­tion” module
onto your Pipes work space. It should look the same except that it
won’t have the mid­dle slot with the dot.

Step 4: Turn these tags into RSS URLs


Pull three “URL­Builder” mod­ules into Pipes, one for each of the
ser­vices we’re going to query. For the Base, use the non-tag specific
part of the URL that each ser­vice uses for its RSS feeds. Here they are:

Del​.icio​.us http://​del​.icio​.us/​r​s​s​/​tag
Flickr http://​api​.flickr​.com/​s​e​r​v​i​c​e​s​/​f​e​eds
Google Blog Search http://​blogsearch​.google​.com

Under path ele­ments, put the cor­rect tag: for Del​.icio​.us and Google it should be the community.category tag, for Flickr the dot-less com­mu­ni­ty­cat­e­go­ry tag.

Step 5: Fetch and Dedupe

Fetch is the Pipes mod­ule that pulls in URLs and out­puts RSS feeds. It can also com­bine them. Send each URLBuilder out­put into the same Fetch routine.

Since it’s pos­si­ble that you’ll might have dupli­cate posts, use the “Unique” mod­ule to dedu­pli­cate entries by URL.
Through a lit­tle tri­al and error I’ve deter­mined that in cas­es of
dupli­cates, feeds low­er in the Fetch list trump those high­er. In the
actu­al Pipe pow­er­ing my aggre­ga­tor I pull a sec­ond Del​.icio​.us feed: my
own. I have that as the last entry in the Fetch list so that I can
per­son­al­ly over­ride every oth­er input.

Step 6: Sort by Date


With exper­i­men­ta­tion it seems like Pipes orders the out­put entries by
descend­ing date, which is prob­a­bly what you want. But I want to show
how Pipes can work with “dc” data, the “Dublin Core” mod­el that allows
you to extend stan­dard RSS feeds (see yesterday’s post for more on this).

Google Blog Search and Del​.icio​.us feeds use the “dc:date” field to
record the time when the post was made. Flickr uses “dc:date.Taken” to
pass on the photograph’s meta­da­ta about when it was tak­en. Pipes’
“Rename” mod­ule lets you copy both fields into one you cre­ate (I’ve
sim­ply used “date”), which you can then run through its “Sort” module.
Again, it’s a moot point since Pipes seems to do this automatically.
But it’s good to know how to manip­u­late and rename “dc” data if only
because many PHP parsers have trou­ble lay­ing it out on a webpage.

Update: it’s all moot: accord­ing to ZDNet blog, “Pipes now auto­mat­i­cal­ly appends a pub­Date tag to any RSS feed that has any of the oth­er allow­able date tags.” This is nice: no need to hack the date every time you want to make a Pipe!

Step 7: Output

The final step for any Pipe is the “Pipe Out­put” module.

In action

You can see this pub­lished Pipe here, and copy and play with it your­self. The result lets you build an RSS feed based on the two inputs. 

Creating an RSS feed from scratch

RSS feeds
are the lin­gua fran­ca of the mod­ern inter­net, the glue that binds
togeth­er the hun­dreds of ser­vices that make up “Web 2.0.” The term
stands for “Real­ly Sim­ple Syn­di­ca­tion” and can be thought of as a
machine-code table of con­tents to a web­site. An RSS feed
for a blog will typ­i­cal­ly list the last dozen-or-so arti­cles, with the
title, date, sum­ma­ry and con­tent all laid out in spe­cial fields. Once
you have a website’s RSS feed you can syn­di­cate, or re-publish, its con­tents by email, RSS read­er
or as a side­bar on anoth­er web­site. This post will show you a
ridicu­lous­ly easy way to “roll your own” RSS feed with­out hav­ing to
wor­ry about your website’s con­tent platform.

Just about every native Web 2.0 appli­ca­tions comes built-in with mul­ti­ple RSS feeds.
But in the real world, web­sites are built using an almost-infinite
num­ber of con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems and web devel­op­ment software
pro­grams. Some­times a sin­gle web­site will use dif­fer­ent pro­grams for
putting its con­tents online and some­times a sin­gle orga­ni­za­tion spreads
its func­tions over mul­ti­ple domains.

Step 1: Make it Del​.icio​.us

To begin, sign up with Del​.icio​.us,
the pop­u­lar “social book­mark­ing” web ser­vice (sim­i­lar ser­vices can be
eas­i­ly adapt­ed to work). Then add a “post to Del​.icio​.us” but­ton to
your browser’s tool­bar fol­low­ing the instruc­tions here.
Now when­ev­er you put new con­tent up on your site, go that new page,
click on your “post to Del​.icio​.us” but­ton and fill out a good title
and descrip­tion. Choose a tag to use. A tag is sim­ply a cat­e­go­ry and
you can make it what­ev­er you want but “mysites” or your busi­ness name
will be the eas­i­est to remem­ber. Hit save and you’ve start­ed an RSS feed.

How? Well, Del​.icio​.us turns each tag into a RSS feed.
You can see it in all its machine code glo­ry at
del​.icio​.us/​r​s​s​/​u​s​e​r​n​a​m​e​/​m​y​s​i​tes (replac­ing “user­name” with your
user­name and “mysites” with what­ev­er tag you chose).

Now you could just adver­tise that Del​.icio​.us RSS feed
to your audi­ence but there are a few prob­lems doing this. One is that
Del​.icio​.us accounts are usu­al­ly per­son­al. If your web­mas­ter leaves,
then your pub­lished RSS feed will need to
change. Not a good sce­nario, espe­cial­ly since you won’t even be able to
tell who’s still using that old feed. Before you adver­tise your feed
you should “future proof” it by run­ning it through Feedburner.

Cloak that Feed

Go to Feed​burn​er​.com. Right there on the home­page they invite you to type in a URL.
Enter your Del​.icio​.us feed’s address and sign up for a Feedburner
account. In the field next to feed address give it some sen­si­ble name
relat­ing to your com­pa­ny or site, let’s say “mycompa­ny” for our
exam­ple. You’ll now have a new RSS feed at
feeds​.feed​burn​er​.com/​m​y​c​o​m​p​any. Now you’re in busi­ness: this is the
feed you adver­tise to the world. If you ever need to change the source RSS feed you can do that from with­in Feed­burn­er and no one need know.

The default title of your Feed­burn­er feed will still show it’s
Del​.icio​.us roots (and the webmaster’s user­name). To clear that out, go
into Feedburner’s “Opti­mize” tab and turn on the “Title/Description
Burn­er,” fill­ing it out with a title and descrip­tion that better
match­es your feed’s pur­pose. For an exam­ple of all this in action, the
Del​.icio​.us feed that pow­ers my tech link blog and its Feed­burn­er “cloak” can be found here:

Get that Feed out there

Under Feedburner’s “Pub­li­cize” tag there are lots of neat features
to repub­lish your feed your­self. First off is the “Chick­let chooser”
which will give you that ubiq­ui­tous RSS feed
icon to let vis­i­tors know you’ve entered the 21st Cen­tu­ry. Their “Buzz
Boost” fea­ture lets you cre­ate a snip­pet of code for your home­page that
will list the lat­est addi­tions. “Email sub­scrip­tions” lets your
audi­ence sign up for auto­mat­ic emails when­ev­er you add some­thing to
your site.

Final Thoughts

RSS feeds are great ways of communicating
excit­ing news to your audi­ences. If you’re lucky, impor­tant blog­gers in
your audi­ence will sub­scribe to your feed and spread your news to their
net­works. Cre­at­ing a feed through a book­mark­ing ser­vice allows you to
add any page on any site regard­less of its under­ly­ing structure.