Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blog Layout Update

As many of you may have observed, I've just recently updated the layout of my blog. I think it works much better than the old layout. Hopefully everything is working right. If you notice anything peculiar, please let me know.

Unfortunately, at this point, I wish I did a little more research into what blog platform to use (evidently, three minutes was clearly not enough). If I had to re-do this blog thing now, Blogger likely would not have been my first choice.

Why would I think this? For the following reasons:

  1. Lack of posting categories
  2. Lack of a true trackback facility
  3. Lack of RSS feeds for comments
  4. (Related to point 1) Lack of RSS feeds for posting categories
  5. Inflexibility of Blogger to host files other than photos
  6. Need for better template creation/editing tools
  7. There's probably more, but they aren't immediately coming to mind

The lack of posting categories would have been a real stopping point for me. I know that some of my blog topics cover areas that have different audiences (i.e. Media Center-related posts for those interested in Media Center, Personal events (like Convocation from University) and reflections for my friends, Planning-related items for planners, etc). Without a true method of creating posting categories, it's not easy to dig through blog postings to find stuff that interest these subsets of those that wish to read my blog. While Blogger Help links to one possible workaround, posting categories ought to be added natively to Blogger.

Blogger's 'Links to this Post' is a poor attempt at emulating the trackback features found in other blogging platforms. Blogger should look into improving this so that it is on par with what Six Apart has done with Movable Type.

Other blogging platforms have RSS feeds for comments left on blog entries. Currently, I have to eyeball the bottom of each posting via the main page or the monthly archive pages to see if there are any new comments. Clearly, there must be a better way.

RSS feeds for posting categories. If Blogger adds post categories, it would make sense to allow for separate feeds for each category in addition to a feed for all postings. However, without posting categories first, it's the old case of "can't have one without the other."

At this time, the only thing that Blogger will store for me on its server are image files. If I had (for example) a registry file that would help Media Center users, or a pdf file that I want to distribute to my readers, I wouldn't be able to use Blogger to host these files for me. Files like this would have to be hosted elsewhere. Not cool for a service that ought to be all-inclusive.

In terms of assisting users implement new templates, there ought to be a better creation and preview tools. The current tools are a bit lacking (example, see this Movable Type-based Style Generator). It took far too long for me to modify this layout to make various aspects look 'right'.

Agree with some of my points? Are there any workarounds to the points that I raised? Am I missing something obvious? Now that I've started blogging here, I don't really want to switch (or maybe I should switch). Please let me know your thoughts.

In the meantime, I hope Google is working on these Blogger shortcomings to make its service better for its users. I would like to think that they have improvements in mind, but we won't know until we see the changes.


Singpolyma said...

While it's true that these things are serious limitations that Blogger needs to work on, I think they all have known workarounds :)

1) You found the begginning for this one. Using Johan Sundström's Greasemonkey Script along with FreshTags makes categories in Blogger almost as easy as native support.

2) Lack of trackback is a serious limitation, however it is rather easy to get around. Using HaloScan for incoming trackback pings (you can even integrate this right into your blog template alongside trackbacks using an IFRAME if you want, as I have), and my Trackback Greasemonkey Script (which may be merged with Johan's above script sooner than later) for outbound pings, native support (as always) would be nice, but it works :)

3) There are a number of RSS for comments hacks, however the most complete (yes, I made it, I'm biased) is Blogger Recent Comments (post on it here), which creates a comment feed for your whole blog, as well as for individual posts.

4) If you use the method given in response to point #1 you will find that del.icio.us generates RSS feeds for each category as well :)

5) A pain in the rump, to be sure. Jscripts works for JavaScript includes. Downloadable files at FileSS. For HTML files (if that's important to you) you'll need to use a free hoster (like Mihopa.net).

6) PsycHo is one solution.

7) These things, any new things that occur to you, and things you like about Blogger are all of interest at my survey

Hope some of that at least was useful!

Jason said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll definitely look into adding them onto my site.

Jen said...

It is a little frustrating to implement hacks into Blogger, particularly when I know next to nothing about Javascript. I considered moving to another Blog platform, but I thought this: If Blogger is owned by Google, I think it's safe to say that at somepoint soon, they will integrate a lot of the features that other Blog platforms have in the near future. I'd rather not get set up with another blog elsewhere, and then move back to Blogger after these changes are made. I used to Blog back in the day, a few years ago, and just recently started blogging again. The tremendous amounts of change that occurred were difficult to keep updated with, ie, RSS/XML, Categories, Trackbacks and backlinks, etc. Trying to learn about all these with a limited system is a little frustrating.
Something else to note about the limited file-support: Not only does Blogger only support pictures, but there is no easy way to stay on top of that. Theres no list of uploaded pictures in the Dashboard. The only way to access the link to the picture is when you upload it in a particular post, and then you link to it from there. Theres no way to keep track of them all in one place--they are spread out all over your posts as you use them. I've had to upload pictures in a post, copy the links to them, and then delete the post just so I can use them elsewhere, ie, my sidebar or template in general. Quite annoying.

Jason said...

That's a good point about the file management. IIRC, MSN Spaces will show you what photos you've uploaded. I'm sure the other blogging platforms are similar. With Blogger, you really don't know what you have uploaded.

Thanks for mentioning that.