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“Breadcrumbs” & “babies”: Visions from users

April 20th, 2004 · No Comments

Here are my notes from attending the session on Visions from Users moderated by Lisa Williams at BloggerCon on Saturday April 17.

This was the first session: I was warming up and I didn’t take many notes. I was getting used to IRC and also keeping track of the discussion going on in the room.

Below I’ve written what I’ve remembered from the discussions and I’ve also included some thoughts I’ve had since the session.

Other notes from this session Tara Lilioa, Bryan Strawser. Joey deVilla caught a great picture of Lisa and wrote an extensive list of notes. Thanks to Tara for the list

Making a map together: where are we? where do we want to go?

At the beginning, there was some general discussion about current usage and tools: which kinds of blogging software were available and what kinds of problems with comments bloggers have experienced: raising hands and writing lists on the blackboard.

Visions from users is a difficult discussion to have: users are at various levels and have different desires and visions. It’s unclear what is already available compared to what has yet to be developed. For myself, I confess some timidity: I fear that what I want is already out there, and I’ll only reveal my ignorance if I ask 🙂 There are beginning bloggers who can barely type a post and there are experienced bloggers who know their way around their tools blindfolded. There are bloggers who can hack their own code and make their software sing and there are others like me who can barely make MT look pretty. So there’s a variety of responses and answers to questions. There are a variety of needs and desires. Some are already fulfilled and some aren’t. But how to know? The audience plays a valuable role!

In this session, I wanted to get a road map of where we are now and where we want to go (must have the first to get the second), and Lisa’s surveys helped me learn more about various software that was available. Also the audience provided key information – like popcorn at times – bouncing off of each other – suggesting solutions to questions. After all, that’s one (big) reason to go to conferences – to learn from the people who come. The amount of knowledge in the room was amazing.

Is the browser dead?

Lisa asked whether people used aggregators or browsers. Since many aggregators contain browser features, it no longer seems necessary to use a separate browser.

The land of the lost

How many people have lost posts? I raised my hand! I think one person shared an example from his marriage: how his wife had deleted a post accidentally (?). I got spoiled by Word and I’d love if this MT system would automatically save what I write. At the conference I had difficulty trying to save my posts with w.bloggar.

RSS feed me

Various types of RSS feeds were described: full, partial, one-line description. I’d be curious to know in general which kind people prefer. This blog offers 2: full and partial. Discussion: should pictures have tags? Mine don’t. I can see though how it could be helpful to have a brief description in an RSS feed, so that users could tell whether to download the picture or not.

Categories: who wants them?

One idea that spun me a bit was the thought that categories should be for readers rather than writers of blogs. Who uses categories anyway? was a question. That way the reader could decide how to store posts. I do think that sometimes readers click on my categories files or Google must list them (they show up in my stats.)

Here’s another idea: What if posts on a blog could be filtered or ranked so that readers could select which ones they want to read? For example, someone reading this blog could say “I like Julie’s posts about her children but I don’t care about Bainbridge Island”. RSS allows some selection already – a reader could choose not to open posts titled “Island pictures” – but readers who were concerned about efficiency or bandwidth might want to skip downloading this ones altogether. (Note: Joey deVilla did mention to me during a meal that Blogware will contain the ability to subscribe to categories – separate RSS feeds.)

Talking with Lisa about this idea later, we agreed that any way readers want to “slice and dice” our blogs with RSS based on content to create customized feeds for themselves, would be great: that’s syndication.

Other ideas for comments included color coding comments – I think this had to do with how to thread comments. More RSS feeds for comments would be helpful too (this blog does not have an RSS feed for comments).

Audio and blogging

Audio and blogging: people wanted blogs to be available in audio for MP3 playing (my husband says this is already possible on the Mac).

Another suggestion was “read it for a blind person”. I think that this referred to blogs being available in audio but also that blogs should read smoothly. However I think that writing for audible reading is different than writing for silent reading. There are nuances that get lost whenever writing is read aloud. While I’d be happy to have an audio feed – all things possible – I don’t know if I’d want to be constrained by a standard of how well it reads out loud.

My pet idea (which I almost typed into IRC but deleted): I’d love to be able to talk to my blog tools. I like to write but I feel I spend as much time doing html tags and other searching. I’d like to be able to say “go get the top 4 posts on this topic” “find me this url from this article on blogs that Lisa wrote” and have them retrieved for me….maybe I’m lazy or just dreaming…

Comments, posts and trackbacks: how to converse

This is my big pet peeve/dilemma with blogs at the moment. I feel frustrated that there is not one common system to use for communication. If I write a post I don’t know whether to check my comments or Feedster or Technorati to find what others have replied. Some blogs have comments and trackbacks (like this one). Some have only comments. Some have neither. Last week Technorati released a comment tracking feature for Movable Type : the ability to link to a page listing all links to that post. Jay McCarthy, I believe, has had this feature for a while on his blog.

As a beginning blogger, I’ve tried various strategies. For a while I was only commenting “on my own blog” but I realized that that wasn’t efficient or effective for everyone. Sometimes comments work best. Writing a post in response can work well. For a while I was too shy and avoided trackbacks. Some think trackbacking is arrogant, calling attention to a particular post. But I think it is like putting a foot in the door, saying “this is where I’ve put what I want to say.” Trackbacks have helped me participate in conversations better and brought people to my site to continue the discussion. I’m not sure how to resolve all these differences between blogs.

In the IRC, house of warwick wrote:

comments and trackbacks and technorati need to get a hotel room and “make a baby”

I’m not sure if this reproductive analogy is accurate, but I do feel something needs to change.

A breadcrumb trail

I think both Shimon Rura and Jay McCarthy mentioned the need to know “how did I get here?” In the IRC, razweekly referred to this as the “breadcrumb history”. I agree. I’d like to see a tool feature that could track the trail of breadcrumbs back to the source. And it would be cool if this feature could give the trail in source code – in something that could be easily placed on the blog, html tags and all.

Two other ideas: downloading posts for email and sending a question to many readers via a tool.

End thoughts

This session taught me more about what is available. Also I didn’t feel so alone in some of my frustrations! I appreciated that the discussions were on a general level, not too technical, and that they remained commercial -free while also providing helpful information.

Two ideas I had afterwards:

  • it would be great to have at least one resource (web site, wiki, human?) which would compile information comparing various blogging tools, aggregators and features. I think this would be helpful for developers and users. For example, if I wanted to know which blogging tools include comments, I could check these resource(s). It would take time and energy to maintain and keep accurate though.
  • As I went through the rest of the day, especially the next two sessions, I felt that tools were also a theme when discussing presidential bloggers and international bloggers. I wonder whether other sessions had similiar needs that were discovered. I also wondered whether it would have been a good idea to re-visit this topic as an entire group for part of the final session for BloggerCon, or perhaps to have some way for each session to describe which tools are needed and to plug those requests into the list we generated. Hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s hard to know what will happen in a session when it is planned. Perhaps it would have been helpful for everyone at the end of the day to have talked about tools or brought a tool request “to the table”, as part of what was needed to go forward. Part of the value of BloggerCon is that developers can indeed catch the visions that are shared so it is an appropriate place to discuss tools and software needs: practical and powerful.

    When discussing visions for blogs, the principles/visions behind blogging come into play. Also current barriers in blogging play a part. I think Lisa did a good job starting a discussion on visions. I’d like to see this discussion continue (in at least one or two places in cyberspace if not occasional real space?)and also for it to receive feedback from developers as it did during the session live. It’d be great to dialogue about what we need and where we are going as we grow.

  • Tags: bloggercon