Four to Six Weeks

ExpressionEngineAnybody still paying attention to what blog publishing system I’m using here at probably figured that my previously mentioned intentions to switch to ExpressionEngine have foundered. Not so. Behind the scenes, I’ve been erratically but intently working on porting the entirety of this site over to that more modern publishing system.

Between all of the other interests competing for my free time, it’s taken a lot longer than I would have liked, but it’s on its way. How long will it be before it launches? Well, what’s that that they say when you need to order a part from the warehouse? Four to six weeks. Or something.

Aside from just being busy all the time, what’s taking so long is that, as I’ve rebuilt the functionality of this site (with invaluable contributions from EE expert Adam Khan), I’ve also been re-thinking a lot of the way the site works. I’m not changing the basic look at all; this is not a redesign so much as a reworking, and casual visitors may not notice much of a difference at all.

Posts Haste

Essentially, I’m rethinking the structure of the site and how it’s influencing the way I write and post. As it stands today, I either have to write lengthy, essay-like posts like this one or very short posts like the links I publish at Elsewhere. They’re basically two separate blogs, but for no better reason than separating them into distinct entities was necessitated by the limitations of Movable Type (and my own skillset) at the time I launched this current version.

Part of the problem with this arrangement is that in theory there should be a lot of room for variation between the two kinds of posts; e.g., Elsewhere links that can run longer than just the one or two sentences I currently give them, or regular blog posts that can run shorter than the several paragraphs I usually drone on and on for, or blog posts that can even be composed entirely of visuals and no words. But the technical segregation of the different kinds of writing in effect imposes a kind of rigidness on the content.

One Writer, Blog

Put more simply, I just want to roll everything into a single blog. Whether they’re longer posts or annotated links or even just visuals, I just don’t think there’s a good argument for segregating them. And, to put a finer point on it, for the vast majority of users who come upon my site by chance, or who don’t spend hours and hours poring over the structure, trying to understand the formal distinction between the various kinds of content that I’m producing, it just doesn’t matter. For all intents and purposes, there’s no useful difference between what I write in one blog or in another. There᾿s only the stuff I write, period.

What would this look like? Well here is a screen shot from the working prototype. As you can see, there’s no particularly strong differentiation between the two kinds of posts (the only real distinction would be the star ratings for Elsewhere links, but those aren’t likely to be immediately understood by most people). In fact, I’m already trying to annotate my Elsewhere links at moderately greater length, so that they’ll seem less like throwaway links and more like value-add content.

Right: A post is a post is a post. A prototype for the next revision of this blog, in which ‘regular’ posts and Elsewhere posts are presented as a single blog.
Subtraction on ExpressionEngine

Finders Keepers

The problem, of course, is that the ‘meatier’ posts, like this one, are a bit lost in the shuffle. The only one that shows up in this example is my last post, “Crash Test Dummies.” My reservation then is that some people may find it frustrating having to wade through those other, less substantial links to get to those posts.

Still, I think the tradeoff is worth it. Having a single point of entry, and having a unified experience for all of the content, strikes me as the simplest solution. Usually, that also means it’s the best solution. But then, ultimately I’m not the best judge of that. You will be, whenever this thing finally launches.

  1. Boy, do I feel like a burke – I’ve been reading your blog for years, and I never even knew about the Elsewhere section. Guess that’s the perfect reason to incorporate it into the blog.


  2. I’ve always found the articles and links distinction unnecessary. More often then not I would forgot you even have a linkblog which is unfortunate because it’s a treasure trove of great stuff.

    I look forward to seeing the new version of your site and hearing about how you found Expression Engine to work with.

  3. Please, when you get a chance, let us know your thoughts on EE, and if you’re using any of the great addons (there’s even a magpie plugin that works great).

  4. Jeff Croft and others solve the problem of meatier blog entries getting lost by featuring the latest one at the top and have their stream of links, twitter statuses, older blog posts, etc flow beneath that main entry.

    It’s a good compromise between keeping things fresh and making sure the lengthier posts that took time to write don’t get swept away by the river of less considered entries.

    I’m sure this should be pretty easy to implement in expression engine.

  5. Your last post on EE was one of the main reasons I decided to invest all my time into it and convert my blogs over as well (I had bought the program almost a year previously but was too intimidated by it).

    It’s been almost 8 months now and I’m finding EE a real joy to work with. I only have TypePad and WordPress to compare it too, but so far the flexibility has been wonderful. I’m actually running two blogs from one installation (soon to be three) and the cross-posting with the Multi-Site Manager has worked perfectly for me.

    I actually liked the way you currently have it setup and it was quite an obvious inspiration to me (if you can’t tell — it still seems too close to yours but I’ve been working on the structure and hope to work on the design soon).

    I’ve flirted with mixing links with my posts but I think I’ve come down to liking the separation between the content I’ve created and the content I’ve found elsewhere (QuickLinks at the bottom). There were times when my blog looked more like a Tumblog, which was fun for a time and more like where you are headed, but I think I like this my stuff/other stuff separation so that people can instantly read what it is I’m all about.

    I rarely look at your Elsewhere links, but I read every one of your articles.

    At any rate, look forward to hearing your experience with EE.

  6. Ooh, I like the use of the ellipsis to represent the ‘Continue Reading’ links.

    As for EE, it does appear to be the go-to CMS for web publishing these days. I can appreciate why but I’m still partial to TXP.

  7. I love how you have a red overlay on your design, focusing on just the layout, blurring out the details just a little longer.

    Or, is there another reason for it?

  8. I’m a fan of the approach you’ve outlined above. In fact, I use something similar on my site, and I really like the simplicity and elegance of it. My site consists of several types of content — blog entries, music and movie reviews, ‘elsewhere’ links, etc. — and I just display them in a single ‘stream’ of info.

    I do include some slight visual differences between the various entries — e.g., music reviews are laid out slightly differently than ‘standard’ blog entries — to make it easier for folks to have some context as to the type of entry they’re reading.

  9. I agree completely, and I’ve taken my blog in a similar ‘tumblelog’ style direction, wherein all types of content are rolled into one stream down the page. I had the same concern about my more substantial things being ‘lost in the shuffle’, and I implemented two things to solve it:

    1. I always ‘stick’ my latest ‘full’ blog post to the top of the list.

    2. I provide a feed of just the ‘full’ blog posts, if people want it.

    Just a few things to consider — you should, of course, do things your way! Can’t wait to see it. 🙂

  10. Couple of things: I use EE presently, and I’ve debated the great question that is short vs. long content for some time. Really, the best thing, stop thinking about it.

    You have short and long posts but only you know that. Your readers have no clue. The majority of your readers visit via RSS links and may have seen the front page once or twice. I myself have been reading your site for years now and I’m always rocked a bit when I remember that the pic of the dog is on the front-page.

    There are a great many things about blog design (I single out blogs in this case) that the designer is fully conscious of that the readers have no clue about. Again, I have been reading Subtraction for years and had no idea there was this sort of ‘remaindered’ posts thing going on. We spend a great amount of time making our archives looks nice, making categories and tags useful and accessible, compartmentalising each chunk of our writing and really, a lot of it is never seen nor noticed.

    I hate to say it, but I’ve never looked at your archives. I’m sure they’re lovely but I’ve never seen them. So… really long post short, put everything in one feed. Internally mark posts that you want to have staying power on the front page and then tell EE to display that post at the top. It’s very easy to do.

  11. I think it’s a great idea, Khoi, although I echo the concerns from you and others about the meatier posts getting a little lost. Jeff’s method certainly seems like the best way to go, although it might be nice if you have some kind of basic selector at the top of the page that allows the reader to display only main articles, only small ones, or both (by default). Of course, this is dependent upon you still defining a difference between the two (perhaps by assigning a certain tag or category?).

  12. I’ve remodelled my own site and ran into a similar design problem, as I’m streaming links and blog posts together with all sorts of other things like travel plans from Dopplr, Twitter updates, and photos and video posts.

    As Jeff has suggested, the easy solution is to provide separate feeds for each audience – those interested in everything posted, and those only interested in the meatier stuff. I figured that most of my frequent readers would be getting updates via the feeds anyway, as I do with most of the blogs I follow.

  13. I’m like Sage – never realised Elsewhere was here. Great name for what it is too. I like the fact you separate them. Ben’s idea about two feeds is a good one – give people the choice.

  14. Hiya!

    I’m doing the same thing with my blog — integrating my tumblr with my WordPress.

    One suggestion about the ‘meatier’ posts — you may wish to put links in their own category, and meat in its own category (e.g. I called my categories ‘Links’ and ‘Thoughts’). You can then use tags to further differentiate, such as tagging some thoughts ‘essay’ if they’re really long.

    I think this maintains the single stream of posts making it easier to understand for casual visitors while letting more dedicated visitors hammer down and find what they want.

    Also, I don’t know if EE does this, but with WP you can set up feeds just from certain categories, which might be nice if someone just wants to subscribe to your ‘essay’ style posts and eschew subscribing to your linkstream. Or vice versa.

    But I applaud the idea of bringing it all back together into one blog. Blogging needn’t be a pretentious publishing platform!

  15. In response to Dominik’s message, you can create feeds for different categories. Actually, almost any criteria that you might use to display a subset of your entries — e.g., category, month posted, author — can be used to create a unique feed.

  16. I like the idea of bringing the posts all together, I often overlook the ‘elsewhere’ posts. Based on the layout, it doesn’t look like people can make comments about the quick posts. Allowing the users to comment may make the star system irrelevant. The number of replies may determine the interest level of the links? Just a thought.

    Also I i don’t know too much about EE, but possibly using line weight above the posts as a way to may longer posts stand out.

  17. This posts speaks directly to me…

    I switched from Symphony to Expression Engine a couple months ago and haven’t looked back. Everything works beautifully and it seems that there are no limits… Just about anything you want to do, you’re capable to do (from my experience, anyway).

    Also, when first designing my site, I too had a separate section for the links and the original articles. After thinking about it, I decided to combine them. I like it a lot better and I think it’s less confusing for the readers of the blog.

  18. Have you thought of using categories to control where the blog entries are displayed? For instance you could have categoried called long, short, frontpage etc and select whichever ones apply when the blog entry is created. From there it is just a matter of limiting what information is pulled from the. If you need any help just give me a hollar…

  19. Also, elsewhere may be great, but it’s inaccessible; the design stylistically is too similar to differentiate meaning. Try putting them in two side-by-side tabs and go back and forth; can you even tell they point offsite?

    Example: Cheeky terms equals hidden meanings. Should it always be that a-way?

    An offsite link should be similar to a blog posting; but put blog at top, not elsewhere. (or something.) Otherwise, meaning is abstract and makes context more important than meaning.

    Shaun Inman puts links in his blog; maybe you should too.

  20. Nice! I see you’re finally getting away from those out-of-place ‘continue reading’ and ‘add remarks’ buttons you wrote about disliking a while ago…

  21. I have no technical nor practical experience to offer here that’s not already been covered. I have one userland note to make, however:

    I do not subscribe to your RSS, and rather enjoy typing the domain in each time I want to visit.

    I subscribe to several feeds, but there a few sites I prefer to visit directly. There’s an emotional connection of sorts to the context combined with the content. So, I visit but don’t subscribe to Subtraction, Daring Fireball, Kottke, Jeff Croft, and a few others.

    Might be a pertinent, if low-yield, use case.

  22. For those of us interested in the longer posts, could you update the RSS feed for when you make a longer post? Maybe the shorter ones could get sent to the people receiving the elsewhere feed.

    Oh, and thanks for the cool thoughts over the years – keep it up.

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