mamamusings: April 5, 2003

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Saturday, 5 April 2003

beginner's guide to movable type?

The Invisible Adjunct has asked for a beginner’s guide to Movable Type.

I’m tempted to take this on…either by myself, or with a grad student looking for a good project. But if there’s already something underway, I’ll back off—or offer to help with it.

I’m not thinking so much of an installation manual (I think the instructions are pretty good for that already, and many non-techie sorts will probably go to someone else for the install). More of something that would help with blog design and management. Pointers to CSS examples and tutorials that are specifically relevant to blog templates. Guide to how to accomplish specific effects in templates. Perhaps a selection of “cut and paste” code to use in templates. More information on things like categories, archives, etc.

In the meantime, here are some of my template files, for anyone to use or study as they’d like. The zip file includes the following:

The index template in particular contains a lot of stuff that’s specific to me—my blogrolls, my ecosystem info, my picture, etc. But it at least shows a 3-column format implemented (in conjunction with the css file). The archive templates all are based on my having implemented SimpleComments, so that comments and trackbacks are combined into the comments section for each entry.

The only problem with SimpleComments is that when you get a new trackback ping, the individual archive is not automatically rebuilt (as it is with a new comment). There are reasons for this, but I ended up following the instructions over on Phil Ringnalda’s blog in order to change that. (_N.B._: Those instructions assume you’re somewhat comfortable hacking around in the MT program files!)

Other tweaks I’ve made to the blog include installing Brad Choate’s very useful MT-Textile formatting (based on Dean Allen’s most-excellent Textile “humane web text generator”), and SmartyPants, which adds typographical niceties like smart quotes, real em dashes, real ellipsis, etc.

One of the things I like most about MT is that it lets me customize it to my hearts’ content. To me, it’s the geek equivalent of getting to do the interior design in my house. For those of you who feel the same way, there’s a directory of Movable Type plug-ins that’s pretty good—it includes everything mentioned above, and much more. Most of them don’t require hacking skills, and are safe for even relatively new/non-techie users of the software.

Posted at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (7)
more like this: on blogging

falling in with the wrong crowd?

Tom Coates writes about “social software”:

I love working in it but I’m scared of the way people are talking it up and I wish people would build more brilliant things rather than talking about it. […] It’s not like it was with my other baby. Weblogging grew gradually and properly and organically through the interactions of real people. This one’s being increasingly owned by the wrong people.

I suspect (well, I hope) that Tom didn’t mean that last bit about the “wrong people” as a circling of the wagons among the early adopters. Who are the “right” people to be talking about all this? (I’m not sure anybody should be “owning” it, really.)

I do understand Tom’s fears about the way the current discussions on “social software” (I keep using quotes because it still feels like too amorphous a concept to be a solid term just yet) reflect the pre-bubble hype about the web.

On the other hand, most of the hype I see right now is not about social software, but about weblogs. And just as the recent Pew survey shows what a small percentage of internet users currently use (or as Clay pointed out on a list I’m on, recognize that they’re using) weblogs, a far smaller number of people are actually talking about social software these days. It was pretty easy to build my neighborhood list, because the arena’s far from saturated with meaningful voices right now. Perhaps it’s that “echo chamber” effect that makes it seem to Tom like the volume’s been turned up on the discussion. But I’m not convinced.

In his earlier essay on The Excesses of Social Software, Tom wrote that “There seems to be a bizarre lack of history to the whole enterprise - a desire to claim a territory as unexplored when it’s patently not.”

I guess I’m not seeing the blindness to history that’s worrying him. Instead, I’m seeing the opportunity for those of with knowledge of the history of (and, I might add, the research into—which is not nonexistent) CMC (“computer mediated communication”) and social contexts. This is a field that I’ve been watching since the late 1980s. It’s still a pretty small niche, but there are a reasonable number of smart people who think, write, and teach about CMC (which, “back in the day,” was the term used for what’s now being called social software).

The people I see most involved in the discussions right now are adding a lot to the conversations. The folks in my earlier “neighborhood” post are all having an impact on my curriculum development, for example. And the end goal of that curriculum is to turn out people who can build the “brilliant things” that Tom wants.

What we shouldn’t have, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a lot of product development happening in a vacuum. Many of my students have the technical skills to build amazingly cool things. But they don’t understand the context in which those things need to operate. I want them to read these conversations, I want them to participate in them. I want them to ask questions, and see the questions other people are asking. I want them to learn the history, see the mistakes and successes that have already happened. And then I want them to build the brilliant things that answer questions and solve problems.

So I hope Tom does write his promised “huge tract about social software - about the good things and the bad things.” And I hope he doesn’t let the fact that these conversations are becoming more visible and more participatory scare him away from the process. His voice is worth a lot.

Posted at 3:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (3)
more like this: social software

note to self...

…must become widely-sought-after speaker RSN, so as to garner invitations (read: waived registration fees) to events like ETCON, SuperNova, and Pop!Tech.

An assistant professor’s salary doesn’t cover these kinds of events, alas.

Our department has been wonderfully generous on travel, which is how I’ve managed to get to Pop!Tech for the past two years. But budgets are shrinking—not just at home, but also at work—and I suspect the glory days where we could send seven faculty members to Camden are already over.

Do you suppose I could play the gender card to get myself in some of these doors? (She said, reading through yet another description of an all-male panel at a cool conference…) Nah, probably not. Meg’s on enough of the marquees to negate that approach. :-)

Damn. Guess I’ll have to keep using real-time conference blogs for vicarious attendance.

Posted at 4:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (1)
more like this: gender | humor

great presentation explaining blogs

Taking a break from the relentless flow of words from my fingers to provide a brief link-and-comment post.

Meg Hourihan has posted an excellent presentation on “what is a blog.” Thanks, Meg!

(Via Tom Coates.)

Posted at 6:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1)
more like this: on blogging
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna