Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

Graduating from a hosted blog to an independent blog

It’s time to move! I won’t be posting personal musings at wordpress.com, but will be continuing at daviding.com.

There’s a long trail on how I got to this point.

In August, I had set up Pivot on our family web site for Adam, so that he could keep us (and his friends) up to date on his progress while studying at Renmin University in Beijing. The criteria for selecting that software was that (a) it’s open source, and (b) it didn’t require an SQL database. (Given the obsolescence of technology, when he has his own children, there’s a higher probability that they will be able to decode plain text than to disassemble database tables).

In November, I started blogging on the family web site, as action research. I’ve had a good sense of how Adam and Eric’s friends communicate via blogs, and need to do so myself. I blogged through my trip to Finland (from November 11 through November 20). On my return, I re-entered a consulting project that was a quickly moving train, and, combined with dental, vision, and fatigue issues, put myself into a tailspin. I thought that I needed to simplify my life, and wrote an entry “blogging off“.

Around the same time, my friend Doug McDavid started a blog on the IBM intranet. I posted the following response to his beginning:

Doug, it’s interesting that you’ve now started blogging, because I’ve just completed a “blogging off” entry on my personal blog — which isn’t on an IBM domain, but was an interesting family experiment.

The blogging actually started because my son has gone for a year (maybe two) in Beijing, and it’s an efficient way for him to broadcast what’s happening in his life. Of course, I’m an old guy, and he’s now 18, so his community is all online. He was on Xanga, and my second son is still on Xanga, which is means that a single blog isn’t what makes it, but a cluster of blogs interacting in a community. My eldest son is now an outlier, because he’s abandoned his Xanga log in favour of the family web site, but since he’s in China, I’ve learned not to rely on specific technologies (e.g. MSN Messenger is very sporatic, and we now use Skype for its IM features, and voice occasionally).

The reason that I’ve decided to opt out of blogging is that it doesn’t really fit with my style of communicating. I’m much more comfortable with Wiki. Blogs are time-based — I guess they would be consistent with Gelernter’s lifestreams idea — but they somehow don’t reflect learning, for me. I’m always conscious about writing content (in particular in journals articles and working papers) in ways that I won’t embarass myself in the future. That reflects a personal interest in maintaining internal validity and coherence in my thinking. (I can’t tell you about the number of interesting tangents that I’ve discovered that have proved to be dead ends).

I have learned, from my sons, about the protocols of leaving messages on blogs, as a method of feedback. One of the interesting dynamics is whether you’ll respond to this comment with your own comment, or whether you’ll create an entirely new entry to respond.

Since I’m the owner of a brand new Palm TX, though, I’m now working through the wonders of RSS, and open source / freeware packages such as Sunrise and Plucker, so I’ll be trying to see if I can bring your blog down to my Palm. (This puts you in the league of Irving Wladawsky-Berger and Jonathan Schwartz). I would actually encourage you — following their examples — to not be blogging inside w3, but on the extranet. Schwartz said that 90% of what he says is postable externally, so it’s easier just to maintain one identity, and handle the rest through other media.

Of course, this depends on how much it complicates your life …. Perhaps you’ll start here, an then migrate to an external blog. (Maybe if you started an external blog, as Jim Spohrer has done for SSME, maybe I would join you there as a collaborator). Or maybe I’m setting myself up for overload, again ..

Over the holiday season, I suggested to Doug that we create a collaborative blog with Martin Gladwell, open to the Internet. This has become the writing at coevolving.com, where we’re in the early stages of hitting our rhythm. (Doug has been active on his intranet blog, coming up to the Technology Leadership Exchange held in Orlando, earlier this month).

As much as I like Pivot, the community at WordPress.org is a lot more active. It’s still open source, and there’s considerably more plugins available, particularly toward the reduction of spam (i.e. splogging). The easiest way to get a license code to enable the Akismet plugin is to set up a WordPress.com account. Thus, daviding.wordpress.com was created.

I had coevolving.com to express my business consulting-oriented content. I didn’t want to do more blogging on the family site, because I can communicate better with them verbally, rather than over the Internet. There were, however, a few non-business-related articles that showed in the newspaper that I would normally send to friends in an e-mail, but are really blog material. Finally, as I tried to come to terms with feeding the Palm TX, I discovered RSS, and ended up reporting on my move to clear my e-mail in-basket out in favour of RSS Bandit. Slowly, the content began to accumulate.

As much as I’m in favour of RSS readers to improve my personal productivity, the rest of the world isn’t there, yet. Although the Globe & Mail has an OPML file that is supposed to include all of the feeds available on the web site, there were errors in it that I debugged. (Does this mean that I was the first person in the world reading the Globe & Mail to use OPML?) Then I was the first in the RSS Bandit community to identify, diagnose and resolve the Microsoft tag issue. I’m ahead of the curve on using a pull technology with RSS, while everyone else is still push.

The resolution is a WordPress e-mail notification plugin. Alas, the plugin is not a feature offered by the hosted wordpress.com site, and can only be added to an independent site that has installed the software from wordpress.org. Thus, the only way to have the majority of people read what I write is to have the blog on my own web site.

Fortunately, the learning curve has uncovered some shortcuts. WordPress is a one-button installation on web hosts that use cPanel. I’m up the curve on cPanel as a result of configuring coevolving.com. Finally, although it took me considerable time to customize the Relaxation 3-column theme from Clemens for coevolving.com, wordpress.com supported Regulus from Binary Moon, which looks great and mostly customizable directly on the WordPress administration panels.

WordPress.com unfortunately doesn’t have an export facility, so I took the opportunity to import the content from the family blog, and combine it with the daviding.wordpress.com blog. (One great feature of WordPress is that it’s possible to manually adjust the post timestamp of each post and comment). Voila!

I’ll leave a copy of this posting as the last entry on daviding.wordpress.com. It’s been a good learning experience, but I need to move on. I highly recommend wordpress.com for beginners who want an instant solution, but it’s annoying to not have an export facility. My experience with helping my friend Gary Metcalf get up the curve on his WordPress blog has pointed out that fluency with HTML code is a prerequisite for an independent blog, and some familiarity with PHP scripts is good. But, maybe it’s better just to make friends with someone who’s immersed in the open source movement to get things done.

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