Does Your Blog Interface Influence How You Blog?
There are many different ways to write a blog posts. Some people prefer a simple text editor, an offline blogging tool or simply the write post area of your blog software. There are so many tools available that it is a matter of trying to find the right one for your personal posting pattern.
I am still trying to find the perfect writing environment. I often use a no-nonsense simple text editor, or a program such as Dark Room (Windows) or WriteRoom (Mac) that provides me with a full-screen, semi-distraction free writing environment. But because these programs are so basic it means that I will have to manually insert all the links. Am I lazy? What about the oldskool bloggers that manually coded their whole blog?
Blog software spoiled me.
The software makes it feel easier to insert links and markup my blog post. On top of that it checks my spelling and automatically saves while I write. When working on a blog post in a text editor I often find myself switching back to the write area of my blog software because of these features. Blog software obviously supports blogging features that text editors don’t. Blogs are hypertext documents that revolve around links.
Early blogs were often a daily collection of links, such as Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom and Justin Halls’s Links.net. An early blogging service named Pitas made the link the prime object of the interface as it
[…] provided users two simple form boxes: one for a URL and one for the writer’s remarks. Hitting the “post” button generated a link followed by commentary. (Blood, 2004)
By providing users with just two fields, one for the link, and one for commentary, the software shaped the blog post. The link was the main feature of the blog. Rebecca Blood argues in her article on ‘How Blogging Software Reshapes the Online Community‘ that Blogger changed the weblog culture in 1999 with an important interface decision:
Blogger was simpler still, consisting of a single form box field into which the blogger typed whatever they wanted. I sometimes wonder whether the new bloggers knew enough HTML to construct a link. Whether they did or not, Blogger was so simple that many of them began posting linkless entries about whatever came to mind. (Blood, 2004)
Links were no longer a central object of the interface and a different type of blogs were constructed. The blogging interface enable and constrains certain practices. Embedding a YouTube video in WordPress for example can be quite tricky. You need to switch to code mode in order to insert the embed HTML code and not return to visual mode before publishing. Not only does blog software still privilege text it may also influence how (often) you write.
It is worth mentioning that a negative relationship exists between the efforts required to update a blog and the frequency of updating. Simply put, the easier it is for bloggers to post entries to blog, the more likely they will do it. (Dan Li, 2005, p. 28)
Blogger’s interface is really focused on the writing area and shows few other options. WordPress and Movable Type offer a much more complicated interface and have less screen space available for the write area. Tumblr uses a whole different approach as it revolves around the type of content you want to post (text, photo, quote, etc.)
In 2004 Tom Coates put up his whole blog archive in a text file for people to download and analyze. It contained five years of blog posts and people started making visualizations of his early posting behavior. There was a significant change in 2003 after Coates switched from Blogger to Movable Type and in response to that change he wrote:
Matt has suggested to me in the past that another equally convincing model might be to think of MT as having broken the paradigm of incredibly fast and easy informal peer-to-peer publishing that Blogger created and was initially its USP. (Coates, 2004)
Do you feel your blog software and interface influence how you blog?
Anne is a New Media Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She participates as a blog researcher in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne also writes about blogging and academics on her personal blog and the collaborative Masters of Media blog.
I’ve found a useful utility if you’re interested in the full screen writing experience, but want to use the editor of your choice (instead of WriteRoom).
Think (Mac only) allows you to black out the rest of your screen, eliminating distractions. Suddenly, a large screen can become a narrow column of text for writing.
Oh and it’s free too.
I’ve settled on Scrivener as my writing tool of choice. If you’re on a Mac, it’s got everything you can possibly want to write and organize your thoughts, blog entries, or chapters of your next book. I’m still blown away by all the features and low price.
Wouldn’t it be great if WordPress or Typepad implemented an online writing tool that allowed us to easily write, post, and save local backups on our hard drive? When the right company figures this out, they’ll clean up!
My blog’s interface is in no way influencing me. It just helps me. I have a web design company and I often go in the source of my article just to manually add some header tags or rel tags or whatever. It’s just an old habit.
Yes I do. I started to blog with Blogger which was simple at that time. No WYSIWYG-editor, no additional stuff, just a plain white textarea as the one I am typing into now. Everything was nice back then, but the fact that I had to hand-code every link, every image and every anchor, made me sometimes get on very slowly. If you wanted to refer to more than two or three other websites, the disturbance of manually coding the html made me search for something more comfortable.
Then I switched to Textpattern which was a joy. The Textile-System Textpattern uses made me write very fast. You did not have to put in the URL before the linked word (as in html), you could do it afterwards. You could use quick-formatting tags like _italic_ or *bold* and this was as I used to do it in MS Word. Of course, more complicated things like tables were much more of a challenge…
And finally I switched to WordPress. And to be honest, the light act of writing is gone. The WYSIWYG-interface disturbed me that much that I turned it off. And here I am again with hand-coding everything. Writing is, again, slower. Slower writing means less writing. So: I think yes, the interface of my CMS does have to do with how much I write and how much into detail I go.
@Aaron: Think sounds like the perfect application for me, but unfortunately not for my Windows operating system.
@Marcel: Blog software that lets you synch your database and work offline? Sounds like a blessing as I am struggling with setting up a XAMPP offline environment.
@Chip: I have certain web habits too and if this is the one that works best for you I wouldn’t change a bit ;)
@Michael: Thanks for sharing your account of using different blog software, it makes interesting reading material. Why did you switch from Textpattern to WordPress? And did you blog more frequently when you were using Textpattern?
I spent a long time trying to figure out what I should really use while writing blog posts. I think I finally found a good workflow for me.
I start out writing the entire post in TextEdit, that way I forget about images and links, this way I can really focus on the words involved.
Than I copy and paste the post into the WordPress WYSIWYG editor where I add my links and images (finding places where links should go forces me to read over my posts after writing them, almost certainly finding a few typos or poorly worded sentances).