My Blog Functionality Scorecard

1. WYSIWYG text editing and publishing

11. content sorting/searching/indexing

2. automatic conversion from/to other formats

12. integrated conference scheduler

3. abstracting

13. integrated VoIP (with v-mail)

4. auto-publishing when saving or sending

14. integrated video

5. access to rest of personal ‘filing cabinet’

15. integrated collaboration

6. one-click subscription by anyone

16. integrated IM

7. integrated universal address book

17. integrated slideshow

8. integrated expertise/network finder

18. integrated soundtrack

9. editable by others

19. integrated URL directory

10. robust commenting

20. posting multimedia presentations

Everyone has their own specifications for what they’d like blogs to do. Advanced users, comfortable with the technology and able to tweak their blogs to do some amazing (and some silly) things, are quickly leaving the rest of us behind, and there are millions of others who took a quick try at blogging, threw up their hands, and gave up.

This article is an attempt to create a scorecard of what blogs can and cannot presently do, and what they should be able to do. The objective is to spec out a blogging tool that is better (more useful), faster and simpler, at next to no cost.

My benchmark for this scorecard is my father. If I could explain to him how to use a blog feature over the phone, it gets a ‘green‘ score. If my brother, who lives a few blocks away from him and is an engineer, could set it up for him so he could use it, it gets a ‘yellow‘ score. If it’s not available at all, or unfathomable to novice users even with help, it gets a ‘red‘ score.

I consider blogs to be rudimentary content management, publishing, communication and social networking tools. So I have taken the content management, publishing and social networking functionalities that I identified as critical in my Personal Knowledge Management chart, and added the functionalities implicit in my Communications Decision Chart, along with some intriguing additional features that readers have told me about recently, and these 20 functionalities together make up the scorecard. If you think important functions are missing, or some of the functions I’ve listed are trivial, let me know. No list will satisfy everyone, of course. Here’s the explanation for my scores.

  1. WYSIWYG text editing and publishing – Most blog tools have got this right. Even the novice can write a text post and get it into the format they want, without training. Anything fancy still needs HTML, but graphics, tables, different font sizes and styles are all very simple, and show you what you get when you push the ‘publish’ button.
  2. Automatic conversion from/to other formats – Anyone writing a paper in MS Word and then trying to get it into shape to publish on their blog is in for a rude awakening. If you’re lucky, Microsoft will simply bloat your post to twice the size it needs to be, replete with hidden HTML coding that is unique to MS apps and won’t display properly with other browsers. If you’re unlucky, you’ll need to spend hours stripping out the extra code and correcting all the quote mark mis-conversions that clutter your ‘converted’ post with question marks and strange MS Gibberish. And, going the other way, converting your HTML post into a professional looking report or printout is also a challenge.
  3. Abstracting – For very long posts, most blog tools currently require you to prepare two documents: a short abstract, preamble or excerpt, which you publish, and the full article, which you save on the server as a ‘story’ which the abstract links to. The technology should simply allow you to highlight, just before ‘publishing’, which parts of a long post you want readers to see on your main blog, and should then provide a ‘toggle’ that alternately displays the entire post or the selected excerpts. I know this can be done with ‘outlining’ features, but I also know a lot of these features are hard to learn.
  4. Auto-publishing when saving or sending – A blog is really just another ‘address’, another destination to send something to. Ideally, we should be able to post any document or message to our blog as easily, and at the same time, as we ‘save’ it (send it to a file) or ‘send’ it to an e-mail address. Radio Userland does allow me to type in individual e-mail addresses to ‘ping’ when I publish an article, but it’s awkward, and the last thing you want is something else to have to look up at the last minute before you publish an article. Userland also allows me to (with some important limitations) send a post to my blog via e-mail. Quite often I end up replying to a reader’s comment both on my blog and via a separate e-mail (since I get e-mail notification of all comments on my blog); this should be something I can do with one action instead of two.
  5. Access to rest of personal ‘filing cabinet’ – Particularly in business applications, we need to be able to provide the reader with access to supporting documents, messages and files used in the preparation of an article, report or presentation. For those that keep their blogs on a public server, that means addition of peer-to-peer connectivity so that readers of my blog can also get access to a ‘public’ folder on my laptop (when I’m online). As an intermediary step, we need some way, and place, to put background documents that we aren’t ‘publishing’ but do want people to be able to link to to if they’re interested in more.
  6. One-click subscription by anyone – I have sent quite a few people to RSS aggregators who simply want to get my posts in their daily e-mail. I know I can set this up through Bloglet, and that for people who understand RSS this isn’t a big deal, but for most readers it is. You need a ‘subscribe’ button at the top of your blog that lets non-techie readers get your blog content sent to their or a friend’s e-mail, with step-by-step instructions on how to use an RSS aggregator if they’re up for that instead. And you need an ‘e-mail’ button below each post that allows the reader to e-mail to themselves, or someone else, any individual article.
  7. Integrated universal address book – Someone needs to set up a universal address book that allows us to manage all our contacts — where we can add, and access, e-mail, phone, URL, IM and other contact information with a single click. We waste too much time looking for this information in separate, incompatible, awkward applications.
  8. Integrated expertise/network finder – As many have said, LinkedIn, Orkut, Ryze etc. just don’t do it. When we’re searching for information while researching an article, or trying to decide who else might be interested in something we’ve just written or just read, we need to be able to call up a list of who knows and who cares about a particular subject.
  9. Editable by others – Yes, there are group blogs, but for most of us the ability to collaborate on an article, or allow someone else to post as a ‘guest’ on our blog, and edit and manage their post, is not available. It should be. It isn’t that difficult a technical challange.
  10. Robust commenting – Unless you’re an HTML whiz, commenting is limited to typing in sentences. You can’t edit or delete comments (in most commenting systems), you can’t number the comments for reference, you can’t clearly indicate comments-to-comments, you can’t easily refer back to specific parts of the article you’re commenting on or cross-reference to other URLs. I know this is tough, and the discussion boards have proven there’s no easy answer to this, but it’s important and needs to be solved. See the postscript to this post for one possible answer.
  11. Content sorting, searching, indexing – Most of us have learned how to add a search bar to our blogs, and some of us keep detailed tables of contents or indexes of our posts and to use categories to post on different subjects. But the fact that we can only display our content in reverse date order (rather than by subject, by author etc.) is frustrating. And the calendaring/archiving function is awkward — once a post has dropped off the home page, it can be very hard to find it again, even if you know roughly when it was posted. I’ve been told that MySt Technologies allows more robust content sorting, and takes a more holistic view of blogs as content management systems than others.
  12. Integrated conference scheduler – Blogs are by nature an asynchronous communication medium. In order to bridge to synchronous, real-time communication, blogs need a ‘scheduler’ that will allow the blogger to indicate when, and via which tools, he is available for conferences. And in those time blocks that are open for face-to-face meetings, this scheduler would also show the blogger’s physical location at those times (I’d love to know when bloggers are going to be in the Toronto area, for example). The scheduler could even include a pricing feature so that, if the blogger is someone who makes a living from his personal expertise, people willing to pay for a slice of their time can do so. Whether it’s for fee or for free, the reader could then book a time and a tool, and the blogger would be notified by e-mail and automatically reminded shortly before the meeting. And functions 13-16 below would become much easier to accommodate effectively.
  13. Integrated VoIP – Skype is my choice for VoIP — free, one-click and crystal clear. But it’s not yet available on Macs or on non-Windows or pre-Win2k operating systems. And it needs a voice-mail box for missed calls.
  14. Integrated video – Maybe I’m spoiled by DVDs, but the jerkiness, tiny picture and/or fuzziness of the pictures on all of the simple, easily-affordable video technologies I’ve looked at just doesn’t do it. All I should have to do is turn on my webcam and my real-time image should show up in a designated place on my blog sidebar. That’ll take a few years for bandwidth and technology to improve, but when you can tune in (‘eavesdrop’) on a blogger’s video and voice real-time whenever they’re online, it will change the nature of the blogging experience.
  15. Integrated collaboration – Especially for business blogs, it would be wonderful to be able to post a ‘space’ on your blog where others, appropriately permissioned, could add to or annotate, in an identifiable way, anything put in that space. Kind of like a wiki within a blog. As a tool used in tandem with an audio or video-conference or real-time IM session, it could be an amazing tool for effective teamwork. And possibly even an interesting ‘spectator sport’ for those interested but not permissioned.
  16. Integrated IM – Quite a few bloggers have squawk boxes in their sidebars for spontaneous chat, but none of these is integrated into the blog tool. Also, they don’t give you enough real estate for intelligible discussion. With the scheduler (#12 above) bloggers could announce discussions at specific times on their blogs and these could become powerful brainstorming tools, and make some blogs into real-time destinations.
  17. Integrated slideshow – This intriguing feature, as well as #18 and #19 below, are now available through The Blogbox Project. They’re great examples of non-essential but useful features to add to a blog as long as they don’t add complexity. The integrated slideshow shows a sequence of repeating graphics in a single place on your blog sidebar, saving you real estate and adding a bit of animation to your site, especially with the transition effects (including pans and fades) included.
  18. Integrated soundtrack – Blogbox allows you to let your readers hear your favourite MP3s as background music while they read. See (or should I say hear) SÈb Paquet’s blog for an example,
  19. Integrated URL directory – And the final Bloxbox extra is a collapsable, sorted list of your favourite URLs that you can use for your blogroll or other reference lists. I think blogrolls are important — sometimes they’re the most useful part of a site — but they do take up a lot of real estate and this simple, elegant ‘outlining’ tool solves that problem.
  20. Posting multimedia presentations – Rather than attaching a PPT file, or a video or sound clip, which the user must then open in a separate window, it would be very useful, especially on business blogs, to be able to have the files open and run right in the blog window.

Functions 7, 8, 10 and 15 would admittedly be difficult for blog tools to incorporate, but the rest of the functions on the scorecard should not be difficult to implement, and despite the additional power would actually make blogging easier and more intuitive. Their addition would make blogs true personal content management and social networking tools, and make them immensely more attractive to business and to non-technical individuals. We are likely to see the convergence of PC and TV technology this decade, and that means PC applications will have to become simpler and more straightforward. I would even anticipate that by 2010 we will have one easy-to-use, integrated personal content management and social networking tool that will encompass e-mail, blogging, videoconferencing, browsing, and the publishing of and subscription to multimedia content of all types, from movies and music and TV programming to the customized daily paper and your favourite greatly-enhanced blogs. It will make personal electronic information management as easy and intuitive as the management of paper documents it supercedes. And much more powerful.

PS – If you’d like to try out an alternative to the blog Comments Thread, here’s a more robust discussion space, courtesy of QuickTopic:
Discuss Pushing the Blogging Envelope

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  1. Dave,Very interesting article. I’ll be forwarding the link to the other developers on the b2evolution blog software and we’ll see if we can’t get some of these features built in. Having a graphic design buddy who just setup our software, I know some blogging tools have a tendency to be a bit more technical-people oriented. It is something that is being overcome… slowly, but it is.Thanks again for the good read.Travis

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