Only Manila Has Edit This Page?

Dave Winer falsely claims,

It’s very gratifying to see Scott promoting Edit This Page. An important group of features that only Manila has. Super-high value for users.

That’s odd, because I use a couple of content management systems, including Conversant in which every bit of text, etc., has an “Edit Me” link that opens the text in a browser text area, lets me change the, and then instantly updates it.

Maybe Dave means that Manila is the only Userland product that has this feature.

Manila Gets Robots.Txt File

What seems like many years ago, I was sitting on a wad of cash and had a decision to make — I definitely wanted to ditch using DreamWeaver to manage my site, but wasn’t sure about which way to go for a dynamic content management system.

I was leaning toward a Manila hosted solution when I received an e-mail about Conversant and there’s been no looking back since. Aside from all the cool things Conversant has added in the intervening years, it is posts like this that really make me glad I didn’t go with Manila,

New feature: Manila sites now have a robots.txt file. By default it just tells search engine robots to skip the page of referers, thereby eliminating any benefit for spamming the Referers page. Of course they’ll still do it, or maybe they’ll get a clue and spam someone else.

Holy cow. Manila users had to wait until July 2003 to get a basic robots.txt file, and then it happened largely because the major shareholder in Userland wanted it to happen.

I realize having a robots.txt file probably isn’t as sexy as having an “Edit This Page” button everywhere, but it’s still surprising to me at least that Manila lacked this basic functionality for so long.

I Missed the Weblog Memo

Boy did I miss the boat. Here I thought that a weblog was simply a series of posts organized in (usually reverse) chronological order. Who knew they were all about giving free reign to authentic voices?

The personalities of the writers come through. That is the essential element of weblog writing, and almost all the other elements can be missing, and the rules can be violated, imho, as long as the voice of a person comes through, it’s a weblog.

Look, ma it used to be a classic of Western civilization, but today it’s a weblog!

A more accurate definition might be web writing that is just a bit too self-important,

There’s been a lot of discussion about the similarities between Wikis and weblogs . . .

The Wiki folks, of course, are heretics as it is written in The Book of Reynolds (seriously, could there be anything more pointless than lots of discussions comparing Wikis and weblogs? Now, Wookies and weblogs I could grok . . .)

Key point: On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with. Sometimes you submit right at the copy-edit deadline. Or you write exactly the required number of words so nothing can be cut. But in the end, the words that appear are an amalgam of what your organization thought should be said on the subject you’re addressing.

Right, because before weblogs you could rent space on a server for your web site (or even lease an entire dedicatd server)but, but you’d had to grant Internet Gremlins the right to come along and change what you wrote as they saw fit. In fact, I believe DreamWeaver 1.0 shipped with the ability to place such random editing of your content within a templating system that really advanced the art light years ahead.

Dave really must have been traumatized by some editor’s decision to cut a sentence or two in an article he wrote. I never had any problem with editors cutting — it was when they would add things that I really got pissed off. But the reality too is that most people seriously overrate their own writing abilities. I prefer writing for weblogs over newspapers, but the things I wrote in newspapers were much better written (see, look at that horrible grammar) thanks to editors.

Edit This Page button. When you’re looking at a bit of text that needs to be changed, assuming you have editorial permission to edit it, how many steps do you have to take to edit it, and how much memorization is required? Some weblog software makes this trivially simple, every bit of editable text has a button nearby that allows the author to modify it in three steps, click the button, make the changes, save the changes.

This especially comes in handy if, say, you have a habit of posting incredibly rude or factually incorrect things and then you need to go back quickly and change the post so that the entire episode disappears down the memory hole (well, at least to the extent that anything can escape down the memory hole these days).

It’s interesting that the ability to search your weblog is completely left out of this long piece. So you can edit the content once you find it, but you might have to depend on Google to find anything specific (this was likely left out given that so few web sites offer the ability to search content, and people probably don’t find this useful at the few sites that do).

Shortcuts. A shortcut is a quick way to link to a page without having to use HTML, a highly valued feature for non-technical users. In UserLand weblog tools a shortcut is invoked by embedding the name in “double quotes”. If something is unintentially hotted-up because of this, the author can override shortcut replacement with a backslash.

Repeat that last line three times fast. That would really screw me up, by the way, because for the life of me I have never been able to keep my head straight about which is the backslash and which is the forward slash (or should that be forwardslash). But come on, don’t go around bragging about how easy your software is to use because you’ve got an Edit button everywhere, but when I’m editing I have to keep in my head that I surround things in double quotes except when I don’t want the shortcut and then I need the backslash. And either way, I won’t be able to search for this entry again from my site. Oy, my head is spinning.

Hierarchy browser. Using OPML as the format for describing hierarchies, Manila and compatible tools make it possible to author Yahoo-like directories with a compatible outliner.

Slide shows. Similar to the Hierarchy browser feature, but for displaying PowerPoint-like presentations.

Slide shows and “hierarchy browsers” (translation: outline)? When did those become part of the whole weblog experience?

So, in closing, we can sum up “What makes a weblog a weblog” in a few short words:

Radio Userland and Manila, good!
Fire, bad!

Radio Userland Comment Problems

The other day I mentioned the problems that Scott Rosenberg was having at his Salon.Com blog with some folks who filled up the comments section of his site with posts that were hundreds of kilobytes long. The person(s) in question were posting so much text so quickly that according to Rosenberg it was bringing the server to a crawl. Because of the way the Radio Community Server is configured, Rosenberg and other users aren’t given the ability to delete such irritating and pointless posts, or IP block them, etc.

Userland appears to have responded with two interim solutions.

The first is pointless but harmless,

UserLand has implemented a maximum limit on the length of a comments thread. The good news is that this deals with the problem. The bad news is that this limits the length of comments threads.

Okay, that might help maintain the server performance, but it simply means that this spammer’s efforts will result in all of the threads on Rosenberg’s weblog being closed so no discussion can take place — not much better than simply turning off the feature in the first place.

The second solution (for Manila) is a personal pet peeve of mind that I’ve seen elsewhere and really gets my blood boiling — publicly displaying the IP address of people who post.

Jake Savin describes this new feature,

Today we released a new feature for Manila — IP address tracking. This feature helps to prevent spammers from attacking your site.

Whenever a new discussion group message or comment is posted, Manila now records the IP address along with the discussion group message.

People who might abuse public comment systems and discussion groups will be discouraged to do so if their IP address is made public.

I think publicly displaying IP addresses is behavior that is even worse than the spammers. Sites that implement this are making public a good deal of information about the person posting — information which, when combined with other things, could get people in a lot of trouble.

VegSource is a site that displays the IP addresses and illustrates the danger of posting this. For example, I once read a rather pro-animal rights post in the middle of the day on VegSource. Doing a DNS lookup it turned out that she was posting from a computer at a pharmaceutical company. Based on the things the person said, it was likely she worked in some sort of accounting department.

Somehow I don’t think this company would have been happy to find out that one of their employees as an activist posting to activist sites on company time.

In some cases you can get even more information. I’ll never understand why some libraries don’t use dynamic IP addresses for their public machines. Giving a public machine a static IP address is just asking for trouble (for example, one of my more irritating posters used to post from the same machine at a library in Cleveland — if I lived in the area, it wouldn’t have been too hard to track him down if I was so motivated).

Certainly site administrators have valid uses for tracking IPs, such as IP-blocking people who abuse their systems. But broadcasting the IP address of everyone who posts to the entire Internet? A Very Bad Idea (TM).

The Problem with Salon Blogs

So Dave Winer formally announced the Salon blogs deal. Essentially Salon is just acting as a host for Radio weblogs. Download Radio for free for the first 30 days, kick in $39.95 after 30 days if you want to continue.

It’s an interesting experiment, but one that I doubt will succeed for two reasons:

1. Salon isn’t going to be around for much longer. In fact while the deal makes sense from Winer’s point of view, what is Salon getting out of it? In the best case scenario, a lot of traffic for which they can’t sell advertisements (or just wait for all hell to break loose if they try to sell ads). I suppose this is not much worse than Salon’s other crackpot ideas, but I don’t see what the upside is for them, unless Winer’s footing the bandwidth costs and kicking back part of the $39.95 to buy Radio.

2. Radio isn’t a very good blogging tool. Before you pounce on me there, I paid my $39.95 to buy a license a copy of Radio and use it regularly — it is hands down the best product I know of to do RSS aggregation. I use it to track hundreds of RSS feeds and love it.

But the problem with using Radio to edit a blog is that the program ties you down to one machine. You can view your weblog anywhere you can find a computer with an Internet connection, but you’re pretty much stuck to updating the blog from a single machine. A few years ago I don’t think anyone would have cared. Today it feels like a real pain in the butt. Maybe I’m the only person who regularly uses three or four different machines.

Just by chance I ran across a weblog the other day where the author noted he was switching from Radio to Movable Type because of the inability to update anywhere.

It’s really a shame that all of the time and effort that was poured into Radio didn’t go into making Manila a kick-ass CMS. I wouldn’t have been interested in that either, but I bet Userland could have garnered a lot of of the folks who left Blogger for Movable Type (which is the other big switch I’ve noticed, with people finally getting fed up over Blogger and Blogger Pro’s limitations and downtime).

Why People Dislike Dave Winer

Dave Winer still can’t understand why so many people have an intense dislike for him,

About a year ago talking with John Robb I lamented that I get so much hate mail. John said “Dave you’re a rock star.” I didn’t like that answer, but he was right. With thousands of readers, there are a couple of dozen who think I write just for them, and they hate me and what I say, and express it constantly and in great volume.

No, Dave, the reason they dislike you so much is your longstanding habit of attacking your own customers when they point out bugs and other problems with Userland software.

Normal users do not like being told to go to hell when they try to report bugs or complain about longstanding problems with software that never gets fixed before Userland moves on to its next project-of-the-moment.

But rather than look at his own business practices, Winer prefers sychophantic nonsense like “Dave you’re a rock star” to explain away the animosity.

And the sad thing is that Winer has created so much stop energy of his own, that people are moving on to other software packages simply to develop a relationship with companies who know how to provide decent customer service.

Most companies would look at the numerous Radio and Manila blogs that say something like “We’ve had it with Dave, we’re moving our blog to Movable Type” and step back to try to figure out what they’re doing to drive people away. But Winer simply chalks it up to abusive people who just hate him because he’s a rock star.