Getting started

I had the good pleasure to attend a technology and social systems exploratory event (The TechMuck as an Event ) recently and was introduced to the so-called blogosphere. I like it! It looked like a parallel universe of many good things, including shared discourse, information, eccentricity, and a lot of people having fun. Finding a newsreader and filling it up completely changed my relationship to the Internet, the web, and surfing. I think RSS feeds are right up there with other achievements of civilization like hot showers and ice cream.

So armed with enthusiasm and pointers to MovableType I set out to setup a weblog. The MovableType documentation and the online support are very informative and useful. What's explained there is explained quite well. However, three key problems stymied me in getting an MT blog operational. I think they highlight use and usability issues.

1. How to get styles working?

I installed MT at my ISP with only a short negotiation about MySQL access; documentation for this was excellent. However when I set up my first weblog no styles were applied to the text. It turned out that the instructions for creating a new weblog require the following input:

	Enter the URL of your public website.
	Do not include a filename (i.e. exclude index.html).
	Example: http://www.site.com/

It turns out the URL required is the one that actually points to the directory containing the CSS style sheet. In my case it was not the public website URL, but the URL of the blog. This wasn't obvious to me. Perhaps the documentation should be amended. This problem was solved by consulting a colleague -- often the best way to solve problems.

2. How to get templates working using external files?

The documentation on templates explains how one can link templates to external files and then manage changes by editing those files. So I copy a set of templates that are suggested by a colleague to a template directory and put the file names in the appropriate text boxes on the template management page. However, when I save the changes and view the site the index and styles are not changed. A few iterations of this pattern and I remember something about needing to paste the new templates into the configuration window as well as providing file names. That works and I find the behavior described in the documentation.

I was fooled by the interface into thinking that simply entering a file name containing a new template was enough to update the database. It turns out that synchronization only occurs after the default database entry is changed. A problem of not reading the documentation and perhaps the design of the web form. (cf. Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things)

3. How to weblog?

Once I had everything configured I was ready. But first I wanted to try out linking to a website or a blog entry. Making an entry seemed obvious and easy. Including a URL proved a bit more challenging. I quickly discovered that simply inserting the usual HTML href tags manually worked. But I was sure that there was an easier way; their had to be.

This problem also was solved by consulting a colleague and what I learned floored me. It turns out that MT provides four little buttons for formatting and inserting a URL just above the Entry Body text box. Who knew? Four different browsers on my Mac OS X systems: Safari, Firefox, Camino, and IE 5.2) don't show these buttons. What gives? I'll workaround the problem, but I'm not happy.

I've looked for documentation on how to be a weblogger but all I've found so far is how to configure a weblog. What I needed was a very simple MovableType how-to manual that included a few tips on style, how to include links, and possibly etiquette. I am learning some of this by reading, by contacting friends and colleagues, ... and now by writing.

2 Comments

Congratulations, Bill!

Regarding the buttons, I have discovered that a lot may have to do with browser privacy settings and maybe even your firewall privacy settings, though I am not sure my firewall sees my local use of the browser as a shell/editor.

Just guessing. Can't leave this nice fresh writing surface stay blank you know. [;<).

I like your "creating communities" focus. I'd like to create a couple of these on my own.

First, I'd like to move at least one "yahoogroups" mailing list onto a weblog. The host has a growing website, with plenty of references. But I'd like to capture some of the email traffic in a more permanent home. I suspect it would be easy to move some of the contributors to a weblog format, rather than sending mail. For me, email is all about "pointers", rather than content.

Also, I'd like to be able to run an email "group" service as an alternative for two "family" mailing lists I belong to, though this has less to do with web logging, and more to do with installing a 3rd party facility on my ISP. It seems you've overcome this apparent hurdle. This one is more human inertia on my part: the ability to block out the needed time.

Cheers, and keep 'em comin'.

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