Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blogs should archive content by category: a good way to help visitors navigate issues


As I’ve noted before, one of my greatest interests is in developing web-based methods of help users navigate through the social and political issues and understand them with more objectivity.

One tool that I have noticed on some blogs is a technique called “tags and categories” which enables the blogger to archive work by subject matter.

One good example of this technique is illustrated by the Chinaview blog. Again, I’m pointing this out for the technique, not to take sides on controversies over China. For example, look at this link on activists, or this one on “Boycott Beijing Olympics". It appears that the tag and category archiving works in both contexts.

Another great example of the power of this technique is to be found on gaypatriot.net, which calls itself “The Internet home for the American gay conservative”. I talked about the homocon issue with respect to myself on this blog in early January. On a posting intended to talk about Internet systems, I’m not trying to sell the point, but accept the fact that the subject matter fits in with most people’s ideas of “modern pluralistic democratic capitalism” (whether American, European, or Asian), social and political systems where at some point the individual transcends the family or group. After all, that’s what debate and free speech rest on. On the lower left side of the home page of that blog, you can see many categories of archives (even “global warming”) and you can, by navigating the archive, understand the relationship of any of these issues to the underlying experience of a “gay conservative.” It’s worthy of note that the Human Rights Campaign also has a geographic cross-reference tool to keep track of all GLBT issues state-by-state here:

Wordpress apparently offers this on its free blogs (Wordpress.com) and it also offers publishing software (Wordpress.org) that has more features but that runs only on a domain that the web author sets up (and equates to the content with address records).

On Blogger (originally Push Button Publishing), there is a tremendous array of these same features, with a lot of discussion on Blogger Help of site feeds and syndication, as well as automated advertising. But I am unable to find discussion of archiving by category.

Both sites discuss spam blogs (and spam in blogs); Wordpress suggests Askimet. Companies are fighting this by requiring heuristic verification (a human eye) to prevent automatic generation of posts.

What I have done so far is maintain multiple blogs, which amount to separate “categories” manually. The visitor can find the other blogs by looking at the Profile link on the blog (usually presented in reverse chronological order of when they were updated), although a visitor probably needs to be aware enough of how Blogger works to think of looking for it. This is a good concept to teach in community college or adult education IT classes.

As for syndication, I am interested in it, but would want to restrict it to material that is narrower and more factual – say, court opinions and legislation that affect Internet speech. Readers need to be told when there is a new bill or opinion, they don’t necessarily need to be told about the latest personal opinion on gay marriage. In fact, given statistics, I can tell that many readers can find opinions very well by themselves.

One other piece of all of this: blogs often give references to news stories, which themselves often archive or disappear. Some newspapers have started pseudo-blocking deep links by sending them to the home page. This is simply dumb. What we need is a more efficient, Amazon-like integrated system for newspapers (and their reporters – just ask the National Writers Union) to receive credit card payment from visitors who want to read original, fact-checked material once archived.

Update: April 11, 2008

I find that the "labels for this post" in Blogger gives much of the same functionality as "categories" in Wordpress. I don't see an option on the template or settings screens to display the categories in Blogger, but I've seen other blogspot blogs now that have them. I'm wondering if that is a function of the template chosen, and that I am using older templates. I've put categories on many entries on this blog. If the user clicks on the label at the bottom of the posts, the visitor will see all the postings on that blog with the same label.

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