Retiring entries with Movable Type

Okay, that idea I had about writing a plugin to add a “Retired” status for Movable Type entries? Not going to happen. At least not any time soon. The post status types are pretty well hard-baked into the core MT code, and adding a new status would require some hacking around in places like as well as additional plugin code. Modifying core files means re-modifying them every time you install a new version, and that’s just a pain.

(However, while digging around in the posting status area of the MT core, I found a bunch of dormant code relating to scheduled posting of entries. There is a posting status code of “Future” defined right next to “Draft” and “Publish”. On the other hand, there has been a status code of “Review” in there for some time, too, and it hasn’t appeared in the UI yet, either. It’s probably not worth getting excited about scheduled postings coming to MT in the next version.)

In the absence of a simple plugin, here is a relatively simple alternative way for “retiring” outdated entries in Movable Type.

Continue reading “Retiring entries with Movable Type”

Corollary to blogging fundamentals

Never mind why I’m blogging; why are you here? If you don’t know me from real life, or from an online community I’ve hung out in, why are you reading this? I’m not a guru or a celebrity. If you didn’t just end up here via a search engine, why are you interested in what I have to say?

Not that I’m complaining, mind. I’m just curious. Because I do the same thing. I follow the blogs of a number of people I have never met, but who just seem like interesting people. Take Woodge, for example. I’ve never met him, and all I know about him is what I’ve read on his site. I know he has a wee boy about the same age as Alex, and I know he likes some of the same films I do. I enjoy reading his random thoughts, and I smile in parental solidarity when he talks about his kid. Would we have anything to talk about if we got together over a couple of beers? I don’t know.

Likewise Rands, Keith Martin, Frank Schaap, Anders Jacobsen, Rick Horowitz, and a handful of other regular suspects. Okay, so I’ve met Frank, but essentially I’m dipping into the lives of a bunch of complete strangers. For all that I dislike reality TV shows, I sure seem more than happy to partake of the phenomenon over the internet.

Questioning Blogging Fundamentals

An email exchange I had with Woodge a week or two ago has had me thinking about some of the traditional “fundamentals” of blogs and blogging. You see, Woodge doesn’t have comments on his site. He doesn’t archive his old posts, either. Once you get to the bottom of his home page, you’re confronted with the declaration:

“Archives? There ain’t no stinkin’ archives! Older entries are just plain GONE. Too bad if you didn’t get a chance to read ’em. They were really good, too. Not like the crap posted above.”

The first time I read this, I felt a twinge of panic. I’ve ventured into the abyss of catastrophic data loss on two occasions, and both times I was lucky to make it back with only minor injuries. The thought of deliberately throwing away blog postings makes me twitchy.

But this isn’t what Woodge does. He said that he does keep his own archives of (at least some of) the things he has written. They’re just not available as traditional on-line blog archives.

Hmm. Let’s think about this for a moment.

All the main blogging tools take care of archiving automatically. When you write a new entry, it gets its own permalink at the same time it appears on your front page. From that point on, that particular entry has a unique and stable URL that you can bookmark, link to, or email to others. For blogs and sites that have a certain amount of focus, this can be immensely valuable. The abreviation “URL” stands for Uniform Resource Locator. News items, announcements, technical articles, handy tips and tricks, can all be said to be useful resources on the web.

But what about all the fluffy little entries that litter unfocused, personal blogs like mine? “Today I went to the park with Alex. We had a nice time.” Entries like this are of interest to my friends and family, but only for a limited time. They can’t really be said to be a permanent resource to anyone but myself (as souvenir memories), my kids (when they’re older and want to see what daddy was doing back then in the old days) and crazy blog stalkers who want to obsessively research the minutiae of my everyday life.

I’m starting to think that permalinking everything in sight isn’t a particularly good strategy in the long term. I definitely want to keep writing new blog entries, and I want my personal content management system to store them in a permanent archive, but that doesn’t mean these entries should be permanently visible and Google-able to the rest of the world.

There are blogging tools available that allow you to make a distinction between simple “posts” and longer “articles” (e.g. .Text and Radio Userland). With Movable Type, creating this distinction takes a bit more effort: you can set up two blogs, one for articles and one for postings, and then interleave with with a technique such as the one I described last year. You could then set the “articles” blog to generate entry archives as normal, and tell the “postings” blog to only ever show entries on the front page.

It might be a nice feature, though, if Movable Type had more options available for your “Post Status”. At the moment, you’ve got “Draft” and “Publish”. If I want to remove a published entry from my visible archives once it has outlived its usefulness, then I can set its status back to “Draft”, but that doesn’t capture my intention. Also, MT won’t actually delete the static page that had been created when the entry was originally published, so if anyone has its URL, they can still get at it. Better would be if there was a status of “Retired”, which could remove the page on disk, or could tell your web server to generate an HTTP 410: Gone message.

(Note to self: the MT3 developer contest is still open. Could I slap together a plugin in time for the deadline? Nnngggngngn….Perl…ggahhgg…)

A similar argument can be made about comments. Blogs with a strong subject focus, or with a strong community can generate lots of interesting and on-topic comments. The majority of blog comments I see, however (both here on my own blog and elsewhere), are “me too” posts, or thinly veiled pleas for a reciprocal visit or linkback. “Community” and “discussion” don’t arise on their own–they’re things you have to cultivate. And if you don’t have the time to cultivate and encourage them, and spend the associated time weeding out trolls, rubbish, and spam, then why have the comments form on your blog in the first place? Why not just show your email address, so that anyone who wants to discuss the entry can do so in a more direct manner? And if you want to run a disussion group, why not use bulletin board software?

Taking this line of thinking even further leads to the inevitable question: why am I blogging at all? If I don’t want people link to or comment on something I’ve written, why say it in public in the first place? Why not just scribble in a journal, or rant at Abi over dinner every evening?

The answer for me is at least partly laziness: I find it easier and quicker to write blog entries than to write emails to keep in touch with friends and family. Anyone who wants to know what I’m up to can check the blog. The second part of the answer is that I do occasionally have thoughts or information that I like to think other people might want to share. I put them up here, search engines index them, and sooner or later people start showing up. I don’t aspire to blogging fame, and a readership that hangs on my every word. Fame might sound like fun, but I think it would get rather stressful and annoying after a while.

Finally, I blog because I enjoy it. I like working with blogging tools, in particular Movable Type. Noodling around with HTML and CSS is fun. I like having a corner of the web that is just me, or at least an extension of myself in virtual space. If I meet someone in real life or online, I can point them over here so they can learn a little bit more about me. It’s a calling card and a playground all in one.

Is this reason enough to carry on blogging? I think so. But it might be time to change the format.

Pox duty

I’ve been home on pox duty all day today, helping Fiona through the last stages of spotty itchiness. (She’s fine, and she’ll be back at nursery tomorrow.) And it’s only just now that I’ve realised that this is the first whole day that I’ve had on my own with her.

A very pleasant day it was, too. We had some sleepy time, we watched some tennis on TV (Henman giving away his customary first set before coming back to win the match), and we had lots and lots of smiles. How different this is from Alex, though. Until last November, I was working part time, with each Wednesday off to spend with Alex. Now that I’m working a full five days a week again, I don’t get that same amount of precious daddy-baby time.

I do spend plenty of time with the kids in the evenings and at the weekends (I take them to nursery in the mornings, but that time is usually hurried and hassled), but it’s time with the kids, not time alone with the Chuffer-babe. When we split up childcare duties, I usually take Alex, while Abi takes Fiona. It’s just the way things work out. We knew it was going to be different with two children around the house than it was with just one, and I’m perfectly happy with that. It was just lovely to have so much time alone with Fiona.