Archives for "September 2007"

Movable Type 4 - A Whole New CMS

I've always been a fan of Movable Type. It was the one of the first blogging tools, and the most user-friendly blogging tools.

From a great start about 5 or 6 years ago, the company behind Movable Type, Six Apart, then made some errors. Notoriously, they began charging for the previously free tool. While they improved the interface and functionality over the years, these aspects still lagged way behind those of WordPress.

For example, MT's editing interface was anything but WYSIWYG. The publishing/updating process remained relatively slow and clunky. And its comment spam handling was pathetic.

For me, the most annoying aspect of MT was that it took a lot of hacking to convert it to a full CMS that my clients could use. Nevertheless, hacking MT exactly what I did for clients because, despite all these shortcomings, MT remained the most user-friendly interface. I could show clients quickly how to publish news pages to their sites, for example, without any mumbo-jumbo about "loops" or "modules" or "mambots" or "joomlets" (okay, I made that last one up).

With the recent release of MT4, some of my criticisms have been addressed. MT 4 is free for personal use and, unlike previous versions, you can download the app without registering. Upgrading from 3.x is a cinch.

The big new concept is "pages", letting you add pages to the website, in the style of your blog entries. I haven't tried this feature yet but, hopefully, it will remove a lot of the hacking work I mentioned earlier. The editor has also improved -- finally, it's WYSIWYG, and has an upload images button.

On the downside, while the interface has improved in some ways, overall I'd say that it's not as attractive as previous versions. The extensive use of light text on a black background, including in the app's header, was a bad mistake. I'll see if I can CSS that out.

The solution may lie in another feature I'm eager to try: using template tags on the MT interface itself. If I understand this correctly, this feature will allow me to customise it for clients. Again, I don't know how that will work yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Update: I take it all back. They've included a feature called "Widget Sets". Now what the hell is that?! Why confuse users with unfamiliar jargon?

Oh No, Web 2.0!

What do Trulia, Faroo, Viewdle, Yap, Ponoko, Xobni, Argoo, Kerpoof, ZocDoc, Mego, Wixi, Ceedo, Orgoo and Zimbra have in common?

No, they're not vermicious knids from Loompaland (good guess though). They are Web 2.0 companies.

Why such strange and, let's face it, ridiculous names? Three reasons:
1. The obvious dot com names have been taken long ago.
2. Success spawns copycats. Startups look at successful companies with wacky names like Google, Yahoo (I can never bring myself to put that ridiculous exclamation mark at the end), YouTube, Bebo, Facebook, etc. and decide "I gotta get me some of that" (© Dilbert).
3. They're all idiots.

As someone who owns websites with names like Mediajunk and FooSchool, you may argue that I am a hypocrite. To which I would blushingly retort that my domain names have a semblance of comprehension (i.e. at least one word that already exists) in my website names.

As Pronet Advertising points out, there's a good reason why Froogle was eventually renamed Google Product Search. The latter makes sense.

Generalists in the Internet Age

Something deep in my genetic makeup compels me to be a generalist rather than a specialist; a jack-of-all-trades ... and a master of none. That latter quip used to annoy me, a stick for my inner voices to beat me with.

But what could I do about it? The process was (and is) always the same. I take an interest in acquiring a new skill -- speaking Italian, figuring out PHP, creating Flash animations, writing novels, lifting weights ... etc. At first, I take to the new skill with aplomb and gusto, astonishing myself and others at my ability to learn rapidly. I move from beginner to intermediate level in no time.

But that's as far as I get. I never get beyond intermediate level.

Like I said, my personality prevents it. When the rapid learning phase is over, I get bored. I itch for a new challenge. Persisting with the previous challenge may eventually make me an expert but with diminishing returns: on a day-to-day basis, my improvement is so minor, that I stop enjoying it. In fact, I start hating it.

For much of my life, this had been a curse. In the Internet Age, however, I believe my ever-a-generalist, never-a-specialist personality is a blessing. There are two reasons for this:
a) I'm working in a fast-changing environment, where rapid learning is the most important skill of all
b) Our networked world allows me to rapidly find and employ specialists as required, to help me complete the project at hand

It seems I am not the only person who realises that Renaissance Men are making a comeback:
On his blog, Tim Ferris lists The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades.

In the comments on this post, I learned something that put a smile on my face, about that "master of none" quip I used to beat myself up about. Here's that saying in full:

Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one!

The 10 Next Big Things

Read/Write Web is a great blog (or is it an online magazine?) for anyone who wants to keep up with emerging internet trends.

Last week, they published an article entitled 10 Future Web Trends, which is worth a read.

My quick comments on this are:

a) I would have called the article "10 current web trends". Everything on the list is happening already. Many future trends will not yet have been anticipated.

b) I wouldn't hold my breath on the semantic web. This has been a "next big thing" for so long it's akin to nuclear fission or the paperless office. A good idea in theory, but not practical.

c) I'd put internet TV and video nearer to the top of the list. These technologies are going get bigger, and spread everywhere, in the short to medium term.

Open Source Video

With YouTube now a household name, the use of video has become the fastest growing trend on the web.

The first wave on online video consisted mainly of clips of popular TV shows, past and present. However, we are now witnessing a new wave of video websites, populated by videos created by users. See for example videojug.com or expertvillage.com.

The technologies used to create webcast-quality (and, for that matter, broadcast quality) are increasingly accessible and affordable. An average Dell PC is capable of running video editing software such as Avid or Final Cut Pro, tools that were once the preserve of professionals.

Indeed, the line between professional and amateur video will blur as "ordinary" users become the main producers of video content on the web. While camcorders also become as advanced and affordable as the cameras used by TV companies, they may not even be necessary: users can create programmes by editing together clips created by other users, and overlaying a new audio track.

Thus, I expect to see more sites like the Internet Archive's Open Source Video, which will offer a panoply of video clips for use by others.

One final prediction: most of the videos produced by web enthusiasts will be average at best. But a small proportion will be excellent -- and will launch the careers of tomorrow's leading directors, producers, actors and editors.

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Mediajunk was Michael Heraghty's blog from 2002 to 2010, with articles on usability, UX, SEO, web design, online marketing, etc. More »

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