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Archive for the ‘Content Management’ Category

A week ago, Dave Winer complained about the loss of “essential” (or important) web pages on the Web:

Earlier this year we lost the handle on Radio UserLand weblogs because the new owner of weblogs.com was unwilling to maintain a DNS entry pointing to them. That and Google’s marking HTTP sites as not secure have been huge blows to the web as an archival medium.

I too am a big fan of keeping stuff of all kinds (let’s call it “archiving”, shall we?). I also would like to keep web pages around indefinitely. I hate it when I find a reference on my blog responding with a 404 error, since I pride myself to write only (OK, mostly) about serious subjects. But the Web by itself is too human and too complex, I fear, to avoid deletion of pages and sites.

What I have learned the hard way, after losing part of my first website in the mid-1990’s, is that you have to your own “curator”. If you want to “keep” certain information from the Web, just keep a copy of it on a location that you control. By the way, “information” does not necessarily equal “web page”: text, images, movies, sound, etc. can be stored separately from a “web page”.

When I find “linkrot” on my blog, I do try to check the existence of the corresponding page on the Internet Archive, also known as the “Wayback Machine”. There’s an extensive archive over there, but no one should expect it to be complete. But it remains useful, so let me propose a neat little software project: a browser extension that automatically goes looking into the Wayback Machine when it encounters a “Page not found” error?

Google’s first home page as seen in the Wayback Machine

Clearly there will never be a complete copy of the Web as a whole. It would be nice if someone were to take on the role of “chief web archivist” and build a real archive of essential and relevant sites and pages. But shouldn’t that include the server-side resources as well as the resulting pages? I mean: what use is it to have the first version of Google’s search page if you don’t have the underlying search engine and its data as well?

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This blog is almost as old as ‘inessential‘, written by Brent Simmons. We both started in 1999, and I must admit that I did not know what I was doing at that moment! I certainly did not expect me to be sitting here, more than 18 years later, still writing in a language that is not native to me.

I do hope that you may agree with his view:

[…] to read a good blog is to watch a writer get a little bit better, day after day, at writing the truth.

Om Malik mentions how blogs help you understand a person:

And that’s precisely what blogs do. That’s what Dave does. That’s Gruber’s log. The words made you understand the writer, and the person.

That is exactly what Dave Winer means when he defines a blog as ‘The unedited voice of a person‘. A business blog usually is just a chronological announcement list, not a blog, making it a platform for the communication or marketing division. Useful, perhaps, but not a blog.

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In Wired’s “It’s Time For An RSS Revival“, RSS gets a bit of love – some would say: “much needed love”. RSS isn’t a new web technology; its original version was published in 1999.

“The most amazing thing to me about RSS is that no one really went away from it,” says Wolf. “It still exists…”

Well, of course RSS still exists, and there are many websites, personal and commercial, that publish one or more RSS feeds. What purpose do these “feeds” serve?

If you have never used an RSS feed, you may not know what you’re missing. RSS stands for “RDF Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication“, but that does not explain much. An RSS feed will publish a list of “items”, each pointing to a webpage on the site publishing the feed. Details about the link may include a page title, a summary of the link’s content or the whole text, an audio attachment (think ‘podcast’), publication date, etc. Usually, these lists are used to publish the latest updates on a site. That’s how they allow you to use them to discover new opinions, news, updates to pages, etc. without having to go to each individual page. “Feed reader” software combines the RSS feeds of multiple feeds, thus giving you a single tool to discover news from multiple sites.

Such feed reader software is what I have used for more than a decade now, to keep up with the many news sources I like to consult. Combining multiple sources in a single tool on a mobile device (tablet of smart phone) was the first driver for my decision to go that way. The possibility to read those feeds even when you’re not even online was the second driver: indeed, once you have downloaded the feed, you do not need an internet connection to get your dose of news – and that was very handy in those days when mobile internet access was hard to get and expensive!

Even today, when I’m practically always online, I still prefer browsing “the news” through a feed reader. That allows me to bypass the homepages of sites filled with screaming titles and adverts, and use just the item titles to judge their value to me. I find this so much more compelling than surfing from website to website, that an RSS feed reader was the first mobile app that I paid for – I’m using Byline on iOS, and I love it!

I can only encourage you to try out a web-based RSS reader like Feedly if you want to discover what RSS is all about. Then go looking for the RSS icon on the sites you care about, and add those feeds to your Feedly account. When you decide to use a separate application or app to read your feeds, there’s plenty of choice – and more may be coming, if Wired’s talk of a revival comes through. And no, you don’t have to be tired of Facebook to start reading RSS feeds – just don’t be surprised when you discover that RSS feeds are more interesting than a stream of messages on one of the many social media…

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On December 23, 1999, I wrote the first post on this blog. Remember Userland’s Manila? That was my tool of choice then, because it was available online, without installation, and free to try. In those days, I wasn’t ready to produce HTML by hand, and I still don’t want to do that. Picking a blog tool was the start of my study of content management solutions. Remarkably, the Manila website is still up and running, inviting you to start a trial site – I’m not certain where that will lead you, though.

When Userland seemed unable to continue to offer a good service, I started building a copy of my blog on WordPress. I did exactly what I tell everyone to avoid: I migrated each and every post from Manila to WordPress by hand. You see, Manila had this one feature that I also needed in whatever tool able to replace it: a complete, yet simple backup mechanism. The HTML from the Manila backup could be pasted into the WordPress editor without much intervention. That’s how this site remains what it became over the course of the years: a not so virtual memory for travels on the Web – and in real life as well, of course.

Happy holidays!

 

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I like WordPress a lot. It is, in my opinion, one of the best content management systems on the market, and being available as a free and open source tool is a big added bonus. WordPress is also a big internet site, of course, hosting many thousands of blogs and sites. That is another matter, and it’s also what makes this article more than bit frightening: “WordPress ignoring terrorist propaganda, campaigners say” (on www.telegraph.co.uk). Core of the message:

One of the world’s biggest blogging websites is turning a blind eye to pages run by Isil, even after they have been reported, anti-terrorism campaigners say.

I hope Automattic, the owner of WordPress, has a good answer for that situation; better yet: I hope they can change their stance on this. Even freedom of speech has limits, and should not be an excuse to allow hate speech and terrorist exhortations on the internet.

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It’s been a long time since I suggested that a system like S5 should include an editing mode, and see my post of March 15, 2012 repeated that suggestion. As it turns out, there is now a very similar tool that does just that: remark. No, it’s not a Wiki, it’s a lightweight CMS, using Markdown (plus extensions) to do its magic.

To be honest, between my first suggestions in 2005 and now a number of similar tools have been created, many based on S5, by the way – just check out http://wiki.s5project.org/HTML_slideshow_tools. But things over there aren’t too lively anymore, it seems…

I’m waiting for a good opportunity to try ‘remark’ out, if only to see  on how many platforms it can be used for editing without too many limitations.

For a quick try-out, head over to Platon.io – it’s an editable webpage powered by remark.

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Bye Bye, Woozweb

I have been using the services of the french Woozweeb to monitor the availability and the performance of a few of my own websites since many years. A free Woozweb account allowed me to define up to five (later up to ten) URLs to be checked on a regular base (I don’t recall the exact frequency, but it was multiple times per hour). Woozweb would accumulate the responses, display a graph of response times as well as the latest HTTP response code, analyse the response headers, etc. Every so three of four weeks, I would check my account, to verify that the different providers were not failing to do what they promised: host a responsive website.

This should be part of your content management solution: after all, content isn’t worth anything if it is not available. So monitoring your site is an essential part of your CM system, even if you do so in a separate tool.

Although I received a mail to extend my Woozweb account just few days ago, an attempt to log into the site just showed a shutdown notice:

byebye-woozweb.png

I will be on the lookout for alternative solutions like Woozweb (suggestions are welcome). And remember: if you’re going to close down your service, make sure not to send out renewal notices after the shutdown!

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