Blogging: The Next Generation

Geekery has deep roots in many sources: Tolkien, Star Trek, Star Wars, various fantasy and science fiction novels, roleplaying games, the legendary hacker cultures of MIT, Stanford, UCB and others, the experiences of Usenet and so on and so forth.

One of the ideas which escaped from Star Trek into the lexicon of geekery is “TNG”, an abbreviation for The Next Generation. TNG is usually applied to projects which try reimagine and reimplement older systems in the light of experiences learnt.

I am thinking that the time to TNG blogging software has now arrived. Previously I have written about the pre-history of blogging with the complaint that a lot of features from the first and second generations have not yet made it to the third generation. I also speculated briefly about what features a fourth generation might embrace.

Over the next few weeks I am planning to explore this problem space a bit more. I plan to ask: who are the stakeholders for blogging software? What are the traps in developing a new system? What might a new system look like? What tools will make life easier? More difficult?

But to start with, why bother writing a new generation?

As I see it, there are two big reasons.

Missing features: As noted above, certain features from the first and second generations never made it into the third. Sophisticated moderation systems and threaded discussions are some. Killfiles another. More to the point, room needs to be made for a fourth generation of features and behaviour. Distributed social graphs and mobile identities are just two such features.

Nonfunctional shortcomings: Blog software just doesn’t scale very well. Not effortlessly, in any case. The only people who’ve made WordPress scale up in a big way are The masters of Movable Type scaling are Six Apart on TypePad. And so on: the LAMP stack actually requires a lot of work to distribute out load. Only the experts can do it, and then only if they control all the levers. Hosts struggle with the hard-to-scale single-host emphasis of designs; users suffer when their obscure cat blog becomes a frontpage Digg link. This needs to be addressed.

What about you? What do you think is wrong with the current generation of blogging code?

Additional: What I need are ideas, rethinks, remarks. I am not the repository of all wisdom! One of the difficulties of modern life is that the output of genius has fantastically outstripped our ability to discover its insights. So please lend your insights — this project steps out and above blogs in part to the higher plane of social software, community software. People from Usenet, trolls, mailings lists, open source projects, volunteer groups, programmers, administrators, researchers, users, curmudgeons and dreams; please add your two bits.

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23 Responses to Blogging: The Next Generation

  1. Amanda says:

    I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t involve Deanna Troi.

  2. Jacques Chester says:


  3. gilmae says:

    Question – does WordPress cache like MT does – or did, I dunno how 4th Edition works – by creating a tins of static files, or is the caching pushed onto the httpd level?

  4. Jacques Chester says:

    My understanding is that both the inbuilt cache for intermediate objects, and the WP-Cache of pages, use a filesystem cache. You can plugin different backends for the internal cache, which I did do on our VPS. It placed intermediate objects into APC, which was useful as it caused a lot of files (like images) to be served from RAM.

    Still, there is no real end-to-end notion or approach to caching. It works but it requires lots of fiddling.

    On the VPS, Troppo was cached at three levels: MySQL queries, the APC cache and WP-Cache. It was still slow.

  5. gilmae says:

    tins? I sound like a kiwi. I meant tons.

  6. gilmae says:

    As for your original question, I am not sure we need to write a new generation. Some of the things you mentioned – comment threading, better moderation – could be done with the plugin systems of existing engines. Others like killfiles are really a client thing unless accounts become fashionable, and the blog community has pretty resistant to accounts so far. On the other hand, I don’t see a blog equivalent of a newsreader – so read and write rather than just read like current feedreaders – happening any time soon; how much change would you need to do to MetaWeblog and Blogger APIs to allow comments as well as post maintenance?

    That *would* be the feature I would like to see, though. An API so rich that I wouldn’t even need to go to the website, I could interact entirely through a rich client.

  7. Jacques Chester says:

    This essay is a good example of what I need more of.

  8. Jacques Chester says:

    I suppose I don’t think the plugin systems are very good either. The most interesting plugin approach is Eclipse: almost everything is a plugin. There’s a small plugin runtime, then everything else is a series of layered plugins.

    In WordPress and others, plugins tend to be almost an afterthought. Eclipse may be painfully over-designed but at least every plugin has certain fundamental properties.

    Here’s a pet peeve of mine, for example. Many plugins inject CSS directives, but there’s no standard way to do it. I spend a lot of time fiddling with plugin code because of that.

  9. Tony T. says:

    Out: The Next Generation Blogging.

    In: Battlestar Blogging.

  10. Jacques Chester says:

    This thread could very easily fly off into jokes about TOS, TNG, Battlestar Galactica and the vastly-superior-to-all-the-aforementioned Firefly. But I’d like to keep it on topic, please.

  11. Tony T. says:

    On topic? Apart from the TV references, I have no idea what your post is about.

    Except for “stakeholders”. Thanks to James Sutherland at CrickAussie, I know what that means.

  12. Threaded commenting. Plonking tools for commenters.

  13. thanks jacques that Clay Shirky essay is good. I’m an old Tavistock/ Bion Group leader myself.I’ll read it again. Then try to get back. S/he hits on what I have been whinging about – how to get the best out or irc, usenet, email, ftp, http, web pages, pnp, IM, blogs and roll it together somehow.

    I just love the music cats sending 180 gig HDs to each other. My kind of group.

  14. Niall says:

    What’s wrong with Dianna Troi? Okay, she can’t drive, but oh my, that de collage.

  15. cam says:

    From here:

    I [Bill de hora] am moving off Movable Type. In favor of my own codebase. I’ve decided weblogs are to this decade as editors were to the 1970s. You have to write your own. It’s a pretty thin rationale – the 1970s more or less sucked as I recall.

  16. amphibious says:

    I’m with TonyT – I read the post, all of the comments, recognised all the words as english (kinda, sorta) but have how NO idea what any of it meant.

  17. Jacques Chester says:


    The next in the series will be talking about stakeholders. I hate that word too, but so far nobody’s come up with a better one for “set of people identifiably in different groups with different wishes”.

    When that happens, I hope you’ll recognise yourself in one or two of those categories.

  18. Stephen Bounds says:


    If scalability and the ability to add features are important, you should really look at Drupal.

    Very efficient and scalable, it’s also built using a very clean and practical module system. You can turn it into anything from a basic blog to a full newspaper-style publishing system.

    It has a steep learning curve, but the results can be well worth the effort. (And the learning curve has been mitigated a bit by a proper setup page in Drupal 5.x.)

  19. gilmae says:

    jwz says ‘…narrow the focus. Your “use case” should be, there’s a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?’

    I think that the essay might tie more into more with your next piece, about the stakeholders, but I was reminded of the article – coincidently – and I thought I better post it before I forgot about it again.

  20. Jacques Chester says:

    Yes, I saw that bit recently. Funnily enough the Hula project he mentions withered on the vine.

  21. Jacques Chester says:

    It has a steep learning curve, but the results can be well worth the effort.

    One thing I was going to go over in the next piece was that “steep learning curve” dramatically reduces uptake. WordPress went a long way boasting that installation takes 5 minutes.

    I do recognise however that Drupal is a very mature platform, and maturity breeds power.

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