Technology Weblogging

Blogger gets comments

Thanks to Phil Ringnalda, I found out about Blogger’s new look and feel, including the addition of comments. I have old Blogger accounts, and first thing I did was pick one of the templates, and re-build my Blogger pages.

The user interface for the tool is improved, but I don’t completely understand this obsession with rounded corners; I mean, it’s not as if we’re going to brush up against them and snag our shirts on them or something. They’re pretty, true. But they don’t join the cow kicking the bucket over the moon.

Under the hood, one major change is that Blogger now supports individual posts, which is a goodness. Not only that, but it’s using what I feel is the defacto individual entry file naming convention: year/month/title name, with dashes in place of spaces and other characters in the title. It’s the same naming convention used by WordPress.

Question though: is Blogger providing redirects from old URLs to the new, for people who have been linked? I can’t find anything on this in the documentation.

Everyone is oohing and ahhing the new templates, and there are some pretty ones. I picked my favorite, and then did a couple of small modifications. However, it’s easy to spot the New Look in weblogs this year: centered and two columns. Rather like my weblog, in fact (though nicer). The Blogger templates use CSS for their centering, and I’m still using a table, but both can be XHTML strict compliance with a little tweaking on my part. However, since this look is becoming increasingly popular with most weblog users (it’s also popular with TypePad and WordPress and Textpattern), chances are I’ll change my look to something new.

(Roger Benningfield (and Bill Simoni, who also gave it a shot) will never forgive me for this, after all the hard work building CSS to emulate this table. But I can use most of what they provided even for a new look.)

Speaking of looks, if you read Phil’s comments, you’ll see I was not happy about Zeldman’s Ms. Moto and Mr. Moto *templates. The one for Mr. Moto shows a classic gray, very professional looking weblog with a photo of a building in one of the posts. However, the one for Ms. Moto is all in purple/pinks, and shows a photo of a Barbie doll in the example post.

What is the message from these templates? That men have professional looking sites, while women favor pink and dolls? I am surprised at an experienced man like Zeldman perpetuating this type of stereotype.

As Mark Pilgrim said in Phil’s post, yes men and women may both like pink sites. I don’t have a problem with pink; it was the gender association (not to mention the doll–was that an accident?) that grabbed me. There were other templates that also featured pink, or rose, but none of them made an association with a gender through the name.

No big deal you say? By itself, no. But after three years of girlism and baring breasts as fund raisers, not to mention being told time and again how ladies are supposed to act in this environment, and how women webloggers only write about home while men write about politics and tech–I am weary of how much weblogging promotes stereotypes. I stopped pointing out how woman don’t seem to get the same notice as men in weblogging when it comes to writing in order not to perpetuate a stereotype; the least others can do is not make associations between female bloggers and Barbie dolls.

Mark “The Pink” Pilgrim has hinted that he’ll probably do a redesign, perhaps based on pink and dolls. Dolls with big, hard nippleless breasts. If so, and I see several men sporting the new Ms. Moto look, I will be less inclined to be critical.

So, guys show me that Ms. Moto is genderless and protect Zeldman’s honor at the same time. If you have Blogger, pick that template, but don’t forget to add in a doll or two. If not, then do something comparable in your own toolset. Then I’ll know pink and dolls aren’t just ‘girly’ things, they’re also for manly mans. We’ll have a contest. Maybe Mark and Zeldman will judge.

The biggest news with the new Blogger is support for comments, but no offense to Google/Pyra/Blogger, this is one of the worst comment implementations I’ve seen. Sorry, but I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

The comment template tags are straightforward, especially if you’ve worked with templates and tags before. And the comments seem to work without problem (though I received some odd results after I posted). However, when you click through to post, you’re taken to Blogger, which asks you to either log in or to register for a Blogger account (and get a weblog, too), if you don’t have a login. Oh my, what was the Blogger team thinking with this one?

True you can specify that people can post anonymously, and there’s a link for this in the Blogger comment page. Still, I was aghast when I saw the Blogger page. I don’t care for any centralized comment login, such as Six Apart’s TypeKey, but at least the comments are local to the weblog, and they don’t require you to get a weblog just to comment.

(However, I found I could register for a new Blogger account and then when I was taken to create the weblog, just stop registration at that point and the account is still valid. Is this a bug or a feature?)

Additionally, the only way to have a link connected with your name is to have a login, but that just takes you to your Blogger page, rather than your weblog. This system repeatedly inserts Blogger, as tool, between the commenter and the site, and the world and the commenter. Too much so.

The offsite comments demonstrate something else about the tool–there is only one template in Blogger, and it handles every page–archive, individual, and the main page. After years of working with weblog tools that give you a great deal of freedom in the look and feel of your site, I find this extremely limiting. But I must remember that Blogger is a free, hosted tool, which makes it attractive for new users. When a person is starting out, it’s best to stay with a simple interface and less choice rather than more. Too much choice and you’re going to frustrate new folks.

In addition, there are a lot of bloggers who really don’t care about the look and feel of their weblog. All they want is to be able to write, and have people read their material. Most of the top political webloggers have very plain sites, with minimal customization. Now they have Blogger comments and they can argue back and forth among themselves that much more.

That is, until people start deleting their own comments–another feature of Blogger’s comment system. (Note that it doesn’t look like the weblog owner can delete the comments, only the cooment author.) Now, not only can we make fools of others with our words, we can lure them in, and then remove our comments, making them look like bigger idiots. Oh my Blogger team, what were you thinking?

In my opinion, the comment implementation is a mistep that no amount of pretty will get around. In fact, for those people who have comments from YACCS or other third-party product, I would strongly recommend that you continue using it.

Lastly, there is discussion going around about the fact that Blogger only supports Atom with the old non-Pro accounts, and RSS 1.0 and Atom with the old Pro accounts, like mine. Let me say as a person who has been around the syndication wars for too long, I doubt this was a technical decision. Personally I think it would be more consumer friendly to provide options for people to choose which syndication format to use: Atom, RSS 1.0, and RSS 2.0. Tool makers don’t have to support all formats, but customers like choice and I don’t understand why any weblogging tool would deny choice.

Hmm, customers imply paying, but Blogger is a free product, and maybe that’s the point on the syndication feeds and comment system. It’s free, and if you don’t care for it, use another tool. After all, if you’re handing out free lollies, who are we to bitch if you use pink wrapping instead of gray? Unless only boys get the gray wrapped lollies, and girls get pink, that is.

*As for direct template links, according to Zeldman, “I wish we could simply link directly to the templates, but Google rightfully wishes to avoid tempting the ethically challenged. Actually, there is a way to link directly to the templates, but we respect the wishes of Google and Pyra.”

Guys, I have a hint for you: if someone picks a template, it’s going to be out there in the world, anyway. Not linking to the templates as a way to stop the ‘ethically challenged’ makes no sense at all. Well, unless you don’t expect anyone to pick the template.

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