Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Grand Blogospheric Data Pool
Posted by Sam at 2:19 PM | tags:

My relationship with Blogger is one of passionate devotion. But even though the lovin' is hot (like many passionate, devoted relationships... I'm noticing a pattern here), there are times where the participants just want to strangle their counterpart. If the relationship is worth salvaging though, the couple finds a way to get over it, they compromise, and they learn to love afresh.

Yes, Blogger has f'ed up in the past, and I've forgiven them. Blogger has censored me for no reason. I questioned their intentions, but I believed in a greater good. And so, in time, I forgave them again. Blogger has frustrated me with their lack of the most rudimentary of blogging features. But again, I was able to find a workaround and my anger was short-lived. Forgive and forget. That's what we do with our loved ones.

My most recent Blogger related frustration is their lack of a comments feed. Gaaa!!! Come on Blogger... I'm offering you unconditional love. Throw me a bone here...

(Okay, okay. Of all the irritable things that Blogger does or does not do, this one does not really weigh in high on the annoyance scale. Honestly, I didn't even know that I wanted a comments feed until I realized that I couldn't have one. It sure is fun to complain though... isn't it?)

So, like other similar scenarios, I've found a solution and I'm able to continue a healthy relationship with Blogger (I wish I could say the same for my romantic life. Sigh...). And ironically, the solution to this Blogger dilemma is contained within Blogger itself.

First, just so we're all on the same page, a comments feed is exactly what you'd expect it to be: an unfiltered, chronological stream of your comments... delivered in two modes. 1) Blog format - It looks like a blog, but each post is comprised of one of your comments. 2) Handy-dandy RSS feed - Insert this sucker into the RSS aggregator of your choice and you're set up with an up-to-the-minute stream of all of the comments from that blog.

It's questionable, however, as to whether a feature of this sort, and perhaps commenting in general, is a necessary, or even a worthwhile addition to the standard blog format. For some blogs and bloggers, I can sort of understand why commenting might be considered a superfluous accessory. Certain blogs purposefully maintain a one-sided relationship with their audience. The author posts, the audience reads, and it ends there. This is a one-way street type of blogging technique... and it's okay... right? Maybe... Maybe for the blogger who thinks they're of godly stature. Maybe for the blogger who considers their ideas and words law, no further discussion, Q.E.D., nothing left to say, the end all be all.

But, ya' know what? No! It's not okay, dammit! It goes against everything that makes the blogosphere such a unique and animate community. One-way street blogging closes avenues of communication rather than encouraging them to take on a sentient life of their own. Encouraging the audience to actively participate in the processing of data (by interacting with the blog in one way or another) is hugely responsible for the explosive growth of the blogosphere. Not only can a blogger share her ideas, but her audience is able to respond... with support or disagreement or whatever. In this discussion, the substance of the response is irrelevant. It's important that there simply is a response... a communication... a dialog. Through features like commenting, the audience is empowered to engage, firsthand, in the entire information processing experience. So why discourage this? Well, to promote close-mindedness, of course. No, maybe not to that extreme. But disallowing a commenting function puts a definitive cap on the two-way street dialog. In this scenario, communication has ended and progressive growth of the blogosphere has ceased.

So, where were we? Ah yes... the comments feed. Employing a comments feed is an easy way to encourage growth of community in and around one's blog. Commenting functionality is such a vastly important component to the blog dynamic, why not allow access to it on a greater scale? The feed provides this greater access. It provides a way for a blog's audience to absorb the community's thoughts and reactions in one centralized location. Part of the blogospheric (did I just coin a new term?) community aspect is that give-and-take, two-way street, here are my thoughts, what are yours? functionality. Through the comments feed, one will know what and when another participant adds something to the grand blogospheric data pool. The audience will gain direct insight into their peer's responses through their comments. Like communities in general, the blogosphere is one whose foundation is built upon the inherent reciprocity of communication. And thus, this reciprocity - this give and take - should be encouraged to flourish and grow by any means necessary.

But Blogger doesn't support this feature... how'd you finagle them into providing a comments feed?" Well, credit where credit is due: I was inspired by a post over at FreshBlog. John introduces a li'l Blogger hack that is so moronically easy, I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it on my own. The following is an explanation of how it works:

Blogger offers two neato features within its standard blogging service. The first is the ability to post blog entries via email. The author simply writes an email (where the subject is the title, and the body of the email is the blog entry) to a predefined @blogger.com email address. Blogger reformats the email into an entry and posts it automatically. Neato! The other feature is Blogger's comment notification option. When one receives a comment on their blog, Blogger sends a notification email containing the comment to an address supplied by the author. Again, neato!

Here comes the trickery... what would happen if a blog administrator were to set the comment notification email address to that of a post-via-email email address? All hell would break loose... that's what. And when the smoke clears and the dust settles, that blog administrator would be left with a fully operational comments stream including the blog-like format and the handy-dandy RSS feed. Nice! Thanks Blogger... sort of. The one slight caveat is that the blogger has no control over what Blogger's comment notification email looks like. Luckily, it doesn't look too bad. And that's really all there is to it!

Sigh... another day, another Blogger workaround. And, thankfully so. Things like this keep the divorce lawyers at bay. As mentioned, I'm a devoted Blogger user, but sometimes, when I've downed a few too many Pabsts, I start looking around... ya' know? Scoping the scene. Seeing who's still out there, and who's new to town. But, at the end of the day, it just feels right to come home to my one true love... Wordpress... I mean Blogger! Blogger! I love you Blogger! You're the one for me, baby. Wordpress... she meant nothing to me. It's you I love, Blogger darling! You and you alone. (Phew... that was a close one!)

sam bot dot com's comment stream can be found at this address:
http://sambot.com/comments/

sam bot dot com's comment feed (RSS) can be found at this address:
http://sambot.com/comments/comments.xml

Alternatively, links to both exist in the sidebar. Enjoy!

Comments: 3 | Post a Comment | Permalink

Sam,

Multiple blogs always struck me as a lot of work, so here's a couple of other ways to do this:

1. Run your comment notification e-mails through a feed generator (like mailbucket) and then clean the feed up through feedburner. See Freshblog.

2. Forward all your comment notification e-mails to a google group, and then offer the group feed as your comment feed. See Freshblog.

Comment By John on December 28, 2005 6:28 PM

Nice! This is exactly what I was droning on about. Through this back and forth exchange, I/we are enabled to progress with knowledge gained from the community dialog.

So, in short, it seems that there's more than one way to skin this particular cat. And John at FreshBlog has all the answers (see first comment). Thanks John!

Comment By Sam on December 28, 2005 7:38 PM

Ummm....yeah Sam could you post the Cliff Notes for this post its a little on the long side.

Comment By TheDarkLordDerfla on December 29, 2005 3:01 PM

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Sam Who!?
Sam is an amazing and humble guy. Once, he rushed into a burning building, up six flights of stairs to save a kitten from certain death. He speaks eight languages, has mastered three varieties of martial arts, is a wine expert, and is a pulitzer prize winning author. Sam is an international heart-throb who prefers a quiet evening at home knitting afghans for the homeless, to the go-go, glitz and glamor of the party scene. I think the day he won the silver medal for ballroom dancing at the 98 olympics was the happiest of his life. Pretty impressive for a guy who never finished the 8th grade. - Carrie, 04
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