Blogging Feast and Famine [en]

[fr] Je n'ai jamais pu me résoudre à planifier la publication de mes articles, ici. Sitôt écrit, sitôt publié -- tu parles de gratification immédiate. Ces temps, je me demande si je devrais peut-être changer ça.

One thing I’ve never managed to bring myself to do is schedule my blogposts here on CTTS. I do it for other blogs I’m involved in professionally, but I find that once I’ve written something I simply do not have the patience to wait for it to see the light of day. Slave of immediate gratification am I indeed.

Does it bother you when you get nothing to read for days or weeks, and then a flood of blogposts over the space of a week or maybe even a day? Should I be a little less writer-centred and a little more reader-centred?

It’s something I’m wondering about these days.

Blog, What Happened to You? [en]

When I’m asked what the difference between a blog and a website is, I usually make this drawing to explain it.

Difference between a blog and a non-blog website

It’s not perfect, but it helps. With a “traditional” topic-based website, you have a site structure which looks like a tree, with different pages on different topics. With a blog, you have a succession of posts organized chronologically (inverse chronologically, actually) on one page. Then each post has its page, and it’s archived forever in the back-office.

The two models tend to blend — more and more sites have characteristics of both.

There are two trends, however, which irritate the hell out of me. (If I know you and you’re doing this, please don’t take it personally — I don’t hate you for it. Really. But it annoys me.) They are:

  • the blogazine
  • systematic teasers or partial posts on the main blog page.

Prepare for the rant. I’m putting on my flame-proof underwear.


First of all, let me say that there is nothing wrong with making a magazine with a blog CMS. But Lord, why do blogs have to try to pretend they’re all magazines? It feels like bloggers are trying to make themselves look “high-profile”, because top “blogs” like TC, RWW, etc. are actually magazines. They might have started out as humble blogs, but they are not anymore.

“Media-blogs” are a special breed of blogs. Their content is there to generate revenue directly, through advertising and sponsorships. That has an impact on their content, and on the place they try to occupy, alongside old media. Why would everybody want to look like one? Dressing like a movie-star does not make you be one — and why would everybody want to be mistaken for one? If you’re a geek or a businessman or an entrepreneur, why don’t you just be that? There’s nothing wrong with being yourself and making you approachable.

There’s nothing wrong with having a blog that looks like a blog.

Coming to practicalities, there is a real concrete reason for me, as a user, to not like it when one of the blogs I read turns into a blogazine: very often, this transformation goes with the disappearance of the “main blog page”, the page which gave blogs the place they have in the publishing world of today, the unique stable page which you could go to at any time, confident that you would find the last 10 or so things the blogger you were reading had written.

The blogazine goes with excessive categorization and silofication of blog content. And I think that’s a real shame for most bloggers who take that route. Hey, even if all your last posts are on a big mixed-up main blog page, you can still point people to individual categories if you like. That’s what category pages are for, right?

Partial posts

People put forward all sorts of good reasons to display only partial posts on their main blog page (or archive pages) — roughly the following:

  • improved SEO
  • more page views
  • increased scannability

Until somebody shows me convincing data for either of these three claims, I am going to simply say “bullshit!” (and I’m remaining polite). I’m going to put the culprits on the stage one by one and tell you why I think my reaction is justified. I don’t have any research to back me up (am planning to do some though, so if you want to lend a hand, get in touch) but I do have some reasoning which I believe holds together.

Improved SEO

I have to admit I’m biased against SEO. For me, most SEO aside from “markup your stuff properly (be search-engine friendly) and have great content” is a pile of rubbish. I mean, there are some very obvious things one needs to do for SEO, but they are “common sense” more than “secret tricks”.

If a search engine is doing its job correctly, it will pull out the page that is most relevant for the human being who typed the keywords it based the search on. Make it good for humans, roughly, and it’ll be good for search engines.

When SEO gets in the way of the human experience, I have a big problem with it. And partial posts on the blog page does get in the way of a good reader experience. Why do I know that? Because of what I call the “closed door” phenomenon. A link to click, like a folder to open, is a closed door. You don’t know what’s behind it. You don’t know if it’s worth your while. Chances are you won’t click. Chances are you won’t read the rest of the post.

Even if you know the post is going to be worth it, to read the ten posts on the home page of such a blog, you’re going to have to click on each title (all ten of them), and open them in different tabs, or go back and forth, and maybe get lost in the process.

The original blog format puts all the articles neatly one beneath the other. You start reading at the top, scroll down as needed, and before you know it you’ve read the ten articles.

So, if it really does improve SEO to display only partial articles, I would say that the problem is with the way the search engines work. We should never be creating bad user experiences for the sake of SEO.

(I’m aware that what I claim about the “bad user experience” of partial articles on the main blog page needs to be demonstrated. Working on it. Get in touch if you want to help — or if you can save us the work by showing somebody has already done it.)

How exactly are the partial articles supposed to improve SEO? Well, as you can tell, I’m no expert, but based on what I’ve heard it has to do with duplicate content. Yeah, Google is supposed to penalize duplicate content. And of course, if you publish whole posts on your main blog page, and in your archives, then you’re duplicating the content from the post page — the one you want people to land on directly when they put the magic words into the search engine.

Only… I remember very clearly, in 2007, when Matt Cutts was asked about duplicate content on blogs. (And Matt, if I’m misremembering because it feeds my theory, please set me straight.) He didn’t seem to be saying that it was really a problem. And for what it’s worth, make a note that he’s providing complete posts on his main blog page — not excerpts.

The way I understand it, the duplicate content penalty is a weapon in the war against spammers and link-farms and splogs etc. Having 2-3 copies of the same post lying around do not make your blog sploggy.

Enough for the SEO.

More page views

What can I say about this? First, the reason people obsess about page views is because of advertising. If you’re rewarded for each ad impression, the more pages are viewed, the more money you get.


But this begs the question: how much are you willing to sacrifice of the user experience (see above) for a few dollars? Most advertising revenue on blogs is miniscule.

People imagine that “more page views = more articles read”. Nope. I can read ten articles on your home page for only one page view if you publish whole articles. So of course, if you switch to excerpts only, you’ll see an increase in page views. But it doesn’t mean you’re being read more. Don’t be fooled. (This would need to be proved, of course — but the so-called proof that the excerpt method increases page views is worthless in my book, because it’s measuring something that isn’t really meaningful, unless your purpose in life is to sell ads on your blog rather than be read, which is your right, but in which case maybe I’m not going to be that interested in reading you anymore.)

I don’t care about my page views. I just want people to read my articles.

Increased scannability

This one is easy to deal with. Of course, it makes it easier to scan the articles on the first page, if it’s kept short by trimming the articles. Personally, I’m all for a display option that will allow you to see just a list of post names, or a list of post names plus excerpts. Feedly allows this kind of thing.

But do you want to be read, or scanned? Do you want people to read the first two paragraphs of your articles, or the whole articles? Do you prefer to have them scan more headlines, but click less to access the whole articles?

Again, the choice is a non-choice as far as I’m concerned.

The blog is not dead

For the last years, we’ve seen the “blog is dead” meme pop up regularly. I was recently interviewed on this topic by the Swiss National TV — just to show you it’s still around. Aside from the rise of Twitter and Facebook, the rise of the blogzine is often cited as proof of the death of blogs.

Bullshit. The bloggers are still there. We’re still there. We’re not going anywhere. (I need to write more about the so-called death of blogs.)

Now, please go and get rid of those partial articles on your blog pages.

Mystery WordPress/Markdown Problem: Troubleshooting [en]

[fr] Description d'un vilain problème WordPress avec PHP Markdown Extra. Certains billets refusaient de s'afficher et faisaient tout simplement planter la suite du chargement de la page (donc, pages archives incomplètes, billets disparus). J'ai résolu (plus ou moins) le problème en remplçant PHP Markdown Extra par Markdown tout court, mais je n'ai toujours pas compris le fond du problème. Ce billet donne quelques détails sur les symptômes et mes déductions.

If you’re a WordPress person and you feel like a bit of juicy troubleshooting, this one is for you. I’ve narrowed down part of the problem, but have failed to identify clearly the cause of the problem. I’ve found a workaround by replacing a plugin by another similar one, however. I’ve made screenshots so that even once this problem is fixed (hopefully very quickly) you can make sense of this post.


Some posts on the VibrationsMusic website fail to display their content, or display incompletely. When this happens, the page stops loading altogether, resulting in a truncated page. (So we have vanishing posts and incomplete aborted archive pages where they should appear.) No error messages in source, HTML code just stops.

Narrowing it down:

Removing post content makes the post display OK, so I figured it had something to do with the content. Removing the PHP Markdown Extra plugin removed the problem, to. So it has something to do with a combination of certain things in the content and the PHP Markdown Extra plugin. (Removing other plugins didn’t change a thing, so I deduce from that it isn’t a plugin interaction issue.)

Using the “cut-half-out” technique I tried to narrow down the problem to a certain type of post content. At first, it seemed to be caused by either (a) HTML links in Markdown lists or (b) embedded YouTube players (<object>). However, some posts with either (a) or (b) were displaying correctly. In one faulty post, replacing the embedded YouTube video with another removed the problem.

However, it seems more subtle than that. In some cases, removing the other half of the post also removes the problem. => post length? Not really either. In a quite weird case, one post stops displaying right at the end of the content (Technorati tags and closing divs don’t appear) and if changes are made to the next post (like removing its content) then the first post displays correctly (and the second one too).

This seems (to me) to point to some problem in the query-array-manipulation area (but I don’t know how things work well enough in that department to make a more precise hypothesis).


I replaced the PHP Markdown Extra plugin with the “normal” Markdown plugin, and everything displays fine.

Vous parlez de la blogosphère suisse? [fr]

[en] Tag posts talking about the swiss blogosphere (or swiss meta-blogging issues) with blogosphera helvetica. The posts can then be syndicated to create a true multi-author metablog. This seems to me a better solution then setting up a new multi-author blog somewhere. Let's use what we already have: bloggers!

Je crois que tout le monde (ou presque) a réalisé que la blogosphère suisse commence à bouillonner. Mais peut-on parler de blogosphère “suisse”? Savons-nous ce que nos amis d’outre-Sarine fabriquent avec leurs blogs? Les frontières linguistiques sont les plus fortes que l’on puisse trouver sur le web. Pour cause, ce sont pour ainsi dire les seules.

Swiss Metablog fait pas mal de “veille blogosphérique” suisse, mais c’est en allemand. J’ai un compte, mais je ne l’utilise presque pas car j’ai déjà de la peine à suivre avec CTTS. Le blog de iFeedYou aborde souvent également des sujets touchant aux blogs dans notre douce Helvétie.

On a proposé et reproposé de faire un blog multi-auteurs et multilingue pour tenter de rapprocher un peu les différents groupes linguistiques. N’oublions pas non plus qu’il y a en Suisse aussi des italophones, des anglophones, et des toutes-sortes-de-phones.

Alors, voici l’idée: on va utiliser un tag pour identifier les billets qui traitent de la blogosphère helvète. Pour ne pas faire de jaloux, on va parler latin: blogosphera helvetica. Ensuite, on peut consulter la page du tag, s’y abonner, et même syndiquer le contenu pour en faire un meta-meta-blog quelque part.

Je crois que c’est plus viable de demander à des blogueurs déjà fort occupés de simplement rajouter un petit tag sur un billet qu’ils écrivent de toute façon pour leur blog, plutôt que de leur demander d’aller écrire le billet ailleurs.

Qu’en pensez-vous?

Précision 08.03.06: ce tag (blogch ou blogospherahelvetica, on verra) ne sert pas à identifier un billet comme étant “suisse”. Il sert à identifier un billet qui parle de ce qui se passe en Suisse côté blogs. Le public cible pour ce tag est “quelqu’un qui veut savoir où en sont les blogs en Suisse, et ce qui est en train de se passer d’important”. Regardant les quelques billets que j’ai tagués ainsi, je me demande si c’est pertinent pour chacun. Les aurais-je tous publiés dans un blog multi-auteurs portant sur la blogosphère suisse? Pas certain. A méditer…