As We May Blog

Yes, I’ve started another new blog.  This one I may actually write in.  This is an introductory post explaining the context for starting a new blog and the design and setup decisions I made.

Background

This is a blog supporting my studies for the Digital Information Technology and Architectures (DITA) module.

Each week during Autumn term members of the DITA class of 2014 will blog about a different topic related to the module to help us understand how blogging supports reflective practice and professional communities.

Inspiration

Fellow DITA bloggers will recognise the title of this blog post is inspired by the article As We May Think by Vannevar Bush and published in The Atlantic Magazine in 1945.  In this article Bush envisages how scientists may turn from warfare towards peace and apply technology to better manage the growing store of human knowledge.  He identifies the problems of information proliferation and overload:

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.

However, Bush also spots opportunities and proposes solutions.  He predicts developments in photography, imaging and photocopying.  He also imagines a desktop information storage and retrieval device that he calls the Memex:

A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.

Finally he recognises that “The process of tying two items together is the important thing” and considers the possibilities of associative indexing and the creation of linked trails through information.  These trails would be persistent and replicable:

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified … There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.

It is not hard to see the echoes of the Memex in the 1989 proposal by Tim Berners-Lee to solve the problem of information loss and entropy at CERN:

The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards.

This solution, provisionally called the ‘Mesh’,  proposed decentralised, linked systems using hypertext that eventually involved into the World Wide Web.

As part of this module we will attempt to understand modern information architectures and digital technology, particularly the internet and the web,  by using and critiquing these tools in our research. We will also consider the implications for libraries and information centres. Consequently, our week 2 lab was to setup a personal blog using WordPress for writing about the module.

Setting up the Blog

I wrote my first blog post using WordPress in November 2003 and have maintained several individual and group blogs over time so the creation of the blog using wordpress.com was not a new experience for me.  I also had a fully completed user profile on wordpress.com ready to go. What was different having some idea of what content would be going into the blog from the beginning and this partly shaped the way I approached the setup of the blog.  Normally I create a blog, start writing and watch it evolve (or not).  We also had a brief to meet and guidance provided on good blogging practices that helped influence my setup decisions.

Title and Tagline

Not particularly imaginative but for the title I wanted something that expanded DITA rather than use the acronym as it wouldn’t necessarily be familiar to people outside the course.  I also wanted to indicate the blog was part of a broader community and so I introduced the  #citylis  hashtag in my choice of tagline.  Whilst #citylis may also be cryptic to those unfamiliar with the community, I felt the likely audience for this blog would understand it represented a hashtag and therefore the opportunity for them to find a route to the Twitter community.  I explain the module and the #citylis hashtag further in the About page.

Theme and Appearance

Our brief specified the blog’s theme should display our byline on each post and categories and tags.  The design should also be appropriate for out intended purpose and audience and not detract from the content.

I wanted to choose a theme that had visual impact but foregrounded the content and was responsive, meaning it would work well across a range of devices from desktop web browsers to tablets and smartphones.  Fortunately the WordPress theme preview allows you to test drive a theme before activating it and allows you to see how the theme would look on each of these device form factors. My intended audience audience will be fairly web literate and be interested in the nexus of technology, history and society.

After browsing some themes I made a shortlist.  I find it helpful to try themes with at least one blog post with some content and a featured image so I published a placeholder post to help with this testing.  I finally decided on the Bushwick theme.

One Column Theme

This is a one column theme.  This means there is more focus on the content from the screen and navigational elements don’t distract from the posts.  There is still a menu that is access by clicking on the three lined icon in the top right hand side.  The menu is then revealed at the top of the screen.  These may not be intuitive for all visitors, especially those used to a standard two column layout.  This hidden menu device is becoming common enough in modern theme design that I felt comfortable selecting it.

My theme displays my byline and tags for each post.  It does not display the category which is part of the brief.  However, as I already have other blogs I will use this blog just for DITA writing.  I have therefore decided to use only one in which all posts will be placed and make more use of tagging for grouping topics and themes.  given these I decided to stick with my theme despite the category omission.

Featured Images

The theme does have a header image but it is placed to the side of the content rather on top.  I liked this design as it still allows the use of featured images for visual impact but means the article title and content are always at the top of the screen.  Some great themes with top header images can push content the text ‘below the fold’.  Whilst the idea of the fold and how willing readers are to scroll has been debated, I’m not keen on designs where the header is so dominant the text doesn’t have the chance to draw a reader in.

On the home page and for posts without a featured image the header image displays.  On the home page the blog title is overlaid and on article pages the title, byline and date are overlaid.  If a post has a featured image this will replace the header image.

The header image is a great photo of computer, Netscape, floppy disk, beer and ashtray: The Interwebs ca. 1994 by Stefan Kellner.
Source: Flickr
Licence: CC BY-NC

I chose this photo as the header image because it both evoked the early days of the web just as it began to cross the chasm of technology adoption and makes using the world wide web seem very rock and roll.

Whilst I’ve selected a theme and a header image that I like they may not work well together. It’s possible that the white text on a black and white photograph may be hard to read for some.  Given the theme uses text overlaid onto any featured image it is hard to pick a font colour or images that would always contrast well and this may be a limitation of the theme.  Prioritising visual impact over accessibility is not a good thing.  So this is something I may change if I think it isn’t working.

Navigation

There is always a link to the home page in the top left hand corner.  At the top of each screen are links to the two pages I have created.  One is a standard about page explaining the purpose of the blog the second provides links to other DITA bloggers (see below).  In the top left hand corner is the icon to open the menu.

The menu is revealed and hidden by clicking on this icon and appears at the top of the screen.  The menu makes use of WordPress widgets.  I have included navigational widgets such as Archives (links to monthly groupings of posts), Categories (links to blogs in a particular category) and Tags (links to blogs grouped by keyword).  I have also included a search box and relevant CityLIS links such as the CityLIS Twitter feed and the DITA module on Moodle.  Finally I provided attribution for my header image and display the CC BY-NC licence for the blog.

Linking to other DITA Bloggers

Everyone in class is writing a blog and so connecting with other blogs and bloggers is an important part of the exercise. Whilst WordPress includes links functionality to create a blogroll (which I have used for the CityLIS links in my menu) there are many DITA bloggers and I felt my menu was full enough without adding links to all the other bloggers here.  I decided to create a DITA Blogosphere page to list links to other bloggers and subsequently created a reading list on WordPress.com of other DITA bloggers which I did add as a third CityLIS link in menu.  I am not sure I have linked to everyone’s blogs yet so I will continue adding to these lists as required.

Done!

With all that context digested and setup decisions made all that is left to do is write.


Image Credits

Featured image: This great photo of computer, Netscape, floppy disk, beer cans and ashtray is The Interwebs ca. 1994 by Stefan Kellner. Source: Flickr Licence:
CC BY-NC

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4 Comments

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  1. As someone new to blogging I found your first post really useful. I particularly liked the way in which you explained your rationale for all of the decisions you made regarding the site’s architecture. Clearly, your previous experience shows through, and as a novice, I thank you for sharing your knowledge so clearly.

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    • Thanks Steve. Yes it was a bit of a surprise to realise I’d been blogging off and on for so long. I expect I’ve picked up quite a few bad habits though so it’s interesting for me to think consciously about blogging again and learn from those who have a fresh perspective on it.

      Like

  2. William Molesworth October 11, 2014 — 2:09 pm

    Hi again Alison!
    Have progressed a tiny bit with my site. Just posted on design from a beginner’s (fresh) perspective…looking at your links on web accessibility, this is obviously a complex subject and difficult to suit all needs!
    regards,
    William Molesworth

    Like

  3. Hi Alison, I really like the image and layout of the blog. As clichéd as this may sound, it has a clean look and feel to it. It has made me contemplate my own layout, which seems quite basic and bland in comparison.

    Like

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