Retrograde Progress in Blog Clientware

Retrograde Progress in Blog Clientware

It was an innocent enough motivation – find a blog client that would liberate me, at least a little, from the web based blog interface that I use on one of three blogs that I post to. Truth be told, I was not very savvy about the blog client landscape, I just wanted a little convenience, like spell checking, formating, and generally not having to fire up MS Word every time I had to post a lengthy article.

What started as a simple endeavour to install the ‘Performancing’ Firefox blogging extension. When the attempt to install this extension went awry, crashing the browser, eating up days of fiddling – I spoke to a consulting client of mine who makes a Super-Server platform that includes, amongst its many web services and database functions, an installable Blog system. The conversation took many twists and turns, and resulted in a ‘quest-to-test’ as many blog clients as possible. I resolved to form some opinion of how interoperable, usable, and generally, productive, these blog clients are compared to the native web-based interfaces we usually use for our daily blogging.

I tend to write rather longer articles (compared to typical blog fare) for this client’s internal blog, some of which gets into the wild, and I almost always use MS Word for its ability to footnote, spell check, format, etc. After an article is finished, I cut and paste into this client’s blog hosting platform using the Web based interface. Nothing wrong with all that except to open or change the browser view, cut paste, add tags, etc. This particular blog and server system accurately captures all of the MS Word formating and hyper links, and the system generally works.

Still, I thought, maybe there is a dedicated blog client that pulls this all together? Maybe include podcasts and in-line images, rapid grabbing of RSS feeds or web content to quote in my articles? Well, the odyssey was enlightening,frustrating, and poignant in the extreme.

The blogosphere is a nascent precursor to the readable, shareable, write-able web – and we are going straight downhill if the lack of stability and standards in blog clientware is any indication of the state of the art. The following opinions are simply that – mere impressions of one person’s collected thoughts on using this potentially useful technology as an adjunct to blogging productivity.

Rather than single out particular blog client software for scrutiny, I am going to draw a set of general conclusions; it would not be fair to the programmers and publishers to post categorical remarks based on my experience alone – and some of these conclusions may be rendered moot by updates and such in the fullness of time. The overriding impression is one of lack of stability and difficulty in configuration. Certain well known blog clientware offers preset options for free and paid blog hosting services, and it seems these may have fewer problems. But woe unto him who tries to configure for other hosting platforms that support well know blogging APIs!

Here is a list of struggles that I engaged with in my ‘quest for blogging productivity’:

  1. Setup issues – if your blog client supports a well known paid or even free service, then you will have less trouble determining the actual URL used for account access, which may be different from the URL used for reading or even posting to your blog from a web based interface. The same goes for configuration of the infamous RPC endpoint – handled differently by each blog client.
  2. To make things interesting, for those configuring for custom hosting platforms. some hosts use /RPC2 (case sensitive), some use /backdoor-xmlrpc – hold it…some clients have a separate field for the endpoint using no slash – some need the slash – some want the whole thing one big, ugly URL. Care to find the proper way without tearing your hair out – browse the FAQS (as if you have nothing better to do), send a support email – and wait. Expect to possibly get incorrect information.The only positive thing I can say is that once you get the hang of it, most blog hosts of the same family (Word Press, MT, Typo) tend to be alike – but not always.
  3. Beware of on-line docs for setup – they are often outmoded.
  4. Multiple choices for blog API’s in your client software? Tough luck! Try them all and see what works. You will notice that some of the client’s features will work with one API setup, and not with others. Oh, and yes, you will be pleased to note that sometimes when you change an API, strange behaviour may result, errors may be reported back to you, and you may crash in various ways. I found that with some clients, it is best to terminate and restart the client software after an API change – sometimes this will not be enough; you may have to delete the blog account info, re-enroll your account info, restart the software and try again.Oh, and I found sometimes that a restart of the OS is sometimes a good thing.
  5. Media Objects: A real sore spot. I was hoping that a good blog client would make posting images and other media files a more seamless process – wrong! If my experience is any indication, native files on your local file system are going nowhere unless your blog client and host are in agreement. This may entail FTP account setup (puhhhhleeeze), or a special URL, which may be relative to your blog account URL, or another totally unrelated URL or directory pointer – I think you get the point.Some of the pre configured services work fairly well here, and some subset of the clientware out there supports this, but it is not easy and is not universal. I swear, if you heard some of the setup instructions to create an /images directory for my blog accounts – you would surely laugh.Note: it is very interesting to me that the clients that did support Flickr made it easier to insert photos into my blogs than did the native uploading of files from my local OS.
  6. Although not specifically related to clientware – what is the deal with blog templates? YeG-ds. I have never seen such a messed up situation in my life. Hurry up AJAX.
  7. Podcasting – none of the clients I tested offered easy, universal, support for podcasting. I hear that Apple has a great universal tool set for this that includes blogging and much other stuff that works like it should. But I’m clueless about Apple – that may have to change.
  8. Error handling – some clients crash, some report an error and send the post through without telling you, some report a cryptic error and don’t post.
  9. Support for Technorati, Del.icio.us, – sometimes this is a function for the hosting platform, but coverage is spotty and what is with this ‘keyword’ thing in the Movable Type settings?

My intent thus far was really to avoid a laundry list of failures and issues – but rather to give an overall user impression. What we have here is a dynamic of diverging and immature standards, clients, and hosting engines. In this era of Web Services, REST, SOAP, WSDL (especially WSDL), we should be at a point of functionality where a Word processor, blog client, or anything..can reach out and touch a hosting platform and know what its capabilities are and compensate for the supported features and API omissions.

However, the best blog hosting platforms are web editing centric, and most clients are produced by independent programmers and small shops – more like utility programs. I applaud these efforts, and this article in no way casts blame on those actually trying to make useful software for the active blogger. I think this is an issue of immature industry, and fast moving conventions and standards.

There are a growing number of blogging and social / semantic web technology platforms sprouting up around the way. Likewise, there are a great number of blog clients. If we could just use the best of the latest (easy for me to say), in order to improve interoperability and configurability between clientware and blog hosting platforms, then the work of the W3C will have not been in vain.
This post was written using the BlogJet client, and was posted to OpenLink Software’s Virtuoso Universal Server’s ODS semantic data space blog application – wish me luck before I hit “upload”.

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