Posts filed under WordPress

Anarchoblogs, rebooted

For the past few years, Rad Geek People’s Daily was syndicated (along with a few score other anarchist blogs) on a Planet-based aggregator called Anarchoblogs at http://anarchoblogs.protest.net/. Rabble, of Anarchogeek, created it To encourage blogging, raise awareness, and and promote cross linking among anarchist bloggers. Unfortunately, late last year, Anarchoblogs disappeared from the web (as a result of technical difficulties not worth going into here). Today, I am happy to kick off this new year by announcing the return of Anarchoblogs, which is back at a new domain name (http://anarchoblogs.org/) with a new engine under the hood and some important new features. From Anarchoblogs.org: About:

Anarchoblogs is a collection of blogs from self-identified anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcha-feminists, anarchists without adjectives, libertarian-socialists, autonomists and other assorted anti-statists. We use free software to syndicate our weblogs, in order to raise awareness, bring together anarchist voices, promote cross-linking and discussion between anarchist bloggers, and to archive and index anarchist materials on the Internet, while we’re at it.

Anarchoblogs began life in September 2004. It was founded by Evan Rabble Henshaw-Plath, and run with a Planet aggregator at anarchoblogs.protest.net. Technical difficulties caused anarchoblogs.protest.net to disappear from the web in late 2008, so Anarchoblogs contributor Charles Rad Geek Johnson contacted former contributors about establishing a new Anarchoblogs aggregator at anarchoblogs.org, with new software and some new features (including localized hubs, archiving and indexing of posts by date, tag, and author, and a updated, semantically-richer set of aggregated feeds). The new Anarchoblogs has been live since December 2008.

A few notes on the changes. The old Anarchoblogs was run on an old version of Planet, a simple aggregator and templating system which outputs static files. The new Anarchoblogs is run on an installation of WordPress MU with FeedWordPress running on top of it, which will allow for more flexible templating and the new features mentioned on the About page. Probably the three most important are that the new platform allows for painless setup and management of community hubs; for indexing the content of anarchist blogs; and, because each posts goes into the database of a WordPress MU blog, for archiving the content of anarchist blogs over time.

  • Comunity hubs — the new setup will make it easy to create and manage multiple community hubs, which aggregate blogs for specific communities, instead of simply dumping everything into one global aggregator. (But if you want everything dumped into one global aggregator, you can still get at that easily enough.) Communities can be defined geographically, ideologically, linguistically, organizationally, or along any other lines which become useful. Currently, there are three hubs up and running, for their own sake and as examples for the future — the language-specific hubs Anarchoblogs in English and Anarchoblogs auf Deutsch, and the ideology-specific hub Market Anarchist Blogs. Soon I hope to get some other ideological community hubs up (syndicalist blogs, green anarchist blogs, that sort of thing) and to roll out community hubs for geographical communities for various countries, cities, provinces, bioregions, etc.

    I think it’s important that we develop these community hubs, for a couple reason. First, because every reason that makes aggregating anarchist blogs a good idea in general (promoting conversations among anarchists, helping readers discover new anarchist blogs and anarchist bloggers discover new readers, etc.) is also a great reason to create more specific hubs for specific communities (helping people discover new anarchist bloggers in their own community, promoting conversations among anarchists who live near each other or are otherwise part of the same community, etc.). Second, because there are a lot of anarchist blogs out there, and I hope that Anarchoblogs will encourage people to start even more, and the closer Anarchoblogs comes to aggregating all those blogs, the more closely trying to read the global feed will come to resemble trying to drink from a firehose. This was already starting to become an issue with the old Anarchoblogs; on the new Anarchoblogs, community hubs should help readers figure out more specifically what they want to follow and to avoid being overwhelmed by too much reading material.

  • Indexing anarchist discussions — the new Anarchoblogs runs on top of a standard WordPress (MU) installation, and so takes advantage of WordPress’s features to index content by date, tag, and the full text of the posts, so that if you want (for example) to see what anarchist bloggers were talking about in January 2009, or to findposts tagged Feminism on anarchist blogs, or to search for posts where anarchist bloggers mention Greece, you can do all those things, and it’ll work about the same as it works on any individual blog, but will search across all the anarchist blogs we index.

  • Archiving anarchist discussions — Lots of anarchist writers write only one or two things and then disappear; lots of anarchist distros pass out small runs over a small area for a few years and then disappear; lots of anarchist works are cheaply printed, done on the fly, and get out to only a handful of people. Anarchist media has always been grassroots, usually seat-of-your-pants, and typically ephemeral: imeo sheets, xeroxed zines, tiny runs of amateur pamphlets or movement papers with microscopic circulations. When most of our materials were printed this was a problem but not a crisis: an author or a distro might disappear, but the physical pamphlet or the zine would still exist, and people who took a professional interest could find old copies and preserve them for others to find. But when blogs or websites disappear (as they often do), they disappear forever. Unless someone has archived the material elsewhere, there’s no physical copy left for some future Labadie Collection to dig out of someone’s attic. Just how important this is was really driven home for me when I went through the old Anarchoblogs contributor list to try to get in touch with folks about the new project. Out of over 100 former contributors, I was able to find a still-active blog for less than 30 blogs. The others blogs were no longer being actively updated, or had simply disappeared from the Internet. The old Anarchoblogs just aggregated the most recent content on contributing blogs, and discarded old posts; the new Anarchoblogs archives posts over time in a database where they can be indexed, searched, and re-read, even if the original blog disappears from the Internet. I think that as we spend more years working on building a grassroots, D.I.Y. culture, we are going to find that these kind of archiving efforts are going to be more and more important for our ability to preserve what we have built in media where people come and go quickly, constantly change addresses, drop out, get yanked off, or otherwise disappear from the web. I’m hoping that Anarchoblogs’s new archiving features will go a little way towards a better solution; in any case, if they help preserve a couple of these blogs against the accidents and uncertainties of the future in this world of ours, I’ll be happy.

Finally, I’d like to say something briefly about funding. I’m hoping that Anarchoblogs will be financially self-sustaining, and that it might also provide people a convenient way to support active anarchist bloggers. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to do some fundraising for the project. There is a small annual budget, and, once those bills are covered, any money that is raised above the budget will be distributed evenly amongst active Anarchoblogs contributors. If there is enough interest and support in the online community to meet the (very modest) budget on voluntary donations, then I’d like to stick with the voluntary donations. If a few months have passed and it doesn’t look like that’s likely to work out, the Plan B would be to look into unobtrusive sponsorships or advertisements to cover the costs of keeping the aggregator running. But if you think that Anarchoblogs sounds like a project you’d like to see continue, the easiest way to make sure that that happens is to support the Anarchoblogs project with a donation at http://anarchoblogs.org/donate/. Any contribution will make a significant difference (we just need to cover about $350 in bills; after that, any additional money goes directly to active Anarchoblogs contributors).

So, anyway. Give it a look; it’s at http://anarchoblogs.org/.

If you use a feed reader like Google Reader or Bloglines, you can subscribe to a feed of all the posts coming over the wire at http://anarchoblogs.org/feed/ (or, if you want to subscribe to a feed for one of the various community hubs, http://eng.anarchoblogs.org/feed/ or http://deu.anarchoblogs.org/feed/ or http://market.anarchoblogs.org/feed/).

If you have an anarchist blog yourself, check out the information on how to join the community.

If you can support the project with a monetary donation, check out the information on how to donate.

If you have friends who’d be interested, point them to http://anarchoblogs.org/ or to this post.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, applause, brickbats, suggestions about blogs you’d like to see or features you’d like to see in the aggregator — well, fire away in the comments section here or drop me a line. And enjoy!

See also:

Technicalities

Well, I feel kind of dumb.

But, first the good news.

I’ve recently added a new feature to the comments form on this blog. If you have an OpenID identity — and everyone who has a blog through WordPress.com or LiveJournal, or an account with AOL Instant Messenger, already has an OpenID identity — you can now use that to sign your comments on posts at radgeek.com (meanwhile getting a leg up on the comment spam filters).

OpenID is a free and decentralized system for using a single sign-in to vouch for your identity (or, if you prefer, your regular pseudonym) across many different websites. Because it is decentralized, you don’t ever have to turn any sign-in credentials over to this website, and your ID also remains good as long as your homepage exists — unlike single sign-in systems based on centralized providers like Microsoft or Six Apart, it doesn’t get compromised or killed if any one company goes under. It’s a neat project, and very useful for simple ID tasks like signing comments. So I figured I would do my part by enabling the use of OpenID on blog comments here. I downloaded the Alternate OpenID for WordPress plugin to handle the basics, and then set about hacking it to cover the details of how I wanted it to work.

So, the good news is that OpenID sign-ins are, as far as I can tell, up and running and ready for you to use. To use the feature, fill the appropriate URI into the URI field and then mash the button next to your URI to sign in using OpenID. Thus, for example:

After you mash the button, you’ll be shuttled over to your OpenID provider, where they will ask you to sign in, or whatever it is that they do to verify your identity. When you’re done doing that, you should be shuttled back to radgeek.com where you’ll now be recognized by your OpenID address. The OpenID plugin will try to create an intelligent user name to display based on the information you provide it, but if you don’t like the user name it supplies you with, you can click on the user name and edit your name (or any other part of your local record) to your heart’s content. Once you’re satisfied, you can return to the page and post your reply under your OpenID signature. Hooray!

Now, all that said and done, here’s the bad news. While I was tweaking the OpenID plugin, I managed to introduce some changes which, without my knowledge, borked the normal operation of the comments form here. Meaning that if you submitted a comment any time in the last several days, and it hasn’t appeared on the page yet, it’s not because it’s waiting in the moderation queue; it’s because (argh) WordPress lost it, due to said borking. In particular, if you tried to comment on:

… and your comment hasn’t appeared yet on the site, then it’s because I never got your comment. If you can say again what you had to say then, I’d be very glad to hear it; if not, I understand, and I really apologize for the trouble for this bout of blockheadedness on my part.

I wish that I had a more auspicious occasion for unveiling the new feature on the blog.

Humanized History WordPress plugin: magic endless scrolling for your WordPress blog

Earlier this year I showed off a new geegaw for my websites, first at Rad Geek People’s Daily, and then at Feminist Blogs. That’s the Humanized History feature that provides the magic endless scrollbars for Geekery Today and Feminist blogs. I used some WordPress template kludges and a bit of unobtrusive JavaScript to magically fetch older posts for you as you get close to the end of the current page, thus allowing you to keep on scrolling as far back as you want to scroll, without having to stop and click through on older posts / newer posts page links.

The way I implemented the feature, at first, was through some ugly spit-and-bailing wire kludges in the WordPress templates, which would be messy and complicated to replicate elsewhere, and which would fall apart if one ever switched to a different theme from the one they were currently using.

But I’m happy to announce that if you have a WordPress weblog, you, too, can now add a Humanized History magic scroller, with only minimal spit and bailing wire. I’ve packaged as much of the magic as I can into a new WordPress plugin, which I’ve unimaginatively dubbed Humanized History for WordPress, and which is now available for download through my projects website.

The plugin does still require some minimal template hacking, due to unavoidable limitations in WordPress, but the hacking you’ll have to d is nice and contained, and if you’re unfamiliar with WordPress templates, you just follow the step-by-step copy-and-paste instructions provided in the documentation. You should also feel free to contact me if anything is unclear or not working properly for you.

Enjoy, and scroll on!

Humanitarian Interventions

A few days ago, I mentioned that I was test-driving a new feature for the Rad Geek People’s Daily, which implemented a Humanized History magic scroller for WordPress blogs. Yesterday, I added the same feature to Feminist Blogs, which also runs under WordPress (thanks to the FeedWordPress aggregator), and which happens to have an even more pressing need for a way to let users quickly scan through lots and lots of posts without wasting the user’s time or the web server’s scarce resources. Currently the implementation is based on a bit of ugly hackery involving WordPress’s templates and my own site-specific JavaScript, but I am thinking that if I have a bit of free nerdery time later in this week I am going to put together a WordPress plugin that will package up the features for you (yes, you!) to install on your own WordPress blog or FeedWordPress-based aggregator.

Again, let me know what you think, and give me a heads-up if you notice anything that seems weird, broken, or wrong.

Fiddling while Rome burns

I’ve been fiddling with a new bit of geekery for the Rad Geek People’s Daily for a couple of days; you may have noticed an early version of it if you’ve been poking around the edges of this site earlier today. If you haven’t, here’s the easiest way to see what I’ve added: go to http://radgeek.com/ and scroll down. Then, keep scrolling. As long as you like.

In most web browsers, you should be able to keep scrolling without ever reaching a set of those next page / previous page pairs of links. In theory you could keep scrolling through the complete archive of Geekery Today. The same feature works in category archives, monthly archives, and searches; meaning, basically, that whenever you are scanning through a list of posts on Geekery Today, you can now run through the whole list without having to click through to a new page. The change was inspired by the points made at Humanized 2006-04-25: No More Pages?

Of course, this page-chunking phenomenon isn’t limited to search sites. It’s used everywhere from blogs to forums, from e-commerce sites to e-mail programs. And it’s surprising how often one finds oneself just giving up and going somewhere else when one has reached the end of a page.

The problem is that every time a user is required to click to the next page, they are pulled from the world of content to the world of navigation: they are no longer thinking about what they are reading, but about about how to get more to read. Because it breaks their train of thought and forces them to stop reading, it gives them the opportunity to leave the site. And a lot of the time, they do.

The take away? Don’t force the user to ask for more content: just give it to them.

And so I will just give the other posts to you. But the trick here was to develop a way to make those posts — sometimes hundreds of them stretching over several years — all available to you without making you wait for everything to download. (Not only would that make everyone wait for those posts to download; it would also make the website completely inaccessible for mobile devices and other alternative web platforms.) The solution to the problem was for me to write a little bit of unobtrusive JavaScript, inspired by Humanized’s implementation, and to tinker a little with the WordPress templates on the back end, so as to automatically grab the older posts as you scroll down towards the bottom. That way, for users with conventional web browsers there’s always more waiting for you to read as you scroll down (at least, until you reach the earliest post). But mobile users and other people who have JavaScript turned off can still access the website the same way they already were, with no substantial change.

This is still a work in progress; let me know what you think — and whether you notice anything weird or broken — in comments. If you’re interested in knowing more about how I implemented it, you can drop me a line.

In the meantime, scroll on!