The New Blog Software Goes Live

My original foray into the land of blogging was delayed while I stumbled towards the goal of building my own blogging software: like many software developers, I have a sometimes irrational desire to build it myself rather than admit “defeat” and use one of the many (and in the realm of blogging, there are many) available products.

I took a couple of stabs at building it myself originally, but due to another common foible – a tendency to over-engineer (I couldn’t simply write some blog software to post and publish my own thoughts. No…it had to be a full multi-author aggregation and collaboration suite, meaning that weeks went by while I mentally debated the database model for such a machination) – it just never seemed to get finished.

Other priorities always trumped it, and the little time I did allot towards this goal saw me solving absurd edge conditions.

I finally set a deadline for myself, and when I couldn’t find the time to finish anything before my marker (billable hours always came first), I went and bought a copy of Radio Userland and started publishing content the blog way.

That worked well enough for a while, but Radio Userland is a venerable publishing tool that is really showing its age. Authoring to it is a less than pleasant experience – which has been a huge contributor towards the dearth of content (it’s always a bit of a roll of the dice to see which characters it randomly replaces in posts, or which carefully authored HTML blocks it’s decided to mangle) – and simple tasks like cross-linking posts (e.g. a “related posts” sidebar to allow users to easily see follow-ups) was just far too manual to be worth the bother.

Now that I have a powerful, fully dedicated server, it’s also grossly under-featured for users, making the experience of consuming and navigating through the information far less usable than it should be.

So I’ve gone and built my own blogging software, this time quickly bringing it to a sort of beta release.

Given that this is the venue with which I will publicize a ton of changes elsewhere on the site, I really considered this a roadblock on the critical path to the release of other web application functionality elsewhere on yafla.

With some focus, it took only a couple of hours this time, mostly accomplished while putting my toddler son to bed over the weekend. It was so ridiculously quick and easy that I kick myself for not having done it sooner.

I’m extremely pleased about the functionality built out (hey it isn’t rocket science, and definitely falls within the realm of “trivial”, but there’s lots of little “gotchas” with software like this), though most of the kudos go towards .NET 2 and SQL Server 2005: A couple of tools that make short work of what would once have been an enormous task, bringing a robust, secure, high performance web application to a usable stage in less time than it takes to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Right now you’ll probably notice that – at this moment at least – the HTML version of the blog looks absolutely terribly. That is somewhat by design (or rather an intentional time compromise)…momentarily. I’m working on the template (it’s of course parameterized template driven), and wanted to force myself to follow through by deploying (perhaps prematurely).

So what are the features of the blog software?

Well, firstly I migrated 100% of the old content over (including metadata such as categorization), running it all through Tidy first to try to make it a little more XHTML legitimate. Using an identifier mapping structure, every single link to the legacy content still works (which was important to me: I didn’t want to give link followers the frustrating “We moved everything so have fun trying to find it” 404 experience).

Everything works via URL remapping, and for now I’ve set it to redirect from old links to the new links where possible. All new entries Will follow that more transparent and obvious structure.

But the URLs aren’t limited to just single documents – All entries in June of 2006 can be accessed via http://www.yafla.com/dforbes/2006/06. Add in a category and you can refine further – http://www.yafla.com/dforbes/2006/06/.NET.

Of course, no longer are entries limited to the archaic “categories”. Now they’re basically keywords.

So the tagging will be much more logical now that there aren’t broad categories, and given that anyone can filter content however they want (stick rss.xml on the end and you can get a feed of whatever you want).

There’s also search, though I’m not comfortable enough with the finality of the API to publish anything about that.

Entries now have versioning, given that I want to be more transparent with edits that I make (I’m endlessly doing minor corrections and improving wording, and for those who consider that deceptive there’ll be a little version history to see what changed and when, along with a label of why the change was made). All links are auto-parsed and logged, so every entry has a list of posts that link into it, making for much more elegant self follow-ups without resorting to post-editing some “UPDATE: See also…“ notes into old entries, and without resorting to the ugliness of trackbacks.

Extensive caching ensures that it’s still spritely and capable of handling peak loads with no fuss.

Oh, and the system supports many blogs by many authors, including publishing multiple authors into one system…so I still over-engineered, but in the end it was workable and I’m extremely happy with the core structure.

Great things lie ahead.