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December 14, 2005

Structured Blogging versus Messy, Messy, Messy

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Posted by Stowe Boyd

Richard MacManus (see Read/WriteWeb: Structured blogging is here) and a long list of others are heralding the announcement about Structured Blogging at the Syndicate conference as something like the second coming.

But I don't buy it, as I said in this recent post (see Microformats v Structured Blogging: A Small War With Big Consequences ). My bet is that Structured Blogging will fail, not because people wouldn't like some of the consequences -- such as an easy way to compare blog posts about concrete things like record reviews, and so on -- but because of the inherent, and wonderful messiness of the world of blogging.

Because blog posts don't have to conform to any structural standards, they can be used to do anything: nothing is out of bounds, because we haven't created the boundaries. The messiness of the world we are living in is one of the reasons that it is such a rich and rewarding experience.

I am not sure who is benefitted if everyone falling into line and adopting consistent standards for the structure of blog posts. Perhaps companies like PubSub -- one of the driving force behind all this -- who would like to be able to sort out all the blog posts about hotels, gadgets, and wine out there, and aggregate the results in some algorithmic fashion, and then make money from the resulting ratings and reviews. But I am not sure that it would be a better world for bloggers, or even blog readers.

So I favor the microformat approach, which is messy, puts more of a burden on the blogger, and will require a host of tools to be built to make it all work. But microformats will work bottom-up -- tiny little tagged bits of information buried in the blog posts -- as opposed to structurally. And I am betting -- as always -- on bottom-up.

Comments (49) + TrackBacks (3) | Category: Technology


1. Richard on December 14, 2005 05:10 PM writes...

Posted a quick review at my site with screenshots and example post, etc.

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2. Phillip Pearson on December 14, 2005 06:16 PM writes...

Quick response here:

My opinion? Some people like structure, and some don't. Every field is optional in every microcontent type you can publish with the Structured Blogging plugins, so if you aren't interested in giving every detail every time, that's fine. We just have to wait and see what people do in real life, and keep tweaking it until it suits what people want to do. We all have the same goal: to get machine-readable data out there in the world...

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3. Sherwin Techico on December 14, 2005 08:11 PM writes...

Nice and very interesting insight Stowe. Got word about your skeptical-voice against Structured Blogging over at Mashable. I somewhat agree with you. Yes, it'll be hard for the blogosphere to commit to such a standard, or any standard per se.

If I may mention, I'm still quite new to the world of blogging "correctly"--if there's even a thing. I started out in 2002 just blabbing about how my day went. I remember using Blogger way back then. My entries weren't structurally/syntactically correct but they had a point--a log of my day. Which was the most simplest purpose of weblogs when it wasn't so mainstream. As my blog evolved, my writing evolved... as if I was writing an essay (oh the days of English classes). I would even re-read it quite often before publishing, while doing a spell check.

To make a long story short, most bloggers like blogging because it provides them a freedom to express themselves. Most of them aren't techie, and just want to write and publish. Keep things simple.

But I guess that's just the irony of all this. Whether it be Microformats or Structural Blogging trying to simplify the way we get information, it would add more sophistication to the way we blog and their functionality. But this doesn't mean that it'll smoothen out as time goes by.

Just my $0.02. Nice write-up.

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4. Salim Ismail on December 14, 2005 08:42 PM writes...

Stowe, well thought out piece. However, don't forget we're using microformats in the feeds so we're compatible there; the 'competition' between SB and microformats is a non-issue now. The main objective of our announcement yesterday was to bridge that gap (Marc calls this a 'compatibility box').

The only question is, will bloggers use it? Well, we launched a proof of concept plugin for Wordpress in March... thousands of people are using it (without even realizing it) because it's more useful that way and looks much nicer. This is why the 40+ companies are partipating - it's just so much more useful for everyone.

To address your point about 'messy', nothing prevents folks like you from publishing text posts, and for opinions like the one you've expressed, straight raw text is best! However, if you're rating a restaurant and aggregating those results, some structure is hugely important. [It's not an accident that most of the world's information is structured.]

Cheers, Salim

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5. Dave Taylor on December 15, 2005 01:45 AM writes...

I think it won't work, because anything that adds friction to blogging will be discarded unless the value is so extraordinary that it more than makes up for the hassle.

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6. Tom on December 15, 2005 04:39 PM writes...

Please tell me the phrase "blottom up" was a typo and not yet another "blog" + "random word" ="blandom blord" style word invention...

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7. Bob Wyman on December 16, 2005 03:15 PM writes...

Stowe, Typepad is down, so folk can't get to the post I wrote about this. I'll summarize here.

Structured Blogging is "a thing you do" while microformats are simply one of many formats that might be employed under-the-covers while you *do* Structured Blogging. The two can't compete since their aren't the same thing. One is a verb. The other is a noun...

What we're doing at is providing tools that make it easy for people to do Structured Blogging. Instead of fighting over formats, encoding methods, etc. we're showing users the benefits of using structured publishing techniques. The format issues are orthoganal to what Structured Blogging is all about. Fundamentally, the format doesn't matter. It is "doing" Structured Blogging that matters.

For an example of "doing" Structured Blogging, take a look at , this site has been using Structured Blogging for many months now. Clearly, they use it since it makes it much easier for them to produce visually compelling, interesting blog entries. Also, it is clear that they can't be terribly concerned about the format issues since we've been very careful to ensure that there aren't yet any aggregators for content that uses these formats. Sites like prove that Structured Blogging is useful to bloggers. The format issues aren't relevant to these folk. What they want is compelling, visually distinctive content. They want blogging to be easier. Structured Blogging clearly delivers for them.

bob wyman

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8. Kyle Bunch on December 17, 2005 05:36 PM writes...

Stowe--I'm not sure why you, and some of your commenters, seem to think Structured Blogging will only add friction/extra work for any blogger.

I'm psyched about it b/c it takes work out of my hands. I won't bother to fill out every field in the Structured Blogging entries; but it will be nice to specifically have a place to give an album 5 stars, instead of having to make some lame starred graphic and manually insert it on all of my entries.

Not to mention, the out-of-the-box support for Amazon's API makes it ludicrously simple to get all the relevant data (link, artwork, title and author) for any album, book or movie review. And I'm sure further API support will be integrated.

The result isn't just better syntax for all the blog-indexing overlords like's the ability for authors to create a lot richer content, without having to be a technical whiz setting up a big database schema and integrating it into a CMS.

I have to assume anyone questioning SB (as opposed to drooling over it) hasn't installed the plugin. B/c I can't see how you wouldn't be dazzled by what they've done.

I'm not saying it's going to "change everyting" necessarily....but I still thing it's the coolest thing to hit the blogosphere this year.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Structured Blogging versus Messy, Messy, Messy:

Structured Blogging - a way to add structure to your blog posts - has officially launched. Using the Structured Blogging plugins, you can blog an event, a list, a review or a media file and have other applications detect the content of the post. T... [Read More]

Tracked on December 14, 2005 02:23 PM

I've been pleased to see that the relaunch of Structured Blogging has been almost universally well received. However, I'm very puzzled by a number of folk who seem to be trying to find some kind of competition between Structured Blogging [Read More]

Tracked on December 15, 2005 09:09 AM

Structured blogging from Preoccupations
Structured blogging is back. This is a marker so I don't lose sight of what might be a significant development next year. Structured Blogging is a way to get more information on the web in a way that's more usable. [Read More]

Tracked on December 22, 2005 08:59 PM


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