How you get round the blog

09 April 2005
Postal Order: or should posts be displayed chronologically or not?

Natalie Solent is a difficult woman.  You try to please her with long articles on defunct railway companies and all that happens is that she uses it as an excuse to get even more irate.

If I command him to put the newest posts at the top like every other bleedin’ blog in the world are you listening boyo, will he obey?


Yes, this is one of my little eccentricities.  At the time of writing my home page and RSS feeds are in reverse chronological order - just like every other bleedin’ blog in the world (except yours Natalie because yours doesn’t have a feed when are you going to get that sorted out - it’s only a couple of clicks you know).  But my archives and category pages are in chronological order.

Now there’s a reason for this.  Most things in this world (diaries, logs, chronicles etc) are written in chronological order.  Which makes sense.  You start at the beginning and work forwards.  Blogs (or at least their home pages) on the other hand are in reverse chronological order. You start at the end and work backwards.  This rather bizarre way of displaying information is forced on bloggers by the need to advertise to readers that there is something new.  If new items were put at the end no one would ever know about it because no one would ever be bothered to scroll to the end on the off chance that there was something there.

Now, I think that’s absolutely fine and dandy and until the next revolution in web technology I am quite happy for that to apply to my home page.  But why should it apply to my date or category archives?  No reason that I can see which is why they are in chronological order.

The only reason that Natalie ever found out about this is because I sent her a permalink.  My permalinks link to the date archive and not to the individual page.  I did that so that when people linked to me they would be able to easily see other things I had written.  Well, you never know…

But Natalie finds chronologically-ordered blog posts confusing.  She’s not alone.  So, as it happens, do I.  Many has been the time I have been poring over my own archives getting ever more confused only to suddenly realise what order they’re in.

I draw two things from all of this.  The first is that blog readers have no real problem with reading things in the wrong order.  For them it is far worse if things are in the right order.  The second is (and I’ve said this before) that blogs need to look like blogs even if this means incorporating seemingly illogical but widely-used features.

16 January 2005
Blogging tip: Extended Entries

Don’t use Extended Entries (you know things marked “More” or “Continue reading such and such") unless you absolutely have to.  For the most part people can bear to scroll down much more than they can to follow a link.  And anyway, if you are finding that you are writing humungously long blog entries perhaps you should consider ways of breaking them up into manageable chunks.

This rule applies to all with the exception of Michael Jennings.

05 January 2005
Reciprocal Links

On The Evangelical Outpost as linked to from Instapundit Joe Carter tells us all to include reciprocal links on our blogrolls.  In other words if someone links to you then you should link to them.

I disagree.  In fact I disagree with the whole concept of blogrolls.  As Instapundit says the thing that counts is the post not the blog.  The only reason I maintain a blogroll is for my own benefit.

But even if I had an ordinary blogroll I think I’d still object.  To my mind a blogroll entry is a recommendation.  It says: “I read this blog.” To dilute a blogroll with blogs you don’t read is to devalue that recommendation.

27 December 2004

Search is now up and running (see bottom of sidebar).  The results page could be better but making the necessary adjustments could be quite a lot of work.  So, some other day then.

24 December 2004
Should we have a search facility?

Yes.  There will be plenty of occasions when I want to find something I have written before; categories aren’t always that useful; Google would be too clumsy.

Update.  Only it’s proving harder to implement than I thought.

14 December 2004

We now have the category or categories at the end of each post

12 December 2004
A perma-change

Permalinks are essential but where should they link to?  I always dread a MovableType link because it takes you to a page with just that entry and nothing else.  When you follow a link it’s often the only opportunity you’ll ever get to check out that particular blog.  If it’s not blogrolled right there and then it probably never will be.  What you really want is to see some other posts along with the one you originally wanted to see.  That way you can get a feel for the blog.  But the thing you don’t want to do is to have to do any further clicking plus waiting.  Strangely enough, I think old Blogger got this right first time round.  Their permalinks link you to the monthly or weekly archive and then scroll you down to where the entry is to be found.  That way you can read the post and do some browsing.

Anyway, from now on, that’s going to be the approach I (for the most part) adopt here.

11 December 2004

True to my word here is a list of blogs which I like:

From Bloglines

The roll of shame (blogs without feeds):
Natalie Solent
Michael Jennings
Photon Courier
Conservative Commentary

Note This is an updatable post

Do I need a blogroll?

I know everyone has one but, as is the spirit of this blog, that is no reason why I should.

The null option is to do nothing ie not have a blogroll at all.  It is not as if I don’t mention all sorts of people as it is.  And I think recommending an individual post is a much better way of giving someone a plug than a mention on a blogroll. However, there are also blogs I read every day which I tend not to link to - on the grounds that they don’t need a little imp like me promoting them ie Instapundit and Samizdata.  I ought to at least give them a nod.

The only other real argument that I can think of is to have a handy list of links for my own benefit.  But I already have that at Bloglines.  You can see my list here.  The drawback is that there is a hard core of RSS refuseniks who I can’t read that way.  No, I have to log onto their sites on the off chance that they’ve published an update.  It is so 2003.  But still, I need the list. But I feel that if I mention them then form demands that I mention everyone else. Now, there is a potential solution here and it relies on a clever piece of code from those nice people at Bloglines.  What it allows me to do is to automatically list all those thoughtful people who have provided a feed and then, at the end, the recusants.

But where should I put this list?  Most people put their blogroll up on the sidebar.  But I think at this rate it is going to get a bit clogged.  What I think I am going to do is to create a separate page - possibly even post and then link to it from the sidebar.

That only leaves one outstanding gripe.  I don’t like bald lists - especially long, bald lists.  They give you very little idea what to read.  My idea was to create a new post for every new blog with a little description and then, by the magic of categorisation, create a blogroll automatically.  Sadly, what with all my existing Bloglines listings this isn’t really feasible - we’d be here until Christmas.  Pity.  Who knows, maybe Bloglines will set that up.  After all, they’ve set up pretty much everything else.

09 December 2004
Category listing

As you can see I’ve added in a category listing to the sidebar.  A couple of points.  EE allows sub-categories.  Content, Design and Navigation are, in fact, sub-categories of Blogging.  EE does allow you to display them in such a way that these relationships become clear.  Unfortunately, everything on the sidebar is right-aligned and doing it EE’s way would look silly.  Not quite sure how to solve that one.  The other point is that when you navigate to the page for a parent category you will get all the posts for the sub-categories.  This is not a problem just yet but it could easily become one if we end up with one category containing lots of posts.

06 December 2004
On Categories

Should I have categories?  What use would they be?  I could have an About category which I could link to from the side bar.  I could have a Best Of category and then list all its posts in a third bar on the right.  Europhobia does this.  It would be a good way of flagging up my best stuff to first-time readers.  Should I go further and categorize everything?  But what for?  Would it make it more likely that people would delve into the archive?  Possibly.  It would make it slightly easier for me but I have no illusions here.  I had lots of categories on Transport Blog and still had to resort to a search from time to time.  And if I do have categories how many should I have?  And what if a post occupies more than one category?  I ask because when you write a post (I know this from bitter experience) the tendency is to try to put it into an existing category but often you find out later that it really ought to be placed into a new sub-category and then you have neither the time nor the inclination to dig out the old post and re-categorise it - which kind of undermines the completenesss of the new sub-category.  I could try to have as many categories as possible right from the start but by the time you’ve got Franchising, Fragmentation, Network Rail, Subsidy, Punctuality, TOCs all set up, along comes a post which falls into all of them.  Sure, you can categorise it as such but it does make a bit of a mess of the look of the blog (assuming they are displayed on the post in question).  Can I make it so only the first, say, three categories get displayed, I wonder?

And this is assuming that we are categorising by topic.  There is another way (though I’ve never seen this tried): by purpose.  So, State Failure in Health, State Failure on the Railways, State Success in Education (only joking) etc.

I have to make a decision pretty quickly.  If I don’t create some categories pretty soon I know I never will.  If nothing else I should have a Default or Miscellaneous category - uncategorised posts can be very difficult to find.

For the time being I think I’ll do that plus try to categorise the posts I already have.

And then I’ll have to get around to displaying them all.

05 December 2004
We have a sidebar

With Home and About and Archives and Categories (which I haven’t got around to yet) just like everyone else.  So, what’s all this about re-inventing the blog, eh?  Well, just because I am questioning everthing doesn’t mean that from time to time I’m not going to come up with the same answers.  Blogs are the way they are for a reason.

Anyway, just to say as soon as you add in a sidebar you open up a can of formatting and templating worms.  Where should I put it?  What colour?  What fonts?  The real problem is ensuring the sidebar doesn’t overbear the main text and vice versa.  If you think I’ve failed on that one, let me tell you some of the other shots were much worse.

29 November 2004

Incidentally, if you do click a comments link you will notice that it opens up a new window, that that window contains the post on its own with the comments area and that you are scrolled down to where the comments area starts.  This is no accident - it’s how I designed it.

27 November 2004

Permalinks are working again.  When I created the subdomain ( there was some jiggery-pokery involving a file called path.php.  I got a setting wrong.  Anyway, that has now been corrected and permalinks seem to be working just fine.

25 November 2004

So, we now have permalinks but to where do they link? Right now they link to an individual page.  But do I really want this?  The alternatives are to link to the post within a page of posts from the same month/week or to a page of posts from the same category.  I might want to do this in order to help expose readers to other things I have written.  Can’t do any harm can it?

Right now I don’t have any categories though this is a subject we will doubtless return to. But I do have dates. So, I could have my permalinks point to the appropriate place in the monthly archive.  If I had a monthly archive.  We’ll doubtless return to this too.  For now, individual pages will do.

Immediately after writing that last post, I updated the post it referred to in order to make the point that I had now worked out how to do escape characters. What I wanted to do was to link to the new post.  But I couldn’t because I don’t (yet) have permalinks.  Hmm, perhaps I should restate that: I can’t yet access the permalinks. That’s easily enough done&8230;