Alex Isikold of AdaptiveBlue has published a great post on “How YOU can make the web more structured”. A section of this post, “Standardizing Blog Templates Across Platforms”, really resonates with me. Isikold is suggesting that blogging platforms such as WordPress and TypePad standardize their templates. Why is this important?
To help answer this question, here is the Web 2.0 school of thought that I subscribe to: Let’s start off with an enterprise database analogy. The basic assumption is that blogs are nothing but a data store. While information in a blog makes for an interesting read, it is about as interesting as reading data in a text column in a relational database. While the data in a single text column may have a lot of meaning, its meaning and usefulnes is enhanced when the data is combined with other columns in the same table in database, or with other tables in the same database, or even with data in other databases. The wealth of data is hidden in its interconnections with other data. In order to harvest the wealth of data in databases, applications are built on top of the databases that reference and make relational semantic inferences between the data in the database(s). Today, blogs are the database(s). What is lacking are the applications that harvest the wealth of information stored in the blogs. These are the applications that the next wave of Web 2.0 companies (including myself) are working on.
The pace of these next generation applications is being hindered by the lack of a consistent structure (standard) in blog data. What Isikold is bringing attention to is that unlike relational databases, which adhere to relational database management system standard (characterized by a simple TABLE/COLUMN/ROW+SQL structure that has been consistent over the years), blogs have no such standard. The structure of blogs is currently left up to the blogging platforms such a WordPress, Typepad etc. Blogging standards today are akin to having Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL each using a different standard for storing and retrieving information. Not only a different a standard for each of the databases, but a different standard for each version of each database. Exacerbating the problem further, each of the different databases being customizable by anyone and anyone can change the standard to a standard of their liking. If these databases were is such a state, it would be very difficult to write any applications that leverage data from these databases. ODBC and JDBC standards would be very unreliable, if not useless. Such is the state of the blogosphere today when one looks at it from a data interface perspective.
As many of you know, I am currently devoted to work on the layer of applications that leverages the data in blogs and beyond in order make such data more useful to users. The lack of standardization (as described above) makes it difficult to identify the content in blogs. Content identification is important because an application needs to be able to identify the difference between actual blog post text and some other text on the blog so that analyses and inferences can be established appropriately. I have been monitoring the different types of templates in an attempt to predict template patterns for the different blogging platforms (mainly WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, MovableType). I came to the conclusion that pattern prediction is only successful to a certain point due to the following
1) the original templates from the blogging platform vendor consists of multiple major and minor versions that do not have a predictable consistency in the template content tagging and
2) there are modified/hand coded templates floating out there which are totally unreliable.
As a result of these observations, I have resorted to writing my own content identification algorithms that include a combination of template pattern predictor algorithms and NLP based semantic blog post text identification algorithms. While this has served me well up to now, a blog template standard will be very beneficial not only to myself but many people who have not figured out how get past the problem.
Isikold is suggesting that a standard be adopted with the goal of giving blog templates a consistent structure. This means the adoption of a template standard that identifies the different types of data on the different parts of bogs post. Isikold is suggesting that on a blog post, the template should make it easy to identify the blog post text, the side bar, the name of the author, the data that blog post was published, the tags for the blog post content and the blog posts comments. I believe an adoption of this simple template will go a long way in helping to bring the next wave of Web 2.0 applications to market faster. I support a blog template standard.