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Blogs Getting Better ...Finally

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Jem Stone Jem Stone | 17:50 UK time, Thursday, 17 April 2008

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/img/betterblogs.gif

The upgrade to our blogs platform is a bit like the infamous Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy. It's a subject frequently discussed around here but, given the requests for patience and "bearing with us", I'd understand if you'd be struggling to believe that it might ever happen.

Yet now, seeing a couple of bleary-eyed members of my team finish what has been the equivalent of a BBC Election Night shift and looking around our blogs themselves, I'm relieved to say that the first phase of our improvements is substantially in place.

A lot of the work in this first phase has been behind the scenes: ideally, you shouldn't really notice many changes this afternoon (apart from one key difference - see below), but we're relieved that the migration of over 12,000 blog posts, nearly a million comments and hundreds of different templates has gone reasonably smoothly. Once we're sure that the system is stable and bedded down, we'll be introducing more substantial changes to look and feel and functionality.

For the moment, the two key changes that you will notice are:

(1) A new registration based comments system

This uses the existing signon system across the BBC, so Message Board or Have Your Say users will be able to login as normal.

We thought hard about introducing what some call a "barrier to entry" for leaving comments but, to be honest, we'd had enough of 502 errors and the system seizing up with spam attacks. There are obviously other solutions ("captchas"; upgrades; the installation itself) - but registration, being people-based, is now in place for many other high-profile blogs (as Giles Wilson mentions at The Editors Blog) and is far more useful in helping us to manage the communities well.

We also believe that the ability to comment directly on bbc.co.uk is now for some of our blogs less important, given the increasing ease with which users can refer, bookmark and/or blog themselves, away from bbc.co.uk.

(2) A more stable platform

We've upgraded from the frankly archaic Movable Type 3.2 to its newer version MT 4.1. Many commenters have asked about why we've plumped for this particular piece of software (from Six Apart) over and above other options such as WordPress or an internal solution. It was a tough call, which we only confirmed after extensive tests and evaluation in partnership with the team at Headshift, who we have worked with closely on this project.

Anyway, these are still early days and we have a growing bug list, so I'd really appreciate anything you might spot that is out of the ordinary - and obviously, I'll be monitoring feedback wherever you might leave it.

Two final things. Hopefully, you can now leave comments with ease - but, most importantly: spammers are the scum of the earth. I curse you all.

Jem Stone is the Portfolio Executive for BBC FM&T's social media group.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Testing my own system which thankfully now works a bit better. I suspect that there will still be nags, issues so by all means leave them below or on your own blogs, tweets, bookmarks.

  • Comment number 2.

    Time to dig out my old message board login then!

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Jem

    The ability to actually get comments through is great.

    However (and you knew some would be coming)

    Do you really think allowing the vast majority of HYS commenters to even know the blogs exist is really wise?

    We're not exactly talking about a demo renowned for intelligence.

    The BBC Blogs are oasis of sanity - even the conspiracy theorists post relatively intelligently, and the topics are less "insta-poll".

    Encouraging the unwashed illiterate knee-jerking opinionated bigoted irrational masses that usually spam the hell out of HYS to come here will likely turn a good thing into a mess.

    The other thing is the link from user names ... you guys are wasting a huge amount of real estate having half the display column show the user name then be blank full-height, with the comments squeezed into the right side.

    Can't you rewrite it to show the user name at the top, use full display column width for the comments? And add in formatting, or at least respecting line breaks too for that page?

    The spam issue doesn't ring true though, I have to admit. You could have run Akismet and Bad Behaviour (both of which are available for MT) to handle a large amount of the spam.

    Is this another case of the BBC wanting to reinvent the wheel in-house?

    Kudos for not going with Captcha though, even the accessible versions aren't that accessible.

    What will happen to comments on older entries, can they be attached to blogs "as is" to preserve the user information, since I assume you can't associate them with a registered name at this stage?

    Will older entries be opened up for comments posting using the new system any time soon, regardless of being able to archive comments made using MT's comment system?

    Just some thoughts.

    Again, though, BBC++ for getting around the comment errors.

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with Moonwalk....

    This is really a wonderful improvement on the former boondoggles'.

    Hopefully this will mean the end of the 502 messages.

    Even I can see my typed mistakes, as well misteaks of other kinds, too.

    Good Friday to all, and a nice weekend.

    littleDickie


  • Comment number 5.

    Good luck with the changes! Though I do share the fears expressed by Moonwalk concerning the effect of allowing the HYS crowd onto the blogs - I've given up commenting on HYS due to the enormous amounts of drivel that infests those topics.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hmmm, strange, I made the last post at 07:04, but your blog thinks we are still on GMT. There's your first bug!

  • Comment number 7.

    Can I remind everyone that although commenting might now be easier the house rules still apply.

    These can be summed up as: no swearing, no abuse, nothing I have to talk to a lawyer about and stay on topic.

    HYS people are welcome here as long as they obey these rules.

    I'll forgive Jem his comments about spammers because:

    a) he's right

    b) many spammers are robots so can't be offended

    c) he's allowed to let off steam after all thes years of the BBC's platform being attacked by spam.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog)

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh Hai!

    As one of the unwashed, illiterate i feel it is my duty to post as is my democratic right. I'm sorry if this offends the elitist members but I feel that you are being really arsey.

    The BBC is for everyone and BBC Blogs is not a private club.

    Quite frankly some of the comments here border on discrimination and would not be out of place in a Nazi Propaganda Pamphlet.

  • Comment number 9.

    cosmicronson: as it is my democratic right to lol at your comment(s): lolol.

  • Comment number 10.

    Godwin was an optimist.

    Nick, you forgot d ... Risk of LART :)

  • Comment number 11.

    Well after years of trying to post here http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radioulster/2008/04/playlist_110408.shtml#postcomment and having no luck whatsoever, I emailed the Editor of new Media at BBC NI and he says they are having problems posting too - so he gave me a link here. Let's see what happens when I click the box ...

  • Comment number 12.

    OK - well that's a first - apart from the overun into the RHS column of the link and the time discrepancy, I think we can call that progress. Can we make our own hyper links like this I wonder?

  • Comment number 13.

    Hmm - am I doing something wrong with the hyperlinks? Try this - just typing the web address www.s-e-x-wax.com or once more like this Any advice?

  • Comment number 14.

    Looking at the page source, there's no http:// in the href ... It could be you entered that as part of the link and it's being filtered out, or you didn't enter it.

    (Although I'm not sure if a link to a site with that particular URL would qualify under the House Rules to begin with :) )

    ((Side note to Jem - need a House Rules link too?))

  • Comment number 15.

    Thx Moonwolf - don't worry about the provocative looking URL address - sex wax is a well known brand of surf board wax - I'll try again here and also just by typing http://www.s-e-x-wax.com - this time making sure the http:// is definitely included in the code!

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorted ! Thx

  • Comment number 17.

    well done Jem et al.

  • Comment number 18.

    Good on you, those kinds of shifts always seem to involve a huge amount of work.

    You said that many people asked why you went with MT as opposed to other options.
    Could you expand a little on your evaluation of the blogging platforms?
    What were your criteria, which platforms had an edge in any given criteria etc.

  • Comment number 19.

    Any chance of making the blogs even better, and allowing us to remove the 'Featured Blog' bit? If we're "sophisticated" enough to read these blogs, one would think we know what we do and don't want to read.


    Plus I've just had to wade through acres of screen space to see the other entries, because of the current 'Dot life' featured blog.....not very nice!


  • Comment number 20.

    @Moonwolf - We are aware the profile pages aren't ideal, these will no doubt be focused on after the main comment service is up to speed.

    @Beach_Bum - That'll go on the bug list, it should auto add the 'http://' if necessary so you never need to think about it.

    Thanks for the comments and bug reports everyone.

  • Comment number 21.

    Being able to use my 606 membership is all well, but when blogs like World Have Your Say (which is currently run on wordpress due to the shoddiness of the old BBC blogs) return to the BBC blog network will I be able to create a second membership just for blogs and keep my 606 and blog registrations separate?

  • Comment number 22.

    Richard, I just realized that there's two separate profile-like pages.

    The "other" one is the link at the start of the comments section, linked from "You are currently signed in as".

    That one brings up an unformatted "recent comments" list, the source looks like it's only loading the content area from the template, no header/sidebar/footer.

    I have to admit, against my better judgment I'm curious to see where this feature is heading.

    Linking the comments to BBCi memberships could mean cross-linking to profiles inside DNA (such as h2g2 for example).

    Dammit guys, do you have *any* idea how hard it's going to be for me to keep railing about how far in the dark ages the BBC coder crew is when you actually improve things??

    Worse, me being an ethical sort, now I have to actually write something *nice* about all of this (with the usual nit picking and disclaimers, you understand, lest people think I've been replaced by pod people)

    *stomps off to fetch her coat muttering darkly*

  • Comment number 23.

    Awesome install of Movable Type Community Solution! The custom installation from Headshift looks great. The next release of MT (codenamed "Cal") has a reply-to-comment feature that will offer an alternative to the @username replying.

    Congrats from the Movable Type team at Six Apart!

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi People!

    Good to see the posting facility now works.

    However, just one question... can we still link to our own blogs/sites - now that you have removed the link from the top of the comment window?

    I posted a comment recently and referenced an article at http://www.jimconnolly.com which was really well received and generated an interesting debate.

    Just curious.

    Jim Connolly
    www.jimconnolly.com

  • Comment number 25.

    I think there are still some teething problems - Robert Peston's blog states that it is post-moderated, so I fail to see how the last half-dozen posts can be "Awaiting moderation"!

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi PorterRockwell,

    We do still have a few teething problems, as you indicate, but we're working through them, As you say, currently some blogs are reporting that they are pre-moderated when they're post-moderated, and vice versa. We should have this fixed by the end of the day.

    Thanks for the feedback
    Aaron Scullion (BBC)

  • Comment number 27.

    Bug, which you're probably aware of...

    clicking on "comments" doesn't move to the #commentsanchor, or the top of the comments.

  • Comment number 28.

    When I posted #27 reporting a bug (using IE7), the page stuck showing the comment in a grey box, with the flashing three dots.

    The java error from the yellow ! triangle in the bottom left hand corner said:

    Line: 6
    Char 27449
    Error: glow.data.decodeJson: cannot decode item
    Code:0

  • Comment number 29.

    According to Paul Mason, China has intermittent access to Mandarin language BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2008/04/idle_scrawl_xian_ren_san_ji.html

    Any scheduled plans to get blogs working for the BBC Chinese News site?

  • Comment number 30.

    Marko - I’ve been told BBC World Service are exploring the possibility of publishing of blogs on bbcchinese.com but there are no definite plans to do so in the near future.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog)


  • Comment number 31.

    I always upgrade to the latest release ASAP... why the delay at the BBC?

  • Comment number 32.

    Is it time to have a Comment link under every BBC News story by default?

  • Comment number 33.

    I like this system, though I'll have to remember that my password is slightly different than my normal one.

  • Comment number 34.

    How do I change my nickname. I login with 'myname', but leave U23948238 whenever I post. Other people have 'theirname'.

    Ahhhhhhhh.

 

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