Serendipity blog engine chain message

I got a blog chain message the other day from Robert and its taken me a while to think through what I wanted to write. The chain message seems poorly constructed, but in fact its given me a lot to think about, and I think a few of the Serendipity people might be interested in my thoughts. Also I’ve had conversations with friends and former colleagues over the last few months about the direction of the Internet and consumer computing, and whilst I won’t divulge who these people are, perhaps some of these conversations will have an impact on the way this entry is written. Garvin, lead developer of Serendipity has also replied to this chain message.

So without further ado, I shall begin, but be warned, this is going to be a long entry.

Do you use the Serendipity blogging engine?
Yup, and proudly so.

If you use Serendipity, why did you choose it?
Many moons ago when I first started blogging I was an avid reader of Slashdot, and the thing I always liked about their design was the photo-realistic category icons. I chose Serendipity because I wanted my first blog to look similar to slashdot, three columns with header and footer and also category icons. My first attempt at a blog actually involved writing my own asp script, it was very basic, didn’t have a comment facility or rss feed, and frankly I was never happy with it. I’m not a programmer, I tend to kludge together bits of code and then force this bit to work with that bit. I’m sure you’ll agree, not a solid base for a blog engine. My next step involved hunting through all the blog scripts I found at hotscripts, notice the Serendipity entry is very out of date. I think I downloaded every asp or php script and tried them on my local test server. I quickly moved away from the asp scripts, not because of the scripts, but because of IIS.

Having settled on scripts that would run on the Apache webserver my choice seemed to revolve around WordPress, Serendipity, Nucleus, and a couple of others that seem to have disappeared since then. I won’t dwell on my reason for not selecting the other scripts. My decision to go with Serendipity came down to the fact that it supported three column templates and category icons by default, and the forum community was the best I came across, and still is in my opinion.

The funny thing is that my reason for choosing Serendipity probably seems a really stupid reason now, especially since I don’t even use icons on my site, and from discussions with other Serendipity users, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who shares the same reason as me, which proves a point I’ve been making for the longest time. Blogging is a deeply personal experience, we all have different reasons for doing things and different needs that must be satisfied.

Once I started customising Serendipity, it just seemed natural to keep using it, and since I started learning Smarty (the coding language used in s9y templates) I was able to do even more with my templates and now I feel like it would be a waste of all that learning to change to another engine. I have produced a couple of WordPress templates (released elsewhere without credit), and a few Blogger templates, but Serendipity remains my first love

These days my reasons for sticking with Serendipity are much more detailed, and also give me a lot of personal satisfaction. Being invited to become a moderator on the forums was a huge acknowledgment of my small contribution to the project.What does Serendipity (or another blogging engine) have to offer (functionality, plugins, bribes) to make you switch your blogging engine?
This is an interesting question, and I don’t think it can be answered in a couple of lines. Let me take a step backwards and talk about some of the trends in the Internet world.

We all know that more and more people are starting to use Internet capable devices, and that the age range of these people is slowly spreading out to encompass everyone from young to old. The reality is that there are many people on this globe who will never use the Internet, but over the next generation this will change, and almost everyone will be forced to use this technology within the workplace. However, despite the mounting pressure within the workplace, I firmly believe that the real driver for Internet growth will come from consumer electronics and media enabled operating systems and their software. We only have to look at Apple’s iLife suite of programs, or MS Vista’s new features including movie maker to realise that its already happening. Walk into any electronics shop and you will see a range of devices that are already Internet capable (pda’s, mobile phones, computers), or that will soon have the capability to be connected via bluetooth to an Internet connected device (camera’s, video camera’s, printers, mp3 players).

Those who know me, also know that I am a firm believer in the inevitability of the singularity. We are still several years away from this event, but in the meantime, Serendipity as a blog engine is rapidly catching up with progress in the consumer electronics world and might even be considered cutting edge fairly soon. As technology progresses, a users blog will become even more a natural extension of their person rather than just a website. This may not make sense, how can a blog engine do that?

Well, probably the most significant development in the Serendipity suite of features is the new media manager. Uploading images to your blog is a simple exercise in any blog engine, but Serendipity goes a step further and provides an explorer like interface for managing media folders on your webserver. This allows users to create folders that mean something to them, and have complete flexibility to organise their images within this. In addition, all digital cameras save information about the photo taken, called EXIf tags, and Serendipity will read these and display them to the user. Users also have the ability to add notations to their images for even easier management.

I’m particularly excited by the continued progress being made with multilingual settings. This still has a long way to go, but Serendipity really is at the forefront within the industry in providing language support. All of which is done with the inclusion of language files. Other engines hard code the language constants into the script which forces users to adopt English or go through and translate all the script files.

Another very strong feature of Serendipity is the almost simplistic, yet exceptionally powerful theme configurator. As a template designer I am able to provide easy to change settings for my users so that they needn’t worry about editing their stylesheet or index file to change the primary colorset, or edit the navigation menu buttons. This feature isn’t very well understood yet, but as soon as version 1.1 of Serendipity is released most users will realise its there. I anticipate that this blog will probably experience an explosion in traffic as users download all of my version 1.1 compatible templates. Then we’ll start to see some exciting developments as users customise their own templates.

New plugins are being developed for Serendipity all the time. Some of the plugins I’m really happy to see include the template editor plugin, the sIFR plugin, and older but still being updated plugins such as static pages,and lightbox.

What project (plugin, service, code snippet) would you be interested in working on with the developers of different blogging engines?
I don’t have time to develop anything, argh!! Seriously, there are many things I would still improve or have developed for Serendipity. These are some of my favorites (Garvin don’t panic, you’ll get to them eventually)

I want to see the media manager extended so that I can add my comments (long or short) into my entry, perhaps as the actual entry. I would also like to add mp3 support directly into Serendipity, and have the media manager recognise and display the ID3 tags. Further down the path I would also like to be able to manage video clips or even whole movies. My belief is that hdd camcorders will start a revolution in consumer media, and as convergence continues, it isn’t unreasonable to think that mobile phones will soon have dvd quality video modes, Hotlinking to YouTube and other sound/video storage services is great right now, but in the future I really believe our users will want to host these on their own webhost account, for exclusive download/playing from their own blog. Hosting space and bandwidth is improving all the trime, and it won’t be long until Serendipity users realise that Serendipity is more than just a text-based blog. Podcasting is already here, vidcasting has begun, and I believe that vidcasting will be the dominant form of blogging within 5 years.

It would be great if someone would develop an api for Serendipity that could be added to my Google homepage so that I can add/edit my entries or moderate comments from the Google homepage. I know this sounds like a strange request, but more integration with other services would be a really solid investment of development time.

What else do I want to see developed within the Serendipity world? I really want my site visitors to have more interaction with this blog. For a start I would like to see a virtual me added to welcome visitors and proactively say hello, maybe ask them if I can help them. Think of the MS Office paperclip, and add something like that but with an avatar, maybe similar to the avatars used in WoW or Second Life.

Well that’s it for this chain message. I won’t be forwarding it to other people, but I’d be very interested in reading your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

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