I spent some time this summer talking with Bob Wyman of PubSub.com about “structured blogging”. While we’ve come at from different angles, we both see potential for some exciting innovations in the way posts might be structured in the future. Bob has a website and blog up on the subject at www.structuredblogging.org, although it looks like it’s been pretty quiet there lately (Bob’s got a lot of other things going on right now, I know).
The promise of structured blogging is two-fold; on the publishing side of things, structuring different kinds of posts (e.g. a movie review, a recipe, or a job listing) provides a means to intelligently apply meaningful style templates to different object types. The real power of structured blogging, though, is realized on the back end, in the aggregation and navigation of structured posts. If all the movie reviews out there were published according to a simple XML schema, it would be trivial for aggregators to index meaningful elements of these posts (say, the overall rating for the movie, or its name). Currently, brute force search can be used to find movie reviews in the blogosphere, but these are subject to the known problems of searching unstructured data – you get a lot of noise mixed in with the desired signal.
I’ve had the opportunity to preview a couple different tools under development in this area in the last few weeks, and I’m impressed. The beauty of this kind of technology is that is so transparent to the user, and so powerful on the back end. For the user of a structured blogging tool, the posting process is simple and intuitive. For a movie review, instead of starting with just a text edit box, a “Movie Review” form is selected, that combines fields for the structured elements – Name, rating, date, reviewer, etc. – with fields that contain the free-form commentary for the review.
In a subsequent post, I’ll see if I can get permission to show a couple screenshots of the tool that will illustrate the “friendliness” of this technology. For now, it’s got me thinking a lot about what the infrastructure on the back end of this technology would like in order to leverage the capabilities of these new tools. Stay tuned.