Geeklog and the Joys (Sigh) of Software Upgrading

This morning I got an email from a regular Standards Blog reader with some unwelcome news - he informed me that the RSS, Atom and other feeds at my blog were dead, and that he hadn't gotten a new posting notice in a month.  Sigh.  Not the type of email you like to get, so I'm hoping that this posting reaches everyone that it's supposed to.

The reason for the problem is that the developer that supports has been upgrading the version of Geeklog upon which this site is based.  Unfortunately, it hasn't been going well at all, in part because the developer isn't familiar with Geeklog, and in part, frankly, because they aren't checking the things that they should as they make changes (like syndication feeds).  Complicating things is the fact that this is a "second generation" blog, which began as home-grown software.  Later, it was migrated to Geeklog when I wanted to make it more sophisticated than the original setup could support (e.g., by adding the News Picks to the right). Along the way, a few weirdnesses were built in, all of which (naturally) are undocumented.  So it's been a challenge to the guy who has tried to figure it all out.

I chose Geeklog in part because it's a really powerful tool, but also because it's the product of a FOSS project application.  Given that I write a lot about FOSS, I thought I ought to b e using FOSS to support this blog (that "walk the talk" thing).  That's had some downsides, though, because Geeklog is a developer's tool, and not a mass-market application.  Consequently, so far as I'm aware, the type of "Geeklog for Idiots" user manual that would be very useful to someone like me just doesn't exist.  On the other hand, the Geeklog community has been great about answering the questions my developer has posted at the Geeklog site. 

As a result, if anyone out there is a Geeklog ace and would be willing to answer my questions from time to time, that would be great, and would save me a lot of grief, as it would help me become a more efficient and productive Geeklog user, without having to run up my developer tab.  It would also save me a lot of heartache.

Example: Since we began the upgrade, I lost an entire post twice, before I found out that a non-configurable security feature added in the latest upgrade apparently closes out a posting session after 20 minutes unless you save what you’ve written before that.  Sigh.  Given that Geeklog doesn’t do a good job of preserving formatting when you cut and paste from somewhere else, I do all my composing in the Geeklog application, and 20 minutes can go by really quickly when you’re writing. 

And unless there’s a plugin I don’t know about, Geeklog doesn’t have a spell checker, and the Mozilla spellecheck function doosn’t seem to work well in Geeklog either (it didn’t underline "doosn’t" there, for example).  So that means that I also have to cut and paste a blog entry into another application and spell check it there, and then switch back and forth to correct the Geeklog version.  Or, as may be more likely, perhaps I just don’t know that there’s a much simple way of doing things. 

And what about that annoying extra space that always appears between the first few paragraphs up above, between the intro text and the body text?  Is there some way of killing that without having to go into the source code everytime?

Overall, I expect that there are a lot of tricks that I’m just in the dark about, so if there’s someone out there who wouldn’t mind fielding the occasional direct question by email, I’d very much appreciate the help.

Why else has the upgrade been difficult?  For those that may be curious, is quite a complex site, and is supported by a large and complex database as well, as you will appreciate if you check out the by the Numbers link.  The numbers that are displaying there at the moment read as follows:

4851:    Number of archived news items at the Standards News Portal
1796:   Number of articles in the Standards MetaLibrary
436:   Number of blog entries at The Standards Blog
497:   Number of standard setting organizations and open source projects in the Standard Setting Organization and Standards List
56:   Number of issues of the Consortium Standards Bulletin
2154:   Number of books in Biff’s Technology Bookstore

Much of the information in these databases is drawn upon by multiple parts of the site.  For example, the two most recent blog entries also display on the home page, while just the most recent entry shows up on the News Portal page.  Similarly, the eight most recent news entries display on the right of the blog page, although the ten most recent pop up at the News Portal page and the home page.  Meanwhile, all of the blog entries, news entries, Consortium List listings, MetaLibrary listings and so on are categorized, so that readers can easily home in on the information that interests them the most.

Why so much duplication?  The reason is that is really a number of sites under a single umbrella, each fine tuned for a particular type of audience.  The News Portal tends to appeal to a more traditional standards professional audience, while the blog has a wider appeal, in part to act as a bridge between different "openness" communities (e.g., open standards folks and FOSS community people) that may not know as much about the goals and concerns of the others.  Meanwhile, the MetaLibrary is intended primarily for an academic audience, and so on. 

Hopefully, the presentation that I’ve worked out makes it easier for each of these separate communities to not only have the best experience when they’re at their own landing page, but also over time to be exposed to other areas that they find they may be interested in as well.  For that reason, I try to do as much cross marketing across these separate landing pages as possible – another reason for the duplication.

Hopefully, it all works reasonably well – but you would know that better than I would.  So if you have any thoughts, criticisms, suggestions, or other feedback at any time, please, by all means, let me know.  I’ll always give it careful attention.

Sign up for a free subscription to Standards Today today!