August 24, 2005 03:23 | WebTech

The right tool for the job

Ethan Zuckerman wrote up a lengthy post part of which was an extension of a conversation-slash-debate we sort of have been having since I started working on Global Voices.

The thing is, I agree with everything he says, more or less. However I need to clarify something.

(notice how wishy-washy I've been so far? "part of which", "conversation-slash-debate", "sort of", "more or less"...)

First of all, I do not recommend using Drupal for GVO. I know I mentioned it originally as a possibility, but not since. The CMS package I do want to recommend but haven't yet is one I had also mentioned but which seemed to sit even lower in Ethan's esteem so it's name has no been uttered since. I fully intend to make a case for it though.

Now, when GVO was first set up, to maintain Ethan's "building our own house" parallel, they basically rented a small apartment for a couple of friends; "see how it would work out" type of thing. When I was brought in, the mandate was to redecorate... oh and can you convert the kitchen into a high volume cafeteria? Cool!

I don't consider WordPress, the platform GVo is currently built on, "bad software". I consider it a fairly decent bit of code for a basic weblog. Easy to set up, easy to manage (mostly... that UI stinks though), easy to theme (if your needs and demands aren't too high) and, if you know a bit of PHP, easy to add a bit of presentation logic and such stuff.

However, by the time I was done hacking, it was very clear to me, on a conscious level as opposed to just the intuition I had had at the onset, that Global Voices is NOT a weblog; it is an aggregator. Amongst other things.

Here's a little meme that is currently in whisper stages in my circles, and I may be partly to blame for it's nascence: blogs are really aggregators...

So, it's really not a question of using bad software, it's a question of using the right tool for the job. Drupal, again to maintain the metaphor, is a farm. We're not doing that. What we are doing, and this may make Rebecca uneasy, or the opposite, is building an international news/voice collecting and disseminating organization. "A bunch of aggregators with very specific outlets and outputs."

In the end, I think Ethan's intuition is correct, but his wording is problematic. One must use the best and most appropriate tools available to us. Using bad anything is never a good idea. Starting simple and growing is. We're growing, and that apartment is way too small. Time to build a condo complex... or commune... or you know something like that... ;)

As it is public, and Ethan's already playing with a major component of the idea, I can say that moving forward, I hope to use reBlog in a multi-tiered editorial system, giving each regional editor a reBlog of their own to use as their interface to the live site. The details are yet to be draughted out.

I figure I should mention this too: in the last 6 months, I have not worked on a single "weblog": it's all been various types of aggregators. Every single weblog client has asked for features that were aggregation/metablogging/content-republishing in nature, some explicitly, some unconsciously. I have been in regular contact with Michal, 1/2 of the reBlog dev team of which I am hoping to make myself 1/3 of. I am also now involved, in various ways, in a flat-out online aggregator, an investment fund focused on aggregation and a desktop aggregator. You know what the coolest thing I've learnt is? I'M an aggregator. And so are you!


Actually, Boris, I'm an aggravator, not an aggregator.

I agree with you - the title of my post is deceptive. (I often wish I could take the journalist way out and say "I just wrote the piece - someone else writes the headlines", but it would be a lie.) "Learning from Bad Software" would be better, "Learning from Imperfect Software" would be better yet.

Totally with you on the idea that we should use the best tools for the job. Mostly trying to observe that we don't always know what those tools are until we use ones that aren't quite right. And I agree that we agree more than we disagree... :-)

(I don't hate Moveable Type, BTW - just am trying to use open tools as much as possible on the project...)