P*wered By

The poet who sits next to me at work taps out strategy documents with a brisk two-fingered peck. She never learned to type, she says, because she feared ending up a secretary. When I started out, just a few years after her, I’d taught myself to touch-type but was determined not to admit to the slightest knowledge of mark-up language or web development. At the time, London was so desperate for those skills that I thought it would mean spending ten years adding tables to online annual reports. Then when the rest of the world figured out that a marquee tag wasn’t, in fact, rocket science, my wages would drop from fifty to five quid an hour, and I’d have learned nothing interesting or saleable. I thought it was better to pretend to be the person who could tell those guys what to do.

That was a mistake. I may spend more time typing than tweaking web layouts, but I still wish I could do a better job.

When my blog comments broke last week, I took it as a sign that I should support technology startups–the clan I come from–and upgrade to the paid version of Movable Type, the software that runs this site. It took an evening of tense FTP(File Transfer Protocol) negotiations with my database before I managed it. Since I first installed it two years ago, Movable Type’s parents, Six Apart, have taken out most of the non-expert instructions and introduced dead-end navigation on their support site. Presumably, we poets are now supposed to use their subscription service, TypePad.

(At lunchtime, sneaking out to a tag sale at Red Dot on Fourth Street, I was star-struck to notice that the Six Apart office is kitty-corner from mine. Their front door is appropriately unglitzy.)

Now a recent burst of posts is forcing me to look at this site again, and it’s painful. I’ve never liked this typography. The serif font of the body copy works badly on screen, and the kerning always seems a little off. Photos are not so much placed as abandoned. The site doesn’t validate against web standards, because I galumphed all over the templates when I was learning two years ago, leaving open tags and half-digested hacks strewn about. It’s not fully accessible to disabled readers, and it probably degrades like a sloppy drunk on phone browsers.

The navigation is clumsy. As the months go by, the sidebar gets more and more cluttered with archives and content categories, but Movable Type doesn’t make it easy to summarize old posts on flexible sub-pages. (I’ve already stripped off the blogroll, which was hopeless outdated.) I’d like to use this site as an outboard brain, but haven’t found a good way to keep track of all the lists and clippings from my magpie mind–book blurbs, heroes, playlists, web subscriptions, recipes, fleeting obsessions (sweet Kalamata olive jam!), and Things I Love/Hate About San Francisco.

I’d like to turn comments back on for old entries, now that I have a better way to manage them. So many people wash up here from Google searches that I’d like to give more context on old posts, at least to the visitors who aren’t looking for “schoolgurl loleeta knickers.” Trackbacks need de-spamming. I should offer more and better syndication choices, and an accessibility statement to be proud of. I want to find a spot for the podcasts I promised Bernie. I want to make a site that’s elegant and clean enough to merit a colophon.

My curse is that I know enough to know what’s failing, and not enough to fix it without a week to read up, noodle, steal and swear. I sketched a layout and a list of design requirements in my notebook (those who can’t, brief) and then wandered around to see who does this well. Shirley Kaiser, over at Brainstorms and Raves, say, or my Brooklyn friend Michael Barrish. (Michael, I miss you.) La Dooce. Dean Allen, still. Or Leslie Harpold, who says of design, function, and web standards that “pretty is as pretty does.”

Spare change for a frustrated, incompetent aesthete? Advice, sympathy, sample stylesheets, and donated archive templates gratefully accepted.

5 thoughts on “P*wered By”

  1. Ach. I know what you’re talking about–my site makes me cringe every time I have to look at it, but I just can’t imagine when I’ll have a long weekend to devote to my superinefficient edit-save-reload, edit-save-reload, edit-save-reload method of coding. I’m even sick of all the green, but my stylesheet is such a pigsty that I’m sure changing even just the colors would be an all-day affair.

    The prefab Blogger templates are looking very appealing to me these days.

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  2. “have taken out most of the non-expert instructions and introduced dead-end navigation on their support site”

    sure, we’d love to have you on typepad, but we’re glad to have you on MT, too. Sorry if the support links aren’t clear enough, but we’ve been improving our documentation a lot lately… we’ve certainly not reduced the amount of instructions for installing or troubleshooting MT. Shoot me an email if there’s anything we can make clearer on the site.

    And if you’d like to swing by the offices next time you’re in the neighborhood, shoot us a line. We’re always glad to welcome someone from the MT community in. šŸ™‚

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  3. I’ll bet Anil has a whole kitbag full of templates that he would share. There are pointers to several template sites on the blogs forum of the boards.ie site too. [1] I wish Robin [2] still had her template treasures in plain view too. She shared so many leading edge MT templates in 2002-2003.

    [1] http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?f=536

    [2] http://www.tampatantrum.com now redirects to http://www.shutterblog.com/ but Robin answers her mail.

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  4. šŸ™‚ That’s the beauty of small companies. I’ll try to get a note together for Anil and co on what I’d like to see in a Readme textfile (there wasn’t one in the upgrade directory, at least the Mac version).

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