Search Blogs

While thinking about search functionality aspect of WordPress Atlas, I was reminded of Search Hat and MSN SearchPoint ideas which I blogged about in 2004. MSN team seemed receptive but Google implemented it first then dropped it for various reasons.

In context of the Atlas, the idea is best described as as Search Blog. But, ironically, this term is difficult to search for obvious reasons. John Battelle even uses it in his blog’s name. Maybe someone will come up with a better name.

Search Blog is a blog about other blogs/websites. It’s primary function is to provide a search context. Simple, seemingly familiar yet distinct in usage. Don’t remember if Yahoo directories allowed each directory to be used as search context. It’s an obvious idea in hindsight. Jury is out on whether it’ll be popular however.

Atlas needs to be a Search Blog as well.

WordPress Atlas

Disclaimer: This is a personal side-project, not an official Automattic project, and in no way reflects official plans.

In Beyond Future of WordPress Platform, I wrote:

WordPress Atlas – uses data-science to pull blogs and websites into neighborhoods, towns, and cities based on topics, interests, and relations. Intention is to use real world metaphors to make discovery and sense of community more natural and explicit than, say, blogroll or news aggregators.

I now think the Atlas without data-science. How?
Using what we already have: blogs, bloggers, blogging tools, and WP community.

So WordPress Atlas is just a loosely-coupled network of blogs using a new class of themes, themes that displays blog contents in a way that looks map-like. Atlas blog contents are information about other blogs. Yes, Atlas blogs are like Linklogs but more visual-centric.

What does it look like? Rather what does this reminds you of?

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Pinterest! It’s a place where people collect bookmarks presented as cards, through which people can chat with others, etc. Those cards are place-like when laid out.

But Pinterest layout is not static so they change which is not at all map like. Value of maps is in stable visual memory. Buildings and streets may come and go over time but not overnight or by mere window resize.

So Pinterest-like but layed-out in a virtual page over which visitors will zoom and pan over like Google Map.

Who will build Atlas blogs and will they come? I’ll answer this with another question: who builds and maintains those Awsome-xxxx lists on Github and do people use them?

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Visual layout is an essential differentiator. Other-wise textual awesome-list is better. It’s a difference that gets emphasized each time user navigates from a blog to a map it links to: destination map will knows where, in its layout, the referring blog is and display the neighborhood around that blog, maybe with some fancy transition animation.

Atlas pages contain cards laid out in visually memorable, relatively compact patterns. These cards could not only be about individual blogs but blog pages, people (like designers and developers relevant to the neighborhood) and plugins.

Notion of neighborhood helps with discovery and creates a sense of community.

Destinations, what cards are about, can be in multiple maps, and maps of same neighborhoods can exist at different depth and filtering (like tourist maps) as well as languages.

Atlas layout style is dictated by theme designer with vary capabilities. Some would allow streets to be named, like Fashion street, on which cards for major vendors could be placed and backstreets for boutique shops. Maybe specialty shops will form their own specialized clusters, like Latex Cave. When a neighborhood gets too crowded, they can be broken out to their own map linked from original neighborhood. Expansion is no problem. Real Estate value may or may not be controlled. Depends on map creator’s revenue model.

Experiments to do: Build a prototype Atlas theme then use it to create an aggregation blog using the theme. Use existing standards like Image Map. Search should include all the blogs on a page as user would expect. This adds value beyond mere link directory role. Get feedback.

 

 

Pragmatic Redux: Connecting to React

There is a lot to like or dislike about Redux but let’s say the decision to use it has been made and now you need to understand Redux for professional reasons. This post is a good place to start because you first question is most likely how does my component get its data and react to changes in the data?

Redux connects to React by wrapping it – hype-word is higher-order component but, in the end, what you get after calling react-redux function connect is a React component placed inside another to enhance or encapsulate.

Redux data is provided as properties by the wrapper component. So called mapStateToProps, first function you pass to connect, decides which part of Redux store should be passed as properties to the wrapped component.

Changes to are detected by the wrapper component which listens to Redux store. When changes occurs, wrapper component re-renders the wrapped component. Concerns over irrelevant changes and redundant renders should be ignored in the beginning as React itself can soak up a lot of inefficiencies and Redux provides plumbings you can use to reduce unnecessary updates. There are limits, however, and it’s not that hard to run into them as your application grows.

At this point, two obvious and related questions arise which are:

  • How does the wrapper component discover Redux store?
  • How does the wrapped component dispatch actions?

Redux store is provided via context – use react-redux‘s Provider component to set that up. Wrapped component, however, don’t usually need direct access to Redux store as data is passed as properties and actions are dispatched via functions which are also passed as properties.

Use mapDispatchToProps, second function you pass to connect, to add functions that create and dispatch actions without having to declare contextTypes. It’s a minor yet useful feature.

Keeping Redux out of React is harder than it looks. To dispatch actions, component has to know about dispatching methods it received as props. If actions change, dispatching methods and reducers need to change. Changes to component, Redux state, actions or reducers will often require changes to others. It’s possible but the cost of creating reusable Redux connected React component is much higher than advertised in my opinion.

Beyond Future of WordPress Platform

This is how I envision WordPress platform evolving beyond what I outlined in Future of WordPress Platform. The vision is essentially a projection of what I had in mind with Teleport Network venture but did not get a chance to realize (old chicken and egg problem). As to why I’m doing this, it’s because WordPress has the scale and unrealized ideas are like orphans.

the vision starts with:

WordPress Studio – is the client-side application I outlined in the previous post on the subject. It’s not unlike VSCode in that much of its functionalities are derived from plugins. Plugins should be stackable so the platform itself can be extended to support key features like theming and financial transactions. Theme support, for example, needs HTML and PHP generators which in turn may need digital signature support to secure assets pushed to server. End goals are to a) reduce dependence on server-side changes to add features (a la serverless mindset), and b) create a vehicle to drive richer user experiences.

followed by:

WordPress Market – is a collection of studio plugins working in conjunction with backend services and UX-level plugins to provide rich mix of communication tools and integrated financial services. Intention is to bridge the difference between a collection of webpages and a retail store in RL. It must offer much more than in-page chatbox, even beyond what Slack offers today.

then ends with:

WordPress Atlas – uses data-science to pull blogs and websites into neighborhoods, towns, and cities based on topics, interests, and relations. Intention is to use real world metaphors to make discovery and sense of community more natural and explicit than, say, blogroll or news aggregators.

To me, Facebook is a mega-city of people just talking and exchanging photos, funnies, and insults all day everyday. I don’t care if Facebook is federated but I do care how drab everything is because you have to use what they offer and no more. I think WordPress can offer a way out of current conundrum without restarting from scratch.

More Posts Restored

This morning, I restored 400+ more blog posts from late 2005 to early 2008 by scraping from Internet Archive. Some 80+ posts and most of the images referenced by the restored blog posts weren’t archived however so they’re lost.

Only remaining restoration tasks are fixing cross-post hyperlinks and remove missing image tags.

Future of WordPress Platform

While restoring my old blog post, I started thinking about WordPress as a platform. WYSIWYG web site creation services like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and others are gaining attention and growing fast but they are more services than platforms. WordPress on the other hand has an immense collection of plugins and healthy community of developers and designers behind it.

Main problem I see with WordPress as a platform is that its plugins run on the server-side, creating a compelling long-term incentive to host your own WordPress server to take advantage of features offered by those plugins instead of using WordPress.com. Allowing user-chosen plugins to be installed on WordPress.com creates a gaping security risk and management headaches.

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I think the answer lay with WordPress.com desktop app which currently doesn’t do much beyond what browser version offers and seemingly neglected. Key idea is to add client-side plugins support to the app, plugins that leverage WP REST-API to add features to WordPress-based websites.

There could be several types of client-side WordPress plugins:

  • Interfaces – WYSIWYG editors, media libraries, assistants, etc
  • Generators – generates and updates static assets to be added to the website or injected into webpages.
  • Augmenters – marks, corrects, suggests, and injects.
  • Monitors – tracks changes and stats.
  • Mediators – monitors, controls, and routes posts, comments, transactions, etc.
  • Services – client-side workers
  • Bridges – integrates with third-party services and platforms

And adding Docker support will allow servers to run in client-side sandboxes for use by the desktop.

Result would be a host-neutral platform, one that can address needs of both WordPress.com sites as well as self-hosted sites although it will significantly reduce the need to host your own.