Thoughts on Posts and Articles

By Deane Barker

What’s the difference between a blog post and an “article” or a “story”? By those terms, I mean content that isn’t as ephemeral as posts that hit the site every 15 minutes.

Blogs are, by definition, transient – they’re time-based, and items get essentially dropped into a stampede that tramples down the front page. What if you want something to rise above the stampede?

For the last five years or so, I’ve been an editor of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is a popular James Bond site. We recently converted the site to a blogging platform, and we ran into the core issue that not all posts are created equal. Some are little news briefs, and some are full-scale articles running into the thousands of words. Obviously, we didn’t want the feature articles to get lost in the crowd.

There are a few ways to handle this.

  1. You can take articles out of the blog framework altogether, and simply write them as static files. If you have a good file include structure for your common elements, this might not be a bad idea.

  2. You can do them as regular posts in a different category, then just list the items in that category somewhere and suppress that category from the main page of postings.

  3. You can create a separate blog to handle just features (stories? articles? – is there a standard terminology here?), which gives you the benefit of them having a different URL structure.

(Note that all these strategies are Movable Type-centric. Other platforms likely have other options. If you have experience with any, please drop a comment about them.)

That last option is interesting, because it’s important to me and I don’t know why. I’ve always been a stickler for clean URLs, and for URLs that impart some meaning. Given this, I want my features (stories? articles?) to have their own URL structure that separates them from the rest. The standard URL structure on this site includes the date (yyyy/mm/dd/PostTitle.html), and that’s antithetical to the fact that the content is not time-sensitive.

(Do URLs live in neighborhoods? Is the URL that imparts a date not as prestigious as the URL that merely imparts the type of content, like /articles/ArticleTitle.html?)

So, just when does content rise above the…flimsiness of a regular old blog entry? Don Park has had a discussion going about when a blog entry should become a wiki page:

Imagine posts and comments flowing from blogs to wikis like the way streams feed into lakes. Got the picture yet? Now think of a blog category as a wiki page. The picture changes so that the blog becomes a mountain and categories become the streams running down the side of the mountain in all directions toward wikis into which streams from other mountains also feed into.

Radio Userland explicitly separates “posts” and “stories.” Here’s the explanation from their documentation:

If you think of Stories – conceptually – as permanent or semi-permanent weblog Posts, you will be on the right track. Most folks compose weblog posts on-the-fly as they are inclined to share something of immediate interest. Stories tend to be written at leisure to capture extended thoughts on a given subject.

Practically, however, the only difference I can see is that stories have a title, whereas posts do not. That, and the fact that stories do not appear in the time-ordered part of the site – they’ve risen above that.

A Whole Lotta Nothing had a great article (post? story?) on the subject of using Movable Type for all your site’s pages:

It’s pretty common for people new to weblogging to embrace the simplicity of publishing, and crave it in the rest of their tools. Once you start blogging and the pain of FTP and hand HTML coding is gone, many people start wishing their blogging tools could handle other pages on their site, but virtually none of them do out of the box.

I don’t quite know where to go with this. In the next week or so, I’m going to create some static pages for Gadgetopia (“About Gadgetopia,” etc.) and I’ve created a new blog just for that purpose.

But what about posts like this and this? Posts that are big, more in-depth than normal, and that transcend time considerations? These aren’t meta-content like an “About” page, but they’re not regular posts either.

  1. The practical question: How do you display these entries somewhere other than in mosh pit of other entries? How do you make sure they’re set apart and decay more slowly than everything else?

    This question obviously only applies to HTML users. People reading your content through RSS have no concept of page placement or emphasis via visual cues. Since almost 50% of this site’s visitors are via RSS, this isn’t a trivial factor.

  2. The academic question: Other than what I asked above, does this type of content deserve anything more than that? Does it need its own URL structure to further separate it from the chaff?

    This article (post? story?) is a good example – I have other things to blog about, but I won’t for a few hours because I want this entry to stay at the top of the front page for a while. I’ve spent a lot of time writing it, and I don’t want it to slip below the fold right away. Vanity, to be sure, but still an issue.

    Similarly, when I introduced The Joshua Project on this site, I actually emailed all the Gadgetopia authors and told them not to publish anything for half a day so the post could get some exposure before it got knocked off its perch at the top of the front page.

I’d love to hear any comments or thoughts on this.

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