So here’s a useful and interesting application of weblog-style publishing using Movable Type: downingstreetsays.org – yet again demonstrating how useful it is to have a relatively standard format for publishing date-organised sites. The site contains transcripts of the daily briefings that Downing Street give to journalists – in itself profoundly useful – but also opens them up for further debate around webloggia by giving them a fixed reliable and stable URL, having built-in comments and even building in trackbacks.
So far – apart from the beautiful and conceptually appropriate logo – the design is pretty sparse. But it’s also highly functional – in fact the only UI/IA/interface things I can see that I’m not totally convinced about are the URLs and the implementation of trackback – both of which look like MT defaults. The URL structure at the moment uses basic MT post-numbers (rather than title or date) as the basis for the file name, which works relatively well if nothing goes wrong, but don’t work terribly brilliantly if you’re forced to reimport entries at a later date. If that happens, you end up having to purge your MT installation’s database completely, as otherwise it’ll number all the reimported posts sequentially up from the last post added (ie. post one of 300 ends up being reimported as entry 301, with a URL to match). There are any number of articles on sorting out MT URL structures so I won’t go into any more detail at this pointl.
My issue with the implementation of Trackbacks is – I think – more rooted in aesthetics than usability. I’m probably alone in thinking that having a separate page for the Trackbacks is an error and that the URL to ping to shouldn’t be made visible (but instead reached only via autodiscovery). Personally I consider the overt description of Trackback jargony and confusing, a bit of usability no-no and basically unnecessary, but (from what I see on other people’s sites) I may be alone in believing that. Again, I don’t think I need to go too far into my reasons in this post. I’ve written a lot about this stuff before: A microcampaign to turn on autodiscovery).
Otherwise, I have to confess that I think this is a bit of a first-stage triumph for the mysociety crew and is exactly the kind of thing they should be doing – simple, clear sites using mostly off-the-shelf technology to do valuable and constructive things that add to the value and utility of the web (particularly with regard to public service matters) but which probably wouldn’t be natural projects for individuals in their bedrooms. Well done to all involved.