Prelude to a Blogging Reset

by Jon Davis 19. October 2019 22:55

I started blogging in around 2002/2003 when Blogger and Radio UserLand were inspirations for me to create a desktop blogging app I called PowerBlog. 

Archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20031010203956/http://powerblog.net/
PowerBlog (beta release)

My motivations were three:

  1. To grow my skill set as a software developer.
  2. To see if I could maybe make a living building and selling home-grown software. (PowerBlog was available for sale, but didn't sell.)
  3. To write, and write, and write. My brain was churning, and I wanted to divulge my thoughts out loud. 

PowerBlog was written in VB6. It consisted of an instance of the Internet Explorer WebBrowser COM object to drive a true WYSIWYG experience, design philosophies similar to those of Outlook Express (an e-mail and newsgroup client), and a publish mechanism component model including support for user-defined publishing scripts using the Active Scripting (VBScript/JScript) runtime component. When .NET v1.1 came out, I rewrote PowerBlog, reusing the same components from Microsoft but adding more features like XML-RPC--by which I built my own client/server libraries with self-documenting HTML output similar to ASP.NET's .asmx behavior--and style synchronization so that the user could edit in the same CSS style as the page itself. I tried to sell PowerBlog for $10 to $20 per download. It didn't sell. That's kind of okay, the value of my efforts was found in my skills ramp-up and in my having a tool for my own writing.

PowerBlog got Microsoft's attention. Three things happened, all of a sudden, with Microsoft: 1) the Windows Live initiative kicked off blogging from their web site (which they've since shuttered), 2) Microsoft interviewed me, and 3) Windows Live Writer was written, stealing most of the good ideas I had in PowerBlog (admittedly tidbits of the ideas of PowerBlog were stolen from another app called W.bloggar). I got nothin for it but some bragging rights for the ideas. 

I was broke. My motivators to go out on my own (taxes-related need to go offline to do some research) subsided. So I stopped development and went back out into the workforce. When .NET 2.0 came out along with a new version of Internet Explorer, it broke PowerBlog permanently. Microsoft published WebBrowser components that directly collided with the WebBrowser components I had created for PowerBlog. So PowerBlog isn't available today--it will just crash for you if you try--and I couldn't even build my own source code anymore, without finding an old Windows XP box with an old version of Visual Studio and .NET Framework 1.1\. It just wasn't worth the hassle, so I never bothered. Maintenance was immediately halted. PowerBlog.net went offline. I didn't much care. I did need to keep blogging and writing, so eventually I found BlogEngine.net and transferred my technical blog content to it. I updated the blog engine code once or twice as it evolved, but eventually I just let it sit dormant.

So that's where my tech blog instance stands today. http://www.jondavis.net/techblog/ runs on a decade old version of BlogEngine.net which I've tailored a bit to include banned IPs and some home-grown CAPTCHA functionality for the comments. I've since looked at a few other blogging engines over the years I've considered adopting, most notably I remember looking at NBlog, which gave me the most control but required me to implement it in code and didn't sufficiently demonstrate black box modularity, and Ghost, which would grow me in NodeJS but ticked me off in its stance on only using Markdown and never WYSIWYG HTML editing. 

Meanwhile, the whole time, developers and non-developers alike have pooh-poohed the interestingness of blogs, blogging software, blogging strategies, blogging services, etc. I can certainly see why. At its most basic level, blogs are little more than single-table CRUD apps. You have an index of recent blogs, you have a detail view of an individual blog post, you have an editor and creator page, and you can delete a blog post. The content of a blog post is, to the casual observer, nothing but four components: title, body, author, and publish date. If that's what you think a blog is, you're naive, and likely didn't bother reading this far.

At the very least, on the technical side, blogging brought about a few innovations that revolutionized the Internet, including: 

  • XML-RPC (SOAP's midget predecessor)
  • RSS
  • Publish pings
  • Atom
  • OPML
Not to mention less specific innovations, like end user accessible management of slugs (URL paths) for enhancing SEO. And the whole notion of blogging became the basis of the World Wide Web's notion of community interconnectivity. The broad set of Web sites was social networking, before social networks took over social networking. Blog sites were known, and linked to each other. Followers of blogs created view counts that filled the hole that Facebook post likes fill today. 
 
This is perhaps why dev.to is such a success story; it's like a Facebook group, for coders, where every single post is a blog article.
 
Anyway, so now I sit here typing into the ten year old deployment of BlogEngine.net on my resurrected tech blog, wondering what my next steps should be. Well, I'm pretty sure I want to create my own blog engine again, and build on it. Yes, it's a two decades stale idea, but here are my motives:
 
  • My blog philosophies still differ somewhat from the offerings currently available (although not far at all from BlogEngine.net)
  • I want to keep growing my technical skill set (not just write about them). There are revised web and software standards I need to freshen up on, and apply my learnings. Creating a blog site has always been a good mechanism to sample and apply the most basic web tech skills.
  • I need anything I deploy to a technical blog to portray my own personal portfolio, including the site on which my writings are displayed
  • I still like the idea of taking something I myself created and putting it out on github as a complete package and perhaps managing a hosted instance of it, similar to WordPress.
All this said, I don't think I'll be doing a full-blown BlogEngine.net equivalence. It will be a simple thing, and from that I'll take some ideas to glean from and apply them to other software efforts I'll be working on. 
 
But a few things I will point out about the technical strategies and approaches I intend to implement:
  1. Rich front-end libs (React, Vue, Blazor, etc)?? While I might take, say, Ghost's approach in having some rich interactivity for the author's experience, the end user (reader) experience cannot be forced to utilize them. A blog page must be rich in HTML semantics and index well SEO-wise for the web at large, so the HTTP response payload cannot be Javascript stub placeholders for dynamic content.
  2. Componentization is more important than anything else. I do intend to iterate over a lot of the features this old instance of BlogEngine.net has as well as current blog engines, and figure out ways to spoonfeed those features without embedding them deeploy in interdependencies. Worst thing I could do is embed all the bells and whistles directly into ASP.NET Razor Pages themselves. I intend to apply decorator pattern principles, perhaps applying sidecar architecture for some components where appropriate. Right now I'm looking at using Identity Server 4, for example, as a sidecar architecture for author identity and privileges. Speaking of which,
  3. Everything must be readily run-anywhere, black-box-capable deployable as ad hoc code launched with self-hosting, Azure web app service (PaaS), Docker-contained, or VM (IaaS). I also intend to set up a hosted instance and offer limited blog hosting for free, extended features for a fee. In this sense, WordPress is a competing platform.
  4. "Extended features, like ..?"  Premium templates. Large storage hosting. And premium add-on features yet to be defined.
  5. The templates can be based on Razor, but "pages" cannot be tightly defined. If this platform grows up, it needs to be a more than a blog, it needs to be a mini-CMS (content management system).
  6. Social networking ecosystem is a mandatory consideration; full blogging must integrate with microblogging and multi-contributor cross-pollination including across disparate sites and systems; more on this later, but imagine trusted Twitter users liking Facebook posts.
Again, yes, I am unpacking a two decades old solution proposal to a Web 1.0 / 2.0 problem, but that problem never really went away, it just became less prominent. I really don't anticipate this blowing up to being much of anything. At a minimum, I need to convert all of my content here on this technical blog (at http://www.jondavis.net/techblog/) to a home-grown platform of my own making, even if after doing that I call it done and walk away.
 
Another motivator for getting that done is the fact that just writing this, I'm writing with very tiny text on a very high resolution screen, and you're probably squinting reading this, too, if you're reading it from my web site, and if you actually made it this far. Again, yes, I could simply just replace the template and maybe refresh the version of BlogEngine.net which I'm using. But, why do that, when I call myself a 23-years-plus experienced web development veteran and could just build my own? Am I really so useless in my aging as to be unable to build something of my own again? Not like a blog engine will get me a better job, duh, so much as the fact that using someone else's engine just plain looks bad on me. So, this is a lightweight test of mettle. I need to do this because I need to.
 
On a final note, I'll mention again what I'm focusing on first: "who am I"--authentication and authorization. I'm learning up on Identity Server 4. I'm still new to it, so this will take some time. Right now it looks like the black box version of my blog engine will come with an instance of Identity Server 4, based perhaps on ASP.NET Core Identity as the user store; developers can tweak it out to their heart's content. I'm still mulling over whether to just embed it into the blog app (underkill? too much in one?) or separate it out as a separate SSO-oriented web app (overkill? too many distributed parts for a mere blog?), but at this point I'll likely do the former for the black box download (source code included) and the latter for the hosted instance which I hope to set up and offer to people wordpress.com-style.

 

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
 
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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