March 5, 2006
This article reprinted from the the TypePad Hacks Weblog. The original article can be found online:
© 2008, John T Unger
Welcome to TypePadHacks.org! Note: My sole connection with TypePad or Six Apart is that I use their tools every day as an important part of my business as an artist and designer. I don't work for Six Apart or receive compensation from them; this is an unofficial, unaffiliated blog. You should probably know that.
I have some simple goals and some not-so-simple goals for this blog.
- User Design: Collect useful hacks for extending the capabilities of TypePad blogs.
- User Forum: Provide a forum for issues, news and user concerns about Six Apart products and service.
- User Power: Organize users into a unified voice to lobby Six Apart for the features, fixes and changes to TypePad most important to us. Call it consumer advocacy.
Allow me to explain. This may take a moment.
I want to start with advocacy because I think it's the most important part of what I hope to accomplish here. At least, it's the one that means the most to me. Here's the scoop: I freakin' love TypePad. But I also get deeply frustrated when I run up against limitations to the service, or flaws, or bugs that make it hard to accomplish what I want to as a blogger.
I host five blogs (counting this one) with TypePad and they provide a substantial portion of my income and reputation as an artist and designer. Naturally, I consider the tools that allow me to make this happen an important part of my world. TypePad's tech support people have been excellent when I want to implement a feature that can be hacked into advance template code… But when I've made suggestions for improving the overall performance or utility of the platform for everyone, the response was that I should look for an open-source platform, like, maybe, Movable Type.
Okay, that's fair enough. And it makes sense up to a point. If I wanted to code everything from the ground up, that would be great. But I don't. I want something in between. I want a wysiwyg editor. I want the ability to get into the code and make changes when I need to, and I want to be able to do most things without altering code. I want a hosted solution with a simple but powerful interface. Like TypePad. Well, almost exactly like TypePad.
I've tried a host of other hosted platforms: blogger, livejournal, 20six, Radio Userland, Manila, Myspace, Squidoo… TypePad is the closest thing to what I want, so I pretty much plan to stay here. But I also want to feel like my suggestions for improving the platform are taken seriously. And I want to be able to do more, faster, with greater control and ease.
See, I believe in user-powered design—that the best design solutions come from the bottom up. Bloggers, by nature, are pretty passionate people. They're deeply involved in the work they do. They push boundaries, try stuff out, hack around, etc. Like any serious craftsperson, they appreciate good tools and they think about their tools. When the tools don't meet their expectations, some of them complain about it and some do something about it. I'm looking for bloggers who want to do something about it.
There are a few ways this could work: I could ask you all to click a button on a poll, or rate each idea; I could ask you to leave comments here or send emails directly to TypePad; I could ask you to lobby TypePad to hire me as a project manager, or designer or something. But I think those ideas are all doomed to fail. Clicking a button on a poll just doesn't get stuff done. Spamming TypePad would only annoy them and slow down the work that they are doing to make the platform better. And me? I don't want a job, thanks… I'm perfectly happy with my career as an independent artist and designer.
So what do I think would work?
I'm glad you asked.
When one person shouts he's a nutjob
When a bunch of people shout, it's a mob
When a bunch of people discuss what they want, form a plan and raise the capital to get it done, the names they are called are more complimentary—activists, watchdogs, bloggers, smartmobs, and especially: Really freakin' valuable clients!
So that's how I'd like to play this. I'm gonna lay out a plan. I'm gonna invite you all to discuss it and add your ideas and suggestions. And then I'm going to find a way to raise money to pay Six Apart to do the work we'd like to see done. If 10,000 FireFox users can buy an ad in the New York Times, and a blog can convince Sprint to implement bluetooth in only six months, then I'm pretty sure we could raise money to make TypePad even better than it is.
One of the most evil things anyone ever said to me was "That's really good! You can do better." It's evil because it's always true. There is always room to improve. This blog is intended as an open letter, to TypePad and the world, that will detail some of the ways I feel the platform could improve. My hope is that if enough users agree with me and let TypePad know how they feel, perhaps some of these ideas will see fruit and benefit all of us. Because acting alone, we're just affable nutjobs.
That first bit was long-winded, I know. The other goals can be summed up much more quickly:
This goal is pretty simple, creating an Alt Knowledge Base to cover features you can add to your blog which aren't in the manual. TypePad is not open-source software, but it is possible to do some cool things if you're comfortable with editing code in advanced templates. Some of these are hacks I got from TypePad's tech support team when I asked how to implement something outside the scope of the standard features. Some are hacks I found on other blogs. Some of them will be third party solutions and hopefully, some will be hacks that you submit. I think collecting all these tricks in one place will be an excellent resource. I hope it will also become a reference tool that can save the tech support team some time by providing answers in an easy to follow format.
This goal is more complex. Six Apart and Typepad get a fair amount of flack in the blogosphere for not communicating as directly with their users as some web companies. Yes, they have blogs, but they're not updated frequently and most don't have comments enabled. This prevents having a real, public, conversation with their users. It feels a bit counter-intuitive that one of the world's largest blog platforms, who just launched a new version of their service to target business blogs, would fail to create a public presence.
What TypePad needs, I think, is a customer evangelist—someone who can do for them what Robert Scoble has done for Microsoft. Now, in some ways you would expect that person to be an employee of the company, with all the behind the scenes access granted by an inside track. On the other hand, a person outside the company can afford to be more personal, honest, authentic, etc. I'm not here specifically to pimp or pan TypePad. I'm here to talk about what I think works and what I think needs improvement… one person's opinion. You can leave your opinions and responses in the comments and I'll respond to them. It's a conversation. It's what blogs excel at. With any luck, we'll also hear from people within TypePad in the comments and it will be a way to bring us and them closer together. I see that as a good thing.
My motivation for all of the above is ultimately selfish —I want a better tool. But, of course, if this blog does help to make Typepad better then both the company and the user base benefits as well. So maybe it's not totally selfish, after all.
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