Blog Module Musings

A lot needs to happen to make the DotNetNuke Blog module truly competitive.  Part of the problem is that there are competing needs for the module:

  • Use as a “personal” weblog
  • Use as a publishing platform

Joe Blogger

Of course, the Blog module was originally meant to serve the needs of… bloggers, that is to say, people writing journal-style weblogs.  Like this one.  That’s why it’s called a BLOG module, stupid.  OK, but suffice to say, there are particular needs of a personal weblog application:

  • Easy to use, simple
  • No need for workflow tools
  • Most will be single-author
  • Great looking, easily skinned
  • All the coolest social networking yada yada
  • etc..

In other words, a personal weblog needs to compete effectively with WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and other popular blogging tools by offering an app that works at least as well (which will be hard, considering that several of these are free, including the hosting).  To that end, some of the features that the Blog module needs to consider are:

  • Built-in skinning (perhaps a set of 5-10 built-in template skins)
  • Email-to-blog capability
  • Metaweblog support (already on its way)
  • Social networking support (already on its way)
  • Categorization & tagging

It might also be nice if there was a way to do a DNN “blog” install, in other words, a single installer that performed the basic DNN install as well as getting the basic Blog module installed and configured.  Of course, a DNN install is still not as simple as it ought to be, and until it is, there really is no point in refining the install process of the Blog module.  DNN itself is already a sufficiently high hurdle that most casual users will shy away from using it just for blogging.

Which raises an interesting question:  are DNN bloggers every really going to be casual users?

Casual DNN Users?

After all, how many people really run DNN just to operate a personal weblog?  Doesn’t the implicit power – and complexity – of DNN in and of itself filter out almost all casual bloggers?  I mean, if I just wanted to start blogging, there’s no way I’d use DNN.  I operate this blog on DNN because I’m already running several DNN sites.  And I still question my logic in setting this up as a DNN blog instead of using WordPress or Blogger.

Seems to me that for most Blog module users, what they have is a website, part of which is a blog.  Think about this.  If they’re running DNN, it’s very likely that they’re doing “other stuff” with it other than just running a blog.

Which raises some interesting points:

  • The blog may be much more likely to be multi-user
  • The blog may be a kind of substitute for the Announcements module or FAQ, providing company information
  • The blog may be a publishing platform more than a weblog

DNN Publisher

Which brings me to the other competing need for the Blog module – the publishing platform.  If you need to manage content – by which I mean significant amounts of printed material – in DNN, then the Blog module quickly becomes your only choice, short of purchasing a publishing tool.  Nothing else in the DNN module base comes close to meeting this need, with the possible exception of the Announcements module.

As a DNN consultant, I always advise against purchsing modules if it is at all possible to conform a preexisting base module to the need.  I see the base modules as part of the open-source draw of DNN, and while they may evolve more slowly than commerical modules, they’re likely to have good quality and ultimately stand the test of time better than commercial modules.  I want to stay on open-source code as long as possible.

That’s why I chose the Blog module for ProRec.com, instead of buying a module or building one of my own from scratch.  The fact is, it meets about 65% of my need.  Really, just barely enough to limp along.  I don’t really want it to look like a weblog, with the calendar and month list being the primary navigation tool.  But I’m willing to make do, because I get so much for free.  Free is good.

The needs of people using the Blog module as a publishing platform (like me) include almost all the needs of the casual bloggers, but add a few twists:

  • Increased need for workflow
  • Different (non-traditional) navigation
  • Better multi-author / multi-department support
  • Different “main page” support

This is by no means comprehensive, but hits the high points.  With only a few improvements, the Blog module becomes “DNN Publisher” – a flexible publishing platform.  Suddenly, this tool can support lots of publishing operations, specifically, content sites (like newspapers and magazines) and multi-department corporate sites.

Push and Pull

All this flexibility will come at the price of complexity.  I believe that with some elegant design, we can minimize the complexity and maximize the flexibility, but increased complexity is probably a given.  So there will be inevitable battles between the people who want to use the module as a simple blog platform, and others who want to use it as a more powerful publishing platform.

Which takes me back to that earlier question: how many people really run DNN just to operate a personal weblog?  Doesn’t the implicit power – and complexity – of DNN in and of itself filter out almost all casual bloggers?  Is it really reasonable to expect DNN to compete with a free WordPress account for the market of people seeking to journal about their trip to Spain?

If there are significant disagreements about the direction of the Blog module, I think there will need to be some sort of informed answer to these questions.  Perhaps a survey or some kind of market research will be in order.  At any rate, I intend to push the Blog module in the direction of “DNN Publisher”, because I think that’s it’s unique value and a better fit with likely DNN users, and if I take a few bullets, well, they’ll be neither the first nor the worst.