APPLICATIONS, TECHNOLOGY | June 1, 2009

Need for More User Control with Mashups

One of the main reasons why I migrated my blogs to WordPress is to be more independent technically. I wish to be able to add features using plugins without needing the help of a programmer. For the most part, it works fine.

But as many other bloggers, I often wish to mix and match plugins in a different way. This is where I hit a wall. I hit a few walls so far. Some are due to the fact that I run a design blog where the visual aspect is quite important. At other times, I wish to bring a feature to the next level.

Mashup Sites

Today’s blogs are mashups. WordPress blogs are the king of mashups. Plugins are developed by a bunch of programmers of different skill levels. The ideal plugin gives control to the user with parameters. One size fits all does not work to bring the ultimate experience to your community.

To understand my point, let’s look at the mashup of P2 theme with Twitter Tools. Two teams developed the 2 projects. I decided to put them together to create my Live blog. I used these 2 tools as an example but the same hold true for most Web 2.0 tools that you put together.

The Situation

Like I mentioned yesterday on my At Home blog, I created Kim Vallee Live to publish quick posts, without photos and to live blog when I go to conferences. The P2 theme interface provides a Twitter-style interface without limiting my comment to 140 characters, which provides the right framework for what I want.

One feature of the Twitter Tools plugin is to automatically publish a tweet by shortening the message I entered in Kim Vallee Live. But the way it is done right now does not add value to my readers. See for yourself, why I do not like the current result:

current situation: meaningless prefix for my usage and too short tweet

Twitter Tools automatically adds “New blog post:” in front of the tweet. Even if technically, each entry I published in P2 is a post, there are not from a user viewpoint. My programmer changed the plugin to put #kvlive instead. If the maker of Twitter Tools had better thought about usability, they could have add one more parameter to their long list of options so I can fill the text of the prefix. If I do not wish to add a prefix, I would leave blank the text box.

The other problem is that the tweet message is too short to be meaningful for my followers. What happened is that the Twitter Tools plugin used the post title as the content for the tweet. The P2 theme stored the first 40 characters as the post title. The maker of the P2 theme did not anticipated that it could be a problem since this WordPress theme was designed to show Twitter-style posts.

One lesson I learned from years of experience in software development is that users will always find new ways to use your applications. As more and more non-technical people are embracing social media and running different types of blogs, it puts more pressure on developers of mashup tools to give more control to the users.

Custom-Made Solution

I defined with Jerome of Paradivision (we own Paradivision) the ultimate automatic tweet generator for Kim Vallee Live. We still have to implement it. Until then, I disabled the automatic tweet feature. When it is done, Jerome and I will share with you what we did.

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