December 23, 2003

Editing your blogs offline -- not ready for primetime.

Posted at 05:39 PM Notebook, Reviews

I've been looking for a good offline editor for posting entries to my Movable Type blogs. There are several exceptional freeware and donationware editing clients available for MT, and a few are useful when disconnected from the internet, so long as only one blog is to be edited. SharpMT, Zempt and w.Bloggar, in particular, make for serviceable single-blog offline editors. However, no editor provides more than the most rudimentary functionality and features called for in an offline environment. And bloggers who publish more than one weblog are in a particularly cumbersome bind.

The most essential functionality for offline blogging is managing the entries being edited and posted while offline. Zempt, w.Bloggar and SharpMT, for example, allow entries to be saved to disk, but managing these entires is a manual task -- the user must reopen saved entries and manually post them. This can be particularly confusing (thus error-prone) when editing multiple blogs. A more user-friendly implementation would behave much like an email client, providing program folders for outbound entries. a "published" folder log resembling the sent mail folder, and a drafts folder for saving works in progress. A spooler would queue outgoing entries and publish them in the background when a web connection is established. This kind of implementation automates most management tasks presently required of the user, minimising potential confusion. It also implies additional functionality.

Managing the blog working space in a client editor is also problematic for bloggers running multiple blogs. When a user sets the working blog account in current editors, the account settings are applied globally. The selection defines blog categories and preview formatting settings (in w.Bloggar), as well as the destination blog. All's fine when there is only one blog, but in a multi-blog environment a global blog account setting causes a plethora of problems.

Because no blog settings are associated with individual entries, the currently selected blog defines the settings for any entry opened from the draft folder, no matter which blog space it was created in. In SharpMT's multi-entry editor this is particularly confusing, and undermines the usefulness of the batch publishing option.

Another complication occurs when attempting to change the current blog setting. Most editors attempt to get the blog settings from the server, which fails offline. Even if the operation is allowed (as in Zempt, for example) the editors do not save the last known settings for blog accounts. The user, therefore, cannot pre-select entry categories for more than one blog in an offline session.

Rather than treat the blog account as a global editing environment, a good offline editor would set the blog account for each individual entry. The current blog space is then determined by the entry being created, opened, edited or published. This functionality is required to implement a background spooler. Ideally, a user would be able to set multiple destination blogs for an entry. Few bloggers post a single entry to multiple blogs, so this feature is of lower priority.

To create, edit and post entries for multiple blogs offline, an offline editor must be able to store the status of all blog accounts, particularly categories but also entry links, the contents of entries and, in a perfect world, formatting setings for previews. When changing the blog selection, current blog editors generally require a connect to the internet in order to update these settings and data. For example, I can't set the category for this entry right now because I'm offline, and my NoMad MaN blog is the currently selected blog. I'll have to wait until I'm online and remember to set the category before publishing the entry.

If you're only running a single blog, I recommend SharpMT. It's tabbed multi-entry editing capability sidesteps potential file management confusions; if you don't close any tabs while offline, it's quite simple to batch post all open entries. Further, SharpMT displays the current publishing state of each entry (unpublished, newly posted, downloaded for edit), which helps unravel the confusion.

A summary of offline editing feature requests:

  • Set the blog account for individual entries, rather than the current working environment.
  • Store the account settings for all blogs, such as categories, entry links and entry data, for use offline.
  • Create default folders for draft, published and outgoing entries.
  • Download updated entries from the blog into the "published" folder, overwriting the old entries as necessary.
  • Implement an email style spooler to handle entry publishing automatically in the background.

It would also be nice if, on the MT side, editors with batch publishing could specify "No Rebuild," to speed the publishing process. (Perhaps this is already available?) The spooler could then issue a rebuild command when all entries had been uploaded.

I'll get around to reviewing the current crop of editors for usability, both generally and offline, in another entry.


Presently listening to:
You Are In My Vision - Gary Numan - Replicas (03:11)


Posted by Patrick at December 23, 2003 05:39 PM
Trying out a new offline blogging tool
Excerpt: Six months ago, as I was preparing for a trip to Australia, I found Zempt as a solution to offline blog publishing. It was okay, but not great. One real bugger is that it didn't support image uploading. This is particularly onerous when you're out...
Weblog: Black Coffee
Tracked: December 27, 2003 04:02 AM 20
Offline Blog Editors
Excerpt: Time once again for a review of blog editing tools. I've been looking for the perfect offline tool and Messyworkbench provided a good overview to which I'll add: I've been using Zempt for a while and like it. Unfortunately, its not been maintained for ...
Weblog: Tong Family Blog
Tracked: May 18, 2004 10:54 PM