Posts filed under ‘Agile Software Development’

A case for standardizing blog templates

Alex Isikold of AdaptiveBlue has published a great post on “How YOU can make the web more structured”.  A section of this post, “Standardizing Blog Templates Across Platforms”, really resonates with me.  Isikold is suggesting that blogging platforms such as WordPress and TypePad standardize their templates.  Why is this important? 

To help answer this question, here is the Web 2.0 school of thought that I subscribe to:  Let’s start off with an enterprise database analogy. The basic assumption is that blogs are nothing but a data store.  While information in a blog makes for an interesting read, it is about as interesting as reading data in a text column in a relational database.  While the data in a single text column may have a lot of meaning, its meaning and usefulnes is enhanced when the data is combined with other columns in the same table in database, or with other tables in the same database, or even with data in other databases. The wealth of data is hidden in its interconnections with other data. In order to harvest the wealth of data in databases, applications are built on top of the databases that reference and make relational semantic inferences between the data in the database(s).  Today, blogs are the database(s). What is lacking are the applications that harvest the wealth of information stored in the blogs.  These are the applications that the next wave of Web 2.0 companies (including myself) are working on. 

The pace of these next generation applications is being hindered by the lack of a consistent structure (standard) in blog data. What Isikold is bringing attention to is that unlike relational databases, which adhere to relational database management system standard (characterized by a simple TABLE/COLUMN/ROW+SQL structure that has been consistent over the years), blogs have no such standard. The structure of blogs is currently left up to the blogging platforms such a WordPress, Typepad etc. Blogging standards today are akin to having Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL each using a different standard for storing and retrieving information. Not only a different a standard for each of the databases, but a different standard for each version of each database.  Exacerbating the problem further, each of the different databases being customizable by anyone and anyone can change the standard to a standard of their liking. If these databases were is such a state, it would be very difficult to write any applications that leverage data from these databases. ODBC and JDBC standards would be very unreliable, if not useless.  Such is the state of the blogosphere today when one looks at it from a data interface perspective.  

As many of you know, I am currently devoted to work on the layer of applications that leverages the data in blogs and beyond in order make such data more useful to users.  The lack of standardization (as described above) makes it difficult to identify the content in blogs.  Content identification is important because an application needs to be able to identify the difference between actual blog post text and some other text on the blog so that analyses and inferences can be established appropriately.  I have been monitoring the different types of templates in an attempt to predict template patterns for the different blogging platforms (mainly WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, MovableType).  I came to the conclusion that pattern prediction is only successful to a certain point due to the following

1) the original templates from the blogging platform vendor consists of multiple major and minor versions that do not have a predictable consistency in the template content tagging and

2) there are modified/hand coded templates floating out there which are totally unreliable.

As a result of these observations, I have resorted to writing my own content identification algorithms that include a combination of template pattern predictor algorithms and NLP based semantic blog post text identification algorithms.  While this has served me well up to now, a blog template standard will be very beneficial not only to myself but many people who have not figured out how get past the problem.  

Isikold is suggesting that a standard be adopted with the goal of giving blog templates a consistent structure.  This means the adoption of a template standard that identifies the different types of data on the different parts of bogs post. Isikold is suggesting that on a blog post, the template should make it easy to identify the blog post text, the side bar, the name of the author, the data that blog post was published, the tags for the blog post content and the blog posts comments.  I believe an adoption of this simple template will go a long way in helping to bring the next wave of Web 2.0 applications to market faster.  I support a blog template standard.


February 4, 2008 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Correct RSS date format

If you see a date like “01/02/07” in an RSS feed, what do you do?  You write a blog post about it. 

The applications that I am working on are reliant on some calculations using RSS dates.  I have noticed that the RSS date specification is probably the most taken for granted part of the RSS spec.  It is taken for granted because many consumers of RSS program around the date inconsistencies so there is not much of an outcry.  However, when you see a date like 01/02/07, you have to stop and say something. 

To those developers generating RSS feeds, please take a look at the RSS date format specifications as per the RSS specification.  I will summarize it here: 

The RSS date must conform to the RFC-822 (refer to the BNF for “date-time”  in section 5) date time format.  Examples of this format are: 

Wed, 04 Feb 2008 08:00:00 EST

Wed, 04 Feb 2008 13:00:00 GMT

Wed, 04 Feb 2008 15:00:00 +0200 

Do not just execute a stringifying method on your date object before writing it to the RSS feed.  Set the date format to the above mentioned format first before writing it to the RSS feed. 

To validate whether your date is correct, you can use

February 4, 2008 at 7:19 pm 2 comments

Filtrbox is hiring

At Filtrbox, we are on a quest to create software that helps people “know what they don’t know”.  How do we go about doing that, you may ask.  Well, if you want to know how we do that, come and join us because WE ARE HIRING. If you meet the following requirements, you have an opportunity to be part of the best software development team in Boulder, Colorado:

*Solid Java skills
*Solid web application development skills
*Experience with Natural Language Processing concepts (a plus)
*Actionscript 2 or 3 (a plus)
*System administration skills, Linux, Apache, Tomcat, MySQL (a plus)

*Must be energetic, motivated and creative

Send your resume to jobs at filtrbox dotcom

January 25, 2008 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Getting Real – the forgotten chapter

After listening to an agile software development presentation at Rally Software that included excerpts from the book du jour for web 2.0 developers today, “Getting Real” by 37 Signals, I went back to a thought that I had after I read the book several months ago. While digesting all the information that I had read, I realized that “Getting Real” offers a great template for agile web app developers; however, it also puts a lot of responsibility on the software developer above and beyond what has been traditionally expected of developers. After reading the book , you realize that a develop is no longer a person who possesses code cranking skills only but a person with a conglomeration of skills in order to satisfy the principles in “Getting Real”.

What skill will I be looking for in our next hire person for our web 2.0 which follows the “Getting Real” agile software development model? As a former, software architect, I identified that the closest skills for a person that fits the bill are that of a software architect (in addition to the developer skills, of course). Now, I am not trying to turn the whole “Getting Real” on its head and introduce the role of an architect, I am merely saying that the skill that should be innate (or trained) in person who can successfully thrive in a startup company implementing the “Getting Real” principles is commensurate with the skill that is required of a software architect.

In addition to suggestions in Chapter 8 of the book, I would hire a person who possesses the following skills that are often associated with software architects:

Constant understanding of a system’s organizational structure

Since we have no req specs with “Getting Real”, the developer must constantly keep in mind the overall view of the system as well as its constituent functional components and their relationships. This goes a long way in cranking out code faster because one must constantly understand how changes affect other parts of the system.

Ability to curb unbounded complexity

It takes a certain level of skill to deliver software that provides value, is simple to use and is powered by a non-complex system. Simply saying ’no’ to feature requests does not necessarily equate to a less complex system.


The ability to influence and inspire, is a quality that is continually evident in the 37 Signals guys themselves. “Getting Real” principles result in a product that is characterized by an impassioned boldness of the product and the people; and leadership is definitely an essential quality in achieving both.

Effective communication

A developer that successfully follows these principles outlined in the book must be able to communicate on three axis: X-axis – horizontal communication with the other members of the team, Y-axis – communicate with the your startup management, board, advisors, investors and any other developers under him/her , Z-axis – communicate with the product users. “Getting Real” emphasizes the importance of engaging with your users, this will yield the best results if your developers have effective communication skills.

Understand and appreciate business strategy

In order to “hire the right customers”, “have an enemy” or “underdo your competition”, a developer must understand the business strategy.

Political Skills

While traditional software architects must possess the skill for political navigation through an organization while championing the product, I think the political skill required here is a little different. A developer must be able to identify when politics start to affect the product in ways that are not in the best interest of the product and put a stop to it. Even small startup teams such as those suggested by “Getting Real” have a certain level of political dynamics not only within the team itself but also among other entities that interface with the team such as investors, advisors etc.

In addition to the “Staffing” recommendation in the book, I will definitely be using all the above-mentioned to evaluate our next hire because developers just cannot afford to be simple code crankers anymore.

June 21, 2007 at 9:23 pm 1 comment


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