Monday, May 23, 2005

Wanted: Smart, innovative MovableType tutorials

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Okay, first a little backstory, for those who don't regularly read my personal journal:

I've had one form of personal website or another up and live since December 1997, which for many years was located at the same Geocities page where my personal journal is still found. In 2000, one of my readers (Jimi Sweet) donated a chunk of his commercial server space to me for holding a more permanent version of my work, which is where jasonpettus.com is located. At the time, though, I decided to leave my journal at my original Geocities space, for two reasons: 1) it was easier to update from internet cafes (it having a web-based interface, versus having to FTP my individual HTML pages and images to my main website); and 2) there were just so many damn people at that point who had links at their own sites pointing to that Geocities page, not to jasonpettus.com. And so for the last four or five years, it's been like that - all of my work besides my journal has been slowly moved over to the permanent site, with my journal still residing at my Geocities page, and with me logging on through a desktop browser at an internet cafe and hand-updating pages whenever I have a new entry.

But of course, now we're living in the Second Great Blog Boom of '05, as I like to call it, where there are all kinds of insanely innovative ways to get stuff posted to a website - via web-based interface still, of course, but also via SMS, IM, email, mobile devices - not only text but audio, photos and video as well, all of it archived automatically for you, all of it run off a "type engine" that is at once both simple for beginners and infinitely customizable for hardcore programmers. And, in fact, Jimi has had MovableType installed on all his servers for a number of years now, and last year installed the engine to my pages as well. (Here's my sandbox, for example, although right now there's nothing really to see except the minimalist template MT uses as a default. That RSS feed there is live as we speak, by the way, so fellow design geeks should feel free to subscribe to it, if they'd like to watch the Grand Redesign unfold in real time this year.) And now that I can so easily post all matter of files directly to MT from my Palm Treo, which I utterly cannot do with Geocities, I've decided that this year is finally the one when I move off Geocities for good and enfold the journal into the permanent site.

I won't kid you - if you're installing MT onto an independent server and running it yourself (versus having them do it for you, via Typepad), there is a huge learning curve to be faced, one that will throw you for a loop if you're not already conversant with HTML and CSS, and have at least a conceptual idea of how XML works. But I'm slogging my way through it all, plus admit that there is a basic overlying simplicity to MT that at least lets you understand the concepts of the engine easily. It'd be easy enough if I just wanted to make a blog-looking blog, but my goal is different: I want to combine the power of MT's automation with the look and feel of an old-skool graphic designer, based on my years of hand-designing templates back when prefabricated ones didn't exist. I've designed now something like 14 templates for my personal website in the last seven years (and here's a page displaying miniature versions of them all in JPEG format, for those who are interested, along with explanations behind what went into each); some are great, some suck, but it's the process itself that I find most enjoyable. And so my blog's not going to look like a blog, with the little colored boxes for each entry, and the little line at the bottom of each with the author and date and time and comments and trackbacks, and the little space along the gutter to run links and archives and blah blah blah. Mine's going to look like...well, I don't know yet, but something interesting and different, for sure. (Oh, and there will be separate templates as well for viewing on a mobile device, for sending to a printer, and for subscribing through AvantGo. Behold the power of MT automation, man.)

So, that's where my request comes in: Now that I'm pretty familiar with how MT works, what special tags are at my disposal, and what the latest innovations are in the world of CSS, I'm ready to be inspired by people already doing unusual things with MovableType-powered sites. Where are they? Will you point me to them? Are any of these people maintaining programmer-oriented blogs about MT tips and tricks? Do they have an RSS feed? I'm ready right now to build an okay-looking new blog; I want to build one, though, that makes people go "yowza" when they visit it, and I'm looking for ideas and hints. I encourage you to leave your suggestions either as a comment at this entry, or to email them directly to me at ilikejason at hotmail dot com; I will semi-regularly post new entries concerning the latest, for fellow MT users who are looking for such cool examples as well. (Oh, and yes, I will be leaving [metafeed] right here at Blogspot; I like the idea of having memberships and daily interactions with both of the major type-engines out there.)