OK, I've a lot of ideas here, so bear with me. These are just thoughts, not a list of demands. Please leave your comments!
I was one of the first users to join the Super User Blog, and have been pretty involved with developing its readership and bringing in new writers and editors. As such, these are the things I think the blog currently struggles with, or could be added to a better blogging platform:
Getting users signed up:
As slhck mentions in the proposal, it's extremely hard to get people onto the blog because the process is not at all fluid with the rest of the site. I regularly invite people to write blog posts, and they're usually interested, but here are the problems I typically see:
- They have no idea that they, a "regular user", can write for the blog
- Actually getting signed up is hard. An admin has to manually create you an account, have WordPress email you a password, then you have to log in with a separate system from the main site, and it doesn't even support OpenID login. And you can't start writing a post 'til you're signed up.
- Once they write their post, it's a pain to get it to look right. WordPress supports MarkDown, but there's no live preview, and it doesn't render quite like it does on the site. Also, there's no indication in the UI that it supports MarkDown, so new users don't know this. They end up trying to reformat their post and it ends up not looking as good as they'd like.
- Because the system is separate, it's a pain to log in, and it's not integrated with the site, a lot of users don't return much because it's inconvenient.
How a better blog engine could be useful (beyond what we do now)
As mentioned in a few of the posts here, we could extend the usefulness of our blogging beyond what we're doing now. These are some of my ideas, largely centered around the fact that a blog is not constricted to a rigid question/answer pairing. It also is a more controlled outlet, meaning we can ensure that the quality is good, making it a good avenue for "outsiders" or "lurkers" who may not follow every question to get a taste of the best content from the site. This can also help draw new people into the site itself, increasing membership.
- Canonical posts: One of my pet projects on Super User has been our so-called "community FAQs". These are posts (on the main site) which go into depth about a particular subject, and really flesh out a lot of details. They're used to address really common questions, like how to install Windows 7 from a flash drive, or what to do if you get a virus. These sorts of posts could be promoted by the blog (similar to Pekka's suggestion for how-to articles), providing a central repository of these types of in-depth posts. The blog's looser format lets the writer get away from the strict question answer relationship on the main site, lending itself better to longer posts which may not addres a single question, so much as a process or idea.
- "Fun" stuff: There's been a trend away from fun on the Stack Exchange network. We're all about serious business. The blogs provide an outlet for those "fun" posts that really don't belong in our typical Q&A model. Ask Different's notorious "what about the latest hyped Apple product makes you smile" posts are an example of this. Not a great question for an SE site, but what about a blog post talking about all the top features of the latest OS X release which SE users might find useful? The blog would be a great outlet for this.
- Historical relics: There's been a lot of discussion lately about the fate of old questions which were once very popular, and perhaps have some significance, but no longer fit as on-topic questions. A community blog would be a great final resting place for posts about programming books and whatnot which don't really belong on the site, but maybe ought to be kept for historical reasons.
- Shopping: Generally off-topic for SE sites, shopping recommendations are still something that our users might have some valuable input on. While I would not encourage users to ask for a personal blog post on what video card to choose, an annual blog post on "what's the latest tablet technology look like and what do Super Users recommend?" type post would be appropriate for a blog format, and users might enjoy writing this type of post.
My suggestions for the new proposed system
I love slhck's suggestion of using a meta-like related site to manage the back end of blogging. The control system for a blog is a bit different from the main site though - you can't just go by rep, since somebody good at answering questions might not be a great blogger. There's also issues of timing and other such logistics to deal with.
Blog permissions should not be directly linked to site rep, but there should be a community process. There would be three levels of users:
- Writers: anyone can become a writer. You just log into blogoverflow with your SE Global Login, and submit a post. You can mark whether you want to write a private post or a shared post. If writing a shared post, anyone can make edits to it; a private post can be read by anyone, and anyone can suggest edits, but only you can make direct edits to it. To publish a post, you submit it to a publication review queue - writers can never submit their own post themselves.
- Editors: can do almost anything - edit any other user's post (including private ones), schedule posts for publication, unpublish posts, remove blog comments, and other blog management. This is akin to a very high-rep user on the main site, and would be denoted with a special symbol, similarly to moderators on the main site. Perhaps a circle would do?
nhinkle ● for an editor,
nhinkle ♦ for a moderator. Editors would be appointed by moderators, based on observance of helpful bloggers who are responsible.
- Moderators: same people as moderators on the main site, and have all access that editors do. Additionally, they can take special actions such as permanently deleting posts, editing blog comments, suspending users, and viewing other information that typically only moderators are privy to.
While posts are in-progress, they are saved in the "drafts" category. Anyone can see them and suggest edits, vote on the post, etc.
Once a post is written, it is submitted to the review queue. To prevent accidental posting (which has happened before with the WordPress system), not even editors or moderators can publish directly - they can approve their own post, but still have to put it in the queue.
In the review queue, users can take a look at a post, suggest edits (which can be approved by the original writer or an editor), etc. Voting continues in review. The primary difference is that posts in the review queue are specifically intended for publication, while those in the draft queue are not ready yet. Users can vote to publish or not publish a post; once it reaches 5 publish votes, it's automatically scheduled for the next open day. Moderators can configure which days are available every week (if, for example, they want to reserve a particular day or want to space out posts). At any time, an editor can manually approve and schedule a post for a particular day.
I don't think there should be voting outside of the meta-like backend, personally, but could be convinced otherwise. Published posts should show up the way slhck indicates, but I suggest adding some other additional features, particularly with regard to sections:
I think that reputation should be tied to the main site, but I do not think that published posts should be voted on for reputation. This would create an unfair rep gain for bloggers - the blog is apt to get more attention than an individual post, and might skew rep unfairly. I do think there should be some reward for participation in the blog though, so I suggest the following:
- 25 points for every published blog post
- 10 points for every 1000 views, limit of 50 points per post (do these numbers make sense?)
- new badges:
blogger - submitted a post to the blog and had it published
reporter - submitted and published 10 blog posts
journalist - published at least 10 blog posts, gathering a total of at least 50,000 views
Extensions for current markdown formatting
Blog posts need more formatting options than the current markdown syntax on SE sites allows. In particular, the following are crucial:
- Aligned images (with captions). Proposed syntax:
[alt text][url "caption" R/L]. This closely resembles the current syntax, and posts in the current syntax would work right away. The caption would simply go in the place of the title text in the current system, and R or L would be an additional flag for which side to float the image.
- Tables. I know, people hate 'em, but have you ever tried doing a comparison post without tables? Icky. This could be permitted just by regular HTML or by adding to the markdown format. I don't know what would be best.
- Embed youtube videos. Simple enough - some sites already support this.
- Linking to anchors in the text. Crucial for long posts with multiple sections - better yet, an option for "generate table of contents" which would make anchors out of header-level elements and put in an automatic table of contents. Proposed syntax:
[contents] at the desired location would automatically trigger this.
Part of getting more people on board is making it easy to go from site to blog. As such, I would propose a new "blog" menu (similar in UI behavior to the mod menu or flag menu) on posts, with the following options:
- Start blog post from this [question|answer]: starts a new draft post with the content from the Q or A pasted in
- Suggest blog post: sends the author of the Q or A an inbox notification, saying "your question [blah] has been suggested as a candidate for a blog post. click here for more details", which would then have an option for the recommendor to state why they think it would make a good post, and some brief info on how to do it, and a link to start a new post starting with this content
- Inspired post: would indicate on a Q or A that the particular post was inspiration, source material for, or referenced in a blog post. This would be to give credit for posts which were instrumental in writing a good blog post.