Song Of the Week

My song of the week is “100,000 Miles” by June Tabor. This will be available during the week. And this week I’ll be continuing last week’s theme of “blogs” for the content of my postings.

The Sonific Sidebar Widget

Sonific WidgetPuzzled? My continued blog experimentation and discussions continues with a look at another of the sidebar widgets provided in the hosted service -I’ve added the Sonific tool to the blog’s sidebar, as illustrated.

I’ve registered with the Sonific service and chosen a song which can be played using the Sonific widget.


Why would one want to add a music-playing widget to a blog’s sidebar? And what are the possible problems and implications in doing this? In particular what are the broader implications which may be relevant to those considering the deployment of a large-scale blogging service? These are some of the issues I’d like to discuss.

From one perspective I could argue that this is my blog, and I can personalise it to reflect my personal preferences, just as I may choose to personalise my desktop with screen savers, etc. And one could argue that a blog which has the voice and opinions of an individual would benefit from allowing readers to gain a better understanding of the personality behind the blog. For many potential blog authors (and we may see a growth in the numbers of authors if institutional blog services start to be deployed more widely) this may be how many regard their blog space (remember the discussions we had about personal home pages during the mid to late 1990s).

On the other hand this blog is intended as a means to inform, discuss and engage with the Web development community. The deployment of widgets which I may like can possibly cause problems for the intended audience of the blog. For example, the Web interface to the blog may be becoming too cluttered and possibly causing usability problems, particularly for browsers with flawed CSS support and the dependencies on Flash to deliver various application services in the sidecar widgets will not be available to browsers which do not support Flash. And who am I to impose my musical preferences on you, dear reader 🙂

There are various responses to such concerns. Readers of this blog who use a dedicated RSS reader and view the blog in an aggregated blog will not have such concerns, as they will only see the contents of this posting (plus any embedded objects) but not the widgets on the blog site. So I could argue that if you just want to access the content or the blog, and possibly add your own preferred application environment, then a personalised and customisable RSS reader such as Netvibes or PageFlakes would satisfy your needs. However, as others have pointed out recently, RSS readers still seem to be not widely used. This blog, which is aimed at the Web development community, may be an exception (there does seem to be a high proportion of access to the RSS feeds). However even which such a specialist community, when posting are referenced by others, readers following such links will arrive at the blog Web site.

Ideally the blog would provide the readers with the option to change their display preferences. I have seen this approach taken in a number of blogs (I had some input into developments to the Auricle blog, which enable PDA users to select an interface suitable for viewing on a device with a small screen). I don’t have the options for doing this in the hosted service as I can’t make use of JavaScript. However maybe this is a non-issue if you install WordPress locally – and perhaps other blogging tools provide the end user with the ability to change their display?

The Wider Issues

If you’ve installed WordPress MU (Multi-User) you’ll have a wide range of WordPress plugins you can install, which will then be available for bloggers to select from when they set up a blog on your service. Which widgets should you provide? Should you install every plugin which may be available (or would this be an administrative nightmare and cause problems for your bloggers in trying to identify what they do)? Should you respond to requests from your blogging community? Should you have a policy on plugins which may not be acceptable? But how might this affect legitimate experimentation? Or perhaps we should encourage our community(developers in our institutions, JISC development projects and related development bodies) to engage in development work and we provide access to the services provided by such widgets. Perhaps, reflecting on Sonific’s role in providing access to a sound resource, rather than a widget providing access to a single music track selected by me, a widget which provided access to a variety of Podcasts related to the blogs’ subject area, would be useful?

Returning To My Song Of The Week Experiment

And I thought it was difficult choosing my song of the week (should I go for a fashionable contemporary song, a retro song, a gentle classical piece which may be conducive to reading the blog, a more obscure and pretentious piece – or perhaps something I like!).

However use of the Sonific widget is an experiment, aimed at opening a discussion not just on the use and usability of this particular widget but on the more general issues related to a blog administrator’s provision of widget tools.

Your feedback on the specific and general issues are welcomed.