Trellix and Blogging, Part 2
In April of 2001, Trellix and Pyra announced a relationship. Pyra, which was under severe financial constraints, received some money from Trellix and Trellix received a license to Blogger technology. (I wrote up my view of the events leading up to it on my web log in "How the Blogger Deal Happened".) In August of 2002, Trellix announced the next phase with respect to blogging and its products. Here, again, are some of my comments.
Trellix announced the original deal with Blogger well over a year ago. We said at the time that "Blogger technology will be integrated into Trellix's web site publishing platform..." We didn't say what that meant, nor when. Good thing, since we didn't know. I also said in my write up that "I had always planned upon adding features to TWE to beef it up for blogging". We figured that somehow this would work out. Maybe Evan would help us come up with the feature set we needed.
In any case, we wanted to help save the Blogger product because it was a symbol of the genre. As things turned out, through sacrifice by Evan and other Pyra people, and a little help from our money, Blogger survived and has gone on to improve and be the entry to blogging for many influential people. It is mentioned in almost all of the articles about the subject. From reading the popular press, it's clear that blogging is now becoming "mainstream". My friends and I inside and out of Trellix have been using Blogger for most of our new blogs. (I even paid for Blogger Pro.)
Back when we made the original Blogger deal, the companies to which we were selling Trellix's Trellix Web Express (TWE) web site authoring system were not asking much about blogging. We knew it was important (both our CEO Don Bulens and I had been keeping online journals for some time), but it was not material to closing sales. We still had major pieces of our main product to finish. For example, since then we have added: the ability to easily customize the overall look of your web site without using HTML (so you could use more than just our canned designs), use of the IE rich text control, user-created tables, a customizable navigation bar on the web site, our own web hosting platform, and more tools for promoting your site. These were all things that our customers (Bizland, CNET, Terra Lycos, and others) wanted and it helped us create one of the (or arguably the) leading server-based web site authoring system for regular people.
Whenever the question of blogging came up, we knew we could always just deploy Blogger as it was and provide it as a standalone, separate offering. Nobody required it, though, for our deployment, so we never needed to do that. The Blogger code at the time was a combination of ASP, Java, and database. To run on the same machines that our product was usually deployed upon (Sun or Linux boxes) required a migration to Java or similar platform. Part of our deal with Pyra was for them to do that conversion, and that has been going on over the last year. Since the code was in development and undergoing constant changes, we didn't want to do a deployment until the code was completed unless we had to.
Unlike the dot com bubble behind us, blogging is continuing to grow. The general public is starting to realize that it is a great means for individuals, organizations, and businesses to communicate and share timely information and interact with friends, associates, and customers. It is no longer strange to discuss blogging with regular people. In fact, more and more people ask about it, especially in the last few months. The blossoming of coverage in the press is well known. This has led to potential customers starting to specify blogging as a requirement to some deals, and a highly desirable feature of others.
Besides links, opinion, and expertise, we also see how a blogging component to a web site authoring system can be used for other applications, including change logs, on-going status, and more. From a small business and organizational perspective, this is an area that has lots of fertile ground.
So, with all this it was finally time to do something. The question was: What exactly should we deploy?
Our goal with TWE is to have as seamless and integrated an experience as possible, with as little requirement for technical knowledge of HTML and other Internet technologies on the part of the user. Sometimes we live up to that ideal more than others.
Looking at the Blogger system at a technical level, it is completely different than TWE. We store user data in individual XML files. They use a common database. They have user-created HTML templates for formatting pages. We have pre-written XSL-based designs that are user customizable through a non-techie user interface. They assume you use another tool for the rest of your web site. We try to make it so that you can do everything with our one tool if you wish.
Integrating the two systems, at this point, proved to be harder than just doing what we planned to eventually do in the first place: Add blogging natively to TWE. Looking to the Blogger feature-set as a guide, we are doing just that. Because of the difference in system design, though, we ended up using none of the Blogger code itself. That means that some features we'd get for "free" with Blogger won't make it into our first release. Conversely, being built from within TWE means we get access to "free" features like the picture gallery and all of the design customization.
Of course, this is just version 1, so lots of things that we want to have eventually are not implemented, yet. To get it out the door, we all agreed upon a starting set of features that we thought were most important, and an order to implement them. Looking to the Blogger feature-set for guidance was a real help. As we get users, we'll re-prioritize and implement more as necessary.
To me, this new product is very exciting. Here we have a full-fledged web site creation tool, one that regular people can use to easily create customized multi-page web sites without any knowledge of HTML, that now has blogging built-in. Blogging (adding posts with date/time stamps, doing archives and permanent links, etc.) will now be as native to TWE as adding text or images to a web page. Or, viewed another way, here we have a blogging tool with web site creation built-in. If you want to add a page telling your readers who you are, or one with an essay to further make a point, you can. And you can do it without learning and setting up another tool.
If you look at my web site (created with an older Trellix product now sold by Globalscape), you can see how I mix timely posts to a blog with more timeless (I hope) essays, information, and details. I use pictures a lot. What we are doing to TWE will let other people easily do the same. I think that's important.
Here is an overview of the system:
TWE is run on behalf of particular service providers (e.g., CNET). Once signed up as one of their customers/members, you can enter the TWE environment using your browser. TWE runs on servers, just like web-based email. It publishes web sites that are served by (or on behalf of) the same service providers. If those service providers license Trellix blogging (we are not announcing who yet), then when you click on "Create a Web Site", you are given the option of clicking on "Choose the weblog template". You then choose a "design" (the look of the web site) or accept the one proposed. You are then presented with an editing page, with the home page of the new, unpublished web site showing. At various places on the page there are "Edit" buttons next to template text and images, and there is a toolbar of other buttons like "Add Page", "Add Text", "Add Image", etc., on the bottom. With a blog, there is one other button on the screen, right above your posts: "Post to blog". To make your first post, you click on that button, type what you'd like to say into a text box, and then press "Done" or "Done and Publish". That's it. When looking at a page in the editor, you can always use the "Change Look" button to switch to a different canned look or to change background colors and images, add logos to each page, change default fonts, etc. The next time you want to add another post, you just log into the system, and press the "Post to blog" button next to the first page that comes up, type your post, and the press "Done and Publish". All of this is pretty much as easy to use as web-based email.
I'm excited because finally I'll be able to tell people who want to blog that they can just go to some URL, sign up, and create their blog and associated pages without my help. There's no installing anything. There's no asking me for help in making their web site look the way they'd like. There's no asking me to make the "About Me" page. If they want "www.theirname.com" they can do it (if the service provider allows). They can do it all themselves. (Well, they probably will still ask me to take their picture with my digital camera...) This is not just ease of first setting up, but also ease of getting all the way that most people need and want. As a usability guy, and lover of the blog phenomenon, this gets me very excited.
When we first started working on this project, I didn't expect to end up writing such a glowing write-up on my own web site. (I fully expected Trellix's marketing department to do it on our company web site, of course.) As we first tried to tie Blogger and then a Blogger-style system onto TWE, the clunkiness of the integration kept my enthusiasm down. As we all met and thought things through and designed and designed, though, suddenly we had a system that was basically seamless throughout. We had "native" blogging in a web site creation system. At that point we all got very excited. We knew from lots of usability testing and millions of users that the basic TWE system was comfortable for regular people who knew nothing about making web sites. Now they'd probably end up blogging with no speed bumps on the way, except knowing what they want to say. This was cool! Anybody who's talked to me about it since can tell you how excited I am.
What does this mean for Blogger? First, we remain convinced that the deal we did with Pyra last year was the right thing to do. Besides lending a hand to them at a critical time, we have learned a tremendous amount by working with Evan and the Blogger code. Evan tells me Pyra is strengthening their focus on serving weblogging directly with Blogger tools and services. Going forward, we are maintaining a modest financial relationship, but our offerings and business models will probably differ. Blogger as provided by Pyra will continue to be a way to publish the blog component of your web site wherever you'd like. Trellix, on the other hand, will continue to deploy a system that is private labeled by others to provide integrated authoring and web site hosting. The weblogging community, and companies interested in offering blogging to their constituencies, will get more options.
At this point, Trellix has only announced what it is going to do so our customers can decide if they want to license it. In the coming weeks, we will be deploying beta versions for them to evaluate. End users, though, will not be able to start using the product until one of our partners releases it. I'll post updates as we deploy that beta and can describe things in greater detail and when we announce licensees. Questions about the product should be directed to Trellix.
- Dan Bricklin 7 August 2002
Trellix has a page describing this on their web site.
I've posted a copy of the August 8, 2002 Trellix blogging press release.
I've posted some screenshots from the alpha code on the Trellix blogging screenshots page.
Evan Williams of Pyra posts his thoughts.
I've written up some of what I told the press during interviews relating to this announcement in "Small Business Blogging".
I wrote some essays that relate to blogging over the last year or so: Observations From a Weblogger (about the evolution of a blog and who reads it, etc.), and Pamphleteers and Web Sites (showing how similar today's blogs are to the discourse carried out through pamphlets around the time of the American Revolution).
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