New Blog Category

4 11 2008

If you’ve been following the conversation here, you already know that Robert and I have added a new blog category to our sites, Civil War “Information Compilation” Blogs.  This is to identify those Civil War websites that, like Bull Runnings, use blog platforms to also serve as a repository for data.  Not all the same types of data, not all in the same ways.  For instance, you’ll find my stuff listed under Bull Run Resources over to the right and in the header, with pages set up for indexing.  It’s not perfect, but so far it works.  Some of the blogs I’ve listed in this category don’t organize by pages (though I think they should, of course!).  I’m hoping – and I think Robert’s hoping too – that this may help bring other similar blogs out in the open, and more importantly help us like minded folks to make our projects more user friendly and organized, and to more fully realize potentials.  If you have a similar blog and think you should be listed, or if you know of anyone you think should be listed, let me know.

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45 responses

4 11 2008
cenantua

Just a few more thoughts on this, but I am thinking that folks who enter the Civil War blogosphere might like the categories. For the first-time visitor to the blogosphere, how long does it take, for example, to weed through all of the blogs before they find the ones that exist with the purpose of “information compilation?” In some ways, I think of not user-centered design in this, but user-centered navigation.

5 11 2008
caswain01

Harry, I’m planning a similar blog roll revision on my side. At the same time, I’m working to refine my posting criteria in order to better focus the content on my blog. I’m about looking at the war as interpreted via the “stuff” on site, be that markers or monuments… or maybe the artillery pieces :-) Sometimes, as we all do from time to time, my content wonders off the range fan.

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Robert,

I was going to comment on that. A couple of the blogs I listed primarily compile biographical information. But I don’t see any organization to it – no pages that provide and index or otherwise organize the biographies alphabetically or by rank or company. I’m not familiar with how all blogging services work and whether or not pages are a possibility on those sites.

I think I address the issue of navigation with my “Bull Run Resources” page(s), but I’m willing to listen to suggestions to improve on it.

Excuse my ignorance, but isn’t navigation part and parcel to design?

My apologies for taking so long to respond – for some reason Akismet had your comment marked as spam.

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Craig,

I’ve seen on your site that your categories are helpful, but kind of general (as they should be). I am a big fan of “pages”, but maybe because I just don’t know any better.

5 11 2008
caswain01

Harry, I too like pages, as they allow one to build a hierarchy of information better than the blog post.

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Craig,

Originally, I enetered my data (like ORs) as individual pages. But it was getting unwieldy (or so I thought) and, more important, people weren’t reading them. So I decided to enter all my “data” or “information” as posts, and use pages to organize them. It works for me (so far).

5 11 2008
Jenny

Prior to blogging becoming common, most of the Civil War websites that existed were compilations of information. For someone interested in compiling information and presenting it, I think blogging software simply makes creating functional, good looking websites much easier for people who aren’t interested in learning the ins and outs of stuff like xHTML, CSS, and scripting languages. For those of us who do know about that stuff, using your blog to generate pages is much, much faster than the old static HTML effort. It also makes organization a lot easier because your posts are stored in a database.

For example, my A.P. Hill site — created in the late 90s — is an absolute nightmare to update. If I want to change even one little thing about the actual design (say even just the copyright date), I would literally have to change HUNDREDS of pages. If I want to update my Monument Project which is in blog format, all I have to do is change a single file.

I’m running WordPress on my own server. I use tags to divide up my content. I started out with posts and it would be too difficult to retro fit to pages. To sort out my posts, I use tagging.

For example, here is my main Gettysburg Monument page: Project. From there, you can access the posts a few different ways. If you click on one of the states (i.e. Ohio), it takes you to a page which lists all the Ohio monuments. I also have my monuments all tagged by location (i.e. Devil’s Den) and by corps (i.e. the Fifth Corps. I also hyperlinked an “Order of Battle” to each regiment if you want to find a unit that way.

How it works is I have tagged all the Fifth Corps regiments with v-corps. I then can use a PHP function to call up all pages tagged v-corps. And viola, the user gets all the Fifth Corps regiments together. All I do is link to the page where the php spits out the result. I figure if I want to divide up the site further — perhaps by division or brigade — that wouldn’t be difficult to do this using tags. I could then simply change my navigation system to reflect this hierarchy. WordPress would spit out everything tagged “Meredith’s Brigade” and again all I would have to do is link to that generated page.

I prefer tagging to categories because categories can quickly become unwieldy in WordPress, or at least that’s my opinion. Obviously, if you have to retro fit your blog to include tags, it can take awhile. Took me several afternoons, but there are plugins you can use if you’re running WordPress on your own server that make the task less onerous and intensive than manually editing every page.

5 11 2008
caswain01

Jenny, I must say your monument section is indeed a fine example of how to leverage tags in order to present a related body of information. I wish sometimes we had more liberties within the HMDB web application to work in scripting to support more “ad hoc” navigation. Then again, maybe it is better that one person owns the code there and keeps the pace of change regulated!

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Jenny,

When you say you have to go back and change all those pages for little adjustments, I’m guessing your AP Hill site is not a database site like AotW, right? The amount of “fancy book learnin’” that building a DB site requires frightened me away from doing that, and the amount of maintenance static pages required scared me away from that, and I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing with WordPress.

Let me be crystal clear: I’m not anywhere near expert on digital history or even on Bull Run. I’m learning all these things as I go.

As a very wise man once said (bonus points if you can guess who): An expert is a guy from another town (OWTTE).

5 11 2008
cenantua

Hi Harry,

“I was going to comment on that. A couple of the blogs I listed primarily complie biographical information. But I don’t see any organization to it – no pages that provide and index or otherwise organize the biographies alphabetically or by rank or company. I’m not familiar with how all blogging services work and whether or not pages are a possibility on those sites.”

The lack of organization can be rather problematic to the user. Not everyone wants to go non-linear in that respect.

“I think I address the issue of navigation with my “Bull Run Resources” page(s), but I’m willing to listen to suggestions to improve on it.”

I did find something interesting with your blog. I was looking for information on the 33rd Virginia Infantry, so I searched using “33rd Virginia Infantry.” However, as I usually find it the case in most of my searches for regimental info, I also performed another search (it’s standard for me to do so, being familiar with the nature of search even on Google) using “thirty-third virginia”… and got different pages from the first search. Of course, to go back and tweak all of that is one heck of a task.

“Excuse my ignorance, but isn’t navigation part and parcel to design?”

Yes, it is… and a very important part too.

“My apologies for taking so long to respond – for some reason Akismet had your comment marked as spam.” That’s o.k., I was wondering what happened to my comment, but figured you were busy and just didn’t get the time to get around to it yet.

5 11 2008
cenantua

I agree with you Jenny. Categories can get really out of hand and I anticipate problems in using them in the Southern Unionists Chronicles site. – Robert Moore

5 11 2008
caswain01

Vincent Bugliosi

Harry, I did the “fancy book learnin” about building those DB thingies….. Now I’m frightened one day all the books on my tech shelf dealing with DB design will someday fall and crush me.

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Brian Downey is the man when it comes to DB.

No, not Vincent Bugliosi, unless he plagiarized Mark Twain. Wouldn’t put it past him, though. He is a lawyer, after all…

5 11 2008
cenantua

Want to see yet another interesting way to use the blog framework (and therefore, another potential category)? Now, keep in mind that this is really in the very early stages of development, but I am turning a “virtual battlefield tour” into something like “hypertext non-fiction.” http://virtualhistoricalbattlefields.wordpress.com/2008/10/21/prototype-for-virtual-historical-battlefield/

5 11 2008
Categories in the Civil War blogosphere « Cenantua’s Blog

[...] 5, 2008 by cenantua If you haven’t been in the middle of the chatter yet, check out what some of us have been talking about over at Harry’s Bull [...]

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Robert,

Sorry, the spam thingy grabbed your comments again (bloody Vikings!). I dig (potentially) your virtual battlefield tours. Keep me posted on that project.

As for the search function in WordPress, it does seem to be a little quirky.

5 11 2008
cenantua

I hope to incorporate the 360 videos sometime this week. I figure I’ll plant YouTube in the respective posting where applicable. I think it will add a lot more than just photos and, of course, I can also plug-in text in the video through YouTube. Interesting possibilities… I just hope my ideas work.

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

I’d love to do a battlefield video tour on Bull Runnings some day, but a DVR is not in my budget right now. Currently I do have a link to audio tours of BR with Ed Bearss, courtesy of the Friends of Manassas Battlefield, posted under the “Links” heading to the right.

5 11 2008
Don

As one of the aforementioned bloggers listed who compile a lot of data, someone please dumb this down for me a little more. How can I make this stuff more user-friendly? That is the goal of the blog, after all. Part of the problem may be with Blogger, as I haven’t found a way to make pages in it yet as WordPress seems to allow one to do. My current strategy is to use categories until I have the time and resources to put up a webpage. If there’s a better or easier way, I’m all ears.

5 11 2008
Jenny

Catwain … oh definitely … coding can get very hairy and crazy!

Harry, that is correct — my A.P. Hill website isn’t database driven. It was literally written and coded page by page by hand. Obviously, it uses a page template that I wrote and it also utilizes CSS which makes minor changes like changing link colors easy. Databases are something beyond my limited internet knowledge. I was a history and philosophy major! Everything I know about writing code was learned on my own. I would love to transfer my A.P. Hill site into a content management system or database like WordPress, but even that would be a really big task at this point.

Cenantua, the main problem I have run into with categories with WordPress is how difficult it is to move posts between categories. Maybe this is something that will be addressed in a newer version of WordPress, but I always found it rather surprising that there was no easy way to move a whole group of posts between categories. Obviously you can do it manually post by post, but to do it in a batch requires a plugin. (This is the one I use.)

5 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Don,

I’m not too familiar with Blogger. As Jenny says on her site, all the Cool Kid bloggers use WordPress!!! I would add that the really, really cheap cool kids use the free version of WordPress. But some of the other bloggers on the list use Blogger, so maybe they can help.

Jenny,

AotW is an example of a fantastic data base site. I just wish Brian would jump in here, but I know he’s been very busy lately. Categories are clumsy. I really wish that WordPress gave me an option of displaying tags in something other than a cloud – clouds are messy and confusing as hell. I really like what they’ve done with the dropdown options for categories and archives, and you would think they’d do the same with tags. Dropdowns are so nice and clean.

6 11 2008
Nick

I agree that there are quite a number of us bloggers that use this format to compile information. Lately I’ve really focused on Shiloh, and gone into great detail with monuments and OR reports. I take a bit of satisfaction in that when one searches for Shiloh my blog is one of the top sites returned. And grouping us in a new category is a good idea. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of forming a Shiloh only blog just so that searching would be easier for others, they wouldn’t have to weed through my other book reviews and commentary on other Civil War happenings.

6 11 2008
cenantua

Harry, No need for a DVR. I use my HP digital camera ($145), which also takes short videos (the length of the video being dependent on the amount of the space on the memory chip and the juice in the batteries. It’s not Hollywood footage, but works for 2 minute YouTube videos. I did a couple clips in the Staunton National Cemetery, which is also near a busy 4-lane road, and was surprised that the camera did not pick up the sound of the traffic. The sounds in the videos are those that one would hear if they could only hear up to about 50 feet of the headstones I was filming. Robert

7 11 2008
brian

Hi Harry,

I’ve been catching up with the surge in digital history conversations today via surreptitious blackberry-ing. I’d like to join the comment streams a little later – there are some great ideas coming out!

I’ll need to get home from the old 9-to-5 and chug a caffeinated beverage first …you folks are all over the (digital) map this week!

8 11 2008
caswain01

This is like a thread that keeps on threading……

8 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

I have to admit that Craig’s two posts have me thinking I’m not so smart…

8 11 2008
caswain01

Don,
I’d echo what Harry said. I tried Blogger and was not happy with the tools offered. That was over a year ago when I retired my first blog. Nick or others who use Blogger may have more insight as to new changes.

I will say I use your blog as a reference a lot (and you’ll probably start seeing a lot of reference links as I dress out the South Cavalry Battlefield markers from Gettysburg this week).

If I could offer some AAR points, from the perceptive of this side of the keyboard, the first I’d mention is some sort of tag cloud or navigation menu. The other is a search feature (widget in world press terms). Presently I “crawl” your blog by way of directed Google search strings. (and I was just using it this morning fishing for background information on Major Starr.)

Craig.

8 11 2008
Robert Moore

O.K., this thing just keeps on growing in different directions. If I’m repeating myself, I beg forgiveness, but in regard to the most flexible blogging framework, I’m wondering if either WordPress.org or MoveableType might work more effectively than WordPress.com. There are some JavaScript features that might work effectively in introducing interjections/commentary in, for example, official reports. As I mentioned in a few posts back, Anne Rubin mentioned in her presentation the vast number of sites out there that are archived materials, but offer no analysis. In the blogosphere situation, I think the interjected thoughts in popups/mouseovers might prove effective.

You know, I was just thinking, maybe we ought to shift this discussion to a Wiki.

8 11 2008
brian

Wiki! Wiki! (I vote for a WIki – I’ll host it, if needed).

For Jenny I would love to transfer my A.P. Hill site into a content management system or database like WordPress, but even that would be a really big task at this point Goellnitz:

I’ve just been playing a tiny bit this morning with an open source web scraper called WebHarvest (http://web-harvest.sourceforge.net/index.php). With it, I think it might be easy-ish to get your APHill site content (text, images) into XML by script and thence into data tables. You’d need new page templates, of course, to display the content from the database, but that’s not too daunting to think about. All this could run under WordPress.org, I think (which uses PHP code, mySQL database). I don’t have a lot of time just now, but you might do some surface research for feasibility … I’d be happy to help with any tech pieces. As would Robert, Craig, others in the conversation, I’m sure. We’ve got to get AP Hill up to Web 2.x

8 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Robert,

Sometimes I’m not sure I want analysis to be a part of the “data dump”. Like the Buddha, I tend to think of myself not as the moon, but rather the finger pointing at the moon. I’ve considered the blog feature to be where any analysis might take place, and subordinate to the data/primary source material.

But what you say presents a different wrinkle (or wrench). Still not sure my noggin’ can support such highbrow stuff. You’ll probably have to drag me kickin’ and screamin’ into the 1990′s.

I’m OK with moving to a Wiki – whatever the hell that means (though I suspect it’s another type of discussion format with more exposure).

8 11 2008
cenantua

Harry,

I understand on the analysis, but have you ever transcribed something and wanted to interject a comment? It might not be analysis, but the comment you might want to add may add clarification for the benefit of a reader (or yourself). I think the popup/mouseover feature could be a benefit in that respect. By the way, I like the Buddha metaphor.

As for the Wiki, I’m thinking all of us who are getting into this chatter session might be interested in coming together in a different format in a Wiki. In turn, we can link to the Wiki from our respective blogs. I don’t know, it sounds like it would be useful, maybe.

8 11 2008
Jenny

Brian,

That web harvester looks really cool. I’ve been buried with work lately, but I am going to explore that as an option. Certainly there must be SOMETHING I can do with my site to bring it out of, oh, 1998. :)

I went live today with a new design for my Gettysburg Monument Page. I “borrowed” the idea here of going with more of a drop down menu format to keep the side bar less unwieldy. I’m still trying to troubleshoot the bugs, but so far so good. I think my font size and face needs adjusting, but right now I’m tired of staring at the computer screen.

This has been an awesome thread. Very informative and helpful, even if it is a little all over the map.

8 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Robert,

Your geocites url is upsetting akismet. Sorry again for the delay.

Right now I’m not consistent when I want to comment on a document. Sometimes and intro, sometimes a footnote, sometimes a link to an explanatory note. I like your idea of popups/mouseovers, but I’m using free, basic WordPress.com. Keep in mind it took me a year and a half to change my theme!

Wiki sounds like a good idea…what do we need to do?

8 11 2008
Harry Smeltzer

You know what would be kind of cool? We’re most of us (except for Nick and Don, I think – not sure about Steve) here in the east. What if we got together somewhere? We could even invite some non-information compilation bloggers, or non-blogging historians to discuss. We could call ourselves the Society of Digital History Compilers or something similarly pretentious.

Maybe that’s a little too old school. How about a live chat?

8 11 2008
cenantua

What about the Mad Hatters Society? :-) Having a live chat would be interesting.

8 11 2008
cenantua

Harry, I tinkered with a Wiki once, but couldn’t figure out how I wanted to work it into my hypertext theory course, so I picked a blog instead… and here I am!It looks like Brian might have more of an idea how to get the wiki running.

9 11 2008
brian

So it’s running already. Needs a new title, though. You’re already giving me ideas …

I also like the idea of a non-virtual get-together.

9 11 2008
brian

Doh. Link to wiki: http://wiki.aotw.org/

9 11 2008
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16 11 2008
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17 11 2008
Don

Love the discussion, obviously I needed the mental exercise. Still makes my non-technical head hurt a good bit of the time. A live chat sounds great to me as one of the Rocky Mountain folks on here. Tentative dates/ times?

17 11 2008
Don

Robert,

I somehow missed the virtual battlefield initially. What a great idea! A staggering project for a decent-sized battlefield, but it does have amazing possibilities.

17 11 2008
Robert Moore

Don, The head hurting thing… I know what you mean. After I got beyond that, it started to become more of an obsession. It all started making sense after I took the course on hypertext theory and I realized that I actually think that way… hypertextually that is.

17 11 2008
Robert Moore

Don, The virtual battlefield project will probably go beyond the end of the course. I’m still thinking of ways to make “virtual battlefields” more dynamic. I’m also thinking of some gaming theory, not to create a game, but to make the virtual battlefield more immersive as an experience.

18 07 2012
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[...] “information compilation blog” or “battle blog.” You can read about that here and here. Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditDiggLinkedInPrintEmailLike this:LikeBe the [...]

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