Blooking Has A Community

Happy CommunityNot so long ago I wrote Blooking Needs A Community, which served as a clarion call to the blooking world to start getting our act together. Now, nearly one year down the road, I’m happy to say that we have.

I only realized this about two weeks ago, after escaping from total boredom studying to start browsing through the list of blooks I had earmarked as ‘must read’. I caught up with The Legion of Nothing and The Mutants, and then I returned to Pages Unbound for an inkling on how the blooking world was getting along.

You have to understand where I was coming from. I had spent the past 6 months or so scribbling articles on paper and then jumping online for 30 minute intervals to publish them. I hadn’t had much time to do much else, much to my chagrin, and this little trip around the blog fiction sphere was eye opening.

It was great. The commenting sections of both blooks had more or less the same people hanging around them, as did their profile pages on Pages Unbound. I saw an even better indicator of a community in PU: a living, breathing forum. It isn’t very user friendly (I have to try to get Lexy to change the software) but it is a start.

Where To From Here?

This spirit of commenting on the various blogs of the blooking world bodes well for us. It makes it easier for writers to learn from each other, plus it also gives readers ample opportunity to site hop. I’ve no doubt that this (along with Pages Unbound) will keep our community alive and kicking for a long time to come.

So where do we go from here? A community gives us several advantages and allows us to do a few things that we could not do before. Exciting stuff, isn’t it? Here’s a look at some areas I feel we still have much to do:

1. Presentation

I’ll be talking a lot about design soon, about how and why it is important on the Internet, particularly if we’re writing and we want to be read. Yes, I have mentioned this before – readibility and fonts and the like, but there are a few ideas I’ve been working on that I’d like to share. Chief amongst this is the concept of a visual identity and how it makes writing that much stronger.

2. Reaching Out

I did a post not too long ago about how important it is to reach beyond our target audience – to convert non blook readers, if you will. I realized I may sound a little like an evangelist (oh hear The Lord now, ye flock of unfaithful sheep) but it’s something that must be done if blooking’s going to advance. Advertising is one option we have, but there are many more that we can explore.

3. Expansion

Of the community. We’ve got a whole bunch of writers working together now, making friends, interacting and talking with each other. This can be strengthened, grown and expanded upon. It’ll be interesting to include readers into the mix – what writer doesn’t like a legion of adoring fans after them?


I have a few projects I’ll be bringing out in the future with Novelr’s help. The advertising from Novelr isn’t much; it’s actually just enough to cover site costs at the moment. Soon, however, it will be sufficient to fund these projects. Closest to release is an experiment on story presentation I’ve been working on for two years now. I finished the first draft of the manuscript two days ago, and it’ll take about four to six more months for editing and design to be completed. Then the feedback process begins, and the elements that work will be isolated and analyzed.

The second initiative I would like to start next year is an editorial-based quality filter. In simple English: a site that highlights and helps build up the best blooks. The eventual aim is of course to create a solid alternative to the traditional publishing world – ambitious, no doubt, and liable to fail. But let me worry about that. At the moment I’m trying to find designers, programmers and writers interested enough to help out. There’s not going to be any monetary reimbursement in the beginning, so I’m relying on friends, mostly. Worst case scenario? I learn the skills I need to launch the site and do it myself.

(The worst case scenario’s actually the most likely thing that’s going to happen. Oh well. Fun times ahead.)

Wrapping Up …

We’ve got a great start already, thanks to Alexandra Erin’s vision and Pages Unbound. Yes, we’ve got a lot more to do, and there’s plenty of people who don’t know anything about blooks. But a community is a brilliant first step, and it’s also a very fulfilling one – friendship and interaction in the end make writing a lot more worthwhile than if we were sitting at home, alone.

PS: I’ve still got a lot more blooks in my Must Read list to catch up with, No Man An Island, Mirrorfall and Scary Mary chief among them. Fun, fun times ahead.

Note: Picture from Deviantart.

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Design · Writing Web Fiction
  • jz

    With regards to the website, I might be able to help out. I’m a web developer and do webhosting as well… It mostly just depends on time. It might be fun to do the project you’re suggesting in Ruby on Rails, but there’s always a lot to be said for php/making WordPress do things it’s not supposed to.

    With regards to your original post on creating a community… For better or for worse, it’s one of the things that made me think I ought to check out other authors work and comment on them…

    And with regards to The Legion of Nothing, you might want to link to the first page ( rather than the category. It’ll save people some clicking. Not that that’s your fault. I really need to put up an archive page (which I’ve known since Stormy commented about my story on PU a few months ago now…).

  • Gavin Williams

    Eli, I’d love to help out with the new site in any way I can, whether as a writer or an editor, or what have you. And feel free to drop by No Man an Island any time, I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially now that I’ve done a strong edit of the beginning so the story starts better.

    Plus, you couldn’t come at a better time: the story is approaching its conclusion, and in June I’m starting a new project. Anyone who wants to help me pick what that will be can follow this link and vote on one of four story options:

    I believe in interacting with readers and other writers, and am totally on board with your “building community” premise.

  • Sonja Nitschke

    I’d totally love to help out your initiative as a writer or editor or whatever you need.

  • Stormy

    Count me in for whatever help I can give.

    Mirrorfall is three chapters from the end, and afterwards I’m taking a break to fix up my own site, so I’ll have a bunch of free time on my hands. ^_^

    *is also squeeing at being on your To Read list*

  • jz

    Something I just noticed… Your link to Pages Unbound actually goes to “No Man an Island.” Just for what that’s worth.

  • Windvein

    I echo the squeeing and offer help with content either writing or editing.

  • Eli James

    @jz: Corrected. Thanks for spotting that. =)

    I was actually thinking of using Symphony, because XSLT is supposed to be a lot easier to learn for someone (me) who’s already competent in XML and CSS. Do you think it’ll be easier to work with?

    PS: righto, changed the link for Legion of Nothing.

    @Gavin: thanks. I’ll be getting back to you soon. And yes, reviews are imminent once I’ve finished reading these blooks.

    @Nitshke: Thanks. I’ll be in touch.

    @Stormy: looks like I got down to reading at the right time, then! =)

    @Windvein: Your help would be much appreciated.

  • jz

    I haven’t done anything with Symphony, but it does look interesting. I’d have to look into it further to see if I’d find it easy to work with, but having it use standards (XSLT) is a good thing.

    Basically, I’d say your major choice is configurability (Symphony, RoR or other frameworks) vs. stuff with piles of pre-written plugins (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal…) that may or may not do exactly what you want.

    In my experience, taking the stuff with the plugins is almost always easier (and faster)–up to the point at which you start doing major modifications.

    Thus you’ll have to consider whether available stuff is close enough and you just want to get it done or whether it isn’t and you want to write your own (which is more fun…).

  • Allan T Michaels

    I’d also be willing to take part in this new community, in whatever capacity I can help.

  • srsuleski

    I’m fairly useless on any site design or programming front, but I am interested in the reviewing aspect.

    I’ve been doing some reading these past couple days about your idea for a filtering website. It sounds like a promising idea to reach out to those who don’t want to comb through everything that’s listed on Pages Unbound or who are leery of the popular voting system which results in the Hottest Story list.

    While limiting who gets to decide on which blooks are included is a fundamental part of this idea — I do think it’s important to have a good sized panel with diverse taste — so that you’re highlighting good quality blooks but not just falling into one or two people focusing on stories which appeal to their personal tastes. I think that would be too far to the other end of the spectrum from PU (where anyone can sign up and review a story which makes it pretty easy to get friends to shower your story with 10s.)

    I’m still a little fuzzy on what you mean by editors (possibly because I haven’t read all the comment threads in their entirety) but one of the nice aspects of self publishing online is having complete control over your own work. Personally I would find trying to edit other people’s webnovels to be a daunting and unappealing task (and that’s assuming that authors would be willing to submit to this in order to have their sites listed). But I am interested in the prospect of voting on or contributing to discussions with other “panel members” about which sites to include.

    As a first time commenter on Novelr I’m probably eliciting a “who the bleep is this?” reaction — I’m fairly active on the Pages Unbound forum though if you want to check up on me. ;)

  • Gavin Williams

    I vouch for Ms. Sarah Suleski, she writes Alisiyad and she’s awesome.

  • Sonja Nitschke

    Double vouch!

  • Spotty

    Well, I’m interested in helping with the programming of this sort of site too. I’ve toyed with Ruby on Rails before, but I know PHP inside out, I’m also good at designing how things will work together.

    Also, I vouch for Sarah too! (she gave me a good, and comprehensive review after all. And gives me a kick in the pants every now and then too.)

  • Eli James

    I hear you. Will contact Sarah asap. I’ll have to confer with the others on new additions to this project from now on. Hang around, Spotty, I’ll get back to you soon enough.

  • Chris Poirier

    Hi all,

    I run Sarah’s website for her, and she told me she was thinking of joining up with your project, so I thought I’d look around. Having read the thread, I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents on the technical end. By way of background, I’ve written systems in PHP, Rails, XSL, and a variety of other technologies, and have worked with WordPress and Drupal.

    My feeling is that you’ll be hard-pressed to beat WordPress for flexibility and work-effort to get stuff done. It rocks. And it’s built to be modified, so you can do just about anything with it, often for very little work — especially if you can find a plugin to start from (which is very likely). It also reliably installs and upgrades with zero effort, which is definitely a big feature.

    My personal experience with Rails is that the MVC stuff eventually gets in your way, as it can lead to a problem of too many trees and not enough forest. Not to mention the fact the you can’t actually separate View and Controller in web stuff, leading to a lot of messy bookkeeping. Finally, and most unfortunately, the Rails developers keep the API a moving target, which means you may end up having to rewrite anything that isn’t really simple, every time you upgrade the system. This has been a particular problem for me with the routing system, which translates between URLs and the Ruby code that handles it. Finding a host that will allow you to avoid that (by locking the Rails version) may prove expensive — a lot of the cheap hosts insist on upgrading Rails every release.

    Anyway, there’s my 2 cents. Best of luck with your project!


  • Eli James

    Thanks Chris. I’d like to ask about Symphony, though – is it any good? Easy to use? I’m not particularly stoked about having to learn PHP and fiddling with WordPress (doing this blog is pain enough), though if you say it’s the easiest then I guess I’ll give it a go.

  • Chris Poirier

    Hi Eli,

    I haven’t used Symphony, so I can’t really comment. The website for it certainly looks like the people writing it care about making it good, so it might indeed be great.

    But you should be clear: XSL is still programming — only the “names” are different from what you’d do in your average PHP template. Instead of writing a “for” loop and printing variables at various places in an otherwise HTML file, you write an XSL stylesheet that contains various XSL templates that are executed when a certain structure is matched in the working data, that select nodes from the source XML and expand elements into a new XML structure (XHTML, for instance).

    Or, to be a bit less obtuse, instead of writing something like “if( $var ) { echo $var; }”, you’d write something like “”. Mostly what you’ll notice different is that the XSL will take a *lot* more typing to do the same thing.

    That said, if you are working with tree-structured data as a source, XSL will end up being *way* easier than walking trees in PHP (I generate my CV in various formats from an XML file and XSL, for instance). But I’m not sure I hear any significant tree-structured data in what you’re talking about. It sounds more like you are doing a basic database-backed portal, and that’s what WordPress is good at. And it also sounds like you have a couple of PHP types already interested, so I think you’ll be well served.

    In the end, though, you need to be happy with the site and how it works. If you’d like an excuse to learn XSL, and this was to be it, then don’t let me discourage you, by any means. Download Symphony and give it a shot. I’m curious enough about it to pitch in, if you want. This is your hobby (I presume), so it should make you happy. :-) OTOH, if you were just looking for a quick and easy solution, you should at least have a look at WordPress and what plugins are available for it. You’ll probably be able to get something up in running in much less time (ie. less than a week).

    Regards . . . .

  • Chris Poirier

    Hmm, looks like the comment system stripped out my XSL sample. I’ll try again:

  • Chris Poirier

    Fine. Imagine I’d type the greater than and less than signs. :-)

    lt xsl:if gt lt xsl:value-of select=”@attr” / gt lt / xsl:if gt

  • Chris Poirier

    Well that worked. Too bad I typed it wrong. Last try (I promise):

    lt xsl:if test=”@attr” gt lt xsl:value-of select=”@attr” / gt lt / xsl:if gt

  • Eli James

    Right. I understand only half of what you’ve written, but I’ll be coming back here to reference your comments once I start learning the language(s). One last question, though: which, in your opinion, is easier to learn – XSLT or PHP?

  • Chris Poirier

    Hi Eli — It’s really hard to quantify that. PHP is a procedural language, so you think about doing one thing at a time, step by step. Some people find that easy to grasp. XSL is more a functional language, so you think about capturing a description of how to do any one thing, and let the language itself worry about stringing them together. In a way, it’s a more abstract way of describing what you want — with XSL, you tell the system *what* you want, instead of *how* do make it happen. Some people find *that* easier to grasp.

    If you are doing purely HTML template stuff, I think you’ll find XSL pretty much comparable to PHP in terms of difficulty (but a lot more verbose). But, in reality, you aren’t likely to be doing the same things. XSL is a closed language — there are only a certain number of types of things you can do with it. You won’t be running database queries from inside XSL, for instance. You won’t be dealing with session variables from inside XSL. You won’t be doing any of the things that makes PHP both flexible and more involved. You’ll essentially be translating from whatever the engine handed you into whatever you want it to look like, and nothing else.

    PHP, OTOH, will allow you to do additional stuff. If the data you are given isn’t quite what you want, you can change it, or recreate it, or do all sorts of things the PHP and WordPress environment allow you to do. That’s where you’ll find the big difference between the two languages for templating.

    One last thing — when looking over the Symphony FAQ yesterday, I found this at the bottom:

    “That said, Symphony is unmistakably designed for developers. […] If you’re looking for an application that takes care of the technical side of things for you, then Symphony is probably not the best choice.”

    It looks to me that, unless Symphony already does *exactly* what you need in terms of collection and creation of data — so that all you need to do is translate what it hands you into pretty HTML — you are going to be learning XSL *and* PHP, and you’ll be writing the hard kind of PHP to get it to do what you need. I can’t say that for sure, not having used it, but that’s the way it sounds to me. In which case, given what you’ve said, I’d advise you to go with WordPress — there are an *awful* lot of plugins out there that can probably do all of the hard stuff for you, leaving you with relatively simple templating jobs to do in PHP.


  • Eli James

    Right. Thanks, Chris. It’ll be a lot easier for me to make a choice now. =)

  • Eli James

    I’ve talked to the other 5 people on board, and we’ve decided that the project has enough people for the pre-launch stage. Spotty, Allan, thanks for offering your help and time. I deeply appreciate your offer. But as my main objective at this pre-launch stage is to keep the team as lean as possible. I’ll get back to the two of you as soon as it seems we might have a chance of pulling this off.

    Thank you.