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Looking for My Kind of Web Design:
Writing & Designing the Sensor Web

Every once in a while, I get in a mood and I want to radically reconfigure what my blog is and does at the information architecture level: the mood I described previously as "being tired of writing on a roll of paper towels."

Well, I'm in that mood again. Yes, I have a Typepad Pro account, and yes, in principle I can customize my CSS, but I stopped doing that some time back because I found that customized CSS in Typepad made me a whole lot less fleet of foot in making sudden changes to response to the flow of readerly traffic. If you use customized CSS, then you have to tinker with your customized CSS every time you want to make a change, rather than using the Typepad GUI.) When there are sudden changes of circumstance -- such as for a few hours having the best site on the planet concerning the NOLA levee breaks -- I down want to mess around with CSS. Those are precisely the times when I don't want to touch the code and instead want to focus on content. So instead, I do a lot of fancy things with Typelists and Flickr badges.

So whenever I'm in this mood, I google "blog design" and discover once again that what you are supposed to do when you design your blog is make a splashy graphic for the top of your page and figure out clever ways to make your sidebar items visually distinctive. And you are supposed to remove all excess information from your page (the same thing the clutter busting books recommend you do with your living room). But both at home and in my blog, I inhabit an irretrievably information-bearing space. So I am looking for the best ways to stuff in  more info, not strip it down.

So although I am perfectly capable of making a lovely visually distinctive splash-graphic that would express the inner self I want you to know, I just don't have room for that kind of thing.

First of all, after several years of not, I finally made myself put up pix of my book covers. I am terrible about remembering to do self-promotional stuff. If I just put the book covers up, and a million-odd page views flow by, presumably I've done that job relatively painlessly, and I can get down to telling you what I'm on about today.

Secondly, most of my readers each day don't come in by the front door (only about 20%). So whatever messages I want to get across will be lost of the other 75% of my readers if they aren't on every page. So I work my sidebars very hard. I'm constantly creating new sidebar Typelists, and adjusting them, and turning them on and off. Today I want you to know how to donate to Pakistan earthquake relief finds, tomorrow, I want you to know all the best lines from the Kenya corruption scandals, and the day after that I may want to share my immense link farm having to do with military the Iranian military maneuvers.

One of the things the articles on blog design tell you to do is find your niche topic and stick to it, since readers want things made simple for them. I'm not going to do that, and so I need a blog design that will just deal with the fact that my interests change from day to day.

And these compete for space with my immense blogroll, various Flickr photo-feeds on subjects I'm watching, and my vast collection of tags. I've really heavily gotten into using tags lately. (A day or so I went looking for an easy way to do a tagcloud in Typepad and failed. The easy automated tagcloud thingie didn't like my RSS feed. I'm not sure it would have done what I had in mind anyway. I had been through this exercise before, it turns out.)

Whenever I'm in this mood, I find myself trying things I tried last time I felt like this. One  thing I tried today that didn't work last time I tried it was making feeds to add to a blog out of RSS feeds from Connotea searches.  Last time I tried this, it didn't work. This time it did. I don't know why. (The feed in question is added to password protected blog in my site for my own use for note-taking.)

One thing I did learn from spinning my wheels on this yet again (and puttering around in Connotea) is that there is a word for part of what I do with my blog. In addition to being a means of publication, it is also  what's called a sensor web. While certainly my blog serves to give you information, one of its primary purposes is for me to be able to suck information in. I talked about this in my interview with Carol Pinchefsky:

Cramer says, "After a year or so, I began to understand that by blogging, I was actually receiving a lot more info than I was putting out. By this point, I regard my blog as rather like my tongue. Sure I can use it to talk with, but more fundamentally it is a sensory organ."

Who knew that NASA already has a Sensor Web Applied Research Planning Group? So. Here I am in Pleasantville reinventing the wheel, I guess. Here is how they define the term:

Sensor Web Definition
A system composed of multiple science instrument/processor platforms that are interconnected by means of a communications fabric for the purpose of collecting measurements and processing data for Earth or Space Science objectives.

Sensor Web Concept
The following illustration depicts the principle Sensor Web concepts. Note that some platforms are shown having science instruments whereas others do not have instruments. An example of a platform with no instruments is a computer system that executes a numerical meteorological forecast model and that provides its results to one or more other platforms.

And they have this nifty graphic to illustrate:


Unlike NASA, I don't have millions of dollars of equipment with which to take data. But the model looks very familiar to me. The "Communications Fabric" is the combination of my email accounts and my comment sections; the "Data Synthesis/Fusion" is blogging in combination with consultation with others, and my primary end user is me, but you get to share.

So can someone out there help design the sensor web blog? That's what this is, and I know it is not optimally designed. (And yes, I'll keep banging away at it, whenever I get in this mood.)