Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

My experiences writing Joel on Software

Author:Joel Spolsky
Posted:5/10/2000; 3:14:35 PM
Topic:My experiences writing Joel on Software
Msg #:17181
Prev/Next:17180 / 17182

Some of my experiences writing Joel on Software

(a Manila Wishlist)

Over the last couple of months I've been keeping a weblog called Joel on Software. I think my weblog is a bit different than most peoples'; I don't spend much time pointing to other sites (there are people who do that better than I do). Instead, I tend to write full-length articles about topics that are important to me. So I only post a couple of times a week, but each article takes around an hour of work.

With such long articles, I am too terrified to use the through-the-web editing that EditThisPage is famous for when I edit  my stories. One wrong move and I've lost everything. For a while, I tried writing the story in pieces, submitting changes frequently, but people tended to read it even before I was done, which was strange. So I developed a system of writing the document in Microsoft FrontPage, and then cutting and pasting the HTML that FrontPage generates into EditThisPage. I still use the "Edit This Page" button for making small changes or for putting one paragraph stories on my home page.

On the whole, ETP has been a good way to maintain a web site. I haven't been able to use Pike -- still waiting for the inside-a-firewall version to get that working. But here are my biggest wishlist items, starting with the most important.

  1. I could really use some good way of tracking how many people read my stories and how they're finding my site. To try and get an idea, I've literally stayed up until 3 am to watch the Top 100 list flip over, so I can see how many page reads I've gotten in the last 24 hours, but that doesn't give me nearly enough detail about what articles are most popular, who the most important referrers are, and so on.... stuff I could use to improve my writing. And since the Top 100 page shows "top 100 over x months" instead of "top 100 over 24 hours", you can't even tell which pages are considered important anymore. For weeks, the top100 list implied that, a site about a meeting in the past that never took place, was more popular than my site. Imagine!

  2. I really, really, really need a better way to control the bulletins and subscriber list. This breaks down to several feature requests. First, I would like a way to have people sign up for bulletins without providing a password and challenge question (as far as I know, the challenge question isn't even used anywhere.) Just an edit box where they type their email to get bulletins. I'm pretty sure that I'd have a lot more subscribers if I had that. Next, people should be able to unsubscribe by replying to the bulletin and asking to be unsubscribed. That's almost a standard feature for mailing lists these days and it's pretty much expected. Unfortunately, even if I wanted to remove someone from my list, there's no way to do it, and that's a big problem. As it is, when I send a message out to my 200-odd subscribers, I always get four bounces from places like ""; which are obviously not real subscribers. And I'd like to be able to promise my subscribers that if they ever get sick of hearing from me, I'll personally take them off the list.

  3. Another kind of small issue is that the bulletin feature seems to be synchronous... you don't get the HTTP result back until all 200 emails have gone out. This just doesn't scale. I'm afraid that if I have too many members, I'll get a timeout and only the top ones on the list will get the bulletin. (I may be totally wrong on this. Correct me if I am.) A better architecture might be for the send bulletin command to "spawn a thread" that sends the bulletins later.

  4. Finally, it would be nice if the web-browser-based editing were a lot better. I know, Dave tends to blame this on Microsoft, saying that web browsers make lousy word processors. But there's a LOT that could be done to address this using JavaScript, at least for Internet Explorer. My biggest feature request is the ability to save your work to a temporary but safe, private place, frequently, so that I can really compose on the web instead of using FrontPage and then copying stuff. My second biggest request would be a "find" command in the editor (totally possible using JavaScript, even in Netscape, I think) because when I see a typo in a 10 page article, it's hard to find again in the editor.

I sort of thought I was going to write a "review" of ETP, and I just wound up writing a "gripe list". On the whole, it's a great tool, and I don't want to sound too negative, so think of this as a wish list, not a full review.


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