30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator

Photo by absentmindedprof

When you write a personal blog, you tend not to only write about yourself. Well, not always, anyway…

My working theory is that personal blogs are at their best when considered as narrative – a story that develops over time. And that story, if it’s any good, is going to have characters.

You’re pretty likely to be the main character in the story of your own blog – and people will continue to read to find out what happens next in your own personal journey – but there will probably be other important people who turn up in the story along the way.

I’ve written blog posts in the past that have mentioned Bobbie and Jake, Brendan, Clutch, Juliet, Louise, Hannah, Jez, Jon, Tim, Ethan, Simon, Craig, Jo, Sam, Tom, Sumit, Paul, Ruth, Jeff, Vijay, Brian, Dan, Kaja, Steve, Andrea, Lykle, Annet, Nathan, Peter, Glen, Robin, Ard, Matt, Steph, Julian, Antoine, Caitlin, Keith, Chris, Dave, Saskia, Ed, Faye, Ian, Mark, Kate, Nick, Oli, and several people called John… as well as many other members of my close family and circle of friends and acquaintances.

So just like a long-running soap opera, it’s difficult to jump into the deeper narrative of a good personal blog. You’re not sure of context, and you don’t really know who most of these people are. But you might find yourself thinking… “okay he’s talking about Jake being weird – who’s Jake again?”

The Players
Context is important – and while not everyone will deserve a full bio and explanation, I reckon it would be a great idea for personal blogs to have a main cast list. Ideally just a snapshot and a paragraph or two about that person, who they are, how they fit into the story – and perhaps some links to blog posts where they appear.

That way, if you’re writing a post about the fact that one of the people called John invited you to a gig he was playing (or whatever), then you can simply link his name to his cast profile, and carry on telling the story without having to explain in detail who John is, and why he would be inviting you to a gig – or why that was noteworthy.

I’ve done this before
I tried something like this in the past, and got bored with it. My relationship to people changed over time, and the way in which to describe who they were also changed (John is an X year-old man who lives in Y, and does Z for a living – where X, Y and Z are all variables).

So I wonder if there’s a way to plug social networks into this matrix of personal blogs.

I imagine a plugin for WordPress that connects to (for instance) Facebook. It automatically builds (with your assistance) a cast page within your personal blog that allows you to link directly and effortlessly to your story’s characters.

The page would display a combination of their public profile (and a link through to their page) as well as some extra, contextual information that you can add yourself.

Something like this:


Andrew Dubber
Reader in Music Industry Innovation
Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research

Facebook / Twitter / Blog

Andrew is basically me. He’s the main character in this blog, and when I say ‘me’ or ‘I’, this is who I’m referring to. He lives in my house, hangs out with my family and friends, and drinks my whisky.

The top bit of information (including the photo) would be included automatically by linking through to Facebook; you could select the level of detail to go into (which would also be controlled by the person’s own privacy settings in Facebook) – and it would change dynamically when that person changed their own info on Facebook.

The bottom bit of ‘colour’ text is something you could add when you included them in your blog’s index of characters.

Then it would simply be a matter of auto-linking the person’s name in a blog post to their entry in your directory of characters. If you have more than one John, it could very simply ask you which one you mean when you come to publish the post.

You could even have the profiles pop up as a little overlay when you hover the mouse over the person’s name in the blog post if you wanted. Though if you do decide to take this idea and make this plugin… when you’re writing that bit into the code please make sure that feature can be switched off. Thanks.

Easy set-up and maintenance
If you’re already friends with the people you’re talking about, then you can just add them to the directory. If you talk about them in your blog, but become friends with them later, you can retrospectively find them.

This was the bit that derailed the project last time I tried this. It became more of a job to maintain and update the cast list than it was to simply write the blog, and the whole thing stopped being fun as a result.

But if it could do something like this:

“You have added Angela as a friend on Facebook. There are three un-linked references to an “Angela” in your blog. Would you like to create this character profile and link these references to it?”

…then I’d use it in a flash.

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?

5 Responses to “30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator”

  1. DJ says:

    I could see ways in which this idea would work really well. Cool idea!

  2. Cheryl says:

    Very cool. I could see people really getting into this. A real life soap opera narrative.

  3. Yes! Excellent idea! I would use it in a flash too! It would be a great tool to enhance the most wanted product of human history: stories!

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  5. James Smith says:

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