I’d like to write a little bit about the project that has been consuming me for a little over a month. Now that the beast has been unleashed for about a week, I have a little bit of perspective from which to write about how it came together. That beast is called myTPM, a suite of community tools for Talking Points Memo built on the brand new Movable Type 4.2 Community Solution. While Andrew Golis and Josh Marshall have been batting around ideas for a revised version of the community site TPMCafe for some time, in the past month Andrew and I (along with an extremely talented group of programmers from Six Apart) sat down to make this upgrade a reality.
The process started with Andrew and I literally sketching out the core two elements of the new tools— the blog/profile and the Dashboard. The blog would, yes, be the reader’s blog. But it would also be a repository for all of their actions on the site— their comments left throughout the site, and posts they recommend others see. The Dashboard is almost the inverse of the blog. It is a unique-view page that shows you information river-of-news-style about the people you follow. The result, I feel, is a new sort of social network. An intellectual social network based around the exchange of ideas about news and politics. Yes, it relies on what have perhaps become Web 2.0 cliches: friending, newsfeeds, RSS, comments, etc., but uses them to deliver relevant information. With so much information accumulating just at TPM, the Dashboard is TPM’s answer to filter failure.
Once we knew what we wanted on each page, I took the sketches and coded them into HTML, CSS and MT’s own markup language, creating a skin for all the new pages we would need. I then worked with the crack team at Six Apart Services to adapt the existing community features of Movable Type 4.2 to the features we wanted to provide in myTPM. They wrote a bunch of excellent code to shoehorn the software into fitting our needs and to create the engine to power my frontend designs. Some of what we wanted to do wasn’t part of the MT codebase (for example, providing a list of the most followed users), so Six Apart wrote us custom plugins which added new template tags to our palette.
I then helped to integrate the new community tools into the existing site structure so it effectively became a social underpinning woven throughout all of TPM. With myTPM, the community aspect of the site isn’t ghettoized in TPMCafe anymore — now posts you comment on and recommend anywhere on the site are aggregated in the Dashboard. This meant we had to transplant the existing template code in most of the site with MT Community code. As a result, TPM, as a network of sites, is now more tightly integrated than ever.
I’m proud to say that TPM is, at this point, the biggest and most robust site using MT 4.2 Community. And in the week it has been out, the tools have been a smashing success. I might write more about the new tools once they’re out the wild for some time, and people start using them in ways I hadn’t predicted.
Check out my TPM blog here, and when you’re there, sign up to take advantage of the new features.