Puffbox builds RSA's Bloggers' Circle

Some of the most fun projects come out of the blue. I’ve been following RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor’s blog for some time, and noted with interest his idea back in May to start some kind of ‘bloggers’ circle’. ‘There are too many bloggers and not enough readers so genuinely good posts can fall between the cracks,’ he wrote – correctly. So he suggested a ‘club’ whereby members would circulate their best posts, and would commit to writing about other members’ contributions.
Then I got an email from Taylor’s ‘old chum’ Matt Cain, asking if I could help them build a website for the project. Matt sent me a logo, a rough set of wireframes – and a very tight deadline. We managed to turn the website around within a couple of days, and it went live today at bloggerscircle.net.
It’s built on WordPress. OK, you didn’t need me to tell you that. But it’s got a couple of clever little touches, which probably won’t be immediately obvious.

  • When people sign up to join the circle, we need their name, a website URL and a contact email address. And when you’ve built as many WordPress sites as I have lately, that combination of form fields says only one thing – comments. So that’s how we’re handling the registrations, as comments on a (dummy) page. Using the built-in functionality, the coordinator receives an alert email each time someone signs up (ie submits a comment); and like any comment, it’s a one-click process for him to accept or reject.
  • There’s an RSS feed of ‘highlights’ from the Circle, which we’ll be running through Delicious, but I also wanted to offer a feed of each signup. We’ve done this, rather cheekily, using a custom page template containing a custom comment loop. It calls the comments (for a different page, incidentally), and presents the comment author’s details into an RSS template, rather than an HTML template. The title and content of that page aren’t wasted; we use these for the feed’s channel info.
  • And then, just to complete the Automattic connection, we call that same custom comment loop to generate the ‘rogues gallery’ of Gravatars that appears at the top of each page. In these early days, a lot of people don’t have Gravatars associated with their email addresses; but we hope they’ll see the good reason to do so.

Having just come out of the longest project in company history, it was a real delight to take this on, and turn it around so quickly. I’m quite pleased with the presentation, particularly the way the membership itself is the focus of the page; and it’s always fun to do things with WordPress technology that it wasn’t ever really meant to do. A few rough edges have appeared since launch – inevitable given the sheer lack of testing time, but nothing we can’t handle.
Taylor – whose blog really has become excellent reading – is frank about the project: ‘We are starting small and maybe we won’t succeed but it’s always worth having a dream.’ But he continues: ‘Imagine if there were hundreds or even thousands of amateur bloggers signed up.’ Well, er… if that happens, that design will have a few problems – but as they say, they’ll be nice problems to have.