(Cross-posted at nach.com
Some thoughts on blogging, tools and change
This was going to be my first post and test of a new service, Hi, which I learned of yesterday when it was mentioned in a blog post by Scott Rafer (@rafer), a global nomad, serial entrepreneur and friend whose recommendations I value.
Except: I wrote most of this in Hi, then it crashed and I couldn’t get back to finish the post. So: This is hi to hi. You look nice, I wish you great success as a company, as a publisher, as a community, as a whatever you turn out to be. Don’t worry, I know new things break. So do old things. That’s the story I wanted to explore today on Hi, and now here.
First, a few words about Hi. I’m intrigued. It seems to combine personal note-taking with a simple and private “sketch” mode, along with longer-form publishing. I like the sketch idea – a tool for quick notes which may be extended later. That’s a nice nod to the creative process. Hi also tries to geo-tag every entry, either automatically or you can make manual edits to each post’s dateline. The focus on geography is smart – this establishes place as a key social bond, even in digital spaces, and a way to navigate and discover new stories and writers; and the focus on time and place reminds me of the personal journal app I’ve been using on my iPad for a few months, DayOne, which I love most because it’s entirely personal.
I normally don’t like to dwell on tools. I used to try new ones all the time and write about the ones I liked. I still dabble, I’m still curious, I’m still in search of the perfect app – but I’d rather think hard and write about other things.
Still – this week’s news that a text-messaging tool called Whatsapp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion provides at least some evidence, and outlandish inspiration for builders, that such stories can lead somewhere.
Because I write, publish and think about tech more than I should, I’m interested in the emergence of new publishing platforms like Hi and Medium, which I’ve tried and enjoyed using. I see strong similarities between the two – both are attempting to provide a nice writing experience for authors, a nice reading experience for readers and a nice browsing and social experience for discovery of new stories and writers. I appreciate most the desire to create a social story experience that’s longer than Twitter’s 140 characters and more pleasant than Facebook’s news feed, which still feels like a McDonald’s or Starbucks for publishing – fast, functional, noisy and relentless.
I also see in Hi and Medium – or attach to them – dreams of a next-generation blogging tool and network.
I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot lately, in part because I’m sorting out a new phase in my professional life and trying to figure out the best place – and tool – for my writing. I have had a personal web site since the late 1990s, and that’s where I’m posting this first – nach.com. I built my first web site by hand in HTML. It was hosted by Earthlink. A quick scan through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine reminded me that I switched to Blogger in 2005, and switched over to WordPress later that year.
I know many of its limitations, but I am still a big fan of WordPress. That’s why I’ve stuck with it. WordPress is good for just about any publishing project at any scale. I’ve built many sites with it.
But the limitations get me down some days. First, I am always fiddling with the setup. WordPress can do anything, and that means I can mess with it forever. WordPress demands attention. Updates to the core app and third-party plugins are endless, I’ve got to clear out spam, security and malicious attacks are a constant worry – and because WordPress is so flexible and things change all the time, I am always looking for improvements, plugins and do-dads to improve how I work.
I run my site on an inexpensive shared server, so my site can get slow. I’ve done things to optimize it, but it’s frustrating. Also, I break my site all the time. That usually happens during a plugin installation, but the site has also crashed and burned during routine updates. My hosting company, Livingdot, is great with restoring from backups, but it’s an annoyance.
And on top of all that, no one reads my site. That’s mostly intentional. My company’s web site, We Media, was the place for my public publishing for the past six years. But still – I deal with a lot of headaches for a blog that lives in a vacuum.
When I started blogging, my blog was my place – and my only place. But now I’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest – and I’m weighing an account at 500px or Smugmug for my photos. One reason I’ve held on to a personal site is to have a digital home, a hub, a place of my own – and an archive that I can be reasonably sure will be there even if all those other services go away. It’s like a scrapbook, or a public journal. It’s fun, and also sometimes painful, to look back and see what I was writing about a few years ago.
Now, as I transition to some new work and projects, I’d like to correct some past mistakes – and attempt to simplify my digital life. I’d like to write more, spend less time bothering with the mechanics and focus on my own voice, identity, brand and ideas, even if I’ve got others to worry about. So I’m trying to figure out both how and where I do that writing.
My web site crashed yesterday and I shared with my friends on Facebook that I’m thinking about ditching WordPress entirely and mapping the domain to Tumblr. I may. I like Tumblr. It’s simple, it works and it has enough flexibility to do anything I need in a personal site. In terms of utility and ease, I think Medium and Hi are really competing with Tumblr.
One friend agreed that Tumblr was the way to go; but several others urged me to stick with a self-hosted WordPress site. Some of them dislike Tumblr. The strongest case for maintaining my own setup is the old-school instinct that got me here in the first place: ownership. I can do anything I want with my WordPress site. Everything about it is mine, most critically the data – the archive of everything I’ve posted. Tumblr, on the other hand, is now part of Yahoo! Things change.
But change is exactly what I’m looking for. For my writing – for a rambling post like this, an essay, a short story, or even a photo gallery – I now crave simplicity and speed, which includes speed when I write and speed for readers. I’m impatient. I don’t want to be stuck at my computer fixing or fiddling with my web site. I want it to work. Period. That is, for all its privacy-busting ugliness, the real power of Facebook. It’s awful, but it works.