So, here we go again
I love Twitter.
In fact, I habitually find myself opening up the mobile Twitter app first thing in the morning. When I get to work, I open Hootsuite at the same time as I open my email application and, except during extremely busy periods at work, I generally post around 5-10 tweets per day, 50% of which tend to be work-related, and 50% of which tend to be personal. While I was certainly not an early adopter of the app, I'm a big fan, and I find it a valuable resource for keeping up to date with developments related to many of the activities I undertake on a day-to-day basis.
Blogging, however…well, that's a different story.
For several years, going back to when I started my PhD in 2003, I have harboured ambitions to keep, and have made many attempts at keeping, a regular blog. These days, setting up a blog is extremely simple. Tools such as Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress, and so on, have long since opened up blogging to the masses.
The problem I have is motivating myself enough to maintain a blog. What usually happens can best be described by the following ten-step process:
- I find myself reading someone else's blog post.
- I think to myself:
"hey, their blog has a pretty neat design!".
- I promise to myself that I will build a new blog
"this weekend". It'll be great!
"This weekend"passes. Never mind, there's always
- Several weeks later, I remind myself of the various blogging options.
- Eventually, I settle on one option, and spend a couple of hours setting things up (the choice for my last blog was Posterous. Oops.).
- I eventually post one blog post, normally involving something generic about my plans for the blog, and with a humerous
"Hello World!"title (which I'll obviously avoid this time).
- I make a promise to myself that I will post something new
"This weekend"passes. Never mind, there's always
- Several months/years later, I find my old blog during an egosurfing session.
What's different this time?
As you may have noticed, if you've visited my site before that is, I have given my online presence a bit of a revamp. It's still a bit rough around the edges - the underlying code in particular needs a bit of a spring clean - but the site is looking a bit more up-to-date, and has been redesigned with a responsive layout so that it looks just as funky on your brick phone as it does on your massive (and hideously expensive) monitor. Shortly after completing the redevelopment process, I decided to make one last effort at maintaining a blog. Before doing so, however, I set myself some "guidelines", as follows:
- Third party hosting is out.
- Wordpress is out.
- No comments, RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds, auto-posting new posts to Twitter, and the like.
- For the techies out there, blog posts will be represented by static pages - that is, no database back-end.
- I will update the blog as regularly as I feel is necessary, but I won't let myself get too frustrated if I have nothing to say.
Why is third party hosting out?
As I noted earlier, there are several free platforms in the wild that allow me to (re)build my blog in minutes. However, based on earlier experiences, third party tools have three main drawbacks.
Firstly, note the term
"third party". This means that, while you as a blogger obviously write the content, and
"own" it as well, your content sits on someone else's server (or,
"the cloud" if you like). Of course, this is a bonus if you're not technically minded, and don't want the hassle of setting up your own server. On the other hand, access to your content is now effectively out of your control. Take Posterous for example. In it's early days, when it was competing with Tumblr, I felt it was a better platform for my needs. So, I opened a Posterous account, set up a blog, and added a couple of posts. However, at the end of April 2013, my posts disappeared. I could, if I really wanted to, have taken a backup, but I didn't. Having posts on my own computer, and as part of my own webspace (which, yes, is third party, but I keep a local copy of my website in its entirety), means that, unless something catestrophic happens to my Mac and/or my hosting company goes belly up, this blog is here to stay.
Secondly, I like my blog to have the same look and feel as the rest of my site. While you don't necessarily need to stick to the default template of your blogging tool of choice, it's extremely difficult to find a template which retains the presentational style of the rest of your site. In some cases, you can create your own layouts, but you may have to learn the different markup techniques involved and, again, the result may only resemble, rather than be part of, the overall design of your site. Related to this is the fact that your blog will have its own URL (Uniform Resource Locator) - for example, my Posterous blog was at http://graemecoleman.posterous.com. This means that, when a visitor to your site clicks on the link to your blog, they are taken to a completely different website and, unless you have added a link or another way of returning them to your site, they may find it difficult to get back to the page that they were originally viewing before finding your blog. There are ways and means of getting round this (for example, you could theoretically direct all traffic from, say, http://www.mywebsite.com/blog to mywebsite.tumblr.com), but this is a bit fiddly.
Why is Wordpress out?
Again, I have nothing against Wordpress - I've worked with it before, both for personal purposes and for work. Indeed, given that Wordpress can be installed on one's own server (although you can, if you prefer, host your blog on their servers), you have control of the content, and there is a significantly sized community of developers creating extra widgets. Overall, I enjoy working with Wordpress.
However, as in the previous guideline, I had reservations. As before, while it's easy enough to install Wordpress into, let's say, a "blog" folder on your website, integrating it with your website's look-and-feel is extremely complicated, and therefore the blog was always going to have a different appearance to the rest of my site. An alternative would have been to create the entire site in Wordpress, but I like starting with a blank page rather than templates.
A lot has been written about the concept of #CommentsOff recently, particularly by Matt Gemmell, who explains his reasons for switching comments off on his own blog much more eliquently than I can for mine. My reasons, however, are slightly different to Matt's, namely:
- When I previously ran blogs, I very, very, rarely received "real" comments (I'm probably not popular enough!). Rather, my inbox quickly filled up with spam, despite the best efforts of Akismet. Deleting spam became a chore, which meant that running a blog became a chore, which meant that…well, you know the rest by now.
- I use the term "scribbles" rather than a blog, not for comedic effect, but because I probably won't write anything controversial enough to invite comments. Instead, the posts on here are likely to be more in the genre of random thoughts which I'd like to get down on paper (or on the net at least). Less TechCrunch, more The Pastry Box, I think.
- OK, I'll admit it - as this site has been written by hand, I can't be bothered
to write the code to deal with the submission and display of comments, autotweeting,
"Freddy likes this", and so on. Happy now? Good. Now, go to your room.
So, rather than invite comment on the blog itself, feel free to tweet me with a response or, if you like, send me an email. If I get any interesting responses, I'll post them up either as an addendum to the particular post, or collate them as part of a separate posting.
Yeah, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Might come back to this.
I started writing this blog post on 5th March 2013. It is now the 9th of May 2013. That's (gets the calculator out) 65 days, give or take a day or two.
Therefore, while you'll be glad to hear this likely to be one of the longest posts that'll appear on my blog, it takes me ages to write anything. Therefore, expect irregular updates!
I haven't got much more to add this point. So I'll leave it there!