Blogging was the major internet trend in the early- to mid-2000s, which is why seemingly no one does it anymore and all the cool people broadcast their thoughts on their social network of choice. But there are several advantages to it that people forget about in the age of the like and the tweet. Blogging creates your own personal space on the web, free from advertisers devising new ways to use your own data to push their product more effectively. If done correctly, you own the content you put out, and you can learn a lot of about web hosting and internet protocols if you so choose. I was only just starting, so I tried going the free route to see what I could find.
Pressing & Tumbling
I started out with a wordpress.com blog. It had everything I needed to start writing, so I did. The community at wordpress.com is centered on writing, which was good encouragement. But once I started to get the hang of it, it seemed like there was a lot that the free account would not let me do. The open source WordPress is a powerful tool, and their free site gives you just enough of a taste to know you can do more. I still was not ready to fork over any money, so I packed up for the other major free ‘blogging’ tool on the web today, Tumblr.
I had started a Tumblr account a while ago, but hadn’t used it much. I came back to compare features with my new WordPress blog, and there was a lot to like. The site is very stylish and minimalist, which is kind of the opposite of WordPress (unless you put a lot of work into it). It is easy to find a lot of interesting people on Tumblr, and the mobile app is great (better than WordPress at the time). The combination was enough to keep me there for most of the year.
In late October, an episode of one of my must-listen podcasts focused on blogging (In Beta #70), and it convinced me to try to build my own blog. I finally had a feel for the writing part, and I wanted to make a place of my own that didn’t end in ‘dot something dot com.’ The one that sounded the most interesting, Ghost, had just launched to the public. I registered my domain, hacked around in my router settings, and started hosting it from my own laptop. This was obviously not an ideal situation, but I still wanted to experiment before venturing into the confusing world of web hosting services.
The experience was enlightening. Ghost will soon be a great blogging platform, but for the technical layperson it is not there yet. I enjoy the minimalist approach, and they are still adding features, but there are bugs. I was not able to even upload a picture, a simple task on another framework. I could not nail down whether it was a bug in the code or a bug in my makeshift server settings. My laptop was also hosting my Plex server and kept getting kicked off the network in favor of my NAS, so I finally gave in and found a cheap webhost. Ghost is too resource intensive for shared hosting, so back to WordPress I went.
Tools and Takeaways
One of the major lessons I learned from all this is that formatting a post is much easier in Markdown. The native editor in Ghost offers Markdown support (which I miss), but the others have not added this (or have done it poorly). So, for the most part I composed posts with outside tools. Draft has been my tool of choice, and I have been using it since its release. It supports Multimarkdown (footnotes and tables and such), and it also allows professionals to review your work for a small fee. Draft moved to a freemium model, and has started to really push for users to subscribe. Although the writing features are invaluable I don’t feel like I write enough to justify paying (is this a recurring theme?). Because of this, I have tried out some other writing tools recently. Editorially and Dillinger are two good ones that I have found, but the best so far feature-wise is StackEdit.
What else did I learn?
- Writing can be very therapeutic. A blog is a good place for venting frustration or righteous nerd anger.
- I am apparently a cheapskate. I guess I did not know what I was doing, so going the free route made sense, but it did not hit me just how far I went to avoid spending money until writing this post.
- Open source is the way to go. The wide open nature of the web would not be nearly as wide if it were built on proprietary tools. You can almost always find an open source, (nearly-)free version of whatever tool you need.
photo: paolovalde (via Flickr)
- In fact you are reading the fruit of my labors now! ↩