Blogging Solutions

Monday, November 11, 2013 :: Tagged under: culture meta. ⏰ 6 minutes.


Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄


A friend recently asked for some advice regarding blogging solutions, and I realized it's a pretty big space. Here's some advice after a few years of blogging, a bit of experience with blogging engines, and general technical proficiency.

First, about blogging

tef is one of many programmers to make the observation that if a problem is 90% social and 10% technical, programmers will spend most of their time trying to solve the technical portion of it.

Similarly, everything I'm going to say doesn't change the fact that the core challenge of blogging is writing consistently. At the end of the day, none of what follows matters if you don't want to write something from time to time, actually go on to write it, and stick with it. If you don't or won't enjoy writing for what it is, none of the features of the products below will change that.

Many of my friends have aspired to be novelists or screenwriters and formed strong opinions on MS Word vs. Scrivener vs. CeltX vs. Final Draft vs. WriteRoom, but at the end of the day, they didn't actually... write much. Same with programmers who will tell you why Their Tools or Their Methodologies are so much better for writing software, and yet, they seem to spend more time arguing their preferences than writing software.

So take all that follows with a grain of salt. One of the best things about blogging is how lo-fi it is: displaying words is the one thing the Internet has always been good at. If you have a delicious ice cream sundae and just need help selecting the bowl and cherry, let this be a guide, but don't hold any illusions that the tools are anything other than ancillary.

But if you're into details -- ahoy!

For virtually everybody: out-of-the-box, externally hosted, dynamic blog engines.

For pretty much everybody, I'll recommend WordPress or Blogger. LiveJournal fits in this category too, but its got some issues. All of these are the least-hassle ways of hosting a simple blog because they have the properties in the headline. What do those words mean?

Examples of sites on WordPress are Jamie Zawinski's blog and Charly Evon Simpson's page. An example of a Blogger site would be the the former host to this one, or if you can read this, you're lying.

The Happy Hacker: Self-hosted, dynamic product-based solution

For most of my hacker friends who might want to run a server sometime (try it! It's super fun and instructive!) I'd recommend doing a self-hosted install of a major product, like WordPress (different site than above) or, if you're feeling like trying the new up-and-comer, Ghost.

These have almost all the advantages of the above platforms, but are much more customizable. I ran a self-hosted WordPress install for More Paul for 2-3 years in college. Most of its artifacts are sadly lost to history (a time before I learned version control, and big hosters like GitHub/BitBucket didn't exist. Wayback Machine has some archives*), but my memory is that it was extremely pleasant and easy, and I recommend anyone who has a bit of technical proficiency give it a try.

An example of the customization possibilities are in the Wayback archives above -- I wanted to use "code aesthetics" as the theme of that site, so I wrote a PHP function to operate on the titles and dates of the posts after a redesign. The function would do things like change "The Gum Thief" to def the_gum_thief() {, and "July 18, 2008" to setDate( 18-07-2008 );. Since these were ostensibly part of the layout (still server-side, so bad for SEO I'm sure), I could revert the WordPress theme and get human-readable titles again.

(it looked better back then to 21 year-old Pablo, trust me)

An example of Ghost is my friend Adam Zethraeus' site, whose first post is exactly about using Ghost.

The command-line masochist -- static blog generators.

Maybe the title's a little harsh, but these days the trend is to go with static blog generators: Jekyll, or its popular wrapper, Octopress, usually hosted on GitHub Pages. Static blog generation is the route I've chosen to go with, using Frog.

Self-identified Hackers love these solutions because:

So why do I say it's the masochist route? A few reasons:

All this to say: I love me my Frog, but I would never suggest this (or a similar workflow) for anybody who didn't love process.

Conclusion

I'm probably missing some solutions (hybrids? other major products?), but these are what I've used over the years. Short answer: use WordPress. Self-host it if you're into that kind of thing. If you love hacking but hate life, give static generation a shot.


* = If anyone wants to see any real old Pablo blogging, my first foray into it was a LiveJournal account I had as a freshman in college. Like most of artifacts from my youth, it's cute, and painfully earnest. I mean, really, look at this:

groan

or this:

groan again

But then again, I did write some things that I'm very glad to find again, like this bit on my immediate motivations to leave college theatre, as it was happening.

Tons of my friends (understandably!) delete or remove blogs or YouTube videos from their past that demonstrate they weren't the people who they are now. I keep it up there, thinking there might come a time when I hate myself less.

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄