Pondering the cobwebs
It's plain to see that I've not been a blogger for a long time.
This place is a long-neglected ghost town that sees a begrudged entry every few months, when I happen to remember it still exists and I feel guilty for not feeding it with content. What I've yet to figure out is if the cause is a matter of motivation, publishing tools, audience, or writing topics.
Behold as I ramble on for many tens of words pondering the cobwebs here at 0xDECAFBAD.
Other outlets have absorbed nearly all of my motivations that once prompted casual blogging. And those other outlets, in most cases, provide better rewards:
- For quick top-of-the-head thoughts and quips, Twitter works best for the brain-spew and gets me feedback from interesting people faster than my spam-embattled comments here ever did.
- For sharing things I find on the web, Delicious took that job over years ago and Google Reader has been angling for the job as well.
- For sharing code and projects, I've started doing more and more over at my GitHub account.
Quite awhile ago, I even went so far as to redirect the front page of my decafbad.com domain straight to a page that's nothing more than a shell for a FriendFeed widget that aggregates my output from elsewhere. It's kind of a cop-out, but if you want to see what I'm really up to, that's a much better page than my stagnant blog index anyway. I've got a local archive of my activity, and have been meaning to make a self-hosted lifestream more front-and-center, but I've been too busy to bother.
In fact, I've been thinking about killing my WordPress installation here altogether, and switching the blog over to a static fossil snapshot. Since I rarely post, there's rarely a comment inbound here these days that's not trying to slip through an ad for pills or fake handbags. Thus, most of the CPU cycles on my web host are spent on busy work processing requests that will never amount to anything real. So, why bother having an actual PHP application running here?
The one thing that I haven't done a lot of lately—and would like to carve out time to get back to—is some real long-form writing. You would think that that's where this WordPress thing would come in handy, but oddly it seems not to. I hate writing in textareas in browsers, haven't found a desktop blog client that I liked in years.
So, because of the little things that annoy me, I stop writing before I start because the anticipated process to publish seems like a chore. I'd much rather be writing in MacVim and checking text files into a git repository. Then, I could throw Jekyll or something yak-shavingly homebrewed on top of post-receive hooks to do indexing magic and such in static HTML. You know, the stuff that took forever in MovableType back in the day, but decoupled from my actual writing process.
Huh, now that I describe it, the above sounds like a chore too—but it would be a shiny new toy! At that point, I wouldn't be blogging so much as publishing an archive of essays on the web. But, at least I'd know the format would be future-proof, the platform exploit-resistant, and the overall maintenance less worrisome. If I had comments, I could even outsource them to another service and run periodic backups to be safe.
But, beyond the mechanisms, there's who I imagine might be reading this stuff. I hold off on writing a lot of things that could be posted here because they're maybe not tech-nerdy enough. If it doesn't have at least one code example, I hesitate to share it here—and if I don't share it here, I probably don't share it anywhere.
And then there's the thought that whatever I write here, no one will read it if it's too long. This entry is mostly written to myself, and I expect a single-digit comment count—most likely zero. I get the most feedback on the shortest things, which has ultimately lead to Twitter and its 140 character limit yielding some of my most rewarding interactions on the web in years. I post an essay here, and it's all crickets.
The exceptions are where I post something really useful, like that article about HTML 5 Drag & Drop or a Delicious command for Ubiquity. That is, of course, a clue if comments and feedback are what I'm after.
So, what could I be writing about these days? Let's see, I could write about:
- what I've been up to at Mozilla since I started;
- brewing beer and roasting coffee at home;
- retro computing on my C64 and Amiga;
- developing for Palm webOS;
- random thoughts on life;
Huh. That all sounds like a blog, and one I would read myself—though that last one sounds like my LiveJournal, long neglected since I started dating my wife and got much less emo in general. We probably don't need to go there so much, but I could probably bore with more even-tempered philosophical expositions.
What's the problem?
I wonder what my real problem is, then? Is it really just a matter of butt in the seat that I'm missing? I write every day—in a paper journal, in wiki pages, in emails, to myself—I just don't write much here. Maybe all the above is just a collection of excuses.
Lately, I've had this notion that I should try writing and publishing for an earlier version of myself. That is: all these things I end up searching for and researching on the web, I should write them up in a way that I wish had been the first search result in Google. Whatever the topic, if a younger version of me wanted to find it, I should put it out there to be found. Never mind who else I think might read it or (not) comment on it.
Write for myself, write what I'd want to read—sounds pretty obvious when I put it out there like that. So, is that the deal? Who knows; we'll see if a change in perspective results in more happenings here.
I write about stuff (including beer brewing, Amigas and less archaic techy stuff) mostly for the pleasure of my current self, and the amusement of my future self.
I never considered writing for an earlier version of myself, but then I know for a fact he didn't have a time machine.
I long ago gave up on the idea of regular blogging. It made sense when that was the "only" method of sharing information/ideas/photos/etc publicly, but now (given the explosion of social nets and other sharing tools) a blog seems primarily a vehicle for long-form writing.
I wouldn't lament the dust on the blog. It used to represent "you", but now it simply exists as part of a large collection of online resources that, together, represent "you".
I sympathize with much of what you say here. Sometimes I think that Twtiter is a little too efficient at letting me get thoughts out of my head quickly -- I end up not percolating on things long enough to come up with long-form writing; and/or maybe it's just that my itch to write is 'scratched' by the tweets.
Hey, I'd love to hear more from you, whether techy or random. I don't know how I ended up here, but it looks like last month was the seventh anniversary of my first comment:
"Newly Digital in 1983" is still one of my favorite stories ever. You also got me interested in ifiction and flash fiction. (I ended up publishing a few stories on 365tomorrows and Ficlets.) And this month I'm joining the Mozilla Corporation, partly because I want to work with you and other hackers whose work has influenced me over the years. Your audience may be small, but we're devoted! :)
I moved my own technical blogging to Jekyll recently. There's a bit less guilt about slow update schedules when I think of it more like a static collection of articles than an online journal. (And yeah, using a real editor and version control makes it much easier to get longer pieces done.) I use Planet Venus for my personally-hosted lifestream, though these days most of my friends get my aggregated data via Facebook or Buzz.
I've never used my blog as much as you've used yours -- I've never really been a blogger at all, honestly.
I like posting code snippets. Maybe I'll check out github at some point, but I've got a 2-year-old now. He's way more fun and interesting than Python or whatever. (I guess that could be interpreted as implying that my wife is NOT more fun and interesting than those things. Rather than explain why that is not the case, I'll just say that we've been together forever, and I love her very much.)
At any rate, I thought your post merited at least one comment pondering why the commenter does not blog (anymore).
For my part, it has a lot to do with privacy, I think. I knew before I ever installed blosxom that I didn't want to be a "blogger." I had no interest in sharing my deep thoughts about life, politics, or anything else. I enjoy talking with people; it's not an antisocial thing. It's just that I don't know what long-term ramifications there may be to such free expression. Likewise, you won't see pictures of me and my family generally available on Flickr or Picasa (there may be a handful). Facebook is nothing to me except somewhere to echo my Twitter stream, such as it is (and I've stopped doing that). Brightkite -- forget it! My last.fm profile is about as intimate as I get online.
I'm thinking about shutting down my WP installation. I really don't use it. The only thing I really use my VPS for is my web-based feed reader.
All of these blogging, microblogging, and social networking services -- especially the social networking services -- are really interesting to me, though. I will keep hanging around the periphery of them, dipping in a toe here and there.
Les I've followed this for a while. I admit most of the code examples are over my head, but I've learned from you.
Maybe your idea of writing for a younger you has legs. I don't think anything you've mentioned is geared toward the less knowledgeable. I don't mean explaining simple HTML "Hello World", but why not summaries or highlights of languages you know?
You could point out differences between the languages, maybe reasons certain applications are written in one instead of another? I'm sure there is a intermediate user perspective you could aim at. Parlay these things into possible book sales?
Good luck with what ever you decide.
@CiaranG: Yeah, I think that's the best reason to have a blog. The past self thing is really thinking that someone like me might come along and appreciate what I tossed onto the web. Beyond that, I like writing and can't think of better any better topics than writing about the other stuff I like doing.
@Carter: I think my main source of lament here is that I'm a writer who never seems to write on his own site. I feel like I should be publishing more about the stuff I do. But, yeah, this place isn't really the center of my online universe anymore.
@Matt: Huh, you know, that Newly Digital in 1983 post was one of my quieter ones in terms of feedback. I always wondered if it got many reads, but it was one of my own favorites to write since it was the sort of thing I liked to see on others' blogs.
Oh, and welcome to Mozilla! I'm back out to Mountain View pretty regularly, so we'll have to hang out sometime. Might have to pick your brain about Jekyll and how you like mobile hacking.
@Dan: I'm a bit weird, since most of my friends since the age of 8 have been behind computers, modems, or the internet. And now, my job is almost entirely on the net since I'm telecommuting from my basement 3000 miles away from HQ. So, it's pretty natural for me to live online.
Still, I have gotten more and more private. My LiveJournal has some entries that I'd never write now, and I'll probably never post religious / political stuff here because it's not worth the debate or potential life / career damage.
So... yeah, I'll probably never again be a blogger, per se. I don't feel like having a diary online so much as a place where I publish interesting things.
I think really my thing here is I call myself a writer, so I should probably be doing more of it. :)
Regarding publishing interesting things -- I'm totally with you there. And like you said, delicious, Google Reader, etc. are much better suited than WP to most of that activity.
As far as being a writer goes, not everyone can do all their writing (drafts, edits, rewrites, etc.) in public view. Writing is intensely personal. Even if you're writing about Dojo or hacking delicious, you're exposing your imperfect innards while you do your best to create something really difficult. Hell, I write for a living -- I'm a corporate and securities lawyer. When I've finalized a document, all of my drafts get shredded!
Sounds so familiar on so many fronts. Haven't posted in over a year. I'm thinking of moving my page to wordpress.com, just to have something for people to see at my domain.
For what it's worth, as the comment count edges towards double figures, I read to the end, I enjoy the stuff of yours that I've read, and I'm sure I would enjoy things from your "I could write about" list, whoever you were writing for.
It's your blog, my man. Make of it what you will. I'd hate to see you take it down, though.
@Michael: Yeah, wouldn't you know when I predict no comments, everyone show up. :) (I wasn't trying to beg for comments, honest!)
@Geof: Well, I'd never take it down, just turn off the PHP bits and move to something else whenever I wrote again. Actually, this thing is mostly static HTML right now thanks to WP Super Cache.
But, now that I wrote this and I'm thinking about things again, I might just keep this around. Started playing with MarsEdit 2, and finding I don't actually hate it.
I started using Jekyll last month, and I like it. I had started to write my own, but then I started wondering why I had to have my own. It turned out Jekyll gets most of what I want done with a minimum of yak shaving. I think the only weakness is the lack of categories/tags and the requisite feeds. It's nice to write something up with markdown, build the site, and push it out. Jekyll feels natural for people like us.
Community is funny. And virtual ones are more so.
You're good at writing, otherwise you wouldn't have as many listeners as you do... And I believe that you're not fishing for feedback like this.
If you continue to write here, RSS will keep us clued in. I don't see RSS readers totally going away for a while.
Smiles will continue, just keep "scratching one or more of your itches" here. Just like today.
You have toyed with the idea of an audio show, but I haven't seen evidence of that. If giving that a try sparks something in you, then you best be about it...
I can definitely recommend giving Jekyll a try. It lets you go from 'Hmmn, maybe I should write about that' to published weblog entry in a wonderfully seamless way, with no barriers between you and your weblog--all you have to do is open a new tab in your text editor, and write. I switched from Wordpress and immediately went from writing once in a blue moon to publishing something every day, just about.
And, for what it's worth, I'd definitely enjoy reading about brewing and coffee roasting - recipes and techniques are the kind of code examples I can understand!
Crikey - a couple of familiar faces here (Ciaran, Michael).
Double crikey - any blo with two mentions of 'Yak Shaving' must be entered into Google Reader. Now :-)
I think I originally 'knew' you from your sterling efforts getting embryonic releases of Laconica working (thanks) and just wondered why your identi.ca account there was dormant so I just stumbled in uninvited.
Anyway, I can identify with this post. I have endured similar crises of confidence with my blog - in fact all of my online presence.
I remember committing Web 2.0 suicide once and labouriously deleting 237 Tumblr entries. Christ - those guys need some Bulk management tools.
I'm with Ciaran. As my blog festers and sporadically bursts into life, I realise that I am only writing for myself and I have only ever written for myself.
Why - very occasionally I trawl through my own archives and laugh at my own jokes and wonder 'Why can't I produce stuff like this any more ?'
I've played with every blogging platform ever invented and currently favour Habari - mainly for the pure unadulterated beauty of the 'Compose Post' blank canvas.
However, I also played with Jekyll and the thought of writing in Emacs and 'commiting' to publish content is an attractive one.
I think your final paragraph sums it up brilliantly:
'Write for myself, write what I’d want to read'.
Couldn't agree more.