on blogging

Brent Simmons is right: It’s weird to see people bemoan the decline of blogging and do it on Twitter. You can blog! You can blog for free if you want! (Though the best options require a few bucks.) Get over your social-media Stockholm Syndrome and start doing the thing you know is better. Cross-post to Twitter or Facebook if you must, but own your turf and tend your garden. Now that you can register your own domain name at micro.blog you have no excuse: it’s easy-peasy. 

I am still hoping for a Blogging Renaissance, but lately I’m thinking that one necessary element of a true renaissance will be to get the readers of blogs on the same page as the writers. Everyone who writes a blog for a while knows that one of the best things about it is the way it allows you to revisit themes and topics. You connect one post to another by linking to it; you connect many posts together by tagging. Over time you develop fascinating resonances, and can trace the development of your thought. Venkatesh Rao has thought a lot about this in his series of posts — he calls it a “blogchain” — on blogs as “elder games.” 

But this is not typically how readers read blogs. Not many people read this blog, but those who do typically just read the most recent posts — three days back, max. I add links to earlier posts, but almost no one clicks on them. People don’t click on tags either. And I think that’s because we have all been trained by social media to skim the most recent things and then go on to something else. We just don’t do deeper dives any more. So one of the things I want to be thinking about is: How can I encourage readers of my blog to seek some of the benefits that I get from it? 


A little less than a year ago I wrote a post about cultivating my blog as a kind of garden. I made reference there to something I heard about from Robin Sloan, the game designer Gunpei Yokoi’s idea of “lateral thinking with seasoned technology” — taking established and perhaps unsexy technologies and finding unexpected new uses for them.

Since I wrote that post I have started a newsletter, because a email newsletter is also a seasoned technology, and I wondered if I might be able to do some things with it that I can’t do with this blog. I’m still experimenting, still learning, still looking for what will make that project sing — but I am really enjoying it so far, and getting some lovely responses from people, and this morning I realized that one of the reasons I like doing the newsletter so much is that I have (quite unconsciously) understood it as a place not to do analysis or critique but to share things that give me delight.

What brought about that realization was reading the most recent edition of Warren Ellis’s newsletter, in which he writes this:

Here’s a thing that came up in an email conversation the other week, that I don’t think I’ve ever made explicit to you: herein, I only talk about the things I like.

This was an important decision for me, made some years ago. It is great fun to annihilate something in a storm of arch Menckenesque hail, and I’ve done it in the past. But I came to the place where I questioned its utility here. If I’m spending time and space on something that is bad, then that is time and space not used to boost the awareness of something good. And that is a poor trade-off, these days.

A thousand times yes.

I mentioned earlier that I learned about “lateral thinking with seasoned technology” (LTST) from Robin Sloan, and Robin with his Year of the Meteor project is doing just that, employing Risograph printing, the U.S. Postal Service, a print-and-mail service called Lob that’s typically used by businesses for mass mailings, and who knows what else in the future.

Similarly, for his Ridgeline project, Craig Mod, while on a long-distance walk in Japan, tried sending brief messages and photos to subscribers all over the world by plain old SMS. The project ended up having some bugs, but the idea is enormously generative. As Robin wrote about Craig’s project, “Craig is always making new tools, trying new things, like the SMS experiment. Like he is really TRYING. What if 10X more people were TRYING?” I want to be one of those people who is trying, too. Trying to share things I like in unexpected ways.

plain text and WordPress

Here’s something I often find myself wanting to do: write plain-text files in a text editor using Markdown and then publish directly to WordPress. As far as I can tell, there’s only one way to do that on the Mac: Byword.

There are other apps that give you some of what I want: for instance, you can publish directly from MarsEdit, which is a great app, but it’s a full-scale blogging engine with a database, not an editor of simple text files, and while you can write there in Markdown, you don’t get syntax highlighting. iA Writer is a beautiful environment to write in — its bespoke typefaces (Mono, Duo, Quattro) really are a delight to the eyes — but when you’re ready to publish in WordPress it opens a draft in your default browser using WordPress’s horrifically ugly and user-unfriendly editing environment. And avoiding opening WordPress is one of my chief goals in life. Ulysses lets you publish directly to WordPress but it saves your files as weird little .ulysses packages, and while you can extract your text files from them, that’s a pain, and you can’t use your own file and folder structure.

As far as I can tell, on iOS Ulysses and Byword are the primary options for posting directly, and Byword only allows you to choose from five typefaces only, the single monospace option being Courier, and I don’t especially like Courier. I’ve been trying to do this in Drafts, through Drafts actions or Shortcuts or some combination thereof, and I’m sure someone with more skills than mine could make that happen, but to this point I have failed. Though I can post to micro.blog directly from Drafts, which is nice. But Drafts saves its files to a database. I want individual text files because you can open and edit them on any computer in a myriad of apps.

I’m writing this on my iPad in iA Writer, and I suppose that when I’m ready to publish I’ll open it in Byword and publish from there, but that’s a lame workaround. Given the ubiquity of WordPress, this ought to be easier.

© 2019 Snakes and Ladders

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑