December 31, 2018

The state of blogging in 2018

Let’s take a minute to talk about how fucking weird, and hard, blogging has become.

As the year marches on, I wanted to finally launch and just start writing again for a variety of reasons. Last year I set out to rebuild my own custom writing platform, but it just wasn’t going to cut it. I found myself spending more and more time building a new feature that I found I wanted rather than actually writing.

I needed something I didnt have to devote so much time to building, and something I could just write and publish to that didn’t suck.

It turns out, that doesn’t really exist anymore, because people have mostly given up making decent writing tools, and are so focused with their collective heads so far up their ass on SEO and ad revenue, no-one really paid attention to just how bad blogging tools have become.

Some of the most promising platforms like Medium and Ghost have finally begun to run out of steam, while new microblogging services and “federated platforms” are trying to reinvent the wheel. And let’s not forget about tumbler over in the corner shitting itself.

And yet, here we are with WordPress still being the best, most customizable solution.

Writing online is weird.

Medium

I always wanted to root for Medium. I really, really wanted it to be the next Blogger. The place I could call home. It has such an amazing, eloquent text editor that made it so simple to write. But it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be, with features constantly getting added then removed months later. Don’t even get me started on their custom domains. Im still bitter about that.

It’s homepage layout design changes just as frequently. Finding new content is a mess, and half the time it’s not even clear what is free and what’s hidden behind a pay wall. The creative content also just isn’t there before. When it was still young, when you saw a article on Medium, you knew it was going to be good. Now all I see are idiots talking about crypto and the blockchain, or some pretentious bullshit about hacking your mind and body.

But it’s not all bad. It’s great place to start to get your content discovered and to build your base. Just don’t stick around long, or you’ll start finding all your posts looking the same, and a nightmare on importing. Your content somewhere else.

Ghost

A Node.js based alternative open source blogging platform that allows for self-hosting and premium hosting options. When it was announced, it poised itself as the WordPress alternative, with a promised a beautiful dashboard that never quite became a reality. Even now after years of development, its still lacking a lot of core features older platforms like Drupal and WordPress perfected.

Besides custom themes, it has a severe lack of plugins, and the documentation on how to even extend the platform is scarce.

Similar to Medium, if you just want to write, a Ghost powered blog is great. With handlebars and its semantic templating language, developing a theme will feel familiar if you’ve ever used Liquid, jinja, django, etc.

If they ever get their reinvention of WordPress’s post types sorted out, I may go back to it. It truly does feel like it could be the start of the next big thing. But then again, it’s also felt like that for several years now.

Jekyll

Jekyll, and all of its static site generators are great. I love to use it when Im building a simple website I know won’t be edited often, if it all. I even built UnderTasker around it. What it does, it does well. Frontend matter, plains, gems, its all a nerd’s wet dream.

But that’s also the problem. Its the same issue I ran into with building my own platform. You’ll spend more time setting things up and building, then you will writing sometimes.

Want to live blog? You’ll need to build it. Want some custom post types? You’ll need to build that too. Of course there’s gems and packages you can use to help, and frameworks like Octopress are a fine edition, but if you want to add your own design into the fray, prepare to get your hands dirty.

Federated blogging

The new, cool thing that people are trying to flock to are federated services, similar to Mastadon (and what Dispora tried to accomplish). The ideas that you write once, and share it to other networks.

The problem is, time and time again, these kind of decentralized services just don’t work. At least not with out a separate body that can govern verification. There’s no sure fire way to verify someone is who they say they are. In Mastadon’s case, there nothing stopping someone from being “underlost” on a different Mastadon network that Im not on, and pretending to be me. Obviously you could make the case with email and a lot of other services, but being able to truly own your site, your brand, your content, your message, and your design, all go a long way.

Also, we had something like this that already worked. And mostly accomplished all of this already. It was called RSS/Atom, ping backs, trackbacks, whatever.

Before Facebook and snaps, the early 2000s of blogging were glorious. We can’t go back to just using this why?

Tumblr

Tumblr was the myspace of blogging. It was truly a platform that let you express yourself and your hobbies however you wanted. You could edit every single line of your theme. You could even post just about anything you wanted. Want to share that erotic Sonic/Spyro fan fiction series you wrote? Obnoxious autoplaying songs? Go for it!

Well, that was up until December 17th, when it’s purging all ‘offensive’ material.

Back on my old (WordPress) Bullshit

I spent over a year building my own blog/CMS from the ground up (more on that later), but here we are, returning to WordPress. Why? Because it works. It all just makes sense. I can extend it however I want. I can host it anywhere I want.

When I decided to move back to WordPress, it took 5 days to rebuild all of the features I worked at on my platform. And then another week to style everything. I rebuilt A Life Well Played in under a month. Granted, I build a lot of wordPress sites, sometimes for a living, but I also build a lot of Python and Node.js things as well.

Everything about WordPress just kind of works. The documentation is outstanding. The community is amazing. The platform has matured so much in the last few years that it’s grown well beyond a blogging tool. It’s a fully featured CMS that puts overcomplicated systems like Drupal to shame.

The new Gutenberg editor and ‘blocks’ are hot trash, but I also don’t have to use them. I can use my own page builder tools of choice, or switch back to the tinymce editor.

There’s a reason 1/3 of the web uses WordPress, and its becoming increasingly obvious why.

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