Short form Blogging

You might have noticed my post output has been consistently dropping lately. This is partly due to the fact that over the last few years this blog morphed into a collection of essays and long-form reviews rather than a daily blog. In the past I used to re-blog interesting links or provide commentary on current issues in technology under the mistaken impression that my “expert opinion” was somehow relevant. In most cases it wasn’t. It was merely adding to the echo chamber effect of our little community without adding much to the discussion or providing any unique insight.

These days I feel that the things I post should be either original and creative (like my tabletop gaming posts), provide some value to the readers (like reviews or tutorials) or at the very least say something thought provoking. As it turns out it usually takes me a few thousand words and at least few hours of research to produce something I think is worth reading and interesting. The posts that I was really happy with, and even proud of were the ones that took me weeks to compile. For example I started working on the Fimir article was already in the making when I posted about the Duckbunny. These things take time, effort and attention… And when they don’t, when I just randomly throw something quick together over the weekend I’m usually not happy with it. I have a dozen posts in my drafts section right now, which were queued up for posting but never went live because I decided I hated them, and I would rather have nothing go up than post something rushed and unfinished.

On the other hand, I hate to leave the blog dormant for a while, because it’s disappointing for readers, bad for SEO, and it decreases my already mostly insignificant ad revenue. There is a conflict here. I do want to keep trying to raise the bar and keep pushing myself to write longer, more thoughtful essays. But I just can’t physically pump them out that fast and I’d much rather take time and make something good: either by being creative or by actually doing research on the topic. But at the same time I don’t want the site to seem abandoned while I work behind the scenes.

Which brings me to a question: what is a blog supposed to be anyway these days? What blogs do you read, and what is their format and post frequency?

Blogging has matured a lot ever since I started this site on a free Blogger account, long before it was acquired by Google. While the general format of a blog remains the same, blogs became many things to many people – from marketing to journalism and anything in between. It is quite interesting how this medium has evolved, and how it now has to share it’s niche with social media and collaborative experiments like Medium (where you partly cede ownership of content you produce exchange for exposure and curation). We did not have microbloging, tumbleblogs and curated colaborations back when it all started.

What should be the purpose of a modern blog then? Is it to inform or to analyze? Should posts be bite-sized and accessible, or exhaustive and deep? I guess you pick whatever works for you and you run with it… But that’s not much of an answer.

I know that personally I love reading thoughtful and well researched essays or long form reviews. At the same time I also do see value shorter posts that simply touch upon an interesting topic without going into much depth. These sort of things can be thought provoking in their own way, as they provide a launch-board for discussions, or can inspire you to write something of our own.

In the last few months I have posted a few shorter pieces and most of them went over well, even though each time I felt like I was cheating by not providing more thoughtful analysis. Perhaps I shouldn’t though. Perhaps I should just tag these sort of posts as what they are, “short musings”, and post more of these as I work on longer and more organized and researched essays. I think I can manage to write few hundred word blurb whenever I just don’t have a few thousand word essay in me. This may actually make it possible for me to squeeze out more than one post a week without feeling guilty about post quality.

Also, fellow Americans, have a happy 4th! I was planning to post a picture of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, like I do every year, but I’m kinda tired of that joke. Maybe next year.

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13 Responses to Short form Blogging

  1. Sebastian Google Chrome Windows says:

    The posts i read mainly are the “philosophical” ones about technology, how it will evolve, how it has changed our behaviour, how things change your personal behavious (like the pebble). I think you did some great ones on mobile phone and teenagers some time ago.
    In short: everything that is in the “technology” category

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  2. Robert Safari Mac OS says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a long piece every week or two, with some shorter pieces sprinkled in between.

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  3. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Definitely ready and willing to read your expert opinions, idle musings and small thoughts.

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  4. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Hm… I’m sure I used to have a little banana by my name, maybe with a different email address.

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  5. switchnode UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    My own RSS feed is strongly selected for high signal, low noise. If I follow a blog, it’s because it’s a safe bet that I’ll find every or nearly every post interesting or even insightful. It doesn’t matter to me how long any one blog goes without a post (as long as I don’t have reason to fear that the author is internet-dead); if the feed as a whole isn’t keeping up with me (and if anything, I usually worry about the opposite), I can just go looking for more people with interesting things to say. There’ll be some. It’s a big internet.

    There are blogs I follow that routinely go months between updates; I wouldn’t dream of dropping them, because when they come back they’ll still be guaranteed good, and I can be sure that neither I nor the author will be burned out on them. Maybe it’s just that I’m the lurker type myself, but I’d never push anybody to publish stuff they weren’t happy with. Meanwhile, I have Reddit and Tumblr for the “I’m bored, let’s refresh something” niche, and there’s always social media (depending on your definition of social media) for having discussions.

    IMO, blogs (with the exception of some community blogs like Metafilter, which are really defined more by their userbases than any essential blogitude) aren’t really discussion spaces and never have been. I can’t think of a single standard blog whose comments I always or even often read (“standard” here disqualifying community blogs and webcomics—and single-topic blogs, I guess, though those are an entirely different discussion); usually I dip in only when the post is explicitly a request for reader input, when I suspect an entertaining brouhaha, or when the author is Wrong On The Internet. “Discussion” usually means returning repeatedly to various threads to read and possibly respond to posts by many different people—which is a) sort of at odds with the fundamental structure/function of a blog, viz., keeping up with a single person by reading each post once, and b) what forums are for, dammit, even if there aren’t many left.

    Personal blogs as launch-boards for discussions are just the wrong tool for the job; using a personal blog to start a discussion by not going into depth on personal opinions is both that and the wrong job for the tool. I do love seeing a blogger I follow post a long, exhaustive essay as a response to something on someone else’s blog—hey, here might be a whole new blog for me to read!—but if what I find is a writing prompt and not another essay, I’m not gonna stick around.

    So I’m always happier with slow-moving, denser blogs than short frequently-updating ones—but, you know, it is your blog. Take as much time as you need to post the kind of stuff that you like! Obviously it’s been working so far.

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  6. Wesley UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Personally, I use my blog as a notebook a lot, and sometimes just to organize my thoughts on things that I blog about. I do this for many reasons, but there are 2 main ones:

    1.) My URL isn’t very search/SEO/publicity friendly. it’s wesleyac.x64.me. In fact, Twitter bans is as spam, because I use a free DNS.
    2.) My server can’t handle much traffic. Once I got on the front page of HN (Near the bottom, but frontpage none the less). I got about 1000 requests in a couple of hours. That reduced my server to ~20 second response times.

    However, both to those things will change soon, as I’m getting a VPS, and ramnode has a free domain name for each VPS you get, so we’ll see what happens.

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  7. This is how I’ve been operating for years now. I don’t like to make a post on my blog unless it brings something unique to the Internet, and posts like these often take days or even weeks to prepare. That time is not necessarily working on the post directly. A lot of the time it’s writing the code, or preparing videos, that I’ll eventually be talking about in an article.

    @ switchnode:

    You exactly explained my situation, switchnode. I follow a whole bunch of blogs via Atom/RSS so their individual update rates aren’t important. I don’t unsubscribe until the blog has gone quiet for at least a year — since they rarely pick up again after such an absence — or its server is fully offline for more than a month, or its DNS registration is gone (probably picked up by a squatter).

    And you’re also exactly right about discussions. Disqus and WordPress comments are only barely adequate in general. It would probably be more valuable to link to a discussion on reddit or HN if the article gets posted there.

    @ Wesley:

    You should look into GitHub Pages, or some other sort of static blog generation. The only reason a blog needs to be dynamically generated on the fly is for comments, and there are alternative solutions for this. Static blogs trivially scale up to millions of hits for somewhere between free and a few cents per month. It also eliminates virtually all security concerns because it’s many orders of magnitude harder to hack a static file host, especially a CDN, than a host running WordPress. Unfortunately where it doesn’t scale as well is in large numbers of blog posts. A couple thousand posts is manageable but tens of thousands of posts (like Terminally Incoherent) probably gets unwieldy.

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  8. Wesley UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    I know about GH pages and Static Site generators, but I also use my server for a lot of other things (RSS Reader, “Cloud” storage, etc.), so it’s more convenient for me and gives me more control.

    Getting WordPress the hell off my server is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while though, so I’ll probably set up something different with my VPS. Any suggestions for static site generators? I haven’t used any except for make once with someone else’s site, and that doesn’t really count :P

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  9. the assumed purpose of a web log seems to be masturbatory, a word i choose with the request that the reader remove from it any & all possible connotation charge.

    opinion seems useless and dangerous in the medium of multi-user dungeons of the current fashion, which is experienced with an interpreted markup gui for crawls of the fantastic world, dungeon crawling now referred to as something like “reading the news feed” or other aesthetically-appropriate misnomer. i don’t enjoy crawling dungeons such as faecobok or even tuitter, as i’m thrown off by the paradigm shift in character definition within the new rpg generation known as “social networking” – most of the games have character objects with unclearly labeled level/hp/mp slots and values, and players often disagree on whether a spell such as “flame” landed; and i see why – faecboko doesn’t even seem to roll dice! well, i assume it does, on the back, but the results are never formatted to stdout. i could go on, and probably should, but i’ll let the reader finish this bit themselves as i’m currently tired.

    and tire does, working these new systems! i found a community of philosophical debaters so boring that i did a video log in their community, mocking their format with a well-defined character and infrequent posts made both to 1) be of superb quality and 2) look like very little time went into its production .. they had to look like the other users work (masturbaters all, arguing over dichotomy issues in format they didn’t recognize) —- as people subscribed and i continued, i took the commentary and post-modernism a little further to the surface.. so that over time more and more members saw my work for what it was. i was successful in dissolving a destructive community in this way and i found that the users who liked the idea of being cool (at least 80% of them) immediately found better places to be, the 20% disinterested finding myriad clones of their masturbation pile to hurl their rag-doll bodies atop & get back to it asap.

    but this log, t.i., is the cons form of creative not the decons so i would suggest utilizing a microlog for bollocks and so our pings don’t time out while you’re meticulously crafting the next pong. it’s okay to find a way to keep the fickle populace pacified with subpar butter so long as you don’t churn out nothing but a load; if you do that & spread it on toast right in front of us like it’s butter when it’s nutt, you’ll lose everyone who isn’t blind which makes up as much as 5% of a fanbase and as much as 95% of that base’s relevance, magic & power.

    don’t worry about this stuff anyway. what you’re doing is good and the people,
    who are able vis a vis cognitive faculty development etc, recognize the quality of what you do and how long it likely takes etc. just keep on. you’ll be all set.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Sebastian:

    Thanks. I like those kinds of posts too.

    @ Matt`:

    Yeah, banannas are bound to emails. Kinda like gravatars though they are not decentralized. I basically add emails by hand for them. Do you want a banana on the other email too? :)

    @ switchnode:

    Thanks. This is very good feedback. I agree that there are better places to “start a discussion” than a personal blog. Taking what you said into account I think I have a clearer picture now what I want to do. Namely, if and when I post shorter blogs, I will still strive to make them thoughtful, original and opinionated. Just, you know, more condensed.

    But yeah, after reading this I don’t feel as bad for slow posting. :)

    @ Wesley:

    Heh, I know that pain. I got Digg, Reddit and HN all taking turns crashing my site at one time or another. Most of those invasions occurred back when I was on a shared host and there was nothing I could do to mitigate the damage. Now I’m on Linode and it is a bit better, though high traffic can still make WordPress spin out of control and eat all the memory and swap in seconds. But at least I can reboot it when that happens.

    Ramnode looks pretty neat, though I haven’t used it. I do have a droplet on Digital Ocean that only costs me $5/mo that I use for testing and random bullshit. Their web interface is pretty great, and so far I haven’t had any issues with it.

    Btw, if you ever consider registering a domain, I recommend iWantMyName. They are pretty great. It seems that you could get wesley.link for about $15/year.

    @ Chris Wellons:

    Thanks for making me feel less guilty about infrequent posts.

    As for dynamic hosting, I can see one use case that it has going for it: you can blog from anywhere. If you have WordPress running on a site, you can draft your posts on your phone, tablet, chromebook, work computer and etc. With static generators you need to take your toolkit with you.

    @ Wesley:

    For static generators Jekyll is probably your best bet. It has big community and it is in active development and constantly improving. It has import scripts for most dynamic blogging platforms. For example, you can easily import posts from a WordPress blog with this gem.

    It is also the engine used by Github pages so you can host your blog for free at yourname.github.io or set up a custom domain.

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  11. @ Wesley:

    Echoing Luke’s opinion, Jekyll is probably the most mature static blog generator right now. It’s improved leaps and bounds the last couple of years, especially if configured to use Redcarpet instead of Maruku (the default).

    @ Luke Maciak:

    That’s a good point about being able to write posts on the fly. If hosted on a VPS you could achieve the same effect by rigging up a private webapp to insert new content via POST and trigger the static blog generator. I’ll never write a post this way, but GitHub Pages has this feature built-in automatically as a side-effect. The repository web interface can be used to make new commits, including new files, so it would be entirely possible for me to (awkwardly) write a new blog post from my phone without any additional setup.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    Ah, I completely forgot about Github’s web-editor thingy. But I would argue that that’s a special case because not all Jekyll blogs will be Github page blogs. In fact, the two Jekyll sites I run are not actually on Github.

    But you are right – it is entirely possible to run a Jekyll blog in such a way that will allow browser based posting. :)

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  13. TinyI UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    I think blogs should really cover things you personally might want to come back to.

    So like your tutorials on laTeX or your jekyll thing you did a few days ago – if you ever need to remember something you know you’ve already done, great for you. For the audience – it introduces them to different tools they may not have heard of and provides a 2nd (easier I find) guide on using them too (you made me convert to vim. and start using composer. and vagrant. and then I gave up and have a DO vps which I work from, seeing as all my tools are CLI-based now).

    But I wish you did more of the “funny” blog posts… like the firewall saga thing with the Verizon and the old dude rummaging around to find Verizon’s router and holding it up like a trophy.

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