…living up to its name

Meta : blogging

There’s a long tradition of bloggers blogging about blogging. This post follows in the self-obsessed insular tradition.

This blog post is somewhat unusual in that I’m posting it to nostuff, my blog. I’ve been using posterous a bit of late and like it a lot. Posterous is also setup to post to a WP instance on nostuff here: it was setup as a way to archive an externally hosted service, but the end result is very useable (and seems to rank quite highly in Google).

Why am I using Posterous more, and this blog less? A number of Posterous posts have started off as ‘I can’t quite fit this in to 140 characters on twitter so I’ll use Posterous’, and normally write much, much more than I intend.

I also find using gmail as a post creator rather nice to use, it makes me focus on writing as it doesn’t support any fancy formatting or blog specific features.

In fact the composition window of WordPress has always been its weak point. Does this put me off using it? Even though the WP developers have put a lot in to the interface, it is at the end of the day, a TinyMCE (or similar) WYSIWYG editor. The text box for which always seems a little small to me. And it feels a little like editing a form. I wish it looked more like a Google Doc, taking up nearly all the screen with the text editor, large text, and excellent ‘constant save’ / view changes support.

What’s not helpful is that my blog is hosted in the States, or a server that ins’t always as responsive as it should be, so the experience feels slower than using gmail. Finally, the categories, tags, perm link etc all make blogging feel like a ‘heavy’ experience, even though – of course – I’m free to ignore them. The simplicity of posterous was liberating.

So, for this post, and others recently to this blog, I’ve used a client called ecto to compose it, and at the end post it to WordPress. This is something ironic in doing just about everything in a browser except composing something that is so at its heart a web-based thing, a blog. You could argue that writing (relatively) long bits of text is better suited to local apps than web apps, but this doesn’t explain why I head for Google Docs and Google spreadsheets by default rather than Word of Excel. I selected ecto many years a go after trying it and MarsEdit. I can’t help thinking I made a bad choice as ecto has not since had a single update and MarsEdit has gone from strength to strength. Still, while it works I shall resist paying the £28 for MarsEdit. This is a rare area where the Microsoft alternative is better and free.

One to(o) Many

When I started out with this blog many years a go, I thought I was in the same boat as many of my peers. Over time I’ve noticed that I’m quite rare in that is a ‘anything goes’ blog – most are either work/professional related or of a particular interest. In fact very few of the blogs I follow are of a general style such as this (Dave Pattern and Tom Roper are two examples I can think of which buck the trend). Many people seem to have a professional blog, perhaps a specialist blog (cooking, running, knitting, etc) and increasingly perhaps a tumblr for random stuff.

I’ve rather keen to keep the general feel. I know I’m guilty in so many ways at letting work/personal intermingle in so many ways but you can categories blog posts (and probably twitter to) as one of: I’ve done something I want to share; I’ve got a view/opinion on something, and the third, related to the second, I want to reflect on something (which this post probably falls under), and I like the idea of this blog reflecting those things no matter what subject they are about. This space is a dump of my thoughts and things worth sharing. I prefer to let categories and tags provide a way of filtering should people only be interested. Of course, there’s an argument that you may want to avoid people in a professional network (I hate that phase) from seeing your thoughts and rantings outside of work. It’s a very good argument, but one so far I’ve resisted changing what I do because of it.

Of course, the idea that this is the place for the thoughts and outputs of Chris Keene is nonsense. As mentioned above, I also dump stuff on posterous. I’m using Google+ more, there’s flickr, youtube, comments on other blogs and most of all twitter. There’s no easy answer to this, I’ve gone away from the route of adding a lot of plugins from other sites to the sides of this blog, it makes things look messy, but it does leave a hole through my general ‘this is my dumping ground’ philosophy.

Blog TLC

I haven’t done much with this blog over the last year though I do have some things on my mind.

  • I have regular plans to move to a new theme. I like many of the very stripped down themes now out there including this one and the default Twenty Ten theme. However, somewhat cynically, I like the fact that the current theme gives it a somewhat unique feel, I like to feel that someone somewhere comes back after a year and thinks ‘oh yes, the green one, I’ve been here before’. And while it has failings (the left hand side if far from perfect, and it relies too much on images for the background shading) I have put effort in to it over the years, including a first stab at converting it to html5 last year. All in all, I’m going to hold on to it a little longer.
  • I’ve just added some social media buttons, ‘plus ones’ for Facebook/Google+ and a tweet button. They need some customising and a currently a little large. I’ve found I use these a bit on other people’s sites as a simple tip of my hat that I have read and enjoyed the post. A simple ‘hit’ within web stats just doesn’t convey this. So while they are clutter, and somewhat ugly clutter at that, I hope people might take the time to hit them, using which ever network they like to use, if they enjoy reading something.
  • I’m going to re-do Categories. I’m going to base them on potential categories of reader. Somethings like this: Library Technology, Technology, Libraries (general), Politics, Brighton (and Sussex), UK. I may also include some meta categories: essay, short, interesting (for those I think worth highlighting) and me. Of course each post can belong to many categories. Some of the current categories date back to when this was the place to share links.
  • Consider setting up my posterous to post to this blog, either automatically or when I flag it to do so. Some of the stuff I have posted there deserves to be here (which I see more as a permanent record).
  • Re-think the front page of the blog. Is the most recent blog post, in full, the best thing to see?
  • I find that on landing on to someone else’s blog (via Google or twitter) I want to know a bit about them, for example what they are saying may have a different meaning based on where they live, or what they claim to specialise in. So I may beef up the brief blurb at the top left of the page.

I have one final idea but it will take more than a bullet point to explain.

For a long time I have felt that Blog comments leave me wanting, on my own and other sites. I only get to see those who commented before me, I probably won’t see those left after mine, people who already have commented will not see mine etc. If I write a long comment with some good points, I have no way of recording that comment, i.e. there’s no way to see a list of all the comments I’ve left on other sites. Wanting to refer to an old comment on mine relies on me remembering which blog and post it was connected to. Finally, managing comments on your own blog can be hard work, even with the impressive – free – WordPress spam plugin.

What’s more, I see an increasing number of blog sites either just keep comments turned off (unless your very popular commenting is rare) or use an external commenting solution such as Discus.

I’d like to use Google+ as my comment system. And I don’t think this is currently possible.

I think Google+ would make an excellent platform for commenting (so would friendfeed, which it is almost identical to). Everyone can see a public post. All comments are listed together under the link to the post on Google+, and everyone can see every comment even if they don’t follow the other person (unlike twitter and, probably (it’s too hard to understand) Facebook). You can come back days later and easily see new comments. If you didn’t see the post you can glance at the comments to see if it is of interest. If you are not interested you can just skip past the post in your stream (the comments will be wrapped up so it won’t take much space). Facebook is too much centred around a closed set of people you follow. Twitter is very much for the here and now, miss it and it’s gone.

As much as I’m a fan of twitter, it does have flaws (by design not implementation). As noted above, it’s easy to miss things. I sometimes go back in the timeline and come across a really useful conversation that I could have missed. What’s more, I know that I may see person A’s original tweet, and person B and C – who I also follow – conversation with A about it. What I miss (and remember I’m lucky I bumped in to this) is Person D and E commenting on it with A, which I don’t see as I don’t follow them. Nor do I see person A and person B replying back, and hence I might miss the bulk of the conversation. What’s more I miss F, who follows C joining in which starts a whole new track with others! I miss all of this, in fact no one is guaranteed to see all of it. Meanwhile those who are totally uninterested are getting bored of seeing these tweets about a specific (and probably quite anal) topic.

So I would love for my blog to autopost to Google+ and then use the Google+ post as the place to comment, ideally showing it below the blog post. In a similar way to Techcrunch showing Facebook messages under its posts (but why a tech site uses Facebook, hated by much of the geek community, is beyond me… but then it is Techcrunch).

I still feel having a blog is useful. I’ve never attempted to update it regularly – nor have I ever understood the idea that there is pressure to post of a regular basis.

To an extent, I don’t see a difference between ‘maintaining a personal website’ (which was what we did before blogging) and keep a blog. Occasionally you have an idea to create a page about something, blog software just makes the process easier. Posts are just (the new) pages.

In my mind an online presence – a website and domain – are essential to those who spend much time on the web. Simply having a series of profiles on popular websites just doesn’t seem the same. And words on continues to be the main part of the content-free experience, living up to its name.

Update: Feel free to leave comments here :)