Tag Archives: blogging

15 years of blogging

Fifteen years ago today I started this blog during SXSW. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time, because Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, my first post was essentially a microblog post. 145 characters and no title. (Titles on the old posts were added later during the migration to Movable Type.)

I’ve written about 1100 posts since then, and another 600 microblog posts. Some of my favorites last year:

And the year before:

And earlier:

Whether you started visiting this blog years ago or just today, thanks for reading. I hope to still be writing in another 15 years. (I’ll be 56 years old. My kids will be grown up. Nearly everything will be different.)

Stretching time out has a way of highlighting what matters. And if it matters, it’s worth writing down. I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter as I try to move indie microblogging forward with Micro.blog.

Where I post everything

My content is all on this blog or linked from it, but if you’re following RSS feeds or Twitter it’s not as obvious where everything is posted. Here’s a summary to clear things up.

Microblog posts: Posted here and in a special RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net, with some occasional truncation.

Longer posts: Posted here and in the default RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net with the title and link. Twitter cross-posting is handled by my upcoming Micro.blog platform.

Photos: Posted to Instagram and then copied here using this workflow. They don’t show up in either of the RSS feeds above. They’re not cross-posted to Twitter.

Timetable: Posted to timetable.fm which has its own feed. Discoverable in your favorite podcast client.

Core Intuition: Posted to coreint.org. I’ll usually post a link here on the blog for each new episode.

All posts: Switching to WordPress brought a new global RSS feed, but I redirect it to the longer posts for now. There’s a new everything RSS feed which contains all posts: microblog, full posts, and photos. Enjoy!

Proving Marco’s 10-year plan

Erik Person wants to prove Marco Arment’s claim that indie success just requires working hard for 10 years:

Proving whether he is right or wrong is pretty hard to do. Maybe it’s all hard work. Maybe it’s pure luck. Hell, maybe it only takes five years of hard work, and Marco just kind of sucks at it. Either way, I’m going to try to prove it. And not by convincing you with some incredibly efficacious essay. Rather, I’m going to start my 10 years of hard work today.

In a follow-up post, 6 months later:

In the past six months, I’ve managed to change quite a few things. The biggest change was leaving my job at the end of May. After several months of trying to work on projects in the evenings and weekends, I decided it was necessary to go full-time on the projects if I wanted to see any real progress.

I’ve subscribed to Erik’s blog and look forward to following his progress. I hope he blogs more often about how it’s going. If you look at Marco’s blog even 5 years ago, he was usually blogging every day. (By the way, “blog more often” is my advice to nearly everyone, including myself.)

Domain names can always redirect

Just noticed this blog post from Fabian Steeg on the value of personal domain names:

So the mere decision to use a custom domain for my blog many years ago made it independent of the actual hosting location (wordpress.com or self-hosted) and publishing system (wordpress or my own software). In a way I’ve been referencing a system for years that I only now created. Your own domain and URLs really give you a lot of control over your content, even if that content is actually stored elsewhere for years.

Strongly agree with this. Having your own domain will future-proof everything you publish.

Medium subscriptions

Glenn Fleishman writes for Six Colors about Medium’s subscription features that will let publishers charge readers:

It’s absolutely clear the revenue side is an experiment, and Medium labels it as such all over. There’s no guarantee it will work for its early partners or pan out in the long run. But it’s the only publishing option that combines so many things in one place without any over-the-top cost or commitment on the part of a periodical.

While Medium is certainly doing a lot right, and I still think it’s not a bad place to mirror content, the “long run” Glenn mentions is really what we should think about when considering Medium. I have no confidence that Medium will last 5-10 years.

If my whole business was based on blogging, why would I trust Medium to control something so crucial? With iOS development, we have no choice but to use the App Store. Writing on the web isn’t like that, and voluntarily giving up both control of the publishing platform and 20% of revenue strikes me as very short-sighted.

Tickets for Release Notes 2016

I’m registered for the Release Notes conference, coming up later this year in Indianapolis. This will be the only conference I attend this year outside of another ticketless WWDC week. If you didn’t go last year and want to know more about it, check out the web site or listen to episode 151 of their podcast.

One of my favorite blog posts on this site from last year was my review of the conference, because I think it both described the conference itself and also captured that inspired feeling you get when you’re heading off to the airport and your head is buzzing with ideas. And because it’s a blog, where I allow myself to be informal, it also has the meandering narrative of the everyday — a stop for coffee, a conversation with an Uber driver. My memory of the conference wouldn’t be complete without those things.

I’m looking forward to visiting Indianapolis again. I may also look at flying into Chicago and taking the train down, then flying out. Sounds like some people did that last year, and I think it would make a great start considering the venue at Union Station. We’ll see if the schedule works out.

Time to rethink blog comments

Twitter has lost some of what made it special for communities 5 years ago. I’ve noticed a few trends:

  • Twitter’s 140-character limit and easy retweeting encourage and amplify negative tweets. Sincerity is less common. Everything is an opportunity for a joke.
  • Widely followed, long-time Twitter users don’t find the joy they used to when interacting with followers. Some have retreated to private Slack channels, at the cost of public discussion and approachability.
  • Developers have never completely forgiven Twitter for crippling the API. This doesn’t directly impact most users anymore, but it’s a backdrop that gives every new Twitter feature a tone of distrust. Progress is slow.

Meanwhile, blog comments have slowly been killed off over that same period. The rise of social networks, combined with the technical problems of fighting blog comment spam, pushed most bloggers to prefer answering questions on Twitter.

Becky Hansmeyer writes about the intersection of these problems — that some Twitter users avoid public discussion, but most blogs no longer have comments to fall back on — by pointing to a post from Belle Beth Cooper:

“Belle’s post really resonated with me because it reminded me of something I think about a lot: when an ever-increasing number of blogs and media outlets are disabling comment sections, where do decent, thoughtful people bring their discussions? I only offer readers one way to contact me on this site, and it’s via Twitter. But what if, like Belle, you no longer use Twitter (or never did in the first place)?”

We didn’t realized how much we lost when we turned our backs on blog comments years ago. Just look at one of Daniel Jalkut’s blog posts from 10 years ago, which he and I discuss on an upcoming episode of Core Intuition. 53 comments! And they’re all preserved along with the original content. That’s difficult to do when comments are spread across Twitter and easily lost.

It’s time to take what we’ve since learned from social networks and apply it the openness of cross-site replies. That’s why I want to support Webmention. As Becky mentions, Civil Comments look great too. I think we can encourage both in parallel: distributed comments like Webmention for sites that can support it and better centralized comments like Civil.

Photo blogging follow-up

As I’ve written about already, I now post photos to my own site in addition to Instagram. I use the Workflow app to make this easier, automatically uploading a photo and making a new blog post for it from iOS.

Ryan Toohil has taken my rough workflow and improved it, adding support for prompting for the photo title, fixing the photo’s orientation, and a better dynamic folder name based on the date. You can see his updated workflow here.

I still have a lot to learn about using Workflow. It’s the kind of app that you can only really understand the potential for after diving in with a real problem. Now I find myself looking for more ways I can use the app.

I’ve also finally read Federico Viticci’s excellent intro to Workflow over at iMore, which includes this advice:

“When I was new to Workflow, visualizing the vertical flow of actions before building the stack was my biggest hurdle in getting started. I’ve since developed a habit that comes in handy every day: if I already know what a workflow should do at the beginning and at the end, I place the first action and the last one immediately on the canvas. Then, I only have to figure out how to go from Point A to Point B, dropping actions between those two as I play around with different ideas.”

Of course, Federico has written many times about Workflow. He has an article about using Workflow to post to WordPress, and tips and example workflows in the MacStories Club email. His podcast Canvas with Fraser Speirs also routinely discusses workflows.

Blog when you disagree

The echo chamber. We only follow people who we already agree with. We only jump on the bandwagon of snark and ridicule when it’s already the accepted narrative, and thus safe to be part of the mob.

But sometimes you’ll find an area where you aren’t completely in line with the crowd’s opinion. There’s a topic that keeps coming up for which you have something to add. The default story is missing an important angle.

When you disagree, that’s what you should write about, and you should post it to your blog. 140 characters thrown against wave after wave of mainstream opinion tweets will be drowned out. A blog post isn’t a cheap opinion; it’s a statement that what you think matters.

Blogging your photos

Colin Devroe started microblogging on his own site, with separate sections for statuses and photos:

“I want to post content to my own personal site and not through closed social networks — because I want to keep control of everything I create forever. […] This doesn’t mean that I won’t be posting to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, but that everything that I post there will originate here on my site.”

It’s the photos and their RSS feed that caught my attention. Others have done this too, but for some reason I rarely post photos here on my own site. I’ve stuck with using Instagram instead.

I need to change that. I do like the Instagram app, though, so I’m going to keep using it. I’ll just copy the photos over to my site as well, and I’ll use Workflow on iOS to help automate it. The basic steps are:

  • After posting the photo on Instagram, copy the caption to the iOS clipboard. This will be the title of the blog post.
  • Select the Instagram-edited image in the Photos app and run the workflow.
  • Workflow makes a filename based on the title, with some simple substitutions. Lowercase, spaces become underscores, and drop some characters.
  • Transmit gets launched and I confirm the upload to my own server.
  • Workflow creates a WordPress blog post with an img tag and the relevant metadata.

It’s not bad. You can see the workflow here. I’ve uploaded a bunch of my most recent Instagram photos this way. I’m not sure whether I’ll go back and mirror all the old ones.

These photos live under a new Photos category. I’ve excluded this category from the main RSS feed that I use for cross-posting, so they won’t automatically go to Twitter. You can continue to follow me on Instagram if you prefer that.

The Ringer will use Medium

Bill Simmons announced on his podcast last week that his new media site The Ringer will use Medium. He said they’ve been working with the Medium folks on it, although I don’t know if that means using existing features that are available to anyone, or if Medium has built anything custom just for The Ringer.

Digiday has a story about this, and about the larger context of how Medium is doing and evolving:

“At one point last year, a former staffer said, Medium decided to move away from funding publications directly and instead fund initiatives meant to grow audiences in specific areas such as women in tech and the election. Last year, it closed down Re:form and Archipelago, a home for personal essays. Its remaining verticals have been roped into Medium’s effort to generate more conversation with readers, with tactics like prompts at the end of articles.”

I’ve written several times about how Medium is worse than your own blog for building an audience, and worse for the open web if it continues down the Twitter-like path as a centralized social network. But encouraging larger publishers to adopt Medium is good, because custom domains will come along for the ride. Owning your domain and URLs is the first step to owning your content.

Tim Cook, Swift, and the return of blogs

Rob Rhyne wrote an essay last week that caught my attention, on Tim Cook and the incredible pace of new major OS versions at Apple:

“Still think Apple isn’t innovating enough under Tim Cook? Don’t let an app developer hear that talk—they want a vacation, and the end of 2015 showed no signs of relief.”

But I found it significant for another reason too: Rob hadn’t blogged on that site in over 2 years. He picked it up as if no time had been lost, hitting the ground running with a great post.

He’s not the only one starting to blog more. Matt Gallagher just rebooted Cocoa with Love after 4 years since his last post. Swift was a good excuse to resume writing, but he had wanted to continue the site anyway.

Most of my favorite blogs have new posts every day, or at least once a week. New posts bring more links and traffic, giving the blog life and momentum.

There’s no single correct way to blog, though. Blogs are forgiving. If you’ve neglected your blog for a while, you don’t owe anyone an apology. Just hit command-N in your favorite text editor and start writing.

Finally trying Ulysses

I’m finally trying Ulysses. After posting about how I write blog drafts, a reader pointed out that Justnotes for Mac isn’t actively maintained anymore. I think Ulysses will make a nice replacement, both for my Dropbox folder of 1000+ notes, and also for longer, more structured writing I want to do.

Ryan Irelan uses that structure to organize courses for Mijingo:

“Each course is also a Collection inside of the courses collection, in which I have separate sheets for each section of the course (or even broken down into multiple sheets per section depending on the length)”

Ben Brooks is also trying to consolidate from the iOS 9 Notes app and others to just using Ulysses:

“This was my pain point, I often just simply forgot where I jotted something down. I don’t typically make tasks out of articles I am writing, so I remember what is what by looking in Ulysses, and if it isn’t in Ulysses I won’t go searching for it. Notes was the most convenient place to write, but also a bit of a black hole for writing.”

I can already tell that Ulysses is a great app. Looking forward to the upcoming universal version with support for the iPad Pro, too.

Ignoring follower counts

I’ve said before that there’s something about the 140-character limit that brings out both the best and worst in people. Nick Harris hints at this while writing about taking a break from Twitter:

“But largely ignoring the Twitter Noise Machine – particularly when my timeline becomes the Twitter Hate Machine – is going to be good for me.”

He also talks about the obsession with stats and follower counts, which Brent Simmons picks up on and carries further:

“I did have Google Analytics for a few months in 2014 when I was doing sponsorships. I spent too much time looking at the numbers and trying to make them go up. But no amount of going-up is ever satisfying: I just wanted more.”

When designing my new microblogging platform, I made a conscious decision to not even show follower counts. You can get the followers from the API, but I didn’t want to have the numbers right in your face when viewing someone’s profile. It’s too easy for us to make a judgement based on how many followers they have, and so miss out on whatever they have to say.

A diverse community through writing

I read a lot of weblogs. RSS is a great way to keep up with sites that update infrequently, or that aren’t popular enough to bubble up on Twitter with dozens of retweets. But the Mac and iOS community has grown so much over the years. I know there are many new writers who haven’t been on my radar yet.

Brent Simmons has posted a great list of tech blogs by women that I’m going through now. There should be something there for anyone interested in development or design:

“I made a list of some blogs I already knew about, and then I asked my friends for more, and they totally came through.”

The list grew to include over 50 blogs as suggestions arrived to Brent via Twitter. I’ve already subscribed to a bunch and look forward to discovering even more.

One of my favorite new blogs is the travel blog complement to Natasha The Robot, which made Brent’s list. Natasha was recently hired at Basecamp, runs the This Week in Swift newsletter, and writes on her new blog about working remotely. From a post about taking her laptop to restaurants in Europe:

“The nice thing about this is that I get a really cool and inspiring office for a few hours – each cafe or restaurant has it’s own vibe, people, music and I don’t feel rushed internally knowing that I need to go back to my apartment or coworking space to actually work.”

When I quit my day job this year, it was partly so we could travel more without worrying too much about my work schedule, outside of when the kids are in school. In fact, just days after I finished writing my two weeks notice blog posts, we went to Europe and started a private family blog about the trip. So I’ve been inspired by Natasha’s blog as she shares her experience working in different cities.

And that’s a theme you’ll find in many of the developer-oriented blogs on Brent’s list. Wanting to get better, learning something new, and then sharing it with everyone else. Take this advice from Becky Hansmeyer, who wrote a daily series of posts about what she learned building her iPhone app, one post each day while she waited for her app to be approved by Apple. From day 4, on design and color:

“I think the biggest thing I learned in choosing colors and fonts for my app is not to get too hung up in making comparisons to other apps. I spent a lot of time looking at my favorite apps like Overcast and Tweetbot and thinking about the decisions the developers made, and as a result I wound up feeling like I had to make those same decisions. But that was stupid because my app is my own and is also designed for a much smaller market.”

Or this quote from Kristina Thai, who wrote a post about preparing to give a talk for the first time:

“My presentation didn’t flow, it was jagged and very rough around the edges, but I kept at it, made some changes and it got better. And better. And even better. And then I practiced it in front of a couple of friends who gave me even more feedback until I was ready.”

Kristina also gave a talk called Become a Better Engineer Through Writing. You can get a sense of the talk by downloading the slides. It covers the value to programmers in keeping a private journal, why you might write tutorials for your site, and makes a strong case for blogging.

Blogging isn’t difficult, but it’s still not yet as easy as tweeting. By creating a blog, you’re making a statement that you care about something. As I go through Brent’s list of bloggers, that’s what I’m looking for: what does the author care about, and what can I learn from or be inspired by in their writing? Because the more diverse our RSS subscriptions are — the more varied the opinions in what we read and share with others — the closer it gets us to a strong, healthy community.

The now page

Last week, Derek Sivers had a great idea. We’re constantly writing about the things we care about and whatever we’re working on, but the nature of blogs is that posts are always falling off the home page. There’s rarely a single place to get the tl;dr summary of what someone is working on.

This idea hit home for me last week at Release Notes when several people asked how to sign up on my microblog project announcement list. I’ve linked to it several times in blog posts, but I didn’t have an easy place to point people to without asking them to dig through the archives. A /now page is the perfect place for that kind of thing.

Shawn Blanc linked to his page too, which reminded me to put my own /now page together. You can read mine here: manton.org/now.

Medium.com updates

Ev Williams announced a batch of new Medium features recently:

“There’s always another level. Another level of polish and power in our product. Another level of breadth to our content. Another level of dialogue and discussion. And another level of progress. Today, we are announcing a slew of updates to bring Medium to the next level and in the process make it more powerful, more fun, more democratic, and more essential.”

Those updates include new mobile apps, @-mention support, a publishing API, and editor improvements. There’s also a new logo. (I know they put a lot of thought into this, and it’s a strong idea, but to me the logo’s design is so clever it’s actually kind of distracting. A little more subtlety in how they’re using depth could improve future iterations.)

Daniel Jalkut blogs about what’s included (and what’s left out) in Medium’s new API:

“One of the most unique aspects to Medium’s API is the provision for specifying a canonical URL and license on a post being submitted to the service. The canonical URL refers to another web location that should be considered the original, or most authoritative version of a post, while the license designates whether the post’s copyright terms stipulate a post is sharable as public domain or under a particular Creative Commons license. These attributes together indicate that Medium expects and encourages users of the API to contribute content that is not intended to be exclusive to Medium.”

While I generally think the trend to centralized writing platforms is bad for the web, I’m happy to see these changes from Medium, especially the API and expanding custom domain support. Medium has grown very slowly and carefully. I expect we’ll see quicker iteration on these new features now that they’re officially out.

In the process of experimenting with Medium posting, Dave Winer shared his take on post title support:

“It seems they have arrived at what I think is the correct answer: posts can have titles or not, and the content system has to be prepared for either case. That’s where this blog was in 1999, before other blogging tools and Google Reader pushed the world toward requiring titles. And then Twitter came along not having titles at all, and the intersection between all the kinds of blog-consuming environments became almost empty.”

I’m very interested in this because microblogging shouldn’t include titles. While Medium is mostly traditional essays, clearly comments don’t need titles, and Medium’s quick-posting UI encourages short posts. I hope this approach will get more RSS readers to gracefully handle title-less posts.

Marketing, mission, movement

As I was writing some documentation this week, I kept thinking about what makes great marketing copy. 37signals used to say that copywriting is a form of user interface design. That’s true but I think there’s more to it.

The best products don’t just have marketing copy; they have a mission statement. They don’t just sell a tool; they sell a movement.

When I stare at my product wondering if it’s too confusing — if it’s too different, and tries to do too many things, to be immediately understood by new users — I try to remind myself that it’s an opportunity. Instead of simply explaining what I’m doing, how can I pitch it in a way that strengthens a community around the idea. Because dozens of bloggers can spread the idea more quickly and in a more meaningful way than I can by myself.

And unlike a one-way press release, a community is inherently two-way. Every mention of the idea is both marketing and feedback. Someone blogs about how they’re excited for the product, but also how they wish it had a certain missing feature. Someone in the press writes a review, but also with a pros and cons list.

This cycle means the product gets better. And if we’re thoughtful in that first approach to marketing copy, then every blog post, review, and tweet that follows is laced with a little part of our mission statement.

Microblogging with Typed.com

Dan Counsell wrote a long post this week about the planning and executing of Realmac’s crowdfunding campaign for Typed.com. It’s worth a read for the careful thought he put into it:

“I spent two weeks planning and building the entire campaign. I started out with the video as I knew this would be a huge amount of work and to be honest, it was also something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with doing. Every popular campaign I looked at had a half-decent and engaging video. I did a lot of research and it turns out the flow of the video should be something like this: Introduce yourself, talk about the problem, move onto the solution that you’re building, and finally finishing up with a direct plea asking for pledges.”

The beta for Typed.com is well underway, and linked in Dan’s post is a support forum for users. This post by Realmac designer Elliot Jackson especially caught my eye:

“We don’t have an API yet but this is something I’ve been enjoying playing with for shorter posts. My workaround is to send the content over a URL then decode it and use JS in the browser to fill in the form elements (tags etc).”

He details a way to send short microblog posts to Typed.com by using Drafts and Editorial. Check out the full post for his JavaScript and Python scripts linking these apps together on iOS. I’m really looking forward to Typed.com’s official launch.

Ephemeral blogging

Thomas Brand has changed his blog to let short link-style posts essentially expire off his site, with no permanent archive:

“For the last five months I have been practicing a new way of blogging. Articles of reference receive a permalink with a link on my homepage and a link in my RSS feed. Quotations and comments are displayed in full on the homepage and in the RSS feed, but do not receive a permalink of their own. As I write, older quotations and comments are pushed down the homepage and lost from the site forever.”

And since that post may go away, I’ll quote a little bit more:

“I feel like disposable blogging lends itself to a more carefree publication, not only for me but my audience as well. When you pick up a magazine, you don’t expect to have access to every back issue.”

Meanwhile, Dave Winer has been working on his own new blogging platform:

“There haven’t been new features in blogging in a long time. Where’s the excitement? It looks to me like there’s been no effort made to factor the user interface, to simplify and group functionality so the first-time user isn’t confronted with the full feature set, left on his or her own to figure out where to go to create a new post or edit an existing one.”

I think the next 5 years of blogging are going to be a lot more varied than the previous 5 years. Medium-style UIs, Twitter-like microblogs, and of course traditional WordPress blogs, plus the work Dave is doing and whatever else people build as blogging takes off again. I’m looking forward to shipping an app that contributes something to all of this, too.