Tag Archives: essays

Essays vs. microblog posts (and the microcast)

Starting back in September 2014, I added microblog posts to this site. These are defined as short posts without a title. They have their own RSS feed, and they’re automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net.

In that time, I’ve posted about 300 microblog posts and about 230 essays, although many of my longer posts are really just a few paragraphs and a quote. I still find the microblog format very convenient for quick thoughts, or a series of related posts like all my coffee stops.

I’ve also switched from Gaug.es to WordPress.com stats. While I agree with Ben Brooks that analytics can be a distraction, I still like finding new referrers and having a sense of what posts have resonated with people. Not that it effects what I write about, though.

The key to blogging is still consistency and passion. Write about the things you care about, regularly, and the internet is a big enough place that there can be an audience for even obscure topics.

That’s the theme I’m trying to apply to my new Timetable podcast, too. I talk about microblogging, coffee shops, client work, but more important than any of that is the routine of recording it. The short nature of the podcast is itself kind of the story.

I’m at episode 15 now and have loved working on it. I now expect that all of these components of my blog — the longer posts, the microblog posts, and the companion Timetable episodes — will be something I do for years to come.

Long-form writing as a filter

Soroush Khanlou, looking for more new blogs to read, makes a great point that the process of blogging leads to better writing:

“Opening my RSS reading and finding 30 unread items makes me happy. Opening Twitter and seeing 150 new tweets feels like work. I’m not sure why that is. I think Twitter has become more negative, and the ease of posting quick bursts makes posting negative stuff easy. With blogging, writing something long requires time, words, and an argument. Even the passing thought of ‘should I post this’ creates a filter that lets only better stuff through.”

I think there’s something to that. It’s often only after writing our thoughts down that we fully understand how we feel about a topic.

And here’s where I bring this back to microblogging. Because when starting a post, we don’t always know whether it will be long or short. How often have you seen a series of tweets that in hindsight even the author would agree should have been a blog post?

This is less of a problem if instead of tweeting you start out with the intention of posting to your own site. Short post can stay short, and posts requiring more words can naturally expand to a full essay.

I don’t think that our short-form, seemingly unimportant writing should exclusively be on centralized networks. If it’s worth the time to write something — whether a thoughtful essay or a fleeting one-off microblog post — then it’s worth owning and publishing at your own domain name.

Startup life and Medium

Pretty hilarious guide to San Francisco startup life from Padlet on Medium. Here’s just one small part:

“Markets are chockablock with these desk+gym hybrids — standing desks, treadmill desks, cycling desks. This is why I feel bullish about my swimming desk idea — a big water tank with an infinity pool and a computer bolted on one side. Noise cancelling scuba masks, snorkels, and fins come as standard equipment.”

I’ve been fascinated with Medium lately, and have cross-posted a couple recent posts over there to better understand it. Is it a blogging tool? Sort of. Is it a social network? Not exactly.

While you can follow other users there, I find that even with the 100+ people I’m following, the posts I see on Medium are almost exclusively popular essays written by people I don’t know. They’re recommended enough that they show up in Medium’s daily emails, or on the home page, or linked from other blogs I read. But it’s like if you signed in to Twitter and only saw retweets.

This may explain Medium’s design changes to encourage quick, microblog-like posts, in addition to full essays. Longer blog posts just aren’t written often enough to make for a meaningful social network.

Favorite essays

The best essays are the ones that contain some truth or insight that doesn’t go out of style months or years later. As I return to regular blogging (12 posts in September compared to about the same number of posts between all of May through August), I sometimes stumble upon older posts that have held up pretty well.

Here are 10 of my favorites over the last 6 years with brief comments on why I like them. If you’ve only recently started reading my blog, maybe you’ll find one of these interesting.

“Understanding Comics”:http://www.manton.org/2003/01/understanding_comics.html, January 2003. Probably the first of several essays where I write about art and software. Since I wrote it, Scott McCloud has finished his third book on comics.

“Perfection”:http://www.manton.org/2005/08/perfection.html, August 2005. Doing our best work, inspired by Tufte and the golden age at Disney.

“Set unreasonable deadlines”:http://www.manton.org/2005/12/set.html, December 2005. Code more in less time, three years ago, but still very much inspired by 37signals. I like how this post mentions my favorite animation autobiography.

“Limitations in toys and software”:http://www.manton.org/2006/01/limitations_in_toys.html, January 2006. I connected LEGOs and toy utility with user interface design in this one.

“Smart software bloat”:http://www.manton.org/2006/02/smart_software_bloat.html, February 2006. In a general sense, how to add features without burdening the user interface. Discoverability in context.

“Mediocrity is the new application platform”:http://www.manton.org/2006/03/mediocrity_is_the.html, March 2006. About web, native, and hybrid applications, and when to choose one or the other.

“Customer support”:http://www.manton.org/2007/02/customer.html, February 2007. Sparked by a post from Ryan Carson, I write about my own experience with Wii Transfer support.

“Bush veto”:http://www.manton.org/2007/11/bush_veto.html, November 2007. I’m pretty sick of partisan politics right now, a month before the election. This post reminds me of the passion I had just a year ago.

“Fancy-pants productivity”:http://www.manton.org/2008/03/fancypants_productivity.html, March 2008. A little bit of a rant, reacting to the opinion that code must always be beautiful.

“Ollie Johnston”:http://www.manton.org/2008/04/ollie_johnston.html, April 2008. Where I comment on the death of a master animator. I should re-read this one every year.