Tag Archives: publishing

No-pressure blogging

I’ve been working on a post about walled gardens, the App Store, and social networks. I think it could be an important essay — a new take on the future of platforms.

But if it’s not? If I’m wrong, and the idea is unoriginal or doesn’t go anywhere? That’s fine too! It’s just a blog post.

I love that blogs can scale from the trivial to the important. The microblog post about what you had for breakfast. The half-baked rant about something you’re passionate about. And sometimes, the rare essay that really hits the mark and makes people think.

Indie publishing is about control

Andy Baio redesigned his blog recently and argued that blogs still matter because of ownership and control. Of course, I agree. And though it may seem far off, there’s no guarantee that Twitter will outlast our own blogs. Andy writes:

Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.

Ben Brooks followed up:

Having my own site gives me complete control to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. I don’t understand why people ever want it any other way.

Words are powerful. Especially right now, why let anyone else have control over the format of our words and how they spread? Having a blog is a statement: our writing exists apart from the whim of an algorithmic news feed.

Building on Jekyll

If you were to build a weblog publishing system, would you start from scratch or build on an existing tool? There’s a healthy market for WordPress-powered hosting, for example, from WordPress.com itself to WP Engine. People know and trust these tools.

I was faced with this question for my microblogging platform. My requirements were pretty simple:

  • The published site needed to be 100% static, so that I could host it anywhere.
  • The template system needed to be widely used, so that I could draw on existing themes and provide customization for users later.

Jekyll looked like a great choice. I’m so happy with how well this has worked that I mention Jekyll in the marketing and footer of published sites. It’s a brand that can help give users confidence that this is built on something solid, and that if they need to migrate to self-hosted, there’s a path.

On top of Jekyll, I built a web interface for publishing and deleting posts, changing themes, and I added XML-RPC support so that you can use external blog editors like MarsEdit. Plus there’s a native iPhone app for posting.

All of this enables another feature that I’m very excited about: full mirroring to GitHub Pages. When you publish a microblog site, you can have it upload all the Markdown and HTML to a GitHub repository. This is a great way to export or mirror your content.

I think it’s a good foundation. Publishing is actually a small part of the overall microblog platform I’ve built, but it’s an important one. I can’t wait to share more and keep building features up around Jekyll.

I’m writing a short e-book about everything I’ve learned, and I’ll have news soon about early access to the platform. You should sign up on the announce mailing list before next week.

No coincidence

We released Sunlit yesterday and the response has been really great. It’s so amazing to see all the replies on App.net, emails of encouragement, and tweets telling people about the app. I think 1.0 is off to an excellent start. We’ll keep making it better.

I was a little anxious about the release, though. It was a challenging app to build, and it’s different enough from other apps that it’s hard to predict how the market will react. I was also surprised that the same morning we shipped our app, Storehouse was released. This is a beautiful iPad app from Mark Kawano and his new team. The interactions are extremely polished and it’s getting justifiably good praise and lengthy write-ups from Techcrunch and elsewhere.

(Of course, we think Sunlit is pretty awesome too. I’ll be writing more about what makes it special in future blog posts, especially highlighting how it leverages the App.net API, the URL schemes support, and why we use Mapbox.)

At first I was stunned by Storehouse. How could it be that we were both working on a similar idea for the last year, and both apps were finished at the same time? The apps have different UIs, and a different approach, maybe even different goals, but they both create stories, revolve around photos, and publish to the web. I’ve seen a lot of people compare the apps, and I think that’s fair.

To be honest, for a few minutes I was a little bummed out. If I had seen this tweet from Jackson Harper at the time, and not later in the day, I might have been nodding in agreement:

“Having a somewhat similar free app from a funded developer launch the same day as you must be a little disappointing.”

That doesn’t really capture it, though, because I’m also really happy for the Storehouse team. I’ve known Mark for years. I’m confident that his app is going to be one of the most impressive apps on so many people’s iPads.

And they have a full-time team. Jon and I are just two guys, working in our spare time to build something — something we think is new, something for us to use, but also something ambitious in how big it could be.

It seems like a big coincidence that both apps shipped with a similar set of features, but now I realize why it happened. Sure, it’s funny that the release days were identical, and not a few days or weeks apart. But the general timing shouldn’t be at all surprising, because this is an idea whose time has come. There are photo “album”-type apps popping up all over the App Store, such as Cluster, Albumatic, and Heyday, all of which Apple has featured. Plus there are web-based apps like Exposure and Medium, which was recently updated with great photo support as well.

It’s no coincidence; it’s just a good idea. And it’s a huge market: everyone who loves writing and taking photos. That understanding gives me a lot of confidence to double down on our plans for Sunlit 1.1, 1.2, and after. 2014 is going to be an awesome year for sharing stories.