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Returning to Writing

Why self host & publish instead of Medium / Tumblr / Whatever?

Posted on 4 mins read

Oh hi there! Welcome back! It looks like it’s been three solid years since I wrote anything here and looking back, it looks like I have wasted an unbelievable amount of time on Twitter in those three years.

So, what brought me back? Why am I dragging ryanmckern.com back out instead of using something like Twitter’s horrible threading or Medium’s one-size-fits- none format to write? I mean, EVERYONE is on Medium these days and you gotta go where the eyeballs are, right?

I’m not alone. I’m so alone.

This short, disjointed tweet thread is timely because Jason and I are abandoning WordPress for similar reasons but I’m going in the opposite direction. Hilariously it also exhibits so many of the annoyances I have with platforms like Twitter, Medium, and WordPress.

Twitter has compressed my ideas into sound bites

Twitter offers an attractive number of viewers for anything you push into the void, but it does so at the cost of specificity. Almost by design, Twitter strips nuance, subtlety, and tone out of anything posted to it. I’m worried about the future of the platform and service and I’m leery of any place where I cannot control how what I write is consumed, redistributed, and re-contextualized to any degree.

Medium is a flawed platform

At their core, Medium’s product is the eyeballs of its readers, whom it sells to advertisers. They’ve struggled to find a direction for their platform, and this has led to many small pivots as they try to build their business. Viability concerns notwithstanding, I have weird feelings about someone else trying to monetize anything I write, and their platform never felt like a good fit for how I like to write.

WordPress doesn’t feel like a platform for me anymore

I had a long, successful, and ultimately fulfilling run with WordPress but as I’ve grown tired of maintaining infrastructure, I’ve also grown tired of having to worry about things like patching my publishing platform so my dumb blog doesn’t become yet another node in a botnet. WordPress has been with us for so long that its age has become apparent and the shortcomings of how we built web applications in 2002 are now laid bare for anyone with eyes to see. More specifically, there are a few nitpicks with the typical WordPress workflow that keep me from self-hosting with WordPress or using their commercial platform. They can all be alleviated with 3rd party WordPress plugins, but that’s just more surface area to monitor and maintain.

WordPress has no meaningful integration with modern source control tools. Storing N revisions of a plaintext blob in a database table isn’t really the best way to track the changes you make as you edit and revise. It lacks the granularity that I’ve grown accustomed to with tools like Git.

There’s no integration with linting tools. Linting is something that we take for granted in software development but it turns out that thanks to lexical analysis tools it’s something we can also apply to the written word. There’s no easy way that I’d found to do this within the WordPress platform.

Outside editing and review is impractical if your editor isn’t WordPress savvy. Being able to use the same tools for code and prose review has been fantastic. It’s changed how I think about my writing, and it’s changed how I ask folks to review my work before I move it out of draft state. WordPress has many, many plugins for this but I preferred the workflow of a code review.

Wordpress out, Hugo in

Hugo describes itself as “The world’s fastest framework for building websites”. It’s a static site generator akin to Jekyll or Octopress.

Static site generators, so hot right now

I’ve moved away from Wordpress because I didn’t want to deal with PHP, MySQL, or the underlying hosting platform anymore. None of that interests me anymore, so I decided to simplify my technical needs as much as possible before I was writing raw HTML live a caveman. And I wanted to minimize the 3rd party services I relied on while maintaining maximum flexibility – which ruled out WordPress’s commercial platform.

Finally, I’ve decided to abandon comments. While I could use Disqus, the occasional bon mot or insightful comment in no way offset the spambots and inanity. I considered preserving the comments from previous posts but ironically, I’d rather someone shout at me on Twitter about something I wrote. I’d rather have an abbreviated conversation and mash the block button than pruning spambot contents.