Joshua Platt

Make It Yours but Make It Boring

Still Blogging by Chris Bowler is an excellent case for maintaining your own site from a personal and business perspective and worth reading twice.

I love to get my hands dirty with my website, and do it all myself. I applied the same attitude toward buying and remodeling our families first house. We did as much of the work ourselves as practical. There were areas where giving up control made sense (hiring a Realtor) while other areas became an adventure (flooring, painting, trim). It would have been foolish to attempt to do everything ourselves. But I argue it is equally as foolish to do the opposite and hand everything over to someone else. We had to make tradeoffs.

I hazard that we place a lot more pride in our home because we can look at it and say, “my hands did that.” The same holds true for your little slot on the web. Copy and pasting a GIF into form field on Facebook probably holds less meaning for you than laboring over a 400 word post on your own website with your name all over it. There is a lot of risk in publishing to your own site. You’re quite a bit more naked. But you also have more control. When it’s your own, You can craft it in such a way that it reflects a part of you. Chris puts it so eloquently:

The personal website/blog is like inviting the Internet into your living room, sharing a bit of who you are

This is the best part of the web. It gives all of us the platform to build our own little thing and share it with the world. It is the great equalizer and distributor. But, a brief look at my site will tell you I almost never post.

That same love of getting my hands dirty and owning my content also leads to Tinkeritis (ugh, too much Doc McStuffins). On the rare occasion I have time to sit and write for my site I almost always end up running system updates, performance tuning, or worse, swapping out my CMS to “encourage more writing.”

This is why things like Medium work. They provide a beautiful, easy to use tool that has the panache of founders with ties to Twitter. There is a lot to like about making the dirtiness of servers and CMS maintenance someone else’s problem while gaining a great writing experience. My biggest issue with Medium (and any service like it) is I don’t have a clear exit strategy. If they shutdown, where does my content go? How do I get it out of their system? Not knowing the answer to these questions makes the cost much too high, for me.

I made the choice a long time ago to keep much of my content in plain text. With my writing in plain text it becomes infinitely portable and maintainable. But I’m left with my Tinkeritis, which leads to a second article, Choose Boring Technology by Dan McKinely.

I was really convicted reading this. Looking back, if I had opted to stick with whatever tools I was using I could have written a lot more. Instead I’ve rebuilt my setup a dozen times to keep up with the new hotness.

Owning my own content is important. Making my system boring so it does not become a distraction is just as important. Just like with the house remodel, it’s about tradeoffs. A Linode VPS is easy for me to maintain, so I’ll stick with it. My custom fork of Jekyll is way too nerdy and causes my Tinkeritis to flare up, perhaps I should trust the Statamic folks. Ulysses is brilliant, but Sublime Text does everything I need, plays nice with version control, and keeps my text files outside of a proprietary database. I don’t really need custom hooks on Github to auto-publish my site. Transmit and SFTP work just fine.

For you the tradeoffs may be different. But I think it is worth a self examination to sort our which tradeoffs you could be making differently. The goal should be to own as much of your own content as possible, but not at the cost of creating much less content.

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“If you aren’t solving a problem then you aren’t designing.”

— Kyle Steed

“When we try to get ideas out there, we have to understand it’s not just the idea that matters. The marketing, the business, and more have to be designed with just as much detail. It’s our job to figure all these parts of this ecosystem out.”

— Bill Buxton

Michael Schechter on Free Services

“If Facebook buying Instagram pissed you off, I have a suggestion. Don’t just stop using Instagram, stop using free social networks and services period. Stop using sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare or Pinterest, because it is a given that they will all inevitably let you down in favor of the bottom line1. More often than not, when you actually quit a service, it’s not because they were evil. It’s just because they either became useless or boring. The reality is that you’re not going to stop using services that are useful to you2. You’re just going to waste time switching from one company to the next until your latest service inevitably falls short or sells out.”

— Michael Schechter

From Stop Crying About Free Services.

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“When a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility.”

— C.S. Lewis

On Rdio

I was in high school when iTunes was first released. I stayed up until 2 am carefully crafting my first playlist from ripped CDs. Tracks were added based on how they fit the mood of the playlist. The last note of each track had to flow into the first note of the next. The finishing touch was a pseudo-poetic title like “as we lay dying”. The next school day I shared my freshly burned playlist with friends. I was overjoyed to find they too had been up all night creating playlists. Sharing with friends was how I found new music. Actually, sharing music was how I made friends. Many joy filled memories from high school are tied to sharing playlists.

“Rdio is bringing the joy back. They have captured that intrinsic characteristic of music which is community.”

While iTunes is a fantastic tool, and still the primary way I acquire music, it does not connect with that joy anymore. For want of a better word, it’s become closed. Music wants to be shared. It wants to be social and part of a community. Apple tried with Ping, but they got it backwards. It focused too much on the artist.

Rdio, in my humble opinion, has made a brilliant move. Their new interface puts greater focus on the human side. They’ve made it simpler to share and discover music with your friends. Rdio is bringing the joy back. They have captured that intrinsic characteristic of music which is community. For me that is the key to Rdio fitting into my life. It replaces Pandora and Pitchfork, not iTunes. I still intend to buy music to support the artist. $5 a month is a bargain for getting the joy of sharing and discovering music back as far as I’m concerned.

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Product Storytellers

“A product is more than an idea, it’s more than a website, and it’s more than a transaction or list of functionalities. A product should provide an experience or service that adds value to someone’s life through fulfilling a need or satisfying a desire. The ultimate question then becomes: who identifies that value? After the executive or stakeholder identifies the initial idea, who in the organization ensures that the product and experience deliver value to the user? Maybe it isn’t the product manager, marketer, technologist, or designer; perhaps what we need is a new role: the product storyteller.”

— Sarah Doody

Sarah does an excellent job explaining something I’ve been lobbying for the past year. Products can’t just be the manifestation of a feature list. They tell a story. They engage the user and carry them on a journey. That’s why we need more storytellers at the heart of each product development team. I agree 100% with Sarah that we need a new role to make the most of this idea: Product Storytellers.

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