Joshua Platt

Make It Yours but Make It Boring

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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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