One of my biggest blogging crimes so far has been this: every time I get an itch to write a blog post, I start thinking of possible workflows I could use to make my writing process simpler. A few hours later, instead of the post I wanted, I have UI mockups for The Perfect Blogging App™ that will never be built. It’s a disease, I tell ya.
In the summer of 2012, though, I did finally get around to building a blogging app. I called it Can ‘O Beans, and it was nothing like my mockups. I had to write my posts using a text editor and then paste them into my app’s autogenerated admin interface — the one you get out of the box with Django. I neither added Markdown support to the app, nor a WYSIWYG editor; instead, I marked up all my posts using plain ol’ HTML, which made for a frustrating writing experience. The app didn’t even support uploading images to the server. I had envisioned a slick, AJAX-y media manager for Can O’ beans but, since it would have taken some time to build, I kept putting off hacking on it. Real life commitments kept me from improving the usability of Can ‘O Beans, and the bad usability of Can ‘O Beans prevented me from ever thinking beyond the app itself and concentrating on what mattered: writing.
Hacking on Can ‘O Beans was a lot of fun, but it was only fun for the part of my brain that enjoyed engineering puzzles. The part that wanted to just fucking write was frustrated with the whole deal.
The astute reader may now ask why I had to go and write my own blogging app when I could just have used Wordpress like every other sane person. An year ago, I would have told said astute reader that Wordpress was a terrible piece of software. I would have gone on to mention that it was slow and unresponsive, that it had a cluttered UI that was anathema to the creative mind, that it was insecure, that it was impossible for a sane person to customize Wordpress because it was written in PHP, etc. etc.
Of course, the real reason I didn’t use Wordpress was that I was a complete ass.
(The astute reader may also ask why I didn’t use one of the many static blog generators that are all the rage these days. The reason is that I prefer having a dashboard I can log into from any Internet connected computer I have access to and manage my blog from there. Also: plugins and themes.)
When faced with a problem, it’s tempting for a hacker to immediately switch to her text editor and start building something completely new. Down this path lies madness and despair, for what thou codeth, thou maintaineth, and I’ve learned this lesson well after Can ‘O Beans. More often than not, mature, well-tested, actively maintained software exists that satisfies ~99% of your needs. There are people out there who have spent years building, deploying, securing and scaling software that, with a tiny bit of customization, does everything you want it to. This was something I always knew, but I had to actually experience it for myself before I internalized it. And internalize it I did — ankursethi.in is now (proudly?) powered by Wordpress. I can stop worrying about having to maintain Can ‘O Beans, and concentrate on blogging. Phew.
I still have some minor issues with the Wordpress admin UI, and I still don’t like PHP and MySQL, but I’m willing to let all that slide because what Wordpress lets me do is fucking write. With php-apc and WP Super Cache enabled, it performs shockingly well even on low-end servers. On my slightly-better-than-low-end Hetzner VPS, it flies.
Time to roll up my sleeves and write!