If you dig into my post history on this blog, you’ll find I’ve written a lot about blogging platforms.
When I started writing a blog, back in the day before memes and Snapchat, I got myself an account on WordPress.com because that’s what you did in those times. Well, okay, you could also set up shop on Blogger or LiveJournal, but I was one of those people who wanted all the software to be GPL and all the content to be CC-BY-SA. My obsession with open source and open culture, coupled with my belief that nu-metal was a valid art form, ensured that I didn’t have too many friends growing up.
By the time I got to high-school, I realized that software wasn’t magic and, if you were smart, you could build your own. When I graduated from blogging about high-school drama to blogging about open-source mailing-list drama, I built myself a little blogging tool using Python and Django. It was a great learning experience, but a few months into it I realized that maintaining your own blogging software is as boring as sitting through a J Cole album. Frustrated, I moved all my blog posts to a self-hosted WordPress install. You live and learn, right?
Just as I was starting to enjoy actually writing an actual blog that actual real people actually read, the Internet told me I was a schmuck for using WordPress. WordPress was built with PHP, and PHP was for uncool dads who wear New Balance and cargo shorts. If I wanted to be cool, I had to use something called Jekyll, which was written in Ruby. Writing Ruby makes you literally Miles Davis, or so I was told. I wanted to be Miles Davis, so I moved all my old posts from WordPress to Jekyll. I even wrote a custom theme for my blog, and made it responsive because some guy named Steve Jobs put a web browser in a phone and suddenly 1280x800 wasn’t the only game in town. Steve made many contributions to humanity, but even he couldn’t make New Balance cool.
After I got the hang of Jekyll, things started looking up for me. I lost a lot of weight, fell in love, and learned how to properly iron my shirts. A designer friend told me she liked the colors on my blog. Macklemore admitted Kendrick got robbed. I wrote quite a bit and life was perfect, but then Medium came along and everyone I met on the street was like, “Bro have you checked out Medium yet?”
I went home and checked out Medium, and discovered it was a cross between a GIF gallery, an emoji keyboard, and a stock photo website. The combination was compelling enough, and I immediately got myself an account. Right about this time, having to rely on a bunch of build tooling to post to my Jekyll blog was starting to frustrate me. It meant that I couldn’t publish my posts from anything but my work computer.
One Friday night I drank too much whiskey by myself and migrated all my Jekyll posts to Medium. Jekyll was still cool, but I’d been told that Medium was cooler and I’ve always strived to be maximum cool.
Medium was great for writing, and even better for getting more eyeballs on my posts, but within a few months I started to notice a decline in the number of people reaching out to me after reading something on my blog. When I published a useful post on my self-hosted WordPress or Jekyll blog, people usually stuck around for long enough to click on my about page. From there, they ended up contacting me either with the intention of hiring me, or just to thank me for something I’d written. This behavior was reflected in my analytics data.
The reason for the decline in communication after I moved to Medium was that the platform doesn’t give you space to talk about yourself. You can enter a short bio on your profile page, and a description for your publication if you create one, but there really is no way on Medium to maintain a regularly updated about page, or a page listing your public talks, or one listing your work. All of this content has to be hosted on an external service, at which point there’s little reason to use Medium in the first place, at least in my opinion. I want a single tool that I can use to centralize my online presence, and unfortunately Medium is not it. This is not Medium’s fault. The platform is just designed for a different use case.
In the six months I spent writing exclusively on Medium, nobody reached out to me over email. I got quite a few comments on my posts, but the conversations never went beyond technical discussions.
WordPress is maximum cool because it gives me total control over my online identity. Even a managed blog on WordPress.com is leagues ahead of anything Medium has to offer in terms of customization and having a corner of the Web to myself, to do with as I please.
They may not sound like groundbreaking features, but the ability to change some CSS, add some text or a few links to a sidebar, or create a few pages on your blog talking about yourself and your work goes a long way when it comes to having an identity of your own on the Web.
I’ve considered trying out other self-hosted blogging software – Ghost being the one that excites me most – but the theme and plugin ecosystem around WordPress is so large that everything I want to do with the software is usually a Google search away.
If you want to write a blog, don’t start by writing your own blogging software.
Jekyll is great, but I like being able to write from my iPhone and home computer.
Medium is too limiting in terms of how I portray myself on the Web.
Ghost doesn’t have the kind of community and plugin ecosystem that WordPress has.
Therefore, WordPress is maximum cool.
From my perspective, WordPress is a solved problem. PHP is fast enough, hosting is cheap, there are plugins for everything, customization is a cinch, and Santa Claus is real. After I’ve set everything up as I like it, I don’t really have to think about the software anymore and I can focus on writing.
I’ve moved all my writing back to a self-hosted WordPress and I intend to keep it here.