Tag Archives: my blogging experiment

Small changes to this blog, big deal for me

I made a couple of changes to the blog recently. Readers will find these changes to be minor. But they’re a big deal for me.

Linked List

The first thing I did was install the Daring Fireball Style Linked List plugin for WordPress, by YJ Soon. The plugin is designed for link blogging — which is most of what I post here.

When I put up a post that’s primarily a link to something elsewhere — an article in the news, for instance — the DFLL plugin changes the title of the post so it links to the external article. Normal behavior on WordPress is for the title of the post to link to the post itself.

This solves the problem for me of having to figure out where to put the link when I write a link post. It’s a small decision, but eliminating it speeds up the blogging process and makes the process more pleasant.

Also, readers of this blog can more easily find the link to the external article.

And it means less of a need for me to reformat blog posts for posting to Facebook and Google+.

So it’s a nice little utility.

The DFLL plugin is designed to modify the RSS feed of the blog. To modify the Web pages, I had to learn to install a child theme on WordPress, which is simple — once you figure out how to do it. The author of the DFLL plugin provides pre-cooked child themes for the Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven WordPress themes, but none for Twenty Fifteen, which is the one I used. So now I’m using the Twenty Eleven theme.

At some point, I may want to figure out how to modify WordPress themes more to my liking. I like a lighter theme. Examples: Manton.org…, The Loop, 512 Pixels, and Hypertext.net…. However, those blogs don’t run as many photos and images as I do, so maybe this blog is just going to be heavier and there’s nothing I can do about it without making unacceptable sacrifices.

Thanks to Benjamin Brooks for pointing out this nice little plugin, and for responding when I asked him if he is still using it, and it still works well despite no updates in years. (The answers of course were yes and yes.)

The name of the plugin — Daring Fireball-Style Linked List — comes from the blog Daring Fireball, which pioneered this style of blogging.

Hiding categories

I figured out how to hide categories so they don’t display on the website. I’ve been wanting to do this since I relaunched the blog in February, so while this is a small change externally it’s a bit of a triumph for me.

WordPress offers the option of assigning both categories and tags to posts. I have never figured out when to use categories and when to use tags. After doing some reading — for example, here and here — I have come to the conclusion that the reason WordPress supports both categories and tags is that categories came first and now some people like categories and some people like tags and some people like both.

Categories and tags seem redundant and confusing to me but as long as my blog displayed categories and tags I felt obliged to select both in a way that would be useful to readers.

Hiding categories is simple — once you figure out how to do it. You create a child theme, then go into the files content-single.php and content.php, navigate down to the sections for the blog entry footer, and delete everything that looks like a category listing.

On the home page, which is controlled by content.php, that code starts with something like “Posted in”

On single entries, controlled by the “content-single.php” file, the wording is slightly different.

Look to the public web pages of your own blog to find the exact wording, then go into content.php and content-single.php files to make the necessary changes.

And now that’s done and I no longer have to decide on a category for every blog post.

I may stop using tags too, but for now I’m sticking with them. I’m trying out the Strictly Auto Tags plugin to automate the process. I’m not sure how much help it actually is — it doesn’t usually seem to choose the tags I would have chosen. Perhaps I can fiddle with the settings and make it work.

Categories and tags are supposedly important for search engine optimization. SEO isn’t a priority for me on this blog. It’s desirable, but it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to do.

My blogging experiment: The problems

Posting to mitchwagner.com… and mirroring the posts elsewhere is relatively easy and fast. But I’d like it if it were still easier.

I have to do manual reformatting of posts to make them look all right on Google+ and Facebook. That only takes a minute or so on each post, but it’s a minute more than I want to spend.

I’d love it if Facebook would let me mirror my posts to the news feed, automatically, without my having to do anything, including hyperlinks, embedded images and video, boldface, italics and so on. That’s how it works for Tumblr. I think that capability would be good for Facebook’s business too. Maybe Facebook will take Instant Articles in that direction. I hope so. Dave Winer has written about this. Winer has virtually the same attitude toward blogging that I do.

Also, I use categories and tags to organize my posts, and it does take a little time to do that. Just a few seconds, but it can be annoying. I’m not sure anybody cares about that other than me. Do people really browse blogs by categories and tags? When I see a blog that looks intriguing, I just look at a few of the most recent posts. If I like what I see, I subscribe in Inoreader and read future posts as they’re published.

My blogging experiment: The traffic

I get a few dozen visitors to mitchwagner.com… daily and very few comments.

I don’t know how much traffic I’m getting on Tumblr. As far as I know, Tumblr doesn’t share those statistics, and they aren’t visible any other way. I used to get dozens of likes and reblogs every day. Now I get only a few.

My relationship with Tumblr is weird. I’m not sure I even care about Tumblr anymore. I keep posting there anyway because it’s entirely automatic – “set and forget,” as we say in the business. Maybe it’ll pick up. I do read a lot of Tumblr blogs, and I check for activity every day.

I get a lot of good conversation on Facebook, much of which is with people I actually know from real life, which is very nice. Facebook doesn’t share traffic numbers either.

I have a few hundred friends on Facebook. I only friend people on Facebook who I actually know, at least by reputation. And I only friend a few people every year now.

I also get in some good conversations on Google+, but that’s slowing down. The service had a big update 14 months ago, and only minor upgrades since. Bug fixes and trivial changes. Critics have predicted the death of Google+ for years; it may finally be happening. I’ll keep posting to Google+ for as long as people seem to be reading it, or until it stops being practical to do so, whichever comes first.

I have more than 10,000 followers on Google+, but I get the idea that only about 1% of them are actually checking in anymore.

As for Twitter: I like Twitter. But I wonder if I would stay with it if I were not expected to be on Twitter for professional reasons. I have about 6,500 followers on Twitter and it seems like that’s been relatively flat for years. And I don’t get a lot of interaction on Twitter. Almost everything I post to Twitter is a link to something else, which I think undercuts my popularity there. And that 140-character limit was fun for a couple of years, but now it’s just frustrating much of the time, although occasionally the fun returns when I figure out some kind of hack to get around it.

As for Medium: I’m new there. I’m still figuring it out. I check in every day for activity, and see something once every two weeks or so. Like Tumblr, my posts there are hands-free — set and forget.

My blogging experiment: The major tools

I started at a Wordpress.com blog and then moved everything over to a self-hosted WordPress.org… blog at mitchwagner.com…. That was surprisingly easy, with the coaching of the redoubtable Black Eagle.

The hosting provider is WestHost. I’ve seen some negative reviews of WestHost recently, but I’ve always been happy with them. They gave me support when I was making the transition. The support wasn’t perfect but it got me where I needed to go.

Initially, when I set up this blog I just posted links to my blog posts to Facebook and other social media, and pushed people back to the blog to read. But that seemed rude. So now I post to six places: The blog, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Medium.

That sounds like more work than it actually is. I use a WordPress plugin called SNAP: Social Networks Auto Poster. Once I’ve finished a post on WordPress, it takes me about a minute to use SNAP to post the same thing to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, manually formatting each post correctly for each service.  SNAP handles mirroring to Tumblr automatically; I don’t have to worry about that. I use IFTTT.com… to post to Medium. I just started doing that a couple of days ago; my previous tools for posting to Medium were flaky. IFTTT seems to work pretty well.

I do not love the setup for posting to Google+, Facebook, etc. I’m constantly making careless errors. I accidentally share links back to this blog when I meant to link to some external content elsewhere on the web. I wish Google+ and Facebook would just let me mirror content that originates here, as Tumblr and Medium do.

I rely on one other notable WordPress plugin: Auto Post Scheduler. That plugin lets me space out posts, posting one post at a time at intervals, rather than bunching everything up at once. Right now I have Auto Post Scheduler set up to post at 90-minute intervals 7 am to 7 pm Sunday through Friday and 7-5 on Fridays and Saturday. I also post manually when I want to comment on the news. Using Auto Post Scheduler, I’m posting all day, not in big bursts all at once.

My blogging experiment: How I think about what and where to post

I’ve been blogging at my own self-hosted WordPress blog for a few months. Before that, I did it on Google+, and before that various other platforms. I simultaneously post to Facebook, Tumblr, Medium, Twitter, and Google+. Here’s how I think about what to post:

Almost all of my blog posts are links to external content, with comments of my own. They’re short, sometimes just a sentence or two. Many of my blog posts are just an embedded tweet, image, YouTube video, or Tumblr post.

This kind of thing used to be called “tumble blogging.” There used to be several services for tumble blogging. Tumblr is the last man standing there.

Tumble blogging means posting a lot of fast, frictionless, off-the-cuff posts. Just say what’s on your mind, no matter how long or short the post might be.

In the past few years, I’ve seen people say they don’t think they can blog because they don’t have the energy to write long, organized, coherent articles. That makes my teeth hurt. Long, organized coherent essays are not required for blogging. Those essays are called “articles,” and they go on “magazines” or “news sites.” Blogging can include long, coherent, thoughtful essays, but it’s meant to be fast and off the cuff.

Personal blogging has mostly moved to Facebook nowadays. Which is great, because it brings people together and opens up blogging to people who would not otherwise do it. But it’s not entirely great because it gives Facebook far too much control of the situation. Remember a short time ago when Facebook employees suggested the company should block a Donald Trump Presidency? And remember when Facebook said nope nope nope we don’t do that. What happens next time if Facebook says yes? And they do it to a candidate or issue you like?

Facebook isn’t the only blogging platform, of course. It’s not the only social media platform either. But Facebook has the vast majority of users. Everybody else is by comparison a niche.

Earlier:

My blogging experiment: The history (which some of you already know about) and a status report

I’m blogging again. Blogging is cool.

 

My blogging experiment: The history (which some of you already know about) and a status report

In late February I decided I wanted to control the posts I make to social media. For several years before then, I posted to Google+, and used a service called Friends+Me to copy, or syndicate, those posts to Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

This Google+-first strategy worked out well in a few ways. It was fun for me – and that’s the primary reason I do this, for fun, although I do get some professional benefits. I accreted a modest but decent-sized community. I got in some great conversations. I got in touch with old friends and stayed in touch with them, and made a few new friends.

But I was unsatisfied in that I didn’t control my posts. If Google+, Facebook, or those other guys disappeared or changed their business model to exclude me, I’d be screwed. Also, I couldn’t control the layout of posts. I couldn’t insert a simple link, or image, or video. And it was hard to find old posts when I wanted to refer back to something I’d written about in the past. Annoying.

I decided to go back to blogging, something I’d done sporadically before the social media era. I’d made a return to blogging once before in 2014, but went back to the Google+/Friends+Me method after a couple of months because I noticed all the conversations were happening on Google+, Facebook, and so on, so I figured there was no point in doing it on a blog.

This time, I had a reason to do it on the blog: Because it gave me control over my work. I hoped people would come to the blog to read and comment, but I’d be fine if the conversations continued on social media. Indeed, I’d be fine if the number of conversations reduced, because I was starting to get Internet-famous enough to attract rude strangers to my posts.

It’s been more than two months of the experiment. How’s it going so far?

Quite well, actually.

I still get in a lot of good conversations on social media and I have the blog, mitchwagner.com…, as a hub. In addition to the pleasure of posting and conversations, I can fiddle around with WordPress, and its plugins and themes and stuff, which I like.

I’m blogging again. Blogging is cool.

I’ve been blogging on social media for years. Recently I’ve been using Google+ first, and then automatically distributing those links to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

But I’ve increasingly become dissatisfied with that arrangement. Those platforms are owned by other people – Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Those companies control the format of my posts, and who gets to comment on them. Those companies can make changes to their service, or even shut down entirely, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

All of that was something I was willing to live with for the trade-off of connecting with other people. But in recent months, the kinds of connections I get through those services have been unsatisfying. I’m getting more comments from jerks and other unpleasant randos, and getting tired of blocking them.

So now I’m posting my links and kibitzing here. Because I own this site, I have greater control over the platform than I do over what happens on social media.

A blog is a home. Social media is couch-surfing.

Does this mean I’m leaving social media?

Not at all. I’ll continue sharing my posts from here to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and watching discussions there as before. Indeed, I’m looking for better ways to share on those platforms without taking up a lot of my time. Because this thing I do here is just a hobby.

I did this experiment once before, for five months in 2014, and ended up going back to social media. But now it’s different. At that time I was still concerned with increasing the numbers of people following me on social media – the size of my communities there. I’m less concerned now. My community numbers have been flat recently on all the services I use, and I don’t mind it. The noise from jerks and unpleasant randos is loud enough to make my social media experience less pleasant. More followers = more noise.

Also, social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are starting to become public squares. We’ve always talked about them that way, but I’m seeing that myself now and it’s a mixed blessing. We’re not individuals there, we’re just part of the group. I’ve had people commenting on my posts and refer to me in the third person – not even by name, just as “OP” (for “original poster” – a shorthand I first saw on Reddit). They start calling each other names. When I ask them to be civil with each other, they want to know who the hell I am to tell them what to do. I don’t bother to ask anymore. I just block them when they get too annoying. It’s tedious. It makes social media too much like work.

By moving off of social media to a blog platform, I make it harder for people to find and read my posts. Not a lot, just a tiny bit. And I like it that way. I’m hoping that tiny little speed bump will improve the quality of conversation. Anybody willing to make that tiny bit of effort to get here is welcome. But they have to make that tiny little bit of effort.

If my follower numbers grow by a little or a lot, I’ll be happy about that. But if they don’t, I’m fine with that too. I don’t plan to take any special steps to grow my follower numbers – no ads or search engine optimization or suchlike shenanigans. I want people to be able to find me easily if that’s what they want, and if they’re not interested, that’s fine too. 1 

Also: I recently read a blog post by a friend who’s taking a Facebook break. She values her privacy so I won’t link to it. But she, like me, is an introvert. And like me she finds social media connections to be a substitute for real life connections. She was finding going on Facebook often made her feel bad. I can relate.

I hope that by taking this baby step back from social media, I can understand better the extent to which I value personal connections, and how much I need of them, and to what extent I’m happy to be my introverted self. 2

If you’re interested in continuing to read my links and posts, thank you! Just keep on following me on social media, as you were, and click over here to read anything you find interesting. Or don’t – that’s OK too. Or you bookmark this site and come back regularly. Or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Also, you can get a daily email newsletter of my posts. I think the newsletter option is nifty and I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of it. Perhaps I haven’t spread the word enough?

By the way, my blogging here might be temporary. I get infatuated with one technology or another and then lose interest rapidly and move on, much to the annoyance of a few friends who look to me as a technology bellwether.

On the other hand, I do stay with some things. I’ve been an online enthusiast for 27 years, longer than the Internet has been popular with the general public. I’ve been in the Appleverse for nine years now and am still satisfied. And I’ve been blogging like I do here for about nine years as well. So don’t be surprised if this blog is still up and running in some form 10 years from now, and don’t be surprised if I give it up in a few months either.

I do expect that if I stick with this for years I won’t always be on WordPress. But I do think whatever platform I’m using, I’ll continue blogging, continue doing it here at this URL, and hopefully all the archives will be in the same place too.

  1. Even friends and family should feel no obligation to connect with me online. This is my peculiar hobby that I’m happy to share with anyone, but have no interest in inflicting on people unwillingly. ↩︎
  2. “Introvert” has become such an overused word on the Internet. It makes me feel like an annoying hipster to proclaim myself to be one. On the other hand, maybe I’m missing out on an opportunity to ride the hype. I could start introvert clubs! Host an introvert conference! Just send me money and stay home and do whatever you want without interacting with other people. ↩︎