A Collapse Blogger’s Search For the Most Collapse-Proof Blogging Platform

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on October 24th, 2017

Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

 


Desperate times call for desperate measures (Jeb Bush photo by Michael Vadon)

With just seven days left before this blog moves away from The World's Worst Blogging Platform™ I created and over to an actual blogging platform, I will nonetheless point out that I've been rather content for the past three years or so with this "platform" of mine, and not once have I been jealous or envious of the actual platforms used by the blogs I myself read.

Because while shortly after starting up this hand-coded blog of mine, in late-2014 I did actually take a look at the back-ends of several platforms out there to see what I might add to mine, but the more I delved into them the more I realized I had no interest in them in the slightest. That all changed however in October of 2016 when author John Michael Greer announced on The Archdruid Report his desire to move away from his current blogging platform and that he was open to suggestions. I in turn conducted an updated-by-two-years search, the results being mostly – mostly, but not quite – the same.

If you're at least vaguely familiar with the blogging "scene" then you're probably aware of the three main platforms out there – Blogger, WordPress and Medium – to which can be added the mostly forgotten Typepad, the convoluted-for-blogging Drupal and Joomla (the former being what The Oil Drum ran on), the teeny-bopper oriented Tumblr (purchased by Yahoo!), the Super bowl-advertising Weebly, Wix and Squarespace, not to mention the array of which are in some cases here-today gone-tomorrow platforms like Svbtle, Posthaven, Postach.io, Jux, Postagon, Wardrobe, Jekyll, Anchor, Bolt, Hexo, Silvrback, Roon, Scriptogram, Pen.io, Dropplets, and on and on and on.

Coming from the vantage point of a writer blogging on what can be broadly described as the collapse of industrial civilisation (and the renewal of culture) I am of course wary of using a platform that is itself prone to collapse. Not to say that I'm after something than could somehow survive industrial civilisation's collapse of course, but rather something that can survive its own shortcomings.

With Typepad and those mentioned afterwards being a write-off due to either their hokeyness and/or lack of dependability, that pretty much leaves the Big Three to choose from.

The oldest of these is Blogger (what Greer was looking to get away from, and which many collapse bloggers currently use), a platform launched back in 1999 and sold to Google in 2003 for an undisclosed sum of money. This platform is so archaic though that it's a complete joke. I'm by no means a technophile, but that doesn't mean I'm going to break out my very first computer (a VIC-20 which I was gifted at 4-years-old and somewhat learned to program on) to do my word processing on, any more than I'd want to use Blogger to do blogging on. Moreover, and putting aside Google's propensity for shutting down various services it offers, placing the entire edifice of one's Blogger blog at the mercy of Google is not something I'd be interested in partaking in.

Next up is pretty much the opposite of Blogger, that being WordPress (also used by many collapse bloggers). What we have here is an open source platform, one in which you can either have a certain branch of the WordPress organisation host your blog for you on their servers (that's a whole other story which I won't go into) or, being open sourced, you can freely download the software and host it yourself wherever you please. What this freedom implies is that you retain full ownership and control over your content, a boon for collapse-oriented writers who can tend to have a bit of a rugged individualist streak to them and don't like being too dependant on third-party services.

But upon giving WordPress a look back in late-2014 it didn't take a minute before I was turned off by the whole thing, what with it looking extremely clunky and representative of what I now understand to be "bloatware". Because although it did start off as a platform committed solely to blogging, it's since branched out to becoming more of a generalized application platform. As stated by WordPress' former (2009 – 2011) Deputy Head of the User Interface Group, John O'Nolan,

What is WordPress for? For years WordPress has flipped and flopped without consciously pivoting or focusing. At various points over the last 5 years it has tried directly and indirectly to compete with Drupal, Facebook, Tumblr, SquareSpace, Shopify, Wix and Medium. All without ever focusing for long enough to succeed at one before moving on to the next. The only constant has been following, rather than leading, at each stage…

We all know that WordPress could do just about anything but, maybe it’s time to stop and ask whether it actually should. What we can say with relative certainty is that WordPress cannot become the best publishing platform, website builder, ecommerce store, social network, rss reader and application platform – all at the same time. Stephen Covey once said: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. So what is WordPress’ main thing?


What are the chances that one of WordPress' army of Auttomaticians (otherwise known as "employees") is named Waldo/Wally?

To give it credit, by not having a "main thing" WordPress has however managed to become the Internet's version of Spandex, a one-size-fits-all platform that astoundingly runs 28% of the Internet's websites (so it claims). Problem here though is that it can't possibly build everything into the system in order to please everybody at the same time lest it become a lumbering behemoth. In effect, users are required to install an array of plugins to accomplish what they're after.

Problem with plugins is that while there's literally tens of thousands of them out there allowing users to customize their Spandex, what this also means is that poorly constructed plugins, failed-to-be-updated plugins, and conflicting plugins can not only crash your entire WordPress system (as I witnessed happen to The Doomstead Diner a couple of years ago – Diner Hell Week: The Crash Story), but has led to WordPress being utterly vulnerable to hacking, one recent claim stating that WordPress sites account for 78% of the Internet's hacked sites.

But even with all those bloatware and vulnerability aspects taken into consideration, WordPress is nonetheless a more than half-decent platform, it is open source, and if in 2014 I had to choose a blogging platform to go with rather than The World's Worst Blogging Platform™, yes, I would have gone with WordPress. Because no, I wouldn't have gone with Medium.

Medium's the latest Big Kid on the Block (used only by Nafeez Ahmed as far as I know, a quasi-collapse blogger at that), it having been designed by Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter. Twitter however isn't the original source of funding from which Williams was able to start up Medium though, Williams actually being a co-creator of Blogger which was rumoured to have been sold for $20 million (to Google, as mentioned). That being said, Williams didn't just use his Blogger-cum-Twitter booty to start up Medium, relying on an array of venture capitalists that have thrown in more than $174 million of their own funding.

In other words, although Williams is supposedly "not that interested in revenue", but is interested in, as he claims, "building our understanding… deepening our understanding of the world", the fact of the matter is that Medium is at the mercy of "shareholders" whose foremost concern is to see the platform turn a profit, thus requiring it to come up with a business model that can be successfully shown to siphon money over to said shareholders, since running "a billionaire's vanity project" (as Medium was once described) can only last for so long. Needless to say, this can become quite problematic for users of the platform who think that it might provide some stability for them and their writing.

Another problem for writers using Medium is that they don't actually own or control the platform in any way whatsoever, and while Medium can sell, reproduce, or publish a writer's material in any way it wants, regardless of what writers think it can also tear up any agreement or system as it sees fit in order to introduce a whole new business model, relegating the whole thing to being a kind of digital sharecropping.

This isn't mere hyperbole though, since in early-2017 a third of Medium's staff (about 45 people) walked into work only to find out that their jobs no longer existed. Williams and company had decided to embark on yet another business model, this being Medium's third since it was founded in 2012. Because while it first started off with the idea of being a publication itself via hiring its own writers and editors, it then moved on to an ad-driven model whereby it would attract writers who would be given a portion of the dividends. What was this latest epiphany that Williams had in store?

Before I get to that, before Williams got to it himself, and after the recent election in the US, president of the United States Donald Trump stated (specifically in regards to Twitter) that "I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you." Williams did state that

It's a very bad thing, Twitter's role in that. If it's true that he wouldn't be president if it weren't for Twitter, then yeah, I'm sorry.

Williams' shame may be a bit questionable though due to another statement of his where he pointed out that

I don't think Twitter is the worst case of this,

"this" being

a media ecosystem that… thrives on attention [and which is] making us dumber and not smarter.

Damage control? Maybe. Or maybe it's actually damage control + marketing spin. Because as Williams continued,

It is the ad-driven media that churns stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis and their only measure is whether or not someone clicks on it.

And what do you know, but it turns out that Medium's latest incarnation is one where it does away with ads. And how is it, you may ask, that Williams is spinning it now?

Ad-driven systems can only reward attention. They can’t reward the right answer. Consumer-paid systems can. They can reward value. The inevitable solution: People will have to pay for quality content.

In other words, Williams and Medium are going to be the gatekeepers of "quality content" now. And to get access to this "quality content" – which you'll want because you're so intelligent and don't settle for anything less than quality – you'll have to funnel money to Williams and on to his shareholders via the newly introduced subscription-based model, what used to be simply known as a paywall.

Williams may not be a fan of Trump, but if Williams' media brilliance has been to package and sell us the problem (attention-destroying Twitter) and then turn around and also sell us the "solution", then I can't help but think that despite Williams' aversion to Trump that Trump would nonetheless be proud – and a fan – of Williams.


Can Evan Williams save us from Evan Williams? (photo by Christopher Michel)

If that wasn't enough, the method by which Williams and Medium are going to operate this system is so ridiculous that one writer has even go so far as to call it "the gonorrhea of blogging".

That may be a bit of a harsh description, somewhat understandable though when one realizes that Williams' and Medium's new method to save its shareholders journalism is to do away with the "unsatisfying" heart button and replace it with "Claps". So instead of the oh-so-yesterday notion of the single-click recommend – clicking on the like/heart/upvote/favourite button – the idea now is to click – and keep clicking! – on the clap button to show your appreciation. And the more clap(s) you get, the more you get paid.


Oh, but the clap hurts, it hurts!

Anyway, it was once said by somebody that

The state of tech blogs is atrocious. It's utter crap. They create a culture that is superficial and fetishizing and rewarding the wrong things and reinforcing values that are self-destructive and unsustainable.

Yes, the person who said that – and who continued by pointing that he was "pessimistic about the state of media, and that's why I want to work on this problem" – was none other that Williams himself.

I will agree that the state of blogging is atrocious, but if the only option is the dickbar-waving Medium – with its enticing audience of 60 million unique visitors per month but which From Filmers to Farmers would certainly be at the bottom of the curating pile for – then I'd be more than happy to keep running From Filmers to Farmers on The World's Worst Blogging Platform™.

Fortunately though my John Michael Greer-induced late-2016 updated perusal of the blogging platforms out there revealed that one of those here-today gone-tomorrow platforms that I'd noticed back in late-2014 was not only still around, but had also progressed leaps and bounds since, so much so that it was now head and shoulders above the entire competition, and in every way imagineable (for a collapse blogger).

I'll fortunately be revealing what that blogging platform is on the last day of this month, because although I'm grateful for it having gotten me to where I am now, at long last I'll finally be putting this World's Worst Blogging Platform™ to rest while I relaunch From Filmers to Farmers on what may very well qualify as the world's greatest blogging platform.

See you on the 31st!

 

p.s. In order to accommodate the transition and make sure that the DNS records propagate throughout the Internets in time (good for you if you don't know what I'm talking about), starting on the 29th of this month you'll be seeing the front page of this blog switch over to what you see in the image below, followed by the password protection page being lifted as From Filmers to Farmers once again goes live on the 31st – but in its new incarnation.

p.p.s. Sneak peak for anybody who can guess what the password is, which will be revealed below once the blog switches over.

Update 31/10/2017: __________.

 

One Response to A Collapse Blogger’s Search For the Most Collapse-Proof Blogging Platform

  • Michael says:

    I propose gopher, not on the www, if you don't care about audience, but ruggability. This ancient protocol still lives on and works naturally as a blogging platform. Together with a different approach to route and disseminate stuff and because it can be transmitted in very small chunks/packets, it seems to be a viable alternative. But the network effect needs to be in favor of it, which will never happen, so have fun in the digital desert/dark age of adverts and js-bloat. The normal folk wont use a weird platform without blinky clicky colorful frameworks, buttons and especially one without "social".

    Alternative ways to route and disseminate stuff can be ipfs, cjdns or gnunet, especially the latter has programmers concerned with delivery, discovery and decentrality, not performance (as the tor project). But I guess this post here wasn't concerned with that kind of collapse (yet).

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