Slow blogging reinitiated

Three years ago I wrote about joining the slow blogging movement. Slow blogging is a practise that aims to take blogs back to yesteryears, where a group of people wrote thoughtful articles and the web, by and large, read them. These people were not journalists, but regular folk who had worthwhile comments to make and their blog was their platform. And there was no competition.

Like everything else this soon turned into a business: someone thought of ways to make money, someone else thought of ways to appease Google, still others thought of banding and writing hordes of articles with a frequency individual writers could never dream of matching and we got to a point where people started comparing blogging to journalism. And there came with it unhealthy competition.

In three–years’ time I have most certainly deviated from my original intentions of “slow blogging”. But I think the fact that I took three years is appreciable; I for one expected to deviate within three weeks. But it is important not to take the term “slow blogging” too literally. In fact, it means blogging intentionally or purposefully rather than slowly, and pace itself comes merely as a footnote. The idea is that we bloggers will do well to leave marketing and strenuous schedules of writing to magazines and journalists and embrace something media houses cannot offer — individuality. And that when you blog only when you have something worthwhile to say, your frequency of writing tends to drop.

“You don’t work for your blog — your blog works for you and your goals, and the most important thing we can do is let it,” says Jen Carrington.

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Last month I wrote continuously keeping a good schedule of publishing on alternate days. I loved it, but I think I would like it better if I were allowed to take things slow. Surprisingly enough, it is not because I had to work hard to say something — indeed that is easily done — but because, over the years, I have come to value the creativity afforded by flexible deadlines. Not a complete lack of deadlines, mind you, because deadlines do quite a lot to help you get things done, but having a crude deadline (this week, by this month etc.) means you can be sure not to abandon your blog. This is important for those afraid of abandoning their blogs.

However what we do gain by adopting a slow blogging mindset is a mental calm, weightier thoughts, and a better body of articles. I have often found myself cringing at my earliest work — perhaps everyone has experienced this — and a surefire way to ensure every piece you write is your best is to ensure you give each one all the time it deserves, and this is near-impossible with a cut and dried schedule. I may be returning to the movement (if you can call it that) after deviating from it for a while, but I have maintained it for the better part of three years and found it to be enjoyable. It really does have practical reasons too: most of us do not earn by blogging, and it makes no sense to justify spending more time on it than you would on any hobby. Sixty minutes were all I gave myself, and if that time was up, I returned to the article another day, once again for no more than an hour. This does wonders to your thought process, leaving ideas lingering in your mind, giving them ample time to germinate.

“Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy,” says Todd Sieling. “It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.”

Jen Carrington wrote an excellent piece on slow blogging for creatives last year; I think everyone should read it. The only other article on slow blogging I would recommend you read is The New York Times’ coverage from way back in 2008 — five whole years before I joined the movement. I would also suggest reading the original “Slow blogging manifesto” from Todd Sieling, who kickstarted the movement, except it seems to have been taken offline now, which is a pity. In any case, a quick search for slow blogging will place before you more manifestos than you would care to read.

The point remains the same, be it 2008 or 2016. Blogging, for a majority of us, is a hobby, a leisure activity (possibly academic to a certain extent), and an enriching part of our lives, but a part of our lives nonetheless, not our entire life. But for the meaning it adds to us and our work and thoughts, we all want our blogs to be meaningful too, to be worthwhile for our readers and, at the end of the day, justifiable for our efforts. When you look at it that way, “slow blogging” just makes sense. Perhaps it is the natural way to blog and still the best. I love to write a lot, write often, but I have many things to do apart from this — research and academics for instance — but blogging is worth it and I appreciate those who put in a lot of effort and keep a stern schedule, but to each his own. I have come to embrace slow blogging for a reason, because it makes more sense to me, my lifestyle and my approach to things, but to you as my reader, it should make hardly any difference because absolutely nothing changes with regard to interesting articles getting published on this website. In fact, my instincts tell me that “slow blogging” just may make my articles even better.

On Ghost: a layman’s take on just a blogging platform

When I first got into WordPress, it was a blogging platform. People owned blogs, people blogged, people read, people interacted and the whole system worked beautifully. But then, somewhere down the line, the power behind WordPress freed it from its shackles as a blogging platform and made it an extremely simple way to use as a CMS, no matter how vast the content.

It was a change to live with, whether we liked it or not. And WordPress’ route map deviated from powering blogs to powering websites of all kinds. For a moment, it felt awkward to think I had a blog hosted on a service no longer entirely dedicated to it, but it was short lived.

In spite of all this, I always yearned for a blogging platform that would manage itself and let me write freely. We still do not have such a product, but several come very close. The one with its roots closest to WordPress is Mr John O’Nolan’s Ghost.

The premise

Ghost is built on node.js, currently a complicated mush to set up which shared hosting services do not even allow. I have never set up a platform (well, anything, really) built on node.js before, so I figured I represented a larger section of Ghost’s expected user base.

Mr O’Nolan’s argument is that WordPress started off as a PHP-based service, based on Michale Valdrighi’s b2 (also a PHP-based service) around a time when PHP was as unsupported as node.js is now. But that, he says, does not mean node.js will not become mainstream in the future, given that it is better than PHP and its contemporaries already.

“Technology advances.” He says, rightly.

The installation

My biggest qualm is Ghost’s premature public release. The product is not yet ready. (And I’m saying this from a layman’s perspective, wanting to have nothing to do whatsoever with coding at the moment.) Why was Ghost pushed out as a public release when the simplest way to set up a Ghost blog, on my Ubuntu machine, for instance, is to run each of these commands:

and then start production with this:

Ghost is not competing with WordPress, as far as I can tell, because that would not make sense. However, even while Mr O’Nolan did not fork Ghost from the WordPress Open Source project as some have been claiming, few can repudiate that it was built to deliver an attack on WordPress’ blogging premise.

Take a look at the outline of the original Ghost idea, for example. The entire article, beautifully formatted, speaks solely of how Ghost will right everything WordPress got wrong. So it has, indeed, always come down to WordPress. And this means Ghost, to lure users, will have to combat WordPress on a few other things, the biggest and most important of the lot being the famous five-minute installation that WordPress boasts.

In the crowd

Another issue Ghost will have to deal with is that blogging platforms have come such a long way since the 1990s that they are now a dime a dozen, and free services are pretty great as well. Ghost’s confirmed pricing is like so:

And with noncompetitive pricing, Ghost will not hold as much appeal as Roon or Pen, or the pretty weird but interesting concept beind Throwww, or, my current favourite of the lot, Medium, from the people who started the original Blogger.

They all have different ideas and appeals, and Ghost’s biggest card, as far as I know, is expansion: you can build a massive news blog, the next Mashable, if you like, to paraphrase O’Nolan (if my memory serves me right, because I don’t seem to be able to locate the source where I read this).

Is it ready for the public yet?

My answer, in short, is a resounding no. The system Ghost runs on is unsupported by the shared hosting servers used by far too many people (read far too many potential Ghost users) and many have said this already. But even with node.js running, Ghost has failed to market its ease of use as much as it has marketed its focus and scope.

I am quite happy that Ghost is bringing the focus back on blogging, but this is a poor foundation to build an entire product on because many others are doing just that. What more can Ghost offer? It’s website does not make that as clear as I’d like.

I like the markdown v formatted dual display post editor on Ghost, but is that enough to make me want to use Ghost? I doubt it. WordPress’ distraction free writing coupled by a preview on a second browser tab will serve my needs just fine albeit involve two mouse clicks more. I have no problem with two mouse clicks; in fact they let me breathe and think between writing paragraph upon paragraph continuously.

Free. Open. Could be simpler.

Ghost also speaks little about SEO. The term SEO, although largely alient in concept to half of all bloggers, is still a term they have heard somewhere and have increasingly come to be conscious of. Ghost’s ousting of the concept of a sidebar in design in exchange for a single-column layout may not fit well with everybody’s ideology, and definitely not from a presentation standpoint because, while they all want their content read, they also want other titbits of information displayed, from badges to follow buttons to more important things like popular, related and top posts/comments which help increase user engagement.

Further, returning to Ghost’s claim that it can be used to build a single, personal blog or a large scale one, it’s hard to think of a reason why large scale ones will not just prefer WordPress. Because PHP is old? Highly unlikely; it’s the tech syndrome where a product seems old very fast, whereas to the general public things move at a more stable rate. For instance, Android 4.0 is not as ancient to the average smartphone user as we think.

By far the smallest problem I see with Ghost is markdown. I write my articles straight in HTML, including this one, and I have no problem switching to Markdown, but the average user, many of whom have freshly pressed WordPress blogs with remarkable content today (so their ability is not being questioned), could not care less about markdown. Once again, a couple of mouse clicks and a drop-down to set h1 is not too much trouble. Or consider WordPress’ ctrl+1 to ctrl+6 shortcuts that make the job just as mouse-free.

But is Ghost any good at all?

This time round, my answer is a resounding yes. Ghost is promising if not as revolutionary as its creators would like to believe. But, more importantly, Ghost has potential. It is under the hands of some of the finest developers around, already has a beautiful and established visual style — something very important for any product targeted at the non-developer.

I have previously (even if very briefly) spoken of my enthusiasm for Ghost and my intention of holding back my upcoming essays weblog to launch it on Ghost, so any questions as to my bias should be put down with that.

If Ghost creates an installation package that just works and offers a free subdomain.ghost.org usage plan to go with it, it would instantly become a no-brainer for any blogger. It would give back the almost holistic and exclusive atmosphere WordPress bloggers commanded back when Mr Matt Mullenweg’s service was among the most powerful options and definitely the easiest one to get started with.

The Ghost dashboard is more beautiful than WordPress’

I love minimalism. (Is it not rather overly obvious around here?) So I love Ghost’s look and Ghost blog designs. But how many really share this feeling about minimalism?

I also like how Ghost design structures are closely related to those of WordPress. That was arguably the smartest pitch made and one that helped rope Woo in as Ghost’s design partner.

As Mr O’Nolan himself says, Ghost has an unfair advantage since it stands on the shoulders of giants. But in that case, the smart thing to do is make it easy for users to climb from the giant’s shoulders onto yours: Ghost needs to be different in approach, beliefs and looks, among other things, but without requiring users to scale yet another learning curve to use its product.

However, Ghost is less than a year old (if counted from its Kickstarter campaign anyway), so it has a long way to go. And at this rate of progress, I’m sure O’Nolan and his team can make this article null and void in no time.

Lastly, I appreciate certain parts of Ghost’s spirits a lot. In my opinion, the best thing Mr O’Nolan has said about his brainchild so far is pretty straightforward: “Do we want to make millions and sell to Facebook, or do we want to make something that’s genuinely good and serves its users, not its investors and shareholders?”

That is the way to go.

As always, you can get straight in touch with me and share your views.

 Cover image: Flickr/Thomas Leuthard 

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Blogging manifesto, slow blogging and a cuppa

This is one of those tough-to-write articles that is tough just because you are trying to come up with ways to avoid following what follows. (No pun intended.) But when you write three blogs, including this, a satire column and a science blog, all at once, you try to streamline everything into one, if for no other reason, just to loosen things up a tad.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed my satire, a genre of articles I myself love writing, and the genre of preference any day. A smaller, but more targeted, group of people have freely discussed my science blog as well. Both of these platforms have died as of last week.

Blogging v content creation

The website (and particularly this blog section you are on) is what I opted to serve as a common platform for all this. What I have been most fortunate in is having readers with enough courage to take news from news sources and who would rather discuss with real people. If you know the blogosphere well, you will realise that better insights come from single bloggers rather than team blogs churning out several articles a day. (Yes, I speak of The Verge, HuffPo, TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget and the lot.)

I follow these as well, but I use my own blog to voice my opinion. And I value a richer communication that a comment on these larger websites where you voice is one in a thousand on a single page. Not many appreciate the value of this, but I am not here to judge them. It is their point of view (and sometimes a point to oppose just because they believe they have to oppose you.)

But, ultimately, let us not forget that all the abovementioned large-scale blogs began as the works of single people. And people read these blogs just as they would read a more established newspaper, because what counts is the voice, not the person it is coming from. That would be like not looking at somebody’s photographs just because they do not shoot for Reuters or Nat Geo — quite an empty argument I would not want to waste my time on.

Slow blogging

However, some, at this point, seem to choose to go big or, surprisingly enough, go small. Having spoken to many people yesterday (and at times with many people at once) including friends, family and select subscribers, and weighing their advice as I saw fit, I have picked the latter. In this regard, I have come to re-evaluate how and what I blog, what type of articles to reduce, what type to write more frequently, and finally, about three months ago, I joined the Slow Blogging movement — something I had been contemplating for two years now.

We slow bloggers believe that the content created by large group blogs are writing for writing’s sake, not in the spirit of literature or writing as an art form. This was, admittedly, something I used to practice more on my satire network than on this website. I, for one, agree with this old New York Times article I found while rummaging around my Evernote, which brightly says, “earnest descriptions of the first frost of the season are nowhere to be found.”

My blogging manifesto

To wrap it all up formally, I took some time to write down my blogging manifesto, which brings about a new approach to my blogging habits. Specifically, the manifesto aims at a blog that,

  • is more personal and transparent to read
  • is more rich in terms of its literature co-efficient
  • is built to make sure readers receive more for the time they give to read it
  • is a rejection of immediacy, as Todd Sieling puts it, meaning content is served slowly, well-baked than hastily burnt
  • is evaluated with a fine-toothed comb before publication
  • is built on the ideals of high respect for its readers

The manifesto is 50-points long and geared towards fulfilling the above intentions. Click the large, attention-grabbing button below to read it.

This will be that last post I write (unless absolutely necessary and justifiable) which deviates from the points of the manifesto. My next article, however, will conform to the 50-point manifesto more strictly while, ironic as it may seem, making blogging and reading more enjoyable.

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P.S. I hope you’re enjoying the minimalism after the newest redesign and update on this site. Problems? Suggestions? Get in touch with me.

Bloggers, reporters, journalists and the fine line in-between

The question as to whether bloggers are journalists is a much-debated and indeed over-blogged one. Try googling the phrase are bloggers journalists and you will quickly find that almost all of the results at the top have the same title and all lead to articles where an extensive examination is carried out on the topic. It makes no difference then, if I did the same. What I want to do instead is, in giving out my opinion, also comment on what I have read so far on the idea of bloggers as journalists.

One reason, perhaps, why the issue is on an all-time high at the moment is because of the Apple Asteroid, a yet-unreleased product which Apple Inc., claims is its trade secret. The big question was thrown to the public openly for the first time recently when three blogs, PowerPage, AppleInsider and ThinkSecret carried articles on the product which was never supposed to have fallen to public eyes. The catch? Can the bloggers take cover under laws protecting journalists and legally keep their sources confidential? Continue…

16 Ethics on Twitter: Think Before you Tweet

CNBC’s blog, flopping out, gave me the ‘think before you tweet.’ Given that Twitter is fast becoming the ultimate source of information exchange online, it is not surprising if you find yourself one day following President Obama or Gaddafi or the guy in the corner of your street… or even me! The important thing to know in such times is that as tweeters we have certain unspoken of, yet unanimously accepted, set of rules–or rather ethics–to keep up to. But how many of us actually do that? Below I have listed few that I could think of and you are most welcome to add to them as you please.

  1. Tweets are read by others so if you don’t want even one of them to know what you think of an international political crisis, there is no point in sharing it with the others.
  2. Nobody wants to know what you dined on so please do not take the trouble of tweeting that you are at such a restaurant, eating such a dish and paying so much for it.
  3. Tweet what other will benefit from and not the fact that a coin has two faces. How many of them do not actually know that? I doubt they would find themselves on Twitter even accidentally.
  4. Tweeting is not letter writing so do not say thank you through tweets. Or hello or good-bye or any such courtesy for that matter, unless it is so important that it will surge your tweeting community ahead in some manner. Use Direct Messages if it is really necessary.
  5. Re-tweets are not to exchange pleasantries and neither are mentions. <Celebrity’s name here> re-tweet me! It would mean a lot to me! Of course it would, but how useful would you be as part of an active tweeting community which actually has serious tweeters? (Yes, such tweeters do exist.)
  6. Not knowing when to tweet can help you lose your job. ‘Nuff said.
  7. A simple rule of thumb that can take you a long way, safely, is do not tweet anything you would not actually want to tell your followers to their face.
  8. Twitter is not a backyard for your musings so stop thinking aloud on twitter.
  9. Stop marketing your product or self on Twitter because, if you have not already bothered to read through it, one of the first terms you agree to when joining Twitter goes so: [You will not] sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to Twitter or Twitter Content to any third-party without prior written approval from Twitter.
  10. Just because the term Twitter stemmed from meaning ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,it does not mean you can tweet useless collections of words.
  11. Stop trying to create trends by hash-tagging every word in your tweet. If it is worth it, it will become a trend with no help from your part.
  12. Do not converse on Twitter or cuss around because, while Twitter is not a chat room, it is not any more private than a humungous ball everybody in the world attends.
  13. Direct Messages are not cheap marketing solutions so stop asking people to buy your product or get a membership with your company. Say thanks for following instead or, better yet, do not send Direct Messages unless you know that person and are sure you will not be wasting their time sending such private messages.
  14. Nobody need follow you back. Get it out of your head that someone needs to follow you because you followed them. It is not a favour they owe you, nor an action you ought to expect. Remember that you followed them out of your own free will and not with them holding a gun to your head. You wanted to read their tweets, and they are glad to share it. If they do not want to read yours, stop forcing them and–childishly–stop unfollowing them!
  15. Twitter is not all about followers rather about quality tweets. It is better to have ten followers and thousand quality, useful tweets rather than thousand followers and ten rotten tweets.
  16. Twitter account monitoring softwares play spoil sport because they are only interested in followers. Automatically following tweeters and unfollowing them if they do not follow you back is lame. See my 14th point. And if you are on Twitter for followers, you would be better of taking my advice and deleting your account. You will then do many people a great favour.
Have you thought of more such Twitter ethics? Share it below!