Keep blogging fun!

Published in blogging on

Howdy! It sure is nice to see a visitor to this website. Having registered this domain in 2004 it is a surprise to me that given the grave yard of abandoned blogs and dead links in my favourites bar, I am still writing after a decade of operating this domain; I believe the reason for all the abandoned blogs is that for a lot of people they burn out or lose interest.

The secret behind enjoying blogging is not to take yourself or your blog too seriously, and for years I did just that; I kept this domain as a place where I could stash personal projects, display my photography and publish articles all with the knowledge that very few would read them and even fewer would care. I used mint as an analytic package and Wordpress as the publishing platform, with the whole lot initially hosted at home on an ageing Macintosh Quadra 950 (33 MHz of pure power) over a flaky 1Mbit "dedicated line".

Keep Blogging Fun

Things where fun having the limitations of a Motorola 68040 powered machine, which was slow and old even in 2004, because Wordpress would take between three and six seconds to process each page and that meant I had to work out how to make things quicker. To do this I started learning about programming in PHP, MySQL database engines, system administration and caching; unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the spark that would later on begin my career in web development.

For several years I kept blogging as a fun aside to my usual activities, writing about anything that interested me that I could write for more than five minutes about, all-the-while learning a lot about web development. Eventually the Macintosh Quadra 950 was replaced by a second hand workstation and a few years later by an Intel Atom based system (fun) that I built for the soul purpose of hosting photogabble.

By this point photogabble had already gone though several re-designs (at least once per year), two hard drive failures and one case of severe database corruption due to a thunderstorm and inadequate surge protection; but it still stood with the majority of its legacy content, still alive thanks to backups and my preference to write posts in notepad on my computer before copying into Wordpress to layout and publish.

Looking back at the post archive there is a distinct time line where you can see the most articles being written in the lead up to and during my time as a student of Coventry University, during which, at some point the fun was tragically lost.

Blogging shouldn't feel like work unless you're getting paid1

While at university I had created a schedule where I would write between three and six articles a week on various trending subjects. This was initially as part of an experiment to see how much traffic and therefore advertising revenue I could get from the domain for a research paper that I was writing at the time.

Visitor numbers did indeed increase to around 11,000 people a month coming from various sources, the majority of whom where visiting and commenting on tutorials that I had written – it is true that when you write content that is unique and of good quality, people will link to and start providing quality feedback.

Looking back, I can now see that the fun began to be lost when I continued with the intensive publishing schedule after having finished my research paper. The challenge of increasing analytic metrics took over from the challenge of writing good content and the blog suffered for it; initially with the quality of posts and later with the continual focus on redesigning the websites theme.

Perfectionism is just as harmful as sloppiness

I have a folder on an old disk that has around thirty redesigns for photogabble, only three of those where ever published with them all having one thing in common: all are incomplete to one degree or another. Unfinished personal projects is nothing new to programmers, it tends to come with being a developer, we have so many good ideas that within the context of personal projects end up never going anywhere due to success becoming an obstacle2.

Having shifted my focus from writing good content to continually "improving" the website the number of posts began to dwindle to almost nothing and those that did get written where short and of dubious quality. At the time I attributed this to writers block; but in hindsight the truth is that having shifted my focus away from enjoying writing and instead set it upon perfecting the website itself I got stuck in a catch-22 situation.

With all my focus being on continually redesigning the site (read: improving it) I had ended up giving myself the task of re-laying-out hundreds of pages that had been written with a thinner column spacing for text in mind and therefore before I could write more articles I needed to update all the hundreds that came before to make them look perfect with the new design; I had opened Pandora's box!

The lack of new posts regardless of content or quality ended up quickly killing off inbound traffic and eventually every last quanta of fun had evaporated from working on photogabble; for all intents and purposes I had lost interest and abandoned the website to the digital wind.

Just write

Thus began a hiatus from photogabble and writing in general that lasted almost three years; during that period I did revisit the idea of blogging many times, however by that point the content structure of photogabble had become very complex3 with a lot of incomplete areas that the perfectionist in me wanted to finish.

In short, every time I began to revisit the idea of blogging, I would attribute my inability to write to writers block when in hindsight it is very clearly apparent that before I could get into a mental state for writing I would give myself a mountain of a task to climb, one of Everest proportions, that needed completing before I could even begin to think about what I would write about!

Having the server that photogabble was hosted on vanish was incidentally a serendipitous event; because while I did have backups of the entire website, they where stored on hard drives in my 2007 Mac Pro that had at that time recently failed and while I could have bought a new computer and got photogabble back up and running I saw it as an opportunity for a clean slate.

The saga continues4

Keeping something enjoyable makes it far easier to make yourself continue doing it, even when the initial motivation to continue wanes. For me the fun in blogging lays largely in tinkering with technologies and sharing my experience, either in an opinion piece or through tutorials retracing the steps I took to achieve something. Statistics, blogging software and constant redesigns had got in the way of and eventually supplanted creating quality content as being the thing I did.

So with 2014 over and 2015 just beginning I have begun again with blogging. This time the focus is almost entirely on the writing. Late in 2014 I settled upon a basic design and decided that I didn't want to use any blogging software, instead settling upon using a static site generator5 and a mix of markdown and HTML.

Continuing forwards below are the three promises that I make to myself regarding blogging:

  1. There is to be no pressure to write, other than when I do, it must be of a good quality and at least 500 words
  2. Progressively enhance the website, do not attempt a complete overhaul if it will get in the way of the first promise
  3. Keep blogging fun!

  1. This is also depending on how much you get paid 

  2. I will be touching upon this concept in future writing, however I have recently read this interesting article on the subject

  3. ≈500 published legacy articles to check and update, ≥430 pending article drafts to review and filter into publishable and discard piles, ≥100 content areas that needed amending and >50 nested pages 

  4. Fuelled by coffee… 

  5. Powered by sculpin