There’s a whole lot happening all over social media and this is giving me a chance to really assess what I use, for what reason, and what I want to publish into the future. I’ve walked away from enough social media services to recognize it might be time for another heavy adjustment in my life.
Twitter has long been key to my work and valuable in developing a professional profile. I don’t know that this kind of engagement will be quite the same moving forward. And, if I’m honest, a lot of my Twitter usage for the past several years has been to surface and circulate interesting (often cyber- or privacy-related) links or public conversations, or to do short-form analysis of important government documents ahead of writing about them on my professional website.
The issue is that the links on Twitter then fade into the digital ether. While I’ve been using Raindrop.io for a while and really love the service, it doesn’t have the same kind of broadcast quality as Twitter.1
So what to do going forward? In theory I’d like to get back into the habit of publishing more link blogs, here, about my personal interests because I really appreciate the ones that bloggers I follow and respect produce. I’m trying to figure out the format, frequency, and topics that makes sense; I suspect I might try to bundle 4-6 thematic links and publish them as a set, but time will tell. This would mean that sometimes there might be slightly busier and slower periods, depending on my ability to ‘see’ a theme.
The challenge is going to be creating a workflow that is fast, easy, and imposes minimal friction. Here, I’m hoping that a shortcut that takes the title and URL of an article, formats it into Markdown using Text Case, and then provides a bit of space to write will do the trick. This is the format I used to rely on to create my Roundup posts, though I don’t really expect I’ll be able to return to such length link blogs.
I have, nonetheless, created an RSS feed with mostly links to privacy, cyber, and national security articles. ↩︎
I’d been deliberately putting off reading Ming Thein’s last several blog posts. Not because I wasn’t excited but because they seemed to have stopped being published. I feared that either something had happened to him, or that the blog had reached an end.
Fortunately he continues to do well. Sadly, his blog is done.
Ming has been writing for a whole lotta years, and has focused his blog on photography writ large. There’s some gear reviews but the real thing I learned, and still learn, from his work is how to think more deeply about making images, about telling stories with them, and letting narratives emerge as years of images are collected, edited, and set aside until a time they should be made public.
His explanation for ending the blog is, well, that he’d written everything. There was no topic he hadn’t covered, and he stated that:
… I’ve done enough thinking and dissection about how and why I shoot that the whole enormous mass has become intuitive – and I want to go back to applying that and shooting the things that interest me, for me, without feeling the need to create content for the entertainment of somebody else.
His blog isn’t alone—I was inspired to blog more than two decades ago by blogs and bloggers that are long-lost to the link rot of the Internet—but is the most recent of the sites that are just over. He plans to keep it alive and running for the foreseeable future but, as the Internet has taught us, it’ll eventually fade away from sight.
On the one hand I’m a bit morose about this state of affairs, and feel like maybe our digital artifacts should just operate this way: as present, delightful, and ephemeral. But, on a more positive note, I guess I see it as an author hanging up their keyboard because a given work is concluded. As a professional writer I can appreciate and respect, and deeply understand, why that happens even as I wish the writing would just continue ad infinitum.
I shifted over to this domain name, and WordPress environment, a little over eight months ago. In addition to moving multiple years of content I also committed to at least one post a week though, ideally, would post many more than that!
I’ve been largely successful with meeting those goals. As such, I’ve been able to maintain a regular personal writing habit. It’s also meant I’ve locked down some of my ruminations and thoughts so that I can reflect on them later on down the line.
However, there are some things that I’m not entirely happy with. First, I’ve been privately writing small ‘reviews’ of books and movies but haven’t gotten around to posting them here. Part of that is wanting to do them ‘well’ and the other reason is that I’m trying to decide if I should have posts and then a master page that links to the posts, or just posts, or just a page. But expect that to be figured out pretty soon.1 I also really like the idea of putting up a gear/software list of things that I routinely use, and want to steal an idea from a friend of mine who posts the podcasts that she’s really into at any given time. And I want to put some thought into developing a public blogroll, likely based on the RSS feeds that I consume, though I admit that I’m not entirely sure of the utility of blogrolls in this day and age.
The reason for contemplating these changes to some of the content and structure? Mostly because I think I can move more of my writing to this location; there’ve only been a few times that I thought I was getting too ‘close’ to mimicking the work on my professional web presence or private journal, and even then the tone was sufficiently different that it belonged here as opposed to those other locations. But I’m also motivated to modify some of the content here because I want what I write to be interesting and useful for other people; I often find that bloggers’ reviews and insights about the things they use are the only way that I discover the existence of certain tools, products, workflows, and cultural items. So I want to give back to others, just as they have freely given to me and everyone else who visits (or has visited) their sites.
doesn’t address the real technical or policy problems associated with developing a global backdoor system to our most personal electronic devices. Specifically the architect of the solution overestimates the existent security characteristics of contemporary devices, overestimates the ability of companies to successfully manage a sophisticated and globe-spanning key management system, fails to address international policy issues about why other governments couldn’t or wouldn’t demand similar kinds of access (think Russia, China, Iran, etc), fails to contemplate an adequate key revocation system, and fails to adequately explain why why the exceptional access system he envisions is genuinely needed.
Device security, and especially efforts to weaken it, fundamentally raises technical and policy issues. Neither type of issue can be entirely divorced from the other, and it’s important to recognize that the policy issues are both domestic and international; failing to address them both, at the same time, means that any proposal will almost certainly have terminal weaknesses.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
“Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.”
The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull. What can we do?
There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.
If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic. You can use them to engage in discussion. But don’t get lost in there. Write daily. Publish as often as you have something to say. Link to other blogs.
One of the things that I enjoy about this space is sometimes writing short aside posts (like this one). They don’t tend to delve deeply into whatever’s going through my head nor do they typically include a link to elsewhere on the Web. But for some reason I don’t really like the idea of them being published without a title. So I’m going to try associating the date with each aside-type post and see whether, over time, I want to expand or shrink this title scheme or, instead, keep it to the data posted.
Addendum: While my current theme may not show the date, at least for my own backend (and RSS purposes) the title will be present. I guess that’ll just have to be enough.
The chase for cheap page views to arbitrage against advertising dollars is the real reason everyone at this mega page view factories willingly embraced this trend towards free content, which in turn left the whole experiment open to abuse. If you generate a lot of page views for these sites, you aren’t going away, because, in the end, it is all about page views.
On my other, professional, site I regularly receive requests from marketers to publish their content for some sort of payment. Many are outlandish in their requests whereas others have clearly done their homework and identified a range of posts the given brand wants to be associated with.
Some of the payment rates or product offerings are outlandish, others churlish, but none of them have ever overcome my baseline position: I own my professional web presence in order to build my reputation and brand. That brand is worth more than a few hundred or thousand dollars; it represents, at least in part, my ability to earn money over the span of the coming decades.
While there’s been some comic back and forth about charging marketers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to post other parties’ branded content, I think there is legitimately something to the idea. If you view your web presence as a long-term part of your career, and damaging that presence could potentially cost you in terms of future employment opportunities or consulting prospects, then that kind of valuation starts to make some sense.
Since the summer I’ve managed to port over, and re-categorize, over a thousand posts from a previous personal blogging website (Quirks in Tech) that I hosted with Tumblr. While there’s still some stuff to do — fixing up the tagging structure as an example — I’m glad that the most laborious activity has come to an end!
One of the things that I’ve thought a lot about over the past few years are link posts. I’ve tried numerous different platforms and ways of sharing and commenting on links. And something that I’ve always appreciated are blogs that combine different forms of content (including link posts) along with something else to give them some unique perspective on the content of interest to their authors.
Gabe Weatherhead has recently written that:
It’s far too easy to grab a story headline streaming by and create a link post.
The reason I’ve walled off Macdrifter link articles behind Hobo Signs was because I wanted to clearly show that they weren’t my work. They are source materials. There is no guarantee I’ve reviewed them or even thought much about them. Sometimes I provide commentary but often they are just links.
I like link articles as much as the next person. But I felt disingenuous mixing those on a site that also provided commentary and opinion. It blurred lines I didn’t want to blur at a time when regurgitation looks like the successor to original content on the web. I don’t wonder why indie blogs are dying any more. Link posts are killing them.
I don’t think that link posts are necessarily killing indie blogs. I think that the problem is that indie blogs are often so replete with them that there isn’t a clear voice, narrative, or expertise associated with the comments on the links.
But link posts also raise the question about who blogging is for, and what we mean to do when blogging. Twitter and Facebook are fluid publication spaces: it can be impossible to see what you wrote on those platforms, about different topics, whereas its comparatively easy to retroactively see what you’ve written about on (most) structured blogging platforms. You can build a body of work that includes a shifting, or development, of thoughts and ideas over time. At the very least, you can turn Google search onto a blog and dredge up the various posts related to your search query to try to divine how your thoughts have changed over time. That’s next to impossible on more transient social media.
While commercial (or commercially-motivated) indie blogs might suffer from link posts I’m not convinced that such posts are kryptonite to personal blogs. And even for those which are commercially-oriented it’s not self-evident that link posts are bad: for the big indie blogs, the authors operate as tastemakers and news curators. They can quickly indicate their pleasure or displeasure where a fully review is unnecessary, or surface news of interest to them and their readers without requiring a detailed analysis of the issue at hand. Admittedly breaking news or entirely novel products may be ill served by such hot takes, but fast and short posts are routinely useful to their readership. The trick is to have a sufficiently interesting and authoritative voice that someone wants to read the author’s work in the first place. And that’s a space where most authors routinely struggle, indie writers or not.