This post began life as a short conversation about blogging platforms had back in December on Twitter between Carolyn Alexander, HelloJenuine and myself. I abandoned it due to time issues and, funnily enough, dissatisfaction with my as-it-stood blog. What follows may be of no interest to anyone beyond the three of us. Actually, it may be of no interest to Carolyn and Jen. I'm not even sure that I'm interested.
Carolyn, like myself (and Jen a little before us) had made the switch from Blogger to Tumblr and had found frustrations in the transition. It's clear that there is no perfect solution for what we, and many others, are trying to do with these different platforms. What do you do if you're too picky about certain things to be happy with a mass-market service, but not picky enough about everything to build it yourself?
No idea, but this is how I got to where I am today:
When I first started a blog, Blogger seemed like the obvious choice. Easy to set-up, easy to customise, easy to post. It was owned by Google and, back in 2006, Google were pretty great. For a couple of years I went so far as to use my Blogger blog as my main site through a hacky system of treating posts like they were pages. I even filled one up with thumbnails and used it as a portfolio.
But after 5 years and a few hundred posts, Blogger felt done. It seemed unloved and out-of-date and I was uncomfortable having my work there. I wanted out. I became reluctant to post. Google, with their increasing tendency to mess with or axe their products, finally pushed me away. (1.)
Where to go, though? Wordpress.org? Too much choice! Too heavy. Too many moving parts. I knew I didn't want to fanny about with setting up hosting and installing a CMS and learning how everything works, so it'd need to be the Wordpress.com web-based thing then? I guess, but I couldn't even tell how expensive what I needed would be. Everything's a premium bolt-on. Want to use your own domain? Sure… so $12.00/yr. Want to customise how it looks? Yeah… so $30.00/yr. Wan't to go ad-free? Um, probably… $29.97/yr. Extra space? Know what? forget it.
Ach, maybe I didn't investigate properly. I'd have figured it out. I didn't (and don't) have the energy.
Tumblr, then. Tumblr seemed ok. Lots of people I knew were using Tumblr. It was popular, which probably meant it was being taken care of. I like Marco. He makes good stuff. He made Tumblr. He probably made it pretty good. Tumblr was a place for cool kids. I'm a cool kid. Lord knows I love animated gifs. Maybe I'd post a photo from the 90s of a model smoking a cigarette.
I signed up, bashed together a layout real quick, pointed a subdomain at it and was done. I had a new blog! It was free, it looked pretty and I could update it from my phone. I could finally stop procrastinating and start post(crastinat)ing!
Then… nothing really. I wrote a few bits & pieces, posted a few pictures and, y'know, just didn't feel it.
It's an odd one, Tumblr. It quickly became obvious that it was designed to do certain things and it worked best when doing those things and not-so-well when doing anything else. Funny that. Tumblr's built for microblogging. It's for sharing things you find. It's for dipping in-and-out of. Even though you can make a real bloggy-blog there, when you do it feels like you're not doing it right.
The little things killed it for me. The way Tumblr handles pictures, for example, is infuriating. Uploading an image to your own blog requires making it a 'photo post', which wouldn't be a problem if 'photo posts' didn't allow you to add a title. I like titles! Ok, fine, make it a 'text post' then. Now you can add a title, but you'll need to host your image somewhere else. 'sake. I ended up making a blog images set on Flickr, which worked alright for posting my own work, but heaven forbid I wanted to post someone else's. Do I link it directly? What if they take it down? Put it on my Flickr? Doesn't seem right. Tinypic? Yuck.
The community side of Tumblr is weird too. As a producer-of-things, it's nice to see your work shared & liked & shared & liked. What do they call it, reblogged? Tumbl'd? It's positive feedback, but it feels kinda temporary. Everything goes through that damn blue dashboard and gets lost in the stream. Posting artwork there feels akin to putting a joke on Twitter and enjoying how it can whizz around if someone retweets it. Nice, but temporary. The lack of comments too, while not a deal breaker for me (I mostly agree with the 'no comments' side of the debate), just add to the feeling that you're trying to play snooker on a pool table. (2.)
I still use Tumblr. I really like it for other stuff.
This, I think, is where Jen & Carolyn were / are and what got us tweeting in frustration. It's a problem for a certain kind of blogger. Artists, illustrators, photographers and graphic designers all know how they'd like their own stuff to look and to work more than your average person. Ideally they'd design and maintain it themselves. Most importantly they want to enjoy using the stupid thing once it's up and running. What many, myself included, don't particularly want to do is to learn a ton of web development or focus too much energy dealing with daft hacky nonsense that gets in the way. We're neither casual-users, nor power-users. Smart-casual-users, maybe.
Merlin Mann, via his amazing Back to Work podcast, turned me on to Squarespace and that's where I am now. Admittedly he was selling a product, but damn, he sold it well: Easy to use! Simple when you need it! Powerful when you need it! Reliable! Flexible! Sustainable! Well maintained! Fun!
Those things, on the whole, have rung true. I used the free trial, put a blog together and noodled around. After a few days, I decided it was worth the money and moved my Tumblr content over. A few weeks later I moved my full davidgalletly.com site over there and, as of today, I'm not in bad shape. For the first time since my early days on Blogspot I have everything in one place and can add new stuff without a headache.
Without sounding like an advertising pitch - if you're not happy with your current set-up, maybe give Squarespace a look. They're not for everyone and they're not perfect - the UI takes getting used to and some stuff doesn't work quite how I'd expect - but regardless, they provide a good service and they fit my needs better than most.
Stay tuned for a TON of new work and a TON of new posts. I had to get this big, boring one outta my system to kick it off.
(1.) The same wariness of Google has resulted in my recent move away from Feedburner too. I've tried to make sure as many subscribers as possible have survived the shift but if you want to be sure, the definitive location of my RSS feed is: davidgalletly.com/blog/rss.xml
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(2.) This is a bad analogy, but I like bad analogies. (back to position