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Why I Blog (dannyguo.com)
191 points by dguo on April 7, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 66 comments

I used to blog and quit (pulled all of my content from the web). I still have a landing page, which serves as a general "This is who I am, I'm a real person" because I have a business and people Google my name.

I couldn't find a good reason to continue publishing content for everyone to read. I also gave up on the open source community at the same time.

The idea of "giving back" to the community is gone. The open source (and open knowledge) web is gone. People (and companies/ML models) take/pilfer/plagiarize/rehash/profit from your contributions and you get squat in return. I decided to no longer take part in it.

I can write on my own, privately. I can share and link to content with private links. I don't need the vanity, opportunities or monetization (ie, peanuts).

Apparently this is a controversial opinion based on the position of the comment, but I feel like it's a painful truth.

Spending double digit hours to polish up an insightful or useful article then posting it publicly to the internet feels like playing the lottery. There is a chance that you'll get "monetization", "opportunities", or "notoriety"; but you can be sure that the house is getting their cut. With the current web scraping models out there, it feels like the house's cut is only getting bigger and your upside is getting slimmer.

Sure posting a tutorial that you wrote anyways to help yourself digest something has low personal downside, but you're basically just crowd sourcing away a technical writer's job at whatever entity is responsible for (or benefiting from) the tech you're researching.

Maybe this is "pulling the ladder up behind you", but it feels more like "not being climbed on in a human pyramid". I would have no problems with "content" I spent time producing only benefited individuals with no compensation in return (probably still citations if warranted), but like OP said the reality is that your "content" will either be:

- not generically valuable in the first place

- iterated on without credit

- digested into the beast (blog spam & ML models) with no compensation

That's never what open source was about. It's the tragedy of the commons.

I don't disagree--drive-by comment just to say that's unfortunate as there's often really brilliant, unique, esoteric and useful content scattered about individual blogs (as my bookmarks can attest), that is very difficult to find elsewhere, if at all.

The thing that pushed me over the edge was browsing personal sites I found via http://wiby.me/

I was reading fairly old gamedev, emulation and other blogs. The content and spirit of them made me realize how things have come along since and depressed me. Said fuck it.

There's nothing wrong with un-publishing old stuff if it no longer reflects how you think, or if you feel it's not relevant anymore. You can always keep a private archive.

I think a lot of people think of blogs as "production-quality writing", which is natural because for part of the 2000s, blogging = money/recognition. That era is over, no matter how many people start (and later abandon) Substacks.

In general, writing/podcasting/making videos with the primary intent of directly monetizing them has pretty long odds. The recognition angle may be useful if it's connected to your day job and anyone cares if you have a public persona or not. It's been useful for me but you have to have the right expectations going in or you'll probably be disappointed.

I was going to say something similar. Journaling has been way more valuable to me than I realized before. Among the many notes I jot down to myself every day, I write blog-like entries where I dump out my current thoughts, including very intimate ones. Surprisingly, I get about as much enjoyment as I got out of blogging but without the need to consider an audience besides myself, especially when it comes to making sure that I won't be misunderstood. The act of writing down my thoughts has been really helpful in processing them, coming up with new ideas, understanding my emotions, and planning for the future.

People can get the same thing out of blogging, but I came to really dislike the nature of online content today, and all the considerations one has to take in order to make one's blog "readable" undermines the personal benefit one can get from the act of writing.

It was one thing back in the early days of the web when a blog could be scrappy and written in a very personal way. Those days are long gone. If you want to write a public journal in a personal and informal way, and interact with an audience, then be prepared to have some malcontents tell you to "cite your sources" about the most trivial shit, despite you never having made the promise of writing academically. If you're not making money, why bother listening to the peanut gallery? And let's say you want to make money off your blog; first off, blogs are not easy to monetize, and with money in the picture you now have to think about the voice you use, the structure of your writing, whether you're being too offensive, etc. In other words, you now have a shitty job on top of your day job!

Yeah, count me out. I know some people get enjoyment and profit out of blogging, but the wild west of the blogging is in the past, and the current state of the internet is largely not for me as someone who might otherwise want to produce content. The only content I generate is here in HN comment sections.

In case anyone reading this is interested in getting started journaling, what I do is use Apple Notes and encrypt all my notes. The nice thing about the encryption is that the notes aren't easily searchable, and the Notes app will lock the notes after a few minutes if you aren't interacting with them. The safety of the encryption allows me to write virtually anything to myself, which I've found to be a really good thing for my mental health. My more formal entries are just a title, a date, bullet points for what I've achieved that day, bullet points for things I still need to do, and a "debriefing" section where I can just write about whatever I'm thinking about the current or previous day.

I hope the open source communities can go back to their roots before the bubble crashed first. With the advent of auto code writers we could see a true open source renaissance. I'm trying to publish in this space[0] but I want to reach a better model than slapping sponsors on a newsletter.

0: https://generativereview.substack.com/p/tasks-open-source-em...

While some of the things mentioned are why I also blog, the main reason I do so is so I can remember what I was thinking. I write my blog for me first. If someone else finds it useful that’s great. I guess you could stick that under clarify my thinking, although I tend to keep notes as I go and then reformed into a condensed post afterwards.

I tend to go back a re-read some posts years after I published them. It’s especially helpful when working on open source projects, as I tend to include warts and all so I can remember what not to do and why.

Author here. That's a great point, and it's true for me as well. I should have mentioned that under the "Be Able to Provide a Link" section since I reference my own posts sometimes.

Danny! We worked together at BB :) I especially like,

  "I don't claim to actually know all that much, but everyone has something worth sharing."
I've resisted blogging for a long time for fear of not having anything to talk about, but couching it as "sharing" feels like a much better (more generous, more motivating) POV.

If you aren't currently using any "knowledge management" software, you may want to check out Obsidian or Roam Research. I bet you'd get a lot out of it.

Hi! It's good to see you here! Let me know if you do start "sharing." I'd love to check it out.

And thanks for the tip. I've been using Notion, but I've kept my eye on Obsidian and Roam too.

I particularly resonated with "Be Able to Provide a Link"

I wrote a thing about how ChatGPT can't access URLs but pretends that it can - https://simonwillison.net/2023/Mar/10/chatgpt-internet-acces... - and I've since sent people links to it dozens of times: https://twitter.com/search?q=https%3A%2F%2Fsimonwillison.net...

I liked "Learn How I'm Wrong".

Losing my ego over the past several decades has been the best thing to happen to me. I think being wrong publicly has been the main cause of that.

Although I should point out that being wrong publicly for me began before internet comments — just making an uninformed comment in front of people smarter than me started that ball rolling. Perhaps it's one of those things where in the smaller circles when you are young you might be the most knowledgeable about a number of topics and so your ego believes you are an expert. But as you begin to move in circles of those with the same expertise you begin to see that there are many people much more knowledgeable and capable than you.

Learning to be more humble has been transformative for me. I listen a lot more than I used to. I make less acerbic comments online.

Nonetheless, like the blog post implies, if you offer no thoughts or opinions at all you will never get the chance to be proven wrong. If your ego is in check that can be an excellent learnable moment for you.

Relevantly, (and I can't remember what the rule is called) there's an internet rule that goes something like "the best way to get the right answer on the internet is to leave the wrong one." Not that you should intentionally provide false information, but just to your point that being wrong helps you to learn. Importantly, though, that's only if you're willing to accept that you're wrong.

The Clever Pork Theory

Likewise, and also the inverse... Some of my posts are basically conversations I've had one too many times, or have been particularly roused by, e.g. that one time m'colleague stated he had nothing to speak about at a conference (also double-implying that he wasn't good enough to do it). Patently false! https://www.evalapply.org/posts/how-to-give-a-conference-tal...

That post was me sending a link to him, after that conversation, so neither of us forget. And guess what, where there is one, there are others. I've sent it to several people since!

(edit: add more context)

Re: Ads

For me, I had some of the mentioned ad networks for a bit. But, they were all not to my liking in terms of UI and added unwanted cruft.

I always wanted to run my own ads, but I thought “Hey, I don’t have enough traffic.”

I think people underestimate (as I did) that if you write about a niche, even if it’s a broad topic (for me, iOS) that you can do your own ads for a nice bit of money.

I make about $12,000 from running my own sponsorships annually, and moving them to monthly only slots has been a revelation. I started with weekly, twice monthly and monthly but man - it was quite a bit of work.

I’ve hit a very nice sweet spot where I now make money from doing something I love, it’s manageable and it pays for my family vacations, kid’s sports and travel teams and Christmas. It’s great.

I made some money from ADs on my blog, but it was short-lived. I made ~$50.00 after a post of mine got to the HN frontpage, and spread virally on other social networks as the word got out to more people and some well-connected people amplified it even more on Twitter, Facebook, etc

After that, income was too low to do things like pay rent, go on vacation, etc It paid for the domain renewal and hosting, but that was it.

ADs were not why I blogged though. The income from ADs was a bonus but not the main focus. Of course you get people like black-hat SEO types doing content farms and gaming Google whose sole purpose is to drive impressions and get clicks on ADs.

Then there is your core visitors blocking ADs and browsing with JS disabled which further hampers income from ADs. Maybe they enjoy their privacy, and that's fine. I'm not certain the percentage of users who do that. I would guesstimate 20% are blocking, and that could increase over the years.

How do you run your own ads? Is there a tech stack for it or did you roll your own?

The ads are really “sponsorships” and are nothing more than an image tag, two sentences and a link the sponsor gives me.

What do you use for analytics? And what kind of analytics do you show your potential advertisers?

I'd like to start a blog but I don't want any analytics on my page. I'm wondering if just parsing the access logs is enough. Curious to know what advertisers look for in your case.

I like this idea of running your own ads, this means you circumvent ad blockers because you're loading the ad from the same domain and also you have full control over the ad deliverable and not allow JS, just image and links. Images can have malicious things in them too but maybe some pre-processing could help with that

> What do you use for analytics? And what kind of analytics do you show your potential advertisers?

I use Plausible, and I don’t do show them anything more analytics wise than what the Plausible dashboard shows (visits, territory, etc)

I’ve heard of people doing sponsorships without analytics, definitely possible. My blog has been around a long-ish time, so that’s helped. I’ve only started running sponsorships since 2022.

I request all bloggers to include RSS so that those of us who have ditched twitter and other social media could find you again.

This blog does have RSS, linked at the bottom of the page ("Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my free newsletter or RSS feed for future posts.") https://www.dannyguo.com/blog/feed.xml

+1 and please make it an RSS with full content not just excerpts.

Hi manuelmoreale,

What is the compelling advantage of this?

I have a blog (such as it is), hand-rolled HTML and RSS. What benefit would I potentially get from the extra work of duplicating the content, rather than the date and headline?

Well, if it’s hand rolled and you have to duplicate everything by hand then sure, I can see why you want to only do titles and dates.

But that’s an exception. Many, many sites out there run on a cms and require no extra effort to serve full content in the RSS feed.

Easy way to get your content stolen unfortunately

And that in your opinion is a valid enough reason to make the experience of genuine users, worse?

I’m genuinely asking because to me, who cares if someone steals my content. They can steal it anyway, people will scrap your site if they need.

But I want the user experience for the users to be the best possible.

If you're worried about that you aren't blogging for the public www, though, right?

The content stealers will have no problem scraping your HTML if you just provide summaries in your feed.

In fact my feed has full content and based on the differences in HTML in my feed and the direct page it seems like most often they scrape the page anyways.

It's a blog, it's already public, what is there to steal?

>what is there to steal?

Monetizable traffic. People mirror sites wholesale, throw monetization on it and apply blackhat techniques to ensure they outrank origin site.

I doubt anyone will do that on a personal blog.

Oh, they absolutely do. It's all automated bots. What people don't understand however is that you can report it to Google and/or file a DMCA on it yourself. That's all part and parcel to having any kind of public output.

Or you just ignore it because unless you're (probably fruitlessly) trying to monetize it you'll just drive yourself crazy.

Good point. My blog's feed link got buried due to a recent refactor of the site template (it's in the meta, and under each blog post, but not in the top nav).


I've had a blog now for nearly 23 years, though my posting frequency is far below what it once was. My main reason has always been the same: to share things.

In the late 90s I maintained a mailing list of sorts that I used to share interesting or funny things I'd found online to a group of friends. Eventually that became my blog. The impetus for any given post is still "hey, I want other people to see this," but the problem today is that most of my very nontechnical pals don't really look online anymore beyond their social feeds.

At one point, my blog would post to FB and Twitter when I wrote something new, but over time Meta disabled that behavior. I think it still posts to my Twitter account, but I need to address that and shift it to my Mastodon account.

I enjoyed this post a lot. I recently started blogging again after a long hiatus and have been having a lot of fun doing so.

If I'm being totally honest, I think reason #1 that I started back up was vanity. I have a pretty cool domain name that is a play on my real name, and my email is hosted at that domain, so the domain name gets some (small) amount of natural exposure from that. For about 7 years, all that you would find if you went there was a little Jekyll blog with three posts that I hadn't updated for years.

That was kind of a lame thing to present to people who took the time to check out my domain, so a while back I set up a new site and have been making occasional posts there.

One thing that jumped out to me as I started writing posts was that I was already blogging to some extent in my notes. I write pretty extensively as I do my daily work or work on side projects, just to try to solidify my thinking. Those notes are loose and not suitable for publication, but they do provide a pretty good jumping off point for articles.

Lastly, I feel this quote from Ted Chiang's story "The Truth Of Fact, The Truth Of Feeling" is apropos:

> “As he practiced his writing, Jijingi came to understand what Moseby had meant: writing was not just a way to record what someone said; it could help you decide what you would say before you said it. And words were not just the pieces of speaking; they were the pieces of thinking. When you wrote them down, you could grasp your thoughts like bricks in your hands and push them into different arrangements. Writing let you look at your thoughts in a way you couldn’t if you were just talking, and having seen them, you could improve them, make them stronger and more elaborate.”

These would apply equally well to "Why I have a website". The purpose of a blog is to capture the time dimension of the writing. That makes sense if you're commenting on news items. Not as much if you're writing reference information, or sharing other information where grouping is the natural method of presentation.

In the pre-blog days, you could go to someone's site and navigate all the different parts. I prefer that to looking at a feed of hundreds of unrelated posts from the last ten years.

Yes! Somewhere along the lines people started seeing blogs as the default form of web presence. And blogs are ok, but they're usually poorly linked together websites.

I think the "digital garden" people are rediscovering the joys of having a regular website.

I've been blogging for some years now (~18) and I definitely agree with the points made.

For me the combination of solidifying/challenging my own ideas in writing them down and recording things so I can come back to them (I regularly get technical details I've forgotten from my own posts) is very useful.

On top of that, there's the benefit of (hopefully) helping some other people looking for the same information and having permanent links to thoughts.

I would generally recommend keeping blogging tech. as simple as possible. I just use a Github pages site and all the posts are markdown.

Great post. I also started writing mainly to clarify ideas, and there are a lot of ideas that when I complete them, I realize they aren't as good or useful as I suspected. Most of my writing on the internet has been an exercise in engaging directly with ideas, probably with only about an 80/20 distribution of weak to strong ones. I'm of the belief you only really understand as much as you can express clearly and communicate to others, and this means that to rationally disagree with someone, you need to be able to make their case with the depth and persuasiveness they have themselves.

Emotional reactions are what happen when we run out of the ability to reason abstractly about an idea according to its principles. If you don't go down the road of physically writing them out and reasoning them through, all you have is a second hand opinion about them, imo.

For another point of view:

On Second Thought, I Actually Don't Like Blogging


Hi blueridge,

Seriously interesting article.

This point here struck me:

> Regarding being offline, I don’t see a point in writing a blog that is public, but that no one reads, and it being writing I have to edit and filter for online publication. Like, why not go back to writing in private files on my computer/phone or by hand on paper?

And I think the answer to that, the point for many people, is the sense that you are "done", finished, and you can move onto the next thing.

> Being online feels like being a brand sometimes.

This does bug me too. In preparation for re-starting my own blog (such as it is) I did an expansive review of a lot of blogs, and there were a lot of headshot-photo then a "waving emoji" followed by "Hi I'm John Smith, I help companies with X do Y, and I'm a passionate Z."

These are "personal branding statements" and maybe they have some value in certain fields (including, perhaps, landing a job or next contract) but they really started to (a) make everything look the same and (b) felt pretentious and superficial, especially in a sense of instead of demonstrating that you do 'X' you're simply telling me that you do (in such a way that feels aspirational, that it's what you want to be doing instead of what you've actually done).

It's funny, I kind of want to read more from that blogger. Reading the experiences of a woman of colour, especially in a tech field, that would be really interesting (and probably sad -- the note about microaggressions and some of the titles suggests she's struggling with things).

And I'm stealing a tiny, tiny little detail from her blog for my own one, that solves a problem I've been wrestling with.

Thank you.

+1 I relate strongly to the post. My blog literally says "Writing = Thinking" on the tin. And like Guo says in conclusion, many of my posts started life months or even years(!) before they got to see sunlight and fresh air. I tried to capture that sentiment in this post: https://www.evalapply.org/posts/hello-world/

> Slyly (or so I thought), I fooled it by quietly typing into my Emacs. More days turned to weeks turned to months. Words accreted in my org-mode files. Wee notes. Snippets. Factoids squirreled away. Mostly harmless bits and bobs. Someone paying attention might have smelled trouble brewing and stopped right there. But, oh how little did I know.

> Words accreted in my org-mode files. Wee notes. Snippets. Factoids squirreled away.

"Saving string" is what journalists call this practice (I read recently).


Ah, such a nice term! "Saving string" is part of my approach to doing any sort of long term project. I'll usually start in "diffuse mode", during which everything that enters my brain gets insta-spooled into good old org-mode --- scripts, links, data, sql, todos, checklists, copious notes, the whole nine yards. Then at some point I copy over actually relevant stuff (which only is obvious post-facto) into a fresh "focus mode" variant and execute based on that.

I hear this line a lot. Writing is not the same as thinking. Rather, it's a type of thinking that forces you to lay out your argument in a particular, static way. There are pros and cons with this style of thinking, just as there are with internal dialectic and Socratic-method style argumentation. If you have stable arguments that you've repeated over and over again to yourself or to other interlocutors, writing them down is just a formality.

> Writing lets me do that while also helping me avoid going around in circles. When thoughts are in my head, it's easy for them to get jumbled up. I miss things, and I keep coming back to the same thoughts, leading to the unproductive ruminating.

Because text is ultimately a self-referential structure of claims, definitions and facts. When you are writing a new sentence, you have access to the complete accumulation of your previous thoughts in former sentences and paragraphs. The new sentence builds on and extends these connections, and doesn't stray in different directions like verbal speech.

There are some good thoughts in there, but it fails to answer the actual question. Why publish a blog? Sure, writing has benefits. You don't need a blog to write. You don't need a blog to make your own content linkable.

The only nuggets in there are "vanity", "monetization" and "possible opportunities" which are all pretty bad reasons to publish a blog.

What about the "Clarifying my Thinking" and "Share Knowledge" portions?

Neither require sharing publicly (ie, blog). Other than for the vanity/upvotes/etc.

Sharing knowledge doesn't require sharing publicly? You seem to be looking at blogging exclusively as a vanity/recognition thing. Meanwhile, I've come across numerous blogs that have helped me solve a problem. I don't remember most of their names, but it's the kind of thing where I'll recognize the website if I need to search for the solution again.

This is a great insight into pretty much any blogger's mind who has been blogging for a long time. I started blogging back in 2004 and I still blog but the reasons why I still do have changed.. When I started it was more journal based, then I started writing on social issues which eventually made me a better writer, good enough to get published in several literary publications and now l feel like going back to personal journal like writing again. The common thread, however, has always been that I have first written for myself and that it has given my thought process a certain clarity. Thanks for sharing this.

I quit blogging about my farm after my ex used it as evidence against me during our separation. I wrote about all the good and bad things that happened here, and all of the bad things were then selectively used to defame my character. Thus, my blogging turned out to be nothing but a huge liability; to late, I realized that it was stupid to post things that could be used against me. Since I think it's actively dishonest to blog only about the good things that happen, I felt it necessary to stop sharing anything about my life.

I don't blog as much as I would like to, but I feel like writing is more of a necessity for me than something I love. I have this desire and want to communicate my thoughts, and writing just so happens to be the best way for me to communicate that. I also take the opportunity when I blog to improve my writing, and maybe try different methods of expressing my thoughts and analysis (I mostly blog about videogames).

> "Be Able to Provide a Link"

This is one thing I do a lot. I have links for popular memes that illustrates aspects of our culture. The one I use the most relates to oversimplification of things. https://rodolphoarruda.pro.br/como-desenhar-uma-coruja/

I like the design of your blog, I might take some inspiration from it.

Have a good weekend. Cheers from an Argentine :)

Love this. I'm writing less (public) but I have written a lot in the past couple of years -- in simple plaintext.

I'm looking for a pattern/framework/system to settle down as the starting base for "Markdown + Pandoc + Make + [no-idea-yet]" for simple Static Websites. Can you please link me to some to kickstart and look at the templates/starter-kit. Thanks.

Given this context, I feel like 50-odd lines of shell-fu will serve you well. Pandoc offers a pretty flexible templating system. So all told, you'll have just the one dependency. For example:

Building a Website using Pandoc, Markdown, and Static HTML


This is a great post and I strongly agree with almost everything the author says.

But I noticed his previous post is almost a year old (June 22)? So is there another place he blogs?

Author here. Nope! Life has just been very busy in the last year. I'm going to try to write more consistently again, starting with this post.

Great! I've added your site to my RSS reader, looking forward to your posts.

Thanks for these words. I found lobsters. I thinking start a blog.

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