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Your Words are Wasted (hanselman.com)
192 points by d4nt on Aug 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments



So many things one could say. Maybe I'll try to blog some of them. If I can overwhelm my irritation at my blogging software.

Why does paying App.net a bit over four dollars a month make me a member of an elitist "country club", while paying much more than that for my own domain and hosting and backups and uptime monitoring and rapid application of security patches and the talent needed to manage all that makes me a salt-of-the-earth man of the people? Seems like that's only true from a very specific perspective.

I've made too much money setting up other people's blog software to pretend I don't understand why Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr (and even HN, for that matter) are better. People don't want to be publishers. They don't even want to be writers. They want to share things online with their friends.

I see a lot of complaints in this essay about archiving - you can't find old content, you can't save old content. Archiving is overrated. And I say that as someone who loves archives and archivists. It is important to save things, but most writing is not intended for the ages. Quite the opposite: The fact that one can spout some crazy in-jokes to one's friends on Twitter, and in a week from now nobody will be able to find those words, is a feature. And the fact that, in truth, Twitter and Facebook are almost certainly quietly archiving all your drunken rants forever, such that twenty years from now your neighbors will be able to pull them right up and show them to their dinner guests for a laugh, is a terrifying bug.

Again, most people don't want to be librarians, publishers, journalists, historians, ethnologists, typesetters, designers, promoters, SEO experts, or proud users of a piece of software. And even those of us who do want some of these things enjoy taking a break once in a while. We just want to socialize.


The money argument doesn't hold; it's $10/year for a domain name and hosting is free on github pages or heroku.


Archiving can provide a ton of seo value, especially given the right topic.


I really don't get the all or nothing attitude of this article.

I have a blog - and a facebook account and a g+ account. The blog gets my best content. But it's not easy to integrate a standalone blog into an existing social graph (social buttons notwithstanding).

G+ gets my less well thought out rants - short stuff. It allows me to cheaply signal to like minded people and hopefully establish new readers/relationships. I don't care if I offend people on G+ because I'm there to attract the like minded. So I say what I think.

And facebook is just a socialisation wheel greaser for local friendships. Here I'm much more guarded. I use content posted by people as conversation starters for when I see them in real life. I might have to deal with these people - so I keep it light, fluffy and fun. I personally don't care if facebook deletes all that content. (I see it as a medium risk since facebook isn't a particularly diversified business)

I decided a while ago that I need to engage on all these platforms - because concentrating solely on a blog only increases your overall isolation to your local life - cause it takes an enormous amount of time - and even your closest local friends aren't likely to even read it.

It might mean that I'll never put enough time into the blog for it be a standalone success. But the odds of that ever happening were slim to nil anyway - even if it did get 100 percent of my time. And there would have been a very high chance that I would have been miserable because such dedication would have led to a high degree of isolation.

This is the right balance for me. I don't expect everyone to have the same view - but then I'm not claiming it's right for everyone.


I think we agree with "the blog gets my best content." I'm active (and it works) on all major networks. The tone of the article is intense only because I'll never put my best work on G+ for example, and I was surprised when Yegge did a 6 Yegge long article on G+ rather than his own site, even if he works for Google+.


well the title of the article is 'your words are wasted' - which is a bit hyperbolic if you agree with the diversification view. That title - along with the content that follows - seems to imply that it's a waste of time if it isn't going onto your own blog.

Don't get me wrong - I would love for there to be a decentralised social graph that allowed us to eat our cake and have it too. But that aint going to happen any time soon.


Yeah, I think there is an all or nothing attitude somewhat. I think the most common pattern i've seen that people maintain a personal blog and use facebook/twitter/google+ as channels for sharing. That being said, this article is a great means of encouragement for the people who only post to one platform. I've definitely read lots of thoughtful posts on Facebook and wondered why friends don't take the extra leap to start a blog. Personally, I think a catalogue of interesting thoughts/conversations from any platforms would be pretty cool and far from a substantial investment of time.


But who is talking about "you shouldn't use [whatever]"? The crucial bit is owning and controlling your content - some people aren't thinking much about that. As you said, "The blog gets my best content.", so you're obviously aware of the pitfalls already.


I run blogs on the websites of two businesses I'm associated with. In both cases the intent is not to start a conversation, but to pull in traffic and visitors from Google. Comments are not enabled. I usually base the blog topics on keyword searches that we want to target, and craft posts around that - discussing the topic and tying the business to that topic.

For static websites, even eCommerce websites, it's a great and effective way to add fresh content and pages to a site, and push up its rankings.

I'm a fast writer - easily able to produce a 600 word post in 20 minutes - and I write prose that is easy to read. The strategy works - on a robot level (Google), and on a human level (customers), but it takes time and persistence. It may take 6 months for a series of posts to cause a category page to rank in the top 3 of Google - in some cases longer.

It's also a strategy that many competitors cannot duplicate, as most are unable to write regular, meaningful blog posts. It's one of those SEO tactics that requires actual, real work, which is why so few do it well.

Wordpress, with a custom theme that fits in seamlessly with the website, is the way to go.


I prefer a domain and my own server. But nobody will see what I write. The average user can't use G Reader. They can use twitter and facebook. Why hasn't this issue been solved? I want a network with friends who are users that gives me control. Contradiction in terms?


It’s simple really. Whenever I write a blog post, I post a link on my facebook page. I get pretty decent click-through rates. And at the same time, the post is there for the rest of the web too.


email and attachments.

Either use a distribution list, or have someone in your group set up a forwarding address that forwards to all the people in your group.

No, there's no place to go to, but it's much more conversation oriented than openly stalking your friends on their social network pages.

I don't want to look at my friends or their stuff, I want to talk with them.


Your words are most likely wasted on a blog too. If the choices are social network or blog, we're kind of screwed. I used to read paper magazine articles because they were interesting to read. I bought a magazine and read it like a book, like a collection of stories. There is almost nothing that comes close to that experience online. Some forums, maybe, but that's it. Nowadays you have to scan through several hundred items to find one interesting article to read, and even that will be short, time-sensitive and optimized for skimming rather than reading.


Also optimized for self-promotion, which is targeted at a certain minority that I am and probably will never be a part of, such as employers.


I could not agree more with Scott. I still have the hardest time trying to convince people to start a blog. "I don't have time to blog" "I don't know what I'd write about".. yet they end up posting lots of content casually on various social networks/forums.

Perhaps blogging tools need to adapt to more short form uses and have posting interfaces that seem more accommodating rather than a massive empty textarea with tons of options from slug to categories and tags.

The WordPress Prologue/P2 themes comes to mind.


I think both of those objections only partially convey their real meaning.

"I don't have time to blog" = "The time it would take me to blog is worth more to me than the ROI I'd get from writing a blog."

and "I don't know what I'd write about" = "I don't know who'd be reading my blog so as to make it easy to know what to write about."

Facebook and Twitter address both objections by giving users a well-defined, sometimes really big audience.

The idea of writing stuff they think no one's going to read isn't very appetizing to most people.


"I don't have time to blog" "I don't know what I'd write about".. yet they end up posting lots of content casually on various social networks/forums.

But status updates, tweets, etc. are usually short, disconnected thoughts.


Since the discussion is fragmented between the blog comments and here, I'm posting my comment on his blog here too.

I recently started blogging and my first blog post about why I blog has exactly the same reasons - control over content and flexibility.

I've been posting for a month and a half, two posts a week on average, and now I'm starting to get discouraged - it's not that I don't like the blog it just that it got zero traction outside my circle of techie friends. I launched a small Trello app at the same time and even though both got zero marketing the app is about 3 times more popular by views and tens of times more popular by users (granted it is still only hundreds of views and tens of users).

What has discouraged me the most is that even when I put myself out there and posted something relevant and interesting (IMHO) on Hacker News I got exactly 1 vote and no comments. It's not even that it is bad, it's ignored.

I know that a month is not something substantial and if I continue to create interesting content people will eventually come (with some marketing). I just want to have a counter-point that a blog is not just writing text on your on domain - you have to market it and even than people might not care, just like any other product.

<shameless_promotion>

http://sveder.com/blog

</shameless_promotion>


I've been posting for a month and a half, two posts a week on average, and now I'm starting to get discouraged

Would it be possible for you to blog not for the traction, but for the sake of blogging?

I think my blog was closed to everyone but me for the first couple of years I was posting - I just did not want my employer to stumble upon it by random chance, I had no idea what the reaction could be. But I found out that it was still useful - a number of times, when I had to remember something about the way I solved some particular problem, I searched my own blog and found it.

Now it's almost a habit - whenever I do something even remotely interesting, it pops into my head - wait, I could write a short blog post about it in 10-15 minutes. So I do.


It's a balance. I post for myself but I would like feedback on it and to learn from it. There is a huge difference between the documentation and personal knowledge base I have on my personal OneNote notebooks and the public blog - it takes me a few hours for each blog post. I add pictures, format, spell and grammar check since English is not my mother tongue etc. If I see I don't get any benefit from all this polish I will be discouraged from doing it and will just keep it in its raw stream-of-thought form for personal use.


I blogged in a vacuum for almost two years without an audience. An audience has shown up since then but I continue to blog for me. Just being able to google for my thoughts the years later makes it worth it.


Well I'm preparing myself for that, but as I said, this means that getting actual apps out there will still be a priority for me over blogging, or the blog's quality will suffer.

I'm kinda interested at why you chose to reply to the thread here instead of the same comment posted in your blog? I feel that the discussion here is of higher quality (whatever that means), but the blog is, as you advocate, your own space. I've seen some blogs without comments and all the discussion is happening on Hacker News or Reddit, so I'd like to hear your thoughts about it.


Well, in a perfect world we'd have a single "place" to go that would aggregate content AND comments. That was the promise of clients like FeedDemon and RSS for Comments. However, Google Reader doesn't support comments and as such, that died.

I worry about things like Disqus as well as they are just another place to put our content. It looks like it's on our site but it's not. They WILL die one day and then what happens to the comments?

For now, I go where the discussion is but I'd prefer to own both.


Just a brainstorm here, but would some kind of Disqus like ui that aggregates comments from HN, reddit and blog comment feed would be an interesting product?

(Google search shows two such apps - one has shutdown and one is now a casino site... Maybe it's just not profitable.)


But all the _people_ are in those "walled gardens," and if you're not trying to create a permanent archive of your words for the ages, it makes more sense to chose the platform that makes it easier to interact with an audience, rather than one that preserves everything you write forever.


It's intriguing hear Scott echo RMS. Although Scott limits his argument to the consequences of relying on corporations for services, a similar argument can be made regarding the behavior of governments (domain name seizures, for example).

I'd be interested in hearing where/how he draws the line.


One obstacle, in my eyes, is that some of the best blogging software out there is provided in a Software-as-a-Service model. This is, of course, less of a headache for the original developers—they have a guaranteed long-term income (rather than one-off license fees), and they don’t have to worry about portability or varying server specs. The result is that now, if a person wants to run his/her own blog and have total control over the content, s/he will need to write the software for it. I personally wouldn’t mind paying several hundred dollars for a piece of really good blogging software.

N.B.: I looked into Wordpress et al., but I always avoid using software written in PHP if I can, and theming in Wordpress involves more time than I have to spare.


    N.B.: I looked into Wordpress et al., but I always avoid using software written in PHP if I can, and theming in Wordpress involves more time than I have to spare.
Well, you're not exactly making it easy on your self, if you pile arbitrary constraints on like that.


But one could go to Amazon or Azure or Herok and install Wordpress in 20 minutes from start to finish and OWN it...if this process could include domain names and take just 2 minutes...


http://iwantmyname.com/ lets you do it in ~2minutes.


"Own your space on the Web, and pay for it."

"You want control? Buy a domain and blog there. "

And at the very least if you don't want to pay or setup your own hosting site (and want to go the free route) at least register your own domain and have it pointed by cname or web forwarding to any of the free hosting providers out there. (Making sure to keep a backup of course).

Of course since true web hosting can be had very cheaply today (this isn't 1996) there really isn't any reason to just not setup your own site. If you are going to take the time to write something you can spend .50 per day (or less) on web hosting. What's your time worth?


in addition to that, all the big players KNOW that, like google, facebook etc. we wrote a paper about nosql-thingies... they're developed EXACTLY for this usage scenario - just store temporary non-over-the-ages-important data on some cheap maschines... if the data is lost, okay, the data is lost - shit on acid, shit on persistency, shit on consistency, but all the "un-interesting data" should be served fast -- this was the DoB of nosql.

can YOU imagine, that any big newspaper or library will store the (maybe) really important things on this systems - or ANYTHING else outside the blog-sharosphere? (sharophere should get the right buzzword for this activism) no... not really...

imho and like "mechanical_fish" mentioned, all people think, that their data, blog-entries, pictures or even JOKES are so important (funny/cool/needed), that should be shared all over the world... i'm not an anti-share-man in contrast to that, i REALLY use twitter, facebook etc., but the "hype" on blogging is too much for me.

let me clarify this a little bit and maybe from a technical point of view: in the last years, since ANYBODY thinks, that their mini-uncomplicated solution for $this problem in $that language that this should be shared, because it's "really important", the web is full of trash and blog-entries, where the question is searched an answer to, is just rewritten, WITHOUT an answer. any of you should now the problem, that you REALLY have to investigate now, to get a solution for a more complex problem or EVEN an academic paper/research-website... the web is full of junk and i'm not feeling lucky about that.

what do you mean?


Isn't it ironic that we discuss the article here and not on Scott's blog?


Isn't it ironic that anyone discusses it on Scott's blog and not on their own blog?


argument saying that your post might dissapear is wrong. how long will you host your blog when you're not feeling like writing blogposts anymore?


Why would I stop running a website? It's a cheap VPS that I use for lots of things. No reason for it to go away.


I think this bit from an older article sums it up nicely:

http://www.the-haystack.com/2010/12/17/death-to-web-services...

What if we flipped this all on its head? What if we hosted our own data, and provided APIs for all these webapps so that they can use our data? I can imagine that to be a substantially cool use of RDFa/Microformats and whatever metadata/semantic web technologies you prefer. Isn’t one of the points of the semantic web to make decentralized information meaningful, retrievable and mixable?

So instead of having our own websites aggregate our own data from other people’s websites, we’ll let other people use the data from our own websites. Photos, meaningfully tagged, can be pulled in by Flickr via our own personal API, if you will. We provide the structured data, Flickr provides the functionality. The sharing. The social. Why not?

Personal publishing platforms like WordPress, Drupal, [your favorite here] could be extended to make use of microformatting, RDF, etc. and provide tools for syndication, as we now do with simple blogposts. Services don’t need to host our data. They only need to do cool things with it.


I love this. Exactly. There's no reason we can't do this other than the will to do it. The social web could be open and distributed and web-like while still looking centralized like twitter.


It seems that you are disregarding the vast majority of Facebook/Google+/whatever users -- who still don't know how to, or don't want to setup their own domain and manage blogging software. Yet, they also want to have a place to put their voice out there.

A system like the one that GP proposes, while it could be pretty awesome, would be limited to a very small, extremely homogenous population. It's not hard to see why Facebook beats that.


With a distributed system, the masses could delegate everything to whatever large provider they like the best (FB, Google, etc), but by being distributed, they'd all get to share info instead of being in a walled garden with only other FB, G+, etc users.

So the nutty privacy freaks could happily host their own server, the drooling masses could sign up with whoever's popular that week, and everybody would still be part of one big happy family of people posting drunken party pics... :]

FB will fight such developments tooth and nail, of course...


I would argue that it could be made possible to allow folks to get domains, hosting and software that they control as easily as buying a toy on Amazon. Domains, DNS and hosting setup doesn't need to be hard - it's hard because no one has tried to change it.


I have to disagree. Dreamhost makes it very simple to register a domain and have WP installed. Wordpress.com makes it simpler still. How much simpler does it need to be?

Everyone knows what WordPress is, I think people who entertain the idea of publishing are aware of their options now. The draw of social networks is that there is a low friction process -- facilitated by an interested party -- which makes it very easy to go from ideation to publication. Until very recent versions of WP, it was a pain in the ass (from a regular user's perspective) to simply post a set of pictures along with some thoughts.

If we look at your set of questions, something like e.g. Facebook provides answers to all of them which are, yes unsatisfying, but the trade off is a low-effort process.

EDIT: Also, out of curiosity what do you use to host your site, and how/why did you choose it?


Not really.

It's still very hard for the average person.


Well, arguably it has to be as easy (and hip and fun and attractive) as signing up for Twitter.


Easier but yes.


Weebly has actually done this already, but their main selling point is a website. The blog is just one of the components.


Again with this. There's no reason everyone has to compete with Facebook. Should pg even keep running hacker news? I mean, it's great for nerds but the vast majority of people won't ever use it.

I hate this attitude. "If my grandma isn't on the service, it can't possibly be a good idea." Suddenly everything has to be everyone-scale from day one, never mind how long it took Facebook to reach beyond college students.


Here's a proposal/mockup from last year that illustrates how the setup part of the process could be made more understandable and convenient for the broader public: http://markmhendrickson.com/homesteading-on-the-indie-web


A system like the one that GP proposes, while it could be pretty awesome, would be limited to a very small, extremely homogenous population

How so?

What makes "people who don't want to set up their own domain" homogenous compared to people who want to be first-class citizens of the internet?

Especially once the desire for that is there, it won't be hard to throw money together and run small nodes. Perfect strangers share apartments with each other, we figured that out, so once we realized we really do need webspace, and that it costs money and is complicated, respective services and culture will be established within months. Actually these services already exist for the most part, they just need to get with the OStatus program, and need to be used. Then you order your webspace, 1-click-install your "web presence", done.

And why "extremely small"? We don't even KNOW how many people are running diaspora/ostatus/etc. servers, and how many in total are signed up to them. There is no way, and no need, to count it. You just do what you always do, hold on to interesting people and projects as you run into them.

I don't know about you, but the internet was pretty cool even 10 years ago. I wouldn't mind a little small brother of the "renters social net", with the DIY peeps. Those are not homogenous by any means. They already outnumber Google+ users, I'm sure :P Also, you say "whatever" users - I take it "whatever" means "anything that isn't interoperable via open standards"?

You see, those people can do whatever they want, as far as I'm concerned. Do I listen to Gangsta Rap because X people do? NO.

Same goes for facebook etc. You want to be my cyberfriend, get your sh*t together. You want to read my stuff, or want me to read yours - don't be lazy, or it probably never really mattered in the first place. I don't mind staying in touch with RL friends who are lame when it comes to computers via facebook -- but that's not at all where my attention is, when it comes to the web. I have links on my profile, Every few months I get bored and respond or comment on random things; that's it.


Isn't the issue that the 'walled gardens' would need to pull the data in? - what is the benefit for them to this?

Maybe app.net will be part of the solution, but I've not seen any promise from app.net to not be acquired.

The borg eventually acquire anything good with a user base, the result is mediocrity (see DejaNews).


I don't think the other members would agree with most acquisition offers ;)


Yes. Some call it a Personal Data Service. There's community at http://pde.cc. There's the VRM crowd. There's http://eclipse.org/higgins/. There's TimBl's http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/CloudStorage.html etc...


Blogging is dead.

I ran a fairly successful blog (front paged here a number of times). I recently cut the cord and abandoned it. The blogging tail is getting shorter and shorter as more and more people move to the closed and walled gardens.

I shut it down because it was the illusion of accomplishment: every time I got a hit entry I would assure myself that I've moved forward in some way, achieved something, etc. Whenever I thought about doing something actually beneficial, the easiest procrastination was to just go do a blog post instead, imagining that every hit actually meant something. That I was somehow accumulating assets in something worthwhile.

It achieves nothing, at least if you're already established. If you're new to the industry and unproven then it's a good way of trying to fake it before you make it, but if you're professionally grounded, it's a liability as much as a benefit.

Worse there is a tendency for readership to start to control what you write about, which is one reason I moved to more free-form content on a walled garden: I'll write about a caterpillar in the yard, my new lawn tractor, and some new development in Android, all because I no longer fool myself into thinking the blog is a business. It's just some random thoughts, whether read or not.

The time spent writing it -- even if you're pretty successful at it -- would almost always be better spent on other endeavours. To bring up some examples oft cited on here, John Gruber is one of the most successful bloggers, as is Marco Arment. They're reduced to trying to pitch t-shirts and affiliate links. Neither of them -- despite volumes of words spilled onto epaper -- change anything in the industry through their respective blogs. A lot of words evaporating into the ether, the converted incited into a chorus of the echo chamber.




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