Time to re-launch the jmac.org blog yet again. What have we got this time?
Today I can state that this website uses Plerd, a blogging platform of my own design. It certainly does appear much uglier than its previous incarnation as an Octopress site. As I write this, various pretty features of the last blog, such as the sidebar, the classy typeface choices, and Twitter links, have all vanished — apparently subsumed by a simple, monolithic theme. Tags, categories, a search box: all gone. Already one might reasonably fear that I gave into the most typical hacker temptation to reinvent a perfectly good wheel with something much cruder, just so I could stubbornly claim credit for scratching my own itch.
However, not only have I managed to import all that site’s posts — a first, in all my history of blog-hopping — but I now feel like I have complete understanding and control over my personal online writing and publishing platform for the first time in many years. I honestly feel that the lack of this sense of total ownership has blocked me from writing nearly as much as I would have otherwise.
And now one can fear with even more justification that I am the fool who just bought a pair of $500 running shoes, blustering that he has at last found the key to physical fitness (and looks forward to starting tomorrow, but meanwhile this meat-lover’s pizza isn’t going to order itself, et cetera). Believe me: I know well how blurry the distinction can run between real creative work and farting around in a machine shop. I accept that I make a wager here: that investing the time and attention necessary to create a custom blogging system will pay off in sufficiently worthwhile dividends of fresh creative work — with a side-benefit of a new, modestly scoped open-source project I can feel proud of.
I could be wrong! This might be another waste of my time. But the problem of how I should blog has been bothering me for years, ever since LiveJournal lost its mojo. I bet that personal experience combined with knowledge of new tools and technologies — such as Markdown and Dropbox, two key Plerd dependencies — makes it worthwhile for me to try this today.
This represents the first time that I’ve hosted my personal blog on homemade software since 2001. Back then, adding a new entry meant manually running an SQL INSERT query with the post’s text in raw HTML, after which I’d hand-edit the site’s RSS XML file. So it’s little wonder that I found the prospect of a LiveJournal account much more appealing, once a friend invited me to join.
More than 3,500 LJ entries later, that service’s star had faded, alas. I’ve never quite found a replacement. Running my own blog on Movable Type appealed to me for a while, but I didn’t enjoy the thought of using (and maintaining) an enormously complex toolset with ambitions towards commercial-quality “content management” for the sake of a personal blog. I could never get excited about WordPress for similar reasons. Tumblr held my fancy for a brief time, as did DreamWidth. And there was Octopress, of course.
On each of these platforms, I wrote a few things, and it just didn’t stick, somehow, for one reason or another. But they didn’t all fail identically, and Octopress, for all its own overhead and fiddliness, did help me better understand what I wanted in a blogging platform. Plerd’s my attempt to make an “ultralight” publishing system that makes use of various techniques I’ve learned — and technology the rest of the world has invented — over the last dozen years. It contains only the features I myself need, favors ease of posting and updating blog entries over everything else, and outputs a simple, clean, static website.
One can browse Plerd on GitHub, though I do not consider it released software. At present, only people with a certain level of Perl-environment comfort can install it, and that’s no fun. I link to it anyway because I find value in developing in the sunshine, even when nobody seems to be watching.
I still have miles to go before I feel more certain about what I want from my blogging system. But I definitely wanted to push out a minimum viable product as soon as I could, and I feel pretty sure I’ve succeed that far, at least.