I first started my blog in 2001. From that day, with little break, I wrote for over 9 years straight.
I started out on Blogger, then moved to Movable Type. Occasionally I'd go a week or two without a post, but that was the exception. It was never hard to pick it back up, or to resume the routine.
Until the day that it was, about two years ago. I have a record of numerous half-finished posts from the past two years, including an aborted post from about a year ago announcing that I was back. It turns out I wasn't.
I had always planned to reboot the design of my personal website (henceforth I'll always use blog when referring to my personal website; there are other things on my website, but the blog always did the heavy lifting). I briefly dabbled with the idea of upgrading to the latest Movable Type version, but the product seemed like it had become an afterthought, surpassed in vision and drive by competitors like Wordpress, which I also briefly tried out. I have a half-finished Wordpress blog that I never finished.
This time, though, I'm back for real. In this interim period, I'd maintained an online presence. With my work, it's hard to justify not trying out the leading services and products online, if for nothing else than to be able to discuss them with investors and other entrepreneurs or for competitive research. I have accounts on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram (eugenewei) and Pinterest and Foursquare and a whole host of other services, many of which went out of business before I even had the chance to try them out (I'm often confused by the multiple uses of the term bubble when referring to the internet startup space, but let's just say that there was a high extinction rate at the end of the Permian Era, and that might have been a healthy development in hindsight).
I still continue to have and pay for a pro Flickr account, though it feels like protection money. I'm not happy to pay it, and I hope Flickr updates its pricing as part of a reevaluation of all of its properties. I have over 400 apps on my iPhone. Most I've used just once, though I've enjoyed studying the design evolution of applications on touchscreen platforms like iOS.
But none of these has filled the void I felt when I stopped maintaining my blog and personal website. It sounds absurd to feel nostalgic for the early days of the web, but I do, and much of it has to do with missing the random exchange of ideas my blog would spur with readers I knew and those I didn't.
Twitter has some of that interaction, but while constraints are good, 140 characters is just not enough to accommodate many complex ideas. Google+ is actually more of a competitor to Twitter than to Facebook in that it has Twitter's follow mechanism and no character constraints. Some power users have Google+ it to its full potential, but the audience, limited to Google+ users, is either inferior to Twitter's in terms of strangers, or paltry compared to Facebook in terms of friends and family. Given that Google is trying to compete with both, it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that it ended up in some strange purgatory between the two.
Facebook is a useful address book of people I know, but it has very little interaction with the much larger population of people outside that circle. It's true that baby photos and awkwardly confessional status updates and the occasional innocuous link to some humorous meme clutter our Facebook News Feeds, but I've never really found much else that seemed appropriate to post to Facebook. The audience seems either too small or too large for most other content. You could post inflammatory opinions to try to engage in meaningful debate about politics or global warming or the ethics of eating meat, but who knows who in your graph would see it for a second on their newsfeed on their Facebook app on their iPhone while they were waiting in line for a coffee at Starbucks, and who would type out any meaningful response on an iPhone keyboard in that time-wasting interval anyhow.
[Related: I've generally been fine with most of Facebook's design changes, but after having lived with the Timeline for a while now, I've come to think it was a step backwards for encouraging the types of social interactions I found most meaningful on the platform, and those were direct posts to people's walls. The design of the Timeline, which has replaced people's walls, is less inviting of wall posts. It looks like a constructed personal history, and who wants to sully someone else's beautiful personal history with a silly link? The obvious retort is that most people's Timelines are filled with random content anyhow, but the design tries to beautify it. I thought Nicholas Felton was a strong hire, but while I love his Feltron Annual Reports I wouldn't dare post anything to any of those annual reports, and in that is the root of my discontent with Timeline.]
And so I ended up in an odd place after the past 2 years: with more ways to connect with people than ever before, I felt less connected at a meaningful level than I did before all these new services came along.
For all of these issues, my blog was the answer. I just never fully appreciated it until now.
For one thing, you own your content and how it's distributed. As many have noted recently, post personal content to for-profit platforms at your own risk, especially when they're ad-supported, if they have any revenue model at all. At a minimum, users should and can demand ways to get their content our of a platform easily. Ideally, a platform should feel like it loves you the more you love it. I have no easy way to download my hundreds of photos from Flickr, or to scroll back through the years of history in my Facebook news feed, or to see my full history of tweets on Twitter. I could, but it would be a brutal ordeal. With my website and blog, I've always had an entirely portable copy of every file on my local hard drive.
I can write as much or as little as I'd like. Versus Facebook or Twitter, for example, it will almost always be more. No one needs an account on any service to read my content. While many who read my blog were people I knew, I often heard from people I'd never met before. I had no idea how they'd found my blog, but many became people I'd trade emails with on a variety of shared interests.
The architecture is open, flexible. I can alter the design to my heart's content. In fact, the design here is a work in progress, but last week I received notice that my domain hosting account was up for renewal, so it was the impetus to launch something, anything, to take its place. I will be rolling out a series of updates in the next few weeks, but that won't stop me from trying to keep up a regular pace of writing here while the design falls into place.
I feel less need to self-censor myself here than anywhere else. What is the appropriate content to post on Twitter or Facebook for my audiences on each of those networks? Each is explicit about the people in your graph (yes, some of the content is publicly searchable, but the number of people who aren't my followers who randomly search and navigate to my tweets is insignificant). I can't help being conscious of constructing an identity when writing or posting to those very specific audiences.
The audience for a blog is much more amorphous. It's hard to tell who's reading what I post here, except when people mention things I've written here explicitly. So I tend to be less guarded about what I write here.
The most successful blogs in terms of audience seem to focus on one topic, covering it well, serving that one audience deeply. I will likely never be able to contain myself to one topic. I model this blog's topical focus more on what seminal blogger Jason Kottke calls the new liberal arts. It's free-ranging, but longtime readers and those who know me well will a disproportionate percentage of posts here circling the internet (the industry I've spent most of my professional career in), filmmaking (the industry where I've spent the remainder of my post college days), gadgets (especially cameras), and contrarian ideas (because I have a weakness for novelty).
I'm hosting this new version of my blog on Squarespace. The interface on Squarespace 6 is clean and simple, much more intuitive to me than Movable Type and even Wordpress, and I'm intrigued by some of their interface ambitions. I considered Tumblr as well, which would have done the job as well.
Squarespace is a paid product. I'm not an absolutist: plenty of product I've paid for have disappeared or failed to continue to push out meaningful updates, and I use plenty of ad-supported products. I've used Blogger and Movable Type, and both felt neglected after some period of time, even after I upgraded to paid versions of the products. I'm a paid customer from the start with Squarespace, and I hope that means they'll continue to innovate and support the product even without some critical mass of users.
I won't ever advertise on the website. I don't need the revenue. I will link to Amazon with my affiliate code from time to time, but only for products and services I genuinely love. In the past, I've made enough incidental income from occasional reader purchases to defray the costs of hosting this site, it was all gravy, along with being an interesting experiment into what products my readers tended to like (the complete DVD box set of The Wire is the all-time winner; good taste, my readers).
My friend Larry Chen is helping me with a lot of the design here deserves credit for anything great about the site's new look. I feel bad for launching after giving him just a brief amount of time to look things over here, but the best is yet to come. I'm not even sure of all the things I can do on Squarespace yet. Think of this as a temporary storefront, a pop-up restaurant before the permanent location opens.
When I was writing regularly, I saw a direct correlation between how often I posted and my audience size. Needless to say, two years off from posting has seen my audience dwindle away to nothing. I miss discussing ideas with others with common interests, and I hope to bring my old readers back. If you stop by here and find something that catches your eye, drop me a line, or leave a comment. Or just say hi. I'm at eugene at eugenewei.com.
It's good to be back.