Tag Archives: blogging

Deciding Where to Post Online

Things I think about when choosing where to post something original, once I’ve decided to post it.

  1. Audience. Who’s going to be interested in this? Family? Friends? Fans or hobbyists or people in my industry or some other shared-interest group? People looking for troubleshooting help? Do I just want to say something for the record?
  2. Permissions. Who do I want to allow to see this? Am I OK with it being seen by the general public, or do I want to lock it down to specific people?
  3. Type of Media. Long article, short comment, photo, video, link to something interesting? Not much point in linkblogging here these days, while Twitter and Facebook are better suited. A long post is easier to compose and easier to read as an article than as a Twitter thread (though Tweetstorms do have their place). Photos are more likely to be seen on a dedicated photo site than here, but if there’s a story to it, a blog post might work better.
  4. Polish. I’ll sometimes post something off-the-cuff on Twitter or Facebook, then refine or expand it later. Or I’ll post a photo on Instagram in the moment, then when I have time, do a cleaner edit or album on Flickr, or write a story around it here.
  5. Connections. Is it related to something else I’ve already posted? This is why I keep posting funny signs, examples of holiday creep, and convention reports here.
  6. Permanence. Do I want to be able to find it again easily? If so, I’ll probably go with a blog or Flickr (yes, Flickr), because searching for stuff on Twitter or Instagram or even Facebook is such a pain.

So yeah, that’s why I still post some things here, why I only post other things on Twitter, why I post different things to Flickr and Instagram, why I sometimes cross-post, re-post, and re-edit. Am I overthinking it? Maybe, but it’s not like I go through a full checklist every time – this is less a recipe and more trying to write down what I’ve been doing anyway.

Why am I still blogging? (And why about this stuff?)

This blog has been around 15 years. Social media has mostly moved on, to silos like Facebook and Twitter. People don’t follow random personal blogs. Topic-focused sites are what people actually read, and even that mainly following links from silos.

Meanwhile there are so many major things going on that make the things I post about here — comics, fandom, photos of things I found interesting, random tech thoughts — seem trivial.

So why keep a blog going? And why write about trivialities, and not big things like the battles over civil rights, healthcare, environmental protections, war?

As for the first: Some of it is stubbornness. And some of it is wanting to keep part of my writing/photo presence somewhere “permanent” (to the extent that anything online is).

As for the second: I’ve never really liked talking news and politics online. I rarely feel like I can add anything that hasn’t already been said (probably better) by someone else. Also, online conversation has gotten way too toxic. On the other hand, while the little things may be trivial, they add up. They add up to your life. It feels like I might actually have something to say that’s not already been said a thousand times by people more familiar with the issue than I am.

Plus it’s a way to assert some normality in a world that feels decidedly abnormal.

I’m not likely to come up with anything super-profound on the most important topics, but I can make short statements, and I can amplify other voices. And I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that that’s important. I’ve been reading a lot more and posting a lot less over the past year or so, but even if I can’t say anything profound, I shouldn’t stay silent.

So I’ve been microblogging, and linking, and reposting — all things that are better suited for a service that’s built around those use cases. When I have something longer to say, I do try to pull it in here, because a blog post is better than a Twitter thread… But I think more people probably see my retweets than my blog posts, anyway.

What makes online posts feel “permanent?”

Facebook is testing a feature to hide new posts from your timeline so they don’t feel so permanent. Of course they’re still searchable until you actually delete them, so they’re still permanent in that sense.

What’s odd: Facebook posts don’t feel permanent to begin with, even though they effectively stick around forever.

Thinking about it, two things make an internet post feel permanent to me:

  1. Can I count on it sticking around?
  2. Can I count on finding it again?

Facebook, despite a lot of improvements over the years, is a mess. The newsfeed algorithm means you can’t just keep scrolling back. The timeline view isn’t reliably complete. Search is kind of a crap shoot. Don’t get me started on trying to find a particular old post on Twitter!

And that’s dealing with sites I can expect to stay online over time. A post on a forum, or a comment on someone else’s blog, or any social network could easily vanish in someone’s server crash or business shutdown.

If I can’t count on being able to find what I post a few years down the line, it feels like it’s temporary, even if it isn’t.

This is one reason that my Flickr portfolio feels more permanent than my Instagram photos: I can find them without resorting to third-party apps. If I want to find a particular photo on Instagram, I have to page down through my profile until I find it. On Flickr, I can find a 10-year-old photo of a fountain in seconds by searching for “fountain” and expanding the “Your photos” section of the results.

Then again, running my own site is only reliable as long as I can afford it. If something happens to me, and I can’t pay for hosting anymore, what then? I figure I’d simplify things down to where I could get a basic, super-cheap hosting plan. Make the blogs read-only so they can be served statically from a shared server or S3 bucket, or move them to WordPress.com, or just be willing to let them crash under load. But what if I’m incapacitated and can’t convert it? Or just plain not there anymore? If I really want to keep my corner of the web up “permanently,” I’m going to have to make a plan ahead of time.

Otherwise my carefully preserved photos, articles, and extended musings will be toast…leaving behind as context only broken links and all my supposedly (but not really) ephemeral offhand remarks on Twitter and Facebook.

Remember Netbooks?

It’s weird to look back on all the posts I made agonizing about whether or not to buy a netbook.

It was never anything I would have used on a regular basis, and I knew that (which is why I never went through with buying one). It would have been something I used on trips, mainly conventions, and only to overcome the shortcomings of late 2000s smartphones.

Mainly: photos and typing.

Back then, I always carried another camera to get the “good” pictures, because phone cameras were still crappy. So if I wanted to post something online, I had to get it off the camera, onto a computer, and then upload it. Today’s smartphone cameras and apps are so much more capable that they mostly solve the photo issues.

It’s still painfully slow to type anything of length on a phone, but tablets have emerged since then and are a lot easier to type on. Hybrids like the Surface Pro and add-on keyboards make it even easier.

Touchscreens have solved the crappy trackpad problem netbooks had.

Faster phones and cell networks, and a more mobile-friendly web, have made a lot more things possible directly on the phone.

Netbooks, meanwhile, are pretty much forgotten, at least in the form they existed in at the time. Chromebooks are doing OK, at least in schools, but they aren’t quite the same thing. You’d think “netbook” would refer to something more like the network-dependent Chromebook, but it typically referred to the tiny form factor of a mini-laptop.

Looking back at the Tori Amos signing that I mentioned in the series’ first post: These days I probably would have taken the pictures directly on my phone and posted to Instagram within minutes. As for the blogging, I might have powered through on the phone and added the pictures directly, or I might have done so on the tablet and added the pictures that would already have synced from the phone over WiFi.

I wouldn’t carry a laptop of any size around the convention floor, that’s for sure. And I probably wouldn’t bring one on a short trip at all unless I was planning on working during the evenings.

Adding the S in HTTPS

I finally moved the public side of this blog over to HTTPS last weekend. Traditionally I’ve preferred to put public info on HTTP and save HTTPS for things that need it – passwords, payment info, login tokens, anything that should be kept private — but between the movement to protect more and more of the web from eavesdropping and the fact that tools are making it harder to split content between open and encrypted sides (the WordPress app sometimes gets confused when you run the admin over HTTPS but keep the public blog on HTTP), I decided it was time.

The last sticking point was putting HTTPS on my CDN, and I’d decided to try getting Let’s Encrypt and CloudFront working together over the weekend. Then Amazon announced their Certificate Manager for AWS, which took care of the hard part. All I had to do was request and approve the (domain-validated) certificate, then attach it. Done!

Downside: Because I opted for the SNI option on the CDN, rather than pay the premium to get unique IP addresses on every CloudFront endpoint, the images won’t work with older browsers like IE6. (Server Name Indication is a way to put more than one HTTPS site on the same IP address.)

On the other hand, the cert I have on the site itself is SHA2-signed (as it should be, now that SHA-1 is no longer sufficient), so it wouldn’t work with older browsers even if I turned off the CDN and kept the images on the server.

It’s the first time I’ve actually broken the ability of older browsers to see any of my personal sites. I’ve broken layouts, sure, but not completely cut them off. In general I’d rather not, but I think I’m OK with it this time because

  1. SHA1 really does have to go, SHA2 is well-established, and it’s not like I’m providing downloads of modern browsers or a critical communications forum for people who are stuck with ancient hardware/software because that’s all that’s available to them.
  2. SNI has been around for TEN YEARS.

And as it turns out, DreamHost’s ModSecurity rules block IE6 to begin with, so the whole site’s already broken in that browser.

So I guess next time I redesign I can finally drop any IE6 workarounds. :shrug: