A blogging problem

Since June 2017, I’ve amassed 14 domains, accounts on four VPS providers, provisioned scores of servers, initiated a zillion sites and moved my own blog around from one domain and platform to the next at least half-dozen times. I rationalised each of these decisions in different ways:

  • “The domain I have now doesn’t sound right to me – the one I’m looking at does”
  • “The VPS I’m using was taken down by hackers for a week about a year go – I deserve to be on a safer one”
  • “The CMS I’m on isn’t exactly pro-blogger, and I’m not sure if it’s going to be around 10 years from now – I should move”

… and combinations thereof.

All this time (basically the last 40 days), I’d succumbed to this strange restlessness that had me jumping from one rock on the internet to the next, relying on quick, almost-whimsical, decisions and plainly ignoring the fact that – hey – I’d been happily blogging on WordPress.com for the last 3,000+ days. Since June 30, I’d been so concerned about things like ‘keeping my blog on the web forever’ and blogging using just the ‘right’ tools that, somehow, I’d been able to completely disregard the fact that I’d had no complaints with WordPress.com for eight years straight.

Probable causes:

  • Some more free time on my day job (good)
  • Longstanding fascination with ICT (good)
  • Taking readership, not readers, for granted (neutral – I’d have said ‘bad’ if I’d been proven wrong, but don’t treat this as an invitation to do so!)
  • A lot of FOMO (terrible)

With this blog, I hope to get my shit together and also acknowledge the fact that I’m likely not the target demographic for most advertisements about “simplifying the publishing experience”, etc. For example, Ghost’s claim that its Markdown editor will ensure I write better because I don’t have to take my hands off my keyboard for formatting. As it happens, I don’t mind WYSIWYG editors at all; I know all the keyboard shortcuts. Another example: “WordPress is too cluttered, CMS X is very lean” – but the clutter has never bothered me. Yet another: “It’s better to have a self-hosted blog where you can control everything – including whether or not your blog stays online if the CMS it’s on shuts down.” But this same doubt can be had about hosting services as well – plus, again, WordPress seems to be doing just fine. And so forth.

On the other hand, what I’ve gained through all this is a better idea of how tech and (online) publishing intersect, the practices of VPS providers and the scope and price-points of various tools available to the serious blogger (see example below). I also figured out Git, Github/Gitlab Pages, AWS Lambda and the Ghost CLI, creating macros on Atom, and can now set up websites with Ghost, Jekyll, Hugo and Nanoc, apart from WordPress.

Finally: I’ve had some great readers who stuck on and read/shared/commented on my writing no matter that it was constantly on the move, thankfully. I owe it to them – if not anyone else – to be consistent and rooted. On that note, welcome to Synecdo𝛘 (si-nec-duh-khee). This is a fresh start (although it contains all that I’ve written since June 2012). I promise I’ll always be here – even if I’m elsewhere at the same time.

Example: It’s no longer possible to have a blog with

  • Good design
  • All the basic CMS features
  • A staid reputation, and
  • A large community around it

for free.

The ‘large community’ bit does eliminate a lot of the contenders, leaving behind Drupal, Ghost, Medium, Squarespace, Tumblr and WordPress. Drupal seems too complicated for the needs of blogging (more so than WP) and the absence of a hosted version makes the learning curve steeper. The feature-set on Medium is quite limited relative to the rest. Tumblr blogs are free but they’re also hard to take seriously.

WordPress.com has a free version but it doesn’t have support (except allowing you to post in the forums) and doesn’t allow custom domains. The lowest premium tier with both options costs $36 a year. Moreover, v.4.x seems to be having a severe identity crisis. WordPress.org, the self-hosted version, is too buggy to handle by yourself, especially if you want things to just work. The best among the good-and-affordable managed WordPress solutions I’ve been able to find is Flywheel, $15 a month.

SquareSpace has no free versions. It costs $16 a month or $144 a year. You can’t run SquareSpace by yourself either. It’s proprietary and there’s no open-source option. This is also why I don’t trust website-builders like Wix and Weebly.

Ghost also has no free versions. You could spin up a Ghost CMS on a VPS but the cheapest one (that I’m also willing to trust) is Vultr’s $2.5 option. But I’m not sure if its specs are enough to run the new Ghost v1.5 without hiccups. You could run with the $5/mo option available on Vultr, Digital Ocean, Linode or Lightsail, assuming you’re okay with using a CLI and managing the instance yourself (Digital Ocean is the only one that comes with a one-click install for Ghost but it’s applicable only from the $10/mo option). Ghost (Pro), the hosted version, costs at least $29 a month or $228 a year.

Other options include static-site generators (SSGs) like Hugo and Jekyll, which can be run on Gitlab and Github, respectively, but not unless you’re okay with having to manage every last detail of your blog’s setup. Similarly, unless you’ve a certain bent of mind, the publishing experience isn’t entirely smooth either. The harder alternative is to host SSGs on the cloud.

In sum: The option with the most peace of mind at the lowest cost seems to be WordPress.com’s $36 a year plan. Many veterans of blogging believe that there is some wisdom in moving to the self-hosted version especially because you can then have the “mutiny of identity”. In this case, there are three options:

  1. Self-hosted WP: Linode’s $5/mo (better support than Vultr while Lightsail throttles their servers when CPU usage climbs). Downside: Installing WP is a pain.
  2. Managed WP: Flywheel’s $15 a month offering (because WordPress.org is less secure than WordPress.com tends to be and you’ll find all the extra help useful).
  3. WordPress.com: the $99 a year ‘Premium’ plan (comes with excellent customisation options). Downside: WordPress doesn’t offer monthly billing, so you’re expected to be able to spend $99 at a time.

3 responses to “A blogging problem”

  1. Machi, kola வெறி da. Equally impressed and horrified by your platform hopping. Nearly all of them seem unfriendly and cryptic. Until I read through your note, of course. It led to immediate enlightenment. I now know what needs to be done. I just have to ask you what to do.

    • Haha! It’s all enjoyable in it’s own way, and you’d be surprised by the difference between how easy it all really is on the inside but how difficult it looks from the outside.