Fifteen Years of Blogging

Fifteen years ago today, I published my first blog post and I wanted to mark the occasion with - you guessed it! - a blog post. I didn't really have a strong sense of what I wanted to say but, anniversaries being a chance to reminisce, I found myself revisiting what I've written over the years.

It's definitely a mixed bag. The tone and content vary quite a bit. For this reason, when people ask me what this blog is "about", I don't usually have a ready answer, and this sometimes catches them off guard because common wisdom states that blogs typically have themes. People will manage a cooking blog, for example, or a programming blog, or a reading blog. Among other things, it's a way to collect followers - people seem to place greater trust in a blog when it focuses on one subject.

I'm not so precious as to claim that I don't care about readership at all - I do enjoy it when people read my posts, believe it or not - but I will say, being completely honest, that it's not a huge concern, and gaining a following has very little do with why this blog exists. I've tried, over the years, to keep track of visitors (first with piwik and then with google analytics) but I inevitably end up abandoning the effort as not worth my time.

In any case, I've always resisted the temptation to limit this project with labels. My blog, like me, is a bit all over the place. It doesn't have a theme other than "stuff Desmond finds interesting". It's a purely selfish creative outlet, a dim extension of myself, and sticking to one subject would run counter to that purpose.

All that being said, I did notice, poring over the years, that certain patterns stand out. And, even though my blog isn't about anything in particular, individual posts generally are, so I suppose it makes some amount of sense to turn this anniversary post into a trip down memory lane. Not the most elegant of segues but hey, let's see what shakes loose!

The Diary - Part 1

The first year of my blog tended to be somewhat diary oriented. There's a post in there about attending my friend Neil's bachelor party. There's another post about nothing more than the fact that it's snowing outside. There's a brief one on hockey riots and another about my trip on a glider.

This kind of content pretty much stopped after the first year, except for the occasional vacation post (see, for example, my post about my trip to Greece, the one about my trip to Poland, and the one where I visited Chicago and New York). These are actually a lot of fun to write and I should probably should have written more of them.

Thinking about it now, I joined Facebook the same year that I started my blog, and I would imagine it's not a coincidence that these kinds of diary entries began to dry up as I became more active on social media. Facebook effectively became my diary, I suppose. It makes me a bit sad to think about it.

One obvious reason for the change is that Facebook is easier to write for than a blog, particularly my blog. I use a static site generator without a dedicated interface but it's not just about the UI - sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to post small, titleless snippets of content that are by nature easier to craft than a blog entry.

Joining the IndieWeb in 2018, though, helped me take back that kind of content.

The Gap and Nothing Personal

There's a three year gap from 2008-2011, ostensibly because my blog got overrun with spam. A number of life events happened in that gap - my dad died, for one, and I also bought a 100 year old apartment. It's a shame that I don't have any posts about that.

But this, in fact, appears to be a pattern with me. I don't really have a lot of personal articles on my blog. As I mentioned, "diary" content more or less stopped after the first year. I do share a lot of opinions, which are obviously personal, but I don't really share what's going on in my life - at least, not on my blog.

Some exceptions do exist. I published a relatively personal post about religion back in 2016. I published a fairly introspective post about the Canada Malting silos way back in 2013. But day-to-day stuff? Not so much.

Again, this changes somewhat when I started participating in the IndieWeb, which made it easier, from a conceptual standpoint, to post one-off status updates of what's happening in my life.

On Being Meta

One thing that hasn't changed is that I tend to blog a lot about blogging, particularly about the technology or workflow I'm using at the time. In fact, "blogging" is the single biggest entry on my tag page. I'm not sure what to make of that, except that I suppose I tend to fall into the common nerd trap of getting caught up in the tools I use.

What can I say? Blogging software (and web publishing software in general) is a topic that fascinates me. I'm old enough to still be amazed at the idea that a random person can put a random web page on a random web server and have it be instantly accessible to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

I started this blog with an obscure little Perl program called Blosxom, moved on fairly quickly to my own homegrown engine called YAWT (first written in Perl, then in Python) and I eventually started using Pelican when I got tired of fixing bugs in my own code. I've recently switched to using Eleventy.

If you're at all familiar with blogging software, you may have noticed that certain popular programs like Wordpress are not on the list. That's because I like writing all my blog entries in a plain text editor (usually Emacs) and saving them as vanilla text files on disk, a personal idiosyncrasy which informs my choice of publishing software. The longevity of my blog can be at least partially attributed to the fact that my content is stored this way, and can be processed by relatively low-tech digital tools (i.e. any text editor, on any platform). This is a topic that probably deserves its own post.

On Being a Geek

I also appear write a lot about programming, which is not entirely unexpected given what I do for a living (spoiler: I'm a software developer). It is kind of interesting to see how these articles change over time. I wrote a couple of Perl articles in 2007, when I was still using Blosxom. I started writing about Python in 2012, a couple of years after I attended OOPSLA, and I decided that I wanted to learn a dynamic language that wasn't Perl. I eventually moved on to Typescript.

Mixed with all of that are a handful of articles on Emacs, which in terms of subject matter tend to blur the line between blogging and programming. Emacs has traditionally been my text editor of choice over the years, which implicitly involves writing a fair amount of Lisp (specifically Emacs Lisp), a fascinating language that can occasionally beguile a person with mathematical inclinations (like me).

The Diary - Part 2

I joined the IndieWeb sometime in 2018 and immediately became consumed by it, as attested by the fact that "indieweb" is the second most frequently used tag on my blog after "blogging".

The IndieWeb is a loose community of people trying to re-popularize the personal website and, by extension, the personal blog. So I guess you could say that my interest in this subject is just an extension of my interest in blogging.

Joining the IndieWeb has had a profound effect on the format and structure of my blog. The most prominent changes, from a reader's perspective, would probably be the introduction of notes and webmentions.

The ability to publish short, quick notes on my blog basically means that I can more easily use this platform for purposes that hitherto had been mostly the purview of Facebook and Twitter - namely day-to-day, diary-oriented musings. The introduction of webmentions have added a sense of community.

Effectively, participating in the IndieWeb has resulted in a kind of renaissance of the diary aspects of my blog, and a lessening of the reliance on Facebook and Twitter, which is nice.

Apparently I Like To Drink

A number of posts involve cooking and cocktails. More cocktails than cooking if I'm honest.

I enjoy mixing drinks. I'm not entirely sure why. It's not to get drunk; I almost always stop at one or two. I think it has something to do with my childhood fascination with chemistry. Mixing a drink feels like a chemistry experiment.

For a while I was really into crafting my own mixers. I have a couple of articles on making my own tonic water, and one that mentions how I make my own grenadine. I have a series of posts on how I use what are traditionally labelled as "mixing liqueurs", like vermouth or Chartreuse.

And Finally...Just a Lot of Soapboxing

This blog doesn't really have title but, if it did, "Desmond's Soapbox" wouldn't be entirely off the mark. I often use this blog to bleat opinions into the void.

So, one occasionally runs into posts about life in Quebec, or posts about philosophy, or posts about religion. There's no rhyme or reason to most of it. It's just stuff about which I felt was important to write at the time.

Given that I'm not really writing for anyone other than myself, my blog is peppered with this kind of thing.

Thoughts On The Future

I sometimes wonder why I do any of this. I even have a blog entry about it. The essential conclusion reached in that article - that blogging is just fun - is as true as it ever was.

Still, though, in the midst of giant platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there are times when it feels like the whole exercise is pointless.

And then I read about how Elon Musk is buying Twitter, with the attendant fuss over what that might mean, and I'm suddenly more grateful than ever for having my own space on the Web. Because even if Twitter or Facebook suddenly disappear, or become unbearable, I'll still have this space.

This space is important, if for no other reason than that.

And I guess I feel grateful that I have a certain amount of technical experience, and that I'm capable of maintaining a project like this, however imperfectly. Not everyone is, which is exactly the reason things like Facebook and Twitter exist.

So what does the future look like for this vanity project I call my home on the web? Probably much like it does now, I suspect, aside from the occasional (amateurish) face lift. I imagine I'll be posting random stuff online for as long as there's a web to post to.

Call it pride, but this space will likely always be around in some form or another. At this point, it's become a part of my identity - part of how I see myself. I suppose there are worse things.

I wonder what the thirtieth anniversary post will look like?