15 Lessons From Anil

I’ve been trying to get back into the groove of more regular blogging. Like most habits, blogging is hard to keep up when you let the inertia of inaction take hold. Lately I’ve been trying to remind myself when I have a lively conversation with a friend, or when I start overloading Twitter with multiple tweets on the same subject, that I may as well use it as an opportunity to blog.

This ambition to blog more makes me especially receptive to rallying cries restating the value of blogging, especially when they come with advice for how to blog well. Anil Dash’s 15 Lessons from 15 Years of Blogging is full of observations and advice that ring true to me from my shorter yet still-significant blogging career. There are many gems here but I particularly like his emphasis on the difficulty of gauging the impact of a given post. Sometimes it feels like you’re sharing your thoughts with a black hole, but I’ve also experienced the phenomenon Anil describes:

The most meaningful feedback happens on a very slow timeframe. It’s easy to get distracted in the immediacy of people tweeting replies in realtime, but the reason I write is for those rare times, years later, when I get an email from someone I might only barely know, saying that something I wrote meant something to them.

The only thing Anil says that doesn’t ring completely true to me is his observation about blogging tools:

The tools for blogging have been extraordinarily stagnant. One of the reasons the art form of blogging isn’t particularly respected lately is because the tools essentially stopped evolving a decade ago.

At the very least I think this point needs elaboration: which tools in particular is he alluding to? I think the only reasonable interpretation is that he’s alluding to the hosted blogging services that facilitate “easy” blogging for the vast majority of people. 10 years ago, WordPress was still in its infancy, and my impression was that most people used (original) Blogger, Movable Type, LiveJournal, or Blosxom (a rudimentary text-based system) to share their thoughts.

The web interfaces to these early blog systems were laughably bad, so much that desktop apps like MarsEdit were celebrated essentially for simply providing a reliable text field in which to compose and send text to a blog. There was no Tumblr, whose interface was a revelation for many when it came on the scene and suggested that blogging could be something breezier than the pseudo-journalistic style that had been taken as the standard. Inclusion of photos or videos in blog posts was an insane exercise that only the most intrepid web-worker would dare to tackle. These days? Blog authors can easily share photos and videos from the palms of their hands, while riding a roller-coaster at Disneyland, before the ride stops.

Which is not to say that I think blogging tools are perfect. Far from it. As the developer of MarsEdit, my challenge is to observe the ways in which web-based tools fall short, and strive to fill those gaps with the native Mac-based app. Believe, me there are lots of shortcomings, but it’s also literally awesome how much the tools have improved over the years.

Because I work on a blogging tool, and because I’m friends with a lot of people who I will lovingly refer to as “internet hipsters,” I often get asked by these folks for whom blogging is old news, whether I think blogging is “on the way out.” Far from it, thanks in no small part to those massive improvements in blogging tools. In my experience from selling blogging software and from socializing in and out of tech circles, more people than ever are writing in blogs.

I regularly visit non-technical family in the rural midwest of the United States. Five years ago when I explained to them what I did for a living, the usual response I got was “what’s a blog?” or at best “how is a blog different from a newspaper?” They didn’t get the idea at all that a blog was something they could participate in personally. This year, one of those relatives finally started a blog of her own. And it’s good! Her dipping her toes into this “new” self-publishing platform will undoubtedly serve as a template for the rest of her friends and family. I’m sure we’ll continue to see a lot of new blogs and a lot of improvement to the current tools.