My Life as a Blogger
It's been a long strange trip, recently arriving at an unexpected conclusion.

The Bob Dylan Community - in the Early Days

The first substantial thing of my own that I ever created on the Internet was my Bob Dylan bibliography, first started in 1995 as my contribution to the Bob Dylan community. Before that, I had been active posting in the rec.music.dylan Usenet group and it's most influential leader there had asked me whether I could put together a bibliography of books by and about Bob Dylan. I was an enthusiastic fan of Dylan's music, but I had little idea of just how many books there might be to be included in such a project. By 1999 the bibliography had grown to 522 books. That seemed like a lot of books at the time. but I knew it was far from comprehensive. What I thought would be a good learning experience (with maybe 50 books, I was thinking?) had turned into a MUCH bigger project. Of course I had started a project based upon a very prolific artist with a very large fan base, many of whom were so excited about Bob Dylan that they started cranking out a lot of books about him.  

Of course this was just a side project for me. My real job was as a Controller of a business with seven offices scattered around the country and then later as a tax accountant at a CPA firm in Los Angeles. There was no shortage of business there, so I was working day and night for a very long time, making a living. The Dylan project was set aside for many years.  After doing 26 years of tax accounting work, I got interested in writing. So in 2010 I started a blog, mostly about music, called Numbers Were Burning, a title I took from a very obscure line in an obscure, but great, Dylan song. Dylan fans know about these obscure, but wonderful corners of Dylan's art. 

My Lesson Learned from Springpad 

While I enjoyed the blogging I was doing on Numbers Were Burning my Dylan bibliography was always in the back of my mind. Then one day I somehow stumbled on to Springpad, a free web service for organizing collected information. I realized this might be a great way to organize all my information in my Dylan bibliography, so I decided to give it a try. I discovered it was very easy to use. It even had special features that made it easy to compile book information. It was super easy to configure and to use and the output was quite handsome. I really loved it and started entering dozens of new book entries. Before long I had reached nearly 1,000 books in the Dylan bibliography. I told some of my close Dylan friends what I was doing and the fact that I would soon be releasing a greatly expanded edition of my bibliography.  

But before I had quite reached that point, I got a message from the service on May 23, 2014 that announced the service would be shutdown on June 25, 2014. The startup had apparently failed. I was horrified. It had never even occurred to me that such a thing was possible. This is the day that I learned about one of the major disadvantages of using an Internet Silo for compiling important information, the first step in my learning about the Own Your Own Data mantra of the world of the Indieweb. Springpad did allow us to download our data and I downloaded my Dylan bibliography data on June 16, 2014. The zip file is still residing on my computer in a Blogging directory, unpublished and frozen as the data was on that day in 2014.   

A Brief Time With Posterous  

Next I stumbled on to Posterous, a simple blogging platform that seemed to be highly regarded, first started in May 2008. I first started using it sometime in 2012, but within a year or less, the team working there was mostly acquired by Twitter and they announced that the platform would be shutdown on 30 April 2013. So this news had arrived very close to the height of tax season. We were told we could download our data, but where in the world should I go this time? As the deadline came closer and closer, the Posterous founders were developing a similar but paid service called Posthaven. They promised that they would never shutdown this new service and they made it very easy to roll over our blogs from Posterous to Posthaven. I decided to take them up on their offer, as it was the path of least resistance, with a low cost of $5/month.  

Blogging with Posthaven  

Meanwhile I had started the best phase of my life, having met a native Thai woman, who basically saved my life, by her participating in it. My first trip to Thailand was in October 2012. I started blogging about my experiences in Thailand, first with Posterous and then later using the successor platform, Posthaven. I called that blog Two Worlds in One and actively posted to it in 2012 - 2014. All my postings are still there, as I continued to pay the $5/month hosting fee. Posthaven worked well, with no major problems. But I always considered this a holding pattern, as I knew I wanted to eventually not be at the mercy of any silos. 

Dave Winer & His Many Blogging Tools 

I don't have an exact timeline on this period, but it started when I was reading somewhere on the Internet and Dave Winer came along and introduced people to his free outlining software, Fargo. I had never heard of an outliner before, although I think I had heard a bit about Winer, and I was intrigued. I immediately started playing with his demo software and soon I was reading Scripting News every day and then blogging with Fargo, for many years. During those years, I tried out and used many of his software tools. They were all free and all excellent programs. I used (and still use many of these!): Fargo, Happy Friends, Little Card Reader, Little Outliner and LO2, Little Pork Chop, Radio 3, River 5, Small Picture Reader and Thesaurus Land. The last two that I used extensively (and really loved) were MyWord Editor (the software I am writing this in) and 1999.io. These were exciting times as Dave was constantly coming out with clever new tools, all of which were free for us to use. I was an active user of all those mentioned above, but not being technically expert, the details about how they worked always went pretty much over my head.  Most of the others around me during this time were software engineers and developers.  

The further this period went along, the more I was convinced that I'd like to move my blogging to be done mostly with Dave's tools. He was a master blogger (the first one really) and he was blogging every single day. He wrote all of these various tools for his own use. He knew what he needed and wanted as a blogger and so his tools were always easy to use and designed to make blogging easy.  

Computer Science for Poets  

As I followed Dave Winer closely, he would often tell stories about earlier periods in his career. I was fascinated by many of these stories. One of them was a story about a course given when he was in college, called Computer Science for Poets. The idea was to make software technology accessible to those who were not engineers themselves. He referred to these non-technical people as poets. I was not a poet myself, but I was non-technical compared to all these software engineers around me. Basically Dave was proposing that I could learn how to setup and use my own server! I knew that if this was actually the case, then I could eventually have my own server, running Dave's blogging software. This would satisfy my goal of blogging using Dave's blogging software. This was all very inspiring to me. Dave wrote about it in 2009 in his article on EC2 for Poets. Unfortunately I read about this idea maybe four or five years after he wrote about it. Download and listen to the 22 minute podcast included on that page. It is excellent and was very inspiring to me. BUT his instructions on how to setup a server in that article were also many years old, which meant they were out of date and no longer worked! 

By the time Dave was working on River 5, then MyWord Editor and then 1999.io this topic of learning to install and run a server for his blogging software came up many times. At least three different people offered detailed instructions on how to set up these servers running Dave's blogging tools. I tried every one of them, but ran into a roadblock somewhere along the way with each one of them. There would be some gap in the instructions, or the procedures for running one of these servers might have changed, so the written directions that I was trying to follow would not work. And with no real training or understanding of the subject, I couldn't sort out how to adjust the directions for the changes that had been made to these services. EC2 for Poets was a lovely idea, but it wasn't actually practical, as one needs more actual understanding about servers and software to successfully setup and run one's own servers. I learned this myself, first-hand.  

MyWord Editor

I got discouraged but I didn't completely give up. I still wanted to have excellent blogging tools available to me and I didn't want to blog at silos run by others.  Dave kept giving me hope with new and better blogging software. In early March 2015 Dave announced MyWord Editor. Right in the original announcement Dave made it clear he didn't know where this was going or how long it would be around.  Dave posted three more messages about it in the next two days. Right after those messages, I posted two messages about my first experiences in using Dave's new tool. I was very pleased when Dave told me that I was the very first one, besides himself, to ever post anything with this system. It quickly became my favorite blogging system and I started to archive the documentation for the program fairly thoroughly, including one article that I called My Reference Document. A bit more than three weeks into this new adventure, I posted a compilation of MyWord Editor Milestones, which I updated as things changed until mid July 2015. On 19 March 2015 Dave had announced that MWE would be silo free from the start and on 23 March 2015 he released it as an open source, free blogging tool to the world and on 27 March 2015 he announced that it was going to be "radically silo-free" and wrote,  
I don't want to lock people in and make them dependent on me. Instead, I want to learn from thinkers and writers and developers. I want to engage with other minds. Making money, at this stage of my career, is not so interesting to me. I'd much rather make ideas, and new working relationships, and friends.

The next day, Dave clarified that silo free is not enough. He went on to explain what he meant.  

MyWord Editor is going to be competitive in ease-of-use and power with the other blogging systems. The reason to use it won't be the unique architecture, for most people. It'll be that it's the best blogging system. This is something I know about, and I'm not happy with the way blogging tools have evolved. . . . . Blogging platforms can be both easier and more powerful, I know because I've made blogging platforms that were.  

I  really loved using MWE every time I used it and the output one could read was very professional looking and gorgeous to look at. I had only one reservation, which was I was always using the software on servers controlled by others. I felt like Dave had done enough to design and build the software. I didn't feel like he should have to pay to maintain a server for my blogging postings to run on. That just didn't seem to be quite fair to me.  

On 11 Apr 2015 Dave made an appeal for other developers to help with this project, writing: 

"I'd like to find a way to get other minds working here . . . I'm looking for a discussion, sharing of ideas, and example code."  

On 24 Apr 2015, he followed this with an ad for MWE, in which he appealed for blogging to not be turned over to a silo, like Medium. The same day I posted my own discussion of Where Do We Go From Here?  I think it's fair to say that Dave did not get a lot of help from other developers and I asked, "But does Dave Winer have to do everything??"  At that point in time, the answer was apparently, Yes.  

Nearly three months later, on 14 July 2015 Melody Kramer posted an interview with Dave, which discussed many of his blogging tools, but he wasn't ready to declare MWE to be an open source alternative to Medium. She ended her questions with one about how journalists could create and run their own servers. It was basically the same idea that Dave had been writing about since 2009 (With EC2 for Poets). He told her it was a very good question, but there was no answer yet available.  

Dave had already moved on, producing Podcatch and Techblast.  

By April 2016, Dave had started working on his latest and greatest blogging system, 1999.io!  

1999.io  

Even in his introduction to 1999.io, Dave gave his usual warning that "this is just an experimental server. There's no guarantee that I'll continue to run it for free, or even run it at all." He went on to describe how we could backup up all of our data at any time with just one command in the main menu, View my JSON file. This was he said, "Designed to keep both of us free."  

I used Dave's new system extensively and loved it. It was very different from MWE but also produced very handsome professional output. In September 2016 I used Dave's Small Picture Reader software to compile a 1999.io Blogging Archive. I believe it is pretty exhaustive. Look it over to see all about it, including full documentation of the software from several sources, reviews of the software by users and samples of postings, including all that I wrote with it up to that point.  My friend Andy Sylvester also compiled an excellent page with 1999.io resources.  

In August 2016 Dave made an effort to find a hosting service that might be interested in offering hosting services for his 1999.io blogging system. I'm not aware of any such service that materialized. From the very beginning with both the MWE and 1999 blogging software, Dave always made it clear he wanted to produce great blogging software, but didn't want to be in the business of hosting a blogging platform.

Is Micro.blog the Solution?

For me it was not. When Micro.blog opened for business, I was there with a hosted blog, making my first posting on  26 Apr 2017.  I'm still posting frequently with this hosted account. But the platform has turned out to be very different from what I expected in the beginning. I thought it was going to be a blogging platform, but it is not. Yes, one can use Manton Reese's platform for blogging, but it has a very high hurdle for being able to do that well. Manton primarily concentrates on providing an ever increasing number of tools for customizing everything about how a blog looks and functions. If one is already a skilled web developer, this toolbox might be seen as very helpful, indeed.  

But I am not a skilled web developer and had no desire to learn to become one. I wanted a platform that would be easy to use to produce professional looking blog postings. That is, just like Dave Winer's tools do. But that is not offered to a beginner on Manton's platform. I used it pretty frequently for over two years, but my blog postings always looked amateurish to me. I never look at them and think, "WOW, that looks great!" like I nearly always do when using Dave's blogging tools.

I have separately documented my increasing frustration over Manton's failure to produce the book on microblogging that he promised in his Kickstarter. In addition, when I first supported the Kickstarter, I did not realize that the platform would be mainly for Apple folks, not just for anyone at all who wanted to blog with a computer. Eventually I came to accept that fact. And in fact, I think the best thing Manton has produced is a nice online community of friendly folks who interact with each other in a generally collegial and respectful way. That community is what causes me to continue to use Manton's tools, even though I don't find the output of those tools to look professional and attractive. It has taken me a long time to get to this level of acceptance.      

Your support request has been received.  

For about a year I was getting progressively more and more disappointed about how this platform had all worked out for me. At one point I wrote a looooong email to Manton at the support website for his blogging platform to suggest that he follow Intuit's model for getting their highly technical accounting software distributed successfully. Very early on, Intuit developed a Pro Advisor Program, which trained up competent accountants (for free) on how to install and use their QuickBooks accounting software, so they could help small businesses with the software for a fee. There were so many skilled web developers on Manton's blogging platform, it seemed to me like he could do the very same thing as Intuit. Then there might have been a trained professional I'd be able to pay to help me produce an attractive and professional blog of my own, according to Indieweb standards. Manton never responded in any way to my proposal, other than an automated email in the beginning that told me that my email with my suggestions had been received. I was simply ignored by Manton.  

Do What Has Been Successful in the Past   

Meanwhile I had purchased a bunch of domains that I wanted to use for blogs in other areas of interest. There was one for Bob Dylan, another for ham radio and more than one for Thailand. I had become friends with Andy Sylvester, who is a software engineer who had been active in the Dave Winer blogging tools community. He agreed to help me get blogs going for those other areas of interest. He setup a WordPress site for me to try out, but it sat unused for a long time. I had posted a favorite image of a Cadillac, but when I went to adjust its size, I couldn't get it to be the size I wanted. I got discouraged. Once again I was fiddling with blogging tools, instead of being able to blog easily. Then one day, I went back to Dave's install of his 1999.io software and quickly produced two or three new postings with his blogging system.  I stepped back and admired how beautiful they looked and how easy it had been for me to write them. The light went on again for me. So on 2 Aug 2019 I wrote an email to Andy, "Hey Andy, any chance we could get 1999.io working on that server you set up for me?" I figured it was at least worth a try. After all, the famed and highly technical writer, Doc Searls, had been using 1999.io continually ever since Dave first made it available through open source. Heck, if Doc can do it, why can't we?  That's why I asked Andy to look into getting a 1999 install working for me on my rented server.

Around 10 Aug 2019, Andy called me on the phone. He had run into a snag, plus he was very busy in his day job, and maybe this wasn't gonna work out. I told him not to worry about it, no big deal. Maybe I could look at the WordPress installation again. I knew Andy does verrrry important work in his day job, certainly way more important than my blogging, so we agreed to drop the 1999 install project.  

Maybe two hours later, I got an email from Andy, writing "I couldn't leave it alone, I think I figured out a workaround for the 1999.io install, see if you can log into and post to this instance:"  I tried, and it worked GREAT!!! I FINALLY HAD MY OWN BLOG running on my own server and it worked just great.  

I went to work and have already produced more than 15 postings on 1999.io. It was just as easy as I had remembered and to me, the blog looked really super.  Andy had made this happen for me, with a very full plate from his regular job. I will never ever forget what a wonderful thing he has done for me!!!  

Take a look for yourself at my new Thailand Compendium Blog and tell me whether or not you agree with my opinion.  

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch  

I'm still writing and posting on my hosted micro.blog account too and plan to continue to use it as a good place for chatting with a lot of nice folks. I had started there with an incorrect expectation. Manton has always stated that he wants to encourage more blogging, but he is trying to do that by offering a site for web developers (mostly Apple folks) to try out a ton of available options. Most of that goes over my head. I'm a writer and I want to use software that is "competitive in ease-of-use and power with the other blogging systems" as Dave Winer wrote in March 2015. I'm not a blog software hobbyist. While being on micro.blog I actually felt like I became a real blogger, but I've found Dave's tools to be super easy for me to use to produce excellent professional looking output. That is, output that looks far superior to anything I have ever produced using micro.blog. Experimenters and trained web developers might easily prefer using Manton's tools. But to continue to produce my Thailand blog, I will stick with Dave's tools. And I will continue to chat with folks on micro.blog because Manton did produce a nice community there, something that Dave was never interested in creating. I now have the best of both worlds.