Greg Pak: Meta

Wherein I talk about the workings of this very site. THRILLING, I KNOW.

Social Media Showdown 2022 – a Personal Overview of Twitter Alternatives

Twitter has always driven more clicks to my crowdfunded projects than any other social media site. So launching a Crowdfundr campaign for my 35mm Love Letter book this month as Twitter ran through several stages of its slow-motion collapse was a bit harrowing, to say the least. But my pain may be your gain, because I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time on nearly every viable Twitter alternative, and I have some opinions to share!

Before we plunge in, here are a few personal pointers for social media usage that seem particularly relevant right now, since Twitter’s grip on privacy and safety may be slipping and the reliability of new services remains untested.

  • Don’t give any social media site your credit card info.
  • Don’t use direct messages for anything sensitive and assume that any DM might get revealed to the general public. (I’m not using them at all on most of these new sites.)
  • Assume that anything you post may be preserved forever by someone. Also assume that anything you post may be lost forever if the service goes under.
  • Be aware that many newer social media services have tiny or non-existent safety and moderation teams and proceed or not according to your personal comfort levels.

I should also note that since Twitter began its decline, I’ve spent a lot less time there, and my mental health is the better for it. Many of these social media sites are designed to maximize clicks, but have traditionally done a bad job of distinguishing between positive and negative engagement. So they’ve frequently amplified our worst tendencies, which creates a stream of bad vibes that isn’t good for my heart and brain to marinate in all day. A significant part of my business relies on social media, and I treasure the positive experiences I’ve had and friendships I’ve made there. But less social media in general seems like a good idea. For those of us who can’t log off entirely for personal or business reasons, Twitter seems likely to get even worse as disseminator of bad vibes, so finding alternatives feels especially urgent.

The Essential Functions I’m Looking For

I’ve used Twitter for the last 12 years for hobnobbing with comics industry colleagues, learning new things from folks from many different backgrounds, spreading the word about and raising money for causes and organizations important to me, plugging my books, and encouraging folks to back my crowdfunded independent publishing projects. I think Twitter has been uniquely effective in all of those things for several key reasons:

  • Critical mass of users. Twitter has been the primary place where my colleagues and readers congregate online, which means I’ve always gotten more shares and clicks from Twitter than from any other social media site.
  • Text-based social media. Yes, I make comics. Yes, I’m a filmmaker and photographer. But I’m primarily a writer, and a primarily text-based social network like Twitter just makes sense to me and lets me shine.
  • Live links in posts. If I’m plugging something on Twitter, I can post a link and people can click to it instantly. Instagram doesn’t have live links, so you have to nudge people to check out the link in your bio, which means there’s an extra step involved and clicks drop off drastically.
  • Quote-tweeting. Twitter’s quote tweet function means that friends and supporters can add a little personal note to their retweet of your links, which can be critical in getting their supporters to actually click.
  • Threading of posts. Creating a sense of drama and timeliness is key to plugging a crowdfunding campaign. When building up to a key goal or deadline, Twitter threads create a linked timeline that’s much more effective in creating real-time excitement than separate, unlinked posts.
  • Desktop functionality. I’m a myopic Gen-Xer, so I hate typing on my phone. And when plugging my projects, I need to manipulate photos and links and chunks of text quickly, which I can do more easily on a laptop than a phone. So a service that’s designed primarily for mobile is less useful to me than a service that works on my computers as well.
  • Chronological timeline. If you toggle Twitter to “Latest Tweets,” you get a reverse chronological timeline, with the latest posts first. That’s critical for anyone trying to reach people about time-sensitive events or projects or for anyone trying to find out about breaking news.

An ideal Twitter alternative would incorporate all of the above features. Do any come close? Let’s see!


You’d think that an image-sharing site like Instagram would feel like second nature for a comics creator and photographer. But the site’s never felt comfortable to me. I’ll keep plugging away there since so many folks use it and I’ve got more followers there than anywhere but Twitter, but by intentional design, Instagram doesn’t provide direct links in posts to external sites, which makes it far less useful for my purposes.


  • It’s established and popular and is a relatively known quantity when it comes to privacy, moderation, and safety.
  • The site is mainstream and easy enough to use that you don’t have to be a tech expert to manage it, so it’s got the biggest user base of any of these non-Twitter sites.


  • Instagram doesn’t display comics pages or vertical 35mm film images in their native ratios. So you have to dump vertical images into a template and add bars on either side to show them in their entirety on Instagram, and that’s very often a step too much for someone (me) who’s not getting paid to post.
  • Instagram deactivates links in posts, so to plug a project you’re working on, you have to point people to the link in your bio. But on the internet, the vast majority of people don’t click through. So having to click through twice means only a tiny fraction of a fraction of Instagram users will actually reach whatever page you’re plugging.
  • Instagram subjects your feed to aggressive algorithms, showing you what it wants you to see instead of just displaying posts from the people you follow in chronological order. So I’ll often see a friend’s post plugging an event the day after the event happened. At first that just struck me as goofy; now I’m actually offended by it. It feels like an insult to prevent grown adults from reaching each other in a rational, efficient, timely way.


Once upon a time, Tumblr was huge for the mainstream comics community. Major Marvel and DC creators pointed their personal URLs to their Tumblr pages, using the service to power their main websites. I didn’t make that much use of the site and deleted my own Tumblr page back in the day because I couldn’t turn off direct messaging from the general public, which felt like a privacy and security hole. But when Tumblr introduced a setting to enable messages only from blogs I followed, I created a new account and now have about 1,500 followers there. But I still don’t use it that much!


  • The timeline seems chronological.
  • The links in posts are live.
  • There’s been an uptick in users and interactions on the site since Twitter began to crater.
  • The folks who run Tumblr seem like a lot of fun and have run some delightfully trolly campaigns to lure folks back to the service during Twitter’s decline.


  • I’ve always been confused by the way comments and shares and likes are all jumbled together at the bottom of Tumblr posts. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very hard to follow a conversation there.
  • I’ve never really gotten much traction on Tumblr. My Kickstarters barely showed any click-through from my Tumblr posts. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never posted there that often. Maybe I should just post more? But it may also be a Tumblr culture thing — my particular kinds of projects may not be best suited for the site and its users.
  • I’ve seen a number of comics folks starting or reactivating their Tumblr accounts in the last few weeks, but the site doesn’t feel like an active hub at the moment for the comics creators and readers I’m trying to reach.


I joined Mastodon back in 2017 when Twitter’s failure to handle multiple big cases of harassment inspired a bunch of folks to look for alternatives. Mastodon made a lot of sense to me as a primarily text-based social network that looked a lot like TweetDeck, a Twitter client I’d occasionally used. And right now, I’m having more actual fun and seeing more engagement on Mastodon than any of the other Twitter alternatives. But then and now, Mastodon’s biggest virtue is also its biggest drawback.

Mastodon is part of what’s called a federated system, meaning there’s no central Mastodon social network. Instead, when you join Mastodon, you’re actually joining a single incidence of Mastodon run by someone on their private server. You can generally follow and be followed by folks on other servers, so it’s possible to kind of ignore the separate server situation and use Mastodon like Twitter to follow your individual friends, wherever they may be. But the choice of a server matters, because there are no universal moderation and privacy policies or safety teams. Each server handles those things itself.

Some folks see that as a huge advantage — a billionaire can’t buy out the entire service and arbitrarily change all the rules, for example. But the disadvantage is that the quality of the moderation, privacy, and safety enforcement on any server depends on the private individuals running that server. In fact, those individuals could choose to shut their server down completely overnight, causing all your posts and connections to vanish. So there’s a bit of impermanence to the system that’s troubling. I semi-solved that by joining the server that’s run by the main developer of the Mastodon software; I figure that server will be around as long as the software exists. But I’ve seen some folks talking about having issues with moderation on that server. One good thing is that you can switch your server and take your following and followers lists with you (but not your past posts, apparently). So in the long run I have the option of switching servers if I need to. It’s all a lot to wrap your head around! But Mastodon has some pretty key advantages at the moment.


  • Primarily text-based, which is nice for someone who was comfortable on Twitter.
  • Chronological feed, no algorithm, threading enabled. It functions more like Twitter than Instagram or any of the other current alternatives, which is a good thing in my book.
  • Default web presentation is familiar for anyone who liked Tweetdeck. There are also decent iOS apps that make the interface more Twitter-like.
  • Since Twitter began its slow decline, user interaction on Mastodon has gone way up for me. I have just 3,700 followers on Mastodon versus 51,000 followers on Twitter. But a post on Mastodon will often get roughly the same or even more likes or comments as the same post on Twitter. The place feels pretty populated, with something new and interesting on my feed every time I log in.
  • Great for analog film nerds like me. There’s been a big influx of film photographers on Mastodon who post under the #BelieveInFilm hashtag, and that’s been a huge pleasure. There’s also a comics community slowly forming. The great Steve Lieber is a fantastic follow on Mastodon if you’re interested in comics.


  • The effort to wrap your head around the federated system and pick a server is a big disincentive for mass adoption. Thousands of new users are nonetheless signing up for the service every week. But unless/until it becomes a bit simpler, it seems unlikely to achieve the same mass reach as Twitter.
  • The federated system means that folks are joining individual servers that may not have the capacity or interest in providing the moderation, privacy, and safety support that users expect.
  • There’s no quote tweeting on Mastodon, which may or may not be a disadvantage depending on your perspective. No quote tweeting limits others from personalizing their boosts of my crowdfunding projects, for example, but it also limits quote tweet dunking that can lead to context collapse and harassment. Then again, that might seem to be a disadvantage because it also limits accountability for big accounts that say ridiculous things. I’m not a big quote tweet dunker, so it’s not a big issue for me personally, but I understand the critique.


Username “gregpak” on the Hive Social app

Over a three day period a couple of weeks ago, it seemed that the entire Star Wars creator and fan community decided to open accounts on the Hive Social mobile app, which opened the floodgates for the comics community to move in. And for a glorious week or so, Hive really became a hive for pretty delightful nerdy hijinks. But then folks discovered major security issues and the whole service shut down for a few weeks — which felt like a decade in The-Last-Days-of-Twitter era — and since the service has returned, engagement seems much lower. Given how many comics creators signed up for Hive, I’m really rooting for its success. But it’s absolutely a work-in-progress and it’s important to be aware of its issues.


  • A fresh, friendly, familiar interface that feels like a more text-and-link-friendly version of Instagram. (Yes, links are live.)
  • A massive influx of comics people made the place feel active and fun for a while — and that vibe could return if users felt the incentive to post more.
  • Unlike Instagram, Hive displays vertical images in their native ratios and thus doesn’t require an extra step of optimizing with clunky templates.


  • According to a November interview, Hive is run by literally three people and does not appear to have dedicated moderation or privacy teams. The app has “Block” and “Report” buttons. But I’d love to hear more from the developers about what they’re doing to ensure user safety.
  • Hive only runs natively on mobile. That’s a huge disadvantage to users like me who prefer to work on laptops or desktops. You can actually download and open the iOS version of Hive on the more modern Macs. But it pops up as a small iPhone-shaped-and-sized screen and it’s not much fun to operate. It also no longer works for me on the Mac after the most recent Hive updates.
  • You can’t thread posts on Hive. Instead, each post is like a blog post with its own little comment section. That limits real-time live-posting, sharing, and conversation.
  • With no web presence, Hive provides no direct links to Hive posts, which makes the service more insular than it could be and complicates archiving. Jamie Zawinski regards this lack of interoperability as a fatal flaw and his post is worth reading.
  • To post images on Hive via an iPhone, you have to import your media into the Photos app — you can’t post from Dropbox, for example. That’s added friction that makes posting more time-consuming, which is annoying for a non-paid poster like me.
  • Hive hasn’t yet added alt-text for images, which is a minus for accessibility.
  • The Hive app is being updated and improved every week and many of the disadvantages listed above should be addressed in time, but it remains a bit buggy at the moment.


Like Instagram and Hive, Post works like a stripped-down blog, with each entry having its own little comment section. So there’s no threading and less open conversation. But the real drag on the service for me is that its biggest users right now seem to be journalists, news organizations, and semi-famous-to-famous celebrity activists. This is no knock on those folks personally! But the vibe of the site feels more formal than fun for me right now, as if everyone’s account is a semi-respectable blog with crafted mini-essays instead of off-the-cuff tweets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — I like well-written blogs! The bigger issue is that I haven’t found much of a comics or camera community on Post, so the experience feels thin to me.


I registered for Cohost back in early November but just got approved to actually post this last week. I can’t say that much about the site because I’m not following enough people — but I’m not following enough people because of what feels like a major flaw in the system for me. Cohost doesn’t publicly display users’ followers or following lists, which means I can’t browse my friends’ following lists to find familiar names to follow, which is usually the first thing I do when I sign up for any social media service. I understand that could be a big bonus for some folks for privacy reasons, but it makes the site largely unusable for me at the moment. I can tell that that Cohost is built like Instagram, Post, and Hive as a microblogging site with individual posts with their own comment sections. I can’t yet say anything about how well it works because there’s very little for me to see or interact with right now.


I was excited to see Eric Holthaus’s announcement of Project Mushroom as a new social media site for climate activists and other progressively inclined folks. I was a touch less excited when I learned it would basically be a new Mastodon server. But I still backed the Kickstarter and joined because I loved the promise of an active, paid moderation team, which feels absolutely essential for the long term success of any Twitter alternative.

Then I heard that there would be a second Project-Mushroom-related Mastodon server called Spore, which confused me. Ultimately, I’ve learned that the Project Mushroom server will be a walled garden wherein only folks who are signed up for Project Mushroom can see and follow you. Spore, on the other hand, is a public server, meaning folks outside of the server can see your posts and you can follow and be followed by folks on non-Spore and non-Project Mushroom servers.

Yes, this is all a bit much to take in! No, I don’t really want two Mastodon accounts from one organization! And yet I remain intrigued by and am rooting for Project Mastodon/Spore because of the promise of paid moderation.

Have I used Project Mastodon and Spore? Barely! Functionally, they’re pretty much just like my main Mastodon account, so that’s comfortable enough. But as with Cohost, I don’t have a big enough follow list on the sites for the experience to feel substantial to me yet. But I’m keeping a very interested eye on them. Ultimately, if I’m uncomfortable with moderation on my current Mastodon host, I could imagine up moving my main Mastodon account over to Spore to take advantage of the paid moderation.


I can’t actually review Spoutible because it hasn’t launched yet. But I’m awaiting Christopher Bouzy’s new social media site with great anticipation. Bouzy runs Bot Sentinel, so he’s well acquainted with questions of moderation, safety, and harassment on social media and is presumably building Spoutible accordingly. I’ve preregistered for the service and look forward to testing it when it launches next month.


During the course of the 35mm Love Letter campaign, Twitter still brought in the most clicks for me — huge thanks to everyone who shared and backed! But engagement on Twitter felt several ticks lower in comparison to my previous crowdfunding campaigns. That’s partly because I was running the campaign between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is a ridiculous time to try to get folks’ attention. But I think it’s also because a decent number of my comics and book friends have deleted their Twitter accounts or simply backed away from the site, which meant fewer eyeballs on my posts and fewer shares.

So I was very happy to have a presence on other sites that could give me additional places to plug the project. Both Mastodon and Hive moved the needle in terms of reaching people and getting folks to actually back. I had about 3,600 followers on Mastodon at the time and had made some friends in the #BelieveInFilm community there, which helped a lot. Hive went down a couple of days before I launched and only came back on the second to last day of the campaign, but friends in the comics community shared my posts and I got some clicks and backers as a result.

I can’t quite tell how much of an impact Instagram had on the campaign, but I know a number of friends shared my posts in their stories. I may have more “civilian” friends from outside the comics community on Instagram than anywhere else, and I suspect that many of them found out about the project there. I have no idea what Tumblr or Post or Project Mushroom did for the campaign. But I was happy to post there, because you never know when or where someone will take notice and finally make the critical clicks.

But to answer my question at the outset, none of the Twitter alternatives I’m trying out feels like a true Twitter replacement. Overall, Mastodon is the most fun place for me to hang out and post — there just seems to be more interaction there than on other sites and the interface has the most Twitter-like features. But each of these alternatives is missing certain features or qualities that prevent it from becoming a new mass public square.

Still, I could see a number of these services becoming great places to reach certain communities. Mastodon felt like a great place to reach analog film photographers; Hive felt like a decent place for comics creators and readers. That’s encouraging — niche marketing is fantastic for indie crowdfunding projects, and I’d be thrilled to have reliable places to reach different communities.

Sadly, that’s also an exhausting future to imagine for indie creators. We’re already overwhelmed by the responsibility to be our own publicists and marketers. Having to cobble together followings on a bunch of Twitter alternatives to keep reaching different segments of our audiences sounds really tiring, particularly since it’s unclear which of the current sites will survive more than a year or two.

I’ve always been a HUGE believer in email newsletters and blogs and personal websites. Again, it’s a lot of work, but it feels essential to me as an independent creator to maintain a website and newsletter that don’t depend on other people’s platforms, websites, or services. And my newsletter and the mailing lists I’ve built through my various Kickstarter projects over the years were critical in getting word out about 35mm Love Letter. But a newsletter by itself doesn’t generate the kind of ongoing excitement in real time that a crowdfunding project really needs. Social media, for better or for worse, remains essential for getting the word out and building participatory urgency and drama.

So as Twitter continues to fragment, I’ll keep trying out these social media alternatives and see what’s what. And if no new overall town square arises, I’ll have to figure out what little separate neighborhoods I need to connect with and build up separate little home bases in those distinct places.

Best wishes to every other creator or organizer or activist struggling with the same problems. Here’s hoping this article has been helpful, and if you have any insights to share, please feel free to let me know on Mastodon!

Fixing a SpamAssassin false positive for a WordPress/MailPoet newsletter

With the possible collapse of Twitter on the horizon, I’ve become more obsessed than ever with shoring up my personal website/blog and email newsletter. So I was pretty distressed when my last two newsletters were only opened by 21 percent of recipients instead of the usual 44 or 45 percent.

I dug through my records and rediscovered the fantastic website, which will give you a spam rating on a test email. I sent them my latest newsletter and got back a shocking rating of 6.9 (not so nice). The biggest deduction was -2.499 for “URI_WP_HACKED_2 – URI for compromised WordPress site, possible malware.”

Hacked? Malware? That’s terrifying!

But a quick search turned up a support page in which a MailPoet support person said that that flag “is a false-positive, probably because you included social icons in your newsletter or because it doesn’t identify the shortcodes added to the newsletter as valid URLs, for example.”

So I deleted the social icons at the bottom of my newsletter, resubmitted it to, and got back a lovely score of 9.4! We’ll see if this really solved the problem when I send out my next newsletter — cross your fingers for me!

I’m very happy to have presumably figured out the problem, but this is also a good reminder that running your own website and newsletter isn’t necessarily easy! I absolutely think it’s worth the time and effort — even essential given how important crowdfunding independent projects has been to my career. But it’s only been feasible because I’ve had the time and inclination to turn myself into a kind of amateur expert in the technical issues involved with running my own website and newsletter.

We’re living in weird times, and they’ll continue to get weirder. I’ll keep posting here as I grapple with this all. At the very least, I hope these little tech support notes-to-self will be helpful to others as they stumble across similar issues.

Sign up for my email newsletter and get a 20% discount code for the Greg Pak Shop!

Hulk with letter, drawn by Marie Severin

Some big news – I’m going to reopen my online store for a couple of weeks so you can buy signed books for the holidays!

And if you sign up for my email newsletter today, I’ll send you a 20 percent discount code that you can use for your first purchase at the store when it reopens!

We’re living in a strange time that’s exposing the fragility of the social networks we use to connect. But even if ever social network falls apart, I’ll still be running my own email newsletter and website as long as I’m working. So sign up today and you’ll always have a way to find out what I’m up to!

And the store’s gonna be filled with awesome signed stuff that you’re gonna want, so that 20 percent discount will be pretty nice!

Thanks so much and stay safe out there, as always!

Great post from Andy Daly about turning from tweeting to blogging (or “twarting”)

Andy Daly's website graphic

Andy Daly, a brilliant comic and an old acquaintance from my New York City improv days, has written a very funny and thought-provoking post about his decision to step the hell away from daily posting on Twitter in favor of blogging — or “twarting,” as he puts it.

I very highly recommend you click away from this page and go read his post right now. Then come back for more of my brilliant thoughts!

Andy does a great job of describing the social and political pitfalls of Twitter. But this passage hit me particularly hard:

It seems that after 12 years of tweeting, I have quietly trained my brain to compose tweets all the time.  In the early days of my Twitter self-banning, I kept coming up with dumb, trivial, concise notions that were designed to be shared with the world.  I kept thinking “well, maybe I’ll tweet just this one thing”, but instead, summoning really very impressive will power wouldn’t you say, I opened the Notes app on my phone and tapped my tweet in there.

I strongly suspect that as as a fellow person in comedy, Andy, like me, spent years of his youth coming up with jokes and one-liners all the time and scribbling them down in a little notebook. So Twitter was perfectly designed for us, and we were/are pretty great at it! But posting jokes on Twitter serves masters other than ourselves and can create a less than healthy dynamic of approval-seeking that Andy wryly refers to when he “praises” the site for allowing him to “most meaningfully, [attract] attention to myself whenever I needed some.”

I missed Andy’s post when he published it back in September, but strangely, right around the same time, I was undertaking a similar project, revamping this website and amping up my blogging — mostly by going into excruciating detail about my renewed obsession with analog photography.

So I love Andy’s new (old) blog, and I particularly dig the fact that he’s letting himself write both longer posts and short bon mots he’s dubbed “twarts.” I’m not going to use his terminology, because he strangely insists “twarts” is a combination of “tweets” and “darts” instead of “tweets” and “farts,” and that’s a little too classy for me. But I am going to take inspiration from him and let myself write more very short posts on this blog about whatever, because that seems like fun.

This is also inspiring me to do a bit more research into finding a good old-school blog reader. If I can get a few more cool blogs like Andy’s into a nice app, I’ll have a great place to go other than Twitter when I want to read some funny/insightful stuff, and that’ll be a good thing.

So thanks, Andy! Also please join my web ring?

Aaaaand… another website redesign update!

Yes, I stayed up past 3 am last night working on a website revamp. Yes, that was too late. No, I couldn’t stay away from it today.

But YES, I am very pleased with where I am now!

I thought I was just going to dive in for a few minutes to do a little more customization of the Twenty Twelve WordPress theme I installed yesterday. But instead, I got annoyed with the wasted white space at the top of the page and started poking around looking for a new theme. And after a bit of searching, I installed a theme called Twenty Fourteen — and I kind of love it!

Screenshot of the home page using the Twenty Fourteen WordPress theme.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Twenty Fourteen allows for a header image that’s flush with the top of the page. I understand the use of open space is a big part of giving websites a free, minimalist, airy feel. But it feels like too much if there’s so much open space above and below the header image that you have to scroll to read the first paragraph or two in the first post. So I dig this!

The title and nav bar then live on the same horizontal line, which again saves vertical space. And excitingly, the items in the navigation bar can be turned into nested, green drop down menus! I’m using those to provide handy links to some of my most current or prominent work. There’s a glitch that doesn’t let you keep scrolling those drop down menus if they’re longer than your screen, so I had to keep the number of items in them down. But that’s more manageable anyway.

The theme also provides columns on the left and the right, which gave me enough room to add a widget on the right with covers and links to some of my new work. And I was able to get my branding in by sticking my Pak Man Productions logo onto the top of the left column, where it feels just right.

Everything shifts dynamically to render nicely on any screen — on handheld devices, the line of menu items under the header image becomes a single button with a dropdown menu and full blog entries shrink into clickable headlines. The left column goes away and its contents get added to the bottom of the page when you narrow your screen past a certain point. And when you go even further, the right column goes away and gets added to the bottom as well. It requires a bit of thinking to make sure all the critical info is in a good place to be seen on all devices with these varying ways of displaying things, but it’s great that I’ve now got a site that people on all devices can enjoy without fuss.

The whole thing also inspired me to finally clean up and add some descriptions to the category pages for my most prominent work. So now when you click on “Wave” in the dropdown menu, for example, you get a little description of the character’s origins and where she appears and where you can buy the books.

Finally, I’m much happier with the way this theme displays the categories and date of each post. It’s just cleaner and better designed to differentiate posts from each other and clearly show when they were written. I think I’d still prefer if the date were at the top and the categories were beneath the headline, and I’m not sure I love that the headlines render in all-caps. But those are quibbles. It’s a big improvement over where we were just 24 hours ago.

I’m staying off Twitter as much as possible these days, but if you read this and have thoughts or notice any bugs or glitches, please do feel free to tell me on Twitter!

Website redesign update

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been up ’til 3 am goofing around with web design, so I guess I was due for it. Going to bed now, but wanted to keep track of what I did tonight.

  1. I switched my WordPress theme from a modified Codium Extended to a theme called Twenty Twelve. Actually pretty similar, but Twenty Twelve is a little more generous with spacing, which helps make the difference between posts and other elements clearer.
  2. I got rid of the custom header I’d added in HTML to the Codium header php page. It had the benefit of incorporating custom graphics for menu buttons and it incorporated my logo. But it wasn’t a native part of the theme and it broke some formatting on iPhones. I need to acknowledge that a huge percentage of people are viewing the internet on mobile, so it was time to let it go.
  3. I tweaked some of the layout of the standard Twelve Twelve theme — putting the menu beneath the header graphic instead of above it. Or did I put the title over the graphic instead of below it? Can’t remember exactly. But I like the current arrangement better.
  4. Futzed around with social media buttons that weren’t rendering on Safari. I think it was a problem with clear backgrounds on gifs. Redid them as jpegs with filled in white backgrounds and they rendered. Weird!
  5. Fooled around with various ways to get my logo in there. I’d like to find a place for it, just for branding. No success just yet. Ideally, I’d have it in place of the HOME link in the menu. But these WordPress themes don’t allow you to replace text menu links with images. And I don’t know CSS well enough to figure out how to tweak the pages to slot it in. I fooled around and tried to see if I could just toss in some of my old HTML to do it, but… nope. I could throw it into a widget in the right hand column, maybe with a little “About” text. But that feels inelegant and a waste of space. I also tried incorporating it into the main graphic on the page, which probably could work. I can also put in a variety of main graphics that I think will do a slide show thing, so it could be part of that, maybe.

So I think I like the results. It’s cleaner and works better on multiple devices. But is it… blander? Less organic? I dunno! Maybe! I think overall it’s a bit better than the last version. But here are a few things I’d like to work on more:

  1. Maybe the basic font size could be a little bigger?
  2. That logo thing.
  3. In the previous version, I had a space for a second line of menu links where I listed a few of my best known books and the link to the Bill Mantlo donation page. Don’t have that space here because I’m working with the basic templates instead of a custom header. Maybe I can work that into a widget on the right?
  4. There miiiight be a little too much white space between posts?
  5. I should make a few more banner images and see what they look like with the randomizer turned on. I don’t know if it does a moving slide show or if a different one shows up when you go to a different page.
  6. The really ambitious thing would be to learn how to build a custom header that works organically with the CSS instead of being an old school HTML hack. If I figured that out, I could have a nice header that included my logo and had a big more designed feel to it.
  7. A thing I need to wrap my head around is that this particular design is really an image delivery device. The visual punch of the site will come from the images I post, not from the overall design of the page. So it’s a touch hard to gauge it when most of the latest posts are mostly text. Gonna have to live with it a bit and see.
  8. I should rearrange the meta tags along the bottoms of the posts. Right now they say, “This entry was posted in CATEGORY on DATE by Greg.” I can delete “by Greg.” And maybe lead with the date. Pretty sure I made this kind of tweak in the Codium theme, but I haven’t found where to do it here yet.
  9. Another big ambitious thing would be to figure out how to add breadcrumb navigation to individual pages. Like “Home > Category > Individual Post Title.” Used to have that way back when I was running the site on MoveableType, but I’ve never figured out how to reproduce it in WordPress. Literally no one’s asking for it, but it feels like it could be nice.

All right. It’s way too late. Off to bed, more later!

Website weirdness warning

Just a heads up that I’m fiddling with the website tonight – trying out some different headers. Everything should remain functional. But the top of the site will periodically look funky. No need to worry; please carry on!

Tech support update: fixed the newsletter!

newsletter stats graphic showing 30.8 open rate

I was horrified to confirm yesterday that due to a website configuration error, a huge percentage of the people who subscribed to my newsletter haven’t been getting my emails for over a year. My best guess is that at least two thirds of the emailed newsletters were ending up in spam folders!

But I’m thrilled to report that after a couple of hours of googling things like DNS, DMARC, DKIM, and CNAME, I identified the problem and found the right places to make the right tweaks — and things are working again! My latest newsletter currently has a 30.8 percent open rate, which is about triple the average open rate of all of my newsletters since May 2020, when the configuration error apparently first manifested.

I can’t help but grieve a bit over the hundreds of unopened emails that I sent during the pandemic. But I’m comforted that moving forward, I’ll be able to reach so many more folks through a mailing list that’s completely separate from social media companies. And that’s feeling more and more necessary every day, since I’m making an effort to stay away from Twitter as much as possible.

Twitter is where I’ve built most of my internet presence over the years. I’ve laughed like hell, learned a lot, made dozens of real friends, reached readers, sold books, raised many dollars for great causes, and helped pull thousands of people into various events and volunteer activities for nonprofits and political groups. All that’s tremendous! And yes, I’ll still pop in there to cheer on colleagues and causes and spread the word about my own stuff – heck, a link to this very post will be automatically cross-posted on Twitter when I hit “Publish.”

But Twitter is also a magnifier of the very worst tendencies of our culture. Its business model depends on interaction, good or bad, and like Facebook, it’s been inexcusably slow to enforce its own policies against harassment and bigotry. And even beyond the most obvious negatives, Twitter creates an expectation of unending access and observation that can be exhausting. Yes, I want to be informed and responsible and active in the world. But Twitter’s not the only place for that. Everyone’s got a different, valid position on all of this, and no doubt some day when I’m goofing around on social media, a good friend will point at this post and give me a sardonic look. But at this moment, on a personal level, I’m realizing that I’m healthier when I’m off Twitter, so off Twitter is where I’m trying to spend most of my time.

So I’m thinking about other ways to both take in information and reach out, which explains why I’m so ridiculously excited to have solved this goofy technical issue with my newsletter. And I’m deeply pleased with myself for figuring out how to edit the CSS to tweak the paragraph spacing of posts on my website to make them more readable, because here I am blogging again like it’s 1999.

If you’re reading this, you’re joining me on this retro journey, and I appreciate you so much. Thank you.

(And if you haven’t already, please do feel free to sign up for the newsletter here!)

Tweaking my website and blog strategies in 2020

I launched my first website to tout my early short films approximately one million years ago in 1999 using the “members” section of I can’t find my archive of the original index page, but I did find my splash page image, which I assure you I thought was AWESOME. ENJOY!

Greg Pak 1999 website image

Over the years, I’ve upgraded my website multiple times. First, I moved my static pages off onto to a webhosting service with my own url. Then I added webring code (yes! webrings!) and cgi scripts for message boards and comments and all the other stuff we did back then. I was typing up HTML for updates and indexes in chronological order — essentially hand-coding a blog before we even had the word “blog.” At some point, MoveableType popped up and I converted the site into an actual blog with automated tools for posting and indexing. Years later, I finally accepted the fact that MoveableType was gone and converted the site to WordPress, which is where we are today. For the past eight years or so, it’s been essentially the same creature, but with social media links and embedded media and a better newsletter sign-up process.

But every few years, I find myself fixing some small glitch on the site and I end up rethinking things a bit. Last night was one of those times. I had trouble sending out my latest newsletter through the MailPoet plugin (problems that I still haven’t entirely solved), and as part of the troubleshooting I started upgrading various plugins. And eventually, like a dope, I upgraded the Codium Extended theme that provides the visual backbone of my site. Unfortunately, I’d made a hundred tweaks to the Codium templates to get my site to look the way I wanted, and the upgrade overwrote all those tweaks. Huge disaster! But I was able to find a 2016 backup and was also able to grab the source code of a cached page of one of my posts from one of my browsers, so after a panicky hour and a half, I had the site back in shape.

The bonus of that big goof was that all that poking around in the guts of WordPress got me to finally wrap my head around how works (as opposed to and try out a few new (to me) things that I hope will help get my posts out to more eyeballs. is the organization that makes and distributes the WordPress software. That “org” at the end of the URL tells you it’s a nonprofit — it distributes the free software you can install on your own server to run WordPress for your own website., on the other hand, is a business that sells you hosting services for WordPress blogs. I run my site on my own, so I got my software from But I’m using the Jetpack services for stats and backups that I pay for and manage through It’s been a while since I set everything up, so I’d kind of forgotten how this all works! But while digging back into everything, I finally educated myself about one of the other big benefits of You can use your account not just to manage your blog, but to follow and read other people’s WordPress blogs!

Yes, and the WordPress app have very, very nice readers that allow you to follow and easily scroll through and read a bunch of blogs. The interface is great — I like it more than Feedly (a similar blog aggregator). The biggest minus is that the WordPress Reader only works with WordPress blogs, as far as I can tell. But I’ve been looking to spend less time scrolling through Twitter and more time digging into longer articles, so this is very interesting to me as a reader.

But I’m even more intrigued as a creator.

I’ve recently seen various writer colleagues on Twitter musing about blogging, thinking about diving back into it. Folks like John Scalzi never stopped, of course. But for most of us, blogging began to feel too time consuming with not enough payoff — quick posts on Twitter almost always get tons more traction than a longer blog post. But as wonderful as Twitter can be, it’s also a garbage can full of distraction, lies, and harassment. And any social network could become unusable overnight if it’s sold or if its owners decide to monetize it differently. Conversely, we own our own blogs. Until the whole system of assigning URLs and building websites gets ripped out of our hands, folks can always find us there. So anything that encourages readers to visit our independent blogs on a regular basis strikes me as fantastic.

The payoff to this long story? I’m now following blogs using the app and I’m going to look for ways to encourage more people to follow my own site there — and to follow it through other services like Feedly. I’ve also discovered and enabled the widget that allows people to subscribe to my website. They enter their email and WordPress will automatically send them an email whenever a new post goes live. It’s a bit confusing because I also have a newsletter that folks can subscribe to. So folks visiting my site for the first time might get a little confused about the differences. I’ll have to figure out how to explain that succinctly on the site. But for now, it’s at least one more way folks can choose to hear about my stuff — and you can try it out by entering your email right up there on the upper right of this page!

Finally taking advantage of these tools feels important, and I’m pretty darn proud of myself. But I know that nothing matters more than posting good, useful writing. When I look back over my site’s greatest hits, I’ve always gotten the most visitors when I’ve posted something special they can’t find anywhere else. The challenge for working writers is finding the time to post that special stuff when we’re grappling with weekly, daily, and sometimes hourly deadlines. I’m still figuring it out! But digging around on the tech side always makes my website feel like a fun new toy, so I’m hopeful that you’ll see more posts like this in the near future.

A last point: the massive success of of social media comes from those fun little buttons allow you to instantly share what you dig with everyone who follows you. None of the blog aggregators I’ve been looking at quite reproduce that kind of seamless sharing. So I’ll keep looking, and in the meantime I’ll continue to use my social media accounts to push my blog posts, and I’ll do better at reading and sharing blog posts from friends. And I’ll report back if anything seems to be really working!

Some personal news…

Finally deleted Facebook. This is just to let you know that if you see anyone on Facebook posting from this point on claiming to be me, it ain’t.

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