I launched my first website to tout my early short films approximately one million years ago in 1999 using the “members” section of aol.com. 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!
Over the years, I’ve upgraded my website multiple times. First, I moved my static pages off aol.com onto to a webhosting service with my own gregpak.com 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 WordPress.com works (as opposed to WordPress.org) and try out a few new (to me) things that I hope will help get my posts out to more eyeballs.
WordPress.org 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. WordPress.com, 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 WordPress.org. But I’m using the Jetpack services for stats and backups that I pay for and manage through WordPress.com. 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 WordPress.com. You can use your account not just to manage your blog, but to follow and read other people’s WordPress blogs!
Yes, WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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!