Taking back control over my content.
Originally published on inthemargins.ca on September 24, 2017.
One of the first times I had lunch with James Shelley, he encouraged me to take back control over my web content.
Before the advent of blogging systems, I hand-coded my own website. I was early on the Blogger bandwagon when it got released, and moved to Wordpress soon after. My content was stored on servers that I controlled, in a format that I could easily change, share, and export.
I moved to Squarespace about five years ago, after losing a bunch of my content because of a stupid mistake I made while I was tweaking with my server settings. Out of frustration, I decided to put all my writing in one place that didn’t require any effort on my part: somewhere where everything would be taken care of, where I didn’t have to do any of the work.
It wasn’t just my conversation with James that made me think of getting back in control of my content. I’ve been learning a lot about the Indie Web movement as well, where the main mantra is to always post content directly to your own domain with permalinks that you control. I’ve been thinking about all the data I post on Twitter and Tumblr, all sitting on their servers, with no way for me to make sure all that content wouldn’t disappear if the services were to go away. (I was burned by Google Reader; I don’t want to be burned again.)
A few months ago, I stopped posting to Tumblr. I also started doing research on an easy-to-use, no-effort blogging system that allowed me to have complete control over everything I posted. I found blot.im.
If you haven’t heard of blot.im before, here’s the crux of it: you post text files to a Dropbox folder, blot.im takes those text files and turns them into HTML and applies the styles you indicate in the system. Couldn’t be easier.
(I know what you’re thinking: aren’t you just beholden to blot.im and Dropbox now, for all your blogging? It may seem that way, but the truth is that all my blog posts are just simple text files. I have them saved and backed up in multiple places, and if I ever decide to leave either Dropbox or blot.im, my content is mine, and I can put something up, fresh and new, and still maintain all the content, the permalink, and the styles. It’s the best case scenario, mixing ease of use with ultimate control and portability.)
blot.im was my answer: an easy, no-effort way to maintain a blog, while maintaining complete control over my own data.
The migration to blot.im was fairly simple. (Aside from its ease of use, the absolute best feature of the service is the incredible service provided by the creator, David Merfield, and just how wonderful it is to always have someone there to answer your questions and work closely with you to solve any problems you may have.) Essentially, these are the steps I took:
- Create a blot.im account and sync it with Dropbox.
- Contact David to help me scrape all my blog posts from Squarespace to blot.im.
- Verify all the posts to make sure there were no glitches in the migration.
- Apply a custom theme using the very simple Mustachetemplating system. (I got permission to adapt a theme originally made by Sebastian Rumberg, and him and David helped me tweak it to my liking.)
- Migrate my domain name over to blot.im from Squarespace and make sure there were no broken links.
That’s it, really. Didn’t have to do anything else — none of my permalinks broke, my posts look great, and everything is saved as Markdown-compatible text files so I can do whatever I want with them. When I want to write a post (like this one), I write it in my favorite text editor on whatever device I like, export the text file to Dropbox, and the post magically appears on my blog without any further effort from me.
There’s a lot more I eventually want to do. At some point, I’d love to be able to host my microblog (my linklog has moved from Tumblr to there) on this site, but I haven’t figured out how to do that, technically. (I’m sure it’s fairly easy; I really shouldn’t have stopped learning about coding a decade ago when I gave up on it.) One day, I’d like to start “microcasting,” as inspired by Manton Reece’s Timetable.fm, but I still haven’t figured out how to do that technically, either.
There’s a lot for me to learn, but so far, I’m happy: I’m making a concerted effort to do better at owning my content (the whole Twitter thing still needs to be addressed) and not leaving it in the hands of service providers who may or may not be around in a month, a year, or a decade. I’m getting better, online and in general in life, at taking back control.