How to Internet: Publishing

As you get bet­ter at the inter­net, you’ll likely start to feel a desire to share some­thing with the world. Thank­fully, the inter­net is awash with tech­no­lo­gies that make that easy and pain­less.

Out­side of Face­book, the can-be-used-for pub­lish­ing plat­form that most civil­ians are likely to have heard about is Twit­ter, which hardly qual­i­fies as a pub­lish­ing plat­form. If you’re ever look­ing for an old tweet, you’ll quickly real­ize that the medi­um is built to be short-lived. That’s not an inher­ently bad thing, but any­one who has the com­pul­sion to record their thoughts in a pub­lic way prob­ably doesn’t want to do so on such an eph­em­er­al plat­form. Add to that the char­ac­ter lim­it and I would con­tend that any­one try­ing to use Twit­ter for much more than fool­ing around is act­ing fool­ishly. So, one won­ders, how do I pub­lish things in a pub­lic way so they can be found later?

My answer, at least for any word pub­lish­ing (I’ve nev­er tried to pub­lish lots of pho­tos, video, or audio, so I can offer no expert­ise) is to use either Tumblr or Word­Press (either fla­vor).

Lloyd has a Tumblr, which I like, and it illus­trates one of the cent­ral strengths of Tumblr. For pulling togeth­er dis­par­ate media types and pub­lish­ing them quickly, I don’t think a bet­ter tool exists. And even though it was really built for that, there are oth­er ways to use Tumblr. More than a few hip design­er-types use it for blogs very much like this one.

But com­pared to Word­Press, Tumblr’s fea­tures for a com­plete per­son­al blog are some­what lack­ing. It’s cer­tainly not ter­rible, it’s just not as awe­some and adapt­able as a self-hos­ted install­a­tion of Word­Press. Lone Gun­man is online because of a self-hos­ted Word­Press install­a­tion, as are my sites. Self-hos­ted Word­Press offers a wealth of fea­tures Tumblr doesn’t have, like auto­mat­ic post revi­sions, full cat­egory and tag sup­port, and the abil­ity to access your posts in thou­sands of dif­fer­ent way with just a little PHP know-how.

But if you’re just get­ting star­ted, self-hos­ted does have the ser­i­ous down­side of requir­ing you to have and main­tain your own serv­er space. That’s where WordPress.com comes in, it’s more dir­ectly com­par­able to Tumblr—only requir­ing you to cre­ate a log in for it to work—but it also offers fea­tures like post revi­sions, as well as a great full-screen writ­ing view, and a bevy of things not men­tioned. (If you’re inter­ested, I recently made a longer write-up of the Tumblr vs WordPress.com ques­tion.)

Lest we for­get, there are also a num­ber of tools oth­er than those two, both free and paid. Not­able free ones include: Google’s Blog­ger (which, after what feels like a dec­ade of neg­lect, finally has an inter­est­ing-look­ing future), Pos­ter­ous, Joomla, Live­Journ­al, and Drupal. Some paid ones are Type­pad and Move­able Type (tech­nic­ally free or paid), Squarespace, and Expres­sion­En­gine. In both cat­egor­ies there are cer­tainly even more I can’t think of. I don’t have enough exper­i­ence with any of those to have much guid­ance about them, but if you don’t like Tumblr or Word­Press, they’re all cer­tainly viable options.

Really, though, the import­ance of the tool you use to pub­lish pales in com­par­is­on to the way in which you use it. An act­ive Tumblr may be mar­gin­ally worse for long-form writ­ing than Word­Press, but it’s vastly bet­ter than a dis­used Word­Press site. And that’s hard work that I don’t nearly have the abil­ity to cov­er this week. If you’re look­ing to actu­ally get some help with that, please allow me to recom­mend Mer­lin Mann’s ouvre, and par­tic­u­larly this little riff about mak­ing the clack­ity noise.

What you should write about, when, with what fre­quency, those are all non-trivi­al ques­tions, but I’d again emphas­ize that they pale in com­par­is­on to the import­ance of doing work rather than think­ing about it.

And a final point: writ­ing, espe­cially on the inter­net, is hardly the quick­est path to fame and for­tune. If you’re only inter­ested in pub­lish­ing stuff on the inter­net for that reas­on, get out now. The prob­ab­il­ity you’ll find more than heart­break and frus­tra­tion down that road to fame is lot­tery-win­ning small.

I don’t mean to end on a crush­ing note. There’s huge value in inter­net pub­lish­ing bey­ond its minute poten­tial for sav­ing you from ever need­ing “a real job.” But for a while I thought it would have that poten­tial for me and it didn’t. Instead, what I got was an unex­pec­ted com­munity of people to learn from, and a chance to work with people like Lloyd. People inter­ested in mak­ing good stuff on the inter­net, even if it nev­er gets us any­thing. That’s the reas­on to try your hand at web-pub­lish­ing: it’s a beach-head onto the wider world of sub­stant­ive accom­plish­ment and rela­tion­ships in a way that no Twit­ter account or Face­book page is. But it hardly guar­an­tees you of any­thing but a mod­est square of sand.