The Prodigal Returns…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

My last post on this blog dates from more than two and a half years ago (June 2007). To be brutally honest, I’d set up the account for the purely mercenary reason of obtaining an API Key for my self-hosted WordPress blog – the much missed (by me, anyway) SFreaders.com – which I’d just installed on a newly purchased domain. That one was always going to be the main blog, a more specialized one, but I did state at that time my intention of keeping this one up and running for posts and rants of a much more general nature.

I did originally have the bright idea of having several separate blogs for my main interests, as I already had four blogs at my disposal – my self-hosted WordPress blog, this one on wordpress.com, and one each on livejournal.com and blogspot.com. However, that approach quickly proved to be a bit over-ambitious and not so great an idea in the longer term. So I made a couple of posts here, and then… nothing. I stopped using this blog altogether.

So what happened? Well, the honest truth is, I’m more of a “one blog person”, not like all those other guys out there who seem to have blogs all over the place, and are making zillions of posts every day. I have enough trouble keeping one blog at a time running, without trying to juggle a whole bunch of them, and I don’t have enough free time to post so much anyway.

Even on a single blog, I’m not a prolific poster at the best of times, and I suffer badly from depression, going through spells when I post very little, and during which I have little interest in anything. Even during a good spell, a couple of posts per week is decent going for me. I like to make long posts, not little snippets or soundbites, and I like taking my time over two or three days to think about what I want to say. I also prefer breaks in between posting, taking a breather to marshal ideas for the next one. I also prefer to post when I feel the urge to, rather than give in to the constant pressure to churn out a lot of crap posts by the clock, just so I can boast that I’ve made so many posts per week on my blog.

With my “slow but steady” approach, on a single blog, I could build up to a fairly healthy body of posts over time. But spread those posts out over a number of blogs, and it starts to look pretty lousy, resulting in several “undernourished” blogs rather than a single strong one. Those blogs tend to die off due to disinterest and lack of posts. I’d rather focus on a single blog, which would receive my undivided attention, and which would be be much more likely to last the course in the long one.

So I concentrated on my main blog, and allowed this one and the others I have scattered over the ‘net to lie idle. For a year and a half, things ran smoothly. Aside from a few fallow patches during which the depression kicked in (it seems to come and go in “waves”) and posts were very sparse, the total number of postings increased steadily over time, until it was by far my most sustained effort… ever… at maintaining an ongoing online presence. I’m into a very wide range of topics, and the well was never going to run dry with regards to having material to post, at least during the periods when the depression didn’t sap my will to post (or do anything in general). Things were building up, slowly but steadily, and overall I was well pleased with myself, and had great plans for the future direction of my blog.

Then disaster struck. One morning I switched on my computer, booted up Firefox, and clicked on my blog. It wasn’t there anymore. There’d been a couple of downtime glitches before, but I knew from the onscreen error messages that this time was different, and this wasn’t a temporary problem. My ISP had suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, gone belly-up, taking my blog (and doubtless many, many others) with it. All that work, all those posts, a year and a half of serious effort, building that bloody blog up, with big ideas for even greater things down the line. Gone. All gone. I just sat there, staring at my monitor, totally sick to my stomach. I’d made the fatal mistake of choosing my ISP unwisely.

The WordPress self-hosting experiment had died a sudden and painful death, and I gave up in disgust, not having the heart to start up again somewhere else (despite having saved everything from the old blog). I was so pissed off that I didn’t even have the slightest interest in starting up from scratch again with another hosting service, so I decided to take a long time out to think about what I was going to do. Even at this present point in time, I still haven’t really regained any enthusiasm for self-hosting a blog, and, for more than a year now, I’ve been dithering and dithering, drifting about, undecided as to what approach I’d take next. Did I even want to go down that same path again? What other options were there?

Well, at least the time out gave me a lot of time to reflect on the entire experience and to think about the overall positive -vs- negative aspects of self-hosting. As I see it, the “plus” things I liked about my self-hosted blog as opposed to the service here on wordpress.com were the sheer extra power, flexibility, and the ability to configure stuff, mainly themes, css and php code. Learn enough css and php, and you can do pretty much anything with a WordPress self-hosted blog.

The problem is, these “plus” things also turned out to be a liability, for me, at least. I’m no expert – I’m not a beginner, either, but I fall under the heading of “knows enough to be dangerous”. Combine that with my compulsive need to tinker, and it’s an explosive mixture. In extreme cases this could result in a non-functioning blog – luckily enough I’m not that stupid. But I did spend an unacceptable amount of time tinkering with css and php, messing with themes, etc, rather than actually posting. Maybe fewer options would’ve been better for someone like me.

Another thing I found was that, yes, a self-hosted WordPress blog may be way more configurable and powerful than the more limited wordpress.com version, but it also takes a lot more work to maintain it. In general, I found that the administration of my blog, whilst not too difficult, took up a lot of my time. The constant stream of upgrades seemed to come far too quickly – it feels like you’ve hardly installed an upgrade when there’s another one landing down the pipe, and you have to go through the same thing all over again.

Despite the process becoming a bit more automated over time, it was still a pain, and I found a few niggling little problems each time I upgraded, which prevented my blog operating at full efficiency. It seemed that I was spending far more time on maintaining WordPress upgrades than I actually wanted to, rather than posting on my blog, which defeated the whole idea that running a blog should be easier than maintaining a static website. All in all, I’d become royally fed up with the seemingly never-ending WordPress upgrade cycle, long before my ISP ever pulled the plug.

Sometimes I found myself yearning to go back to simpler times, doing a static website coded by hand, and giving up the whole blogging lark altogether. Looking with a clinical and dispassionate eye at the entire experience with my blog, I’d never actually used a fraction of the capabilities of WordPress anyway, and probably never would have. It was simply too powerful and too complex. By comparison, the more limited nature of a blog on wordpress.com means that a lot of this complexity and the overall hassle with administration and upgrading is removed, whilst still seeming to keep just about enough of the power plus the familiar environment to satisfy me.

My needs are relatively simple – I’m mainly a text-based person, a writer, so I don’t ask for much. A handful of decent templates (I’ve already settled on one that I like), a nice text editor (which we already have), a few nice “dashboard” options (ditto), and the ability to easily upload one or two pictures from time to time (ditto). That’s about it. I have no need for lots of glitzy stuff, no excessive amounts of graphics, videos, flash, music, or any of that kind of thing. WordPress.com seems to have all the bases covered. The only thing I can foresee becoming a problem down the line is running out of hosting space. I’m one of those weirdos who prefers to have “unlimited” webspace, or at least a paltry 20GB or so, “just in case”. Saying that I’ve only got two or three gigabytes makes me nervous.

So I’ve started for the first time to take very seriously the idea of having my main online presence here, on my long-abandoned wordpress.com blog, something I’d never really considered doing before. I’ve fallen badly out of the habit of blogging and posting in general, and grown very, very stale over the past year or so. It’s so easy to turn into a lazy sod, but much harder to kick-start oneself again after a prolonged period away from blogging. Maybe concentrating on this blog, rather than going back down the more complex self-hosted route, will prove to be a more successful tactic for getting me back into regular posting again.

Despite some prolonged periods without regular posts, I was (in general) on a roll with my old blog before it disappeared, and I’d really like to get back on that roll again. Whether or not I’ll stay the pace, or fade away as I have so many times before, I dunno. But I’ll never know unless I try. But the signs are good. Over the past few months, I’ve been starting to get back the old urge to start posting again – I’ve got lots of stuff to post about, and a need to get it “out there”.

Things might just be about to get a bit more interesting around here.