Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

High-friction vs. low-friction blogging. (And my stilted workflow.)  §

Almost all of the bias in the blogging universe right now is oriented toward high-friction, marketing-intensive publishing. That is to say that everyone is designing solutions and workflows that enable you to:

– Plan blog posts more intensively before drafting
– Draft with many more tools, content types, and options available
– Enable more careful reflection before taking drafts live
– Ensure that the result is SEO-powerful, best-practices-awards, and social-friendly
– Enable widespread social distribution
– Even very business-oriented things like measure and predict ROI in some way

This means more and more elaborate workflows with more and more tools that have more and more options.

And here I am going in the opposite direction. I am looking to:

– Reduce blogging workflow friction
– Reduce time-to-live
– Reduce the “voice of the editor” in my head
– Get closer to “bare metal” posts—posts that express my subconscious world

This all results from me missing the blogging that I did in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, which was visceral, quick, rapid, fragmented, but often personally illuminating. It felt both real and insightful, as if by blogging I gave myself a window into myself, saw new ideas that I didn’t know I had, came to better understand who I was and what I liked, and all of that kind of stuff.

The problem now is trying to do this with today’s tools.

Back then, I used:

– A bunch of shell scripts that I’d hacked together myself
– To process files I created in emacs
– That was called once again from another shell script
– That would take the plain text I generated, style and integrate it into a filesystem static HTML tree, then
– FTP this up to my host server

So the process of posting was, simply:

1. Type “post” at the command line
2. Type in a post in plain text
3. Hit C-X C-S (Emacs save and exit keystrokes)

That was that, the post was live. The scripts handled all styling, linking, monthly archives, and so on.

This is no longer tenable any longer, for one primary reason: like everyone else, I use mobile devices extensively these days. In the 1990s, I was always and forever sitting at a Unix command line. This is no longer the case. Now, I am always and forever somewhere with my mobile.

So I need to use more modern tools that can integrate into the “app economy” somehow. I like some of the additional, powerful, and integrated stuff that WordPress and Drupal can automatically do, but I dislike how they’re both also very heavy in non-automatic stuff. They’re extremely “clicky” and require lots of “configuration” and “management.”

Just the process of getting a post online via WordPress can shut down the mental engine very quickly. Click, click, click, choose, click, choose, *gah, didn’t mean to select that, gotta select the other one*, click, click, preview, etc.

So I’m trying using Zapier with Evernote right now, writing in markdown and hopefully triggering a quick post.

I’m not entirely keen on this workflow.

There are also services like scriptogr.am and plugins like “Post via Dropbox” for WordPress, but each of them has drawbacks that I can’t live with. For example, in the case of scriptogr.am, I can’t use my own domain unless the *entire* domain is directed there via DNS. That’s not cool because then I can’t host anything else—just my scriptogr.am blog. Not what I’m looking for. In the case of the plugin, I’m limited to one Dropbox folder, and then I have to think in terms of “creating files in that path” using a mobile app. Once again, not a low-friction experience.

There are some other plugins that more powerfully “sync” Evernote and both WordPress and Drupal, but they’re out of date and/or require PHP versions that my host doesn’t use, and I don’t want to switch hosts (and it may not even be possible to switch PHP versions while keeping my older archival stuff operating properly on my domain).

So I’m stuck with Zapier, which:

– Triggers once every time a “new note” is created
– Looks for the tag “Blog” (my setup, not a requirement)
– Tosses that to my hosted WordPress installation, which is set up with
– Jetpack and Markdown

But I’m a little sad about the “triggered” element here—I can only trigger on new notes, not on note edits. Basically, I get one shot. I save, it posts. Any changes after that I have to log into WordPress and do it by hand, and the results won’t be reflected in Evernote.

In other words, it’s a partial workflow.

Given how widely used Evernote and WordPress and Drupal are, I can’t believe this isn’t a solved problem.

But then, like I said, the bias everywhere these days is toward “heavier” and “higher touch” and away from “lighter” and “lower touch” in all of these things, so perhaps it’s not so surprising. In a world in which it’s taken for granted that everyone wants to be a marketing genius and “their own brand,” those of us who do enough marketing at work and who want to brand themselves substantively rather than tactically (even if this means a smaller audience and no particular “earning potential” as a result of blogging) are just sort of out in the cold.

I wish I was 20 again and had time to write some code of my own to tackle this. I’m sure there are others like me out there that would love for this to be solved, even if it’s a relatively niche market.