A place to call home

Home Doormat, by Conor

Home Doormat, by Conor

Last week, in a post talking about the IndieWeb, I shared my concerns with Mike Elgan‘s “Blogs of August”, in which he encourages individuals to blog exclusively on Google+ for the month of August. I’m happy that the conversation has continued over the last week in various places like Copyblogger and on Google+ itself.

In my post last week, I mentioned:

To be fair, Mike personally makes a distinction between what a blog is, separate from the content management tool used to write. However, I don’t entirely follow his rationale…

Yesterday, Mike clarified his meaning here in his post What is a blog, anyway?, and I now better understand where he his coming from. In a nutshell, Mike uses the term “blogging” to refer to personal content, and “publishing” to refer to professional content. I think this is an awfully fine line to draw, and I don’t agree with his choice of vocabulary, but I do now understand it.

And with that understanding, I’d like to withdraw my statement that Mike’s publishing habits are hypocritical to what he is recommending to others. Using his definitions of “blogging” and “publishing”, I do see now that he is indeed practicing what he is preaching.

That said, I still believe that using Google+ as your primary identity and sole blogging platform is harmful, especially for those that have already expended the effort to set up a personal web presence. But instead of talking more about the dangers of silo-living, in the spirit of Brett Slatkin’s post, Focusing on the Positives, let me tell you just a few of the reasons why I have my own website.

Freedom of Choice

I have hosted my primary identity online on a domain that I control for 11+ years (8 years on willnorris.com, and three years on a previous domain). In that decade, I have used at least four different content management systems (homegrown, blosxom, Movable Type, and WordPress), and have hosted it on close to a dozen different servers. I’ve also started using Jekyll for some auxiliary content, though I haven’t moved my main site there. But the point is, I can if and when I want. Because I own the domain, I can change anything about my site that I want and the URLs stay exactly the same. And even if I used a hosted system like Blogger or WordPress.com, as long as I’m using them with a domain I control, I still enjoy exactly the same freedom of choice.

Single point of contact

If I ever print personal business cards again (which I doubt), I’ll likely just put “willnorris.com” on it and nothing else. That’s all I need to give people, regardless of how they want to contact or connect with me. Phone, email, Twitter, Google+? It’s all here. When the next communication service du jour comes out, I can simply add that too. And again, because my domain is tied to me personally, rather than any individual service, there’s no need for it to ever change.

A place to call home

This is my website. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My website is more than just a blog, and it has changed over the years. I’ve used my site as a personal portfolio, as a playground to experiment with different technologies, and as a place to host non-blog content like photos and slide decks. It’s whatever I want it to be at the time, but it’s always mine. As Brett puts it, “this is where you’ll be able to find me over time and space”.

Best practice for commercial WordPress themes and version control


I’ve long kept my WordPress sites in version control (and if you’re not doing the same, let Mark Jaquith tell you why you should), and I typically pull in themes and plugins as git submodules. I recently purchased the Genesis Theme to use on a website I’m building for my church, and I’m trying to figure out how best to put it in version control.

Because Genesis is a paid theme, I don’t really want to put it in a public GitHub repository, and thereby allow anyone to use it without paying. Though to be clear, it’s licensed under the GPL so I would have every right to post it publicly, I just don’t really want to. But it also seems wasteful to use one of my few private repos on GitHub just for this. It’d be really great if StudioPress had a git repo that paying customers had read access to that they could use for exactly this purpose. They have a GitHub account, so maybe there’s a private repo behind there and I just can’t see it?

I’m curious how others are handling this for Genesis, or any other paid WordPress plugin or theme that is also open source.

Jailbreaking the Internet

I’m really happy to see that Klint Finley‘s Wired article about IndieWebCamp, titled Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet, is now up. It’s a great piece, you should definitely go read it. I’ve certainly never heard this described as “jailbreaking the Internet”, but I guess I can go with that. :)

I think Klint did a great job capturing the heart of what we’re trying to do with the indie web, and how it differs from previous efforts we’ve all either witnessed or been a part of. Our current focus is on a much smaller scale this time around, both in terms of target audience (participants are encouraged to focus just on building something that works for them personally), and in terms of the types of solutions we’re trying build.

Rather than trying to replace the silos, their aim is to build tools that let you not only house data on your own machines, but also share that data with other sites across the net. They call this POSSE, short for “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.”

I spent my first three years at Google helping to build Google+. I love so many things about what we built, and it’s the primary way that I stay in touch with many of my colleagues, so I’m not trying to replace it or eschew it by any means. But I also think it’s incredibly important to maintain control of my primary identity online, and that’s what the indie web is all about.

Blogs of August

I also love that Klint’s article was published right in the middle of Mike Elgan‘s “Blogs of August” where he is trying to convince bloggers to give up their personal sites and blog exclusively on Google+ for the month of August. Needless to say, I think this is a terrible idea, especially for people who have already made the effort to set up their own site. I also find it terribly ironic and hypocritical that Mike doesn’t actually blog exclusively on Google+ himself, as he talks about in the comments of this post:

I write opinion columns that appear on Computerworld, Datamation, Cult of Mac, Cult of Android, Houzz and Forbes NetAppVoice…

… I also blog on +The Spartan Diet here on Google+, but also on http://spartandiet.org — which is the web site we are building to promote our upcoming book.

So, no, I don’t blog exclusively on Google+…

To be fair, Mike personally makes a distinction between what a blog is, separate from the content management tool used to write. However, I don’t entirely follow his rationale, and I would suspect that many people that are choosing to participate in “Blogs of August” don’t make the distinction either. At best it’s disingenuous, at worst it’s hypocritical and harmful to others.

If nothing else though, the willingness of people to abandon their personal blogs to write exclusively for a silo demonstrates that the indie web has a long way to go, both in terms of education as well as tooling. As Klint says in the closing of his Wired piece, “the movement is unfinished.”

New WordPress project structure

I’ve submitted maybe a few dozen patches to WordPress core, but must confess that I’ve never actually submitted tests for those patches. Part of the reason is that it’s not entirely intuitive, given that tests are managed in a completely separate repository.

That’s all about to change. A couple of weeks ago at WordCamp San Francisco, Koop approached a few of us with his idea for restructuring WordPress to have a “proper” project structure, with a real build system, integrated tests, moving compiled artifacts out of version control, etc. Basically, all the things that you would expect of a modern open source project, but which WordPress has lacked for historical reasons. Koop is a bit of a maven of great development tools and workflows (check out his amazing impromptu project he developed with Evan Solomon), so he’s absolutely the right person to be leading an effort like this.

So suffice it to say, I’m really excited that it was announced today that this project restructuring will happen for the WordPress 3.7 development cycle.

My favorite new technique for dealing with recruiters…

No thanks, I’m actually really happy with my current job. However, if you’re looking for exciting new opportunities, Google is hiring recruiters.

I’ve only used it a couple of times, but they’ve certainly gotten a kick out of it.