I started blogging on Thanksgiving weekend in 2003. I was inspired by an Oklahoma blog I started reading shortly after moving to the state in January. That blog: JMBzine and its owner is now a friend and colleague of mine in several social service and political projects.
Of course, I have blogged very sporatically, and using at least five different URLs and using the following blog tools
- Movable Type
- Wordress again
- WordPress again
What have I learned? Unless something revolutionary happens in open-source software for running blogs, I’m sticking with WordPress.
If I had it all to do over, I would just use Blogger. The main reason is that it doesn’t require any software upgrading, and — a factor getting more and more important to me as I start to recognize my own mortality — it will exist after my domain registration expires, my hosting account is closed, and I am no longer able to drag myself to the keyboard. If Blogger decided to finally add an import feature for non-Blogger formats, I’d probably use it.
There are several downsides to Blogger, and for some projects it’s not the way to go. I’m just talking about a personal blog.
If I were advising a new blogger with limited tech skills who doesn’t care much about the design of their site, I would point them at WordPress.com for a free blog with a very accessible and easy to use interface, that is probably also relatively timeless.
When I started with Movable Type, I didn’t know markup or code of any kind. I downloaded the manual and taught myself how to completely redesign the templates. Although I soon thereafter abandoned MT when its owners revealed hostility towards open-source, I did get a good idea of the general principles that are used by all the php based blog platforms.
In 2004, I got a book on X/HTML and basic CSS, and taught myself the basics. Deconstructing an HTML site design that was contributed to the Oklahoma Green Party(where it’s still in use) in order incorporate it with blogging software, I learned a couple of very useful php commands that make life easier for web-keepers.
That’s about the extent of my code knowledge, but by experimenting with a ridiculous number of open-source software offerings, including (in addition to above) Xoops, B2, Mambo and its derivatives like Joomla, I’ve learned that I don’t need to know how to create what people smarter than I are creating and giving away. I also am constantly scouting out free scripts and services that are available for bloggers and web-keepers.
I believe in the democratic principles behind blogging, the netroots, copyleft and open-source technology. I encourage — and provide hands on help where I can — progressive activists to become bloggers. I read and/or participate in (probably way too) many blogs in the loose leftist confederation that has become known as the Netroots, which I consider the revival of grassroots democracy in this country, and the hope of democracy around the world, lighting even its darkest corners.
That the Internet turned out the way it did (thanks to the corporate entities who didn’t see its potential and passed on buying into it during the early stages), is a miracle. Without the Internet, I think it’s possible that the past eight years would have been the decimation of our beloved form of government in the U.S. Through the instant global communications provided by the Internet, advocacy campaigns were created and activists mobilized in new and powerful ways. And we are only at the beginning of that process.
What’s more, now we will have a president who understands and appreciates this resource, and will use it to improve government and policy. I believe the Internet and the open-source movement and the transparency principles that guide the blogosphere were instrumental in guiding Obama’s political ideology and agenda.
For these amazing tools, and all who have embraced and expanded them, I am eternally grateful. However strange it may be to those who think of Thanksgiving as a time to forgo technology and focus on “real” communication, for me, Thanksgiving has become the tech holiday, a time I think most pointedly about the digital threads that have connected all the world in a global family that 20 years ago was only science fiction, and a time to renew my commitment to use its power for the common good.