This blog's opinions

June 21, 2012

As I’ve been making this blogging software, I’ve had to make decisions about the way it should work. Naturally, those decisions are the result of my own preferences and beliefs about software, blogging, publishing and reading, and the best way to do them. So it transpires, unexpectedly (at least to me) that when I make things, I find out more about what I think of the world, and about how I think it should be. I learn about myself by examining my output. It seems obvious when I put it that way.

There’s a chapter in Getting Real about making opinionated software. Turns out I’ve been doing it without realising, at least to an extent. And I think it’s one of those things that’s much easier to do when you’re making something by yourself. You get to do it the way you think it should be done. This is also the great benefit of being your only user :)

So what are some of my opinions (and who did I steal them from)? In no particular order:

Everyone should have access to “free tools for freedom.” I borrowed this one from Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher who has worked on projects like WikiLeaks and Tor. This sentence succinctly expresses a belief that free and open source tools are a vital part of a free society, because they allow individuals to speak freely, to communicate privately, and to act anonymously when such things are desired, even when those with power would prefer that we couldn’t.

I should control how my work is published. This comes from Dave Winer, and led to my decision to publish in the form of flat files. That is a bit of a leap, and what I mean is that I should be able to publish my work on any server I want - Amazon, Linode, a server I own in a data centre, or a crappy laptop on my home ADSL line. And that means I need a widely supported format. Hence HTML in a file system. It also means I will never feel obliged to offer hosting for blogs produced by this software - I’d rather encourage users to make an informed choice about their own hosting. And it’s the reason I own a domain.

People should be able to read previous versions of what I’ve published. Jeff Jarvis supplied this one as an idea for journalism, and I think it’s pretty great. Journalists’ role is keeping tabs on where things are at, and (ideally) giving the rest of us the best available information - verified facts, the authoritative, current and complete story. Until recently the best way to do this was to publish all at once, in a newspaper article, a TV or radio news story, or some other “I’m finished producing, now you may consume” kind of format. The internet’s “instant publishing” feature has given a lot more choice, allowing us to publish as much or as little as we actually know, as soon as we find it out. There’s a whole lot of conflict there about speed of publishing vs perceived quality of journalism that I don’t want to get into, but versioned publishing is a way that we can have news as soon as it happens, and increase the quality of the publication as the facts come out and there’s time to verify, confirm and contextualise.

Writing for the internet should not be difficult. Oh, and WYSIWYG HTML editors suck. I’m not sure where this idea came from, and I don’t think it had any one specific source. I got the second bit from think looking at the output of most of the HTML editors I’ve encountered - especially Microsoft Word, back when it first started saving documents as HTML. But that’s the opinion that led to my using Markdown as the source code language for this blog.

So there’s a bit of a look into how I think software and writing and the internets should be. Feel free to discuss, debate, approve, criticise etc. on your own blog, where you are comfortable with the level of control you have over your work. Then send me a link :)

I really need to think about comments.

This blog's opinions - June 21, 2012 - Lucas Wilson-Richter