Quick note: Good funny criticism of yesterday’s article on Jim Roepke’s site: How to bury an important article about an important announcement that was buried by Apple.
So, evolution: This is a note in two parts. Part is from my writing side and part is from my technical side. You can read one and skip the other if you choose.
The Writer’s View
I used to write quite a lot. When I was in high school, I wrote really bad poetry and science fiction. In college, I wrote marginally readable poetry, humor, and music reviews, as well as a lot of English papers on Beowulf and 20th century poets.
Then I graduated and moved to Northern Virginia to work as a consultant, and something changed. I still wrote a lot, but now it was code. Eventually I started documenting the software. Then I started writing design and requirements specs for the software. Then technical support documents. Toward the end, I wrote a lot of technical architecture documents, documenting technical approaches for the other members of my team. But I didn’t write anything for myself.
I also started my own web site a few years ago. Originally I hosted it using Personal Web Sharing on my old 90-MHz Power Mac. It was slow but it worked. But most of the content was static on my site and I updated it only about every six months.
I went to school and moved my static web site to an MIT server. It was more useful now — it could reliably be accessed by other people and had my resume on it. But I still only made changes about every two months. And writing for it was still pretty painful.
This summer I remembered this site that I started on editthispage.com a few years before. I was lonely and aimless most nights after work. I decided to start trying to write a couple of times every week. And a funny thing happened: writing got easier and my writing got better. It’s like anything else, you have to practice.
The Technical/Platform View
I built my first personal web site with Frontier, which I admired for its depth as a programming system. I still found it to be a bit difficult as a content management system for the Web, though (open up the software, write a story, publish the web site. Make a change to the template and iterate a few dozen times until it looks right — this one is an especially slow process on a 90 MHz system).
When I got to MIT, I couldn’t run Frontier on Athena (the custom Unix system that’s the academic computing environment at MIT), so I rebuilt the static web site using Adobe’s GoLive and threw it up on an MIT server. GoLive is a nice product. It feels like PageMaker for the web — and by that I mean the recent, industrial strength PageMaker product, not the one that everyone used to make crappy newsletters in the late 80s that looked heinous. You can do some really nice web design using GoLive and it will view reasonably well across multiple browsers. But it’s not a content management system and it’s hard to update frequently unless you’ve got a live wired connection all the time.
Then I came back to this site that I started a few years ago as a lark. Being able to add a new page through my browser, anywhere, turned out to be the killer app. There are other people who have known this for a few years (Manila’s been around for a while), but it took me a while to get the time to mess around with it enough to appreciate its value. Why was doing this important? There are browsers everywhere. When I had an idea to write about something, I could find a browser and sit down and write about it. Practice, practice, practice.
What’s next? Well, I like Manila for editing a web site but sometimes it gets in my way too much. To load a new page, I have to press a button, wait for another page to load, press another button, type or paste in my text, and save. I like Radio Userland but I don’t really want to lug a client that full featured around all the time. Sometimes like now I just want to write a piece in a text editor. But cut & paste doesn’t feel cool. What about a piece in the system that takes my writing out of BBEdit or TextEdit and just throws it up to the web page without my having to open a browser or Radio? It’s possible with SOAP and XML-RPC, and with the system frameworks in OS X.
One of the things I’ve learned this summer is that you can make a big difference in people’s lives if you’re willing to work with them where they want to work. I think SOAP and XML-RPC are what gets us there from a software perspective. And that kind of integration makes it easier for someone like me to keep practicing and keep updating.