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Resurfacing

It feels odd, writing your first blog post in seven years. It used to be such a large part of my life—and this blog used to be such a core part of my work and engagement with my community—that you’d think you’d never forget how to do it. I wrote here almost every day for well over a decade. It saw me through the first half of my working life, from Time Out to Brickhouse, London to America. It saw me through many of my most significant life events. And yet I’ve not done it for seven years. It feels odd. And forgotten how to do it, I think I sort of have.*

I’ve obviously been writing, don’t get me wrong! I’ve written many, many tweets in the last seven years. Around 150,000 of them, in fact, on pretty much every subject under the sun, although mostly (in recent years) #politics and #doctorwho. I’ve built up over 40,000 followers over that time, a number that I think I can get back down under a thousand if I continue to focus ardently on #politics and #doctorwho. This will have a certain circular irony to it since, if I’m honest, the ease of writing on Twitter is probably one of the reasons that I finally stopped blogging in the first place.

I’ve set up a few other Twitter accounts too. There’s @lovedsongs which publishes a list of every song I’ve given five stars to or loved on iTunes. And @houseofcoates which fairly aimlessly plugs away reporting the things that happen at my home. Just two of the many absurd things you can do with Twitter if you get bored.

I’ve also written a number of conference talks. Looking back at my dump of the old Lanyrd website, probably around thirty! Or at least maybe ten, each of which was delivered a few times. Writing those conference talks reminded me a lot of how it felt to write a decent blog post after ten years on the job. By that time I was no longer just knocking something out for fun to get a thought out of my head. I wanted them to be good. Really good. And so I wrote them to death, and focused in on them and really thought them through. Some of the conference talks I managed to write in less than one focused week of work. Some took almost a month. It had been getting that way with my blog posts by the end. And that, in a third ancillary and supportive nutshell, is yet another reason that I finally stopped blogging.

It might surprise some of you that I used to go outside. But if you don’t believe me, the conference talk I gave most recently was at the Mind The Product event in 2018. It was a keynote on the main stage at the San Francisco Symphony Hall. Get me. Main stage at Glastonbury. Crowds go wild. I three-dimensionally-rendered most of the slides using a focused brick of computronium. (I wrote that out longhand because “I 3d rendered” looked very strange indeed.) It took a really long time, and over-ran by ten full minutes. Everyone was very, very nice about it. I’m quite proud of the whole thing.

I also wrote a few things in other places over that time. I wrote a few things on Medium. I’m not sure why I chose to move to Medium, except I guess I thought it was a bit less embarrassing than writing a blog. I also thought I could just write something every so often and it might somehow find itself an audience without me having to write all the time to maintain people’s attention. Plus, of course, it makes what you write look gorgeous.

However, after roughly a decade of not writing regularly, I can testify that removing the pressure of regular content production did not make me produce fewer, higher quality thoughts, but just removed the impetus to write altogether. And that for the fourth time, is another reason why I stopped blogging.

I wrote a few things for more public spaces too. The most prominent of those was an opinion piece for NBC News that I guess I never actually billed them for (their payment system was appalling) so in principle, I guess I still own it. I might copy it over to this site in fact since they probably don’t hold the copyright. If you’re interested at all, it’s here: Trump blocked me on Twitter. But for democracy’s sake, we can’t ban him.

I should say a couple of things about that piece of writing before I move on – firstly, I didn’t write the headline. Mostly when you write things, the sub-editor writes the headline, and it is normally the distilled down and clickbaitiest possible version of what you actually might have meant. The second thing I’d like to say is that, you know, I still stand by it 85%. But, you know, when he started encouraging people to break the lockdown and go outside and give and spread disease to millions of Americans… Well, anyway.

But of course the main thing I’ve been doing over the last decade is building things. First at Yahoo, we built and launched Fire Eagle within Brickhouse and did a whole bunch of product innovation things, plus a couple of substantial but much less glamorous internal projects to do with location sharing and storage. Then after that projects like The Eatery with Aza Raskin, Up Coffee for Jawbone, projects for Nokia and Burner, doing consulting with Matt Biddulph at Product Club, then launching a better smart object UX with Thington (also built with Matt), sold to Eero a couple of years ago, followed by spending the last year and a half working on a completely decentralized alternative to Facebook and Twitter now known as Planetary.

I often find that when I’m working on something complicated my desire to write sort of dries up. I used to find these patterns where I’d spend chunks of time in strategic roles where I’d have to think a lot about an emerging subject in public, followed by times where I’d be focused on building and the writing would dry up. It’s a shame because I think the writing and the thinking helps you draw attention to the building, helps you engage people with the projects and keeps you a bit honest. It’s a good thing to think and work in public if you can do it. But for me, recently, for good or ill, it’s been mostly building and not very much writing for the last few years. And that, I suppose, is yet another reason why I stopped blogging.

So I guess the question of the moment is why have I started again? Why after seven+ years have I felt compelled to write just one more post? Is this the beginning of something more substantial?

There are probably two answers to this. The first one is purely practical. A few years ago someone managed to hack into my servers via an unpatched version of DBAdmin. And shortly after that, Google started reporting that there appeared to be content spam appearing in my blog. Shortly after that, my web host shut down access to any of my sites from outside, citing the presence of malware. And since I didn’t really know what they’d done and I didn’t have time to investigate it all thoroughly, over not very long at all every mark of my internet presence evaporated.

Which brings us to today, and this moment in time where we’re all reeling a bit from the world. A time that finds some of us trying to occupy our minds with something constructive. A moment where I finally had the time (and the desperate inclination) to back everything up and then completely purge my server, soup to nuts. And then gradually, piece at a time, when I get a moment, I’ve been putting it up online again.

Little fragments from my distant past are starting to emerge. Old fan sites like The Bomb. Weird creative projects from the past that I’m too embarrassed to link to. Websites made of many, many frames (ask your granddad). And of course, this blog. Over twenty years old, and filled with great swathes of my history. Looking at me blankly, using an off-the-shelf theme that conveys none of my feel or personality, with a little link that doesn’t blink but feels like it does saying only, “Add new post”. “Add new post.”

And hence the second answer to the question, why have I started again? Well, first up, I don’t know that I have. This could be the only new post I ever put up here. But if it is, it won’t be because I’m writing lots elsewhere. We live in a new time of isolation and fear. Twitter feels too urgent and anxious and tense right now. There’s no space to think or breathe. Facebook is filled with all the angst and pain and fury people are feeling. It’s overwhelming. Instagram is filled with people performing a perfect family lockdown experience interspersed with adverts for masks.

And suddenly, I find myself hearkening back to an earlier time of self-expression and community. The crowds have gone. There are no hordes of people waiting outside for a new post to emerge. There’s little to no pressure. Everyone’s not looking. It’s just the relics from an earlier era, posting periodically. And suddenly, maybe just for this one moment in time, that community is who I need. That community is who I miss. And talking to them in this kind of way feels right.

So I’m sorry that it’s long and vague and formless. I’m sorry that I’ve forgotten how to write … good*. I’m sorry that I haven’t posted for a very long time. But I’m here now, I have very little to say, and for some reason, goddam, I’m determined to say it.

So here’s to all you old people who still glance at blogs. Maybe this will turn up in your RSS feeds somehow. Maybe you’ll stumble upon it at some point in the future. Maybe you’ll never see it. That’s okay too. It’s not for an audience. It’s not for the attention. It’s just something I wanted to say, written down and pushed out the door to be stumbled upon by random people at some point. Just like it always was supposed to be, I guess.

It feels odd, writing your first blog post in seven years. But it’s a good kind of weird. And I’ve missed it.

* The irony here is intentional. I haven’t written long pieces for a while. I can’t tell if you’re getting the jokes.

10 replies on “Resurfacing”

What, a comment section? What happened to demanding commenters block quote on their own blogs?

*Raises a glass from the back of Fray Café*

Yeah it’s a bit avant garde for an old-timer like myself. Much better just to cross link to other people’s blogs. But hey, we switched to Movable Type and then the WordPress and, at various times, everything has got more irritating and more complicated. At least now I’ve figured out a way to turn off new comments on older posts automatically to limit the spam.

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