Over the years, I've been lauded, threatened, sued, I've met many people who read my work and have made connections with many more whose work I wrote about. Combing through my old posts every morning is a journey through my intellectual development.
It's been almost exactly a year I left Boing Boing, after 19 years. It wasn't planned, and it wasn't fun, but it was definitely time. I still own a chunk of the business and wish them well. But after 19 years, it was time for a change.
A few weeks after I quit Boing Boing, I started a solo project. It's called Pluralistic: it's a blog that is published simultaneously on Twitter, Mastodon, Tumblr, a newsletter and the web. It's got no tracking or ads. Here's the very first edition:
I don't often do "process posts" but this merits it. Here's how I built Pluralistic and here's how it works today, after nearly a year.
I get up at 5AM and make coffee. Then I sit down on the sofa and open a huge tab-group, and scroll through my RSS feeds using Newsblur.
I spend the next 1-2 hours winnowing through all the stuff that seems important. I have a chronic pain problem and I really shouldn't sit on the sofa for more than 10 minutes, so I use a timer and get up every 10 minutes and do one minute of physio.
After a couple hours, I'm left with 3-4 tabs I want to write articles about that day. When I started writing Pluralistic, I had a text file on my desktop with some blank HTML I'd tinkered with to generate a layout; now I have an XML file (more on that later).
First I go through these tabs and think up metadata tags I want to use for each; I type these into the template using my text-editor (gedit), like this:
process, blogging, pluralistic, recursion, navel-gazing
Each post has its own little template. It needs an anchor tag (for this post, that's "hfbd"), a title ("20 years a blogger") and a slug ("Reflections on a lifetime of reflecting"). I fill these in for each post.
Then I come up with a graphic for each post: I've got a giant folder of public domain clip-art, and I'm good at using all the search tools for open-licensed art: the Library of Congress, Wikimedia, Creative Commons, Flickr Commons, and, ofc, Google Image Search.
I am neither an artist nor a shooper, but I've been editing clip art since I created pixel-art versions of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood glyphs using Bannermaker for the Apple //c in 1985 and printed them out on enough fan-fold paper to form a border around my bedroom.
As I create the graphics, I pre-compose Creative Commons attribution strings to go in the post; there's two versions, one for the blog/newsletter and one for Mastodon/Twitter/Tumblr. I compose these manually.
Here's a recent one:
(<i>Image: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:QAnon_in_red_shirt_(48555421111).jpg">Marc Nozell</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY</a>, modified</i>)
Image: Marc Nozell (modified)
This is purely manual work, but I've been composing these CC attribution strings since CC launched in 2003, and they're just muscle-memory now. Reflex.
These attribution strings, as well as anything else I'll need to go from Twitter to the web (for example, the names of people whose Twitter handles I use in posts, or images I drop in, go into the text file). Here's how the post looks at this point in the composition.
<h1>20 years a blogger</h1><xtagline>Reflections on a lifetime of reflecting.</xtagline>
See that <img> tag in there for frnklogo.jpg? I snuck that in while I was composing this in Twitter. When I locate an image on the web I want to use in a post, I save it to a dir on my desktop that syncs every 60 seconds to the /images/ dir on my webserver.
As I save it, I copy the filename to my clipboard, flip over to gedit, and type in the <img> tag, pasting the filename. I've typed <img src="https://craphound.com/images/ CTRL-V"> tens of thousands of times - muscle memory.
Once the thread is complete, I copy each tweet back into gedit, tabbing back and forth, replacing Twitter handles and hashtags with non-Twitter versions, changing the ALL CAPS EMPHASIS to the extra-character-consuming *asterisk-bracketed emphasis*.
My composition is greatly aided both 20 years' worth of mnemonic slurry of semi-remembered posts and the ability to search memex.craphound.com (the site where I've mirrored all my Boing Boing posts) easily.
A huge, searchable database of decades of thoughts really simplifies the process of synthesis.
Next I port the posts to other media. I copy the headline and paste it into a new Tumblr compose tab, then import the image and tag the post "pluralistic."
Then I paste the text of the post into Tumblr and manually select, cut, and re-paste every URL in the post (because Tumblr's automatic URL-to-clickable-link tool's been broken for 10+ months).
*Then* I hit publish on my Twitter thread. Composing in Twitter is the most unforgiving medium I've ever worked in. You have to keep stanzas below 280 chars. You can't save a thread as a draft, so as you edit it, you have to pray your browser doesn't crash.
Once you hit publish, you can't edit. Forever. So you want to publish Twitter threads LAST, because the process of mirroring them to Tumblr and Mastodon reveals typos and mistakes (but there's no way to save the thread while you work).
Now I create a draft Wordpress post on pluralistic.net, and create a custom slug for the page (today's is "two-decades"). Saving the draft generates the URL for the page, which I add to the XML file.
Once all the day's posts are done, I make sure to credit all my sources in another part of that master XML file, and then I flip to the command line and run a bunch of python scripts that do MAGIC: formatting the master file as a newsletter, a blog post, and a master thread.
Those python scripts saved my ASS. For the first two months of Pluralistic, i did all the reformatting by hand. It was a lot of search-replace (I used a checklist) and I ALWAYS screwed it up and had to debug, sometimes taking hours.
Then, out of the blue, a reader - Loren Kohnfelder - wrote to me to point out bugs in the site's RSS. He offered to help with text automation and we embarked on a month of intensive back-and-forth as he wrote a custom suite for me.
Those programs take my XML file and spit out all the files I need to publish my site, newsletter and master thread (which I pin to my profile). They've saved me more time than I can say. I probably couldn't kept this up without Loren's generous help (thank you, Loren!).
I open up the output from the scripts in gedit. I paste the blog post into the Wordpress draft and copy-paste the metadata tags into WP's "tags" field. I preview the post, tweak as necessary, and publish.
(And now I write this, I realize I forgot to mention that while I'm doing the graphics, I also create a square header image that makes a grid-collage out of the day's post images, using the Gimp's "alignment" tool)
(because I'm composing this in Twitter, it would be a LOT of work to insert that information further up in the post, where it would make sense to have it - see what I mean about an unforgiving medium?)
(While I'm on the subject: putting the "add tweet to thread" and "publish the whole thread" buttons next to each other is a cruel joke that has caused me to repeatedly publish before I was done, and deleting a thread after you publish it is a nightmare)
Now I paste the newsletter file into a new mail message, address it to my Mailman server, and create a custom subject for the day, send it, open the Mailman admin interface in a browser, and approve the message.
Now it's time to create the anthology you can see pinned to my Mastodon/Twitter accounts. Loren's script uses a template to produce all the tweets for the day, but it's not easy to get that pre-written thread into Twitter and Mastodon.
Part of the problem is that each day's Twitter master thread has a tweet with a link to the day's Mastodon master thread ("Are you trying to wean yourself off Big Tech? Follow these threads on the #fediverse at @pluralistic. Here's today's edition: LINK").
So the first order of business is to create the Mastodon thread, pin it, copy the link to it, and paste it into the template for the Twitter thread, then create and pin the Twitter thread.
Now it's time to get ready for tomorrow. I open up the master XML template file and overwrite my daily working file with its contents. I edit the file's header with tomorrow's date, trim away any "Upcoming appearances" that have gone by, etc.
@pluralistic perhaps think of switching to a static website generator? Much simpler, faster, less vulnerabilities than Wordpress et al. Just an idea 💡
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