To Compete with Medium

Dave Winer is encouraging bloggers (or really anyone with something to say) to post anywhere but Medium. He says that Medium is becoming a “consensus platform” for posting longform writing on the web, especially for people who don’t have a regular place to post. In doing that, Medium becomes a single point of failure, much like Twitter is for real-time short posts, or that Google Reader was for RSS. That means that Medium becomes increasingly capable of unilaterally changing how writing on the web works, for whatever purposes it desires. Medium could decide what you write, how it looks, who sees it, and whether or not you can take it elsewhere. And if Medium shuts down, you could lose everything you wrote.

Winer says that the reason people don’t just set up their own blog (even if they won’t write regularly) is because it feels wasteful to set up something and then not use it. This holds people back, even though a pure text blog takes up negligible space and bandwidth compared to videos or images. While he’s right about the minuscule size requirements of plain text, I think there’s more to users’ reluctance of setting up their own blog. There is a cognitive cost and mental overhead to setting up your own blog that Medium side-steps. To set up an blog on WordPress or Tumblr, you need to create a user account by providing a username, email address and password. Then you need to create the actual blog, by picking a domain name and title (and optionally, a theme). And then you can start to write.

Medium, on the other hand, lets you sign in via Twitter, automatically selecting your username and other account details (which you can change). After that you can just start writing. To be  fair, you are asked to follow other users and tags, but you can just click a button and move on. That’s exactly what I did before writing this post. There are options to use Facebook and email to sign up as well, but I’m assuming they’re equally streamlined. To break free from Medium’s hold on casual writing on the web, a competing service would have to be just as streamlined and painless.

So how would one go about competing with Medium? First you need to reuse identity from some existing social network or identity provider. Second, writing and publishing a post would have to be super-simple. Finally, to address Winer’s concerns, the competing service should come from an entity whose main business isn’t written content, but somehow naturally falls out of (or can be built atop) the core service. Luckily, there is already a service that can do this: GitHub.

GitHub is a popular code-sharing and hosting service that is very popular with programmers (and increasingly, with non-programmers). By default, GitHub hosts repositories of code, but they have an adjacent service called GitHub Pages that hosts simple websites. As a GitHub user, you can create a specially named repository and any HTML pages in that repository are served as username.github.io. Anyone with a GitHub account (which these days, is pretty much anyone who writes code) can post writing to their own repository and have it be served as a webpage from GitHub. Now, this only completes one part of the puzzle, since there’s no Medium-like interface to actually write your posts. You would have to write your posts using a text editor and push them to your GitHub pages repo. However, such an interface could be created by anyone, not necessarily by GitHub. They would just need your GitHub credentials, temporarily, to post your writing from the editor to the repository.

In conclusion: part of Medium’s attractiveness comes from having a streamlined path to posting irregular writing on the Web, helping to make it a large and powerful platform for web publishing. GitHub Pages provides part of the puzzle to create a neutral competitor that offers many of the same benefits. All that is needed is a writing interface that uses GitHub pages as a backend.

I haven’t talked about the social media and promotional features of Medium. I’m not sure how to replicate them in the same fashion. My goal with this post was to propose an alternative to the publish-and-forget style that Medium allows, and I think GitHub Pages is a step in that direction. Since Winer published his post, Medium has posted a response that addresses many of his concerns. The takeaway from the response seems to be that if you’re afraid of Medium having too much control over your content, post to both your own blog and to Medium.

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A blog for every purpose

I’ve been blogging in one form or another, on and off for about 5 years now. And in that time I’ve moved across services, URLs and styles. The ByteBaker has been my most permanent endeavor and I plan on keeping it that way. I try to keep the ByteBaker focused on technology but there is also a lot of other things that I want to share and write about. I’ve also run a tumblelog called Basu:shr:weblog, it’s a list of things that I fight interesting on the web, mostly videos and images, sometimes link and quotes.

On the 26th I’m heading off to Italy for three weeks to study art and the Renaissance. I expect it to be a great learning experience and an overall fun time. As part of the course I need to keep a pen and paper journal, but I also plan on keeping an electronic log of things I do (including photos, lots of photos). I’ve started this blog already and I’m calling it Status Quo. I’m hosting it as a free WordPress.com blog, and I’m not quite sure what to do about the photo hosting yet. WordPress already gives me 3GB of storage for media which should be sufficient for the time being but if not Flickr or SmugMug are possible choices.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything of a personal nature so this is going to be an interesting experiment. I’ll also be keeping a written, pen-and-paper journal and there will be some overlap. However since I type much faster than I can write so I expect Status Quo to be a superset of anything I put in my journal. All this is in contingent on getting access to an Internet connection. I’ll be taking my netbook and since we’re supposed to be in good hotels I hope that there will be wifi, at least in some of them. If not, I hear that there are a lot of Internet cafes in Florence, so I’ll be making regular trips (maybe not daily, but probably every other day).

Here’s to looking forward to exploring Italy and sharing the experience with anyone who cares to listen.

Enter the ByteBaker

I’ve been blogging on and off since 2005, more off than on. As I’ve mentioned before, my spotty record is mostly due to the fact that I’ve never really had anything very compelling to put out on the Internet. But as I continue exploring computer technology and continue my formal studies in the field, I realize that I’m getting exposed to lots of different and interesting ideas and coming up with many of mine. Most of them are probably not very original, though perhaps people still find them interesting. But irrespective of that, I know that a lot of these thoughts and experiences are things that I would like to keep on record and would like to share with other people out there.

With that in mind, I’m going to make a commitment to recording my thoughts and ideas over the next few years as well as keeping a record of my projects and experiments. I’ve registered a domain name and this blog now routes to it. I’m still running off WordPress.com and will be for some time, but I’m going to be posting everything under my new website : The ByteBaker.

Why call it The ByteBaker? Many people have differing opinions on what computer science really is. According to MIT professor Gerald Jay Sussman, computer science is not a science and is really not about computers. Over the last few years I’ve come to agree with him. Computer science in general and programming in particular seems to be to be quite similar to cooking: If you start mixing ingredients at random, you might come up with something that is edible, but it probably won’t taste very good. To make a good dish you need an understanding of your ingredients and utensils as well as a fair amount of improvisation and inspiration. Computer science is similar that you need to understand the concepts and tools that are a part of your trade and to actually produce something novel and interesting you need a healthy dose of imagination and daring. While cooks and bakers use various raw ingredients such fruits, vegetables, spices, meats, etc., for computer scientists all our creations can be described in terms of bits and bytes: hence enter the ByteBaker (also alliteration is kinda cool).

So what does all this mean for you? Probably not a lot at the moment. You might want to upgrade your bookmarks to point to The ByteBaker instead of Xtreme Computers, because in a few months I will be moving to a different hosting solution so that I can have more control over the WordPress installation. If you’re a feed subscribers, you don’t have to do anything at all: I’ll still be publishing at the old feed URL. So just sit back and enjoy the ride!

New Gumstix project blog

My past record with blogging hasn’t been too good. I’ve never been able to sustaing contiued posting for more than a few weeks at a time, often less. One reason has been that I’ve never really had something focused to blog about, meaning that it has been rather easy to lose interest or to simply not know what to write about.

But now I have something more to write about. I’ve recently come into possession of a Gumstix single board computer for a college project. It’s something I’m very interested in as it represents a huge learning opportunity for me and it will be the first time that I will be able to put my programming and technology into a real tangible application. Along witht he project I have also started a blog which will be part record of my experiments and part scratchpad for any ideas I might have of what to do with Gumstix and systems programming in general. I’m calling it Gumstix Adventures. Yes it will be rather technical so if you’re not that interested in hard computer technology, you might not find it very interesting.

Since I will be devoting a lot of my free time to that project. I will no longer be updating this blog. It’s been fun and it actually gets a fair amount of traffic but I just don’t have the time or the inclination or continue it. Of course, it will still be online for anyone who is interested.

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

Contests for bloggers

One of the best things about blogs is that you can actively participate and contribute in the happenings of the blogosphere instead of just being a passive consumer. Here are some contests for bloggers with some pretty neat prizes.

For all you music fans out there who have been wanting a portable mp3 player but for whatever reason haven’t got one yet, Ms. Danielle is giving away a free 30GB Microsoft Zune to one lucky blogger. MsDanielle’s  blog site has articles on a wide variety of topics including blogging tips, making money from blogs as well as random stuff like adopting a needy pet.

In case you were thinking about getting yourself a new monitor, you might just win one. You’ve probably heard of John Chow at John Chow dot com, who gives lots of advice on  making money online and now he’s also giving away a brand new 24″ wide screen LCD monitor by LG Electronics. The contest is being sponsored by BlueFur, a company who enjoys hosting Canada (as well as other parts of the world).

All you have to do is write a post about each contest and link to the sites. You’ll find more details on the contest pages. Have fun and see if Lady Luck is on your side.