The Bytebaker is changing

The Bytebaker is a good few years old now and through most of that time it’s been a purely technology oriented blog. The readership has grown steadily, but I don’t take tons of readers and the ones that I do get are generally concentrated on a few posts (which are mostly Python related). Of late I’ve been giving some thought to what direction I want to take this blog in the near future.

There is a part of me that wants to keep The Bytebaker purely technology related. On one level it makes sense: it’s one website and it should have a concrete theme so that people who come here regularly know what to expect and find. But on the other hand, it’s written by one person — me, and I have more than one interest. I love music and movies and I’m trying to get back into reading regularly and I have thoughts about them that I would really like to share sometimes. But a lot of the time I either don’t share at all or it gets fragmented between here, my Tumblr blog or my static website. I’ve come to learn that maintaining multiple websites, like maintaining multiple computers, is hard and not something to be taken lightly.

With that in mind I thought it was a good idea to take a few steps and think about what I wanted to do with the Bytebaker and my other blogs and websites. In some ways I’ve been thinking about the path taken by Marco Arment and John Gruber. Their websites are technology-oriented, but also reflects their own personalities too. I think it’s a good format and something that would work well for me, because as I said, I think a lot about tech but it’s not all I think about.

However, I don’t want to just have a blog, at least not right now. I want to keep a plain static website for a number of reasons. I want a place where I can point people to if they want to know just about me, not my writing or thoughts. It’s a place to show off my projects and my writing which don’t fall nicely into a blog format. This involves papers I write for classes and things like short stories and poems that I’ve written. The blog is a great format, but it doesn’t fit everything. Since I plan on being an academic for a few more years, I also want someplace to put papers I’ve publish and things (like a resume) that would only be of interest to a small audience. I also want to keep experimenting with CSS and HTML5 without breaking my blog and a static site is the easiest way to do that.

Luckily I don’t have to decide between the two: I can have both. I already have a blog with a decent readership right here and I have a static site which is already a showcase of my projects and other writing. And the tumblelog I won’t miss much. For the time being I’m happy with just merging the Bytebaker with my tumblelog and getting a bit looser in the type of things I allow here. I’m going to rethink the categories here to reflect that. I’m changing the theme to the brighter, spacier DePo Square which is very well suited to the things I have in mind. No I’m not actually moving anything over because I don’t think there is anything really of that importance there right now. As for the website, I’m keeping it the way it is since I don’t have the time to rethink it right now. But in the end I want to be something like Professor Karl Stolley or Scott Chacon’s website: an overview of who I am with excerpts of my online activities.

I’m hoping that this change will bring with it shorter, more rapid posts offer a wider range of subjects (though probably still dealing with tech). Personally I hope it’ll remove the blocks I feel when I want to post something but don’t know where. It’s been a while since I’ve had a single unified blog and I’m rather excited to see how things turn out.

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I got a tumblelog

I got a tumblelog. Domain wise it’s part of my static site at Basu::shr. Behind the scenes it’s a basic Tumblr weblog with a nice looking theme and little else. I already have a proper weblog (this one) and a static website. I also have Twitter and Identi.ca accounts and I have a Friendfeed which pulls in updates from lots of different services that I use. So why yet another weblog?

The answer is that the web, especially the so-called Web 2.0 has been becoming more UNIX-like as time goes on. There are lots of different webapps out there, and the best ones focus on doing one thing and doing it well. It’s up to others to pull these webapps together via their APIs in a manner similar to the way UNIX shell scripts work. While this is in general a good thing, it can be a hassle for someone like me who would like to keep together all his/her online activity.

For a while I really wished there was One Great Webapp to Rule Them All. It would be this one great system into which I could put all my status updates, my pictures, videos, links, conversations and it would automatically send them out to whichever specific webapp they needed to go to. And much to my delight I found one just like that: Posterous. You send an email to Posterous containing whatever you want to post and Posterous can be setup to direct to a number of different webapps. This is a really cool thing, using email as a web equivalent of UNIX pipes. I tried it for a few days, and while I was happy for to start with, I came to realize some interesting things.

The first thing that I realized was email for all it’s flexibility and usefulness, it can be a bit tedious for some activities. If all you want to do is send out a 140 character update or post a video, it’s just a bit too much to switch to a mail client, copy/paste a link or type a message, select a recipient and then hit ‘Send’. Secondly, for conversation oriented media like Twitter, sending out your message is only half the problem and it makes no sense to use one tool to send out a message (email) and another to see incoming messages (another app or webapp). Add in the fact there are lots of small applications or browser extensions that do a really good job of putting on an easy-to-use layer on top of web services and email starts to lose its silver lining.

However, the greater realization I had was I that I didn’t necessarily wanted all my online activity pulled into one place. For example, this blog is about technology and my experiences with it and it’s not something that my liberal arts friends particularly care about. On the other hand, readers coming to this site to read about my adventures with programming languages probably don’t want to know all that much about what how the dining hall food is today or how tired I am after my creative writing class (things that go into my Twitter stream). I wouldn’t want to mix those two because the result would simply be a mess. I also don’t want to add things like cool videos, art or articles I find to either of these two unless I do want to blog about it (in which case I will write a post about it) or I really want my friends to know about it (in which case I’ll twitter it). By yesterday morning I decided that I still wanted to have an online, accessible record of stuff I found interesting (if anyone else really wanted to see) but I didn’t want to just dump it into the other streams.

Thus came about the tumblelog. I could have just stuck to my Posterous but I like Tumblr better, in part because of the gorgeous themes (which I hear can be used with Posterous, but I couldn’t find an easy way to do it) but also because it seems that Tumblr, especially the bookmarklet, processes excerpts from websites in a smarter way than Posterous. And I already had a Tumblr account that I started a few months ago, but I really didn’t use till now.

The way things stand now, here is how I currently use my multiple web services:

  • The ByteBaker for long-form tech-oriented articles
  • Twitter and Identi.ca for really short observations, ideas and messages
  • Basu::Shr::Weblog as a tumblelog for recording interesting things I find online, mostly videos and images
  • Diigo for interesting links that I want to keep a record of, but don’t care to actively share
  • Friendfeed to pull together everything about (plus a few others) for anyone who’s interested

Considering that this isn’t the first time that I’ve done this dance, I won’t be too surprised if I changed this setup again soon. At the current moment, the services and the tools around seem stable and useful and I’ve been able to use them with very little mental overhead (which is very important for me). Only time will tell if this works out, but I hope it does. On a related note, I’ve also started decoupling Facebook from my online presence because I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with their “Walled Garden” approach, but that’s a matter for another article.