Blog consolidating and spring-cleaning

Consolidating

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been consolidating and spring cleaning my blog. This has involved  using a self-hosted WordPress installation to import a bunch of old backup files, then adding some other posts by hand that were not in these backups for various reasons. After that I had to go through and remove duplicated posts, clean up and publish some old drafts that needed to see daylight, and then delete all the remaining drafts that I’m not going to use. Once everything was together in one place I cleared out all the content from WordPress.com and imported the consolidated site back here.
The result is that this blog (A Saved Wretch) now has 741 published posts, an additional 380 over what was here a month ago. Even so, there are still a few posts I know I’ve written but cannot find which I will add once I track them down.

Blogging philosophy

Over the years I have wavered on my ideas as to what I wanted to present to the world on my personal website, initially it was strongly focused on my Christian faith, then while I was seeking a career change I tried to cultivate a different persona in case employers Googled my name.
The mindset I’ve settled into now is that very few people ever visit this site so it is actually primarily for me. I’m also getting old enough that there’s no point trying to change how others might perceive me based on what they stumble across here so it’s easier to just be myself. So there is a real mix of stuff on the blog, from single sentence updates to articles of several thousand words, all covering a fairly broad range of topics.

Spring-cleaning

The spring-cleaning will be ongoing as I loop through all the posts (I’m going from oldest to newest) fixing typos, spelling errors, broken links, missing images and inconsistent formatting. While this is a big job, it is also interesting to me as I look back over nine years of blogging and see the changes in my writing.

Archives

Moving forward and as I do my spring-cleaning, I’m saving a plain text copy of each post with the categories, tags and publication date included, labelled with the post name. I making a folder for each of these plain text files and adding to those folders the original and resized image files plus any other relevant files for each post. One of my biggest headaches has been tracking down all the pieces that need to be put together into some posts. I’m keeping all this stuff synched with Dropbox so I can work on it anywhere.

Categories and tags

Another remaining task is to rationalise my tags and categories. I currently have 15 categories and 430 tags. My present approach is to try to make the categories obvious, I want to avoid subtle distinctions between categories, it should be immediately clear what category a post belongs to. The tags are where the finer distinctions come into play.
The point of this is to use categories and tags to enable the WordPress algorithm to display ‘related posts’. In my early days blogging I manually linked to related posts within the body of each post I wrote. However, this approach has problems; it is really time consuming, I can only link to what I’ve already published (i.e., future content won’t be referenced even if it is closely related), and it leads to a lot of broken links over time.
A couple of things I’ve learned from this exercise:

  • keep backups in multiple storage locations
  • make sure backups are well labelled
  • have a logical system for labeling and archiving images
  • plain text copies of the text of posts are super valuable

If anyone has wisdom or ideas on how to do any of this stuff better please let me know in the comments!

Some reasons why I have my own website

Digging through my massive archive of Evernote clippings I came across one from a guy named Brett Slatkin in which he outlines some reasons why he chooses to have his own website. The reason I kept the note is to remind me to consider this question for myself and to write my thoughts on the topic.

In the past my typical response to this sort of topic has been to begin a draft with the intention of writing a comprehensive post drawing together all my thinking on the subject. I’m increasingly aware that it is much more constructive for me to throw together my thoughts at the time when I’m motivated by the topic and publish it, whether I feel it is complete or not. I can always circle back around at some later time to add more ideas or update my thinking in the light of experience.

So, I’m going to steal Brett’s major headings and start from there:

A home base

This blog is where I write first. I have tried various social media channels and failed at most of them. My blog is personal to me, it is where I automatically think to put anything I write, and I’m trying to make it the hub of whatever else I do online.

Self expression

Initially (back in 2010), I found it difficult to come out of my shell and ‘be myself’ in what and how I wrote on my blog. Gradually this has changed and although I do maintain boundaries as to what I share, nowadays what you read is generally likely to be what is on my heart at the time of publication. I’m also aiming to expand the ways in which I use my blog as a form of self-expression, varying the styles of my writing, including a range of posts from short status updates or random thoughts through to much longer articles. Don’t hold your breath Chris, but maybe even some poetry!

Something I’m interested to try is photography. I’m not a good photographer, but it is a good way to catch some things that can be difficult to put into words. In the past I used a lot of stock photos but have grown away from liking those as I’ve moved more into personal blogging rather than writing about faith as I used to. Instead I’d like to use more of my own photos to illustrate my life rather than just talking (well, writing) about it.

Internet citizenship

This heading would not have made it into my top three if I hadn’t stolen it! However, it is actually an important issue. As sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn have created their own ‘silo’ effects, locking user-generated content into their own systems, I’m becoming increasing bloody-minded about avoiding such silos and publishing to the ‘open web’. I do like what Brett had to say about linking and citing others, this is both an academic necessity in my view and also common courtesy. Unfortunately, some sites are making even this difficult, I noticed today when I scanned my site for broken links that all the links I have to articles from the New York Times are broken because of their pay wall – in my view this is just plain obnoxious.

Now a few headings of my own:

Freedom

This is a major factor for me. I greatly value the ability to create a backup or export of my entire site and move it to whatever web host or platform I want to. Over the years I’ve experimented with WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Ghost, Squarespace and a bunch of html files. All this is possible with your own website and the only limits are time, patience and technical prowess (I’m lacking in the third of those attributes).

The other aspect of freedom is being free to express my own views. I’m not a political writer so freedom of speech has not been a significant issue to me, but I do write about my faith in Christ and in some situations the freedom to do this could conceivably be curtailed. I just like knowing that I’m not unduly constrained by some company that ‘graciously’ lets me post stuff on their site for free.

Legacy

The longer I maintain my own website the more valuable it becomes to me, and potentially to my children. I want to continue building this legacy, and also to be able to ensure ongoing access to it. Even if I were to take the site offline, it could still be made into a local copy that could be accessed by my family. It can be exported into plain text files which theoretically should still be readable in 50 years time, or it could be printed onto good old paper for others to read. Some of these options would cause a loss in functionality, but the core content remains my own possession. Again, not left at the mercy of a company that allows me to put stuff on their platform for free.

Customisation

Being able to tinker with how my site looks is fun (and time consuming) and I do like being able to decide what extra functionality it has. However, this is not an especially significant item on my list. In reality I tend to opt for some sort of theme template that thousands of other sites probably use, and prefer a fairly simple layout so I can take or leave this particular aspect. It is nice to have the option open though.

A final link

While writing this I came across this article: Chopped up or Cloned: You Choose which gives a nice summary of how having your own website can act as an online hub, without having to forsake whatever other sites you happen to already use.

I have referred to and largely based this post on IndieWeb ideas, but really all I’m emphasising is the value of having your own blog or website. The more I have scratched around IndieWeb sites and their wiki the less inclined I am to fully embrace the whole thing because it seems vastly more complicated than what I want out of my own site.

Site philosophy

Why?

I think it is always good to ask why, and to keep asking it at decision points along the path (to wherever, the destination is determined by your answer to why).

So, why does this website exist?

  • I like to have a ‘home base’ on the internet where people can find out about me and I control what and how information is presented rather than relying on luck, fate or Google.
  • I’m choosing to remain independent of closed systems such as Facebook and other social media platforms. I publish all my stuff here, though I may comment and interact on those other platforms occasionally.

What?

What can you expect to find here?

  • First off, this is a personal website so will largely reflect me and what I find interesting.
  • My interests include: Family, faith, poetry, science, reading, writing, web development, mental health, and whatever else pricks my curiosity.
  • Most often updates will take the form of thoughts, ideas and quotes. Occasionally I will write something longer.

Site Philosophy page inspired by:

An ordinary Christian

There are many, many days that I question why I blog. I read the blogs of some very talented people – great writers, who lead more interesting lives and seem to walk much closer to Jesus than I do. Many of these folks have suffered much, travelled, served Christ and overcome obstacles beyond my comprehension.

Whereas I am just plain average. I was going to write ‘very average’ but that would be overstating the case and adding the idea of excelling at being average, I don’t, I’m just average. My academic record is average (all B’s and C’s, not many ‘pointy grades’), my income is average, even the size of my family is average! The main point of difference about me is my height (short). One of my struggles in life is finding anything interesting to write in my Twitter bio.

Point of difference

So what purpose does an ordinary person like me have in writing stuff for the whole world to see ? (If they chose to look – they don’t!)

Marketing gurus like to tell us that whatever we are trying to publish needs to have a ‘point of difference’ so that people will be interested. This makes good sense in a marketplace crowded with stuff and an internet congested with blogs.

Within contemporary New Zealand culture my point of difference is that I am a Christian. In our very secular society a person has to be pretty committed to be an active church goer with a deep faith in Jesus Christ. Still, there are plenty of other Christians in NZ, some of whom write blogs and most of those folks are more educated, opinionated and articulate than me.

So I suppose my ‘point of difference’ is that I’m just a very ordinary Christian living in a secular society and trying to figure out what it means to trust Jesus while working to pay the bills.

Ordinary folks welcome!

Given that I’m just an ordinary guy with no special training in theology or such like, I do not set out to teach deep theological truths on this blog or argue about fine points of doctrine. Theology and doctrine are important to me but I have learned over the years that God uses people with inadequate understanding about Him – He has to because nobody fully understands God.

All I’m really aiming to do is share the reality of striving to live for Christ in an ordinary life. Not the life of a missionary or pastor or scholar, just plain old making ends meet in the context of work and family.


What other writers have to say on this topic:

A personal blog

Blogging is dead, why blog? From my perspective, the short answer is, ‘because I want to’. As a longer answer I will give some backstory and explain why I am starting a personal blog.

Over the years since the end of 2009, I’ve had a number of blogs on various platforms (WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Squarespace and Ghost) in combination with half a dozen hosting providers.

My enthusiasm for blogging and frequency of posting has waxed and waned over the years. For a while I published new posts three times a week, more recently it has been less than once in six months. Four months ago I made a deliberate choice to take a complete break from blogging or even thinking about blogging for at least three months, with no expectation of returning to it. The idea behind this was to give myself a break from the blogging mindset in order to assess whether it was truly something I wanted to do or if I was just feeling obligated to maintain the blog I already had.

During that time I also managed to change jobs from one that was exacting a heavy toll on both me and my family to one that is much less stressful and has better working hours. Now that my head has had a chance to reboot I’m finding a rekindled desire to express myself in writing and so the motivation to keep a blog has returned.

Several significant mental shifts have occurred for me during the time I stepped away from blogging. I’ve recovered from a severe and prolonged period of depression, and I’m no longer actively job seeking. Both of these had a large impact on what I thought and what I was willing to publish. Now I’m thinking more positively and am not worried about what a prospective employer might read on my blog so I can feel free to write about any weird oddball topics I want to. One of my ambitions in life is to be an eccentric old man so I need to start practising!

Having had time to consider what I want to write about and whether to simply pick up one of my two existing sites to move forward with, I’ve decided to make a clean start. This will be a blog with no niche, posts will be about whatever I feel like writing or is taking up my brain space at the time. This is a personal blog, the connecting theme is stuff I am personally interested in, no other criteria needs to be met. And because I am entering a new phase of life myself it seems appropriate to start fresh here and let the rest of the story emerge as we go.

Purposeful growth

planning

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research to work out where I want to go with this blog and some strategies to get there. The research is ongoing, and what I find will help to refine the scope of what I write about here.

Until now my blogging has mostly been about me. Sure, I’ve sought to encourage others in what I write, but overall I have written on topics that inspire me at the time and largely as way to work through the topic for myself without any systematic plan to publish material that could provide a guide to others or markers in the walk of faith.

Keeping a blog as an online journal is fine if that is all I ever want it to be. But then I have to wonder, why put a journal online when I could simply keep it private and gain more value from journaling when I don’t have to worry about what others might think of it? So for a long time I’ve used my blog as an in-between place, not a fully private journal, yet without any serious structure or purpose.

A weakness of blogging without a purpose is that publishing tends to only occur when inspiration strikes, leading to erratic and irregular posting frequency. This is a bit inconsiderate towards those who read the posts as they can never know when new posts are likely to come their way.

The alternative to writing when inspiration strikes is to set a schedule for publishing. This works best if I can map out a plan of what topics to write about over the next 6 weeks or longer so that I can use writing time for writing rather than spending it trying to come up with a topic and running out of time to actually write. To plan posts in advance requires some sort of strategy; what is my purpose in choosing particular topics? What style should they be written in? What is the goal of each post – to entertain, to educate, to inspire?

Planning to this level of detail needs something like a ‘vision statement’ to unify all the parts into a whole that gives the blog a purpose and direction. This is what I’m working on, and in the process it seems that God is also working on me.

I’m not trying to position myself as some sort of expert. The blog will always grow out of my faith in Christ, knowing Him more and learning what it means to live as an adopted child of God. My ‘vision’ is basically for us to learn to know God more and explore what it means to live as His people in ordinary daily life. All I’m really planning is how to approach learning and growing – being intentional about growth.


Image: Shutterstock

Is there room for another Christian blog?

The primary goal of this blog is to be an encouragement.

I’ve been mulling over whether I should write about something other than faith. It seems that there are already thousands of ‘faith blogs’ and maybe this space is already full.

On just one directory of Christian themed blogs there are over 2750 blogs listed. Alexa has 63,328 sites listed in the category of ‘Christianity‘. This includes all types of websites, not just blogs, but that’s a large number and these are only Alexa’s “Top Sites”.

Whatever the actual number, there are a huge number of Christian ‘faith blogs’. Why add yet another one?

I have two main reasons:

1) Writing about faith in Christ keeps me focused on this topic, which I want to remain central to my own life.

2) Surprisingly to myself even, I do have a unique story and can add something to the discussion of how we live our faith in the real world.

I used to think that I was a very boring person who leads a boring life. In some ways this is true, but life has thrown enough at me by now to add some flavour into the mundane details of an ordinary life. The ordinariness is even an aspect of what differentiates this blog. I am not a pastor, I don’t work for a Christian organisation and consider my calling is to be in the secular work world.

Because I write as just another ordinary Christian, I’m not out to correct your theology or portray a spotless life of exemplary faith – my job security doesn’t hinge upon a flawless outward appearance. The primary goal of this blog is to be an encouragement. This is the filter I want to be using in deciding what to write about, “is this something encouraging to other Christians?”

So, despite the size of the Christian blogosphere, A Saved Wretch does have it’s own particular flavour, hopefully one that appeals to and encourages some readers.


Image: iStock

Where is this blog going?

where-is-this-blog-going

A new blog name, a new web host, new blogging platform, new domain, same old writer. What’s the deal?

New web host and blogging platform

My web hosting account with A Small Orange was up for renewal at the end of September so I was in the headspace to reassess whether I was getting a good deal for my money. In digging around their terms and conditions I noticed that this particular hosting company was happy to host pornographic websites provided they complied with US law.

Hmm… I’m not as pure as the driven snow, but the idea of my dollars going to a company that is also making profits from porn does not sit well on my conscience. So I started looking into this issue and realised that the majority of hosting providers in fact are happy to host ‘legal’ porn sites. The few that do not tend to be European sites. Much internet searching later and I had a list of possible candidates and one in particular held my attention; Ghost.

In the Terms of Service for Ghost it clearly states that each user must warrant that:

Content is not pornographic, does not contain threats or incite violence, and does not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party;

Ghost is a new blogging platform which began from a Kickstarter campaign to design an alternative to WordPress which put the focus back on writing rather than the amassed options and clutter which can overwhelm many blogs. I tried it out a year ago when very new but at that stage I found it just too sparse and technically demanding to stick with it. The platform has matured since then and I am enjoying it now that I’m getting used to writing using Markdown.

Why the new domain and blog name?

I began blogging with a very Christian focussed blog, “Words of Eternal Life“. Having a title like that implied that what I was writing should have some authority to it but in reality I was using my blogging as an exploration of my Christian faith rather than trying to make authoritative statements on belief. So I often felt a tension between what I wanted to write and a that I should be writing good theologically sound content.

I then went the other direction and blogged under my own name and wrote on assorted random topics, though have not in fact published very much during this phase.

What I most like to write about is faith in Christ. The process of thinking up and writing blog posts centred on my faith helps my faith to grow and drives me to learn more about what I believe and why and how this can be lived out in the real world. So I am wanting to move back to such an emphasis on my blog.

However, the longer I try to walk with Christ the more aware I become of my failures, weakness and unworthiness. The grace of God is my only hope, apart from what God does I truly am wretched. I don’t profess to have a great understanding of theology, though I try to remain orthodox in my beliefs. I’m interested in how faith interacts with real life – Monday morning faith rather than Sunday evening faith. Life can be hard, for most people it is hard and faith needs to have real answers for those hard places.

The path from here will hopefully be through pondering, wrestling with, writing about and living out faith in Christ amid my normal daily life.

Migrating

I first began blogging in November 2009, which is also when I joined Facebook. Since then I’ve written many blog posts, status updates and tweets. At least half a dozen domain names have been registered by me with great ideas of stuff I’d like to publish but time and motivation have failed to follow through.

As my own interests, goals and motivation for online writing has morphed over these four years and as social media has evolved into a gigantic advertising machine, it seems time to transition from a niche blog with a strong focus on a single (major) aspect of my life to a more general personal blog that can serve as my online hub.

To some this may be viewed as a backwards step – there are millions of largely un-read personal blogs out there so why add to the mass? My defence: “Facebook made me do it!”

You see, I hate advertising. It really pisses me off, especially when it is intrusive and poorly done, as is most online advertising. Over the last 12 months the big social media sites have been steadily increasing the proportion of advertisements being inserted into timelines. So have the ‘news’ websites, using trivial entertainment to attract pageviews to generate advertising revenue. Finally I am grumpy enough to make a move.

My personal view is that the ‘free-but-supported-by-advertising’ model deserves to die a miserable death. I realise I am in the minority but feel strongly enough about this to not only reduce my use of Facebook and Twitter but also to pay for website hosting on the Squarespace platform in preference to using WordPress.com in order to stop supporting an advertising based business model.