Standalone blog

by Roman Zolotarev

It is so exciting to have your attention. Thank you for landing here. What would you do if you could start a greenfield project? I guess you would start from sharing your progress, sharing everything you find useful for brave hearts following the same way.

This is what I am doing now. I have restarted this website with few pages and set up a newsletter. So I would like to share my recipe: how to setup a blog.

Why blogging

Professional blogging can be time-consuming, but your blog may stay obscure, your posts will get outdated, and eventually you will quit blogging someday anyway. Then why bother? First of all, regular writing helps you to improve your thinking, helps you to spread your ideas, helps your readers to learn or at least have some fun.

There are many other means of communication nowadays, but writing is one of the most powerful, accessible, and scalable ways. Words are magical. You can write today and people may read it years later. Almost anyone can download your pages and read them. Even over a slow internet connection, on a slow computer with a small screen. Nothing can stop your words. A number of your readers is unlimited, delivery cost is close to zero (less than a US dollar for a million page views).

You may say that writing is hard. Yes, it is very hard, especially if you are writing in a foreign language, but with practice, your writing is getting better and much more enjoyable.

What to write about

Where could you start? Probably the first question you are asking yourself: what should I write about? If you would ask me: I definitely have nothing special to tell and all my thoughts are obvious and all my stories are boring. But if something is obvious to you, it is not always obvious to other people.

Tell a story about a project you are working on. It can be useful or entertaining, or both. It can be a thing you have made this week or a thing you have learned today. You can write about why, how, and what you are doing. What problem you are solving. How you pick and shape your tools and so on.

In my case, the story is about starting a blog and writing the first post. Way too meta? True. If you want to make your blog useful, make your posts actionable. Each of your posts can be a step-by-step instruction, a recipe. Start from small simple posts and add depth gradually.

After choosing your topic the next hard thing is to keep writing. To make your blogging sustainable it is wise to build a writing habit and most importantly a publishing habit because you may end up having hundred of unpublished drafts. To fight your perfectionism set up a schedule: start writing every Saturday, clean up and publish next morning, no matter what.

Why standalone

As soon as you figure out what and how to write, you need to setup your website. You have so many options.

You can start posting on social media sites. Those sites have huge audiences, most of the people are already there, you just sign in and start writing, and it is “free”. But you give up all your rights at the moment of posting. You give up your content and your audience from the beginning. You have no control over page URLs, which makes very hard to transfer your content out of the platform. Your posts will be censored and your account can be banned. You cannot know which of your posts appear in your followers’ feeds. You do not decide how your pages look. You cannot remove ads, change colors or fonts. When a platform dies all your hard work disappears. You do not own your blog.

A little bit better option is to use any of blogging platforms: Medium, Svbtle, Tumblr, WordPress, etc. You have control over your page content. You can setup a custom domain and have somewhat control over page URLs. But you are tied to a platform and its software, it is painful to transfer your content out.

What does it mean to own the website? You need to control fully three things:

  1. Your domain,
  2. your content (copyrights, URLs, styles, markup, etc),
  3. and communication channels with your readers (email, comments, etc).

If you are serious about blogging, should you make everything from scratch? Fortunately, you do not have to create the universe to make your website.

Recipe

Start with GitHub Pages, it gives you full control and convenience. It is future-proof.

No databases. Your content is a bunch of plaintext files and an HTML template. You can edit your pages offline. You can choose page URLs. You can setup your custom domain. When you need to move your site to own servers, just copy your files to a new place. Voilà.

You can start blogging in a minute. Nothing to install. You do not need to learn HTML or CSS. If you do not have an account at GitHub, all you need is your email address and few more minutes.

  1. Start from forking my Jekyll Minimalist website boilerplate.
  2. Write your first post and publish it.
  3. Share the link with your friends. By the way, this is where social media sites can be useful.

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A random illustration