There are two quotes that come to mind. The first one, my father was fond of paraphrasing. The second one, my mother still quotes to this day. Even though they are decades old, both quotes ring true:
- "Wisdom through suffering." – unknown
- “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Quite simply, my goal with blogging is to prevent others from making the same time wasting, expensive, and frustrating mistakes I’ve made. As well as sharing what I have learned from knowledgeable others.
There are however, many valid reasons not to even bother with an old fashioned blog. Not the least of which are:
- I could very easily just post the same content to social media.
- Self hosting a blog is time intensive and requires quite a bit of technical knowledge.
- It's costly - about $20 a month to host this site.
Regarding social media as a blogging alternative, yes you can easily post and share information to any number of social media sites. Once you do, you lose control of your content. While it can be dug up, social media tends to promote your latest post and ignores older posts. Their algorithms promote newer content. It's a non ending cycle to keep the site fresh, drive engagement, and sell ads. Moreover, to my knowledge, major search engines don't generally search and serve up links to individual social media posts. If I'm going to take the time to write out an article, I'd like it to be readily accessible and not get buried in a social media site.
Besides, social media is really designed for micro blogging, not long-form content. Imagine scrolling through your friends social media posts and seeing a really long article like this. I know what I would do - keep scrolling. I'm not going to read all of that! For longer written content, the rest of the web is very much alive.
As a contrast to social media, self hosting a blog is more time intensive, and there is quite a bit of technical knowhow that comes in to play. For example, this particular site is hosted using a droplet on DigitalOcean, and then further propagated to the web using Cloudflare (a content delivery network). In order to configure this virtual machine, I had to log in to the Ubuntu Linux command line via SSH, and then perform server maintenance on the back end. Initially, there were a couple of deprecated repositories that I had to sort out before I could install all of the necessary system updates. Once that was done, I was able to log into Ghost (the blogging system I'm using), and then tweak the theme by injecting code into the header of the site using CSS. Going forward, I'll still need to log into the server from time to time to do some backend maintenance as well as perform manual backups of my blog. Then lastly, using an FTP program to pull those backups off of my server. Then I'll save those files someplace else in case I need to move to a different host or of catastrophic loss.
Then there's the cost. I pay about $20 a month (total with tax) for a virtual machine with 2GB of memory and one virtual CPU. I've tried VMs with less memory in the past, and while they can work (if you increase the virtual memory), they tend to bog down and not work as well as having real RAM. Thus, it's worth spending more to have a more responsive and reliable server.
There are free alternatives (which I've used in the past) like using a home server, Docker, and a DDNS reverse proxy. However, you'll likely deal with limitations like bandwidth, possible terms of service issues from internet providers, lack of redundancy, and down time. I believe that using a cloud based host is a much better solution as the websites often run faster, have less down time, and the cloud hosting companies offer better backup methods than I can implement on my own.
Ultimately, it comes down to control and aesthetics. By self hosting your own blog, you can choose which platform you prefer to write on as well as install your own theme that you can tweak to your heart's content. I've used Wordpress, Ghost, Hugo, Jekyll, and WriteFreely in the past. I prefer Ghost because it's very easy to write on, edit, post, and seems to have good search engine optimization out of the box. There are quite a few technical limitations however like the commenting system, photo galleries can only have nine images, the search system ignores pages, etc. However, the responsiveness, editing layout, and customizability keep me coming back. Unfortunately, I have quite a few issues with the creator of Ghost, but then again, who couldn't say the same about the CEOs of many corporations. Can you say that you really think Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson are the best humanity has to offer? Yet, chances you or someone you know someone uses their services and products.
Lastly, self-hosting your own blog means that you are your own moderator you can post whatever content you wish. Now that being said, I don't put it past any hosting company, CDN, search engine, or even name registrar to fully support posting anything. If you start posting vile things, my guess is those companies will drop you without a seconds notice. Still, it's your own corner of the web and you're in control.
In conclusion, I enjoy and use quite a few social media platforms, but for sharing long-form written content, there's nothing better than an old fashioned self-hosted blog.