Anatomy of a Blog Revamp

Earlier this year, I decided to revamp my personal blog. Over the past two years, I’ve sprinkled content across places like TechCrunch and Quora, and began to experiment with services like Tumblr and PandaWhale, or Reddit and Hacker News, among others. I am curious about Branch, too, but haven’t tried it yet, though I see it’s picking up steam and generating new, interesting content in the form of deep discussions. All the while, I had my personal blog on WordPress, a simple site hosted by them. But, now, it was time to reset, so it should be straight-forward, right? Not at all.

So, here’s a look into my thought process. Please keep in mind that I didn’t try to chose the “best” solution out there, but rather the best solution for my specific needs. First, I wanted to have a blog with a rich comments section. Therefore, the first decision revolved around choosing between the following commenting options: Facebook Social Plug-in, Disqus, Livefyre, or the general WordPress Comments tool. This was the hardest decision and determined the flow for the rest of revamp. Immediately, I discarded the WordPress feature, and figured I’d go with Disqus. To be diligent, though, I looked at Livefyre. It’s great, and I like the way Pando has been using it.

However, I was surprised that some of my very smart tech friends encouraged me to go with Facebook. I really hate Facebook Comments, with a passion. I’ve been bugging TechCrunch to go back to Disqus because Facebook comments end up giving the commenter less choice and more incentives to be a windbag. Yet, Facebook’s Commenting system offers real identity and distribution, something that will be around for a long time. Because I wanted to build a community of readers and ignite discussion, I chose a product from the company that does just that: Disqus.

Next, I had to install Disqus on my blog. This is where I considered Tumblr. It’s dead-simple, looks great on mobile, and is easy to use. By contrast, I could only install Disqus on WordPress if I self-hosted the blog (not as easy as you think, thanks to WordPress), and in the process, temporarily lost many of key editing and publishing features that were offered through their baseline product. I was close to going with Tumblr, but I knew that given the amount I’d be writing and the SEO juice it has, that WordPress was the right choice for me. I’m also going to build out other sections to revisit my TechCrunch posts and TechCrunch TV videos, as well as other content; it’s not ready yet, but consider those navigation buttons as very public placeholders.

(This part is WordPress technical, so please skip if it’s not relevant. It’s not easy to find, but if you convert from WordPress to self-hosted, you have to host the blog (obviously) under a domain, all the content will transfer, and you can download Jetpack to restore most of your editing and publishing tools and widgets. It’s harder to find a theme optimized for mobile, however, which is silly. It’s also not entirely easy to install Disqus, so plan on that taking a good day’s worth of time. And, it will take days to find the right theme (free or purchased) because each one will bother you in their own unique ways. But, over time, you can design it however you want.)

I toyed with every idea and permutation before settling on this option. It made me realize how fragmented discussions online can be. And while it works for some and doesn’t bother others, I decided simply just to make my own little garden here. Simple. Clean. Easy. I own the domain and I’m responsible. Period.

Ultimately, all of this is largely irrelevant to the most important aspects of the blog — the content and the readers. I wanted to create a place where I could quickly share my thoughts, but more importantly, build a community of readers that produce comments and discussions that are more interesting than the content itself. Already a few weeks in, it’s beginning to get there — I’m learning so much from the discussion, and that’s the whole point. My motivations for doing this are quite personal. While I’m a social person by nature, and while it may appear to those in the Valley that folks see each other all the time, the truth is that I am not part of any real community. I don’t have a neighborhood, or a local coffee shop, or a dive bar that feels like it’s mine. So, my idea was to build a community online, and if you’ve read this far, I want you to be a part of it.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus