Technical Brief

Wow, the response to A Brief Message so far has been terrific. Thanks to everyone who posted comments on the site, on last night’s post, or who wrote in to me with your support — and to everyone who read the site, too! My partner-in-crime Liz Danzico and I worked long and hard to make this happen, and the encouragement has been deeply gratifying.

I just wanted to take the time to write a few additional notes about the site to clarify some points, and also to hash out some technical details.

Fast, Cheap and Under Control

Framework? We don’t need no stinkin’ framework!

Actually, we’re kind of using a framework, even if we’re not calling it that. It’s “The Framework,” so to speak. That’s right, as many of you pointed out, A Brief Message bears a very strong resemblance to — mostly because it’s largely the very same code base.

The original idea behind the site was to build something small, and to build it quickly. Rather than start everything over from scratch, I re-used as much as I could from; the same CSS, the same template code, even the very same grid structure.

It’s not a proper framework in the way that the Blueprint CSS framework is. But I’ve been using it so long, and I’m so familiar with it, that developing with it was pretty fast for me. Besides, with all modesty aside, I think the end product looks pretty nice.

The Move to Movable Type

A Brief Message is being run off my creaky installation of Movable Type 3.33 on my creaky, shared Dreamhost plan. This explains the interminably slow comment processing times (a problem here on, too). Sorry about that folks. I am working on trying to get someone with considerably more knowledge in this area to help me fix this.

We had originally intended to launch on a brand new server over at Media Temple using Movable Type 4. But we didn’t plan it properly, so the move didn’t happen. Plus, there are some quirky new things about Movable Type 4 that made getting up and running on it immediately a greater challenge than I had anticipated — I would have had to have rebuilt the template code that powers the comments feature almost entirely, which is not something I wanted to do.

Still, after spending a good deal of time in version 4, I have to say that I like it. Which is a surprising turn of events given where I thought the product stood a year ago. This newest version is really nice, and once the kinks get worked out, I will likely upgrade A Brief Message and probably

Image Replacement

Yes, we’re using Scalable Inman Flash Replacement to render those lovely (to my eyes) headlines and display text in Apex Serif. The latest version is a big improvement over previous versions I’ve used… but it’s still a little bit like doing needlepoint whilst wearing mittens. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for it, because its authors have worked very hard to continue to improve faithfully. Plus, let’s face it, A Brief Message wouldn’t have been possible in its current form without sIFR. That doesn’t stop me from wishing we lived in a more perfect universe where online typography wasn’t so technically convoluted, though…

The Deck

A Brief Message was incredibly fortunate enough to have early encouragement and commitment from the esteemed Jim Coudal. He’s just been great. One of the comments I’ve gotten a lot is how impressed people are that we had ads from The Deck — the very classy and growing advertising network that Jim runs — on our site right out of the gate. We really owe him a debt of gratitude… very often advertisements are a kind of blight on content, but in a subtle way, I think ads from The Deck actually helped legitimize our debut.


We’ll be publishing every week — unless we publish more. In these early weeks, to help build and sustain momentum, we’re going to try to publish more often. This week it looks like we’re going to pull it off. Tune in on Thursday (hopefully) for a really wonderful Message from Debbie Millman, illustrated by Felix Sockwell. I know I’m the founder of A Brief Message and all, but to me, that’s a bill worth lining up for.

  1. Hi Khoi, A Brief Message is awesome!

    I’d like to recommend you to take a look at Joyent’s accelerator offerings for your hosting needs. We’ve been running all of our product websites, including which is template-based and the most complexely structured one, on their servers for quite a while now.

    Performance and uptime have been great on the static as well as the dynamic content. (we’re not affiliated with textdrive/joyent in any way, just very happy, very demanding users)


  2. hey khoi! just wanted to pipe in and let you know that i’m here to help! i just quit my day job to stay home with the little one and do exactly the kind of work that you need done, which is to help them with their blogs. if you need help, please drop me a line. i’m in brooklyn so it might be nice to have someone to help you that’s close by. in the meantime, your slow commenting problem may have something to do with this.

    it’s a VERY easy problem to fix (just a preferences modification).

  3. I noticed one thing that would be really easy to fix on that site. You don’t have a background color set for the body of the site. For anyone without the default color of white, this makes every white-backgrounded element stick out like a sore thumb.

  4. Really enjoying A Brief Message so far. Great concept – digestible content-rich articles from awesome people. Can’t wait to see more

  5. The Deck ads still don’t show for me on any website. I tried emailing Jim twice but he hasn’t replied. They’re my kind of ads, but only when they work! Having to wait three minutes for it to time out is ridiculous.

  6. Gleek: Thanks for the offer, I may take you up on it! And I’ll look into that link, too.

    Ste: D’oh! Completely my fault. I will take care of that tout suite.

  7. Nocturnale: I’m sure it is, but it’s all a matter of time. It would be nontrivial to go back and re-engineer everything from scratch so it’s running on a proper framework… and I think it would only get me a little further than the same spot where I am now. That is, it wouldn’t be that much more efficient, really. I’m very comfortable in this pseudo framework, and besides, there are many other things I’d rather be doing to improve the site.

  8. Khoi, my name is Byrne Reese and I am the product manager behind MT4. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with your upgrade. I am glad you like the new UI and the new product… all this MT4 goodness is just the beginning as well. We have soooo much in store for everyone.

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