Allow Me Not to Explain Myself

Sometimes I feel as if I could blog all day every day, and other times I feel like I couldn’t write another blog post if my life depended on it. At the moment I’m feeling a bit of the latter, as some readers might have intuited from the fact that for the first time in a long time, I blogged not once all last week.

Part of the blame for this goes to the disorderly state of my blogging software. I’m eager to move off of Movable Type and over to Expression Engine, but it’s a process that’s going to take lots of time (even though I’ve been receiving the generous help of some readers like Adam Khan in getting up to speed with the new software). In the meanwhile, it kind of pains me to continue to mess around with the existing platform.

Function Follows the Form

I’m also a bit frustrated, I think, by the very form of There is something about its presentation — the way the front page looks and the way it leads into the article page — that makes it very hard to do anything but publish articles — and therefore to blog anything that doesn’t take the form of an expository essay. To be honest, I often weary of having to hammer out the minimally well-articulated arguments that I post here (such as they are).

Ever since I first began blogging, I’ve always wanted an outlet for less explicit, more abstract posts, somewhere I can just throw doodles, experiments, found miscellany of all sorts — all without feeling the obligation to explain them. A bulletin board for ideas, in a sense, rather than a sort of a periodical, which this site often more closely resembles.

At any rate, I’m going to see if I can bring back a bit of that enthusiasm for blogging that I usually have in such ample supply. However, if you see a continued dearth of new posts, it should be safe to assume that I’m devoting my energies to a coming re-architecture of this site. That, or I’m watching TV.

  1. You’re fooling nobody here, Khoi. We all know that TV of yours is unwatchable.

    Regarding the ability to post more things in different formats, you should talk to Croftie about what he’s been cooking up lately. He’s pretty good at the multi-format stuff… if you don’t mind pink and brown, that is. 🙂

  2. I’ve felt the same way a few hundred times in my blogging life. Both on the dichotomy of loving and hating blogging, and on the desire for a “whatever whenever” blog.

    It’s hard to know the solution for the first problem, but I can say with confidence that a lot of people used Tumblr for the latter. Whether or not that’s a good solution is, of course, a different matter entirely.

  3. There is something about its presentation — the way the front page looks and the way it leads into the article page — that makes it very hard to do anything but publish articles — and therefore to blog anything that doesn’t take the form of an expository essay.

    i agree… while i love your layout, i feel it’s good for text heavy content, since the design suits for a newspaper type of presentation(heavy grids). it works well. however, when you introduce new elements, it clashes with the rest of the page imo.

    then again, i don’t think it’s necessarily broken, so no need to fix it 🙂

  4. I’ve recently gone through the same thing (from TXP to EE) and in the move sought to emulate Gruber and his Linked list, so I can easily post relevant links and reviews into the stream of my more article-y blog.

    I find that, whilst not quite a tumblr, it helps me at least write something in those long months I feel I have nothing to say.

  5. Why not start something entirely new? Leverage everything you’ve learned doing Subtraction to start a leaner site that serves as an outlet for shorter and/or more abstract posts. Maintain Subtraction alongside it as a place for the more in-depth stuff.

    This scenario could also free up Subtraction to become less personal. You could invite guest posters and maybe even work with other authors/bloggers you like to republish their posts for a new audience.

    Two sites, two purposes, satisfaction for your ideas either way. I’d be more than willing to follow both, and I’d bet most everyone else would too.

    Just a thought. Either way, I’m on board.

  6. With Expression Engine you’ll have to flexibility to dictate exactly what type of content you want to present and publish.

    Also, FYI, Expression Engine 2 is going to be incredible if you want to wait for that to upgrade. We got to see a preview at SXSW and it looked amazing.

  7. I second the suggestion on using Tumblr as a secondary outlet.

    It brought much needed freedom to my blogging as I can simply post small snippets and doodles without fully formed thoughts or long explanations.

  8. Khoi,

    Perhaps think about running a tumblr and blog side by side – it sounds as if you want the functionality of both.

    That way you could post snippets, doodles etc, along with the more irregular longer article.

    In fact, I’ve rarely seen the two together actually, most use one or the other. Set the trend (if I don’t beat you to it)!

  9. Agreed w.r.t. Tumblr. I had the same dilemma of only wanting to post polished, high quality articles on my blog and running Tumblr and a blog is a nice mix. I’ve never struggled with what to post where because there’s a nice clear devision.

  10. Why not forget these pieces of blogging software all together?
    They are getting more and more impressive but there’s still no substitute for designing and developing a completely bespoke site from scratch.

    Instead of stressing about not blogging and learning workarounds in your blogging software of choice, you could spend the time developing your ‘dream’ site that’ll serve your needs perfectly. It could be just the tonic you need to renew enthusiasm for a site that a lot of people really admire (including my good self).

  11. I just read this, and the first thing I thought was Tumblr, and then I read the comments and saw that everyone else had the same idea. There is also which is also a lightweight blog solution i’ve been wanting to mess around with. Anyway, keep up the good work.

  12. I just read this, and the first thing I thought was Tumblr, and then I read the comments and saw that everyone else had the same idea. There is also which is also a lightweight blog solution i’ve been wanting to mess around with. Anyway, keep up the good work.

  13. Also +1 for the tumblr integration (or the chyrp equivalent).

    I’m in the process of adding my tumblr page/feed into my main site for the very same reasons you, and others, have stated.

    Cameron i/o has a nice layout of this sort, using chyrp, where his tumblelog sits next to his larger, more substantial articles.

    It would certainly be interesting to follow your thought process, too, as you go through this transition. Thanks for putting such thoughtful effort into your site, Khoi. It’s a huge reason many of us are regular readers and fans, I’m sure.

  14. I can understand the desire to change. This blog has looked the same every since I started reading it. I guess you have added stuff on the sides and maybe the bottom but I really haven’t noticed. I go straight to the articles and start reading. You’re a really good writer. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

  15. No offense to them, but I think many of the commenters are missing the point, here. The CMS recommendations are great, but no piece of technology is going to fix what is, at its core, a design and perception problem. Tumblr is awesome, but you could do the same thing with just about any CMS out there (albeit far less elegantly). And, there are solutions that are even more elegant, robust, and flexible than Tumblr.

    But in the end, it doesn’t matter what technology you use. What matters is that you have a place to express yourself the way you want to, and that you’re comfortable doing so. It sounds like this place (even as much as I love it) isn’t doing that for you anymore. Figure out what you want to do, and then do exactly that. Don’t be limited by canned CMSes. Don’t be limited by existing perceptions of what a blog is “supposed to be.”

    Figure out exactly what you want, design the hell out of it, and then get someone who can build it for you. Yes, it’ll cost more. Yes, it’ll take more time. But it will be 100% worth it — I swear.

  16. i’m just guessing here, so pardon me if i’m totally off.

    i think over the course you’ve pigeonholed yourself as a pundit. you talk about design but never does anything substantial. sometimes it’d be a nice balance of actually showcasing something creative, rather than to talk about it.

    i feel many of my fav bloggers are becoming this way, and eventually end their blogs.

  17. Young Manhattanite has been doing the embedded Tumblr thing for awhile now. Hop on the Krucoff train, everyone!

  18. I echo calls to try a Tumblelog! is amazing, simple and quick.

    I felt the same constraint of long posts on my blog (, but I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on my tumblelog ( — I still maintain both, but you can see where most of my posts go.

    There are a lot of nice features in Tumblr — for example, it will automatically post Google Shared items if you so desire, which is a feature I find quite nice.

  19. Interesting post Khoi. I’ve been going through a ‘lean’ time on a couple of my sites of late, having failed to keep the momentum going.

    Its at these times I look to redeveloping or (creating) a site to allow a different direction to be taken. At the moment I’m trying to put together something that will allow content to be posted/published that doesn’t need to stick to a predefined order/layout.

    The desire to publish a photo shouldn’t be constrained by a site layout that restricts the maximum width/height of the photo, or an element of linearity in what has come before.

    I really want that childhood scrap book feel, while retaining some element of structure – the all important binding around the body of work.

    Or maybe I’m just babbling…

  20. Have you tried playing around with Drupal? There’s a slight learning curve, but the code it spits out follows web standard and there’s a high level of customization.

    I’m moving from Joomla to Drupal right now and after a few weeks of going thru “Pro Drupal Development” book by Westgate / Van Dyk, I see how and why Drupal is becoming ever so popular.

    Anyways, good luck w/ the move!

  21. Okay, so I’m gonna be like the umpteenth guy here who will say Tumblr is what you are most likely looking for, but what gives?

    Plus, you can customize the look and feel of a Tumblelog (the way Tumblr weblogs are called) to fit that of this very site for which you are so well known… setting that up should be dead simple.

    That feeling of being trapped in your own rules and constraints, I know what it feels like… on the other hand, if you look at some Tumblr logs, you’ll notice that mixing lots of different things (videos, images, links) tends to cause a sorta anarchic display, which you may or may not feel comfortable with given your affair with structured design 😉 … but you can always give it a try.

  22. Just so you know… I think your design is the coolest out there. Maybe you can’t do everything you want to do but you certainly inspired me in everything I do on the web.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  23. I’m with Jeff Croft on this. Its all about you and what you really want. That said, I just had to deal with similar issues for two sites, my personal site and my business site.

    I use ExpressionEngine (EE) on both; and the thing I had to decide was that while I wanted more small posts, to generate immediacy, they still came out as planned post, because that’s how I view posting through my control panel. I designed on the publish forms very specifically, to speed up my longer posts, but also to make sure was thorough. And adding a quick publish form, didn’t change my behavior.

    But around the same time, I started realizing even if I put the effort into changing my behavior. All my good random posts, comments, thoughts were already being used elsewhere—FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblelog, etc. That’s when I came across a post by Yongfook—who designed Open Source Food—that made a great deal of sense. He redesigned his website to accommodate the fact that 90% of his content comes through other sources. Centralizing the de-centralized of him on the web.

    I started down that path, and I admit to loving it. I have more control than using something like FriendFeed, but don’t have to worry about recreating that thought I posted on Twitter to get it back to my website. I use an EE plugin to pull all my Twitter, Tumblelog, and Ma.gnolia posts back to my website. Directly in EE, in different content areas as needed, so I have maximum control.

    For example, I have a spotlight post on my website. But recently the post has been getting older and older. So I created a query that states if the post is older than two weeks, replace it with my twitter stream. Simple (well except for the date comparison). On our business site, we hadn’t updated in over a year. Yet, we were creating content at tons of locations. So we’ve just started really making decisions, about which pieces of data to recall back to our site and how. But the progress so far has been very exciting to us.

  24. @ Jeff Croft and allgood2

    I agree and disagree:

    I think in an ideal world we would all have the time, money, and patience (not to mention expertise) to create a bespoke CMS to handle blogs. However, it’s just not the case most of the time.

    I think for some of us, canned CMS systems actually offer a very good out-of-the-box solution. A lot of people are quick to knock them as not allowing ultimate flexibility, and yes, I agree – but you have to strike a balance.

    I do agree it’s about choosing the best solution to the problem though – and if that involves contracting in someone to create your new blog, then so be it!

    I guess some people would argue that using someone else to design the architecture of your blog is as limiting as using a canned CMS. Again, it’s about striking the balance between ultimate creative input and time, patience & money.

  25. I’ve had a similar problem with blogging. On one hand, I can be extremely verbose, but only when the mood strikes, and I can tend to set myself stupidly time-consuming writing tasks that I simply don’t have the time for. Which leads to blog procrastination. On the other hand, I just want to share things.

    I understand that it’s not really a matter of which CMS is better, since it _is_ limiting and entirely depends on what you intend to use your blog/site for, so here’s a list of problems/criteria/desires that may fit others’ situations as well as my own:

    1. Desire to blog both verbosely as well as ‘oh oh oh, look at this’ type content
    2. Currently used software doesn’t make 1. easy (in my case, WordPress)
    3. Currently used software is a pain to mod/update core (specifically, my theme dies every other update)
    4. Tumblr is appealing but is hard to search, and I prefer to host it myself
    5. For a personal site, I have no real desire to spend the money on a bespoke system
    6. I have no time to build said system myself

    Based on these points, I’m going to give Chyrp a try. It’s hosted, has different input types, and when their psycho migration finishes, I may even be able to update core using a version control system. As for whether my theme will die when I do, I guess I’ll figure that out later.

    Of course, that’s just one solution to one specific situation and as most people here will know and have said, it all depends on what the customer’s (your) requirements actually are anyway. 😛


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