DIY

During my senior year of high school, some friends and I published an “underground” student magazine. It was reincarnated from an idea that some upperclassmen had done when we were freshmen and sophomores. It consisted of two or three 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, landscape and then folded and saddle-stitched. We tried to do it monthly, but that never worked out.

I loved getting together with the guys to type out the issue (we didn’t have computers then, or laser printers) and loved the thrill of satisfaction when we’d get the folded, saddle-stitched things back from the copy shop. I’m not sure if the other guys had quite the same thrill as I did, but I loved working on it. We never put the amount of time into it to make it great, but it was a blast.

I’ve had a few other publishing gigs through the years. A lot of it was purely from the heart… we didn’t make much money, but it was damn fun and we loved it. When I got higher paying and higher profile jobs in publishing, the design end of it seemed geared more like advertising, but without the respect (publishers making horrid design decisions) or concepting time; at least that was my experience. Sure, a business rag isn’t going to want to be arty. The whole process of putting out a pro magazine seemed to be so counter to the independent nature of my publishing experience. It was wholly foreign and left a taste I wasn’t keen on. When an opportunity came to do digital marketing, I leapt and didn’t look back. At least clients pretended to listen.

As with many advertising people, I had the typical “This isn’t really what I’m going to do with my life” hubris. I often would remember the feeling I got reading the Fear and Loathing period of Hunter S. Thompson and the fantasies I had about my own column or my own indie mag. While I wasn’t sure that advertising and marketing would be my thing for the rest of my life, I knew I’d never be able to churn out written work on a regular basis and with advertisers and editorial boards, I wouldn’t fit in at all. Deadlines, schmedlines. Besides, I’m not a writer. I’ve only listed writing once on my resume, taking it off after feeling like a fraud.

I remember a very savvy friend pointing me to Blogger in early 1999 as a solution to having a better way to stay close to college friends than clunky email groups. It would be a way to share photos and stories. We all ended up too busy with our .com jobs to do anything with Blogger.

I decided to start writing stuff on Blurbomat in 2001. I had read blogs before, but it wasn’t like I researched or anything. I didn’t see what the community as a whole was like, or recognize the influencers. I just started to write because I wasn’t doing product reviews (I did a couple for Red Herring and a bunch for URB in 1999 and 2000) and that was the last professional writing I had done.

After hand-coding Blurbomat for months, I decided that there had to be a better way and converted to Blogger after thinking about Greymatter. I had my profile from 1999 and for a few months, I used Blogger with some success. The service seemed to be down a lot and I decided that my host was more reliable. If only there were a solution. I looked into doing a PHP/MySQL homebrewed content management system, but started hearing about Movable Type on other sites. It took awhile before I had the time, but once I did the install, the party was on. Finally, a highly customizable (even then) system of publishing that built my site for me. Not only that, but the native templates were using CSS to display the pages. NO TABLES (the calendar stuff was added in a later version).

I instantly started seeing that the software was powerful enough to use on sites that had nothing to do with blogging and in 2002, started to use Movable Type on a non-blog site. Somewhere in 2002, Heather and I donated to Six Apart, because we both loved the software and wanted nothing but success for Ben and Mena. It was obvious that they had experience designing interfaces and with web content management. The product was strong out of the gate, and could have sold for much more than they were offering it.

As a designer, I appreciated the interface and how, with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of support forum help, I could build sites that would allow the focus to be on the content itself, rather than the means by which that content was produced and delivered.

Movable Type should be listed as one of the key influencers in moving web designers to CSS and away from tables. Lots of designers used it to start sites that talked about design and I believe that in doing so, were exposed to CSS. And Zeldman.

Last spring, during the Movable Type licensing/TypeKey insanity, I was forced to look at other content management systems, including WordPress and Textpattern. It was good to see how far these tools had come and to see how fast PHP was, particularly in regard to making a template change and seeing it render live moments after saving the change.

Six Apart responded to the furor over licensing feees by restructuring them and doing so rather quickly, particularly compared to other software companies. Not only that but Six Apart has hired some of the most involved, brilliant people in the space. From the business side to the development and product side as well as support, Six Apart has hired stellar talent. They’ve made huge changes to the application and they are involved in the communities that their product serves. That’s pretty cool for any company. Sure the competition is also involved in the space, but for a commercial venture, Six Apart is pretty damn cool.

What I’m getting at is that I have a loyalty to the company because it’s helped me stay at publishing online and inspired me to build other sites.

I wrote all of this before the Livejournal/Six Apart merger. I can’t wait to see what Six Apart delivers this year. I’m almost as excited for that as I am Macworld.

  • http://gingerbeck.blogspot.com ginger

    I want to become more savvy with web design, html, etc. When I was in high school, a friend and I spent our free period every day with “HTML for dummies” and designed our own websites. I know if I could do it then, I could do it now… It all seems so advanced now. I guess if I’m going to continue to be a cheapskate I’ll have to stick with blogger for now.

  • http://www.writingortyping.com Jill Smith

    Oy. I have been going through angst, thinking about redesigning my site (design? ah yes – you scoff. You should scoff. I am no designer). In the course of thinking about redesign, I am thinking about switching blogging programs from iBlog (convenient, but inflexible and a bit buggy at times) to something more powerful. Have looked into many things and was almost settled on pMachine – yet, MT is “The Standard.” And I read your blurb, and am reminded of that and of other reasons why perhaps I should go with MT. “Oy”…..

    (In addition to not being a designer, I am not a programmer. “Oy” over and over and over again).

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~kris0l0gy Kristen

    I use to love having an online blog using MT, but now that I’m a full time student in design I have no time to completely put together a site & maintain it. I put forth my creativity into my assignments. So I use LiveJournal because it is easy & fast.
    When I heard the news about SixApart buying LiveJournal I was extremely excited. Even more excited to read that they’re planning on implementing some of the MT features into LJ. Woo.

  • http://www.spunmonkey.com/journal Sarah

    I’ve been through all of these companies, except perhaps Blogger. I started on Livejournal when it first came out. Then I had a short spurt on Moveable Type, and now am firmly settled with WordPress. I did enjoy Moveable Type but I felt like WordPress was just…simpler, I could do a fantastico install, and it took me a long time to find a design I liked but once I did I loved how easy it was to manipulate everything about WordPress.

    In any case, I still keep up with my old LJ blog, and I am SO excited about the merge. the MT folks have done fantastic work and I’m sure there’s another blog revolution on the way.

  • http://www.julienet.atfreeweb.com/retreat/ Juli

    I must be so old fashioned. I use FrontPage for everything I do myself. I keep telling myself I’ll learn Dreamweaver, I’ll get some Flash. Hey that MT looks cool. But I’m so busy maintaining what I currently have that learning something new just gets shoved to the back burner. Maybe someday…

  • http://allanthinks.typepad.com Allan

    Six Apart also owns TypePad which I found to be quite an improvement over Blogger. Super blogging tools and hosting all in a very affordable package.

  • http://thefathousewife.blogspot.com/ My Husbands Missus

    I use Blogger and would love to be able to tweak it the way I feel I should be represented.

    But I am at the point where I would judst like to know how to make is so you can click on a word that has “become” a link to some where.

    If these things aren’t drawn in primary colors for me in large shapes and print I am totally lost.

  • http://www.sharbean.ca sharbean

    I did a fair bit of research on blogging software for a talk I did at a conference on blogging. One of the things I discovered in talking to many many other bloggers is that MT has its place amongst the more ‘technical savvy’ users. In other words, if you have some technical or design background the software is superb. However, many not so technical people tried to use MT and gave up in frustration because they either couldn’t get the software installed on their servers (mostly because of lack of knowledge) or once it was installed they couldn’t customize the look of their site because they didn’t have basic CSS knowledge or even HTML. So, many of these people turned to Blogger or other online services like TypePad or WordPress.

    I guess what I am saying is there is blogging software out there for everyone regardless of their background knowledge; and personally I think it’s cool that anyone can have a voice on the Internet. You don’t have to know how to design or program to have a website.

  • http://battybeyond.blogspot.com Tammy

    I think we all get to a point where we want “more” from our blog, some of us just want it sooner and more often than others :) I’ve seen lots of folks sort of hit that point within the last few weeks, though. I wonder if it’s something in the water. I’ve finally hit a point where hosting half my blogger site off-site, and changing every last bit of the template by hand just arn’t as fun as they used to be, but I’m too lazy and cheap to set up a server and don’t want to move my blog anyways (back to that laziness thing). Jon, I admire that you have the time and the willpower to be as thorough as you are with this. It’s been a learning experience for me, and I humbly bow before your fu. I am but a file fragment among gods.

  • http://badgermeetsworld.blogspot.com Badger

    I dream of moving away from blogger to something more hardcore, but the fact that I could only follow about 40% of that blurb reinforces my already-held belief that I am just not ready to embrace the learning curve.

    I mean, you have no idea how excited I was when I finally managed to hack into my blogger template and add a blogroll. And they tell you EXACTLY HOW TO DO THAT. It just took me forever to figure it out.

  • http://www.maxigumee.com maxigumee

    I started publishing stuff in a similar way, with 8.5×11 paper folded over. In the seventh grade, I had two little ‘zines, one of which was more of a newsy one, called “The Elmwood Enquirer” and one was a dark humor one called “The Black Cat.” It was very difficult to keep publishing them, and as soon as I discovered Blogger, I immediately switched over to that. I’m now a huge fan of Movable Type.

  • http://www.apartmentalist.com lara

    Jon, you and Heather have really helped me wrap my brain around MT, and my site is all the better for it. Dooce.com is fantastic, and every so often I find another customized feature on there and think, ooooh, how’d they do that?

    So thanks for your explanations and inspirations.

    I also have a LiveJournal, and I’m excited about the Six Apart buyout. It’ll be interesting to see how the features morph…

  • http://spankyourcat.blogspot.com/ christilee
  • http://cutebad.blogspot.com RazDreams
  • http://www.kellishaver.com Kelli

    I used MT for a while and liked it. It’s a good piece of software, and was definitely very advanced for its time, back when it was new. While still using MT for the blog, I started playing around with TextPattern for a few other things. I have to say, TP is the only one I’ve tried that I would consider using for a general site-wide CMS, and even then, ti has some big shortcomings. TP has potential, but IMO, still needs a lot of work. Eventually, though, I made the switch over to a PHP based blog, simply because I know the language much better than I know perl and if I was going to do any customizing or modifications, that was the way to go. I’ve settled on b2evolution (www.be2volution.net) and have been very pleased with it (though they could do a little better at getting the functionality out of the templates and into seperate classes/fucntions of their own).

  • http://poisoninmae.blogspot.com/ stephanie

    i love my blog I am on checking it and adding thing all thie time

  • heidi

    when i was a senior in highschool (’89’), my friends and i were also creating an underground magazine called “SPAM”. two issues and one fistfight later, we were all called to the principal’s office and told to cease and desist because ‘freedom of speech’ didn’t apply to students.

  • http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=Sisyphus75 Wayne

    I’m the first chump here to be on Xanga, I guess. At first it was just exciting to be putting my stuff online, and eventually I got some code to make the site look better than the templates Xanga offered. Lately, though, it’s become a pain trying to circumvent everything that Xanga does … or doesn’t do. Nonmembers can’t leave comments, for example, and so I feel sort of isolated from a lot of the content that’s out there.

    I’ve started playing around with WordPress. I’m interested in Movable Type, but afraid that I don’t have the programming/code savvy to do it. I’m still learning about this stuff.

    I enjoy this site, and enjoyed the comments on this thread, by the way.

  • http://www.chubbypixel.com/www Tyler

    Jon,

    I know you are loyal, but you should give EE a look, at least to see what they might have to offer that MT doesn’t.

    http://www.pmachine.com/expressionengine/

  • http://aredeaf.blogspot.com Coelecanth

    I used to write music reviews for a DIY punk fanzine. I imagined I was channeling Lester Bangs, but the reality was more Danielle Steel. I really enjoyed it, especially the free CD part of it.

    I’m pretty sure if I read enough of these posts my new site will eventually spring fully formed from my forehead. At least I hope so, cause that’s the only way it’s going to happen without some serious help.

  • http://www.gwadzilla.blogspot.com gwadzilla

    jon….

    your wife is right….

    you are a geek
    but in the good way
    from the organization of her BLOG
    I think you are a geek match made in designer/blogger heaven

    I fear one thing
    as your daughter starts to walk and talk she will be more demanding

    then when she phases out the nap

    she will even be more demanding

    something will have to give!

    and I fear it will be the BLOG!

    oh well
    happy blogging
    gwadzilla