Some reasons why I have my own website

Digging through my massive archive of Evernote clippings I came across one from a guy named Brett Slatkin in which he outlines some reasons why he chooses to have his own website. The reason I kept the note is to remind me to consider this question for myself and to write my thoughts on the topic.

In the past my typical response to this sort of topic has been to begin a draft with the intention of writing a comprehensive post drawing together all my thinking on the subject. I’m increasingly aware that it is much more constructive for me to throw together my thoughts at the time when I’m motivated by the topic and publish it, whether I feel it is complete or not. I can always circle back around at some later time to add more ideas or update my thinking in the light of experience.

So, I’m going to steal Brett’s major headings and start from there:

A home base

This blog is where I write first. I have tried various social media channels and failed at most of them. My blog is personal to me, it is where I automatically think to put anything I write, and I’m trying to make it the hub of whatever else I do online.

Self expression

Initially (back in 2010), I found it difficult to come out of my shell and ‘be myself’ in what and how I wrote on my blog. Gradually this has changed and although I do maintain boundaries as to what I share, nowadays what you read is generally likely to be what is on my heart at the time of publication. I’m also aiming to expand the ways in which I use my blog as a form of self-expression, varying the styles of my writing, including a range of posts from short status updates or random thoughts through to much longer articles. Don’t hold your breath Chris, but maybe even some poetry!

Something I’m interested to try is photography. I’m not a good photographer, but it is a good way to catch some things that can be difficult to put into words. In the past I used a lot of stock photos but have grown away from liking those as I’ve moved more into personal blogging rather than writing about faith as I used to. Instead I’d like to use more of my own photos to illustrate my life rather than just talking (well, writing) about it.

Internet citizenship

This heading would not have made it into my top three if I hadn’t stolen it! However, it is actually an important issue. As sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn have created their own ‘silo’ effects, locking user-generated content into their own systems, I’m becoming increasing bloody-minded about avoiding such silos and publishing to the ‘open web’. I do like what Brett had to say about linking and citing others, this is both an academic necessity in my view and also common courtesy. Unfortunately, some sites are making even this difficult, I noticed today when I scanned my site for broken links that all the links I have to articles from the New York Times are broken because of their pay wall – in my view this is just plain obnoxious.

Now a few headings of my own:

Freedom

This is a major factor for me. I greatly value the ability to create a backup or export of my entire site and move it to whatever web host or platform I want to. Over the years I’ve experimented with WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Ghost, Squarespace and a bunch of html files. All this is possible with your own website and the only limits are time, patience and technical prowess (I’m lacking in the third of those attributes).

The other aspect of freedom is being free to express my own views. I’m not a political writer so freedom of speech has not been a significant issue to me, but I do write about my faith in Christ and in some situations the freedom to do this could conceivably be curtailed. I just like knowing that I’m not unduly constrained by some company that ‘graciously’ lets me post stuff on their site for free.

Legacy

The longer I maintain my own website the more valuable it becomes to me, and potentially to my children. I want to continue building this legacy, and also to be able to ensure ongoing access to it. Even if I were to take the site offline, it could still be made into a local copy that could be accessed by my family. It can be exported into plain text files which theoretically should still be readable in 50 years time, or it could be printed onto good old paper for others to read. Some of these options would cause a loss in functionality, but the core content remains my own possession. Again, not left at the mercy of a company that allows me to put stuff on their platform for free.

Customisation

Being able to tinker with how my site looks is fun (and time consuming) and I do like being able to decide what extra functionality it has. However, this is not an especially significant item on my list. In reality I tend to opt for some sort of theme template that thousands of other sites probably use, and prefer a fairly simple layout so I can take or leave this particular aspect. It is nice to have the option open though.

A final link

While writing this I came across this article: Chopped up or Cloned: You Choose which gives a nice summary of how having your own website can act as an online hub, without having to forsake whatever other sites you happen to already use.

I have referred to and largely based this post on IndieWeb ideas, but really all I’m emphasising is the value of having your own blog or website. The more I have scratched around IndieWeb sites and their wiki the less inclined I am to fully embrace the whole thing because it seems vastly more complicated than what I want out of my own site.

Site philosophy

Why?

I think it is always good to ask why, and to keep asking it at decision points along the path (to wherever, the destination is determined by your answer to why).

So, why does this website exist?

  • I like to have a ‘home base’ on the internet where people can find out about me and I control what and how information is presented rather than relying on luck, fate or Google.
  • I’m choosing to remain independent of closed systems such as Facebook and other social media platforms. I publish all my stuff here, though I may comment and interact on those other platforms occasionally.

What?

What can you expect to find here?

  • First off, this is a personal website so will largely reflect me and what I find interesting.
  • My interests include: Family, christian faith, poetry, science, toxicology, web development, mental health, and whatever else pricks my curiosity.
  • Most often updates will take the form of thoughts, ideas and quotes. Occasionally I will write something longer.

Site Philosophy page inspired by:

An ordinary Christian

There are many, many days that I question why I blog. I read the blogs of some very talented people – great writers, who lead more interesting lives and seem to walk much closer to Jesus than I do. Many of these folks have suffered much, travelled, served Christ and overcome obstacles beyond my comprehension.

Whereas I am just plain average. I was going to write ‘very average’ but that would be overstating the case and adding the idea of excelling at being average, I don’t, I’m just average. My academic record is average (all B’s and C’s, not many ‘pointy grades’), my income is average, even the size of my family is average! The main point of difference about me is my height (short). One of my struggles in life is finding anything interesting to write in my Twitter bio.

Point of difference

So what purpose does an ordinary person like me have in writing stuff for the whole world to see ? (If they chose to look – they don’t!)

Marketing gurus like to tell us that whatever we are trying to publish needs to have a ‘point of difference’ so that people will be interested. This makes good sense in a marketplace crowded with stuff and an internet congested with blogs.

Within contemporary New Zealand culture my point of difference is that I am a Christian. In our very secular society a person has to be pretty committed to be an active church goer with a deep faith in Jesus Christ. Still, there are plenty of other Christians in NZ, some of whom write blogs and most of those folks are more educated, opinionated and articulate than me.

So I suppose my ‘point of difference’ is that I’m just a very ordinary Christian living in a secular society and trying to figure out what it means to trust Jesus while working to pay the bills.

Ordinary folks welcome!

Given that I’m just an ordinary guy with no special training in theology or such like, I do not set out to teach deep theological truths on this blog or argue about fine points of doctrine. Theology and doctrine are important to me but I have learned over the years that God uses people with inadequate understanding about Him – He has to because nobody fully understands God.

All I’m really aiming to do is share the reality of striving to live for Christ in an ordinary life. Not the life of a missionary or pastor or scholar, just plain old making ends meet in the context of work and family.


What other writers have to say on this topic:

A personal blog

Blogging is dead, why blog? From my perspective, the short answer is, ‘because I want to’. As a longer answer I will give some backstory and explain why I am starting a personal blog.

Over the years since the end of 2009, I’ve had a number of blogs on various platforms (WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Squarespace and Ghost) in combination with half a dozen hosting providers.

My enthusiasm for blogging and frequency of posting has waxed and waned over the years. For a while I published new posts three times a week, more recently it has been less than once in six months. Four months ago I made a deliberate choice to take a complete break from blogging or even thinking about blogging for at least three months, with no expectation of returning to it. The idea behind this was to give myself a break from the blogging mindset in order to assess whether it was truly something I wanted to do or if I was just feeling obligated to maintain the blog I already had.

During that time I also managed to change jobs from one that was exacting a heavy toll on both me and my family to one that is much less stressful and has better working hours. Now that my head has had a chance to reboot I’m finding a rekindled desire to express myself in writing and so the motivation to keep a blog has returned.

Several significant mental shifts have occurred for me during the time I stepped away from blogging. I’ve recovered from a severe and prolonged period of depression, and I’m no longer actively job seeking. Both of these had a large impact on what I thought and what I was willing to publish. Now I’m thinking more positively and am not worried about what a prospective employer might read on my blog so I can feel free to write about any weird oddball topics I want to. One of my ambitions in life is to be an eccentric old man so I need to start practising!

Having had time to consider what I want to write about and whether to simply pick up one of my two existing sites to move forward with, I’ve decided to make a clean start. This will be a blog with no niche, posts will be about whatever I feel like writing or is taking up my brain space at the time. This is a personal blog, the connecting theme is stuff I am personally interested in, no other criteria needs to be met. And because I am entering a new phase of life myself it seems appropriate to start fresh here and let the rest of the story emerge as we go.

Purposeful growth

planning

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research to work out where I want to go with this blog and some strategies to get there. The research is ongoing, and what I find will help to refine the scope of what I write about here.

Until now my blogging has mostly been about me. Sure, I’ve sought to encourage others in what I write, but overall I have written on topics that inspire me at the time and largely as way to work through the topic for myself without any systematic plan to publish material that could provide a guide to others or markers in the walk of faith.

Keeping a blog as an online journal is fine if that is all I ever want it to be. But then I have to wonder, why put a journal online when I could simply keep it private and gain more value from journaling when I don’t have to worry about what others might think of it? So for a long time I’ve used my blog as an in-between place, not a fully private journal, yet without any serious structure or purpose.

A weakness of blogging without a purpose is that publishing tends to only occur when inspiration strikes, leading to erratic and irregular posting frequency. This is a bit inconsiderate towards those who read the posts as they can never know when new posts are likely to come their way.

The alternative to writing when inspiration strikes is to set a schedule for publishing. This works best if I can map out a plan of what topics to write about over the next 6 weeks or longer so that I can use writing time for writing rather than spending it trying to come up with a topic and running out of time to actually write. To plan posts in advance requires some sort of strategy; what is my purpose in choosing particular topics? What style should they be written in? What is the goal of each post – to entertain, to educate, to inspire?

Planning to this level of detail needs something like a ‘vision statement’ to unify all the parts into a whole that gives the blog a purpose and direction. This is what I’m working on, and in the process it seems that God is also working on me.

I’m not trying to position myself as some sort of expert. The blog will always grow out of my faith in Christ, knowing Him more and learning what it means to live as an adopted child of God. My ‘vision’ is basically for us to learn to know God more and explore what it means to live as His people in ordinary daily life. All I’m really planning is how to approach learning and growing – being intentional about growth.


Image: Shutterstock