Paolo Amoroso's Journal

blogging

Thanks tmo for the shout-out to my journal in his blogroll. Check it out, there are good blogs I didn't know about.

When I blog, I post mostly for publishing a record of my notes and projects I can reference later. Although I do every effort for creating interesting or helpful content, I write with not much expectation of being read, as I'm used to the typical platform algorithms burying me and not bringing many readers.

So it's really rewarding when an actual person reads my blog and finds it interesting enough to recommend it. This is why I appreciate tmo's mention so much.

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The more I journal with Write.as here, the more I consider abandoning my Blogger blog. Blogger introduces friction, is inflexible, has a stale design, and Google isn't likely to develop it further.

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I have been blogging every day for the past month.

Not that I set any goals, it just happened. When I started my journal, I signed up with Write.as after extensively researching a blogging platform. To reduce the friction between ideas and posts I wanted a Markdown-based, lightweight blogging platform with good support for technical writing.

It turns out Write.as has such low friction it enables and encourages me to write. I ended up doing it daily without plans or deliberate effort.

Up to a few months ago I wouldn't have believed I could do it. On my main blog I almost never posted more than a couple of times per week and usually less. I sent out my old newsletter once per week, and focused on curation rather than original content because I felt I couldn't sustain anything more frequent.

Write.as made it possible to produce that much original writing. I'll definitely take breaks, but this one-month milestone hints at a solid trend.

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I'm going to use Twitter less and focus on my journal and blog.

After over a dozen years on Twitter, I hit a growth ceiling: my follower count is flat and I'm invisible. Despite the occasional viral tweet, I get less than a hundred impressions and nearly no engagement per tweet.

I tried posting text, threads, media, links, replies, mentions, quote-tweets, lists, the works. Nothing makes a difference, no matter how good my content is.

The algorithms just don't like me and bury my tweets. Fair enough.

On platforms with a level playing field, such as RSS aggregators, I get an order of magnitude more visibility and engagement. After less than a month, my journal gets roughly the same views as after over a dozen years on Twitter.

I'll continue using Twitter as a source of content and discussion. But tweeting is a waste of time as nobody sees my content.

Instead, I'm doubling down on my existing blog and my new journal, where I post about the same interests I cover on Twitter.

I left the links to my journal and blog in my Twitter profile. I'd share them there, but social platforms did an effective job conditioning users not to escape their walled gardens and explore the open web, so Twitter would bury my link tweets.

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After test-driving Write.as on an Android phone, here I am typing this post on an external keyboard wirelessly connected to a tablet.

I'm using a Lenovo Tab M8 HD 8” Android 10 tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard. At under 150 EUR combined, both devices are pretty cheap.

I have the Write.as plain text editor open in the Chrome app. I'm no touch typist. But using a physical keyboard, even a cheap unit like this, makes a difference in productivity as it speeds up writing and editing.

Markdown formatting

Markdown support in the editor lets me type rich text such as bold and italics. I can enter lists too, here's a bullet one:

  • one
  • two
  • three

And an ordered list:

  1. first
  2. second
  3. third

Let's have some quoted text:

I'm afraid I don't have anything witty or memorable to say. This is just to show what quoted text looks like.

Where a physical keybord makes a real diffrence is with complex text formatting, such as a table:

Column 1 Column 2
1 2
3 4
5 6

Conclusion

A tablet, an extenal keyboard, and a lightweight blogging platform like Write.as make for a serviceable and productive on the go writing setup.

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While reporting my challenging experience with picking a blogging platform, I incorrectly assumed Silvrback was unmaintained. I hadn't heard back from my email inquiry to them and the latest activity on their Twitter profile dated back to two years earlier.

Silvrback's founder, Kermit Kuehn, later reached out to me to confirm the platform is still maintained and supported.

I updated my previous post. I'm glad Silvrback is alive and I recommend checking it out. Although I'm happy with with my choice of Write.as, Silvrback was a close runner up.

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Is Write.as usable on mobile?

Let's find out. I'm writing this with the Write.as plain text editor in Chrome on a Pixel 4 XL Android phone.

I can use nearly all the editor's features except for attaching images, which I'm not sure is possible on mobile. The distraction-free environment is clean and makes a lot of text fit on the screen.

Markdown formatting

Here's some rich text I'm typing with Markdown syntax in italics and bold. Some Python code:

def square(x):
    return x * x

A bullet list:

  • one
  • two
  • three

A numbered list:

  1. one
  2. two
  3. three

Quoted text:

This is quoted text. I wish I had some witty thought to share for the occasion.

And finally some displayed MathJax: $$y = f(x)$$

Conclusion

The Write.as editor is quite usable for posting text content on mobile. The only limit is how fast I can type with the on-screen keyboard.

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I rarely post Twitter threads and grudgingly read the interesting ones that cross my feed.

Why? Because threads have terrible usability.

Twitter doesn't provide much support for writing threads, which often makes using specialized editing tools a necessity. But even then, there's significant friction that distracts from writing.

As a reader, consuming a thread feels like an obstacle course at each step of which I bump into buttons, icons, frames, and other user interface junk. I have to scroll, scroll, and scroll. Some authors make this worse by not numbering the individual tweets, or not giving an indication of how long a thread is and how much text is left to read.

It's incredible how many hoops authors are willing to jump through to cram long-from content into a glorified tweet, and how much readers are willing to endure not to click a link and consume elsewhere text optimized for reading.

Long-form belongs to blogs.

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It seemed simple enough.

I wanted to start a new blog, a journal for posting short and frequent notes about my geeky interests to complement my main blog. So I began looking for lightweight, minimalist blogging or microblogging platforms that are friendly to technical writing.

On the desktop I use exclusively Chrome OS, live in the browser, and work in the cloud. Therefore, I needed a hosted platform fully accessible via a browser and simple to operate. No static site generators or self-hosting. A platform that supports Markdown well (e.g. with extensions like tables), focuses on writing, has a clean design, and provides an uncluttered reading experience. MathJax support is a plus.

I had already found a good one, Typehut, but it's clearly abandoned. The site hasn't received any activity for the past couple of years, and the developer never replied to my inquiries to multiple email addresses and social profiles.

Googling around for alternatives, the first challenge was going beyond the high-ranking listicles that rehash the usual suspects like Medium and Tumblr. The best list I found is this, which features some little known and unique platforms: Blogging Platforms That Encourage You To Write.

A good entry is Silvrback, designed also for technical writing. It looks nice, supports Markdown extensions like tables, and also MathJax.

On Silvrback, however, Markdown code blocks wrap text lines, which is a deal breaker.

Wrapped code looks ugly on the desktop and a jumbled mess on mobile. I want lines not to wrap, with the ability to scroll code blocks horizontally to view the rest of long lines.

There's apparently no way of changing this behavior and Silvrback shows some hints of bitrot, such as an error when editing post metadata. Most troubling, the Silvrback site has little evidence of recent activity and the developer didn't reply to my email inquiries. Another abandoned platform or getting little work, so back to the drawing board. Update: after the publication of this post Silvrback's founder got in touch with me to confirm the platform is maintained and supported.

I ruled out Micro.blog. I already tried it and it and it's nice, but it comes with a few rough edges.

Is there still activity in this blogging platform space? To find out, I asked for recommendations on Reddit and Indie Hackers.

On Reddit, Jake LaCaze, who uses Write.as, helped me and made me realize that platform is the best fit for my needs. I read all the available documentation, how-tos, and support resources cover to cover. In addition, I created a free trial account to play with the product a bit.

It was love at first sight. Write.as has everything I was looking for, including Markdown tables and MathJax. Plus, a suite of companion tools such as an image hosting and a commenting platform, an active founder with a vision and love for the product, and a passionate community.

But, similarly to Silvrback, Write.as wraps code block lines by default.

I posted for help to the official community forum and Matt, the Write.as founder, provided a CSS code snippet that turns off wrapping. With this roadblock gone, I immediately purchased a paid plan and finally set up my new blog.

It's reassuring to see current activity in the blogging space. But I'm surprised technical blogging receives so little attention outside of dedicated but narrowly focused platforms like DEV.to.

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I'm Paolo Amoroso and I welcome you to my new blog, Paolo Amoroso's Journal.

I actually already have a personal blog, Moonshots Beyond the Cloud, where I write about my interests. The new blog, the one you're reading now, is more of a journal, a less structured collection of notes.

What am I going to blog about?

What are my interests, anyway?

I'll write mainly about astronomy and space, Google products and technologies, and Python. But I'm also interested in, and will blog about, software development and computing, retrocomputing, books, digital and self-publishing, blogging, content creation and monetization.

I'll share my projects, works-in-progress, readings, resources, experiences, and ideas on these topics.

Here you won't find any stock photos, clickbait, ads, SEO, or marketese. I'll write for adults with a long attention span who can decide whether they want to read my content.

Why this blog?

Although I already have a blog, it's hosted on an outdated and inflexible platform: Blogger.

I wanted an additional space for more frequent and possibly shorter notes on the same topics of the main blog, hosted on a platform that reduces friction and encourages writing. A space where I could publish thoughts I'd otherwise consider posting as Twitter threads.

I wanted a modern, lightweight blogging or microblogging platform with Makdown support, friendly to technical writing, with a clean design, and an uncluttered reading experience.

I also realized that by writing with a bit less polish, with no obligation to add a cover image to every post, and possibly even without a post title if not needed, I could shave off some more friction from the blogging process and decrease the time from idea to publication. I hoped valuable content would make up for less polish.

After considerable research, I ended up hosting this blog on the Write.as distraction-free blogging platform.

Who is Paolo Amoroso?

I live in Milan, Italy, where I work in astronomy and space outreach and education. Or that's what I did until the pandemic, we'll see.

I've always been interested in the universe and space exploration, and widened my interests to science, technology, computing, and Google — I'm a member of the Google Product Experts program. As a hobby programmer I focus on Python.

Yes, I'm a geek.

Sounds good?

Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed, follow me in the fediverse as @paolo@journal.paoloamoroso.com, or subscribe below to receive the posts via email.

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