The challenges of picking a blogging platform for technical writing
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.
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.