Paul Butzi |||

The Powerpointing of the WWW

When the urge to have a website/blog returned recently, I looked around at the obvious blogging platforms. Wordpress was just more complicated than I wanted, although I’m sure it’s very nice if that’s what you want. After playing around with Wordpress and Squarespace I reluctantly settled on Squarespace. But the editor is clunky and online only. I could never quite get the simple presentation I wanted, because all the themes’ are what I would call needlessly fancy visually.

There was a time when blogs were usually just text on a page, perhaps relieved by photos. But even with photos, the emphasis was on content, not presentation. Judging from the feature set of Squarespace that no longer seems to be the case. I suspect that this is a result of the fact that most of the blogs that are still around are commercial in nature, because most of what used to get posted to individual, personal blogs has been hoovered up by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like, and that a lot of content that used to be on individual blogs seems to have moved to services like Substack.

Regardless, now it seems everything is flashy, animated. In my mind I always wonder if the effort put into flashy presentation is all about covering up the fact that the content can’t carry the day on its own.

When I worked at Bell Labs, it was common for presentations at meetings to feature a set of overhead projection slides. You’d include things like graphs, or flow diagrams, or perhaps even code excerpts. And then you’d do the presentation, referring occasionally to the projected image to make a point when needed. But no one stood there and read from the slides. It was presumed that the entire audience was literate and could read the damn slides for themselves.

And then, along came Powerpoint. In a stroke we had fancy backgrounds and bullet lists of points to be read aloud, one flying bullet point at a time. Animated dissolves from one slide to the next. Coordinated color schemes, animated text that twinkles. Worst of all it’s now commonplace for presenters to give a presentation by simply reading their powerpoint presentation aloud, clicking from one slide to the next as they reach the end of the slide.

It seems to me that somehow the world of the WWW (and blogs, in particular) similarly seems to have moved away from an emphasis on content and toward an emphasis on presentation. And if that’s what floats your boat, well, that’s fine but what I want to do in the next few years is focus on writing, not presentation.

So my disenchantment with Squarespace grew. What I wanted, I thought, was a system that would let me write my posts offline, in some format as close to plain flat ascii text as I could, to keep me from endlessly fiddling with format issues instead of content issues. I also wanted it to be as simple as possible to take the content I’d written offline, and publish the it to my website/blog.

Enter It’ll accept a number of formats for posts, including markdown, which is more than sufficient for my markup needs. So my desire for proximity to flat ascii text files was fulfilled. And posts are put online just by dropping them into a folder on dropbox. Better yet, the available templates are very simple, fairly adaptable in the ways I care about, but not so flexible I’ll be tempted into endless tweaking of the website/blog presentation.

It’s possible to escape from the world of online editing and being connected to the internet by an umbilical at all times. It just takes a little searching to find the tools that let you build the simple computing ecosystem you want.

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