Beginner's Mind Micro.blog
(Note: I have since moved my primary blog back to a self-designed system, but I am still micro blogging at micro.bjhess.com)
In committing myself to write here at Micro.blog, I had a few hangups. One unspoken in that post is the challenge of learning of a new platform. Particularly I just couldn’t write on this platform without making the look and feel of it my own. Yes, during last night’s long night I have already succeeded in failing my goal to resist customizing my Micro.blog. I enjoy tending my online garden too much.
It seems useful to share the experience of trying to accomplish tasks when one doesn’t know anything about how to do it. (This is beginner’s mind adjacent, but I don’t think what I’m writing about here represents any sort of a zen-level state of being.) I figured I would write out some of the experience of standing things up on the service.
To be very clear up front, I have quite enjoyed building up my Micro.blog knowledge. The community is incredibly supportive. I think the platform walks a pretty good line between being an accessible way to have an online presence across micro and traditional blog posts while also providing near infinite flexibility to those who really want to dig into things. Much credit must go to @manton and team! Back to the brain dump…
It rapidly became clear that I wasn’t going to allow myself to just roll with a theme as is, so the first step was finding a theme that I felt had the bones of what I was looking for. I wanted something that could be customized purely with CSS rather than going to custom themes. I suspect I will not be able to avoid custom themes forever, but at the moment Hugo is a mind-bend and I’m trying to honor some of the limits I set for myself.
I clicked through each theme, waiting for my pages to rebuild, and eventually selected the Arabica theme. This process would have benefitted from a more real-time-ish theme chooser, but it wasn’t too time consuming overall.
Before committing to Micro.blog, I was experimenting with Mastodon and wondering if Micro.blog could just be a sort of feed aggregator. Micro.blog supports ActivityPub for custom domains, but to my memory there was a big warning that this is A One Time Setting You Cannot Change Are You Sure?™ I chose micro.bjhess.com as my domain as it made good sense at the time.
Fast forward to today. My Micro.blog account is really meant to be a blog. I’d rather it sit at blog.bjhess.com. The current micro.bjhess.com feels a bit like a “proprietary” landing spot. Though I can read about changing domains, I don’t readily see a place that I can do it in my account. Now, rather than a year from now, would be the time to deal with 48 hours of weirdness in my site. I’ll have to dig around more to see if it’s possible. If it’s not possible, no big deal.
My goal was to structure the site with a Blog, a place for micro posts that I’m calling Ephemera, and an area to collect things I like that I’m calling Commonplace. It wasn’t incredibly obvious to me how I was going to do this. Categories seemed like a part of the solution, and I found they do their job. Incidentally, category auto filtering is pretty genius!
(For a few hours I really struggled to find information on how to best used the service. Eventually I realized that searching help.micro.blog for answers worked pretty well. I’m so conditioned to web search “[problem] [example.com]”. It’s a hard habit to break.)
As I thought more about the Commonplace section, I decided that should just be a
manually-managed page that links out to subcategories (quotes, poetry, and so on). It was not obvious to me how
to do this, but some friendly help taught me
that I could just make additional pages and change their URL scheme to look like
/categories/quotes. Pretty easy in the end.
CSS styling has been incredibly simple and fast to implement. I’ve mostly adjusted the fonts, colors, and link interactions. As a developer by trade, I naturally wish I could be editing CSS on my machine. Not having source control gets me itchy all over as well, but that’s to be expected.
There are some things that I still think I’d like to customize, but I wish I could do it without delving into custom themes:
- I might like my homepage to be something more “traditional web page” with an introduction to myself, what’s at the site, and so on.
- Or I might like my homepage to simply be my longer-form blog posts. For me this site is a blog, with micro posts and a commonplace book alongside it. This and the above point can be done through custom themes.
- I would like to have some intro text on my categories pages, but this again appears to require custom themes. Having some sort of smartcode or magic keyword that can be used to plop in category listings could work well. This might be an extension of how categories are added to navigation.
- I would like my primary feed to be the blog feed. Secondarily, I would like to have a link to the firehose for people who want it all. Custom themes!
- On your blog posts pages, it appears you can either have replies shown or relegate them to the Micro.blog timeline. I’d like a couple of other options here in a drop down: show link to reply on Micro.blog and show link to reply via email. I think there is a plugin for the latter, so maybe a plugin will pop up at some point for the former as well.
Finally, I’m a bit concerned about the future Hugo upgrade process and how my customizations will play with it. At that point I will probably have to delve into test blogs. I’m thankful for their existence, but found them a little hard to approach in this initial site build up.
Again, Micro.blog is quite a fascinating and fun piece of software. I feel very good about my choice to jump in and give it a try!