There Is No Cat

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Why I Blog

I started blogging back in December, 1999, at a blog that's now defunct. I started There Is No Cat in April, 2002, and in all that time, I've never really had a good answer to the question that comes up every so often: why do I blog?

I finally figured it out yesterday.

I have this fear that at some point, I won't be able to do this for a living any more. This probably goes back to when I was laid off in December, 2001, and went six months in my job search without a bite. (That six months was the genesis of There Is No Cat; I had a lot of free time on my hands, which I used to teach myself PHP and MySQL by writing the content management system behind TINC and my other blog, Geneablogy.) And then, when I did find a job, it was for a company that would go two and three months without paying me. Not a good situation. It really felt at the time like I would never find another job, and I don't think I've ever really lost that feeling. It's different when you don't live in Silicon Valley, I think.

I've been doing this web thing for a long time. I made my first web site in late May, 1993, at a time when there were about 130 web sites in the world. I think I read somewhere today that there are something north of 92 million web sites today, although if Technorati's claims of tracking 50 million weblogs are true, 92 million seems a little on the low side. At one early point, I looked into the possibility of licensing Mosaic to provide documentation for products I was working on, but at the time, Mosaic didn't support tables, and tables were a must for certain features of our documentation. I've given classes on how to write for the web. I've attended conferences on usability, information architecture, and the web in general for over ten years (not many in recent years, mind you). I've been voracious in my appetite for learning how best to make web sites. I've buried my head in academic research on how people use the web. I first ranted about how HTML should be marked up semantically instead of presentationally in 1996 or thereabouts when the FONT tag was introduced by Netscape. This is my medium; I know how it works, and I know what I need to do to take advantage of it. I'm a student of the history of radio, and I see a lot of parallels between the early days of radio and the early days of the net and web, and I feel honored and privileged to have been present for much of that. I would hate to lose my ability to participate in it.

In my current day job, I work on a number of sites that I didn't design (and in one case, one that I did design but that was then taken over for a couple of years by someone else and altered to the point where the fruits of my efforts are largely invisible). I have to work to code specifications that were written in the late 1990s by people who knew a lot less about how the web works than I do, specifications that dictate the use of the worst possible HTML combined with some of the worst possible writing practices. I have to grit my teeth every time someone rewrites a perfectly serviceable sentence to include the words "Click here" so they'll have something to hang a link off of. Links that consist of the word "More" don't help Google rank your content. I cringe every time I have to add a meaningless class attribute to a tag because the people who defined the stylesheets so many years ago didn't understand that you didn't have to apply a class to everything you wanted to style. I want to scream every time I have to debug a table nested seven layers deep. And when you're working on sites with several thousand pages authored to these practices, you make changes to these specifications very carefully or not at all.

It hasn't all been bleak frustration. I've had some successes. [Specific examples from my first draft of this post deleted because some of the work is not public.] But every step forward seems to be followed by two steps back. One marketing person I worked with, who seemed to take on board certain lessons from one of our projects, particularly in regard to search engine optimization, was laid off, and everyone else seemed to forget everything that was learned there despite my efforts. For political reasons I'm not free to spell out, my group was frozen out of some new efforts. Another person with whom I could talk about some concerns I had looking ahead was moved into another job. [More specifics deleted before posting.]

Nobody listens to me at work. They don't take advantage of anywhere near what I'm capable of doing. And what I do wind up doing goes against everything I know about how to succeed on the web.

By contrast, on my own sites, I do my own thing. I'm able to create sites that validate. I can make them accessible. I can code them in ways that make them easy to redesign when the urge strikes. I can code them in ways that make them perform well in search engine results. I can concentrate on creating useful microcontent like headlines and link text. I can design them. I can define designing them to include so much more than just how pretty the site is. I can define the structure, the information architecture, the page flow. I can put to use all the skills that I've developed over the years, all the reading and research I've done, all that I know and all that I've forgotten and rediscovered.

In short, I can prove that I do understand this medium, that I know what I'm doing, that I really am capable of doing so much more than I have scope for in my day job. And I prove that to myself; if I prove it to anyone else, that's great (got any job openings?), but mainly, I prove it to myself. If I wasn't able to do that, if I had to judge my abilities as a professional in my chosen field by what I do every day at work, I would go crazy.

I blog to stay sane.

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Posted at 9:24 PM

Comments

Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

Well said, and well thought out. I think I've had some of the same things in my own subconscious motivations, but I haven't seen then spelled out or articulated this well before. (So now I don't need to!)

Thanks.

Posted by pjm at 10:13 PM, August 23, 2006 [Link]

word to that.

as we've discussed before, I usually have more leeway in my job, but there's still a sense of being able to explore and control (!) that's quite lovely about the personal web site.

(and there's my ongoing anxiety about what goes on in the larger system, but I'll leave that sleeping dog doze a little longer today.)

(another semi-related aside: I wish I had the mental fortitude and financial space to organize some crazy freelance group with you and my friend Kermit. I think the three of us could make some crazy-cool stuff....)

Posted by Elaine at 12:44 PM, August 24, 2006 [Link]

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


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[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

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[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

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