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I didn’t get it…

I got into blogging almost by accident when I decided on a whim to downloaded Movable Type and install it on a subdomain of the website that I’d gotten set up for Sasha. Since it worked so well and turned out to be such a rewarding experience, I’ve kind of taken off with it and in the last few months I’ve done a great deal of exploring the world of writing and reading blogs. I’d kind of sat on the sidelines of the whole “blog revolution,” reading a few from time to time, but never participating and never taking the time to explore things more than briefly. The last time I’d done any serious web authoring myself, frames were the next big thing. As a consequence I didn’t really get it on a number of levels.

I didn’t understand how the technology worked any more. I didn’t understand why blogs had become such an effective and popular mode of communication on the internet. I didn’t understand the shear breadth of kinds of blogs. I didn’t even get what the deal with Flickr was, thinking that it was trying to be some kind of iPhoto replacement only slower and over the internet. And although I still think that the term “Web 2.0” is about the stupidest thing ever, I certainly didn’t get what made it different from “Web 1.0.”1

Now, I think, I do get it. And playing around with Vox in the last few days, I think it has the potential to have a very important place in it all.

What’s this Vox thing?

I’d been peripherally aware of Vox’s existence for a little while having encountered it first, I think, through Matt Haughey’s blog A Whole Lotta Nothing2 which has a link to his Vox blog on the sidebar. I think my first thought on seeing and clicking on that was something to the effect of “huh, why would an accomplished blogger who already has his own personal blog, not to mention a couple of topic oriented blogs want to use a hosted environment?” I figured, hey, this is someone for whom blogging is a large share of his life and livelihood, it makes sense that he’d have his fingers in a bunch of different pots, but it wouldn’t be something that someone like me would do. I didn’t get it.

Partly I didn’t get it because I didn’t actually go back and read the post that he had written on why Vox was so great. So when I saw his comment that Vox had just gone live last Friday, and he raved about it, I went back and looked into it. Really, truth be told, what sold me was when he compared it to TiVo. Having experienced the life transforming power of TiVo (ok, only a little hyperbole here) I understood what that comparison meant, and I figured that if anyone should know what to compare to TiVo, it would be Matt Haughey.

Vox practically forces you to make things look nice, sparing you the eyesores — MySpace, I’m talking to you — making it comfortable to explore.

What the whole fuss boils down to is this: Whether you already have a blog or not, unless you are a huge exhibitionist one of the biggest things holding you back from blogging is going to be the fact that there will always be things that you don’t want to share with the whole world. But with blogging becoming such a good way to share experiences and points of view, many of those same things will be the things that you could get the most out of blogging about, if only you could limit the audience to exactly those people you wanted to be talking to. This is what Vox allows you to do.

Vox, it won’t make your eyes bleed.

What makes Vox look to have great potential is that as well as having both good privacy controls and good community building tools, it is very attractive, the ads that support it (it’s free, also a plus) are very unobtrusive, it is easy to customize while keeping things pretty, and the overall tone is very welcoming (as a contrast to the harsh jarring, downright ugly, feel on the other, most similar sites). Because it is so easy to make thing attractive on Vox, it practically forces everyone to make things look nice (while not forcing them to take any effort) but still allowing for a good deal of pick-and-choose customization that I’m sure will grow over time. That means you aren’t instantly overwhelmed by the hundreds of eyesores from people who don’t know how or don’t care to make their blogs look attractive (MySpace, I’m talking to you—shudder). This had the immeasurable effect of making you feel comfortable exploring Vox.

Vox’s place in my blogging world

Instead of being a replacement for the kind of thing I’m trying to do over here at Tapirtype, Vox provides what is really a different service. Here at Tapirtype I can hand craft everything with complete control over how things turn out. Tapirtype is a creative outlet for me and a place for me to record and broadcast ideas, opinions, things I’ve learned, and anything in general that I just want to put out there. To add do what is available in the sum of the internet even if no one ever ends up looking at any of it.

Vox, rather, is for things that, while I want them to look nice, I don’t want to take any real effort with. It’s for personal things that I want to share with specific people. Experiences that I can’t, shouldn’t, or just don’t feel like turning into an essay for public consumption. So I can whine there or rant about things as they happen or expose how much of a dork I am by being completely excited about nothing. Or, for that matter, share details that just shouldn’t be spoken in public. I can blog about work. I don’t have to worry about making any of my posts interesting if I don’t want to. It takes the inhibition out of the writing. And rather than taking away from my writing here, it will hopefully encourage me to take my time with my posts here and concentrate more on saying things here only when I have something to say, not when I just feel like saying something.

The flies in the ointment

Of course I don’t have only praise for Vox. There are a few things that are irritating if only for marring what is ohterwise so good. The site still feels a bit buggy around the edges. A number of times I’ve tried to compose a post and it just won’t allow me to type in the main text box until I’ve reloaded a few times. And that’s after switching over to Firefox because it doesn’t fully support Safari yet. They do get kudos for at least telling you that Safari isn’t supported and that they are working on it rather than simply letting fail to work leaving you wondering why.

I’m particularly bugged by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to scroll past the first several items presented when you use their otherwise excellent interface into services like Flickr and Amazon to choose images or other content to import. Maybe I’m just having browser compatibility problems, but it didn’t seem like there was any way to display the next 10 items or whatever leaving you stuck if the item you want to get to is buried further down and you can’t come up with a search term to narrow things further.

I do chafe at the clunky visual editor and wish for the ability to just type in html3 or, better, Textile, although I understand why for most people this is the better way. And also I do want to keep myself from being too much of a perfectionist with layout over there. My posts on Vox should be about the text not the formatting. That said, prettified typography would be nice. Simple things like curly quotes and proper em dashes go a long way.

I’d also like an easy way to send trackbacks to and from Vox, though that’s not such a big deal, and I suppose is complicated by the privacy issues.

Conclusions: Yay, Vox!

But the bottom line is that the thing just launched to the public only last Friday, so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that these are hicups that it will get over. and they are worth getting over. Because what is at the core of Vox is new, interesting, exciting, and has the potential to advance the evolution of personal publishing one more step.

1 Of course the real answer is either “nothing” or “a little under 10 years” depending on your point of view. The internet was always about connecting people and making it easier for “everyone to have their printing press” and all that. It’s just gotten better at it over the years as people have adjusted to it and figured out what works, what doesn’t, and what the roadblocks preventing “normal” people from taking advantage of it are. It just seems like it’s the second chapter because the hype got interrupted for a while after the bubble burst.

2 Interesting side-note: Ever noticed how many personal websites, blogs especially, make a big point out of how empty, useless, or wasteful they are? Andy Ihnatko’s Colossal Waste of Bandwidth strikes me as the other most obvious example. I wonder if all of this is a lingering idea that putting yourself out there where anyone could, in theory, read your writing, must mean that you think you are so important that everyone should read your stuff. And getting past all of that may be central to moving forward with the evolution of the internet and and to what Vox is all about.

3 On second thought, I think that Vox does allow you to insert html, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have to do it in the context of a clunky visual editor that you can’t turn off and since you can’t make stylesheets you are limited to inline styles. Best to keep it simple, though. If they get the bugs out of the interface I’ll be perfectly happy with it.

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