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Starting Your Own Visualization Blog

Getting started with your own blog is so easy today that many people never get to actually doing it. One of the goals of the Putting Visualization on the Web workshop was to get more visualization blogs and websites going. So here are some pointers and a few tips on how to avoid some pitfalls that are especially dangerous for technical people. The goal is not to point to millions of resources, but to narrow down the choices so you can get started writing.

The Danger of Knowing Too Much

There are thousands of content management systems (CMS), blogging systems, blogging services, etc. There are also tons of websites with comparisons, blogs that talk about how to choose The Perfect CMS, etc. You can spend many months researching, comparing, and reading up on.

Then there's the technically-minded person who wants to run his or her own system. Why not start downloading a few dozen CMSs, get them to run, and compare yourself? Hey, why not get your own (virtual) private server? Try out a few different Linux distributions, spend weeks and months securing and optimizing the system.

And if you're running it on your own server, why not write your own CMS, too? Surely, there are tons of things those other CMSs don't do, or don't do well. Who else than you could write the CMS to end all CMSs?

Believe me, I've been there. And it's pointless. You may have some great ideas, but writing your own CMS will take months. More than likely, the project will slowly die and you will end up not getting any content up for at least a year. Don't ask me how I know.

The same thing is true for themes. You can spend forever tinkering with the look of your page. But the truth is: nobody cares. As long as your theme doesn't burn people's eyes out, they won't even notice that you have a theme. They will look at your content, and most will only see your site once, anyway: when they subscribe to your feed. From there, all they see are the articles in their RSS reader.

And as for running your own server: don't do it. It's a lot of work that nobody ever sees. The only thing people are likely to notice is when it goes down because it has been hacked or you did something wrong that killed the database. If you want to get content out there, don't be your own sysadmin. There are people who do this for a living.

A Binary Choice

Here is a simple choice to get you going. It's this or that, a or b, yes or no. If you can't make a decision, flip a coin. You can't go wrong.

Wordpress. Wordpress is one of the best blogging systems around. Even better, hosts the system for you, patches it, and keeps things up to date. Their content delivery system and server infrastructure is way better than any shared hosting, period. You never have to worry about somebody hacking your badly configured or outdated installation, spammers, etc. Wordpress does both blogging and pages (static content), you can upload images, etc. And the best part: it's free. For a small fee, you can point your domain to your blog (otherwise it's, get additional storage (the first 3GB are free), etc.

Tumblr. This is a fairly new system, but one I really like. It's very much focused on getting you directly to writing, without much fuss. You can follow other people's tumblrs and they can follow you. There are also different types of postings, like text, image, link, etc. that make a lot of sense when combined with some smart themes. Tumblr is completely free, even if you want to run it under your own domain.

Both Wordpress and Tumblr take only a few minutes to set up. It's not an exaggeration to say that you can have your first postings online within ten minutes. If your goal is actually creating content, you can't beat that.

But what about X?

Yes, exactly. Forget it. You can spend weeks, months, and years looking for more ways of doing the same. The problem is not that there are no choices, but rather that there are way too many. Focus on picking one from my list and you will write your first posting today.

What Next?

Figure out what to write about, and write it.

Don't worry about a plan; it's going to change, anyway. Just think about what your point of view is, and what audience you want to reach (just visualization people? technical people? business folks? everybody?).

Think about what you are doing, what you are thinking about, what keeps you up at night, why you do the work you do. You have to find your niche, but if you're working in visualization, you likely have that, anyway. Think about what the world doesn't know about the work you do, the value of your work, and visualization in general.

Write it up, hit submit, done.

It really is that easy.

Posted by Robert Kosara on October 25, 2009.