New year, new blog: reflections on federated blogging, one year later

New year, new blog: reflections on federated blogging, one year later
Photo by Christophe Hautier / Unsplash

It’s true. I’ve started yet another new blog, and you’ve found it!

My intention for this space is as an outlet for my professional experience as an urban planner. However, before I get into that, I’d like to reflect a bit on my experiences this past year being a denizen of the Fediverse. Having gone down the rabbit hole and into the world of self-hosted blogs and federation, it’s time for me to put some of my thoughts to rest. I’m hoping this will be the first and very last post I ever write here on the topic of blogging or the fediverse.

Where I’ve been

Over the years, I flirted with blogging in many forms. My first love affair was with Livejournal, an account that I started as an angsty teenager in the early 00s, which will forever remain on lockdown. Since then, I’ve used just about every service out there, from Blogger and Wordpress to Medium and Squarespace, to say nothing of the various social media services.

Yet no matter what platform I used, I always struggled with my identity as a writer and questioned whether I had anything meaningful to say. Like many bloggers, I doubted myself and lost motivation because I rarely found an audience. Without fail, I’d inevitably lose interest in writing only to myself.

How I lost my way

This time around, I thought building an audience around microblogging might help me stay focused. I have continued to write short posts, but the longer writing has mostly eluded me.

For the last year, I’ve explored every corner of the Fediverse and started dipping my toes into the indie web after learning about its philosophy of POSSE (“Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere). It resonated with me, particularly the bits about owning your own content and the ability to take your audience with you, wherever they are.

Getting here hasn’t been a straight line, though. In fact, I’ve spent far more time painstakingly learning about various tools and platforms than I ever did writing. For someone who has virtually no background in web development, it has been a ride, to say the least.

I began using various federated services, such as Mastodon, Misskey, Friendica, Firefish, Pixelfed, and others. After a misunderstanding with someone on a public Mastodon server, I got my first taste of heavy handed moderation and thus decided I wanted to be in control, so I spun up my own Mastodon instance on Digital Ocean. It didn’t take long before I tragically crashed it trying to maintain dependencies, only then deciding to put that business into the capable hands of Mastohost.

I eventually landed on federated blogging services like, but found it too minimalist in nature. I wanted more control. I briefly returned to Wordpress again, this time digging into code trying to figure out broken Webfinger and ActivityPub endpoints on self-hosted Wordpress sites. I dropped into GitHub to pester developers like Matthias Pfefferle, who wrote the ActivityPub plugin, which I never could get to work right (I guess it was a hosting issue). Thankfully it now seems like Automattic is on track by rolling out ActivityPub on Wordpress hosted services, but that seemed too limiting. Eventually I gave up on self-hosted Wordpress because I didn’t have the stomach anymore for database issues and problematic plugins.

It wasn’t long before I started diving into the world of CSS and blog theme development, eventually learning about cloning and modifying GitHub repositories and deploying different static sites on Netlify, from Hugo to Gatsby to 11ty, without any prior development experience. I romanticized self-hosting my own static site and fell in love with the super fast, minimalist themes, like Lukasz Wojcik’s Bliss Blog 11ty template. But it all fell apart for me with the content editing experience and my inability to get syndication working smoothly. Purely user error, as I finally admitted it was above my head.

I explored dozens of content management systems (CMS), only to conclude that I didn’t like working with any of them and that maintaining it all was far too much for someone just trying to put a simple self-hosted site together and write. I had lost my way.

Getting back on track

I pored over blogs by indie web heroes like Tim Chambers and Manton Reece, consuming the latter’s entire online book on the topic of indie microblogging. I think I finally realized through all of this that I didn’t need my blog to be self federating. In fact, I’m not sure that I even want it to be so long as I have a good method of sharing it to the right places with a service like For me, more important than a federated blog is a federated social sharing service that maintains my audience. At least that way, I don’t have to worry about bad actors, from God knows where, spamming me or commenting indiscriminately. That is my main issue with right now. I have almost no control over security and moderation. I still have spam messages showing up that I can’t delete despite blocking the senders.

Which brings me to where I am today. This blog is on the Ghost platform, self-hosted on PikaPods, which is where I think I’ll stay for a bit. I toyed with Ghost in the past, but I thought maybe it was a poor choice since it doesn’t have ActivityPub out of the box and it isn’t built for microblogging. Yet after all that I’ve been through, I really don’t care. For a non-developer with no intention of becoming one, I shouldn’t have gone as deep into the other platforms for so long. As the kids say, I should’ve stayed in my lane.

I like Ghost’s ease of use, its built-in community and newsletter features, and I’ve solved most of the problems I had with it by learning things from bloggers like Chris Hannah, such as setting up specific RSS feeds for microblogging based on tags, and removing post titles from feeds. I also figured out that I can push theme revisions from GitHub via a custom integration. The last key to the puzzle is someday hopefully getting comments back from other platforms via Webmention, but it’s just not essential to me. The most important things have been solved, not least of which is ease of use and integration with writing apps like Ulysses.

I’ll continue to feed content from this blog into my account, which I’ll use as a hub for my personal and professional content, and from there directing things to where they need to go.

Is it perfect? No. But hopefully now that I’ve settled this, 2024 will now be filled with writing about things I care about and not focused on trying to be a web developer. Perhaps this post can even serve as a guidepost for other wayward Fediverse bloggers.

Cheers, and happy new year, wherever this finds you.