As is the custom as Chez Anderson, the annual holiday shutdown is when I lounge on my couch and revisit the various digital properties I run1. Last year I took the plunge and moved our family email from Google Suite to Fastmail, and a few other goodies. I also began playing with Substack as an option.
This year I did major work in a few areas. I will lay them out below.
The PM Dude
The PM Dude was a place where I let my hair down, kept a semi-anonymous presence where I could bitch about the profession of product management. But it had become cumbersome to maintain anonymity. Frankly, unless you are committed to using a VPN, a dedicated computer, and never use that computer for anything besides building and maintaining that site/posts, well, you can’t really remain anonymous with all the fingerprinting, tracking technology, and shitty tech-bro driven surveillance.
Thus, I pulled it offline in the middle of the year. I figured that between going live with it in 2011, and retiring it in mid 2023, it was a good run.
Then Substack, where I hosted it, and two other properties (The Product Bistro and Sweaty Spice) decided that the growing population of Nazi’s on the site, who have monetized their pages, are more important than removing their ability to collect tens of thousands of dollars from far right, white nationalist scumbags2.
Since the modern textual content publishing has been racing to the free/paid newsletter model, and increasingly without that functionality, you really can’t grow an audience. And Substack is the hands-down leader. They have just enough social media like things wrapped around it to allow you to organically grow your audience (notes, chat, etc).
But there is a growing ecosystem of tools that give you options to build something similar to this. I decided to use my PM Dude data to test this out.
There are several Substack adjacent options springing up, and I gravitated towards Buttondown. It has a free tier that gives you enough functionality to get it set up, and I spent a bit of the week before Christmas getting it all set up.
I got it all set up, added the posts, and upgraded to a basic subscription, so I could dink around with the CSS3 to make the emails look perfect.
Alas, after extensive testing, the truth that I uncovered is that virtually all email clients limit what CSS fiddling can accomplish, the prettified emails that I carefully crafted looked bland.
Bummer, what is to be done?
The clever thing about Buttondown is that it is not strictly designed to be the entire presence on the web. It is really designed to be a flexible add-on to a presence to allow a paid/free newsletter functionality.
How did I cross this chasm? If you said that I spun up a WordPress site, move my posts to it (while trimming back some that were, uh toxic) and then work to connect the two. I will have more to say later on the migration and fixing of posts.
Then I connected the two and tested it. Everything just sails through.
There I was, with a standard WordPress site with the built in default theme, and it was U G L Y. I could have bought a new theme, but I know that I had a few WordPress sites that I built and retired, so I was certain there was an unused theme somewhere I could use. I ended up with a theme I purchased in 2020 or so, Opinion, a magazine style theme. And even better, checking Themeforest (Envato) it was still in my active licenses (good), and its last published update was in September 2023 (even better, it is still supported!) and grabbed it.
I got it up and running, but I noticed a few oddities. My support expired years ago, but I submitted a ticket anyways to the developer (Meks). I figured that if they griped, I would pay for a 6 month support contract, but they answered my questions, and the issue (some warnings are thrown that are displayed to visitors if you have PHP 8.x) and they helped diagnose it and have said it will be fixed in the next published update. That is killer service! I will do a more formal review of them later.
So, where it’s at:
- The wordpress site is up and running at The PM Dude with 97 posts where the topics are safe.
- The Buttondown archive is populated here (if you want to subscribe to it, you can do it there!)
- The WordPress and Buttondown bits are connected. New posts are read via RSS feed, and emails are automatically drafted (I do not have them send automatically – yet).
- I have a solid list of topics I want to expand upon there (Agile Frameworks, Crypto, and how AI is going to really screw up the talent pipeline in many fields)
So, all is good there.
Tralfaz (aka here)
Not going to lie, this site has been sort of fallow for a while. I lost focus when I created the Sweaty Spice site to really suss out the Substack phenomenon.
I did a flurry of posts in January 2023, and then it just went to zero.
But, keeping an eye on the metrics (I am a nerd after all) and I see that it consistently gets between 15 and 50 hits a day4. Not too bad for a site that just sits there.
Digging into it, the site was a bit stale. The theme was a minimalist blog theme titled “Hello World” that I bought for it in 2017. Hell the company that made it went kaput in 2021, so it is WAY out of date, probably designed for 2 major versions of WordPress ago.
To say it was creaky is an understatement. Its built-in widgets were all legacy, and soon to be totally deprecated.
It was clear – I needed a new theme, and I didn’t have anything even remotely fresh in the already-bought category, so it was time for a fresh one.
Know where I mentioned Meks above? Yeah, because of the great support response, coupled with the outstanding documentation (that really is the difference between a crappy experience and smooth sailing, worth the $40 or so that quality costs) made it a no brainer to go hunting in their patch. I settled on this theme, Typology, a clean, very textual view, not quite minimalist, but it does have outstanding documentation, and I am confident that Meks’ support will address any issues that I might find.
But what to use this for? I have my Product sites, I have my music and gaming site. That is the conundrum.
The abortion that is Mailchimp
Last January, I had started the process of using Mailchimp to manage a distribution list. Prior to that, I had used the Jetpack built in audience base notifications, and it was getting creaky.
For other purposes over the years, I had just used Mailchimp to handle the notification duties. It integrates with WordPress for gathering subscriber emails, and I was configuring Zapier to handle the automation (you get 5 free “Zaps” before the turn on the nagging to upgrade to paid).
But I never closed the loop. I had begun playing with Substack, and lost interest.
In just a year, 340 people had “signed up” via the Mailchimp widget. That seemed to be excessive for a relatively low traffic blog, so I thought I would just send a test message.
Hoo-boy, it led to an avalanche of unsubscribes with the uniform reason given that they never subscribed in the first place. If I had to guess, because I was using the simple sub form, that hackers were using credential stuffing to look for weaknesses.
Needless to say, I have pretty much terminated the Mailchimp account, and for good measure, I deleted my “free” Zapier account.
I need to write how “enshittification5” is driving these useful adjuncts to put the screws on the smaller publishers to pay to get any value. Something that ties the mantra of the 2010’s “growth at all costs” while money was almost free (ZIRP) and VC’s lost their fucking minds about valuations.
In the end, there is a new built-in newsletter function in WordPress, and I am using their companion plugin, Jetpack, to be the notification engine. If you like what you are reading, scroll to the bottom of the post and enter your email to be notified when new posts go live. Or not. No pressure!
What 2024 will bring?
Who the hell knows, but I will try to not neglect it. This year I want to get back into my RC cars. Work has been super busy, and that led to a serious decrease in leisure time.
I have also gotten more serious about video gaming. I put together a beefy gaming system with a decent GPU that gets me a solid 80+ FPS in most games I play at 2K resolution6.
I still play a lot of guitar. I bought a Line 6 Helix (lightly used) to be my main sound solution (I also have a couple of shoeboxes full of effects pedals, and a great sounding Orange all tube amp).
I am hoping I can begin to carve out time to bicycle. Covid pushed me to work from home almost exclusively, and that means daily 3.5 – 5 mile walks in the AM with Cerberus, and that has been my main form of exercise (don’t get me wrong, that is plenty of walking), but I have a great bike hanging in the garage, and it got out just two times last year. Yikes!
I hope you will stick around, and help encourage me to post more often.
- There is here, then my Product Management “professional” site – The Product Bistro, my snarky product management site – The PM Dude, and lastly, my gaming and shitposting site – Sweaty Spice ↩︎
- Look, I know that it isn’t really possible to completely eliminate Nazi’s and Fascist people, but you don’t have to give them a funding stream. ↩︎
- Cascading Style Sheets, a set of ‘instructions’ that tell a web browser how to display the information in the page. I know enough to be dangerous. 🙂 ↩︎
- Top posts seem to be reviews of my various bicycles, and the RC cars. ↩︎
- “enshittification” is the process where a service goes from free, and useful, to free and less useful, and then once you are locked in, to “pay-to-play”. Thanks to Cory Doctorow who coined the term ↩︎
- Why not 4k? Well, I play on a 32″ monitor that is a 2K (2560×1440) and frankly, my eyes are not good enough to see any more detail than that delivers. 4K bumps that up a lot, and it requires a GPU card that is more than twice the cost. Diminishing returns and all that jazz) ↩︎