Just Me and My Laptop: Two Years After WordPress

Silhouetted man standing on rocks and looking toward the horizon at dawn.

I am nearly two years post-WordPress. I moved my personal blog away from the software that has given me a career and provided a way to share my thoughts with the world for over a decade.

But, it was never about the system. All I really needed was a keyboard to tap out my thoughts.

For my personal use, WordPress has moved far beyond the necessities. Some of my followers may think I am talking about Gutenberg, a project that is currently transforming WordPress into a content and design management tool rather than focusing simply on content. It was never about Gutenberg. The ship had already sailed farther than being a basic blogging platform, which is what I always needed from WordPress. It fit that role in the early days. However, technologies have changed, and what at once seemed overly complicated has become simpler. The popularity of dependency management tools and their ease of use (from a developer perspective) meant that I could pretty much build whatever system I wanted. I could build the bits I was knowledgeable enough to build. I could use Composer to pull in the bits that were either above my skill level or more work than necessary.

I could build something that I could operate and manage with any basic code editor. Just me and my laptop.

That is all I ever needed.

When I began this blog over 17 years ago, way back in 2003 (Gosh, where has the time gone?), I was on a now-defunct service called Expage. The service allowed users a single webpage to do what they will. There was no real content management system, at least not how we think of them today. Users simply had access to add plain ol’ HTML. This also meant inline CSS unless you were hosting a stylesheet elsewhere. It was dirty — HTML and CSS soup. Users broke all the rules that I have now come to appreciate over the years.

But, there was something right about the service.

It provided a kind of freedom that we seem to have lost. It created “webmasters,” a term I rarely hear spoken anymore. The web was the Wild West during the time. Anyone with a few hours to spare and the willingness to learn some basics could carve their little corner of it.

It was a year before Facebook. Two years before Twitter. It was even a couple of months before the launch of WordPress, a fork from b2/cafelog.

It did not take me too long to move over to Yahoo! GeoCities, which gave me the freedom and flexibility to create an entire website, not just a simple webpage. Even the GeoCities days shared in the same hope for the future. Anyone could create basic HTML and CSS pages with a little elbow grease.

The late ’90s and early 2000s web was alive with passion and creativity that we have not yet seen since. Everything has moved to social media and systems largely controlled by major businesses. People are more apt to share a political meme than to write a blog post with their thoughts on the current political climate. And, ultimately, they do so on platforms where they have no control over whether the content will exist the next day.

WordPress has remained a beacon of hope for the little guy. Despite multi-million dollar businesses having a hand in it, it is still a community project. More than that, it provides an avenue for anyone to have a home on the web outside of the control of behemoth businesses, and the community/users always have the power to fork it because of its license.

But, even with WordPress, that freedom of going into an unknown adventure, setting off to take on an explored world is lost for me.

Maybe I am simply nostalgic for my early days of navigating the web. Maybe I am nostalgic for those days of just me, my laptop, and code editor. There was something primal and raw about being a pioneer those 17 years ago — forging my own path.

When people ask if I am considering coming back, my answer is a simple no. I am enjoying my freedom to explore right now. There are no system limitations or things I need to work around. If there is a feature I want, I build it. If something breaks, I fix it. If something really breaks, I upload a fresh copy of the site in a few minutes.

This type of system is not for today’s average user. About 17 years ago, perhaps the average webmaster would have liked it. Every time I check in or work on my blog, it takes me back to those early days. I am just a kid trying to find my place in the world, and the unexplored wilderness of the web has provided provisions for my journey.