My previous blogger workflow update was in March 2021. Quite many things has happened since then. It’s time for another update. Buckle up because this is a big one and enjoy the ride!
For 2021, I was expecting a year without many changes to my blogger workflow, and yet, I was in for quite a few surprises.
Probably one of the most important additions this year are Toggl, Timery, and Focused Work to track my time while creating content (consider bookmarking and read “Why and How I’m Tracking Time With Toggl” if you want to know all the details.) Tracking my time does take some time, but I like the results.
Hello Ghost (again)! I started experimenting with Ghost with the 14 days trial period where all features were available for testing. I started building automation with the Zapier integration. After the trial period ended, the integration with Zapier stopped working for some reasons. I quickly found out that many features like custom themes, custom integrations, commenting support are only available with certain subscription tiers. Commenting on each blog post isn’t available by default, unless I’m on the Creator tier and customize one of the provided theme. To use Commento, I needed an API key, as well as a custom theme and a custom integration. And, moreover, a custom version of Casper with some script invocation added to enable Commento integration. Forking such a builtin theme requires staying in sync with the official theme, as Ghost update them from time to time to benefit from all Ghost’s additions. Finally, I paid a visit to Google Search Console to add my Ghost website for better SEO management and optimizations. I became a subscriber at the entry-level tier for $9 per month, but I quickly realized that the $25 was the one I need (consider bookmarking and read “Moving From Substack to Ghost — My Experience” for more details.)
iPadOS 15 introduced support for Safari extensions. Working on the iPad now feels less and less a compromise, as Grammarly support and many other extensions are now available. For people depending on the iPad, it is a much welcomed addition. Unexpectedly, in 2021, my workflow shifted towards the MacBook Air (read “Coming Out of a Rabbit Hole and Buying Two MacBook Air”).
Pocket made a comeback in addition to Readwise (consider bookmarking and read “Instapaper vs Pocket — Which Read Later Service Is Better for Me”). Pocket is well-known and doesn’t need much introduction. According to Readwise website: “Readwise makes it easy to revisit and learn from your ebook & article highlights.” Resurfacing previously highlighted text snippets is fun and helps build a lasting memory of past readings. I added a Readwise as a source to my weekly newsletter built using Mailbrew.
Using Readwise sharing feature to repost quotes on Twitter is handy. I don’t use it too often, though.
WordPress plugin: I’m using the paid version of “WB to Buffer” for reposting previously published posts to Buffer. With another WordPress plugin named “Feedzy” it imports RSS feeds from Substack and Microblog and create “Also on my …” type of blog posts automatically. It didn’t generate much traction and added too much noise in my original content feed. This was disabled after a few months, when I moved out of Substack.
I unexpectedly started using Matter when Matter officially became public. Matter seems to gain some traction over Pocket as the best read later service. Compared to Pocket, it creates great link posts that can be saved or shared online, just like Readwise and Pocket.
I became a subscriber of Typefully (typefully.com), a web application for writing threads on Twitter. Some features of Typefully are similar to Buffer’s, like being able to schedule tweets. I use it to write threads to complement some of my articles. The latest example things to watch in 2022. Finally, Typefully brings great engagement analytics
My experience with HEY World didn’t last long. I’ve been moving out of HEY World to go to Substack for my Friday Notes and Photo Legend Series (consider bookmarking and read “Migrating My Content From Hey World to Substack”). I can say the same thing about my Substack experience. These services, while being attractive, didn’t stick in my workflow.
HEY is no longer on the workflow diagram. HEY doesn’t really contribute to my blogger workflow. Most of my readings doesn’t happen there anyway, even if HEY provide a newsletters dedicated feed, one of the tent pole feature of the mail client.
Substack is out as mentioned earlier. The popularity of a platform doesn’t guarantee the popularity of your content.
I closed my Telegram account, read more here to know the reasons why. I’m contemplating Signals instead.
WordPress Plugin: Coblock was disabled to remove overhead in webpage processing. It didn’t make a difference, though.
I do spend more time maintaining my digital garden in Craft all year long. You can find a lot of stuff in there.
I’m still trying to figure out how to use Apple’s Quick Notes feature in iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey. I may end up having no use for this after all. Too bad because on paper the idea is cool.
I’m always thinking about my use of Apple’s Reminders in my workflow. Reminders has improved quite a lot over the years, but occasionally, I think Craft could take over if tables support was better (sorting, tagging, etc.). The more things I’ll do with Craft, the more synergy it creates. I’ll watch Craft’s evolution in 2022, and maybe I’ll make a move.
Things to Improve
The addition of text clipping in Craft would be so helpful. There are shortcuts that work with Craft that do just that, but I don’t find the experience very satisfying.
Speaking of Apple’sShortcuts, I do find more use cases for them to speed up a few key tasks, like setting up my work session after logging into my account on macOS.
Templates in Craft to kickstart the creation of a new article would be very handy. It is expected in 2022, in an upcoming update in 2022 or via an extension.
As much as I would like to see the addition of tags in Craft, the implementation of this feature could be tricky. Where should we be able to tag things actually: In a page’s properties, inline in page’s content?
I have to work on my reading workflow and decide what I’m going to do with Pocket, Readwise and Matter. Pocket will probably go as it is entirely covered with Matter.
My usage of Craft has significantly increased this year. It is becoming my second brain (Fun fact: find out the name of my MacBook Air). Lately, I decided to use Craft calendaring feature to prepare a weekly planning which contains my content creation objectives. As the week progresses, I keep it up-to-date and check items off the list. It’s a satisfying experience. Trust me.
I’m still using Notion to keep my old data and connect Matter to Notion to save my reading highlights automatically. As soon as a Craft extension allows for pumping my data out of Notion, I might be done with Notion once and for all. Notion is not shown on my workflow diagram, but it will in an upcoming post about my reading workflow.
Twitter Revue: I had a Revue account before Twitter bought them. Now that it is integrated into their platform, I experimented with it (read a sample issue here). I love Twitter Revue, but I have yet to find a unique and useful use case for it. I currently have five subscribers.
Furthermore, I should consider closing my Flipboard account. I never go there, it’s not what it used to be, and I don’t get any traffic from this platform.
Google News where I cross-post my main blog content could also go down the drain too. I don’t get any traction there.
Finally, Tumblr is another place where I cross-post content. Tumblr has become a ghost town in recent years. It doesn’t help at all. Even if cross-posting is done automatically using WordPress builtin feature, I should consider stopping using this platform.
In my previous workflow update, I considered moving my Photo Legend Series to Hey, which I did for a short while. Now, this is hosted on Ghost, with my Friday Notes Series and my monthly newsletter. I like consolidating stuff sporadically.
Since getting a MacBook Air, my iPad Pro usage significantly dropped. The Mac is the power user tool. I cannot be as productive on an iPad.
I worked a lot on my WordPress blog to improve its score on Google’s PageSpeed Insights, as documented here. Did it make a difference? According to my blog visitors statistics, the answer is no. Here is a strange thing: if I run PageSpeed tests twice in a row, the final score is quite different. Usually, the second try gives much better results. How much trust should I put in these results? Another observation: my score for this blog, a static website, is the worst. Is Blot hosted on a low-end performance tier in the cloud?
I’ve been using Commento with Blot to add comments support on this blog. I never got a single comment! It’s a high price to pay for a service that nobody takes advantage of. Maybe it will be a better fit with my newsletter website on Ghost? Time will tell.
IFTTT still plays an important role in my publishing workflow as it works with Buffer to help me control the cross-posting flow. Each day, I spend some time managing the Buffer queue to spread out posts to be published. I also use IFTTT to cross-post anything that I post on Reddit, to my Twitter channel on Buffer. There is a new calendar view in Buffer which helps see a timeline overview of all future publishing. Buffer isn’t cheap, but I like what it does for me. Cross-posting content do help create traffic and improves engagement.
Well, that was a long one. For an upcoming article, I want to walk you through my reading workflow. I do read a lot of stuff online, and many applications and services are at play here. Reading is the source of my inspiration for most of my work as a content creator. I think there are some interesting things to write about. Stay tuned and see you in 2022.
Digital nomads. Flavour of the day. Looking for a better digital experience. Every reasons are good to move from one place to another in the digital world. It’s about having some fun.
I recently came across this blog post from Greg Morris where he writes: “I look at blog designs like Birchtree.me and think to myself “I want a blog like that” and then go out and try to build one.”. I often tell myself the exact same thing. But then, not long after, I came across another blog post but this time by Andy Nicolaides writing on his blog, The Dent:
“I’ve just gone through yet another blog migration, moving from Micro.Blog to Ghost (again). I was happily posting to Ghost a year or so ago, saw a nice looking blog on Micro.blog and jumped ship. I then sat there, not posting for half a year, before I saw Greg Morris’ updated site over on Ghost and my blog envy kicked off again. Let’s not even mention how incredible Matt Birchler’s Birchtree looks right now!”
Ghost has always been a source of curiosity for me, coming back to it from time to time to have a look and see how it is evolving over time. Following those two blog posts, I got back to one of my article about a past experience with Ghost for photo sharing. At the time, it didn’t go well. Furthermore, for unknown or clearly defined reasons, I started using Substack to host my newsletter. So, this time around, I came back to Ghost to look at it has an alternative to Substack. Why? After all, I was quite happy with Substack. And yet… If I look at Substack and Ghost, there are many things that made me dubious of my choices.
I don’t get any subscribers from Substack discovery or because Substack is very popular these days.
I prefer the way Ghost is handling the publishing process and the distinction between having a CMS and a newsletters publishing platform within the same platform.
Ghost’s API supports text editors like Ulysses which would help speed up the process of creating newsletter issues. By working directly in Ulysses each new issues would be much easier to put together as Ulysses supports templates., Substack doesn’t. Since the basic structure of my newsletter stays the same each month, using a template makes full of sense.
Substack offers some visual customization options, but they are quite limited. On the other hand, Ghost offers themes which helps a lot to make a more personal looking website.
Ghost supports Unsplash, which is a must for me.
Ghost provides better support for photos than in Substack with photo galleries. This could prove to be useful for my photo legend series, among other use cases.
Integration of Plausible analytics is easy something not possible with Substack. Another must-have for me.
Stripe integration which I already use for Medium payments if I ever chose to make a paid tier to my newsletter.
Commenting is possible by tweaking the theme and adding some integration code. Yet, I wish there was a better and easier way to add this to a website. In the future I could try to setup Commento for comments using this procedure. Ghost theme customization is available only on mid-tier and up paid plans. This feature could replace the thread feature available on Substack.
Good integration with Buffer via Zapier, IFTTT integration possible only via RSS feeds. As a paying member of IFTTT, I chose the latter.
Better RSS feeds support on posts, tags, pages just by adding /rss to any URL. On top of that, it is possible to customize the webpage referring to a tag by adding a header image and a description, just like here for the Photo Legend Series.
Selecting a fully featured theme is challenging, as Ghost doesn’t provide an easy way to filter themes by supported features.
I’ll leave my Substack account active just for the Substack Reader feature.
Easy migration path from Substack to Ghost using this procedure.
Should I import my content? After a short test run while using the 14-days evaluation period, it was clear that I had to.
How Ghost Could Be Improved for Me?
One of the most powerful and useful features of the Ghost editor is the ability to create and re-use content snippets. If you’ve ever used an email client with a concept of saved replies then this will be immediately intuitive.
Integration features and custom themes for the entry-level paid plan (access to the API admin token).
A customizable dashboard.
A native client on Mac or iPad.
Steps to Move From Substack to Ghost
Export my data from Substack — this took less than 10 minutes to complete. Substack makes this super easy to do.
Import my subscribers list into Ghost’s members list.
Download Xcode from the Mac App Store, launch it for default configuration (required for the next step).
Follow this procedure to import articles into Ghost CMS. This is done via command line. migrate substack numericcitizen-export-2021-11-14-m9k19kr99s/posts.csv --readPosts numericcitizen-export-2021-11-14-m9k19kr99s/posts --url https://numericcitizen.substack.com --useMetaImage --useMetaAuthor --drafts falseA lot of my decision to switch depended on the success of this step. If content was successfully imported without too much required tweaks, I would consider this a success and go with the next steps.
Import the created zip file (the migrate command generated a 230 mb zip file ready to import). This file was then imported using this procedure.
Once the import is complete and without error, configure site pages and tags.
Review imported content and set tags according to each post content. That step was tedious but was mandatory to recreate the same content structure currently on my Substack website.
Configure and write a contact page so that users can click from the bottom portion of my Ghost website in order to get in touch with me.
Connect my account Ghost to my Stripe account just in case even though my newsletter is free — you never know!
Configure Ulysses publishing options to publish content from within the application to Ghost. After all, this was one of the main reason I switched from Substack to Ghost, right?
Do a test run with a fake article, check RSS feed content generation.
Configure the support and reply-to email addresses.
Setup Plausible analytics and add it to my Ghost website using the customization feature, in the header section.
Update all my IFTTT automations for when a newsletter issue comes out for cross-posting to Twitter via Buffer.
For mid-tier paid plans only: Add Twitter Revue new sign up to Ghost via Zapier (this requires the Admin API token which is not available in the entry-level paid tier.)
For mid-tier paid plans only: Add Ghost cross posting to Buffer via Zapier (this requires the Admin API token which is not available in the entry-level paid tier.) It took me about a day of work to accomplish all this, from the trigger to the final announcement post on Substack. I’m super happy with the end results. You can subscribe to my free newsletter by going to the website: https://numericcitizen-introspection.blog.
Notion Releases Their Public APIs — Here Is Why I’m Excited
It’s now official: Notion offers APIs ([currently in beta]). This is good news for Craft users like me who is awaiting for a way to move my Notion data into Craft. I don’t have a lot of data but the data that I’ve got, I’d like to move it out. According to my sources close to the Craft team, they are looking at it. No timeline was given. I’m patient.
Yesterday, I put an end to my HEY World experiment. After making the call, I wanted to keep my content and migrate it to Substack. So, I tried the Substack RSS feed import feature, but it wasn’t working. As shown in the following screenshot, the error wasn’t explicit enough to pinpoint the cause of the problem.
I had 23 posts to import, not a big deal, but I preferred not to move my content manually. Trying different variations of the URL didn’t help. Substack simply wouldn’t detect any feeds from HEY World. Here is my solution.
HEY World uses ATOMRSS feed format. I thought Substack couldn’t parse those. The idea was to transform the ATOMRSS feed into something else. After googling for a solution, I remembered about RSSMix. This free web service enables merging many feeds into one. I use it to merge all my personal RSS feeds into a single one to build a publishing timeline. It’s pretty cool1. For my HEY World content migration, I took the ATOMRSS feed with another one and merged the content2. The end-result is another feed but this time in XML format. I went to Substack again and sure enough, the resulting feed could be imported. After the import was completed, all I had to do was to delete posts from the second feed content which wasn’t part of HEY World3. Simple as that.
Nearly a year ago, I introduced my Numeric Citizen Visual Space, a website made with Universe, a website creation application running on iPhone, iPad and macOS. This space never really took off, never attracted trafic, probably because of the lack of a social network dimension to it. In retrospective, this was an experiment more than any thing else. The tool took all the place. Universe is a special application where website are built by using a visual block metaphor. There is nothing like it. I was seduced by it and forgot the end goal of building a web presence to expose my urban exploration photography work. Eventually, I stopped updating my website. I decided to cancel my expensive subscription (159.99$ CAN per year). If there was a free tier, I wold probably keep it, but that’s not the case.
I’m still looking for a better photo sharing solution besides the usual suspects. Glass? Bokeh? Both of these are still under wrap and their future is uncertain. As I’m waiting, I decided to “park” my work on a lesser-known place called “Ello”. Ello is a lot like Tumblr. It’s free and does the job for now.
You can still have a look at my Visual Space up until my subscription expiration date, on May, 17th, 2021. After that date, my work will vanish forever.
Getting Ready for Google’s May 2021 Algorithm Update
Coming in May, Google is going to tweak their ranking algorithm, yet again, by including new experience metrics into the equation. Those changes were first announced back in May 2020. According to a recent post on Yoast’s blog:
In May 2021, Google will add Core Web Vitals as ranking factors in its algorithm. This means your site’s page speed and page loading time will impact your rankings.
…these “page experience signals” will be rolling out in May 2021 as part of an algorithm update, meaning how well you measure up against these page experience factors will positively or negatively affect your rankings after this update takes effect.
After reading this, I was expecting the worst. I felt like it was like a storm waiting to strike. The feeling is not really cool, a feeling of “deja vue”. On November 2019, something happened to my blog visitors analytics: it dropped by more than 50% in just a few days. I was astonished, and didn’t really know what happened or if I broke something with my blog. I did some research and found out that it was the consequence of a ranking algorithm change by Google1, an update that put my blog at disadvantage2.
Preparing for this upcoming change, I had to look for ways to minimize the impacts on my main blog, fearing I would lose traffic, again.
The Starting Point
At first, when I started to look into this matter, I discovered the pagespeed insights tool from Google3. Don’t miss this insightful article about why PageSpeed Insights is an important tool. As you might expect, I tried it against my websites. According to this tool, my main blog didn’t score well, both from a mobile user perspective and from a desktop user perspective, albeit it did fair a bit better for the latter. Both scores weren’t in the “green range”. I ran the test many times, and sure enough, on average, the scores were bad. Consider the following two scorecards.
That’s not good, but it serves as the starting point. I had to make improvements on all fronts. Does all WordPress websites need to be slow? They certainly have a bad reputation in that respect. As a Business Plan subscriber on WordPress.com, I get to run my website on its own virtual instance, this makes a big difference. Yet, the next steps weren’t clear to me.
Improving the Mobile Experience
The worst score shows that mobile users were the most affected. How many visitors come from the desktop and how many come from mobile devices? According to my Plausible analytics, the vast majority of my visitors are surprisingly coming from the desktop, not from mobile devices, as shown in the following table. Yet, the score needed some improvements.
A big change was to remove support for Google’s AMP page format. AMP pages aren’t the best idea for the open web and made my website run slower according to my testing. Disabling AMP support in WordPress.com is as simple as turning off a switch. After doing do, I could already observe big improvements in loading time, but that wasn’t enough to get my score into the green zone. What else could I do?
Revisiting My WordPress Plug-In Usage
WordPress is well-known for its support of plug-ins. The more plug-ins installed, the higher the possibility of a slower than normal website. It’s easy to have a plug-ins overload. For my optimization work, I had to revisit the usefulness of each of them.
I simplified my blog’s main page a bit by removing a rarely used footer widget. This widget allowed people to subscribe to my Mailbrew newsletter. This change did improve response time quite a bit. For some reasons, the Mailbrew widget contained many scripts calling Mailbrew’s home which was increasing latency.
The Twitter timeline widget was removed too; I don’t think people cared much about my latest tweets showing up there4. By removing the sidebar on the main page, content retakes the center stage in a cleaner page layout.
The IndieWeb support plug-ins (three in total: IndieWeb, Micropub, IndieAuth) were disabled as I suspected they could negatively impact the performance. After re-testing the website, speed didn’t change much, those plugins were re-enabled5. Media Cleaner, Mailchimp support were no longer needed and were removed too, but I don’t think they were negatively impacting my website loading time, though.
There are other plug-ins in use like CoBlocks, which adds a richer set of block types in the WordPress editor. This plug-in adds a few scripts and CSS according to my research. By disabling this plug-in, some of my posts would break, not that there are many of them but still, some care is required here.
After reading on WP Rocket capabilities, I went ahead installing the plug-in. After installing the plug-in, WP Rockets does many optimizations behind the scene without any intervention. Then, I poked around the provided features and started to enable options one-by-one, carefully testing my website at each step, as suggested in the plug-in documentation, to catch if anything was broken. At each step, everything was loading perfectly. At the end of this process, I did a new round of performance testing using the page insight tool, and to my delight, my score went up even more.
In summary, the following options in WP Rocket were enabled:
Cache / Enable caching for mobile devices
Cache / Enable caching for logged-in WordPress users
File Optimization / Minify CSS files
File Optimization / Optimize CSS delivery
Media / LazyLoad for images
Media / LazyLoad for iframes and videos
Media / Add missing image dimensions
All in all, I’m pleased with WP Rocket. The optimizations may not provide a night and day difference, but they do add up to make my website a better web citizen.
Next up, is a companion service to WB Rocket, Imagify. It is simple to install and configure. The free version allows for 500 mb of image content to be optimized. I went with the unlimited version, so I could process all my published content. It took 12 hours to process about 5 GB of images. The end-result is that my image library size was reduced by 62%. That’s a big improvement. As expected, optimized images look pretty much the same as before.
I considered using a content delivery network service (CDN), but after much thought, some internet research, I decided not to do so. My blog isn’t using a lot of heavy content like videos, only some pictures and many screenshots. I don’t think this would have made much of a difference6 for the majority of my visitors7. The following is a Lighthouse test result for speed access according to geographic locations. The next graphic shows where my visitors are coming from.
My WordPress theme is flexible and allows for many customizations. This means a lot CSS is involved. I’m also using custom fonts which also add some weight to the website. According to SolarWinds’ Pingdom tool, the main page of my blog weights about 784K, where 40% is for the fonts, 27% for images and 26% is for scripts and CSS. Repeated tests show the main page loads in about 3 seconds or less. This doesn’t fit with own observation when I’m visiting my website from my machine, which seems to load a bit faster than in 3 seconds. Three seconds isn’t bad, isn’t? Anyway, I’m not planning to undo my fonts selection as the standard ones are ugly as hell.
Another step was to look at Google-related stuff. Since I’m using Plausible analytics, references to Google Analytics were no longer needed and were removed from WordPress.com configuration settings found in the JetPack settings. Good riddance.
Final Scores and Looking Forward
I’m happy with all the improvements I’ve made to my website. The mobile version is where the improvements were the most impressive. It could be better, but I’m utterly happy about where the score stands now.
Keep in mind that WordPress-based sites are dynamically generated. A lot of processing happens behind the scene when hitting the homepage with a browser. My microblog and the site you are reading now are static-generated and are really fast to load. But, if you compare the loading time of all these sites, you’ll find that they are comparable.
Now, the big question: am I ready for Google’s 2021 algorithm update? I think so. Will my optimization efforts be rewarded? Who knows? Google is like a beast that we have to feed and please, who knows if he will like the served meal this time.
By increasing the score of my website for mobile users by as much as 225% and by more than 25% for the desktop users, by meeting most of Google’s requirements for “website providing a great user experience”, I hope that the upcoming Google changes in May could be beneficial.