Via Negativa passed an important milestone here on April 1. It was on that date in 2006 that my geek cousin Matt and I completed the move of this blog off Blogspot to its new domain on a platform that was then just beginning to attract more widespread attention beyond the circle of open-source geeks who developed it: WordPress 2.0. I don’t remember how I heard of it myself, but it turned out to be a very lucky choice. Moveable Type (or its hosted counterpart, Typepad) was still the preferred choice of serious bloggers at the time, but it had gotten kind of a bad reputation as a result of its developers’ disastrous decision to start charging for it. WordPress was free of charge. Aside from that, my other main criteria I think were having categories (Blogger was years away from its debut of “topics” at that point) and static pages to use for permanent site information (ditto). Boy, did I lust after categories!
The open source aspect was part of what attracted me, but it took a year or two for me to really appreciate its significance as a model for how poets and artists might collaborate and let go of their impulse to restrict others’ use of their content, and how good it would be for the culture at large if we all took our cues from the free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) movements. Regular readers of Via Negativa see one result of this new attitude every day in the form of Luisa Igloria’s poems, based to one extent or another on my Morning Porch entries.
And yes, thanks to WordPress and the pleasure I get from working with it, I have been led to launch quite a number of other sites, too, over the past five years, a few of them hosted at WordPress.com (the Festival of the Trees and Plummer’s Hollow blogs, plus qarrtsiluni, which began on Typepad) but the majority as self-hosted WordPress.org installations (The Morning Porch, Moving Poems, the Woodrat Photoblog, Postal Poetry, Shadow Cabinet, etc). Had I chosen Moveable Type, I doubt I ever would’ve expanded much beyond Via Negativa and qarrtsiluni; its code would’ve remained impenetrable to me, unmotivated as I am to actually knuckle down and study programming languages in any systematic way. That’s because Moveable Type is written in Perl, which is way gnarlier than I can handle. WordPress, by contrast, uses PHP, which is a lot less intimidating if you already know some HTML, as I did (thank you, Old Blogger!): HTML and CSS can be mixed right in. Seeing something you already know makes the rest of it a hell of a lot easier to dope out. “Copy, paste, and don’t panic” might as well be the official WordPress slogan for tens of thousands of code-poet-wannabes like me: WP’s fanatic fanboy base.
There are definite drawbacks to using the world’s most popular blogging platform, as I’ve discovered on two separate occasions: you’re a big target for hackers. But the ease and pleasure of use more than make up for it. I hope I have retained some critical objectivity about WordPress — I certainly don’t agree with every decision of its lead developer, for example — but it’s hard, possibly even mistaken, to be objective about something you love. I actually worry that subsequent major versions of the software will go too far in the direction of accessibility and eliminate the need for guys like me to muck about in the code.
Software purists like to deride WordPress as a kludge, and while I have no way to evaluate or contextualize that judgment, I do like its cobbled-together, Mir-ish vibe, the sense that the slightly twisted geniuses who work on the core code will always manage to stay one step ahead of disaster with the generous application of duct tape and super glue. I love how we can replicate that in a small way on our own sites: hack up a free theme, dump in a bunch of plugins, and try to keep too many PHP processes from pushing CPU usage through the roof and getting shut down by our bargain-basement webhosts. Fun! In software as in art and literature, it’s the mongrel that has the hybrid vigor, the impurities around which pearls form. And while Moveable Type or its fork Melody will I’m sure always have their advocates, and many other equally fine blogging platforms all have their strengths, I am pleased to be part of a worldwide community that takes freedom and generosity so seriously. I’m so glad that on a rainy April day five years ago, I decided to become part of the solution.