The Laboratorium (3d ser.)

A blog by James Grimmelmann

Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire afin
d'être violent et original dans vos oeuvres.

Posts about the Laboratorium itself

The New Management

The blog has moved.

The last time it moved was in 2015. I had just taken a long break from Facebook and I liked remembering what it felt like to blog. As I write this seven years later, Eloi Morlock, mister iPod Submarine himself, may be just weeks away from becoming the unwilling and unqualified owner of Twitter. If and when that happens, I plan to take a long break from Twitter. Reconnecting with my blogging roots sounds like a good idea again.

But I’m also older, sadder, and wiser about something else: the mortality of all software. For as long as I have been blogging, I have been struggling with the problem of how to keep the blog going even as blogging platforms come and go. I started with a homebrew solution that involved hand-coding XML, running it through a stylesheet processor, and uploading the resulting HTML to a web server. It worked, if barely, but it was also beyond my capacity to maintain or extend. So after a couple of years of limping along (and an unfortunate experiment in turning the blog into a wiki), I threw in the towel and switched to Movable Type, which ran on my server and had a user-friendly web interface.

I used Movable Type for almost a decade. I thought that because it was open-source I would always be able to just keep on running it happily in my own corner. But Six Apart’s pivot to the enterprise market and paid subscription models left me stranded. The software worked, but without ongoing development support it became increasingly hard to deal with spam, security, and the endless accumulation of cruft.

In 2015, I moved over to Tumblr. In part I did it because I found a stunning Tumblr theme. And in part, I wanted the security and reliability of having a blog backed by a major Internet platform. It involved some significant sacrifices: I had to settle for static archives rather than importing all of my old posts. But at least I thought I achieved some measure of stability. Tumblr was a billion-dollar company, after all.

I’m going to pause now for those of you who know the corporate history to wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes. Suffice it to say that Tumblr is worth perhaps one percent of what Yahoo once paid for it, has an actively antagonistic userbase, and has stagnated technically since basically the day I started using it. So I have known for a while that my days there were numbered. Better to make an orderly exit at a time of my own choosing. The news about Twitter was just the final nudge to make me do something I had been planning for a while.

So this is all by way of saying that the Laboratorium is now powered by and I have never been happier with the technical setup. Jekyll runs on my own computer, from the command line, just like the good old first-generation XML scripts I wrote back at the turn of the century, when “blog” was still a neologism and the “blogosphere” was still a thing. It has an elegant template language that recalls everything that was good about Movable Type’s templates and nothing that was bad about them. It’s supported by an active and thriving open-source development community. And best of all, it stores every post in a simple and easy-to-parse text format. On that day when Jekyll too falls into ruin and decay, as is the inevitable fate of all software, I will be able to pack up my things again and move on.

This is something I have come to understand since the last iteration of this blog. Knowledge is not something that is created and then simply endures. It must be curated, transmitted, maintained. In every generation, you must retell the stories and transcribe the manuscripts. Copying my archives from server to server and from format to format is part of what keeps them alive.

Welcome to the Laboratorium, Third Series.


2014 was a long year. If you are the sort of person who reads this blog, I doubt I need to say why. Instead, allow me to offer a brief personal take on the year everything went wrong and everyone was mad all the time.

In July, I took a break from Facebook. I’m on it still. I’d been writing about the emotional contagion experiment and I’d come to feel uneasy logging in knowing that I might be the subject of psychological experiments. It wasn’t that I objected to being experimented on. Instead, knowing about Facebook’s manipulations in the name of science made me uncomfortably conscious of its other manipulations in the name of increasing my “engagement” and selling me things.

I regret not seeing pictures of my friends’ kids; I regret hearing second-hand about the changes in their lives. But after a few weeks, I realized that these regrets were more than outweighed by the relief I felt at escaping Facebook news. I like reading the news, don’t get me wrong, but Facebook is a singularly infuriating place to encounter it. Someone is always wrong on the Internet; and someone else is always complaining about it on Facebook. I’d log in to Facebook to unwind for a few minutes, and it would wind me up instead. Stepping away was like remembering to breathe–at least until I checked Twitter.

I’ve always felt good about the way I engage with the world through this blog. It’s brought out the best in my thinking and my writing; it’s introduced me to some wonderful people. It’s everything I love and have always loved about the Internet–which is saying a lot after a year in which the Internet was so hard to love. In my experience, Facebook and Twitter are loud and exciting; blogging is slow and calm. But I think I’m ready for slow and calm again. So I’m going back to my circa-2004 social media.

Welcome to the Laboratorium, Second Series.