Blogging for teams (without using Medium)

Published in tech, work, working in the open.

A photo of a laptop screen, with Medium's pop-up filling the screen. The pop-up says "Pardon the interruption..."

Recently I was working with a team who wanted to blog about their work. Their first instinct was to start posting stuff on Medium, but I pulled a face and they immediately asked why.

“Medium’s not great,” I said. “It’s so aggressive in nagging people to sign up or sign in that it becomes quite a hostile environment for readers, who might think they have to sign up or pay money to read whatever’s hidden by Medium’s pop-overs (even when that’s not the case). I’d avoid Medium if I were you.”

OK, said the team. What shall we try instead?

Good question.

Most teams I work with are keen to be working in the open, and they usually have senior support to do so. They are often (but not always):

  • working within a larger organisation, with its own existing comms processes and rules
  • confident that they’ll have something to say for many weeks or months, but can’t be sure that they’ll still exist as a team a year from now
  • keen to share what they’ve learned with colleagues and peers
  • thinking ahead to when they might need to scale up and hire more people
  • unable to spare any of their budget for things like paid hosting services (although sometimes an individual steps forward with a personal debit card saying “Whatever, I’ll pay for it”)
  • technically literate enough to create and host their own blogging platform if they want to
  • far too busy to be spending too much time thinking about this stuff; they need something quick, simple, accessible and dependable
  • concerned that their written output should have decent longevity, and not disappear off the web the moment the team is dissolved

So with these typical circumstances in mind, what publishing platforms would I recommend to which teams? Here’s some thoughts.

If you’re part of the UK government, try to set up a blog on the UK government blogging platform,

I don’t know who’s in charge of this these days (I wish some simple contact details were visible on the home page), but it’s probably someone at GDS. They used to have rules for teams wishing to use the platform, and they probably still do. They were good rules and they existed for good reasons, and they shouldn’t prevent you from using the platform or from getting started quickly. The backend runs WordPress, it’s secure and well maintained. This is a good choice for all government teams.

If your team has the technical knowledge and the control over a domain, build your own platform using off-the-shelf tools, patterns and software.

The best example I can give you is the team working on the California government alpha, who set up their own blog on a sub-domain that was under their control. They had the technical know-how and the domain control to do this from the start. If you have those things, follow this example. You can do things Your Way with the minimum of fuss.

If you’re not either of those things

Then you should consider a simple publishing platform that you can set up quickly. Here’s a few I’d say are worth thinking about:

  • … clearly inspired by Medium, but more open and more accessible in every way. The basic free account provides the simple basics, and the pro version only costs five dollars a month. They don’t say this explicitly, but they imply that if you pay for pro for a while then stop paying, your published content will stay available.
  • Substack … designed for email newsletters, but effectively gives you a blog as well. If you were thinking of publishing weeknotes in the open anyway, this is a good place to put them.
  • Micro Blog … independent and very supportive of modern web standards. Costs five dollars a month; not clear what happens to your content if you stop paying.
  • Typehut … relatively new on the scene, but the basic free option appears to offer plenty.
  • WordPress … is fine as long as you pay to get rid of the ads. You don’t want their ads on your stuff.

If you just want to get text on the web very fast