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Blogging with Blot

Scrabble pieces spelling out the word BLOG

Back in 2012, I started a new blog. I won’t bore you with the story of that blog, except to tell you that I didn’t publish it with one of the more popular blogging platforms. Instead, I used a now-defunct service called scriptogr.am.

Why scriptogr.am? It worked with a combination of Markdown and Dropbox — my posts and images lived in Dropbox, and scriptogr.am published them. Working with scriptogr.am was fast, simple, and effective.

scriptogr.am closed its doors in 2015. Before that happened, I’d moved my blog elsewhere. But for the sake of curiosity, I kept my eyes open for other web and blog publishing services that work with Dropbox. I found a few, but none really piqued my interest.

Late last year, though, I stumbled upon Blot, which is:

a blogging platform. It adds a folder to your Dropbox and publishes files you put inside.

Yes, I was intrigued by it. The combination of Blot’s simplicity and its use of Markdown and Dropbox grabbed my attention. And it held my attention.

Let’s take a look at Blot, and see if it can be a viable platform for bloggers.

Getting started

First off, you’ll need a Dropbox account. Dropbox has a no-fee option, and the 5 GB of storage that option offers should be more than enough for a blog published with Blot.

Next, sign up for an account with Blot. An account costs $20 (USD) per year, but you have seven days to cancel your account and get a refund.

After you enter your payment information, you’re asked to give Blot access to the folder Apps/Blot in Dropbox. Blot can only access that folder, so if you’re using Dropbox to store other files Blot won’t be able to touch them.

Once that’s done, you’re asked to enter a user name for Blot — for example, scottnesbitt. Once you’ve done that, click Create blog.

Naming your blog

Now you’re ready to get publishing.

Writing posts

You can write and format your posts in HTML or Markdown. If you don’t know either, you can quickly learn them. For those of you interested in writing with Markdown, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my book Learning Markdown.

Fire up a text editor and start writing. Here’s what a post formatted with Markdown looks like:

A Blot post in a text editor

When you’re ready to publish a post, save it to Blot’s folder in Dropbox.

Blot's folder in Dropbox

The folder on your computer syncs with Dropbox on the web. You can also upload the post to Dropbox from your computer if you don’t use the Dropbox desktop software.

Once you’ve done that, Blot publishes the post.

A published post

Blot publishes posts based on their creation dates — newest first. If you wind up with a lot of blog posts, you might want to consider adding the date the post was published to its name — for example, 2016-07-04-blogging-with-blot.md.

Drafts and previews

While all of your published posts go into the Apps/Blot folder in Dropbox, you definitely don’t want to publish works in progress. To get around that, create a sub folder called drafts and save the posts you’re working on in there. When you’re ready to publish a draft, move it to the main folder.

What happens if you want to see what your post looks like before publishing it? Save the file with [draft] at the start of its name — for example, [draft] 2016-07-20-preview.md. Blot does something clever. Instead of publishing the post, it generates an HTML file. You can open that file in your favourite web browser. If it looks OK, remove the [draft] from the file name. Otherwise, fix any problems.

Other features

Blot has a number of other features. Some of them you don’t need to even think about, others you might not use. Here are a few of the features that I found useful.

As you add posts, Blot automatically creates an archive of them. The archive is just a page on your blog, which readers can get to by clicking Archives in your blog’s menu. The archive contains links to all of your posts, with the newest at the top of the list.

Blot generates an RSS feed each time you publish a new post. Readers can use that feed to link to your blog using specialized software called an RSS reader (or news reader). It lets them view your posts, and posts from other blogs and sites, in one place at their convenience.

You can choose from 11 themes for your blog. That’s not a lot, but those themesare all clean and simple. If you know some HTML and CSS, and want to embrace your inner geek a bit, then you can create your own themes. You can learn more about how to do that in Blot’s help.

Your posts aren’t limited to formatted text. You can add images to your posts, add formatted math, and even include JavaScript. You can also hook your blog into Google Analytics (to track visitors) and Disqus (a popular blog commenting tool). Blot even has a setting that automatically opens links to external sites in a new browser window.

Out of the box, Blot uses the name you gave your blog when you signed up plus blot.im as your blog’s URL — for example, scottnesbitt.blot.im. You’re not stuck with that. You can buy a domain (yes, that’s an affilate link!) and then point it to Blot. You can learn how to do that in this post.

Final thoughts

When compared to other blogging platforms, Blot is limited. It’s minimal. Neither of those are a bad thing. Let’s be honest: not every blogger needs or wants the power and flexibility of WordPress. For them, simple is better.

And Blot fits that bill. It’s a worthy successor to scriptogr.am. In fact, if I’d discovered Blot before I chose a new platform for the blog I hosted with scriptogr.am there’s a very good chance that I would have gone with Blot.

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