Why I Switched Back to WordPress and What I Learned

If you read the blog through the web you may notice that, for the first time in about a decade, it looks different. If you get posts by email you hopefully don’t notice anything, but since it’s a whole new system… who knows.

A little over nine years ago, my good friend Todd and I released a new blogging platform called Sett. We worked on it for about three years, failed to make it commercially successful, and called it quits.

For almost seven more years I used it on my own blog. Every year or two I’d consider switching, look at the available options, and decide that it was worth just sticking with Sett.

Over the last year, and particularly over the last month, more and more Sett bugs have been cropping up. Most of them revolve around a package called Solr, which I ignorantly made critical to too many parts of Sett. Sometimes email notifications wouldn’t get sent, sometimes too many get sent. For the past three posts nothing has showed up on the front page, and I couldn’t easily figure out why not.

When confronted with the idea of spending more time tracking down the bug, I realized that my time was being poorly spent. People read this blog for the writing, not for the Sett features with which I’m enamored. If I was a reader and it wasn’t dead simple to get posts, I’d be annoyed. So I decided instead to spend the time to move to a different blogging platform.

I considered Substack, Ghost, and WordPress. Substack appealed to me because it was totally hands-off, but it was going to be hard to import my posts and I had too-little control. I also didn’t like that I didn’t have database-level access to my posts. Maybe that’s why some people didn’t want to switch to Sett.

I considered Ghost for a long time because I liked that it was focused only on blogging and had built in newsletter support, but it wouldn’t run natively on my server because it uses an older stable version of node, and it required me to send email through a specific provider.

WordPress won at the end of the day because it is stable, easily extensible with plugins, and still gives me a good amount of control. I also know the creator of it and he was really supportive when we were making Sett (while the creator of another blogging platform only got in touch once we failed…).

When I made the switch last night I was sadder than I thought I’d be. Sett had already failed, but at least I was still using it. Having that code all disappear into the ether felt different.

This whole process made me even prouder of what we built, though. Our execution was ok and our marketing was terrible, but Sett really was way ahead of its time. We had a bunch of features that are just now becoming popular or still haven’t been implemented by anyone else including native email / newsletter support, a built in mechanism to build your audience, live previews of themes, real time statistics by email, automatic image size optimization, integrated messaging, community forum integration, built-in monetization, automatic post buffering/scheduling, and a lot more.

Having all of that but still failing also just makes it much more obvious to me how important execution and marketing is, though. When we built Sett I think I had a “build it and they will come” attitude, but now I understand that ideas are cheap and execution is everything.

I’m not sure if it’s an effect of getting older, or if I just have too many systems to deal with these days, but I’m increasingly willing to not do everything myself. It feels good to know that the engineers at WordPress are working on all the stuff that I don’t really want to deal with anymore.

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Photo is a sunset from a golf course in Vegas.

There will be another Superhuman event in August! If you’re interested you can email me. I’ll put more info up in a week or two.

Tea Time with Tynan is BACK! I’ll be live this Sunday at 10am PST. Please join me!

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15 comments

  1. Hi Tynan,

    Looks like the email version I got didn’t include the photo I’m seeing here on the web version. Otherwise seems to be working well! Will miss Sett but glad to hear this will save you the hassle of countless bugs.

    Cheers!
    Noah

    1. Same as Noah: I noticed my email was missing the photo.
      Also, I received 4 emails! They were about 3-4 minutes apart from each other.
      But it’s sooooo nice that comments are back, yeay!
      Thanks!
      Alexandra

  2. Bittersweet. Good you’re getting this burden off your shoulders though. Keep trucking.

    After seeing your T Times with Noah and Nick, it appears that you sort of perversely enjoy the identity of being bad at marketing. Maybe it’s a friendly means of highlighting their strength compared to yours. Not sure.

    Unclear whether the weakness even matters anymore since you might be done focusing on earning, though near the end of this post it looks like it might be ripe for improvement.

    Maybe Noah can help you if you threaten to keep his fancy pants watch.

    1. Interesting observation. I don’t think it’s true, but it might be so I’m going to reflect on it a little bit more. I try to highlight weaknesses I have, because I think otherwise it’s easy to come off a little too know-it-all, and I definitely like to highlight my friends’ strengths because that’s a part of what I love about them!

      I think at earlier points in life I thought I was so good that I didn’t need marketing, but Sett and other projects proved me wrong. I suspect that in my future I won’t need to do much marketing, but who knows for sure?

  3. This is the first time I have been able to respond in ANY way to your blogposts – YAY for WordPress! With Sett, I was sent running in circles and finally, every single time, just gave up. I could not even find a way to contact you and say that I was having this trouble. While I don’t think it’s literally true, the impression I got was that you didn’t really want interaction.

    And maybe that’s true (and if so, it’s a choice you get to make) but you don’t really give off that “leave me alone” vibe. In any case, now that I see I can comment, I can’t remember what I wanted to say before!

  4. Great move, Tynan! If you consider 80/20 in your life, fixing bugs is probably a 10 USD task, whereas you could spend the same amount of time on 10000 USD decisions/topics. I had problems to get your notifications through Sett, so it’s good to know that may be a topic of the past by using WP and plugins.

  5. Long time reader, first time commenter. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and get a lot from them, although I’ve always been behind and am just slowly catching up to present posts. Last couple days when I couldn’t see the posts on Sett I was confused and thought it was down. Happy to know now what happened. Sad to see you let Sett go but it makes a lot of sense. People glamorize the idea of not quitting but sometimes stopping doing something is the right move. It can take a lot of maturity and wisdom to make the move so congrats and best of luck going forward.

    Steve from Canada

  6. Wow, it’s so cool to see all of these comments. The only reason I had comments off on Sett for the past two years was because I never nailed spam detection and I just got sick of the spammers winning. You are all great and I appreciate you reading and commenting!

  7. I always thought that it was interesting that you rolled your own blogging platform, but I agree. The “build vs buy” calculus these days has shifted. Unless you’re doing it for fun, or you are building something extraordinary, it’s pretty hard to make the case for “build”. Which is sad in a way, but it also forces us to focus on what actually matters to the user, instead of refactoring the back end or whatever.

    I’m kind of surprised you didn’t choose Ghost. I get the Node thing. It just seems very ideologically aligned. Then again, Matt’s awesome too of course. Happy blogging.

  8. Hi Tynan!

    Met you through Noah’s first podcast he did with you. Ever since I’ve been a fan. I’m glad you made the decision to move to WordPress, and that’s a smart decision on your end, in my opinion.

    Well, here’s to a lot more writing and commenting! 🥂

  9. I was skeptical of Sett when you announced it. I thought it was an unnecessary thing. But it turned out that the idea was actually spot-on: A blogging platform with a community so that new bloggers get better visibility faster. Several months later Medium.com launched with this exact idea.

    In hindsight, their execution was better, because they removed all the customization and probably had the funds and early adopters from Silicon Valley. You focused on bloggers who want to customize. They focused on writers who just wanted to publish easily. Both of you focused on the community-aspect.

    Hats off to you: You were really close I think.

  10. Long term reader here, a first-time commenter but regarding SETT I did think about using it but the database is a major no-no. I always like using a solution where I can mitigate over should the worst happen and no access to the database itself was off-putting.

    It’s a shame as the community idea of it seemed pretty cool 🙁

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