P&B: Chris Coyier

This is the 12th edition of People and Blogs, the series where I ask interesting people to talk about themselves and their blogs. Today we have Chris Coyier and his blog, chriscoyier.net.

As many many others I got to knew Chris thanks to his CSS-Tricks and I'm very happy to see that he's not done blogging! Chris is also co-founder of CodePen and co-host of the ShopTalk podcast.

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Let's start from the basics: can you introduce yourself?

I’m Chris Coyier. Professionally, I’m the co-founder of CodePen, along with Alex Vazquez. We’re over 10 years on that project and are hard at work still today, evolving it. With my friend Dave Rupert, I co-host a podcast called ShopTalk Show which is all about web design & development. I also used to run a blog called CSS-Tricks for 15 years, which I sold a little over a year ago. So my professional life has been very focused on the web. Outside of work, I hang out with my family in Bend, Oregon. My main hobby is playing old-time music with local friends.

What's the story behind your blog?

I think I originally bought ChrisCoyier.net just out of the general obviousness that people should have a personal website (I think most people should). A lot of my early website-building experience involved WordPress, so I chucked that up on it. WordPress is pretty capable for a variety of types of websites, but I do still think the design of it encourages use as a blog. Blogging kinda clicked with me anyway, so that was always a part of it. There is something intoxicating about writing and publishing something anyone in the world can see and read.

I have no idea how many times it’s been redesigned over the years! It’s my 8th design since I’ve been properly versioning my WordPress theme, but surely a few before that. And honestly: not enough. Redesigning your personal website is one of life’s great pleasures.

What does your creative process look like when it comes to blogging?

Ideally, I’m asking myself: what is interesting about this? Is there a hook to this that makes this worthwhile? What can I say about this that might make it click for someone? Can I share how it clicked for me? Can I be helpful in some other way?

But sometimes I just don’t care. I remember one time a very popular blogger posting to say that it was his wife’s birthday, and noting that it was a good reminder that blogs are never that serious and you should be able to post whatever you want whenever you want to. That’s what makes a good blog, I think. That is to say, usually, I try to make things interesting for everyone, but it’s good enough if it's interesting just to me.

My writing process has always been rather hot’n’fast. I might make a few passes during writing to rejigger things, but usually, I get done with things same-day and just hit the publish button. Back in the CSS-Tricks days, I had a great editor in Geoff Graham, so I probably seemed a little more polished than usual, but even then, it’s not like either of us were super professional editors and spent weeks on things. I think that might take the fun out of writing for me.

Tools-wise, I think the most important thing for me is saving links and then being able to look over them and think about them and see if any thoughts have formulated about them since saving/reading them.

Do you have an ideal creative environment? Also do you believe the physical space influences your creativity?

Nah, not really. What I do think is helpful is scenery changes. I’ve got a great desk and I can do the majority of my work there, but sometimes I like to take a laptop over to a coffee shop just to switch it up a bit and usually combine that with changing gears with what I’m working on.

But I’ve blogged just fine in my parent’s unfinished basement, in a tiny room with a tilted floor and unreliable internet in a house of questionably employed late twenty somethings, from a pool bar at a resort in Costa Rica, in lonely second story flat with a creaky floor, from the sunroom of a house in Florida that was a little too big for just one dude and a puppy, from a coffeeshop I’d never find again in Kraków, from a ferry on the inside passages of Southeast Alaska, and from a glass-walled office with my hand-picked inspirational art surrounding me. You just need a laptop, an idea, and a little desire to press publish.

A question for the techie readers: can you run us through your tech stack?

GoDaddy gets a lot of flack for an ex-CEO and a story involving killing an elephant and a purportedly objectifying advertising campaign. I think those things are more complicated than they seem on the surface, and never convinced me the company as a whole was evil. I find GoDaddy to be a pretty good domain registrant product, actually. I think the UI is fairly sensible, the pricing acceptable, and, well, it just works well. I used MediaTemple hosting for a long time, and I even thought they did pretty well running that post-acquisition for quite a while. Most importantly to me, though, as a loyal guy, GoDaddy once went to bat for me when, through a complex social engineering attack, I had a website stolen from me. It was no small effort for them to get it back, they did, and protected the heck out of it for all the years after. Anyway: my domains are there.

As I mentioned, I like WordPress, and I’m using Flywheel hosting for that at the moment. I find the hosting and the support pretty good. But my favorite feature is that they make this product Local for great local development.

Given your experience, if you were to start a blog today, would you do anything differently?

I think the most important thing anyone can do when setting up a blogging tech stack is to make sure it’s very easy to write and publish. For a lot of techy folks, that’s Markdown and committing a file, and that’s great. I’m a big fan of the static-site-generator approach to site building, as there is just tons of advantages there to being low cost, secure, easy to move around, lots of control, etc.

But me, I’m still a big fan of WordPress. I just have so much muscle memory for how it works. Now that the Block Editor is a thing in WordPress, I’m an even bigger fan. It allows you to do just enough customization inside of a blog post that makes it feel right. Too much customization would make redesigns obnoxious. Too little feels stifling and would lead to too much one-off fighting against it. The Block Editor allows you to, for example, set up some side-by-side columns, or drop in a photo gallery, or adjust some one-off colors just for one part.

Everybody’s gotta do what works for them, though. Building your own stack of tech and learning it deeply is part of the journey. You’ll never love every single aspect of it, so be ready to evolve.
I would say: be liberal in how you syndicate. Your blog on the web can be home base, but meet any reader where they are. Push that content to anywhere that will take it.

Financial question since the web is obsessed with money: how much does it cost to run your blog? Is it just a cost or does it generate some revenue? And what's your position on people monetising personal blogs?

I don’t monetize my personal blog at the moment aside from putting a big obvious “Go PRO on CodePen” link in various spots. I don’t, like, pay myself directly for that placement or even track its effectiveness, but it’s an ad, and as a co-owner of CodePen, I profit from that.

I don’t mind what people choose to monetize, go nuts. I’ve always thought it can be done tastefully and be the best monetization option for tons of sites. The fact that it craps up a ton of websites is unfortunate, so, don’t do that. I do think people, generally, will have a hard time making meaningful money from a personal website. The scale is generally just a little too small to make it work, and the fact that it’s just some-persons-name.com might just be a bit too niche and weird for a many direct advertisers to bother. I’m sure there are counter-examples, like people that do self-help stuff and monetize with memberships or downloads or something. CSS-Tricks did OK with advertising revenue, but it was a real grind getting enough content produced on a daily basis to keep traffic up to the point of supporting just an editor and a few writers.

If you need a zero-dollar option, WordPress.com has a free plan that’s easy to grow out of (I swear WordPress doesn’t pay me, uhm, anymore). But also picking a static site generator and using Netlify’s free plan is totally an option. If you have any budget at all, buy a domain and keep it up over the years. I’m very sure you’ll never regret that.

Time for some recommendations: any blog you think is worth checking out? And also, who do you think I should be interviewing next?

I have a bit of a dump of blogs I follow here in case anyone wants a head start getting into RSS. But here’s a few hand-picked ones (that are mostly pretty web-tech-y because that’s what I like!)

Final question: is there anything you want to share with us?

Keep an eye on CodePen. Little biased, but it’s already this incredible hive of creative web designers and developers, and we’re hard at work making it even more useful for everyone.

This was the 12th edition of People and Blogs. Hope you enjoyed this interview with Chris. Make sure to follow his blog (RSS) and get in touch with him if you have any questions.

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