Hello, WriteFreely!

For the inaugural article on this blog, I'll take a look at my chosen platform, WriteFreely.

It may take you 8 minutes to read this post.

What is WriteFreely?

WriteFreely is free, open-source, self-hostable software for blogging, created by the team behind write.as, a privacy-oriented blogging platform.

Why use WriteFreely?

1) Minimalist

When you go to your main account page, you only have a few options: – View your active blogs – Make a new blog – Change your account settings

Further, for each blog, you can only: – Write a new post – Customize its appearance, using CSS code – Change how it present blog posts – With dates, or no dates – From oldest to newest, or vice versa – Change its privacy settings – See its stats

For the post editor, you also have a few options: – Switch between light or dark mode – Switch between font styles – Serif – Sans-serif – Monospace – Publish immediately, or save as draft

In order to format a post, you need to use Markdown syntax.

That's it: no other options, that are really just distractions. No plugins or widgets you have to spend hours choosing, no themes to tweak extensively to your taste, no switching between various fonts, no buttons for messing with formatting.

When you write with WriteFreely, you write. Everything you write in the editor gets autosaved, so there's no need to panic if you accidentally refresh the page.

I find it this interface both utilitarian and elegant. Since I spend less time making my blog pretty or 'effective,' I have more time focusing on what I really need to be doing: researching and outlining my blog posts.

2) No comments or complicated stats

Your blog stats show: – How many readers are subscribed – Your blog's most popular posts

Those are the only indicators of reader engagement that you can access.

WriteFreely doesn't have a comment section, so you don't have to worry about trolls or spammers. If you really want to talk about certain blog articles, you can just share links on social media, and discuss it there. Or write your own blog article about it.

3) No annoying advertising for premium plans

WriteFreely is free (as in free beer) software. There are no aggressive advertisements for premium plans that will give you more 'options' or extra 'features.'

The constant reminders than I'm using a free account annoy me, and turns me off from using the blogging platform, which is one of my gripes about Medium, and to a lesser extent WordPress.

4) Privacy-conscious

WriteFreely is also free (as in free speech): while you need an account to post, the only personal details you need to sign up for an account are: – A unique username – A password

There's no need for email, though you can also set that up for login links as an alternate way to access your account.

As for data collection, it ultimately depends on the integrity of the people hosting your instance. Always read the privacy policy!

5) Open-source and decentralized

WriteFreely's source code is hosted on GitHub, licensed under AGPL and freely viewable by anybody. If you know how to run a server and host websites, you can grab the software to run your own instance of WriteFreely, for the ultimate control of where you data is stored and how it's used (or not used).

If all that sounds too technical, you can also create your blog at a trustworthy instance. This blog is hosted on the WriteFreely instance by PrivacyToolsIO, for example.

If you don't want your blog on PrivacyToolsIO, though, you can check out other WriteFreely instances: – WriteFreely's list of instancesWriteFreely instances on the Fediverse NetworkWriteFreely statistics on The Federation

Because there are multiple instances that run WriteFreely, you aren't locked into one website.

6) Federated

In relation to the previous point, with the ActivityPub protocol, WriteFreely can connect to other Fediverse social networks supporting ActivityPub, such as: – MastodonFriendicaHubzilla

(Not diaspora*, however: it uses a different protocol, called... diaspora.)

What this means is that if you already have an account with either Mastodon, Friendica, Hubzilla, or the like, you can simply follow WriteFreely blogs using said account and see their posts in your timeline. The method of adding blogs may be different for each platform: for Mastodon, you simply have to paste the blog URL into the search bar, wait, and then hit Follow.

Of course, you can also follow blogs using good old-fashioned RSS.

Why NOT use WriteFreely?

1) Little customization options

Customizing how your blog looks requires knowledge of how CSS code works: if you don't know how, check the write.as guide for reference. You can also try looking up tutorials on the Internet for more tips. I consider W3Schools as one of the best references for CSS.

2) No formatting buttons

There are no buttons or menus for rich text / WYSIWYG formatting, and HTML coding won't work: you can only write in Markdown syntax manually. Thus, you might need to take a crash course: aside from the official website, you can look through these guides – Markdown Guide, an open-source website. – GitHub's guide to MarkdownGitLab's guide to Markdown

As a consequence of this, embedding media into blog posts isn't particularly easy. You can't have internal attachments, anyway: WriteFreely doesn't provide native hosting. Any files you wish to add have to be hosted on external sites that allow link sharing, and insert the links into your posts.

3) No comments

If you're one of those people who thrive on having discussions in the comments, you might not appreciate WriteFreely's lack of a comment section.

Again, you can just post links to your WriteFreely blog on other social media and have your discussions there. But it won't be convenient, given the following point...

You can't automatically publish new post links to Facebook, Twitter, or any other major social media platform. IFTTT and Zapier don't have support for WriteFreely, either, if you're wondering.

5) No form of advertising

In relation to all the previous points, there's another caveat for WriteFreely: you can't run ads.

If you wish to earn money through your blog, you might need to look into other means. Perhaps you can ask for donations through Liberapay, a free and open-source alternative to Patreon.

WriteFreely is a young blogging platform compared to the most popular websites (some, I'll mention later), so most people wouldn't have heard of WriteFreely unless they do some serious research. (In fact, I only found out about WriteFreely while I was looking through PrivacyToolsIO's hosted services.)

It's not easy to find blogs, either: they're scattered across different instances, and some people choose not to publish to the public readers. The public reader is similar to WordPress' or Medium's feed; for PrivacyToolsIO, the public reader is here.

Alternatives I've tried

1) Blogger

Blogger was my first foray into blogging, since my classmates and teachers in high school also used Blogger. My blog was mainly about the things I did that day... and naturally, updating it became boring as time went by. I wasn't able to update my blog over the following summer, and when I got back to school afterward, I wrote sporadically for it until I eventually decided to shut it down.

In retrospect, I wouldn't use Blogger today, even if some consider it a decent blogging platform. It's a Google product, and I want to avoid using anything related to Google as much as possible.

2) Tumblr

Back when I ran my Tumblr blog, I mostly reblogged memes, fandoms, and the occasional writing advice. Because of its casualness, I didn't find it suitable for serious, longform blogging.

Eventually, I found the negative parts of various communities too loud and pervasive to avoid or ignore anymore. Unfortunately, as of now I haven't found anywhere with the same vibrant userbase as Tumblr.

3) DeviantArt

DeviantArt has a Journal feature that reminds me of LiveJournal. However, I didn't post to it much, because I've run into bugs where my changes wouldn't save, and I just didn't like DeviantArt's interface. Besides, I mostly used DeviantArt for following artists. Then I realized I could just keep tabs on them via RSS feeds, and left DeviantArt for good.

4) LiveJournal

I have nothing much to say about LiveJournal, because I only had my account for a short while, before realizing I didn't know what to do with it. Besides, I was already spread thin between Tumblr and DeviantArt. So I left it rather quickly.

5) WordPress

Let's clear up any confusion: there are actually two Wordpress services: – WordPress, the free and open-source software – Just like WriteFreely, anyone can see the code – For people who want maximum control over their blogs: – Download and compile the software – Run on their own servers – Install and customize plugins – Host blogs on the provider of their choice – WordPress.com, their own hosting platform – For people who can't run their own servers, or get paid hosting – This was the service I used

I actually attempted to start a WordPress blog not once, but thrice. And every single attempt ended in miserable failure, because WordPress' reputation as the 'best blogging platform' for professionals and entrepreneurs scared me off. In fact, this blog was supposed to be hosted on WordPress, but there were so many options presented to me to 'optimize' my blog, that I got overwhelmed. And so I decided to look elsewhere for a simpler blogging platform.

6) Medium

I wanted to like Medium. Simple and clean interface, minimal blog customization... it's similar to WriteFreely in concept.

Except... it advertises its premium plans aggressively. When I was using it just to read Medium articles, every other interesting article suggested to me was a 'featured' article. You can only access three featured articles per month on a free account; after that, you can no longer read any featured articles. That would be fine... except my feed at some point was filled with nothing but featured articles. I didn't appreciate being baited like this, so I left Medium. In retrospect, I understand that people need to paid, and the platform needs to cover costs... but WordPress.com doesn't resort to this kind of underhanded tactic, so there has to be other ways to entice people to pay for the platform. And I'm not the only one who feels like this.

Besides, there's this article, dated 2014, claiming that Medium can do whatever they want with your content. When I went to look up Medium's Terms of Service, updated 2016, it seems that policy still hasn't changed. Consider that, and several other reasons why Medium isn't a good platform, as you will.

7) Dreamwidth

Dreamwidth looks and operates similarly to LiveJournal, because it's a fork of Livejournal, created by former LiveJournal employees. (There's plenty of history there, but I won't go into that.)

I created my Dreamwidth account as a possible alternative to Tumblr, but then I got confused by all the different features (circles? communities? feeds? reader?) of the platform. When I looked up guides, I further got overwhelmed by all the terms being tossed around. So, I abandoned that platform as well.

How I'm using WriteFreely

Since there aren't much options in WriteFreely, I actually don't mess around with the site much. In fact, I don't write my posts in the editor: I draft them on my computer, to paste them into the editor when it's time to publish.

As for the CSS customization, I just copied and tweaked some code from the WriteFreely guide, with a color palette from W3Schools.

Further reading

Other places where WriteFreely has been featured: – WriteFreely: Start a blog, build a communityWhat Are the Best Ethical Alternatives to Medium?Ethical Alternatives & Resources: Blogging & CMSBye, Medium: Recommended Publishing PlatformsPRISM-Break – Media PublishingStackShare – WriteFreely

In relation, places where write.as has been featured: – elementaryOS blog – AppCenter Spotlight: Write.asProduct Hunt – write.as

By the way, the write.as people are also developing other services, such as: – Photo uploadingPaste sharingCode sharingHTML publishingOnline website commenting (in development) – Online document collaboration (in development) – Online notes (in development) – Private student publishing (in development)


This work by Daryl Sun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

(August 9, 2019 – Fixed some grammar, and formatting in the WordPress section. Also added a new link to the Medium section.)

(March 10, 2020 – Added blurb and Creative Commons license. Also added more write.as projects, type.as and remark.as, and corrected description for jot.as. Added more links to the Medium section.)

(April 27, 2020 – Updated Tumblr section. Updated broken link in Medium section. Added another link to Further Reading. Cleaned up Further Reading. Changed switching.social links to switching.software links. RIP, switching.social.)

#blogging #WriteFreely