Looking for Wisdom: A New Look

Time for a Change

It’s been two years since I started Looking for Wisdom, along with my Wind&Bones collaborator, Hannah Stevens. We set up the site when deep in the middle of Covid lockdown in Sofia, Bulgaria. We had time on our hands, the world seemed even more deeply puzzling than usual (as Aristotle points out in the Metaphysics, wonder or thaumazein is often a spur to philosophising), and we thought it would be fun to set up a philosophy newsletter.

Since then, we have published hundreds of thousands of words, and built up a community of hundreds of philosophers from across the world. It has been a blast. But we’ve been increasingly aware that we need to make some changes.

Earlier this year, we moved our base from Sofia to Dundee in Scotland, where we re-established Wind&Bones as a Scottish non-profit social enterprise. As the newly reshaped Wind&Bones took off, we started running a whole bunch of fun projects. And we found that there simply wasn’t quite so much time to write Looking for Wisdom. Not only this, but over the previous two years, Looking for Wisdom had run at a magnificent loss. Financially, we knew we couldn’t sustain this forever. The attempts we had made to monetise Looking for Wisdom had been decidedly half-hearted.

When it came down to it, we simply didn’t want to turn readers and friends into long-term customers. So we realised it was time to take a step back to have a rethink, to see how we could integrate Looking for Wisdom more closely into our work at Wind&Bones.

Wind&Bones is about writing, creativity and social change. We have always felt Looking for Wisdom fits snugly within this brief. So we asked ourselves what the things are that we value about Looking for Wisdom. And we came up with the following list.

  • Looking for Wisdom is a growing body of freely-available resources online.
  • Looking for Wisdom is a community of philosophers.
  • Looking for Wisdom is a potential starting point for fun and interesting projects.

The last of these is particularly close to our hearts. We really love running projects. We like finding ourselves in a room somewhere in the world (whether an actual room, or a virtual one) connecting with new people, exchanging ideas and insights, and together trying to conjure something good and valuable. Not only this, but projects are our bread-and-butter. They give us the income that keeps food on the table, so we can go on doing good things.

After some discussion, we decided our strategy should be this:

  • Rebuild the website to make it sustainable long-term.
  • Relaunch the newsletter so it is more independent of the website content.
  • Think about how we can branch out into developing philosophy projects.

So that’s what we’re doing! The website has been redesigned from the ground up. We have a brand new newsletter. And we’re putting a lot of energy into coming up with new projects.

Rebuilding the website

Rebuilding the site was the biggest challenge. From the beginning, Looking for Wisdom was run using Ghost, which is an exceptionally elegant newsletter platform.

Ghost served our needs well for a couple of years. But unless you run Ghost as a paid newsletter, the costs can mount up. So we decided to switch to a static website: essentially, this is just a bunch of web-pages without any database shenanigans in the background keeping things ticking over. We’re a big fan of static websites. They are fast, they are secure, and they are robust.

For those who have an interest in the technical behind-the-scenes stuff, the new version of Looking for Wisdom is built using Hugo, the static site generator. We transferred everything over from Ghost using Joshua Barone’s handy ghostToHugo script, which almost worked (or well enough to get started). Then we dived in and tidied up the code, made sure that the hyperlinks had all carried across properly, fixed any broken links, triple-checked the images, and squashed a few stray typos and inconsistencies. As for the site theme, we’re using a lightly-modified version of the Hilton theme. The theme didn’t come with a built-in search function, so we added our own search page, using a bit of JavaScript magic, thanks to the incredibly useful guide written by Victoria Drake. Once we update the site locally, we then push the updates to GitHub, and the site is served via Netlify. It’s like magic!

The resulting website is at least as pretty as before. It also doesn’t depend on having a database to keep it running. Instead, all the content is kept in Markdown files, which makes it incredibly easy to handle. And, even better, it costs almost nothing to keep it running!

Now that we’ve made these changes, we’ve got lots of new content in the works. So we’re going to keep updating the website over the coming months and years, but on a slightly less demanding schedule than before.

Relaunching the newsletter

Until now at Looking for Wisdom, when we posted new content on the site, by default it would automatically go out to subscribers. But for this relaunch, we wanted to separate out the website and the newsletter, recognising that websites and newsletters are different kinds of beasts. We’re using the website for more enduring content, and the newsletter for more fleeting, time-sensitive content.

The newsletter now runs using Buttondown. We love their ethos, the price is great, deliverability is excellent, and we can write our newsletters in Markdown. The overall cost is $90 a year, which is pretty much our only ongoing running cost. If you are a subscriber, you will have already been moved over to the new newsletter. If not, you can sign up here.

Finally, there’s no paid subscription tier any more. But if you appreciate the newsletter and want to donate to what we do at Looking for Wisdom / Wind&Bones, you have that option. There’s no suggested donation: it’s entirely up to you!

Projects, projects, projects…

All of this frees us up to think more about projects. We have a few things in the works. In February, we’re running a session with the brilliant Premise Institute over in Portland, Oregon, talking about strangers, philosophy and the art of connection.

We’re also just about to announce a project that is close to our heart, which will bring together literature and philosophy, and writers from China and the UK. This is super-exciting, but is currently embargoes. So more on this in January! And more recently, we’ve started talking with friends from a brilliant organisation in Edinburgh about running some face-to-face sessions on philosophy for social change down there.

Summing up…

So that’s where we are! We hope you like the new look. We’re delighted with it, and confident that in this way, Looking for Wisdom can continue to thrive long into the future.

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