“Bring Out Your Blogs” and Just Write

2019 is shaping up to be the “Year Of ‘Hey Remember Blogs’ (Navel Gazing Edition)” and I like it.

Sure, maybe it’s just me, considering that the only times I seem to make myself blog is when talking about blogging (see Writing In The Age Of Silos, on replacing Facebook with personal websites, and if blogging social media’s savior to name a few) but more people are pointing people back to blogs and saying, hey, here’s a home for you.

This week’s take comes from Marc Weidenbaum who notes that 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the coining of the term “blog” and reflected on the state of things today:

If this year marks the 20th anniversary of the word blog, next month marks the sixth anniversary of Google killing off Google Reader, despite it having been the most-used RSS tool. Around the time I read several tweets conspiratorially tracing the decline of the internet as a safe place for self-expression to that turning point, Reynolds penned a mea culpa about the lost act of “inter-blog conviviality,” as subsequently mentioned by Warren Ellis in his excellent weekly newsletter. I thought, in turn, about why I link less to other blogs than I used to, and I recognized it’s in part because there are fewer other blogs, leading to me being reminded it’s 20 years since the birth of the word blog, if not of the act. In any case, thanks to all them for the brain nudge and habit nudge.

“Inter-blog conviviality” is a great term and really highlights what made blogging great back in the day – blogs sharing other blogs. They fed off of one another in a way traditional media didn’t at the time, and allowed the building of conversation through platforms and soapboxes that could allow ideas to spread and take shape beyond just catching headlines and memes. It helped feed great blogrolls where you could tell a lot about someone just by who they highlighted among their daily reads. It was a true social network.

Somewhere along the way blogging became something else. A pejorative. Then the “savior” of things like traditional media. As more people paid attention to blogs, blogging became serious, and a serious business. Instead of springboarding off of the mainstream media, blogs were starting to break the news. Then make the news. Then dictate the news.

Now, just about everything is blog.

One of the things that made blogging fun was that it wasn’t publishing – it was essentially journaling. It was rough. It was a quick take. It was a way to get thoughts out to a larger audience who then helped you flesh it out if you didn’t want to let it go.

Weidenbaum captures a little bit of this when he advises the reader to not worry about whether or not you can “write”:

And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

Shaun caught onto this point in a larger post worth reading:

Wiedenbaum nails it here. Previously, writing was an end. Today writing is a pleasurable end that — quite frankly — I tend to reserve for myself. Do I mind opining on current events and the things that interest me? Most certainly. Does it make me any money? Never has… at least, I don’t see myself becoming an editor at National Review or First Things anytime soon. Yet writing-as-meditation has nearly always been my style… to work out what I might think so that I can express what I actually think, or better still to express the parameters for what I might believe.

As I said above, blogging isn’t publishing. It’s a public scratchpad for folks with ideas larger than a tweet or an emoticon. It’s at its best when it’s not pretending to be the New York Times or Gizmodo or FOXNews. It’s great when it’s responding to challenges like #1000wordsofsummer where you’re just looking to get the words out and you can figure out what you meant to say later. (If I count other people’s words, this post is around 850 words, nearly there!)

I like this renaissance in blogging. And I hope it brings more people back into the fold – and some fresh blood while it’s at it.

Speaking of fresh blood: Keep an eye on Blusterhouse. Jericho Vilar and I have partnered up for a new blog that’ll be about more serious stuff than “hey, I should blog more.” If you like good writing, watch for Jericho’s stuff (dude’s a mean writer). If you like OK writing, I’ll have some stuff there, too.

Blogrolling and the Blog Digital Graveyard

Old blogrolls are a fun way to dive back in and maybe be inspired now and then.

Jason Kottke’s blogroll, February, 2005 (via Archive.org)

You can tell a lot about a writer by what they read.

There was a time when the most fascinating aspect of some blogs wasn’t their posts but their sources, often shared in a list on the sidebar as a blogroll. These semi-permanent placements allowed a bit of a peek in where they found ideas and inspiration and sometimes helped generate the content they’d share day to date.

Blogrolls are rare these days, rarer than blogs themselves. And most that do still exist are outdated, linking to sites that haven’t seen updates in years or domains long since expired. Which only makes sense given that the medium of blogging has moved on – as the content has dwindled, so have the links.

But in many cases, sites still live, lying dormant on WordPress or Blogger or on domains kept alive by authors who use the URL for their email or the hosting for other stuff so they keep their old thoughts on life support.

A blogroll used to also serve as a public bookmark where the blogger could just click on through each morning to see what folks were saying. Google Reader (RIP) helped make some of that work easier and now Facebook and Twitter serve up links hot and fresh. Now, if you want to stay up to date on a site, you follow it’s page on Facebook or the RSS feed in Feedly. Why have a blogroll if it’s only going to be a handful of blogs that could go away at any moment?

Still, going down the rabbit hole of blogrolls can lead to some fascinating trails through digital history. And every now and then a surprise when you find a site still being updated. Or, in the case of jyuenger, discover that the author recently posted for the first time in more than a year and has dedicated to keep at it.

Some blogrolls worth checking out if you want to see how the world used to work:

Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish has links to a range of political blogs, some mainstream, some not so much, many of them long dead, but still fascinating.

Things Magazine (which is still live and makes my blogroll on the right) has a ton of sites broken down into categories from architecture to people to music and more.

Flaming Plabum is a new addition to my Feedly and has a blog roll (“For Those About To Blog… We Salute You” – I can dig it) that has some links to voices of NYC, music and more.

Archive.org is also a great way to find blogrolls of the past like Jason Kottke’s.

There are so many snapshots of life just sitting on the internet, time capsules from five, ten, fifteen, more years ago. Authors may have moved on, but they’ve left their thoughts behind, a vast archive that used to mean something and maybe still does. Old blogrolls are a fun way to dive back in and maybe be inspired now and then.

Is Blogging Social Media’s Savior?

Social Media isn’t going anywhere – but it’s showing its growing pains and the limitations of its ability to truly inform and educate a public, not that that was every its intent or purpose.

A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.

Tim Carmody – “How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere”

It’s more a call to arms for bloggers than a recipe for fixing Social Media on the whole, but Tim Carmody’s entire piece over at Kottke is still worth a read. But I latched on to the same closing question as Kari did:

Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody?

I think, in the beginning, for most people, yes. Blogging was an outlet for those who had thoughts and opinions on things to just get them out. Or for others to just share a public journal or diary of sorts. And I think that created the perception to this day of bloggers as this unprofessional basement dwelling class that, while it could help stir up some news and nonsense once in a while, was generally disregarded as amateur and ultimately illegitimate compared to other, more professional outlets.

There’s a folly in that view, though, because social media has sucked in most of those who’d fall into the “unwashed masses” category. Tim touches on this briefly when he talks about different categories of people that don’t fit a one-size-fits-all solution to social media:

Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.

For those that used blogging merely as a platform to stay in touch with friends and family, share silly links once in a while, or generally fart around the web, Facebook and Twitter fits the bill.

But there was a group of people who always used it for a little bit more. Maybe it was professional, maybe it was personal, but they added more than just a nodding head to a conversation. They weren’t just thought leaders, they were thought creators. For them, blogging was the means of breaking out and getting a platform typically locked away in an academic journal or on the editorial pages of a news publication.

The problem for the blogosphere is the best and brightest were sometimes acknowledged as such and were able to utilize the tool to move on to bigger and better things. In some ways that’s great, especially for those individuals, because it showed the power of a democratic web allowing cream to rise.

In other ways, though, it caused the platform to suffer because as a brain drain occurred the medium was left with either blogs run by those who did it as a labor of love (and so sometimes had to prioritize other things over producing quality content) or the committed few who represented the loudest, aggravated voices who wanted a place from where they could shout into the darkness — only, because it’s the Internet, the darkness shouted back and they found friends.

Woah, got heavy there for a second.

Social Media isn’t going anywhere – but it’s showing its growing pains and the limitations of its ability to truly inform and educate a public, not that that was every its intent or purpose. For those who do want more out of it, especially those who found it back in the early 2000s via blogging, the solution may be going back to the old way of doing things or some sort of hybrid. That solution is up to us to figure out, because as Tim concluded:

I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.

SOMEWHAT RELATED NOTE: Another piece worth reading is “So, What Really Happened to The Cauldron?” where its founder, Jamie O’Grady talks about the rise and fall of the sports news site. It’s a lot more on the business end than where I focus, but it shows how quality content comes up against a lot of weird valuations and metrics these days, ultimately leading to the demise of a site that had quite a few reasons to be considered a success.

“We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites” — Yes. Yes we should.

2018 has not been a kind year to Facebook. Most of their problems are self inflicted, of course, but how folks are responding in the wake of story after story after story is interesting. Especially as people have started to think more and more about how to get out of the Facebook silo and back to using personal sites to share our stories:

There’s a subtext of the #deleteFacebook movement that has nothing to do with the company’s mishandling of personal data. It’s the idea that people who use Facebook are stupid, or shouldn’t have ever shared so much of their lives. But for people who came of age in the early 2000s, sharing our lives online is second nature, and largely came without consequences. There was no indication that something we’d been conditioned to do would be quickly weaponized against us.

Facebook has of course become something much larger than a single website, and has, despite its flaws, “helped connect the world” for better or worse. But Facebook tapped into a trend that was already happening—it didn’t invent the idea of letting people put stuff about their lives online, it just monetized it better.

When I think about my own Facebook use, I think often about that first website I made, and how that site served the exact same purpose then that Facebook does now. My original sin wasn’t making a Facebook account, it was abandoning my own website that I controlled (the original site was hosted on Tripod, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d pay for web hosting.) All these years later, maybe it’s time to update Jason’s Site.

I’ll be the first to admit that my blogging and overall writing was absolutely wrecked by social media. Have some random thoughts? Let’s see if I can fit it into a Tweet. Find a link? Up on Facebook it goes. I don’t even have to add any of my own thoughts for context. And all from the comfort of my own phone (which is hard to craft a blog post from, let me tell you).

But as much as we can challenge ourselves to rebuild the world of blogs and personal websites, the problem isn’t so much in how we create content online but in how we consume it. Facebook does a real good job of feeding people information quickly and easily, all tailored to fit their data driven desires. Sure, we can embrace personal websites again, but this ain’t no Field of Dreams, just because we build it doesn’t mean anyone will come.

I touched on this a bit back in June when writing about how Facebook is a terrible gatekeeper. Breaking free of Facebook’s hold on data is up to the user and requires work:

It requires manual typing and visiting sites that look different from one another or update at random times throughout the week. Or using an RSS reader like Feedly. Yeah, you’re probably still going to stick with what you know and like, but you’ll at least challenge yourself to go beyond a format that rewards sensationalism and outrage to reach the lowest common denominator in as few words as possible.

Or maybe simply changing the way we utilize Facebook to serve up third party content will make a difference. Even then you’re up against the algorithm which wants to keep people on Facebook and seeing their advertisements.

There are no easy answers. But as users are faced with more and more reasons to worry about Facebook’s ability to keep our data secure, many are going to be looking for other ways to get the same fix. Maybe there’s the next big thing around the corner. Maybe Facebook figures it out. Or maybe folks just start looking for new stuff on their own.

Until then, I should probably keep up with this site a little more often. Just in case they do come.

Writing In The Age Of Silos

It’s no longer a matter of tailoring a message, it’s often a matter of manually having to dive into the site to feed it.

Dave Winer has an interesting take on how Facebook and Twitter are not only contrary to an open web, but building silos that demand unique content and keep people in:

Writing in the age of silos. After their August 1 change, I can’t cross-post to Facebook. So if I want to speak to people I know on Facebook, I have to write on Facebook. Today if I want to even post a link, I have to do it by hand. And Twitter, new forms of writing have developed there to work around the 280-char limit. Again, if I want to write for people I know there, I have to write it there. This is what always happens with corporate platforms, they become silos. Maybe they start with good intentions, on FB, the open graph, with Twitter their API, but over time, they evolve to become their own completely self-contained very unweblike worlds. You can see that evolution in action today, at a super-high pace. For me this is the Nth time around this loop, so I have an idea what to expect next.

On some level the silos have existed as long as the platforms: Twitter’s then-140 but now-280 character limit and how they deliver their feed has always been distinct from Facebook’s multimedia method of delivery backed by an evolving algorithm that changed what you saw based on how folks interacted with content. You’ve had to keep the two different methods in mind when crafting any message because cut and pasting a headline and a link from one to the other was hardly best practice.

But now they’re breaking the tools that allowed you to easily tap into each platform from the outside. It’s no longer a matter of tailoring a message, it’s often a matter of manually having to dive into the site to feed it.

This makes sense from a business perspective. Twitter and Facebook are in the business of making money and that money comes from advertisements and you don’t see those ads if all you do is write a blog post and hit a button to push the new content to other platforms. In fact, that costs them money. But that violates the spirit of the open web.

Facebook in particular has shown a strong interest in keeping you in their environment. The way they prioritize content in the algorithm (Live vs. embedded video vs. picture vs. link vs. text) to how they present external content (downgrading YouTube links from being able to play in FB to having to be external links), it’s all efforts to force content creators to simply embrace Facebook as their home and ignore any other outlet for fear of being left out.*

But Twitter and Facebook breaking themselves off from the rest of the web — the more they pull away the more they isolate their users — that’s good for them and bad for everyone else. And not just other content production platforms like Twitter or medium and the like, but for content producers themselves. Businesses, organizations, non-profits, people who have their own hubs outside of Facebook, they’re the ones ultimately sucked into the silos and anyone with limited resources is going to make some decisions on how much effort they’re able to put into each platform and for what kind of reward.

Or maybe they just walk away.

*This isn’t even considering how the Facebook silo gets worse when you consider how the algorithm works, feeding you more of what you’re already interested in, hiding anything that wouldn’t fit your analyzed tastes, singing to the choir of existing beliefs (See: Facebook Is A Terrible Gatekeeper).