For the first half of the 2000s, I split most of my time online between fanfiction forums, deviantART, and many, many, many different blogs.* On top of following fan sites (and a ton of Sims easter eggs/modding webrings) I also read blogs by web developpers, animators and artists, and photographers. Blogs — along with lots and lots of fanfiction — can probably share a good deal of credit with books for teaching me a love of storytelling through writing.
To keep track of all of this Internet stuff, I carried lists of URLs in notebooks to bring into my school's computer lab. (Later, when I got access to my own floppy disks, I had a text file of links to my fave fanfic and Sims' house floor plans that I always tried to keep up-to-date.) I still so distinctly remember the smell of the school computer lab that I obtained access to when I was in secondary 1. The open Internet, as long as you knew how to get around the ineffectual school firewalls, was so exciting!
I started this blog in 2009, right as the blogging culture of my teenage years was just beginning to fade, though I don't think I was completely cognisant of that for most of the 2010s. Alongside Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or Medium (among many other options), having your own blog felt redundant in 2015. By 2020, the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances who blogged had long shut down their sites. I no longer have access to the Google Analytics account with this data, but according to my notes, my own blog readership dropped very significantly after 2017. If blogging (and long-form writing online in general) is an art form in decline, I often asked myself why I still kept this little blog going. The primacy of video and audio content seemed absolute and I often felt adrift.
The professional writers monetizing their content have all migrated to Patreon or Substack or Medium. Yet here I am, blogging like it's still 2002 or 2008 or 2012. Part of it is rooted in a philosophy of wanting to host as much of my own data as I can. But while this amateurish, personal-but-not-always journalling medium might be a relic from a past age of the Internet, I still find it so very useful to my own cognitive process. Writing, for myself or for others, is a significant part of how my brain works, even if pressing publish becomes harder and harder with each new draft. I feel a whole lot more pressure at age 32 to create useful, insightful, and relatable "content" than I did at age 19.
But, there is yet again change in the air. I'm seeing a lot more blogging (or, sigh, Substacking, but I'm counting it!) on my social media feeds. There are a lot of potential explanations, and I'll focus on one hypothesis here. I feel like I can trace part of it to the change of leadership at Twitter, which had an immediate effect on certain corners of the open web. But resentment against capricious social media companies and their algorithms has been mounting for years. Then, several weeks ago, I stumbled on an active blog that had a blogroll full of still-active blogs, and it was like a shot in the arm.
Blogrolls, like the webrings of old, are another relic of the early blogosphere. If you wanted to share links to blogs (and webcomics) that you checked up on every day or every week, you would maintain a blogroll (list of URLs) in the sidebar of your blog that people could check. Like the earlier web ring, friend groups and broader communities linked to each other through their blogrolls, even as each little website remained its own island. Compare the once-ubiquitous blogroll to the subscription popups that are everywhere now. What a difference in philosophy! It really felt like there used to be trust that even if readers clicked away, they'd wander back again. (If you want to check out my blogroll, click here!)
To check on my gut feeling that blogging was having a comeback, I posted the following little poll on the fediverse**:
I'm very grateful to the 414 people who participated (the poll allowed for multiple answers, just in case the totals seem odd). I asked: "Do you read blogs on a regular basis?" 174 people answered in the affirmative (and 60 answered the qualified "Do Substacks count?"). It can seem discouraging that nearly half (49%) of respondents said no. But I'm actually feeling optimistic about these results. Based on the trends of the past decade, I had expected a much higher percentage to answer that they didn't read blogs regularly! And I definitely thought that Substack answer would be higher.
Is blogging dead? Well, blogging as it was in 2002, 2008, and 2012 certainly is. But I think a lot of people miss a more open Internet, outside the walled gardens of Twitter, Medium, Facebook, Google et al. And my poll, while not exactly scientific, illustrates that there remains a community of regular blog readers who are willing to click links and read. It's easy to get wrapped up in pessimism about being online, especially when it seems like you're getting left behind.
Blogging, the writing and reading of it, used to be a lot of fun. I think it still can be, if we can convince ourselves to let go of our bizarre, voiceless, market-ready mirror selves. With apps like TikTok and Instagram, we've become used to seeing the faces and hearing the voices of all sorts of people across the Internet, which is mind-blowing to the tiny little forum-surfer I was in 2001. But with blogging, there's room for a different kind of intimacy and sharing. I think we've been conditioned to expect long-form online writing to have a good degree of cold, on-brand polish, but the voice of blogging is inherently protean, always a work "in-progress." And when I look at the writers I admire, I always remember with joy that even Ursula K. Le Guin had a blog, which she began at the age of 81!
So, all that to say, yes, blogs are dead. Blogging will never be what it was before the era of online bloggish "content writing" that so dominated the 2010s.
But also: long live blogs!
* If memory serves, most of these sites were hosted through Xanga and Geocities. Yes, that does mean that all those sites looked absolutely wild.
** For a definition of the fediverse, check out my Bookwyrm blog post. I describe the fediverse in more detail at the beginning of that post.
Further Reading About The Internet:
- A Web that Reflects People and their Values by Jacky Alciné
- Amazon's heroic phase is over by Tim Carmody
- Of Course Mastodon Lost Users by Cory Doctorow
- Am I On The IndieWeb Yet? by Miriam Suzanne (on the technical side)
- The Ethical Ad Blocker by Darius Kazemi
- Into the Personal-Website-Verse by Matthias Ott