The Blogging Dead

Blagofaire
Blagofaire from xkcd

Reliable sources have finally confirmed that the blog is dead 1. According to Jason Kottke, the blog is dead, long live the blog. People seemed to be giving up on blogging and moving on to bigger and better things. Twittering (is that right?), Facebooking, Instagramming (one ‘m’ or two?), and Google+ing seem to be the hip-thing to do in 2014.

So let’s look back and pay our last respects to the memory of Blogging.

So what is blogging?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

Blogging seems to mean different things to different people. Wikipedia, the modern sum of all human knowledge (no?), has an entry on Blog which nicely represents the state of affairs. The introduction describes a blog as a website with basically every feature or adjective under the sun.

Blogs can be written by individuals, small teams, large corporations and think tanks. They can be about a single subject, a diverse range of topics, personal events and thoughts, brand advertising, or feature updates about a service or product. They can contain text, photographs, video, animations and illustrations. They can have comments and discussion by readers, or not. Blogging is not restricted by the kind of authors or type of content.

So what is blogging?


Jason seems to distinguish the ‘blog format’, the reverse-chronological stream of posts that blogs traditionally have. Even though most blogs use the stream format to present a list of posts, this is a UI decision. It works nicely for some kinds of content—periodic photography posts (Street Photography by Sagi Kortler, Streets of Athens by StamatisGR), personal diary, product/service updates (Gridset Blog, Building Feedly). I don’t think the stream works for sites with a lot of eclectic topics; I don’t really like the stream nature of the archives of this site, but I don’t have any better ideas yet (suggestions welcome!). Blogging is certainly not restricted to the time-stream format 2.

So what is blogging?

Is blogging just writing?

For a long time blogging was a derogative for writing on Web. If you wrote on the Web, you were a blogger, not a ‘real’ writer; it was a blog post, not a ‘real’ article; it was blogging, not ‘real’ journalism 3. Blogging was, simply put, bad writing.

I hope that in 2013, it is clear that this was an asinine point of view. This type of blind bigotry against content just because it lives in a different medium is still rampant (comics vs. real literature, anyone?); but it seems we have finally accepted content on the Web as a legitimate form of writing.

A book is no longer considered bad just because it is digital or on the Web 4. Comics on the Web have received wide acceptance. The success of House of Cards has finally shattered the perception that good drama can exist only on film and television 5. Lot of mainstream magazines and newspapers are now online. Many scientists write blogs about their research 6.

Good content is good content, regardless of the medium. The Web is a global, open, accessible, flexible medium for writing content; and writing on the Web is not bad writing. Blogging is not a dirty word anymore.

So what is blogging?


Blogging is, simply put, writing on the Web. Blogging is not some special exotic activity that suddenly everyone gave upon (planking?), it is just writing on the Web. People have been writing on the Web long before 1997 (the birth year that Jason put on the Blog’s epitaph).

1997 was around when web-publishing tools became accessible to the not-so-technical crowd. Everyone and their mother started writing on the Web, and called it a ‘blog’; a portmanteau of web and log. Later as people realised that blogging was not just about choosing a peppy website name, a snazzy visual theme and cool widgets; and that you actually had to write good, interesting content, most people gave up. The blogging fad died, slowly and painfully, exactly because people realised that blogging was about writing—and that it demanded hard work, lots of thought, sometimes multiple edits, just like ‘real’ writing. Most people who had jumped on the blog bandwagon were simply not prepared to do this work. It is much easier to follow on Twitter, ‘like’ on Facebook, reshare on Google+, than it is to create and write interesting content yourself. We have become passive followers rather than active creators.

The people who stayed with active writing either, enjoyed the process (like me) or had been writing on the Web before ‘blogging’ became the it-thing. In fact, a lot of these folks no longer refer to their writing as blogs. Mark Boulton, Craig Mod, Jeremy Keith have journals, while Randall Munroe has a xkcd blag. Jeffrey Zeldman prefers to just call it a website!

Of silos and walled gardens

Jason also seems to use the word blogging to distinguish writing on your own website from writing on silos (Facebook, Tumblr, Medium, Google+... ).

The tightly-integrated walled garden that these silos provide is very, very tempting compared to the wild, anything-goes, shoot-from-the-hip nature of the open Web. If you write on these silos you are given easy access to a large audience along with plenty of easy-to-use tools for sharing. But, you also miss out on the people who don’t live in your particular walled-garden. Should you post multiple copies of your content on every silo? Should you update all of them and keep them current?

The most problematic aspect of this is that there are only copies, no original! If in the future someone wants to read your content, in which silo should they look for the best representation?

Another issue I have is conformity. Every tweet, post on Facebook looks and feels exactly the same. Medium, for instance, seems to exert a lot of control on how its articles look. While it helps to exert some quality control, this makes the platform very restrictive 7.

What happens when one of these silos shuts down? Imagine if every time a popular book publisher closed down, every copy of all the books they ever published just disappeared. What a disaster! That is the situation with writing on silos. Sure, they might give you a backup copy of all your posts, but then you’d republish them on another silo and the cycle begins anew. It is much better to publish on your own site as the canonical version and syndicate copies elsewhere aka POSSE.

In this sense, the blog isn't dead. It is just sleeping or the blog might be dying, but the web's about to fight back.

Reawakening

Blogging is not a form, not a style, not a UI format, not a medium. It is a made-up buzzword like Web2.0 or web-app 8. Blogging, the buzzword might very well have lived from 1997-2013. As for writing on the Web, it has existed as long as the Web has, and will continue to do so.

As of today, people are increasingly turning to walled-garden silos to host their content. If the death of blogging means the end of a fad, of a buzzword, of bad writing then I am all for it. If, on the other hand it means the end of original writing on the Web, or writing solely on silos, I really hope ‘blogging’ rises back from the dead to haunt us.

In any case, let’s not ‘blog’, let’s just write—on our own personal place on the Web.

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