Yeah, so, it’s been a while. About five years to be exact.
In 2018 I had a lot of things going on, but I’d also seen the writing on the wall: blogs were dead. I wasn’t sure then what would replace them, but it seemed they were going the way of all things.
A few years later I also stopped doing my regular monthly newsletter, but earlier this year I started again because I just missed it. I found it a really useful way to just mark the time!
And I’ve also missed the blog format too. And in the intervening years (a) I’ve stopped caring about whether a format is popular or not, (b) I’ve learned why blogs really died and (c) I’ve got the sense that a lot of web history is going backwards. The seemingly unassailable giants like Facebook, Twitter and even Google now seem… well, assailable.
The impression I get (mainly from listening to The Verge’s podcast) is that blogs didn’t die because ‘technology moved on’. In fact, that’s generally not what happens. It’s because one tech company figures out a business model that turns them into a mega-corporation, and every other company in that space copies them. Even though it quickly makes everything worse.
So I always assumed that it was the mobile phone that killed blogs. ‘No one wanted to read that much text on such a small screen.’ But of course that isn’t true: people read text on phones all the time. TikTok may be extremely popular, but it’s not the only thing that people use their phones for. There’s emails, messaging, web searches…
No, it was apparently Google figuring out how to use Search to become the largest advertising agency in the world. And because Google Search became essentially the front door to the Internet, everyone had to be high in its rankings or they might as well not be online at all. So companies learned what Google ranked, and then gamed the system, to the point where useful websites got drowned out by spamfest listicles. You want to buy a printer? Good luck googling that and wading through pages of results like “10 Ten Printers In 2023” at www.[printer company].com.
And then regulations like the EU’s GDPR stepped in to stop Google and others from amassing vast troves of data by tracing your every move on the internet… and it got even worse. Now you needed to immediately ‘accept cookies’ to be able to read your spam listicles. Or you needed to go behind a paywall.
It wasn’t just Google. Apple figured out how to use its App Store to become the most profitable software store in the world: by charging every app developer 30% of their revenue. While Google was just bad at tending to the website ecosystem, Apple was actively hostile to it: trying to get everything off websites and into apps.
Then Facebook broke democracy and said “It was broken when we found it!” Twitter got bought by Elon Musk, and then started sinking. Then the founder of Reddit caused a mutiny, eventually referring to the huge force of volunteer moderators as ‘landed gentry’ and threatening to have them removed.
Now even Google Search looks under threat, with the possibility that online searching will get answered by chatbots rather than point you to actual sources.
Well, I don’t know. I just get this hunch that maybe humble websites are making a comeback.
That’s not quite the whole story of why I’m back though.
A few weeks ago, this website completely fell over. I got told to update the PHP, and doing so broke it so completely that I couldn’t get into the back end without professional help.
And that made me really wonder what this website was actually doing.
So yesterday I went in and had a good thorough plug-in clear out. There was so much bloat and clutter in there.
Then I went and found a free WordPress theme, and just tidied things up a bit.
And now I have this much simpler website that I no longer find faintly subconsciously terrifying. And the thought of chucking occasional thoughts here is really pretty appealing.
There is no gatekeepers.
And, to be fair, no audience – but when has that ever stopped me?
Blogs are dead. Long live blogs.