One of the things that’s been irking me for the last couple of years is how easy it is to just throw a thought out there, just a single line of something, and have people read it and react to it. Why has that been irking me, you ask? Isn’t it great to have something like that? Well, yes! Yes, it is. But the way it works right now, you’ll have to do that using platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because hey, nobody reads blogs the way they did anymore.
In the early days (I sound like an old guy, and funnily enough, in blog years I probably am), people plugged feeds into their feedreaders and they read this stuff they way we go through our Facebook or Twitter streams today. Back then you could actually get away with writing smallish, rudimentary blogposts, because people would see them. Today, most people read blogposts that have been linked by others. It’s how the attention economy works, after all.
And now try and remember, when was the last time you had someone post a link to a blogpost that consisted of not more than 140 characters. Exactly (if your answer was “well, I can’t actually recall”. If your answer was “Yesterday, the day before and actually every single day of my life” you’re not my target group for this article. Go and have a look at my tech articles archive instead)!
Anyway, yes, Twitter and Facebook helped democratize publishing, but they also made sure that fewer and fewer people use blogs to transport their pithy comments to the masses. My gripes with that are the same as I’ve pointed out a couple of times: your comments, your content, you don’t control them. The discussions and whatever interaction happens, they belong to the platform. Which in the short run doesn’t seem like a problem, but as soon as a platform shuts down, for example, you’re shit out of luck. All your insights, your claim to Internet fame, they go up in smoke.
So what can be done about it? I’m not sure.
I’ve dabbled with the idea of creating self-hosted tumblelog-style blogs. While they can sufficiently recreate the notion of just posting quick and dirty little updates, they can’t replicate the effect Twitter has. As always, you need to post where people see it and will have enough impetus to react to it. That works on platforms where people already have the option of commenting on all and sundry (sometimes to the detriment of discussions, mind you).
The thing is, that even happens with real, actual, longer blogposts. Founded by Twitter-founders, Medium.com, a plattform for actual longer texts, has taken off in the last few years. In the end, it’s not much more than a hosted blogging platform, but it makes it so easy for everyone to post and comment, suddenly people with perfectly healthy blogs decide to start posting there (or maybe just cross-post their content). It’s understandable, because again it’s a platform that makes sure that your content will be more widely read than when you post it on your own blog (unless you’ve already got a loyal following).
Another way to do this would be to use decentralized twitter-like software (like status.net). The problem here is that for one, nobody uses it, and two, it’s a bit of a pain to set up (admittedly, number two is probably the cause for number one). So that doesn’t work either.
One solution I think is still rooted in the history of WordPress. Sometime during the early 2000s, someone came up with what they called asides. Basically, people saw the need to be able to post things that could do without having to look for a title, categories, tags and the like. This turned into tumblelogs later on, but the solution before that was creating a category mainly geared at these sorts of posts. The term “asides” was coined (by Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame himself), and today, that’s actually a separate post-type in most WordPress themes.
That’s a good thing, the only problem is, that while most themes allow you to categorize your posts as “aside”-types, the way they actually display them is usually nothing to write home about. This theme, for example, doesn’t do much with it (it might do something with it in the feed, but I don’t think so).
Then again, the whole thing isn’t really about the layout of the site, it’s still very much about the convenience of not having to visit all sorts of blogs just to see a short little post about how much someone loves the new season of Fargo (spoiler: it’s really good). Maybe the times of the blog as your social media one-stop-shop are over and the best you can do is let all your tweets flow into your blog’s sidebar or some such thing. I’m not sure, but I personally like the idea of having my own social-media hub far too much to stop thinking about it. So I won’t. And you’ll maybe see another lengthy blogpost about ephemera like this rather sooner than later.