Why Personal Blogging Still Rules
12th April, 2023
This post was inspired in part by the article Bring Back Personal Blogging by Monique Judge (via The Verge), as well as various Indieweb and Neocities posts including Of Big Tech Jungles and Digital Gardens by theresmiling.
Remember when personal blogging was a thing? I don’t mean those things tacked on to business sites or any of that ad-riddled click-bait junk. No, I mean blogs that existed to be, well, blogs. If you are under the age of thirty, you perhaps don’t. But let me tell you, kid - blogs were hella cool.
Before the social media craze or publishing platforms, and long before ‘content creator’ was a job title, blogs served as one of the primary forms of online expression and communication.
Back then, algorithms were still in their infancy, SEO was mostly irrelevant, and no toxic billionaires were dictating what you could or couldn’t see on the web. But if, for some reason, the likes of Google or Yahoo couldn’t find you, it didn’t matter. We had webrings, forums, and carefully curated link pages instead.
More importantly, we had communities.
Everything on your blog was made to look and feel the way you wanted. If it didn’t, you rolled your sleeves up and coded that stuff in like the webmaster you were. And if the masses didn’t like it, who cared? They had no obligations to you, and you had none to them. And if someone tried to harass or troll you, you just blocked them (That or they came unstuck when they realized you didn’t have a comment section anyway).
No hot topics were bugging you on your feed because there were no feeds. There were no hashtag wars, ads, trackers or influencers trying to dupe you into buying their course or their favourite brand of overpriced plastic-wrapped junk.
Was it perfect? No. And I’m not denying that social media has brought some positives over the years. I’m also self-aware enough to know that I might be coming across as a sentimental old git who should just get with the times.
But held up to today’s monotonous and toxic digital media landscape? The old blogosphere felt like a golden age.
Yet for the longest time, I thought that era was dead and gone. That personal blogs had gone the way of the dodo or the fansite. But I was wrong.
Hiding beneath the drivel that is Google’s search results, and all the trackers, cookies, ads and curated feeds that come with them, personal blogs and sites of all shapes and sizes are still there. They’re thriving even in a kind of interconnected web beneath the web.
The blogs on this small or “indie” web come in many shapes and sizes. Some are gaudy and colourful, others are barebones and minimalist, and many are made from basic HTML and CSS. Some are anonymous journals and others have links to portfolios or shops full of homemade crafts. But at their core, they all have one characteristic in common: they’re there because their owners wanted to carve out their space on the internet. And I think you should do the same. Let’s talk about why that is.
Platforms aren’t forever homes
Nothing on the internet is forever, and everything is fallible.
Remember MySpace or Bebo? Remember when Twitter wasn’t a hellscape, or Facebook wasn’t full of awful boomer memes? Or when Google results were decent? I can, but again, I’m getting old.
Inevitably, all platforms are doomed to die out or change beyond recognition. In the meantime, their users are left at the mercy of their ever-mysterious algorithms. And all it takes is a few tweaks by the company’s programmers for your once valuable contributions to become moot. See Musk prioritizing his paying customers or YouTube de-platforming everything that’s even a little risque.
Inevitably, building a tribe on these platforms is like making friends on the Titanic. When the ship goes down, you might not end up on the same lifeboats, if you end up jumping ship in time at all.
And yes, I just went there with that analogy.
But anyway, am I saying you do away with these places for good? Not necessarily (unless we’re talking about Twitter, that is). I think spaces like Medium and Mastodon are great for outreach. But it’s important to realize you’re going to be making and sharing amazing stuff for much longer than any of them are going to be relevant. So, put that stuff on your forever home where it’s yours to own for all eternity.
Put it on your blog.
SEO Writing is dead, storytelling is back
The internet is the world’s largest encyclopedia. But it’s also becoming the most frustrating encyclopedia to ever exist, full of pages of nonsense and endless repetition. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s also stupendously ugly to look at.
Type any simple question into Google nowadays, and you’ll likely get a list of 2000+ word pages that dance around the answer in the hopes of sucking up your reading time while jamming your computer with cookies, trackers, and pop-ups. And good luck finding anything of substance on social media where controversy reigns supreme.
People are rightly sick of it, but people also love convenience. But thanks to the emergence of AI technology, I can’t help but feel that this convenience is about to become a moot point.
Is AI going to make the internet a better place? Probably not. But it is probably going to kill off content as we know it. So-called “informative content,” in particular, is about to become cheap. Dirt cheap. But humanity? Critical thinking? Personality? I think these things have a different fate in store.
I don’t entirely know where the internet is heading. But I think storytelling is going to be far more valuable. And where do you think the best place to tell your story is? TikToks? Twitter threads? LinkedIn posts? Nah, it’s the place where you set the tone, you pick the decor, and your community knows to find you.
Your blog, in case you hadn’t guessed.
Communities > Followers
My biggest issue with social media platforms is that they fail at being “social media” platforms. Instead, they’re more like intermediaries. Ultimately, their end goal is not to facilitate your desired communication but to keep you on their apps and interacting with the content they want you to. The result is an experience akin to psychosis, facilitated through addictive gamification.
On social media, actual human communication goes out the window. Instead, we have a situation where everyone talks at and over each other (don’t even get me started on the toxic nature of quote tweets) while chasing the dopamine high of more followers, likes and engagement. And this worldwide popularity contest has resulted in people showing up in droves to be the worst possible version of themselves online. And because controversy attracts engagement, these bad actors are not only allowed to run rampant but are basically rewarded for their behaviour
Blogging puts the focus of the social web back onto communities. There are no followers or gamification, only people. And while you may or may not have comments, it’s easy enough to moderate them if you do. In any case, while the avenues for communication are fewer, the forms that do exist (namely email, response posts and comments) typically encourage more genuine conversation.
Redefining the personal blog
I’ve used the term “personal blog” here to refer to what I see as the old-school medium of blogging and not necessarily blogs that serve as online journals or diaries.
A good blog, I think, has much in common with a good social media page (only you own and dictate it). And you can use it to talk about anything you wish, be it what you had for lunch, your favourite book or film, or your expert opinion on the latest news. Likewise, you might share your art or photography or curate your favourite content.
A personal blog can be whatever you want. But there does, I think, have to be something of yourself in it. The story you share might not be about you, but you’re still the storyteller, so tell the story in a way that only you can.
Rebuilding the Internet?
I’d like to finish here with some call to arms about we’re going to rebuild the internet better. Or how we’re going to get everyone to Web Master like it’s 1999 and crush those pesky tech giants. But that isn’t the reality.
Just as most people are not going to stop eating fast food because home cooking is better, they’re not going to abandon social media because blogging is awesome. But that doesn’t mean you have to line up for a Big Mac. And it doesn’t mean your internet experience has to suck.
Your blog doesn’t have to be big and fancy. It doesn’t have to outrank everyone on Google, make money or “convert leads” to be important. It can be something that exists for its own sake, as your place to express yourself in whatever manner you please.
Does that sound fun to you? Then maybe it’s time you carved out a space on the web for yourself.