Blogging in 2014

A post summarising what blogging means in 2014, and where I’m taking mine.

I’ve had a blog a while now, since mid-March 2012 (which is a while in Internet-time), so I’ve been asked a couple of times by people looking to get into blogging how on earth you do it. (I’ve given various garbled guidance dumps, but if you asked me today, I’d say get a free account, don’t worry about how the site looks, and just write at least 500 words every so often about something you’re interested in.) However, I’ve come to realise that in a sense, I’ve barely been blogging at all.

This isn’t simply to do with my hilariously infrequent update schedule (once a month and you’re lucky). It’s more to do with how blogging and its position on the Internet has changed since its rise in popularity in the early 2000s. I’m still reading Sterling and Lebkowsky at the WELL (there’s a lot of really smart stuff there to get through, ok), and Lebowsky pointed to a post where a long-time blogger surveyed the form’s progression over the years. You can find it here, and the whole thing and its comments are well worth a full read.

My summary would be that blogging started as a place where anyone who wanted to could produce a blog of text stating their position on something. Blogging is more of a long-form thing, but this democratic attitude to producing content has spread throughout the Internet, and is at the heart of the predominating commercial forces for online communications, Facebook and Twitter.

While you must acknowledge that a lot of navel gazing happens on these platforms – people posting about TV programmes and food and how they hate their co-workers – the same is true about blogging. The only difference is that whereas writing a blog is a bit more of a commitment, so appealing mainly to those who write a lot anyway or have an interest in doing so, these services only need a limited amount of text outlay. It’s general Facebook etiquette that anyone who posts more than five lines of text (we’re all guilty of it) are definitely going on a bit, and Twitter has its infamous 140 character limit.

The main advantage of these services is that where a blog has a post and a comments section, Facebook and Twitter are a vast stream of information, in a way no RSS reader I’ve used managed to convey, where comments and posts are much the same thing, and carry near-equal weight. The extreme short form, the immediate sense that you are part of an information-sharing community, and the loss of the idea that you have to contribute a lot in order to add to the discussion, probably explains their rise in popularity over blogging. (Plus, the usual quip about attention spans. Most people won’t read this far, so you, reader, you I like.) However, they are much the same thing (people still describe Twitter as ‘micro-blogging’ even though it is perceived much more as a communication tool nowadays.)

So, blogging continues – it’s spread, even – but instead of people doing it in their own little fiefdoms, or on a shared service with limited communication tools like the old Blogger, they’re doing it in a mutual space. There are obvious advantages to this. However, with the revelations about the NSA from Snowden, and various privacy and user-experience controversies on the big services, there’s been a resurgence in the idea of the IndieWeb, which about retreating from directly contributing to these services into a self-run site, and automatically syndicating your content (more on which later, in another post).

So where does that leave me, you’re probably not asking? Well, I’ve realised a few things. For one, I haven’t really been blogging. Occasionally I blog – that is, write a bit about a subject that interests me, and mostly just talking about writing or about what I’ve been doing. While talking about your life and work is blogging, it’s not your response to what’s happening in the wider world, and anyway it’s not something I’m particularly good at. I started my Tumblr (the new Livejournal) thinking it’d be a place to unburden myself of my personal demons, and fairly soon it turned out that, while I could point to friends who are good at writing that sort of thing, I’m not one of them. This, and the fact I don’t write as much as I should has probably contributed to the infrequency of this blog.

However, like everyone else, I have been blogging elsewhere. I am prone to leaving a link on Facebook with the briefest description of what I think, and seeing if I get a response, or blindly retweeting something rather than analysing what’s interesting about it. I’ve mentioned before that rather than review Wendy & Peter Pan, I tweeted a summary of some of what I thought and lost interest. I definitely have more to say about the production than I tweeted, but now I’ve tweeted it, it seems like, well… work. Using the Internet has always been simple pleasure for me, and while typing this blog post is satisfying, it requires much more work.

Aside from these other services sapping the will to blog, their other downside is that what intelligent thoughts I have wasted (yes, wasted) on them are now solely on the servers of vast, anonymous corporations, able to be used for their needs but no longer under my control. (I understand I am complicit in this, and that by writing on I’m simply displacing these thoughts to another server, but I’ll get onto that in the IndieWeb post.) These services are all about curating your online identity, but we’re doing it in a fragmentary form (you have your Facebook self and your Twitter self and your Tumblr self and, hell, even your This Is My Jam self) and in the restrictions of each particular service.

So what am I doing about it? I’m bringing blogging back (said in my best JT impression). When I would have just posted a link, where possible I’m sticking it in a text post instead, rattling off a few words about it, and syndicating it across. I’m sticking to irregular updates, but hopefully they’ll be more frequent (but not too frequent – Robin Ince blogging every day has shown that there’s a limit to how much any one human can be arsed with – again, thanks for sticking with this). I’ll be sharing things immediately, queueing things, sticking things and redoing things in drafts for later, but in all cases, view all my blogging as first draft work, and the start of a discussion rather than the end of it.

Advantages? My content is under my control. I’m thinking more about what I’m sharing and why I’m sharing it. I’m giving people more to respond to, if they so wish. Plus, the mercenary point is that I keep saying I’m a writer, so blogging more proves it. I’m hardly going to retreat entirely from Facebook and Twitter and so on  – while I would probably prefer to use my own blog comments, just for simplicity’s sake, and other people’s, for the sake of the ‘movement’, I’ll happily Tweet and Facebook and Tumblr like I ever did. Just be prepared for me to be going on at length a bit more. (This took 45 mins, I think? I’m a bit of a slow writer, but also procrastination.)

So how long have I been blogging? Honestly, starting now. I’ve got a few future screeds in mind, like that open/indie web one, one on arts funding and small theatres, and inevitably I’m going to crystallise my position on Frozen (I didn’t realise it had become so loved so quickly, so you may have noticed my middling response getting quite the icy reception). But the fun of it is that mostly, I simply don’t know.

Obviously, since I’m doing it, I’m interested in others doing it as well. In that spirit, I’m going to link you to two blogfriends, one old, one new, though more can be found in the sidebar to the right. Claire Miller’s a funny, enthusiastic writer, who’s been blogging for a while here. Honor Jackson, however, has just started a literature blog here, and it’s already shaping up as a good one. Otherwise, see you in the comments, on the Twitters, all up your Facebooks, breaking my Tumblr fast, and most importantly next blog.