Why it’s time to reclaim our digital lives

Computer keyboard and mouse

I have been blogging, on and off, since 2002. I was 16.

The blogging scene has changed a lot since its mid-noughties heyday. It was once the most vibrant and dynamic way to communicate online. Now it is a minority pursuit. Today, good blogs seem to be few and far between.

Last week on Twitter I asked twice for recommendations of good blogs to read. I got just two responses.

Why I blogged

Blogging has been very important to me. At its peak, my blogs were attracting 18,000 visits a month. I think it has given me every major opportunity I have had. It sharpened my thinking, and it set my on my career path of running websites and now being a digital strategist.

I only started it as an aimless hobby. I took it up through a mixture of boredom and as a means of creative expression. Gradually, I built an audience.

I even ended up in the newspapers and on the radio a few times. It took me a while to understand why my blog was attracting that sort of attention. It was only several years later that I worked out it was probably because I was a moderately articulate young person being wheeled out to explain a curiosity of modern life.

There was no grand plan. That’s not how you are supposed to do blogging. A blog is meant to be about something. There is supposed to be a purpose.

Subconsciously, my blog did develop a purpose.

Sharp declines in my blog readership coincided with declines in my motivation to blog, which coincided with big life events — mainly to do with my career.

My blog never stood a chance once I got a proper job. It was a triple-whammy: a loss of motivation and a reduction of spare time coincided with the decline of blogging as a whole.

This year

This year I stopped blogging again. Completely by accident.

Since setting up this particular website in 2012, I have aimed to publish at least one article a month. This summer, I got too busy, and I missed that goal in June. Then I missed it in July.

I told myself I was just taking the summer off, so I didn’t even think about publishing anything during August. I would be ready, raring to go in September — another target missed.

Did I miss blogging? I wasn’t sure. But I did know that the time and the motivation were in short supply.

Along the way, I have begun to grow tired of life online generally. Finding blogs worth reading seems to be more of a struggle than ever.

Social media has lost its lustre

It’s not just blogging I have begun to lose interest in. Social media has lost its lustre for me. The more we come to understand about the big social media networks’ impact on society, the less appealing it becomes.

I am increasingly convinced that Facebook is a company that is simply up to no good. If they are not massaging metrics, they are turning a blind eye to questionable accounts that make them money at the expense of small businesses.

Meanwhile they are effectively trying to trick the world’s poor that Facebook is the internet.

Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet.

Then there is their role in the decline in quality of our news consumption, and the role their filter bubbles have played in emboldening and spreading extremist views.

You are the product — John Lanchester on the dark side of Facebook.

Twitter is not actively evil as a company, which is at least one notch up from Facebook. But as a platform, it has become a noisy amplifier of controversy and tired humour rather than a serious communication platform. And Twitter has no idea how to fix it.

Worst of all, I find social media boring (despite the best efforts of their oh-so-incredible algorithms). The feedback loops of the echo chamber are creating myopia and sameness. If something on social media surprises me, it’s only because it appals me. So much of my life is wasted logging into Facebook hoping to see something diverting, and only seeing the same old shit.

The decline in blogging coincided with the rise of walled-garden social media networks. We are still expressing ourselves online. We have just put it into the control of the malicious Facebook and the clueless Twitter.

Why Medium isn’t the answer

People still publish plenty of their own long-form content as well. But rather than setting up their own online presence, they put it all into the control of Evan Williams’s website, Medium.

Protecting the web as a democratic medium — my previous blog post outlining why Medium isn’t the answer.

I admire Evan Williams, I really do. In 1999 he co-founded Blogger. In 2006 he co-founded Twitter. In 2012 he created Medium. In short, he totally transformed the way people write online three times in less than 15 years.

So what happens if Evan Williams flips the lid? What happens when he gets bored of Medium? Or when its investors get tired of it not making any money and pull the plug? Will they do a Geocities and wipe all your content off the face of the world wide web?

Each time, it has taken Evan Williams an average of six years to invent his next big content platform. Medium is currently five years old.

I already feel bad that entrusted Flickr with my photos. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Bringing back blogging

Why are we putting our digital lives in the hands of these people? What has happened to the independent, pioneering spirit of the early days of the web? Why don’t people maintain their own web presences any more? Why don’t I maintain my own web presence any more?

What if blogging didn’t have to have a purpose? What if there didn’t have to be an ulterior motive? What if it was just what people did, rather than putting our digital lives in the hands of huge companies and shady start-ups that don’t have our best interests at heart?

I have decided to wind down my social media activity. I won’t stop using it completely, but I want to be less reliant on it, and to check it less often.

Instead, I’m going to give blogging another go.

Because I will be replacing my social media use, it won’t just be the long-form writing that has become the domain of blogs. I am going to be publishing a wider variety of content — Twitter-style asides, Instagram-style photo posts, interesting links like the old days of Delicious.

I am also intrigued by some of the ideas being pursued by the IndieWeb movement. IndieWeb seems to be in part a response to the same problems with web communication that I am currently experiencing.

I’ll be doing this all without purpose. I have no idea if it will make me feel more fulfilled online. But then again, I didn’t know where blogging would take me when I started 15 years ago. And it was great.

Oh and by the way, if you know of any good blogs I should be reading, please let me know in the comments.

10 comments

  1. I started “blogging” in my own website toward the end of 2000, but started to use what we now understand as a blogging platform in April 2002, although in recent years I now blog there only occasionally. I was an early adopter of Blogger and like many users then contributed a small sum (USD50 as I recall) to help keep it going, rewarded a few years later when it went public with some small gifts, but as soon as it launched (by one of the same people who had launched Blogger), I realised immediately that Twitter would be a powerful alternative. My reduction in volume of blogging really dates from that point. I now maintain three blogs, two more public, but one hardly ever updated (the third is altogether more private, really a kind of very personal diary for my own use), but I also continue to have two personal websites and will continue to maintain them both whilst my mental faculties permit (I’m considerably older than you, so that will probably be much sooner than for you 😉 ). I still occasionally feel the need to write at more length than is possible with Twitter, so on those occasions I do still blog, or occasionally add an update to a ‘comment’ section of one of my two websites. I do use Facebook too, but like you feel it is a rather malign platform so am rather circumspect about how I use it.

    I still have your blog in my feeds so am generally flagged-up there when you write something, if I don’t spot a tweet from you mentioning it.

  2. I’m not a writer, not even much of a commenter (though I have commented here a few times over the years), but I do love to read.
    I can’t remember when I started reading blogs, but I lived in Google Reader, and now Feedly. But I follow less blogs than before – did a clear out recently, and most of the dead and inactive links were to blogs, not news type sites. I probably follow half the number of sites I used to.
    I gave up on Twitter about 5 years ago – found it more hassle than it was worth, the apps were becoming less useful and there it was getting harder to see all the content I was interested in.
    Still use Facebook, but generally only to share articles I’m interested in, and keeping up with friends.

  3. The inbound/content marketing movement has convinced many to keep pushing out ‘content’ to garner attention. The approach may have worked early on, but now ‘content creators’ are frustrated that little of that content is read, shared or commented upon. And, as you point out the content clutter infects Facebook and Twitter.

    The root cause seems to be the ascendancy of quantity over quality and a return to blogging may be an answer. Blogs take longer to write, the content is generally carefully considered, blogs often reflect genuine expertise and authors can develop online voices and personalities that resonate with their audiences. We certainly think these factors hold true for our corporate blog as much as they do for more personal reflections. Keep on blogging!

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    William, Of course your blog is one of many I have read regularly over the years, particularly when I was more active in Scottish political blogging and running Scottish Roundup. It’s good to see your blog is still active.

    Don, It’s good to know my blog survived your cull! I had a similar clear-out some years ago. Now I am looking for more blogs to read again, but it’s proving difficult to find many blogs worth subscribing to these days.

    Paul, Thanks for coming across from LinkedIn to leave a comment! You’ve hit the nail on the head on quality versus quantity. I think this is the core of the issue facing internet communication and social media generally. It feels like we are going down the wrong path. It’s good to know you also think blogging may be a solution. I only wonder if I am simply looking back on those days with rose-tinted glasses.

  5. Enjoyed this Duncan, I don’t read that many blogs anymore either, but often find myself reading your words over the years.

    Found it funny reading this because I’ve started blogging again just last month and really enjoyed writing on a variety of topics; Uber, Gousto, Treasure Hunting and WordPress performance. Not sure where it’s going yet, but I’ve enjoyed it and that’s the point!

  6. This is the only blog I still read. My “blog” is now a Tumblr feed, because I got fed up of blog sites collapsing without notice (it’s happened to me 5 times during my blogging). The other blogs I read became full-featured websites, turned themselves into Facebook or Twitter presences, or drifted into irrelevance apart from occasional (announced on Twitter, which has become, among other things, a sort of curated RSS feed) ventures into brilliance.

    Despite not precisely having a blog, I do have a forum (devoted to Giancarlo Fisichella) – which seems to be an even rarer thing to have as an independent site type. Virtually no audience, but it’s good to have somewhere with a sense of its own history – something that Facebook and Twitter have. There is a definite trend to “things having their own purpose” becoming ephermeral, which tends to make people less willing to pay anything for it, explaining why there’s less willingness to pay for anywhere to put one’s one blog or forum. When that happens to enough people, readers lose the habit of going to many places for their information and rely on one or two central depositories for convenience. I’m considered unusual among my friends in that I use as many as two-and-a-half social networks (Facebook, Twitter and the Tumblr “blog”).

    It’s a hard habit to break, if only because there are a lot of people I can only communicate with through the social networks, and most of them insist that any content is at least cross-linked to the social networks. Hasn’t stopped me from wondering whether I should talk to my forum server provider about starting a second website on there for a new version of La Canta Magnifico Blog…

    The half is Facebook – I have to be on that one because that’s the only network the rest of the family uses, but for the last 12 months, it’s been so bloated it doesn’t even load for me 90% of the time. I gave up on getting it to show me my timeline 18 months ago. Apparently I haven’t missed much.

  7. I like the idea of you going back to sharing snippet-style posts. When I started blogging, as opposed to keeping a personal journal, most of my posts were like that – just little round-ups of things I’d seen that I thought were cool, with only a little commentary. But it also gave me a platform to publish longer, personal essays as and when I wanted to.

    Blogging isn’t dead – it’s just very different. I don’t spend a lot of time browsing social media, because now my non-work internet time is limited I prioritise my own blog and longer-form reading rather than watching tweets etc as they come in the way I used to. Had I seen your tweets, I’m not sure I would have had any recommendations for you anyway as most of what I’m reading is from the lifestyle-type bloggers that have made, or are attempting to make, a career out of it and I doubt that type of content would interest you (although I do still have a rotating blogroll on LYG, because I am an internet pensioner).

    I couldn’t tell you why I’ve never stopped blogging, but I can’t imagine doing it now. Force of habit. I feel as though a lot of the writers out there are now using newsletters, such as Tinyletter, rather than blogs for longer form content now. They read like blog posts of old, but obviously without that same community in the comments.

    As an internet pensioner, I am still using RSS too, so I got a surprise when all your posts arrived this morning!

  8. Alianora, Forums are another great blast from the past! They were often a bit of a time-suck though. They were great when I was a 17 year old with too much spare time on my hands. But the pressure to read everything in busy communities became quite intense.

    LYG, Thanks for the encouragement. It’s great that you have managed to keep your blog going non stop! I still subscribe to your RSS feed. I wish I’d managed to keep it up rather than it being stop-start over the past several years. Let’s see if I have the ability to persevere this time.

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