It was fun for a while. I met many people through Twitter who became and remain important collaborators and friends. But the salad days of “blog to reflect, tweet to connect” are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.
Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain. I’ve had this little domain of mine for 20 years, and have been writing on it for nearly 15 years. But like so many others, the pace of my blogging has slowed down considerably, from one post a week or more in 2005 to one post a month or less in 2017.
The reasons for this slowdown are many. If I am to cut myself some slack, I’ve taken on increasingly busy professional roles that have given me less time to write at length. I’ve always tried to write substantively on my blog, with posts often going over a thousand words. When I started blogging, I committed to that model of writing here—creating pieces that were more like short essays than informal quick takes.
Unfortunately this high bar made it more attractive to put quick thoughts on Twitter, and amassing a large following there over the last decade (this month marks my ten-year anniversary on Twitter) only made social media more attractive. My story is not uncommon; indeed, it is common, as my RSS reader’s weekly article count will attest.
He goes on to discuss some of the issues, both real and perceived, that keep people sticking to Facebook and the like in spite of all we know about them rather than trying to take back their own thoughts.
Technology is a big one for many people, but you don’t have to know a whole lot these days to do a halfway decent job. Look at us, for god’s sake. Can you remember the last time there wasn’t something around here that wasn’t even the tiniest bit messed up? I sure can’t. Carin, Matt (when he was here) and I have been screwing things up since day one, but it’s functional enough that most people don’t even notice or if they do, it doesn’t bother them enough that they never come back. The technology behind this stuff is so much better and dare I say more user friendly than it was 15 years ago when we started. Yes it takes more work than a Facebook page does, but trust me, the hours of frustration you will doubtless go through at times are more than made up for by the feeling of creating something of your own. And one thing to keep in mind is that you’re not alone. The internet is a big place, and shitty though it can be, it’s filled to the brim with people and places willing to help you along. For instance, one of the first things that happened when I put up that post the other night was Amanda giving me a link to IndieWeb.org. I wasn’t asking for help with anything specific when I wrote what I did, but sensing that it might come in handy later, she took a second to share, which I’m extremely thankful for. Probably not quite as thankful as future me will be, but you know.
That brings me to the other, more interesting thing Cohen touches on in his post. This idea that blogging is somehow no longer social media even though it’s been doing the core things that social media does for longer than the term social media has existed. The entire concept has always been built around finding, sharing and conversing. Literally the only difference between Facebook and your blog is that one of those things is much bigger and treats you as the product rather than a contributor. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or your search engine of choice, you’re spending time looking for things that interest you, and then whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, email or whatever, sharing those things with other people. All that sharing starts conversations and helps build communities large and small. That’s what a blog is and has always been, and most of us who run them go out of our way to harvest as little of your personal information as we can.
It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.
When I left Facebook eight years ago, it showed me five photos of my friends, some with their newborn babies, and asked if I was really sure. It is unclear to me if the re-decentralizers are willing to be, or even should be, as ruthless as this. It’s easier to work on interoperable technology than social psychology, and yet it is on the latter battlefield that the war for the open web will likely be won or lost.
I don’t want to think of open web people as ruthless, because corporate ruthlessness is exactly the sort of thing we’re pushing back against. What we need to be is persistent and helpful. If people you know are tired of Facebook and Twitter, convince them that they’ll be ok without them or with less of them in their lives. And if they decide that they still want an online outlet of their own for their thoughts, feelings and dick jokes, do what you can to help them get started.
Independent internet vs. big social networks doesn’t have to be a one or the other thing. That shouldn’t be the goal, because it’s not realistic or really all that helpful. The main thing is just reminding people that they have choices and that choices are better than monopolies.
Cheap plug: Since it was mentioned in the article, this seems like a good time to remind you that we have RSS feeds. There’s one for posts and one for comments so you can easily follow along with everything.
Some folks look at RSS as outdated, but those people are what I like to call wrong. It’s the damn best. I practically live in it. To put it in modern terms, think of RSS as a sort of 1-way Twitter. It’s a frequently updating stream of customizable information being thrown at you, only more organizable and without nearly so many imbeciles. All you need is a reader, which a quick Google search can help with. Or if you’re like me and use Thunderbird as your email program, you already have one. All you have to do is set it up.