I haven’t been alone in wanting to see a resurgence of personal websites and blogs these days. Personal sites and blogs are really attractive for a few reasons:
- They offer an alternative to the centralization of the internet by the big social media companies, allowing you to share what you want and keep private what you want to keep private.
- They allow the content creators themselves to own their content.
- They offer a break from the endless like-chasing and addictive game dynamics of social media.
- They encourage longer-form thought and different forms of expression.
- They offer a refreshing sense of variety in contrast to the homogeneity of social media.
- And no doubt part of their appeal is that they harken back to the earlier days of the internet before coordinated harassment campaigns, malicious bots, invasive ad tech, and every other gross aspect of the internet in 2018.
But as I’ve set out to revitalize my own personal site with the goal of moving more of my writing from Twitter to there, and as I’ve tried to think about how to encourage others to do the same, I’ve hit upon some challenges that I think we need to figure out.
There’s so many elemental challenges to a future where more content lives on personal blogs than on social media. There’s the simple fact that it takes far more effort to set up a website and write posts than to fire off tweets, plus the nearly infinite array of forces that keep us coming back to social media to scroll endlessly. But suppose that you’ve conquered all that and you’re determined to blog—as I am—you’ll still run into a handful of additional challenges.
Discovery and distribution
First, say you’re starting with a small audience of IRL friends and family. How do you get your writing to them when we’re all out of the habit of going to websites or using RSS readers (I do, but I’m a nerd)? And then if you’re interested in building an audience beyond that immediate circle, how? How do you build an audience when a) you’re not already well known, and b) you’re not part of a social network or platform like Medium that builds in discovery mechanisms?
If the goal is to own our content and break free of centralization, how does someone do that if they don’t know how to code? And where’s the line on the blurry spectrum of self-hosted vs. hosted? I designed and coded this blog myself, but it’s hosted on Github Pages. Does that count? Does setting up a hosted Wordpress site count? Does Tumblr count? Does Medium count? (It doesn’t). I’d love for there to be some good solutions I can direct people to who are interested in blogging but don’t want to learn to rig the whole thing up themselves.
Engagement and community
One of the big appeals of blogging over social media for me is breaking out of the endless chasing of more likes and RTs, but at the same time, we all want some form of engagement. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing publicly. So how do we do this? Do we just bring back commenting? What do we use for that? Or maybe we just bank on having discussion take place across other blogs and rely on trackbacks? Figuring how to get some form of engagement that still achieves the appeal of blogging seems crucial in building some positive feedback loops. Nobody wants to feel like they’re writing into a void.
As I’ve been thinking through these challenges, these are some loose ideas I’ve had.
Some sort of directory or list
I know, the idea of a directory in 2019 feels kind of insane, but hear me out. With the interest I’ve seen building around this idea, I could imagine setting up some sort of list under a banner along the lines of “The 2019 Return to Blog Movement” where anyone could make a pledge and submit their blog. Maybe there’s some sort of criteria, or maybe there’s various sub-lists or whatnot, but this would give people a chance to share their site with a wider audience. Did I just invent Yahoo? IDK.
Use social media
We’re not going to get completely free of social media any time soon, so how can we use it to spur some momentum here? There’s probably some plays involving hashtags, Reddit forums, Slack groups, etc to get visibility for folks interested in doing this. And this would give folks who have larger followings a chance to promote others who are just starting out.
Maybe the key to all of this is something that’s already been growing: the simple email newsletter. I’ve been following a few of these now, and am considering spinning one up as well as a means of distributing my blogs to people who would prefer that method. This definitely helps out on the distribution problem, and also the engagement issue as well, as you can see how many subscribers you have and have exchanges the old fashioned way: over email.
I definitely don’t have all the answers here, but I hope this post finds people might have some insight. I think there’s a lot of people like me out there who want to do this but aren’t quite sure how or where to start. Personally, I’m starting by just writing and seeing where that goes. I hope others will do the same.