Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Tragic Death of Blogging

I come not to praise blogging, but to bury it.

Blogging is dying a tragic death, killed off by the inexorable and irresistible force of Adam Smith's invisible hand.

When blogging first emerged, it promised a better way to consume content.  For avid readers like me, it was a dream come true.  Finally, people could publish content that would be universally available, and content consumers could easily subscribe to content they wanted to read.

Instead of having to constantly check the front pages of various websites, readers could simply wait for their RSS readers to deliver a personalized, curated subset of the Internet, consistently formatted for reading.

And for a while, blogging prospered.  But the same things that made blogging such a godsend for readers made it a nightmare for commercial publishers.  Curated subscriptions made life easier for readers, but also depressed pageviews, and more importantly, advertising impressions.  Plain formatting made it easier to read and comprehend writing, but didn't provide opportunities for pop-ups, pop-unders, takeovers, and all the other fearsome members of the modern advertiser's bestiary.

Google's decision to kill off Google Reader was the key symbol of this shift.  Even Google, which is perfectly content to invest billions of dollars in pursuing nuclear fusion and immortality, was unwilling to support a medium which actively worked against its hunger for advertising impressions.

Today, commercial publications have either dropped RSS feeds entirely, or hide them away in obscure corners.  They'd prefer to act like slot machines, using unpredictable rewards to encourage readers to visit on a regular basis for dopamine hits, wasting time but generating valuable impressions.

Facebook's dominant newsfeed is non-deterministic; Facebook's algorithms decide what we do and do not see, in part based on what will allow Facebook to better integrate the sponsored posts that generate its revenues.

With the death of RSS, blogs no longer have subscribers; they must rely on social media for distribution, which means focusing more on clickbait headlines and popular, shareable topics.  Astonishingly, the last refuge that writers have for building a faithful audience is the 30-year-old technology of the email list.  And email, as remarkably durable as it has proven, isn't public like a blog.

Yet I intend to keep blogging in this space.  I still want the ability to create the content I want, and to allow people who are interested to read it, without forcing them to check back multiple times per day or to suffer through takeover ads.

You see, I'm not a commercial publisher.  I don't make any money from this blog.  And that allows me to keep producing content for the sake of readers, not advertisers.

It may be that the golden age of blogging was simply a fleeting dream, and that this end result was inevitable.  But it still produced an amazing amount of content and public good, and even if true blogging is now the province of hobbyists, it's still important that individuals have the ability to publish whatever they want and have it be accessible to the entire Internet.