Short version: both my blog and blogging in general are in need of a substantial makeover.
Six years of blogging (yes, I came late: I’ve even been longer on Twitter), and the environment has changed considerably. At least, this has been true for a certain spectrum of blogs with a predominantly German reader base: as I regularly wrote for, and partnered with, a whole range of different blogging sites, most notably Werbeblogger, these developments were observable and obvious.
The First Shift
Way back, both Werbeblogger and this blog’s precursor Brand Meets World appeared regularly in top positions (top 10 and top 20, respectively) in German language blog charts for the categories “advertising, marketing, and pr,” and we watched our metrics closely. The first shift that occurred was a huge drop in page impressions and unique visitors, and a massive surge in rss subscriptions. More and more people stopped visiting our blogs, and started reading our blogposts within their feedreaders (both our blogs had full content rss feeds, as a matter of principle). This dealt a blow to our respective comment sections: it went from lively to sluggish within about a year.
The Second Shift
The second shift was the rise of Facebook and subsequently Google+ on its heels. The number of rss subscriptions stagnated and slowly began to drop. This was compensated for by more and more visitors showing up again on our respective websites, clicking through from Facebook and Google+ (and Twitter, of course). But on-site comment volume fell through the bottom. If people commented, they shunned the blogposts’ comment sections and went back to the links to those blogposts on Facebook and Google+, and left their comments there. Which, of course, made a lot of sense. Because:
Blogs Are Islands
Blogs, it turns out, aren’t social media. Blogs are islands, and if you don’t have critical mass and the gravitational force that comes with it, readership and comments will fragment all over the place. Lively, and above all coherent discussions became a rare species. Regrettably, there is no “unified inbox” technology to integrate distributed discussions, comparable to what Palm pioneered, in a completely different environment, for its WebOS on the Palm Pre. Also, the very principle of “comments” establishes a hierarchy that kick-starts the endemic growth of sycophant and troll populations, a development that has become the scourge of blogs all over the web, ramped up to lethal levels of toxicity in the troll department especially where White Male PrivilegeTM feels under attack. Not wishing to go into details at this point, but the most inspiring and “community-building” comments are usually those that people write on their own blogs, in response. Yet, as these “comments” are indicated at the original post’s website only by trackback notices in the comment section, they are neither visible for feed subscribers nor for casual on-site readers, particularly if they followed a Google+ or Facebook link.
Open Standards Under Attack
And such a “unified inbox” technology for blogs won’t show up soonish, either. Why? Because most of the dominant forces on the internet are explicitly hostile to any such effort. Quite a lot of bloggers I’ve followed over the years reacted to the second shift by starting to “blog” their precious content directly on social networking platforms, either on Google+ and/or a dedicated Facebook Page. Platforms which are a) proprietary and b) not yours. To accelerate this development, Google even went so far as to deal rss—the backbone of all blog communication infrastructure—not just one, but two near-fatal blows (concurrent with severing ties with another important open protocol, namely Jabber).
But even without Facebook (the number one proprietary black hole for your data) and Google+ (“Open Always Wins” and “Don’t Be Evil,” my ass), the problem persists that blogs are islands. Recently, efforts were made to change that, notably at Medium (where I still haven’t put my hard-earned closed beta account to good use) or the German #blognetz. Both efforts have their drawbacks. Medium, again, is not yours, and #blognetz cross-links its connected blogs via Facebook, of all places—like putting the cat in charge of the tuna.
Resistance Is Futile?
Options are scarce. Give in and post directly on Google+ and/or a dedicated Facebook Page or on Medium? During the late 1990s and early 2000s I used, but didn’t give in to, Microsoft’s products (by using only their operating system and nothing else, not even Calculator), and now I use, but don’t give in to, Apple’s products either (“It’s complicated”). And I’d like to use, but not give in to, proprietary social networking platforms either.
But Something’s Gonna Happen!
Even if there seems to be no solution on the horizon, some things have to change around here anyways: between drafts needs a facelift. Both visually and technically—APIs have changed, widgets and plugins are no longer compatible with my outdated version and my heavily modified theme, even my feedburner plugin gives me inexplicable headaches, and things in general have developed a taste for falling apart over the years. Also, it’s got to be more mobile-friendly. But before such a facelift, I’ll need to upgrade to the latest WordPress version. But before that, I’ll need to ask my provider for a mySQL and PHP upgrade. And before that, I’ll need to go over tons of self-hacked back-end code across several sites to check what will probably loose up and throw a party along the way. So it’s not something you do on a lazy afternoon between taking a nap and preparing the barbecue. Finally, I might want to scale down in terms of time, effort, and focus.
For these reasons, posting will slow down even more for the time being, even to the point of being imperceptible.
But bear with me—change will come, eventually.