We used to write

Michael Bates knew us when, because he was there with us:

We are at least a decade beyond what might be called the golden age of blogging. By the mid-2000s, blog software was stable and accessible without requiring significant technical skills. Google had purchased Blogger, and clunky add-on features (remember comments via HaloScan? photo hosting via Picasa?) were integrated into the blog platform. WordPress emerged as an easy-to-use alternative with a creative user base. Individual voices proliferated.

But it was tough to organize all those voices and keep up with what people were saying. How could you keep up with all of the sites you might like to follow? For me as a blogger, it was important to know what other bloggers were talking about, as it would be fodder for my own blog.

Conversations across websites happened as one blogger would post an entry linking to another blogger’s writing; the software would automatically generate a trackback or pingback, creating a link on the other site back to the commenting article and notifying the writer of the original item. But unscrupulous website owners found the mechanism a convenient way to plant inbound links on other sites to boost search-engine page rank, and legitimate trackbacks were lost in a sea of spam, forcing bloggers to adopt a sequence of strategies to thwart trackback spammers. Most bloggers wound up turning off the capability as not worth the hassle.

“Pingback” is a WordPress-specific thing; however, it can be turned off at the sending end, and you’d never be the wiser. I get pings from exactly two blogs these days; all the rest are spam.

In the meantime, social media sites were growing. Facebook and Twitter provided convenient ways to follow a stream of news and ideas. Initially, these sites would show you everything posted by the accounts you chose to follow, with the most recent first. Over time, they switched to a curated approach, driven by the desire to generate revenue, in which an algorithm would determine which posts you would see, and in what order. If you wanted your Facebook followers to see everything you posted, you’d have to pay for the privilege.

Social media has also redirected and dissipated the energy that writers used to vent in blog posts. Once you’ve responded to some outrage on Twitter or Facebook, there isn’t the urgency to address the topic on your blog.

Without a readily-available RSS aggregator, and with social media giants filtering bloggers’ attempts to notify readers about new posts, it was harder to keep touch with what independent bloggers were writing. Bloggers saw their traffic diminish and with it the motivation to write.

Still, there are plenty of us out here who have run up ten or fifteen or even more years on our keyboards, and we’ll probably keep after it until we literally can’t do it anymore. (The number of sites I list as “in memoriam” is growing appallingly quickly.)

1 comment

  1. McGehee »

    20 January 2019 · 6:44 pm

    I never got into the RSS habit. It was more fun to go to the blog and read, and maybe post a comment.

    On my own blog, having a comment system lost its luster when I found that if I didn’t use it myself in place of editing the post with updates, I pretty much didn’t get comments.

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