Almost exactly 10 years ago, I attended my first WordCamp in Atlanta. I learned a lot about building websites and such, but what stuck out to me was Matt Mullenweg‘s talk about the future of WordPress, blogs, websites, etc.
At the time, in 2012, social media was in its hey day. Facebook had helped drive the Arab Spring. Twitter was exploding. Instagram was really trendy.
The move to these giant platforms was THE thing. WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, blogs, etc were already cliche. The guy next to me asked Matt – “what is the future of the Web when all these services are just so amazing.”
Matt joked that, first, “well, man shall not live off 140 characters alone” – but, more seriously, he said that the Internet has always had a pendulum that swings between centralization and decentralization.
In 2012, the Internet was on a hard swing to centralization after a “Golden Age” of decentralization (the blogosphere, etc)…after swinging from the previous era of centralized AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve.
That stuck with me – and really came to mind this week after Has The Internet Reached Peak Clickability? and The internet is already over and bout. The centralized Internet as we knew it has peaked. And something else is coming.
I don’t think the Golden Age of decentralization is coming back. But the Internet is becoming…different-er. So now marks as good of time as any to restart old-school blogging. Here’s why I’m doing it.
The Software Is Easy Than Ever
I used to run a website about helping people set up websites. It was scary and daunting only a few years ago. But I sold that site…because it’s gotten so simple and cheap that I really didn’t have a lot of explaining to do.
Blogger (yes! I’m not kidding!) and Tumblr are still around. And, yes, they are great. Medium is a bit limited, but it’s super simple. Substack and Ghost are super-trendy and sleek. WordPress.com is around and great to get started on. Day One is a truly private app for private writing. Mastodon is blogging with a social media twist on the small web. Google Sites and Github Pages are free for new websites.
If you want full-control, there are crazy-cheap hosts that will automatically install software like self-hosted WordPress.
I’ve had this site for more than 13 years and it’s still easy and great to work with. It’s self-hosted WordPress.
I switched to and even lower-maintenance design with two clicks. It’s simple – and has an app on my phone that allows writing from there.
I could go on and on – but the software is absolutely amazing now.
The Formats Are Defined
Sometime in the past 10 years, social media took over informal posts and blogs / websites took on the role of “Essays” and “Articles” and “Pieces” – it felt like if you were going to write on a website, it had to be good.
There’s nothing that will kill writing at all like analysis paralysis and searching for the perfect format.
And the thing is – it’s weird because all the good formats have been defined.
Today I Learned (TIL) posts. Listicles. Roundups. Photo + Caption. How Tos. Etc, Etc.
Sure, I’m all for a well-written essay, but there’s no reason why casual content shouldn’t go on a website / blog too.
Nobody Goes To Homepages Anymore
This is part of the “you don’t have to be perfect every time” reminder. A post can be just a post.
Homepages have been irrelevant since 2010ish. There’s no reason to feel a need to make a perfect presentation.
Google Wants Helpful Content from People
I do search engine optimization for a living. In some ways, it has made me hesitate to just write because I knew for many years you’d have to write in a certain way to get any attention on a post.
Ok – that has changed. Sure, overall big publishers with teams and SEO professionals are going to get more visitors than small websites. But ironically, that’s mainly because so many small, personal websites have been killed off in the last 10 years that there simply aren’t that many for Google to rank.
But Google is desperately hunting out small, helpful websites.
This website has grown in visitors despite my lack of attention. I rank #3 for “rain barrel” because I’m the only person to have a good, non-commercial picture of a rain barrel at my house on the Web.
Google Is Smarter Than Ever
For years, I (and my industry & my clients) did not produce short, helpful content because Google rewarded “epic” content and punished websites with lots and lots of random content (aka “thin” or “topically irrelevant”).
Now, times are different. Google still doesn’t want a lot of junk in their index. And readers coming from elsewhere don’t want a lot of junk. However, Googlebot has become so much smarter that it’s really a non-issue. Google can find the stuff it likes and discard what it doesn’t like.
And readers use other tools to surface other content so much…that publishing anything and everything is no big deal.
It took me years to overcome this habit, but I’m going to try to get back to “publish first, perfect later” so that I actually practice writing in public.
Direct Sharing Is Bigger Than Ever
I’ve preached for years (including on my old marketing podcast) that Internet analytics are…****. I mean, they are ballpark useful for general trends. But they aren’t super-great.
Think about how you use your own phone. You pull up a link on a PC at work, send to your phone. Tell your spouse to look at an article. Send it to your friend on WhatsApp.
I have have clients who ask me what’s the platform that has all the visitors waiting to see their content – like Facebook circa 2012.
There is none. It’s all the things.
And there’s nothing that does better in a world of everybody-shares-everything-everywhere like a website with a URL.
There’s no need to screenshot a tweet or run into a Pinterest pop-up blocker or a Facebook login page. People can just…open it on their browser.
Publish Now, Get Attention For a Long Time
I even wrote a running guide to Atlanta 6 years ago that still gets questions via email like I just published it.
There’s no tweet, IG post, or anything else that has that kind of longevity.
Full Control Over My Content & Audience
There’s no great solution to the free speech, harrassment, and content moderation issues on social media platforms. It’s a fight that will never end.
But your own blog?
Oh – you’ve got options. Here’s some examples from my own experience.
- I wanted to document something controversial. No big deal.
- I had spammers who wanted to flood my comments. I turned off comments.
- I had an evil person subscribed to my marketing newsletter (he was selling fake cures to senior citizens with terminal cancer). I deleted & banned him. No regrets, no issues.
- I had a website host that raised their prices & dropped their performance. I moved the website to another company.
Now, there are a ton of nuances, caveats & exceptions here.
But…just like owning your own property gives your more options than renting a storefront in a mall, owning your own blog gives more options than a social media profile.
The Web Is Dying…for Anything Unique
This point is purely anecdotal. But have you noticed that soooooo much Internet content is recycled, reused, and just staged?
I mean, look through Reddit, Pinterest, Google Images, etc. It’s all the top hits on repeat.
Now, some of this is due to the harsh economics of the Web (speaking from experience). But it’s also due to the fact that so much amazing content is locked up inside the social media platforms.
Put it on the Web and let it go free – and help build your reputation / bank account instead of the big attention economy companies.
It Helps Me Think – I Don’t Know Why I Quit?
Writing and creating helps me think. It does for a lot of people. There is just something putting swirling thoughts into text. And writing mildly-in-public is even better.
Writing in sort-of-public (a small blog, a small social network, etc) creates positive pressure to focus. Somebody might read it, so you have to write to that person.
That contrasts with the fear of writing in wide-open public space where a single, poorly formed tweet can go viral in a bad way. Or an out-of-context Instagram post can hurt a friend or family member on accident.
I quit for all the predictable reasons. But it feels like there’s momentum for leaving social platforms and building your own project.
And there’s nothing like jumping on a small bandwagon to restart a good habit.
A lot of people much smarter and savvier than me are writing about this shift.