rambling thoughts on blogging and silos

Alec Couros posted a quick throwaway on Facebook (I’d link to it, but Facebook doesn’t work that way)


It got a lot of likes, and then the comment thread kind of exploded. I posted several comments and replies, and realized that was a silly way to post that particular discussion because it’s exactly the kind of thing we are talking about as killing blogging and personal publishing.

I’ve pulled my comments together below. They’re from various bits in the conversation, so don’t necessarily flow as a single post. Whatever.

I’ve been thinking about the web we lost a LOT lately, but keep having a nagging feeling that some of it is nostalgia and romanticizing the good parts while overlooking the less good. I think we should learn from what was good (and so, so much was very good), learn from what wasn’t as good, and move forward to build new goodness on modern tech.

I don’t miss Reader. There are alternatives. I miss interesting people publishing coherent posts on diverse topics, rather than scattered like birdshot splattered across disconnected algorithmic streams on corporate silos.

I’ve been digging Medium. Haven’t posted anything there, but it seems like a great mix of people and ideas (if a little heavy on the entrepreneur-fu articles). But I wonder what will happen to all of the posts after Verizon/Nokia/Facebook/Google buy it (eventually. It’s the exit strategy of every web company on the planet now). Will it be shuttered? Improved? Stagnate and die?

Reader isn’t the problem. People just stopped owning their words, publishing on their own websites. The internet archive for the last 5 years or so will largely be a gaping hole of dark matter where corporate silos like Facebook used to be.

And if someone didn’t have tech skills, they didn’t have a voice. And if they didn’t want to put their thoughts out on the open web (where they could be used out of context, doxxed, harassed, etc) they weren’t part of the conversation. There were reasons why the blogosphere (even the edublogosphere and openblogosphere) was dominated by white male professionals.

Readership is down by a few orders of magnitude as well. Back in the olden days, I often had thousands of people reading posts. Now, maybe 100 on a really busy day. Not sure what that means – I cross-post to Facebook and twitter, so I assume people just read the snippets there and don’t click through to read the full thing. Summary blurbs, short attention span, moving on…

10 thoughts on “rambling thoughts on blogging and silos”

  1. I read the facebook thread. Yes there was a deliberate (and successful) attempt to break up the blogosphere by discontinuing Google Reader & RSS support (note that all the social networks have also dropped RSS & force you to use restrictive APIs).

    I’ve been messing around with Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid initiative for the last few days. It’s basically an outgrowth of a W3C project. I really think this is the way to go, but the code isn’t really there yet. A lot of student work; they code till May and then drop it.

    It’s interesting because Solid is what I was trying to build with LPSS (and I wish I had known about it sooner – too much time running a program, not enough time working). It’s doubly disappointing because NRC put LPSS onto a learning analytics track, which is the opposite of where I want to be.

    Solid has some worthwhile things:
    – it’s all https and certificate based and revives the idea of personal IDs as a website URL – like openID, only called WebID – see https://www.w3.org/wiki/WebID
    – you can actually get a webID – at databox.me or rww.io
    – your data is stored on a different site – eg http://linkeddata.github.io/warp (enter your webid egh. https://downes.databox.me/profile/card#me to access your storage)
    – you can choose the location of your ID and your storage from multiple providers
    – third party applications can be used to specialized tasks (eg. Plume enables you to write blog posts)

    Now all of this works in theory only, at least for me. Plume, for example, is a web-based blog post authoring tool. But it isn’t authenticating properly (maybe because I’m running it off my desktop in my office?) And the Solid server has issues – it took me a full 8 hours to get it running (lots of issues with certificates – https, remember?) (and I still can’t use it for anything because it rejected my databox.me ID). Again, this may be because I ran it all off my office desktop.

    Still – I have the service working – here’s where my blog would be if I had a working Plume tool – https://downes.databox.me/Public/blog/posts/

    And I could use a microblogging tool, contacts editor, email system, whatever, iusing tools created by any number of people or organizations. Including my own personal RSS readers, learning content libraries, personal learning records, etc.

    I’m wondering whether the Domain of One’s Own people have looked at this – are Jim Groom or Alan Levine reading? It would be a big challenge for one person or even a few people to make this work for an alternative community and learning support – but if we got a bunch of us involved…

    Plus, Tim Berners-Lee is still active on this; I saw him in the project chat room yesterday (and yes, it was kind of thrilling). So there’s that.


    1. I’ve been following that – it’s interesting, and may help – but something nags at me. The blogosphere didn’t fall apart because of technology, it fell apart because of corporate intervention (embrace/extend/extinguish RSS) and a resulting shift in culture. People stopped owning their own words. I don’t think a new piece of software will change that. If it was important, people would have kept doing it, or returned to the tools that are available. Are people avoiding publishing because the software isn’t just right? I think it’s something bigger, more insidious, and harder to solve than that. I hope I’m wrong.

      1. You’re probably right. The software isn’t the whole story. But it’s certainly part of the story.

        What Google and others did is to destroy discoverability. There’s always churn – people stop writing, new people start writing – but without RSS people couldn’t find each other except through social networks.

        Also, commenting is/was broken. None of the tools were ever easy. To this day spam filters on Blogger are a joke. Even my own site was mercilessly hammered. Social networks were a nice spam-free place to chat. And it was easy to find people.

        I think that if we make these applications easy they solve part of the problem. Then comes the social and cultural part. But we’ll never fix the social/cultural part without fixing the technology first.

  2. I understand the concerns about people not posting in their own space, but the problems related to the technological knowledge to install your own blog, or set up your own photo site, etc. haven’t changed. You suggested an RSS tool to use a number of years ago, but it required having server space and knowing how to install it and update it, etc. WordPress is much easier to update than it once was, but the initial set up of registering a domain, finding space that meets your needs, and installing the software that meets your needs isn’t an easy thing for the average person. Yes people are supporting the corporation by posting to sites like Facebook (I’m guilty of that myself, but I post about entirely different things there than I post on my blog), but most of my friends, who are spread out throughout North America don’t have the knowledge or inclination to set up their own space. I think we often forget that we are more knowledgeable (and you are so much more than I am) about these things that most people, even most educators.

    1. I’m definitely not forgetting the level of geekery that’s required at the moment – and that people are on facebook because it requires zero knowledge or understanding of what’s running it. It’s easier than ever to run your own stuff (look at things like Reclaim Hosting with one-click installs and built-in domain registration etc), but it’s still not as simple as downloading an app. But – people spend hours upon hours futzing around chasing the latest pokeythings, so it’s not entirely fair to say people can’t learn new and obscure things. They largely are just uninterested in owning their own space, whether from simply being unaware, to knowing what it is and not caring about it. That’s OK, too. It can’t be a mandatory thing. But for people who do care, there aren’t many reasons not to run your own stuff today.

        1. Good point. Places like Facebook are actively destroying the web, and actively dismantling our culture so they can control it. That’s some scary stuff. It’s not just whining that nobody blogs anymore.

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