Essays on Technology and Culture

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Blogs via Kottke

Within a few years, a self-identifying group of people called webloggers realized the power of that “What’s New” page, especially through the lens of a personal POV… Those weblogs were idiosyncratic, about a little bit of everything, and sent people away to keep them coming back — a stark contrast to the late-’90s portal strategy of “stickiness.”

Jason Kottke on the Nature of Blogs and Writing Your Own World Book Encyclopedia

My first exposure to blogging as a concept came around in the days of what were termed “E/N sites,” which was an abbreviation for “Everything / Nothing”—an apt description of the content. It’s a concept that lives on, most prominently on Tumblr, but it’s moved into the social network space. The blog, as I came to know it in the late 90s and early 2000s was a public journal, a place to put your thoughts in front of what you hoped would be a sympathetic audience. Nothing exemplified this more than LiveJournal. A microcosmic Internet in its prime, LiveJournal made its bones as being a place where you could write your deepest, darkest thoughts and share them with either the world, or just a small circle of friends. [1]

It may be a function of the innate writer in me, but I rarely shared links in the way a lot of the early bloggers did (and still do). I’d rather sit and bang out five hundred words or more about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking than just link to something. [2] And I rarely can think about one thing for very long. Neither, it seems, can Jason. “Funny to say that about new media, but if you look at other blogs… they cover narrow beats… By contrast, is still written mostly in first person by me and ranges from essays on human extinction to videos of competitive wood planing in Japan.” When I registered this domain over a decade ago, the name was chosen with the mindset that I wouldn’t have a narrow focus. [3]

Kottke notes that the blogs that cover narrow beats “are amenable to advertising,” which may explain the proliferation thereof. Still, when I think of blogging with more focus, my mind goes towards John Gruber and Merlin Mann’s famous SXSW talk on blogging. Four years later, Obsession + Topic + Voice is still a winning formula—in as much as succeeding at anything can be reduced to a formula—for creating a successful blog. Though this, of course, depends on your definition of success. There’s never a one-size-fits-all strategy for doing anything, anywhere. I hope I’m not putting words in Kottke’s mouth when I say that I doubt he blogs for money. He blogs to share his obsessions. I do too, just opting to share a smaller subset thereof.

We share cool stuff with our friends, and we share banal stuff with our friends. For most people, however, that sharing has moved from personal blogs to a space that is both more and less public. These are spaces like Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter where, with the default settings, anyone can see what you’re sharing, but you know there’s a built-in, and defined audience of people you know and care about. It’s a space where feedback is immediate, if a bit less shallow than back in the old, golden days. What works for us may not work for them. Certainly, the barrier to entry is a lot lower now.

There’s always going to be a place for people who want to write and share their voice. There’s always going to be a place for people who want to create, as Jason says, “their own World Book Encyclopedia.” These places will overlap, though maybe not quite as much as they used to when this whole thing was getting started. Everyone has a voice, and everyone wants to be heard by someone. Now, they can, and we’re all the better for it.

  1. Naturally, in the era of Facebook and living in public, LiveJournal is an anachronism.  ↩

  2. Which is why I barely have a presence on Tumblr nowadays.  ↩

  3. I thought the name Sanspoint was oh-so-clever as a teenager, but I soon realized that I’d be spelling it out for people for a long, long time.  ↩