Existentialist thoughts on blogging

When FTB went down for several days, we all had a bit of an existentialist moment. What if FTB goes down for good? Well, it hasn’t happened yet, but even without any catastrophic incident, it’s fairly obvious that blogging is on the decline. If it’s not a sudden death, we’re just going to slowly fade away instead. It’s fine.

By “we”, I mean independent hobbyist bloggers. Independent means we’re not bound to any particular platform. Hobbyist means we don’t do it for money (although some may make money incidentally). Blogger means we chronically write, generally nonfiction in the medium length range between tweets and novellas.

I have to attach the adjectives, because I think that there’s still plenty of interest in blogging. It’s just the specific niche of independent hobbyist bloggers who are on the decline. We’re squeezed on two sides, first on the “independent” side and second on the “hobbyist” side.

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Spam bloggers get

There’s a certain kind of spam that bloggers get, which is mostly invisible to non-bloggers. So many people may not recognize it as spam, for lack of experience. Let me describe it for you.

The end goal of the spammer is to create links back to a website. I don’t pretend to know how their business model works, but I’d speculate that these spammers are paid by some website to boost their search rankings. The websites are generally disreputable shoestring budget operations, filled with plagiarism, AI-generated text, and other nonsense, and absolutely do not deserve to have their search rankings boosted.

The most common way to create links is by leaving comments. I get about 30 spam comments a day, but I never look at them because WordPress has a very effective spam filter. Many comments don’t bother trying to trick you, they’re straight up ads. Other comments are generic “I loved reading this!” type stuff, with a profile link back to the target website.  Perhaps it’s no wonder that cranky old bloggers like me don’t appreciate generic praise.

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The collapse of Twitter

On legitimate surprise

A game that sticks in my mind is “You Are Jeff Bezos“, a free text-based adventure where you wake up as Jeff Bezos and try to spend all your (Jeff Bezos’) money. One option is “Buy Twitter and delete his account”, for 50 billion dollars. This game is from 2018, so it’s referring to the traitor in chief, scourge of democracy. A wish fulfillment fantasy.

Back here in the real world, Trump got banned in 2020, and it seemed like Elon Musk was doing the reverse, buying Twitter specifically to unban his account. That’s what I thought would happen, and perhaps it still will. What I did not expect, is whatever mess is going on now–an exodus of users, employees, and advertisers.

The surprise is worth noting. It would be easy for an Elon-hater to claim that they knew this would happen all along, but did they really? It’s okay to admit that Elon Musk surpassed expectations.

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Video essays are like blogs but more so

Blogging has been declining. I don’t have much evidence, aside from Google trends, but it’s fairly obvious from personal experience. For example, atheist blogs used to be a huge cultural force, with big celebrities and countless indie blogs, and now it’s sort of a backwater with a few networks of marginal relevance, and a mostly dead indie space. And no other blogosphere has replaced what atheist blogging once was.

Maybe his just has to do with my personal circles? As a reality check I tried looking up the question. I learned, according to Google, that blogging is bigger than ever, and is still a great way to make money by advertising your product! Okay, so I should specify that I’m not interested in all blogs, because marketing blogs can go die in a fire. I’m talking about personal blogs, and more specifically essay blogs. Essay blogs are declining, that’s what I meant.

Essays aren’t dead though, because it is now popular to present essays in video format. The video essay is a booming genre, and I for one think it’s great, for the same reason essay blogs are great.  But there are also some significant differences.

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Too many topics, not enough time

Like many writers, I have a long list of ideas that I never got around to writing about. I’m not very consistent about writing them down, but still the list gets longer and longer, until I start deleting old ideas that no longer make any sense to me. Some of them I missed the moment to write them, or they required more research than I had energy to put into it. Some of them were just bad and non-starters.

Here is a short list of ideas that I made after deleting the ones that I’m obviously never going to write about. If any of these interests you, let me know, your comment might cause it to happen!

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Blog effort justification

I hope bloggers don’t feel attacked by this…

As a blogger who is often in a position to plug articles from other blogs, I know that bloggers are like to promote the essays that they feel most proud of. And the essays they feel most proud of, are often the longest ones, the ones that they put the most effort into. However, I rarely believe these are the best essays they produce. Indeed, sometimes they are the worst.

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Two corners of the internet

Transcript: The thing to understand about the plastic crazy straw design world is that there are two main camps: The professonals--designing for established brands--and the hobbyists. The hobbyist mailing lists are full of drama, with friction between the regulars and a splinter group focused on loops... Caption: Human subcultures are nested fractally. There's no bottom.

Source: XKCD

I like to talk about what it’s like to blog, and I’ve contrasted it with other platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter. However, it should be emphasized that Tumblr and Twitter are really not that far off from blogging; I complain about them because they sit in my own personal uncanny valley of social media. We risk overgeneralizing if we only look at blogs and blog-adjacent platforms. Even XKCD’s observation about fractal subcultures seems a bit biased towards blogging, and I’m not sure it’s really accurate as a generalization.

So the purpose of this post is to explore two other forms of internet interaction, which to me seem exotic. Each of these forms of interaction is used by a member of my immediate family, and I’ve been watching how they engage with it.

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