When blogs ruled the internet…


Once upon a time, there was a different way to view content on the web, but then something happened. People were and still are producing content, but the right people weren’t making money from it. In the distant past, people would write stuff, and it would be theirs, and they could choose to monetize it or give it away.

Then Facebook hoovered it up. You could write stuff, and post it on this handy medium that all your friends were subscribed to, and they could splatter ads all around it, and the revenue from those ads would go to…Facebook. Not the people writing it. And Facebook realized that they could be in charge of curating it and organizing it anyway they wanted and splicing in stuff from people you never heard of and learned to dislike (spawning more “interaction”) with more ads and ‘sponsored content’, and you’d read it anyway, trawling through all the trash strewn about to get at the gems you were looking for. And thus was doomscrolling born, and Facebook’s coffers grew ever more swole.

Along came Twitter, which at least had the advantage of pandering to short attention spans. People, you will write teeny-tiny bon mots and Twitter will organize them for you and lay them out in an ever-flowing smorgasbord of hot takes, and, oh yes, ads. The revenue from those ads would go to…Twitter. Not the people writing it.

I think there might be a theme here. Get other people to do the creative work that the corporate entity will profit from.

Twitter has succeeded despite

Adding another kink. /1

You have to string /2

Your thoughts together /3

Into multiple tweets /4

In order to assemble /5

A more complex story. /6

We willingly do this despite the fact that there’s another way to do this that’s more organic and straightforward, and that doesn’t funnel profit away from the creator and to a big corporation. It’s these things called blogs.

So why don’t people just switch to reading blogs? There are still plenty of us out there. The problem is that there used to be a popular, easy-to-use way to curate and organize your collection of interesting blogs called RSS — Really Simple Syndication — and there were these things called RSS readers that organized a list of blogs you liked and would highlight new entries for you, so you’d just scroll through a list that you assembled (unlike Facebook) and that you could choose to see either a quick synopsis (like Twitter) or the full length text (unlike Twitter). But that didn’t remunerate Zuck or Jack, so it died or was discouraged. Google killed their popular Google Reader app in 2013.

And thus we ended up here, where Facebook can poison the culture and make loads of money from it, while Twitter is a forum for blipverts where Trump-like loons can thrive. There were loons in the blog age, too, but at least corporations didn’t make billions by promoting the idiots and throwing them in the faces of everyone else.

But maybe they could come back.

Most existing blogs retain a relic of bygone days, an alternative access point through an RSS feed. It’s still there — Pharyngula has one at freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/feed/, but if you read it without an RSS reader it’s an ugly mess of XML code.

So get one. There are ways to patch together readable RSS access to lots of services like blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and even Twitter — here’s a list. With a little work you can reconstitute the capabilities we had in 2005, and also get access to the writings of human beings without supporting a corporate parasite.

There are other options on the horizon. Google may be adding RSS subscriptions to Chrome.

twitter.com/apf/status/1446503789586894850

(Oh look. It’s on Twitter rather than in a blog I could link to.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me at all, yet. It’s a work in progress, and right now setting it up on systems where it does work is rather awkward.

twitter.com/apf/status/1446503798604664840

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had more control, and if Mark Zuckerberg weren’t profiting off the actual creative work of writers and video makers?

Comments

  1. bjnich2 says

    Reading this using Feedly, the app descended from Google Reader. RSS lives, and it’s still my way to track news.

  2. skeptico says

    I use Inoreader and I recommend it.
    They do occasionally ask you if you want to upgrade to a paid version, but the free version works well.

  3. kome says

    I think there might be a theme here. Get other people to do the creative work that the corporate entity will profit from.

    Like academic publishing, except at least SAGE and Taylor&Francis and so on will do copy editing and formatting so the creative works of others that they profit from are in a more visually appealing state.

  4. Brent Richards says

    Have you tried Feedly? I’ve been using it as a replacement for Google Reader for years.

  5. says

    I am using “akregator” which still exists as an application for linux. It works pretty well. It is part of the KDE desktop environment, but it should also run under different desktops. I’m not sure whether there is a Windows version.

  6. kathleenzielinski says

    I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter for years. The service they provide is introducing you to the millions of people on Facebook and Twitter. No blog that I start is going to have anywhere near the traffic I’d get on Facebook.

    The solution is not to make it easy to start a blog; you can do that now. The solution is to find a way to publicize your blog so it gets lots of traffic. As with self published book, the self publish is the easy part.

  7. Dauphni says

    I recently discovered that Youtube still supplies rss feeds for every channel. It does take a bit of digging, but now that I’ve entered all of them into my reader I get all the videos when they come out, instead of relying on the algorithm to decide whether I get to watch a video or not.

  8. says

    The great thing about RSS is that it solves a collective action problem. Without RSS, people rely on the proprietary feeds of their preferred social platforms, which only show content from that platform. So to maintain connections to people, they’re stuck on social platforms that they may not even like. We could very well all be stuck on a platform we don’t like. RSS lets you follow people on many platforms without being stuck on those platforms.

    The downside, is that RSS can only follow things if the website generates the RSS feed. And many platforms don’t generate feed, because why would they? They’d rather you be stuck on their platform. And RSS has lots of limitations, like you couldn’t have a private feed. But I feel like if there were still a lot of interest in RSS, we might have had workarounds for these problems, and the power to demand that social media companies support RSS.

  9. says

    The whole switch to video was allegedly pushed by facebook and google, because the requirements for hosting video media are more stringent and it would eat into text blogging and traditional media like newspapers. Remember: they’re not on our side.

  10. socrates999 says

    I’ll give another enthusiastic +1 to Feedly. I was crushed when Google Reader went away – I had no idea how I was going to keep up with all of the things I wanted to, and Feedly was a very appreciated option. If Iost Feedly, I’m not sure what I would do. . .

  11. says

    The vacuuming of content and agglomeration goes further back. In the 1990s, Usenet was the land of free speech and diatribes from two to two thousand words. There was no editorial or government control, and no commercial influence. Then in 2001, google started “google groups” and bought out DejaNews, pushing everyone onto their site. This effectively killed Usenet, which is now used primarily for porn and warez.

    People went along with this because google groups was easier and run out of a browser, the same as using twitter and farcebook and didn’t require a separate news reader and news service provider. Unlike Usenet readers which were free, farcebook and others want and push people to use their app separate from a browser because it helps them vacuum up personal data. Usenet hosts that were just a paid service, they couldn’t collect data.

  12. d3zd3z says

    And keep complaining to those blogs that don’t have RSS feeds (I’m looking at your FFRF). For me, if there isn’t an RSS, I won’t end up reading it, even if I want to. I just subscribe to too many blogs to be able to track them on my own.

    I do think having an RSS aggregator in a common browser would really help things.

  13. PaulBC says

    Well to be honest (and I know I have said it before) I really miss Usenet. Maybe if I had ever got into RSS I would have been able to build a similar one-stop-shopping experience, but that was my first brush with the Internet, and the sheer randomness was the best part, e.g. finding AI pioneer John McCarthy in rec.arts.books, and not really at his best. Seeing crackpot Alexander Abian’s plans to blow up the moon and reorbit Venus and realizing he had once been a serious academic. Technology marches on, and I don’t think Usenet would have been sustainable, but that was just the best time of all in my view.

    My current blog experience isn’t that much different from peak blog of the mid-00s. There are a few I check back on manually (I don’t get back to Brad DeLong very much though, and others are a gone). There’s less vitality overall, so I limit myself to ones with an active commentariat, like this one.

    I use Facebook only to keep in touch with friends and family. I do tend to post political thoughts (within bubble) as well as hobby stuff that is more like a running journal than something of great interest to others. It basically sucks as a forum for discussion. Did I mention I miss Usenet?

    Monetization isn’t all bad. My daughter got really good at making animations (alas, her HS course load has taken a toll) and was able to monetize both her animations and some tutorials on YouTube. I would have loved an opportunity like that at her age. One thing is that she put a lot of work into it. I’m less thrilled with TikTok and just random video for people with short attention spans.

  14. says

    Usenet was a pain in the butt to host; I operated feeds from 1987 to 1994 and my employer shut them down when I left. I ran A News over uucp, B News and INN over IP and they were all finicky and caused unpredictable hard drive stuffage. I won’t say “administrator’s nightmare” but there was a lot of “why am I subjecting myself to this?”

  15. blf says

    There is no point to RSS to follow a blog that you follow — just go to the fecking blog. Ignoring RSS reduces the distracting noise at the least, and potentially also excess bloatware.

  16. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Read this in Reeder (https://reederapp.com/). This was what I settled on when Google pulled the rug from under its reader.

    Reeder’s internal browser is fine for reading short articles, but not adequate to handle the WordPress login, so I control-clicked and selected “Open in Brave Browser” from the popup menu. Whence I could log in and post a reply.

  17. hemidactylus says

    Yeah the demise of what I thought was a decent app:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LinkedIn_Pulse

    *“Pulse was listed among Time Techland’s 50 Best Android Applications for 2013.[14]

    On 11 April 2013 it was announced[15] as previously rumoured[16] that LinkedIn had purchased Pulse from Alphonso Labs for $90 million.[17] In the beginning of November 2013, version 4.0 was launched, integrating the Pulse app and LinkedIn. Along with the integration was a massive UI overhaul that was met largely by negative reviews by longtime users. On 17 June 2015, Pulse decided to completely redesign the new experience from the ground up. The stated reason for this change was to deliver personalized news from a user’s professional network (primarily from LinkedIn, the purchaser of Pulse), and allow little to none user customization. This change also triggered a wave of negative backlash from the app’s userbase, including a dramatic drop in ratings in the App Store and Google Play.

    On 25 November 2015, LinkedIn announced that the original Pulse app was to be retired on 31 December 2015, after which user feeds ceased to update.[18]”*

    Damn corporations.

    I never messed with RSS that I can remember. Feedly calls itself the “Smart News Reader” which gets into a terminological muddle. To me a newsreader is what you set up to read Usenet via nntps. Then again Thunderbird is a mail client that can do nntps and I guess act as a newsreader for Usenet. It can apparently do RSS so act as a “news reader” too.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Thunderbird

    Oh:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_aggregator

    “In computing, a news aggregator, also termed a feed aggregator, feed reader, news reader, RSS reader or simply an aggregator, is client software or a web application…”

    Alrighty then.

  18. consciousness razor says

    We willingly do this despite the fact that there’s another way to do this that’s more organic and straightforward, and that doesn’t funnel profit away from the creator and to a big corporation.

    Most consumers have never cared about that. They know about their own work, the value of which certainly matters to them, but most don’t make artistic content for a living, so things are seen through the lens of the consumption of that content and not its production.

    It’s not exactly surprising, but we revived a sort of patronage system — although of course, companies like Patreon, PayPal, etc., also take a cut in most cases. It makes everything so very convenient for the consumers/patrons, and it’s allowing them some degree of control over their spending. But it’s definitely not about ensuring all the workers get fair compensation. It’s also not actually avoiding the algorithm problem — you just tell yourself a comforting story that it wasn’t involved in the first place, which is almost always a fiction.

    It is beneficial to consumers, or at least they usually feel like it is…. It’s sort of like donating to charities for those who you believe most deserve your charitable giving, not to those who don’t (but whose content you’re still consuming on a regular basis). I guess it’s not so different from the attitudes of the super rich like Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk, and so forth. It’s simply never asked why everyone else doesn’t have the same rights or freedoms, because the issues are cast in terms of where your money will go when you exercise your rights to spend it. You just get what you want, while trying to maintain a belief that everything’s “fair,” and you move on to getting more stuff that you want. Consume, consume, consume.

    There were loons in the blog age, too, but at least corporations didn’t make billions by promoting the idiots and throwing them in the faces of everyone else.

    Uh…. they did that then too. The promoted idiots in question were on mainstream media websites, some by way of intermediaries like MSN, Yahoo, AOL, etc. They’re still around, but there are also other promoted idiots now.

    So Google, for example, was already enormous in 2006 when it gobbled up YouTube (for $1.65B) or DoubleClick in 2008 (for $3.1B), as were many of the other mega-corporations which competed with them.

  19. uusuzanne says

    I still use Feedly, which I switched to when Google Reader went away. Works fine, I think.

  20. stwriley says

    I read Pharyngula and a whole set of other blogs and sites on Feedbro using the RSS feeds. It’s an extension for Firefox, which is very handy for me. I used to use the Sage RSS reader, but that went the way of the dodo a couple of years ago. Still, RSS isn’t dead yet and its demise looks to be indefinitely postponed time and again. At least, I certainly hope so, since I’ve never had a Facebook or Twitter account and I won’t be getting one no matter what.

  21. dave57 says

    I use Mozilla Thunderbird for both email and RSS. I’ve completely given up on Twitter and Facebook, the signal to noise ratio is far too low. NYTimes, WaPo, the Guardian, and other news outlets also have RSS feeds that make it easy to see the titles of new content at a glance.

  22. remyporter says

    As a software developer, RSS/Atom were the last good things to happen on the Web.

    @bif: but I only want to go to the blog when there’s new stuff posted there. So I need some mechanism to notify me that there are update(s) that I may want to pay attention to. Plus, I may want to follow a lot of blogs! It’d be nice to be able to do all that reading in one place.

  23. Dean Pentcheff says

    https://theoldreader.com
    Works very well on a “real” browser, can feed to FeedMe on a phone (a bit clunky). Works very well for me to do exactly what PZ describes: I get to review a list of sources I have curated and that I choose to read. A single click and I get the full text, one more click and I’m viewing the original site, if that’s preferrable. And the free version gives me all that I want — you can pay a little if you want more than 100 feeds and improved search ability.

  24. says

    I wrote my own RSS reader, because I wasn’t happy with any of the available offerings at the time (especially the fact that none of the RSS readers I knew of, including Google Reader, supported password-protected feeds).

    Mine’s open source. It’s at the point where it does 90% of what I want it to, so I don’t mess with it much anymore, but feel free to play around with it. If you make improvements, please send them in.

  25. whheydt says

    Usenet is still out there. Finding a news feed may be a problem, though. Certainly the whole rec.arts.sf.* groups are active.

    One thing I really miss from usenet, or more specifically, trn, is killfiles.

  26. PaulBC says

    whheydt@26

    One thing I really miss from usenet, or more specifically, trn, is killfiles.

    Ditto.

  27. euclide says

    Since I have my own linux server, I self-host a tiny-tinty RSS instance, which has its own IOS and Android Apps for mobility, and a nice web interface when at home or at the office.

    And I’m reading this blog and most of my regular internet sources this way (there are still a lot of RSS feeds out there, including news sources, youtube channels and of course blogs).

    I’m not using Facebook (never even had an account) but I still want some updates from specific pages (mainly some music bands). For that, I’m using https://fetchrss.com/ to fetch theses pages and include them in my feed

  28. Deborah Goldsmith says

    I’ve been using newsblur.com for years and can’t recommend it highly enough.

  29. Kevin Karplus says

    I still read blogs, but only on InoReader via RSS feeds. I appreciate blogs that have feeds for their comments (not separate per-post feeds, but general feeds for the comments).

    Blogging has really dropped since the peak days—there are many fewer page views than there used to be, but there is still a lot of good content.

    I’ve never used Facebook or Twitter, but I have started using Reddit (mainly my campus’s subreddit and r/Professors).

  30. brucej says

    Another upvote for Feedly. The thing I really like about RSS readers is I can quickly skim a ton of feeds for things I want to read without having to put up with the myriad piles of ads on most blogs these days.

    I’ve tried others: Reeder, NetNewsWire, but Google reader was the easiest until, of course, Google killed it.

    Feedly sticks unobtrusive ads in the feeds but you can skip right over them.

  31. says

    Since I basically never bought into faceache and twits, blogs still rule the internet for me.

    I’ve got a menu of interesting blogs. Haven’t felt the need for an RSS feed reader yet.

    Some time ago I did build a simple tool to list recent videos from youtube channels that I’m interested in. If I wanted to, I could probably whip up something similar for blogs, but I simply haven’t felt the need for that yet.

  32. khms says

    Another Inoreader fan here. I especially like that I can just look at lists of titles and then decide what I want to read – no chance in hell I’ve time for everything. And frankly, that’s not so very different from how I consumed Usenet. Plus, it’s under active development.
    Also, Inoreader can handle a number of non-RSS sources, such as (if you’re at all interested) Facebook, Twitter, Mailing lists, simple Webpages that contain changing areas, and (if you’re so inclined) you can have simple or complicated rules to sort all those articles out. (At least in the paid version, I’m not sure how much of that is in the free one.) Oh, and since they pull feeds for a huge number of users, you can search for interesting articles or feeds in their huge database. And I’m sure there’s more I’m just not thinking of.

  33. richardh says

    blf@15: There is no point to RSS to follow a blog that you follow
    WIth an RSS feed in my browser I can look at a summary of all the blogs I follow on a side panel, and see which ones have new articles. It beats opening every single blog in turn and fighting my way through the ads to see if there’s anything new.
    stwriley@20: I read Pharyngula and a whole set of other blogs and sites on Feedbro using the RSS feeds. It’s an extension for Firefox, which is very handy for me. I used to use the Sage RSS reader, but that went the way of the dodo a couple of years ago.
    I use the inventively-named “Sage-like” add-on for Firefox. It’s almost identical to the old Sage (which died because the developers couldn’t face porting it to a new API, not for political reasons.)

  34. John Morales says

    richardh,

    It beats opening every single blog in turn and fighting my way through the ads to see if there’s anything new.

    Ads? So you fight your way through the ads if there actually is something new ?!?

    Mate! You don’t need an aggregator, you need a domain controller.

    (I recommend NoScript)

  35. birgerjohansson says

    I am an old fart. I need to get some young, clever student to walk me through these instructions.
    Good luck circumventing Facebook.

  36. John Morales says

    birgerjohansson:

    Good luck circumventing Facebook.

    Meh. It can see you, but it’s trivially easy for you not to see it.

    Just don’t open it. Don’t log in to it, don’t click on links to it.

    Simple as. Luck doesn’t come into it.

  37. richardh says

    JM@38
    Ads? So you fight your way through the ads if there actually is something new ?!?
    Actually, no. The ads were a rhetorical flourish.
    (I recommend NoScript)
    So do I. And if that’s too much work, there’s Facebook Container, DuckDuckGo Privacy Protection, Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus, …

  38. birgerjohansson says

    I did not intend to come across as being sarcastic.
    Getting the implied meaning right in a second language is hard.

  39. Bad Bart says

    Another happy InoReader user here. Google Reader-like web client, good iOS app, and the paid version can handle RSS feeds that need logins.

Leave a Reply