Write The Blog You Want to Read
It's been quiet around here, and that's for a reason. Blogging is just one thing on my to-do list, and it's pretty low on that list. But there's more to it. It's not just about making time to write something but also about staying motivated.
Published by Philipp Trommler. This article has also been translated to: de.
When I started blogging (again 🙄) I thought of my blog as a purely technical publication. Writing tutorials or reports about what I've done with programming or hardware and stuff like that. The problem is: time is scarce and there's simply not much I do with computers on the side; definitely not enough new or bleeding edge things to fill an interesting blog.
I know others do. You can visit Hacker News on any given date and find links to blogs written by people who seem to have either too much free time or an unhealthy lifestyle. Of course, many of the articles shared on HN take a whole lot of time to write, edit and publish, and it's only the aggregation found on these news sites that makes it feel like people are spitting high quality blog entries out like it's nothing1. But still, skimming through the never ending list of high-quality blog posts published every day feeds the imposter syndrome a lot and additionally, it makes publishing your own posts feel really pointless. Chances are that there's someone else with a finished and published blog post about the same topic already. Why bother?
But that's not all. Because I've been limiting myself to technical topics only, I've experienced situations where I've been overly motivated to writing something but denied myself a post about that given topic because it didn't fit in2. And all the short posts I didn't write because I felt like I should publish a longer, more elaborate post first…
Looking around the web, I have the feeling that I'm not alone with my situation: Many blogs are seldom updated, at best, and even more are abandoned completely after just a few posts.
The web is corporate. It's not been like that forever, but for a while now. Admittedly, I have no first-hand experience with the fully non-corporate web but I vividly remember better times of personal websites instead of corporate silos.
The advent of the so-called social media has killed a lot of personal, self-controlled content on the web. Websites and blogs often enough moved completely over to a Facebook page3. When the original sites were not abandoned completely, the only content that was left or newly published on the personal homepages were typically long-form, highly technical posts that wouldn't fit very well into the small text areas provided by most social media sites to express yourself4. And that's mostly the situation we're still in today. But does it need to be this way?
Who hosts the content is not the only thing that has changed though, the content itself has become more corporate, too. There are, of course, technical blogs run by corporations, which you'd expect to be corporate. But even the smallest personal sites have often become very clean, formal, professional. And, in fact, impersonal and boring5. They regularly feature one of the always-the-same Bootstrap inspired themes and blog posts which create the impression that the author is more interested in the expected SEO boost the topic provides than in the topic itself. It feels like these authors are running their blogs solely for their CVs.
But even the less affected personal sites are way cleaner today than some
corporate sites were back 20-ish years ago. Where are the opinionated topics,
the swearing, the
$EVILCORP references? Where are the honest love letters to
controversial persons such as RMS and the pure hatred against the newest init
system written in a way that would violate any code of conduct in existence?
Where are the quirky non-tech posts about the author's other hobbies and the
comments on the latest local politics?
Maybe tech as a whole has become corporate?
You could argue that it doesn't matter that much where the internet's content is hosted. And whilst that's true to some degree a truly self-controlled personal website differs a lot from a social media site in the details.
Firstly, on your personal site, you control how your content is published. That's true on a technical level but even more on an editorial one: You decide what your readers see, and in which order. There's no algorithm optimizing your online appearance by leaving out certain publications of yours6 or emphasizing others. There's no code of conduct, no latent political affection of your publisher to one or the other party, which will influence the judgment over your posts. What you write is what others will read, love it or hate it. Your personal site represents you way more than the filtered social media profile Facebook has created for you.
Secondly, you own your personal site's content. Instead of losing or re-publishing everything every time the hype-train picks up speed to the next social media platform, you can just stay right where you are. And should the web host you've chosen go out of business, you can just pick the next one and go on like nothing has happened7.
Thirdly, by hosting your content yourself, you neither endorse a social media platform by publishing through them nor any other authors you'd rather not be associated with by being published alongside them.
Lastly and most importantly though, posts on your personal site have a lot more weight than the things you publish on a social media site, forum or comment section. In the endless and often anonymous feed created by these silos, you can post nearly everything without being seriously held accountable because the next news have already flushed your smut away before justice has been given. I think that this is one of the main reasons why we see so much radicalizing and provocative content nowadays and especially on social media sites: It creates publicity without really risking anything. On your own website, though, you pour your whole credibility into every publication as it'll stand there, right between those other posts, for every visitor to see and forever linked to your arduously built online identity. More of this stickiness of wrong-doing would help our societies a lot, in my opinion.
I'd like to consume a web where people think before they write and stand to their statements. I'd like to read unfiltered opinions, just as their writers intended them to be. I'd like to follow a writer's development on their long-running personal publication, and I'd like to do this without selling my soul to yet another social media outlet. That doesn't mean that I don't want to read technical blog posts anymore. I'd just like to learn a bit about the author behind that post, too. I'd like to have a personal web outside of corporate silos again.
"Be the change", they say, so here I go: I have no actual social media outlets that can be closed, but from now on I want to treat this blog more like my social media profile than like a purely technical publication. There will still be technical posts but more opinionated ones, too. Shorter, more frequent emissions riddled with longer-form posts from time to time. I don't want to hinder myself again from writing from what I want to write now to published something larger later down the road.
Now is not the time to remain silent just to try to reach Hacker News front page one day.
- Of course, there are people with an unhealthy lifestyle and/or too much free time spitting those blog entries out like it's nothing, but I don't know how sustainable that is. ↩
- Funny how you can talk yourself into what fits into your blog with about ten posts and what doesn't… ↩
- Which is now long forgotten, as well, and replaced by an Instagram, TikTok or whatever page… ↩
- I know the story is more complex with multiple intermediate steps like Tumblr, and I'm also aware that social media sites offered the first ever possibility to publicly express themselves for many people, but the point still stands IMHO: personal and/or opinion-heavy content moved from personal sites to social media sites in many cases. ↩
- For some notable exceptions, check the openring section below. ↩
- Your posts might technically still be available on your profile page, but if they're not shown prominently in your readers' feeds, they're practically lost. ↩
- By choosing a low-tech, static stack you can probably host your site on a free plan with reasonable performance or on any $1/€1 VPS with big margins. ↩
Filed under Opinion. Tags: blogging, programming, publishing, reading, web.
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