How Blogs Work Today
My piece earlier this week on Clinton and Sanders blew up a bit, with roughly 75,000 views over two days. This gave me an excuse to check my referrers and ego search on Google and see a bit of who was talking about the post and/or sending people my way.
What I found: Facebook was by far the largest mover of visits and the place where the largest number of people were commenting on the piece, on their own wall or in the comments of others. Twitter was the next highest contributor of traffic/discussion. After that, and a bit down the scale, a couple of political sites, community sites like Metafilter or Reddit, and Google Plus, which, yes, apparently some people still use. But, interestingly, almost none of the conversation about/traffic to the piece was coming from personal blogs.
This is not entirely surprising given the social media landscape these days, but it is a fundamental change in how traffic comes to the site. Even a couple of years ago, as an aggregate, personal blogs funneled a fair amount of traffic into Whatever. Here in 2016, however, personal blogs as a traffic driver seem to be a non-starter.
What happened? Anecdotally, it looks like two things, somewhat related: personal blogs have either died as people migrated over to Facebook and/or Twitter, or they have largely changed their character, becoming less about posting thoughts and commentary on a regular basis (and linking out to the stuff that inspired the entry) and becoming more about a place to have a permanent repository of information about that person themselves — news and updates about life and career, but much less interactive, and updated less frequently or in depth. Where did that chatty stuff go? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on.
Which is fine! As I’ve noted before, Facebook/Twitter/etc are generally speaking better solutions for most people — most people don’t want to have to deal with the backend of running their own site or blog, they just want to connect with friends. It’s worth noting that Tumblr, the one really blog-ish social media outpost, is basically a streamlined version of what blogs are (or used to be). You can’t blame people for not wanting to have to bother. The activity that fueled blogs is still there — it’s simply aggregated on relatively few social networks. Everyone, including those who still have blogs, go where their friends are.
I don’t think blogs are dead per se — WordPress, which I will note hosts my blog, seems to be doing just fine in terms of new sites being created and people joining its network. But I think the role of the blog is different than it was even just a couple of years ago. It’s not the sole outpost of an online life, although it can be an anchor, holding it in place. What a blog is today is part of an overall presence, with a specific role that complements other online outposts (which in turn complement the blog). I do it myself — longer pieces here, which I will point to from other places. Shortform smartassery on Twitter. Personal Facebook account to keep up with friends; public Facebook and Google Plus pages to keep fans up on news — news which is often announced here and linked to from there.
(I also still very strongly recommend that creative people keep their own blogs, preferably with their own domains, for the simple reason that no matter what happens to Facebook or Twitter or whatever, your blog will be someplace your fans and other interested folks will always be able to find you. I’ve owned Scalzi.com for 18 years, and run Whatever for nearly as long, on just this principle. This has been enough time to see the fall of several once invincible social networks, starting with AOL and moving forward from that once-mighty organization.)
That said, it does signal that the online world — or at least the part of it I interact with, and interacts with me — is different today than it was before. Better? Worse? I don’t think either; just different. Possibly a little less funky, though.