Reading about blogging

I got into a pleasant rabbit hole recently. I’m still in it. It started with thinking about Medium’s changes. What follows are more notes from reading than original thoughts. I don’t promise any cohesiveness.


I came across Robinson Mayer’s What Blogging Has Become. It was the clearest thinking on the Medium changes I found. He’s also asking what web writing is in 2015. He provides’s context on blogging’s past and key characteristics: casual voicey writing, standalone domain, reverse-chron, in conversation with other blogs. This provides a frame to think about both for the broader web writing question and Medium’s changes in particular. Mayer nicely digs into how Medium’s shift away from it’s original collection-based organizing concepts to a reverse chron stream changes the nature of the platform changes considerably.

Thoughts:

  • The writer’s personal, casual voice was a key aspect of what made blogs interesting. What is the roll for the personal voice now that casualness has been embraced by both established and emerging companies? Do we want the individual editorial perspective that the personal tone signalled or is the general casualness of the internet, now appropriated by large companies, sufficient? Related: The dress is white and gold. Or, why BuzzFeed won
  • The reliance on a few companies, Facebook and Google primarily, as a means of distribution remains scary.
  • It’s worth reading through all the links Mayer included. It reminds me how generous linking can be. His post is much richer because of it’s connection to all the other articles.

Mayer makes the case that these changes fundamentally change the nature of Medium. This is dramatically contrasted by Ev Williams’ announcement of the changes.

Williams’ post seems aimed at not upsetting the apple cart. The changes are cast as minor feature changes. It shows how much faith Medium has that the system design changes will modify behavior. They feel no need to sell the changes.

Thoughts:

  • I agree with Williams belief. You’re not going to convince or train people into acting a certain way. With an established user base, behavior will emerge from the possible actions. The trick is to shape those conditions to create meaningful outcomes.

Michael Sippey’s Blogging on Medium goes into more detail on changing the product than Williams. He explains the value of the stream. He states, “ The fundamental unit of the blog is not the blog post. The fundamental unit of the blog is the stream.” A stream of a person’s output helps build a sense of a corpus, which is of great value to a blogger.

This is a reversal of sorts on one of the original hypotheses of Medium. Joshua Benton’s piece 13 ways of looking at Medium from 2012 reminds that the initial idea was to allow people to write “without the burden of becoming a blogger”.

Thoughts:

  • Benton places Medium in the history of “personal-publishing”. Progressively the distinction between enterprise and personal software has been fading. Web-based applications have diminished the acceptablity of companies to neglect their users as new entrants began delivering options to previously unreachable customers. But also the rise of focused products targeted towards niches has increased. In terms of software, does the distinction between personal and professional publishing tools still make sense?
  • The role of the author is in continual flux. The rise of blogging initially swung authority from institutions to the individual. Increasingly it has swung back to organizations, but new ones: platform owners and new publishers like Buzzfeed.

Brad Delong’s The Future of Weblogging in the Medium Run is similar to Mayer’s piece in that it runs through many of the recent ruminations of the death/future of blogging. The tone is fun, as it sets up a faux dialogue between philosophers of old and philosophers of blogs.

His piece discusses differing incentives: “The idea of finding your voice, building an audience by developing a reputation as an effective and trusted (and amusing) information intermediary so that then you have valuable links with that audience that you can monetize in some way is anathema to the bosses who need to make money.”

Thoughts:

  • The writers Delong references reminds me how that swing of authority away from the individual back to the organization has come largely at the hands of blogging pioneers who have shifted into company mode.
  • The history of blogging is about 15 years. With all the talk of the death of blogging tied so closely to stories of the pioneers starting again or calling it quits, it seems that fatigue is as much the cause as anything else.

That fatigue is on display in Andrew Sullivan’s A Note To My Readers. That seems easily understandable. What’s more interesting to me in Sullivan’s piece as he recounts key events he and The Dish have covered and engaged in over the last 15 years–as he’s moved from independent to Time to The Atlantic to The Daily Beast and back to independent–is how he frames it all as a single history. An oeuvre. He’s managed to retain that sense of continum. I’m sure itrequired constant diligence.

I think of my own work in the same sense. Coming from an art school background, the oeuvre mentality is deeply engrained. I much more closely align the work I’ve done with a progression of personal interests rather than a series of jobs with different companies.

Thoughts:

  • What are the activities required to establish and maintain that sense of “thingness”?
  • The way I work now is dramatically different than it was 15 years ago.

There are clearly a number of converging histories at play. Journalism, blogging, web writing, content strategy, economics, open web, apps and platforms. I may add to this later.

What else should I read related to all this?