Remember when blogs were the hottest thing on the internet? No of course you don’t. That was well before your time, wasn’t it?
Back in 2003 when I first got the idea of creating Terminally Incoherent, blogging swiftly becoming one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet. I was of course aware of blogging almost since it’s inception in the late 90′s but I resisted the siren’s call of the new publishing platform because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say. I remember proudly bashing the idea on forums saying things like “what on earth would I write a blog about” as I was cranking out 6 thousand word analysis posts for new episodes of Farscape, or twice as long posts bashing SciFi Channel for sucking and killing all the good series. I guess most of us back then didn’t fully comprehend what exactly blogging was because of LiveJournal.
LiveJournal was one of the first successful (well, as far as you can measure success in therms of usage and popularity – not necessarily profitability) platforms and it used the “online diary” metaphor. It was it’s primary use case, and how it advertised itself to new users and so this is how we viewed blogging in general: as public vanity diaries. By the time I got into this thing I still didn’t fully understand what to do with a blog, but at least I tried. It actually took me a few years to actually get into something of a rhythm and find the voice for this site. And as soon as I did, something unthinkable happened – I have gained some audience.
I caught the wave and kept riding it. I was never the leader of the pack but I’m actually pretty happy with the way things turned out. I got inbound links from Digg, Reddit and few other influential places (and my server crashed and burned each time that happened) and got quite a few interesting discussion threads in the comments. For the past few years I have always had enough readers for the few adds I display here to pay for my hosting entirely and leaving me with some left-over extra change I can spend on like one coffee at Starbucks. I’d say this is pretty good for a site with unintelligible name and no clear focus.
I mean, how do you explain what Terminally Incoherent is about to someone who never visited it in a few words? It’s a blog about programming, and science fiction, and futurism and movies, and video games and anime and… You basically have to list bunch of unrelated topics which have a single unifying theme: they are things I’m interested in writing about. In short, this is a personal blog written by one guy about his nerdy interests. This is very much a vanity diary – something I never thought I would do, and never set out to create. But that’s essentially what I’ve been writing since 2003.
These days it almost feels like I’m the last guy on the internet doing this sort of thing. This kind of deeply personal, ego driven blogging has went out of vogue. It is something that mostly doesn’t make sense anymore, unless you happen to lead a very interesting life as a celebrity or other type of person of interest whose opinions count. Most of the smaller blogs you see these days have a very narrow, topic oriented focus. Most of the successful ones also have more than one contributor.
I have used to subscribe to a lot of blogs with a profile similar to mine, but most of them have been abandoned. It is actually quite sad, but as I was going through my subscription list tying to slim it down in preparation for Google Reader closing I realized just how many sites I used to read went silent over the years without anyone noticing. I guess this is a natural thing – sites go dead all the time and new ones get created to pick up the slack. Blogosphere seems to have shrunk and consolidated itself around big brand names and personalities.
Today it is easier to create a personal blog than it ever was, and yet few people choose to do so. I think part of the problem is that blogs are a commitment. They take effort. Blog readers expect to read – they expect at least few hundred words per post, and it is apparently more than most people are willing to write in a single sitting.
The explosion of social media has changed the personal publishing landscape, and blogs are no longer the preferred medium. They take time to set up and maintain. They don’t come with built in audience whereas platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr do. Why run a link blog if you can just tweet interesting links to your followers? Why bother typing anything if you can just share, tweet and re-blog funny pictures using a bookmarklet. Why bother with RSS if you can have your content filtered and cherry-picked via social media or aggregation sites like reddit. The mainstream has moved onto the next shiny thing, and with them went all those who got into blogging to cash in on the popularity of the medium. The kids who thought it was hip and cool to run a pic blog, travelogue or tech news echo chamber (or whatever else was in vogue at the time) packed their bags and moved over to the social pastures.
Who is left? Well there are only two groups of people who blog today: people who get paid to blog, an those who blog for fun. The first group is the larger one – corporate blogs are still pretty fashionable, and allow faceless profit machines pretend like they have a connection with their
victims customers. Journalism is moving online wholesale and the boundary between news stream and a blog becomes blurrier every day. Once upon a time we asked ourselves a question: “can bloggers be considered journalists?”. Today that question seems silly and infantile. Of course they can be: sometimes. Not every person with a blog is a journalist, just like not every person who publishes for a print publication is one. It is about what you write and how you write it.
Unfortunately most online “publications” are not really doing anything even remotely journalistic. Journalism doesn’t really get you enough traffic to make your site profitable. Top ten lists and sexy cossplay galleries do. So 90% of the “professionally” produced blog-like content is essentially garbage: click traps, circle-jerks or worse: paid advertising (aka. unbiased video game reviews).
The other group – one which I’m part of – blogs in their free time. Since we do not seek to gain any profit from our sites, we are free to make our content as shitty, or wonderfully deep. Usually we do a little bit of both (I myself tend to err on the side of shitty, but that’s usually just lack of inspiration). The problem with blogging for fun is that while it is a labor of love, it is still time consuming and resource intensive. Writing a blog post that is actually coherent is not trivial (fortunately I picked the right title for my blog so I am exempt from the coherence clause). It does require effort and commitment. It turns out that most people only have a few years of content in them.
I’ve been producing random content on this blog for close to a decade now. People ask me sometimes why I stuck with it for so long, but I don’t really have an answer. It is a creativity outlet. It is a way for me to organize my thoughts. It is a way for me to create a link to the past. Browsing my own archives is like a stroll down the memory late for me sometimes. I might be talking about some video game or programming project and that’s all you see when you read it. But when I read it, I also recall where I was when I was writing it. It is something very public and yet very personal. And after 10 years of doing it, I only now begin to feel like I’m kinda catching the drift of it.
I probably can’t promise you another decade of Terminally Incoherent (cause you know – we might have a singularity event in the meantime), but I can definitely assure you I am in no danger of quitting anytime soon. If it means I’m the last guy with randomly weird and slightly boring blog on the internet then so be it.
That said, when I was going through my RSS subscriptions I was astonished how many good blogs just died in the last few years or turned to absolute shit. Some ended up link farms, others started chasing profits with pointless garbage entries and some simply switched focus (worst thing that can happen to a good programming blog: the author gets promoted to management, and starts blogging about snooze-worthy managerial stuff instead talking about code). Someone asked me to publish my “must read” RSS list, but when I went to compile I was shocked to realized almost all the blogs in my important folder haven’t had any updates in about a year. I was even more shocked that I didn’t notice it until now.
I was quite upset when I found out Google is shutting down their RSS service, but now that I sat down and analyzed my subscriptions with a cool head I must admit that there are shockingly few live sites on there. My OPML is tumbleweed central – a ghost city full of empty husks that were once interesting and thoughtful publications. I guess it puts Google’s decision in perspective.
So out of curiosity, what blogs do you guys currently read? Who would you recommend to subscribe to and follow and why? I want to re-build my RSS collection where should I start?