After the Age of the Personal Blog

The personal blog is a curious thing, a relic of a simpler, bygone era. Things have changed.

It’s intriguing to poke around Lucy Pham’s graveyard of abandoned blogs to get a sense of what was. It’s almost like watching a slow slice of civilization wither into extinction, like gazing at the ruins of suburban shopping malls.

Social media allows you to have fairly decent privacy settings these days, and it is largely cut off from search engines. If you ruffle feathers with an Instagram story, nobody is going to remember. Nobody is going to be able to search through your past. A blog is necessarily public and searchable. Nobody can predict whether something that’s coherent and innocuous today will be scandalous ten years from now.

Like being a YouTuber or podcaster, blogging has been taken over by professionals. The level of quality you need to offer in order to be taken seriously is that of a professional writer, with a professionally designed site to match. Putting forward anything less makes you look clumsly, not serious. This is something you can’t afford to do when we’re all looking for new jobs every 3–5 years.

With the increasingly level of professionalism among bloggers, everything just gets harder. Even if you don’t care much about SEO, you still want your posts to be findable. That becomes nearly a full-time job. Which then becomes a vicious cycle of monetization and homogenization to justify all the time spent blogging. And this is for an increasingly smaller audience, as most people will watch a 30 second video with a couple of talking points rather than read a nuanced post that took hours to research, write, edit, and publish. Reading blogs as a mainstream source of information will decline in the era of peak Google.

And so what does the future hold for blogging? A few dinosaur blogs will hang around, but that’s just not how most content will be produced on the internet. Instead, I see the high-quality blogs moving to platforms like Substack. There are a lot of good email newsletter that have popped up lately. We’re in a golden era of long-form podcasting. It’s all there, but it has become harder to find and a lot of actually quirky and interesting stuff simply isn’t online.

Craig Mod is on to something with his pop-up newsletters. I’ve explored notes here and elsewhere to mixed results. I envision this blog, and others similar to it, becoming something like this: publishing a few serious posts per year with some level of curation regarding what stays up, and then “pop-up” notes that will be a short series about some topic. But these pop-ups won’t be accessible forever. What will stay the same is RSS running all of this behind the scenes.

I used to worry a lot about link rot. But I think we’ve all become digital hoarders of sorts. If something made an impression when I first read it, I should have saved it. The best conversations are ephemeral, even if the main ideas remain with you for decades.