The online writing gurus say it’s pointless starting your own blog, because no one will read it. Best to go where the readers are and write directly on Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Quora, Instagram. Anywhere that enables so-called organic discovery.
Social media and new-style forum sites are where it’s at, they say. That’s where you can gain a few readers and gauge the relative popularity of your writing. Then double down on what seems to be working and… lift off! you have an online writing presence with a responsive audience. Next you entice this emerging audience to sign up to your email list, so they become no longer the social media giant’s audience but your audience, to whom you can now go direct.
So really, the advice of those who claim to know is that it’s fine to start your own blog so long as you distribute it by email, advertise it on social media and above all, don’t call it a blog. It’s a newsletter, OK?
I started with the Internet in the late 1980s, several years before the Web even existed. I used FTP, Gopher, and Usenet, and it’s delightful to see that the venerable email still endures, even though it’s an unwieldy beast, forced to perform tasks it was never meant for.
The Web revolution, I can state with some confidence having lived through it, was and still is a revolution in personal publishing. A person of modest means can publish on the web and anyone in the world can read it. Simple but amazing.
Of course findability is an issue. Of course attention is finite. Of course you have to have something you want to say, or show. But the basic tools are there to make anyone a publisher of their own work, if they want it. The corporations do everything in their power to try to put that particular genie back in its lamp, but they can’t.
In the early 1990s UK, the only way to get on the Internet (outside universities) was through Compuserve. Compuserve ran its own forums and pretended the Web didn’t exist. It was a walled garden and they did everything possible not to inform people of what they were missing. It was ridiculous, but effective while it lasted. For eighteen months or more there really was no alternative. Of course this scam didn’t last forever and as soon as people found the real Web, the game was up.
Nowadays Compuserve is a zombified hollow shell of its former self. In the US America Online tried the same scam. And AOL too is a shadow of its former glory. But the walled-garden game plan was closely copied by Facebook. For years in the 2010s it seemed like you could explore the wider Web, but why bother when all your friends were right there on Facebook? In the Third World, meanwhile, Zuckerberg tried to provide ‘internet services’ that only included his own brands - just as Compuserve had done years before.
But the game is up for Facebook too. As Meta slowly trickles down the drain and Twitter eats itself, the wider Internet remains. As someone wise said: the Network is the social network now- and it always has been.
The Web itself is the publishing platform and anyone can still publish there.
For years, I published an obscure Wordpress blog - but it had thousands of views. More recently I’ve been publishing a static blog hosted on Github, simply as a little experiment in whether I can manage the technology. Really, it’s not very difficult. Most recently, I’ve set up a little home here on my new website, which is connected to micro.blog. Gaining readers is entirely another matter. But I’m mainly doing this for my own amusement, so that’s not the main point of the exercise.
Call it a newsletter, (don’t) call it a blog, call it what you like. Personal publishing is still the future.