Since making the decision to get back into writing after a six-month hiatus, I’ve been thinking about participating more in the internet’s swirl of ideas, and what that would look like. Do blogs and personal websites still have value? Is there a life on the periphery of social media’s vast holdings? If you build it, will they come?
Much was made of the advent of the blog: it was a situation beyond Gutenberg’s wildest hopes, a publishing platform available to everyone for minimal cost, largely anonymous, free from government censorship in many countries, and capable of reaching any literate person with a computer screen.
However, personal websites take some work to update and keep running, which made social media platforms all the more attractive for people who had been blogging to keep their social circles updated on the latest news and photos. These easy-to-set up solutions have sprung up like weeds to cover nearly every sector of the market. Twitter for short updates and public discussion (aka argument with strangers), Facebook for family and friends (or a place to feud with both family and friends), Instagram for photos, Pinterest to share recipes, LinkedIn for business networking and so on. This is only news if you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years.
But what space remains for a personal website? As many have discovered, social media websites have their own weaknesses, which highlight the merits of having your own space. Control is foremost. A self-hosted website is not subject to abrupt redesigns, new posting rules, content restrictions, or algorhythmic arrangement of your posts. Your content is unlikely to be taken down unless it contravenes local laws.
Fair enough, you may say, but few social media users do anything that causes the law or site administrators to become involved and everyone eventually gets used to redesigns. Perhaps then a stronger argument is that a private site is a canvas for your own thinking, free from the clutter and noise of a continually updating feed, of comments, and disputes breaking out. There’s no character limit, no immediate descent into the wastebin of time as newer posts push yours down minute by minute, no need for photos, video, links, or likes. What I want this place to be is a repository for the thinking I’d like to share. If it is any good, it will find its readers.
But isn’t reading dead? Aren’t all the young kids just watching the talking heads on Youtube? Well, they are until they aren’t. Anyone who has done protracted online research soon discovers that text still remains the king for a quick scan of dense information. Online personalities have made an attempt at telling us everything from the best way to run a dungeons and dragons game to how to prepare for the rise of our machine overlords, but we need to sit through twenty minutes of conversational speed language, when our eyeballs could have scanned a transcript in moments and spotted the relevant passages. Even if book sales are down, the popularity of sites such as reddit, where an infinite amount of written content is building second by second, prove that people want to read what other people are thinking.
So I’m bullish on text, on private websites. They may have become somewhat passé, but they are still out there for the right sort of readers. Welcome: enjoy your stay.