Remember the term “blogosphere”? Fifteen years ago, when blogging was at the peak of its popularity, keeping a blog felt like being part of a community. You’d have a “blogroll”, usually on the right sidebar of your blog, with links to all your friends’ blogs. And you’d “follow” other bloggers.
The thing that made blogging feel social back then was RSS. In essence, Really Simple Syndication is a technical standard that allows you to get a “data file” with a site’s latest updates. It’s used between computers, but you can also use it to subscribe to a site using a “reader” application.
Whenever a blogger published a post, your reader would notify you, and you could usually read all new posts within your reader app. A little like Twitter, but decentralized and with much longer tweets, and comments instead of replies.
Google killed RSS
By far the most popular RSS reader was an online service by Google (aptly called “Reader”). It was shut down in 2013, leaving a considerable vacuum. Some people moved to other applications, but none were quite as good.
I guess that a lot of former bloggers simply moved to Facebook. If your blog was mostly family pictures and cat videos, that made sense. But the people who kept on blogging now needed a new way to let people know they wrote something new.
Newsletters, automated tweets, search engines
I’ll be honest, I absolutely hate newsletters. I’m subscribed to exactly zero of them. But they could potentially be a way for your audience to follow your blog”.
Another option is to promote your content on social networks. Most blogging software lets you automatically send out tweets and such. This has become an important way to get people to your blog, but it’s far from ideal. Facebook’s algorithms heavily influence what people see, and those algorithms may not like your content.
The demise of RSS has also made Search Engine Optimization (SEO) more important for bloggers. If you write a helpful blog post, that post needs to pop up in Google in order for it to actually help people. But visitors from Google are usually one-time guests.
A new glue
I do not believe blogging itself is dead. There’s still a lot to be said for creating a content platform that you own. Your own place on the open web, away from Facebook and Google.
But often, blogging now feels lonely. To revive the blogosphere, we need a new, better glue. Some sort of subscription or notification mechanism that binds blogs together into a new sort of social networks. If you have ideas on how to do that, please comment below.
Oh, and of course, feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed :).