A Blog About Nothing in Particular

Fixing a Hole in the Social Web

Last summer, my friend Karl Martino shared this post from Scott Rosenberg on Facebook some time ago and I got a little excited. Could blogging really be back? I’ve written about the death of music blogs and Jeremiah declared the golden age of tech blogging dead back in 2011. What Rosenberg hit on in his follow up — the migratory patterns of the “hive mind” — made me think less about platforms and more about the singular tool that enabled blogs to really become popular: RSS.

Google Reader rode off into the sunset back in 2013. Nothing really replaced it, despite a race to rebuild it. Before anyone declares blogging’s back, let’s be honest with ourselves: RSS made the bloggy core of the web possible. Right now, I have a bunch of tabs open and I’m clicking through to additional posts and forming thoughts and responses. This was only possible using “read it later” tools.  In the bloggy heyday, I would subscribe to countless blogs and refresh Google Reader endlessly to keep up as they collected throughout the day. You’d think I was describing Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook, but these leaky networks are sieves compared to the net RSS provided.

Two reflections:

  1. the social web created the sense of FOMO that keeps us refreshing feeds ceaselessly so we make sure we don’t miss a thing. It’s impossible to be a part of the dialogue if you miss it completely.
  2. The notion that “if news is important, it’ll find me” is true only if you hope to cement your solipsism.

In many respects. the social web has evolved into the online equivalent of Jacques Lacan and Judith Butler corresponding in public via academic journals. We can all read the articles, but they’re not really talking to “us.” Sure, the social web enables us to participate, but that participation too often feels like tweeting at celebrities, in the hopes of the odd fave or retweet.

I’m not sure anything can be done about that last bit. Part of the problem of saying “blogging is back” in any meaningful way ignores how the scope and velocity of information online without new ways to capture a daily digest of what happened. Remember when you’d check Google Reader and it would be loaded with updates from every blog you followed that reflected the latest press release hitting the wire? Now the social web is the same echo chamber that reverberates to reach every time zone online. What’s missing from the social web today — and what made blogging in the early days so great — was that period where it felt like you “knew” “everyone” online. To borrow from Benedict Anderson, we can’t recapture those “imagined communities” that created a sense of intimacy and shared understanding on the web.

The closest I’ve seen anyone come to acknowledging this gap is ThinkUp, which takes stock of your activity in the social web. But quantifying activity isn’t the same as changing behavior. Benedict Evans tweetstormed about “discovery” and I think it sums things up nicely as it relates to how conversation has evolved online. I’ll end here.


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