Google Reader was laid to rest yesterday and ceased functioning as everyone’s de facto RSS feed reader. Five years ago, yesterday, I wrote a handy little note about how to make Google Reader more awesome. That’s how long I’ve been carrying that RSS reader around. I switched to feedly last fall, but still. GR and I were tight. Perhaps I held on too long, maybe? Because the blog format has come so far in those 5 years… and in the 4 before that when I registered this domain name nine years ago. And I’m not sure if I even know where it is now. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to spit out some thoughts about the current status of the blogosphere, and then see where that takes me… and you. And I’d love if you could add your thoughts/reflections and we’ll see where it takes all of us … and this space here.
The loose history of the blogosphere (as I’ve experienced it):
In the beginning… blogs were about you & me. Online diaries that we opened for others to see. My blog started as a personal webpage that I updated with “facts about me” and photos. My own personal facebook profile, I guess? I blogged (on livejournal) about my work. And my friends. And my relationships. And UCLA sports. And I made friends with those who happened to pass by and read what I had written. And I made friends by reading other blogs and passing by with words/thoughts.
[this archive.org screenshot is from the day that Mr. M first messaged me…]
There were a few blogs out there that were not personal. They were like mini news sites. GoFugYourself was the first blog I remember being not personal, but instead topical and pure awesome. Dooce was around, but she was old and I just so didn’t get it.
When I found Weddingbee in 2006, it was a local blog for NYC brides. It didn’t matter… I read it because I thought it was insanely awesome. And Bee loved gocco. And I loved my PrintGocco, so newly engaged me therefore loved Bee and Weddingbee. (Did you follow that math equation??) But soon after, Weddingbee went national and wanted bloggers from everywhere. So I applied, and 80 months ago became a “wedding blogger.” Instead of telling a personal story about my wedding planning, I was objectively “sharing” my experience in a way that others could relate/learn from/enjoy. This wasn’t about me writing what happened because it happened, it was about putting something out there that was useful and purposeful for the world. My inner “hey guys! this is awesome” self loved it. And I flipped my online voice a bit. I didn’t just write and share cause it happened. I wrote/shared because it was part of a larger story to tell or share with others.
But when I blogged for Weddingbee, no one owned a personal dSLR. We had digital cameras, but nothing crazy fancy. Camera phones were horrible. Lots of bloggers barely included pictures. And people read and loved it still. Because people were telling a story or sharing something new and making friends. And people like that.
Slowly, the blogosphere moved away from the personal narrative and became thematic and niched. Home bakers had food blogs. Visual artists had design blogs. Moms created parenting blogs. And so on and so on. Some were professional, others were hobbies. But the personal narrative diary blog faded away… and toward some sort of topic to share. Your blog was purposeful. And discrete in its identity. And valuable to everyone.
There were better photos on blogs. They were prettier in design. And they started to resemble magazine features in content. Why read magazines when Elise has a beautiful new recipe for you every day? But these were people with serious skills and time and devotion to their mini magazines. They were creating quality content because they were experts or getting experts to share.
Then Julie and Julia.
In my head, this is when I could tell people I blogged and they actually knew what I was talking about.
Blogging wasn’t a secret world. It was mainstream and cool. And you could end up with fans and a book deal and a film.
This is when the journeymen on the side really jumped in hard. In the spirit of these highly topical blogs, people started more and more of their own topic blogs either from the ground up or evolved their space into their own specific genre. Some people still sprinkled in their personal stories, but for the most part… the story left and the content/topic took over.
And suddenly everyone had a blog. About everything or anything. The culture took on a life of its own in the upper reaches too. For a while I thought everyone lived in an Anthropologie store and ate lunch at J. Crew. I was immersed, so I have no idea if blog culture was different from what was going on in the outside world, but I have a feeling it was. So that’s why everyone felt cooler. Because we were reading some underground info about something that wasn’t so underground. There were blog tastemakers setting the trends and everyone was getting carried away with each new fad. It was a cool hip little world of influencers whose identity on their blog was influencing how everyone else wanted to be seen (on their blog or in life) as well. And even though the personal had faded toward this practical angle, you felt like you knew everyone like a friend. Because there was a person behind it… not a publishing house or a celebrity. A real person talking to you through their words in their space.
And I loved being in the know on something new. Finding recipes and crafts that people had truly put a lot of time and effort into sharing with me. Perfect cookie recipes. Awesome “new mommy” lists. Gorgeous photos of a family’s day at the beach. Pretty life. Pretty people. Pretty stuff. Useful and cool. AND… by regular folks like me.
But then it all got too big. That happened somewhere around 2011/12. I know I felt excluded by early 2012.
And all blogs suddenly needed to be really pretty and perfect.
ALL THE TIME.
It wasn’t enough to share.
But you needed the perfect photos of your pasta dinner if you were going to share a recipe.
dSLR in your hand at all times folks!
And design skills too… make sure you know Illustrator/Photoshop front/back.
That’s when I saw my friends fade away.
Their voices disappeared and their simple images weren’t popping up in my reader. I stopped seeing their simple recipes pop up. In their place, I saw pretty pictures from other blogs and had to sort through them to find valuable content. Was it that time in their life? Or was blogging looking like something new, and they didn’t have the tools/time to do this new thing.
They’re still around. Lots of them are on instagram. And they’re still amazingly talented and gifted and creative and loving in their everyday awesome way… but the blogosphere has passed them by in favor of something else and they’ve let it go that way too. It’s no longer a platform where it feels ok to just share what you thought today. Or post a photo. There are so many other spaces for that… and the blog is instead something so different than it was nine years ago.
But I miss that sharing. Not the superficial stuff on pinterest. The real 30-minutes I could spend a day reading into deep thoughts. Or a super great recipe pictured just as it would on my kitchen table and not on Martha’s.
But there’s money in content. The trendsetters get paid in giveaways. And products. And clothes. And travel. And exclusive parties. And then in cold hard cash. The latest figures I’ve heard are $2000-2500/post for the big people on a big campaign post. Everyone else is floating around $75-500/post to advertise. Or share. Or whatever.
And now I don’t know where the blogosphere is anymore.
Because I don’t trust the trendsetters who wax poetic about brands that give them free clothes. (Dear Banana Republic… I’d tattoo your brand on my arm and tweet about you all day long if you’d stock my closet!) Or those that create silly silly things that are totally useless to everyone every single day because they need to earn their $6 million in VC funding. Or those that photograph their salad and honestly provide me a recipe on how to make it: lettuce, dressing and 3 raspberries.
And I miss my friends. And THEIR stories. THEIR honest advice. Their words with no motivation but the joy of sharing.
I don’t know if still being here is worthwhile to anyone but me and my archives. Am I sailing out to sea with Google Reader? Or should I bend my sails and make this spot something different. I’ve tried to test the waters of the other side… and while it fits sometimes, it falls very flat at other times. So I’m sort of stuck here too.
Because the more I read… the less “friends” I find… and the less authenticity I see. And that’s why I loved blogging.
Sharing real stories. From real people. About real things. Not magazine stuff. Not Martha stuff. Real stuff.
So that’s me and blogs. And my blog. And my take on blogs in general.
Now it’s your turn to share. Or rant… yeah… rant like I just did. Or run away from me…. you can do that too.
I don’t know what this evolves into, or if I make it just stop evolving and turn back the clock. But yeah. This is where I am with the blogosphere and I’m not sure how to fix me/it/us or if it needs fixing at all. As long as this place bears my name, I’ll still be here.