I recently asked via Twitter whether anyone still followed bloggers that did not have topical blogs. Do you follow a blogger that diarizes, rather than trying to sell you something, either directly or via ads? The overwhelming majority confirmed my suspicion that blogging is pretty well dead as an art. If you're blogging these days, you're possibly screaming into the maelstrom, unheard by anyone, being drowned out by the published content that built to suit.
One thing I hear a lot is that social media has taken the place that blogging used to fill. If you had a desire to write something online in 2005, you published a blog. These days, you're writing on Facebook or posting a photo on Instagram. These venues, although they are not owned by the publisher, make sharing this content with peers easier. It is only possible to receive accolades of disembodied thumb-raised-fists via these venues. Of course their ubiquity and ease make them attractive even to the non-technical. Thereby blogging takes a hit.
There is a line, I think; one that we have crossed in the past five years. Blogging is simply not done by personal bloggers anymore. Sure, there are a few out there. There may even be many, but the social aspects of blogging are dwarfed by the social cocaine that sites like Facebook let you snort with quick updates, quick comments, quick "likes". Consuming blogs is even more difficult now that the most popular RSS tools have gone extinct. My overwhelming gut feel is that the only bloggers that are getting any traction are ones that are getting paid to do it.
It's an interesting claim, and maybe this is really what characterizes the line about which I am concerned in drawing. On the earlier side of this line, bloggers started writing and then became popular enough to earn money. On the later side of this line, bloggers seek to earn money and so develop a content strategy to do so. This leads me to think that, if we're not already there, then blogging is soon to be something akin to junkmail. It'll eventually get so bad that when we're looking at a blog, we won't even know if it's something worthy of our attention anymore.
Carrying this assertion forward, I think we could assume that blogging simply isn't something that you do for social sharing anymore. What does that leave us from the point of view of constructing web applications?
We are building sites these days that function at different levels:
- Single-page sales site - A single HTML page dedicated to giving you the essential details for an enterprise.
- Multi-page corporate identity - Usually "managed" with a page-editing tool, built with menus for navigating between pages that each describe an aspect of a business.
- Organization portal - Perhaps also incorporating an identity component, this site usually has an "intranet" that houses private files or functions used by the organization either internally or by the organization's customers/clients/users.
- News zine - This site aggregates the feature-length publications of authors of different levels of professional skill under a single banner, usually rife with ads.
- Game - A game.
- Data mining tool - This is a site that either collects or presents or both collects and presents information that it houses, like Google, IMDB, or even something like Spotify.
What's not in this list? Possibly a lot of things, but I think I've covered things pretty well.
Looking at this list, there is nothing here that requires a blog. No blogs. This leaves me wondering, if none of these things really require a blog, then why are we using blog software to build the web?
Some fool is bound to try to suggest that, for example, WordPress is not blog software, but it's really a content management system. Yes, that's true, if the content the system was intended to manage was blog posts. The same problem exists for Drupal and even my beloved Habari. This isn't even the argument; it misses the point.
These tools we have are built to be generic. The sites they build are generic. They're the same thing boiled down, extended in the same way, and then repackaged with a different glossy veneer. Will anything truly unique ever come out of a tool whose primary data store was meant to hold content that nobody really reads anymore? If it can do more than that, then aren't the parts that extend the core of the tool the ones doing the actual work?
Guys. We are web developers, but we are using the wrong tools to build the web. The web is, can be, should be more robust. The service options available to us are myriad. Why are our tools letting us connect to Facebook when we can use Facebook to drive our tools? Consider a web application that gathers input from Facebook as its primary content, rather than building a site whose pages can be liked elsewhere.
Maybe this is more of a personal existential crisis. Maybe I'm just seeing that, under the skin, every web app is basically a ton of CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete), and that nothing's really different. But I don't think so. I think we've glommed onto this idea of a content unit of some kind - whether a post or a node or a widget - and we've failed to really see beyond that. We've failed to truly consume published services, either because the tools don't make it as easy as building yet another menu to navigate pages, or because the services or our tools themselves don't publish this data in a consumable way.
The web moves so fast. There are new tools produced all the time. Many of these tools help build custom sites, performing services. I wonder if we're satisfied with "good enough". I can plow through this site with WordPress because it's a "good enough" tool to get it done. It seems like there's a pivot we're not seeing -- a content management system that exists in a world between blog posts and strangling custom code, consuming and providing services that are actively useful.
Where is it?