Blogs are dying, and I’m not sure it can be prevented

Blogs are failing for a couple of reasons:

  • They no longer serve as a person’s online identity.
  • They are unsuitable for polyglots: blogs tend to attract a particular niche audience; anything that mixes topics is not a good fit for a blog.
  • People don’t comment on blogs.
  • There’s no easy way to follow blogs.

I’ll explain these below, and propose some solutions.

Blogs no longer serve as a person’s online identity

That is, they no longer represent “you” on the web. When blogs started taking off in the late 1990s, a blog was where you represented yourself on the web. Anything and everything about you was your blog. That’s how you got yourself, your identity, on the web.

Example:  I’ve been running for almost a decade now my religious blog, Kineti, but it was not called “Kineti” originally, it was just the JudahGabriel blog.  My first and middle name. It’s because it was to represent me; my identity online. But that’s changed; blogs aren’t about people, now, they’re about topics, so it forced me to take my blog into a narrower direction. More on that in a moment.

Today, Facebook is your identity on the web. Or if you’re a tin-foil-cap holdout, email is your identity on the web.

The great thing about the web is that everyone on the web is a producer. You produce things. You produce pictures of your family. You produce status updates, you produce information about yourself. You produce thoughts on theology, or technology, or photography, or whatever interests you. You are the producer. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the web is that it made everyone a producer.

And when you produce your stuff, where do you put it? On your blog? Nope. You go straight to the social networks. You’ll post pictures of your Thanksgiving holiday on Facebook. You might tweet your pictures. If you’re old fashioned, you might email them out. Almost no one uses their blogs for this stuff.

So blogs aren’t the place to go for Anything About You. This space used to be owned by blogs. Now it’s owned by FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

Blogs are unsuitable for polyglots

When I started my religious blog nearly a decade ago, my tagline was “Tech, life, family, and faith.” Initially, that’s exactly what I posted about: technology thoughts. Stuff about my life and my family. And occasionally, thoughts about faith in God.

This resulted in a scatter-brained smattering of posts; today, CSS gradient techniques, tomorrow, Biblical Torah theology!

Worse, there was no audience for this. Who wants to read a blog where half the posts are [thing I care about] and the other half is [things I don’t care about]?

Nobody, that’s who.

And that’s how my religious blog morphed: I realized that to get a consistent audience, I needed to blog about a particular topic. A blog is Place for Topic X, not Person X’s is about Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots Christianity; it is no longer Judah’s place for tech, life, family, and faith.

This problem has exacerbated since then. You see, a major part of my life is technology. It’s what I do for a living. I give talks on technology. I have insight into the future of technology. If I posted all those technology posts over on my religious blog, we’d be back to square one: a smattering of posts on unrelated topics, with no audience caring to read them. It’s for that reason I started this blog: Debugger.Break(), where I post all things on my technologically-inclined mind.

But this is all part of the problem: blogs no longer serve as [Your Place]. They serve as [Place for topic X]. Topic Y goes elsewhere: another blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, whatever, but not on Your Place. This has resulted in a decline in blog relevance.

People don’t comment on blogs

Today, bloggers will write a post, then immediately spam it on Facebook via a status update like this:

New blog: What’s this crap Stallman just posted?

But here’s the amusing phenomenon: instead of commenting on the blog, everyone comments on the Facebook status update! I’ve seen this now with several of my latest posts: my Facebook status about the blog gets more comments than the blog itself. Likewise, for other bloggers, I’ve seen this same phenomenon.

Yes, the Facebook status updates get more comments than the blog itself.

Why? I see at three reasons:

  • Ease of commenting: people are already signed into Facebook; it’s easy to comment there. But to comment on the blog, you might have to authenticate with WordPress or Blogger orDisqus, or some other less trusted authority, maybe enter a hard-to-read CAPTCHA, hit preview, then submit. Yikes.
  • Visibility: everyone checks Facebook a few times a day, maybe more. How often do they fire up their web browser, type in your web address, and hit enter? Rarely. Your Facebook status update is more visible than your actual blog post. Heck, even direct email is more visible than blog posts.
  • Casual conduciveness: Blogs aren’t conducive to casual answers. People are afraid to comment on blogs. “Oh no, I’m going to get sucked into a big debate thread!”, or, “Oh no, my ‘nice post, I enjoyed the bit about X’ comment will look foolish compared to all these multi-paragraph responses!”

These things result in blogs with few or no comments.

There’s no easy way to follow blogs

When you log onto your computer in the morning, what’s the first thing you do? Check your email. Maybe check Facebook. Maybe you’ve got some email notifications from Facebook or Twitter. Oh, who sent me funny har har emails? Oh, who wrote on my Facebook wall? Who retweeted my wisdom-filled, perfectly-numbered twoosh?

Where does that leave blogs? Well, some dedicated fellow will eventually load up his web browser, type in the address to your lonesome blog, and hit enter. If you’re extra lucky, he might just leave a comment.

On Facebook, you automatically see your friend’s stuff: his pictures, status updates, all of it.

On Twitter, the Tweeple you follow show up in the flow of updates automatically.

For email, you automatically get all the stuff your friends send to you.

For blogs, there’s no “automatically.” It’s all manual. There’s no easy way to follow blogs.

Truth be told, there is something: RSS. Subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, and you’ll automatically be notified of new posts. But, unless you’re a techie, most people don’t know about RSS, let alone what to do with it. First, you need an RSS reader, like Google Reader. Go sign up for that. Ok. Now come back to my blog, search the page for the little RSS syndication icon, and copy the feed URL. Then go back to Google Reader and hit subscribe. Paste in my link. Hit OK.

Congratulations, with only 17 easy steps, you’ve subscribed to my blog!


There’s no easy way for people to follow blogs. And for that, blogs suffer.

In the next post, I’ll talk about some things we can do to make blogs relevant again. I’ll also make some predictions about future directions for blog publishers like WordPress and Blogger; they are ultimately in control of blogging relevance; it’s important for publishers to evolve, lest they, along with us content-producing bloggers, face death-by-irrelevance.

The Bell Tolls for Flash, and Silverlight isn’t far behind

The Flash ReaperThis week saw another victory for HTML5, and another nail in the coffin for web browser plugins: Adobe announced it was ceasing development of Flash on all mobile devices.

Mobile was easy ground to retreat from: Flash is already outlawed on numerous mobile devices, including popular consumer devices like iPhone and iPad. The only reason Google tolerated it on its Android platform was as a competitive advantage over Apple’s devices. And now that Adobe is abandoning Flash on mobile, it will soon disappear even from Google’s devices.

What does this mean for Silverlight? Amusingly, Microsoft chose a different strategy with Silverlight on mobile: they had the benefit of sitting on the sidelines and observing Apple laying the smackdown on Flash, and all the negative karma that comes from Steve Jobs cursing your beloved tech in public.

Even though Silverlight was originally called “WPF Everywhere“, Microsoft didn’t want the Curse of the Steve to afflict Silverlight, so Microsoft wisely changed course: Silverlight would not, in fact, be available everywhere. Just on desktops, and Microsoft’s own mobile device.

Adobe simply conceded that they lost the battle of Flash on mobile. They lost the battle because they don’t own those platforms, and those who do own those platforms — Apple, Microsoft, Google — are at best ambivalent about, and at worst, enemies, of Flash. Ditto for Microsoft’s Silverlight: Microsoft knew they couldn’t win on mobile when mobile is largely controlled by competitors, so where Adobe tried and failed, Microsoft wisely didn’t even try.

With the mobile battlefield now surrendered to HTML5, one might knee-jerk a thought that Flash and Silverlight are safe on the desktop, at least.

But that battle, too, will be lost: web sites are being rewritten as Flash-less. Oh, and Microsoft’s next operating system won’t run plugins like Flash and Silverlight. Or rather, it will run web plugins, but it will first make you launch some other legacy system and then inside that legacy system, launch a differently-configured browser and then navigate to a site that uses Flash, and oh, screw it. No one will run web plugins anymore. And, per Apple’s usual modus operandi, there will be a Mac OSX release, codenamed Metroid, several months before Windows 8, and it will not support web plugins, either, and everyone will hail Apple for making a bold, innovative move.

In the Great Plugin War of the 21st century, the mobile space has been abandoned by the plugins. And soon, in the next 5 years, the desktop space, too, will be abandoned. By 2016, web browser plugins like Flash and Silverlight will be as antiquated — and generally disdained — as much as Java applets are today.

Silverlight and Flash developers: it’s time to reinvest your skills elsewhere

In the classic western film, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Confederate soldier Josey Wales is betrayed by his old commander, Captain Fletcher, and, being filled with rage at old Union soldiers for murdering his family, Josey seeks vengeance years beyond the conclusion of the Civil War. But as the plot winds down, a disguised Josey comes face-to-face with his old commander Fletcher, who speaks a piercing truth to Josey:

Fletcher: I reckon I’ll go lookin’ for Wales down in Mexico.

Wales, disguised: And then?

Fletcher: Well, he’s got the first move. I owe him that. But I think I’ll try to tell him the war’s over.

Web plugin developers, the war is over. It’s time to move on.

For reasons outside your control, your platform is disappearing, and will soon be gone. Get out before it really hurts.

If you are a Silverlight or Flash developer, now’s the time to reinvest your skills in another platform. HTML/JavaScript is the safest bet, although it’s a crowded space. Native platforms like iPhone and Windows 8 Metro apps are riskier, but the rewards of succeeding on those platforms is greater. If you’re a Silverlight developer, the natural evolution for you is Windows 8 Metro: you’ve got a subset of XAML and the .NET framework on Win 8 Metro, just like you did on Silverlight. You’ll be right at home.

We think of this as the Great Plugin War of the 21st century, but really, it was never about plugins. Vendors like Sun, Microsoft, and Adobe really just wanted people writing code for their platforms. They didn’t care if it was via web plugins, desktop apps, whatever, it didn’t matter, as long as it was their platform. That way, they can sell tools, support, and generally make money hand-over-fist being god of Platform X. When these vendors saw the ubiquity of the web, they thought, “Hrrm, how about we make our platform run on the web? Then our platform will be everywhere the web is!” And that, friends, is how web plugins were born.

This was was, and is, about getting people to write code on proprietary platforms. Now that the native HTML5-ified web is powerful enough, we don’t need web plugins. And so, the big tech companies will have to look for another way to make developers write code for their platforms. The new battleground will be mobile, I predict, with each tech company heavily investing in their own mobile devices, where they control the platform, where native apps make sense for now, and where they can make money hand-over-fist being god of their own platforms. Microsoft will dump truckloads of cash into Windows Phone. They’re eventually rename it, too, since “Windows” sounds so…antiquated. Google will be king for a long time. Apple will be the choice for hipsters. And writing an app that reaches all your users will, once again, require writing your app thrice, once for each platform. That is, until the web becomes powerful enough to make mobile apps irrelevant, just like it did for desktop apps.

Though plugins have been the way of the web for a good 15 years, it will be — nay, it is — no longer. Plugins are going the way of the dodo. The bell tolls for Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFx.

The web is the future. And tomorrow’s web is plugin-less. Position yourself wisely.