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That is, they no longer represent “you” on the web.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.

Introverted Nerd Discovers Public Speaking, Enriches Self

I spoke at Twin Cities Code Camp this weekend, which is perhaps the largest software developer conference in Minnesota. I gave a talk on KnockoutJS, a JavaScript library for data-binding in HTML/JavaScript apps.

My ridiculous slides and code available for download here.

The talk went really freaking well! It was a lot of fun to give the talk: the audience was sharp and engaged, asked some tough questions, and I had good answers for most of them. The auditorium was quite full, a packed house, which makes things all the more interesting.

Afterwards, I went on Twitter to see what people had to say about my talk. I was ecstatic reading these. Seeing these praises from my peers sent me on a day-long high of endorphin release. Excuse me while I toot my own horn, but I’m just so stoked to hear all this:

Jeff is a well-known developer here in the Twin Cities, and, if I’m not mistaken, a co-founder of The Nerdery. Hearing this was particularly encouraging.

“Coding without a net” refers to writing a lot of code on the fly in front of the audience, along with some impromptu changes to the code in reaction to the questions and promptings from the audience.

The audience was really sharp. “What happens when you do this? Does X follow?” So I tried it out, right there on stage. It was a blast.

During the talk, after all these challenges from the audience, and successfully getting them working, I joked, “I’d better see some good stuff on Twitter about this!”

There were several questions from the audience that I had anticipated and built into my talk. This caused a few people to joke that I had planted ringers in the audience to ask the right questions.

Well folks, I am stoked. I am really happy I summoned the courage a year or two ago to try my hand at public speaking. As a formerly-homeschooled, introverted nerd, I was frightened to death by the idea of public speaking. Now that I’ve done these tech talks 4 or 5 times, some in front of rather large audiences, I’m patting myself on the back for getting myself out there and just f-ing doing it. I freakin’ love giving talks now. And my career advances as a side benefit.

So yeah! Go me!

Hearing praise from your peers, particularly from intelligent, successful people in the industry is all the more encouragement. Can’t wait to do it again next year.

Are you serious about your craft? Get out there. Go meet other developers, give a talk, surround yourself with other nerds. You’ll be glad you did, and a better developer for it.

Silverlight isn’t dead. But it will be web-irrelevant in 5 years.

Everyone was thinking it. Google was pushing it. Apple was pondering it. Microsoft was fighting it. (They aren’t anymore.) It was on everyone’s mind:

“Why Flash when HTML can do 99% of what we need?”

And that sentiment extended to Oracle’s Java and to Microsoft’s Silverlight. To every web browser plugin, really. Everyone was thinking it.

After all, why should users have to install a piece of software to view something in their web browsers? The path of least resistance dictates users will just not view that content, and, at some point in the future, technology will evolve and move on, leaving those barriers — Flash, Silverlight, Java — in the junk heap of failed and left-behind tech.

It was only months ago that we witnessed the first leap, the first bit of tech that deliberately left behind the barriers of Flash, when Apple took a bold leap of faith: no Flash or Silverlight on the iOS. And since iPad and iPhone were hugely popular consumer devices, this was sure to stir the waters.

People complained, developers gnashed teeth, consumers wailed.

Angry, but for a short time
Angry, but for a short time

But, here we are, a year later, and, it turns out, people are getting along just fine without those pesky plugins. HTML just works for almost everything. In fact, people are kind of liking this plug-in less idea. Google Chrome now renders PDFs not with a heavyweight plug-in from Adobe, but with just HTML. YouTube can render videos without crashy, always-updating-at-the-wrong-time plugins, but with HTML 5 <video> tags.

A digression and admission: sure, developers love plug-in development and the well-designed, type-safe languages like C#, preferring that over the wild west that is Javascript programming. As a developer of a large Silverlight app, as someone who’s championed Silverlight, as someone who’s written articles about Silverlight programming, who’s regularly attended Silverlight user groups, Silverlight is an amazing programming environment, a real web application platform, a manificent piece of software engineering, really.

Web programming, on the other hand, looks and feels like decades of hackish attempts to bolt application development on top of a document display system. Probably because that’s precisely what the web is: intended for document display, warped and fashioned and hammered into something that resembles an app platform. Lot of warts, but then again, the web has always evolved that way.The perfectly-designed systems, though perfect, are always late to the game. HTML was first, and so it will win out. The plugin-less web wins because it was there first.

If we developers were transported back in time to the web’s beginning, we’d fashion something different than HTML+JavaScript. It’d be a real app platform akin to Silverlight, with a well-designed language like C#. But, in the absence of time-travelling technophiles, we’re left with the present and inevitable future that is plug-in free HTML.

And that plugin-less web is coming, to be certain. It’s already here on virtually all mobile devices. Even Microsoft’s own Windows Phone 7 doesn’t display Web Silverlight content on their phones. If anyone was going to support Web Silverlight on a mobile platform, it was Microsoft. And when they built this new mobile OS from the ground up, they wisely chose to not support Web Silverlight.

As recent as last week, we’ve seen even more fruit of this trend back to the HTML roots of the web as Microsoft demoed their Windows 8 operating system, with its new Metro UI. In it’s default state, Windows 8 doesn’t run Web Silverlight.

If there was any doubt as to the future of Web Silverlight, this is the clear writing on the wall.

And to be certain, it’s true: Start Windows 8. Launch IE10. Browse to a Silverlight site. Ita-no-worksie. Why? Because Microsoft, as they wrote in last week’s blog post, are headed toward a future of a plug-in free HTML web, and that future starts with their new browser and new operating system.

Truth be told, it’s really a requirement for the whole Metro app security model to work: if plugins could run inside Metro IE 10, it would provide an easy way to side-step the whole security model: just write some nasty malware as a plug-in, have IE Metro execute it, and you just took over the Metro environment. I predict Microsoft will not renege, despite Silverlight developer protestations, on the “no-plugin” stance of IE 10. Windows 8 will be released with the inability to run Web Silverlight content through its default Metro interface.

Now it’s true, Web Silverlight, if you go out of your way to do so, can run be run on Windows 8: Boot Windows 8, launch the classic desktop “app”, launch the desktop version of IE, navigate to Silverlight site. Sure, that works, and thank you MS for providing that, but effectively this will render Web Silverlight irrelevant. Just think, what developer will build a site with Flash or Silverlight or Java, knowing their site won’t work in the default experience on the world’s most-deployed OS? (Not to mention the ever-growing plugin-less mobile devices!)

No one, that’s who. And that’s why Web Silverlight will be irrelevant in 5 years.

So where does that leave Silverlight developers today? In a surprisingly “angered but ultimately OK” position. Silverlight apps, already being a subset of .NET framework functionality, will map to Windows 8 Metro apps easier than any other platform: easier than WinForms, easier than MFC, easier than WPF, easier than Flash, Java, even easier than HTML/JS apps. Silverlight developers are actually positioned quite well.

Furthermore, Silverlight isn’t going away. It’s true Silverlight will be irrelevant on the web, but it still has a nice workable future on Windows mobile phones, which over time, will gain market share at the expense of Apple’s and Google’s devices. It’s only Web Silverlight that will be, and is already quickly becoming, irrelevant. Silverlight mobile, and Windows Metro apps are essentially a kind of Silverlight: XAML, .NET framework subset, self-contained, sandboxed.

Silverlight for the web is dying and will soon succumb to the same alive-but-irrelevant fate as Java applets. But the good news is, life for Silverlight developers is surprisingly bright in the XAML filled world of Windows 8 and Windows mobile devices. Technology moves on, and developers will follow, even if kicking and screaming, lest they, too, be rendered irrelevant.

Windows 8 to abandon nerdly types

The new Windows 8 bits were demo’d this week at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and it’s sparked a lot of discussion in the developer community.

Microsoft is turning a new leaf: all existing Windows apps are now “legacy” apps. They’ll only work in this super-special classic Windows desktop that runs, itself, as an “app” in Windows 8.

The classic desktop is gone, superseded with a sexy new Metro home screen. The start menu is gone, superseded with live tiles and semantic zoom. The apps are gone, replaced with new sexy Metro style apps. Heck, even Windows’ namesake is now a misnomer; there really aren’t windows in Windows 8.

Times, they are a-changin’.

Over at CodeProject, there was a discussion about all this changing, and how all the UIs are big and dumbed down and instead of a million menu items we have a big ribbon with big icons and oh what are we to do?!

Said one commenter,

You must understand that Windows 8 isn’t about managing files. It’s about updating your status on facebook, sharing photos, and downloading MP3’s.

He’s kind of right. Really, Windows isn’t about file systems and disk defraggers and command lines anymore. Squint a tear for the good ol’ days,  but now that regular people using computers far outnumber the tiny elite nerd minority, Microsoft is now about the non-nerd. The consumer.

Or perhaps better stated, Windows 8 is for consumers, and that isn’t necessarily a slam. MS is making Windows friendly to regular, non-nerdly types. Consumers don’t like file systems. So it’s largely hidden from view.

I remember back in the late 1990s, a tech futurist had predicted that file systems would disappear from the consumers view eventually. At the time I thought he was a little crazy, but now I see the wisdom in what he was saying: only nerds care about file systems. We have good reason to care about file systems. But most end users don’t, and in fact, letting non-nerdly types futz with the file system might actually be a bad idea.

Even the whole Metro environment aligns with this idea that, unless you know what you’re doing, all your apps should be isolated and safe by default. Want an app that does something outside that box? Ok, open the car hood, crack open the full Windows desktop, install that bad boy. But for everything else, and for most apps, and for most people, you don’t need that, and in fact, having that power is detrimental as non-nerds tend to install dubious apps that crap all over their systems.

I hope all my relatives and friends who call me to fix their systems, I hope they all install Windows 8 when it’s out. And I hope they never have to crack open the hood and futz with their file systems, or need to install “classic” Windows apps. If they stay in their walled Metro garden, they won’t need me to bail them out every few months.