Here I am, surrounded by code and tick-boxes and sketches. My desktop is a patchwork of tiny screenshots and hastily flung-together type and colour swatches. For the umpteenth time, I've gone and started building myself another blog.
All it takes is for two or three interests floating about in my head to start overlapping; film and music or music and design or design and film. Within a fraction of a second, the blogging lobe of my brain is informed of the resulting Venn diagram intersection.
And then that's it: I must become the authority and curator and arbiter of this subject; I must blog about it incessantly and passionately; I must register a witty but memorable URL somewhere (usually an abstruse reference to a lyric from a b-side or a misheard line of dialogue); I must establish a sensible yet charmingly unique taxonomy of categories and tags.
I've been doing this for ten years. Every six months or so, I have This Great Idea. It takes over every waking hour until … it doesn't. You see, if those ten years have taught me anything, it's that my attention span is unlikely to commit to any idea for very long. An initial flurry of fired-up and considered posts will gradually peter out to nothing. And then it just sits there, the carcass of an interest that once flashed across my mind.
Why do I keep doing this? The problem is that I enjoy this stage, the design of it, more than the actual day-to-day writing of posts. I get great satisfaction out of carefully crafting a containment for it, a designed vessel for thinks and links. It's the rewarding process of an architect – I prefer building a site to inhabiting it.
And yet, here I go again.
But maybe it's time to admit defeat. When blogging first appeared in the early-noughties, it opened a secret back door into the fourth estate. It promised true journalistic democracy, intellectual freedom, discourse without barriers (plus an opportunity for easily-distractible designers to waste their time playing with CSS). But the shape of the web has changed considerably in that time. It's no longer the wild frontier that it once was – it's been settled and gentrified, all the rough corners and punk-lite potential worn down. Web 2.0 is a quaint memory.
Does the humble "web log" have a place in this glossier, app-ier world? Obsessively designed or not, are personal journals still relevant? Some think not. While I've been busy chasing my tail, someone somewhere decided that the blog is dead.
I'm not sure from where this edict was first issued, but it's been echoed by many voices in the last couple of years (ironically, mostly by bloggers). Have reports of its death been greatly exaggerated … or merely prescient?
We now have a thousand ways to get our voices heard online. Soapboxes abound, from Twitter to Instagram to Facebook to YouTube. Who can be bothered to sit down and write a couple of hundred words about their day when they can just squawk it all into a tweet in a matter of seconds?
But this isn't a case of one new way coming along and replacing the old way, as might happen a bit more tidily in the physical world. This is about mutation.
Blogs haven't been replaced, you see, they've been purified. The common characteristics of the medium have never settled long enough for a definitive definition to ever hold for long. The scales and rhythms and voices of blogs are wild variables, but they are all essentially the same: they are chronologies; acts of publishing over a period of time. And this is essentially what all those other platforms do, it's just that they've become specialised in very specific methods of blogging: micro-; picture–; video–; etc.
If you push the format of blogging to one extreme or other, you'll find a network or platform that serves that specialist activity. If you want to publish a long-form written piece but don't want to waste your life tweaking Wordpress stylesheets, there's Medium, a kind of pre-fab multi-author über-blog. Or if you like the idea of having a blog and you don't really enjoy blogging, there's Tumblr.
But even now, amongst all these more tightly-defined services and networks, the traditional blog persists. With so much of this other activity happening through pre-designed platforms, there's something incredibly rewarding about visiting a site that is 100% personal. And this is where I keep returning, keep tail-chasing, inspired by the idiosyncrasies of the likes of frankchimero.com, positivelymelancholy.com and subtraction.com, web-auteurs playing with the idea of blogging and what a blog should look like.
Frank Chimero describes his site as a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country, a response to the increasingly disparate and frantic activity we each smear across the web. As he puts it, the prevailing model of "a silo for each little thing that you make … networks sorted by what things are, rather than who made them" isn't that appealing.
It may seem old-fashioned (SO ten years ago), but there is something comforting about having your own little homepage away from the social noise, somewhere with your stuff in it. It's the purest form of web: sites boasting content and container created by single voices.
It's hard to imagine what the web could've ended up had it evolved down a different path, but it was certainly never pre-destined to be dominated by the reverse-chronological streams of published material that we take for granted. It could've easily gone another way, but for one or a million reasons, the web we have in our universe is entirely governed by 2.0 foundations.
So in a broader sense, the blog isn't dead at all, it's just that it's difficult to see because it's become dominant and dispersed. They haven't gone away, they're everywhere. There needs to be a blog about this.
Written for MacUser