Starting a blog in 2023 seems like a fruitless endeavour. Aren’t blogs virtually wiped of the face of the digital world aka. the internet? With social media being the main time sink for most digital natives the potential readership of a blog cannot be of a substantial size so why waste time writing posts? I have some thoughts about that, that I want to share.
Blogging’s quite cool
In many ways, blogging has its merits. Let’s go over some of them.
Quality of Interaction
I am not completely naive. The number of views you get from posting a YouTube video is something that is hard to replicate with a little, independent blog. However, I believe that the interaction a reader has with a blog is different from the interaction a viewer has on a YouTube video. The difference is that a blog is being searched for. A blog reader actively sought out the content and made the conscious choice to read through a few hundred words (or just skim the contents). YouTube works differently. As a content creator you’re sole responsibility is to bind the attention of a user to your content for the profit of the platform. In return the platform rewards you by directing users to your content. Thus, the number of interactions your content gets is being artificially inflated by the system. However, I don’t believe that these interactions allow for thorough examination of the actual content. Since the user always has a gargantuan gallery of videos to choose from, of which a small selection is being actively recommended, the importance of a single video diminishes.
As an example, we can look at the viewer retention one of my longer videos on YouTube has. The video is over 30 minutes long and 57% of viewers watch the video past the 30 second mark. 43% of viewers essentially skip the video entirely! This is a typical viewer retention that YouTube videos produce on the platform, regardless of what kind of content is produced. I’m somewhat proud that a third of viewers make it past 10 minutes and that some select few actually watch the video through.
For me personally, this might not be too bad for content I regularly create like a video series on Haskell. When people search for explanations, they might skim through videos just because they need to quickly get answers to the questions they have. An obvious problem arises! The content of a video cannot be effectively searched. Even if a video contains the answers it’s hard to find them in a long video. Text is much better in this respect.
A Good Word Container
Reading is wonderful. It’s really incredible. Words are such a unique medium because the reader can not just consume the words on their own pace, but at any point jump around within the content insanely quickly by simply moving their eyes. There is no other medium that translates ideas to neurons firing in your brain this quickly and succinctly.
This doesn’t mean that text is the perfect medium for learning. When comparing text to videos, the performance for immediate and delayed learning seems to be largely equivalent, even though text seems to be slightly better.1 2 Furthermore, evidence suggest that we have to leave digital media behind in favor of printed text if we deeply care about learning performance.3
Blogs are a especially good container for such words for multiple reasons:
- Writing and maintaining a blog is easy and efficient: There is no comparison in the amount of work you have to put into writing a blog post to creating a video or podcast. A blog post is finished once you made the point your wanted to make. Creating the concept of post is the post itself. There is no script, pre- or post-production.
- Blogs are freedom: Hosting a blog is incredibly easy and for the most part free. Wether you host it on your own or get it hosted somewhere. The software for publishing blogs is incredibly user-friendly, wether you are keen on web technologies or not. The barrier of entry is very low.
- Short form content is no burden: Blog posts are relatively short. They can be as short as a few code examples and comments that can be read in a matter of seconds or a more essay-ish rant (like the post you are reading right now) that still is much shorter than a book. There is almost no commitment for the reader. There is little commitment for the author. We can go on with our lives quickly and easily.
Of course, blogs are not perfect. There is virtually no peer-review, except for comment sections present in some blogs,4 and the quality of blogs is highly variant. You cannot trust a blog, you cannot use it as a source, you can not rely on the information presented to be factual. It is merely the opinionated ramblings of some person.
Writing for the masses
Writing is wonderful. When writing, you are forced to clearly structure your thoughts and create a red line for the reader to follow. You have to find compelling arguments for the statements you are trying to support. You have to purposefully build the readers knowledge on subjects you are trying to educate them on. All of this is great practice for all kinds of task we face in the real world, be it presentations, public speaking or simply trying to convince co-workers in a meeting. In general, it builds critical thinking skills.5
Therefore, I do think that everybody should engage in some form of writing, be it creative or informative. Most people start such exercises in school and promptly stop doing them once they are out of school, which might be the greatest tragedy in modern education, apart from education often being scarce and unavailable in poorer countries. Since most people do not practice writing they become uncritical readers. They are not aware of manipulative rhetoric, logical fallacies and are susceptible to malicious actors. I do believe that many problems in day-to-day political discourse occur due to most people not being accustomed to writing and thus not learning how to create well structured, fallacy-free arguments.6
Blogs give the common man a possibility to not just practice writing but publish it without limitations. If you can write it, you can put it in a blog! It can become ones creative outlet, ones little corner on the internet where their rants, venting commentary and opinions can live freely.
Blogging’s not dead
Contrary to popular believe, blogging is still alive and kicking.
Some people do not like posting their opinions, interesting tidbits, newest hobby projects or latest vacation adventures on social media. I also don’t like to. Not because I do not want to share such information but because I can not and do not trust social media platforms.7 8 Algorithms use user behavior to feed users more information that they likely want to see. This is a feedback loop that necessarily has to spiral out of control at some point. By feeding into the biases and preconceived opinions these platforms actively cause people to not just believe in possible falsehoods, but to not think critically. In a very dramatic view, blogging is a resistance to this dangerous practice. As a blogger, on a platform you control, you make yourself independent of this dangerous cycle which you otherwise would need to play into when creating content.
I hope that, with an increasing public awareness of the dangers of social media, we can move to freer, decentralized ways of sharing information. Mastodon might be one solution, but it’s Twitter-like presentation is a problem in it’s own right. Limits on the size of content that can be presented inherently limits what information can be conveyed. You can’t make a nuanced political argument in 500 characters. I suppose this microblogging format was never meant to encourage important discourse. Sadly, nobody told politicians and journalists.
If only there was a way to share information in a decentralized manner that allowed us to structure our content however we would like. Oh, if only…
Company Blogs for Maximum Profits
Companies still use blogs. DigitalOcean posts tutorials, news and information on new products for their customers. The blog on the Teddy Baldassarre webpage contains posts with discussions and reviews on watches. Cisco’s blog conglomerate consists of too much different content to list at this point.
The main point is that blogs are still used as a marketing tool for small businesses and mega corporations alike. This is understandable since hosting your own blog means freedom. These corporations do not have to rely on social media or some newsletters that get send to spam-folders anyways. Instead, they can turn to a self-hosted solution where they are in control.
Library of Alexandria
Imagine a library. Imagine it to hold manuscripts of virtually anybody. Imagine it to hold knowledge on all kinds of subjects with all kinds of different takes on them. That’s what the internet is. By using blogs as a way of exchanging experiences, thoughts and solutions to problems we build a knowledge base available to anyone. This is trivially a good thing, but it also actively combats a common problem with Q&A sites.
When working with new technologies I know nothing about, I often search around for tips and tricks to use. More often than not I find blogs that either talk about a similar problem I’m having or provide answers to questions I didn’t even have. These finds are always a great joy to me. It allows me to not just get answers but start going through posts that talk about subjects I would have never thought about otherwise. One funny anecdote: When searching for some web-design related topics I came across a blog post talking about how to remake a popular german müsli. Now, this is something that the library of alexandria would lack, if it still existed.
Stumbling over such posts is a true joy and it shows me, what can be achieved by writing down any ideas, no matter how silly they might seem. A blog will be stumbled upon eventually, it’s content will be browsed and the right reader will find a post that they find helpful, endearing or maybe actually changes the way they think about certain things. That post about müsli? It stuck with me and makes me think about how to value certain food items. It somewhat changed the way I think!
In this magical way, blogs can have an impact on somebody.
I am starting a blog because I think they are a pretty cool idea. Thanks for reading!
A. Shiu, J. Chow, and J. Watson, “The effectiveness of animated video and written text resources for learning microeconomics: A laboratory experiment,” Education and Information Technologies, vol. 25, no. 3. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, pp. 1999–2022, Dec. 04, 2019. doi: 10.1007/s10639-019-10025-1. ↩︎
C. Tarchi, S. Zaccoletti, and L. Mason, “Learning from text, video, or subtitles: A comparative analysis,” Computers & Education, vol. 160. Elsevier BV, p. 104034, Jan. 2021. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2020.104034. ↩︎
P. Delgado, C. Vargas, R. Ackerman, and L. Salmerón, “Don’t throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension,” Educational Research Review, vol. 25. Elsevier BV, pp. 23–38, Nov. 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.edurev.2018.09.003. ↩︎
Let’s face it. Most of these comment sections consists of two things: Spam and comments like “wow, very cool, thanks!”. Not very helpful nor engaging. ↩︎
This is most likely not the only reason, but underdeveloped reading comprehension and logic skills are likely a problem. Writing and reading are interconnected. Writing texts shouldn’t be a niche hobby but a conscious, continuos effort put forth by anybody. ↩︎
There is an almost infinite amount of reasons why you should distrust social media platforms. Social media is not about social interactions. It’s largely used as a marketing and propaganda tool, where techniques like astroturfing are used to sway public opinion on economic and political events happening all around the world. This is a threat to democracy, especially when coupled with low reading comprehension discussed earlier. ↩︎
Recommended reading: “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff; ISBN-13: 978-1781256855 ↩︎