Buried somewhere in the middle of Will Oremus’s article about Twitter’s decision to increase the 140-character limit we find this important paragraph:
What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.
I’m nowhere near up to date or involved enough in the Open Web movement, but I’ve been writing this site since 2009 and since 6 years is a lot of time to invest in something, I do have Opinions on the matter. Hence one of the first things I tweeted this year:
2015 was the year of Medium and Newsletters, but I feel like we should use 2016 to Make The Personal Blog Great Again™.
— Rian Van Der Merwe (@RianVDM) January 2, 2016
The tweet prompted some interesting discussion, including links to a couple of excellent articles about Medium: Matthew Butterick’s The billionaire’s typewriter and Mandy Brown’s Ferengi (thanks for sending those, Chris!). There’s no need for me to reiterate their arguments here, except to say that this move to proprietary platforms—from Medium to Instant Articles to now Twitter’s entry to long-form publishing—seems to be a dangerous threat to the Open Web.
There are the political arguments around access and inequality that are all very valid, but I want to focus on another aspect here: content platforms as shortcuts. One of the main reasons for writing on a platform like Medium or Twitter or Facebook, as opposed to your own site, is that it’s supposed to give you easier access to a huge audience. And this is no small thing, because building an audience on your own site is, as far as I know, statistically impossible.
Okay, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic. But I’ll tell you that after 6 years of trying to do it I was exhausted and had to take a bit of a break recently. Now, you could argue that the reason I don’t have a huge following on this site is simply that my writing sucks, and you probably won’t be too far off track there. Yet I’d like to think that there’s more to it than that. Building an audience is just really hard because people have to seek out your content, and the truth is that most of the time nobody wants to read your shit.
But I digress. The point is that publishing on Medium and Twitter and Facebook gives you an immediate shortcut to a huge audience, but of course those companies’ interests are in themselves, not in building your audience, so it’s very easy for them to change things around in a way that totally screws you over (remember Zynga? Yeah, me either).
All this to say that I think it’s time we bring blogging and personal sites back. Some of my favorite sites are the ones that give me a glimpse into everything a person is interested in (I think my current favorite is Josh Ginter’s understated and eclectic The Newsprint). It’s a way to get to know someone through their interests, and to learn a bunch of things along the way. So I invite you not just to follow along here as I expand into topics beyond design and technology1, but to start your own personal blog up again if you’ve been neglecting it for a while. I’m really interested in the things you are passionate about. I want to learn from you. But don’t just do it for me, do it for you. Because it turns out there is an immense power in avoiding shortcuts and instead doing things the long, hard, stupid way.
Fair warning: I’m a little rusty… ↩