Personal Blogging In 2020
Back in 2012 I predicted that personal blogs would make a comeback. On the 16th anniversary of this blog it’s time to ask if that prediction was wrong.
Right now a thing called blogtober is trending. More than in any recent year, there seems to be a flourishing of bloggers trying to post regularly.
It’s probably a consequence of 2020. We’ve been forced to think about what our lives mean. We’ve spent a lot of time alone. We’re frustrated by the limitations of our social connections. And we’ve decided we have a story to tell.
Personal Blogs In Times Of Crisis
Blogging originally flourished in a crisis. Blogging’s best years were the post-9/11 years. There was a crisis of confidence around the reporting of the second Iraq war. Other specific crises, from rapidly falling sales in the music industry, to the reaction against abusive leaders and entrenched power structures in the Christian church, also gave rise to large and growing communities of bloggers. Blogs were the face of change, from the role of women in society and work, to the plight and history of oppressed people the world over, blogs were a way of saying I’m here and this is what I’m going through.
Authenticity, truth-telling, and the value of personal, lived experience were core features of these blogs.
These blogs also flourished because they shared unvarnished vignettes of life that were often absent in regular news and journalism. You could see this in restaurant, TV, and film blogs that broke with the established conventions of review writing. And especially, with blogs that focused on domestic life, and parenting (like this piece I wrote in 2008).
Why Blogging Declined
Personal blogging kind of fell apart as monetisation took hold. A different market flourished, promising bloggers financial rewards through ad revenue, free stuff, and payment for promoting things, in exchange for being a carefully curated version of themselves. The collaborative culture started to fail. Bloggers with smaller audiences grew tired of going unnoticed. Bloggers with bigger audiences got more mainstream opportunities, writing books, or working for larger publications.
Eventually social media swept everyone up by offering a better (or at least easier) way for people to communicate online. Writing a blog and maintaining a website was hard and costly. Social media was free and easy.
Many of my fellow bloggers, the authenticity rebels, are now blue ticks on Twitter. More importantly, the market for authenticity never went away.
The Market For Authenticity
Authenticity fuelled the early growth of Twitter, but that was when it was an optimistic, tech-focused space. Later, YouTube took off, thanks in large part to personal vlogs and video essays. The “ordinary person trying something” ethos of YouTube was in many ways the manifestation of blogging’s original promise.
Thanks to this, the market for authenticity has flourished. But it’s mostly been a visual flourishing, led by YouTube and followed up by Instagram (and lately TikTok). Twitter isn’t what it used to be. Of course, blogs are still around, though the growth in written expressions of authenticity seems increasingly to be in newsletters.
Beyond these forms of media there’s also the plethora of courses and learning opportunities that offer you the chance to discover yourself, be yourself, fulfil your personal ambitions, and tell your story.
I was wrong back in 2012 when I predicted the comeback of personal blogs. I was wrong because I expected the resurgence of authenticity to be literary, but it turned out to be visual. What took off was YouTube and Instagram rather than blogs and new blogging platforms. When words returned they were spoken, through podcasts and audiobooks, rather than written in blogs.
But I repeat: the market for authenticity has never gone away. Now we find ourselves in another crisis. We’re hungry for new voices.
I find myself feeling similar to how I did back in 2012, though less certain and more circumspect about making big predictions.
I’m going to enjoy this resurgence in blogging for as long as it lasts. I’m not sure what form will draw the most attention in the future. But I still believe the market for authenticity is vast; there has never been a more important time for all of us to invest in it.
As I said back in 2012,
“… any time life hands you the opportunity to be sucessful by being yourself, it is a beautiful thing.”