Blogging in 2023

Software it an iterative exercise with wheels being invented, reinvented, and reinvented again by people around the world who are unsatisfied with the existing tools. I was “late” to blogging, joining the communities that sprung up in 2004 on MSN Spaces and soon jumped over to a self-hosted WordPress installation for a few years before taking a stab at writing my own blogging engine in 2012. In the 14 years that I’ve been blogging quite a bit has changed, but how will it change in the coming five years?

Until a decade ago, blogs were seen as social islands. People would write a post and then directly engage people in the comments. Linkbacks from sites would be followed and long-form conversations on topics simple or complex could take place over a period of days as though the writers were mailing each other. Blogging in 2006 and 2007 was incredibly interesting in this regard. As social networks began to expand and people left their blogs for the more immediate mediums, the writers who continued publishing longer-form items needed to learn how to market their sites in order to gain new readers. People who didn’t do this would see fewer readers and less advertisement revenue. Blogging was for some people quite the profitable pastime up until 2011. In the last five years the medium has seen a slow evolution to where we are today, with dedicated authors sharing their ideas, knowledge, and photos with anyone who might be interested on sites with a limited amount of advertising and a good amount of social service integrations.

Over the last few years there has been a growing community of people who want to have a great deal more control over the words, photos, and videos they share online. This IndieWeb movement shares a lot of the ideals that I strongly believe in. People should “own” the items they choose to put online and not be tracked every step of the way. Is this the future of blogging, though?

One of the biggest problems that bloggers face around the world is not tracking by the Silicon Valley organizations, but the active monitoring and censorship enforced by their governments. News coverage of bloggers in China, Egypt, and Iran being arrested and thrown in jail for years at a time for being critical of the people leading their countries is nothing new, and some countries like Tanzania require bloggers first acquire an expensive license before they can publish words online. Preventing people from communicating is about as difficult as preventing people from procreating. Humans are genetically programmed to do both whenever it is feasible … and sometimes when it’s not. While modern blogging is essentially “complete” for people with a greater degree of freedom than most, it’s still very much a problem to be solved where authoritarian and paranoid governments exist. It is not enough to post under a pseudonym to a service hosted in the US or elsewhere. How can the medium evolve to better work for writers who face persecution?

Protected blogging is a problem I’ve considered from time to time for a number of years and I consistently return to the same possible solution, which is to use a mechanism similar to BitTorrent where people use their computers, phones, or — if they choose — servers to share and store posts written by anyone in the world. There would be no servers to shut down, because these posts wouldn’t necessarily be on the public web. Censorship would be more difficult and people could post without worrying about data being traced back to them, as their machine would appear as just another node.

But then I think of all the problems with this approach. The lack of any sort of trust mechanism, making misinformation easier to disseminate under other people’s name. The lack of visibility for the posts that the world might need to know about. The bandwidth and storage requirements that people would face just keeping up with a large influx of posts from people around the world. The list goes on.

None of these problems are insurmountable, but they would require some serious consideration. There would also be the problem of ownership on these items. If people are posting anonymously under a pseudonym (or handle as it were), could they “own” the posts they share? Would ownership matter to someone being persecuted for disagreeing with their government?

For many people in wealthier countries, blogging likely looks much the same today as it did five and ten years ago. Like word processing and spreadsheets, it’s a “solved” technology. For many, though, the platform is not quite ready. Will it be in five years?