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2020
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7

A return to blogs (finally? sort of?)

“Such spaces are escape hatches from the horse-race election cycle: People are looking for those escape hatches, and they’re looking to create them too.”

I read plenty of newsletters, but I don’t subscribe to very many. Often — especially in the case of the personal and quirky, and the less overtly news-pegged — I scroll through the archives of newsletters on the web and read several editions at a time.

It’s great. It’s like reading blogs.

Newsletters seem to have circled around from being the new blogs to being like blogs (but with posts that are emailed to readers). The web interface of any given public Substack is basically that of a blog. You can even set up comments. And there are subscription apps like Stoop that organize newsletters’ content as RSS readers did for blogs.

One reason we might see a resurgence of blogs is the novelty. Tell someone you’re starting a new newsletter and they might complain about how many newsletters (or podcasts) they already subscribe to. But tell them you’re launching a blog and see how that goes: Huh. Really, a blog? In 2020? Wow.

It’s been long enough now that people look back on blogging fondly, but the next generation of blogs will be shaped around the habits and conventions of today’s internet. Internet users are savvier about things like context collapse and control (or lack thereof) over who gets to view their shared content. Decentralization and privacy are other factors. At this moment, while so much communication takes place backstage, in group chats and on Slack, I’d expect new blogs to step in the same ambiguous territory as newsletters have — a venue for material where not everyone is looking, but privacy is neither airtight nor expected.

Blogs offer the potential to broadcast, but not too broadly. We might even see a breakdown where newsletters begin to focus more on individual personal stories and daily digests, while blogs will fill in the gaps of all that might be written about otherwise.

It is genuinely pleasant to scroll through Jason Kottke’s blog when I have no idea where else to click on the internet. It’s pleasant to scroll through the archives of various newsletters too. Such spaces are escape hatches from the horse-race election cycle: People are looking for those escape hatches, and they’re looking to create them too. So why not start a blog?

Joanne McNeil is author of the book Lurking: How a Person Became a User, out next month.

I read plenty of newsletters, but I don’t subscribe to very many. Often — especially in the case of the personal and quirky, and the less overtly news-pegged — I scroll through the archives of newsletters on the web and read several editions at a time.

It’s great. It’s like reading blogs.

Newsletters seem to have circled around from being the new blogs to being like blogs (but with posts that are emailed to readers). The web interface of any given public Substack is basically that of a blog. You can even set up comments. And there are subscription apps like Stoop that organize newsletters’ content as RSS readers did for blogs.

One reason we might see a resurgence of blogs is the novelty. Tell someone you’re starting a new newsletter and they might complain about how many newsletters (or podcasts) they already subscribe to. But tell them you’re launching a blog and see how that goes: Huh. Really, a blog? In 2020? Wow.

It’s been long enough now that people look back on blogging fondly, but the next generation of blogs will be shaped around the habits and conventions of today’s internet. Internet users are savvier about things like context collapse and control (or lack thereof) over who gets to view their shared content. Decentralization and privacy are other factors. At this moment, while so much communication takes place backstage, in group chats and on Slack, I’d expect new blogs to step in the same ambiguous territory as newsletters have — a venue for material where not everyone is looking, but privacy is neither airtight nor expected.

Blogs offer the potential to broadcast, but not too broadly. We might even see a breakdown where newsletters begin to focus more on individual personal stories and daily digests, while blogs will fill in the gaps of all that might be written about otherwise.

It is genuinely pleasant to scroll through Jason Kottke’s blog when I have no idea where else to click on the internet. It’s pleasant to scroll through the archives of various newsletters too. Such spaces are escape hatches from the horse-race election cycle: People are looking for those escape hatches, and they’re looking to create them too. So why not start a blog?

Joanne McNeil is author of the book Lurking: How a Person Became a User, out next month.

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