Facebook > Blogs (or: how Automattic murdered Blogs)

I have a theory why Facebook (and Twitter to some extent) beat out blogs, and it’s Automattic’s fault.

I am working on my “year in review” blog post, which uses a lot of life-logging and quantified self stuff. In the process of doing so, I found myself wondering where all those blog posts had gone…

Blogs used to be reverse chronological. Everywhere. You’d pop onto someone’s weblog start page and there they were: their posts, latest on top, ready for reading. No clicks required[1], just read.

Today’s blogs are anything but. Masonry sorted by an arbitrary “popular” ideal, massive “Hero” banners leading down a rabbit hole of SEO optimised pages, no chance at just going there and reading. Funnily enough, if you’d ask people which blogs they still visit (rather than following them on Facebook and clicking through), Daring Fireball, Marco Arment’s blog, or Bekah, are mentioned pretty often. All three still employ the old reverse chronological approach.

It’s not just good for the reader, though. Google’s indexes do still respect this style of publishing, marking things as recent if they’re below the fold but on the home page in full text. This is good for SEO, even though SEO “experts” are trying to steer you away from it.

So, why is this Automattic’s fault?

WordPress comes with a default theme. The last “real” reverse chronological theme out of the box was Twenty Sixteen, though Twenty Thirteen murdered that concept for a year. With that, the “stream of consciousness” reverse chronological blog days were over. WordPress is a trendsetter and its designs often get adopted (and improved upon) by theme authors. A quick glance at WordPress’ most popular themes shows this:

Twenty Sixteen, albeit in there, is the 12th most popular theme but the only real reverse chronological one of the bunch. Twenty Twenty-One is … something else, Hello is a blank theme for Elementor which could, fathomably, be used to make reverse chronological blogs, but this isn’t what Elementor users use the plugin for, but the rest is “Hero first” design. This adds scrolling and/or clicking to see recent posts.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a modern, well designed, reverse chronological, theme out of the box.

The solution: get in laterally. Find a place that reverse chronologically shows your friends’ thoughts, ideas, loves, and hates. One that is just in time, a little ephemeral, a little eternal, just like conversations we have.

The place providing this solution: Facebook. Here we still have those reverse chronological listings. But posting on your blog and then linking it on Facebook adds this extra click, so why not just post on Facebook?

Being on Facebook and relying on it as a link provider does have its disadvantages. Facebook doesn’t like to see you go, so unless you’re one of the few approved and Facebook-friendly “blogs” (like Buzzfeed and other crap), your content won’t show up in the feed as much. Facebook decides who gets to see what, not your readers. That’s bad.

And that’s how I met your blogs died.

We love reverse chronology. We love interlinking. And we love things that are written from experience. People who do things and write about them, not people who write to write. We love reading about someone’s day (there is a reason all those family and ego-vlogs are well watched, we identify with the writer or videographer, the subjects in front of the lens or behind the keyboard, and we “adopt” them into our circles.

Blogs gave up this advantage and draw in favour of style over substance, masonry and magazine styles instead of deep connections. Travel bloggers rely on glossy photoshops of HDR enhanced landscapes and posed fake influencer looks in white bathrobes at a deep blue pool, holding a drink. There aren’t very many honest travel blogs anymore.

Blogs tried to compete, gave up their biggest draw, and lost. The strength of citizen writing, personal publishing, stream-of-consciousness was gambled away to compete with something on its own turf. And we lost.

[1] Unless the author chose to have excerpts turned on, but a 2005 internal and unofficial study we did at Technorati showed, that excerpt-on-frontpage blogs seemed to have lower engagement rates)

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