Travels With Rhody has reached the end of the road.
Don’t worry, Rhody himself is fine—he’ll turn 16 in a couple of months and his only problem in life is a touch of arthritis. I’m talking about my blog, not my dog.
Since 2004 I’ve owned the domain name travelswithrhody.net, where I’ve always maintained a personal blog of some kind. For a long time I used TypePad as my blogging platform. In 2009 I went indie, renting space from a Web hosting service and setting up my own WordPress server. But the domain name is set to expire today, and I’ve decided not to renew it.
The causes for my blog’s death are several, but the main one is Facebook.
You’ve got to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook is more than just the world’s largest social network, or a huge online game arcade, or a $5 billion advertising engine. It also takes over most of the functions that blogs once filled, and adds many features blogs never had. Once the company rolled out its Timeline feature in 2011, remaking everyone’s Facebook profiles so that they resembled endless blogs, the case for maintaining one’s own blog grew thin indeed.
Here’s how I look at it. Whenever I have non-work-related thoughts or photos or videos that I want to share, I have two choices. I can put them on my blog, then do a bunch of work to promote the posts via social media, hoping they’ll attract some traffic. Or I can just put them on Facebook and let the company’s EdgeRank algorithm take care of getting the news out to my 500 Facebook friends.
It’s clear, from the number of Likes and comments I get on my Facebook posts, which publishing strategy works and which one doesn’t.
On top of that, Facebook is more casual. I don’t feel like my Facebook posts have to be long, polished, or uniquely insightful. All that’s important is that they be authentic. And because the activation energy for posting on Facebook is so much lower, I do it a lot more often. I’ve shared hundreds, possibly thousands, of links, check-ins, photos, and videos on Facebook over the last three years, compared about 60 posts on Travels With Rhody.
I’m hardly the first to notice this trend. In fact, classic blogging, in the sense of creating diary-like essays, images, or videos and organizing them online in reverse chronological order, probably passed its peak several years ago. Back in 2006, some 28 percent of teenagers and young adults had a blog, but by 2010 only 15 percent did, according to a survey that year by the Pew Internet Project. At the time, only 11 percent of adults still had a blog; 73 percent said they used Facebook. Pew hasn’t even bothered to redo the survey since then.
Don’t get me wrong: the blog was a great invention and it will never entirely die. There are still many fantastic indie blogs, like Kottke.org and Daring Fireball and Boing Boing, and millions of people scribbling away on Blogger and Tumblr and LiveJournal. (Xconomy, by the way is not a blog. It’s a news site. So, to all those people who are endorsing me on LinkedIn for my “blogging” skills: thank you, but please stop.)
All I’m saying is that most of our information sharing and information foraging now happen through social media services like Facebook and Twitter, which offer more variety, more velocity, and—let’s admit it—more vivacity than blogs. In fact, if it weren’t for social media, it’s possible that no one would notice blogs at all. RSS is in decline, and nobody I know has time to surf to dozens of separate sites every day just to look for the newest posts. The links passed along by friends on Facebook and Twitter are, for many people, the daily gateway to the rest of the Internet.
But I can’t lay all the blame for my blog’s death at Facebook’s door. Another big culprit was comment spam. My blog attracted megabytes of it, and the WordPress spam filters seemed unable to cope. I was spending so much time manually deleting spammy comments that I finally had to turn off comments altogether. Which is the online equivalent of covering your readers’ mouths with duct tape; it defeats the whole point of blogging.
There’s also Path, which I now use every day in place of my blog to share moments with my closest friends. Path is mobile-only, which is symptomatic of the larger shift away from a desktop-centric Web to a world dominated by smartphone- and tablet-sized screens, where old-fashioned blogs just don’t shine.
If you ask me, WordPress has really missed the boat over the past few years—rather than just building mobile interfaces to their existing publishing system, they should have tried to reinvent blogs for mobile platforms, the way Seattle-based Zapd is doing. Zapd says its app helps users build “social and mobile websites,” but these “zaps” are really just group photoblogs, reformatted in a smart way for the iPhone.
Maybe I’ll resurrect my personal blog someday on a mobile-first blogging platform yet to be invented. But starting today, the only place to find Travels With Rhody will be the Wayback Machine. I’m taking my blog and my dog and moving on.