Facebook Killed My Blog

Facebook Killed My Blog

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.

Travels With Rhody Screenshot

Travels With Rhody, in its final incarnation.

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.

The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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  • http://www.socialbakers.com/ Michal Smetana

    I don’t think that Facebook is ruining the whole ‘blog experience’. There are, and always will be, blogs that will last along with all of the existing and newly emerging social networks. I know that blogs as we have know them 8 years ago are long gone, but why would that mean that it is time for ending them? You can use social media to promote your blog, enhance it with social media, instead of letting it ruin those long years of work spent on it. Don’t you think?

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Michael: Thanks for your comment. I agree that serious bloggers who are willing to do their own social-media promotion work can still benefit from having a separate blog with its own identity. It would be a shame if all of these independent voices were subsumed into Facebook or some other platform. But I was always a more casual blogger — I used my blog to post trip photos, brief updates, random thoughts, and the like. I’ve found that for sharing those sorts of posts, Facebook just works better.

      • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

        I think that is the key distinction…your blog was personal and intermittent. Facebook is a far better solution. But Wade I am surprised that you did not acknowledge the fact that your profession makes a blog somewhat secondary. You get to write rich and varied thought pieces every week! Unless you had some deep passion (cooking? social activism?) that fell way outside of your Xconomy scope, maintaining a blog would feel kind of–I dunno–too much like work.

        For the rest of us who like to write (albeit not professionally) and develop more complex thoughts than are Facebook-appropriate, a blog is still useful. When I read the decline in blog participation I impute two trends. The first is indeed what you see: its replacement by easier and more vibrant media. But don’t you also assume that a second reason for the decline is simply that keeping up a blog is way hard work…more work than the average person would want to pursue. So a lot of bloggers are naturally fading out.

        • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

          Jules, you hit on a central point, and I probably should have included it. You are right: this very Friday column gives me a weekly outlet for more thoughtful “bloggy” writing. After that, plus all the week’s other news and features, I often have little left to say, and perhaps that was my blog’s real downfall.

          Here’s my bottom line. I don’t want to see blogs disappear. I don’t think Facebook completely replaces them. But I don’t see blogs staying around much longer unless it gets *way* easier to maintain them and *way* easier to promote your posts.

          You shouldn’t have to build or buy a WordPress theme and learn how to use FTP and Unix command line interfaces to run your own blog — especially not after Facebook, Google, Apple, et al. have raised the usability bar so high in other areas.

          And bloggers should be able to more easily tap into the same power that Facebook, Google+ and other social media provide (maybe it’s as easy as setting WordPress to auto-post to FB and Twitter, as Rudi Seitz suggests above, but I want more).

          I’m keeping an eye on companies like Zapd to see if they can break some new ground here.

          • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

            Totally agree on the suck-o-rama WordPress UX. It drives me crazy…I should have listed that as a top reason as well. I can’t believe how hard it is to adjust your own blog. I have to re-learn their bizarre logic every time I want to make a small change to my WordPress blog and I’ve been at it for seven years. Not many people want to put up with that.

          • http://www.facebook.com/sharon.t.duarte Sharon Tucker Duarte

            and I thought it was just me having trouble being new to the blogger world…it does need to get way easier to sync social media to a blog, and to be able to separate personal from professional.

          • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

            To be fair, though: you don’t have to learn how to use FTP, Unix, etc. to run a blog, if you use a hosted service like WordPress.com or Tumblr.

  • BVBigelow

    Too bad you couldn’t somehow merge Travels With Rhody into your Facebook timeline. That would be a neat trick!

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      That’s actually a great idea Bruce. WordPress lets you download an XML file with the whole content of your blog. Some software genius at Facebook should be able to write a script that ingests it and puts it into your timeline. It could also be done manually, of course — Facebook lets you backdate posts so they show up in the past on your timeline.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rudi.seitz Rudi Seitz

    Interesting post, Wade. I agree with your observation of the trend — I do see FB cutting down on the impetus to blog in people I know. In some cases I think that’s unfortunate. Some of my friends invest a lot of time and passion researching social or environmental issues that concern them and then post their commentary on Facebook because it’s easy and that’s where the perceived audience is. I wish they’d blog because 1) a blog has a better chance of becoming a publicly available resource, aggregating reference information for people who search for it, than a private FB timeline, and 2) blogging *might* encourage the authors to spend more time integrating their ideas and presenting them with a bit more cohesion than a stream of status updates.

    As for me, I’m finally gaining a little momentum with my own blogging right as FB encroaches on blogdom as you mention. For me, one of the impediments had been being a techie and wanting to self-host and customize, making more chores for myself than I needed. Finally giving up on the blog as an expression of technical prowess and a realization of my visual design ideals made it easier for me to actually write :) Another thing that helped was simply setting up WordPress to auto-post to FB and Twitter–I’m guessing you had also tried that at some point. It’s not a perfect integration yet, but at least I don’t feel like my blog and Facebook are totally separate worlds, and in fact much of my modest blog traffic comes from FB.

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      I’m glad you’re still blogging, Rudi! Don’t give up like I did. But everything you say reinforces my growing sense that there is an unmet need here. We need a new kind of platform that has the audience reach of Facebook, the convenience and ease of use of a mobile app, and the permanence and independence of a blog.

  • JBD

    Be careful what you post. Displease certain elements on Facebook and your posts, discussions and all, can vanish. And in slightly more extreme cases your account can vanish with no way to recover content. You don’t have that with a personal blog.

    And on a personal blog you do get to set the tone. Conceptually you can even split the blog in two, one part can be your serious well composed thoughts and the other can be your off the cuff ramblings. But, most importantly from my point of view, on your own blog you can be your own kind of autocrat.

    {^_^}

  • dude

    It sounds like you just did no research when using WordPress. I have one pluggin running that stops all spam with great effect. Furthermore 80% of the web is WordPress, its an amazing platform. Perhaps the death of your blog is just a result of low value crap?

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Dude: We use WordPress here at Xconomy and yes, there are anti-spam plugins that work very well. But few casual bloggers have the time to do that kind of research and to make sure their plugins are always up to date. My argument is just that for intermittent, casual, personal posts (“low value crap,” to use your terminology) it’s far easier these days to leave all the infrastructure worries to company like Facebook or Tumblr.

  • ben

    delete me