Thursday, January 12, 2017

The History & Future of the Unmonetized Personal Blog

I'm going to make a prediction.

2017: the year the unmonetized personal blog makes its comeback. 

I don't mean my unmonetized personal blog (where would it come back from? It never left, though it was quiet for a while). 

I mean the unmonetized personal blog. I mean the dorky little community of people who blog because they love writing and reading, both, and aren't looking to make an easy buck, and aren't desperate to 'go viral,' and aren't convinced the world needs them or their words or their wisdom. 

I don't think the monetized ones are going anywhere, and that's fine. But I'm sensing a little resurrection in the air for those of us who just loved what this whole thing was before it got to where it is.

See, here's a basic blogging history timeline as I understood it from my point of view (feel free to correct me at any point):

It was probably, what, 2005(ish?) when blogging became underground popular. People who liked to write set up a little Blogspot page and wrote very scattered, stream-of-consciousness-type posts. They were usually unedited or sloppily so, but it didn't matter. The photography ranged from professional quality to cell-phone pics (I'm talking about 2007 Samsung flip phones here).

Many (myself included) didn't tell anyone what they were doing, and even tried to keep it a secret. Share a post on Facebook? NEVER. NEVER NEVER NEVER. We learned a tiny bit of basic html so we could decorate our pages. We read the blogs of strangers from around the world and commented on them and became friends with them, but we felt weird about admitting that to anyone. Blogging was a hobby and a way to connect with other writers/creatives/photographers/whatever in a really safe, unpretentious way. You could send them some encouragement in the comments section or share their blog buttons on your sidebar (for free, of course), so that other people could find and read them. 

Some people monetized their blogs using Google AdSense, which stuck a small, unobtrusive ad somewhere on their page and paid per click. I had a friend who bought a new camera lens with the money she earned from hers - over the course of many months. I tried it for an hour, made 14 cents, and quit. That's the only money I've ever made from blogging here (though, admittedly, the jobs I've had over the years as a result of blogging here have been amazing).

Slowly, blogging became much more mainstream, and people found more and more ways to make money off them. They started selling advertising in their sidebars, for other blogs at first and then for brands. The advertising moved from the sidebars to the blog posts themselves. Brands could now pay a blogger to wear a dress or drive a car or go on a vacation. This isn't news to you now, but at the time it kind of blew my mind.

The blogs started looking really shiny and pretty, as people hired professional designers and 'branded' themselves. Obviously, you're not going to be approached by a brand if your blog looks like...well...mine. The blog posts became less This is what I did today! and This is what I think about such-and-such a thing! and much more Here are 10 shoes you need for that trip to Iceland you haaaave to take! Here's a $400 dress you must own if you want to be pretty!

Women were able to support their families through blogging. Husbands were quitting jobs. Blogging became a job. Blogging became a good job, if you played your cards right. 

And blog posts started going viral. 

And everyone wanted to go viral. 

To go viral, you have to either make people blush or laugh or cry or learn something or confirm an unpopular, potentially offensive opinion they already have. So then all the bloggers were trying to do that, and the blogosphere became very noisy and competitive. 

And bloggers started getting TV shows and book deals. People who hadn't wanted to be bloggers suddenly wanted to be bloggers as it became recognized as a vehicle to other kinds of success. You could pay bloggers to take classes on how to blog. 

Alongside all of this, there was Twitter and YouTube and Instagram and even Facebook. Just so many voices. Everyone was (is) 'blogging,' to some extent - microblogging, at the very least. Keeping an online log of their experiences, thoughts, feelings. If you're decent at it, or are at least willing to sell out a bit, you get paid.

It is what it is. I'm not against it. I participate in it - though my payoff has been experiential more than financial. 


A few years ago, the original bunch of bloggers burned out, all at once. Just like that. It was like the blog world was a city that had started out as a dinky little hamlet. And some big corporation had moved in, and the city grew, and the original inhabitants of the city either got out of there because it was suddenly too bustling and chaotic, or they joined the big corporation and moved into the high-rises. 

Because it was dang hard not to get all caught up in the blog as a business thing. It was hard not to feel like you 'weren't doing it right' if you weren't famous or making a lot of money at it. The community aspect wasn't really there anymore, in that everyone stopped commenting on posts and the audiences kind of gravitated toward the professional blogs or to Instagram. 

But here's a thing: I still keep in touch with blog friends from 2008. We follow each other on Instagram and send emails and talk on the phone and meet in real life when the opportunity arises. Weird? Get over it. It was a really cool experience for a lot of us, and it had nothing to do with money or free clothes or Internet Popularity (which I have found, is a super fickle thing anyway - like an untied balloon that just deflates the second you're not blowing into it anymore). 

The point is: I've noticed a bunch of them rebooting their old blogs. I've been writing on mine a bit more often lately too. There seems to be a collective sense of Remember that? That was great. Let's do that again. 

And I think it can coexist just fine alongside the monetized blog world, so long as there's some kind of divide, so long as people pick the world they want to be a part of and stay in it. A lot of people said they felt like the monetization and popularization of blogging was the death of it. Meh. It was just a momentarily stunning and painful offshoot of what started all those years ago. Now it's there, it's self-sufficient, and we can go back to being goofs, posting playlists and writing opinion pieces that will never end up on the Huffington Post or land us a book deal. 

A happy ending for everyone. Cheers to the unmonetized personal blog! Who's still here?

PS: I read this quote the other day (re: the short story and literary magazines) that I loved and it feels like it's somewhat related to this, but in a kind of abstract way: "...I do mourn the passing of the old general reader, who had no artistic aspirations and simply loved to read." - David Galef, The State of Flash Fiction