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. 

Anyway.

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

38 comments:

  1. I'm a huge fan of the personal blog. I hate being sold to all the time! I'm super choosy about what I read, and am regularly kicking blogs off my reader. I have a personal blog I've been writing on for years, definitely a "this is what I did today and a lot of pictures of my kid" blog, that I write for myself, as well as family and friends that don't live anywhere close to me. I love it, they love it. No desire to become internet famous here! I would love to see more blogs like yours, and like mine come to life again!

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    1. What's your blog address? I clicked on your name but it didn't take me anywhere!

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    2. It's alyssaskitchen.com but honestly, it's nothing special!

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  2. Me, me, me! I've been thinking about this recently, too. I think the tricky thing now is FINDING the other people who're blogging for the fun of it, but I know they're out there.

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    1. It IS so tricky. And it used to be so easy because of blog buttons. Hahaha. And I often found good blogs simply by visiting the blogs of those who commented on my blog. It really was such a community. I can't think of a better word.

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  3. Do share some of your favorites that are making a comeback :)

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    1. I feel like I should do a blog roundup post like back in the good old days. Or email you some links. Let me get on it. ;)

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  4. I love personal blogs, and one of my goals, even before talking to you, is to write more old school blog posts over 2017. I really believe that personal blogs are read for a comeback, too.

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    1. I'm glad. I really love your writing.

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  5. I'm with you too :) I only started blogging two years ago and reading blogs maybe two years before that, but I feel like I've always been a bit of an old school blogger anyway. As Sarah above has mentioned on her blog, new bloggers seem to have this expectation that they'll start a blog and be rich and famous two weeks later, whereas I felt like I had to, you know, actually have a blog worth reading before people would ever want to advertise on it! I've had a few "free lunches" (literally) in the past year and did really enjoy them, but I made the mistake of doing two too close together recently and have had such writer's block while trying to review the second one because I just feel a bit icky about it.
    I do have some affiliate links too but have earned exactly zero from them, but they're quite unobtrusive I think so they're staying for now. But my favourite blogs to read are definitely personal blogs and that's the type of blog I think I write - it's certainly my intention anyway :) Whether they're monetised or not, polished or not, I don't think I really follow any that aren't either personal blogs or at least niche blogs with a lot of personality - they just don't hold my attention otherwise.

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    1. I feel like that's the main thing - that you write the kind of blog you want to read. Right? That's kind of my entire creative philosophy right there. I don't want to make, write, sell, whatever, anything that I wouldn't want to buy, read, look at, whatever. I think that's where that quote came in, though I didn't really articulate it very well - I think that what was so appealing about blogging at the beginning was that no one was really trying to get to the top and sit on everyone else. We all just loved writing AND reading, and it was very communal. I'm excited about the prospect of getting back there.

      And free lunches are great! Haha. I wouldn't feel icky about it. ;)

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  6. All the yes's, friend! Does anyone really need boots for their trip to Iceland? No. But we need stories, because need to know we aren't alone in all this. Xo.

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    1. Agreed. And your blog is so great for that very reason. I love it. :)

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  7. i had this conversation with my sister recently, about how some people are "bloggers" and some people are writers (who have blogs). i almost wish there was a way to differentiate doing it for money/popularity and doing it as art.
    telling anyone i have a blog (or a new post up) makes me feel so squeamish. partly because everyone and their mother is a "blogger" and mine isn't JUST that. also, partly because telling anyone where they can read my words makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

    what i mean is, i would love a comeback of the unmonetized blog, so real writing wouldn't just be categorized under "blogging." (am i making any sense?)

    ps. i also want that list! what blogs do you read??

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    1. Oh, you are toooootally making sense. Yes. I'm so excited that I'm not the only one.
      As for that list...I will get on it! Promise. Asap.

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  8. I really hope you are right on this. I started a brand new blog and have been nervous to dive back into it.

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  9. Interesting. I recognise the changes you describe. I read blogs for years and finally started my own in 2010. Told nobody I had a blog. Did the commenting + clicking around sidebars to discover new blogs thing. Then there was that short phase were random people just commented with a quick "follow me back" and left their blog link which I never understood.. and then comments just died down a bit. I have seen a change in my own content too though. I never really work with advertising companies or affiliate programs, but I have made a shift to use my blog, my creativity and my passions to make a living. It did come from a place that was a hobby, and experiment, but also a place to make an impact (I initially started my blog as a RAK blog). I do feel this shift has empowered me to think bigger, and do weird projects that I never thought I would or could (like create a giant street art installation). Anyway, your blog is one of the very few personal blogs I still read. Mainly because I think you're an incredible writer and I always feel like the way you describe your thoughts is exactly how my brain works. Your blog makes me laugh and feel a little bit more normal.

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    1. First, thank you so much for the kind words! You're so sweet and I'm glad you're still here. :)
      I've always loved your blog too - I definitely think blogs as a jumping off point for other things is a really great way to use the platform - that's what I feel I've done too, in a way. Which is honestly one of the reasons I don't want it to die! I'm not really done jumping yet...

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  10. You nailed this PERFECTLY. 3 cheers for the unmonetized personal blog!

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  11. Oh gosh, I hope so!

    I started blogging on Xanga when I was in high school. The title was the same as my aim screen name, the only blogs I followed were those of people I knew in person, all of which were essentially online journals of our teenage thoughts (omg). I'm highly disappointed/mildly thankful that xanga seems to have disappeared off the internet.

    It was super delightful to come across your writing because a. it's just so dang good and b. it felt like a return to the good kind of blogging.

    I would love to see a list of some of your favorites!

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    1. And I want to see a list of yours!!
      I'm sad I missed the xanga thing entirely. I'm trying to think of where he heck I put my thoughts before blogspot! There was something...

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    2. My first blog was on live journal .... hahaha

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  12. Yes!! This makes me so excited. I miss the old blogging days. I've been reading your blog for years, but I don't think I've ever commented...so..hello! :)I think you wrote a while back about a lurking blog reader in Korea and it made me laugh out loud because it's probably me!

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    1. Um HELLO!! Thank you for coming out of hiding, I'm so happy to have found your blog now too! :)

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  13. Good analysis and good post too.

    And a good blog, always been :)

    stephanie

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  14. I hope you're right, Suzy. I've just started a blog in a bid to kick-start my novel writing (which I began about 5,667 years ago) and so far, being creative every so often, is really helping to get my creative juices flowing again. Here's to the unmonetised blog - I love reading them!

    www.wholelottarosiesite.wordpress.com

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    1. Just checked out your blog and now I want to know more about this novel...

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  15. Oh dang it I wrote a whole comment then accidentally clicked "sign out" and it erased. Basically it was me agreeing with you and contemplating starting another new blog. I miss it.

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    1. Do it, Nova! Yours was always one of my favorites!!!

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  16. I really hope your prediction is true! I go back and fourth all the time if I wanna quit. I get hardly any interaction over there at all and it can be discouraging, but I mainly continue for my own memory keeping. Microblogging on social media just seems easier I guess. I've had people leave comments on my Instagram in regards to a blog post lol

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    1. I've had people do the Instagram comment thing too! I feel like comments on blogs just seem to be way down all across the board, even on huge blogs. It used to be a fairly accurate measure of a Blog's popularity but it's not anymore. I feel like people just kind of fly through their feed readers nowadays (guilty). Commenting is fun. Let's do commenting again. (Ps: I still read your blog!)

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  17. Facebook was the death of all my friends' blogs. I got into it too late (as I do with all things technology!) and started liking it while all my friends started leaving it. (Sigh). I still have mine and three people read it...but hey, it's not supposed to be about how many followers you have, right?

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    1. I read yours right up until Google stopped letting me. Can you invite me again? (krausesuzy@gmail.com) Pretty please??

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