I’ve been blogging for over 20 years now, making websites for 28 years, and before all of that I was running a BBS that had users from all over the U.S. (but only one phone line/modem, so it was slow communication). And I’ve seen an unsettling shift over the last 10 years that I feel like writing about.

It used to be (10, 20 years ago) that birds of a feather in the blogging world would share each other’s work and sustainably build audiences together. I was part of an informal “network” of blogs that frequently shared each other’s posts, when they were noteworthy, and getting “seen” was as easy as making good content. Getting mentioned on a larger site meant measurable traffic and often new subscribers to your work, and it was a meaningful way of building an audience. The audience I currently have is largely a product of those days.

My larger projects brought in new readers. 20 years ago MoodBlast was my starting point, then the Blogsmith Bundle got attention from Merlin Man, Marked got attention from Daring Fireball, and all of that netted new traffic and more followers. These days, it’s a lot harder, and the attention of major players has much less impact. Bunch got a fair amount of press. Write-ups in major online media outlets, features from creators like David Sparks, and even some print publications worldwide. And I saw a swell in the number of downloads every time, but none of it filtered back to building my readership. Not the way MoodBlast or Marked did a decade ago.

I think I’m doing better work than ever, and it is getting noticed, it just doesn’t tip the needle anymore. I’m not suffering for traffic, but “new” traffic is definitely coming from unusual and unpredictable places that are nearly impossible to capitalize on. Even getting linked on Hacker News doesn’t tip the needle the way it used to (or the way getting Dugg used to. IYKYN.). Gone are the days, seemingly, when I could make something new and have “major” bloggers notice my work, and thus increase readership. I don’t even know how to scratch the surface of the largest blogs anymore, and many of the independent blogs that I could count on have gone the way of the Dodo. And I, at the age of 45, do not have the energy and “hustle” required to make it on new platforms. I will continue doing what I’m doing, and will probably eventually follow my peers into digital obscurity. It’s not that I steadfastly refuse to adapt to new things, I try new things all the time, it’s that these platforms have come to reward behavior I don’t think is beneficial to the end user, and I tend to opt out. I’m not going to “hustle” to make more money for someone else, which is the way we’ve allowed everything to become structured.

These days, we all share our links into the morass of social media, where even our own followers have a hit-or-miss chance of seeing them, thanks to The Algorithm. We “like” creators’ work, but it just becomes a little tick in a metric that’s really only useful to advertising companies whose money is primarily going to the platform provider, not the creators that provide its content. Social media sites are invested in keeping you, the viewer, on their platform, and sending you to a third-party site is detrimental to their ad sales and attention metrics. This doesn’t, in general, benefit the creators. It benefits the platform. Medium and Substack are truly profitable for a select few, with an intense amount of attention and energy (i.e. hustle) involved in getting there. Creation of original content is not, by and large, rewarded by any of these platforms, and you’re ultimately creating content for a corporation to use as they like. Fewer and fewer creators are actually owning the content they create, and it’s disheartening.

Side note: I’ve been reticent to take on new sponsors lately. The returns just aren’t there for the sponsor anymore. I don’t know why, honestly, but my readership is happy to click on links but hesitant to actually spend money. The economy? I don’t know. I just know that I charge a reasonable rate for sponsored posts, but the feedback I’ve gotten from sponsors over the last couple of years is that it didn’t pay off. Which sucks for all of us. So if you like my work and would like to fund me regardless of sponsors, please become a subscriber!

Search Engine traffic is down for many of us because the major engines’ output is flooded with ads and content that is, at best, knock-off content designed to spam the results. I think Google and Microsoft have given up on trying to quell the “SEO” hackers, or even keep up with them. And now they want to spew AI-generated detritus all over the place. Original content is dying, if not dead.

This is all to say that I recognize that things have changed. I just don’t think it’s for the better. Gone are the halcyon days of independent bloggers sharing original work, and the knowledge networks that cropped up between them. Gone are the days of a rising tide that lifts all boats. The tide is just Social Media, and it is, at my most generous, not concerned with the boats. I think, in fact, it’s actively hostile toward them.

I will continue to share noteworthy things I find via Web Excursions and reviews. If you have an article or project you’d like to show my audience, contact me one of the many ways I’m available. And again, if you want to support my work, it’s just a click away.