Back in 2004, I was one of the first bloggers in Montana. I was by no means THE first, and of course Montana was behind the international curve. But I remember at least one book festival panel discussion where other bloggers and I led a rapt audience in speculation about the future of online publishing.
Blogs took many forms, but mine tended to be micro-essays of a similar length and style to what I’ve been doing here on Substack. Personal stories, news, perspectives, favorite books… I was building my brand as a writer. At the time, that was a new idea.
I still have a blog, because my website provider makes it easy, and more content on the website is probably a good thing. But I post only once or twice a year. Blogging may be increasingly mourned, but it’s still dead.
The main reason blogging died was that it was a transitional phase on the way to social media. Why encourage someone to write long when you would rather read only 140 characters? And why visit someone’s blog when you can have it appear in your News Feed? Yet these developments eroded the potential for brand-building and monetization that fueled blogs in the first place.
Meanwhile they promoted everyone in the world to micro-blog on their own social media feeds. Most of those early Montana bloggers were writers or English teachers. Thankfully, my feeds today are full of non-writers.
A secondary cause of death was that brand-building is hard. Once the fad died down, we realized that it’s not necessarily best accomplished by crafting sentences. Ironically, you can better build your brand as a writer by speaking—at conferences, with friends, or probably even mumbling incoherently on the sidewalk—than by forcing yourself to publish almost daily for little-to-no money.
Eventually I figured that out. So did a lot of other bloggers. Not everyone. Some made it big time, and others found a tiny community to nurture. Some are still drawn to the medium for artistic reasons. And sometimes a new platform provider makes it all seem faddish again.
We’ve been here before. There’s nothing wrong with reinventing an old idea, more efficiently and with better technology. But absent genuine creativity, Substack will go the way of the blog.