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The blog might be dying, but the web's about to fight back #indieweb

4 min read

As part of the Nieman Journalism Lab's Predictions for Journalism 2014, Jason Kottke writes:

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

He then goes on to discuss the death of the reverse-chronological stream, as well as the inevitable move to what he calls tightly-bound social media sites. Thematically, it's an interesting companion piece to Anil Dash's seminal The Web We Lost, which was published last year at about this time.

And, despite some hedging on his personal blog, it's clearly true. Almost none of you will have found this link through a feed reader (although my stats show that some of you are using Feedly, Digg Reader, and even Livejournal's RSS feature). Most links will have come through Twitter and Facebook, with a straggling number showing up through app.net and similar sites. If I'm lucky, someone might submit this post to an aggregator like Hacker News.

Note, though, that you're still reading it. The article isn't dying; you can think of the blog, or the stream, or the feed, as the container that the article sits in.

Medium exploits this in a clever way by presenting articles nicely, and then providing a magazine-style site for you to consume them in. Indieweb arguments about whether you should publish posts on a site that you control or on someone else's aside, there's no doubt that Medium's injected new life into long-form text on the web. That's great, and like Facebook and Twitter, you can choose to think of it as a well-executed proof of concept.

If you buy the idea that articles aren't dying - and anecdotally, I know I read as much as I ever did online - then a blog is simply the delivery mechanism. It's fine for that to die. Even welcome. In some ways, that death is due to the ease of use of the newer, siloed sites, and makes the way for new, different kinds of content consumption; innovation in delivery. Jason talks about the ephemerality of Snapchat (which is far from a traditional feed), and there are an infinity of other ways that content might be beamed to us on whichever device we happen to choose to be using at any particular moment. But these content forms are minor details.

The beauty of the independent web is that we can choose to represent ourselves online - and therefore, publish content - in a manner of our choosing. I happen to like the reverse-chronological feed, but if you prefer to publish in the form of an immersive 3D world, or a radio show, or full-screen autoplaying video with annotations, then, hey, that's up to you. It's all part of a rich, interlinking medium. Independence means not necessarily going with the flow.

The counterpart to that is how you read content. In the past, we've been very stream-heavy: RSS readers, Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines, and so on. But there's no need for that to be the case. Part of the joy of a diverse web is that while I might choose to read in the form of a feed or a newspaper, you might want to mash your reading list up in entirely new ways. You could have a robot announcer read to you while you drive to work in the morning (wouldn't that be better than the radio?), or mash related articles up to provide new kinds of content that provide better insight than the sum of their parts. And I can choose to use a completely different form to you. Each one of us can have a completely different experience.

That's a tough concept to get across to an audience that's used to mass media, where everyone consumes the same content in the same form. But we don't need that anymore. Not only can content be personalized, but the form of the content can be personalized. Facebook might agonize over the algorithm that decides which posts are surfaced, but in the future we can each have our own algorithms. Form and content will be separated.

These new kinds of readers will begin to appear in 2014, powered by simple web technologies like HTML and microformats. They will eventually be as easy to use as Twitter and Facebook. And they will make us all more empowered readers and creators, once again connecting us all, but this time on our terms.