Why start a blog in 2015?

Is this platform forward-looking?

Posted on June 26, 2015

Am I really doing this? That’s the question I ask myself as I work on assembling a redesigned website, now with a weblog (i.e., a blog). We’re well on our way into the 21st century, I abandoned my 1990s-era personal web site near the turn of the millennium, and since then I have never missed having an online presence beyond what social media offers. Current trends are toward increasing screen time on mobile devices, and on mobile devices people are spending more time in native apps and less in the web browser. I have to ask myself, who will still be reading a weblog like this in a few years?

Today’s hot platform is Medium, which upgrades blogging in many ways, offering elegance, easy of use, distribution, even beauty, all in one simple package (see, What Blogging Has Become). LinkedIn offers a publishing platform that’s effective for those seeking to reach a professional audience, and there are plenty of other blog-like services, such as Tumblr, offering easy ways to create and share online content. In contrast, a standalone personal website and blog is much more work and provides fewer social features.

Still, I’m launching this blog, even though it’s 2015, because of benefits that come from the web’s open platform. Despite flashy alternatives, despite the popularity of social media platforms, the staying power of and strength of blogs is remarkable. Traditional news formats remain under continued assault from web publishing, which ascends relentlessly. WordPress, the top blog platform, is a strong and profitable business. It sits within a field of field of active competitors, SquareSpace Weebly, and others among them. Where some platforms have fallen (e.g., LiveJournal), others have risen to take their place. And there’s healthy innovation—I’m using Jekyll, a static site generator which appeals to developers. It is clear that web’s blogging ecosystem remains healthy, in a way that only an open platform makes possible.

In addition to staying power, flexibility and control are two key reasons I’m fully embracing the open web’s open platform, why I’m starting a traditional blog rather than establishing my presence on Medium or something similar. Flexibility means my blog can be just about anything, just so long as it adheres to the web’s standards: HTML, JavaScript, HTTP, DNS, etc. Control means I get to choose how to take advantage of this flexibility, I’m not constrained by the choices of a particular vendor, nor am I coerced by them.

I’m paying for these benefits with effort, and notably, lack of social features. This highlights what I believe is an important missing piece among the internet’s open standards: identity. It would make so much more sense if, after signing into Chrome or Firefox, I didn’t merely get access to stored history and bookmarks, but also were automatically signed when visiting any service that I regularly use, and one permission tap away from signing up for anything new. Identity could also provide a building block for open standards for notifications and social features. Perhaps this is a topic that I will pursue in a future post.

The debate on the merits of open platforms, vs proprietary ones, is an old one. I’m not ready to argue that openness must win in the end, as some do, but in starting a traditional weblog I’m betting on the staying power of openness. I’m doing a little extra work, but I’m having fun with the technical challenges, and I hold out hope for a future open internet enriched by identity and social features built atop it.