Blogroll (and Blog) as Relic

I was honored to make the cut on Gabe Weatherhead’s first attempt1 at a blogroll, the once ubiquitous list of recommended sites in a blog’s sidebar, over at Macdrifter. As he put it, the links in a blogroll are a clear “endorsement” of a site. Numbers don’t lie: Gabe’s endorsement is a pretty nice one.2

But there’s one point in his post that sparked a great conversation between myself and the girlfriend:

The days of the blogroll are gone. The web is too big now. I could easily link a hundred sites that are similar to mine.

I agree with Gabe’s take on this, but the girlfriend got a bit worked up over his eulogizing. Her exact words were: “Plenty of sites I read have blogrolls. Maybe they’re just gone in your oddly specific tech/meta/blogging about blogging world.3

She makes a fair point. The sites I read, and there are a lot, have long since nixed the blogroll, but a great many out there haven’t.

I believe that the blogroll’s demise is imminent and absolute; new Web writers have no need or want for it. The sites that she reads that still have and maintain one, I’m convinced, do so because, as first generation bloggers, it’s in their site’s DNA.

I see the blogroll to blogging what the typewriter is to writing; a relic, yes, but one that still works with varying mileage. I’m reminded of what Cormac McCarthy said when he replaced his Olivetti in 2009:

“I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.”

It worked for him, very well indeed. Will new writers, then, use a typewriter? Precious few, and they will likely start on a computer or tablet or phone. But those who do I’m sure will have their reasons and their output will speak for itself.

The question of the blogroll’s relevance boils down to where “blogging” is going. I maintained a blogroll for many years of my online writing, but doing so became tedious. Sites disappear, relationships dissolve, readers’ expectations shift, etc. Ultimately I had to sit myself down and ask why I had started the blogroll in the first place. The answer: because Wordpress told me to. It was all part of the package. It’s what blogging was, and honestly the first time I installed Wordpress I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. So sure. This blogroll thing? Let me flesh it out.

As blogging declines, though, writing is more interesting than ever. Whoever cracks the nut of finding a place on the Web for writers who just want their words out there will find themselves at the center of an online revolution. The audience is simply massive.

Writers of all walks need a place to stick their words. The question is where are they sticking them now? In Facebook posts and notes, tweets, emails and texts. They stuff words by the thousand into files on their computer, in shared Google documents, in blog comments and elsewhere. We write so much we don’t even know that what we write is worthwhile.

That’s why I think blogging, as a concept, is withering, and with it go the traditional elements that make a blog a blog. Personally, I think new writers will join services that deconstruct what a blog is, like Medium. Creating your identity around your blog is a thing of the past. In the Facebook age, our identity is already defined; we just need a place to share our longer thoughts.

The girlfriend is right that our little tech nook of the Web is unique, and that there’s a whole world of writing out there that I am often blind to. However, as long as I’ve been reading content online, technology sites have been ahead of the publishing curve, not behind it. I think they are once again.

  1. First? I don’t know. What do I know from whether he had a blogroll once upon a time? First I’ve seen, though. ↩︎

  2. Hi there, new readers! ↩︎

  3. I love her all the more when she brings me back down to earth. Sorry, Gabe. ↩︎