At least since the death of Google Reader in 2013, the conventional wisdom has argued that social media, rather than independent websites or blogs, is the key to engaging readers. And so over the past half-decade, there’s been a genuinely Procrustean effort to fit all manner of argument and style into formats that play well on Facebook, Twitter, and the rest. But--and this is even setting aside the most recent depressing news Lee outlined on Friday--there has been increasing reason to doubt this wisdom.
(It’s outside our lane a little bit, but Alison Herman and Victor Luckerson’s essay on the rise and (financial) death of online comedy makes for fascinating, if grim, reading on exactly this point: “the incentive system frequently works in reverse: Not only are publishers generally not paid for their content distributed on Facebook; they’re expected to pay Facebook for exposure, or otherwise suffer the consequences of an opaque News Feed algorithm that increasingly disadvantages publishers.”)
We have championed the virtues of the Domain of One’s Own project *for students* for a long time, and so were glad to see Dan Cohen extend this call to academics last week in “Back to the Blog”. As he suggests, it is in many ways easier than it has ever been to self-host and publish your own website. And since social media has increasingly seemed like a battleground rather than an intellectual commons, maybe it’s a good idea for everyone to shift back to blogging. (Speaking selfishly, this would just be grand.)
However, Dan turns the interpretive screw an additional notch, arguing that the real difficulty confronting people who would move back to blogging is not technological but psychological:
It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here"—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.
Especially on sites without comments, it can be quite difficult to find that sense of an audience that one finds (whether one wants one or not) on social media. However, as he argues, when we fight to overcome that psychological gravity, we leave the web a little bit better than it was before. It’s a great short post, so do read the whole thing. And don’t miss the great new essay by Alan Jacobs linked at the end that sums up the benefits of teaching the Domain of One’s Own approach to students:
I think every young person who regularly uses a computer should learn the following:
how to choose a domain name
how to buy a domain
how to choose a good domain name provider
how to choose a good website-hosting service
how to find a good free text editor
how to transfer files to and from a server
how to write basic HTML, including links to CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) files
how to find free CSS templates
how to fiddle around in those templates to adjust them to your satisfaction
how to do basic photograph editing
how to cite your sources and link to the originals
how to use social media to share what you’ve created on your own turf rather than create within a walled factory
Read that whole thing too, I guess! And then go to your blog and write about it!
Are you returning to your blog? Why or why not? Let us know in comments!