Web feeds

With social networks ascendant, the market for software to have your own blog has cooled off completely. Why bother when you can Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter (even through the 140 character straw)? There are two camps that want for something new in that niche.

The writer

While networks like Twitter have swallowed up a lot of casual bloggers, some people still like to write. They are served largely by tools stripped down to basics, such as the generation of tools publishing Markdown from Dropbox to static pages. These are the writers spoken to by such as Anil Dash’s preferred blog features. (I call out his since it’s his thread making me write this.)

The self-faciliating media nodes and their publishing businesses has driven the growth of blog engines into empire-supporting CMSes, but the writing subset of them is also the group most like to backlash against cookie cutter heavy-duty WordPress sites. The upper end of the writer market is also served by the new subcompact magazine and writing experience tools (such as Editorially, which I’m writing this with). I’m not sure a blogging system needs to compete in this space, but the input end of it should at least compare.

The free socializer

Some folks don’t compose their thoughts as a free internet magazine. They trade photos, image memes and YouTube links with their friends, often in treehouse chat rooms. Many of these folks shared themselves with groups in a private register on Blogspots and LiveJournals. In my Facebook-free experience the lion’s share of this energy has gone to Tumblr, supporting fandoms sharing gifs in the same way that LiveJournal encoded the early ethos of a web writing community.

However this group has lost a core axiom of the waning blog community, which is that a space controlled by you, the writer, is valuable. In The Future of the Internet (And How to Stop It), Jonathan Zittrain speaks to a “generative” principle of tinkerable systems, where freedom at the endpoints (for instance, to modify blog software however you like) breeds new uses.

This is the raison d’être of the hosted social silo. From a purely mechanical point of view, software run on your behalf in the cloud is not tinkerable. Further, this is largely the sort of creativity people speak against Twitter for eliminating, when they limit API developers’ ability to refine twitteringness to create a supply of promoted tweets for advertisers.

A common thread

These two groups are different but are connected in an important way. Namely they are connected, among and between themselves.

The carrier of connection for the blog era was web feeds, a technology you could call humble but for all the politics and ultimately constructive human drama that resulted in podcasts and so many news fans caring deeply about Google Reader. This is the existing system that the writers who are news fans depend on for distribution and community. They supplement their reading with the same systems the socializers use: the social networks, serving as carrier waves for links to articles, YouTube videos, and image macros (and in the case of Tumblr the occasional diegetic text post).

It should be clear to us as tool builders that web feeds could still tie these groups together. The technology is perfectly adequate, and latency and polling load can be addressed with recent developments in push feeds. With push feeds, the new publishing apps we’re writing can weave independently operated sites together into a world wide web again.