Jon Udell is blogging less. Gosh, so am I. There are loads of ways to talk to the world, new alternatives every day it seems. Is this thing, you know, over?

Let’s count ways to hurl words at the Web: (1) Blog on your own space, or (2) on someone else’s, like Blogspot or WordPress. (3) Live it up on a mailing list with a public archive. (4) Go short-form on Twitter (wow, or maybe a competitor). (5) Social-net it on Facebook or G+. (6) Minimize effort on Tumblr or whatever. (7) Try a new mode with Branch, or (8) an even newer one on Medium.

Maybe the notion of standalone chunks of writing — essays, if you will — is shuffling offstage. Some of the most interesting publishing action is either ultra-short-form or picture-centric (Pinterest, Instagram). Meanwhile, Anil Dash tells us to think streams not pages.

The words you’re reading are delivered via old-school blog tech and live permanently at; so I’m probably non-neutral. And it’s hard to worry too much; the Internet didn’t kill TV, which didn’t kill movies, which didn’t kill books, which didn’t kill spoken language.

Let’s start with a question.

Why Write, Anyhow? · Here are the reasons I can think of for pasting billboards on the Web’s walls:

  1. Money.

  2. You love writing.

  3. To influence.

  4. To entertain.

  5. To inform.

A lot of the discussion in this space focuses on item #1. And you gotta eat, so yeah. But actually no. Because writing has always been a shitty way to make a buck, which has never really been a problem because mostly it’s done by people who can’t not do it.

Blogging pretty well sucks as a way to make money. But then so do Tweeting and Facebooking and so on; and I bet Branching and Mediuming aren’t gonna be cash cows either.

Some people are going to figure out how to turn words into money; I sort of have, this blog having helped me into a couple of pretty good jobs.

But I’d still like to subtract that from the discussion. First of all, to quote Jeff Hammerbacher, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” Second, the people who do make money will mostly stumble into it, when their form and content touch nerves en masse; they won’t have started with a business plan.

I’d also like to subtract the love-writing/can’t-not-write dimension from the discussion, because it’s a given. Most people who like blogging also like tweeting and all that other stuff too.

Influence, Entertainment, and Information · Are what’s left when you ignore love and money.

If what you care about is informing people, you can’t beat the short form: Just the facts, ma’am. Twitter has resulted in the whole world being having a clearer and fresher view of what’s going on out there.

If you’re about entertaining, making people happy, you can tell stories or play music or display pictures or show movies. Blogging is a good storytelling option, and for the rest, it’s pretty well a saw-off.

That Leaves Influence · Anyone who’s built a significant online voice finds that, on occasion, they’ve wielded influence. In my personal experience, planning for this never works; whenever I’ve ever written something that’s moved a needle somewhere, I’ve noticed after-the-fact, been surprised. Carefully-laid plans don’t come into it. But your mileage may vary.

Influence is very, very seductive. Anyone who’s had it and says they didn’t enjoy it is probably lying.

And that’s why I think blogging is safe, for the moment. I don’t know of any way to be influential without deploying some combination of rhetoric and polemic and storyline. And I don’t think you can do that without writing a few hundred words, organized into paragraphs, with a permalink.

Maximizing Influence · If that’s what you want, then here are some tips:

  • Learn the Readability lesson; strip away all the visual shit that distracts from your message. Don’t be, as Anil puts it, “a jarring, cluttered experience where the most appealing option is the back button”.

  • Have a full-content feed. These are becoming rarer and rarer. But boy, do they ever make it easier for influencers (a high proportion of whom still use feed-readers) to absorb your message.

  • Own your space on the Web, and pay for it. Extra effort, but otherwise you’re a sharecropper. I note that Rob Scoble uses his own space to tell a sad story about what can go wrong.

A Gap in the Ecosystem · What originally got me started writing this wasn’t any of the pieces linked above, it was Ellen Grafton’s Where is the New Yorker of the internet? over on (ha-ha)

I’m convinced that medium/long-form writing’s future is unthreatened; but remain puzzled that nobody in new media has really figured out the elite-curation story and created a place that you go, and then subscribe to with real money, because that’s where you have a high chance of being entertained, influenced, and informed.

I mean, the New Yorker and Economist and so on are here, and they work fine. But they really aren’t of the Web; and none of the places that are have really reached that level.

Personally, I think it’s because they’re looking in the wrong direction, at the money. Quality publishing, as a business, is tough, always has been; but still uniquely rewarding.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: JulesLt (Aug 19 2012, at 00:54)

Final paragraph - we need the TED of writing. Especially as I don't watch video (I find it a very annoying way to absorb information as impossible to skim first and decide is this worth spending time on)


From: Martin Oldfield (Aug 19 2012, at 01:04)

I think you've missed a reason for writing: the discipline of marshalling thoughts into a coherent article is a pretty good way of clarifying things in your own head.


From: Dave Walker (Aug 19 2012, at 02:45)

You missed one (that's big enough to mention as being worth adding to the list) - the group discussions on Linkedin. Lots of good stuff happens, there :-).


From: Floris (Aug 19 2012, at 04:56)

I blog for me, and myself alone. And I am perfectly fine that it's information about me, others, companies or products, that perhaps others are interested in reading as well. I hope it brightens their day, or perhaps motivates them to think about how they feel about what I just wrote. Be it about how I care for my cat, or how I store my secure passwords, to what system I prefer to use - and why. Everybody is free to ignore it. It's a public diary of sorts. No commercial goal, no exit-strategy. Not selling myself, just me .. being me. Sometimes people ask me questions, I answer them in my blog so I can link the article to others when they ask. I guess that's as far as the 'function' of my blog goes. I have no problem if I am the only one visiting the blog, I made it for me in the first place after all. It's fun a few years later to reminiscence about things from the past. It helps me focus, rethink the way I do things. Or pick up promises I made myself but I've stopped doing because of life getting in the way.


From: Jerry (Aug 19 2012, at 05:25)

In your discussion on making money from blogs, you say:

"Some people are going to figure out how to turn words into money; I sort of have, this blog having helped me into a couple of pretty good jobs."

Thinking about all the blogs I read (both present and past tense), this is the primary way of turning blogs into bucks... and I would contend that that is squarely in the #3 bin. The bloggers are not making money from or with their blog, they are influencing others to offer them a good job or contracting gigs.


From: Mike (Aug 19 2012, at 07:12)

The stream emphasis makes me a little uneasy. I regularly refer to blog posts from a decade ago; there's a lot of value there. Stream-oriented publishing cares a lot about notification but not so much about accessible archiving, and by the time we know for sure whether it does or not, it may be too late.

Side note: I found it bizarre that neither the branch nor the medium websites give any indication of what it is that they do, beyond the fact that they think conversation is good (branch) and you can apparently enter text (medium). No mention at all of how they're different. How they got anybody to sign up is beyond me.


From: alex waterhouse-hayward (Aug 19 2012, at 08:45)

It's a combination of many things. Consider:

1. My daughter (39) and son-in-law do not know who Mitt Romney is.

2. "How are you Alex? Nah, I don't need to ask you. I read your blog." That should sound familiar as you said it to me at Safeway.

3. I purposely posted a blog without a photograph with the headline "I never did photograph him" and linked to it from facebook. I received a few "Where's the picture?"

4. Nobody "likes" in facebook anything that is written. It has to be a visual.

There are many other factors that all combined are leading to what you write about. And consider that you were supposed to come to my house to pose with the red shawl. It escaped you completely. Too much multi tasking into too many directions?

Willing to discuss it all in a face to face? For many (certainly not for you) that would be very scary.

Check out @bowering in Twitter



From: Danielle Morrill (Aug 19 2012, at 09:48)

Check out (current YC batch) - already attracting some great writers


From: Pete Schuster (Aug 19 2012, at 10:24)

I think of blogging as an pragmatic lottery ticket... That blog post you just wrote might get reblogged or linked to on some big hitter and drive tons of traffic to your site. Or it might hit smaller and lead to a freelance gig. In the end, however, you're still left with a fairly great marker of credibility and passion for what you do... regardless of popularity...


From: Dogenfrost (Aug 19 2012, at 11:02)

Seems to me you left out a significant reason some people blog: self promotion.

Yeah, "influence" can contain some of it, but not all by a long shot. Nor is it all about money, although as you noted it can lead there.

Of course, The problem with saying "self promotion" is that it conjures up all kinds of negative associations like " bragging", "showing off", etc. And being viewed that way is an essayists' risk in any format.

But it is a fact that a very real effect of blogging is the development of a personal reputation and so that is clearly one reason to do it. It may not be your reason but for sure it is for some.


From: PJ Brunet (Aug 19 2012, at 18:08)

Funny you use Scoble for that example. I doubt he pays for hosting, doesn't he work for Rackspace? ;-)

As far as "influence" you make it sound so depressing. Phrase by phrase, bloggers make the world a better place. It's a heroic, death-defying, bloody-gruesome effort. Without brave writers, we might all be dead. Think about it.


From: Brendan (Aug 19 2012, at 23:33)

With regard to how the New Yorker and Economist exist but "really aren't of the Web" (well stated) and what's missing, if there was one guy who really seemed to get it (with both a deep and rich traditional publishing background and the Web), it was the late John B. Evans (a former key lieutenant at News Corp. and visionary who was ahead of his time in the early 1990s when Rupert appointed him to run News Electronic Data < >). We miss him, and I believe Rupert and kin have been astray in the digital sphere sans John.


From: Mr J (Aug 19 2012, at 23:45)

to get better, grow as a person. Would be my biggest reason.


From: Paul Morriss (Aug 20 2012, at 03:31)

It's funny, I was only thinking last night that in the future the ability to write compellingly and convincingly would only become more important.

It was too deep for a tweet and I don't have the spare cycles to develop it into a blog post. This article does better than I could have done.

As for a place which is of the web for good writing, I'm not worried, as with Google Reader and Instapaper I find more than enough to tickle my neurons.


From: Aaron Sequeira (Aug 20 2012, at 10:21)

Couldn't be truer. Influence to gather a startup cult/mafia is one reason why I write. It's not for the fame, fortune, or love for it, although those are great side effects.


From: len (Aug 20 2012, at 13:38)

As the capacity of the blog to game mainstream media and the skill of those who do this have risen, they have also become more apparent. As a result, the credibility of the blogosphere as a source of reliable information has fallen dramatically and is given the design of the web, unrecoverable.

Most intelligent people understand the shell game. I blog much less, Facebook more often and if I have something I want to be uniquely said, I use YouTube. Over time I have learned to vette everything and trust only resources that have proven reliable. As said in network theory, the network favors the oldest connections.

Caveat emptor.


From: Paul W. Homer (Aug 20 2012, at 14:04)

Over the last couple decades of the Internet, while I've noticed a exponential increase I'm also finding it harder to find really deep discussions about software. There are some great pockets that come and go, but I guess the increasing volume of noise has been drowning out the content.

I blog for myself, but I dream of being influential someday :-)



From: dave shields (Aug 20 2012, at 20:41)

Jon's post was, I think it fair to say, inspired by my post, "Where have all the bloggers gone?"

See also my recent "Where have all the twitterers gone?"

thanks,dave shields


From: Mark Mzyk (Aug 21 2012, at 14:26)

While the New Yorker and the Economist are not of the web, I think we're missing those emerging publications that are of the web . It seems that in the realm of fiction much of the best short story writing has moved onto and become of the web. Of the web being a combination of online + ebook publishing. Does putting out a kindle periodical count as of the web?

One example is Lighspeed Magazine, which is only available in various digital formats:

You could also make an argument that The Atlantic has morphed from being primarily a magazine to being primarily online and of the web.


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