The blog turned twenty

I picked up on this tidbit of news as I was browsing through my feedly list.

A blog I follow, Six Pixels of Separation, linked to the Guardian article. It would appear that the once new and exciting blog has become a comfortable middle-aged pastime.

I started blogging when I was about 17. That’s twelve years in which I have more or less continuously written about my life, my thoughts, my politics and my experiences.

The early days of blogging

I started with html files on a site built in notepad. My blogs were pretty short, and mostly about my life: what I got for Christmas, my thoughts on Buffy, my school lessons. At the same time as this blog I was also trying to run a fan-site with a little guestbook that later became a massive forum.

After I got tired of manually updating HTML files all the time, I moved to Greymatter, (my first experience of open source software!). Greymatter was lovely, it had such a pleasant feel to it. But when it was abandoned by its creator I ended up writing my own php script and coupled it with a mySQL database.

That – and my forum – were how I learned to program for the web. Those programming skills ended up earning my keep when I became an adult. Who knew my silly blog would have such an impact?

The rise and fall of LiveJournal

I also started journaling on LiveJournal. Blogs are public, or have very clunky privacy controls. Livejournal was the first example of a platform in which you could choose who saw which post. I had lists of friends, some of whom were privy to my my soul-searching existential angst, some who saw only my posts about what I got for Christmas. I started writing on LiveJournal more than my ‘real’ blog. In LJ I told my deepest secrets to people I hardly knew. That was part of the point: there could be no come-back, no messy consequences. As a result, I made many close friends all across the world.

Those friends would later put me up as I travelled around the States, making a trip that should have been prohibitively expensive pretty cheap and amazingly fun. Who knew that turning your private diary into a semi-public affair would end up earning you a circle of such fantastic people?

I’m still on LJ, though everyone knows it isn’t what it used to be. It’s not that LJ has changed, it’s just that we’ve grown older (and the young uns are on tumblr and snapchat and other things I no doubt don’t know about).

When blogs grew up and started showing up at the office

After a while I moved away from my own custom php blog onto some of the platforms that had been built by others. MoveableType I never got on with, but eventually I stumbled upon WordPress… and I never looked back. (This current blog is built on WordPress, and most websites I build for clients are on the same platform)

As I came out of University I became desperate to ‘make money online’ and started several blogs for that purpose. My first scared me with its success and I abandoned it in confusion: it was a blog about how to write, one of my posts went viral on StumbleUpon and I suddenly realised that I, a young woman with nothing published and a mere 3-year degree in Creative Writing, was not the right person to be trying to teach writing. I made, perhaps, 50p out of googleads.

I later tried a minimalism blog, a permaculture blog and even a personal development blog but my heart was not in any of them. Meanwhile, other bloggers were making six and seven figure sums. Blogging had become a profession, a bit of a kooky one, but one that could make serious money.

About this time I got my first proper job, and to my surprise it involved writing for the web, and notably blogging. I wrote under a pseudonym, and I wrote about how to write video games. The blog was moderately successful, and my pseudonym was even offered a book deal (it never came to fruition, alas). I was essentially being a paid a (fairly measly) salary for what I had used to do as a teenager: namely blog, mess around with HTML, and talk about video games. Nobody was more surprised than me.

The truth was though, the web in general had become far more professional and far more corporate. Teenagers still built sites in HTML with tiny fonts and big picture backgrounds. But in the grown-up world user experience, conversion rates, SEO, and money, money, money was the name of the game.

At the same time as I was being paid to blog about video games, I also started writing under my real name as part of a group blog about gaming. The blog was called girlsdontgame and is now, sadly, defunct. It was probably the most successful blog I’ve ever been a part of, however. The posts were popular – I went viral on stumbleupon again – and eventually we came to the notice of some big league game companies.

EA invited me to San Francisco – paid for my long distance flights and my hotel room – and I was given early access to some Sims games, plus a goody bag of freebies. All because I enjoyed writing about the video games I would have played anyway. But companies like EA knew that people read blogs for reviews, not magazines. Bloggers were more honest, more personable, and much more diverse. They took unique perspectives. And they argued with each other. They scored hundreds of thousands of visits.

Companies still blog, and companies still court popular bloggers.

Hello, my name is Social media

Then came MySpace. Blogging was part of MySpace, but it was much more informal. Later, MySpace became Facebook. People tried to predict the next Facebook, but instead… twitter helped the internet to explode. Different types of social platforms sprang up everywhere; platforms for photos, platforms for videos, platforms for long-form writing, platforms for readers, platforms for microblogging, platforms for sharing music (that was MySpace making a comeback).

I was still blogging – trying to find a way to capture that early magic – but I was also trying to be on every social media platform in existence. The internet was…. diversifying. Rapidly.

Welcome back to today

These days I write on LiveJournal, which is still the place for my angst and sadface. I post to Facebook about my life and share photos of parties and events. I keep this blog, which is semi-professional and a great place for deeper, more thought-out posts about the world. In my day-job I manage an NGO blog integrated into our Drupal CMS. I have a tumblr, where I share silly gifs and rabid politicism and less well-thought out rants about the world. It’s an ecosystem that seems to work for now, but no doubt it will shift again in the future.

One thing is for sure. I’ll always be blogging in some shape or form.

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