random rambles, rant, Uncategorized

Blogging in an Instagram world

IMG_20181102_153033.jpgJust the other day I saw a post from a friend’s blog in my reader. He hadn’t posted in awhile, and only came back to his blog to post info for an upcoming event. He said that most everyone had migrated to Instagram, but this post was for the straggler or two who hadn’t made the transition. When I commented that it would be nice to see more blog posts from him again, he basically said something like don’t count on it, no one seems to care anymore and all the feedback is over on Instagram.

I felt disheartened, to say the least. I still like reading blogs, but over the years I’ve seen all these blogs wither away and die. There’s not as much content on Ye Olde Blog Reader like there was “back in the day”. And then to see a blog that I liked say that it was probably not going to be around much longer. I’m pretty sure I was introduced to this person through his blog, so that made it sting even more.

*****

The Urban Adventure League blog started in 2005. At the time, I was still a dedicated zinester, and saw my original Blogger site as a way to quickly and cheaply disseminate information about upcoming events, especially since I didn’t use (and for the most part, still don’t) use “Social Media”, though 2005 Social Media was pretty primitive by 2018 standards. I didn’t get into “blog culture” during those days, and sporadically updated the blog up until late 2010.

Then for some reason, I got over my Fear Of Blogs and dived head-first into this world. This was the height of the Urban Bike Fashion Blog (for want of a better term), so I made connections with other bike folk and upped my blogging. I met people through blogging that I wouldn’t have met any other way. Some of these people became my friends, and I would visit them in my travels or see them when they paid a visit to Portland.

But that era was short-lived, and by about 2013 many of those Urban Bike Fashion Blogs withered away. I got the feeling that for some folk, blogging was just a tool to get out there. Writing compelling blog posts on a regular basis isn’t easy, and some of these folks may have run out of things to say. Now Instagram is easier: upload a pic or three, write a little blurb, put some #hashtags in there, and go.

I resisted Instagram for a long time, as I’m the opposite of an “Early Adapter” when it comes to tech and internet. But when I joined in the spring of 2016, I found out where all these folks went. And I also found a lot of cool folks out there. Some of these people became my friends, and I would visit them in my travels or see them when they paid a visit to Portland.

And then I look at my blog. I try to write on a semi-regular basis, at least several times a month. (There was a school of thought that blogs should be updated every weekday, but I never treated this as my job.) But the comments and likes aren’t what they used to, and I’ve maybe met a handful of people through the blog over the past few years. I’ll admit, there are times I wonder why I still even bother to blog.

But Instagram? I update pretty much daily, usually a few times a day. Almost as soon as I post something, the “likes” start rolling in, and maybe a comment or three. It’s instant gratification, usually for just posting a pic of my bike in a setting and adding a couple sentences.

But is it always good? It’s easy to “like” something on Instagram. I know some people “like” everything in their feeds, sometimes because they “don’t want to offend”, sometimes because they’re playing that algorithm game, hoping the more they do the more followers and likes they’ll get. I know of at least one person who likes everything because that’s how they keep track of where they are on their feed.

And what about words? Instagram is the place for a few sentences, not lengthy pieces. It’s hard to write something of substance through the medium as most people scroll quickly through their feeds, barely stopping to read anything. (Then again, have you tried to read long pieces on Instagram?*) For example, the times I’ve had contests on Instagram, in which someone simply had to respond? I’d get 79 likes but only 2 actual responses. All people had to do was message me their address and I would have sent them something through the mail. Barely any effort required. But more effort than hitting that heart icon.

Now am I saying that Instagram is inherently bad? No. I realize its limits and flaws, but also realize that I have fun with it. It’s brought me into contact with lots of folks from all over the world, moreso than even the blog. (Part of that comes from it being a visual medium, so I have followers that probably have limited or no English comprehension.)

But would I dump everything else and put all my eggs in the IG basket? Hell, no. I still like blogging, sporadic as it is. I still enjoy reading long form pieces from others, and also writing long form pieces too. A blog is the perfect place to do a good ride report, share information, flesh out my thoughts. I may not use the blog in the same exact way I did in 2010, but that’s a good thing.

I guess part of this is because I’m (for want of a better term) a Retro-Grouch. I like some old things and old ways, and wonder what will happen when they become dust. I still like listening to terrestrial radio, sending and receiving mail, collecting paper maps and the like. I don’t think that blogging has that “retro” edge yet, but just you wait. (Heck, the ’90’s are “retro” now.)

But the funny thing about this modern world is how fast things can turn to dust, especially with the internet. How many of those free Geocities and Angelfire personal websites from the ’90’s are still out there? Probably not many, if at all. I’m willing to bet that many of these sites had a good deal of blood, sweat, and tears that had gone into them. And now they’re gone.

And I don’t think blogs are that much safer. Yeah, Blogger still exists, but I always got the feeling it’s been a burden to Google for far too long, and one day they’re going to pull the plug.** Those who still care about their blog may go through the trouble of migrating their blog to a different site, but I’m sure that thousands and thousands of blogs will simply cease to exist with the flick of a (metaphorical) switch at Google HQ. Not to mention all those personal domain blogs whose owners ceased paying the hosting fees because they didn’t care anymore.

And it’s not just Blogger: For those of you who use Flickr, you’ve gotten a notice this week that “free” Flickr is going to be just 1,000 photos. If you don’t upgrade to a paid account, you’ll be limited to the 1,000 newest photos. And if you don’t download and save those other photos somewhere else, they’ll also be the equivalent of dust.

But physical media? There’s a few zine libraries around the world that have a twenty year old copy of my Ten Foot Rule zine. And I’m guessing it’ll still be there twenty years from now. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that.

****

What am I trying to say in this long winded and rambling post? I like pictures, but I also like words. I like reading blogs, and want to read more, not less. But I’m resigned to the fact that “the glory days” of blogs are over.  I’m not happy about that, but hopefully I’ll move on. Or maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when people get sick of pictures with few words and a resurgence of something resembling blogs occurs. They may not be through a “traditional” platform like Blogger, WordPress, or somesuch, but who cares?

In the meantime, I’m thankful to all of you who still blog and still read this blog. Thanks for making it through almost 1500 of these words. And I would really like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the dwindling blogging landscape? Did you used to do a blog, but don’t anymore? Am I off track, too fatalistic? Please comment, especially if you haven’t commented in a while. Because likes, faves, and stars only get me so far.

*I think there’s a good reason Instagram limits any post to 2,200 characters.

**This is a big reason why I migrated to WordPress a few years back.

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19 thoughts on “Blogging in an Instagram world”

  1. The death of blogs (and the rest of the “old internet”) makes me very sad. I suppose it’s the way of the world that at a certain age the preferences and habits formed in youth become obsolete, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. I like Instagram fine (and unlike you I’ve been on it for many years), but it is no substitute for reading blogs. But like you I struggle to motivate myself to write a post knowing that readers and feedback will be thin on the ground.

  2. Wow. Have smart-phones taken over your lives, or what? I still don’t carry one. Only recently did I give-in to pressure from friends and family to carry a flip-phone on long rides. But it is switched off unless and until I need to make a call. And that’s all I use it for.

    As a result, I live more “in the moment”, and have better awareness of what is going on around me. I have a desktop computer at work and at home, and that is enough access to the interwebs for me. I’ve watched my family turn into “iWife” and “iDaughter” with their Apple smartphones, texting each other even when they occupy adjoining rooms, and constantly staring at their little screens. It makes me sad.

    I love reading blogs too, I used to write them, back in `05 through `07, but I found it took too much time out of my busy day. One of them is still up, but the other has disappeared, for reasons unknown. I guess I don’t care enough to investigate.

    However, the makers of cellphones and their apps are trying very hard to create a world in which you cannot get along without one. That scares me. Just how far are they gonna go with that?

  3. I read just about every word you write here. Thank you!

    RSS feeds and Feedly make it easy to keep up with blogs on many platforms, and the decentralization of blogging is a good thing… though there have been instances where a blogger I’ve followed has jumped from one platform to another so often that eventually I lose them. And many social websites don’t offer RSS; they want you to read the entries on their platform so you see their ads, and they can accumulate a profile of you. WordPress is better that way.

    It does seem like essay writing (and reading!) is a dying art, which worries me. There isn’t a lot I can do about that, though.

  4. Far far too much to agree with here…
    I spent nine years blogging about a personal project on “Blogger” and have that flick the google switch fear and they have already cut off my ability to save a copy!
    I remember the feeling when “anti social media” sites sucked away bloggers and many of their readers to a pointless short form throw away platform. A few months trial to maintain contact proved me right and everything I felt wrong about “terms and conditions” which was usually a criminal theft of data if you agreed, finally proved to be the case this year with protests of innocence by the multi billionaire platform designer / owners!
    Billions have swamped the world with “selfies”, todays lunch and cute cat pictures, I am not joining in with that nonsense and certainly not buying an expensive fragile and instantly obsolete device which constantly chirps away and I have no wish to be a head bowed zombie thumbs twitching, ignoring all ral life around me.

    Love, (not like), reading the blog, never miss a post, long may it continue.

  5. I hear you, buddy, and I agree. I have laments, but am one of those who has (practically) evolved? migrated? over to instagram. If I were a skilled writer with a few close skilled writer friends…and one with reasonably nearby cycling friends and more face-to-face socializing opportunities, I’d probably invest in a non-free blogging platform and continue. But that isn’t my situation.

    I am a cycling island, in the middle of a vast empty ocean of ranch land or dense urban development. There are no (seemingly) cycling friends who get what I’m doing within 50 miles of me. So I tend to use a tool to reach others that is effective. Instagram has proven to be that. I have much more dialog (yes, with words) via comments and DMs than I ever did with blogging. In short, my objective leans more toward connection than creating a literary product, and instagram (for now) seems to be (for me) to be a better connection tool.

    I like the idea of blogging, but my weird lifestyle (work downtown in an urban area, and sleep in the country) seems to fit a different platform.

  6. You don’t know me and I’ve never commented, but I like your blog. I don’t even remember how I found it, and I kind of like that too. 😀

    I blogged a lot more when LiveJournal was bustling. People did personal posts, short thoughts, dumb but fun memes and polls, all in one place. Social media fragmented that, it felt like, and maybe phones and apps contributed to that fragmentation versus sitting at a desktop doing a post at longer intervals.

    When FB and Twitter have scandals and drama I see people come back to Dreamwidth where it’s a limited audience instead of broadcasting, and do some diary type blogging. It feels restorative, although I’m not sure it will ever feel like where the action is, the way it used to.

    1. I think that’s a good point: Phones and apps are now the default, and it’s harder to do things like blogs on them. I have done minimal blogging via the WP app (which is a pretty decent app for what it is), but writing something more than four paragraphs is a chore. (As is anything on a phone!) It’s easy to post on IG/Flickr/tumblr on the fly, but I’m usually at home at night when I do a blog post.

      And oh man Livejournal! I almost forgot about that!

  7. Hi Shawn. As you know, I follow your blog because one of the beauties of Blogger are the instant feeds on the sidebar. I would be lost without that tool to display most recent blog posts, never understanding or caring to look into a feed reader, or switching to WordPress. I’ve cut back on blogging – not because I don’t want to write – but because I’ve found a better life balance. I write when I have something to say – which ebbs and flows – but still enjoy the creative/documentation process. I joined Instagram last winter, mainly to see what my teenagers were posting, and have enjoyed posting a picture or two, but I’m trying not to get carried away. Technology changes and fortunately I live with two techno sons who are always willing to show me the latest and greatest without too much eye-rolling. 🙂

    1. I too have cut back a bit on blogging, also concentrating on “when I have something to say” vs trying to hit a goal of x posts per week. In any case, Instagram/flickr and even poor ol’ tumblr are better for that instantaneous post.

      FYI for those of you who wonder: WordPress does have a blog reader, which is how I follow blogs. It even works on their mobile app too, so I don’t have to be on a desktop/laptop to read.

  8. I was just talking about something related with James last night, about whether the goal here is to create something that has lasting value or to create something that is immediately consumed and forgotten. Not that blogs necessarily have lasting value, and not that an instagram post is necessarily immediately forgotten, but I think that when people start to focus on creating things that give them instant gratification and likes for doing so, something is lost.

    I like blogs because I like the nuance of thought that comes from writing more than a few sentences. And at a selfish level, I like MY blog because having it forces me to put my thoughts into a coherent form, which I might not do otherwise. In that sense, I kind of don’t give a shit if anyone ever reads it (although it’s definitely nicer when I get people’s thoughts in return:), because I’ve already gotten value out of it in that I’ve figured out what I thought, or I’ve figured out how to put a vast and diffuse experience into a narrative that works for me. And I love other people’s blogs, yours included, because I love seeing other people figure out what they think, too. This is a deeper thing than just seeing what cool stuff people are up to via pictures with pithy little captions.

    Anyway. All that to say that hoping for feedback or affirmation or even community on the internet seems like only part of the equation, and I’m always hoping for the other part, the part that gets to nuance of thought and that might make someone think or act differently in turn. That takes a little bit more time, I think, than just posting a picture. And it might not be that blogs are the best venue, either–I guess the point is that no internet thing will ever be everything you want it to be, and if your goal is validation rather than exchange of ideas, something precious is lost. In my head, anyway;)

  9. I am so out of synch lol my posts have peaked this year and last while others I agree have withered or long since faded away. I have an Instagram account but haven’t posted much bike content except for some coffeeneuring rides this year. One of the things blogs helped me with was learning to rebuild bikes which I can’t see Instagram doing although Youtube and RJ the bike guy certainly can. I guess i will have to ponder this but for now I am stuck in the past, Anyone got change for the payphone?

  10. Good post. Although I have an attention span more suited to Instagram I still enjoy skimming through blog posts and am glad you and others stick with it. I’m a man of few words as I’ve never been good at writing and mostly use my blog as an excuse to share photos, I plan to continue doing so in addition to instagram, if nothing else for my own record/archive. I too like the instant feedback of Instagram but question how genuine is it.

  11. Hey Brother!
    My final(?) blog post over at Biketinker.com is pretty much a summation of why I don’t blog anymore.

    I came over from a Pondero post about your post, and I’m glad I read it.

    1. Excellent, Philip! I don’t recall that kind of quality content on IG. Entertaining and spot on. In 2019, I hope to have something worth saying. More than just “I went on a bike ride, and had a great time.” I hope to notice things that might be of interest to folks out there that still take the time to read. If I can’t do it, I’ll get out of the way of those who can. Like you.

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