Today marks the 20th anniversary of my first blog post.
My first blog post was a typically cringe first post on a new platform. Here it is quoted in full:
Hello there. Trying to get to grips with this Blogger stuff. I think I’ve got it now. Anyway, this all should be added to the main page very shortly, so look out.
That provides a clue to the fact that I was already publishing webpages on Geocities (before that, I even used Angelfire). I think those have all been long lost to the great 404 page in the sky.
But blogging is when I really hit my stride in my experiments in publishing on the web.
Through blogging I:
- Developed as a writer (because no-one will read if you can’t write).
- Understood how to build a solid argument (because comment sections and other people’s blogs could be highly robust).
- Learnt how to code and structure a webpage (because having the same template as everyone else just won’t do).
- …And figured out what to do with my life.
What blogging has done for me
Blogging came at an important time for me. When I started, I was 16; still at school. All those teenage internet opinions! 20 years’ worth of it!
But I was riding the crest of a growing wave. Blogging became increasingly mainstream as the noughties progressed. I found myself getting a large number of readers on multiple blogs. This garnered a fair bit of attention, including some media appearances.
As strange as it might seem now, this all essentially led me to my first “proper” job, as a web editor at the University of St Andrews. I had an economics and politics degree from the University of Edinburgh, but it was my hobby as a blogger that drove the initial steps of my career.
I won’t give a full history of my blogging. I covered the first ten years, ten years ago. At that time, I was ushering in a new era of blogging, beginning to publish under my own name rather than a pseudonym (of which I’d used a few).
I was also adapting to the reality of juggling adult responsibilities with this teenage hobby. Once I had a job and my own home, I did not have the time to look after my blog properly — and this was several years before I had a child or even met my partner. But I persevered at blogging when I could, because it was still occasionally useful, and it meant so much to me.
Whenever I have formally put my blog on hiatus, I have felt like a part of me has been missing. I do often have things to say, so having an outlet to publish on is important to me, even if I rarely have the time to actually write the content any more.
20 years of technology changes
20 years is a long time in internet terms. My blog is now as old as the Commodore 64 was when I started it. The past two decades have seen many changes in the way people communicate with each other online.
Blogging has long since declined from its mid-noughties peak. We’ve seen the rise and fall of MySpace and Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. Medium has parked its bloated bottom where a blossoming blogosphere once was. Video-centric and disappearing content formats like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok have made the idea of keeping a permanent archive of words seem passe.
Today’s publishing opportunity
Online publishing is having another moment right now. The new Twitter CEO’s mishandling of a service that accelerated the death of blogging, and that many have held close to their hearts for 15 years, has led people to ask: What now?
Some are flocking to Mastodon, the most visible piece of software to use a set of interconnected protocols enabling a more decentralised approach to online publishing. A related concept is the IndieWeb.
As things stand today these approaches are far from perfect. The barriers to entry are far too high for them to be as inclusive as they need to be.
Some people, including Chris Coyier and Bill Hunt want to bring back blogging. I would love that, even if I find it unlikely given two decades’ worth of change.
There are also prominent people who think this is the moment for RSS, the technology that enabled bloggers to read each others’ blogs. Maybe there is something in that.
RSS was often derided for being somehow hard for people to understand. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The format itself is no harder to understand than HTML. But major vendors didn’t take it to heart, so didn’t do the hard work to make it simple. RSS took a massive hit when Google pulled the plug on Google Reader.
Despite that, RSS never went away. Today it is what enables countless millions of people to subscribe to podcasts — even if they know nothing about RSS. That’s because podcast app vendors made it easy. So it is possible.
This moment offers an opportunity to rethink communication in a post-social media world. Building on existing technologies, we can create a publishing ecosystem that enables people rather than media companies, tech giants and advertisers. This would be closer to the original ideals of world wide web that have steadily been lost.
20 years of evolving purposes
Aside from the technology changes, 20 years of blogging has inevitably involved change as my life has progressed.
What started off as a hobby gradually became a showcase for my professional abilities, and then a core tool for my career.
Moreover, the amount of time I can dedicate to it has steadily decreased. Now I have a demanding job and a toddler to look after, I have almost no time.
I have experimented with different approaches. A few years ago I reconfigured the blog so that I could post Twitter-style microblog posts, Instagram-style photos, and so on. I gradually stopped doing that because it felt like spamming.
At one point I committed to publishing a post every day for a year, most of which were links to other articles with a short piece of commentary. That gained a bit of attention, but was hard work and felt at times like giving a Ted talk in outer space, where no-one would hear me.
My interests have evolved. My expertise has developed. The topics I write about have changed over time.
Sometimes I am wary of annoying people by posting what I would like to. This is unfortunate for what is supposed to be a personal space. But my blog has served different purposes at different times. So I am acutely aware that over the past 20 years I have amassed RSS readers, email subscribers and social media followers for a wide variety of reasons — including, but not limited to:
- Politics chat?
- Music musings?
- Formula 1 commentary?
- Personal stuff?
- User experience thought-takes?
As time has gone on, the content has drifted towards the items nearer the bottom of the list. Even then, personal stuff is increasingly rare since most of my personal life now revolves around a toddler who is entitled to a bit of privacy.
So what next?
If you have made it this far, I would be interested to know why you follow this blog and what you’d like to see more of in the future. It might help me figure out what to do with it next.
Thank you for reading, and for being a part of something that has played a huge role in my life for the last 20 years.
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of your blog!
would be interested to know why you follow this blog and what you’d like to see more of in the future.
It seems to me that the fundamental tension in blogging is between personal expression and cultivating an audience. The early days of blogging were all about personal expression, however the bloggers who became really successful were the ones who focused on a specific topic.
I first heard about you through the UX community and we have been delighted to get you to speak at UX Glasgow. I can easily imagine you being a UX thought-leader type blogger, but what a shame it would be to have your expression constrained by your audience expectations.
I would probably never read a post on F1 but don’t mind skipping over them, so I guess that you should just keep on posting when you want on whatever topic you want.
Would you ever consider creating a separate blog to focus on one topic?
Neil, thank you for your comment and for your kind words!
I did at one point have a few different blogs covering different topics, but I felt like my readership was dispersed, and it was sometimes hard to draw a solid line between the different topics.
One thought I had was to set up my website to make it easier to follow certain types of post (by category and post type), but that also seems to put too much of the burden on the readers.
I didn’t realise you had been doing this for 20 years!
I do enjoy reading your posts. Like Neil, I would not read on F1 but, if you have categories clearly marked then I know to skip what I’m not interested in. I think you should write about whatever you want, I know I do ahahaha!
All the best for 2023, and keep writing!
Thanks Stéphanie for your comment and input. Have a happy new year!
At last, the eldest (I believe) gets to feel like the youngest! I read the other week that Christine from Sidepodcast was celebrating 20 years, which inevitably led me to thinking about my 20th coming up next year. So it is with thanks you are also there before me.
I remember fondly the good old days of blogging, and as you mentioned, of also having the time to write. By as time will always march forwards, along with our lives, our interests will develop and evolve. Personally I have no issue skipping over the UX-centric articles and I’m just pleased you occasionally do find the time to update. By the way, I subscribe to your RSS; Feedly just about works for me.
You have asked your audience why they read your work, but perhaps the better question might be of yourself: what do you enjoy writing about the most?
PS. Best wishes for 2023, hope the little one is keeping you on your toes.
Ollie, great to hear from you! I’m also subscribed to your RSS feed. I’m not 100% happy with Feedly myself, but I’ve not yet found a better alternative…
Thanks for your input as well. If I have time later this year I might make some tweaks to the structure of the blog that will help me feel like I can write more about what I want to.
In the meantime, happy new year to you! All the best for 2023.
Still reading! Picking up from where I left off with the David Bowie theme of my comment 10 years ago; I guess this is the point where post-Heroes Duncan Stephen goes on to enjoy enormous success as a megastar in the blog-sphere with chart-topping pop hits such as ‘Let’s Dance’. Duncan Stephen the Megastar…. or should I say… Duncan Stephen the METAstar! :O …. Meta-Starman even? Hmm I’ve gone too far there. I think I’ll revert to METAstar – I think that was rather clever actually.
That leads nicely on to the reason that I read and enjoy your blog. It keeps me right up to speed on developments such as the metaverse, trendy user engagement things (which I find very interesting) and your juicy personal life. You offer insights and explain specific subjects in a way that remains understandable to people like me who have a layman passing interest in such matters, but want to know that little extra detail/reasoned opinion beyond a simplified balanced guide offered in, say, a bbc snippet that’s all “So what’s this Metaverse all about? A 2-minute brief guide to a brief history of the short history”.
20 years of blogging is a great achievement!
PS: I retain my view that you ought to dive into that power vacuum at Twitter and become the new CEO.
PS PS: I know you have a general distaste for the Metaverse. I read that article and all I could think was how funny it would be if your blog, or an evolution of it, became hugely popular within it. Everyone with their VR helmets on being all “Wow Duncan Stephen there he is! Awooga!”
Thanks for the comment David! And for your kind words about my writing. It’s great to know that you get value in the stuff that isn’t necessarily the personal stuff. 🙂
Thanks Duncan. Really enjoy reading your informative blog posts. Was good to meet you at World Usability Day.
Josh, thank you so much for your comment. It was great to chat with you at our World Usability Day event. It’s great to know you enjoy reading my blog. All the best!