Ah, 1994. What a year that was. The year I was pointed towards the world-wide web.
The joy of writing ‘stuff’ in a text editor and sticking it on a Unix-based web server or loading it locally into Mosaic. And then wondering if anyone else was building web sites (or ‘websites’ as they’re now called). So along came search engines, which soon turned into portals, the wannabe gateways to the web. Lycos, Excite, AltaVista. Remember them?
Some individuals had their own areas of cyberspace, usually as part of their University employer’s site, in which they could indulge themselves, promote their own agendas and make lists of recommended sites you should really visit. And thus was the blogroll born.
Wind forward 24 years and a bit years, and the ‘ting’ seems to have gone from ‘computing’1.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a blogroll on my site; I’m pretty sure that my Other Things page doesn’t count. And if I did I wouldn’t have called it a blogroll, but it would have had a link to Stephen Waddington’s site.
Wadds recently posed the question “Where have all the bloggers gone?” and the answer to me, in part, is that they haven’t gone anywhere; it’s just that they’ve become indolent. These days, if Google can’t find you in the first eight links you might as well not exist. Why go to the effort of building your brand in your own space when you can quite happily be a voice among millions on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or some other site that Google regularly indexes?
I have my own site because I don’t want anyone else owning my content, and I don’t see why you should have to sign up to a service to read anything I write. Or any photographs I take. If I did audio and video they’d be available here and only here (unless I had a jolly good reason otherwise).
But any comments you might have on that content could appear on Twitter or LinkedIn where I cross-promote, which helps dilute the conversation. That’s not so bad for me, as I only write because I feel like it. In the last 12-plus years my content has attracted seven comments. Five came from the same person, one was a response I made. It can make life harder if you’re trying to track engagement or build an audience though.
On a couple of occasions I’ve written a smaller version for LinkedIn and directed readers here, rather than just share a link to my site. That would work better if I wrote more generally.
Apart from its therapeutic nature, writing here is a great way for me to marshal my thoughts which means I’m practicing a workplace skill2 . When I tweet I’m practicing the same skill, just in fewer characters. Either way it’s my content.
What we lose in not having blogrolls is a sense of curation, curiosity and recommendation. If I post on LinkedIn it does not automatically follow that all my connections are recommendations (sorry, LinkedIn connections), and it’s not as if they all long-form post. Let’s be honest, it’s mostly shares of other content. But as Wadds points out, for PR people there’s PR Place and their weekly roundup (and accompanying tweets) on who is writing what.
Which, perhaps, is the greatest problem with blogrolls – they are static. Back in the day, lists would appear but were then rarely checked to see if the sites pointed to still existed. PR Place is a living blogroll, a bit like a curated RSS feed. In part that’s why my RSS feed link at the top (or on the menu, if viewing on a mobile device) only shows my latest public relations posts – it makes like easier for anyone subscribing.
Ironically, this site is running a self-hosted version of WordPress (version 5.0.3 as I write). WordPress is blogging software (don’t believe the CMS hype). They took out the Links option in version 3.5, way back in 2012. If even the world’s most popular single blogging software doesn’t allow an out-of-the-box blogroll, what chance do they have?