I wrote about the benefits of blogging before. That was four years ago. Now I have some things to add to that.
Here are my reflections on blogging versus posting on social platforms.
Blogging can help me think beyond the surface level
There are some successful social media influencer types that post things that at first look seem very deep and wise to me. But often I realize later that they’re just well-written truisms.
When I attempt to write a coherent post from my thoughts and notes, it lays bare mistakes and gaps in what I know and think. As a result, most of my drafts never make it to a post. The good thing about that is that I’m not boring with monologues like the one you’ve just started reading very often. On the other hand, the most (sidenote: Sometimes I completely lose interest in a topic after I’ve finished a post about it (ugh, remember web3?). ) are the ones that haven’t been turned into a post yet: the ideas that haven’t reached the mainstream yet and that I haven’t yet read other posts about. But if those new ideas had been mainstream already, I wouldn’t struggle to write about them.
Four years ago, my plan was to write about high-minded design process reflections, but instead I wrote a lot of in the vain of how to dark mode. Never waste a good hype when you want traffic. But it can be a real distraction from more interesting topics.
My blog archive may look like an odd mix of topics posted at irregular intervals. But for every month without a post, I see a failed attempt to get to the point of something I consider important. Despite dozens of unfinished drafts, there are two areas that I keep failing to cover: design processes and design ethics. I believe these two topics are the most important for designers to share about and discuss online. But like a said: hypes.
I reach more people with my blog
I believe I reach more people with this blog than via social media. It’s hard to quantify that though, because what does it really mean to reach someone? Views don’t say that much. If we’re talking impact/effort, I recommend the approach of my one tweet that got over 900 likes: reacting with a joke to an already popular joke tweet. Reached over 30k people, took me a few seconds to post. But I forgot what it was about and I don’t think those 30k people remember. And when I post something on my Twitter timeline, it usually gets less than a hundred impressions.
The platforms reward the best performing accounts with a big but short burst of users’ attention. But readers find my blog posts years after I publish them.
Another way to assess reach is the amount and quality of reactions. The interactions I have with readers are actually very good: respectful, curious and helpful. But people used to send me more emails before I added the comment system. Those emails were very good. I’m grateful for all the comments, but I feel readers were more considerate in their emails, sharing more of their personal views.
Social media make me better at social media, blogging makes me better at writing
I’m not saying that writing successful social media posts is easy. But writing social media postings is very different from writing articles. Social media postings don’t need depth and don’t even have to be true. They mainly need to gain attention and have a visceral impact strong enough for people to react. I guess some people use that approach for blogs and even books. And I could learn something from that approach, instead of making yet another meandering post for which I don’t have an ending in mind yet. But I’m not here to gain a massive following: I want to share insights of which I hope they’re useful to others.
If you know how to write a good blog post, you also know how to write good emails, design documentation and how-tos. That work rarely gets a lot of love. But the quality of that kind of writing can be the difference between information that gets picked up and that what is ignored.
It’s not only social media that can distract from writing
If social media are a game, it’s a competition where you collect points for views and likes. But that game can become a distraction and make you believe that postings that don’t gain you points aren’t worth writing.
Blogging is more like an open adventure. I can create my own formats, styles and everything. But that too has turned into a distraction. Somehow, every time I sit down to write, I get a new idea for how to improve the layout of my posts, add a new feed, create a new taxonomy.
Hustle culture and the attention economy can turn anything online into work
A coworker once told me about a candidate who was excited to work with us, because they read a blog post of mine. That was flattering, but also startling, because this little website having any impact on people for a long time was an aspirational and secondary goal. There’s also something weird about that this blog, that was supposed to be a tool for personal reflection, will influence how possible future employers view me. Of course writing about work is tightly coupled with work, but now every time I write anything for this blog, perhaps I should consider how hiring managers would read that.
I didn’t want to become like those people tweeting things like ‘What’s your favorite design tool’ (with optionally: ‘wrong answers only’). But I get it: if you want your good content to surface, you have to grow engagement and build a profile that gets picked up. I thought that I’d be immune to such dynamics, but nu-uh. Seeing hundreds of people read a post makes me feel validated, that my ideas and writing matter. I’ve also posted things I really liked writing myself, but that very few people read. I can feel awkward about those. Every medium has its own peculiarities, making people do weird things for attention and recognition. It would be dishonest to pretend that I’d be immune to that as a blogger. So I can’t rule out that occasionally I spend time writing something that I hoped would land well with readers. It’s not something I pursue, but I think every creator, occasionally dreams of making a living off what they like to create.
And actually, I like that some bigger websites link to my posts. They send a steady stream of visitors. Even months after publishing anything at all, that shows this site’s still valuable to some.
Valuable in money too, if you’d ask the advertisers who ask if we can collaborate. I never set out to make money with the blog (at least not after I stopped freelancing). But sometimes it feels like I’m leaving money on the table and I should do more with this little piece of internet real estate. Sometimes the offers are tempting. Don’t worry though. I don’t like ads. I already know what I’d be in for. This proudly is a personal website.
I don’t see a great future for the current social platforms
Four years ago, when I revived this blog, it felt a bit anachronistic to do that. LinkedIn was pushing its Articles feature, allegedly giving authors a lot of reach. And for all its flaws, I find LinkedIn is pretty decent, compared to the other big networks. But it’s only slightly more exciting than a contacts app and I wouldn’t go there for the latest design news. Of Facebook’s users only a shrinking number of wappies sharing misinformation and disinformation is left. Twitter’s at the whims of Elon Musk and makes its users miserable anyway. Instagram is becoming a TikTok clone. Telegram groups are cool, but barely form a social network.
So it looks like the social platforms are over. The social aspects of the platforms are reduced to a few numbers used by the algorithms to send content to audiences. TikTok is the apotheosis of that. And because of that, it can’t be a true replacement of the other platforms. Using TikTok is closer to watching linear TV than having meaningful social interactions.
Timeless content and hot takes need to be separated
So, how do you get the latest design news? I’m pretty sure it reaches you at least indirectly via authors’ RSS feeds, curated feeds like Sidebar and Muz.li, forums and newsletters like Hey Designer. Yes, I read about things like the Figma acquisition first on Twitter too. But I actually only needed zero hot takes. And my time would have been better spent drafting yet another blog post than engaging with that. Even if I don’t post it in the end.
I want to focus my attention on timeless content, because that’s what’s most valuable for myself and most readers. Timeless content is and odd fit for social platforms, where it’s all about the outrage du jour.
Does that mean I’ve totally given op social media? Not at all, but I’m still limiting my time there. I think the sweet spot is at only going there a few times a week, for less than 15 minutes. The algorithms have become good enough to serve me topics that are relevant. And it’s nice to see what people in my network are up to (lots of people changing careers to climate protection!).
Every now and then I still feel the urge to post something on the platforms. And sometimes there can be value in sharing things about current affairs. In fact, I think that many people with interesting, valuable ideas never share them, because they can’t find the time to turn them into proper writing. And for that reason I’m limiting myself too, with my current single-archive blog setup—I don’t want to mix half-baked ideas with the articles I spent a lot of time writing.
Blogging is the way
The only (somewhat) social platforms I’d consider for sharing evergreen content are YouTube and Tumblr. And the latter is basically a blog hosting service. So for me to share text online, the only real option remains blogging!
Continued at The future of blogging.