I still frequently post things on social media, even if I prefer blogging. Publishing a blog post with preview images, descriptions and whatnot can be a bit slow.
But when it comes to discovery and overview, things older than a week may just as well be erased from social platforms. Now it just happens to be that when it comes to spreading ideas easily through blogs, things are happening in internet land—things that I find really inspiring. I’d be surprised if they aren’t going to change blogging in the next year or two!
Blogging is back
Firstly The Verge, trying to make blogs cool again. They weave little updates from their social account into the stream of articles, as well as links to other blogs. The result is a fun magazine-like browsing experience, which doesn’t feel like a news feed at all—even if I get lost in it and don’t know where I should start and stop reading.
Note-taking is changing
Then there’s the Zettelkasten approach to taking notes, where there’s one note per idea. For many authors, note-taking is essential. So it’s to be expected that the way people take notes influences how they write. Taking that a bit further, a website could be set up as a bunch of notes that are connected in articles. That could be a taxonomy very different from a chronological blog with topics and tags. More like a choose-your-own adventure: discover everything the author has to share and overlaps with your interests instead of story telling.
Now I can’t separate the growing attention for note-taking technique from the rise of note-taking applications. Specifically, those based on markdown files. Markdown has been a popular format used by notes apps like Bear, Standard Notes and Notion. But apps like Obsidian and Logseq take it a step further, saving all notes as separate markdown files. That means that notes created with these new tools are open to be used by other applications. No need for connecting accounts to APIs and whatnot: you can write a simple script to publish notes online. In fact, that’s already built in into Obsidian and Notion too! That may not be for everyone, but the openness and simplicity of these new tools also allowed a community of script and plugin developers to emerge. They create tools for tiny niches: you can find actively maintained plugins only used by only about a hundred people (with the developers likely among them).
If it sounds implausible that an algorithm could combine fragments from Zettelkasten notes into a readable article: listicles aren’t much more than that. This whole post started as a heading in this post about blogging in general. There’s no reason for this post to be this long (or the other shorter because I took it out) other than that I did it that way. But for some readers it would be more comprehensible or interesting if I’d leave out a few topics, or add a few more. I’m trying to balance the depth and length of this article, but ideally, my website would do that for each individual reader!
Link pages are back
Finally, there’s this 90s websites links page concept coming back. There’s a key difference between the lists and directories of yore though. Today most people add notes: tweet-sized comments to inform their audiences why the links are interesting. Alper Cugun frequently gets me to read long articles that way. I’ve got a bookmarks feed and page on my site too, inspired by Brian Lovin’s. There’s only about one visitor per day looking at my bookmarks, but I use it myself, so I won’t be closing it any time soon.
The overlap between The Verge homepage’s hodgepodge of platform embeds and that last bit about sharing links with notes is how they both rely on other platforms. Not only as providers of content, but also to create the overviews to begin with. When I see something interesting online, I add it to Pocket to read it later. After I read it, like it and feel that it could be valuable in the future, I star it. Every time I update this website, I pull in the starred items via Zapier and Airtable. It’s (sidenote: I’d use Pocket’s sharing feature if the notes there would show up in Zapier. My bookmarks are already available as a separate RSS feed, and it would be nice to deliver them directly to my Pocket followers too. ) , but fully automated.
So what’s the blog of the future like?
Combining all the above, I like to fantasize about having a website sync with my notes. I could apply tags to my notes to define how they relate. The system could then create article-like pages that combines the notes. In fact, I believe that AI algorithms could do most if not all of the writing and editing for me. But since the synthesis of articles from notes is actually the part where I’m reflecting on the content and learning myself, I don’t even need that part.
The biggest problem I see with combining notes into countless variants of articles is SEO: search engines penalize duplicate content. That could be avoided by having the fragments in all variants reference a canonical page. But since that would likely either be a super long article or only a single fragment, that wouldn’t be quality content and still not rank very high.
A few years ago publishers were afraid that a deluge of AI-generated articles would destroy their page ranks. For small publications something like that already happened—regardless of the relevance of independent publications, Google increasingly favors big sites. I notice that too in the stats for this website. This year, 14% of visitors found this site via search engines. It used to be 40–50%. For the discovery of my posts, most readers depend on (mainly big) websites. If SEO is not as important to bloggers as it used to be, then we can just as well go all in with creating awesome new user experiences.
Setting up some automated article generating machine goes way beyond what I many could do with my personal blog. I wouldn’t have enough content fragments to algorithmically create articles from them. But I can totally see some link farmer use AI to create such fragments from articles posted on other people’s sites, rewrite them in dozens of languages and tones of voices and combine them as infinite articles tailored to each visitor’s interests.
I hope to see blogging systems author-friendly ways to pull in data and to push posts to other channels. With the reduced relevance of RSS and search engines, social platforms remain important to reach audiences. Of course anything’s possible already, when you run your own site. But maybe that’s all yet another distraction of writing and publishing new posts!
Whatever the future will bring, I’m sure it depends on the original ideas and styles of the authors! No AI can supplant that.