Ruminations about Blogging Platforms

Since the beginning of the year I have been experimenting with various blogging platforms. Rather than post my inane ramblings to one platform, I have been cross-posting to the popular (read:free) platforms – Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress and LiveJournal. It’s a special kind of insanity that I seem to be particularly susceptible to.

Without wittering on about my own personal madness, I thought it might be interesting to record my thoughts about the nature of each place, and the people you might find there.

To understand where the blog platforms evolved from, and where they are going, you have to look at the blogging landscape of the mid 2000s. At the time anybody could run their own blog with self-hosted instances of WordPress, or any of a number of other popular PHP scripts. Hosted blogs were still in their infancy, with LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and Vox all fighting for a relatively small pool of potential users (lets face it – blogging has never had mass appeal).

While publishing was straightforward, following others was not. RSS had existed since the early 2000s, and became the natural agent for following blogs. Websites such as Rojo, BlogLines, and Google Reader tried to solve the problem of reading a disparate collection of RSS feeds by aggregating them into a personalised stream of posts. It was a step up from LiveJournal, where you could only follow other LiveJournal users. Feedly and BlogLovin’ are the direct descendants of the RSS aggregation services.

LiveJournal and Tumblr both realised early that building a walled garden had it’s advantages – you could not only make it easy to post, but also make it easy to follow others.

In their infinite wisdom, Tumblr never implemented proper commenting or private messages – it still doesn’t have them (but they are promised). It’s strange because Tumblr is essentially a dumbed down version of LiveJournal – which pre-dated it by several years. There was a time when LiveJournal dwarfed all before it, but then nobody really saw WordPress coming.

WordPress began as a fork by a single kid at college of an existing PHP blog script. Over the course of a couple of years it evolved to become perhaps the most flexible, powerful blogging solution available (I used the term “perhaps” because there have always been innumerable web publishing platforms out there – Joomla, Drupal, MoveableType, TextPattern, and so on – each of which would be defended by staunch advocates).

The major hurdle in using WordPress had always been that you had to host it yourself – or purchase the services of a host that would install and configure it for you. Automattic – the company founded to look after the development of WordPress realised it would be a good idea to host WordPress for people – so started building a multi-tennant version of WordPress called “WordPress Mu”. They then hosted their own instance of it at wordpress.com, and let people use it for free while building it out into the leviathan we known today.

Time for some numbers, I guess. Google (or “Alphabet” as they are now known) don’t release numbers for Blogger. Tumblr has in the region of 250 million blogs, and WordPress has about 80 million blogs. LiveJournal is a ghost-town in comparison, with a few thousand active users in the west (another story for another time).

The numbers don’t tell the whole story though – the majority of Tumblr is filled with “re-blogged” content – people sharing the same post as each other. The number of original content creators at Tumblr is vastly less – which probably means that WordPress is by far the most active platform in terms of original content being posted and discovered by people outside of the platform. Of course the marketers at Tumblr always quote numbers of posts, rather than numbers of original posts – for good reason.

If you look at raw “unique visitors”, WordPress is third behind Google and Facebook across the web as a whole – none of the other publishing platforms are anywhere near. WordPress deliver content to something in the region of 130 million people every month. Over half of the “published” web uses WordPress now.

It’s interesting to spend time at Tumblr, WordPress, and LiveJournal, because the platforms and the posts are really secondary to the most important thing – the people. At the end of the day the posts are being submitted by people, and we’re all out here on the edges of the networks, either throwing messages into the melting pots, or reaching out to others who’s messages we have stumbled upon.

In a nutshell, the people I have become friends with through Tumblr remain fairly distant (with a few exceptions) – this is almost entirely because the platform does not assist you in forging bonds. Tumblr have never implemented proper commenting and private messages – meaning it is more about broadcasting than interacting.

The people I have become friends with through WordPress have almost universally remained friends for years. I think mostly this is because WordPress posts tend to be more thoughtfully curated – longer form. They also have a proper commenting system with replies.

The friendships I have forged through LiveJournal have been by far the most “human”. LiveJournal has no “like” button, but it does have commenting and private messages – it also has something none of the other popular platforms have – privacy. You can restrict your posts to only be seen by those you call a friend. This all comes at the cost of a very small pool of users though – which perhaps explains the quality of interaction; only the stalwart, driven writers remain.

Anyway. I’ve gone on for far too long already. I’ll shut up now.

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