May 26, 2019
It’s been many years since I regularly wrote a blog, in fact since 2014 my longest piece of writing is probably an email. This sobering thought made me think about the past 15 years of blogging and social networks, and also why I stopped blogging and started using Twitter instead.
I guess my blog never became popular enough for me to commit to (at it’s peak, my old blog Ejecutive had about 10k monthly readers, and made up to $300 a month in ad revenue. I didn’t know how to take it past that level, and despite a lot of effort the readership stagnated and eventually dwindled. I stopped blogging on there in 2010, and stopped paying for the hosting in 2018). I realise now that it didn’t have enough of it’s own identity, instead I tried to emulate what I liked most from my favourite blogs, but that wasn’t enough. I would have one really popular post, but then the next wouldn’t be. I made the mistake of coupling my own sense of satisfaction I got from blogging with the number of readers. So when the audience started to decline, so did my will to keep on blogging.
After 2010 I realised that writing wasn’t ever going to become a steady source of income. The “blogging scene” had also shurnk; several blogger friends stopped writing, including some that were very influential on me when I first started blogging. The world had moved on, and I thought I had to as well. When Twitter came along, I was addicted straight away; it was like blogging but easier and faster. There were no formalities, no expectations, and certainly no desire in the back of my mind to make a living from it. It definitely felt like a lot of bloggers moved over to Twitter because of this, and the same sense of community I made blogging all those years ago came back.
I liked Twitter so much I even wrote the first ever Twitter app for Windows: Twitterlicious. Heavily influenced by Twitterrific for Mac (it’s creator Craig Hockenberry even helped me with the then undocumented and unofficial Twitter API). Back then we were still only following our own fairly small groups of friends, outside of a few small niches what you saw on your timeline was what your followers wrote. Twitterrific was the first app to introduced the concept of retweeting, sharing a tweet from someone else on your own timeline. This was the first time that tweets could become viral, and I still remember the initial thrill and validation I would feel when a follower retweeted a tweet I made, and then seeing it be retweeted outside of my bubble by people I don’t know. Being able to make these kind of new connections is what let Twitter’s popularity explode, but it also changed Twitter and it’s users for good. It certainly dehumanises a Twitter user when you don’t have any relationship with them, or even know what hey are. When you hear people talking about old Twitter and how it was better back in their day, it’s not just old men yelling at clouds, it really was different. Back then everyone knew each other, and in turn knew people’s personalities and sense of humour, and it was rare for tweets to be taken out of context.
This is my own uninformed opinion, but I think Twitter today is a series of echo chambers, in which expressing dissent can result from losing a few followers and being shunned by a virtual community, to losing your job and livelihood. Twitter’s greatest strength that allowed it to grow to be one of the big tech giants, has also became its greatest weakness. I would be lying if I said this didn’t change what I wrote on Twitter. I first stopped writing flippant and (what I thought was) humorous commentary on things that were easily misunderstood (easy to do so in 140 characters), I don’t think anyone will argue that’s a great loss to anyone. But then I stopped expressing any opinions, as I would be anxious about how that opinion would be received. And now I only really post about things I find interesting, and retweet other’s people’s tweets that reflect my opinion (but because someone else wrote it they get the hate).
If you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering what is the point of the 700 words you’ve just read. I don’t have one. In fact not having one is the whole point of why I’m starting blogging again, I want to flexing my long form writing muscles again, without the pressure to succeed (make a living), or conform to other people’s expectations (Twitter). This blog is read by no-one, and rightly so given I haven’t written anything since 2014. Its now the perfect place for me to think out loud and that’s something my blog should always have been.
Written by Weiran Zhang who lives and works in Nottingham. You should follow him on Twitter.