My friend Sean was over a few nights ago and made a comment that stuck to my slightly margarita-soaked brain — (I’m going to put this in quotes, but he probably worded it differently) “I don’t understand this blogroll thing at all. It feels like it’s for insiders.”
At that moment, it occurred to me that the way I interact with the internet probably isn’t the way most people do. And that what I think of as obvious might seem like a pile of nothing if you don’t understand the concept from the start. If Sean — a smart guy with a smart degree, but no tech background — doesn’t get it in its current form, I’m doing something wrong.
So let’s start from the top.
The origin of the blogroll
I have no readily available data to support this, but most people navigate the internet from three paths:
- Social media - Something like a third of humanity is on Facebook now, and most people I know unfortunately view the internet purely through a social lens (meaning they only leave Facebook when someone sends them a link on Facebook to go somewhere else). This tends to magnify content meant to “go viral.”
- Site(s) of choice - Whether it’s Buzzfeed, CNN, ESPN, or some other mega-site with endless amounts of content, some people treat the internet like cable TV and only flip through a handful of channels. This version of the internet completely cuts off small, independent voices.
- Google - My guess is that this group skews a little older, but some people purely use the internet for on-demand information, and it mainly comes from Google searches. This version of the internet magnifies Google rankings, which tend to be dominated by huge content churners like Pinterest and Wikipedia.
What I’m getting at here is that the way most people use the internet cuts thoughtful, independent bloggers out of the equation. But there are thousands upon thousands of independent bloggers out there, diligently plugging away, hoping for an audience that may or may not ever come. These are the unfiltered, raw voices the internet was founded on — almost like a dying middle class of people who aren’t attached to huge publishing companies, but also aren’t satisfied with the sacrifices social media requires (privacy, customization, etc.).
If you think of old-school blogging as the vinyl record industry, I’m creating The Blogroll to act as your go-to record store for discovering the best of them — the best new content on an old form that still sounds better than anything else. I think I called it content aggregation at some point, but in reality, The Blogroll is a content curation tool, and I’m the curator (although that hopefully won’t always be the case).
Content curation isn’t anything new, and it’s my preferred way to use the internet. Social media is fine, search engines are fine, and mega-sites are fine, but my time feels better spent consuming content curated by communities and people I appreciate. Specifically, there are four sources I flip through every morning before the start of any workday:
- memeorandum- I may work in tech, but all this blogging stuff began when I realized I hated my political science degree the semester before graduation. (Anything but politics, I said as my poli-sci counselor was asking me what my plans were after graduation.) But while I have zero interest working in politics, I do find myself drawn to political news like a slightly unsettling childhood memory. In short, memeorandum takes all the US political news from all the sources and organizes them into the big themes that matter. It’s my guilty pleasure, even though it makes my blood boil.
- Techmeme - The sister site of Memeorandum, it’s the same thing, but for tech news.
- Hacker News - HN is content curated by a massive community of hackers and hacker adjacents. What makes this site interesting are the comments attached to each post — it’s this bizarre mix of humanity, immense intelligence, and degrees of social anxiety you won’t find anywhere else. If anything, Hacker News has taught me that even the most benign thoughts can be interpreted in countless ways.
- NextDraft - Unlike the other three, NextDraft is a newsletter curated by a guy, Dave Pell, who puts a slight personal touch on the stories he highlights. He’s on the pantheon of people who have influenced my writing style the most.
My hope for The Blogroll is to be a site within iwantmyname that blends the community input of Hacker News with the personal Touch of NextDraft, potentially organized into interest buckets like memeorandum and Techmeme. Then, like Techmeme, I want to pair it with a leaderboard of sorts that functions as a traditional blogroll to let people follow indie writers without needing to rely on our curation. And all this will come with one simple promise — the content here will only come from independently owned sites. No tweetstorms or Facebook posts or Instagrams or even Medium posts. I’m looking for interesting content from independent entities. The more obscure the better.
Not being known as someone who is good at waiting for things (the dev team will be tied up with existing projects for quite some time), I decided to start my curation now, on the iwantmyname blog. It’s not scratching my ambition itch, but it is getting me into the habit of reading and curating the kinds of content I’m looking for.
Much like NextDraft, the current format is pretty simple — author, headline, standout quote, then my thoughts. Then, underneath the posts, I’ve added a leaderboard/blogroll that shows how many times each blog has appeared in the Blogroll posts (we’re on week 1, so nothing has shown up more than once yet).
Who is this for?
This is the real question. For anything to be popular, it needs to have a focus. Hacker News has hackers, Techmeme has people interested in tech news, memeorandum has political junkies — but who is The Blogroll for?
I should start here with iwantmyname, because The Blogroll is basically a service built for the community. Given that we’re a domain registrar, things like site naming and domain ownership seem natural, but we also dabble in things related to our company culture like remote working and finding culture in a distributed team. Then there’s social media — particularly, getting people off social media and onto independent websites. Indie site ownership is admittedly self-serving (you don’t need a domain name for Facebook), but it’s also my preferable to social media in so many ways.
Social media puts all the control in the hands of a few. A simple change could come any minute that changes the frequency your friends see your content, or even worse, could make it easier for third-party companies to purchase and use your private data. And sure, most people don’t really care if their advertising becomes more targeted, but they should care if entire populations are being targeted for their ease of manipulation (welcome to the new political normal).
There are a number of little reasons for thinking social media is dangerous, but mostly, I don’t think any one entity should have as much power as they currently possess. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg felt the need to post a video titled “Live discussing Russian election interference and our next steps to protect the integrity of the democratic process.” last September. Do we really want to live in a world where Facebook — the company known for manipulating emotional responses to content — plays an integral role in the democratic process? I sure don’t. Hell no.
So back to who this is for (I think I got lost there). I’ll keep it simple — The Blogroll is for people who live on, work in, or care about internet. It’s not going to have developer articles about coding languages, but it will have articles about how those things are affecting us. It won’t have articles about political news, but it might have one about how net neutrality impacts our lives. You might find an article or two about remote working. Or how the internet is changing the nature of our relationships. I’m painting with a broad brush here, but it’s not a brush for everyone.
Is it for you? I hope so, given how far you’ve read into this post. All I can say is that you should check out what I’ve done so far. Click on some links. If you find something that interests you, come back again for more next week.
Sean, did that help?