The blog format is ready for disruption

The recent chatter about pagination on blog home pages has reminded me of the days when blogging was just getting underway. Back then there were a few pioneers that were testing the waters, experimenting with the designs and layouts of their sites, constantly trying to find the right set of features that a blog needed.

And for the past few years I think this has settled down a little. The standards those few pioneers set in the beginning are still around. Most blogs today have a fairly similar feature-set and layout. Even when the layout is dramatically different than the status quo the feature-set is still just about the same.

I believe the blog format is ready for disruption. Perhaps there doesn’t need to be "the next" WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger for this to happen. Maybe all we really need is a few pioneers to spearhead an effort to change the way blogs are laid-out on the screen. There are still so many problems to solve; how new readers and also long-time subscribers consume the stream of posts, how people identify with the content of the blog on the home page, how to see what the blog is all about, how to make money, how to share, and how interact and provide feedback on the content.

Several rather new trends are appearing in the pro blogosphere that started only a few years ago but are now becoming the new pro blog recipe. These trends simply weren’t there 7 or even 5 years ago. Disabling comments is seems to be the main dish (though 4 years ago it was debated). Having a podcast on-the-side is the side-dish. Add to that some sponsorship opportunities in RSS feeds, and a sprinkling of an ad network to taste, and you’ve got yourself the modern day pro blog recipe. Actually, all you really have is a direct mirror of what John Gruber has put together with Daring Fireball – but, nonetheless, these are the trends among pro bloggers and these must be taken into consideration when coming up with a brand new blog format that could set the trend for the next few years.

Syndication has also changed. It seems just yesterday that people thought full-content RSS feeds would destroy their ability to make money blogging. It turns out that could possibly be the most profitable part of their blog’s business model.

Having a Twitter account for your blog, or simply being selective with what is tweeted from your blog (which is my current model), is where things may very well be shifting.Today it would be unthinkable to see sponsored tweets in amongst the links to posts but give it a few years. Today’s Twitter feed is yesterday’s RSS feed. I imagine there will be sponsored tweets too and, in the near future, people will be just fine with that.

Exclusive, paid-for email newsletters had a spike earlier this year with a few services launching and some key figures in the industry taking a stab at them. I have no inside information on how those are turning out – but there is reason to believe that the blog could also do with some exclusive, paid-for content. It may not work for your blog about Hobbit-lore but perhaps it’d work for an incredibly good cooking, investing advice, design-and-code-tutorial, or architecture exam review blog.

Something I’ve always had issue with is that there aren’t enough "home pages" on blogs. That is why the home page for my site is my about page rather than a reverse chronological list of posts as most blogs are. I have that page too but people landing directly on should not be introduced to my website by only seeing the latest few posts I’ve written. It wouldn’t be a very good introduction and, very well, may not even represent what my blog is about. Because this is a personal blog and not a blog about any one topic, the latest few blog posts would be a very bad representation about what this site really is – a personal blog.

Most blogs that try to earn a buck want to put as many clickable items on their home pages as possible. They probably feel that if they didn’t you’d never go anywhere besides the home page. I can say, after pouring over the statistics of my home page, that isn’t true. A fair percentage of the people that have come to my home page have stayed on that page for a few moments (presumably reading the page) and subsequently clicked on the blog or diet page(s), done a search, or gone to my Twitter account. All good things. I hope that someone solves this issue in a much better way than I have because I really do believe there is a lot of room for improvement here.

Advertising on blogs has simply never worked well. Yes, publishers have made money. Yes, advertisers have increased sales by purchasing ad space on blogs. However, for the core-subscribers to a blog the ads are just noise. Ad networks like The Deck do a very good job at striving to keep a higher quality product by controlling the ads and how they are displayed. But, arguably, even at that level of curation we still just end up with an ad in a sidebar on a blog. I wish there was a better answer for making content "free" to blog subscribers but – at present – advertising is our mule.

Some people claim the trackback is dead. I don’t believe that to be true. In fact, I rather like trackbacks. I like when blogs show me what others have written about a particular blog post. I like them even better than comments. Perhaps if blog software, and the theme of a blog, used the optional excerpt of the trackback standard better they’d work much more like comments (and be much more valuable) than they do now.

Reblogging, Retweeting, Sharing/Liking on Facebook, etc. are all ways to have a post be spread outside of a blog’s audience. The modern day word of mouth. There is no doubt that these tools work very well for some blogs while on others they do nothing. I have these options on my blog and, while I do get a few people using them per day, they serve little purpose then to remind people that if they’d like to share the post they can do it quickly and easily. But in reality, if a post is simply too good not to pass on it will be passed on whether you have a big Facebook button on your blog or not. These tools aren’t going anywhere in fact they are going to become even more ubiquitous – but it’d be nice if someone with an ounce of taste figured out a way to make these options pretty as well as easy to use and, as a hat-trick, much more valuable to all parties involved.

I know, I know, I’m going on and on about this but all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg as to why I believe that the blog format is ripe for someone to really begin innovating again. We have all of the tools and over a decade’s worth of content – all we need are some pioneers.

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