October 21, 2016

Indie Blogging & Distribution

You can't divorce content and distribution

I’ve been thinking a lot about indie blogging recently. The concept of writing on your own platform, or just writing in the fringes of other platforms. Writing with an independent voice.

At least in the circles I frequent there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the fact that the dominant platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Medium) have gobbled up all of the whitespace. They’ve sucked the energy out of the room for independent voices.

But I simply refuse to buy it. Sure, there are some juggernaut platforms out there - and they control a lot of the web. But the web is a vast sprawling infinite city. Just because you only frequent the regular joints and shop in the malls doesn’t mean there aren’t thriving subcultures, weird neighborhoods and undiscovered alleyways.

I saw a tweet storm from Craig Mod that give me a jolt of inspiration:

The conversation here naturally turned to how people get their independent voices - only to arrive at the conclusion that TinyLetter (and newsletters in general) have filled a lot of this void.

Then, I saw the newly built Pressthink - PressThink’s new design and third space:

Instead, I wanted to give my writing home on the web a refresh — especially with mobile becoming the standard — and add to it something new. I’m calling the new feature “the board.” Another term for it would be cards, a slightly different space for me to unfold what I think.

I don’t think indy blogging is done for. No way. More likely it’s due for a re-birth.

I encourage you to check out the board - it feels new and interesting. Especially on mobile.

We bemoan the death of forums - but what was the real essence of a forum? Nothing more than a shared agreement to keep showing up in the same place again and again. That community naturally formed all manner of interesting cultures and shared norms.

The big platforms have certainly dominated that “shared agreement to keep showing up in the same place again and again” but our attention is large and our interests varied. TinyLetters are an agreement to keep showing up in the same place, PressThink’s new board is an agreement to keep showing up in the same place.

And it struck me… You can’t divorce content creation from content distribution. We can’t rely on Twitter, Facebook or Medium to distribute our content - much as we need to own our platforms we need to also own our own distribution.

Yes, you’ll own a fraction of the audience. A fraction of the eyeballs. But you’ll have a relationship with them much deeper and much stronger than anything built in someone else’s stream.

So, here’s something of a little manifesto or rallying cry:

  • If you only spend your time on Facebook/Twitter/Medium then stream in, stream out - you’re going to get what you ask for. A fleeting set of stories loosely bound.
  • So, spend time in the corners of the web. Subscribe to some newsletters. Bookmark some forums and blogs in your browser and show up regularly. It’s hard, there’s no stream. But you’ll start to find the mom & pop internet not the shopping mall internet.
  • Dabble with your own space. Dabble with your own voice. Own your own platform.
  • But don’t stop there - own your own distribution too! Build a newsletter. Build a messenger bot to alert people to new posts. Build your own stream. Create a shared delusion of showing up regularly.

Long live the indie web.

Update - Dave Winer just put up which is a feed of a a bunch of “bloggers” (doesn’t that term feel like they’re a rare beast?). Perfect illustration of how you can’t divorce content and distribution.

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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: