Is WordPress on Life Support?

Gothic Fantasy Churchyard Scene 1984

What is blogging really about? Well, if you’d asked that question back in the mid noughties you’d most commonly have been told that a blog was a journal – a way for an interesting person or group of people to keep the public updated on important developments. But through time, due to the burgeoning size of the blogosphere, it became clear that new bloggers couldn’t simply write random journals and expect to get attention. Everyone was writing journals, and to exacerbate the problem further, social media was becoming the go-to place for seekers of journal-style updates. On social media, the updates were quicker, sharper, and far less meandering than a traditional blog. In a world where most people don’t have anywhere near enough time in the day, that suited the public just fine.

So it quickly reached the stage where traditional blogging was near-redundant from the reader’s angle. And worse still, there eventually arose a situation where the number of people writing traditional blogs dwarfed the number of people interested in reading them. This could not continue.

A variety of solutions sprang up, but to this day there have only really been two widely recognised options adopted across the mainstream…

  1. Change the nature of a blog so that rather than just documenting the nuances of an individual’s life, it encompasses the role of a standard website and provides widely useful content. For example, instead of “My Cat is Looking Very Chirpy Today”, a post becomes “How To Promote Better Health For Your Cat”. It’s the difference between “No one cares”, and an article which could, if well written, establish itself as an important, long-term, online reference.
  2. Change the motivational structure of the blogosphere so that the bloggers themselves are effectively duped into doubling as reluctant consumers.

Option 1 is generally left to the bloggers themselves to implement, although some writing platforms, such as Hubpages, do strictly manage their users, basically forcing them to create widely consumable content or quit.

But Option 2 has to be a conscious plan on the part of the blog host. And by far the most obsessive exponent of this second option, is WordPress.com. I’ve given a full overview of the dynamics of this in Is The Blogosphere Dead On Its Feet? But in summary, WordPress knows that there is no natural audience for the vast majority of blogs on its platform, so it creates its own audience by artificially inducing the blogosphere to essentially consume its own content. The result is the worst kind of ‘Black Hole’ treadmill.

I’ve always felt that this is a pretty dangerous way to build up a blogging platform. Afterall, as soon as bloggers realise that no one’s really interested in what they’re writing, and that the attention they do get is purely a self-focused bid on the part of others to further their own ends, they’re instantly demoralised. If recognition of that reality was ever to spread virally, it’s hard to see how the platform would survive.

But the recent activity drive from WordPress.com – Zero to Hero – upped the stakes from moderate stupidity to complete lunacy. The series of thirty tasks, promoted on WordPress through the course of January 2014, had a lot to do with bloggers paying attention to the work of others, but very little to do with them actually publishing something worth publishing. Even when bloggers were being prompted to write, there was a clear “publish for the sake of publishing” element to the advice, and there were also some pretty cynical attempts to disguise the marketing of upgrades as part of an “improve your blogging” course. Advice which actually related to the reality of producing widely consumable content was conspicuous by its absence.

Among other futilities, bloggers were being advised to write about topics everyone else was writing about, comment for the sake of commenting, publish their redundant drafts, and make posts purely for the purpose of sharing other people’s work. The whole desperate thing was an exercise in filling the Internet with useless waste, and it was uncomfortable at times – particularly when WP put pressure on users to sign up to social networking services.

But the real facepalm moment of the campaign for me was WP’s comment: “Blogging isn’t just about publishing — it’s also about reading the work of others and being inspired by ideas in the blogosphere.”… NO IT’S NOT! Blogging is publishing. Reading is reading. It’s as simple as that. The only reason bloggers are induced to read other bloggers’ work is that there’s no real consumer, and if WP doesn’t constantly say: “Hey guys! Read more blogs!”, no one will bother.

By the end of it all, I actually felt embarrassed to be associated with WordPress, and I didn’t publish a single word for the duration of the ‘challenge’. I use all the major free blogging platforms, mainly to spread and minimise the risk of losing all my projects, so I’m always going to have a use for a platform like WordPress.com. But I do think WP needs to stop this ridiculous and evermore obsessive regime of encouraging people to write any rubbish that comes into their heads, then go round feigning interest in each other’s work to maintain each other’s morale. The more the platform does it, the less chance there is of any genuine, non-induced audience taking WordPress seriously, and perhaps worse, the less chance there is of the search engines doing likewise.

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is that Google and the search engines are now more adept than ever at distinguishing good content from useless rubbish. It’s much harder to fool Google today than it’s ever been before, and the success of content on Google is now a lot less dependent on backlinks and the kind factors spammers can fudge. So if you write something different, that people genuinely want to read, chances are the search engines will bring a real audience to it for you.

Your content and its viability is what’s important – not the act of aimlessly trudging round the blogosphere trying to get attention from other bloggers. An ever-increasing raft of people posting for the sake of posting is lowering the reputation of WordPress.com to the point where at some stage, its credibility as a serious writers’ tool will rank somewhere between that of Twitter and Tumblr. And let’s face it: WP.com is never going to beat either of those services at their own game.

Author: Bob Leggitt

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