A few months ago someone mentioned the old St. Blog’s Parish website (on Facebook) which piqued my curiosity. I hadn’t visited in years so I started clicking through the link collection. Most of the links didn’t go anywhere. Of the few that still went to functioning sites, most had been abandoned between 2010 and 2014. Maybe 5% were still active. Today, I went back and looked again and all of the blog data has been removed, leaving an empty shell of the once lively “parish”. Fortunately, the Catholic Blog directory is still online but has a lot of dead links. I mention a lot of blogs below and would link to them but most of them no longer exist.
An attempt at reviving a Catholic community of bloggers called the Catholic Bloggers Network started off with some interest but the activity there has also fallen away.
Looking back at my own blog, which had always been a mashup of Aquinas and More Catholic Goods and family posts, I quit writing personal posts around 2011 and focused almost exclusively on posts related to the business and Catholic feasts and traditions.
What happened? I think two things indirectly lead to the death of blogging. First, the discontinuation of easy-to-use blog aggregators. Feedburner had been the standard for years and it eventually was purchased by Google which carried it for several years alongside the Google Reader product. API service was cut off for Feedburner in 2012 and then Google shut down Google Reader in 2013. Feedburner still exists as abandoned software but hasn’t been updated in years. Feedly has picked up some of the loss over the years but I think that the ease of using the first two products and their discontinuation led to a decrease in blogging as bloggers found it harder to let people know about new posts since the two largest aggregating platforms were killed off within a year of each other.
Second, the rise of social media sites such as Facebook coupled with the rise of smartphone use. Facebook and Twitter provided easy-to-use platforms to share short-form content and make quick responses to posts while discouraging lengthy articles and real conversation. Is it possible to do these things on Facebook? Sure, but the format is not meant for that. You get a relatively small amount of real estate to view each post unless you open it in a separate window and it still is in a gutter format. Comments are typically short and trolling is ubiquitous. If you do write a post or comment, the alert system seems to quit alerting you to updates after a couple of dozen replies are made on the post so you can’t really keep up. You also have to click “more” a bunch of times to actually see a whole discussion thread (which really isn’t threaded beyond one level deep).
Further, smart phones are not a good tool for reading long-form content. Formatting gets messed up. Scrolling for pages of screens is tedious and the amount of an article you can actually see is very small. That’s why Kindles and Nooks exist for reading books.
So what have we lost with the death of blogging?
- The writing voice of people who may never have shared their lives in another format. Before “Mommy blogs” turned into marketing platforms and people just shared their lives and faith journeys, there was a lot of inspired content that was written without any interest in selling a product or becoming an influencer. Several good Catholic books came out of this time period and launched the CatholicMom.com imprint for Ave Maria Press. Cynics will argue that these blogs were filtered to show the good side of things. For some, that may have been true, but compared to the perfection drive on Instagram and current blogs that are used for marketing, most previous blogs look downright honest.
- Thoughtful opinion pieces written by regular people instead of a quick comment about some other source’s article. There used to be several Catholic bloggers who weren’t journalists or paid for their work but regularly posted thoughtful pieces on current events. You can still find good commentary at places like Catholic Stand, Standing on My Head, First Things, and The Catholic Thing but the number of writers who aren’t associated with a group publication or magazine has dwindled away to a small list.
- A community of Catholics on-line. Thanks to blog aggregators, web rings, the Catholic Blog Carnival, and directories like St. Blog’s Parish, Catholics had a variety of ways to find other Catholics and topics of interest. There really isn’t a way to do that anymore. Facebook groups are a poor replacement for discussion forums and a directory of blogs. There also was a sense of community among Catholic bloggers. St. Blog’s kept an “in memorium” list for bloggers who had passed and bloggers would share calls for help when someone needed it. Yes, you can post fundraisers and posts about someone’s passing on Facebook but the chances of it being seen, thanks to the Facebook algorithm, are low and see the next reason below.
- Permanence. Social media is not meant to be permanent. Yes, you can go back and look at your activity feed and dig through someone else’s, but the ability to find things by category, date or even search, is severely limited on Facebook and Twitter. As an example, I know that I saw a post by a former Catholic blogger on Facebook within the past few weeks about St. Blog’s, but I am unable to find it anymore. I still get comments on blog posts I wrote a decade ago. No one is going to be commenting on a Facebook post more than a day after it was written, let alone years later.
- Personality. Social Media is the Model-T of writing. The news feed may be full of different pictures but all the text looks the same. You can’t fill a post with cool pictures you took because they are either a carousel of images or a single image that fills the post and requires people to click “more” if they want to read the rest. Facebook groups, personal pages and corporate pages all look pretty much the same. You can change your header image but you are stuck with the blue platform layout.
- Relationships with people you would never meet in real life. Thanks to blogs, many of us got to know people in a more substantial way than we will ever get to on Facebook. Remember House Unseen, Life Unscripted? Dwija is my wife’s sister-in-law and I would never have gotten to know her or her family, because of the distance, if she hadn’t been blogging. Or how about Terry Nelson’s Abbey Road blog? Terry has blogged for years about his faith journey and, a rarity these days, is still blogging. Or Charlotte’s projects at Waltzing Matilda? Her feast day creations were amazing! Or Amy Welborn’s heartbreaking loss of her husband and family travels following that tragedy? These blog and many others were inspirations to a lot of people.
- A record of personal experiences for future generations. This may sound grandiose, but the written record of the past is what gets passed down to tell how things were in the mundane world of daily life. Pictures are great and we certainly take a lot of them these days, but pictures don’t record people’s thoughts or what led up to a photograph or was going on while it was being taken. It is in diaries and letters that we get the sense of the past as people actually lived it. You can read about battles, plagues, and other historic events in history books but you won’t find out about how your ancestors dealt with the Spanish Flu or what it was like being on the front lines at Shilo in a history book. It’s that written record that gives you personal contact with the past that can’t be equaled. Of course, blogs aren’t physical objects like letters, but at least they are a written record. I fear that social media has destroyed future generations’ ability to look back and see what we really thought of things at the beginning of the 21st century. I worry what they will think of us if our primary personal record is social media posts.
Okay, so what is my point here? I’ve decided to start family blogging again. I’m also committing to sending written letters to people on a somewhat regular basis. I would encourage you to do the same. Leave a record of your thoughts and experiences that is more permanent than a Facebook post. Writing helps to work out thoughts and arguments in a coherent way and maybe others will be interested in what you write as well.
And now, as any good blogger knows, asking for input is the way to get more blog traffic, or, at least it was a decade ago. What are your thoughts on Catholic blogging? What Catholic blogs do you still read?