Reader Profile: Jason Kottke

Jason Kottke has been one of our favorite bloggers for a long time. He started blogging at kottke.org back in 1998, about a year before the word was even coined. He’s been a consistent and inspiring figure to us at The Old Reader and we were thrilled to talk to him about the state of Internet publishing, how he stays engaged and inspired, and the future of blogging. When you wrote R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013, you were obviously engaging in a little hyperbole. What is the relevance of blogging today? How dead is it in 2018?Yeah, just a little hyperbolic. Obviously many people still blog regularly, myself included, and new ones are coming online all the time. But the network has become smaller and less connected, I think. For better or worse, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and the like offer easier and more powerful ways to share stories and information with friends and interested strangers. All the people using those platforms are performing bloggish acts…we just don’t think of them that way. Has blogging been good for your mental health? Should more people do it, or are you somehow ideally suited to the medium?Hmm. I can’t speak for anyone else, but often I don’t know what to think about something unless I write about it. And I love hypertext…linking to other sites and embedding images and video is still, more than 20 years on, such a powerful way to communicate ideas.Whose writing gets you excited these days? How much reading do you do each day to find your topics?I don’t know that I could name specific writers, but several video creators come to mind. Evan Puschak of the Nerdwriter produces these great videos about movies, music, art, and other cultural creations. The team at Vox does great video work, but I will drop everything to watch anything new by Joss Fong. I’m still bummed the Every Frame a Painting team stopped doing their thing. The Primitive Technology videos contain no dialogue, just a single man building huts, weaponry, baskets, and tools from scratch in the Australian wilderness.How do most of your good sources come to you? What’s the best tool for cutting through the noise and finding what inspires you?I use a lot of different things: Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, tips from readers. And RSS (see below). Twitter is often the most useful. It seems safe to say that social media and the news feed algorithms have had some serious failings as a content curation tool. Does the world need more of the personal curation found in blogs?I mentioned Twitter above. I use Tweetbot as my Twitter client, which has two essential features for me: 1) the feed is strictly chronological, and 2) there’s keywords filtering for the timeline & mentions. I use the filtering extensively…any mention of Trump or Pence or Bannon (and dozens of other terms) I just don’t see. If I want to keep up on that sort of thing, I can go directly to a preferred news source. Mostly I follow people that I know on Twitter who share and retweet interesting information, much like a linkblog. How do more publishers survive? You and a few others seem to have made memberships work. What is the most sensible business model to make web publishing sustainable?Membership is a good option for me, but I’m not sure about anyone else. Like, I really don’t know. The main thing that I’ve learned is that it’s good to diversify your revenue. Don’t just rely on one thing…you never know if it’ll suddenly dry up or something else will take off.You’ve said that you stopped using RSS when Google Reader folded and lost touch with a lot of blogs. Obviously we’ve got an interest here, but what would get you interested in RSS again? Is there a role for it on the web?I haven’t stopped, but at most I look at it once a month to catch up with the sites I follow that are still updating (not many). Honestly, Facebook, Twitter, and Google (in the form of AMP) have figured out easier and faster ways for people to find content and for publishers to connect with and monetize readers. As we’ve seen recently, there are many problems with those platforms but RSS and newsreaders still have to compete with them.When blogging was born, people talked about disintermediation and how blogs would be death of traditional media. Now the new hype is around decentralization (outside the social networks), sort of blockchain for electronic publishing. Do you buy any of the new hype?If the publishing and reading interfaces are as easy and fast or easier and faster to use than centralized services, people will use them. For most people, reducing that friction is the most important factor. A lot of publishers put their faith in Facebook, but now the Facebook is suddenly taking news out of the newsfeed, they are scrambling for a new distribution model. How do publishers attract actual audiences without trusting their fate to social media distribution channels?Well, I think you don’t rely on Facebook. You can use Facebook, but when Facebook sends you 40 million people a

Reader Profile: Jason Kottke

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Jason Kottke has been one of our favorite bloggers for a long time. He started blogging at kottke.org back in 1998, about a year before the word was even coined. He’s been a consistent and inspiring figure to us at The Old Reader and we were thrilled to talk to him about the state of Internet publishing, how he stays engaged and inspired, and the future of blogging. 

When you wrote R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013, you were obviously engaging in a little hyperbole. What is the relevance of blogging today? How dead is it in 2018?

Yeah, just a little hyperbolic. Obviously many people still blog regularly, myself included, and new ones are coming online all the time. But the network has become smaller and less connected, I think. For better or worse, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and the like offer easier and more powerful ways to share stories and information with friends and interested strangers. All the people using those platforms are performing bloggish acts…we just don’t think of them that way. 

Has blogging been good for your mental health? Should more people do it, or are you somehow ideally suited to the medium?

Hmm. I can’t speak for anyone else, but often I don’t know what to think about something unless I write about it. And I love hypertext…linking to other sites and embedding images and video is still, more than 20 years on, such a powerful way to communicate ideas.

Whose writing gets you excited these days? How much reading do you do each day to find your topics?

I don’t know that I could name specific writers, but several video creators come to mind. Evan Puschak of the Nerdwriter produces these great videos about movies, music, art, and other cultural creations. The team at Vox does great video work, but I will drop everything to watch anything new by Joss Fong. I’m still bummed the Every Frame a Painting team stopped doing their thing. The Primitive Technology videos contain no dialogue, just a single man building huts, weaponry, baskets, and tools from scratch in the Australian wilderness.

How do most of your good sources come to you? What’s the best tool for cutting through the noise and finding what inspires you?

I use a lot of different things: Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, tips from readers. And RSS (see below). Twitter is often the most useful. 

It seems safe to say that social media and the news feed algorithms have had some serious failings as a content curation tool. Does the world need more of the personal curation found in blogs?

I mentioned Twitter above. I use Tweetbot as my Twitter client, which has two essential features for me: 1) the feed is strictly chronological, and 2) there’s keywords filtering for the timeline & mentions. I use the filtering extensively…any mention of Trump or Pence or Bannon (and dozens of other terms) I just don’t see. If I want to keep up on that sort of thing, I can go directly to a preferred news source. Mostly I follow people that I know on Twitter who share and retweet interesting information, much like a linkblog. 

How do more publishers survive? You and a few others seem to have made memberships work. What is the most sensible business model to make web publishing sustainable?

Membership is a good option for me, but I’m not sure about anyone else. Like, I really don’t know. The main thing that I’ve learned is that it’s good to diversify your revenue. Don’t just rely on one thing…you never know if it’ll suddenly dry up or something else will take off.

You’ve said that you stopped using RSS when Google Reader folded and lost touch with a lot of blogs. Obviously we’ve got an interest here, but what would get you interested in RSS again? Is there a role for it on the web?

I haven’t stopped, but at most I look at it once a month to catch up with the sites I follow that are still updating (not many). Honestly, Facebook, Twitter, and Google (in the form of AMP) have figured out easier and faster ways for people to find content and for publishers to connect with and monetize readers. As we’ve seen recently, there are many problems with those platforms but RSS and newsreaders still have to compete with them.

When blogging was born, people talked about disintermediation and how blogs would be death of traditional media. Now the new hype is around decentralization (outside the social networks), sort of blockchain for electronic publishing. Do you buy any of the new hype?

If the publishing and reading interfaces are as easy and fast or easier and faster to use than centralized services, people will use them. For most people, reducing that friction is the most important factor. 

A lot of publishers put their faith in Facebook, but now the Facebook is suddenly taking news out of the newsfeed, they are scrambling for a new distribution model. How do publishers attract actual audiences without trusting their fate to social media distribution channels?

Well, I think you don’t rely on Facebook. You can use Facebook, but when Facebook sends you 40 million people a month for 3 months, don’t count on it in month four. Other companies don’t care about your business except in the aggregate. A company as aggressive as Facebook – move fast, break things! – is not going to make decisions with your publication in mind.

Now that you are 40-something with kids and a blog, how do you stay curious and inspired? Do you see the same spirit that drove you to blog in any younger online publishers? 

The blog forces me to keep up to date on what’s going on in the world and in culture, so that helps. I don’t have the same energy or time that I did when I was younger, but I’m hopefully wiser and work smarter now, so it evens out, I think. And yeah, the youthful spirit is alive and well online, in places like YouTube, DIY, Instagram, and Soundcloud. Despite corporate influence and consolidation, the web remains a place where it’s easy to try things out, to discover culture, and find yourself.

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