The Case for Blogs without Readers

by Site Author

I remember a time when, as a graduate student, I asked my thesis adviser a particularly obscure question. The answer eluded him and so he decided to look it up. To do so, he leaned back in his chair and pulled out a textbook from the shelf behind him. It was his textbook—the textbook he wrote—in which he looked up the answer.

Something about that moment stuck with me. He obviously didn’t write the textbook just for his own reference, but he still used the book himself. He turned to it every now and then to refresh his memory. And there were other times when I saw him use it to prep for lecture.

I wonder whether today many blogs serve the same role, as a way for an author to communicate not with an audience but with his future self. The typical blog has few readers—it’s hard to get noticed online without a lot of work and “search-engine optimization.” And yet, many people, myself included, are happy to blog away in obscurity. To us, perhaps, having an audience is besides the point. The writing itself is useful, and then having the writing up on the web as a future reference, as a sort of public Evernote, is useful too.

If you want readers, Medium, Tumblr, and the usual social networks exist to help you find them. But there are still some 200 million blogs online. Surely that means millions of actively maintained blogs, and millions that are actively maintained and then barely read.

Blogs can function simply as a place for their authors to store notes, links to which they want to return, code snippets, quotations they find inspiring, and so on. Those blogs are like modern commonplace books. Thirty years ago, we would all be carrying little notebooks in our pockets. In those notebooks we would jot down the little remarkable things we come across. We might paste in the occasional newspaper clipping and add in a few of our own thoughts. Some people’s blogs are that little notebook.