Back in early 2003, I’d not long returned from a three-month trip around the US and had a bunch of photos from it that I wanted to share with family and friends. In those days back before Flickr, the only way to do that was for me to set up a website with them all on, and after registering nickbarlow.com and FTPing a whole load of photos up there, I started thinking what else I could do with the site.
“I know”, I thought, “I can start one of those blog things I’ve heard about” and after a little fiddling around with Blogger, I’d managed to not just create an account there, but to get it to publish to a page on my own site. And so it began, I now had a space to post all my thoughts, dreams, bile and blather where anyone on the internet could come and see it. Surprisingly, a few of them did, and perhaps even more surprisingly, they kept coming back.
In the way that all ageing men looking back on their youth remember it as a golden age, that period up to around 2005 was the heyday of British blogging, especially political blogging. There was a community and a network of writers, reading and responding to each other, fed into by a wave of commenters who’d pop up across a range of blogs to contribute to the debate and it all felt like one big conversation. It could get challenging and angry at times (this was the period of the Iraq War) but it felt like something interesting and different was going on.
And then, like so many other things, it just got too big. The “blogosphere” (a terrible word, but I never found a better one) started to become a place where people realised they could make a name for themselves, and blogs started becoming more about self-promotion and developing your own community, not just one part of a wider and bigger conversation. Twitter and Facebook started nibbling at the edges of what blogging had been, especially the conversational aspects of it, and blogs started becoming more content repositories than anything else.
I’d still write on mine, and have waves of enthusiasm where I’d post almost daily, followed by months of nothing but the occasional link, but I found that anything I wrote there wouldn’t be discussed there, it’d fuel Twitter replies or Facebook comments, and people would read one thing and then move on, not look to see what else this blog did. (And yes, I did exactly the same when I’d see things that interest me — taking them as discrete pieces of content rather than a door into the wider world of the blog they came from) I kept the blog going more out of habit than anything else, renewing the hosting every year and telling myself that this would be the year I got back into it properly.
But I didn’t, and then the hackers started coming and finding ways into the site, which I’d fix until the next one came along, and soon I realised that you couldn’t just own a website anymore, you need to do lots of technical things that I didn’t have the time or mental space to work out. It was far easier to mothball the blog, think “I’ll sort that out later” and write somewhere like here.
Then the bill came through to renew for another year and I asked myself why was I paying that? Was I really going to go and plunge into all that again? Wouldn’t it be better to let it go (but keep the domain name, just in case) and focus on other outlets instead?
So I have. The site is all backed up, the databases copied and downloaded in anticipation of the great 404 error taking the whole thing out of circulation for good. If you get nostalgia, or want to find something I once wrote, it’s pretty much all there on the Wayback Machine anyway. If you want to see new stuff I write, then follow me here, or on Twitter or on Facebook and I’ll keep you up to date.
Sixteen years after I started it, What You Can Get Away With can go join most of those blogs I used to link to in the sidebar in the great pingback loop in the sky. Not a bad run for something that started one bored afternoon while I was waiting for photos to upload.