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What’s wrong with WordPress?

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After blogging for several years, I decided to take a break in October.

It was the longest I’ve been away from WordPress since joining in February 2013. It wasn’t expected or planned, but it was the right thing to do. It was becoming hard not to be affected by the negativity arising in online spaces because of the COVID-19 lockdowns and I needed to shield myself from that.

It felt the right time to return six months later. Things were gradually starting to return to ‘normal’ and there was more positivity online as a result. On top of that, the itch to start writing again was slowly coming back, and I found myself missing the conversations I’d had about video games with fellow bloggers.

It’s those fellow bloggers that make the community as special as it is. The WordPress Reader was a place to go when you were looking for an opinion, a pause or even inspiration, and every post you clicked on held the potential for a discussion. I could spend ages reading through posts every morning and came away feeling motivated to write my own.

But now when I visit the Reader, it’s difficult to sift through the headlines. So many are the same or sound as though they’ve been ripped straight from a press release. There also seems to have been an increase in the number of sites which don’t seem legitimate. You know the ones I’m talking about. They either have pages of content which consist of nothing but YouTube videos made by other creators, or a few random posts advertising the benefits of online gambling.

Each article was a potential conversation waiting to happen, and maybe even the introduction of a new friend with similar interests.

Let’s take the gaming tag as an example and do a quick experiment. I grabbed the first 50 posts and categorised them by type. Just under a third contained content copied (also known as ‘stolen’) from another source, while a fifth were articles published by professional websites. Another 32% was dedicated to crypto-currency promotions, casino advertisements and blatant affiliate links. That left just 18% of my data set – nine posts in total – which were published by bloggers on their personal sites.

These figures feel as though they’ve changed a lot in recent years, although that’s just my opinion and is in no way scientific. Did COVID-19 affect the face of the blogosphere more than I’d realised? I guess it’s possible that some people took up blogging during the lockdowns and then decided to stop once the situation started to return to normal. And established bloggers could have used the extra time on their hands to reassess their priorities and do something different, maybe move to streaming or podcasting.

I think the changes to WordPress’ pricing has something to do with it too. My previous plan was no longer available when I returned in May after the break, and I had to choose between a free one with very limited customisation or the Pro option at an increased cost. The company have since returned to their original Personal and Premium plans. But with fewer themes now available and people feeling the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis, I can see how new bloggers could potentially be put off.

It hurts my blogging heart. Seeing so many generic and clickbait headlines in the Reader makes me mourn the loss of variety and creativity. I remember the days when searching for a tag would result in a long list of posts which would keep you reading for ages, full of personal stories and unique insights into the world of video games. Each article was a potential conversation waiting to happen, and maybe even the introduction of a new friend with similar interests. I really miss that vibe.

Group events are a positive way of giving existing bloggers motivation to keep going, as well as introducing new writers to the community.

Please don’t misunderstand me though. I’m not at all saying that WordPress is completely devoid of originality. It’s so lovely to see some of the writers I knew before my break still going strong and producing great content. And when I come across a blog I’ve never seen before in the Reader and have the chance to share in the writers’ personal thoughts, it reminds me of why I fell in love with blogging all those years ago. I’m just getting old and am entitled to have a good moan occasionally.

How can we triumph over all these press releases and advertisements? I think more group events could be beneficial. They’re a positive way of giving existing bloggers a bit of extra motivation to keep going, as well as introducing new writers to the community. A great example is Blaugust hosted by Belghast over on Tales of the Aggronaut. Everyone is encouraged to post something every day throughout August, and the offer of prompts and mentorship can help achieve those goals.

The current situation at work and with the apprenticeship means I’m not able to commit to a regular posting schedule at present so I’m sitting back as part of Blaugust’s audience this year. But as a previous participant, I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking about it to sign up because it’s an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to reading the posts created for the event. This month is an opportunity to get to know the other bloggers around you and celebrate the hobbies we love.

Perhaps I’ll sign up for next year’s event once my apprenticeship has been completed. And in the meantime, who knows – maybe the old Later Levels’ blog parties will make a reappearance at some point. They’re something I’d like to do again in the future, I just need to give their timing some consideration so the events can be scheduled around project deadlines. I’d be a hypocrite if I sat here moaning about the state of the WordPress Reader and then didn’t try to do my bit to change it.

Returning to the blogging community after six months away gave me perspective. It made me realise how much I enjoy writing about video games, but also that I could no longer commit to publishing as frequently as I had. I’m still struggling with inspiration and trying to find things to write about but I’m hoping that’s because I’m out of practice. They do say that the more you write the easier it gets, so let’s keep at it and see where this goes.

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