A decade ago, when blogs were still cool, everybody had a blogroll. Right there, on the main page of every blog was a long list of other blogs — a list that offered the exciting possibility of discovery, of exploration, conversation, inspiration and cross-pollination.
Blogrolls were necessary back then as a kind of Lonely Planet Guidebook to the blogosphere, which at the time was a sprawling, rapidly growing new universe online. The Internet had become, briefly, a place to be explored — a world that required and rewarded exploration. Blogrolls laid out a trail for explorers, an endless, twisting path marked by signposts and graffiti and hobo symbols.
In the years just before the blogosphere emerged and exploded, there had been a background-level battle over the shape of the Internet. AOL had been the most powerful and visible representative of one side of that argument, operating its shiny fleet of tour buses for Internet tourists. Stay seated on the bus, follow the instructions of the tour guide, keep in line, stick to the schedule, raise your hand if you have a question, move along, get back on the bus.
Ugh. That’s not how many of us wanted to explore the Internet. We wanted to see it for ourselves without the corporate guided tour and the strict itinerary. We didn’t want to be passive tourists, but active explorers, with a backpack and railpass instead of a seat on a tour bus. We wanted to be free to wander, to discover, to experience it all without being directed and instructed and told where to look and what to see and what to think about it.
And for a while there, after the flood of AOL CDs finally dried up and its fleet of tour buses broke down, it looked like the backpackers would win. Blogrolls became an important way for us to share our travels with one another — recommending new places that were worth a visit.
That didn’t last. Facebook came along with its larger, shinier fleet of buses and the AOL model of Internet tourism returned with a vengeance. Facebook’s dominance was so overwhelming that the Internet reshaped itself as a tourist trap. It became Branson, Missouri, or one of those tourist piers in a Caribbean port city where cruise ships can stop for an hour or two. Now it’s got chain restaurants, generic hotels, souvenir shops and aggregators lining every street to compete for the attention of the tourists on the Facebook buses.
The blogosphere? Yeah, I’ve seen it. The bus stopped at Planet Hollywood there. I bought a T-shirt.
This new world didn’t need blogrolls anymore. They withered, ignored and untended, slowly collapsing from linkrot and neglect. Like trackbacks — those briefly glorious blog-linking marvels that drowned in a sea of spam — blogrolls became a sad relic of a once-promising future, now defunct.
So I decided to update the blogroll here. Check it out. All those links are live and active. Explore them. Click on old favorites you haven’t visited in a while because the Facebook buses haven’t included them on the guided tour. Click on anything you’ve never heard of before. Wander around. Meet the locals and the natives and the townies. Get lost. Get out of line. Stray from the path.
Get off the bus.