The “golden era” of blogging

I got talking with a couple of close friends recently about the “good old days” of blogging; the “golden era”, as Mitch called it—even though he wasn’t necessarily blogging during whatever era he may have been referring to—although I am hesitant to give it any kind of label. It’s a time that feels a little bit specific to the blogging community I was in, and isn’t as cut-and-dry as, say, the “golden era” of what used to be Twitter. I pay my respects… 👀

Referring to a time as the golden era feels inaccurate to me because I don’t feel like I have the right to name a period of time based on my experience with a relatively small community of people. I haven’t named a time period just yet, but for the sake of setting a scene, let me put that aside for now. Perhaps some of my friends who were around in such an era would argue that me having literally dozens of comments on my blog and seeing popular resource sites get upwards of 200 comments per post is evidence of a community existing. A community that had real, actual people in it. And maybe the community was larger than I remember. I think about The Fanlistings Network, and how there were thousands of fanlistings listed at the network. Even if one person owned over 20 fanlistings, that still meant at least a hundred different people in the community. Doubtless there were other communities outside of the ones I was in, and maybe I never had the chance to interact with them.

I think what Mitch means with a golden era was when it was great. It hit some kind of peak, maybe. I don’t think there was a peak. But there was a time when I feel that it all changed. The easiest way to split time is into a vague “before” and “after”. Today, we’re in the “after”. The definition of a blog and what people understand a blog to be, is different to what they were many years ago. Blogs like mine, that share somewhat intimate details of my life and happenings that would be mundane to a passerby, are rare or hard to come by. It’s more common to see blogs pertaining to a specific topic like makeup, travel, family, web development, fashion, sport, or the umbrella term of “lifestyle”. I have my opinions on the quality of many of these blogs and the disingenuous tone of a lot of their articles, especially with the rise of content creators, but my point is that we just don’t see the kind of honest, open, reading-my-friend’s-diary posts that felt so popular twenty years ago. What we do see is the outpouring of emotionally vulnerable posts on social media from celebrities and common folk alike, but the structures and constraints of social media platforms make these posts feel just a little too orchestrated when we’re still echoing “please read caption” the same way irritated bloggers used to whine “did you even read the post?”.

A screenshot of a blog titled with a blog post titled “the road to optimism #35”.
One of my even more personal blogs, glassfields, where I was self-managing my depression with gratitude 🥺

Whether social media has played a part in this change is another topic entirely—Facebook and Twitter didn’t really exist until around 2006, and weren’t yet around for long enough to provide much of a purpose beyond a profile page and a few rudimentary posts. Just a few years prior, we were mucking around on Bebo and MySpace—again with somewhat limited ways of sharing one’s life. Around the same time, there were many people flocking to what felt like an “indie” blogging tool in Tumblr, which made it easy for most people to create a blog and post a bunch of words or various kinds of media. However, for the folks like me, who had learned to code on Neopets or were tinkering with customising their Geocities or Freewebs pages, some of us remained loyal to LiveJournal, but some of us eventually created our own blogs on our own domains or—bless us—“hosted” on a complete stranger’s domain under a subdomain, because we couldn’t afford to pay for our own domain and hosting (or couldn’t beg our parents because they didn’t “get it”). There was a strange judgment associated with free websites, and they got a bit of a bad rap because the quality of many free sites at the time was poor, as so many of us kids were still learning how to design and code. The cool kids got “hosted”.

With hosting, it didn’t matter that we had no idea about the domain’s owner; it mattered that they were offering their web space to other people, and you could be one of those people. It was also a rite of passage to move from a free hosting site to one where someone invited you or accepted you. This seems like a strange prospect for anyone outside of this niche, but I think that in our circles it was seen as a way of connecting and making friends. Whether you had a subdomain and were hosted by someone, or you had your own domain, there was a period of time where it was common to write about your life in great detail—family, pets, friends, school, and all the drama associated with it—on your own space on the internet. And that was what we called blogging.

It is the cadence of posting to a personal blog in the mid to late 2000s that got me thinking about why it feels so difficult to write a blog post today. (Put aside all arguments about technology affecting our brains and warping our attention spans; I can’t afford that many tangents in this post.) It also conjures up the following anecdote that continues to have me in side-splitting laughter. In around 2005–2006 I was enjoying blogging so much that I was writing small, 500-word posts every second day. At the time, for me it was like writing in a diary, but online. I was dedicated to this consistency and this need to update my online friends on my life, that one day when I got grounded by my parents, I snuck online at 6:00am to write a blog post before I tucked myself back into bed by 7:00am to pretend I had been asleep the whole time. At a family gathering, I used my family friend’s computer at their place to post an update to my blog and explain that I was grounded. My mum was none the wiser, but my mum also didn’t know that if four days had passed since my last blog post, I was convinced that my friends and other regular readers of my blog may as well have thought I was dead. It’s melodramatic, but back then, it felt like it mattered that much.

Something makes me yearn for the feelings of that time, even though I don’t necessarily miss or want to re-live it. It is the way that it changed in 2013 because—god forbid—I was an adult doing a masters degree in university and I had to study or do assignments and had very little time to blog. It is the way that despite how hard we try, we make a goal to blog at a regular cadence in 2024 but it makes us seem like a content creator whose job it is to post every Tuesday at 4:00pm local time, and—try as we might—we fucking fail. Cast your mind to when I referred to “cool kids” being hosted earlier. Cool kids. We were kids back then. We went to school, where our hobbies weren’t always completely on the computer, and then we grew up and lived adolescent-to-young-adult lives. Then we got older and became adults with responsibilities; adults with full-time jobs; adults with other hobbies; adults who prioritised being social with their friends and family; adults with families with young children; adults whose lives just didn’t involve blogging anymore, or at least not to a great extent. We simply don’t have the time or energy. It is absolutely no wonder that I could blog every few days in my blog’s heyday.

A screenshot of a blog with a header with flowers and a quote. The colour palette is a muddy brown-red and a pale green.
It was pretty typical to have a “header” image and a blocky layout like this on your blog

I say heyday because it’s true that in around 2009 I was getting around 80 comments on my blog posts. Sure, some of them were facilitated by replies and discussion, but it still counts as—excuse me while I barf in my mouth—engagement. Part of me wants to sit here and wail at how anyone who was too young to know of that time or was simply not in those blogging communities will never understand just how different it was, but being an elder millennial on the internet is tiresome enough, so I zip my mouth. I remember trying so hard to blog at least once every five days, but by 2011 I was running out of steam and so too were my blogging friends. Many of my friends were younger than me and finishing up school, so it shocked most people that I had the time to do an undergraduate degree while maintaining a blog and writing website reviews (I’m going to throw in an exasperated “lol” here, just for you people who remember what a drama that all was) and responding to people’s comments and reading other people’s blogs. And that’s what some people may never quite understand in this world filled with micro-influencers and “TikTok stars”—once upon a time, we made every effort to reply to every comment we received, and maybe even shamed those who didn’t return them. These days, you cross your fingers and hope the author puts a heart on your comment. Not gonna lie, I literally did it today when one of my Instagram notifications informed me that The Wombats had liked one of my comments on their posts. They’re a famous band, I know, but still.

I felt like the duty of updating a blog and returning comments encompassed my entire life. “How do you find the time?” And while I managed to bend over backwards to find said time, so many of my friends could not. They made the decision to put blogging on the back burner. It was around this time that personal blogs became less updated and more inactive by the day, as blogs filled with spam comments, self-hosted FanUpdate or Cutenews blogging systems got hacked, and some domains expired and gross advertisements and popups took over. As this happened, I lost some of my close online friends, because blogging was our only way of keeping in touch and many of us had not yet picked up social media, or refused to out of stubbornness, because we were completely dedicated to our online personal spaces that we had built with our bare hands. I remember a handful of my friends from that time, by name, often recalling the youthful, pretty, or rebellious domain or website names they had at the time. It is a strange thing to feel like you have lost a community of friends, not to any type of bizarre online exodus, but to what we all are reminded to appreciate in this highly digital, very online era: life.

A light beige coloured website with a texture on the background, showing a blog post with a concert photo of a man singing
My old photoblog. This made me miss the absolute bejeezus out of the golden era… I had to stop looking at old archives after this one 😢

Amidst the nostalgic TikToks and Instagram Reels riddled with references to MSN Messenger and AOL, and their comments made by people reminiscing over the time they got dumped on MSN, or “over it” ex-Tumblr users almost ashamed to admit they used the platform—I’ve yet to find my people. I’ve experienced this dozens of times before in social media comment sections, where I’ve virtually high-fived someone for sharing an “I thought I was the only one” experience, but I simply haven’t had the same with references to the “golden era” of blogging. Maybe one day I will come across other people, who lead vastly different lives to me, whom I have never spoken to before, who remember the tools, services, and networks that helped us make friends with each other? I keep in touch with a handful of my old blogging buddies through Instagram, though the space feels more distant. I think we will always remember, at the very least, that we met online years ago, well before social media existed, and when meeting people online was so damn taboo.

I feel like I am only just scratching the surface of what used to be. I also feel like I am sharing something about a mere slice of the internet, that as my friend Pauline said, you’d only understand if you were there. It’s an overused phrase, but it’s true. Several of us live the life of being attached to our blogs we’ve had for almost decades, continuing to advocate for personal blogging, yearning for the “good old days”—while seething through our teeth at the thousands of niche influencers producing content at our disposal. But maybe in our determination to share what an online life looked like before, we find ourselves in a very different world, but in exactly the same place we were before: doing the less common, lesser-known-about, less trendy, less ubiquitous, more misunderstood thing. And maybe—just maybe—it’s actually better that way.

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Ah, man, the sigh of nostalgia when I saw this post. Great stuff as always, Georgie. I remember this golden age well, even if I was more of a lurker on the outskirts to it all. I miss it fondly, but not for any concrete reasons beyond nostalgia, like you said. I mean, that, and mourning the lost connections. I wonder where so many people are now.

I personally could never keep up with consistently posting––I used to burn through blogs like firewood––but I’ve finally had this one going for… well damn, I guess it’s 6 years now. But god, I remember FanUpdate. I had forgotten ALL about CuteNews until now! The drama lol. I was there, Gandalf!

I’m glad I still follow your stuff, and I’m glad I still blog into mostly the void and my Facebook friends who read it when I share it there. You’re a lot of the reason I have the web design skills and interest I have today, so thank you again and again!

Also–– OMG, that typographic header for heartdrops took me BACK. I distinctly recall being a young kiddo and being so inspired by that layout that I made my own typographic header image in a (debatably) similar style. It was terrible, since I was 12, and that site is long dead, but I still have the image and remember it fondly, so seeing the original was a trip. Thanks for that!

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I don’t blog anymore due to burn-out, lack of interest and motivation. As you mentioned, it’s very different now compared to our golden era.

I remember when I used to edit my blog manually using a blog.html page on Geocities before comments ever existed. I was still in High school at the time and I would spend lunch period in the library so I could write a blog post about how my day was going. I would again update at home after school. Fellow students would come up to me in the library to inquire about what I was doing and I would get made fun of because “it was nerdy”. I was also paranoid that people I knew, friends, and family coming across my blog because it felt like I couldn’t let them read it, although I was exposing my entire life to complete strangers on the internet.

Then when I got hosted and I was finally able to use Greymatter, it felt like I had won the lottery. Eventually, B2 came about and I nearly had a panic attack trying to figure out the coding, because Greymatter became very “unsafe” due to the security vulnerabilities. I refused to leave Greymatter up until the very last second, shortly after WordPress became mainstream after the death of B2. At first, I was still coding with iFrames and loading my blog.html file into the Frame because PHP wasn’t quite a thing yet. Everyone was doing the grunge layouts with the checkerboards, scribbles, and featuring movies, celebs, etc. A lot of my themes would have Justin Timberlake because he was my celeb crush at the time. Some of us were even using to play music on our sites. When I learned PHP, I also learned how to theme and I was pretty hyped that I could allow my visitors to change the theme depending on their preference and mood.

I am so grateful for these years. It’s hard to believe that I spent over half of my life blogging, having websites, coding, etc. If it weren’t for websites, I wouldn’t have met my best friend Dan, nor would I have had the opportunity to travel to Australia. Blogging opened me up to so many awesome experiences, and helped me meet some of my internet friends which I have had the honor to meet offline.

When I was 21, I flew to Australia and fibbed to my parents about how I met Dan. I told them he was an exchange student that I had gone to school with many years before and we were just reuniting. Even though I was an adult, they would have flipped out knowing how I was flying to the other side of the world to meet a complete stranger – although Dan and I had already been internet friends for years prior. We had gotten close and had been planning on meeting for years. Due to the time zones, both of us would often have to pull all nighters just so we could talk. We would cam chat on MSN almost every single day. It was like we had known each other all our lives. This year marks 20 years! And, of course my parents know the truth now. He’s literally become a part of the family.

In a way, it makes me sad that I don’t enjoy it anymore. Over the last few years, it has been such an effort to motivate myself to post. It got to the point where I would just stare the blank WordPress post page and get a wave of anxiety when I wasn’t sure what to post, what to say, or if what I had wanted to post was going to be “too boring”. I had also felt like a scratched record because I would always repeat things that I’ve posted about before. It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly but it was time. I realized that I could still keep in touch with everyone on social media so it wasn’t the end of the world.

This was actually one of my favorite posts of yours. I loved the nostalgia and really enjoyed it. Took me right back to when it all started. ❤️

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Oh man I feel this SO MUCH. I started out when I was 14 making just ridiculous amounts of websites (nearly every one of which I’ve lovingly preserved!), but LiveJournal was absolutely the golden age for me, and I even met my wife through it! It really does feel like something’s been lost compared to those days.

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Shit, right in the feels for me. I remember all those images from your sites. I remember the absolute joy I felt when I got my first domain: Namecheap did giveaways via Twitter and I got one. I remember you hosting me on my next domain! I remember there were workarounds to make a free site look legit. It was such a big event for me when a site moved from Cutenews or FanUpdate to WordPress. That was the pinnacle of being a “domain owner” to me, and now it’s so easy for anyone to make a blog on WordPress.

I blogged about my high school crushes. I changed my website layout like it was a favourite outfit. Site of the month, returning comments, link backs… I almost forgot about website reviews until you mentioned them.

Coding on Neopets led me to Piczo. I remember I got grounded for a week one time, and I asked my parent to go to my Piczo website so I could check on it. It has gotten hacked and wiped, and I was so upset for days. And nobody in my real life could understand that pain when I was a 13 year old who said “Yeah I can write HTML 💅” like a huge flex. Because it was! 15 years ago, being able to code HTML and CSS was a skill to me. Getting started with PHP opened my eyes, and my family wondered if I would go to school for website design/development (I did not).

I miss this feeling too. I have retreated a lot from social media, but it did start to take over during my teen years and 20s. I’ll have to look in my archives to see just when I started to fall out with blogging, but I reminisce about these days so much. It was a pivotal subculture for me.

When the younger generation posts to Reddit “What did you do as a teen before (insert big media)?” all I can think is: “I still spent my time online.” I have been perpetually online since I was 12 years old and found Neopets, MySpace, Piczo, and this era of diaristic blogging with young designers and programmers. I recently saw someone mention that, these days, kids are seeing content made by other kids on social media, and that was a new experience for them—I mentally disagreed, because I had an online community when I was a teen. I even had older peers, like you Georgie, to whom I looked up and admired and respected. It was almost like a club, but also kind of like a fandom, where our interests aligned and sometimes overlapped.

These days, I’ve been deep diving into websites and blogs from authors who have been on the Internet as long as I have. I hope recent trends toward authenticity mean something to people and we see more thoughtful content online. It’s a dopamine mess for me to scroll through social media, spending a few seconds or a minute on content, only to move on to a different person or topic or platform. I want to slow down. I want longform content again that isn’t newsletters and paywalled websites. But I don’t think we can ever go back to this age, simply because social media has taken the title of “Online Community Facilitator” and won’t relinquish it any time soon.

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Oh man, I loved this post Georgie!
Whilst I never really had my own domain-hosted blog like you did (my thing was LiveJournal), I relate to a lot of this. I still own 72 Fanlistings (I checked, and can’t believe I have that many). I can’t bring myself to give it up yet. I’m merely maintaining the membership lists so I don’t get trouble-listed rather than creating new FLs because I don’t have the time. I’m surprised people are still joining them! And funnily enough, some people joining have Geocities websites – how things come full circle :P

I used to have lots of websites that have come and gone over the years. I wanted to create a hot chocolate blog, where I’d post about hot chocolate I tried in Adelaide. Then I came across a blogspot doing EXACTLY the same thing, and in the same city. I was disappointed and didn’t want to do it anymore. I also tried to create a fanfic site where I showcased all my fanfiction lol. That also died. Have attempted to blog several times, but all died ( my graveyard :P I do have a ‘current’ blog however I haven’t posted it in it since 2016. I don’t know what to do with it). My motivation and inspiration waned too often. Now that I look back at this, I feel like these are all ADHD signs (not that I’ve been diagnosed yet but I feel like I exhibit many of the traits). Constantly starting projects and never finishing them. Having 50,000 tabs on Mozilla Firefox open at once. Starting an LJ post and taking hours to finish it because I couldn’t just focus on one thing at a time :P

I remember your site heartdrops! I used to be rather envious of your coding skills. I never wanted to deep dive into CSS/php learning and would simply copy other’s sites and adapt it to my own as best I could haha. I always loved seeing what you created. You’re incredibly clever!

Back to the main topic, I do agree there was some kind of golden era of blogging that is no longer there. I remember going to people’s fashion blogs to get inspiration, or travel blogs. Most of these people have moved to social media but it’s not the same is it?
LiveJournal also died for me and for most of my friends on there. We moved over to Facebook/Instagram, and whilst it’s nice to see people posting about their lives it isn’t like it used to be, we don’t feel the closeness we once shared. And yes, I was one of those people who HAD to reply to every single comment! ;)

Anyway sorry for this ramble but I wanted you to know that there are lots of us who relate to this time and it makes me feel nostalgic <3

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Popped in to see how you were doing and this blog title caught my eye – and this whole post took me back! Funny how I’m in a similar position now as to before we started talking (lurking every so often, haha) but I remember coming across Heartdrops in 2009 and being floored by your website (instinctively wanted to type “content,” blegh) and the honesty you were always able to convey online, which I never really leaned into as much as I tried. But the whole thing about having a free website, then moving to a subdomain, and then moving a domain to up one’s “credibility” as a website owner/graphic designer was definitely on point for my experience! I remember the first time I got a domain and felt like I really Made It, with so much influence from you and other blogging/webdesigning peers. I definitely agree it was a “golden age” for our niche of the internet, and I’ve since withdrawn from it, but it’s a community I’ve always loved being a part of. The website reviews also took me back, oh my god; I’d nearly forgotten about… all of that entirely. It’s funny to think about how young we all were then. I don’t think I ever saw someone over the age of 25 in that sphere at the time, at least from where I was looking; we were all just teens on the internet learning how to code and design and talk to each other.

The virtual space is so much different now, it’s a marvel at how relevant the idea of parasocial relationships are and how navigating social media requires actual training these days. We’re definitely beyond an era where we can both be and *feel* pseudo-anonymous on the internet, even though that landscape hasn’t changed–just the way we interact with each other now, the platforms/mediums that have come out, and how long-form blogging has unfortunately lost some value in favor of them. Still, I think there’s a lot to be said about the realm of bloggers/website owners you’re talking about–websites that we more or less attempted to build from scratch, to truly make our own corner of the internet with no adult supervision. I think that was part of the appeal of it, and why I still feel so proud of websites that I no longer have, like We created blogs and websites to establish our own presence and share it with the world, no matter how young we were, and I think even with a lot of those websites gone now, that pride and sentiment will always be a part of us :)

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I read your title and honestly, I think “the golden era of blogging” genuinely fits it. It was a completely different time and way of blogging that feels to not fit in anywhere now.

These days, I feel as though I’m in limbo — blogging for fun and to share what I want to share, and blogging because it’s my long-time skill and I’ve turned it into my “career” in a way (I hate calling it a “career”, because it doesn’t fit the traditional concept of a career).

Almost every time I think I may have met someone who could be akin to meeting people back then, “before”, they disappoint me in DMs. Turns out they were connecting with me to “warm me up”, basically, so turn me into a client/customer. Liking or commenting people’s posts on IG, following people back because I like their accounts, etc. — for me, it’s genuine but for them it’s a lot of, “How can I help you? :D” type ish that I want nothing to do with.

I hope I get to meet you offline one day. The current “goal” is to move out of Texas by summer 2025, and the state currently in main consideration is Illinois. I will know more by this summer. 😅 I know this is kind of random, but I thought I’d add it while I’m thinking of it. I remembered upon reading about how taboo meeting people online was…and it’s so strange to me how far we’ve come in society that meeting people online is more the norm now than it is taboo.

I don’t know if I will ever find the balance between blogging for fun and blogging for money. This is, unfortunately, what I’m good at and what fits my strengths. I like to think of myself as a nicheless rebel in that way, since I don’t stick to one niche/topic/focus and cling to golden era blogging values. I think they’re still adequate, “valuable”…personal, touchable.

I really loathe how untouchable content creators are, how there is so little 1:1 connection without payment or tons of hoops. I can’t just email a blogger or content creator I see today without running the risk of a response from someone who isn’t them. I suppose that is the price of the “creator economy”, but it still sucks. It’s still severely lacking in what I favored most about the blogging community back then: humanity.

I’m tired of bro marketing and men filling the blogosphere, of them always being quoted. I miss the community way back when that was dominated by women, where men weren’t the default people quoted so much.

It really isn’t the same, and…yeah, I miss it, too.

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