This blog has existed for over 6 years now. Back in August 2008 the RPG blog community has looked quite different from today. Blogs were nothing new – even back then – but there were way less active roleplaying blogs back then. It was in the same year – at least if I remember correctly – that a couple of people got together and created the RPG Bloggers Network.
The RPG Bloggers Network was meant to be more than just a simple RSS aggregator. The idea behind the RPGBN was to create a real community and provide readers with easy access to high-quality articles. Back in the day getting accepted to join the community felt like an honor. It also had a very noticeable effect on the traffic your blog received.
In addition to that there really was a community back then. The members tried to read other members’ blogs regularly and there were real discussions going on. Sometimes the whole RPGBN picked up a certain topic and ran with it. These early days of the RPGBN brought us RPG Blog Carnivals, two volumes of the Open Game Table (an excellent blog post anthology), and several other exciting community-driven projects.
Over time the RPG Bloggers Network grew and the high standards of the early days were lowered. This was a good and a bad thing. It was great to see many more bloggers join in, but it also made it harder to maintain a feeling of community. Back in 2008 the RPGBN felt like a family, but this changed quickly. Things started to get downhill when the original maintainers of the RPGBN stepped down and sold the network. One of the reason they left their baby behind is probably that it became extremely hard to keep things running. The technology behind the main site was terribly broken and the community was probably not that easy to handle either.
The new owner tried to change things, but eventually gave up in the long run. This lead to Jeff Brisette of RPG Circus fame and me to think about alternatives. The end result of that effort was the RPG Blog Alliance. Jeff created a RSS aggregator software from scratch, which made maintaining a blog network much easier. People could sign up themselves, change their accounts, and the admins just needed to approve things. It was way easier than the manual process the RPGBN software needed.
We had a lot of plans and high hopes for the RPG Blog Alliance, but in the end we failed. Don’t get me wrong, the software still works great and handles over 600 sites without any problems. We got hacked a couple of times, but Jeff was always able to fix things and close the leaks. But a sense of community never formed and I don’t notice any significant traffic coming from the network to my blog.
I guess one of the reasons why blog networks just don’t work anymore is the slow death of RSS. Back in the glory days, when Google Reader still existed, a lot of people used RSS readers to subscribe to their favorite blogs. Nowadays most of us get their blog updates and RPG news from social networks. My blog for example gets way more traffic from Google+ and Facebook than from any other source.
The community also moved away from the blogs to social networks. Often I get way more comments on posts I’ve written on Google+ than on the blog itself. It’s exactly like the title of this post says it: “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Over the last few years we saw RSS (and with it blog networks) rise and fall. Social networks pretty much took over and especially Google+ has become THE platform for RPG-related discussions. This poses the question what we should do with something like the RPG Blog Alliance. Should we shut it down? Or would it be better to transform it into something new. I have to admit, I have no answer to that question.
This all sounds a bit gloomy, so please let me end this post on a more positive note. One thing that I’ve seen over the years which made me very happy, was that the RPG blog community brought forth a lot of exciting stuff. The mostly peaceful competition between the blogs helped us to become more professional, and even helped several of us to make the step from fans to RPG game industry professionals.
Personally I made many friends over the years, I even got to Gen Con in 2010 thanks to friends from the RPG Bloggers Network, and this little blog of mine helped me to stay sane even during very dark times. So even though the times are a-changin’ we keep blogging!