Thursday, 2 August 2007

Every blog has its day

There's been a lot of online discussion recently about whether blogging has had its day.

There's certainly evidence of a 'cooling-off' in the medium. In April, Business Week reported that while Technorati publicly states there are 70 million blogs worldwide, the real story is that the number of 'active' blogs levelled off last October at around 15 million.

More recently, popular bloggers like Shel Israel have reported a drop in readership figures, prompting an outbreak of navel-gazing of the kind bloggers specialise in.

One view is that the decline is due to shortening attention spans and the rising popularity of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr and Jaiku. People can no longer be bothered with long, ponderous blog posts, goes the argument, when there are new services available that let people post short statements, questions and links.

There's a lot of truth to this. Posts on Twitter and other networks are communicated instantly to 'followers' by email, SMS and/or RSS, increasing the sense of interaction and conversation that is characteristic of communications in the Web 2.0 world. For the networked generation, it's an ideal way to stay in touch.

But to think that blogging is 'over' is to misunderstand the differences between blogs and social networks. Blogs provide an outlet for more considered writing, while Twitter and its ilk are really only good for dashing off statements of one or two sentences.

It's a nuance that is well understood by Steve Rubel, author of the popular Micro Persuasion blog. Rubel says that from now on he will only post more thoughtful pieces on his blog, using Twitter to keep in continuous contact with his online social network.

Over time, the rise of Twitter, Facebook et al should lead to an overall rise in the quality of blogs, even as the number of active blogs declines. Why? Because people who are not writers by nature will gravitate to alternative social media, while the domain of blogging will increasingly be left to people who are prepared to put more care and thought into their posts.

It's good news for marketers, I think – a less crowded blogosphere will mean less competition for attention, leaving marketers who excel at written communications a clearer field for interacting with audiences.

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Valerie said...

Hmm. I think I agree with your assessment, and if true it's an interesting trend — the natural striation of types of text into layers, each one with its own media outlet. Going to have to think about this a bit.

I'm also curious if the 'status' one-liners that Twitter, MySpace and Facebook (among others) supply will be used differently. Will I mention my actual location in Twitter and put my mood in Facebook? etc.

A trend to watch. I like the idea of a less trivial blogosphere, though I'm often a contributor to the trivial side of it...

Fiona Blamey said...

Well, there are already social networking sites dedicated to recording one's physical whereabouts - Plazes, for example, and Dopplr. But I think that increasingly people will incorporate feeds from these activity-specific apps into one uber-social networking platform (at the moment looking most likely to be Facebook), so that all their various status updates are viewable in one place.

I'm not sure the blogosphere will become less trivial (who would want that?), just better written!

Andrew Smith said...

For me the interesting thing about Facebook is that it has the potential to put all the things I want in one place - a kind of universal portal. (You've already got IM on Facebook - I'm sure you'll have an email front end on there before the week is out ;-)

Yes, the number of apps you can install is bewildering - but you can add and remove according to taste and usage (they could have an auto remove feature for any app you don't use after, say 30 days).

The real problem of course is that we have no idea what we ought to be spending our time and attention on - I'm the world's worst widget junky - I can't help installing the latest FB app that I find out about - just to play around with it - presumably there has to be some kind of application Darwinism that comes into play and eventually, we'll settle on the few things that are really useful/important.

Who knows? I certainly don't.

Fiona Blamey said...

I know, Facebook is like one of those science fiction stories where evolution speeds up and everything starts sprouting extra limbs and tentacles at tremendous speed. (Or possibly I am thinking of the film 'Evolution', which is better than everyone says it is, no really.)

One of the things that Facebook seemed to have in its favour was that it was clean and smart and uncluttered, unlike MySpace (and Danah Boyd even wanted to impute this to class differences between users of the respective platforms). But Facebook is getting cluttered up with tat at an amazing rate, which just goes to show that adults are all messy teenagers at heart!

Agree with you on the Darwinism, though - useful and usable stuff will stick, and the rest of it will drop off.

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...


I always enjoy your thought-provoking posts. Thanks for helping us who struggle to understand the technical undercurrent and philosophical challenges of our day.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

LAFD Blog:

Fiona Blamey said...

Brian, many thanks for your kind words. You're right that the challenges we're facing with social media are as much philosophical as technical - I'm in the midst of writing a social networking policy for Prompt employees and it's in danger of turning into a philosophy essay!

Tim Footman said...

I'm going to end all my communications "Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service" from now on. It's so much more thoughtful and civilised than "Cheers". Makes it immediately apparent that Brian is a splendid chap who holds the door open for old ladies and never drops chewing gum on the pavement.

Greg Balanko-Dickson said...

Another viewpoint.

My exoerience, every summer for 10 years I noticed that traffic dropped off somewhere between May-August. It varies every year, it always drops sooner or later and then comes back every time.

It is this new fangled idea, called holidays. Doh.

Fiona Blamey said...

Tim: Why hello, and welcome to the 'other blog'!

Greg: Yes, me too. Also, more people (myself included) are reading blogs in RSS readers these days, and only clicking through to the actual blog when they want to comment on something. Which suggests that Google's new comment-on-the-news function is going to take even more traffic away from news sites.

Anonymous said...

Is there the case that, in the same way as letters used to be the form of communication, internet and email took over. The telephone changed communication and the introduction of SMS further. Is the microblog the new blog? ie People writing in under 200 words what they used to say in 2000?

Fiona Blamey said...

I truly hope not, Anonymous. Writing is an art form, not simply an expedient means of communication. Also, a world in which every thought or argument had to be expressed in 140 characters would be a very poor world culturally.

I agree with Steven Johnson - a lot of culture is becoming 'bite-size', but at the same time, a lot of culture is becoming much bigger, longer and more in-depth. If we're happy to watch three-hour long movies and read 400-odd pages of Harry Potter, I think the 800-word blog post is still safe from the forces of progress. Phew.

Nigel Walsh said...

I'm enjoying the blog here on Facebook and social media. I recall telling my wife about facebook and her response was "what’s the point in that, I'll just call my friends". Now she’s a total facebook addict.

I currently maintain two networks and have tried to keep one for business (LinkedIN) and one for social, facebook of course! Facebook is clean, uncluttered (for now) and easy to use - I tried myspace and that was just ugly. I have no idea what bebo is and I've promised myself I wont even look at it. What’s interesting is Facebook is now in the UK top 20 most visited sites and beat Myspace I believe for the first time. I think the other thing that’s interesting is the difference between business and social networks, my LinkedIN network is often called upon to get to other people I know or who they know, the odd request for people I have never met to "LinkIn and benefit from each others network" whereas Facebook is 100% quality friends, long lost school buddies, my dad! (trying to be cool) and friends of friends you have met in a bar.

My only problem now is between LinkedIN, Facebook and my own website, not to mention my day job - a) its a full time job in managing them and b) I don’t have time to see my real physical friends and when we do - all they talk about is facebook!

off to update my profile!

PS - no one mentioned FriendsReunited.... that’s was so last summer.... and another example of a buyout (ITV) and people loosing interest...