The Future of Blogs
The Elevator Pitch for the Future of Blogs
1. There are a dozen reasons to celebrate the explosion of blogging, but the main one is that there has never before been a broadband media outlet for so many voices previously left unheard. Blogs represent an enormous range of disparate ideas, commentary and sources, in most case those which the traditional media has historically failed to incorporate, and is struggling to match today.2. The top blogs draw very heavy traffic. According to eBizMBA, blogs like Huffington Post and The Business Insider are pulling in from 10 and 55 million monthly visitors. Few blogs can pull these huge numbers, but clearly the biggest blogs are now commercially strong and outdrawing nearly all newspaper and magazine websites (though the Huffington Post now seems more like a news site than a blog).
3. The sheer number of blogs, estimated by BlogPulse at over 166 million, challenges our ideas about the future of all forms of publishing.
With these numbers, there’s no doubt that blogging as a publishing activity has a bright future. The increasing traffic to the top blogs and their increasing influence on traditional media are also encouraging signs. However with the enormous number of blogs (in an ever-increasing number of languages) the average blogger has about as much chance of being noticed as a car alarm going off in Manhattan at 5 in the afternoon. But with hard work…
There’s a father of the Weblog (a.k.a. blog) and his name is Dave Winer. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just wrong. (OK, I’ll admit that the historians trace blogging BD – ”Before Dave”). Winer has been an Internet innovator for lot longer than most of us have worked in this business. His ideas have changed the industry more than once. (Conflict of interest notice: I’ve worked with Dave in the past while with Seybold Seminars, and consider him a colleague.)
Technorati is a top site to turn to first if you’re interested in blogs. Quoting from Technorati:
“Technorati is the recognized authority on what’s happening on the World Live Web, right now. The Live Web is the dynamic and always-updating portion of the Web. We search, surface, and organize blogs and the other forms of independent, user-generated content (photos, videos, voting, etc.) increasingly referred to as ‘citizen media.’
“But it all started with blogs. A blog, or weblog, is a regularly updated journal published on the web. Some blogs are intended for a small audience; others vie for readership with national newspapers. Blogs are influential, personal, or both, and they reflect as many topics and opinions as there are people writing them.
“Blogs are powerful because they allow millions of people to easily publish and share their ideas, and millions more to read and respond. They engage the writer and reader in an open conversation, and are shifting the Internet paradigm as we know it.
“On the World Live Web, bloggers frequently link to and comment on other blogs, creating the type of immediate connection one would have in a conversation. Technorati tracks these links, and thus the relative relevance of blogs, photos, videos etc. We rapidly index tens of thousands of updates every hour, and so we monitor these live communities and the conversations they foster.
“The World Live Web is incredibly active, and according to Technorati data, there are over 175,000 new blogs (that’s just blogs) every day. Bloggers update their blogs regularly to the tune of over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second.”
As noted above, the company points out also that it is currently tracking (and making searchable) 112.8 million blogs! Google also maintains a blog search, as do other search engines.
Blog.com is an example of a site where you can easily launch a free blog (and, as you become more comfortable with your blog, or ambitious for its prospects, have lots of chances to give them money for upgraded features). Typepad is the original and, some feel, the best of these services (and therefore doesn’t offer a freebie; the basic service is $8.95/month). Many others favor WordPress (I do). Google operates Blogger.
In early March 2007 I took part in a session at the Xplor Document University in Miami where Scott Kelly and I examined numerous technologies that we felt could impact document publishers in the months and years ahead. When it came to blogs I made the deliberately provocative declaration: “The first new form of publishing since the novel.”
Well let’s first of all ignore, for example, comic books, which certainly post-date the novel. My statement, distilled, is intended to proclaim that blogs are a new and very important form of publishing, and often underrated.
They suffer from a couple of perceived weaknesses. First of all they’re very short and casual, often personal and apparently trivial. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’re not published by the New York Times.
I was amazed by the faith expressed by the audience in the reliability of conventional media. There was widespread acceptance that:
1. Editors ensure accuracy.
2. Editors ensure quality.
3. “Big media” can be relied on because it knows what it’s doing and has a lot at stake
4. Big media HAS to do its job; otherwise people will vote with their pocketbooks and cancel their subscriptions.
It’s hard to know where to begin. Talk about a bias! Just because some (mainly white middle class) folks have spent a few years at a college or university, studying a course called “journalism” (or something similar), often run by someone who can no longer make a living in the field, why do people feel so confident of mainstream press qualifications? Just because The New York Times has been publishing since long before they were born, and published some noteworthy journalism here and there, why do they believe that it is a purveyor of truth?
People are suckers for big media, plain and simple.
So what makes a blog a blog?
Dave gets a bit complicated in his article on the subject.
Much of his piece verges on the breathlessly jejune:
1. “…as long as the voice of a person comes through, it’s a Weblog…”
2. “A Weblog post has three basic attributes: title, link and description. All are optional.”
3. “The home page of the Weblog displays the current items, as configured by the editor. The posts scroll through the home page. Some weblogs show you the last 15 posts or the last 7 days; no matter what, eventually the item will scroll off the home page, but it will be permanently stored on an archive page.”
I’d have to say that this describes a great deal of other journalism as well.
But then Dave gets to some aspects of the blog that are essentially unique. For example:
Trackback. When a post links to a post on another Weblog that supports Trackback it can ping the other Weblog to notify it that it has been referred to. In this way each post can serve as a collection point for posts on a given topic.
Notification via email or IM. Some Weblog software can automatically notify editors or community members if new posts, pictures, media objects, articles, or comments have been posted. To date no software can do this over instant messaging, although it would be relatively easy to implement.
Now we start to see the true nature of blogs: the social nature of blogs. Unlike other forms of journalism, they are inherently intended to be interactive: author to author and reader to reader. And unlike most newspaper Web sites, the software structure of the blog not only affords this interaction but encourages it.
Joel Spolsky, in his blog on July 20, 2007 quotes from Dave Winer and notes, “The important thing to notice here is that Dave does not see blog comments as productive to the free exchange of ideas. They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they’ll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you’ll move up in PageRank, and you’ll have influence and your ideas will have power.” (see Dave’s original thoughts on this subject.)
They make an important point…well worth considering in your blogosphere.
Created in late 2006, but only now becoming the new rage, Twitter describes itself as “…a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
The technorati are rapidly adding Twitter to their blogs, with gushing enthusiasm. Wired calls it “incredibly useful.” Noted blogger Jason Kottke wrote “Twitter is the first thing on the web that I’ve been excited about in ages.”
Because you can Twitter faster than you can blog, Jeff Jarvis describes it as “becoming the canary in the news coalmine,” while noting that Twitters alerted the world to the recent earthquake in China before any other medium. But of course most Twitters are not able to offer news of such import. Instead they write about what they just had for dinner.
New media take time to settle. I started slowly on Twitter, but now find it an essential adjunct to my blog.
1. The top source on blogging from the inside
Technorati now offers an exhaustive and invaluable annual State of the Blogosphere report with data on everything from who blogs, to where they blog from, to time spent and income earned. This is a report for understanding the life of bloggers from the inside out.
2. Businesses Embrace Blogging
At the same time that the news media is catching on to blogging in a big way, U.S. corporations are catching onto it in a smaller, though increasing way. BtoB Magazine noted in June 2008 that “only about 12% of Fortune 500 corporations run a corporate blog. Yet companies that have made a commitment — including Dell, Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and SAP — are now deep into blogging programs with multiple weblogs, dozens of bloggers and a wealth of expertise and best practices to share.”
3. The State of Blogging
David Sifry, founder and chairman of Technorati, has been issuing annual reports on blogging (and associated technologies – which he refers to as “the live Web) since October, 2004. Sadly, his last report is from April 2007, but there are lots of statistics and background information. Perhaps the reason he’s discontinued the annual update is best explained in Anne Helmond’s blog entry from February 2008, “How Many Blogs Are There? Is Someone Still Counting?” Quoting from a Wall Street Journal article from 2005, she emphasizes, “First, let’s step back and consider why we’re counting blogs at all. You no longer see articles that attempt to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Web by stating how many Web pages there are.”
4. The Universal Diarist
Mena & Ben Trott were crowned the queen and king of blogging software by The Economist in November 2006. They now refer to “intimate media” rather than “mass media.” Their company was called Six Apart, but they are more noted for their ownership of Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal, and their newest blog-type offering, Vox. According to the article, “She and her husband…sincerely regard blogging as a way of life.”
Advertising network VideoEgg acquired Six Apart in fall, 2010. And the story continues.
5. Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers
At Pew Internet & American Life Project: “Blogs, the survey finds, are as individual as the people who keep them. However, most bloggers are primarily interested in creative, personal expression – documenting individual experiences, sharing practical knowledge, or just keeping in touch with friends and family.
6. Meanwhile in Beware of Blog: A Rush to Judgment Ed Burnette recounts several recent tales of bloggers getting news and facts completely wrong. This is often compounded as one blogger quotes another, and the story moves down the blogging trail. As with conversational gossip, the inaccuracies tend to get magnified as the story is retold.
Stories like these arise frequently these days: probably not surprising with some 80 million or so blogs out there. As I have pointed out elsewhere on this site (and as have many, many others), printed journalism is also far from free from error.
While at first glance this all sounds terrible and tragic, I think the weeping and wailing is overdone. Another great Pew Center report, News Audiences Increasingly Politicized, published in June, 2004, features an in-depth analysis on the decline in media credibility. The analysis provides extensive detail on both broadcast and print media. “…Two news organization share the top spot in terms of print news credibility,” according to the report. “The weekly news magazine U.S. News & World Report and the Wall Street Journal are viewed as highly credible by 24% of those who are able to rate them.
“In previous polls, the Wall Street Journal stood well above the rest of the pack, but that is no longer the case. Ratings for the Journal have plummeted in recent years. In 1998 and 2000, 41% of those able to rate it said they could believe all or most of what they read in the Wall Street Journal. That number…now stands at 24%.
“…Ratings for local daily newspapers have fallen more sharply. In 1998, roughly three-in-ten (29%) of those able to rate their local newspaper said they could believe all or most of what it said. That has declined to 19% in the current survey.”
By Nicholas Lehmann, The New Yorker, August 7, 2006
Leave it to The New Yorker to bring a serious analysis to the question of whether blogging a form of journalism. Lehmann is a skeptic: “To live up to its billing, Internet journalism has to meet high standards both conceptually and practically: the medium has to be revolutionary, and the journalism has to be good,” he writes. “The quality of Internet journalism is bound to improve over time, especially if more of the virtues of traditional journalism migrate to the Internet. But, although the medium has great capabilities, especially the way it opens out and speeds up the discourse, it is not quite as different from what has gone before as its advocates are saying.”
After an historical analysis of reporting in England and the U.S. he moves to the conclusion: “As journalism moves to the Internet, the main project ought to be moving reporters there, not stripping them away.”
A very good book for background on this issue is A History of News by Mitchell Stephens, published originally by Viking Penguin in 1988, and republished in a 3rd edition by Oxford University Press in 2006.
It’s magically stimulating to look at the list and examine the sites. Many are predictable. I think most are surprises. I don’t know what this list tells us about who we are and where our interests lie. I’m certainly pleased to see that Paul Krugman is in the top 50.