The “death” of blogging

The title is not meant literally, guys. It comes wrapped up in British irony. But I did write this piece in the current issue of The Economist about the topic.

I don’t usually use this book blog to point to my (day-job) articles. But I did get a few responses after the deadline from interesting people I tried to interview for this story. So, why not include their views here?

The tongue-in-cheek thesis of my little article is that

Blogging has entered the mainstream, which—as with every new medium in history—looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death …

Blogging, in fact, may “die” as PDAs have died–by becoming invisible and ubiquitous, as a feature in almost every mobile phone today.

Evan Williams

Evan Williams

Here, now, is what Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger and now boss of Twitter, emailed me on the subject (excerpts). There is confusion, he says, between two things:

1) There’s also now a commercial blogging world. Commercial blogs do not get most of the traffic (in aggregate), but they’re what a lot of people think of when you say “blog.” But the commercial blogosphere and personal blogosphere are really different worlds. Obviously they overlap, but the motivations and activity of one does not reflect that of the other. Gawker’s cost cutting has nothing to do with Cheri Block Sabraw‘s desire to write things for teachers.

2) There are now more casual ways to scratch the same itch that blogging has done for many people. I.e., Facebook, Twitter, and a slew of other social software alternatives. This is definitely effecting the personal blogging world. It has effected my personal blogging — and that of many people I know. Twitter is now my go-to place to share a thought or a link. I still blog on occasion when I have something I can’t squeeze into 140 characters, but that’s rare, and for many people Twitter (or something else) will suffice nicely on its own. However, does that mean they’re not blogging? We’ve never labeled Twitter a “micro-blogging” service, but that’s certainly one of the primary use cases.

This gets to your point of being nowhere and everywhere, I suppose. There are tons of active blogs on MySpace and on Facebook (even though they call them “Notes”). Maybe these are just the new blogging platforms (among other things). I suppose it is PDA-like that blogs are being subsumed into social networks, like PDAs got subsumed into smartphones.

But PDAs went away as stand-alone devices, because there came a point where they held zero advantage over a smartphone. With stand-alone blogs, that may be true for the most casual users, but not for millions of otheres. There are still many advantages to a stand-alone blog: Your own brand, domain, design, etc. Creating a meaningful, independent voice on web, on which can be launched a movement, a brand, a career, or simply a good story, is best done with a stand-alone blog.

Ev.

Charlene Li

Charlene Li

I also pinged Charlene Li, who is perhaps the best social-media analyst out there, formerly at Forrester, now at Altimeter Group.

If you think about blogging as a specific content publishing tool and formatting of content, then yes, it is being usurped by businesses and traditional media companies. In fact, traditional online content management systems and collaboration suites like Sharepoint are integrating blogging into their platforms.

But if you think of blogging as a “mindset”, then it’s not only healthy, but growing by leaps and bounds. In this way, I distinguish between a corporate blog that does nothing more than publish their press releases (but has not comments) and a blog written from a personal perspective but clearly associated and benefiting a company. Likewise, there are Twitter feeds from companies that are just RSS feeds, while @comcastcares is a genuine person at Comcast who is establishing a relationship with other Twitterers.

In the end, blogging grew because people used it as a way to connect with people and develop relationships. If it *evolves* into new formats, then it’s staying healthy, rather than stagnating.

Chris Alden

And I pinged Chris Alden, the CEO of Six Apart (WordPress’s biggest rival). Excerpts from his reply:

While the hypothesis that blogging is past its prime may be provocative,
it’s not supported by the facts. Our products continue to grow across
the board — we’ve seen more demand for blogging than ever before — and
I believe our competitors are growing too.

It may be that blog “hype” has passed its prime, as blogging has
followed the typical hype cycle and is now in the enlightenment phase
according to Gartner, but that is usually when the real growth actually
happens.

We are seeing an explosion of ways in which people and corporations are
using blogs, both for internal and external purposes, and individual
blogging, alive and well, is also evolving. Publishers, businesses, and
individuals now look to blog software and service to run much more of
their web site, in some cases using MT for their entire web CMS
platform, and integrate blogging and social media in a more profound
way.

It is of course true that newer services like Twitter have captured the
time and attention of many bloggers, and some have slowed their
traditional blogging in favor of communicating with friends through
tweets, not blog posts. But we view these as complimentary, not
competing, trends. More often than not, Twitter works in conjunction
with blogs, and many bloggers use Twitter as a new form of RSS — a way
to alert friends that there is a new blogs post. Very often Tweets refer
to blog posts, and vice versa.

We believe that blogging will have as disruptive an impact on the
mainstream social networks as it had on mainstream media. When it comes
to media, blogs were once seen as an adversary, but are now indelibly
part of the media landscape. The same type of adversarial thinking seems
to be in vogue where folks are assuming that we are seeing replacement
technologies battling it out. It sort of reminds us of the bricks/click
debates of the late 1990s. Of course we learned then that the answer
wasn’t either one or the other, but both.

In fact, blogging and social networking actually started together.
LiveJournal had both blogging and friending features, and was created in
1999. It so happens that blogging services, such as Blogger, TypePad,
and WordPress, then emerged focused on the publishing side. Then another
branch grew from that tree when Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook
focused on the social networking aspect…

The story isn’t about the passing of one trend to another, but the
evolution of blogging, and in some ways a return to its roots, and the
integration of blogging with many other forms of social media. …

Chris

Thanks to all three of you, and sorry I didn’t have time to get you into the article. (Two of you are mentioned, however.) I actually think that the four of us agree almost entirely, and that you’ve colored in the subtleties.

I mean, how could blogging be “dead” if even … Malaysia’s Mahathir now blogs!!!!


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63 thoughts on “The “death” of blogging

  1. I write essays about life, teenagers, parenting, writing, and education.

    Without Blogger and the blogging audience, much of what I have to offer would be, as it has been for 35 years, limited to my students and small reading audience. Without Blogger, my words would not have been available to the 20,000 people who checked them out in the several weeks.

    I love Twitter and was on for awhile, but for me, 140 characters were just too few!

  2. Forgive me if I missed this. I’m a neophyte. Where does Hannibalblog fit into the spectrum between commercial and personal? The Hannibal blog is the only blog I’ve paid attention to. I wonder why (not a rhetorical question).

  3. Way, way toward the personal, Mr Crotchety. Ie, not commercial at all. I had a vague idea that a blog might help me, one way or another, with the writing of my book, so I started one.
    BTW, I’m honored that mine is the blog that has got your attention. ;)

  4. Dude! ;) Blogging isn’t dying. It’s just changing. There’s a huge variety of blogs out there, and a huge variety of people that follow them. I guess the judgement of blogging’s survival or death would depend on a person’s opinion of its purpose. Not all bloggers write with the intention of reaching a wide audience. In many cases the intention is self-expression and creativity and just plain fun. This worm is alive and well and living in the blogosphere :)

  5. I concur in dudeness, Wordsworm. My tongue has been in my cheek during this entire, long debate. As you’ve noticed, ahem, I myself have a blog, and am happy with the audience I have. ;)
    Where is your home in the blogosphere?

  6. Hah, your theme didn’t automatically link my ID to my blog’s URL, even though I was logged in to WordPress. This worm is at Travelling Worm on WordPress.com.

    Awesome mini-theme for your book, btw: “triumph and disaster in our lives, and why they’re never quite what they seem”. I particularly like the amibiguity in that phrase — is it the triumph and disaster that are never quite what they seem, or is it our lives themselves that are not what they seem? :)

    This worm suggests that nothing is what it seems. Perhaps we’re crawling across a tray of toffee that has not yet set but will do so at some time in the near but un-pin-pointable future. So, is it toffee or is it something as yet nameless? And will our feet get stuck in it? (This is a matter of some importance if you have many feet.) And would that be a disaster, or just the start of a triumphant new life as a statue?

    This worm also perused your page “About the book — Hannibal and me”. You’ve got some attractive themes there. I’m thinking I’d be your Scipio: “handsome and sophisticated”, that’s a dead ringer for me.

    As an alter-ego, some might call me a bit of an imposter myself. Others might say I’m a bit of an ego, full stop ;)

    Anyway, must go now. ‘Twas fun chatting. Good luck with the book. As a bookworm myself, I’m looking forward to spending some time in it when it’s published. I’ll be sure to prompt the TC (that’s my Travelling Companion, who holds the purse strings in our relationship) to acquire the book and put me in it.

  7. Well, now that I know who you are, 95 HBM 80-1, I am delighted to be in such good company. You do seem to have been rather promiscuous–what a lot of books you must have been in!–but that only make me want to try that much harder to get you into mine.

    When the time comes, I must find a way to, ahem, worm my way into your TC’s budget. Since you, the worm, are on my side–which goes without saying–you might at some future point drop me some hints as to your TC’s weaknesses. (Feathery things, I’m afraid, make only very minor appearances in my book–as plumes on helmets and such, but even then they are upstaged by horsehair combs.)

  8. This post/blog/article is timely for me because I am trying to decide if blogging is for me 1) as an author 2) as a social being and 3) trying to stay in touch with the mass mind. Thanks for giving me some perspective.

  9. My twitter feed is outside in the garden, where the jays and finches can get at it. Oh, wait, that’s not what you meant….

    Well, er, I don’t have that kind of Twitter feed. ;)

    I’m afraid that if I got a Twitter account, my life would disintegrate. I’m writing a book, writing for a magazine, updating a blog, and parenting….

  10. I am on Twitter, to me it’s OK, I use it, but it’s not great….for me, it’s all about the possibility of a moment…

    In other words, I post a Tweet, and maybe one of my “Followers” will notice it, leading I hope to some sort of action on their part.

    Which sometimes happens, I’ll get some sort of response. But most of the time, not much…

    Cuz most Twitter birds are busy, very busy – trying to get noticed and followed.

    And that’s cool, wanting to be followed…however it can also be kind of boring.

    And your brilliant 140 character (super mini post) get lost, and become, at least for me, way to ephemeral. And that’s one of the things that is strange about platforms such as Twitter, is how temporary they are…

    Still I Tweet, cuz it’s interesting, and it has generated some “Meaningful” relationships, but of the 256 “Followers” I have, I can only say this about a handful.

    Blogging on the other hand “Seems” a bit more “Permanent.”

    Thanks for your post…

    Martin

  11. I’m nearly old – that’s why I’m new to blogging and working my way backwards. I don’t want anything to die, I suppose.
    I’ve survived so far, so I must be fit. Or does that only apply to my genes?
    As long as the ideas survive, does the medium matter? Or are the ideas there anyway?
    My contributions are so humourless: someone please help!

  12. Cheri and andreaskluth, you are both very kind – too kind. I really haven’t the background knowledge and skills to dabble. I even struggle with the practice of blogging. It’s probably more like “Clogging”! I did start an unvisited blog somewhere on Google, but can’t remember what it’s called. It’s an embarrassment of ideas anyway.

    Do ideas die?

  13. Your question caused me to pause (which my husband would say is a really, really good question because I am always on the move…)

    From a touchy-feeley perspective, I would say no, ideas do not die but become a part of a big chain of human thought, each link, extending onward, outward, and sometimes downward. (Sorry for the lousy metaphor but you get the point.)

    Does it sound as if I have spent way too much time at an encounter group?

    My new-media scientific friend, Mr. Crotchety, may agree in a DNA double helix strand way–that we are all carrying with us the genetic material of our predecessors and such, our brains store their ideas, in some way…

    How am I doing, guys?

    Can we relate this idea to physics or your book, Andreas?

    Went to Tadich’s Grill last night for Sand Dabs…nice guys at the bar…

  14. Thanks Cheri
    What a good job our spouses keep our feet on the ground.
    Richard Dawkins’ memes are supposed to become extinct, but I think even he doubts the development of the hypothesis. I do not understand your “Links”. Is this an exercise in determinism?
    What’s a Sand Dab?

  15. The concept of carrying around the ideas of our predecessors, genetically, is one that I would only discuss anonymously or with someone who was equally drunk. I first started thinking about this after Dolly, the cloned sheep, aged prematurely. It is also tangential to, dare I say it, the idea that people ‘remember’ past lives. Unfortunately I don’t have very coherent idea of why these things are related. I just learned to spell DNA, so I’m hardly qualified to talk about genetics.

  16. PS
    I thought DNA has 4 letters, or is it 5? I can’t remember. I’ll go and look it up in my genome… O look – now you’ve made me spill my beer.
    I need some decent parenting.

  17. OK Cheri and Richard. What have I got to lose? This is not my field. You can call me a hack, but not a quack. AK advocates thoughts deep and shallow.

    A butterfly dies with same DNA it started with as a caterpillar. That is one of life’s bigger marvels. Sometimes I think the cure to cancer lies in that phenomenon. That is, not only genetic code, but what about genetic switches that turn things on and off (e.g., cancer, beauty, anger, lunacy). These switches are inherent (aging Dolly?) as well as being affected by our environment (cancer, fall foliage). Today we can splice DNA and make something really nasty smell like a rose. Or we can grow meat from stem cells in a Petri dish without ever creating an ‘animal.’ So it seems like only a matter of time before we learn that the billions of permutations that create traits also generate information in our brain that we know as instincts and long-term memories. If someone jumps out of a dark alley and scares us, the conventional wisdom is that we fight or run. This is a first-order reaction. Raising a baby is also instinctual (for most of us). But raising a baby is more than a reaction. Maybe it’s a string of reactions with a bit of real-time learning thrown in. It’s just a string of reactions that kind of look like an algorithm when it goes well. In addition, we can perhaps begin to explain other difficulties. It’s easy to dismiss someone who says they’ve had a past-life memory. Is a past-life memory a more complicated string of code? That is, genetic chemistry that ‘makes up’ a memory of something that was never lived? Like creating a memory of a virtual experience, but with real chemicals? If nothing else, I believe our brain chemistry has the ability to add ‘theatre’ to link a few snapshots of virtual memory.

    These things are fun to think about – especially without the burden of expertise. One can probably find a dissertation or a summary of someone’s life work about just a single idea without going more than three deep on a Google search. That can take the fun out of being a hack (or a quack).

  18. Thanks Mr. Crotchety,

    For the record (now I am afraid to use parentheses after Andreas’ last post ), but anyway, I do not believe in past lives. That’s why I am trying so hard in this life, my only one.

    I do believe that we carry genetic codes/memory/stuff in our DNA from our ancestors. I am a big believer in genetics. I am clearly not a scientist, but rather a lover of literature and the written word, so I have no scientific anything to use to make a case. Just a feeling. My husband and I have gone round and round about “feelings” versus “thinkings.” Heart vs. Head. Intuition vs. Science.

    Same old debate.

    I look forward to your posts, Mr. Crotchety, and think you should have a blog of your own. ( If you don’t already…)

    Here’s to Monday.

    PS. Richard, Sand Dabs are a fish. Thin and pan-fried. Great with lemon and garlic and bread crumbs….Poor Andreas… his Hannibal Blog has become a foody one as well.

  19. Thank you Mr. Crotchety: fascinating stuff. I must think about what you say.

    Thank you Cheri. Sensation – thinking – feeling – intuition. You make me feel Jung again.

    Where can we get a sand dab in Croydon, England? Then I’ll ask Glenys to cook one for me.

    I’ll ask Andreas to have a recount on winner Godel.

  20. Andreas: Perhaps not a re-count,just a runner-down or greatest thinker*. Not Godel, who sought inconsistencies in the American Constitution. Life itself is inconsistent.

    The candidates are those heroes who seek to grasp the great ideas and communicate them to stragglers and strugglers like me with compassion. Those, perhaps, with a social conscience and a regard for the human condition. Independents and shunners of cliques. Non-ivory tower dwellers. Communicators like Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Freud, yes: Darwin, Beethoven, Roger Penrose, andreaskluth, Einstein, even.

    For me it’s between Beethoven and Shakespeare, who formed timeless and immortal ideas and communicated them.

    Do I make a case? Where’s the polling booth? I won’t mention Jesus… [Note your ellipsis again. I'm still trying to work out the extended vowels.]

    I do think it’s remarkable how your streams of thought are coming together. Can’t wait for your book.

    Cheri: Can you at least remain neutral about you having only one life? Though intuition is superior and creative, it has to be tested with boring old logic. Why project the darkness before birth beyond death? What evidence do you have to support your position? You might ask: where do blogs go after they die?

    Mr. Crotchety: I’m still battling with your thoughts about genes. Are you really a neophyte?

  21. I will continue my musings in retirement, while the rest of you work to maintain me in that harsh old world. Survival of the fittest? Hardly!

    Mr Crotchety: I’ve had to read and read every line of your conjectures in order to be able to understand them and am only just beginning to. Do you mind answering a few questions to help me?
    1 Do you say that we should expect DNA to change radically during the lifetime of an organism? We know about mutation, of course, but do you say there should be much, much more of it?
    2 I suppose genetic switches are programs that change programs. We know that’s OK. Are instincts just a subset of thoughts, though? Instincts are tied to the physical world through the process of evolution. The physical world appears consistent, but thoughts are plainly inconsistent. Is this where the divide comes between instinct and long-term memory? If you agree, wouldn’t that exclude an algorithm, or is my argument circular?
    I don’t think it matters about not having expertise. Sometimes experts can’t see the wood for the trees and get very protective of their specialism. In my legal practice, I invariably found that my clients new far more about the topic that affected them personally than I did, and I learned to listen carefully to them. My function was simply to lead them through the forest.

    Cheri: Do you think sand dabs might be too gritty for me? Remember my teeth are falling out.
    Logic never created anything. We need intuition, vision, imagination, inconsistency to get anywhere.

  22. Cheri: I’ve just visited your marvellous website. What a life! My efforts shrivel to insignificance. No wonder Glenys is always trying to make me get up and go. I even resent having to go and visit my beloved children, in-laws and grandchildren. How does she put up with me?

  23. Richard,
    I hardly think so. I suspect that behind your modesty, there is more than we know (yet). You will see that on the Hannibal Blog, Andreas’ graciousness and modesty, releases all of our inhibitions and we become ourselves…In fact, when his book hits the big time, and thus a visit on Oprah’s show in Chicago, he will need some back up, so he will take a few of us to be foils… I will be Amy Tan and Mr. Crotchety will be…hmm…I will let him decide.

    Regarding Sand Dabs, they are not gritty, but taste like Dover Sole. Are you close to Dover?

  24. Richard: I’m sorry you’ve read and re-read what I wrote. That’s probably because it doesn’t make sense! 1) Yes, I’m a neophyte. 2) Maybe AK could invite an anonymous guest expert who (for example) has a column with the NYTimes, but is currently on leave who would say something informative. Our question: “Can past life experiences be explained on the basis of chemical reactions formed by DNA.” [For me, it’s not a matter of believing in them, or not. I’ve never had one. But people do, and science (Great Thinkers) should be able to explain it.] If she doesn’t like that, make it easier. Ask her to explain how Dolly the Sheep got old prematurely.

    I’m working on a metaphor for DNA. How about this? DNA doesn’t change, but different traits manifest themselves in time. The traits are associated with different bits of DNA. (Think chest hair.) DNA is a long organic molecule with characteristic entities that from patterns like a piano’s keyboard. Playing a chord generates is a chemical reaction. Not all the chords are played all the time. Now think about something like Cancer. Organic molecules (like benzene) will do damage to DNA. The damage is analogous to playing a chord with a misplaced finger. The outcome is a chord that sounds wrong. The temporal triggers are a mystery to me. Why do the chords happen in sequence, or happen in the first place?

    Cheri: I can’t remember who is in the book. I think I wanted to be the uglier, grumpier Cato.

  25. No, Mr. Crotchety,

    Perhaps Andreas has a modern character in his book who is worthy of your wit and intelligence. I just latched on to Amy Tan because 1) she is my age 2) I have an autographed copy of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and 3) I want to be famous, like Amy, for writing a great book, but I will need to get busy soon (at our age).

    Gosh, this admission is pathetic.

    Well, Andreas is away, so we need to be naughty. Let’s see. Another virtual idea?

    • Now, now….
      Little brother is always watching.

      Incidentally, I just tried leaving a comment on your blog (for the rest of you: I’ve not been able to leave comments on some Blogger blogs for some reason). Curious if it works… (I used the new and supercool Safari 4.0 Beta to do it. Maybe that’s the trick)

  26. Mr. Crotchety must be asleep.

    Comment arrived.

    My guess is that you tried hypnobirthing first and an epidural second.
    I tried Lamaze first and an epidural second.
    My daughter tried a midwife and natural childbirth first and a C-Section second.

    A pattern?

  27. Cheri: virtual ideas and links? cure a blind man by dabbing sand on his eyes – neophyte – fishers of men – psychoanalysis by freud’s bronze – he must be present –

    Andreas: your absence is ironical – the elephants are perishing in the Alps – inspiration, please – the blog is dying.

    Mr Crotchety: lack of expertise doesn’t stop us talking about the recession, why anything else?

  28. Cheri: I’m floundering … save my sole … “the one thing I can boast about is my modesty” ( H. Rider Haggard) … aging sheep … test-tube parenting …

    Andreas: Help!

  29. Have you noticed how the ‘death of blogging’ is the thread that won’t die?

    AK: I’m blushing.

    CBS: Yes. I was either asleep or folding laundry. I don’t have to tell you, as fun as the blogosphere can be, it doesn’t bank well.

    RM: I’ve got the answer. I’m planning another HB field trip. This will take place at an undisclosed (sic) location in the Rocky Mountains in July. We’ll build a fire and spend the night (week?) chanting the Iliad. AK can wear his pelt. No electronics allowed. Bring a sack lunch and comfortable walking shoes. Feel the love, brother.

  30. THE CYBERSPACE WITHOUT MERCY
    I
    O what can ail thee knight at arms
    Alone and palely loitering
    The edge is banished from the web
    And no birds sing

    II
    O what can ail thee knight at arms
    So haggard and so woe-begone
    Your sent mail box is full
    And the inbox blank

    III
    I see the cyber-light on thy brow
    With anguish and fever dew
    And in thy cheeks a fading page
    Fast vanisheth too

    IV
    I met an android in the leads
    Full logical – a Godel’s child
    Its reach was long, its touch was light
    And its mind was fired

    V
    I found a bronze form of its head
    And axioms too and empty sets
    It looked at me as it approved
    And made sweet hum

    VI
    I set it in my pacing mail
    And nothing saw all day long
    Until it sent and brought
    Another blog along

    VII
    It found me worlds of ideas sweet
    And Jungian and Freudian too
    And sure in language it said
    “It all is true”

    VII
    It took me to its elephant train
    And there it pinged and buzzed some more
    And there I dabbed its bold “on” switch
    With sandmen more

    IX
    And there it lulled me to sleep
    And there I dreamed ah! Woe betide
    The latest dream I ever dreamed
    On the cold keyboard

    X
    I saw pale monks and poets too
    Pale bloggers, electronic all they were
    They cried “The Cyberspace Without Mercy
    Hath thee in thrall”

    XI
    I saw these absent thoughts
    With horrid emptiness gaped wide
    And I awoke and found me here
    On the cold keyboard

    XII
    And this is why I sojourn here
    Alone and palely loitering
    Though the edge is banished from the Web
    And no birds sing.

    [ ... With apologies to John Keats]

  31. I have to say that Cyberspace without Mercy doesn’t make me blush the way La Belle Dame does. But, I’m impressed. I’d much rather read this than try to think of something interesting to write about Twittering.

  32. i don’t think blog will ever die. there are just too many blogger around for the blog to be dead. Blog hype will die of course possibly followed by micro-blogging services like Twitter when something new & fresh comes up. instead of comparing to TV, blog would probably compare to the TV in comparison to computers, that never go out of living room.

    well for the meantime, blogger is relaxing – while Facebook is on high, so is Twitter.
    http://twitter.com/nepalsites

  33. Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

    I’ll be watching you . :)

  34. I began my blog as simply a hobby. A place to write about my passion. I left it for about four months and when I came back my subscribers had tripled. This seemed weird at first, but then I realized I must be saying something that people were interested in reading about. To me this says more about the life of a blog rather than the death of it.

  35. Do you see the chink in the wall over there, Doug C.? If you listen very, very carefully you will hear Thisbe whispering sweet nothings.

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