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FYI, Blogging is Not Dead

at 8:00 am

You may have heard it said that blogging is dead.

No.

As far as I can tell, blogging is not only alive, but thriving. And if "blogging is dead" is some sort of call to make it so...

No.

Blogging offers something that the social graph doesn't: discovery. By discovery, I mean the experience of finding something for the first time, by yourself. Even though it may not always feel differently, encountering information via social media is different. I would call it referral, not discovery. Someone else has discovered it for you, and by sharing the link, is saying, "hey, you should check this out, too." That's a referral.

Discovery, on the other hand, is when you respond to a desire for something and pursue it, or, in the process of pursuing something you want, instead encounter something you didn't even know you wanted.

If, somehow, social media replaced blogging (and really, one could make an argument that blogging is social media, but I mean networks like Twitter, Google+, etc.), I think the ability for someone to experience the sort of discovery I described—pursuing ideas and finding them in content, or the serendipity of encountering entirely new things—might be lost or significantly depleted. Social networks are getting better at supporting deeper content, as Google+ is demonstrating, but they still work best by distributing information across existing social networks. In that system, the content you encounter is the content your friends encounter. If it's new to you, it was brought to you by someone who isn't new to you. But on the web, content is discoverable even if you or your friends have never found it before. That's what search is all about. So until Google+ or some other network enables users to optimize their content for searching strangers, I think blogging still has a very important role to play.

(Really, that's probably right around the corner, and when that happens I'll probably be inclined to scrap the discovery argument and pick up one focused on the role design has in shaping the information experience.)

In the meantime, I'd like to share with you (this is a referral now) a few blogs that I think provide strong and very different examples of how blogging can be done. Now that I read back on this, it's on a scale from formal to very informal:

1. Bat Bean Beam is what I might call slow-blogging. Giovanni Tiso has been writing long-form entries once a week (every Monday) for the last 3 years. In fact, his most recent post is reflecting upon that anniversary. This blog won't teach you about design, marketing, or advertising, but it will enrich your mind so that you can bring a wider and deeper perspective on things to whatever it is you do. That's why I read it. And by the way, I wish I could say I discovered this blog. I don't remember by whom, but I know it was referred to me by another blogger I read regularly. That person linked to Giovanni's post on a childhood favorite of mine—a book that truly shaped my idea for how working society should look—Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?

2. In very stark contrast, Toronto-based marketer Mitch Joel blogs every day. Each post is brief, and clearly not fussed over. But he's found a rhythm. And in stark contrast with plenty of other social media quasi-celebrities (who will remain nameless), none of his entries feel superflous to me. In fact, though they rarely impart what I might call life-changing insights, they almost always get me to think. And, he's also self-aware. His entries often address form, outward-processing how he does blogging and why. On that note, here he is talking about how blogging changed gatekeeping. Oh, and one more thing. I may skim most of his daily posts, but his weekly "Six Links Worthy of Your Attention" post is one I eagerly anticipate every weekend. Highly recommended.

3. UK planner Russell Davies blogs on his own mysterious schedule. That is, it seems, whenever he feels like it. Sometimes that means a few times in a week, other times much longer gaps come between posts. Like Joel, his posts are not showy at all. In fact, they're so informal that they seem almost intimate—as if you're reading a note-to-self or a brainstorming email he's sent to a few colleagues. He tightens it up ever so slightly when he's writing his Wired UK column, but what inspires me about Russell Davies is that his approach to blogging and column writing is almost as if to say that the writing itself is, if anything, a nuisance. The ideas are what count. I imagine he'd be the first I read to take up some form of mind-to-mind communication if it were possible.

So those are some examples you should be looking at right now.

To wrap things up, I'm going to be inflammatory just for fun:

Whoever told you blogging is dead:

  • probably doesn't read blogs
  • definitely isn't reading the right blogs
  • probably never kept a blog long enough to learn to do it right
  • probably doesn't read much
  • is probably in a constant state of distraction
  • probably thinks Twitter is a fitting replacement (I like Twitter as much as the next guy, but honestly, most of the value of Twitter for me is in the amazing content that the people I follow point me to, which, as it happens, tends to be on…*gasp* blogs!)
  • probably thinks Google+ is a fitting replacement (I also like Google+. In fact, I think it's way cooler than Facebook. But for now, it's not going do what blogging does best.)
  • probably heard someone else say it and thought it sounded clever.
  • is, imho, dead wrong.

Anyway, "blogging is dead" is so 2010. Blogging is not dead. Blogging-is-dead is dead.

I'm just sayin'.

Comments

Christopher Butler | September 14, 2011 8:53 AM
Giovanni That's a good point. I guess what I meant by "undermines" is that the nature of the technology seems to prioritize the now, such that digging into the archive is almost like swimming against the current, or working against entropy. As you say, when you write a post, you have to assume a lack of history with the reader—somewhat ironic to me since I've always had in mind as a goal to build a deeper readership, which means I often assume the opposite in my writing. Of course, when I realize my assumption it leads me to that bad habit of writing lots of as-I've-written-before's and linking them to the "prerequisites."

But you're also right that older material can resurface, thanks to search. I still receive comments and engagement around material I considered long dead. If you scroll to the bottom of this blog's main page, you'll see that the most commented posts are all over a year old—the oldest of them, a post on allowing un-moderated and anonymous blog comments probably has the most distance between when I wrote it and its most recent comment, whereas the others have had less of an evenly spread out lifespan.

Anyway. There's something to the (for lack of a better word) capitalization of the catalog that, I agree, we're still learning. There are great ideas that fall flat purely because of timing, so how does one identify them and resurrect them at a time in which they are best suited to thrive? I don't know. I've spent some time going through older posts that surprised me in failing to generate discussion and interest and have tried to identify ways that I could rewrite them. We'll see how that works out…

Mitch: I don't know. Is it really annoying to manage blogging? I certainly haven't found that to be the case. You set it up once and then the work of adding a new post is pretty minimal—really, no fiddling/developing required. At least, that's been my experience. From my point of view, I find the process of blogging to be far more calm and temporally manageable than the rapid-fire pace of social platforms—especially microblogs.
Mitch | September 13, 2011 6:22 PM
Blogging isn't dead, it's just annoying to manage and its going to be less popular in its traditional form. Who wants to sit around and fiddle and develop on Wordpress (or another CMS) all day long? It's a lot easier to just use Facebook or Twitter or Google + and promote yourself there and be done with it: this way you can have have all of your content in a supported and popular platform. I think that this is the direction that the market is naturally trending with all of the companies mentioned at BuyFacebookFansReviews. It's just ridiculous how much traffic Facebook is getting and how much its growing and big companies are evening putting their Facebook URLs in their tv ads. This is where the future is going to take place. I love blogs, but I think society is going to continue to focus on these short microblogs (if you want to call them that) because people are too busy to sit and read longer pieces.
Giovanni | September 12, 2011 11:18 PM
"There are, certainly, prerequisites, but I suppose what I'm getting at is the form of blogging undermines that naturally. While a blog can amount to an amazing index of time-like a core sample drilled in the ice representing ages of geological time-it also undermines its own temporality and prefers the now to the then."

I don't know that it actually undermines it. I think it foregrounds the fact that you can approach a text from a variety of temporal and thematic angles. I also like the fact that I must assume in writing a post that nobody has ever read anything else I've written, and yet I can still rely on old material. Plus older posts after a while take on a life of their own, completely unconnected to the rest of the blog (because still the most common way to read the entire web is page by page). I think we have but begun to understand and make the best of these kinds of intra- and intertextuality.
Christopher Butler | September 9, 2011 3:27 PM
Michael: Well, I'm not sure who "broke the story," but I can certainly recall reading the blogging eulogies several times over the last year. I dug through my web history a bit and pulled out the following:

Back in February, The New York Times ran a story with the headline Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter, which, in turn, cited this 2010 Pew Internet Study.

There was also this.

And this.

And the conversation around this post.

There were surely others. But you know, you may be nudging a point that perhaps the declaration was a red herring, maybe even put out there by people who had the counterpoint all ready to go.

What is more interesting to me is the idea that rather than dying, perhaps it is just now growing up? Out of the follow-up questions you asked, I think that attention has much to do with the resilience of blogging. In other words, it's the idea that if microblogging is so popular, it must follow that everyone's attention span is declining. I don't know about that. Despite having been pilloried as a luddite—which really couldn't be farther from the truth—Nicholas Carr actually brings a pretty nuanced view to the attention and media issue. I think he's got a strong point that media does have an ability to influence our thinking, but he also clearly acknowledges our ability to reverse the trend. This reality, in my opinion, shouldn't lead to some sort of prescription for how online content is created or consumed. I think there's plenty of room for deep engagement online!

On that note, you're right. This very "conversation" is indicative of what is possible online. I love that I can encounter fascinating people like Giovanni and yourself through reading the wonderful things that come out of your minds. I love the intimacy that is created by interacting around that kind of content. You and I have been exploring this in earnest ever since Michael Surtees included your 10 Years/10 Learnings post in one of his link drops back in November of 2009. I read it, was impressed, and left a comment. Then I commented on your next post. Then, you emailed me on January 23, 2010. (Amazing, this technological trail of breadcrumbs!) Since you sent that email, we've had many Skype chats and other digitally-enhanced interactions and become fast friends. I love that this has been possible, and I attribute it in part to technology, but also to synergy. We both value ideas and curiosity is the wind in our sails. And you're right—for all the content-experts out there, the power of private content (the unseen, unheard, unblogged, untweeted, and everything else in-between) has not been celebrated enough!

Yes, it's a meme. And like most memes, it's annoying.

As for the role of design in shaping the information experience…yes, I'm intrigued about that, too. In May, I found (actually, probably was referred to) a blog post by Richard Ziade over at the Readability blog in which he talked some about how tools like Readability challenge the role of art direction in content. (Of course, I threw in my two cents). But it's a legitimate question: If we're creating tools that prioritize making content as flexible to its containers as possible, how does that affect how we design the content experience? What does it look like? Does it matter?

Thanks for joining in!
Vang Vieng | September 8, 2011 8:16 PM
Correct on all counts. I particularly agree about Twitter. It works fantastically as a 'referral engine', but as a venue for expressing the thoughts, feelings and opinions traditionally expressed on blogs it's worse than useless. I just started using it this week for a little marketing, and after just a few tweets I'm already frustrated with the format (I've lost count of the times I've wonder who ever thought this was a good way forward).
Michael Babwahsingh | September 8, 2011 2:33 PM
Chris,

The announcement that "blogging is dead" is actually news to me. Since I live in a cave, where has this statement been made? To me, the spectrum of blogging is quite broad, the content diverse, and the form it takes ever-evolving (video, drawing/photo, etc.). So, if anything, blogging as an act of personal publishing is still in its infancy.

Is the perceived problem that blogging of depth and substance is dead? Is it also a question of the internet's ability to deliver intellectually rich and stimulating content AND its capacity to sustain a reader's attention long enough to read anything "below the fold" of a laptop or smartphone screen? Should we just resign ourselves to the fact that anything "online" must be short, pithy, and provide immediate payoff to be of value? Are books becoming the sole repositories of deep knowledge and our only hope for cognitive salvation? (Sorry, I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows")

I think you and Giovanni show quite well, by example and by referral, that compelling writing lives and breathes in blogs - not just in the carefully-crafted posts themselves but in the comments, tweets, wall posts, cross-posts and response posts that follow. Within the ecosystem of content creation and consumption, the symbiosis between short, fast social media broadcasts feeding from and pointing to long, slow blog posts drives the cycle of discovery, reflection, and response. Great blog posts seed rich dialogue and invite collective participation in an idea, however grand or humble it may be. The fact that we simply *can* engage in dynamic, multi-streamed dialogues across the planet asynchronously is still pretty amazing. I don't think the naysayers have fully grasped that reality yet.

Of course, in full disclosure I must add that it is only by the power of blogging (and tweeting) that we have crossed paths and begun a conversation of our own.

P.S. – Does the whole "___________ is dead" phenomenon in journalism and pop culture qualify as a meme? It's probably the quickest, easiest provocation to make but probably the hardest type of argument to defend.
P.P.S. – I'm intrigued by your mention of "the role design has in shaping the information experience."
Christopher Butler | September 7, 2011 8:53 PM
Giovanni,

You're right that discovery may not be the grand purpose for all blog readers. It certainly isn't the cause for every subscription in my Google Reader account. But, it is still a very viable purpose for those that decide to blog as a way of building awareness around what they do and/or what they have to offer others (i.e. the whole idea behind content marketing—at least in the form that I still hold in good repute). That's what I was trying to get at in this stream-of-consciousness post: that blogging still has a purpose that social media has not yet fulfilled.

But you're also entirely right that "many people who used to blog craved community over content." And, yes, for those, social media has much more effectively fulfilled that desire. But others still crave content—myself included. Not necessarily more that community, but crave it still. While many of my most valued sources have come via referrals, the list is continually evolving and always contains some that I discovered, whether through search or aimless clicking. Similarly, it is rare that I return from a visit to the library without a book that I happened upon by browsing the periphery of the book I initially came in search of, and by virtue of proximity, discovered for the first time. I suppose that, with my local library not being limitless, I can expect this experience to end someday or at least be much more rare. But on the web, I imagine it will be the opposite. Time will tell...

Your review of Poemas del río Wang contained many interesting threads (not least of which was your point of view on that blog itself, which I'll take as a recommendation and subscribe) about the act of blogging which got me thinking:

As for how one begins to interact with a blog (as you put it, in medias res), it's a bit like the experience of starting up your car and finding a talk radio program (NPR) already in progress. With a blog, you have the time machine available to you to "pause" the flow forward and go back to the beginning, but as you point out, one rarely does. Instead, we happily pick up in the midst of the conversation.

I like how you wrestle with how the "pages" of a blog could/should be visualized—whether there is an order to them or not. As I thought about this I immediately considered how I continually struggle with the phrase "As I've written before," and my recurring instinct to write it. But something about that rubs me the wrong way—almost as if I'm implying, "which you should have already read," or "which is a prerequisite to participating in the present conversation." Not that such a thing would be incorrect. There are, certainly, prerequisites, but I suppose what I'm getting at is the form of blogging undermines that naturally. While a blog can amount to an amazing index of time—like a core sample drilled in the ice representing ages of geological time—it also undermines its own temporality and prefers the now to the then. Interesting that you just celebrated 3 years of blogging. Is it the now after the three years that is the milestone, or the three years itself? I'm not sure. Blogging is strange that way.

This also brings to mind pace, which is the next thing you addressed in your review. Is a blog best experienced as it unfolds, or in retrospect, pace set by the appetite of the reader? I have a friend who brought this to mind with television recently. He became interested in a particular program, and though he could get up to speed via Netflix and then pick up in realtime with the rest of the viewing population, he chose to wait for the season to conclude and then—as he put it—binge it. In other words, watch a ton of television in a short period of time. Though I have taken in some programs that way (most recently, Twin Peaks…again), I think I prefer to watch them in "real time," that is, to let the week in between episodes build up tension and anticipation. Of course, I only really watch one show, so I am not the best source for how-to-watch-TV. But, I think I feel the same way about blogs. For instance, I have your entire three years to browse and read—binge!—if I so please, yet I wait patiently for Monday to read the latest dispatch from your side of the Earth. Somehow, that preserves the mystery for me.

Thanks for the conversation, and thanks for what you do.
Giovanni | September 7, 2011 7:56 PM
The link to said review: Poemas del río Wang
Giovanni | September 7, 2011 5:57 PM
Thank you Christopher, you're very kind. And I agree entirely with your last sentence. I'm not so sure about the 'discovery' thing though. If I run through the list of my go-to blogs, I'm pretty sure I originally came by nearly all of them via referrals. I also get the distinct impression (although it's harder to say) that it's how most people have found mine, by which I mean most people who went on to become returning readers.

The entirely anecdotal impression I have formed is consonant with the prevailing theory - that fewer people blog because other forms of social media have filled portion of the blog ecosystem. It makes perfect sense: many people who used to blog craved community over content - building a community and connections is the hardest thing to do - Facebook and especially Twitter give you a community right away. There are still a number of fantastic diarists who blog, and who are worth reading even if you don't know them personally or share their interests, but many of those who were more interested in the conversation have simply turned to platforms that are more suited to that. Which is great.

In terms of my own interest in and appreciation for blogging, it tends to hinge on the aspects that cannot easily be replicated in other media or through other platforms. I tried to explain what they are in a review of one of my favourite blogs.

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