Friday, March 13, 2009

Blogging: Alive or Dead?

Paul Boutin's Wired article "Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004" last year created a lively dialog about the future of blogging. The general gist of the article (in case you haven't read it) is that mainstream media companies have adopted and started to dominate the blog format while independent bloggers have drifted into the even more casual and spontaneous domain of "status updates."

Independent bloggers do tend to let their productivity ebb and flow and I am sure that many of the "citizen journalists" who were really flowing during the blogging peak are seriously ebbing right now. I agree with Boutin that blogging is no longer the primary way that people casually share ideas. Now, when I run across some interesting information I have three choices. I can blog it, I can bookmark it, or I can tweet it. My general rule of thumb is: when I have something to add, I blog it; when I just want to save it for later (perhaps with a little note), I bookmark it in Delicious (or star it in Google Reader); when I just want to tell my friends, I tweet it. All of my stuff goes into FriendFeed where occasionally people comment and add their own ideas. I imagine other bloggers' productivity is similarly diluted across these other channels.

But Boutin's trend is going even further. There was a great article in the New York Times that described how television journalists are getting addicted to Twitter. Robert Scoble has created his own format on FriendFeed where he starts an item with something like "Why Twitter is not for conversations. I will give you five reasons here:" and then goes on to list them in the comments. As he adds items, everyone else chimes in with their opinions. The result is a Crossfire-like discussion but without the interruptions (and, thankfully, without Tucker Carlson). In this case, he gave 5 reasons out of a total of 158 comments and another 143 people "liked" the post. In these cases the journalist moves from commentator to facilitator or catalyst. But, while this format is very dynamic and has lots of energy, it lacks the authority of a single person summarizing and interpreting the information.

To really develop an idea into a cohesive viewpoint, you may not need to write a 1,400 word exposé but you do need more than 140 characters (FriendFeed allows you more but most people don't use more than 140). And for that type of communication the blog format is very well suited because you have the room to elaborate on your point and you still offer a place for others to make their own comments. Blogging is not going away. If anything, it is displacing the formal article as the preferred format for journalists who appreciate the more intimate relationship with their reading audience that comes with immediate publishing and user submitted comments. My feed reader relentlessly fills up with new content every day so I can't complain about not having enough to read. If anything, I feel like the overall quality of the blogosphere is going up. Blogging isn't dying, it is just maturing. And with maturity, comes sophistication (at least that is what I tell myself).