I imagine that the blogosphere is going to be awash with responses to Wired’s controversial piece about how blogging is dead. I didn’t want to get left out, so here’s mine!
The Wired article “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004” is certainly worth a read: it starts by saying “Thinking about launching your own blog? … Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.” As far as Wired is concerned, “the blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge.” Ouch. Are they talking about me again? (Me, egocentric much?)
Wired is one of those publications that likes to think of itself as the arbiter of what’s hot and what’s not. In the digital world, if something lasts 18 months without crashing and burning then it’s almost certainly jumped into the mainstream and lost its cool, cutting edge mojo as far as Wired is concerned – and blogs have lasted a good deal longer than 18 months. So small wonder that Wired has decided blogs are tired and past it, since they’ve now got so widely accepted that they are part of everyday communications.
I’d disagree with Wired’s analysis on two grounds:
- Let’s be serious: “freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression”? Leave it out. I remember blogs from four or five years ago, and they were generally speaking a complete load of bilge written by people for whom punctuation was as much a lost art as the alchemy of turning lead into gold. There were a few good blogs and we treasured them dearly; now, there are a lot more blogs – and a hell of a lot more excellent ones. Sure there’s still a lot of bilge out there just as there ever was, but it’s easier now to find the good ones and stick with them, and they cover a hugely increased range of subjects. This is the golden age of blogs and we shouldn’t get deflected by rose-tinted spectacles misremembering an era that never existed.
- As for the loathing of blogs going “professional” – either because of popular bloggers getting funding and stipends, or because blogs are being set up by corporations, governments acround the world and PR teams, and written by paid staff – isn’t this just the fulfilment of the Blogging Dream? We’ve been evangelising for years about this being a way for people to reach out and connect, bring themselves and what they do to life, so isn’t this just proof that a mainstream audiences has come, listened, and agreed? Sure, some of the resulting blogs will be horribly bland and corporate; so we’ll do what we’ve always done with ineptly produced blogs and ignore them, and let them wither away. And we’ll support the good ones, the interesting ones, the ones with a unique voice such as Random Acts of Reality by British EMT Tom Reynolds. At least we have the choice, now that so many people are embracing blogging.
The Wired story even made it on to this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme hosted by John Humphries. It was a delight to listen to: Humphries is the textbook old curmudgeon these days and makes no secret of his loathing for new fangled things such as blogs, seeing them as doing irreparable damage to his beloved standards of journalism, so the delight in his voice as he opened the item and declared blogs dead was evident. That lasted all of 30 seconds until it dawned on him that what was looming on the horizon was … Twitter. He fair spat out the word ‘tweet’ with disdain as he realised than the future of media was now supposed to be microposts of 140 characters, and he started to feel the cold hand of fear that someday soon all BBC news reports will be shrunk down to 20 short words to suit the new medium. He couldn’t get off the subject quick enough after that.
Twitter is certainly the current belle of the ball over which all the media types are swooning, so in the sense of “blog is past it, Twitter’s the next big fad” then the Wired article is correct. But you can’t be the new kid on the block for too long, and when you grow up and settle down it doesn’t mean you’re dead – only that you’re accepted as part of the neighbourhood. Blogs are now as established and normal as having a website: just as a company or government of the 21st century wouldn’t even think of not having a website, then it should find the omission of a blog of some form or another equally unthinkable.
So Wired confuses the end of “cool” with “the end”, full stop. Not true: it’s a transition is all, and one we’ve all worked towards for some years now. Finally it’s here: instead of bellyaching about it we should be cheering. We should be viewing this as the golden dawn for blogging kind, a giant leap forward.
What about Twitter – will it survive or is it just a fad that will disappear in a year or even just a few months? My money is on it lasting (if not as “Twitter” then as an equivalent brand) because it’s the perfect synergy of the original use of blogs – online journals full of banalities about when you got up, what you had to eat – and the real time nature of SMS messages. Twitter’s SMS-compatible 140 character limit for tweets means it speaks the language of today’s teens who practically emerge from the womb clutching a mobile phone and sending their first text message update to the other babies in the maternity ward.
But the point is that it’s not a competition between blogs and Twitter: it’s not a case of one succeeding if and only if the other fails. On the contrary, I think what the Wired article truly misses – because of its tendency towards atomisation and dealing with everything as individual standalone apps – is that the true strength of many of the Web 2.0 applications (blogs, RSS readers, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr et al) comes when they are marshaled together and work in alliance. It’s at this point that they take on a true life of their own and become quite compelling.
My own online story recapped by way of example:
I only started a genuine blog this summer, although I’d used blogging software back in 2002/3 to do an online magazine on Formula 1. I just never felt I had much to say in a blogging environment, didn’t have an established online network to share with, and building up traffic was a bitch – so what was the point anyway.
Cut to 2008, when I tried out Twitter and started following people working in government, technology and social media. One of the people I clicked to “follow” sent an email back along the lines of “Who are you and why are you following me?” – I was new to Twitter-quette at the time – and suggesting that I should link my Twitter profile to a bio of some sort. A blog, preferably, so he could know something about me.
Fair point, I thought – I decided that I would set up a website. Using WordPress.com was the easiest so I did it as a blog; and as the weeks went by I found I was picking up lots of ideas from Twitter to write about in a blog that simply wouldn’t fit into a 140 character tweet – so much for not having anything to say; and I was getting a lot of visitors to my blog by mentioning new posts on Twitter. In other words, Twitter and blogging became virtuous cycles that only got better and better. I also started to get into Flickr, and the blog posts about some photos I’d posted resulted in my highest stats on Flickr by far. And my overall blog stats were far higher, far quicker than I ever managed in the alleged glory days of blogging, even with no time spent on marketing or hyping.
So Twitter became the ephemeral but vital conversation stream bubbling along in the background, Flickr became the visual stream, and my blog became “the substance” underpinning it all. Add Facebook and/or FriendFeed as aggregation cores floating on an underlying network of RSS feeds, allowing me to bring this online digital persona of mine together in one place so that people didn’t have to keep checking multiple sites to find out what I was up to, and you have something … pretty damn impressive, actually. And I’m not blowing my own trumpet – all of these are free and easy to use Web 2.0 services that anyone can use. I’m doing nothing that you couldn’t set up yourself in a couple of hours today.
This is why it’s getting really exciting. Forget a solitary blog or merely focussing on Twitter. It’s standalone – that is to say, thinking about any one of these things in isolation – that’s dead and buried. These days it’s all about integration, and getting engagement/collaboration tools to, well, engage and collaborate with themselves first and foremost.
That’s the meta-dimension to this debate that Wired seems oddly blind to with the article this week.
More from meHere's links to other things that I'm doing: my tweets, my reviews blog (Taking The Short View), my motor sports blog (motorsports.ind), my Google Shared items. Please check them out if any of them sound like your sort of thing!
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