Rumours of blogging’s death are exaggerated, but not greatly so

There’s been a lot of chat recently about whether blogging is dead, sparked by this article in Wired by Paul Boutin. It’s easy to scoff at the article, and the idea that blogging is dead is obviously nonsense. But I doubt the claim would have got so much attention if there wasn’t a bit of truth in it.

I’m not sure that much of what Paul Boutin says is new though. The first time I heard about the article was through Mike Power who added:

…most people under 20 wouldn’t touch blogging with a barge pole, seeing it as old-fashioned and nerdy.

That’s an interesting point. A lot of outsiders tend to think of blogging and the like as something that young people do. But I remember a few years ago a survey finding that the average age of readers of political blogs in the UK is around 40. That might be younger than, say, the average age of readers of The Telegraph, but we’re not talking about the cast of Skins here.

Before that, I always wondered why there weren’t more people my age blogging. I started blogging six years ago when I was 16, but I am an outlier. I can’t think of anyone else who has been blogging for that long from such a young age (though no doubt there are some). I struggle even to think of many bloggers who are my age or younger full stop. There are a few that I know of, but I could probably count them on one hand.

This links neatly in with one of Paul Boutin’s points though. Blogging is being overtaken by social networking sites like Facebook. It’s worth remembering why I started blogging. It is simple: I was bored. My first post was written on a cold, boring night in the middle of the Christmas school holiday.

Moreover, if I had an aim with my blog, it was as a really easy way to reach a wide variety of friends in a really efficient way. At first I was peeved when I realised that my friends couldn’t be bothered reading my blog. What I had forgotten was that, while updating a blog was efficient for me, it was wildly inefficient to get all of my friends to keep on visiting my blog all the time.

Social networking sites fix that problem by giving everyone a central space to share their thoughts and news. No doubt if sites like Bebo and Facebook were around back then, I wouldn’t have started a blog. Indeed, I originally wanted to set up a LiveJournal rather than a blog, but back then you had to pay for a LiveJournal account, so I set up with Blogger instead.

The only reason I stuck with blogging was through the quite accidental discovery that, while my friends were seemingly uninterested in what I had to say, complete strangers would regularly visit to see what I was thinking. That amazing fact is what keeps me going as a blogger, despite some pretty dry patches over the years.

And I’m lucky to have discovered that. Blogging has given me plenty of opportunities that I would never have had were I a simple Facebook user. Undoubtedly my life has been enriched by blogging as it has furnished me with an armful of skills. A 16-year-old Duncan Stephen today would almost certainly not start blogging — but he’d be worse off for it.

But it is important for blogging that the landscape has changed over the past few years. Before 2004, the buzzword was blogging, pretty much exclusively so. Today you can add podcasts, social networks, Flickr, YouTube, wikis, microblogging, social bookmarking, tumblelogging and an increasing list of tools that are all lumped together under the “web 2.0” umbrella. And when the landscape changes, blogging will inevitably have to evolve. As Rory Cellan Jones says, “its nature is changing.”

The evolution of blogging is nothing new though. By most accounts, blogging is now over ten years old, easily out-dating the web 2.0 phenomenon. The man who is said to have coined the word weblog, Jorn Barger, intended it to mean “logging the web”. That makes tumblelogging or linklogging services such as Delicious a much closer relative to the earliest blogs than what are today known as blogs.

Similarly, during a middle period beginning at the start of this decade, blogging was taken broadly to mean an online journal or a diary, often with very personal posts. Today, that would be seen as quite odd, since social networking sites such as Facebook are a much more appropriate, private place to talk about your personal life. It might seem inappropriate that people blogged so much about personal issues, but prior to the likes of Facebook, people had no choice.

Meanwhile, the stereotypical blogger writing about what he had for breakfast has now moved wholesale over to Twitter, a more relaxed place where there is no stigma to writing banal, inconsequential nonsense. Mind you, the advent of Qwitter may change that!

Over the years, my blog has evolved from being somewhere where I would (quite inadvisedly, and sometimes shamefully) leave personal rants, or write about what I had for breakfast, to a place where I would take part in conversations about current issues. Instead of writing a few short and snappy posts per day, this blog now more-or-less exclusively contains posts around 1,000+ words long typically published several days apart. Whereas a few years ago I may have written a stream of consciousness, today I might spend a few days (or even a few months!) mulling over a subject before writing it down. Places like Flickr and Twitter certainly wouldn’t allow me to do that, as Paul Stamatiou points out.

Instead of being a one-stop-shop for all things me, my blog is now just one part of a huge range of online activities. How all of these activities relate to each other and what I should publicise where is a problem that I still grapple with, and I probably won’t stop grappling with it any time soon. (I’ve currently settled on gathering everything in a ‘sidebar’ on the home page.)

A lot of blogs have undergone a similar transformation over the years. It’s notable how many people are now relatively quiet on their blogs, but are still updating Twitter regularly. As if to illustrate that, an item on the Today programme this morning was meant to discuss the death of blogging but ended up dwelling more on the popularity of Twitter.

But saying today that this shift to other services like Twitter is a sign that blogging is dead is just as daft as saying in 2004 that blogging threatened the death of the mainstream media. It would be deeply ironic if the once vibrant and hip blogging scene were to itself become threatened by new technology. But it won’t. The world evolves and blogging simply has to evolve with it, just as the mainstream media evolved with the advent of blogging. Rather than dying, blogging is maturing, as Gary Andrews notes.

I think Paul Boutin makes some really good points, but he misses the point a few times. Trolls and flamers in comments are a well-known problem. But let’s face it, that is hardly confined to blogging. That is a problem with the internet in general.

Meanwhile, the point about most bloggers being unable to compete with the top 100 is nothing short of bizarre. How many people really start blogging with the intention of being in the top 100? Though being in the top 100 would be nice, it is far from my primary motivation. Has Paul Boutain never heard of the long tail? As John Connell notes, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, is the father of the long tail. All-in-all, it’s just a really odd argument to be put forward in such an arena.

And the idea that Google doesn’t notice blogs any more is absolutely bizarre. This certainly does not chime with my experiences. Over three quarters of my visitors come from search engines. That figure used to be closer to two thirds. My friends often tell me that they accidentally found my blog when they were searching for something (that’s the only way I can get them to read my blog to this day!). I myself have, to my annoyance, had my blog come up as a high result in a search.

Then there is the idea that blogs need to be personal to be valuable to people. I hardly think this is so. In fact, this is a complete contradiction to Paul Boutin’s assertion that bloggers all aspire to be the next Huffington Post or Treehugger, not exactly the most personal sites in the world. As Robin Hamman says, Twitter and Facebook may lead to the decline of the diarist blogger, but the topical blogger remains unaffected.

Nowadays, with the likes of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, there might be easier — and more personal — ways to publish your content than to start a blog. And there is absolutely no doubt that maintaining a blog is a major commitment. But that doesn’t mean that blogging doesn’t have an important role to play. In fact, I would argue that it makes blogging all the more important.


  1. I think blogging perhaps had a peak when it was newish and exciting, and it’s now getting harder to sustain. For me, it’s a question of fitting it in. I often have a lot to say, but by the time I get round to saying it the moment has passed.

  2. Bellgrovebelle — I definitely know that feeling! That’s another reason why my posts these days tend to be longer and fewer. I guess that’s another part of the appeal of Twitter — you can just get it out there, and it’s not very time consuming. Probably won’t be able to change the world though.

  3. I would agree with Bellegrove Belle and you, Duncan.

    Rather like Facebook, etc these things always have a greater impact at the start. The longer they’re about though the harder they get to maintain.

    I certainly don’t write as much as even a couple of months ago and think that’s the general scenario across the Scottish blogging scene. I think SNP Tactical Voting’s the one possible exception.

    I suppose a downturn might become self-perpetuating. Whilst ultimately I write for myself (helps clarify thoughts as much as anything else) it’s good if other people, albeit a very small group, read and engage with it. If that’s not happening it becomes less easy to motivate yourself to do it.

  4. Great post Duncan, thoroughly enjoyable stuff. I think commitment is key but, as you suggest, the more you put in then the more you get out of it.

    I don’t really get Twitter, it seems a bit shiny and skin-deep. Like a text relative to an email. Or a french fancy relative to a chocolate gateaux. We are seeing the Guardian and the Times build and build on their blog pages; I don’t see that trend reversing any time soon.

    For me, despite many temptations, I did decide to not stop over this lean period so I guess I have taken a rather Keynesian approach that in this blogging downturn, more output is required, not less. 😉

    Burn out is perhaps around the corner, who knows.

    Any thoughts on if/when British blogging will make the leap up to American levels? Could Scottish blogging even reach those heady heights where some sites actually have significance and real pulling power?

    I wonder…

  5. Can’t say I’m over-familiar with the blogging environment, but I would guess that the blogging software has evolved from an online diary into a medium where people want to have their personal equivalent to the comment section of broadsheet newspapers, and the blogging software provides an easy way into the onine environment, unlike a full-blown content management system, say. Meanwhile, the diary function has moved to other online mediums.

    Of course, these rules aren’t hard and fast, and two of the commenters above perhaps illustrate this point; Jeff’s SNP Tactical Voting seems to comprise a mix of diary-type entries together with longer, more in-depth articles, while Ideas of Civilisation concentrates almost exclusively on the latter, as he himself states.

    From my perspective the diary-style stuff seems only of ephemaral interest, and perhaps that’s why those writing it also get fed up and change their style and/or move onto other mediums.

    Blogging software is quite flexible, and it’s probably truer to say that its utilisation is evolving rather than in terminal decline. The software itself will probably change to reflect this, as indeed I think has already happened. but I’m sure Doc Vee knows a lot more about that than me.

  6. Jeff — You’re absolutely right about Twitter. Is is rather superficial compared to blogging, but I think that is part of the reason why it’s so successful. Too often I think if you have a blog you feel the need to be profound or to give people a reason to keep on visiting, and that can be quite stressful. Twitter removes all of that. But it won’t change the world like blogging.

    You rightly point out that the mainstream media is moving more into the blogging arena. I think that was part of the thesis of Paul Boutin’s article though. The original buzz about blogging was that it was normal people who had an amazingly easy way to reach a large audience. Now, supposedly, the little people are being crowded out by the big players like the media, corporate blogs and so on. I don’t agree with that though — I think little people can coexist peacefully with the big players.

    As for whether British / Scottish blogging can reach the dizzy heights that American bloggers have, I am more pessimistic. I think every country in the world gazes longingly at the American blogosphere. I was listening to a Canadian podcast a couple of weeks ago that lamented the poor state of the Canadian blogosphere compared to the USA’s. There is obviously something special about the USA that makes its blogosphere so vibrant. Hopefully we’ll grow in our own way though.

    Stuart W — I think you’re right. Certainly, the ephemeral nature of diary-style posts means that it’s easier for people to become tired of it, while if you’re writing about politics or some other fast-moving topic you’re more likely to have new stuff to talk about all the time.

    Blogging software does evolve over time. I think, though, that with the advent of tumblelogging, blogging per se has been forced into a corner where it is more about the in-depth article, while the snappier stuff gets counted as a tumblelog. In the end, though, it’s the very flexibility of blogging that means that it will ultimately endure.

  7. In my experience, there are still plenty of personal bloggers about; it’s just that the blogosphere is separating into two – the topical brigade and the stream-of-consciousness brigade.

    I simply cannot see the point of Facebook, which probably isn’t helped by the fact that I find it more difficult to navigate through it than I do to do most things in my blog. The concept of writing in 140 characters or less is anathema to me and I don’t link enough for a tumbleblog to work. So I suppose I’ll stick to blogging (and being on Ning – but only for the NaBloPoMo, not because I’m using it as the social networking tool it was designed to be).